“I’m telling you, Teege,” Shane heard a voice arguing frantically from behind the diner’s kitchen doors as two teens walked out in matching uniforms. “Something followed me home last night. I swear!”
He tried not to eavesdrop as he fiddled with the red lining on the booths’ seat. Shane kept glancing towards the servers, though, gaze tracing the shape of the shorter man’s face, whose eyes were wide and animated as he continued to talk to his friend.
“Yeah?” the other man－Teege, was it?－laughed. “And what was it? One of your little ghosties?”
The two had reached Shane’s table by then, dropping off his milkshake and fries with kind, albeit distracted, smiles before launching back into their conversation. The diner was hardly what one would call busy, with only two other customers aside from Shane having already received their food, allowing the two waiters to get back to chatting.
Shane watched them out of the corner of his eye for lack of anything better to do. And if he was being completely honest, because something about the shorter, dark haired man interested him. Maybe it was his wide smile, all toothy and genuine. Or the way his dark brown eyes seemed to light up while talking to his friend. It made him want to join in, have that bright gaze focused on him. Or maybe－
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying! That lady’s ghost was mad that I snuck into her house so she probably followed me back for revenge. It makes perfect sense!”
Shane snorted so hard he almost choked on one of his fries. Or maybe, Shane thought amused, this guy was just an oddball.
The guy in question whipped his head around and narrowed his eyes in Shane's direction. Shane colored slightly under his glare. There goes his shot at making friends before school started, he thought dejectedly.
“What are you laughing at, this is a private conversation!” the man said defensively and Shane dropped his gaze to his food, awkwardly avoiding eye contact.
“Oh, uh, sorry man, I didn’t mean to cut in like that, I was just-”
“It’s alright, man. Ryan’s just having a cow because he thinks some little ghouls are hiding out in his house,” TJ paused, eyes raking over Shane’s face as if trying to place him. “Are you new here? I feel like I haven’t seen you before.”
Shane was grateful for the easy out. “Yeah, I’m Shane. Me and my family just moved here from Illinois. We’re up in that white house off Baker Street?”
Ryan straightened up from where he had been pouting at having been brushed off, animatedly jumping back into the conversation. “No way! That house is so haunted, man. You should totally let me check it out, it would be boss.”
Shane felt his face heat slightly at the attention, shifting in his seat awkwardly. “Uh, I totally would but seeing that ghosts don’t exist I feel like that’s a bit of false advertising, buddy.”
Ryan groaned as TJ smirked at him triumphantly. “Man, don’t tell me you’re a nonbeliever, too. I get enough of that with this punk,” he motioned to TJ who did little more than roll his eyes.
“Sorry. I’m a skeptic, through and through, baby!” Ryan gave him a weird look but chose not to call Shane out on the pet name, which Shane was immensely thankful for－ he really needed to get a filter between his brain and his mouth. Ryan did, however, seem a little disappointed in not being able to explore his ‘haunted house’ and something twisted in Shane at having put that look there.
“But if you’re really that interested in it you can swing by sometime, like whenever?” The wide smile Ryan flashed him in response was enough to prove to Shane that he definitely was making the right choice, despite how much his thudding heart was trying to tell him otherwise.
Beside him TJ heaved a sigh, giving Shane an exaggeratedly disappointed look. “And to think I thought you were cool there for a sec, man. You can’t be enabling Ryan like this,” he moved to cover Ryan’s ears before stage whispering, “we think he’s got a few screws loose up there.”
Ryan swatted away his hands, giving TJ a look that was more fond than annoyed, and letting out a wheezing sort of laugh. Immediately, Shane was drawn to it and felt compelled to be at the receiving end of it. He was a naturally social and personable guy but for some reason he felt the need to get Ryan’s approval that much more than most others.
“Yeah, well. I wanna see the look on his face when I prove that ghosts are bullshit. Or maybe when he craps his pants at a shadow. Whichever comes first.”
Ryan let out a small noise of protest but was laughing softly. It wasn’t quite the wheezing laughter Shane was hoping for but maybe Shane would just have to stick around a little longer to get Ryan to laugh like that. For some reason, he wasn’t feeling too torn up about that.
“You guys can get bent. Just watch, I’m gonna prove that ghosts are real and then you’ll be begging for me to share my holy water with you assholes.”
Shane and TJ shared a look over Ryan’s shoulder before immediately bursting out in laughter, clutching their stomachs as Ryan flipped them off and stomped off to wait on a different table. Shane followed him across the room with his eyes, watching him smile warmly at the elderly couple he was serving. He felt his stomach flutter when Ryan caught him looking and he briefly wondered if the food here had given him indigestion. The shorter man then stuck his tongue out at Shane, pulling a face at him before turning his attention back to his table.
