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i just wanna be with you

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The afternoon is quiet. Matt and Lainie left Clay and Jeff home alone to study for the day while they went out to run a few errands and grab lunch. They lasted about twenty minutes studying downstairs at the kitchen table before Clay grabbed Jeff’s arm and pulled him upstairs to his bedroom.

Jeff’s already come, and now Clay is on all fours, fists grabbing at his bedsheets as he rocks back and forth on Jeff’s fingers. The only noises are Clay’s quiet whimpers, and Jeff’s soft words of encouragement.

“Is it okay?” Jeff whispers, mouth moving over Clay’s shoulder blades.

Clay nods and then moans again, breath hitching. His head is hanging low between his shoulders. “Yes,” he says once, and then again when Jeff presses his fingers in a bit further.

“Good,” Jeff says, and with his other hand he reaches around to grasp Clay’s dick, starting to stroke him slowly in his fist.

Clay cries out loudly, hips pressing back against Jeff, fingers clenching at his bed. “Jeff, please,” he whimpers, “please, please, please fuck me.” They’d already agreed they wouldn’t actually go all the way this afternoon, just that Jeff was going to finally get his fingers inside him so that their first time would be a bit easier on Clay. But damn, Jeff is tempted right now. “Faster, please.”

That Jeff can do. He leans over Clay, moving his fist a bit quicker. He’s having trouble coordinating it, moving his fist at one speed and his fingers at another, but he doesn’t think Clay’s complaining. He slowly withdraws his fingers from Clay, and leans back on his heels to grab the lube, popping it open with his thumb.

“Jeff, please,” Clay begs again.

“Just a second,” Jeff says, and he has to let go of Clay to spread the lube on his fingers. If there’s anything Google told him, it’s that the more lube, the better. Before he can get his hands back on Clay, Clay’s already shifting his weight on the bed, resting on one arm, jerking himself off with the other.

“I’m going to put another one in now, okay?” Jeff asks, and Clay nods his head quickly. “Clay, you’re gonna come in like three seconds if you don’t stop.” He starts pressing the fingers on his left hand back into Clay, three this time, and with his right hand he reaches out to gently grasp Clay’s wrist. He leans down, mouth by Clay’s ear. “I’ll take care of you.”

Three is a stretch, and Clay makes a series of noises low in his throat; Jeff can’t tell if he’s in pain or not, but he hopes that Clay would tell him to stop if he was. Jeff kisses Clay’s neck, trailing kisses along his shoulders, and he takes Clay in hand again. He carefully thrusts his fingers in and out, getting Clay used to the feeling, and he starts to stroke him again.

It isn’t much longer before Clay is crying out loudly, pushing himself back on Jeff’s fingers as he comes. Jeff kisses all over his back, mouth wet and moving slowly over his sweaty skin as Clay calms down. First, Jeff lets go of Clay, then slowly slips his fingers out, Clay automatically clenching around nothing.

Clay drops to the mattress, curled up on his side, avoiding the wet spot. He reaches out to Jeff, but Jeff just climbs off the mattress. “Be right back.” Instead, Clay wraps his arms around one of his pillows, holding it to his chest. He can hear Jeff in the bathroom, water running in the sink. He’s relaxed to the point of wanting to sink into the mattress, eyes heavy.

“Falling asleep on me?” Jeff asks, walking back into the room with a warm washcloth, and he sits back down on the bed.

“Mm-hmm,” Clay murmurs, nodding into his pillow.

“Okay,” Jeff says softly, using the washcloth to help clean up Clay, though he’s sure they’ll be showering before the Jensens get back. He lays down beside him, reaching out to run his fingers up and down Clay’s arm, watching him shiver. “Was it okay?”

Clay nods again, eyes slowly opening. “It was a lot. But it was good.”

“Did I hurt you?”

Clay shakes his head. “It was just…full, I think.”

Jeff nods, watching Clay closely. “Did you like it?”

“Yeah,” Clay breathes, eyes closing again. “But when we do it, for real…”

“Yeah?” Jeff asks.

“I don’t wanna just be looking at my bed,” Clay finishes. “I wanna be looking at you.”

Jeff smiles and leans in, kissing Clay gently. “Good. I wanna see you too.”

Clay smiles and snuggles into his bed, knowing that he should get back up, that they should shower and get back into their clothes before his parents are home, that they should get some actual studying done, but fuck if he’s never been so comfortable and tired in his life.

+ + + + +

Jeff reaches up to grasp onto the straps of his backpack as he and Clay walk across the street towards the school together. “Okay, so, then she accidentally cuts off her finger and passes out, and then her sister fucking eats it, it was nasty.”

“Why were you watching this again?” Clay asks, looking up at Jeff.

Jeff shrugs. “I don’t know, it was on?”

Clay rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I bet. What channel?”

Jeff smiles. “Okay, I downloaded it on purpose. But only because I heard that people were like, throwing up when they watched it and had to go to the hospital and shit.”

“Did you finish it?” Clay asks.

Jeff shakes his head. “No, that’s where I turned it off. I don’t know, just watching her cut her finger off, fuck, it was bad. I hate that. I have a thing about fingers. And ankles. You wanna come watch it with me after school?”

Clay is about to answer when there’s a squeal of tires in his ear and a blue Jeep appears in the corner of his eye. Clay stumbles back into Jeff as it stops, and he can feel his heart pounding in his chest.

“Get out of the way, Corey,” Monty says, wrists draped over the steering wheel. He steps on the gas again, engine revving.

“Fuck off, Monty,” Jeff says, “people are trying to walk here.”

Monty laughs loudly. “Dude, just fucking move, alright? I’m gonna be late.”

Clay looks around, can see that people are starting to watch them. He takes a step closer to Jeff. “I’m fine, let’s get to class.”

“Yeah, Jeff,” Monty says. “Take your girlfriend and get to class.”

Jeff looks down at Clay, who’s got his hand on his arm now, then back at Monty, who’s wearing the smuggest fucking smirk Jeff’s ever seen. He takes a deep breath and then shakes Clay off, walking to the driver’s side of the Jeep. “The fuck is your problem, Monty?”

“Dude, Jeff, chill,” Monty says, still smiling as he looks at Jeff. “It’s all good. Just move.”

“Oh, it’s all good?” Jeff repeats. “How ‘bout you learn to fucking drive? You think you can just run people over?”

“Oh my god I didn’t even touch him,” Monty says, gesturing to Clay in exasperation. “He’s fine, get out of my way.”

“No,” Jeff says. “Get out of the fucking car.”

“Jeff, are you fucking serious right now?” Monty asks. “Calm down.”

“I am calm,” Jeff replies, shrugging off his backpack, dropping it to the ground. “So get out of the fucking car.”

Monty shrugs, looking at Jeff in amusement as he takes off his seatbelt and climbs out of the Jeep. “Dude, you really wanna do this?”

“You think I’m scared of you?” Jeff asks.

Monty straightens up. “You should be.”

“Fuck you!” Jeff says, pushing Monty hard, his back hitting the hood of the Jeep.

Monty straightens up slowly, surprised that Jeff actually pushed him, almost kind of impressed, before his swings his fist wildly, hitting Jeff in mouth.

Jeff doubles over in pain, fingers going to his lip. He can taste blood in his mouth; he looks down at it in surprise.

“Jeff!” Clay says, hurrying over to them. He gets in between the two of them, grasping onto Jeff’s shoulders. “Jeff, it’s okay, please, stop?”

“Listen to the faggot, Atkins,” Monty says with a sneer, “don’t make this any worse than it has to be.”

Jeff straightens up, shrugging Clay off him again. He rushes at Monty again, tackling him to the ground.

Clay steps back, mouth open in shock, watching Jeff and Monty roll around on the pavement, throwing wild punches. By now, a small crowd of students has formed a circle around the two of them, giving them a stage for their fight. He feels sick as he watches Monty get Jeff in a headlock, wishing he had the strength to get in between them and drag Monty off of him. Jeff gets out of Monty’s grip, kicking him away from him. Almost without thinking, Clay rushes into the circle, trying to talk Jeff out of this again. Jeff wipes blood off his face with the back of his hand, his lip busted. “Jeff, come on, let’s just go, okay?”

Monty’s wiping at his own bloody mouth, pushing himself up off the ground. He’s still smiling, for some reason, like he thinks the whole thing is funny, even though he’s got a scrape above his eye that’s starting to bleed. “God you homos are fucking dramatic,” he says. “I didn’t even fucking hit you,” he says, shoving at Clay.

“Don’t fucking touch him,” Jeff says, rushing at Monty again.

Clay stumbles out of the way, almost tripping to the ground, but he feels a hand on his arm, steadying him. He looks up, seeing that Zach’s got him.

“What the fuck?” Zach asks, pulling Clay out of the circle, back to where he and Scott are standing.

“I don’t know,” Clay replies, watching Jeff clasp his hands in front of Monty’s chest and pull him back down to the ground, rolling on top of him. Jeff’s hands are fisted in Monty’s shirt, and he’s lifting him up and down, repeatedly banging him into the ground.

Monty almost looks disorientated, but he brings his knee up, connecting with Jeff, shoving him off of him. He crawls on top of him and punches him once, then again, then again.

“Stop it, I said stop it,” Mr. Porter says suddenly, appearing out of nowhere to grab Monty, pulling him off Jeff and shoving him away.

“Alright, alright,” Monty says, stumbling back.

“What the hell is going on?” Mr. Porter asks, looking between the two of them as Jeff slowly tries to push himself up.

Monty points at Jeff. “He started it.”

“Yeah?” Mr. Porter asks, turning to Monty. “So what are you doing?”

“Finishing it?” Monty says with a smile, and some of the students laugh.

“Oh yeah, you think that’s funny?” Mr. Porter says, grabbing Monty’s arm. “Come on, come with me. Everybody, go to class. Show’s over, go to class!”

The crowd starts to dissipate, but Clay, Zach, and Scott stay where they are, watching Mr. Porter kneel down beside Jeff, helping him up. “Let’s go, Jeff.”

“I’m fine,” Jeff says, but Clay can tell that he’s not. So can Mr. Porter.

“You don’t look so fine, alright?” he says. “Nurse. Then we all go to the vice-principal.” He grasps Jeff’s arm, pulling him up. “Come on, you too,” he says, glancing at Monty, who’s just been awkwardly standing by.

“Jeff,” Clay says, trying to hurry over to him, but Scott reaches out with an arm to stop him.

“Come on, Clay, you don’t wanna get in shit too,” Scott says, watching Mr. Porter lead Monty and Jeff towards the school.

Jeff stumbles a bit, and glances back at Clay, before looking away sadly.

Zach walks over to pick up Jeff’s backpack, handing it to Clay. “What the fuck happened?”

“I don’t know,” Clay says again. “Jeff just…freaked out. Now he’s probably going to be fucking expelled.”

The three of them start walking towards the school together, heads down.

+ + + + +

“An emergency meeting of the Student Honor Board?” Clay repeats, looking at Jeff in the bathroom mirror.

Jeff shrugs, tilting his head back to look at his face. “That’s what they said. Child doesn’t want the school to be involved, it was Mr. Porter’s idea.”

“Right, but I’m on that,” Clay says. “I can’t have a say in this.”

“Why not?”

Clay sighs. “Because…” he swallows hard. “Because we’re dating. And because I was involved. And because…”

Jeff turns, leaning against the sink. “And because you’re gonna tell them it was my fault.”

“Well, it was, wasn’t it?” Clay says quietly. “You started it.”

“Because he almost hit you with his car, Clay,” Jeff says.

“Because he called me your girlfriend,” Clay says.

Jeff sighs, biting the inside of his lip, then wincing heavily when it starts to bleed again. “Monty’s just a fucking homophobe, he had it coming.”

“Monty doesn’t know what ‘homophobe’ means,” Clay says. “He’s just an asshole. Okay? And I hate him too, but you— I mean, were you trying to hurt him? Or kill him?”

“God, Clay, no!” Jeff turns to Clay. “I wasn’t trying to kill him, jesus. I was just pissed, okay. I didn’t think it would go that far.”

“Because you thought you’d win.”

Jeff shrugs. “I mean, yeah.”

“Instead he kicked your fucking ass.”

Jeff sighs. He glances at himself in the mirror. When he left Monty in the vice principal’s office, he had a bruised lip and the cut above his eye, but Jeff looks like shit. “Yeah, he did.” His head drops, and he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, okay?” he says quietly. “I fucked up, I know that.”

Clay sighs, and reaches up, pulling Jeff close to him. “It’s okay,” he says softly, wrapping his arms around Jeff. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Jeff nods, moving his arms around Clay’s waist. “My parents are gonna be so pissed,” he says sadly.

“They’ll understand,” Clay assures him. “Just tell ‘em what happened, okay? Your parents are nice, they’ll get it.”

