Andy was back on the first day of school. He was in the first hallway Kevin turned down, just standing there, and he was smiling. Andy's smile was maybe the best thing about him; when Andy smiled, Kevin felt dizzy with it. The world went on mute and receded into the distance, and all he could see was the way Andy's whole face was glowing, the way his soft and shiny black hair was cut short and styled in a rumpled way making Kevin want to run his fingers over it.
He wanted to be the one to make Andy smile and laugh like that. The football players hanging around Andy left with fist pumps and back slaps, but it was only when Skyler accidentally on purpose knocked Kevin into the wall as he passed that he realized he had been standing there staring like an idiot for a while.
"Hi Andy!" he said, like he'd just been waiting for a break in the conversation.
"Hi! Ken, right?" Andy opened the janitor's closet, and pushed a cleaning cart in.
"Kev. You work here now?" Kevin checked out Andy's broad shoulders and tight ass while his back was turned. He was wearing a jumpsuit the color of paper bags, and heavy work boots.
"Kev, sorry. Yeah, it's great! Best student job ever. I actually have to hurry to get across town to college now." Andy locked the door, and gave Kevin a nod and a smile, before heading for the exit.
Kevin walked along with him.
"Sure, of course. It's good to see you back, man. Do you wanna hang out sometime?"
As soon as he said it he wanted to run away. When Andy had been the popular senior jock last year, Kevin hadn't ever said more than two words in sequence to him, and asking him out had been so beyond him he'd never even worried about it. But something about seeing last year's junior and reserve football players all walking away in a group, leaving Andy standing alone with him had driven him into a state of momentary insanity, apparently.
"Sorry, Kev. I'm not allowed to hang out with students after school now that I work here. Thanks anyway." He smiled kindly, and with a wave over his shoulder disappeared out the main entrance.
It was a while before Kevin got up the nerve to talk to Andy again. Kevin smiled when he saw him in the morning, trimming bushes, washing windows, filling paper towel dispensers, and otherwise hopping to the cranky head janitor's order, but that was like an involuntary reflex. Andy always gave him a smile and a nod in return, because he was just that kind of a nice guy.
One October morning, Kevin came across Andy squirting windex on the trophy cases. He'd been reading every third page of a novel he had a test on today, and which he hadn't had time to finish on the bus, and didn't notice Andy before it was too late to turn back.
"Hey, Kev. Studying hard?" Andy said, and rubbed the glass vigorously with a shammy. It went squeak, squeak in the same rhythm as Kevin's heart. The blood felt like it was trying to beat its way out of his ears.
"Hi, Andy," he forced out.
"Hi, Kev," Andy said again. He looked amused.
"Uh, yes. Studying. I was doing some reading. Admiring your trophies?" Weak. Kevin was not good at the witty banter when it counted.
But he had sworn not to let a chance go by to find out if Andy had let him down gently with a white lie, or if he really wasn't allowed to hang out with high school students, and this was it. No more sleepy nights going over and over that conversation.
Andy chuckled politely. "I hadn't noticed. But I guess that is the cup we won at regionals. Good times."
He shuffled a few steps down with his cart, and windexed a new display case.
"Dude, don't be so blah about it. You're a star!" Kevin had a sinking feeling that that had come out with too much genuine enthusiasm, too little cool ironic distance, but honestly, sitting in the bleachers for finals and seeing Andy move in perfect coordination with his team had been the highlight of last year.
"Shut up," Andy retorted with a grin.
It was now or never.
"So, uh, I was thinking about switching churches, because the church my family goes to isn't very gay friendly. And I'm gay. So I was wondering, do you go to the Unitarian church?" Kevin thought he had gotten all of that out in a coherent order, and not mumbled or run his words together too badly. And Andy hadn't recoiled in horror or anything.
The hallway was starting to fill up, and Kevin saw the football players in their school colors heading their way. He wanted to finish this conversation before they got here and glommed onto their returning hero, making everything a thousand times more awkward.
Andy was shaking his head. "Nah, I don't go there." He shrugged.
"Oh, okay," Kevin said. "See you around." He backed away, smiling stiffly. That had not been a success.