The sound of a throat being cleared brought his attention back to TJ who was looking at him with a small smirk. Shane felt the feeling in his stomach irrationally turn sour at having been caught staring but something in his face must have given away his sudden mood change because TJ’s face immediately softened.
“Just- just make sure to be careful, man. With Ryan.”
Shane felt his throat close up as something gross clawed at his insides. “You mean with the ghost hunting? I thought we agreed that it was a bunch of bologna, Oscar Mayer levels,” Shane chuckled weakly. The food was definitely messing with his insides. Maybe it would be better if he didn’t eat here again, he thought as he caught TJ giving him an indecipherable look that made Shane feel too small for his skin.
“Yeah. Because of the ghosts.”
Shane didn’t see TJ or Ryan in the next few days as the summer wound down and he got ready for his senior year. But to be fair, Shane hadn’t actively been searching them out. Sure, he considered dropping by the the diner and sparking up a conversation, but every time he managed to build up a semblance of confidence that sickly, guilty feeling he had first felt when TJ had caught him staring would come back full force. Instead, he resigned himself to another restless night unpacking and worrying over school.
When school does begin, however, it seems as if he can’t stop seeing Ryan everywhere. In his first period history class, in the hallway on the way to the cafeteria, in the cigarette- smoke filled stairwells during breaks and, most memorably for Shane, running around sweaty in short shorts and a tight shirt in the gym. Shane had accidentally wandered in in search of the art room but had backed out of it as if it were some nefarious murder scene and not a high school gymnasium. That churning feeling returned to his stomach as he paused momentarily to watch as Ryan made a basket, drinking in the moment.
Ryan had seen him too, but was always whisked away in a crowd of people, presumably friends and teammates, only able to shoot him an apologetic smile before getting absorbed into the crowd. The smiles and attempts to get his attention were more than Shane was expecting from someone as obviously popular as Ryan.
Shane knew the image he presented as the quiet new kid, awkward with gangly limbs that even he didn’t seem to have complete control over didn’t exactly complement Ryan’s loud and exuberant personality, all masculine charm and sharp angles. Shane was overly interested in weird history, wore his thick cardigans even in the Los Angeles heat, and had thick frame glasses that labeled him nerdy at best and a complete closet case at worst. Ryan on the other was extroverted, not quite enough of a meathead or an asshole to be considered a bull, but he was sure built like one, strong and muscular and popular to boot. The complete opposite of him. Which is exactly why Shane was thoroughly surprised to see Ryan standing behind his locker door as he slammed it shut at the end of the day.
“Jesus, Ryan warn a guy next time! You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Good, then when you come back as a ghost you’ll know I was right and you were a dumb ass.”
“No. Because I’d be dead. But it’s nice to know you’re so concerned about my well being,” Shane deadpanned. Ryan let out the wheezing laugh Shane had been looking forward to getting out of him.
“Shut up, Shane. Hurry up and get your shit, let’s cop a breeze already I’ve been waiting all day!”
“What?” Shane asked, bewildered, “Waiting for what? Where are we going?”
“Your house, obviously. The ghosts aren’t gonna hunt themselves,” Ryan said turning towards the school’s front entrance, smile evident in his voice. Shane’s heart thudded in his chest nervously but he felt compelled to follow Ryan anyways, unwilling to disappoint him and lose that smile.
“God, you were being serious about that? I’ve been staying there for almost a week and nothings happened to me.”
“Of course not. The ghosts are probably thrown off by all your extra limb-age. Thinks you’re some kind of cryptid they don’t wanna mess with.”
Shane rolled his eyes in response, exaggeratedly flapping his arms out wide, hitting Ryan in the side.
“Hey! What was that for?”
“Sorry, all this extra limb-age is just so hard to control, y’know,” he made a show of looking Ryan up and down, “or not, sorry little guy.”
Ryan huffed out a laugh and shoulder checked Shane so lightly it’s more like he’s leaning into him. “Anyone ever tell you you’re kinda an asshole? Because they should.”
“Oh yeah, the g-g-ghosties at the house make sure to write it across the mirror whenever I shower.”
“Wow, the ghosts watch you in the shower? Guess you could say dead birds really flock to you, huh?” Ryan’s laugh rang throughout the empty street as Shane groaned in response.
From then on, Ryan and Shane made it an unspoken tradition to walk home together after school, more often than not ending up at Shane’s house. Shane also noticed that, while he would never place himself anywhere near Jock territory - content in staying as far into the Nerd camp as possible, thankyouverymuch - he and Ryan were becoming known as a package deal, so much so that Ryan’s jock friends were starting to accept him as well. Shane was touched at the thought that the people closest to the person he was starting to consider his best friend had found him worthy enough to accept.
But even as Shane and Ryan grew more comfortable with each other, living out of each other’s pockets and going from Ryan and Shane to RyanandShane (said in one breath like, of course, they just went together, like they belonged together) Shane still found himself feeling uneasy when it was just the two of them.
