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gonna wanna be my best friend

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The thing about the letter was that Evan didn’t know what would be worse — waiting anxiously while nothing happened or having to explain to Connor Murphy that it was an assignment from his shrink. Honestly, the whole thing was just a nightmare.

 

Connor hadn’t been at school the past couple days and Evan was getting restless. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, and his hands were much more sweaty than they normally were. And of course Jared wasn’t helping. He just kept taunting him about how his letter is gonna be posted online any minute now, or how there will be copies taped to every locker in school the next day. It’s killing him.

 

That is, until Evan spots him in the cafeteria one day. He freezes when he sees Connor a few people ahead of him in the lunch line, causing Jared to bump into him from behind. Evan’s chest suddenly feels heavy, and he finds it hard to breathe.

 

“Come on, man, it’s tater tot day, move it along,” Jared groans, nudging him forward a little.

 

Evan feels his tray slipping from his sweaty hands. He fidgets with it and shakes his head as he forces himself to step forward in line. “H - He’s here.”

 

“Who’s here?”

 

“Connor!” Evan says, then worries he may have said it too loudly, so he looks around to make sure no one just looked over. But that just makes it feel like everyone’s eyes are on him, and that doesn’t help things at all.

 

“Oh,” Jared says. “Yeah, he was in my lit class today.”

 

Evan’s heart pounds harder each second. “And you didn’t think to warn me?” he asks as he takes another step.

 

Jared shrugs and ignores his question. “What are you gonna do?”

 

The question makes Evan dread this whole thing even more. “I - I don’t know, I mean, what can I do, I have to do something, I have to get my letter back, right?” he says, jumbling his words together quickly.

 

“Yeah, if it isn’t all over twitter already.”

 

Evan looks forward to find Connor again, but he’s suddenly disappeared. Quickly, he turns his head to look around the cafeteria, to figure out which table he’s going to sit at. Now that he thinks about it, he has no idea which table he would sit at. The idea of having to go talk to him in front of people at a lunch table is daunting.

 

But it doesn’t seem like he has to worry about that, because he can’t see him anywhere. Somehow his eyes land on the door, not the one that leads back into the school but the one that goes outside. It’s swinging shut, and Evan is pretty sure he sees the fabric of a black hoodie walking through it.

 

He shoves his lunch tray into Jared’s arms and hesitates for a second before walking quickly toward the door.  This is the best time to do it, right? While no one is around. Or maybe that makes things worse. Because there won’t be witnesses when he gets brutally murdered by Connor Murphy.

 

When he steps through the door, the hot sun blinds him, and he squints to adjust before immediately spotting his target under the shade of a big tree. Connor is sitting cross-legged with his lunch in his lap and a book in one of his hands. He doesn’t even notice as Evan walks over, but instead munches on a baby carrot while he stares at a page in his book.

 

As Evan gets closer, he realizes he has to actually say something instead of just standing there until Connor notices. So he stops a good ten feet away from him and picks at his nail absentmindedly as he mutters, “Um... Uh... C - Connor — “

 

Connor looks up quickly and doesn’t hesitate to say, “Get the fuck away from me, you freak.”

 

Evan nods as if to agree that yes, he is a freak, but he doesn’t leave. “I — I just, uh... I’m sorry, can I...”

 

“What do you want from me?”

 

“I — I just... Uh... I’m sorry...” Is that all he can say? Really? His brain is completely malfunctioning right now.

 

“S - S - Spit it out, freak,” Connor says, mocking him.

 

Evan takes a deep breath and looks at the ground. “Ijustwantmyletterbackplease.”

 

Connor pauses. “What?”

 

“My - My letter?” Evan says softly, still staring at the ground. “The one you took from me the other day? I was just wondering if... maybe I could have it back, possibly?”

 

“The one with all the creepy shit about my sister?”

 

Evan takes a moment to figure out how to respond to that, then nods. “Y - Yes.”

 

Connor shakes his head and looks down at his book again. “Leave me the fuck alone.”

 

He wants to. Evan really wants to just walk away and forget this ever happened. But he needs to get that letter back before Connor does decide to ruin his life with it. “I’m really, really sorry, it’s just that — “

 

And suddenly Connor is on his feet, cutting the distance between them in half as he steps forward and points his finger. “Go away! This is my — “ But he stops, closing his hand into a fist and shaking his head. “No. I’m not giving you what you want.”

 

“W - Want? I just want — “

 

“You want me to freak the fuck out so the whole school will know that I’m crazy.”

 

“No, I - I just want my letter back, please,” Evan pleads, getting frustrated.

 

Connor stares at him for a few moments, when scoffs and turns around. “Fine, if you won’t leave, I will.” He starts picking up his things, and when he stands up straight again his hair falls in his face, but his hands are too full to move it, so he just shoves past Evan quickly.

 

Surprising himself, Evan chases after him. “Please, please, I swear I’ll leave you alone, I just need that letter.”

 

“I’m not gonna freak out on you, I’m not doing it!” Connor yells, still walking away.

 

“I don’t want you to!”

 

“Fuck you! Leave me the fuck alone!”

 

“Please! No one was supposed to see that!”

 

“Yeah, no one except me! Go away!”

 

“It was for my — “

 

“You’re such a fucking — “

 

“My therapist.”

 

Freak.”

 

Their words jumble over each other’s, and there’s a few moments of silence in which they both stop in their tracks. Connor turns around. “Your what?”

 

Evan sighs, fiddling with the fabric of his shirt as he stares at the ground. “My... My therapist?” he answers. Connor doesn’t respond in any way, so he goes on, faking a laugh. “I know, I know, I’m such a freak, right?”

 

Connor doesn’t seem to find it funny, so Evan stops laughing and continues talking. His words keep jumbling together quickly, but Connor isn’t making a move to reply so he just keeps talking. “Um, so, like, basically I have to write these letters to myself, kind of like a pep talk, I guess, and it’s supposed to be like ‘Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why’, and I had an appointment that day so I had to write one and that’s what you found, so yeah, that’s it.”

 

“Oh, my God, that’s so fucking stupid.”

 

Once again, Evan laughs nervously. “Yeah...”

 

After a pause, Connor asks, “Does it help?”

 

Evan shrugs. “Not really.”

 

There’s a long pause, and Connor finally says, “I threw it away.”

 

That gives Evan some relief, but he has to ask. “Oh. Um. That’s all? Did you...”

 

“No, I didn’t make copies or post it online or some shit,” Connor says, rolling his eyes.

 

Evan nods. “Oh. Ok. Um, thank you.”

 

Finally deciding that’s enough, Evan turns and starts to walk away. But before he can get very far, Connor says, “I’m sorry I called you a freak.”

 

Evan turns back around. Connor is still in the same position he was before. Lunch tray and book in his hands, long hair in his face.

 

“I didn’t mean to make it sound like you were a freak because you have a shrink.”

 

Evan shrugs. “Oh. It - It’s okay, I’m kind of a freak without the therapist.” Once again, there’s a silence, and Evan realizes how stupid he sounds. “That was really weird, I’m sorry, I’ll just — “

 

“No, that was... actually kind of funny.” Connor’s not even smiling, so he’s not sure if he’s being serious or not.

 

Smiling awkwardly, Evan scratches the back of his neck. “Ok, I’m sorry, I can leave you alone — “

 

But at the same time, Connor says, “Do you wanna sit?” as he points to his spot underneath the big tree.

 

“Wait, what?”

 

Connor hesitates, looking like he’s questioning himself. Evan is questioning too. There’s no way he just said what he heard, right?

 

“I just... You don’t have any friends.”

 

Evan nods. “Um, right.”

 

“So you can sit out here if you want. There’s nowhere to sit in that goddamn cafeteria unless you have friends.”

 

Not sure if it’s a trap or not, Evan shrugs. “S — Sure, thanks.” They walk back to the shade of the tree and take a seat in the grass.

 

As Connor lifts his book again, Evan notices what it is. The Great Gatsby. “Weren’t we supposed to read that last year?” he asks quietly, awkwardly gesturing to the cover.

 

Without looking up, Connor nods. “I’m rereading it.”

 

Evan is honestly shocked when he says that. For a moment he thinks it’s a joke but Connor sure isn’t laughing. “O - Oh.”

 

Connor pops a tater tot in his mouth, and it’s then that Evan realizes he doesn’t have a lunch. It’s too awkward to get up and go get some, though. Or is it more awkward to just sit here without a lunch? Anyway, he ends up staying there and watching Connor read while trying not to be too creepy.

 

The only times he’s ever been this close to Connor Murphy is when he’s either getting threatened or shoved, so he uses this opportunity to take in the details. He used to think Connor’s hair was like a greasy mop, but looking closer it seems soft and fluffy. Evan also isn’t sure how he can handle being out in this heat with black jeans and a hoodie without breaking a sweat. It’s then that he notices the black nail polish on his fingernails. He’s definitely seen guys get made fun of for wearing nail polish, but somehow Connor makes it seem cool.

 

Connor glances up and catches Evan looking, then looks back to his book. “You really are a freak.”

 

Evan nods, forcing a smile. “You’re not wrong...”

 

Connor looks up again, but this time sets his book down. “I’ve probably called you a freak ten times in the past five minutes and you never stand up for yourself.”

 

Evan just shrugs.

 

“You don’t have a lunch.”

 

Again, a shrug.

 

Connor sighs. “They’re probably out of tater tots by now. You can have some of mine,” he says, setting his tray in between them.

 

“Oh, no, it’s okay, thank you,” Evan says, shaking his head and awkwardly laughing again.

 

“You’re gonna be starving. Just fucking eat.”

 

It’s not like Evan isn’t used to being hungry since he’s too anxious to order food for himself when his mom isn’t home, but he doesn’t want to contradict Connor Murphy, so he just takes a single tot and munches on it slowly.

 

-

 

The next day when Evan gets his lunch, he goes to his normal table with Jared. He’s still recovering from the strange lunch period he had yesterday.

 

“What, you’re not being held hostage today?” Jared asks as Evan sits down next to him.

 

Evan looks at him in confusion. “Wh - What?”

 

“Connor?” Jared reminds him. “I saw you sitting with him yesterday. You looked considerably frightened.”

 

“Oh. Um. No, he just asked me if I wanted to sit with him.”

 

Jared scoffs. “Well, obviously he’s a clone who has yet to learn how to realistically act like Connor Murphy.”

 

Evan shakes his head. “He was actually kind of... nice?” Nice isn’t the right word. More like not horribly mean.

 

“My point stands,” Jared says, taking a bite of his sandwich. “Did you get your sex letter back?”

 

Evan didn’t get a chance to update him on the whole thing last night because Jared decided to go hang out with his other friends. He didn’t seem to care much about Evan’s problems, so Evan didn’t want to throw them at him. “No. He threw it away.”

 

“He definitely has it stashed somewhere to use against you later,” Jared says with a snicker.

 

“What? No, he...” But Evan’s mind is already swirling with possibilities, and that pit in his stomach is back again. “Oh, no.”

Chapter Text

After his mom picks him up from school, they have to stop to get a refill on his prescription. While his mom waits in line, she tells him to go look at the snacks and pick something out for himself. He’s more than happy about it until he turns the corner to the candy aisle and crashes into someone, causing them to drop everything in their hands.

 

The constant awkward feeling in him intensifies, and he cringes, closing his eyes tight and balling his good hand into a fist for a moment. “I am so sorry, I’m sorry, that was so stupid, I’m sorry.”

 

When he finally opens his eyes, he catches that long dark hair, hiding the boy’s face as he kneels down and picks up his stuff. Of course, it could have been anyone with long dark hair, but judging by the chipped black nail polish on the hands picking the dropped items up, it’s definitely him.

 

Connor stands up, an angry look on his face. He has to move his head to the side to get his hair out of his face because his hands are too busy holding a bag of chips, soda, chocolate, and a small paper bag which Evan is pretty sure he’s trying his best to hide. “Nice move, dick.”

 

Evan was starting to think the only insult Connor knew was to call him a freak, so he’s thrown off by this new one. “I’m... I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking, I’m sorry.”

 

“So you’ve said. Like, constantly.” Well, he’s not wrong.

 

“I know. I’m sorry — I mean! No, I’m not, I — “

 

Connor scoffs, rolling his eyes. “Jesus fucking Christ, will you shut up for once?”

 

Evan nearly apologizes again, but he catches himself and bites his tongue, nodding quickly.

 

There’s a few moments of silence in which Connor continues to browse the snack section and Evan just stands frozen, feeling trapped. After a few seconds, Connor glances up at him. “Where were you at lunch today?”

 

“What?” That’s a strange question.

 

“At lunch. Where were you?”

 

Evan fiddles with the fabric of his shirt, shrugging. “In the cafeteria.”

 

Connor looks up again, this time holding eye contact and crossing his arms. “So you do have friends?”

 

“What? Oh, um, no, not really. I have a family friend. Jared Kleinman.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “He’s such an asshole.”

 

Evan nervously laughs, nodding along. “Right, yeah. So, uh, w - why did you want to know where I was at lunch?”

 

Connor shrugs. “I expected you to sit with me again.” He pauses, like he’s catching himself doing something he shouldn’t be, then saves himself. “I don’t know, it’s none of my business. I don’t fucking care what you do with your time.”

 

Evan doesn’t know what to think. Mostly Connor just seems lonely. He always thought he liked being lonely, though. But now he’s having a hard time figuring out if Connor cares more than he lets on. “Oh. Ok. Um, I can maybe sit with you tomorrow, I mean, if you want — “

 

“I don’t give a fuck what — “

 

“Evan?” Heidi calls out. She sounds like she’s a few aisles away, but suddenly she’s right by his side. “Hey, I got your Lexapro, and you said you were good on Ativan, right?” she asks, a tired smile on her face.

 

Evan’s face goes bright red. She doesn’t even notice Connor there, but Evan couldn’t be more aware of his stare. His mother might as well be waving around a bottle of pills and yelling, “My son is a pile of broken parts and needs to pop pills everyday to keep him from going off the edge!”

 

“Oh. Yeah,” Evan replies, his voice shaking.

 

“I think I have to pick up a few more things, so take a few more minutes to pick a snack and I’ll meet you by the register, okay, honey?”

 

Evan nods, mouth dry. “Okay.”

 

Heidi hurries off, and Evan reluctantly looks back at Connor, who’s still staring at him with an unreadable expression. Feeling the judgment radiating off of him, Evan starts to ramble. “I’m sorry, that was weird, I swear I’m not crazy or anything, like it’s not like I’m insane, I swear, I don’t even know — “

 

Without saying anything, Connor holds out the paper bag he was hiding. Evan takes a closer look. It’s a prescription. He doesn’t recognize the name of it, but he can guess it’s not just an antibiotic. “I guess both of our moms think we need to be fixed.”

 

Evan can’t help but smile a little bit at that, even if it sounds sad coming out of Connor’s mouth. “I guess.”

 

Connor moves the hair out of his face. Evan is just starting to wonder what Connor’s smile looks like when Connor clears his throat and nods. “See you tomorrow. Maybe. I don’t care.” And with that, he turns and walks away.

 

-

 

Turns out, Evan doesn’t see him the next day. To be perfectly honest, he definitely searched for him in the hall in the morning. When he asked Jared if he was in his lit class, he just got a weird look and a comment about being under some sort of evil spell.

 

At lunch he cranes his neck to find him in the line, but he has no luck. Then he goes outside to Connor’s tree, but there’s not a sign of him. He stays under the tree the whole lunch period eating and wondering if maybe Connor’s just running late.

 

Why does he even care so much?

Chapter Text

That weekend is rough. Trapped inside his house (because why would he ever have plans?), Evan feels like he can’t breathe. It feels like the walls are closing in on him. He tries cleaning his room, because moving around helps with the fidgeting and maybe he’ll feel like he has a clearer head if he has a clearer space. But that does nothing for him but give him a clean room. He doesn’t even know why he feels this way. It always makes him more anxious when he doesn’t know what he’s anxious about.

 

And of course his mom isn’t helping. This is one of the few weekends she’s able to spend most of at home, which usually Evan would love. But having his mother around along with the extra anxiety just makes him feel like he’s being smothered.

 

Saturday afternoon, she asks if Evan wants an extra appointment with Dr. Sherman next week (she must sense how extra awful he feels).

 

“No, thanks, mom, I’m fine,” Evan says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

 

Heidi nods, leaning against his door frame. “Your room looks nice, when did this happen?”

 

Evan shrugs. “Last night. I was bored.”

 

She nods and crosses her arms over her chest. “So, how are you feeling? Y’know, with the first week of school and all?”

 

“Fine, thanks, mom,” Evan says quickly, just trying to get her off his back.

 

There’s a short pause before Heidi points to the two bottles of pill on his nightstand. “And you’re taking your — “

 

“Yes, mom,” Evan says, his patience getting thin. “Please, can you just... I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m just gonna... I’m gonna go on a walk.” He stands up, slipping his shoes on quickly.

 

Heidi knows that’s code for Evan needs to be alone right now, so she just nods and steps out of the way for him.

 

He just sort of walks aimlessly for a while. The fresh air is doing nothing to help his heavy chest and pounding heart. He can feel the anxiety attack coming on, so he tries to think of someplace that he’ll feel safe and hidden.

 

He ends up in a park. He’s not sure which park because he was just looking for a lot of trees, and when he found them he went running straight for them.

 

He feels a little better surrounded by all the tall trees, like he’s not so open and vulnerable to the world. Leaning against a tree, he puts his face in his hands and tries to slow his shaky breathing.

 

“Stop it, stop it,” he mutters to himself. “Please, don’t.”

 

He takes his hands away from his face, shaking them out, hoping moving will get rid of some of the nervous energy. It doesn’t.

 

Maybe it’s not a great idea to be around all these tall trees in this state of mind. A repeat of last summer is the last thing he wants. Or maybe, it doesn’t have to be a repeat. Maybe this time it’ll be a taller tree.

 

And suddenly he finds his legs moving further into the woods, his whole body shaking. After a minute, he spots one. Tall, easy footholds. Perfect. His legs start bringing him towards it.

 

“What, are you fucking stalking me now?”

 

Evan stops dead in his tracks, turns around. Sitting on the ground, under yet another tree, about twenty feet away from his broken self, is Connor Murphy.

 

“What? No,” Evan says, sniffling. He wasn’t aware that his face was wet with tears until now. He wipes his eyes. “I’m sorry, this is — I didn’t mean — “

 

“Dude. Are you, like... Okay?” Connor asks. It’s a weird sentence to hear coming out of his mouth.

 

Evan immediately nods, avoiding eye contact at all costs. “Yeah. I’m wonderful, I’m awesome, obviously.”

 

“Obviously not,” Connor says flatly, setting the book in his hand on the ground and getting to his feet. He steps forward, but Evan steps back.

 

“No, I’m fine, I just — I needed to get out of the house. I’m sorry I bothered you,” Evan says, turning and starting to walk away. He’s still wiping his face, because his tears just won’t stop.

 

But Connor follows him. “Evan. Stop.”

 

And he does. It’s weird, hearing his name come out of that mouth instead of freak. He turns around, but looks at the ground as he picks at his nails. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what — “

 

“It’s called an anxiety attack,” Connor interrupts. He doesn’t step any closer. There’s a good distance between them, and they both seem scared to get any closer.

 

“I — I know what it is, I just don’t know why or...” Evan takes a shaky breath, trying to calm himself down again.

 

Connor shrugs. “That’s the thing, though. There doesn’t really need to be a why. Sometimes you just feel things and you can’t stop them.”

 

That stops Evan’s sniffling for a moment. It also gets him to finally look up. He sees Connor’s brows furrowed in what seems like concern, and his eyes staring intensely, like he’s searching for something in Evan.

 

But just as quickly as it’s there, it disappears. Connor’s body slumps again, and he puts his hands in his pockets, looking down. “That was... That was so fucking stupid, just... That was dumb,” he says, slowly turning back around and walking away.

 

Evan can’t shake it. The feeling he got from just that one sentence. Sometimes you just feel things and you can’t stop them. Just that one thing was all Connor needed to say to give Evan the feeling that maybe someone does understand what he’s going through, the terrifying feelings he’s dealt with.

 

“No, wait!” Evan says, a little too earnestly as he takes a few strides forward to catch up with Connor. “Can I — “

 

“Leave me the fuck alone,” Connor says, this time not yelling at him, just muttering it as he walks back toward his tree.

 

Evan is slowly starting to realize the only way to get Connor to talk like a normal human being instead of screaming is to open up to him first. And he can’t understand why, but he really does want to talk to him. So he takes a long breath and a leap of faith, trying to be aware of what he says so he doesn’t ramble.

 

“I just had to get out of the house today. It seems like the only thing my mom cares about is fixing me,” Evan starts slowly. “I mean, she’s never home, but whenever she is it seems like the only thing we talk about are my therapy appointments and my meds and how I’m gonna pay for college. They’re all... all me problems, problems that she has because I’m... because I exist. And I know she’s just trying to help, but I feel like she just wants to fix me all the time. I just can’t be at home right now.”

 

Connor is quiet for a moment. “Why are you telling me this?” he finally asks, after what feels like an eternity of awkward silence.

 

Evan’s heart races faster. How does he respond to that? “Uh. Um. I - I don’t know, I’m sorry, it just kind of — I’m sorry — “

 

“If you don’t wanna be at your house right now... I guess you can come to mine,” Connor says, grabbing his book and closing it.

 

Well, he doesn’t know what he expected to hear. But it certainly wasn’t that. “Oh. No, I’m sorry, you don’t have to — “

 

“I mean, it’s not like my mom is any better. But right now no one is home, so it’s fine.”

 

“I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to — “

 

Connor gives Evan a sharp look and that’s all he needs to see to shut himself up. “Will you stop fucking apologizing and just take the offer?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before starting to walk away.

 

Evan hesitates a moment before following him. “Thank you.”

 

Connor doesn’t reply, just keeps walking.

 

Once Evan catches up to him, he realizes that if any conversation is going to happen between them, then he needs to start it. Because Connor sure as hell doesn’t seem interested in getting to know him. “So, um... It seems like whenever I see you, you’re sitting under a tree with a book,” he comments.

 

Connor shrugs. “I was supposed to meet someone here, but the fucker stood me up.”

 

The first thing that pops into Evan’s head is that it was probably his drug dealer. But then he immediately hates himself for making that assumption. He changes the subject. “You weren’t at school yesterday. I went out to sit with you and you weren’t there.”

 

“I know,” Connor says flatly. “I skipped. I didn’t — You came to sit with me?”

 

Evan nods. “Well, yeah, you said you wanted me too, right?”

 

“I said I didn’t care,” Connor corrects, sounding like he wants to make that very clear.

 

“Oh. Well, I guess I wanted to,” Evan says. “I only have, like, one other person to sit with and I think he hates me most of the time.” Granted, he thinks everyone hates him.

 

They don’t have to walk long before they arrive at the back door to Connor’s house. Connor walks straight in, and Evan follows with a racing heart. He looks around. It’s big. Way bigger than his house. And cleaner.

 

There’s no tour or anything, Connor just walks straight to the stairs and expects Evan to follow him, and Evan has to run to catch up once he realizes that Connor’s walked away.

 

The walls in Connor’s room are covered with posters and drawings. It looks messy, but it’s mostly just books and clothes. Also, there are a lot more books than Evan would have expected. There’s a big shelf of them against the wall, plus more by his bed and on his desk.

 

Connor plugs his phone in to charge and sets it on his desk. Since it’s still bright out, he opens his blinds and keeps the lights off, then plops down on his bed and extends his legs as he leans back.

 

“So, um, where’s your family?” Evan asks, desperately grasping for a real conversation somewhere.

 

Connor sighs. “Dad’s out of town for some business thing, Mom has her monthly wine dinner with her mom friends tonight, and Zoe is at...” He drifts off for a moment. “You have a crush on my sister. I forgot.”

 

Well, Evan certainly hasn’t forgotten. His face burns red, and he looks down. “What? No, I just — “

 

“I just think it’s weird. Also, she’s definitely not your type,” Connor says bluntly.

 

That definitely stings, but he doesn’t think he’s wrong. “So... Where is she?”

 

“At her friend’s house,” Connor answers. “There’s some stupid start of the year party tonight that they’re getting ready for.”

 

Evan nods. He definitely wasn’t invited to that, not that he’s surprised. It still hurts, though. He wanders over to the tall bookshelf, because he’s not sure where he’s supposed to sit. “How many of these have you read?”

