The lie Evan and (admittedly, mostly) Connor come up with is that someone accidentally opened their locker in Evan’s face. His mom nearly had a heart attack when she saw him after classes, and the vague look of disappointment in her eyes after he feeds her the story makes his stomach turn, but she lets it go and Evan gets away with skipping school for the first time.
He comes to regret the decision (well, almost) when his mom drops him off and all eyes are immediately on him — or, more accurately, his nose. Evan had checked it out extensively in the bathroom that morning; his nose and the area spreading at least an inch outward in each direction from it was splashed in purples, blues and blacks, and it was. Well.
His face is kind of disgusting.
(Even without the bruise).
There’s sweat coating the back of his neck before he’s even inside. Eyes flick to his face faster than he can keep up with; and they’re real, it’s not the anxiety, everyone’s staring at him and this is the opposite of what he wants, what he’s strived for all of his high school experience.
His hands slip from the straps of his backpacks. He wipes them on his jeans. It doesn’t help.
“Hans—Evan!” Connor jogs into view, an easy smile on his face. Evan wishes he was in the mood to return it. “You look like shit.”
“T-That’s what. Uh. I kinda gathered that from all the staring.”
Connor’s smile turns understanding, and to Evan’s surprise he winks.
“Yeah, you may look like shit,” he begins loudly, all eyes in the vicinity turning to him, “but you're a dream compared to the other guy!”
Everyone around them falls into hushed whispers, and counting that as a success Connor leads the way towards the cafeteria. As they enter the crowded room, Evan gives him a quizzical look.
“What are we doing in here?”
“First of all, showing off your shiner. Bump up your street cred.” They both laugh at that, and Connor steps into the short line at the front. “Second, I forgot to eat last night. You want anything?”
Connor grabs an apple and a can of Pepsi, bringing them quickly to the register and dropping a few crumpled bills into the hand of a lunch attendant. As he and Evan turn to leave, someone approaches and stops a few feet away with a shy smile.
“Hi!” the boy greets, digging his hands into the pockets of his jeans and bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I just wanted to ask what happened to your nose?”
“Actually it’s my friend who wants to know? He didn’t want to come up and ask—”
“Stick to the script!” someone hisses from across the cafeteria, and the boy in front of Evan blushes. Connor glances somewhere over the boy’s shoulder, but Evan doesn’t want to break eye contact and seem rude.
“It’s not my friend who wants to know, actually. Just me. Um. What happened?”
Evan rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I got into a-a fight?”
The boy’s eyebrows skyrocket to his hairline, smile widening in...adoration? “Wow, that’s so cool! I mean. Are you okay? Damn, that was rude of me, wasn’t it? I’m sorry! I’ve just never seen someone who’s been in a fight before. Does it hurt? It looks like it hurts.” He pauses and flushes again, suddenly looking sheepish.
“I’m rambling. I do that sometimes. Sorry.”
Evan offers an awkward smile. “That’s okay.”
The boy brightens immediately. “Cool! My fri—I just wanted to ask because people are saying, uh,” he leans in conspiratorially and flicks his eyes towards Connor, “he hit you, but because you’re hanging out I don’t think that’s true?”
Evan blanks, and he feels Connor stiffen at his side. “W-Wh — who’s saying Connor hit me?”
“I don’t know!” the boy says immediately, putting his hands up defensively. “That’s just what my friend, I mean, that’s just what I heard!”
Before Evan can respond, Connor mutters, “Kleinman,” lowly at his side, pulling his attention away from the boy in front of him. Jared comes to stand a few feet away from the boy, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“Nice nose.” Jared’s tone isn’t friendly.
Evan frowns. The boy pushes Jared’s shoulder gently. “C’mon, man,” he mumbles, eyes cast downward.
“What did you say your name is?” Connor pipes up suddenly, an odd smile on his face. Evan’s confusion grows as Jared’s face darkens from annoyance into something akin to horror.
“Oh, I’m Elliot,” the boy responds brightly, the only one of the group smiling. Jared nudges Elliot gently and motions with his head.
“El, let’s go,” he says quietly, turning to leave. Elliot’s grin drops for a moment as he looks between Evan and Jared, but it returns in time for him to wave goodbye and turn to follow him. The ten minute warning bell blares, the sound dimmed some by the noise in the cafeteria.
“That was fun,” Connor says drily, taking a bite of his apple and adjusting his bag on his shoulder. Evan shrugs uncomfortably and watches the group of teenagers moving en masse towards the exit.
“Hey.” Connor pokes him, causing him to start and look back at him. “Don’t think about him. Okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Uh.” He tries to give Connor a smile. His attempt is pitiful enough to make him laugh, and Evan feels minutely better. “Let’s go to class?”