Like now, as they laid out on the grass in Shane’s backyard, April sun warming the spring air to just this side of too warm, Shane still felt tense and wary around his best friend. Ryan’s eyes were closed, face tilted up searching out the warmth of the midday sun as he languidly rambled on about some weather balloon crash in Mexico. Shane listened distractedly, taking advantage of Ryan’s shut eyes to trace the contours of his face in the golden light, the shape of his smile committed to his memory.
Ryan was so close Shane could reach out and touch him, grab his hand and keep him close. Shane felt completely content in that moment, basking in the feeling of just being with his closest friend, feeling completely free and alive. But at the same time, he felt his muscles clench, as if his nebulous feelings of holding back whenever he was around Ryan were now physically manifesting.
Something in his chest ached as he entertained the idea of just simply inching his hand closer, wrapping his arm around Ryan’s waist and dozing off carefree in the sun. Maybe Ryan would curl up beside him, tuck his head beneath his chin and rest his head on top of Shane’s heart. Maybe he’d call him ‘big guy’ in that soft voice he reserved for the people close enough to him.
Or maybe, Shane thought, stomach dropping to his feet, Ryan would push him away, eyes wide in fear and disgust, never wanting to see him again. And then where would Shane be? Alone, without his best friend and humiliated. And that's what made him so frightened around Ryan. The possibility of getting too caught up in the moment and making a stupid mistake that would make Ryan push him away for good. No, Shane decided, ripping his hand away from where he had hopefully, pathetically, left it lying between their bodies. Shane could never lose Ryan like that, could never deal with ruining what he already had with Ryan. After all, Shane thought tiredly, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Shane fucks up two weeks later, while walking Ryan home after a late shift at the diner. Shane had swung by earlier, ordering his customary milkshake and fries and hunkering down to write his history report on the fall of the Roman Empire. Ryan was busy waiting on tables but every now and then he’d walked by and swipe a fry off of Shane’s plate, dodging out of the way before Shane could swat at his hand.
Senior year was winding down and with the end of the year came new responsibilities; decisions on where to go and what to be. It felt like everything was on the brink of change and Shane wasn’t sure if he was ready for it. He sure as hell didn’t want to stay in this little, Dullsville ass town for the rest of his life but he wasn’t quite ready to be so far from Ryan just yet.
Things with Ryan were seeming just on the brink, as well. Lingering glances, fond smiles, light touches; all things that could be easily brushed off. Ryan was a sweet guy, kind and caring for all his friends except. Except Shane thought that the looks he caught Ryan shooting his way when he thought Shane wasn’t looking were something special, something solely for him. It made him hope, hope that he wasn’t alone in this. Hope that-
Nothing. It made him hope for nothing because he couldn’t want that. And didn’t want that. Definitely. Shane shook his head and went back to his paper. It was tiring constantly reminding himself, but it was necessary. If he repeated it enough he figured that maybe it would finally stick.
But Shane was still weak for Ryan and valued their friendship more than anything, so he waited as Ryan locked up the diner, swaying close to him as they made the trek back home in the dying evening light. Ryan shivered slightly as a cool breeze danced through the air around them and Shane desperately wanted to give Ryan his denim jacket, to see him absolutely swimming in it.
Instead Shane shoved his hands deep into his pockets and let out a low laugh. “What's the matter? Let me guess, you just walked through a ghost!” Shane put on an overly concerned affectation, “Quick, we gotta get you to a witch doctor asap!”
Ryan wheezed, shaking his head in exasperation, “A witch do- you’re such a dumb ass, Shane.”
“Careful Ryan, don’t make fun of witch doctors. You might wake up with one of those really tiny head curse things. Well, tiny-er.”
Ryan laughed again, shoving Shane lightly and looking up at him with that small smile Shane was sure was just for him. “Hey, just because my noggin didn’t drag on the ground behind me as a kid doesn’t mean I’ve got a tiny head.”
Ryan crossed his arms across his chest in a faux defensive stance and Shane was momentarily distracted by how nice his friends’ arms looked in the short sleeves of his work uniform. Objectively, of course. Platonically. Completely un-romantically. But Ryan was still laughing at his own dumb joke, eyes scrunched close in laughter so Shane figured it was okay to look at least a little.
Or it would’ve been if they hadn’t’ve smacked into some guy at that exact moment.
The pair startled as they took in the man in front of them. He was likely around their age if not a year or two older, taller than Ryan (which wasn’t a hard feat to accomplish, Shane’s mind unhelpfully provided) but not quite as built. Regardless, his attitude exuded aggression and arrogance and his slicked back hair, leather jacket and dirtied jeans just furthered the image of someone looking for trouble.