 

Connor glances up, shrugging. “Most of them. The ones I haven’t are on the top of my list.”

 

Even though he’s literally seen him reading on multiple occasions, Evan can’t help but be shocked at the idea of Connor freakin Murphy being a bookworm. Before he can say anything else or continue the conversation, something catches his attention in the corner of his eye.

 

He looks down at the desk, and realizes Connor’s phone is lighting up with notifications. All from the same person. Two missed calls. Five texts.

 

Connor, pick up.

 

I’m sorry.

 

I really tried.

 

Please Connor just answer the phone.

 

I am so so sorry.

 

It lights up with a call again, and Evan turns around to look at Connor, who’s still lying on his bed and oblivious to it. “Who’s M?” he asks.

 

Connor flies out of bed and over to Evan, snatching his phone up. And staring at the screen for only a moment before starting to walk away. “I’ll be right back.”

 

As he walks out of the room, Connor holds the phone to his ear. “Where the fuck were you?”

 

The door closes behind him, and Evan knows he shouldn’t, but he finds himself walking over to try and hear more. Luckily Connor just stands right outside the door, so he can hear everything he says.

 

“No, you didn’t answer my question. Where were you?” Connor asks. There’s a few moments of silence, then, “So? Fuck her! She can’t tell you what to do... No, I don’t care who she is. You are your own person!”

 

Evan feels guilty about eavesdropping, so he tries to make himself feel better by going back to Connor’s desk and flipping through a sketchbook. It’s mostly just sketches of middle fingers or book covers. And he realizes then that he can still hear everything Connor says.

 

“M, I waited for two fucking hours. You couldn’t have at least sent a heads up text? You could’ve been dead for all I knew!” he exclaims. 

 

Evan flips to the last page of the sketchbook. He’s taken aback by the detail and care put into this one in comparison to the other ones. It must have taken hours to perfect. It’s a picture of a teenage boy, wearing headphones and lying on the ground with a small smile on his face. He is also most definitely smoking weed in it, but somehow that just adds to the boy’s charm.

 

Connor’s conversation quiets so he’s not raising his voice as much. “Okay. Yeah, I know, I get it. I was just... Yeah, it’s okay. Next week, then.” There’s a long silence, and Evan thinks it’s over. But then he hears, “I... I love you too.”

 

Just as he’s about to close the sketchbook, he notices something in the bottom corner. The words “For M, Love Connor.” All he can do is stand there, staring. It’s just the last thing he expected. Not just Connor being gay, or at least not straight, but that he would actually have someone. He doesn’t have any friends, so Evan would never expect him to have a significant other, no matter what gender.

 

Before Evan knows what’s happening, Connor is back in the room and charging over to him. “What the fuck are you doing with that?” he asks, yanking his sketchbook away. 

 

Evan jumps. “Nothing! I’m sorry, I was just...“ He looks down, picking at his nails. Not only his nails, but he finds a piece of loose skin at the edge of his nail and starts pulling at it. Yes it hurts, a lot, but it beats looking at the boy in front of him.

 

Connor has already seen what page he was looking at. His face is bright red, and after taking a couple moments to stammer, embarrassed and panicked, he gets angry again. “Just what? Looking through my private stuff?”

 

Evan shakes his head continuously, still staring down at his hands and watching the tiny spot of blood appear as he pulls at the skin outside his nail. “Nonononono, I’m so sorry, that’s not what I — “

 

“You just come here to look through my shit and find something on me?” Connor asks, raising his voice.

 

“No, no, wh — what do you mean?”

 

Connor huffs, stepping closer. “You’re looking for something to use against me, something to prove to everyone that I’m crazy, right?! That I’m a freak?”

 

Evan really should not have come here. He’s trapped himself. He just continues pulling at his nails and skin, wincing at the pain he feels as he braces for the inevitable punch or shove from the boy towering over him. “I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have — I didn’t mean to — “

 

“I’m not a freak! You’re the — “ Connor pauses for a moment. “You’re the...” And suddenly Evan’s hands are being grabbed, held tightly, as Connor says, “Stop that!”

 

“Wh - What?” Evan asks, unable to stop himself from glancing down at their hands before looking up at the other boy.

 

Connor is clearly bothered by it. “Stop... Doing that. You’re hurting yourself.”

 

Evan impulsively chuckles awkwardly. “Oh, no, it doesn’t hurt that — “

 

“I don’t care. Don’t.”

 

“It’s just a habit that I — “

 

“I. Don’t. Care. Stop it. Okay?”

 

He waits until Evan nods in agreement to let his hands go.

 

Connor nods, clearing his throat and looking away. “I’ll go get you some bandaids,” he says, walking out and taking his sketchbook with him, like he wants to keep it safe. He returns a minute later with a box of bandaids and sets the book on his bed. “How many do you need?”

 

“Um...” Evan looks down and counts the fingers that he sees blood on. “Three.”

 

Connor gets three bandaids out of the box and sets that on the bed with his book before walking back over to Evan as he unwraps one of them. 

 

Evan holds his hand out to grab the bandaids, but Connor just goes ahead and starts to wrap the first one around his finger. “Uh. Th - Thank you,” Evan says, face burning a deeper shade of red.

 

Connor just nods, staring down at Evan’s hand as he puts the next bandaid. He looks so uncomfortable, Evan wonders if that’s how anxious he looks to other people. “You know, I — I don’t care.”

 

Connor pauses, finishing with the bandaid and looking up. “Excuse me?”

 

Evan takes a breath, trying to find his words without making a fool of himself. “If - If you’re... I don’t care if you’re gay. It’s not a big deal, or at least it shouldn’t be.”

 

Connor takes a step back, his face bright red as he stammers. “I — I’m not... I don’t know...”

 

“That was your boyfriend, right? M?”

 

“What? No,” Connor says. “Miguel, he’s just... I — I don’t know what he is, but...”

 

Evan nods. “It’s okay. I’m just letting you know it’s... it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You should be able to have someone you can be yourself around. And if he’s that for you, whether he’s your boyfriend or not, I’m really glad you have it. Everyone deserves that.” He’s taken aback by his own words. That’s probably the longest he’s talked to Connor, or anyone, without stuttering himself to death.

 

And he’s not the only one who’s shocked. Connor stares for a few moments, and the smallest shadow of a smile creeps onto the corner of his mouth, and he glances away, probably to avoid Evan’s eyes. “Uh... Thanks, dude.”

 

Evan nods, not sure what else to say. “You’re welcome... dude.” Wow, he sounds stupid.

 

“Who is it for you?” Connor asks after a few moments of silence.

 

“Sorry, what?”

 

Connor clears his throat, looking at Evan completely now. “Who’s the person that you’re able to be yourself around?”

 

Good question... Evan goes through the list of people he talks to in his head. It’s a very short list. His mom doesn’t really count, and it would be sad if she did. Alana is nice, but they don’t talk much, and it’s usually her doing all the talking, anyway. Jared? That’s the closest, he supposes, but he really doesn’t feel totally comfortable around him, either. He’s not even sure Jared wants to be his friend. “Uh... I don’t know. No one, I guess...”

 

Connor’s face falls and he frowns. “I’m... Sorry.”

 

Evan shrugs. “Not your fault.”

 

“I — Um...” Connor scratches the back of his neck, then takes a breath. “I can be that for you. I mean, like... if you want.”

 

“Oh, no, you don’t have to — “

 

“I want to,” Connor says, a little too quickly. Evan gets the feeling that Connor knows how it feels to not have that kind of person in his life. “Like you said. Everyone deserves it.”

 

Evan can’t help but smile a little. He doesn’t recognize the feeling in his chest. It’s not anxiety, for once, but something lighter. Maybe hope. Whatever it is, it’s a good feeling. “So... Miguel? You wanna tell me about him?”

 

Connor’s face turns red again. “You don’t wanna hear — “

 

“Yes I do.” If Connor cares about this guy as much as Evan thinks he does, and no one knows about it, then he’s sure Connor has never gotten the chance to talk about it. And everyone also deserves someone they can talk to about anything. “I definitely do. Where did you meet?”

 

Connor smiles for real this time, but his long hair is partly in his face. Evan has the urge to move it out of the way so he can see the real thing. The full Connor Murphy Smile. It’s probably only been seen by a few people. From what he can see, though, it’s a good one. “Uh, my parents sent me to this stupid private school to try and straighten out my behavior. I met him there. It was... the best time of my life.”

 

“Then why did you leave?” Evan asks.

 

Connor sighs, his smile falling. “Long story. Basically he was caught with weed and I took the blame so he could stay at school with his friends. I got kicked out.”

 

“Whoa. Do your parents know the full story?”

 

Scoffing, Connor shakes his head. “No way. I wouldn’t even tell them I had a friend.”

 

“But why?” Wouldn’t telling his parents that he made a friend let them know that he’s getting better, give them a little hope?

 

“Do you have any idea how much trouble I gave them over sending me to that stupid school? If I had let them know that something good came out of it, it would be letting them win.”

 

“Okay... So you stayed together even after you left the school?”

 

Connor bites his lips, taking a breath. “When his mom heard that I got kicked out of school for having weed, she said he couldn’t hang out with me anymore, but we snuck around. We stayed together for a while and then... I screwed things up, we fell apart.”

 

Evan takes a chance. “Um... If you don’t mind me asking, uh... How... What did you do to... How’d you fall apart?”

 

Connor gives him another small smile. “According to him, I have a fear of letting people in. Crazy, right?” he says sarcastically.

 

Laughing a bit, and this time not just on an awkward impulse, Evan nods. “Yeah, can’t say I’ve ever noticed that.”

 

“Yeah, so, anyway...” Connor sighs. Evan can’t help but notice that he looks and sounds a lot more relaxed than he’s ever seen him. “Um, we didn’t talk for a long time. But I managed to reach out to him a few weeks ago, and things somehow got right back to normal. We were supposed to meet today, but his mom found out and put him on lockdown.”

 

“Well, um, it didn’t really sound like you’re having a hard time letting him in,” Evan says, because he couldn’t help but notice. “You told him you loved him.”

 

And there it is. The full, real, actual Connor Murphy Smile. No hair to hide it, no attempting to muffle it by looking away or forcing a straight face. No, Connor is looking straight at him, nodding and grinning. “I do. I... I really do.”

 

Evan grins, too. This feeling inside him, it’s brand new. Is this what having a real friend feels like? Having someone to talk to, to listen to. He actually got through to The Connor Murphy, and he’s so glad he did. He would have just lived with so many other assumptions about this wonderful boy, and without even trying to get to know him. But he’s here, and they’re together, smiling, and it feels truly amazing.

 

After a few moments, Connor looks down and realizes Evan only has two bandaids on. “Oh. Sorry, I kind of... Here.” He grabs the last bandaid and Evan’s hand, wrapping it around the last bleeding finger before nodding, as if pleased with his work. “There.”

 

“Uh... Th - Thank you,” Evan says, back to his stammering self. 

 

Connor glances at the alarm clock on his nightstand. “Do you wanna go out and get some food or something?”

 

“I don’t — Uh — have any... like, money?” Evan says, embarrassed to be saying it in this large house.

 

But Connor just waves his hand dismissively. “I got it, it’s fine.”

 

“Oh, no, you don’t have to — “

 

“Evan. Chill. I got it.”

 

Once again, it’s weird hearing his name come from that mouth. He likes it, though, at least he thinks he does. It feels like he’s one step closer to having a real friend. “Okay. Thank you, Connor,” he says, quietly, testing out how it feels to call him by his name.

Chapter Text

They end up at a pizza place. With nice, quality pizza instead of the delivery pizza Evan gets which tastes good but can sometimes be a bit much. He’s never been here before, and when he mentioned that while they were thinking of places to go, Connor didn’t hesitate to grab his dad’s spare keys and jump in the car he left at home while he’s out of town.

 

He blasted music the entire time. It was all fast, upbeat songs, and some of them were just really loud acoustic guitars. They sounded like fun songs to Evan, until he started focusing on the lyrics realized how sad they all were. Kinda gives another view into Connor Murphy’s mind.

 

He doesn’t wanna spend too much of Connor’s money, so Evan just orders a slice of cheese pizza and a water when the waiter comes.

 

“You could’ve gotten more if you wanted,” Connor says as the waiter walks away.

 

But Evan just shakes his head. “No thanks, I’m not that hungry.”

 

Before either of them can get a conversation going, a loud, familiar laugh comes from behind Evan. He doesn’t turn around, though, just closing his eyes and hoping it’s his imagination.

 

“Connor, I think you’re a little underdressed for a place this fancy,” Jared comments, pointing to his jeans and faded hoodie.

 

Connor just stares at him blankly. “It’s pizza, dumbass.”

 

“Expensive pizza,” Jared corrects. “Did you steal your mom’s credit card for this or is it the money you made from your drug dealing gig?”

 

Evan can see the rage and embarrassment building up in Connor’s face, so he turns around to face his (family) friend before things escalate too much.

 

The shock on Jared’s face would be comical if Evan wasn’t so angry at the comments he made.

 

Jared laughs again, which seems to be his defense for everything. “Wow, Evan, can’t believe I didn’t see you with that cast you’re lugging around and your not so subtle nervous hunch you do.”

 

Evan glances at Connor before getting out of his seat and grabbing Jared’s arm, dragging him outside the restaurant. It’s the most confident he’s felt in a long time. He doesn’t know why, but he guesses it’s because of who he’s trying to protect. “What the hell, Jared?”

 

“What the hell, me?! What the hell, you!” Jared exclaims. “What the fuck are you doing with Connor friggin’ Murphy?”

 

Evan shrugs. “We’re just... hanging out.”

 

“Just hanging out? You guys aren’t friends,” Jared says flatly.

 

“We could be,” Evan argues. “We might be. I think we kind of... are.”

 

Jared scoffs. “No, that dude batshit crazy. He’s probably planning your murder as we speak... No, he’s better than that. He’s had this planned for months.”

 

But Evan stands his ground. “That’s not funny. Connor is... if people would just take the time to get to know him, they’d see who he really is.”

 

“Oh, yeah, and you know who he really is,” Jared says sarcastically. “Evan Hansen, the guy who’s too anxious to buy himself dinner, knows who the real Connor Murphy is.”

 

“Yes!” Evan exclaims, fed up. “At least... I’m starting to. If you could just take it easy on him and maybe not make so many assumptions and insults, it would be a lot easier for him to let his walls down.”

 

“So he’s the victim? Really? That’s the story you’re going with here?” Evan just stares at him, so he continues. “Fine. I hope you two have a lovely date tonight and that you live happily ever after with the money your boyfriend makes selling crack,” he says, spitefully, then turns and walks away.

 

Evan’s blood boils. He can’t remember the last time he was this angry. And it just makes him want to cry, because he hates being angry, and Jared was basically his best friend, but now they’re both mad at each other, and he doesn’t know how to fix it.

 

But then he remembers Connor inside. He can worry about Jared another day. Before they were interrupted, he really was enjoying himself, so he decides to let himself have the rest of the night before freaking out about something else.

 

When he gets back in, it’s tense. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know he was — “

 

“He’s a dick. Why are you friends with him?” Connor asks, and Evan notices his hands are balled into tight fists and his leg is bouncing up and down fast. He looks like he’s trying to restrain himself from hitting something. Or someone.

 

“Family friends,” Evan corrects.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I hate him.”

 

Evan has the urge to stand up for Jared, but then he remembers he’s still mad at him, so he looks down and notices that the food came while he was gone. He takes a small bite of his pizza. “Thanks for this,” he says after he swallows that bite.

 

Connor nods, sighing. “It’s not my parents’ money, by the way. And it’s not drug money either.”

 

“I didn’t think it was.” It’s not like he would shame Connor if it was his parents’ money. Evan’s mom always leaves money for him to get food.

 

The next thing Connor says comes out of nowhere. “Wanna crash a party tonight?”

 

Evan nearly chokes on his pizza. He covers his mouth and gets himself together before saying, “Wait, what?”

 

“That party tonight. Wanna crash it?” Connor asks. He’s still looking tense, so Evan doesn’t wanna rub him the wrong way.

 

“Uh, it’s just... I’ve never, like... Gone to a party before, exactly?”

 

Connor just shrugs. “I haven’t been to many either. I went to one with Miguel once, but that’s it.”

 

“So why do you want to?” Evan asks.

 

“That’s where the alcohol is. My parents started locking their liquor cabinet the first time they saw me drunk,” Connor explains. “I don’t even like being drunk that much. But I need a drink or five tonight.”

 

Because Evan really doesn’t want to contradict Connor, they finish up their pizza and pay, then get in the car. Connor looks over at Evan, pausing. “Wait.”

 

“What?” Evan asks.

 

“You can’t go to a party like that.”

 

Evan looks down at himself. He’s wearing jeans and a blue shirt which, now that Connor is staring at him, he suddenly feels very self conscious in. “Oh. Right.”

 

“We’ll stop by my house and you can borrow something of mine.”

 

It takes them about ten minutes to get back to Connor’s house from the restaurant, and they run up to his room to find something for Evan to wear. It ends up being a black t-shirt that has the words ‘fuck you’ sprawled across the chest with a picture of a middle finger, and a black zip up hoodie. It’s not even close to Evan’s style, and he’s extremely uncomfortable, so he goes to zip up the jacket. The problem is, Connor is skinner than him, so he can’t zip it up all the way without it being too tight. But, he’s also taller, so the sleeves are too long. He sighs and sucks it up.

 

“Much better,” Connor says before they jump back into the car and are on their way to the party, also known as the perfect spot for another panic attack for the mess that is Evan Hansen.

Chapter Text

Connor looks at his hands as they pull up in front of the house. They’re gripping the steering wheel so tight his knuckles are white. He almost backs out because he never liked parties anyway, but he’s so tense right now. All he wants to do is hit something, and he doesn’t want to lose it in front Evan, so he’ll count on the alcohol to take some of the edge off for tonight.

 

“Ready?” he asks, looking over to Evan. His outfit definitely does not suit him, but Connor finds it adorable how he’s hugging himself to hide the design of the t-shirt.

 

“Yay...” Evan says, no emotion in his voice.

 

Connor chuckles, taking the keys out of the ignition and rolling his eyes. “Freak,” he says jokingly. “Come on, you can do it.”

 

They both get out of the car and approach the front door together. The music is way too loud for anyone to hear them knock or ring the doorbell, so Connor just opens the door and walks in.

 

He’s immediately shoved by someone dancing when he walks in, and he grabs onto Evan to catch his balance. “Let’s go get a drink,” he says quickly, grabbing Evan’s hand so that he doesn’t lose him in the crowd and starting to search for the alcohol.

 

When they find the kitchen, where there’s solo cups and various bottles of alcohol plus a cooler full of beer, Connor lets go of Evan and grabs a cup and the closest bottle to him, which just happens to be vodka. As he pours himself a drink, he looks over at Evan.

 

Evan is looking at the people around him. Dancing, making out, talking so loud they’re basically screaming. He looks terrified. Eyes wide and holding himself uncomfortably, he rocks back and forth on his toes.

 

“Come on, dude, relax,” Connor says, putting a hand on Evan’s shoulder and trying to hold him still. “Want a drink?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, no thank you.”

 

He can really see how anxious he is, and he can’t say he doesn’t know how it feels. That’s definitely something along the lines of what he looked like when he went out with Miguel’s friends and him. So he sets his cup down and uses both hands to grab Evan’s arms. “Hey. Deep breaths. It’s okay... Listen, if you really don’t wanna be here, we can totally go back to my place and chill.”

 

Once again, he shakes his head. “No! It’s okay, I’m fine, sorry.”

 

Connor almost continues his attempt to make Evan feel better, but he suddenly hears his name being yelled.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here, Connor?” Zoe asks.

 

“Having fun,” Connor answers flatly.

 

“And you have to have fun here?”

 

Connor tilts his head back and takes several gulps of his drink, then lets out a long sigh when he looks at his sister. “Why not?”

 

“You definitely weren’t invited,” Zoe answers, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Neither was Evan, yet here we are,” Connor replies, glancing over at his new friend. Friend? Is that too much?

 

And that’s when Zoe even notices that Evan is standing there. Her jaw drops, and she looks between them in shock. “Evan, what the — Did he kidnap you?”

 

“What?” Evan asks. “No. We — We were hanging out.”

 

Connor relaxes a little, giving Evan a little smile. It feels good to rub that in his sister’s face. That he was actually hanging out with someone. With a friend. “See? Nothing sketchy going on here.”

 

Zoe squints suspiciously at him, then looks at Evan again. “Blink twice if you — “ She pauses, looking him up and down. It makes Evan curl in on himself even more than usually, looking extremely uncomfortable. “Are those Connor’s clothes?”

 

“What?” Evan looks down at himself before glancing up at Connor. “Oh. Um. Yeah, I guess.”

 

Zoe looks back at her brother. “You’re gonna taint him. Leave the poor kid alone.”

 

From the way Evan is looking at Zoe, Connor can tell he’s wondering if she’s joking or not. But Connor has had enough. “Shut up, Zoe. Go away.”

 

“No, I can be wherever I want. I was invited to this party, remember?” Zoe turns her attention back to Evan. “Seriously, you don’t have to listen to him. He’s — “

 

Evan shakes his head quickly. “I’m fine, thank you.”

 

Zoe sighs. There’s a short silence before she looks like she suddenly remembered something. “Oh. Evan, are you coming to the jazz band performance next week?” she asks. “You said last week you liked it, so I was just wondering...”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. Really? Is that really the best topic she can think of to discuss at a party?

 

Evan shrugs. “I — I don’t know, maybe, I mean, I’m kinda busy, but, like not that busy, just kind of busy and I... I don’t know, sorry, that was weird, I don’t know.”

 

Connor has to stifle his laughter at that as he pours himself another drink. He can’t exactly tell if he’s talking like that because he’s generally anxious or if it’s because it the girl he has a weird crush on. He’s also not sure how he feels about his new friend liking his sister. 

 

Zoe slowly nods, laughing awkwardly. “Okay, well, um, if you can’t make it, let me know. I can sneak a recording of our private rehearsal and send it to you?”

 

Evan smiles. “Oh. O - Okay, yeah, sounds... sounds awesome.”

 

“And that is the closest you two will ever get to breaking the rules,” Connor says bluntly, taking another swig of his drink.

 

Zoe rolls her eyes, ignoring him and smiling at Evan. “Um, I should probably get back to my friends. But let me know about that, yeah?”

 

Evan nods, looking like he’s trying to sputter something out but he can’t quite say anything.

 

“See you around,” she says as she walks away.

 

Connor looks at Evan and his bright red face. He’s fidgeting with the bandages on his fingers and the fabric of his shirt again, rocking back and forth on his feet as he stares after her. It’s weird, and Connor still isn’t sure how he feels about Evan getting closer to his sister. But, he supposes, Evan would be a way better option than some asshole. Someone like him.

 

“You should go talk to her.”

 

Evan’s smile drops, and he looks back over at Connor. “What?”

 

“I still think it’s weird, but I’m not gonna stop you from going after a girl you like,” Connor explains.

 

“Oh, I don’t really actively go after things, I tend to pine from afar,” Evan blurts out quickly.

 

Connor raises his eyebrows. “And that’s even weirder. Like you said, we all deserve to have that one person.”

 

Evan doesn’t say anything, just smiles at Connor. And while Connor very much enjoys looking at that smile — even if he would never admit it — he rolls his eyes. “Go on.”

 

Evan says a quick thank you before running off, and as soon as he’s gone Connor regrets it. The only reason he came here was because he had someone with him. He would never go to a party alone, and suddenly he feels so small. Like he’s being engulfed in all the bodies moving around him. Drowning. His heart races and his stomach starts doing flips.

 

Usually when he feels this anxious he smokes, but right now he doesn’t have anything on him, so he settles for the alcohol around him. He pours himself multiple drinks from bottles that he doesn’t read the labels of, then drinks them all while ignoring the people around him who are bumping into him.

 

He doesn’t know how long goes by. He loses track of time with his mind this hazy. When he finally decides he’s had enough to drink, he stumbles past the people in the kitchen and finds himself in a dining room, next to a table with food on it. He’s not even a little bit hungry, but he has nothing better to do, so he starts studying the options, like its the most important decision in his life. Chips, brownies, cookies, popcorn —

 

“Who invited the Murphy kid?” a voice says from behind him.

 

Connor ignores it, reaching for a cookie. He grabs it, but when he turns around, it’s quickly slapped out of his hand and onto the floor.