He heard an angry yell beside him, and saw Mishon had Skyler by the wrist and was angrily shoving him away.
"Get your dirty hand off me, you creep!" she snarled, and her girlfriends moved in around her protectively, glaring fiercely at him.
He held both his hands up sarcastically, raising his brows in mock shock and fear, and his friends snickered.
The girls slammed their lockers shut, and left.
"I'm telling the counselor you grabbed Mishon's ass," Kevin told him. "So you better not sexually harass anyone again, or it's a pattern."
"You got something to say to me, fag?"
"You are a douche," Kevin enunciated slowly and fake sweetly, and gave him a crest smile.
Skyler actually lost his expression of bored dismissal at that.
"You're gonna be late for class, guys," Andy broke in.
Kevin had completely forgotten about Andy for a moment. He was glad to see Skyler shrug and walk away. But it would have been nice if Andy had said something to support him or Mishon.
It turned out, Andy had a girlfriend.
Kevin's sister was telling a story at breakfast about what happened in her "student success workshop", or, according to her, the waste of time bullshit the college forced freshmen to go to to tell them to do their homework and not skip class, when she dropped the bomb.
"Andy Huang? Oh, I remember you graduated with him! Is he studying to be a teacher, too?" Mom interrupted, absentmindedly buttering her toast.
"I think he wants to be a landscape technician," Kendra said.
Kevin felt queasy and cold all over. He hadn't known that Kendra and Andy were in a workshop together, and now he was afraid he wouldn't like the info he could pump her for if he tried.
Mom didn't hold herself back, though: "Cindy-next-door's cousin is the course manager at the golf club, you know," she said. "She says it pays very well. I think Andy's Catholic, right?"
"Mom! Did you not just hear me say that Andy was texting his girlfriend when Ms. Esposito called on him? That means he has a girlfriend."
It was true then.
Kevin didn't have any time to digest that revelation, before he met Andy, who was actually waiting for him at his locker.
"I'm supposed to watch you clean it," he said, and handed Kevin a cloth and a bottle of denatured alcohol.
Someone had written FAG on his locker yesterday in permanent marker, and the gay-straight alliance had surrounded the slur with pictures of rainbows and the school mascot and other cool things.
It burned, having to clean off the evidence of school spirit and friendship, and it was fucking unfair that the counselor hadn't ordered Skyler to clean it off, or whichever hanger-on trying to suck up to him who'd defaced his locker.
Kevin couldn't look at Andy, he was so angry. Angry at the counselor for saying breaking the ban on permanent markers was a serious breach of school rules, like she had no sense of proportion, and angry at Andy for having a fucking girlfriend and for standing there watching him humiliate himself to avoid detention.
"It's a shame. Those AT-ATs are really well drawn," Andy said.
Watching The Empire Strikes Back was a yearly tradition in the gay-straight alliance, ever since someone had brought the wrong DVD in the right DVD case for queer movie night, and the AT-ATs were Kevin's favorite part of his new locker decoration.
"Yeah," he mumbled, and couldn't help glancing at Andy.
Andy looked serious and sympathetic.
Kevin happened to hang out across the street from Andy's house that evening. Not for any particular reason, just hanging out, playing Snake on his phone. Standing on the sidewalk alone, for an hour or three.
He saw a girl drive up, and he saw Andy leaning over and kissing her for a long time, before getting out.
It was like being back in eleventh grade again, seeing Andy everywhere at school, thinking about Andy all the time, but being completely unable to be near him or talk to him, like there was a forcefield between them.
Kevin got in on the bus almost an hour before class, and no matter where he went to avoid Andy, there he was, finishing up his jobs before most of the students showed up.
Today Kevin was high in the bleachers, trying to copy over some math answers Joel had given him, but mostly watching Andy mow the field. Like everything Andy did, he did it with grace and self-confidence, and the stripes in the grass were as straight as something you'd see on tv.
It was a bad way to start the day. He managed to return Joel's homework to him before math, but didn't finish any of his own, and he couldn't concentrate. All he could think of was the way Andy had joked with the football players after putting away the lawnmower, and helped them carry out two rows of tires for practice. He had sprinted through them lifting his knees high without tripping once, then done an end-zone dance and struck poses while the others laughed.