He looked at them expectantly and Ryan stepped to the side, quietly apologizing.
“Sorry, man. Didn’t see you there.” The guy let out a harsh laugh and shoved Ryan’s shoulder hard enough to make him stumble into Shane.
“Yeah, I bet you couldn’t. Fucking chinks.”
Ryan noticeably tensed, fist balling at his sides but he refused to move. Shane just stood there, shocked, hands frozen where he had placed them on Ryan’s shoulders when he had stumbled into him.
“Excuse me?” Shane said as he came back to himself, blood pounding in his ears and voice dangerously low, “What the fuck did you just say?”
“Shut up, Shane.” Ryan hissed out through gritted teeth. He was shaking and if Shane hadn’t known him so well, hadn’t seen Ryan working himself up over nonexistent ghosts and hadn’t memorized almost everything about him, he might have mistaken it for fear. But he did know Ryan, knew him better that he probably knew himself and he could tell that Ryan was shaking not from fear but barely restrained anger, and could easily take this wannabe greaser in a heartbeat if he wanted to. So Shane was confused as to why he didn’t want to.
“What? Ryan, didn’t you hear what that asshole just sa-”
“You better listen to your girlfriend there, beanpole. He’s got the right idea, wonder if he picked up respect for his superiors over in those Jap camps,” his smile widened cruelly at the way his words seemed to drain all the fight from Ryan.
He moved as if to take a step closer and Shane immediately stepped in between the two, using his significantly larger stature to hide Ryan behind him.
“One more word and you’re dust, asshole.”
The other man laughed but backed off slightly, “No need to go ape, man. Dunno know why you’re sticking up for that chink, anyways,” he raised a suggestive brow, “Unless he’s sucking you off real good, huh, queer.”
Shane couldn’t stop himself. It felt like he was a man possessed, watching from the sidelines as he pulled his arm back and let his fist connect with that asshole’s face, hard. He went down and Shane was on him in an instant, something primal driving him as his fist connected over and over again. Distantly, he heard Ryan shouting his name, frantically telling him to stop, but he didn’t manage to snap out of it until he felt Ryan’s fingers wrap around his wrist, insistently tugging him away.
And then they were running, sprinting away from the other man who screamed out death threats and slurs even as he laid on the concrete, blood covering his face and distorting his words.
They sprinted down the street until they could no longer hear him, turning a corner and bending over to catch their breaths. Shane’s lungs ached from the run and his knuckles were split and bloody but damn did he feel good about putting that fucker in his place. He laughed, exhilarated and in disbelief.
“Holy shit, Ryan. I totally just pounded that guy, what the hell! Look my hand! I definitely get why it’s called a knuckle sandwich, I probably have one of his teeth stuck on there.”
Shane looked over to Ryan, laughter morphing into concern as he took in Ryan’s stony face.
“Ryan? What’s wrong, little guy?” Ryan’s face shut down even further at the nickname, lips pursing into a thin white line.
“What the hell is wrong with you. Can’t you ever just listen to what I say?” Ryan’s voice was low and serious, taking on a tone Shane had rarely heard him use before, much less with Shane.
He furrowed his brows in frustration, “Why are you acting like I was the asshole saying fucked up shit? What did you want me to do? Just let him keep talking to you like that?”
“So what if he was saying shit. He was saying it to me, not you. And then you had to go and freak on him!”
“So I’m the creep for defending you now? Next time I should just stand there and let them get away with it like you, then.”
Ryan grabbed his hair in frustration, veins popping in his neck. “God, Shane you just- you don’t get it! Look at me Shane. I’m Mexican and Japanese. If I’m not getting shit for being one, I get it for being the other! You think I don’t get tired of being treated like this? You think I don’t wanna knock the teeth in of every asshole who gives me dirty looks or says something about my family? Except I can’t. I’d be fighting someone every goddamn hour of every goddamn day.
I hit that guy and, yeah, I might get a second of satisfaction but then, guess what happens next? The cops are at my door ready to give me hell for even laying a finger on one of you. Or,” Ryan’s voice breaks and he seems to be deflating, “or that asshole you just beat the shit out of? Who saw me in my work uniform? He comes back with his buddies and he could kill me like he said he would and the cops wouldn’t give a shit. You put me at risk, you put yourself at risk and for what? Wounded pride?
You just don't get it Shane. You don’t get what it’s like to be targeted for something about you that you can’t control. And you never will.”
Shane’s heart was stuck painfully in his throat and his voice broke as he reached out to Ryan.
“Ryan…” Ryan flinched away from him, and Shane felt as if he’d just been slapped.
“I’m...I’m gonna go home. I’ll see you around, Shane.”
And just like that, Ryan was gone before Shane could stop him. Shane, though, remained frozen in the spot, eyes burning and world feeling like it had fallen apart.