 

“That food’s for people who were invited.”

 

Connor looks up at the source of the voice. A boy, the same height as him, but with a better build. He rolls his eyes. “You just wasted a perfectly good cookie, dickhead.”

 

“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” the guy says. “I said you weren’t invited. Get out of my house.”

 

And he really doesn’t feel like putting up a fight. He doesn’t even really want to be here anyway. So he walks past the boy, stumbling and taking his time because he knows he’ll fall if he goes to fast. 

 

Then the boy goes too far. It only takes two strides to catch up with the slow moving Connor, and he stands to the side as he says, “Move it, freak,” and stretches out his leg.

 

Connor immediately trips, falling on his chest and having the air knocked out of him. But he doesn’t care that he can’t breathe or that the world is spinning around him. His blood is boiling. He makes his way back to his feet, spinning on the spot and socking the guy in the jaw. It sends the guy back a few feet, but Connor nearly loses his balance as well and has to grab onto the wall to keep himself up.

 

Dickhead laughs, rubbing his jaw. “Cute.” And with that, he swings his fist. Connor is able to dodge the first one, but when he does he starts losing his balance. It only takes one more swing to get a solid shot, and it sends him to the ground as pain explodes in his face.

 

As Dickhead gets to the ground to continue beating him, Connor scurries backward and kicks him back. Then he uses the time he has while the guy is disoriented to get in a couple more punches and stand up.

 

But Dickhead doesn’t go down without a fight. He basically just flails his fists everywhere until they find Connor’s face again, and this time it’s harder, and Connor has to step back with his face in his hands. He can feel his eye throbbing, and his bottom lip is starting to swell already.

 

He’s pushed backwards, so he takes his hands away from his face and looks up again. “Is that all you’ve got?” Dickhead asks. “It’s pathetic.”

 

He doesn’t know if his entire body is shaking because of anxiety at all the people watching or rage, but he doesn’t really care. He throws all his strength into taking this guy to the ground, landing on top of him and throwing punches everywhere.

 

After a few moments, he starts losing his balance because of how drunk he is.

 

No, he’s not falling... He’s being pulled off.

 

He doesn’t even look at who it is before pushing them away. “Fuck you, leave me alone!” he yells, his words slurring together.

 

Evan doesn’t stop trying, searching for a good grip on Connor’s arms as they fly through the air. “Connor! Connor, stop!” he yells.

 

Evan is no where near strong enough to stop Connor, but once Zoe helps out it’s not too hard. “Cut it out!” Zoe screams. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

 

Once they totally get him off of the asshole who started it, the guy stands up and straightens out his shirt. “Get the fuck out of my house. Both of you. Now.”

 

“Fuck you!” Connor yells after him as he walks away.

 

People start losing interest, getting back to their previous conversations, and Zoe let’s Connor go so that Evan is holding him up by himself. “Just... Just take him back to our house,” she tells Evan. “You remember how to get back?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “Yeah, but I... um... I can’t really — I can’t exactly drive, legally.”

 

“You... You can’t take me home,” Connor slurs, gingerly reaching a hand up to touch his swollen lip. “Mom’ll know I’m drunk when she gets home.”

 

“Maybe you should’ve thought about that before crashing a party you weren’t invited to, dumbass,” Zoe says, then looks at Evan. “Okay, come on, I’ll take you guys back.”

 

“Thank you,” Evan breathes out, starting to follow her to the front door.

 

Zoe unlocks the car so that Evan can help Connor into the backseat, and she tells him he can sit in the front, but he decides to sit with Connor instead. Evan is putting on his seatbelt as Zoe turns on the car, then she looks back at her brother. “Put on your seatbelt.”

 

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” Connor says, a little too quickly. He’s so fucking drunk.

 

“Do not start this tonight, Connor, I’m not doing this shit,” Zoe says, practically through gritted teeth, turning back and gripping the steering wheel.

 

Evan decides to just reach over and get Connor’s seatbelt on for him.

 

“What shit?” Connor asks.

 

“Your shit!” she screams in response as they drive off.

 

Connor crosses his arms over his chest. “What’s my shit?”

 

“Everything!” Zoe says, still raising her voice. Connor looks over at Evan and rolls his eyes as an apology for his sister. “You ruin everything!”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Connor asks.

 

Zoe huffs, her grip on the steering wheel getting even tighter. “Every fucking thing you do! Can’t you just be normal for once?”

 

There’s a heavy silence in the car. Zoe breathes angrily. Evan looks straight ahead, feeling immensely guilty and awkward and anxious. Connor’s arms are still crossed, he’s still slouching, his position makes it look like he has never and will never give a shit about anything in his life. But his face looks like a wounded puppy. Quickly he covers it up, though, as Zoe looks in the rearview mirror.

 

“Fuck you!” he yells.

 

“Fuck you!” she responds.

 

It feels like the longest time before they arrive at the Murphy household again. Luckily Cynthia’s car isn’t here. Evan gets out of the car and goes around to help Zoe get him out.

 

They’re both holding him up, but Connor is clearly leaning toward Evan, so he’s doing most of the work. Zoe then has to get out her house key and unlock the door, so Evan adjusts his grip around Connor’s middle and grunts as he does his best.

 

Once they get in the door, Zoe locks it and comes back to help, but Connor, too drunk and angry to do anything else, waves her away. “I don’t want your fucking help,” he slurs.

 

Zoe rolls her eyes. “I’m not making Evan deal with your drunk ass alone,” she says as they make their way up the stairs. They can’t all walk side by side up, so Zoe falls behind and is ready to help if the boys lose their balance.

 

“At least Evan is nice to me,” Connor says, and only Evan can see the frown on his face and the sadness in his eyes.

 

Zoe chuckles. “Oh, I’m the one who’s not nice? That’s rich,” she says as they make it to the top of the stairs. Zoe slips past the boys to open Connor’s bedroom door.

 

“Fuck you,” Connor mutters under his breath.

 

“Very original, asshole. Fuck you, too.” Zoe stops walking as Evan helps Connor into the room. “Do you need anything else, Evan? I can take you home.”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah, um, thank you. I — I’ll be right down.”

 

She nods and walks away.

 

Connor huffs, pulling away from Evan and crawling into his bed. “I’m so stupid,” he says softly, plopping down and sitting with his knees pulled to his chest. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

 

“What?” Evan asks, closing the bedroom door. “What do you — “

 

“I ruin everything,” Connor says, a pout on his face. “Why... Why am I so mean to Zoe? Why am I so mean to everyone?”

 

Evan hesitates before replying. “It’s just your way of... of coping with the things you’re feeling, I think,” he finally says, walking over to the bed and sitting on the edge.

 

Connor stares off absentmindedly, and Evan doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe he’ll say something deep and sad, or maybe he’ll start crying. It really could go either way. But instead, a smile grows on his face, and suddenly he’s laughing. Evan has never heard his laugh like this before. It’s honestly a beautiful sound.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

“You — You sound like my therapist,” Connor explains, still giggling.

 

Evan nods, starting to laugh softly, awkwardly. “Oh.”

 

Then Connor forces a straight face, looking Evan in the eye and saying, “I hate my therapist.”

 

Evan’s smile falls, and he looks down. “Oh.”

 

Connor bursts out laughing again, falling back on his mattress. Evan doesn’t know what to do. He’s never dealt with anyone drunk before. “You should probably go to bed, right?” he asks, getting up so he can grab the blanket for Connor.

 

Connor smiles up at him. “Evan.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You have a really nice... face.”

 

Evan just smiles. No one has ever really complimented his appearance before, or called him cute. Okay, so maybe Connor didn’t exactly call him cute. And maybe he’s super drunk and doesn’t know anything he’s saying, but it still feels nice, and Evan can’t stop smiling now. “You have a nice face, too,” he says, working on getting Connor’s boots off for him.

 

Connor sighs, the ghost of his smile still dainty visible. “Hey, are we, like... Are we friends now?” He sounds like a little kid, and it’s extremely adorable.

 

Evan blushes a bit, throwing his shoes to the side. “I mean, if — if you want...”

 

Nodding, Connor turns onto his side, his hand resting under his had as Evan puts the blanket over him. “I do want.”

 

So Evan smiles more. “Then I guess we are.”

 

“Cool.”

 

Evan makes his way toward the door. “Night, Connor.”

 

Connor shifts in bed, eyes starting to fall shut. “Thanks for being my friend, Evan,” he says, softly, practically a whisper.

 

Evan tries to hide the happiness he feels as he makes his way back downstairs. Even if this was the last time Connor was ever nice to him, and even if it’s just because he’s drunk, he would be content with it. It feels so good. He has this amazing feeling that Connor could be his first real friend, one that he isn’t afraid to talk to about his problems, one that he’s totally comfortable around, one that won’t make him feel inferior, like he always feels around people.

 

And he thinks back to how he felt earlier that afternoon. How he felt like the world was closing in on him, like he was drowning. He’s so thankful that Connor was in that park. He tells himself that he wouldn’t have done anything too stupid even if Connor wasn’t there, but he never trusts himself.

Chapter Text

“He’s gonna be so hungover in the morning,” Zoe says.

 

Evan jumps out of his little world and looks up to see her sitting on the couch, staring at her phone.

 

“Oh. Yeah,” Evan says. He forgot that Zoe taking him home meant that he would have to be alone with her, and suddenly his heart is racing again. 

 

“I’ll put some Advil and water in his room when I get home,” she says. “You ready?”

 

“Wha - Uh - Yes, yes, thank you, sorry,” Evan says, back to his usual rambling.

 

Zoe tosses her keys in the air and catches them, heading out to her car, and Evan follows.

 

When they get in the car, she doesn’t hesitate to start a conversation, which Evan is eternally grateful for. He can’t stand awkward silences.

 

“So, if you don’t mind me asking... How did... All that happen?” she says, backing out of the driveway.

 

“Connor and me?” Evan asks, and she nods. “Um... I — I don’t know?” He can’t tell the full story, because it involves Zoe being mentioned in his letter. She probably doesn’t care about the full story anyway. “We ran into each other at the store the other day, that was kind of weird. And I went to the park today and he was there. It just kind of... happened. That doesn’t really make sense, I’m sorry.”

 

Zoe sighs, looking straight ahead at the road. Her eyes look so tired, but somehow Evan thinks it just adds to her beauty. “I just don’t understand. He’s such a bad person, and you’re so sweet, and I just don’t get why you’d wanna...” She stops, like she’s trying to figure out how to word it.

 

Evan never thought there was anything Zoe could do that would bother him. But he was wrong. “Connor’s not a bad person.”

 

Zoe scoffs. “Yes, he is. You hung out with him for one day, okay? I’ve known him my entire life... I just don’t want you getting hurt, Evan. You don’t know my brother.”

 

“I don’t think you do, either,” Evan spits out, without thinking.

 

“Excuse me?” Zoe asks, glancing over at him. He could disintegrate under her stare.

 

Evan looks straight ahead. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, it’s just... I don’t think anyone really knows him.” Except maybe Miguel, but he’s certainly not telling her about that.

 

They come to a red light, and Zoe looks over at him fully now. “And you do?” she asks, clearly bothered.

 

“No! Nonono,” Evan says quickly. “But I’m trying to... We all have these assumptions about him, but no one ever takes the time to get to know him as a person, to see what he’s really like.”

 

Zoe rolls her eyes, and Evan can see the fire getting bigger inside her. “I know what he’s really like. I’ve spent years putting up with his smoking and his screaming and his threats and all the other crap that you haven’t seen yet. He treats me, my parents, and everyone in his path like absolute shit. You’ll see.” She stops talking when the light turns green and instead just grips the steering wheel tightly.

 

Nodding, Evan takes a deep breath to collect his thoughts. He never thought he’d be standing up for Connor Murphy, especially not to the girl he’s been crushing on for the longest time. “Maybe he does,” he says eventually. “And I’m not saying he always makes the best choices, but maybe he wouldn’t act like that so much if he felt like someone was actually trying to reach out to him. I think he just feels lonely, and he turns that feeling into anger and — “

 

“Okay, I get it,” Zoe says, forcefully.

 

Evan shuts his mouth, looking away quickly. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just not what I expected. But... I guess I’m glad he has someone like you in his life. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe there’s hope for him.”

 

And, God, does he want to help. Evan is broken beyond repair, he knows that. Connor seems damaged too. But maybe Zoe is right. Maybe there’s hope for him. And if Evan can help him, in anyway that he can, it might feel even better than just having a friend. Sure, he can’t fix himself, but if he can give Connor Murphy a little bit of hope and light in his life, maybe he’ll be able to keep himself together just a little longer.

Chapter Text

so basically i had at least 2 chapters written and ready to update today, but i accidentally deleted them. i think that was actually some of the best writing so far, and there was a lot happening in it, so i’ll have to take the time to rewrite it all and i don’t know how long that will take. i’m so sorry, i was really looking forward to updating today and i really loved these chapters. i will try to get as close to the original writing as possible, but having to rewrite them may mean that they won’t be as quality as the original, i’m super sorry for that. thanks for your patience and reading this far!!!

Chapter Text

By Monday, Evan feels so guilty about what happened with Jared that he’s lost sleep. So when he gets to school, the first thing he does is go straight to Jared’s locker.

 

Jared sees him coming, and stops rummaging in his locker to turn and face him, smiling. “How was your date with the drug dealer?”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. Now he remembers why he was so mad. “I’m sorry,” he says.

 

“For what?” Jared asks, looking genuinely confused.

 

“For... For yelling at you.”

 

Jared stares at him blankly. “You didn’t yell at me. You didn’t even raise your voice.”

 

Evan pauses, thinking back to that night. Jared’s right, he didn’t yell. But he still feels bad. “Then I’m sorry for — “

 

“This is your problem, dude,” Jared interrupts, shaking his head. “I constantly insult and ridicule you, and you never once stand up for yourself. You think I’m bad? And you wanna hang around that guy? Connor Murphy is gonna eat you alive. And you’re gonna come running back to little ol’ Jared telling me how right I was when he does whatever it is he’ll do to make your miserable life even worse.”

 

Evan can feel the anger coming back up to the surface again, but the regret and anxiety is still very much alive. “Can’t you just be happy for me and let me have this? I mean, I — I finally have a real friend. I finally have someone that I can be myself around and — and maybe talk to, y’know, about anything, and — “

 

“Oh, that must feel great,” Jared says, sharply, and Evan looks up to find fire in his eyes and a bitter smile. “It must be so nice to finally have a real friend.” And with that, he slams his locker shut and turns, walking off.

 

Evan almost calls after him, but before he knows it, Connor is standing in front of him. He still has a black eye, but his lip looks like it’s starting to get better. It’s just a small cut now. He’s back to his normal, somewhat gloomy self with his drunken smile and giggles nowhere to be found.

 

“Hey,” Evan says, trying to push Jared out of his mind.

 

Connor nods. “Hey, you forgot your shirt at my house,” he says quietly, like he’s trying to make sure no one hears. Evan can’t help but smile a little, because it sounds sketchier than it actually is.

 

“Oh, yeah, I meant to bring your stuff today,” he replies, feeling stupid. “I’m so sorry. I’ll remember tomorrow.”

 

Shrugging, Connor hands his shirt over and he puts it in his backpack. “It’s okay, I never wear that shirt anyway. Hey, uh... I’m really sorry about this weekend.”

 

“Why?” Evan asks, honestly confused.

 

“I was just so drunk and stupid, and you shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”

 

Evan quickly shakes his head. “No, no, it’s okay, I had a fun time.”

 

Connor nods, then after a moment he clears his throat. “So, um, what — what do you want for lunch today?”

 

“Sorry, what?”

 

“Uh, so I was talking to Miguel yesterday, and I told him about you,” Connor explains. “And he likes to skip class and bring me lunch once a week, and he wants to meet you, so what do you want for lunch?”

 

Evan’s stomach drops. The idea of meeting someone new is terrifying, but meeting someone whose opinion actually matters? What if Miguel doesn’t like him? And what if Connor stops hanging out with Evan because of it? This is horrifying. “He doesn’t have — “

 

“He wants to. So what do you want?”

 

“I don’t know, I guess... I’ll eat wh — whatever, thank you.”

 

Connor nods in response, getting his phone out to text Miguel.

 

Looking down, Evan shakes his head. “It’s just, um, I don’t do great with new people? And — “

 

He stops when Connor puts a hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine. M is chill, he’ll like you.”

 

“Why would he?” Evan says, mostly to himself.

 

Before Connor can respond, though, the bell rings for class and people are milling around them to be on time. Connor nods at him encouragingly. “Just meet me in the parking lot at lunch, okay? See you later,” he says, walking away.

 

That morning is an absolute nightmare. Evan can’t focus in any of his classes because of all the worries and doubts in his mind. Miguel won’t like him. Connor’s gonna realize that he sucks. He’s pretty sure he’s totally lost Jared now, so he won’t have anyone else left really. When the bell rings for lunch, he only feels more nervous. Now it’s actually happening. He prepares himself for the worst as he walks to the parking lot and finds Connor sitting on the curb waiting, then sits next to him without saying a word.

 

“Hey,” Connor greets. “I forgot to tell you earlier. Thanks for that Advil you put in my room Saturday night.”

 

“That wasn’t me,” Evan says flatly, mind too preoccupied right now to put effort into this conversation. “Thank Zoe.”

 

Connor scoffs, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, right. My sister who hates me left painkillers to help my hangover I got from the party she didn’t want me at in the first place. Sure.”

 

Evan shrugs. “She doesn’t hate you.”

 

“Are you okay?” Connor asks out of nowhere.

 

“What?” Evan asks, finally looking up at him. “Yeah. Why?”

 

Connor motions to where his hands are lying in his lap, fidgeting with the fabric over his knees. “Your hands are shaking a lot.”

 

“They’re always shaking.”

 

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Connor asks, getting more serious now.

 

But Evan doesn’t cave in. He continues to shake his head, looking down at the ground again. Connor doesn’t need to deal with his shit. “I’m okay, thanks.”

 

“No, come on. What’s going on?”

 

“Please, just — “

 

“Just fucking talk to me, Evan,” Connor says, turning fully toward him.

 

Evan takes a moment. Connor clearly isn’t backing down either. So he tries to gather his words, figuring out what he wants to say without letting too much out. “I just... I get really anxious around people, I mean, like, I’m anxious all the time, but especially around people,” he rambles, and suddenly his plan to hold back fails. “And you’re so cool, and Miguel seems really cool too, and then there’s just me and I’m so lame and uncool and you’re not gonna wanna hang out with me anymore when you realize, and I — Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, that was so weird... I’m sorry, see? Super uncool.”

 

Connor just sort of stares for a moment, his eyebrows raised and his jaw dropped in shock. Evan braces for him to start laughing. “Are you kidding me? Cool?” he says instead. “I am not cool. Not even close. And besides, you’re literally the nicest person in the world. Who wouldn’t like you?”

 

Without thinking, without hesitation, he answers, “Me.”

 

There’s another few moments of silence in which Evan continues staring at the ground and Connor stares at Evan figuring out what to say. Finally what comes out is, “Um, this is gonna sound really stupid, but, uh... Can — Can I... Can I hug you?”

 

Well, that was the last thing Evan expected. Did he hear that right? Connor Murphy just asked permission to hug him... “Uh... Y — Yeah, sure,” he answers, turning to face him.

 

So Connor pulls Evan closer, wrapping his arms around him tight. Evan does the same, and it feels kind of amazing. This may be the best hug he’s ever received. Of course, he only ever gets mom hugs, and those are amazing, but this is different. Something about Connor just makes Evan feel so comforted and safe and vulnerable, but in a good way. When Connor pulls away, he catches himself wanting to do it again.

 

Connor clears his throat, still blushing profusely. “I just, uh... I know what that feels like, to... to not like yourself.” His face scrunches up, like he’s having trouble getting the words out. Evan guesses he’s not used to talking about feelings like these. “And it really helped to find out that at least someone liked me, when I met Miguel. So I’m just letting you know... Th — That I... I like you.”

 

Evan smiles genuinely, chest suddenly feeling a little less heavy. “Thank you. That does help.”

 

Connor goes to say something but is interrupted by a car horn, and they look up to see a convertible rolling up with the top down.

 

Evan is beyond impressed. It’s not like it’s a brand new sports car or anything. Actually, it’s pretty old and beaten up. But there’s something vintage looking about it with the top down that makes it look appealing to Evan. Then his attention goes to the boy driving it. Very good looking - he’s not surprised Connor likes him so much.

 

Connor grins, getting up and running over to the driver’s side as Miguel gets out. They wrap their arms around each other, and Miguel doesn’t hesitate to plant a kiss on Connor’s lips. Evan didn’t think it was possible for Connor’s face to turn a deeper shade of red.

 

As they pull away, Evan gets to his feet and makes his way over hesitantly.

 

“Nice to meet you, Evan,” Miguel says, and Evan holds his hand out. He doesn’t shake it, though, instead pulling him in for a hug. “I’m Miguel.”

 

“I’m Evan,” he says when they pull away, then he regrets it. “Wait — you already knew that — I’m sorry, I — “

 

Connor puts a hand on his arm, smiling. “It’s okay. Come on, let’s eat.” He climbs over the door and into the backseat, and Miguel sits next to him, so Evan opens the door to the passenger seat and sits there, turning around to face them.

 

“I just got you a burger and fries, is that okay?” Miguel asks, handing Evan his food.

 

Evan nods. “Yes, yeah, thank you so much. I can pay you back — “

 

But Miguel shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it, man. I’m just glad Connor finally has a friend.”

 

Connor looks over at him, feigning offense. “I’ll have you know that Evan just got done gushing over how cool I am, so clearly I could get as many friends as I want, if I wanted any.”

 

Miguel throws his head back, laughing loudly. “That’s hilarious,” he says, looking back at Evan and popping a fry in his mouth. “Connor is one of the lamest people you will ever meet.”

 

Evan is pretty sure that Miguel is the only person who’s able to insult Connor without getting lashed out at, because Connor laughs. What a great sound... “Second lamest, after Miguel, of course,” he corrects.

 

“And Evan is the third lamest,” Miguel says. “Which means out of the three of us, he’s the coolest.”

 

Evan knows he’s joking, but he doesn’t get hurt by the sarcasm like he normally would. He just laughs along, nodding. “Yeah, obviously...”

 

“So, I heard you saw the party animal in Connor this weekend,” Miguel says, leaning back and taking a big bite of his burger.

 

Connor leans back, his head now resting on Miguel’s leg as he looks up at the sky. “Okay, I wouldn’t say animal.”

 

“I didn’t even really see much,” Evan says, shrugging. He was too busy with Zoe.

 

“Oh, yeah, you were with my sister. What did you guys even talk about anyway?” Connor asks.

 

Evan sighs, thinking back. Their conversation really wasn’t that exciting. “Mostly jazz band and stuff...”

 

“And you are no longer the coolest,” Connor jokes, looking from Evan to Miguel. “Evan has a crush on my sister,” he explains.

 

Miguel laughs softly, and Evan feels his face getting redder. “Oh, wow, that’s awesome. So cute.”

 

“Not cute,” Connor corrects. “Weird.” He looks over at Evan, and when he notices how red his face is and how’s he’s avoiding looking at them, he adds, “But kinda sweet, I guess.”

 

“When did... When did you guys start liking each other?” Evan asks hesitantly, worried it’s too straight forward.

 

Miguel smiles, looking down at Connor admiringly. “Well, he was not so subtly smitten with me the first time we met. He just kept pushing and pushing and asking me to go out with him, but I — “

 

“Uh, that is not even close to how it happened,” Connor says, and Miguel laughs.

 

“Go on, then you tell it.”

 

Connor sighs, turning onto his side with his head still in Miguel’s lap so he can look at Evan easier. “Basically, I refused to show that I liked any part of that stupid school, so I didn’t want to make any friends, but he kept asking me to hang out and he was really annoying, so I eventually said yes.”

 

“That’s a bit exaggerated,” Miguel says.

 

Connor nods. “Yeah, it is, but that’s basically what happened, right?” he says, and Miguel shrugs in agreement.

 

“Did you go on a date right away or were you just friends first?” Evan asks, curious. He loves getting these little glimpses into Connor’s life.

 

Connor scoffs. “Oh, God, no. It took me the longest time to figure out that I liked guys.”

 

“I liked him immediately,” Miguel adds. “He was oblivious, though. He couldn’t even tell I was gay, but I thought I was pretty obvious with my ogling.”