Jeff just shakes his head, and in Clay’s arms, his body starts to shake. He’s crying softly, trying to hide it from Clay, but Clay can tell.

“Hey, hey,” Clay says softly, pulling back. “It’s gonna be fine. Your parents aren’t gonna be pissed, and— and if it’s just the Honor Board, you won’t be expelled or anything. It’s gonna be okay.”

“I’m just pissed at myself,” Jeff says, reaching up to wipe at his face. “Fuck Clay, I wasn’t thinking. And you were there, and I just— he said what he said and—”

Clay pulls Jeff back in, letting him cry into his shirt. He slowly rubs Jeff’s back, trying to calm him down. “I know, I know,” he says softly, “but it’s gonna be okay, I promise.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeff says again, shoulders still shaking, but Clay just shushes him, and they stand there until Jeff has to go the library for the meeting of the Honor Board. Clay wants to wait outside in the hallway, but Jeff persuades him to go to class, tells him he’ll be fine, and that he’ll talk to him later.

Clay is walking in the hallways to his next class when he sees the library doors open. First, Monty comes storming out. Shortly after, Jeff comes out, glancing both ways, heading towards Clay towards Clay instead of following Monty.

“What’s the verdict?” Clay asks.

Jeff shrugs. “Monty got suspended for three days, since Marcus said the whole thing was his fault for driving like a fucking idiot and because he said— well."

“And you?” Clay says, reaching out to take Jeff’s hand.

“Just one,” Jeff replies. “Tomorrow, but Mr. Porter said I can go home early today too, so I’m gonna…call my parents, and tell them, and then go to bed, I guess. I don’t know.”

“Can I come with you?” Clay asks.

Jeff shakes his head. “Come on, Clay, you don’t skip. Stay here, and I’ll talk to you after, I promise.”

“Are you okay to drive?” Clay asks.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” Jeff says.

“Your eye is swollen though,” Clay says, tightening his hand in Jeff’s. “Just…come on, don’t drive home, okay, please? We can— we can call my dad or something.”

Jeff sighs. “No, I’ll call mine, I guess.” He digs out his cell phone, finds his dad in his contacts. “Clay, you should get to class.”

“No, I’m gonna stay until he comes,” Clay says, watching as the other students in the hall start filing into their classrooms. “Okay?”

Jeff just nods, and calls his father. “Okay,” he says, listening to it ring. “Hey, Dad?” he says. “Can you come pick me up at school? Yeah, I know. But I’ll explain when you get here.”

+ + + + +

Clay takes his phone out of his pocket as soon as he leaves his last class, seeing that Jeff has texted him.

i’m grounded and they’re taking my phone so i can’t talk, but i’ll see you at school in a couple days, ok?

Clay feels like shit, and he stares down at his phone, gripping it tightly until his fingers start to hurt.

When he gets home, he hurries up the stairs, running past his parents, slamming his bedroom door behind him and throwing himself on the bed.

Matt and Lainie glance at each other, and then Lainie slowly pushes herself back from her work at the kitchen table, walking up the stairs. She knocks on Clay’s bedroom door, waits a moment, then pushes the door open.

“Clay sweetie, are you okay?” she asks quietly.

“I just wanna be alone,” Clay says, his buried in his pillow.

“Did something happen at school?” Lainie asks, sitting on the edge of Clay’s bed.

Mom,” Clay says, “please. Okay?”

Lainie sighs, reaching out to softly rub Clay’s back. “Just…did something happen? Are you okay?”

Clay nodded, still not looking back at her. “I’m fine,” he replies. “Just tired, is all, okay? Can I just rest before supper?”

“Yeah, of course, sweetie,” Lainie says, and she leans down to kiss the back of Clay’s head before standing up. “I’ll come get you when we’re ready, okay?”

Clay nods, but doesn’t say anything else.

Lainie stands at the doorframe for a few moments longer, just watching Clay, then quietly closes the door behind her.

When Clay eventually comes down for supper, he doesn’t mention anything about the fight or about Jeff’s suspension. He just shrugs off his parents’ questions, eating quietly. He doesn’t know what their reaction to the fight would be, so he decides to not say anything about it at all. He helps them clean up after supper, and tries to pay attention while they talk about their days, but he ends up going back up to his room not too long after, telling them he’s tired, and he’ll see them in the morning.

+ + + + +

Two days later, Jeff’s suspension is over, but he doesn’t have his cell phone or laptop to tell Clay that he won’t see him until lunch. Part of being grounded is that Jeff’s parents are going to drive him to school and pick him up, so he and Clay can’t go to school together like they have been. Clay’s sitting in class, foot bouncing up and down impatiently, staring at his phone, waiting until class is over so he can hopefully see Jeff in the halls for lunch. He hasn’t heard from him since that text, and he wants to know how he is.

Clay looks up from his phone, watching other students file in around him, chatting with each other loudly as they go to their seats like nothing about today is special. He reaches to scratch the back of his head with one hand, absentmindedly scrolling through his Instagram feed with the other. He can’t really focus right now but, but it doesn’t really matter because he doesn’t follow very many people he actually knows, he uses it mostly to follow bands he likes. He follows Jeff, though, because during one of their first study sessions, Jeff literally took his phone out of his hands and pressed follow for him. He also follows Scott, who started following him a few days after the incident at the movie theatre with Bryce. Clay took it to be some sort of apology.

Clay swallows hard when he sees what Scott’s posted most recently; the caption is celebrating Liberty’s most recent baseball win, but the photo isn’t from a game, or even of the guys in their uniforms. It’s from last year, at a charity car wash Clay remembers seeing signs for, and it’s Scott, Jeff, and a couple guys Clay doesn’t know who already graduated, wearing just their swim shorts. Jeff’s are mostly red, but there’s a small section of white stars on a blue background. Clay thinks they might be the same ones he saw him wear at last year’s 4th of July pool party. Jeff has a huge smile on his face, eyes closed in the bright sunlight even though he’s wearing a backwards baseball hat, and he’s standing next to Scott who’s holding a hose in a suggestive, goofy pose. Clay pinches the screen, zooming in immediately, focusing on Jeff’s abs. Christ. It hasn’t even been that long since he’s seen them in person, but this photo is distracting. And really hot. Clay swallows hard.

“Ooh, what are you looking at?”

Clay jumps and drops his phone, it clattering to his desk. He looks over at Sheri, who’s taking her seat at the desk next to him. She smiles. “Sorry,” she says, setting her bag down on the floor by her feet.

“It’s okay,” Clay says quickly, turning his phone over to hide the screen. “And it was just— uh, Instagram.”

Sheri’s smile widens. “Yeah, the picture from the car wash?”

Clay stares at her.

“I saw it this morning when I was getting ready,” she explains. “It’s a good picture.”

Clay doesn’t really know what to say. He feels kind of awkward just agreeing that yes, it’s a good photo, because he knows that’s not what Sheri means. He just nods awkwardly and then reaches down to grab his textbook out of his backpack.

“Have you heard from him?” Sheri asks, still watching him.

Clay shakes his head. “He’s grounded. No phone. He’s back today, though, so I’ll see him later.”

“How long have you been dating anyway?”

“Um, not that long,” Clay replies. He knows that Sheri doesn’t mean anything by it, that she’s actually just trying to be nice because she cares, but he feels uneasy about it too. Like talking about it with people will just attract more negative attention to them. “Almost three months.”

Sheri smiles. “That’s cute. Are you guys going to Spring Fling together?”

Clay doesn’t say anything. He’d seen the signs at school, he knew that it was happening, but he really wasn’t paying attention, and he also hadn’t said anything about it to Jeff. After the fight, though, he’s not sure that it would be a good idea.

“I’m just thinking a bunch of us should go together,” Sheri continues, not really noticing that Clay didn’t respond. “I think it’d be fun.”

“Uh, yeah,” Clay says finally, nodding. “It would be.”

“I was hoping to have an after party but my parents are going to be around that weekend,” Sheri says. “Bryce will probably do something though.”

Clay looks down at his desk. “Uh, yeah, Bryce and I aren’t really—”

“Ugh, really?” Sheri asks. “I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Monty doesn’t have an original thought in his head, but I kind of thought it was just him being an asshole.”

“Well, he was,” Clay says, “he’s just not the only one.”

She offers him a sympathetic smile. “Sorry. But forget Bryce. Let me know if you guys end up going to the dance, it could be fun.”

“I will, yeah,” Clay says, smiling back before the bell rings and their teacher stands up in front of the class. “Thanks.” He feels a bit better already.

+ + + + +

Jeff is waiting for Clay outside the door when the bell rings, and he slips his hand into Clay’s before they even say a word to each other.

“Hey!” Clay says in surprise, and he pulls Jeff into a quick hug. “How are you?”

Jeff shrugs. “I’m alright. I survived.” He smiles, but then he winces; his split lip is still killing him, and he feels like it could bust back open at any time.

“I missed you,” Clay says quietly. “I guess that’s dumb.”

“Hey, it’s not dumb,” Jeff says, and he gives Clay a quick kiss. “I missed you too. Sorry I couldn’t text.”

Clay shrugs. “It’s okay. How long are you grounded for?”

Jeff shakes his head. “I’m not sure yet. No phone for a week, that part was pretty clear, but they’re going to have to let me use my laptop for school pretty soon.”

“Are we still studying?” Clay asks.

“Yeah, I think so,” Jeff replies. “They’re still letting me go to baseball, so…” He sighs. “Anyway. What’s for lunch?”

Clay shrugs. “Leftovers from last night.”

“Ooh, nice. More of your dad’s pasta?”

“Hey boys,” Sheri says, walking out of the classroom behind Clay, catching up to them. “Jeff, welcome back. Nice black eye.”

Jeff grins. “Thanks, I think I’ll keep it.”

“So I was talking to Clay about Spring Fling,” Sheri says, walking alongside them. “And I’m not entirely sure that you guys are going.”

Jeff glances over at Clay, who just shrugs. “We haven’t really talked about it. It’s hard to pass up a night with so many assholes.”

Sheri laughs. “Well, like I told Clay, just let me know. I think a bunch of us are going to go together. Maybe pre-drinks? Could be fun!”

“Yeah, sounds good,” Jeff says, and he gives Sheri a wave as she breaks away from them to walk down the hallway to the cafeteria.

“Are we really going to the dance?” Clay asks, looking over at Jeff as they walk outside together, heading towards an empty picnic table near the parking lot.

Jeff shrugs. “Did you want to?”

Clay shrugs back. “I don’t know. I’m not— well, much of a dancer, you can probably tell. I just, I didn’t know what to say. She asked if we were going, but we haven’t really talked about it.” He starts unpacking his lunch on the table, watching Jeff. He feels sick looking at the bruise around his eyes, and his bottom lip is still swollen too. Truth be told, Jeff may be acting normal, but he still looks like shit. Clay blinks his eyes quickly and looks down. He doesn’t want to cry in front of Jeff, but he feels like he might.

“Clay,” Jeff says softly, and he reaches out to put his hand on Clay’s. “Will you do me the honour of going to the Spring Fling with me?”

Clay looks up and rolls his eyes. “Okay, you don’t have to be a jerk about it!”

Jeff laughs loudly. “I’m not! Listen, I’d love to go to the dance with you, if you wanna go. If not, I say fuck everybody else and we’ll go out to dinner or something, I don’t know. I mean, I love a good dance. And I’d love a good dance with my boyfriend, but I’m not going to drag you there.”

Clay cracks open the top of his can of Diet Coke and takes a sip, watching Jeff shake up his container of protein shake, just a beige sludge that Clay can’t stand the thought of drinking. Jeff takes a big swig. “Can I borrow your phone to text my dad?”

“Sure,” Clay says, taking his phone out of his pocket and handing it to Jeff.

“Thanks,” Jeff says, typing in Clay’s password, “I just need to ask abo—” He stops talking, and then grins widely, staring down at the screen.

“What?” Clay asks, leaning forward, thinking it’s something serious.

Jeff turns the phone to face Clay, still grinning. “You see something you like, Clay?”

Clay stares at the phone in disbelief. Scott’s Instagram page is still open to the photo of Jeff, having never been closed since Clay was looking at it before class. “I, um…” He lets out an awkward laugh. “Uh…”

Jeff laughs loudly, looking back at the phone. “It is a nice picture. I get it. Plus, I know how much you missed me.”

“I was just looking before class,” Clay explains. “Sheri started talking to me and I didn’t close it.”

“I don’t care, Clay, I’m just joking,” Jeff says, and he swipes out of the app, starting to write a text to his dad. “It’s not like you haven’t seen me shirtless before.”

Clay takes another drink, knowing that what Jeff’s saying is true, but he still can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.

“I can send you more, if you want,” Jeff says, not looking up from his text.