He tried to give Ryan his space, avoided the diner for the weekend and spent his time wallowing in self pity instead. On Monday, Ryan’s conspicuously absent from their shared History class and he doesn’t see neither hide nor hair of him for the rest of the day either. Some small part of Shane is relieved at having an excuse to not have to explain himself to Ryan, why he snapped when he did. But that part was powerless to the greater majority of him that felt like absolute shit at hurting Ryan like he had, so he resolved himself to track Ryan down and make things right before the day ended.
In the end, Shane managed to catch Ryan purely by luck. He was walking past the diner on a whim, hoping to catch Ryan before his night shift ended but pessimistic of his chances of actually getting to him before he went home. Shane quietly entered the diner, lost in thought and quite literally ran into him. Ryan stumbled when they collided and Shane’s hands landed on his shoulders, steadying him. He could feel Ryan’s body heat through the thin fabric separating skin from skin.
“Ryan! I…” he trailed off, nervously as he ran long fingers through already disheveled hair. Ryan stood before him and Shane allowed himself a second to take in his appearance. He looked haggard, worn down, under eyes dark and usually bronzed skin blanched. Shane felt his heart twist and couldn’t help but blame himself for Ryan’s weary expression. “I wanted to talk to you. To tell you I’m sorry.”
“Shane....” Some unidentifiable emotion flickered across Ryan’s face even as he slotted a carefully blank expression into place.
“Wait, let me just explain myself. You don’t have to accept my apology but you deserve one anyways.” Shane took a deep breathe, and plowed ahead when Ryan made no noise of protest. “You’re right. I don’t understand what it’s like to be you, to have to worry about assholes on the street and cops looking the other way.
I should’ve stopped when you told me to. I should’ve listened to you and I’m so sorry I put you in danger over my stupid pride. I just… I heard that word and I felt so,” Shane shakes his head and unclenches fists he hadn’t realized had formed, “I’ll never know what it’s like to be you, to be anything other than a White man in America, but. I can...I do know what it feels like for people to hate you over something you can’t...control.
I’ll never put you in that position ever again but I want you to know I’m never gonna be okay with anyone talking down to you like that. You mean too much to me for that,”
Shane finally looked up from his feet, terrified to see what Ryan’s expression would be; if he had managed to understand what Shane was still too scared to say out loud and if he would be disgusted with Shane if he had.
Ryan’s face, however, was the furthest from disgust Shane could imagine. He looked up at Shane with a small, watery smile and Shane automatically found himself smiling back.
“I’m still mad at you, asshole, don’t be mistaken. But, I am willing to consider forgiving you.”
Shane felt air rush into his lungs, looking at Ryan hopefully. “Really?”
“Of course. Who else is gonna call demons out to saute my liver for me?” he paused and gave Shane a heavy look, “And about that other thing, about you…” Shane felt his heart stop once more, still not ready to hear the words out loud, unused to talking about it.
“We don’t have to talk about it. It’s...it’s not something you have to be worried about.”
“No really it's...I don’t know what you think I meant but...I,” Shane nervously tried to backtrack, getting more and more worked up with every word that left his mouth. He kept his eyes moving, refusing to let them land on Ryan’s face.
“Shane! Stop. Just...just calm down for a second.” Ryan had closed the gap between them without Shane noticing, his hand gently resting on Shane’s forearm. The touch was light but Shane could feel it grounding him, could feel the tension slowly seeping out of his shoulders.
Ryan was so close to him, he could feel his breath against his chin as he spoke softly.
“Okay, are you feeling better now, ya big lug?” Shane nodded, his eyes glued to Ryan’s and his feet took a half step closer without him telling them to.
Ryan dropped his hand and Shane irrationally felt as if his body had dropped 10 degrees as well, missing the warmth on his arm. Ryan smiled at him softly and nudged Shane slightly, bringing them even closer than before.
Shane’s heart was beating out of his chest and his sweaty hands were fighting to leave his sides and travel up to cup Ryan’s face. He felt as if he was in a trance as he stood still, waiting for Ryan to do something, anything. The night stood in silence, the dim street lights passing through the diner windows casted a warm glow around the two and made everything feel softer around the edges. Everything was muted. Distantly, Shane thought he heard the sound of engines roaring but pushed it to the back of his mind in favor of memorizing every detail of the moment. He’d probably never be this close to Ryan again.
Their breaths mingled in the small space between them and that old flame of hope licked up his spine. Shane's heart pounded in his ears and he felt himself getting lost in the moment with Ryan until the rush in his ears was replaced with something weird. Something like motors revving.
Suddenly, the hazy, dream-like state they were encased in was shattered just like the diner window facing the street was. On instinct, Ryan and Shane dove to the ground, covering their heads and huddling together under the nearest table.