 

Evan smiles at them. This is a side of Connor he never expected to see, but he’s happy that he gets to.

 

Connor sigh, sitting up. “I’ll be right back, gotta pee.” He pecks Miguel’s cheek then jumps out of the car and heads toward the school.

 

Miguel sighs happily. “All jokes aside, Evan, you really are the coolest.”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right.”

 

“No, really. I can’t tell you how happy I am that Connor has a friend here. He hates this place, and he feels so lonely, and I know that you make it better for him,” Miguel says, leaning forward, more serious now. “Just... please take care of him. I can’t always be there for him because we don’t see each other very much, but I know that he really likes you.”

 

Evan nods quickly. “Yeah, of course. I... I really like him too.”

 

“He’s been through a lot of shit,” Miguel continues. “And he deserves better than the things that’ve been thrown at him. And he may or may not tell you about it eventually. He hasn’t even told me everything yet. But even if he pushes you away and it seems like he doesn’t want you or need you, he does. So don’t leave him.”

 

“Of course not.”

 

But Miguel seems to think this is the most important thing in the world. “Seriously. I made that mistake, and I will never stop regretting it. You and I need him in our lives as much as he needs us. Trust me.”

 

Evan nods, not saying anything because he glances over and notices Connor coming back.

 

“They’re having those sloppy joes with that meat that’s definitely not real,” he says when he climbs back into the car and puts his head back on Miguel’s lap. “Suckers... What were you guys talking about?”

 

“I was just about to give Evan my number,” Miguel answers smoothly, taking his phone out and giving it to Evan, and he gives his in return.

 

Connor nods. “Ah, trying to flirt, are you?” he jokes. “That’s cute.”

 

“Yeah, I just hope my boyfriend doesn’t mind,” Miguel says as he types his number into Evan’s phone.

 

“Actually, now that I think about it,” Connor says, digging in his pocket for his phone, “I don’t have your number either, Evan. We should be able to hang out outside of school or randomly running into each other.”

 

“Oh. Yeah.” Evan takes his phone from Miguel when he’s done and he exchanges phones with Connor. He tries to hide how elated he is. That’s just more proof that Connor really does want to be friends with him, and it’s a little less doubt on Evan’s part.

 

When Connor gives his phone back, he goes to put it away but it starts ringing. The caller ID says it’s his mom, so he tries to go somewhere more private to talk, but Miguel says he can stay there.

 

“Hello?” he answers.

 

“Hey, sweetie,” Heidi says. “I am so sorry. I don’t think I can pick you up today. I’m sorry, I just — “

 

Evan sighs, eyes falling to the floor of the car. “Oh. Okay.”

 

“I’m sorry — “

 

“It’s fine.”

 

“There should be cash on my dresser for dinner. Or we might have frozen pizza still.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I am so sorry.”

 

“It’s fine,” Evan says, emotionless. He’s used to it at this point.

 

“I — Oh, I have to go. I’m so sorry, honey, I love you.”

 

The line goes dead before he can open his mouth again, so he just turns his phone off and puts it away.

 

“What’s up?” Connor asks.

 

Evan looks up, back to the real world. “Oh, my mom can’t pick me up today.”

 

“You don’t drive to school?” Miguel asks.

 

Back to blushing, Evan shakes his head. “No, I never got my license because... Because, well...” He pauses, thinking about how to word this without sounding stupid. “I get... Kind of... Nervous...” Yeah, as if that wasn’t obvious.

 

“Hey, don’t judge someone for not driving,” Connor says to Miguel. “I don’t drive to school.”

 

“Yeah, that’s cause you crashed your car, dumbass. Plus you have a sister who can drive you.” Miguel looks back to Evan. “Not judging, by the way. I get it.”

 

Connor sighs. “Zoe and I can take you home,” he offers.

 

“Oh, um, thank you,” Evan says, smiling a little.

 

Connor nods, then his face lights up and he sits up. “Actually, do you wanna come over? Dad’s still out of town and mom will be at her yoga class.”

 

“S — Sure, yeah,” Evan says, trying not to sound too overly excited.

 

“You in, M?” Connor asks. “You can sneak in through my bedroom window like Romeo.”

 

Miguel rolls his eyes. “I wish. I have to go to this stupid family dinner with my homophobic aunt tonight.”

 

Connor frowns. “Well, make sure you wear those sneakers with the rainbows on them.”

 

“And my rainbow bracelet,” Miguel adds, holding up his wrist to show them a colorful tied bracelet.

 

“Actually, get a pride flag and just wear it as a dress,” Connor suggests, looking completely serious.

 

Evan laughs really hard at that. Picturing that makes him literally double over, holding his stomach. He hates the sound of his laugh, but he can’t stop, and it feels amazing. He catches a glimpse of Connor grinning at him through his teary eyes, and it just makes him smile wider, struggling to breath.

 

“Oh, my God, I’ve never heard your laugh,” he says, just kind of staring in awe at him. “That’s the cutest thing I have ever heard.” That’s funny, cause that’s exactly what Evan thinks about Connor’s laugh.

 

“N — No, I’m sorry...” Evan says, through his laugh, trying to cover his face. He’s sure it’s super red.

 

“This is the gayest thing I have ever seen in my entire life,” Miguel says, staring between the two of them.

 

Evan isn’t sure what that even means, but somehow it makes him laugh harder. He didn’t think that was possible. But then he snorts. He snorts, and he’s suddenly even more embarrassed. “Oh, my God!” he yells, covering his mouth. His shoulders are still shaking with laughter.

 

That makes Connor and Miguel laugh, too, and when Evan opens his eyes and wipes the tears away, he sees Miguel with his phone out, camera aimed at both him and Connor. It makes Evan wanna hide himself even more, so he puts his arms in front of his face.

 

When Connor notices that, he shakes his head. “I don’t think so,” he says, a huge grin plastered on his face. He jumps out, standing behind Evan outside of the car and grabbing his hands to hold them away from his face. Then his arms end up wrapped around him from behind, still holding his hands, and he stands there smiling and laughing while Evan continues trying to stop his own laughter.

 

Miguel continues taking pictures until Evan’s laughing slows down, and they’re all still smiling widely. “Lemme see,” Connor says, grabbing Miguel’s phone. He stays behind Evan, holding the phone out so they can both look at the photos.

 

Seeing the first few, Evan knows exactly what Miguel meant when he said they looked gay. Connor is just staring at him, smiling like an idiot. If Evan was cropped out, he would think it was Miguel that he was looking at. It doesn’t bother him at all, it just makes him happier that Connor looks so happy to be with him.

 

The pictures only get better, and the ones where Connor is hugging him from behind are Evan’s favorite. Just looking at them makes him feel warm inside. He never sees himself smile, and Connor’s smile is also very rare. “I’m sending these to myself,” Connor says, getting back in the car and messing around on the phone.

 

“Send them to Evan too,” Miguel says, putting his arm around his boyfriend as he sits next to him.

 

Evan lets out a content sigh, cheeks hurting from the smile that’s still on his face. He looks at the time on his phone. “Um, lunch is about to end.” He really doesn’t like to be late for class. Everyone stares at you and then you have to search for an empty seat which is usually at the front, and he hates sitting in the front because then it feels like everybody is watching him and — the point is, he hates being late to class. “I’m gonna go,” he says, getting out of the car. 

 

Connor nods, handing Miguel’s phone back and looking up at Evan. “Okay. I’m gonna skip this period, I think. Just meet me out here after school, okay? I’ll let Zoe know to wait for you.”

 

“Okay, thanks,” Evan says with a nod. He still hasn’t stopped smiling, and his eyelashes are still wet with tears. “Thank you so much for lunch, Miguel.”

 

“Of course!” Miguel exclaims. “It was really good meeting you.”

 

“Yeah, um... Good luck with your homophobic aunt,” he says, backing away and waving.

 

As he walks back to the school, he couldn’t feel happier. Nothing could ruin this day. Something about being around Connor and Miguel just makes him feel comfortable, like he’s totally okay with himself. And Connor... He just seems so much happier and confident around Miguel, and Evan loves that. The affection he got from his new friend felt absolutely amazing. He never realized how much he likes hugs, or maybe it’s just Connor’s hugs, but the last half hour has made him feel better than he has in a long time.

 

When he gets into the school, the halls are mostly empty because lunch still has a couple minutes left. But he’s immediately ambushed by a familiar, not so good to see face. Now his smile is gone.

 

“Where did you disappear to?” Jared asks.

 

“What?”

 

“I looked outside and you and Emo were nowhere to be found under that stupid tree you’re so in love with.”

 

Evan rolls his eyes, trying to walk past Jared to his locker. “Not now.”

 

But Jared follows. “Oh, I get it. Your boyfriend had to meet his drug dealer to get his latest supply of pot and he took you with. Maybe he even shared some with you. Come on, Evan, let me see your eyes, are you high?” He tries to get closer, looking at Evan’s face like he’s investigating.

 

Evan steps away. “Stop, Jared,” he says, continuing to walk.

 

“Wait, were you crying?” Jared asks, then fakes a pout and a baby voice. “Did he break up with you?”

 

“We’re not dating,” Evan says, and before he can continue, Jared laughs.

 

“Yeah, not anymore.”

 

Huffing, Evan opens his locker. “And so what if he smokes? It’s none of your business.”

 

Jared crosses his arms over his chest, shaking his head. “You’ve changed.”

 

He’s probably right. He’s definitely much better now. “Yeah, it feels good.”

 

But Jared shakes his head. “Well, it doesn’t look good. I don’t like this new Evan.”

 

And it suddenly feels like Evan has been punched in the gut and had his heart shattered to pieces. One of his only friends doesn’t like that he’s starting to feel happier? It stings. “Why? You don’t like that I’m actually starting to feel good with my life and who I am? Or that I can stand up for myself? That I won’t let you treat me like crap anymore?”

 

“Oh, I’m treating you like crap?” Jared asks with a bitter laugh, and Evan nods. “You’re fucking insane, Hansen.”

 

Evan’s shaking now, and not from laughter anymore. He wants to cry, both because of the heartbreak Jared’s causing and the anxiety of trying to stay strong. But he won’t cry. He’s not gonna give him that satisfaction. “F — Fuck you, Jared.”

 

He regrets it as soon as the words leave his mouth. Such a small statement, but he’s never said anything like that to anyone. Jared looks devastated, and then he looks furious, and Evan suddenly wants to fix everything.

 

But there’s nothing to do now. Jared storms away, disappearing in the sea of students that surrounds him as the bell rings for class.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day is an absolute nightmare. The weight in Evan’s chest makes him feel like he can’t breath, his hands are too sweaty to keep a pencil in them, his vision is going blurry once in a while. It’s an ongoing feeling, never once getting easier, even when he sees Connor later.

 

He sits next to Connor in the backseat of Zoe’s car, sweaty fingers fiddling with the fabric on his shirt, going back to picking at his nails and skin, shaking his leg. Anything other than sitting still. He can’t seem to steady his breath, either. He tries to keep it quiet, but it’s as shaky as the rest of his body is.

 

As soon as they get to Connor’s bedroom and the door closes behind him, he knows he can’t hold it in anymore. This is an anxiety attack, and he needs to get it out of his system. His therapist told him not to hold them in anymore, and he’s been ignoring those instructions all afternoon. But he can’t do it in front of Connor, he won’t make him deal with that.

 

So he tries to tell Connor that he’s going to the bathroom, but he doesn’t get a word out before his friend speaks. “Are you okay?”

 

Just those three words are enough to push Evan over the edge. His face twists, eyes closing tight and chin wobbling as the first few tears come. He puts a hand on Connor’s desk to hold himself up, head dropping as his shoulder start shaking with his silent sobs.

 

Connor doesn’t hesitate. He takes the few steps he needs to in order to reach his friend, then pulls him close and holds him.

 

No matter how much Evan wants to just let Connor hug him forever, he doesn’t want him to see him like this. He pulls away, stepping toward the door so he can go to the bathroom and calm himself down. “I - I’m s - s - sorry, I’ll...”

 

“No, it’s okay,” Connor insists, grabbing Evan’s hand before he can leave. “You’re okay.”

 

No, he’s really not. Evan shakes his head. “I’ll just... I’ll be... r - right back, I’ll...” He can’t get out a coherent sentence. He can’t even breathe. He’s practically hyperventilating, and getting lightheaded from it, and he knows he has to sit down or else he’ll probably pass out. That’s definitely happened before.

 

Connor watches him, heartbroken. The sight of Evan so broken like this makes him want to cry, but he won’t let himself. He’s taking care of Evan right now. “It’s fine,” he promises. “I don’t mind.”

 

Evan takes a long, shaky breath in, attempting to steady his breathing. It doesn’t work. So he lets himself sink to his knees, holding onto the desk still for balance.

 

Connor is still holding onto his hand, and he falls with him. “You’re gonna be okay,” he says, trying to reassure him, not sure if he’s doing it right. “This won’t last forever.”

 

So many emotions in his head. Sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety. And now love and appreciation and admiration for Connor. Just knowing that he’s there for him, that he’s not at all bothered by the mess that Evan is right now, it makes him so grateful. And now he’s crying more, hunching over in an attempt to hide himself.

 

Connor ends up catching him, letting his head rest on his shoulder, wrapping his arms around Evan and letting Evan curl up, hug him, or do whatever he needs to do to get this out of his system. He’s mostly alarmed at how much this poor boy is shaking in his arms, both from crying and anxiety.

 

The sobs gradually go from silent to quiet to loud, and Evan is deathly afraid that Zoe will hear, but he knows that trying to quiet himself will just result in more breathing problems.

 

He’s not totally sure how long they end up staying there for. It could have been 5 minutes or an hour, but by the end of it, Evan has completely soaked Connor’s shoulder in tears, and he’s loosely hugging him while Connor remains holding him tightly, rubbing his thumb against his back. It’s a small gesture, and it helps.

 

“I — I’m sorry,” Evan says softly, hesitating to pull away. Connor is really helping, and he wants to stay there longer, but he doesn’t want to annoy him.

 

“Stop apologizing, Evan,” Connor says, looking him straight in the eyes and holding his shoulders firmly. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Come on, you don’t need to stay on the floor.” He gets to his feet, pulling Evan up and helping him to his bed. They sit on the edge, and Connor looks at him with concern all over his face. “Did something happen? You seemed fine at lunch.”

 

“I — I was fine at lunch, that was... I loved that... but Jared... H — He just...” Evan struggles to find the words.

 

Connor tenses up beside him. “Jared did this? Are you fucking kidding me? What did he say to you?”

 

Evan shakes his head. He’s still not ready to lose Jared completely, so he doesn’t want to tell the full story. “We both said some awful things, and... I — I just feel so... I feel awful.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re incapable of saying anything even a little bit mean, so I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”

 

“Then why do I feel so bad about it?” Evan asks, putting his face in his hands and leaning over. He feels Connor’s hand on his back, the other one on his shoulder so it’s a little half hug.

 

“I don’t know,” he says. “I guess that’s just the type of person you are, which is fine. I mean, Jared’s your friend, for whatever reason, no matter how much of an asshole he is. Falling apart from the people you care about sucks.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” Evan says, instinctively. “You shouldn’t... You shouldn’t have to — to deal with this, I’m sorry.”

 

“Okay. Dude.” Connor grunts, pulling Evan up to look at him. “We really have to do something about this. You apologize way too much.”

 

Evan shrugs, knowing he’s right. He just can’t help it. “I feel like I need to.”

 

“I don’t care,” Connor says. “This has gone too far.”

 

“So what do you wanna do?” Evan asks flatly, totally lost.

 

Connor is quiet for a moment, staring off into space and thinking. Finally his face lights up, and he looks back to his friend. Just looking at him smile makes the heaviness in Evan’s chest lighten up a little bit. “Okay, got it... I’m gonna start tallying every time you apologize without needing to. I’ll tell Miguel to do it too, and I’m gonna trust you to keep track and be honest. Each tally will count as a dollar. After a month, we’ll count up the tallies, and however many you have, you take that money and you have to buy me dinner.” He grins smugly, and Evan nods slowly, following. “If it’s five bucks, we’ll go to McDonald’s. If it’s five hundred, we’ll go to the fanciest restaurant in town.”

 

“That’s a lot of money...”

 

“That’s the point, dumbass,” Connor says. “It’ll make you start thinking about when you’re saying it so you can stop yourself. Trust me, it’ll work.”

 

Evan huffs, smiling softly. “Okay, fine. Starting now.”

 

“Starting now,” Connor agrees.

 

They sit in silence for a few moments, staring at the floor, each other. Then, for whatever reason, they start laughing. Connor falls back onto his bed, but Evan is more conscious of what he’s doing with his body. He just sits still, laughing softly to himself. After a minute, Connor sits back up, nudging Evan, maybe to try to get him to let himself laugh more, smile more, whatever. Then suddenly his arms are around him again, hugging him tightly from the side.

 

Evan doesn’t really think about it before leaning his head and resting it on Connor’s shoulder. He doesn’t second guess the hug, isn’t thrown off by it, actually he’s grateful for it if anything. More reassurance that he’s loved. But then Connor is letting go, looking straight ahead at the floor, sitting on his hands.

 

“Sorry, I’m sorry, that was weird, I’m sorry,” Connor says, rambling.

 

Evan is confused at first. Why is he so embarrassed all of a sudden? But the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense. The first time Connor hugged Evan, he asked permission. The second was to pose for a photo. The third was because he was breaking down. There was no reason for this hug. It was just two friends showing each other that they cared.

 

“Now who’s apologizing too much?” Evan asks, letting himself smile fully now.

 

Connor shrugs. “I didn’t...  I don’t know...” he mutters.

 

Evan takes a breath, mustering up the courage to say the words. So far Connor’s been the one making him feel better, and he wants to do the same. “It’s okay. You don’t need a reason to hug me, if that’s what you’re worried about... It’s been a while since I got a good hug that wasn’t from my mom.”

 

Connor pauses, looking up at him with a shy smile. “That’s kind of really fucking sad,” he says with a chuckle.

 

Evan nods in agreement. “I know. Which is why I don’t mind when you hug me. So you never have to ask.”

 

“Thanks,” Connor says, blushing and avoiding Evan’s eyes. “Same to you, by the way.”

 

“Oh, by the way,” Evan starts, wiping the very last tear from his face. “How did you know that just hugging me would help me with... that?”

 

“Oh,” Connor says, small smile falling. He finally looks back up at Evan, hesitantly. He’s still blushing. “Uh... I guess... I mean, like, when I... Whenever I have an anxiety attack, I... I feel like I just need to be... held, I guess? I’m not totally sure, I just... y’know, wanted to help.”

 

Evan is quiet for a moment. He thinks about that for a moment. Connor just told him that he has anxiety attacks. He wonders for a second how often they happen, and then an image of Connor in the same state that Evan was just in pops in his mind, and it makes him sadder, so he tries to push it away. He never wants Connor to feel like that. It’s just too much. “So... Who holds you then?” he asks, worried he’s pushing too far. “Miguel?”

 

Connor scoffs, shaking his head immediately. “Oh, God, no. Miguel has never and will never see me like that.”

 

“Why not?” Miguel seems like the most caring, loving boyfriend in the world. Of course he’d be supportive.

 

“It would scare him off,” Connor explains with a shrug. “M is... pretty healthy, mentally. I don’t wanna lose him because of something as stupid as my fucked up brain.”

 

“I’m sure he’d understand,” Evan says, trying to be of comfort to him.

 

But Connor shakes his head. “He would try to. But I don’t want him to understand. It sucks, and I never want him to feel anything like that, so... No, I just... I don’t let him see it.”

 

“So no one hugs you like you did for me?” Evan asks, and Connor shakes his head, so he hesitates before continuing. “Well... I can, if — if you want. If you... If you ever, y’know, start feeling that way, just call me or text me, and we’ll meet up, and I can... I can do that for you.”

 

It looks like Connor is trying to stop himself from smiling, but he does a terrible job of it and gives up. He ends up just grinning at Evan, and Evan is stuck blushing profusely and waiting for a reply. “How are you such a nice person, what the fuck?” he finally says.

 

“Sorry,” Evan says quietly, shrugging.

 

Connor gasps dramatically, smiling even wider now. “Strike one!” he yells, taking out his phone and typing in it quickly. Evan assumes he’s making note of his apology. “No, but seriously,” he says when he’s done, putting his phone back in his pocket. “Do you know how hard it was for me to be nice to you at first?”

 

“Well, to be fair, you thought I was out to ruin your life,” Evan says.

 

“Okay, I think everyone is out to ruin my life,” Connor scoffs. “My therapist says I tend to ‘overthink things’.”

 

“Hey, me too!” Evan says, purposely over enthusiastic.

 

He almost regrets trying to be funny, but Connor doesn’t hesitate to genuinely laugh. God, he loves that laugh. It makes him wish he was funnier. Because Evan didn’t realize how much he needed to laugh, how good it felt to laugh so hard, until earlier today. And Connor deserves to feel that joy, and Evan wants to be able to help him feel it. He hopes he can.

 

“That was adorable,” Connor says, sighing as he leans against the wall.

 

There’s a knock on the door before Evan can respond to that odd compliment. “Connor?” Zoe calls.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Go away,” he says back, loud enough so she’ll hear him.

 

She doesn’t listen, instead opening the door and peeking her head in. “Hey — “

 

“I just said go away,” Connor says bluntly. “Didn’t I literally just say that?” he asks Evan. Evan doesn’t respond.

 

Zoe huffs. “Mom just called. She said she’s gonna be home late, she went to her yoga friend’s house after class and she’s gonna pick dad up from the airport later since it’s closer.”

 

“Okay,” Connor says. “What time will she be home?”

 

Zoe shrugs. “His flight’s due at 11:30, so pretty late. I’m gonna go get tacos for my dinner, did you guys want some?”

 

“Yeah,” Connor says simply before turning back to Evan. She doesn’t move, and when he realizes this, he turns back around. “Can I help you?”

 

“I didn’t hear a please.”

 

Connor huffs. “Please.”

 

“And?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“That’s all I needed,” she says, then she looks at Evan. “I still don’t get why you hang out with him.”

 

Clearly fed up, Connor spins and storms toward the door. “Okay, get the fuck out!” he shouts, and when she’s out of the way, he slams the door behind her. He sighs, turning back around and shaking his head. “Sorry. She can be...” he trails off, like he’s trying to find the right insult.

 

“I mean... She did just offer to buy you dinner...” Evan says, with a lot hesitation. He knows how standing up to Zoe on Connor’s behalf goes. He’s not so sure about the other way around.

 

“Yeah, but she’s — “

 

“She’s trying,” Evan says quickly. “She does care about you.”

 

Connor pauses. “So now you guys talk about me when I’m not around?”

 

“What? No! We just... When she took me home Saturday, I told her I thought you were a really good guy, and she thought I was crazy, but — “

 

“Well, she’s got one thing right.”

 

Evan takes a moment to make sure he’s still breathing normally. The last thing he needs is to hyperventilate again. “You think you’re a bad person?”

 

“Um, yeah,” Connor says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

 

“Why?”

 

Connor chuckles softly, inhaling a big breath like he’s ready to start listing things off. And he does. “Well, Zoe would never push someone over in the hallway,” he says, motioning to Evan. “Or lash out and scream, or throw things, or skip class, or smoke weed, or — “

 

Evan quickly stands up, grabbing Connor’s arms. “Hey, stop,” he says, making himself look Connor straight in the eye. “Stop... Stop comparing yourself to your sister. You’re you, not Zoe. And I’m...” Another deep breath as he searches for the right words. “I’m glad you’re you. Who — Who cares if you smoke? That doesn’t make you a bad person. And everyone has their own issues, okay, so don’t turn your issues into an excuse to say you’re not a good person, because you’re, like, the closest thing to a best friend I’ve ever had, and I know we’ve only been talking for — “ He stops, realizing that he’s started rambling.

 

Connor stays quiet for a moment, and his grimace slowly turns into a small smile. “Wow. We really are screwed up in our heads,” he finally says. “If someone like me is the best friend you’ve ever had...”

 

“And if someone like me is the person that’s gonna comfort you if you feel anxious,” Evan adds in.

 

Connor laughs quietly, nodding. “Right, yeah.”

 

Evan sighs, letting his arms drop. The weight of his cast on his arm brings him to another point. “Also, you’re the only one that signed my cast,” he says, motioning to Connor’s name sprawled across it.