They saw him as the team clown. Kevin didn't know why a college student was wasting his time trying to fit in with a bunch of high school jocks, and it kind of made him want to puke, the way he thought Andy should be so above this, and at the same time couldn't help wishing Andy would try even a little bit to make Kevin like him.
The only bright spot in a crappy day was when he heard that someone had scratched "You are a douche!" on the hood of Skyler's car that morning.
Unfortunately the same Subaru was back in the school parking lot a few days later with a brand new paint-job.
"Kevin, Skyler," the principal said formally, and pointed at two chairs, "Sit, gentlemen." She leaned back against her desk, and crossed her arms.
"These are very serious allegations." She stared coldly at both of them in turn. "So as you can see, I have asked the school counselor to be here, as well as your home room teacher. My secretary will take notes of everything which is said here, and they will go in your permanent records, and a copy will be sent to your parents."
Kevin looked to the side, where the staff sat. He had never been one of Mr. Smith's pet students, but he had known the guy for four years, and he knew that Kevin wasn't a trouble maker. Or at least he hoped so.
Mr. Smith looked straight at him and smiled, before covering his mouth with his hand and clearing his throat, turning his attention back to the principal. Kevin felt the haze of panic lifting slightly. The chair next to him groaned, as Skyler shifted in it nervously.
"Skyler, you told the counselor that you saw Kevin running away from your car Tuesday morning last week, as you came out from the changing room heading for football practice, whereupon you discovered that your car had been vandalized. Is that true?"
Skyler was a lying asshole. When the secretary had told him he was being called to the principal's office because of accusations of vandalism, he had thought it was about drawing on his locker. This was way worse. He pinched the underside of his thigh hard, where he was sitting on his hands, and concentrated on the pain instead of jumping up and screaming at Ms. Sanchez.
"Yes, Ms. Sanchez," Skyler said. His voice sounded tense.
"Kevin, is that what happened?" the principal asked him.
"No, Ms. Sanchez. I never touched that— Skyler's car, I mean. I didn't even know someone had scratched it until people started talking about it in the cafeteria," he said, boring his eyes into hers, and willing her to believe him.
She nodded thoughtfully. Then she got up, and went and opened the door.
"Please come in, Mr. Huang," Kevin heard her say behind him, and she came back into his line of sight followed by Andy.
"Mr. Huang, do you know where Kevin was the morning of Tuesday last week?"
"Yes, I do," Andy said. He didn't look at Kevin, and not at Skyler either, but kept his attention on the principal as he told her that Kevin had been in the bleachers while Andy moved the field for half an hour before the first football players had shown up, and staid through 20 minutes of morning warm-ups. Yes, Kevin had been there for almost an hour during the time Skyler's car had been marked up. No, there was no way Kevin could have left briefly without Andy noticing. Yes, Skyler had been the last of the team to arrive after changing.
"Thank you, Mr. Huang. I think we've heard enough." The principal nodded at him, and Andy shuffled over to stand with Mr. Smith and the counselor. Kevin wanted to run over and hug him.
Andy was a star. He was a great person, the best. Kevin couldn't believe he'd thought Andy just wanted to make nice with his old team-mates.
"Kevin, I don't believe you are guilty of anything. Ms. Galloway tells me you have been harassed twice recently, once by Skyler here calling you a homophobic slur in front of several of your class mates, and once by someone writing a homophobic slur on your locker."
The counselor nodded in confirmation, and frowned sourly at Skyler.
"And this false accusation against you makes the third time. I want you to know we take patterns of harassment very seriously in this school, Kevin," the principal finished. "I will contact you and your parents later, and explain to you what we intend to do prevent this happening again, to you or other students. You are free to go now. Skyler, you stay."
Kevin got up dizzily. Skyler's face had gone gray, and he was sitting very still. It felt like he was in a dream.
Andy winked at him. Later, he mouthed, and Kevin nodded in reply. All he could see was Andy's smiling face.
This was the best day ever.