They stayed there, hidden, until the sound of motors revving and men laughing and jeering petered off into the distance. They stayed still for a moment longer, fear seizing their faculties. Finally, when the quiet night air had remained undisturbed for minutes on end they crawled out from their hiding spot, limbs shaky and breath trembling.
Ryan spotted it first, a large red brick laying innocently in the middle of the diner, shattered glass strewn around it. He picked it up cautiously, as if it would suddenly gain sentience and take his hand off if handled incorrectly.
Ryan turned it over, shoulders tensing as he read the note hastily scrawled over the brick.
“W-what...what does it say?” Shane licked his lips nervously, voice crack betraying his forced air of nonchalance.
Ryan gave him a sad look and Shane felt his stomach drop. Still. He had to know for sure.
“What does it say, Ryan?”
“Shane. Its nothing. Leave it.”
“What does it say!” Shane had to know. His hands were shaking but he had to know. He had to know if this was his fault. If they knew. If everyone knew.
“‘Faggot’, Shane! It...it says faggot.”
Shane nodded to himself, almost mechanically, shoulders slumping as if physically recoiling from the word.
He knew logically, Ryan wasn’t directing that...that word to him but it was too much, it was all too much. Hearing Ryan say that word, getting a brick- a goddamn brick- thrown through the window at Ryan’s work, Ryan possibly knowing? It was too much and Shane wasn’t sure he could handle it.
For the second time that night he could hear his blood rushing in his ears and suddenly it felt like the diner was closing in around him, squeezing, surrounding and he couldn’t- he couldn’t. He tripped over his own legs, stumbling slightly and flinching away at Ryan’s attempts to steady him.
“I gotta- I gotta head home. I’m. I gotta go.”
This time Shane was the one running.
Shane ignored Ryan for a week. A week. He turned in his final projects early and fucked off to the art room in the basement to sulk. Sara, thankfully, didn’t pry much but she shot him such sad, knowing looks that he figures she knew anyways.
“Not that I don’t love having you around, but don’t you think you’ve been moping for long enough?” Sara asked him on his third consecutive full day with her. She sounds worried and Shane cringed both at having upset Sara and possibly having to discuss anything to do with that night.
Shane pulled off his glasses, breathing condensation onto the lenses and rubbing them on his shirt to stall for time.
“Mmmm, nope still got plenty of moping to go in me. It takes a little longer it to make it ‘round my entire body, y’know?”
“Hey nosebleed,” Sara flicked his ear, “I’m just trying to help you out. Maybe try to cool it with the deflecting.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled, feeling properly chastised, “it’s just- I don’t think I’m ready to face him yet.”
“Listen, whatever you did, it can’t have been that bad. And even if it was, it’s Ryan! That guys’ the most understanding person I’ve ever met. Also? I’m pretty sure he’s physically incapable of ever being mad at you.”
“Hey! Why do you automatically assume I did something wrong? Maybe Ryan offended my delicate sensibilities, you don’t know!” Shane placed a hand over his chest, nose raised in mock offense. Sara snorted.
“Yeah right. You think the sun shines out his ass, your dumb ass definitely hurt his feelings by saying Bigfoot isn’t real.”
“Okay, now that I really do resent. My man, the Foot, is out there living his life. He’s meat and bones, baby!”
Sara raised her brow at him and Shane flushed a light red. “And the other part! I do not think the sun shines out of his ass! I just- we spend a lot of time together. He’s my best friend and I like being around him. Obviously, we annoy each other and sometimes we fight but-“
“But you make up? Like you should be doing now instead of hovering over my shoulder and making me even more stressed over my final project?”
“Sara it’s not that easy. It wasn’t just a fight. I-“
“You what? Sold your soul to Satan? Killed somebody? Because short of that I doubt anything would make Ryan actually hate you,” she cocked her head to the side in thought, blowing a curl out of her face. “Actually, Ryan’s kinda weird. I don’t think even that would deter him. He’s pretty obsessed with you, too.”
Shane rolled his eyes, secretly pleased. “No he’s not, Sara. He’s like that with all his friends. Ryan’s just a nice guy like that.”
“Sunshine out of his ass,” Sara singsonged and Shane laughed despite himself.
“But seriously, Shane. I have eyes and I know you wear glasses but so do you. So what I don’t understand is how you don’t see how different Ryan acts around you. How he always looks at you when he makes a joke, like he's making sure you liked it. How he’s always at your side no matter what. How he-“
“Sure, Sara,” Shane swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Listen I gotta scram I just remembered this project I have to finish so!”
“Madej, you better get your behind back here!”
“No can do gotta jet!”
Sara shook her head, muttering to herself. “Boys.”
Shane’s talk with Sara was as enlightening as it was painful. Enlightening because it made him think that his unrequited crush might not be so unrequited. Painful because he’s tired of false hope and the fear of fucking up. Regardless, it did steer him closer to getting the guts to fix things with Ryan, reminding him how much he wants Ryan in his life even as just a friend. Especially, as a friend.