 

“That’s just cause it was depressing to look at,” Connor counters.                  

 

“But that day, even before we were friends, when you signed my cast, it just made me feel a little... less alone, I guess,” he says.

 

“Yeah, before I yelled at you and stole that stupid letter,” Connor mutters, rolling his eyes. When Evan is quiet, he adds, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean stupid, I — “

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, it’s okay.” It really does feel stupid now, to be honest. That goddamn letter seems like a million years away, and it caused so much worry and anxiety. It seemed like the biggest problem in the world, and now Evan has basically forgotten about it, instead just enjoying his time with his best friend.

 

It’s quiet for a moment, then Connor takes a breath and forces himself to perk up a little. “Hey, do you have a curfew? I know you like to follow the rules.”

 

“My mom’s never really home to know how late I’m out, so no,” Evan answers. It’s not like he ever goes out anyway.

 

Connor smiles a little more. “So... There’s no reason you can’t stay and watch a movie tonight?”

 

Evan can literally feel himself getting happier just a little bit each minute he’s with Connor, and he nods. “Yeah, sure. Um, what — what movie?”

 

Connor shrugs, grabbing his laptop from his backpack and going to his bed. Evan follows and sits next to him. “We’ll just look through Netflix until Zoe gets here and watch it after we eat,” he suggests.

 

They sit there for about ten more minutes browsing until they hear the door open downstairs and Zoe yell up, “Get your asses down here before I eat all the tacos!”

 

Evan smiles at that, following Connor out of his room and down the stairs to the kitchen. Zoe is at the table, grabbing wrapped tacos out of a greasy bag. “I got two for each of us and churros for dessert.”

 

“Thank you,” Evan says, smiling at her as he sits next to Connor.

 

Zoe nods, sitting across from them. “Of course.” She looks at Connor, who just mumbles a quick thank you through a mouth already full of food. She rolls her eyes, then looks back to Evan. “Oh, and these — “ she reaches into her purse and grabs a small bag “ — are for you.”

 

Evan hesitantly takes it. A bag of chocolates. Different assorted mini candy bars. “What? Why? I mean, um, thanks, but... Why?”

 

Zoe pauses, looking unsure of how to speak. “I — I heard you, um, earlier, and it sounded like you were really upset, and, uh... Wh — Whenever I get sad, I treat myself to candy. I didn’t know what candy you liked, so I just got... that...”

 

Evan can feel his face burning red, embarrassment taking over now. “I — I am so sorry, you weren’t... I didn’t mean to... I’m sorry.” He sees Connor taking his phone out and marking down his apologies out of the corner of his eye. “But thank you. Thank you so much.”

 

Connor puts his phone down, looking between them. “Aw. Cute,” he says, no emotion in his voice.

 

Zoe doesn’t reply, just flips him off and digs into her food.

 

Evan doesn’t say another word the rest of dinner, too embarrassed to look at either of them ever again.

 

At the end, Zoe goes for the bag of churros, and the boys see her mouth drop open, and she looks up with a big frown. “I ordered three churros and they only gave me two,” she says sadly. Evan’s heart patters a little, she’s so cute.

 

Connor shrugs. “Evan and I will each have one and you can have an apple.”

 

Zoe laughs sarcastically. “Yeah, not happening. I bought all this shit for you.”

 

“I — I really don’t need one,” Evan says. It sounds good, but it’s not a big deal.

 

Both Connor and Zoe shake their heads, saying, “I’ll split mine with you.” Then they look at each other, and Evan swears he sees them challenging each other with their eyes. And suddenly they’re both trying to reach him first, each with a churro in their hand, trying to break them evenly in half. It’s a hilarious sight, and Evan laughs.

 

When they’re both standing inches from him, they literally try and force him to grab their broken desserts in his hands, and before he knows it he’s stuck with two churro halves in each hand.

 

“Who won?” Connor asks.

 

“Obviously me,” Zoe replies.

 

Evan tries to give the halves back, feeling bad that now he has a whole one and each of them are stuck with halves. But they both refuse to take them, so he huffs. “I can’t choose. It’s a tie.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Connor crosses his arms and pouts. “That’s dumb.”

 

“Yeah, what the fuck?” Zoe asks, and when Evan looks over she’s in the exact same position as her brother. He grins at them, wishing he had a camera in his hand instead of churros. “I was clearly the winner.”

 

“You’re clearly delusional,” Connor replies quickly.

 

“Whatever, I have homework,” Zoe says, walking away and going upstairs to her room.

 

“I win!” Connor calls after her.

 

After the two of them eat their churros (half of which Evan ends up making Connor take back because he feels bad), Evan grabs his bag of chocolates and they head back up to Connor’s room.

 

Once Evan is sat on Connor’s bed, Connor flips the light off, so the only thing illuminating the room is the laptop. “I think we should watch Donnie Darko,” he says.

 

“What’s that about?” Evan asks. He doesn’t have Netflix and doesn’t really watch TV all that much.

 

“I don’t even know how to explain it other than it’s a teen with a fucked up brain.”

 

Evan nods. “So it’s a movie made for us?”

 

Connor laughs, sitting next to Evan on the bed. It’s a full size, so there’s plenty of room. Connor leans back, putting the computer on a pillow, and Evan follow’s his lead, falling back so he can see better.

 

After about twenty minutes of the movie — which Evan finds very creepy but won’t admit — he starts shaking. But it’s finally not from anxiety, he’s just cold, and Connor must notice how he’s holding himself and burying his head between his shoulders, because he pauses the movie and looks over.

 

“You can get under the covers if you want,” he says.

 

Once again, Evan overthinks it. What if it’s uncomfortable with him under the blankets and Connor on top, what if Connor is annoyed by it for some reason, what if the blankets don’t keep him warm enough and he bothered Connor for no reason because now he’s still cold?

 

He feels better when Connor moves to get under the blankets himself, and they take a moment to get situated. Connor is basically in the same position under the sheets, lying on his back with his head on a pillow. Evan moves onto his side to get more comfortable, hoping Connor doesn’t think it’s weird that he’s laying like this, and he puts his arm under his head on a pillow. Once they both stop moving, Connor presses play.

 

Throughout the movie, Evan tries to keep his eyes open. He really does. The movie is riveting, really, but he barely slept that weekend. And his meltdown earlier was exhausting. He’s so worn out, but he does his best to stay awake for Connor.

 

-

 

After another hour, Connor starts to notice a lack of breathing from the boy next to him. So he looks over and realizes that he didn’t stop breathing, his breaths just slowed down. Because he fell asleep.

 

He’s pretty sure his heart literally does a flip, because Evan looks so cute when he’s asleep. He’s curled up in a ball, and although his position screams anxiety, his face has never looked more relaxed and without worry. It looks happy compared to all the other times Connor’s seen it.

 

He pauses the movie, carefully getting out of bed. He really doesn’t want to wake the poor boy up, so he tiptoes over to his door and walks out, quietly shutting it behind him.

 

When he goes down to the kitchen, Zoe is staring into the fridge absentmindedly, and he nods at her to greet her.

 

“Where’s Evan?” she asks.

 

Connor forces himself not to smile. He’s not sure why. Doesn’t wanna come off too strong about how much he likes Evan, maybe. “He fell asleep.”

 

She sighs, shutting the door to the fridge and turning to face him fully. “So, is he... okay? Earlier, it sounded really — “

 

“He’s fine,” Connor says quickly. She doesn’t need a recap of everything.

 

“Good,” she says softly, obviously not knowing what to say next. She ends up going for, “I... I’m glad you have a friend. He seems like a good one.”

 

“He is,” Connor assures her. “Thanks.”

 

This is probably the most productive conversation they’ve had in years, and neither of them know what to say next.

 

Zoe nods. “Yeah, I’m glad you have someone you can feel close to and trust. And he’s a really good guy. I like him.”

 

Connor pauses, not sure what she means. He’s not even sure what he wants it to mean. “Like, you... like him? Or you just like him?”

 

After a moment of confusion, Zoe blushes and shakes her head. “No, I mean... Not like that, I just... I like him as a person. I barely even know him, I can’t like someone like that before I even know them.”

 

They’re both blushing now, because they’ve never spoken about this stuff before. What’s even happening to them?

 

“Oh. Okay. Cool,” Connor says, sounding beyond stupid.

 

There’s an awkward pause, and Zoe motions to him. “Do you, um... Do you like anyone?”

 

“Nope. No. No one.”

 

But Connor swears that he almost blurts it out right there. Everything about Miguel, everything about who he is. Honestly, something is going on with him. He’s never, ever wanted to open up to anyone, to tell anyone anything, but here comes this freak with loads of anxiety and self doubt, and suddenly he makes him want to spill all his darkest secrets? It’s fucking terrifying.

Chapter Text

When Evan wakes up, it’s pitch black, but he knows something is off by the way his bed feels under him. Then the memories of the night come back, and he realizes this is definitely not his bed. Still groggy, he looks around for his phone to find the time. He almost reaches into his pocket but stops when he turns his head and finds an alarm clock that tells him it’s 9:00.

 

The next thing he notices is that he isn’t alone in the bed. Connor is just inches away, lying on his back with his laptop open to a black screen on his chest. It must have turned off after he fell asleep. As his eyes adjust to the dark, he can focus on Connor’s face. He’s sure that he looks creepy, staring at his best friend sleeping, but no one is here to judge him except himself.

 

Connor’s hair is partly falling over his face, and his mouth is slightly open as he snores quietly. Evan has a really weird urge to touch his hair. It looks so soft. God, he’s such a weirdo. It’s moments like these he’s baffled that Connor likes him.

 

He’s not sure what the plan is. If Connor is okay with him staying the night, or if he was going to take him home. But he’s too tired to figure it out, so he lets his eyes fall shut again.

 

-

 

The next time he wakes up isn’t so peaceful. Connor is shaking him awake, and when his eyes flutter open he’s once again hit in the face with the memory that he’s in a different bed. He bolts up, looking around. “Wh — What?”

 

“We gotta go,” Connor says, putting his shoes on and clearly in a rush. “Mom texted 20 minutes ago and said she’s on her way and I just saw it. She’s gonna be home any minute.”

 

Evan looks at the clock. 12:00. He nods, standing up and getting his shoes on.

 

“Come on, hurry up,” Connor says.

 

Evan grabs his backpack from where it’s sitting by Connor’s door and the bag of chocolates he got from Zoe. “Okay, ready.” He’s not sure why Connor’s so worried.

 

Nodding, Connor flies out of his bedroom with Evan close behind, waking up quickly from all the confusion. “Zoe, taking your car! Don’t tell mom I had anyone over!” he yells up the stairs, grabbing her key from by the front door. He doesn’t wait for a reply before heading out and getting in the car.

 

Evan’s heart kind of hurts at that. Connor clearly doesn’t want his parents to know Evan exists. He’s used to that kind of thinking, but he thought Connor would like him more than he likes himself. He doesn’t say another word the whole car ride.

 

When Evan walks in his front door, Heidi is sitting on the couch, and she jumps up and runs over. “Where the hell have you been?”

 

Evan nearly jumps out of his skin, backing up to get some space. “What? Nowhere.”

 

“I’ve called you twelve times, why didn’t you pick up? When I got home and you weren’t here I was worried sick.”

 

Pausing, Evan takes his phone out of his pocket. He’s not sure why he didn’t hear his phone ringing until he realizes it’s on silent. He only ever gets calls from his mom, anyway. But sure enough, there’s multiple missed calls and texts from her. “I’m sorry,” he says tiredly. “I was at a friend’s house and I fell asleep.” At least he’s not lying.

 

“Jared’s?” Heidi asks.

 

Evan almost tells her the truth, but he decides against it. If Connor is too embarrassed of him to have him meet his parents, he probably doesn’t care about meeting Evan’s mom. So he nods. “Yeah.”

 

“Oh, that’s interesting, cause I called Jared’s mom already and she said you weren’t there.”

 

Sighing, Evan looks away. He should have known that wouldn’t work. Nothing ever works out for him. “Okay, it was a different friend.”

 

“Who?” Heidi asks, obviously surprised. Also probably sketched out that he’s getting home so late.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Evan says with a shrug.

 

Heidi scoffs. “I’m your mother, Evan, of course it matters. I want to know where you are if you’re gonna be gone this late at night.”

 

Evan continues avoiding her eyes, really just wanting to go up to bed. “Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll tell you next time.”

 

“So?” Heidi asks. “Who was it?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “It’s not a big deal.”

 

“But if it’s a new friend, that means you’re talking to new people. Getting out of your comfort zone,” Heidi says. “That’s awesome, Evan!”

 

Evan is happy that his mom is so happy, but he’s exhausted. “Can I just go to bed please?”

 

Heidi stares at her son for a moment, looking lost and frustrated. Then she sighs, nodding. “Yeah... Yeah, good night, honey. I love you.”

 

“Love you too,” Evan mutters, walking up the stairs and into his room.

 

He collapses on his bed right away, not bothering to take any time to change or even take his shoes off. This day was exhausting. Just a roller coaster of never knowing if something will lift him up and make him feel unstoppable, or if it’ll break him.

 

But if Connor isn’t holding him together, he doesn’t know what is. If Connor hadn’t been there during his meltdown earlier, where would he be now? He’s not sure if he wants to know. He still can’t get that awful feeling of inferiority away, though. Especially being rushed out of the house before his parents saw him. That hurt.

 

Still, though, he’s forever grateful, forever happy that Connor Murphy is in his life.

Chapter Text

The first time Evan realizes that something is different is a couple weeks after his lunch with Connor and Miguel. He had so many more days like that — minus the mental breakdowns — and he was getting more and more comfortable and confident in himself. He noticed Connor getting more comfortable too, which is what really made him happy.

 

He would spend a lot of weekends and days after school with Connor in the park. Connor learned how much Evan loved trees and nature, so he of course was fine with hanging out there a lot. He would also go to Miguel’s house (if no one was home) with the two of them. He also made sure to give them time alone, too, and he didn’t mind.

 

They had a long weekend coming up for parent teacher conferences. It’s Thursday, and he’d been looking forward to going to Miguel’s house with Connor all week. They had a list of movies everyone in the world except for Evan Hansen has seen, which was considerably long, and he was extremely excited to go watch them.

 

Which is why he felt awful when Zoe asked him to hang out.

 

She comes up to his locker at the end of the day, smiling. “Hey,” she greets, leaning against the locker next to his.

 

Evan smiles at her, finishing up grabbing his things and closing the locker. “Hey,” he replies. Just one word. But no stuttering. No stammering. No sweating. It’s progress.

 

“So, um, I had plans with my friend tonight but she just cancelled,” she starts. “And I already bought the movie tickets, so I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go with me instead?”

 

He doesn’t even think twice about his answer. “Oh, I’m supposed to be meeting up with Connor,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

 

Yes, he feels awful for turning her down, but he doesn’t regret it for a second. For the first time he starts realizing how much he loves spending time with Connor. He’d rather spend a few hours with his friend than go out with the girl he’s been crushing on for the longest time. He doesn’t even know if she meant it like a date, she probably didn’t, because why would she? But he doesn’t question his decision either way. He wants to be with Connor right now.

 

Zoe nods. “Oh. Yeah, okay, sorry. I know it was kinda last minute. Thanks anyway,” she says, stepping back and waving. “Have a good weekend.”

 

“Yeah, you too,” he replies, waving back. “Bye.”

 

When she walks away, he pulls out his phone to call Connor and ask where he should meet him. But Connor’s already texted him.

 

I skipped the rest of the day. Can you get to M’s by yourself?

 

Evan sighs. He’s done it before. Because it’s not too far from his house, so it’s walkable. It’s also not too far from Jared’s. He just prefers not to have to walk to Miguel’s because he’s constantly worried he’ll run into Jared. They haven’t talked since their fight. But he replies saying he can walk and that he’ll see them in a little bit, then runs to catch up with Zoe.

 

“Hey!” he says, slowing down once he’s by her side. “Connor actually skipped the last couple classes, and I have to grab some things before we meet up. Do you think you could give me a ride home?” He resists the urge to apologize, remembering his deal with Connor. It’s too far to walk to Miguel’s from school, but from his house is fine.

 

Zoe nods, smiling again. “Yeah, of course.”

 

During the car ride, they talk about little things like jazz band, the homecoming dance coming up, and how Evan will definitely be avoiding school sponsored events like dances at all costs. He loves being able to talk to her normally. He’s a little nervous as always, but he’s not nearly as flustered and freaked about talking to her as he used to be. Maybe he’s finally getting over her, moving on to a normal, crush-free life. That would be nice.

 

As he’s walking to Miguel’s he gets a text from him letting him know to just walk in when he gets there, because apparently Connor fell asleep on him and he doesn’t want to wake him. So he does, and when he get there he can’t stop himself from grinning. Connor’s head is lying on Miguel’s chest, his arm draped over him in a hug, and Miguel’s arm is around him.

 

And yes, Connor sleeping is the most adorable thing on the planet, and sure, Evan can’t help smiling at him. But he also can’t help a pang of loneliness he feels at the sight of them. He wishes he had someone like that... But he could. He could talk to Zoe, now that he can actually coherently talk to Zoe. Seriously, she literally just asked him to hang out. Would it really be that hard to see if she wanted to go on a date? Or even to just hang out, spend more time together, get to know each other better? But he catches himself not really wanting to. It’s the strangest thing, thinking he doesn’t want to spend time with Zoe Murphy. Who else is he supposed to go out with?

 

“How long has he been sleeping?” Evan asks quietly, sitting on the ground and leaning against the couch.

 

“Like twenty minutes,” Miguel answers. “He didn’t really sleep last night cause we were texting, plus we definitely smoked a bit ago, so he just kinda... passed out.”

 

Evan nods. “Oh, so that’s what that smell was.” He doesn’t like to judge people, but he’s learned that he can’t stand the smell of weed. He doesn’t get why so many people like it.

 

Miguel chuckles. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

 

He shrugs. “It’s fine.” It’s not his place to tell them what to do.

 

The first time he saw Connor and Miguel smoking, they asked him if he wanted a joint. Of course, he had been dreading this moment for a while. He had no interest in smoking whatsoever. He didn’t care that they did, but he definitely didn’t want to, and he was worried they were gonna suddenly decide he was too lame and weird again. He learned, though, that there was absolutely no reason to be freaking out about the situation, because after he stammered out his “no thank you” they shrugged it off and let it go. No peer pressure, no name calling, no judgement.

 

Connor shifts on the couch, and Evan can see his arm squeezing Miguel lovingly as his eyes flutter open.

 

“Morning, sunshine,” Miguel greets, kissing his forehead.

 

Connor smiles tiredly, lifting his head up and pecking his boyfriend on the lips. Then he turns and sees Evan and smiles wider. Evan feels something weird in his chest at the sight of his smile, but he can’t figure out what. “You got here fast,” he says.

 

“I didn’t walk from school,” Evan explains. “Zoe took me home so I was halfway there.”

 

“Ooh, alone time with Zoe?” Miguel says, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively while Connor feigns puking. “How’s that going?”

 

Evan just shrugs. He doesn’t really feel like talking about Zoe with them right now.

 

“We should get the movies started,” Connor says, sitting up.

 

Miguel nods in agreement and stands up. “I’m gonna go get a drink, you guys want anything?”

 

“Something to eat,” Connor says with a smile.

 

“You got it, babe.” Miguel shoots him a goofy smile and kisses him before heading into the kitchen.

 

Evan gets on the couch now that there’s more room. He catches that feeling of extreme loneliness again as Connor watches his boyfriend out of the room with a loving smile. Of course he’s never kissed anyone before, and he’s painfully reminded of that every time he’s with the two of them together.

 

Connor pokes Evan’s arm, then nudges him playfully. “Good to see you.”

 

Evan nods, zoning out and staring at the floor. He absentmindedly puts his head on Connor’s shoulder with a small smile. He doesn’t even think about it anymore. He’s never worried Connor will think it’s weird or annoying. It’s just how they interact with each other now, and Evan loves that. “Thanks for ditching me,” he jokes.

 

“Hey, I would never ditch you,” Connor says. “I ditched school. And it was fine, cause you gotta hang out with Zoe for a little bit, right?”

 

“Right,” Evan agrees, halfheartedly. He honestly doesn’t know what’s going on with him right now. He’s been falling for Zoe for so long, and now all of a sudden it’s like he’s not interested. He still thinks she’s amazing, of course, but he used to think about what it would be like to go on dates with her, and hug her, and kiss her, but now... He’d be fine just having a nice conversation with her. This is the weirdest thing.

 

“You alright?” Connor asks.

 

Evan lifts his head, nodding. “Yeah, just tired,” he half-lies. He can’t exactly answer truthfully, cause he can’t figure out what’s wrong.

 

Connor points to his friend’s arm. “Oh, when do you get your cast off? It’s been there for a while, right?”

 

Shrugging, Evan stares at the name on it. “Soon, I think. Hopefully.”

 

“Okay, movie time,” Miguel announces, coming back with his arms full of soda, chips, and packaged cookies.

 

“What’s first on the list?” Connor asks, grabbing the chips from Miguel. Evan goes for the cookies.

 

“Okay, so,” Miguel starts, like he has a plan. “I know we’re supposed to watch a bunch of movies that everyone in the world has seen except poor sheltered Evan. But there’s this one that I found last weekend that definitely not everyone has seen, and I thought it was amazing, so I think we should watch it.”

 

Connor makes a face, obviously unsure. Evan doesn’t really care.

 

“Plus it’s gay,” Miguel adds.

 

Connor shrugs. “Okay, fine. What is it?”

 

“It’s called As You Are,” Miguel answers, sitting down and grabbing the remote. He starts scrolling through the many options of movie streaming services.

 

“Sounds gay,” Connor says.

 

“It is.”

 

And it was. And sad. Very sad.

 

Also life changing. For Evan, anyway.

 

He would always remember the exact moment he realized.

 

Watching that movie, at this part where the two boys in the movie kissed for the first time. He feels his breathing stop for a moment, and he think his heart almost stops too. Something about that kiss. Passionate but also risky, and beautiful. It looks like everything he would ever want in love, and he feels a little jealous of the movie characters. Why can’t he have that?

 

Then he realizes that the feelings he has toward the fictional characters is the same feeling he had earlier watching Miguel and Connor. Not loneliness, but jealousy.

 

He looks over at them. Connor is snuggled in Miguel’s chest again, their hands tangled together. There it is again.

 

When he looks back at the TV, he starts thinking about why that kiss looks so amazing to him. Maybe because it’s probably the most passion he’ll ever see, since he’s bound to be alone forever. But maybe because the main character has long, dark hair. And he’s quiet and reserved, but once you get to know him he’s lovable and funny and affectionate.

 

Shit. Fuck. Oh, God.

 

Those are the words running though Evan’s head the rest of the movie. He has a hard time sitting still, and does his best to breathe normally. So many changes. Not only is he suddenly realizing he might not be straight, he also might have a giant crush on his best friend. It’s a lot to handle right now.

 

“I thought you said I was gonna enjoy it,” Connor says when the credits start rolling.

 

“You didn’t?” Miguel asks. “It was so good. It was so gay.”

 

Connor scoffs. “Yeah, and depressing. Now I just wanna cry.”

 

Evan can barely even focus on the ending. He needs fresh air. He needs time to think. He needs to talk to someone, rant to someone, get this out because he doesn’t know how to process alone. But who? Definitely not Connor.

 

He stands up. “I — I have to go.”

 

Connor and Miguel both frown. “Why?” Connor asks.

 

“Uh, I forgot, I have a... a dinner with my mom tonight,” he lies.

 

“Do you want a ride?” Miguel asks.

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, thank you. Uh... S — See you guys later.”

 

He gets out of the door as fast as he can without looking crazy, then lets himself start taking deep breaths to calm himself down.

 

After five minutes, he finds himself at the front door of a house he hasn’t been to in a long time. He just needs to talk. So he rings the doorbell.

 

It’s a whole minute before the door opens, but he doesn’t want to walk away because he doesn’t know where else to go.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jared asks simply. Not even a sarcastic comment or an insensitive joke.

 

Evan picks at his nails, looking at his friend — is he allowed to call him that anymore? — desperately. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just... I need someone to talk to, please.”

 

“Go talk to your boyfriend,” Jared says simply. That makes Evan feel even more anxious. “Or is he too high off his ass to pay attention to you?”