“More what?”

“More pictures,” Jeff replies. He presses send and then hands the phone back to Clay. “Once I get my phone back, anyway.”

Clay just takes his phone back, silently watching Jeff, who takes another drink of his shake. He doesn’t know what to say. He knows what he wants to say, but he honestly can’t tell if Jeff is joking or not. He doesn’t think he is, but he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. “Really?” he says finally. “I might…like that."

Jeff smiles. “Yeah?” Clay nods. “Okay, cool. You can stop jerking it to Scott’s Instagram then.”

“I wasn’t— I was in class, Jeff!” Clay protests loudly.

“Sure, sure, whatever you say.” He laughs and Clay just rolls his eyes, shoving his phone back in his pocket. He leans in to give Clay a kiss, but Clay ducks his head away. “Oh come on,” Jeff says.

“Not when you taste like protein shake,” Clay explains, smirking up at him.

Jeff raises his eyebrows. “You’ve tasted my protein shake before.”

“Oh, gross!”

Jeff bursts out laughing, hand coming up to his chest. He’s loud, the people around them are now glancing over at him, but he can’t help himself. He can’t stop laughing, tears starting to prick the corners of his eyes.

“God you’re awful,” Clay mutters, digging into his lunch, but he’s smiling too.

Jeff takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself, but a few more giggles come out. He clears his throat, beaming at Clay, stifling his laughter. “Oh come on, you gotta admit, that was funny.”

Clay rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling at Jeff. “No, it was gross,” but both of them know he’s lying. Jeff reaches out to squeeze Clay’s hand, and Clay leans in to give him a quick kiss. He pulls back, then reaches up to touch his lips. There’s the faint red of blood there, and he can see that Jeff’s lip has started bleeding again. “Shit,” he says, digging through his backpack for an old napkin, handing it to Jeff, who holds it to his mouth.

“Gross, huh?” Jeff asks after a few moments. He wants to take Clay’s mind off his lip.

Clay nods. “Yeah, you’re the worst,” he says, equally quiet.

“But you love me?” Jeff asks hopefully, swallowing hard, nervously meeting Clay’s eyes.

Clay’s stomach twists, and he doesn’t know what to say. He wasn’t expecting Jeff to say that. He nods jerkily, because even though he hasn’t said it yet, he thinks it must be true. “Ye— yeah,” he says finally, voice breaking with nerves. He takes Jeff’s hand again.

Jeff smiles, and looks down at their hands together. “Yeah, me too,” he says quietly.

Clay smiles in relief, leaning his head against Jeff’s arm. He doesn’t give a fuck who might be watching them now. He just wants to soak in the feeling of complete happiness. “I guess it wouldn’t be that bad?” he says finally.

“What’s that?” Jeff asks.

Clay looks up at him. “The dance.”

Jeff smiles. “Yeah?”

Clay smiles back and nods. “Yeah, why not? It might be fun.”

“It will be,” Jeff assures him. “Promise.”

+ + + + +

A few days later, Clay’s at home in his room when his phone lights up with a notification that he can see out of the corner of his eye, so he takes a break from his book to grab it. He opens Snapchat and sees a photo of Jeff, taken in front of his mirror. He’s wearing a grey sweater, and making a funny face. FREEDOM! it says.

Clay smiles and rolls his eyes, texting a reply. studying hard?

Jeff sends another photo; it’s almost the exact same, except this time he’s got a textbook in his hand and the words what about you? are typed on top.

Clay quickly snaps a photo of the book in front of him.

nerd

Clay smiles. jock.

Next is a photo of Jeff’s baseball trophies. no doubt

Clay takes a deep breath, and types. you know, this isn’t the type of photo I thought you meant

Jeff snaps another photo, almost the same, still standing in the same spot in his room, but now the grey sweater’s gone. His sweatpants are riding low on his lips, and Clay can’t tell if Jeff is flexing his abs or if he just looks like that, but damn.

Clay swallows hard, and glances over to his bedroom door. It’s open, and he can hear his parents chatting downstairs, but he feels like if he closes it they’ll get suspicious. He can feel his stomach start to twist a bit and he looks down at his phone, seeing another notification from Jeff.

Jeff’s on his bed, head on his pillows, lips slightly pursed. His eyes are bright, even with the fading bruises around them, and his lips look redder than usual. Clay thinks maybe he was biting on them, but maybe it’s still just from where Monty hit him.

better?

Clay glances at his bedroom door again. He knows he should get up to shut it, he’s itching to slip his hand under the waistband of his pyjamas, but at the same time, he feels a bit…perverted? maybe, at the idea of jerking off just because Jeff sent him two pictures of him shirtless. Desperate, at least. And something about these photos of Jeff make him feel guilty.

you freaking out yet

Clay laughs softly. yeah, he types, then how could you tell?

because I know you

Jeff sends him another photo. This time it’s him with a wide grin, teeth bright. He’s tugged a t-shirt on, and his hair’s a bit messy. He’s rolled onto his stomach, and he’s pushing himself up on his elbows. He just looks happy. Clay almost doesn’t even focus on the bruises.

Clay takes a screenshot. Then Jeff immediately FaceTimes him.

“You can’t just take a screenshot!”

Clay laughs.

“I mean, you do know that I can tell when you do that, right?”

Clay nods. “Yeah, I know. I liked it, though. I wanted to keep it.”

Jeff smiles. “So my attempt at sexting you was a failure, huh? I finally beg my parents for my phone back, and it’s all for nothing?”

Clay looks at his door, praying that his parents aren’t suddenly hovering there for some reason. “Uh, sorry.”

“Clay, I know this isn’t going to change anything, but I’m just going to say it again: stop apologizing.”

Clay smiles.

“It’s cool,” Jeff continues. “I don’t care if you don’t like it. I’d rather you told me you didn’t, you know?” He shrugs. “Maybe it is kind of weird.”

“I wanted to. I mean, I thought about it.”

“Thought about what?”

Clay sighs, shifting on his bed. “You know. But it just made me feel kind of weird, like, why would I jerk off to a picture of my boyfriend if I could just…go see my boyfriend. Especially since you’re not grounded anymore.”

“And have him jerk you off instead? Lazy asshole.”

Clay rolls his eyes, a smile on his face. “Yeah, maybe I am.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Well, what are you doing right now?” Jeff asks.

“Studying, I told you that.”

“So then forget that and come over,” Jeff says. “We can watch a movie or something. I miss you. So much.”

“Yeah, I know how watching movies with you goes,” Clay says. “Have we ever actually finished one?”

“I’ll keep my hands to myself, I promise,” Jeff says. “If you want.” He winks. “But who knows, after this long without seeing you…”

Clay glances at his door. “I…don’t know.”

“Clay?”

Clay nods. “I’m fine. It’s just…hard to explain, maybe. I don’t know.”

Jeff sighs, and reaches back to scratch the back of his head. “You can try, with me, you know that.”

Clay nods. “Yeah, I know.”

Jeff smiles, but it’s tight. He doesn’t look as happy as he just did, he almost looks sad. Or concerned. It makes Clay feel like shit. He knows Jeff always wants to hear what he’s feeling, that he’s never made Clay feel bad about it, but he really just doesn’t know how to say it this time. “Well, the invitation still stands, if you’re bored.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jeff shrugs. “Don’t worry about it, I get it.”

“No,” Clay says, “I’m sorry. For…” he trails off and waves his hand over his face. “For Monty.”

Jeff scoffs. “Monty? Fuck him, dude, what he did isn’t your fault. You know I hit him first, right?”

“But you did it for me,” Clay explains.

“Yeah, and I’d do it again. I’d do it to him, and Bryce, and who the fuck else. Don’t feel guilty about it.”

“But I should’ve done more!” Clay protests. “I— I stood there, and let him say shit to me, and then I stood there and let him hit you.”

Jeff sighs. “Clay, I got punched in the face. It’s not like I’m dead. It’s not that big a deal.”

“It is to me,” Clay says. “It just freaked me out, okay? And now my boyfriend’s got a black eye and a busted lip and it makes me feel like shit because I didn’t help you. Monty’s an asshole and I stood by and did nothing. What if he does it again?”

“He won’t.”

“But—“

“He won’t,” Jeff says. “Clay, you gotta trust me on this one, okay? Listen, I fucking hate Monty, okay? But I know him better than you do; he’s just got some shit he needs to deal with, and he’s too much of a coward to start something. Okay?”

Clay doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to keep arguing his point, he feels like he’s dumb and overreacting, but he does still feel guilty. But at the same time, he knows that Jeff’s probably right. “Okay,” he says finally. “Okay, you’re right.”

Jeff smiles sympathetically. “I’m gonna let you get back to studying, okay?”

Clay nods. “Yeah, okay.” His voice sounds rougher in his ears, like he’s on the verge of tears. He wonders if Jeff can hear it.

“Goodnight, okay?” Jeff says.

Clay says it back, and then the call ends. He stares at his phone for a few moments longer, then sets it aside. He opens his book again, but he can’t focus on the page. He can’t help but feel like he’s messed something up. He groans and shoves the book to the floor, staring up at the ceiling until he doesn’t know how much time has passed. Until he hears footsteps on the stairs and then his mother is at his door.

“Clay?” Lainie says.

Clay sits up, looking at her. “Yeah?”

Lainie smiles. “You have a guest.”

Clay frowns, and looks at the time, then climbs off his bed. “Who is it?” he asks as the two of them start to walk down the stairs together.

“Oh, just a gentleman caller,” Lainie says, patting Clay on the shoulder.

Clay starts to roll his eyes, but when they get to the bottom of the stairs, he stops. He sees Jeff standing there, hands shoved in his pockets, smiling as he chats with Matt, who seems to be studying the bruises on Jeff’s face with an impressed look on his own. “Uh, hey.”

Jeff and Matt turn to Clay, and Jeff grins widely, waving. “Hey!”

“Jeff was just telling us about the Spring Fling,” Matt says. “Sounds fun.”

“Uh…did we have plans?” Clay asks, even though of course he knows they didn’t, since it can’t have been more than 30 minutes since they spoke.

“No,” Jeff says, and he walks towards Clay, “I just wanted to swing by. Are you free for a bit?”

Clay looks back at Lainie who lifts her hands in surrender and walks past Clay to stand with Matt.

“It’s not too late, so I think it’s fine,” Lainie says. “But you do have school tomorrow.”

“We won’t go far, I promise,” Jeff says.

Clay smiles at his parents and zips up his hoodie as they step out into the night.

Jeff waves at Matt and Lainie, and pulls the door closed behind them. He slips his hand into Clay’s, and smiles over at him.

“This is a surprise,” Clay says, and he feels even more surprised when Jeff leads him past his car, walking down the driveway and turning onto the sidewalk. They just walk. Clay doesn’t know where they’re going, or if Jeff does either, but he doesn’t mind.

“Like I said, I miss you. And as soon as we stopped talking I just felt like shit,” Jeff replies. “I don’t know, you’re clearly bothered by this, and I just didn’t want you to think I didn’t care, you know?”

“I know you care,” Clay says softly. “You’re really good at making that clear. I’m…worried I’m not.”

“You told me you loved me,” Jeff says, and when he looks at Clay, he’s practically beaming.

“I did,” Clay says, and he grins back. He stops walking so that he can lean in to give Jeff a kiss. “I feel like if I told my parents that they’d roll their eyes and say Clay, you’ve only been dating him for a couple months, that can’t possibly be true but…” He shrugs. “I do, so.”

“So, I think you’re making it pretty clear.” Jeff smiles. “I promise I’ll steer clear of Monty. I don’t think he’s going to do anything, but I’ll do my best to not give him the chance.”

“So no more hitting him in the parking lot?”

Jeff chuckles. “Yeah, exactly.”

Clay sighs. “It was never about that, Jeff. I mean, I’m kind of glad you hit him. He’s an asshole. I just felt like shit because you got in trouble and you got the black eye and I didn’t help.”

Jeff nods slowly, looking down to watch his feet as they walk. He doesn’t know what to say, honestly.

“You think that’s dumb?”

“No!” Jeff says quickly. “I don’t think it’s dumb. I don’t want you to feel guilty for anything, but it’s not dumb. I mean, what I did is dumb. I wasn’t even thinking.”

“If I was a better boyfriend I would’ve stopped him,” Clay says suddenly, and he stops walking again.

Jeff turns to him. “Clay, you’re not a bad boyfriend.”

“I feel like everything I do is wrong.”

“Clay.”

“And— and you’re still you, the hottest guy at our school, the most popular guy, the nicest guy, and I’m Clay Jensen, the nerdy guy that nobody cared about or talked about—”

“The guy that I’ve had a crush on since the first day you tutored me?” Jeff interrupts.