His talk with TJ, however, was really what sets him straight. Well. Metaphorically.
TJ cornered Shane later that week, all quiet anger and disapproving dad stance and Shane is acutely reminded of the fact that TJ was Ryan’s friend way before he was Shane’s. Also, that TJ can be downright terrifying when he wants to.
“Listen, I don’t know what happened between you and Ryan but I know for a fact that you’re gonna fix it.”
“Teege, I don’t know what- ”
TJ gives him a look that conveys just how much he‘s buying Shane’s excuses.
“Cut the gas, Shane. Maybe if Ryan hadn't have been mute this whole week, looking like someone killed his both of his dogs right in front of him, maybe I’d believe you. But as it stands, he does and for some reason you－his best friend－are nowhere to be found.”
Shane winced, guilt churning his stomach at the idea of once again hurting his friend so badly that he was losing sleep over it.
“Is he really that bad? I didn’t think- I didn’t mean to-“
TJ’s rough demeanor melted just slightly as he gave Shane a light shove.
“Why don’t you talk to him yourself, Madej.” Then after a beat, “That wasn’t a suggestion. Talk to him. For both your sake’s.”
Shane gave TJ a weak smile and laughed when he just flipped him off in return. The second TJ left, however, Shane made up his mind. He would talk to Ryan. Not because he was afraid of TJ, which－ maybe he should be, a little bit. Shane hadn’t known TJ could get that serious. But no, because he couldn’t stand the thought of Ryan being so upset, especially because of him. Shane owed it to Ryan to at least let him know it wasn’t his fault. And he owed it to himself, too, to give himself a little freedom.
In the end, however, Shane doesn’t to go to Ryan, Ryan comes to him. Shane's at his locker at the end of the day, packing his bag and psyching himself up to drop by Ryan’s house after school. He’s muttering words of encouragement to himself as he slams his locker shut and immediately has a heart attack.
Ryan’s standing behind his locker door, looking uncomfortable and definitely worse for wear.
“Jesus, Ryan. What did I tell you about standing behind my locker. You know you’re way too far below my line of sight to be doing that sneaking up on me shit.”
Ryan gives a weak laugh but relaxes slightly and Shane mentally congratulates himself for easing the tension slightly. Still, one small joke wouldn’t make up for everything.
The air between them grows increasingly heavy, rife with nervous energy and unsaid words. The scene is a poor imitation of their meeting on the first day of school and it makes Shane’s heartache with the realization of how far they’d come before his fear fucked it all up.
“Hey,” Shane says softly, “Do you wanna come over to my house? Someone once told me its an unreal spot for some ghost hunting.”
Ryan looks hesitant and, despite him having sought Shane out first, he’s worried he’s about to be rejected. But after a few tense seconds Ryan looks up and gives him a small smile.
“I suppose I could check it out. Since you seem so adamant on the existence of these ghosts.”
Shane laughs, not bothering to argue back and Ryan’s smile grows that much more. They begin walking side by side to his house and this time Shane is happy to hope.
When they get to Shane’s house they loop around to the backyard and spread out on the grass. Ryan tilts his head to the sky, eyes sliding shut and Shane lets the warmth of the sun and Ryan’s presence soak into his skin.
Ryan’s eyes flutter open after a few seconds, though, and when he makes eye contact with Shane he can’t force himself to look away.
“Did you know…” Ryan begins, finally breaking the silence, though his gaze doesn’t once leave Shane's, “that my parents just got married recently?”
Shane shoots Ryan a puzzled look, clearly confused as to why Ryan chose to bring it up now.
“Uhhh, no I didn’t. Congrats? But－ and don’t get me wrong I’m glad we’re talking at all－ but you really hauled your cookies all the way here to talk about this?”
Ryan rolls his eyes but Shane can see he doesn’t mean it. “Shut up, Shane. I’m getting there.” Shane holds his hands up in surrender, pulling a face that makes Ryan wheeze.
“As I was saying,” Ryan flashes Shane a toothy, shit-eating grin before getting serious again, “my parents...they weren’t married even though they’ve been together for a while.
Because. Because it would’ve been illegal. I mean, you’re a history nerd so you probably know that but whatever.
But anyways, just because my dad’s Mexican and my mom’s Japanese it was illegal for them to just love each other. And yeah California legalized it but most of the country? Most of the country either doesn’t even recognize it or just doesn’t think it’s right.”
Suddenly, Ryan turns onto his side, his whole body angled towards Shane and Shane is almost scared by the intensity in Ryan’s voice, in his eyes, in Ryan’s everything. But at the same time he’s drawn inexplicably closer, until he can feel the heat radiating off of him. Until he feels like he’s burning with the same intensity running through Ryan.