 

“P — Please, Jared,” Evan begs. “I’m freaking out.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “You’re always freaking out.” But he looks at Evan a little longer, and from how much he looks like a scared little boy, he must change his mind, because he opens the door all the way. “Okay, come on.”

 

“Actually, um, can we... talk out here?” Evan asks. He needs the fresh air, otherwise he’ll feel like he’s suffocating.

 

Sighing, Jared steps out and closes the door behind him. “So? What’s so important?”

 

“I... Um...” How does he even explain it? “I think I might be — um — not, like straight, or something? I don’t — I don’t know what’s happening, but — “

 

Jared snickers. “Oh, my God, is this, like... a coming out thing? Is that what this is?”

 

“What? No. I just...” Evan sighs, shaking out his hand anxiously. “I need help, like... figuring things out.”

 

Jared pauses, looking at him like he’s the dumbest person in the world. “Dude, really? If you’re questioning your sexuality, that’s kind of your thing to figure out, isn’t it? I can’t tell you what you are.”

 

“Well, no, but — “

 

“You need to ramble again, don’t you?”

 

“So bad, yes.”

 

Before, when they were actually somewhat friends, there would be some days when Evan needed to talk about something, but Jared never really gave advice or responded with anything productive, so he would let Evan just go on and on while he worked on homework or scrolled through his phone. Evan was never sure if he actually listened, but it helped to just let it out.

 

Jared sighs, sitting down on the steps up to his porch. “Go on.”

 

Evan nods, stepping down to the sidewalk in front of Jared. He has to be mindful in his rambling to not mention Miguel.

 

“I — I was with Connor and — and we were watching this movie, and it had these two guys who were, um — “

 

“Gay?” Jared asks, eyebrows raised and chin resting on his hand.

 

Evan clears his throat. “Well, um, kind of, except they didn’t really use labels, which Connor really liked... So anyway, um, they kissed, and I — I don’t know, I looked at Connor, and I... I kind of wanted to, uh k — kiss him, and I’ve never felt like that about a guy before, so I just don’t know what’s happening, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

 

Jared’s eyes are wide when he looks over. It’s the most interested he’s ever been in something Evan said. He grins and his jaw drops. “Wait, wait, wait, you — you’re gay for Connor Murphy?”

 

“Um... M — Maybe more like bisexual?” he suggests, unsure.

 

“So you’ve moved on from Zoe to her stoner brother? Oh, my God, this is priceless,” Jared says with a laugh.

 

Evan rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

“Why don’t you just tell him?” Jared suggests with a shrug. “Maybe he’ll confess his undying love for you, too,” he jokes.

 

“That would never happen.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because he’s — “ Evan takes a breath. “Okay, you can’t tell anyone this. He has a boyfriend.”

 

Jared nearly chokes on the air he’s breathing. “Wait, what? A fucking — Oh, my God, this is too good.”

 

He knew he would regret it. “I shouldn’t have — that was a mistake, I shouldn’t have told you that.” He just wanted help, he didn’t know what else to do. “I’m sorry for bothering you, I’m just gonna — please, please, please don’t tell anyone. I can go and — “

 

Like he’s just now seeing how upset Evan is, Jared gets to his feet and steps closer. “Wait, stop. I’m sorry.”

 

Evan does stop, but only because he’s pretty sure that’s the only time Jared has ever apologized for anything. “I shouldn’t have come here.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because you’re mad at me, and I shouldn’t have expected it to be okay for me to come to you with my problems. I’m sorry.”

 

Jared shrugs. “Well, I was a dick, as usual. You should be able to come to your friend with your problems. It’s fine.”

 

“I thought we weren’t friends?” Evan asks.

 

Jared pauses, then ignores the question. “Anyway, what I’m saying is, if you want to talk about anything from now on, I’ll try to be here for you.”

 

Evan hesitates before asking, “Does that mean you’re not gonna make fun of me anymore?”

 

“Oh, no, I’m definitely still gonna make fun of you, that’s never going away,” Jared answers, chuckling. “But I’ll try harder to actually help when you have serious problems, like this.”

 

Sighing, Evan nods. “Please promise you won’t tell anyone about Connor’s boyfriend. If anyone else found out, he’d hate me.”

 

“Oh, Evan,” Jared sighs. “Even if you are extremely annoying and overly jittery at times, it would be literally impossible for anyone to hate you.”

 

So Evan goes home that night having learned something pretty big about himself, and with a new anxiety hanging over him. How is he supposed to be around Connor as much as he usually is without the feeling that he gets from him growing stronger? And he won’t be able to escape the painful jealousy when he’s around Miguel, too.

 

Speaking of, as soon as he gets home he goes for his phone, so he can procrastinate doing his homework and scroll through it. He looks in his pockets and jacket and backpack, and it’s no where to be found. Of course he had to leave it at Miguel’s.

 

-

 

Since they couldn’t watch the movies they had picked out for Evan without him, Connor and Miguel ended up going up to Miguel’s room. He makes sure to grab Evan’s phone before they go up, so when Evan comes back for it he doesn’t have to search the whole living room for it.

 

Connor’s always loved this bedroom. He doesn’t really know why. Probably because he had his first kiss in it, probably because that kiss was with the most amazing guy in the entire world. How is he so lucky?

 

As soon as the door is closed, Miguel doesn’t hesitate to lay his lips on Connor’s and Connor doesn’t hesitate to kiss back. He wraps his arm around his boyfriend, smiling softly.

 

When they pull away, Connor grins at him. “I love you,” he says. “Like, a lot.”

 

Connor doesn’t want to let on that those words still scare him. He knows that he feels the same way, but if he can avoid having to actually say it, he will. So he plays it off like he’s trying to be funny and shrugs. “You’re pretty cool, I guess.”

 

“Pretty cool?” Miguel asks, feigning offense. “I am the coolest.”

 

“You wish,” he says, finding himself yawning suddenly.

 

Miguel smiles. “You wanna take another nap?”

 

“I definitely do,” Connor replies with a small laugh.

 

So they climb under the blankets on Miguel’s bed, Connor putting his head on his boyfriend’s chest and sighing contently. After a while, though, he realizes he’s having a hard time falling asleep, so they watch some TV on Miguel’s laptop.

 

It’s half an hour before Miguel pauses Netflix and puts his computer to the side. He sits up, and Connor looks up at him. “You okay?”

 

He looks nervous. Not like Evan nervous. But still nervous. “Uh, I’ve been thinking.”

 

“That’s not good,” Connor jokes, trying to lighten the suddenly anxious mood. Miguel isn’t impressed, though, so he wipes off his smile. “Sorry.”

 

Miguel hesitates, then blurts out, “I wanna meet your family.”

 

Connor sits up and stays quiet, trying to figure out how to respond. No. No way. He hopes Miguel never has to meet his parents, that would be a nightmare. “I don’t... That’s not a good idea.”

 

“Why? What’s the big deal?”

 

“It’s just... I’m not ready to say that I’m... that I have a boyfriend yet.” It’s not a total lie.

 

Miguel looks over at him, a sudden smile on his face as his eyes widen. “You just... that was the first time you called me your boyfriend, Connor!” he exclaims. “Obviously you are ready. Come on, please?”

 

Connor shakes his head. “To you, I can say it. To the rest of the world? No.”

 

“It’s not the world, it’s just your parents and sister. And we don’t even have to say we’re together yet, you can just introduce me as your friend.”

 

“They think I don’t have friends.”

 

Miguel scoffs. “So they’ll be happy to hear about me,” he argues.

 

“I don’t want them to know about you,” Connor says, feeling his heart rate rise. He’s getting angry. He hasn’t been too angry in a while. Having Evan around him constantly has helped with that. He also really doesn’t want to be mad at Miguel.

 

“I’m sorry, what?” Miguel asks, standing up. He crosses his arms over his chest. Clearly he’s angry too.

 

Connor sighs and rubs his face, thinking over how to word this. “If they... If they found out I had friends, they — “

 

“They’d be happy for you? Hopeful that maybe their son can actually be happy? I mean, God forbid you make their lives with you any easier.”

 

Feeling like he’s been punched in the gut, Connor gets to his feet. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, sure he already knows the answer.

 

He wishes he knew how to explain himself correctly. He wishes he knew how to do anything without pissing someone off, or hurting their feelings. But that’s just who he is. He breaks things, and he hates himself for it.

Chapter Text

Evan learned the first time he went to Miguel’s that the doorbell doesn’t work by standing outside for five minutes contemplating if he should try knocking when someone didn’t come because he didn’t want to annoy anybody.

 

He knocks. After a minute, no one comes, so he knocks again. No answer.

 

He looks around. No other cars are here, which means his family still isn’t home. So he hesitantly walks in the door.

 

Connor and Miguel obviously aren’t in the living room anymore, but he searches under the couch cushions and on the floor where he was sitting for where his phone might have fallen out. When he decides it’s no where to be found, he heads up the stairs.

 

As he reaches the last step, he hears their voices. Not in anyway he wants to, though. They’re both angry. Hurt.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“It’s like you make it your mission to make everybody’s lives miserable,” Miguel says, raising his voice. “Like you just want it to be harder for them.”

 

Connor doesn’t say a word to that. Evan can only imagine how hurt he must be right now.

 

“Like, what, you want everyone to work ten times harder just to figure out what the fuck is going on with you all the time?” Miguel asks. He’s yelling now, and Evan jumps. “Well guess what? The world doesn’t revolve around you! You can’t expect everyone to drop everything to try and help you when you make it seem like you don’t want any help!”

 

“I don’t want help!” Connor screams, voice cracking. “I’m fucking fine on my own!”

 

Evan’s heart hurts, and he doesn’t know what to do. He can’t just leave Connor like this, but he can’t just eavesdrop.

 

“You are so desperate to make everyone think you’re this fucking loner with anger issues and no friends that you’d rather lie about me and hide me to keep up the act!”

 

I’m not — !” Connor stops himself, then talks in a quieter, shakier voice. “I’m not trying to hide you, M. I just — “

 

That’s when Evan decides he can’t just stand here anymore. If this escalates more, he doesn’t know how he’ll handle it. So he knocks.

 

The door opens a second later, and he’s met with Miguel’s face, his usual goofy smiles gone. “Hey.”

 

“H — Hi, I’m sorry, I just, I forgot my — my phone, I think? And — “

 

The door opens wider, and he sees Connor. Tears in his eyes, not actually crying yet. “I have it,” he says, pulling it out of his pocket and handing it over.

 

Evan nods, taking a step back. “O — Okay, thanks. I’ll just, uh... Okay, bye.”

 

As he’s walking away, Connor tells him to wait. “I should probably go anyway.”

 

He grabs his backpack, and Miguel grabs his hand. “Wait. Can we talk about this?”

 

Connor sniffles and shrugs. “I wouldn’t wanna make your life more miserable than I already do.” He sounds bitter but exhausted.

 

With that, he walks away, Evan following after him.

 

When they get out the door, Evan has to walk fast to keep up with his long legs. He’s fast when he’s mad. “Are you okay?”

 

“Fucking great,” Connor replies, no emotion in his voice as he roughly wipes tears from his face. “Is — Is your mom home?”

 

“No,” Evan answers. “She has — “

 

“Great, let’s go.”

 

So Evan leads the way to his house, and they’re there within ten minutes. Connor’s never been here, and Evan’s embarrassed of how small and messy it is compared to his house. But Connor doesn’t seem to care.

 

Instead, as soon as the front door is closed, he lets himself go. When Evan looks over, his entire face is in his hands, head hanging low. Just like Connor did for him, he doesn’t hesitate to embrace him.

 

It’s more awkward, though, because Connor is taller than him, and he seems like he wants to hide his face, so he keeps his hands covering it instead of hugging his friend back. Evan doesn’t care, though. He just wants to help somehow. It breaks his heart seeing him like this.

 

Connor pulls away a few minutes later, turning away from him. His hands are at his sides now, balling into fists and then relaxing again. It looks to Evan like he needs somewhere to put all that energy, and he just doesn’t know what to do with it.

 

Fuck,” Connor whispers to himself, shaking out his arms, pushing his hair out of his face, pacing the room. He won’t stop moving.

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says instinctively. “H — How can I help?” He’s really not good at this comforting thing.

 

Connor shakes his head, wiping his face. “I don’t know. I don’t know what just... what just happened?”

 

Well, Evan certainly doesn’t know the answer to that.

 

“He — He wants to meet my family,” Connor explains, sounding dazed. 

 

“Oh,” Evan says. “And you don’t want him to?” Obviously Evan remembers how much it hurt that Connor was too embarrassed of him to let him meet his parents, so he actually understands why Miguel was upset. But Miguel was so much angrier.

 

“I don’t want him to know how messy things get in my life,” Connor says. “And being around my family... He would realize how much of a mess my life really is, and he’d... he doesn’t need to see that.”

 

Evan nods, hurting even more for Connor. He understands, to be honest. It doesn’t make him wanna meet his parents any less, though. “Did you explain that to him?”

 

“I tried,” Connor answers. He takes a seat on the couch and Evan sits next to him. “He thinks...” He pauses, letting out a long, shaky sigh. “Has your life been harder with me in it? Be honest. Please.”

 

Evan stares in disbelief for a moment, scoffs and shakes his head. “Are you kidding me? My life’s so much better with you in it,” he answers honestly. “Anyone would be lucky to know you.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Not anyone. Miguel thinks I wanna make everyone’s lives miserable for attention, and I cause my parents so much stress with everything that I do, and Zoe is such a good person, she doesn’t deserve all the shit I bring home, and you... you’d just be better off without me.”

 

Not true. Not even a little bit. Evan can feel his heart racing harder each second as he moves closer to his friend and grabs his hand. “Please, don’t ever say that,” he begs. “You have no idea... how awful it was before you started talking to me. Before you, I didn’t have friends who cared about how felt or what I thought. I couldn’t talk to anyone without sounding like an idiot. I never left my house except for school because no one wanted to hang out with someone like me. I was so lonely, and then you came and I feel loved, and it’s amazing... I was much worse off without you.”

 

He feels close to tears, but doesn’t let himself cry because this is Connor’s time to let his emotions out. But God, Connor means so much to Evan. He means the world, and it’s hard not to get emotional about how much he cares about the boy in front of him

 

Connor closes his eyes and another tear falls. He inhales shakily, squeezing Evan’s hand. “Thank you,” he says quietly, clearly trying to keep himself from falling apart anymore.

 

“Of — “

 

He’s interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. When Connor pulls away to grab his phone, Evan feels a little bit more empty. “It’s him,” Connor says, and when Evan looks over he realizes it’s a FaceTime call.

 

“Are you gonna answer it?”

 

“I — I don’t — “

 

“You should probably work things out,” Evan says with a small smile, trying to encourage him.

 

Connor hesitates before nodding. He turns and leans against the arm of the couch, facing Evan so that he isn’t in the frame. “H — Hey,” he says when he picks up, after wiping his face and clearing his throat.

 

Evan can only hear Miguel’s voice, but it sounds like he was crying too. “Connor, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. You don’t make my life mis — “

 

“I know you didn’t,” Connor says quietly, looking down at the floor instead of at his phone.

 

There’s a pause, and Evan gets up and goes to the dining room and sits at the table. There’s not much of a wall between the two rooms, and what there is is very thin, so it’s not like he can’t hear what’s happening. But maybe it’ll make Connor feel like he has more privacy.

 

“I love you so much,” Miguel says softly.

 

He hears Connor sniffling, then replying with, “I love you too.” There’s that jealousy again. It hurts Evan, but he wants Connor to be happy. And he knows that Miguel makes him happy, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

 

“I... I still think we should talk about this,” Miguel tells his boyfriend. “Otherwise there’s just gonna be another fight later on.”

 

Connor lets out a long sigh. “I just... Why can’t we wait? We have plenty of time to get involved in each other’s families. I wanna stay just... just you and me for as long as we can.”

 

“It’ll always be you and me,” Miguel replies. From where he’s sitting at the table, Evan can lean over a few inches and see the small, tired smile on Connor’s face as he listens. “But I’m... I’m really serious about this relationship, Connor. And I think that the next step to take in a serious relationship at this point is to meet each other’s families.”

 

God, Miguel seems like such a good boyfriend. Yeah, they just fought. But they’re able to talk it out calmly. It’s so healthy, and Evan can’t even be healthy on his own. Even if it was an option, why would Connor ever want to be with Evan over Miguel?

 

“I’ve already met your family,” Connor says with a shrug. “Your mom hates me.”

 

“Yeah, because of a lie you made up to protect me,” Miguel counters. “I have no problem telling her the truth, and she’ll just have to learn to deal with the fact that we’re dating. If she can’t see who you really are and how amazing you are... she’ll get over it.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “My family is... crazy. You don’t wanna be mixed up in all that.”

 

“Yes, I do,” Miguel says, laughing softly. “I really do. Because I love you so fucking much, and I’m not afraid to show people that, even if they are crazy.”

 

A deep, shaky breath as he wipes his face, and Connor says, “I’m just... I don’t know, I’m scared. With you, I’m not afraid to be myself. It’s different with them, though, I can’t... They treat me like I’m this bomb waiting to go off, so...”

 

“So you act like one?”

 

Connor nods, biting his bottom lip and sniffling again. “Yeah, kind of.”

 

It’s quiet for a moment, and the next person to speak is Miguel. “Okay. Take some time to calm down and think about it. You don’t have to make a decision right now.”

 

“Okay. Thanks, M.”

 

“Of course,” Miguel replies. “And just... remember I’ll always be proud to love you no matter what you decide and I’m not afraid of people knowing that, okay? I love you.”

 

“I love you too. Talk to you later.”

 

After a couple moments, Evan walks out. “Everything okay?” he asks, like he didn’t just hear the entire conversation.

 

Connor nods softly, putting his phone away. “It will be. Thanks. I’m sorry, you — “

 

“Don’t apologize,” Evan says, shaking his head. “Seriously.”

 

A small smile appears on Connor’s face, and he looks down as Evan’s heart skips a beat. “Oh, how the tables have turned.”

 

“Yeah, maybe you should be the one buying me dinner,” Evan jokes. In the few seconds before Connor reacts, he hates himself. Did that sound too flirty? He wasn’t trying to flirt, he swears, he just wants to hear Connor laugh, or see him smile more. Why is he like this?

 

Connor does laugh, pushing his hair out of his face. “You’ve been keeping track of that, right?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah,” he answers honestly. “I’m not doing that bad.”

 

“Um, I beg to differ, but okay,” Connor replies.

 

It’s quiet for a moment, and Evan realizes this is probably as good a time as any to tell his best friend about his big moment. Even though they’d never get together, he feels like he should know as his friend.

 

“I should probably get going,” Connor says, getting his phone out before Evan can get anything out. “I’ll ask Zoe to come pick me up.”

 

Evan nods quickly, trying to make sure he gets this out before he gets too scared and backs out. He’s not sure why he’s so nervous to tell Connor. It’s not like he wouldn’t be accepting. But the idea of change is scary. Will Connor treat him differently when he knows? Maybe he’ll be less affectionate toward him because he’s worried Evan will get feelings for him if he keeps acting the way he does with him. Too late for that... Overthinking is exhausting.

 

“Connor, can I talk to you?” he blurts out, the words blending together. He suddenly realizes he was holding his breath, and now he’s panting.

 

Connor presses send, putting his phone away and looking up. “Obviously,” he says. “Whenever you want.”

 

“Okay. Okay, um...” Evan takes a deep breath and notices that his legs are shaking. He sits on the couch, and Connor sits next to him. Except Evan is sitting with his legs off the edge, staring at the floor, and Connor sits facing his friend completely, with his legs pulled up onto the couch in a criss-cross position.

 

“Hey, it’s okay,” Connor says, reaching over and grabbing Evan’s hand to stop him from picking at his nails. “As long as you didn’t kill anyone, I’m here for you... Actually, probably still then too. You’re kind of my only friend.”

 

Evan lets out a nervous but real laugh, and he forces himself to look over at Connor. He keeps holding onto his hand, too, but his palms are definitely sweaty right now. “I — I didn’t kill anyone.”

 

“Damn, that was my first guess,” Connor jokes.

 

Evan takes a moment and another breath. It’s so hard for him to keep looking Connor in the eyes, so he lets his gaze fall to their hands. “No, I... I think I... I think I — I, Um... I — I might be bi,” he finally manages to stammer out. “Or something. I — I don’t know, I just, I don’t — “

 

He stops talking when Connor squeezes his hand, and why does he suddenly feel like crying? He forces himself to look up, and when he’s face to face with Connor again, he remembers that yes, there is absolutely no way he’s straight. Just that small smile makes Evan want to hug him and never let go. But he restrains himself, instead just squeezing Connor’s hand in return.

 

After another moment, Connor releases his hand and instead attacks him with the biggest hug he’s ever received. It makes Evan fall back on the couch, with Connor’s arms around him, and he doesn’t hesitate to hug him back.

 

“What... What’s this for?” Evan asks, his face in Connor’s shoulder from the way they landed.

 

Connor doesn’t make a move to pull away, which Evan is thankful for. He’d gladly stay here for as long as possible. “I’m proud of you,” Connor answers. “Figuring out who you are is hard, and sometimes it can be overwhelming, and even though this is just one aspect of you, I know it’s scary, and I’m just... I’m proud.”

 

Evan feels the first of his tears build up and spill over onto Connor’s shirt, and he sniffles. “Thank you, that means...” He breathes shakily, having a hard time getting words out. “That means a lot.”

 

“Are you crying?” Connor asks, starting to pull back.

 

But Evan hugs him tighter, shaking his head. “No,” he lies. At least this time he’s not sobbing. Just a few happy tears.

 

Connor laughs softly into Evan’s shoulder, where his head is rested. The vibration of his laugh and the feeling of his breath on his neck gives Evan goosebumps, and he finally pulls away.

 

Connor sits up, and Evan does the same, wiping his eyes and sniffling. “You’re just, uh... Having you with me, in — in my life. It means a lot.”

 

“You’re crying because of me?” Connor asks, grinning. He goes back to his previous position, sitting cross legged and facing Evan.

 

Evan does the same, facing his friend full on instead of looking at the floor. “Happy crying.”

 

“You’re happy crying because of me?” Connor corrects. “Now I’m gonna happy cry.”

 

Evan laughs. “Seriously, though. Thank you. So much. For... y’know, everything.”

 

Somehow smiling wider, Connor nods. “What a day,” he breathes out.

 

“Lots of tears,” Evan agrees with a sigh.

 

“You mean a lot to me too,” Connor blurts out, looking down and blushing. “Just... Just so you know...”

 

Smiling softly, Evan wipes his face again. “Thanks. And — And I hope everything works out with Miguel.”

 

“It will,” Connor replies with a nod. “I just... Need to figure out a way to hold off on him meeting my family.”

 

But honestly, after spending so much time with Connor, Evan understands exactly why Miguel would want to meet them. Connor is such an amazing person and friend, but he’s a giant mystery at the same time. Evan wants to know more. He wants to see further into Connor’s life than he already has. Why doesn’t he want his parents to know he has friends? Connor’s tried to explain it, but Evan still doesn’t understand. So after Connor is gone, Evan starts thinking of a plan. He knows it has to happen soon, or he’ll overthink it and back out, and that just can’t happen. He wants to get that little glimpse into his life that Connor tries to hide so well.

 

And he doesn’t care if his family is crazy. Everybody’s family is crazy, so what? He just wants to Connor to know that he won’t judge him based on the people he was raised by, or that we won’t judge him in general. Shouldn’t he already know that? Isn’t it painfully obvious how much Evan cares about him, how much he needs him in his life? Or how much he wants to be in Connor’s life despite him not always wanting the same? Isn’t all that crystal clear from how clingy and affectionate Evan tends to get around Connor? How he doesn’t have as much trouble speaking to him as everyone else, how he’s the person he feels most comfortable with?

 

Connor’s gotta be blind to miss Evan’s feelings for him. But maybe that’s best. Because the last thing Evan needs is to fuck up the one good thing he has to hold onto.

Chapter Text

After over a week of overthinking what he wants to do, Evan finally decides he needs to just do it and get it over with before he backs out of it. In the morning before school, he lets his mom know he’s not gonna be home.

 

“I’m going over to Jared’s after school,” he says when she comes into his room to say goodbye before she leaves for work.

 

Heidi sighs. “This is the one night I’m home this week, Evan.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but we have a — a project we have to do,” he lies. He might not even have to lie about Connor anymore. It’s not like Heidi hasn’t noticed the name on his cast, but he just told her it was some random kid in the hall who he asked to sign it. Maybe, though, if tonight goes well, Connor will be okay with Evan knowing his parents, and maybe he’ll want to meet his mom.