“The guy who freaks out about dumb shit like this because he’s been such a loser his entire life that he has zero experience and no idea how to act around people he likes.”

“The guy who used to only put butter on the top of my popcorn so I’d have to come back out and talk to him during my movie.”

“The guy who’s gonna mess this up eventually.” Clay swallows hard and crosses his arms. “The guy who I’m pretty sure has messed this up already.”

Jeff scoffs. “Clay, I don’t know how else to convince you. You’re not. I get it. You’ve never dated anyone before, you get nervous. I’m nervous too. And yeah, people are shit, that girl who kissed you in seventh grade was shit, but I’m not her! This isn’t a bet, or a dare. And I don’t know if we’re gonna like get old and die together or something but I don’t care about that right now, okay? Because I love spending time with you. I love how happy you make me feel. You’re my favourite person at that stupid school, and I just need you to know that, okay. Please.”

Jeff is breathing heavily, Clay can tell how worked up he’s getting. “I’ve never wanted to be around anybody as much I wanna be around you. I’ve never liked anybody as much I like you. I’m glad you didn’t try to help fight Monty because then I’d be worried about you getting hurt and I wouldn’t be able to stand that, okay? God, Clay, just believe me, once, please, when I tell you that you’re the best thing that’s happened to me and I love you.” Jeff reaches out to grab Clay’s hand; he can feel that Clay is trembling, can see that his eyes are starting to fill with tears. “I’m not going anywhere. You keep thinking you’re a nerd and— and a loser, but Clay, even if you are, that’s what I like about you. I like everything about you. That’s not going to change. You’re the best boyfriend I’ve ever had.”

Clay blinks to keep from crying, but he scoffs and smiles, looking away. “I’m the only boyfriend you’ve ever had,” he says softly.

“Yeah, and that’s awesome,” Jeff says quietly, and he pulls Clay in closer. “Clay, I freaked out so much when I realized I liked you. That it wasn’t just me thinking you were smart, or funny, that it was like, holy shit I want to date this guy. And I kept freaking out. And part of me is still freaking out. But knowing that I have such an awesome guy who likes me too, it makes it all a lot easier.” He takes a deep breath. “Is it okay if I kiss you right now? Because I really missed kissing you.”

Clay looks up at Jeff, blinking away his tears. “Yeah.”

Jeff smiles and then pull him in. They kiss gently, Jeff taking Clay’s face in his hands, and Clay reaching up to lightly grasp onto Jeff’s wrists, holding him close, anchoring him to him. “What’s it gonna take to convince you?”

Clay sniffles and shakes his head. “That was pretty great, actually.”

Jeff grins. “Yeah?”

Clay nods. “Yeah.”

Jeff moves his hands down to Clay’s waist, and then starts to gently sway.

Clay laughs. “What are you doing?”

“Practising for the dance.”

“Ugh, no, please,” Clay says. He tries to pull away but Jeff just pulls him back in, laughing loudly. “I take it back, let’s break up, this is awful.”

Jeff stops laughing, just keeps holding Clay close. He so clearly doesn’t care if anybody is watching them from their houses. Let them. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Clay shakes his head. He leans against Jeff, just taking in the feeling of him. “No, I want to. I wanna go with you.” He takes a deep breath. “I wanna be there with you.”

“Yeah?”

Clay nods. “Yeah. I mean, you tried to beat up a guy for me, the least I can do is go to a stupid dance.” He sighs. “I was really scared.”

“I know,” Jeff says, “I’m sorry. I just wasn’t thinking. I’m not gonna do it again, I promise.”

Clay nods again, burying his face in Jeff’s shirt. He never wants the moment to end.

+ + + + +

“Here kiddo, take a look at this,” Matt says, handing Clay the yellow Post-It with a short list scribbled on it. “Find those for your mom, will ya? I’m going to grab some steaks.”

“Sure,” Clay says, reading the items as he walks away from his father, picking an aisle to go up. He grabs a couple items, awkwardly holding them in his arms. He knows it’d be easier if he went to get a cart, or at least a basket, but he feels too far gone now, he’ll just wait until Matt comes back. He moves to another aisle, and grabs one thing. He’s moved to another aisle, scanning the shelves for something h’s never heard of, when Matt appears at his side with the cart. Clay dumps all the stuff he’s grabbed in, and keeps looking, moving down the aisle.

“So.”

“So,” Clay says, looking over at his father, who’s slowly pushing the cart alongside him.

“How are things?”

Clay shrugs. “They’re fine, I guess.” He’s not sure what his father specifically means by things but he figures, sure, for the most part, things are fine. His parents still haven’t mentioned the fight, but now that they’ve seen Jeff’s face, he’s just waiting for them to bring it up.

“So, when Jeff came over the night, he was telling me about the dance,” Matt says.

Clay nods.

“You’re still going?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Clay replies. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

“I just thought that maybe after what happened with Jeff and that boy at school,” Matt begins, “you know. Maybe it won’t be that fun.”

“Yeah," Clay says quietly. “Maybe not.”

“Are there going to be any problems with Jeff and that kid?”

Clay shrugs. “I don’t know. He says no, but…I don’t like Monty anyway, and I definitely don’t trust him, but school’s been fine.”

“So Jeff is okay?”

“Yeah Dad, he’s fine. You saw him,” Clay says, “just a black eye and a busted lip, he’s okay.”

“Good. Good. But the dance?”

“I guess it’s just up to me to keep him away from Monty all night.”

Matt and Clay turn into another aisle, and then Matt suddenly stops. “Well, I don’t know if I should tell you this or not, considering your mom might kill me, but…”

Clay shifts on his feet, waiting for his dad to continue.

“There’s a banquet that night for the English department,” Matt says. “At the Four Seasons. We’re supposed to eat, drink, dance the night away.”

Clay thinks he knows what his dad’s getting at, but he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing, so he stands quietly, waiting for Matt to finish.

“Anyway, we get a free night at the hotel,” Matt says. “Just something to think about.” He smiles, gives a quick glance at the shelves in the front of them, reaches out to pat Clay on the arm, and then starts walking away.

Clay lets out a deep breath, shoving his hands in his pockets. He looks around, trying to process what Matt had said. He wasn’t really saying that he and Jeff could have the whole place to themselves for a night, was he? There’s no way Lainie would agree to that. But…Clay turns to look at the shelf in front of him, and his mouth drops open. Matt’s left him in front of a huge display of condoms and lube. “Jesus,” he mutters, then hurries to catch up with his father, who’s making his way towards the check-out.

Matt’s loading the conveyor belt when he glances back at Clay. “Anything you wanna get?” he asks.

Clay just shakes his head.

“You’re sure?” Matt asks, digging out his wallet.

“Uh, yeah,” Clay says. “Um…Jeff already—”

“Oh, good,” Matt says, and he smiles at the cashier, handing over his points card. “That’s all I wanted to know.”

Clay watches his dad pay for their stuff, then quietly follows him back out to the car. Matt pops the trunk and starts unloading their groceries. “Do you want to talk about it?” Clay asks, helping fit a couple bags in.

“Talk about what?” Matt asks.

Clay sighs and rolls his eyes. “That, like, I might…be thinking about having sex.” Really, he’s doing a lot more than just thinking about it, but he figures it’s best to not just announce that in the parking lot of the grocery store.

Matt shrugs. “I’m not gonna make you talk about it if you don’t want to, kiddo, but you know I’m always hear to listen. You know that right?”

Clay nods. Because he does, he knows that. Never in his life has he doubted that his parents would be there for him if he needed them.

“And, well, yeah, there are things I want to know but I know that I embarrass you enough as it is so I’m just going to let it go,” Matt says. He shuts the trunk and walks to the front of the car, climbing in.

Clay gets in beside him and looks over at his dad. “We can, you can ask, I guess.”

“Yeah?”

Clay shrugs and then nods. “Yeah.”

“I just want to make sure that you’re being safe,” Matt says. “And that you’re okay and comfortable with what you’re doing because I know the age difference isn’t much but Jeff might be more experienced than you and I just hope you’re not doing things that only he likes.”

Clay nods.

“I’m not saying don’t have sex,” Matt continues, “I’m just saying…I care, okay?”

“I know,” Clay says softly.

“Because having sex isn’t as big of a deal as people make it out to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s…not a deal at all.” Matt chuckles at his own awkwardness and shakes his head. “You know? I’m not saying this is going to change your life, but I just want you to know that…” Matt trails off. “So, condoms, yes?”

“Yeah,” Clay says.

“And, and you’re not feeling pressured or anything, right?”

“No, I’m not,” Clay replies. “It’s not like that.”

“He doesn’t— he’s nice? I mean, he seems very nice, but that’s around me, so I just want to make sure he’s nice to you.”

“He is.”

“So why didn’t you tell us about the fight?” Matt asks. “It was the night you came home upset, right? Went straight to bed?”

Clay nods. “Yeah. “

“What did you think we would say?”

“I don’t know,” Clay replies. “I just…I was upset. I was angry, and worried, and I just wanted to deal with it on my own.”

“Does Jeff normally have a temper?”

Clay shakes his head quickly. “No, Dad, it’s not like that. Monty was being an asshole. He’s— there’s a couple guys at school who are assholes. Calling me and Jeff names. Jeff just hit him to defend me and it got out of hand. He’s not like that normally.”

“What are people saying about you?” Matt asks.

Clay shrugs. “You know.”

“I don’t.”

“The usual,” Clay replies. “Homo, faggot, that kind of stuff.”

“And you didn’t think you should tell us about that either?” Matt asks. “Clay, it’s not okay for somebody to say those things to you!”

“I know!” Clay replies. “But we’re dealing with it.”

“By fighting people,” Matt says. “Sure, that’s great.”

“This is why I didn’t tell you,” Clay says, “I knew you wouldn’t understand. You wouldn’t get it.”

“Then help me get it,” Matt says.

“It’s not easy for me and Jeff, okay? Sure it’s the twenty-first century but people are still assholes, and it’s easy to make fun of the gay kids. I don’t feel bad that Jeff hit him, okay? I feel bad that I didn’t hit him too.”

“Clay, I don’t want you getting in fights,” Matt tells him. “Okay? I can’t worry about that. I worry about you enough. Okay? I knew this wouldn’t be easy. I knew it as soon as you told me you were together. I never had to deal with this shit but I knew it would happen. I just need to know you’re safe.”

Clay sighs. “I am safe, Dad. It was just a fight at school. It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” Matt asks.

Clay nods. “Yeah. I think…it’s over. I’m not worried about it.”

Matt reaches over and pulls Clay into a tight hug, holding him close. “I love you, kiddo. You know that right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And I’ll fucking kill anyone who hurts you. I don’t care if they’re a kid.”

Clay nods. “I know, Dad.” He takes a deep breath, and hugs his dad back. “Dad, I’m okay. I promise.”

“You’re sure?” Matt asks, pulling back.

“Yeah,” Clay replies. “I was kind of messed up at first, like upset that it happened, and scared, but it’s okay now. Monty’s back at school, and it’s fine. It’s okay.”

“Just talk to us, kiddo,” Matt says. “I know it’s not cool to talk to your parents or whatever, but we’re here, you know that? I never want you to think we’re not.”

Clay nods.

“Good,” Matt says, and he finally starts the car. “Because your mom and I love you.”

“I love you too,” Clay replies. “It’s not you, Dad, it’s me.”

“You’re giving me the it’s not you, it’s me routine?” Matt says, glancing at Clay. “I invented it’s not you, it’s me! Nobody tells me it’s them, not me!”

Clay laughs, shaking his head at his father’s horrible impression. He’s always felt safe with his father, with both his parents, like nothing outside in the real world could hurt him. He knows now that’s not really true, but he knows his parents will always try.

+ + + + +

“Oh my god, Clay, you look so handsome!”

“Ugh, Mom,” Clay says, rolling his eyes, but when he glances in the mirror, he secretly thinks he looks pretty good too.

“Oh come on, Clay, let me have this,” Lainie says, taking another photo. “You wear jeans and a hoodie every day, this is all I get.”

“Geez Mom, I didn’t realize you hated my wardrobe so much.”

“Clay!” Matt calls from downstairs.

“Okay Mom, Jeff’s here, so you gotta let me go now, alright?” Clay asks, walking by her.

“Well, you gotta let me get a few pictures of the two of you together, right?” Lainie asks, following him downstairs.

“Whoa-oh-oh,” Matt says, looking at Clay as he walks into the kitchen. “Who’s this handsome kid, and what’d he do with my son?”

Clay sighs heavily, already tired of his parents, but he knows his mom is right: he never dresses up like this. No reason to. So he’ll let them have this. “Thanks Dad, you look really nice too. Aren’t you going to be late for the banquet?”

“We’re leaving as soon as you guys do,” Matt says, walking over to the front door, opening it to Jeff standing on the porch. “Jeff! How are you?”