Connor rolls his eyes but nods, tossing his mostly-eaten apple into a trashcan as they pass it and joining the back of the crowd trying to leave the cafeteria.
They happen to share their first period together, and as they walk together towards their English class Connor is intercepted and pushes against a row of lockers.
“What the hell, Connor!”
“What the fuck, Zoe!”
Evan looks between the two siblings bewilderedly, immediately noting Connor’s change in demeanor. Zoe looks towards Evan suddenly, eyes softening in concern when she glances over his face.
“Evan!” She moves her focus from Connor to Evan, prodding gently at his nose with long, polished fingers (somewhere in the back of Evan’s mind, he remembers that Connor touched him the same way not a full day ago). He winces at the burst of pain the sensation causes.
“You look terrible,” she says quietly but bluntly, and yeah, she’s definitely Connor’s sister. “Did my brother really punch you?”
“I’m right here,” Connor snaps indignantly.
Zoe drops her hands. Evan takes in a shuddering breath. Are my hands sweaty? Why am I thinking about that right now? Say something!
“No! Uh. Connor didn’t hit me. Really.” He tries to smile reassuringly; the disbelief that flashes across Zoe’s face tells him it’s probably not working. “He helped me out afterwards, though.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because we’re friends now, genius.” Connor crosses his arms and pouts. Evan has to bite back a laugh at the sight. Zoe pins Evan with a long, quizzical look, and Evan can’t help but squirm.
Her eyes are strangely piercing.
Evan coughs, confused. “I’m sorry?”
“Why are you friends with him? When did this happen? The only time I’ve seen you two together is when Connor shoved you all those months ago.”
“God forbid anyone try to make up for their mistakes,” Connor grits, pulling his arms tight against his chest.
Zoe’s eyes are still distrusting, but she offers a shrug and takes a step back. “I’m not going to pretend like I get it. But if you’re really friends, okay? Cool.” She looks towards Connor. “Why not invite him over for dinner?”
Connor’s voice takes on a vaguely horrified edge, while Evan’s voice comes out squeaky and afraid. The five minute warning bell goes off.
“You know it would make mom and dad happy,” Zoe says, voice surprisingly soft. Connor’s eyes flicker with something Evan doesn’t recognize, but when he blinks it’s gone. “After...after everything.”
“They’ll make it weird.”
“I’ll keep them off your back.”
“Why?” Connor demands, glancing at his sister distrustingly. Zoe smiles at Evan, and he can’t help but blush at the sudden attention.
“Because Evan’s kinda cool.” Connor snorts, but the sound is cut short as Zoe punches him in the arm.
“Be nice, asshole,” she bites, pushing a bit of hair behind her ear. She turns her attention to Evan. “Don’t listen to him. He’s an idiot. Will you come over tonight for dinner?”
Both Murphy siblings zero their attention in on him, waiting for an answer. Evan’s hands begin to sweat again. Okay. Options.
He can say no and make Connor and Zoe mad/sad/disappointed. Then Connor won’t want to hang out with him, and Zoe will think he’s rude for not coming over when he’s invited, and. Well. Bad option.
He can say yes and go over and critically embarrass himself in front of Connor and Zoe’s parents. He might knock over an expensive vase, or say something horribly offensive, or throw up because he’s so nervous and. And.
Both options have high failure probabilities. His hands clench and unclench at his sides. Two sets of eyes stare at him, waiting for an answer.
Zoe’s eyes are soft and hazel and hopeful, a tiny smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. Connor’s eyes are dimmer and blue (but not entirely, and how did Evan not notice those eyes) and slightly narrowed but nice and. And Evan can’t say no to either of them.
“I’ll ask my mom?” he tries, and the anxiety coiling in his stomach is countered slightly by the wide smile he receives from Zoe. She takes his hands in hers sweaty, sweaty, sweaty don’t freak out and squeezes gently.
“Great! I’ll let my mom and dad know. See you later, Evan!” She waves to Evan and gives her brother another look before jogging down the hallway. As she turns a corner, Connor groans loudly at Evan’s side.
“S-Sorry,” Evan apologizes quickly, guilt filling him for accepting the invitation. Connor rolls his eyes and begins moving again towards their class, Evan having to jog to keep up.
“Whatever. It’s your funeral.” As Connor pushes open the door to their first class, he looks at Evan with an odd look on his face.
“I’m gonna tell you right now that tonight's gonna fuckin’ suck for both of us. I’ll prep you in class, c’mon.”
As the late bell rings, Evan shoots a text to his mom. He gets his response before class even begins.
Sure sweetie! Have fun! <3
Evan lays his head wearily on the desk as Connor begins hashing out the details of dinner.