“Can you imagine that?” Ryan whispers into the air between them, words heavy with meaning. “Can you imagine love being illegal? Being wrong?”
Shane gulps around the lump that seemed to form in his throat and his body feels on fire as he watches Ryan’s intense eyes follow the movement. He rakes his eyes back up his face, settling back onto Shane's eyes and gives him a watery yet fierce smile.
“You know, I asked them. I asked them what it was like. Being in love with someone everyone said it was wrong to love. Impossible to love. And you know what they said?”
Shane nods his head almost imperceptibly, but Ryan notices anyways, a testament to just how close the two are in that moment.
“It was worth it.”
Shane hasn’t the foggiest clue of who moved first but suddenly, Ryan’s lips are on his, burning and a little chapped but so, so sweet that he almost can’t breathe from the want of it. He moves closer, cradling Ryan’s face in his hands and Ryan counters, tangling his fingers in Shane’s hair. Their legs are tangled together and Shane can hardly believe that this is happening, that he’s not stuck dreaming this up somewhere.
They part panting, Shane’s head nestled in the crook of Ryan’s neck. He’s elated but fear drags it’s fingers down his spine, roots itself in the pit of his stomach. They’re two boys kissing out in the open, in the middle of a small town in a small minded world and he’s scared, he’s terrified. Shane thinks he could get away with pretending nothing happened, that nothing has changed between them if he really wanted. Could push Ryan away permanently this time and save himself from fear. Ryan was always the braver of the two after all.
But Shane is tired and he’s done with pretending and of hurting Ryan and himself. So for once Shane stops pushing Ryan away, stops being scared, stops lying. For once, he’s done putting himself down.
“I’m so sorry, Ryan. I’m sorry for everything, for avoiding you, for leaving you to deal with that diner mess by yourself, for just leaving you. I was scared. I’m still scared. God, I’m so scared.”
Ryan’s whispering into Shane’s hair, calming him down and telling him its okay while Shane shakes apart in his arms. It’s heartbreaking for Ryan, seeing his usually calm, composed best friend, who’s faced demons and racist assholes alike for him, falling apart in front of his eyes but he remains calm for Shane nonetheless. It’s a strange role reversal but Ryan is nothing if not up for a challenge.
“Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared sometimes, y’know,” he buries his face in Shane’s hair before attempting to lighten the mood, “Hey, at least now you know what it’s like for me whenever you tell… Malcifax or whatever to slurp my eyeballs from my skull like an extra thick milkshake."
It works and Shane gives a small watery laugh before shoving his face further into the crook of Ryan’s neck, just breathing in and out.
“I’m not that much of scaredy cat.”
Ryan pinches Shane on the side, smiling when he squirms in protest. “Shut up, Shane.”
“Seriously though, Ry, what can I do to make it up to you. I wanna start this,” he makes a vague gesture between them with his hand and Ryan wheezes slightly, “off right.”
“Well, it won’t be hard to top a brick through a window for a date.”
Shane fixes Ryan with a glare and even though he was joking Ryan feels guilty.
“Okay. Bad joke, sorry. How about the new horror flick at the drive in theater? Nice and dark with plenty of popcorn.” Ryan wiggles his brows at Shane as he moves to place his hands on the back of Shane’s neck, playing with the soft strands of his hair.
Shane’s heart skips a beat and he hides his smile in the fabric of Ryan’s white shirt. “Why, Ryan. You wouldn’t be suggesting something as scandalous as some back seat bingo now, would you?”
Ryan groans even as a smile stretches across his face, “God, that has got to be the dumbest name for necking that I’ve ever heard. Keep it up and I might just ice it.”
“Fine, but we’re taking my baby. I could sit in the trunk and stick my feet through your front window and still not have enough leg room in your clown car.”
“Hey pops! Is dad with you? I have some amazing news!”
“Hey, baby. Yeah, dad’s right next to me and he’s stealing all my fries.”
“Shut up, Shane. Is that Maisey? Put her on speaker, idiot.”
“Well, you’re the one who went and started a family with me so who's the real idiot, hmm?”
Ryan laughed. “You just- are you serious?”
“Dads, not now. I have big news!”
“The worlds being taken over by an evil hot dog witch,” Shane deadpans at the same time Ryan says “They finally got footage of your father transforming into his true demon form.”
“What? No. Why would that- anyways! The supreme court ruled same-sex marriage legal across the country. Isn’t that- isn’t that amazing?” Maisey says over the phone. She sounds choked up but Shane and Ryan aren’t doing much better.
“Well, call me a monkey’s uncle. I guess you were finally right about one thing, Bergara.”
Ryan grumbles at him but still gives him the sweetest smile Shane has ever seen, kissing his knuckles softly.
“And what is that, Madej?”
“This was worth the wait.”