“I’m great, Mr. Jensen, thanks,” Jeff says, looking around as he steps into the house. “Hi, Mrs. Jensen.” He stops to look Clay. “You look really nice.”

Clay smiles. Jeff looks amazing in his suit, and with his hair done, it’s striking to Clay just how good-looking Jeff is. “Thanks,” he says quietly. “You— you too.”

Lainie smiles. She can tell how awkward Clay feels. “Very handsome, Jeff,” she agrees. “Clay?” she says, looking to him, lifting up her phone.

“Yeah, my mom wants to get a bunch of pictures of us together,” Clay says, walking over to Jeff.

“You know, for the grandkids,” Matt says, looking at them with a huge grin on his face.

Clay says nothing, but Jeff chuckles. “Well, I can’t argue with that! Where do you want us, Mrs. Jensen?”

Lainie beams. “Uh, I think outside, actually, if you boys don’t mind.”

“Sure, just let me make sure I have everything,” Clay says, looking around, patting his pockets for his phone and his wallet.

“You okay?” Jeff asks quietly.

Clay nods. “Yup, I’m good!” he says, more to his parents, but also for Jeff, who gives him a smile.

The four of them file outside onto the lawn, and Clay and Jeff stand together. Clay’s awkward and stiff, arms straight down at his sides, but then Jeff slides his arm around his waist and tugs him in, looking down at him with a smile. Lainie starts taking photos. “Come on, Clay,” Jeff says softly. “Try to at least look like you like me.”

Clay breaks into a grin, and he meets Jeff’s eyes. He leans up and gives him a quick kiss, then feels dumb for having done it in front of his parents, but they don’t seem to mind. Lainie takes a few more photos, Clay relaxing a bit with each one, until Matt finally looks down at his watch.

“Okay Lainie,” he says, “we better get going!”

“Okay, okay,” Lainie says. She walks over to Clay and gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Have fun tonight boys!” She looks at Jeff, studying him seriously. “Try to stay out of trouble.”

Jeff nods. “I will, Mrs. Jensen, I promise.”

“Good! Now get going!”

“Well, you heard her,” Clay says, grabbing Jeff’s hand, hurrying across the lawn to his car. “Bye!” he calls behind him, climbing into the passenger seat.

Jeff waves, then gets into the car, buckling up. “Where are they going?” he asks, glancing in the rearview mirror as he pulls out of the driveway.

“Just a dinner,” Clay says.

“Cool.”

The dance is still a couple hours away, so Jeff pulls onto Scott’s street, parking behind another car in front of his house. “You still cool with this?” Jeff asks, glancing at Clay as they walk up Scott’s driveway.

Clay nods. “Yeah, it’s fine.”

Jeff grabs Clay’s hand, and shoots him a smile. “Thanks for being my date.”

“Who else would’ve asked me?” Clay says.

“Anybody,” Jeff says as they walk up to Scott’s door. “They’d be stupid not to.” He pulls Clay in for a quick kiss. “You look really nice, Clay,” he says.

“You too,” Clay says. “You look amazing.”

Jeff smiles. “Thanks.” He knocks once then pushes open the front door, the sound of music filtering out to meet them. “Reed!” he calls.

“Dude!” Scott says, appearing from around the corner, drink in hand. “Hey, Clay. How are you?”

“Hey Scott,” Clay says, shifting uncomfortably on his feet, “great, thanks. You?”

“Decent!” Scott says, raising his drink to them. “Come on in! Are you guys having anything?”

“Uh,” Jeff glances back at Clay, who shrugs. “Uh no, dude, I’m driving. But Clay?”

“Um,” Clay says, following Scott into the kitchen. “I guess?”

Scott smiles. “I mean, I have more than liquor, dude, don’t worry. Fridge is stocked.”

“Your parents just let you drink here?” Clay asks.

Scott shrugs. “Why, you plan on trashing the place?”

“No, I just—”

“Joking! Clay, geez.” Scott claps Clay on the back. “Help yourself. I gotta run upstairs and find my tie, yeah?”

Jeff walks to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of water for himself, tossing Clay a beer. Clay scrunches up his nose when he looks at it, but he opens the can anyway, taking a drink. Jeff leans against the counter, taking a swig of water, and pulls Clay in, wrapping his arm around his waist. “You good?”

Clay nods, taking another drink. “Yeah, this is fine.” He gives Jeff a quick smile, and an even quicker kiss. Scott told them Monty and Bryce weren’t going to be there, but that doesn’t mean whoever else is there is isn’t going to be a dick. But it turns out, there’s only one other person in the house.

“Hey dudes,” Zach says just then, wandering into the kitchen. He’s holding a drink, but Clay can tell it’s not alcohol. He doesn’t think Zach is much of a drinker. “How’s it going?”

“Great,” Jeff says, and he reaches out to pat Zach on the arm. “Having fun?”

Zach shrugs. “As much as I can, I guess. Alone.”

Jeff laughs. “Dude, you just gotta ask her. Who’s gonna say no to you?”

Zach takes a drink, looking at Clay over the rim of his glass. Clay doesn’t know who they’re talking about, so he just gives him a polite smile.

“Alright, I’m back!” Scott says, bouncing down the stairs into the kitchen, tie in his hand. “Now who wants to tie this for me?”

“I can,” Clay says, stepping forward, setting his drink down on the counter.

“Thanks,” Scott says, handing Clay the tie, standing in front of him.

Clay bites down on his lip as he makes sure the tie is the right length on each side, then he starts to make quick work of the knot, fingers nimble. He adjusts it a bit, then takes a step back, looking down. “Yeah, that’s good,” he says, giving Scott a quick smile.

Scott turns to catch his reflection in the microwave, then grins. “Awesome dude, thanks.”

Clay shrugs. “Yeah, no problem,” he says, and he steps back, grabbing his drink.

“And so humble!” Scott says to Jeff. “Where do I find one?”

Jeff laughs and shrugs. “I don’t know. Have Coach threaten to kick your ass off the team and then date whatever tutor they give you?”

Scott pretends to think for a moment, then shrugs. “Okay!” He takes a swig, and then glances around. “You guys wanna play video games?”

Zach shrugs. “Sure, sounds cool to me.”

“You in?” Jeff asks, glancing at Clay.

“Yeah,” Clay says, following the other three into the living room.

Scott throws himself onto the floor in front of the couch, and Zach settles into an oversized chair off to the side, leaving Clay and Jeff to sit on the couch together. Jeff shrugs off his jacket, throwing it over the back of the couch, then takes the controller Scott offers him.

Clay takes another drink, then glances back and forth between Zach and Scott. “Why are you guys being so nice to me?” he asks suddenly, and Jeff looks at him in surprise.

Zach glances over, and Scott tilts his head back so he can look up at him, albeit upside down. “‘Cause we’re not dicks,” Zach says, as if it’s obvious.

“Or homophobes,” Scott said, looking back at the screen, setting up the game.

Jeff smiles and reaches over, squeezing Clay’s leg. “They’re cool, I promise,” he says quietly.

“Listen to him, Clay,” Scott says. “I’m the coolest fucking dude at this school.”

Zach snorts and rolls his eyes. “Okay Reed, calm down. If you were that cool, would you really be at your house playing video games with three dudes before a school dance?”

Scott glares at Zach across the room. “Uh, obviously. ‘Cause that’s what I’m doing.”

Zach rolls his eyes, and starts playing the game. After a few minutes, when they’ve all died a couple times, Zach glances over at the couch. “Uh, so, Clay.”

Scott awkwardly clears his throat and glances back at Jeff, who’s smiling.

“Yeah?” Clay asks, taking a drink, trying to spin his character around to find the right way.

“Is Hannah going to the dance with anyone?” he asks, trying to sound casual, but his voice breaks in the middle of his sentence, and it only takes a second or two for Scott to start to laugh. “Dude, shut up.”

“Uh, Hannah?” Clay repeats, glancing over at Zach. “Like, Baker?”

Zach nods.

Clay glances at Jeff, who’s still smiling. Clay starts to smile too. “Uh, no, that I know of. Actually, no, she’s not. I told her she could hang out with me and Jeff. And…you guys, too, if you want.”

Scott laughs again, shoulders shaking as he tries to keep quiet.

“Yeah, that sounds cool,” Zach says quietly, before taking his tie off and reaching out to try to whip Scott with it.

“Dude, stop!” Scott cries, jerking out of the way, laughing loudly as he falls to his side.

“He likes Hannah?” Clay asks quietly, turning to Jeff.

Jeff shrugs. “Yeah, Hannah,” he replies. “She’s pretty. And nice.”

“I didn’t say she’s not,” Clay replies. “I just…didn’t know he liked her.”

Jeff smiles and playfully bumps shoulders with Clay. “Well, now that you do, maybe you can give her a nudge. I think it’ll break his heart if he doesn’t at least get to dance with her. Plus he’ll just keep annoying the shit out of me about it.”

Clay nods, and after a few moments, reaches into his pocket to take out his phone, quickly sending a text.

you better still be coming to this stupid dance tonight.

yeah, I’ll be there. with bells on.

good, because I need a favor.

geez Helmet, you and your boyfriend sure are needy.

Then a second later: am I gonna regret this?

Clay glances over at Zach, studying him for a moment, then shrugs. probably not?

ugh, I’ll see you there, but this better be good

Clay smiles, and slips his phone back into his pocket. He leans against Jeff, and takes another drink.

“You good?” Jeff asks quietly, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the screen.

Clay nods. “Yeah, I’m good.” He smiles. “Tonight’s gonna be fun.”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck yeah!” Scott says, tilting his head back to look at them again. He picks up his drink and reaches back to clink cups with Clay. “Clay knows what’s up.”

“Yeah he does,” Jeff says, and he gives Clay a quick kiss.

+ + + + +

Jeff turns off the ignition, and climbs out of the car. Scott stumbles out of the backseat, already a little tipsy, but he quickly straightens up, fixing his tie. Jeff laughs and slings his arm around Scott’s shoulders, playfully pulling him in.

Zach climbs out of the front seat, straightening his jacket. He glances back as Clay gets out of the backseat, giving him an awkward smile. “Thanks again,” he says.

Clay shrugs. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t think you could fit back there.”

Zach chuckles. “No, guess not.” He and Clay fall in step together, walking a few feet behind Scott and Jeff. “So, how’ve you been?”

Clay glances over. “Like, recently?”

Zach shrugs. “Since the fight?”

“I’m fine,” Clay replies. “No big deal.”

“You sure about that?” Zach asks.

“Yeah,” Clay says. “Monty’s doing a pretty good job of avoiding us.” He pauses for a moment. “He came back to school with a pretty bad bruise on his face, though.”

Zach bites down on his lip, glancing at Clay. “And?”

“And Jeff didn’t do that to him,” Clay says quietly.

Zach shakes his head. “No, he didn’t,” he replies.

Then, Scott and Jeff glance behind them, big smiles on their face. “What are you guys talking about back there?” Jeff asks, reaching back to Clay.

Clay quickly glances at Zach and then reaches out, grasping Jeff’s hand, hurrying to catch up with him. “Nothing,” he says, giving him a reassuring smile.

“Hey Zach look,” Scott says, gesturing at the front door. “It’s your girlfriend.”

“Dude, shut up,” Zach says quietly, ducking his head.

Clay looks at the door, seeing where Hannah is waiting for him. He waves, grinning at her.

Hannah waves back, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “Hey Helmet,” she says, smiling at him. “So what’s so important?” she asks.

“Uh,” Clay glances back at Zach, and shrugs. “Uh, I’ll tell you inside?”

Hannah looks at Zach, seeing his eyes dart away from her, and then she looks back at Clay in confusion.

Clay smiles apologetically. He lets go of Jeff’s hand so that he can lean in closer to her. “Just one dance?” he asks quietly. “Maybe two? He really likes you.”

Hannah sighs, and then looks at Zach again. “Maybe one,” she replies, meeting Clay’s eyes, “but if he turns out to be a perv you’re gonna owe me.”

“Deal,” Clay says, pulling her into a quick hug.

“Alright, let’s get in there, I’m ready to dance,” Scott says, and he starts tugging on Jeff’s arm, leading him to the door. Jeff, in turn, starts tugging on Clay’s hand. Clay lets himself get led into the school, leaving Hannah with Zach.

“Uh, hey,” Hannah says, awkwardly twisting a lock of hair around her finger, then she realizes what’s she doing and drops her hand, clasping them both behind her back.

“Hey,” Zach says, smiling before ducking his head again. “Uh, can I…walk you in?” he asks.

Hannah smiles, and nods. “Yeah, I guess that’d be okay,” she says, turning towards the door.

“I’m gonna go find Sheri,” Scott says once they’re in the gym, immediately heading off on his own.