 

“Okay,” Heidi says heavily. “Have a good day. Love you.”

 

When he gets to school, he finds Jared at his locker. “Can you take me to Connor’s house later?”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “Can’t your boyfriend take you after school?”

 

Huffing in annoyance, Evan shakes his head. “He’s not my — “ He stops, knowing that Jared’s never gonna let this go. “No, he can’t. He doesn’t know I’m coming. And it can’t be right after school, it has to be a little later.” If it’s right after school, his dad won’t be home from work yet, and his mom might still be at yoga. He’s started learning the times Connor’s usually okay with him coming over cause no one’s home, and in turn he’s accidentally been learning his parents’ schedules.

 

“Um, why?”

 

“I wanna meet his parents,” Evan explains. “And he doesn’t want me or — or anyone to, so I haven’t told him I’m coming.”

 

Jared smiles mischievously. “Oh, you sneaky snake, you. Who are you and what have you done with Evan Hansen?”

 

“It’s not that bad,” Evan says, shaking his head. “It’s just meeting his family, it’s... it’s fine.”

 

“Have you ever thought maybe there’s a reason he doesn’t want you to meet them?” Jared asks. Of course there’s a reason. Evan already knows the reason, and it doesn’t change his mind. “Like maybe they’re crazy ax murderers and Connor’s trying to make sure they never get caught. Maybe Connor’s an ax murderer too! He’s probably their leader.”

 

“Will you shut up?” Evan asks while Jared laughs.

 

Jared continues to snicker, shaking his head. “Sorry, I still can’t get over this whole thing. You and Connor fucking Murphy? Too good.”

 

“So? Can I come over to your house after school?”

 

With a sigh, Jared nods. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

So when the final bell rings, Evan and Jared get in the car and go over to Jared’s house. Of course, Jared is his usual sarcastic self. Evan half listens to him during the car ride and when they’re hanging out in his room. He’s too nervous to focus on anything but his plan.

 

Nervous but excited. For once, he’s not overcome with anxiety to the point where he can barely function. He’s just nervous. A normal kind of scared. He’s completely going behind Connor’s back, so he could get mad. He could hate him because of this. This night could also go horribly wrong, but still, Evan tries to focus more on his excitement than his jitters.

 

Around 5:00, they get back in Jared’s car and Evan tells him how to get to the Murphy household. When they pull up to the long driveway, Jared laughs. “Holy shit. Bit extravagant for you, don’t you think?”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. “Shut up.”

 

“No, I mean, really,” Jared says, still obnoxiously grinning. “I don’t blame you for crashing dinner. It’s probably an eight-course meal, right?”

 

“It’s not that fancy,” Evan says with a shrug, looking over at the house. Of course, compared to his own home, any place looks fancy.

 

“Okay, whatever. Go have fun,” Jared says, as Evan takes his seatbelt off. “But not too much fun.” He grins again. “Actually, never mind. Go get that sweet Connor Murphy ass that you somehow see something in.”

 

Evan’s eyes widen, his face turning a bright shade of red. “Can you shut up?” He looks around, hoping no one is around to hear it.

 

“Not even a thank you for the ride?”

 

Evan sighs. “Thanks.”

 

As soon as he shuts the door, Jared speeds off.

 

Left alone again with his nervous excitement, Evan takes a deep breath and approaches the front door. He hesitates before ringing the doorbell. This could be a terrible mistake, but he’s only able to dwell on that fact for a moment before he hears, “Zoe, can you get that?” It’s muffled, but he can tell it’s a woman’s voice.

 

Another few moments, and he sees the doorknob turn and the door swing open slowly. “Hey, what are you — “

 

“Is — Is Connor here?” Evan asks.

 

Zoe looks over her shoulder, hesitates, then steps aside for him. “Yeah. But it’s not really the best — “

 

She’s interrupted by a shout. It makes Evan nearly jump out of her skin, but Zoe just rolls her eyes, unfazed.

 

“This is fucking bullshit!”

 

It’s Connor. Obviously. Coming from the kitchen.

 

Next he hears a bang, like the sound of a fist slamming on a table. “Watch your language, Connor. I won’t tolerate you talking to your parents like this anymore.” Must be his dad.

 

This was definitely a bad idea. “Should I... Should I go?”

 

Zoe shrugs. “If you really want to. But maybe having you here will make things easier tonight.”

 

Evan nods, sighing.

 

“Larry, he’s seventeen. What seventeen year old doesn’t use that language?” And there’s his mom.

 

“I don’t care! I’m not putting up with this crap from him anymore,” Larry exclaims.

 

“Oh, watch your language, Larry,” Connor says mockingly.

 

Before anymore screaming can happen, Zoe leads Evan into the doorway to the kitchen. Connor is sitting on a chair at the table, slouching with his arms crossed over his chest. He looks bored and angry. His parents are standing over him, his dad with his arms crossed and an angry face similar to Connor’s, and his mom further behind with a concerned expression.

 

Cynthia is the first one to notice them, and she looks over and forces a smile. “Oh, hi, Zoe, who’s this?”

 

Connor turns around, and when his eyes find Evan, his face completely changes. He suddenly looks worried, his eyes widening at him. He doesn’t turn back to his parents, and makes a face at his sister and friend, like he’s trying to tell them something without words. Evan isn’t getting the message.

 

“This is Evan. Connor’s friend,” Zoe says flatly, sounding annoyed. Evan wonders how long this yelling has been going on.

 

Connor’s face falls as he closes his eyes and sighs in disappointment, and suddenly Evan gets what he was trying to say. He wanted Zoe to lie and say he was her friend instead of Connor’s. Shit, that hurts. He’s been starting to understand how Miguel feels more and more lately.

 

His mom smiles, pleased, as her eyes fall onto Evan’s cast. She looks like she could cry. “Oh! It’s nice to meet you, Evan. I’m Cynthia.” She sticks her hand out, and Evan shakes it.

 

Connor’s face goes red as he looks down at the floor, slouching and crossing his arms again.

 

“H — Hi, it’s nice to meet you, too,” Evan says. He’s pretty sure he sounds like an idiot.

 

Larry sighs. “I’m sorry, Evan, but Connor is grounded. He won’t be able to hang out tonight.”

 

Extremely disappointed, Evan nods. He went to all this trouble just to be kicked out? “Oh. O — Okay, I’m sorry.”

 

But Cynthia steps forward. “I’m sure it’s fine, Larry. He didn’t know. He can stay for a while.”

 

Larry sighs. “Okay.” He looks at Connor. “Tonight’s okay. Starting tomorrow, two weeks.”

 

Connor just stares blankly, not saying a word.

 

“Are you staying for dinner, Evan?” Cynthia asks, breaking the silence as Zoe walks away.

 

“Oh. Um. S — Sure, thank you,” he replies, smiling nervously.

 

After another moment, Connor abruptly stands up, nearly knocking his chair over, and walks away. Evan follows him up the stairs, and Connor opens his bedroom door for him. Evan walks in, and at the sound of the door slamming, he jumps and spins around.

 

Connor looks furious.

 

-

 

Connor is so afraid. He’s so scared. Why is Evan here? What the hell is going on? It’s the first time he’s met his parents, and he’s already gotten a look into the absolute hell his life is. It’s gonna make him hate him, he’s not gonna want to hang out with him anymore. He’ll avoid him like the plague, because who wouldn’t?

 

But he can’t show that he’s freaking out, he can’t let him know how scared he is that he’ll leave him, because that would just make him run away faster. So he hardens his face and his heart as soon as he steps in the room, slamming the door.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he asks.

 

“I — I was — I just — “

 

“You know I don’t want you guys over here when my parents are here,” Connor says. “You know that, and you knew my parents were here, so why the fuck did you come?”

 

Evan looks down at his hands, fiddling with his shirt nervously. “I — I’m sorry, I just — “

 

“Did you just wanna see what a shit show my life was so you could go tell everyone about it?”

 

And there it is again. The paranoia. The overthinking about how everyone is out to get him. His therapist said he needed to work on that. He was doing so well, too.

 

“Wh — What?” Evan asks, looking up. “Who would I... Who would I tell?”

 

Connor knows that he’s being ridiculous. But he’s so overwhelmed by his fear and anger at his parents, and now anger at Evan, that he can’t think through what he’s saying before it leaves his mouth.

 

“Fuck you, just get out,” Connor says, not as loud anymore, as he shakes his head and looks away.

 

“Wh — Why?” Evan asks. He looks so small, like he’s trying to make himself disappear.

 

Connor scoffs, feeling like he wants to pull out his hair, or start throwing punches. Something to get all this energy and all these conflicting emotions out. “Because I don’t fucking want you here.”

 

Evan looks like he’s been punched in the gut, but he’s still holding back tears. Connor feels guilt added into all his emotions now, but he just wants to get Evan out of here. Not because he doesn’t want to be around him. The time he’s spent with Evan has been some of the best he’s ever had, but he doesn’t want to risk him seeing anymore of the hell that is his family.

 

Evan is quiet for a moment, staring at Connor with hurt in his eyes. Finally he nods. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll just... I’m sorry.” He looks down again as he walks past Connor and toward the door. Connor watches as he reaches for the doorknob, but then stops and turns around. He’s still not looking straight at him, clearly hesitant to say another word.

 

“You... You don’t mean that,” Evan says slowly. Connor can basically see the courage that he’s trying to force out. The courage this is taking him to say.

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Connor asks. “Yes I do. Get out.”

 

Evan shakes his head, taking a deep breath. He nods, like he’s encouraging himself to keep going. Then he looks back up at Connor. “No, you... The first day we hung out, you told me that you’re scared of — of letting people in. And that’s why you and Miguel fell apart.” Connor stays quiet, doing his best to not show any emotion as he stares at Evan. “B — Because you pushed him away when he tried to get closer to you. And that’s... that’s what you’re trying to do to me. Because you’re scared that if I get closer, I’ll change my mind about you.”

 

Connor scoffs. “That’s fucking ridiculous. You’re — “

 

“I’m not changing my mind.”

 

Connor goes quiet, just looking at Evan. His anxiety evident in his posture, the way he looks like he wants to curl in on himself. But the words he’s saying, and the way he’s saying them, Connor thinks this is the most confident he’s ever seen him.

 

“You’re scared that I’m gonna run away if I see that your home life is a mess,” he continues. “I’m not going anywhere. No matter how much of a dick you pretend to be, I will never change my mind about you.”

 

And this is the day that Connor starts realizing something is different. Everything about his best friend in front of him, he can’t describe what he means to him. He knows how anxious Evan is, he knows how hard it is for him to speak his mind, but he’s pushing through all those fears. And for him. For Connor, Evan is pushing past his many anxieties. To get through to him. It means everything.

 

“You’re... amazing, Connor. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re my best friend without sounding crazy, but you... you are my best friend, and even if your family life is shit, and even if you push me away, it’s not gonna scare me off.”

 

And all he wants to do right now is hug him, let him in, let himself fall apart because he finally has someone who’s willing to work this hard for him. He just wants to hold him, and let himself be held. His heart is racing, his palms are sweaty, his stomach is doing flips.

 

“And that’s all I can say. I don’t know how else to say how much I care about you and our friendship and how scared I am of losing that.”

 

But this isn’t right. He shouldn’t be feeling this way. He can’t actually comprehend what he is feeling. So many things are happening in his head. He thinks for a moment that he’s feeling something, something that he’s only ever felt for one person in his entire life. And then he realizes that, in that moment, he can’t tell the difference between the love he feels for Evan as a friend and the love he feels for Miguel. But he can’t be feeling that way about Evan. He’s with Miguel. This isn’t right. What the fuck is going on? This is terrifying.

 

Connor has no words. He couldn’t put into words what he’s feeling even if he tried. So many feelings are fighting for control in his head.

 

If this is really happening, if he’s feeling this way about Evan, he has to make it stop. It took so much of the little strength he had left to get Miguel back, and he can’t just throw it away. It’s not fair. And after that speech from Evan, he doesn’t know what to say to get him to stop. Because if he keeps going, Connor doesn’t know how far this will go.

 

“And I — “

 

Stop!” Connor screams. He didn’t mean to, but he did.

 

Evan jumps, shutting his mouth.

 

“Just... Just stop.”

 

After a moment, Evan looks back down, his face red. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, that was so... I’m sorry, I — “

 

“I said stop!” Connor shouts, and then he forces himself to quiet down a little so his family doesn’t hear. “Go away. Get out.”

 

Evan hesitates for a long time before stepping forward and saying, “No, Connor.”

 

Fuck. The sound of his name on Evan’s mouth somehow makes this all so much harder. He really wishes he could control his thoughts. Because before he knows it, he’s thinking about kissing him. He’s an awful person. They’re just thoughts, but it doesn’t matter. Why can’t he get control of them?

 

He needs to get Evan away. He needs to be alone. He needs to think, figure things out for himself. And suddenly all those emotions fighting for control in his mind are concentrated in his hands, and he needs to do something. Anxiety, anger, guilt, confusion, love. He’s all over the place, and he needs to get rid of all this. He wishes he didn’t feel anything.

 

“I said get out!”

 

And he pushes him. Connor shoves Evan back, hard, and he crashes into the door with a thud, catching himself on the doorknob before he can fall. The heartbreak on his face is evident as he stands up straight again.

 

“C — Connor — “

 

“I’m not afraid of letting you in!” Yes he is. “Take a fucking hint! I just don’t want you here!” Yes he does. Nothing he’s saying is true. He’s just saying it because he knows what will hurt Evan the most. Evan told him his deepest fears and anxieties, and now he’s using them against him, because he’s terrified of what’s happening.

 

He’s a horrible person. Why would Evan even want to stay with him? Why would Miguel? Why would anyone?

 

Evan finally lets those tears go, and Connor’s heart breaks at the sight. “I’m sorry,” he says for the final time.

 

Go!”

 

Evan nods quickly, opening the door and getting out fast.

 

Connor slams the door after him, and locks it. And then he lets himself fall apart.

 

He finds himself on the floor, face buried in his hands even though there’s no one to see him. His shoulders shake with sobs, and after a few minutes he gets up and goes to his bed. He still feels like he needs to hit something so he grabs his pillow and hits the mattress with it, then falls onto the bed once his arms get tired.

 

He has no idea if what he just did was a mistake or not. It probably was. He makes a lot of them. But how could he risk it? He can’t let himself feel anything for Evan, not after working so hard to have Miguel. But is losing Evan worth it?

 

Now he’s just back to where he started. Alone. Broken and alone. Confused and angry. Back to where he was before Evan.

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Back to where he started. Lonely and afraid. Crippled with self hatred and anxiety. Back to where he was before Connor.

 

He manages to make it down the stairs and past the kitchen, out the front door without being spotted by the Murphys. Once he’s outside, he’s completely lost. He doesn’t know where to go, what to do with himself.

 

Fuck, he was so stupid. That whole time, Connor didn’t want to be around him. He gets that now. He never liked him, he never wanted him around. He was just too nice to tell him that. And Evan kept pushing and pushing and bothering him. He really shouldn’t be surprised, though. He knew it was too good to be true.

 

And now he doesn’t know here to go. He’s crying harder than he has in a long time, and he doesn’t bother to try and calm himself down. Thank God the neighborhood roads are empty as he’s walking around aimlessly.

 

He doesn’t want to go home. His mom will just keep asking what happened, and it’ll just be more proof that she needs to fix him. And he can’t ask Jared for help. He’d only be bothering him even more than he already does. Miguel’s not an option either. If Connor never liked having him around, why would Miguel?

 

As he walks, he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. A glimmer of hope in his heart as he thinks that maybe, just maybe it’s Connor calling to say he’s sorry, to tell him that he’s his best friend and he doesn’t want to lose him. And then more pain when he sees that it’s Jared. He doesn’t want him to know that he’s having a panic attack right now, it’s just too much trouble that he doesn’t want to cause. He ignores it.

 

Every fiber in his being just wants to scream. Maybe that would help. But he doesn’t have the energy in him. Instead he just keeps walking. 

 

It’s too far to walk home, so he finds himself in a park. There’s another missed call from Jared, but he doesn’t bother to call back. He’s not really in any place to coherently talk, anyway. He takes himself to the woods behind the park, leaning against a tree and holding himself.

 

Is this what Connor does when he has panic attacks? He said he would never let Miguel see him cry, and he’s clearly not close with his parents, but he always wanted to be held when he felt so overwhelmed that he needed to fall apart. So is this what he does? What he looks like when the panic attacks come? Holding himself because there’s no one else there. Body shuddering with desperate sobs. Trying to curl in on himself the best he can, like he’s hiding, even though there isn’t any one to see him. Shaking and weeping and hyperventilating and pathetic.

 

Is that what Connor meant when he said that? Because that’s exactly what Evan looks like.

 

He could try again. Maybe be successful this time. No one is here to stop him, but why would anyone want to?

 

The tree he’s leaning against is pretty tall. Tall enough.

 

But he doesn’t even get the chance to look for a taller one, or to start climbing, before it suddenly hits him where he is.

 

This is where he first saw Connor, the first time they ever hung out. He thinks back to that day, realizing how stupid he was. He pushed so much, spilling his own problems onto Connor so he’d talk to him. What an idiot. He hates himself, he regrets everything he did to make Connor’s life so miserable.

 

And he just needs to get out of there, now. Everything is so overwhelming. He’s nearly paralyzed with fear, guilt, heartbreak.

 

He stumbles out of the woods, and the next thing he realizes is that he can’t breathe. He’s been hyperventilating this whole time without realizing, and he feels so dizzy. His head is spinning, and before he can pass out, he lets himself drop to the ground. He crawls a few feet over to a park bench, but he doesn’t have the strength to pull himself up to sit on it, so he just leans against it, eyes closed, struggling to breathe.

 

The fear intensifies. He’s probably going to pass out, and there’s no one here to help him. He’s gonna have to pass out and then walk home on his own. It feels like he’s drowning. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s dying. It’s terrifying, but would it really be that bad?

 

He’s all over the place.

 

And then he’s blinded. Bright lights in his face. He has to close his eyes, and when he opens them, he tries to focus through his tears.

 

It’s a car. Pulling into a parking spot not far from where he’s resting his head on the bench. Then the sound of the door opening and slamming shut, and he can see a figure walking in front of the headlights.

 

“Why the fuck didn’t you answer my calls?”

 

As Jared gets closer, Evan can focus on his face. He can’t tell if he’s angry or concerned. Probably angry. He’s good at making people mad, apparently.

 

Evan can’t control whether he inhales sharply or breathes out shakily, but after way too many uneven breaths, he shakes his head to show that he can’t get words out.

 

“Are you gonna pass out?” Jared asks, crouching down next to him.

 

Very few times has Jared witnessed Evan’s panic attacks. And only once has he seen him faint because of them. Evan nods.

 

“Can you stand? It’s getting cold.”

 

He really doesn’t know if he can. But he’s taking up Jared’s time. He’s making him stand outside and look at his messy self when he has much better things to do. So he nods, because the sooner Jared doesn’t have to deal with his shit, the better. And he grips the bench, pushing himself up shakily.

 

To his surprise, Jared grabs his arm and puts a hand on his back, helping to hold him up. They make their way to the car, Evan’s legs shaking under him. Jared helps him into the passenger seat and closes the door, then gets in the driver’s side and starts the car.

 

They don’t say a word until they get to Jared’s house. Evan doesn’t know if it’s a good thing or not. He appreciated that Jared just let him cry and let it out, but maybe he was just trying to avoid talking to him. When they pull into the driveway, Jared doesn’t make a move to get out of the car, just looks over at Evan, who’s gone from hyperventilating to sharp intakes of breath and silent tears.

 

“My parents are home,” Jared says, nodding to the other cars in front of the house. “So if there’s any last minute screaming, get it out now.”

 

Evan just shakes his head. He doesn’t want to risk trying to talk, he might just break down again.

 

Jared nods, turning off the car and taking his seatbelt off. “We’re just gonna sprint up to my room so they don’t see us, okay? I know you’re not as physically fit as some of us, so get ready,” he jokes. Again, Evan can’t tell if it’s a good thing or not.

 

So they get out of the car and into the house, then successfully run up the stairs and into Jared’s room. Thank God. No one else needs to see him like this.

 

As soon as the door is shut, Jared turns to Evan. “Okay. Sit,” he says, pointing to his bed. “You need to talk now. You haven’t looked this bad since, like... ever, dude.”

 

But Evan really doesn’t want to say it. And Jared probably doesn’t even want to hear it. So he tries to change the topic. “H... H — How did you... How d — did you know where I — I... Wh — Where I was?” It feels weird to speak after so long.

 

Jared shrugs. “I tracked your phone. I’m a computer genius, remember?” Evan just stares, and Jared waits for him to laugh. “I’m kidding,” he says with a blank face. “I found you on Snap Map.” He holds up his phone.

 

Evan nods. He should probably disable that, now that he thinks about it. It scares him.

 

“Now talk. What the hell happened?” Jared asks, grabbing the swivel chair from his desk and sitting in it, leaning forward like he’s waiting to hear the greatest story ever told.

 

Evan stares at his hands, which are picking at the skin around his nails again. He sees a tiny bit of blood, but Connor isn’t here to stop him this time, so he keeps going. “He was... He was so mad... I’ve never s — seen him like that.”

 

“What did he say?”

 

Another tear falls, but he doesn’t have the energy to sob again. “He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t want me around. He hates me.” So maybe he didn’t say those exact words, but Evan knows that’s what he meant. He was just too nice to say it.

 

Jared is quiet for a moment. “I told you, dude.”

 

“What?”

 

“I told you he would hurt you. I knew this wouldn’t end well,” Jared says. When Evan looks up, he’s not smiling, not rubbing it in that he was right. He’s just stating the facts.

 

Evan wipes his face, sniffling. He doesn’t know what to say to that.

 

“He’s an ass, Evan. He’s just a dick and you don’t need him, okay? You just need to — “

 

“No he’s not,” Evan mutters, staring at the floor.

 

“Sorry, what?”

 

Evan sighs shakily. “He’s not a dick. He’s a good person. He just — “

 

Jared laughs softly. “Are you kidding me? He just literally gave you a panic attack. He’s a horrible — “

 

“No, please just stop,” Evan says, forcefully. His eyes are still locked on the floor.

 

“You’re saying he just told you that he hates you, that he doesn’t want to be around you, and then you proceeded to leave crying and having a panic attack, and you don’t think he — “

 

“He’s a good person.”

 

Jared shakes his head. “I”m just trying to look out for you. Why won’t you let me help you?”

 

Too exhausted to get angry, Evan just looks up at Jared. “All you’re doing is trying to convince me that the guy that I — that my best friend is a bad person. That’s not helping. If you really want to look out for me, then maybe actually comfort me when I’m having a panic attack instead of saying ‘I told you so.’” Connor would know what to do to comfort him. He’d know to hold him until he can calm down, and then let him talk through things. But he’s not gonna ask Jared to do that, he’d just be bothering him more.

 

“Your best friend?” Jared asks, scoffing. He looks like he’s starting to get mad. God, why does he make everyone angry? What is he doing wrong? Literally everything, apparently. “Evan, I’m your best friend! I would never say those things to you. Maybe I don’t know how to comfort people when they’re anxious and breaking down but that doesn’t mean I don’t...” He pauses, sighing. “I only warned you Connor would hurt you in the first place because I didn’t want you to get hurt. I didn’t want you to turn out like this,” he says, gesturing to the mess of Evan.

 

“So I wouldn’t bother you like I always do? So you wouldn’t have to put up with — “

 

No!” Jared says, raising his voice. But he takes a breath and quiets himself down when he sees Evan jump. “Because I care about you. Because you’re my friend. And I hate seeing you hurt.”

 

Evan stays quiet. He has absolutely no idea how to respond to that. This is pretty much the only time Jared’s ever shown much concern for him, and it’s strange.

 

Jared’s face is red, and after a few moments of silence he looks away and lets out a long breath. “You should get some sleep. I’ll take you home in the morning.” It’s way too early to go to bed. He hasn’t even had dinner yet. But it’s fine, the last thing Evan wants to do right now is eat, and sleep sounds amazing.

 

Evan nods, lying back in Jared’s bed. “Thank you, Jared... I’m sorry.”

 

Jared shakes his head. “No problem,” he says flatly. “It’s what friends are for, right?”