“You wanna dance?” Zach asks, glancing over at Hannah. “Or— or not, that’s cool too.”

Hannah smiles, laughing softly. “Um, no, I mean, yeah, that sounds nice.” She glances back at Clay, and then leads Zach out onto the dance floor.

“Guess it’s just me and you,” Jeff says, and he pulls Clay in.

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Clay says, giving him a kiss.

“Are you ready to dance?” Jeff asks.

Clay looks around, and takes a deep breath. “Uh, honestly?”

Jeff laughs loudly. “Okay, let’s mingle then.” He squeezes Clay’s hand tightly, giving him a smile. They find Scott with Sheri, who playfully hits Clay in the arm when she hears that they were pre-drinking without her, but she doesn’t really seem that upset. Other baseball players come over, Monty and Bryce excluded, and after a few minutes of conversation Clay slips away from the crowd to go to the stage where Tony is set up, DJ-ing.

“Hey,” he says, leaning against the table.

“Clay!” Tony exclaims. “Gotta admit, I’m surprised to see you here.” He looks around, and then sees Jeff laughing loudly. “Though you are dating the most popular guy in school, so I guess it’s required.”

Clay rolls his eyes, but then he kind of laughs. “Yeah, I guess it kind of is.”

“You here to make a request?” Tony asks.

Clay shakes his head. “Unless you can call the whole thing off, no.”

“No can do, brother,” Tony says.

“Then whatever’s fine,” Clay says.

“You don’t want your big first dance to be to something cheesy?” Tony asks. “Maybe a little K-Ci & JoJo?”

“You and Ryan aren’t gonna dance?” Clay asks.

Tony chuckles, shaking his head. “I DJ so I don’t have to dance, Clay, that’s the point.” He pulls off his headphones and steps away from the music, leaning next to Clay. “How you doing?”

“I’m good,” Clay replies.

“Having fun being the gay kid?” Tony asks.

“I’m not—” Clay cuts himself off. “No actually, it kind of sucks.”

Tony nods, clapping Clay on the shoulder. “Yeah, it can.”

Clay sighs heavily. “I suppose you’ll tell me it gets better though, right?”

Tony shrugs. “Maybe it does. I don’t know. Maybe it just starts to suck a little less.” He looks over at Jeff, who’s glancing around the gym. “If you’ve got the right person. He’s looking for you, you know.”

Clay straightens up, seeing Jeff in the crowd. “Guess I should be getting back.”

Tony smiles. “Don’t be a stranger, Clay.”

Clay smiles and gives a small wave, winding through the crowd of people, tapping Jeff on the shoulder.

“Clay!” Jeff says happily, turning around. “Where’d you go?”

Clay glances back towards the stage. “Just talking to Tony.”

“Yeah?” Jeff asks. “How’s he doing?”

Clay smiles. “Great.”

The song changes to something slow, and Jeff smiles, pulling Clay close. “Dance with me?” he asks quietly, mouth by Clay’s ear.

Clay nods slowly, and leans against him, swaying to the music.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Jeff whispers.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” Clay say honestly, and Jeff smiles in relief.

“Good.”

They dance to that song, and to the next, before Clay steps back from Jeff, looking around the gym. “I’m thirsty,” he says loudly, over the music.

Jeff nods. “The punch is probably spiked!” he says, laughing. “I saw Bryce by it earlier.”

Clay rolls his eyes, smiling. “Maybe I’ll just find a water fountain.”

“I’m gonna go find Scott,” Jeff says, waving at Clay.

Clay glances around the gym and then heads off towards the locker room. He pushes open the door and glances around, before going to the fountain. He leans down, taking several refreshing gulps of the cold water. He took out his phone, glancing at the time. It’s later than he thought, but he doesn’t know if Jeff would want to leave just yet. He turns towards the door, stopping when someone starts to push it open.

Monty pauses for a moment, then rolls his eyes. “Relax Corey,” he says, “I’m just grabbing something out of my bag.”

“Ye— yeah,” Clay says, carefully watching Monty walk across the room before turning to the door. He reaches out to grab the handle, then sighs heavily. He pulls open the door, and quickly glances back before he can change his mind. “Sorry about your face,” he says.

Monty raises his hand to the bruise on his jaw, swallowing hard. “Yeah, thanks,” he mutters.

Clay slips back out into the gym, hurrying to find Jeff. He slips his hand into his, squeezing it gently.

“You good?” Jeff asks, turning away from Scott.

“Wanna dance again?” Clay asks.

Jeff nods. “Hell yeah,” he says, and they step away from their friends.

Jeff spins Clay out, then pulls him back in. His hand slides down to settle on Clay’s lower back, pulling him closer. His mouth is by Clay’s ear, and he hums softly to the song Tony is playing. They rock against each other in time with the beat, and Clay tunes out everything else in the room. He opens his mouth to speak, but Jeff gets there first.

“Are you having fun?” Jeff asks quietly, and Clay just nods. “Good,” Jeff says, and Clay can hear how happy he sounds.

“There’s something I was going to tell you earlier,” Clay says, tilting his head back just a bit to meet Jeff’s eyes.

“Hmm?”

Clay’s mouth feels dry all of a sudden and he doesn’t know what to say. He could just stop, or he could say anything else, and Jeff would have no idea. But Clay’s not going to let his nerves get the best of him. Here, right now, he wants this. He just has to say it. 

“My parents are at a banquet tonight.”

“Yeah, you said."

“Yeah, at the Four Seasons,” Clay says, even though he knows that’s not important. He’s stalling. “For my dad’s work.”

“Cool.”

Clay swallows hard. He can’t tell if Jeff doesn’t get it. Or if Jeff gets it but is trying to play it cool. Or, and this would make Clay want to cry in frustration, if he gets it but isn’t interested. “They’re out all night. They— they won’t be back until tomorrow morning.”

Jeff smiles, and the effect along with one of the lights bouncing off one of his earrings with a sparkle makes Clay’s knees feel weak. “Oh yeah? What are you trying to say, Clay?” 

Clay rolls his eyes and smiles. Okay, so Jeff gets it. He’s just being a jerk.

“I’m too sweet and innocent to know what you mean,” Jeff continues, and it gets him a punch in the arm from Clay. “Hey!”

“What I’m trying to say,” Clay says, and then he looks around as if he expects half the school to be listening in, when in reality nobody is paying them any attention. “Is that I wanna go home with you.”

“Yeah?” Jeff asks softly, and his grip on Clay tightens.

Clay nods. “Yeah, I wanna— you know.”

Jeff scoffs with a grin. “You know my mom’s first rule of sex ed was that if I wasn’t mature to talk about it, I wasn’t mature to be having it.”

“Gee, thanks Mom,” Clay says, and he glances around again. “I— I can talk about it, I just didn’t want to offend you.”

“Ha! That would take a lot, Clay, trust me. Try me, okay?”

Clay tried again. “I wanna go home with you, and I want you to...”

Jeff looks at him, eyes twinkling with anticipation, smile on his face.

“Ugh, I’ve literally had your dick in my mouth, why can’t I say I want you to fuck me?”

Jeff laughs sharply in surprise. “Damn Clay, I think that almost counts.”

“Jeff, I wanna go home with you,” Clay says. “I’m ready.”

“You sure?” Jeff asks, and he leans in to kiss Clay’s neck.

Clay nods, leaning against him. “Yeah, I am. Do you wanna?”

Jeff grins. “Clay, I’ve wanted to for longer than you know, trust me.” He steps back from Clay, but keeps holding onto his hand. “You wanna leave now?”

Clay nods eagerly. “Yeah, I do.”

Jeff squeezes Clay’s fingers. “Good, me too. C’mon.” He turns and starts leading Clay through the crowd, trying to avoid people but bumping into a few. Clay stays as close as he can, butterflies in his stomach. As they near the door, he catches Hannah’s eye where she’s standing next to Zach, and he waves. She smiles knowingly and waves back.

Jeff pushes open the gym doors and leads Clay out into the night, the fresh air hitting them with a bit of a chill. It’s not cold, but compared to the heat of the packed dance, it’s freezing. Jeff glances back at Clay, his smile bright, his happiness (and eagerness) evident.

“Okay, calm down,” Clay says, following him through the parking lot to Jeff’s car.

Jeff stops at the passenger door, his hand on the handle to open it for Clay, before he turns to look at him. “We don’t have to do anything, you know.”

Clay sighs. He knows, just like he knows Jeff is just trying to be nice. Well, not trying, he actually is that nice, but Clay doesn’t need to hear it.

“Even if we just go to your house and order pizza and watch a movie,” Jeff continues. “I just wanna be with you.”

Clay smiles and leans up, kissing Jeff, softly at first but then presses a bit harder, his mouth opening against Jeff’s. Jeff kisses him back forcefully, pushing Clay against the car. Clay’s breath hitches, and he grasps onto the front of Jeff’s jacket, pulling him down.

“I love you,” Jeff says seriously, breaking away from him.

Clay nods eagerly, and kisses him again. “I love you, too.” He feels a rush of warmth and happiness throughout his body, he feels as though he could pull Jeff in closely and never let him go, just stand with him in the parking lot forever, but he’d rather get him back to his place instead.

They basically speed back to Clay’s house, which Clay knows is dumb because his bed isn’t going anywhere, but he doesn’t think Jeff can control it. They pull into his driveway, and Clay is relieved to see that his mom’s car isn’t there. They climb out into the night, and Clay digs out his key, unlocking the front door. “Mom?” he calls, hoping there’s no response. “Dad?”

Jeff waits for a moment and then grins, shutting the front door and pushing Clay against it. “Guess they’re actually gone,” he says, before kissing Clay, hard, kicking off his shoes, starting to shrug off his jacket.

“Thank god,” Clay says, and soon his shoes are off and his jacket is on the floor too. “I’ve been thinking about this all night.”

“Yeah?” Jeff asks, kissing him again. “What are you thinking about? Can you actually say it yet?” he teases.

Clay groans, wrapping his arms around Jeff’s shoulders, pulling him down. “Can you fuck me?” he asks, meeting his eyes.

Jeff bites his lip and nods eagerly. “I think I can do that,” he murmurs, reaching down between them to slip open the button on Clay’s pants, pulling down the zipper.

“Wait, wait,” Clay says, grasping Jeff’s wrist, “not down here, okay?” He reaches down to grab their jackets off the floor, and then grabs Jeff’s hand, leading him up the stairs to his bedroom. He shuts the door behind them, dropping their jackets on his desk, and then starts unbuttoning his shirt.

Jeff sits down on the edge of Clay’s bed, happy just to watch him undress.

Clay takes off his shirt and then pushes down his pants, stepping out of them. He climbs onto Jeff, straddling his lap, knees pressed into the mattress, and he pulls him in. They wrap their arms around each other as they kiss.

Jeff breaks away after a long moment, smiling. “You’re so amazing, Clay,” he says, breathing heavily.

“You’re just saying that so I’ll put out,” Clay jokes, smiling back at him, giving him another kiss.

“How do you want to do it?” Jeff asks. “What do you want to do?” He nips at Clay’s neck, then presses a wet kiss there. “Don’t get all shy on me now,” he whispers.

Clay climbs off Jeff, dropping to the mattress a little less than gracefully, then pushes himself up to the head of his bed. He adjusts his pillows quickly, then hooks his thumbs under the waistband of his boxers, pushing them down. He kicks them off his bed, and swallows hard.

Jeff smiles and stands up, taking off his shirt and his pants, then his boxer-briefs, leaving them on the floor as he crawls up the mattress, up Clay, covering his body with his, settling between his legs. They kiss slowly, but deep, and Jeff starts to slowly rock against him, both of them getting hard. Jeff reaches between them, taking Clay in hand, stroking him softly, not trying to get him off yet.

Clay gasps and squeezes his eyes shut, laughing softly in surprise, clutching at Jeff. He bites on his lip, pressing his feet down into the mattress so he can start to thrust up into Jeff’s grasp.

“Feel good?” Jeff asks, and Clay can hear the smugness in his voice.

“Uh-huh,” Clay nods eagerly, then pulls Jeff back down for another kiss. Clay reaches out, blindly fumbling for his bedside table, tugging open the top drawer.

“I think I get the hint,” Jeff says, pulling back. He leans over, reaching into the drawer to grab the lube and condoms he left there last time. He drops the lube on the bed and then opens the box, grabbing one foil packet before tossing the box back in the drawer. “You okay?” he asks, opening the lube.

Clay shrugs. “Should I not be?”

Jeff smiles. “Well, considering you’re the most anxious person I know, I figured you’d be freaking out right about now.”

“I mean, I’m…” he trails off, looking between Jeff’s legs, then back up at his eyes, “nervous,” he finishes, “but I’m okay.” He smiles, reaching out to squeeze Jeff’s fingers. “‘Cause it’s you.”

“Aww, so sappy,” Jeff says, moving between Clay’s legs, accidentally smearing lube on his inner thigh as he tries to manoeuvre him around him.

“Shut up,” Clay says, laughing softly. “You’re gonna make a mess.”

Jeff grins and leans down, kissing him. “That’s the point.” He slips his hand down, reaching between them. “You know, I’m nervous too,” he says, meeting Clay’s eyes as he slowly starts to push two digits in.

Clay groans softly and adjusts his hips. “What? Why?” he asks, swallowing down the strange sensation, still not used to it. Not sure if he ever will be.

“It’s my first time too,” Jeff replies. “With a guy, anyway.”

Clay sighs and reaches out, his hand on the back of Jeff’s neck, pulling him down for a kiss. “It’s okay to be nervous,” he says quietly, kissing him again. He knows it sounds like he’s probably joking, but he’s serious.

Jeff nods, glancing down. He shifts on his knees, and starts to slowly thrust his fingers in and out, then reaches over to grab the lube again.

Clay keeps his hand on Jeff’s neck, trying not to dig his fingers in. He reaches out with his other hand, grabbing at his sheets instead, hips start to rock in time with Jeff’s fingers.

Jeff is fully hard, aching now, and nervous or not, he’s ready, but he knows that wouldn’t be fair to Clay. He’s scared to death of hurting him. If it doesn’t feel as good for Clay as it does for Jeff, then Jeff doesn’t see the point. “Well, now I’m just worried,” he says after a few long moments where the only noise in the room is Clay’s heavy breathing and soft sounds.

“What?” Clay asks, lifting his head. “Why?”

“Because now that I’ve seen what you look like,” Jeff says, “I think I’m gonna wanna do this all the time.”

Clay wants to roll his eyes, but he squeezes them shut and groans when Jeff starts twisting his fingers, trying to stretch him further. “Would that be so bad?” he asks when he gets himself back under control.

Jeff chuckles, kissing him. “For my grades, probably, yeah.” He grabs the lube again as he pulls his fingers out, squeezing out more, then pushing back in with three this time. “Still good?” he asks. Clay nods eagerly, and his grip on Jeff is getting a bit tighter than he finds comfortable, but he figures if Clay can take him, Jeff can take this. “Just tell me when you think you’re ready, okay?”

“Oh my god now,” Clay says in a rush of one breath, and Jeff laughs.

“Clay, I don’t want to hurt you,” he says.

Clay shakes his head. “You won’t, you won’t,” he assures him, and Jeff still isn’t sure, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever be sure, really. He’s watched enough porn by now to know that it must feel good, but he’s also worried that some of those guys must be faking.

“I swear I’ll tell you to stop if it does,” Clay says. “I’m just, I’m ready, okay?”

Jeff nods, and slips his fingers out. He realizes now that they should’ve grabbed a towel, because all he can think to do is either wipe his fingers on Clay or on Clay’s sheets, and neither of them sounds like a great idea. He quickly rubs his hand on his own thigh, then reaches over to grab the condom. He carefully tears open the packet, takes out the condom, and carefully slips it on, rolling it down. He grabs the lube and squeezes out more than he would ever need with his ex, but he’s still not sure it’s enough for Clay. He strokes himself a few times, shifting on his knees, and reaches up to grab a pillow. “Lift up your hips,” he says, tapping Clay’s leg.

“How much research did you do?” Clay asks, but he listens to Jeff anyway, even though pushing himself up so Jeff can slip the pillow underneath him makes him feel more awkward than he has thus far.

Jeff shrugs, taking himself in hand again. “I just want this to be good for you,” he says softly, swallowing hard, nerves hitting him now that it’s finally time.

Clay smiles and reaches out, slowly dancing his fingers down Jeff’s thigh. “I told you, I’m not worried. For the first time ever.”

“Well, that makes one of us,” Jeff mutters, and he takes a deep breath, pressing the head of his dick against Clay, then finally, finally, starting to press in. Clay immediately tenses up, holding his breath, but Jeff starts running his hand up and down Clay’s side. “No, no, breathe, Clay.”

“Uh-huh,” Clay says, nodding, but his voice is tight, and Jeff can tell he’s not actually listening to him.

“Clay,” Jeff says softly, shifting on the mattress so he can lean down as he keeps pressing in, giving Clay a kiss. “Just focus on me, okay?” They kiss again, and again, slowly, Jeff trying to distract Clay with his mouth. “Just breathe,” he whispers, gently biting at Clay’s bottom lip.

Clay opens his eyes, and Jeff pulls back so he can focus on him. “It’s okay,” he says, taking a deep breath.

“You sure?” Jeff asks.

Clay nods. “It’s kind of…weird, though,” he admits quietly. The thought of reaching down to hold himself open so Jeff can move in more easily crosses his mind, but the image makes him want to die of embarrassment, so he just keeps his hands tethered to Jeff’s biceps.

“Sorry.”

Clay shakes his head. “No, don’t be, it’s okay.” He swallows hard, Jeff can see his Adam’s apple bobbing, and he leans down to kiss along Clay’s collarbone, and up along his neck, still slowly pushing into him. “Are you—” Clay presses his head back into his pillow with a soft groan. “Almost there?” He can feel his cheeks heat up in embarrassment as soon he asks.

“Yeah,” Jeff says, dropping his forehead to Clay’s shoulder. “Are you sure?”

Clay nods. “It doesn’t hurt. You’re just…big.”

“You’re kinda tight,” Jeff says, and finally his hips are pressed against Clay’s, he’s all the way in, and there’s no sounds in the room except both of them breathing heavily, pressed as close together as they can be in every way, breath mixing together.

“Just a second,” Clay says, turning his head, taking a couple deep breaths, and he can feel his body adjusting.

“However long you need,” Jeff says quietly. “I’m not going anywhere.” He reaches down between them, and can feel that Clay isn’t as hard as he was before. “Would this help?” he asks, taking Clay in hand, starting to stroke him softly. “Just focus on this.” He slowly draws his hips back a bit, and then carefully thrusts back in.

Clay squeezes his eyes shut, breath catching in his throat. His body isn’t sure what’s going on, it’s torn between feeling good and the uncomfortable ache. Slowly though, as Jeff keeps gently thrusting into him, and keeps stroking him, he can feel himself getting harder, feeling better and better as all the good sensations start to outweigh the not-so-good. Jeff lets go of Clay to brace himself a bit better, thrusting a bit harder. It tears a sudden cry from Clay, who’s trying to stay quiet. But the noises keep coming.

“I like how you sound,” Jeff says, squeezing Clay’s thighs. “Fuck, Clay, lemme hear you, okay?”

Clay whimpers, and nods eagerly, head turned to the side and pressed into his pillow.

“You can be as loud as you want.” Jeff slowly draws his hips back and then presses back in, and Clay gasps a bit. Jeff moves again, but a bit harder, a bit quicker, trying to get a bigger reaction from Clay. Clay’s voice breaks on a loud moan, and Jeff bites down on his lip, feeling even more turned on.

“Jeff,” Clay gasps, his breath coming heavily, punctuated with each thrust. He reaches out to take his hand, their fingers tangling together.

Jeff brings Clay’s hand up to his mouth, kissing his skin, mouth opening over the tip of Clay’s thumb. Clay whines loudly, and he reaches down with his other hand, starting to stroke himself quickly. Jeff shifts his weight and grasps Clay’s wrist, stopping his movements.

Clay moans loudly, feeling his body basically tremble with frustration. He wants to keep going, but then Jeff is shifting his body above his, pressing his hands down into the pillow on either side of his head. “Jeff,” Clay gasps, and he shifts his hips, spreading his legs even further, bringing his knees up. “Fuck, please.”

Jeff kisses Clay as Clay pants against him with each thrust. Clay cries out loudly, and then again, and then again, and Jeff starts thrusting harder, rocking into him as deep as he can go. Clay turns his head to the side, almost buried in his arm, and wets his lips, then lifts his head up to kiss Jeff again desperately. He’s making a series of basically non-stop noises that at times almost sound like he’s crying, or like he’s trying to say something and just can’t get the words out.

“Pl— please,” Clay finally manages to get out, and his eyes are squeezed tight, back arching just a bit, trying to get the friction against Jeff.

Jeff can feel the tension in Clay’s arms, his wrists twisting in his grip. Jeff’s not holding him tightly, but he likes the feeling of him beneath him, and he knows the best way to have this last as long as possible is to keep Clay from touching himself. But there’s something else that Jeff wants, and that’s the feeling of Clay touching him. He lets go of one of Clay’s hands and he ducks down to press his lips over Clay’s collarbone, moving up his neck, until he’s moaning softly in Clay’s ear.

Clay grasps at Jeff’s shoulder, holding him close, rocking against him. It all just feels like too much, somehow better than he’d even imagined. When Jeff first started, Clay couldn’t really imagine himself coming just from being fucked, but now he feels like he’s right there on the edge. He just needs something, a bit more, and he’ll fall over. “Oh god, Jeff,” he cries loudly, fingers digging into Jeff’s back. He knows he should worry about scratching him, but he doesn’t think he can control himself. He can't think of anything other than how good Jeff is making him feel. “Jeff, Jeff, please,” he pants, “oh god, I wanna come.”

Jeff lets go of Clay’s hand so he can grip Clay’s hips with both hands, and as much as he wants to make this long for as long as possible, now all he can think about is Clay coming around him for the first time. He’s lost in the sensations, it’s somehow the same but completely different from the sex he’s had before.

Clay’s hand immediately goes to wrap around himself, stroking himself furiously. He can’t control himself, he just keeps saying oh my god over and over again, he can’t think of anything else, he can’t focus. “Jeff!” he cries out loudly, back arching as he comes, shooting over his stomach. “Oh, god, Jeff,” he whimpers, and he keeps stroking himself until it’s too much. He reaches out, grabbing Jeff’s hands where he’s gripping onto him, holding on as Jeff keeps thrusting into him. He chants his name softly, arching off the bed to kiss Jeff, letting go of his hands to push his fingers through Jeff’s hair and grip at the back of his head so he can keep him close.

“Clay, I’m gonna come,” Jeff mutters against Clay’s mouth, licking his lips. “God, I can’t hold it.”

“Uh-huh, it’s okay,” Clay says, and he feels both oversensitive, but also like he could come again right away. It’s all too much. “I love you,” he says, and he smiles up at Jeff.

Jeff smiles back at him and ducks his head to keep kissing him. “I love you too,” he says, and then his breath hitches and he groans loudly, hips stuttering as he comes, shooting into the condom. He keeps thrusting through his orgasm, hips starting to slow as his breathing does too. “God, Clay.” He tries not to collapse on him as he kisses his neck, but fuck if he doesn’t want to just drop right down on him. He manages to land a bit on his side, so he’s only half covering Clay, his arm thrown across his chest.

Clay reaches up to grab onto Jeff’s arm, holding him close as they both calm down. They snuggle against each other, Jeff shifting his hips and slipping out of Clay with an uncomfortable grimace, both of them sticky with lube and sweat.

“I feel gross,” Clay says suddenly, and Jeff laughs with how blunt he is, and how much he agrees.

“Yeah, me too,” Jeff admits, pushing himself up just enough so he can look down at Clay. “But I really just wanna stay here for awhile.”

Clay nods. “Yeah, me too,” he says, voice breaking on a yawn. “Shower later?” he says, but he already knows he’s going to put it off, probably until the morning. Right now, he just needs sleep.

“Shower later,” Jeff agrees, but he’s thinking the same thing as Clay. He does sit up to carefully pull off the condom, quickly glancing around Clay’s room before dropping it in the small trashcan by his desk. They shift on the mattress until they can get one sheet pulled up over them, curling against each other.

The realization of what they just did sort of hits Clay all at once, and he starts to feel a bit giddy with it. He looks over at Jeff, smiling brightly.

“You look happy,” Jeff comments quietly, his eyes drifting shut.

“I am,” Clay replies, and he yawns, arms stretching up above him. “You?”

Jeff nods slowly. “Mmm,” he agrees, settling in closer to Clay.

“Night, Jeff,” Clay says, and Jeff nods again.

+ + + + +

Clay jolts awake sometime in the night, and for a moment he’s confused, uncomfortable with the knowledge that someone is in his room with him, something he’s not used to. He glances over at his clock, realizing he couldn’t have been asleep for more than an hour. He swallows hard, his mouth dry, skin itchy, and he’d kill to go brush his teeth and hop in the shower, but he can’t get out of bed right now. He lets his eyes drift closed, and he breathes heavily, hoping he can fall back to sleep.

His eyes open again suddenly what feels like hours later, but he glances over at the clock, and it’s been maybe twenty minutes. Clay isn’t used to being so still, normally he tosses around a lot while he’s awake, but Jeff seems to be sleeping quite heavily against him, so he doesn’t.

He tries to fall asleep again, but it doesn’t work. Now he knows he has to at least get up to use the washroom, but he feels too nervous and guilty at the idea of waking Jeff up. He shifts a bit to see if he can slip out, but Jeff is so close to him, he’s bound to be disturbed by Clay’s movement. Clay bites his lip, unsure of what to do. Finally he decides to just go for it, and rolls to the edge of the bed a bit, dropping his feet quietly to the floor. He glances behind him then quickly stands up, looking out into the hallway before dashing across to the bathroom. He pees, then tries to quickly clean himself up as much as he can, lube and sweat dried on his skin. He swishes a bit of mouthwash around, and then goes back to his room, quietly shutting the door behind him.

“You okay?” Jeff asks, and Clay jumps, heart pounding hard.

“Sorry,” Clay says, getting back in bed, tugging up the sheets. “Couldn’t sleep. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay,” Jeff says quietly. “Sleeping with someone can take some getting used to.”

“Sorry,” Clay says again. “I should’ve known, I’m the worst at sleepovers.”

“You want me to crash somewhere else?” Jeff asks, pushing himself up. Clay can just barely seen him in the dark. “Let you sleep?”

Clay shakes his head. “No, I’m okay. I’ll fall asleep eventually.”

“You sure?” Jeff asks. “I’m not offended.”

“No, it’s okay,” Clay says. Honestly, he does kind of want to take Jeff up on his offer, stick him in the guest room, or even in his parents’ room, but he feels like that’s not what good boyfriends do.

Jeff yawns loudly and settles back down onto the mattress, but he’s not touching Clay as much now. He’s moved back closer to the wall so Clay can have more space. “Sleep tight, Clay,” he says, yawning again. Jeff clearly has no trouble sleeping anywhere, Clay thinks. But eventually, even Clay drifts off.

+ + + + +

Jeff wakes up slowly, but even with his eyes closed he can tell that it’s morning. Early morning, though Clay is clearly up. He feels him roll out of bed again, and hears the door quietly open and close. Jeff stretches out, his arm running over the spot in the mattress where Clay was. He curls up on his side. He doesn’t want to be awake, he doesn’t want to get up. It’s Saturday, and he wants to sleep in. So he lays there, with his eyes still closed. He hears the water of the shower, but must have fallen back to sleep because the next thing he hears is Clay back in his bedroom, moving quietly around, trying not to disturb Jeff. He feels a quick kiss on his shoulder, and then the door opens and closes again. Jeff finally opens his eyes, and sees some folded clothes on Clay’s desk. He knows they’re for him, and he knows he should get up, shower and put them on, but fuck he’s still so tired. His body makes the decision for him, and he falls back asleep.

Maybe a couple hours later, he does manage to roll out of bed. He grabs the clothes Clay’s left out for him, then heads to the bathroom for a quick shower. He dries off, gets dressed in a pair of plaid pants that definitely aren’t the right size, and old-shirt that fits just a bit better. He quietly goes down the stairs, just in case Matt and Lainie have come home in the night. He looks around, not seeing Clay anywhere, but he hears the squeak of the springs in the couch. He walks into the living room. “Clay?” he asks softly, leaning against the back of the couch.

Clay’s curled up on his side, arms wrapped around one of the throw pillows, mouth hanging open as he snores softly.

Jeff smiles, reaching down. He hates to wake him, but he really hates the idea of sleeping with Clay and then just leaving without saying anything. “Clay,” he says again, reaching down to gently shake his shoulder.

Clay stirs, reaching up to wipe his mouth, then opens his eyes. “Hi,” he says softly.

“Morning,” Jeff says. “You okay?”

Clay nods and yawns, snuggling into the couch. He’s got a blanket thrown over him, and though he’s a bit tall for the couch, he looks really comfortable.

“You didn’t have to come down here,” Jeff says, “I told you I’d crash somewhere else.”

Clay shakes his head, and finally manages to push himself up a bit. He leans against the back of the couch, so he and Jeff are close together. “I wasn’t planning on sleeping, but there was nothing good on TV.”

Jeff smiles. “When are your parents coming back?”

Clay shrugs. “I don’t know really. You want some breakfast? I can pour you a bowl of cereal.”

“Well, in that case,” Jeff says, and he trails off into a smile. “Nah, I’m good. I just don’t know how much your parents are gonna like it if they come home and I’m still here. I’m gonna run home, okay? Come back in a bit?”

“Ugh, no, I don’t want you to leave,” Clay says, and he has to force his eyes open. “I’m awake, see?”

Jeff chuckles. “You’re half asleep, actually, but that’s okay. You feel okay?”

“You mean…”

“Yeah.”

Clay nods. “Yeah, I think so. Just a bit…” He shrugs. “I’m fine.” He gives Jeff a quick kiss. “You didn’t break me, if that’s what you mean.”

“Good to know,” Jeff says. “‘Cause I’m definitely gonna wanna do that again sometime.”

Clay grins. “Yeah, I’d probably be up for it.”

“Good.” Jeff kisses his forehead then pushes himself up. “Now go back to bed. I’m gonna run home and change. I’ll be back later, maybe I’ll bring something to eat.”

Clay wants to protest, but considering he actually cannot stop yawning, he figures he should listen to him and let him go. “You don’t have practice today or anything?” he asks.

Jeff shakes his head. “Got the whole weekend off, just for you.” He smiles. “Actually get some sleep, and we can hang out later, okay? Text me when you wake up.”

“I’ll set an alarm,” Clay says, settling back down onto the couch. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Jeff says. He sees his shoes by front door, and slips them on. He’s got his wallet and keys; he can grab his suit off Clay’s floor later. He slips out the door, and gets in his car.

+ + + + +

Clay jolts awake, and looks up to see his father leaning over the back of the couch, staring down at him. “Uh, hey Dad,” he says, rubbing his eyes, sitting up. “What time is it?” he asks.

“Uh, around 11,” Matt replies, glancing at the clock. “How you doing kiddo?”

Clay shrugs, yawning. He stretches his arms over his head. “I’m good,” he says. “You’re early. How was the banquet? Where’s Mom?” Matt nods behind him, and Clay looks up, waving at his mom in the kitchen. “Hi.”

“The banquet was fun,” Lainie says, walking into the living room.

“That’s being generous,” Matt replies. “The banquet was…informational.”

“The head of Matt’s department isn’t the best public speaker, I’ll admit that,” Lainie says, smiling. She leans against the couch with Matt. “But how was the dance?”

“It was fun,” Clay replies. “Yeah, we both had a good time. I’m glad we went.”

“No trouble?” Matt asks.

Clay shakes his head. “No, it was good.”

“Good,” Matt says, smiling.

“Why are you sleeping on the couch?” Lainie asks finally.

“Oh,” Clay says. “I tried to get up earlier and came down to watch TV and just…we were out kind of late so I didn’t sleep that well I guess.”

“Is Jeff hiding around here?” Matt asks, dramatically glancing around the living room.

Clay shakes his head. “No. But I think he said he’ll be by later, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine,” Lainie says, and she pushes herself off the couch. “We like Jeff!” she calls behind her, going up the stairs. “I need to get changed.”

Matt glances behind him, then looks back at Clay. “So.”

Clay sighs heavily, trying not to roll his eyes. “So.”

“Well?”

“Dad, I don’t know if this is really a conversation we need to have?” Clay asks.

Matt shrugs. “As long as everybody is happy and safe and…happy and safe,” he smiles, “then no, I guess not. I don’t need any of the dirty details.”

“Thank god,” Clay mutters, and he starts patting around, looking for his phone. “I told Jeff I’d text him when I woke up.”

“Well, don’t let me bother you then,” Matt says, standing up. “Invite him over for dinner or something. I’m gonna find something to eat.”

“Okay,” Clay says softly, opening his phone to type out a quick text, but he sees a couple of texts from Hannah first.

I’m not saying I like him or anything

but Zach is kind of cute.

Clay laughs softly and types out a reply. so you’re not mad at me? While he waits for her to respond, he texts to Jeff that he’s awake, and then finally pushes himself off the couch, going into the kitchen.

“You want me to get you something?” Matt asks, head in the fridge.

Clay shakes his head, just leans against the counter. “No, I’m good. I just wanted to say…”

Matt straightens up, turning around and closing the door.

“Thanks for being so cool about Jeff sleeping over,” Clay replies. “And everything. Did you tell Mom?”

“I think Mom figured it out on her own,” Matt replies. “That lawyer intuition.”

“She’s not mad?” Clay asks.

Matt shakes her head. “Did I ever tell you about the first time she and I slept together?” He grins immediately and Clay groans loudly, throwing up his arms and walking out of the kitchen.

“No, Dad, just no,” he says, heading up the stairs. “No!” Clay heads into his bedroom, checking his phone. He’s got a text from both Hannah and Jeff, and they’re both basically saying the same thing. A group of them are going for lunch, does he want to come? (please don’t make me go to this alone, Hannah’s reads, while Jeff’s says I’ll pick you up in a bit?) Clay replies to both of them, and gets changed.

He’s back on the couch when Jeff knocks on the front door, and Lainie answers it. “Hi, Mrs. Jensen,” he hears as he pushes himself up, heading to the door.

“Hi, Jeff,” Lainie says with a smile. “How was the dance?”

“Fun!” Jeff says. “Yeah, we had a great time.” He reaches out to take Clay’s hand, waving at Matt. “We’re just heading out to lunch with a few people from school.”

“We’ll be back later,” Clay says, slipping on his sneakers. “Okay?”

“Have a good time!” Matt calls from the kitchen table, looking back down at the newspaper.

When they walk into Rosie’s, it’s like the whole place lights up. Scott and Sheri both eagerly call their names, waving them over to the corner booth. Hannah looks relieved that Clay has actually showed up at all. Zach, who’s sitting next to her, just looks happy to be there, and nods at Clay.

“Are we all gonna fit?” Jeff asks, glancing around.

“Just squeeze in,” Sheri says, and she pulls Scott closer to her as she shifts closer to Zach. Zach looks over at Hannah, but doesn’t move. To Clay, he looks nervous as hell.

Jeff drops down next to Scott, and Clay sits down opposite him, beside Hannah.

“How was last night?” Hannah asks quietly, turning towards him.

“Uh, it was fun,” Clay nods, and he glances over at Jeff, who’s leaning forward past Scott to talk to Sheri. “Yeah.”

“And?” Hannah presses.

“And shut up,” Clay mutters, but he’s having trouble keeping the smile off his face.

“Ugh you guys are too cute, I can’t handle this,” Hannah mutters.

“Well, what about you?” Clay asks, and he quickly glances past her to Zach, who’s trying to have a conversation with Scott but they keep having to move their heads to look around Jeff and Sheri. “I leave you at the dance with a guy and then you show up with him the next morning?”

Hannah rolls her eyes. “Trust me, Helmet, nothing happened.”

“Oh really?” Clay asks, nudging her.

Hannah wants to look angry, but she can’t stop her smile either. “He may have asked me out though.”

“And?”

Hannah shrugs. “I may have said yes.”

Clay grins. “Yeah of course you did. He’s pretty cute.”

Hannah glances to the side, then shifts a bit closer to Clay, her voice dropping. “Is he a dick?” she asks, so softly that Clay has to lean down to hear her.

Clay glances at Zach again, and then shakes his head. “No, I think he’s actually one of the nice ones,” he says, and then settles back.

Hannah smiles, and she instantly looks relieved. She shifts in her seat, making it look casual, but she moves just a bit closer to Zach. He looks at her in surprise, then smiles.

“Did you guys order yet?” Jeff asks, leaning over to read Scott’s menu.

“Just drinks,” Sheri replies. “I’m starving though.”

“Me too,” Scott says. “What about you, Clay?”

Clay looks over at him in surprise, and nods quickly. “Yeah, definitely. I basically just woke up.”

“Late night?” Scott asks, and he grins brightly.

“Scott, shut up,” Sheri says, quickly elbowing him.

“Haha ow,” Scott says, dramatically clutching at his side.

“Actually, no,” Clay replies, and he looks over the table at Jeff, who’s still looking at the menu, though he’s clearly listening. “I went to bed pretty early.”

Jeff chuckles, and then shoves the menu over towards Clay, stretching his legs out under the table, kicking Clay’s ankle. “Yeah, me too,” Jeff says to Scott, leaning back in his seat.

“Did you guys have fun?” Sheri asks, leaning forward a bit to look past Scott.

Clay and Jeff look at each other again, and Clay nods quickly.

“Yeah, it was great,” Jeff says, and the two of them smile at each other. Scott and Hannah roll their eyes at basically the same time, but Clay and Jeff just keep smiling.