 

Evan just doesn’t know how to fix this. Connor is mad at him, he hates him, how is he supposed to get past that? And he honestly can’t tell if Jared is mad at him, but he might as well be, because Evan apparently fucks everything in his life up.

 

He feels so restless, but so weak and exhausted. His eyes fall shut, and he eventually falls asleep, the only place where he doesn’t have to hate himself.

 

-

 

A knock at the door. A part of him — a big part — wants it to be Evan, coming back to stay with him, even if that’s the last thing he deserves. He doesn’t deserve Evan.

 

He ignores it, and there’s another knock.

 

“Go away.”

 

His voice is fucked up. All scratchy and rough because he forced his cries to be quiet.

 

Another knock.

 

“I said go away.”

 

“It’s dinner time,” Zoe’s voice says, and he sees the doorknob jiggle.

 

“Not hungry.”

 

She doesn’t reply, and he thinks she’s walked away until he hears a weird sound coming from outside the door. It’s super quiet, and just as he’s about to get up to see what it is, the door swings open.

 

Zoe stands there, a bobby pin in her hand. Connor quickly wipes his tear-stained face and stands up. “Get out!” he yells.

 

“That might have worked with Evan, but not me,” Zoe says, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

Connor feels a pang of sadness, but he turns it into anger and points at the door. “Leave me the fuck alone!” he screams, taking a few strides toward her.

 

“Stop being such a fucking idiot, Connor!” Zoe says, and she steps into the room fully and slams the door behind her.

 

“Fuck you,” Connor spits out. He turns away again, plopping down on his bed and staring at the floor.

 

“Evan is the one person I know of that actually made you seem like a human being!” Zoe crosses the room so she’s standing in front of Connor. “You are so stupid to try and push him away.”

 

Connor scoffs, shaking his head. She’s completely right. “I didn’t want him around anymore!” he lies. “That’s it. Just get out.”

 

“That’s bullshit!” Zoe shouts, throwing her hands up in frustration. “Why the hell wouldn’t you want him around? Having a friend like him around is one of the best things you could ask for.”

 

He’s well aware of that. How could he not know that? “Then why don’t you go be friends with him?” he spits out. Surely Evan would love being friends with her much more than he ever did with Connor.

 

“Because you were... different when you were around him. You were better.”

 

Connor gets to his feet. “Having someone better than me around doesn’t make me a better person, dumbass.”

 

“I’m not saying he’s better than you, I’m — “

 

“He is,” Connor says flatly.

 

Zoe shrugs. “Yeah, sure. He is. He’s better than me, too, and probably every other person in this town.”

 

If only Evan could hear this conversation. Connor knows how much self doubt he has, how often he questions his worth. Maybe knowing that both him and Zoe think he’s such a good person would help.

 

But it’s too late. He’s already ruined it.

 

“What’s your point?”

 

Zoe sighs. “My point is, you weren’t just nicer when Evan was around. You seemed happier. And even though it doesn’t seem like it, I care about you. And I don’t want you to be miserable your entire life. I want you to find things that make you happy... Like Evan.”

 

Connor is quiet, not sure what to say to that. He doesn’t deserve this. Evan or Zoe. They’re both too good for him. How did they get stuck with his sorry ass? After a long silence, he sighs. “How much did you hear of... what happened?”

 

Zoe shrugs. “Not much. Just the end, when you started yelling.”

 

Connor nods but doesn’t say anything.

 

“We should go eat now.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “I’m not hungry.” Fuck, he should have just let Evan stay. Maybe they could have had a nice dinner, maybe things wouldn’t have gone to shit. Maybe he wouldn’t feel so sad and confused and angry and guilty right now.

 

But he ruins things. It’s just what he does.

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I’m so sorry guys!!!! You know that I like to get my updates up on the weekends, but I’ve just been so busy lately so I didn’t get the next chapter done in time for this weekend. I’m involved in the play at my school so it’s been hectic with that, plus school work, plus my job, but I swear I’m not abandoning this fic. Please just bear with me until play season is over and I can hopefully have more time to write. And I’m gonna try to see if I have time to finish the chapter I was working on to get up sometime this week, but I can’t promise anything. Thank you so much for your patience and also just for reading and all of your lovely comments! Hope you continue to enjoy it!

Chapter Text

Everything is just... worse. Without Connor around him, he can’t find the light that he used to feel, the hope that he wasn’t alone. But now he is.

 

Jared is there, of course, but the friendship he had with Connor is different than with Jared. He doesn’t feel totally comfortable, he feels way less confident. And even though Jared helped him through that big panic attack, he still doesn’t feel okay with being vulnerable around him. But with Connor, he had no problem. Because Connor understood exactly how he felt, he knew what to do, he didn’t think that it was weird to just hold him for a long time. And Connor wasn’t afraid to show affection at random times, to just hug him for no reason. He misses it. So much.

 

He takes his Ativan more often now. He had stopped taking it very much because he wasn’t as anxious, but now it’s like he can never calm his nerves. The guilt he feels about everything — about how he went on so long pushing Connor to be his friend when Connor actually hated him — piled on top of the heartbreak is messing him up so bad. His heart is constantly racing, his palms are always sweaty, and his chest is stuck with the heavy feeling in it.

 

Whenever he sees Connor in the hall, it gets worse. And it’s not like he can predict when he’ll be there so that he can avoid seeing him, since Connor skips class so often. Once in a while they’ll make eye contact, but Connor always immediately turns away. Evan can’t help but stare, though. He misses seeing him all the time. He misses his hugs, he misses his laugh, he misses his smile. He never sees Connor happy anymore, but at least he knows that he’s happy with Miguel.

 

-

 

Miguel is furious. He doesn’t know the whole story, because Connor refuses to tell him. He actually refuses to talk about Evan in general. But he’s already taken a guess at the basics of the situation. He knows that Connor pushed him away in one way or another.

 

Whenever he mentions Evan, Connor deliberately turns away. He goes quiet, and he doesn’t say a word until Miguel has turned the conversation to another subject. He can’t handle talking about all that messiness and guilt. Because if he talks about it, he knows he’ll break down, and he knows it’ll make him want to go back to Evan. And that would just end in more messiness.

 

It’s caused a lot of fights. And other than fighting about the situation with Evan, Connor feels like there’s been a lot more tension lately. Whether it’s yelling at each other or just the mood when they’re sitting in silence, something is off. Connor’s been more anxious and insecure. If he goes a few days without seeing Miguel, it suddenly feels like he’s hated. He overthinks every little thing — how often Miguel texts him, how long his texts are, what his texts say. It will just feel like Miguel doesn’t want him anymore, and it fucks him up bad.

 

That escalated to the point where Connor yelled at him. He doesn’t remember all the things he said, but he remembers it ending by Miguel screaming that he was being fucking ridiculous and storming away. Thank God he didn’t stay, because Connor fell apart for what felt like the millionth time in those weeks that passed. They made up the next day, but everything in his life still felt wrong.

 

He’s completely on edge all the time, and because he tends to turn his emotions in rage, that means he’s angry all the time. He’s been skipping class much more often in order to avoid seeing Evan. It doesn’t always work, and when he does see him, it hurts so bad. He has to force himself to look away so that he doesn’t break.

 

And he knows. He knows that everything was better with Evan by his side. But he never learns his lesson, he refuses to accept that. Because he also knows that if he ever gets Evan back again, he’ll be forced to confront those things he felt that night. The urge he had to kiss him, the sudden realization that he was thinking about him in a way that he should only think about, and only ever has thought about, one person. He’s so scared of those feelings.

 

-

 

Today is worse than usual. No reason why, it just is. His anxiety is higher, his sadness is stronger, and he feels more alone than ever. He tries to get through the morning. He does his best, but by fourth period it feels like he’s going to explode.

 

Evan raises his hand, motioning for the door to say he needs to go to the bathroom. He usually hates raising his hand in class, but he can’t stay here anymore. Maybe just a walk will help. Or maybe he just needs to get to his Ativan. The teacher nods and he practically runs out of the class, exhaling loudly as soon as the door closes behind him.

 

He starts walking through the halls until he gets to his locker, opening it with shaky hands and grabbing his prescription. He’s started bringing it everywhere, because he never knows when the anxiety will be so unbearable that he just has to take it.

 

After he downs a couple pills with a water bottle he keeps in his locker, he shuts it and turns and starts walking quickly back to class. Actually, he’s not sure if he wants to go back to class or just walk around the halls to get some energy out. But he doesn’t have time to decide, because his head is down, and he’s walking fast, and he bumps into someone. When he looks up, he finds the one person he really didn’t want to see. Also the one person he did want to see.

 

Connor stares at him, his expression unreadable. This is the first time he hasn’t avoided eye contact with Evan in a long time.

 

Evan is frozen. He literally cannot move, he can’t get a word out. He wants to say so many things. He’s sorry, he misses him, he’s so goddamn sorry. But he can’t. His mouth is open, his eyes wide. All he wants to do is hug him, he just wants Connor to hold him, and he never wants to stop. But he’s stuck.

 

Connor seems frozen for a moment too, but he’s the first one to move. He glances away, then walks past Evan without a word or a second look.

 

Even after Connor leaves, Evan stays frozen. Until he feels the tears stinging his eyes. He needs to sit, he can’t do this anymore. Leaning against the lockers, he slides down and brings his knees to his chest. He wishes the ground would swallow him whole, but the closest he’ll get to that is making himself seem as small as he can, trying to make himself disappear.

 

-

 

He sees him at his locker. Connor sees him taking his medicine. He knows exactly what it is. Evan told him he takes Ativan for his anxiety. This is what he’s done to him. It’s all his fault.

 

He doesn’t know where to go, though. There’s nowhere to escape to, to hide. And before he knows it, Evan is rushing down the hall, and he runs into him.

 

Connor stares, just wanting to cry. He can’t let himself though. He caused this shit, he doesn’t deserve to be sad about it. He watches Evan’s face, eyes sad and desperate and helpless, mouth open as if he’s trying to say something.

 

He wishes he could just say he’s sorry, but that will never be enough. Evan deserves better. He wishes he could hug him, but he’s scared that if he gets any closer, he’ll have that terrifying urge to kiss him again. Terrifying because if he gives in to the urge, he could lose everything he worked so hard for with Miguel.

 

Seeing the pain in Evan’s eyes, he knows he has to leave. He has this weak spot for this amazing, perfect boy, and if Connor’s heart is twisted anymore by the sadness he sees in Evan, he knows he’ll give in.

 

So he hardens his face, looking away and walking around him.

 

Once he turns the corner, though, he can’t help himself. He turns right back around and takes a peek.

 

His heart breaks all over again. Evan is curling in on himself, shoulders shaking with sobs. Connor knows that he’s trying to keep himself quiet, but he can still hear his cries. And soon his hyperventilating.

 

Connor hates himself. So much. Evan is having a panic attack, and it’s all his fault. He caused Evan all this pain, when all he really deserves is the world.

 

He watches as Evan breathes unevenly, grabbing the sides of his head and shutting his eyes tight. Anxiety is practically dripping from his broken figure.

 

But if he tried to help now, it would only make things worse. He’s hurt him so much already. He’s bound to do it again. Better to stay away, let him get over it, move on. Eventually he’ll realize that he’s a terrible person, and he’ll be happy that he’s away.

 

The moment he knows that he needs to fix this, though, is when he hears his own name in the midst of all this breaking down. At first he thinks someone is calling him. But then he remembers the hallway is empty except for him and Evan. And then he realizes that it was Evan. It was just a whisper in the middle of a sob, and it was muffled because Evan is now covering his mouth to make himself quieter.

 

But it was there. And it was desperate, and hopeless, and painful. And now all Connor wants to do is stop this pain. Because it was him that caused it. So it’s his responsibility to make it go away.

 

He doesn’t move, though, because he sees another figure in the hallway. Not quite running, but walking very quickly. And as it gets closer, Connor realizes it’s Jared.

 

He’s crouching in front of Evan, a concerned look on his face. “Evan,” is all he says to let him know that he’s there.

 

Evan opens his eyes, looking up. “Wh — Wh...”

 

“I was in history and I saw you running out of your class,” he explains simply. “What’s wrong?” Evan doesn’t answer, and Jared rolls his eyes. “Okay, I know what’s wrong. Did something happen?”

 

Evan breathes shakily, still letting out sobs. “I — I just, I... I — I miss h — him.”

 

Connor feels a physical pain in his chest. Why would Evan want him still, after what he did?

 

Jared nods, and sits next to his friend against the locker. He then proceeds to awkwardly wrap his arms around Evan, hugging him. “I know. I’m sorry.”

 

Jared looks like he doesn’t know what to do, or how to act. So maybe Connor wasn’t totally right about him. Maybe he’s not a complete asshole. He appreciates that he’s trying to help, that he isn’t just leaving Evan alone.

 

Evan wipes his face. “Everything is — is just so... s — so bad w — without him...”

 

Jared lets out a sigh and rubs Evan’s back, staring at the lockers across from them. Connor pushes himself back, worried he’ll see him watching them. “Maybe eventually you’ll realize he — “

 

Pulling away, Evan shakes his head. “Don’t. D — Don’t try to tell me he’s not... C — Connor is... He’s a — He’s a g — good person, he’s...”

 

Wrong. He’s terrible. But it means so much that Evan doesn’t think so. And he knows that it’s time to change things, that he needs to fix everything before it’s too late. He just wants to make Evan happy, just give him what he deserves. He has to, because if he doesn’t, he’ll never be able to live with himself.

 

-

 

Evan decides he doesn’t want to eat lunch that day. Instead he goes outside for some fresh air, because he can’t get rid of the feeling that he’s suffocating. Thank God Connor isn’t under that goddamn tree, because he doesn’t know what he would have done if he had seen him again. Instead he just walks around, weaving between a few trees. He feels his phone buzz in his pocket after about five minutes.

 

Expecting it to be his mom telling him she can’t pick him up, he nearly has a heart attack when he sees Miguel’s name next to a text notification.

 

Come to the parking lot.

 

Heart pounding once again, Evan hesitates. What if Connor is there? Or what if he’s not? He doesn’t know which he prefers. Why the hell does Miguel care about him if Connor isn’t involved? It’s not like they ever hung out without him.

 

But he goes. He sees his convertible, and it’s like he’s back to all those lunches he spent sitting in it with his best friend, having the best times of his life. This time it’s just Miguel, sitting in the driver’s side. Evan gets in the passenger seat. He’s not sure how he can have the top down because it’s starting to get colder out, but he doesn’t ask questions.

 

“H — Hey,” Evan says, avoiding eye contact as always.

 

Miguel takes a wrapped burger out of a fast food bag and hands it to Evan, along with some fries. “There you go.”

 

“Um. Thanks.”

 

Miguel gets right to it. “I wanna know what’s going on.”

 

Evan looks down, fidgeting with the wrapping around his greasy burger. “I... I don’t know...“

 

“Please, Evan,” Miguel pleads. “I love Connor so much and you know I do. You think I haven’t noticed how you haven’t been around at all? How unhappy he is because of it?”

 

That gets Evan’s attention, and he looks up at Miguel.

 

“He’s miserable. He misses you.”

 

“He said that?”

 

“No. He refuses to talk about it, like everything else in his life,” Miguel says flatly, sighing.

 

Evan shakes his head. “Then he’s sad because of something else. He’s better without me.”

 

Miguel scoffs. “That’s bullshit.”

 

Is it though? “He told me he didn’t want me around,” Evan mutters, shrugging. “I didn’t want to bother him more than I already — “

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Miguel asks, and Evan shuts his mouth, scared. “I told you — I told you he would try to push you away. You promised me you would stay with him.”

 

“I tried.”

 

“Not hard enough.”

 

“He — He pushed me. I didn’t feel like getting beat up,” Evan says quietly, once again just picking at his food.

 

Miguel takes a breath before continuing, and he’s softer. “Okay. I get it. I know he can get... aggressive, and I’m sorry it went that far.”

 

“It’s my fault,” Evan says with a shrug. “I pushed too far, and I was stupid, and you don’t have to pretend you like me anymore because I know you guys want me out of your lives, and I understand that and I get why, I just — “

 

“Will you stop?” Miguel says forcefully. “I’m not pretending to like you, and neither was he. Do you have any idea how much he talked about you even when you weren’t with us?” At Evan’s silence, he smiles. “It was a lot. He was so happy to have someone like you.”

 

Evan sighs. “Obviously he changed his mind.”

 

Miguel is quiet for a moment, hesitating before asking his question. “What happened? Connor won’t talk about it, and I just want to understand what’s going on.”

 

Nodding, Evan takes a small bite of his burger. He didn’t realize how hungry he was. It’s been hard for him to eat lately. After swallowing, he starts. “I tried to meet his family. I went behind his back, and I showed up at his house when I knew his parents would be home. And he — “

 

“Wait, you met his parents?” Miguel asks, leaning forward in interest. Or maybe jealousy. Evan’s not sure which. “Were they as awful as he says they are?”

 

Evan shrugs. “He was getting grounded when I showed up. Not sure what for.”

 

“His dad came home and found him smoking,” Miguel explains. 

 

Evan nods. “Oh... Well, yeah. His dad seemed scary, I don’t know about his mom yet. But Connor was... He got so mad. He told me he didn’t want me around anymore.”

 

After a few moments, Miguel puts his food down and gives his full attention to Evan. “I’m sorry that happened. He shouldn’t have treated you like that. But please, Evan, I know him. I know that he’s completely miserable without you. He misses you so much, and so do I.”

 

Evan looks down. “I miss you guys too, but — “

 

“No buts,” Miguel interrupts. “He needs you... Listen, my family’s gonna be out of town next weekend, and I’m having a party. He’ll be there. Will you?”

 

And suddenly there’s a large pit in Evan’s stomach. “Parties aren’t my thing.”

 

“They aren’t his either,” Miguel says. “Maybe it’ll give you something to talk about. Please come.”

 

Evan hesitates a lot before finally nodding. “I... Yeah. I guess.” 

 

Why is he like this? He’s already overthinking it and it’s over a week away. But shit, he’d do anything for a chance to talk to Connor again. To see him smile, to hear him laugh, to hug him like he’s the world. Because he is.

 

-

 

For the next couple days, he does nothing but think about that stupid party. That and Connor, like he has been for the past few weeks. When Friday comes, it’s officially a week until the party, and he considers telling Miguel he can’t make it. But Jared convinces him not to. Probably because he thinks it’s the only time Evan will ever get invited to a party.

 

“And also,” Jared adds as they’re debating it in the line for lunch, “Maybe you can sneak me in. I’ll have an excuse to crash the party.”

 

“No,” Evan says quickly. “Please don’t come.”

 

Jared feigns offense, putting a hand over his heart. “Why not? I am a joy to be around.”

 

“Because. Miguel is already expecting me to come up with some miracle to make Connor forgive me, and I don’t need more people watching me and waiting for me to do it.”

 

“Connor doesn’t need to forgive you at all,” Jared states, stepping forward in line. “He’s the one that needs to be forgiven.”

 

Evan shrugs. “He is. I just want...” His eyes glaze over the people in the cafeteria until they land on Connor, way ahead of him in line, getting his food. “I want him back. I miss him.”

 

“So you’ve said,” Jared sighs, rolling his eyes.

 

Evan keeps watching him as they slowly move forward in line. The bags under his eyes are visible even from over here, and his hair doesn’t look at soft as it usually does. It looks like he hasn’t washed it in a couple days. And he looks even skinner than usual, which can’t be healthy. So maybe he is miserable without Evan. Maybe Evan should reach out.

 

But then Evan just hates himself even more. How conceited to assume that Connor is like this because he’s not with him. He’s probably just going through a hard time, Evan knows how that is more than anyone.

 

He watches Connor finish up in line and turn, walking toward the cafeteria exit. He’s not going for the door that leads outside, probably because it’s too cold. So he must have a spot in the school that he eats alone. And Evan keeps watching him. It’s kinda creepy, but it’s really all he can do now. At least until he works up the courage to do something about this. And he plans to keep watching him until he reaches the door, but that doesn’t happen. Because suddenly Connor is tumbling to the floor, his tray and food flying everywhere.

 

There’s a crowd around him, some smiling and pointing, some snickering, some straight up laughing. Not everyone is doing it, of course. Some don’t care, just go about their business. Evan stays in line, watching, guilt eating him up.

 

He follows Connor’s eyes up to a boy in the crowd, who’s laughing the hardest.

 

“Whoops,” the boy chuckles.

 

And suddenly Evan realizes it’s the same guy from that party they went to, the one Connor got in a fight with. He has no doubt that he tripped Connor.

 

Connor gets to his feet, fire in his eyes, his hands balling into tight fists at his side. He looks like he’s ready to go crazy and attack. His eyes dart around the people in the crowd, cheeks flushed red.

 

And then his eyes land on Evan, who’s standing outside of the crowd and halfway across the room. But even from where he is, Evan can see something happen in his eyes. He can’t describe it, not even if he tried. The closest he can get is that it looks like the fire that was there just moments ago suddenly looks smaller, and it’s like he’s back to how he looked when he was standing alone in the lunch line. Sad and broken.

 

It takes a while for Evan to realize that they’ve been looking each other in the eyes for a few moments. He snaps out of it when Connor looks away, pushing past the people surrounding him and quickly making his way to the door.

 

This time it’s the door that leads outside. And God, Evan is so worried. He can see now more than any time in these past couple weeks that Connor is not okay. And he was so stupid to leave him when he knew that he had these problems with mental health. It’s not too late, is it? Maybe he doesn’t have to use a party as an excuse to talk to him. Why should he need an excuse? He just wants to know that he’s okay.

 

Evan shoves his tray into Jared’s arms, stepping out of line and weaving around people fast to get to the door, without a word. As soon as he pushes past the door, he’s hit with the chilly air, but he doesn’t care.

 

His eyes immediately find Connor. He’s standing in front of that tree. Evan’s favorite tree, honestly. The one they sat under the first time they ate lunch together, and the one they’d sit together for so many lunches after that. He’s turned away, so Evan can’t see his face. But he’s just standing there, staring at it.

 

Now that he’s here, Evan doesn’t know what to say. Should he immediately go in with an apology, ask if he’s okay, or just say his name to let him know that he’s here? Before he can decide, though, Connor’s turning around.

 

He doesn’t see Evan immediately, and in the couple seconds it takes for his eyes to find him, Evan notices how lost he looks. His eyes are wide and filled with tears, his lips pursed tightly like he’s trying to stop himself from screaming. He just looks like he’s in pain.

 

As soon as his eyes land on Evan, everything escapes. He puts his hands over his face and releases a couple loud sobs. Evan makes his way over fast, suddenly realizing that he’s been crying since the second he got outside.

 

By the time Connor pulls his hands away from his face, Evan is right in front of him. And Connor doesn’t hesitate to pull him close. His arms are around Evan’s middle, and Evan’s are around Connor’s neck, and each of their faces are buried in the other’s neck.

 

And it just feels right. This has all that Evan has wanted to do, has needed to do, since that night at Connor’s house. And now that it’s happening, now that they’re together, holding each other tight like the world is falling away around them, it’s like he can finally breathe.

 

That constant tightness in Evan’s chest is lifting, and he inhales deeply, shakily. But still, he’s breathing.

 

He focuses on Connor as they embrace. He can feel his whole body shaking, but his crying is nearly silent now. Evan’s, on the other hand, not so much. He manages to keep himself from weeping like a baby, but he can’t help but release a few quiet sobs. Connor is also squeezing him really hard. It almost hurts, but it hurt more to never be hugged like this, so Evan isn’t going to complain. It feels so good, so relieving, to know that Connor doesn’t want to let go.

 

He doesn’t know how much longer they stand there until they finally talk to each other for the first time in weeks. The first word comes from Connor. It’s just one word, one name, but hearing it come from Connor just makes Evan so happy.

 

Evan...” he mutters into his shoulder, and Evan feels Connor’s arms squeeze him tighter.

 

Evan is surprisingly the first one to pull away. Mostly because he can’t breathe well enough to say anything. But after he pulls away, and as soon as he opens his mouth, Connor keeps talking.

 

“I’m so sorry, Evan.” His eyelashes are soaked with his own tears, and his sweatshirt is soaked with Evan’s, and he sniffs, wiping his nose quickly with his sleeve pulled over his fist. It’s not a pretty sight, but Evan doesn’t care. God knows he’s looked much worse. He’s sure he doesn’t look any better right now.

 

“It’s — “

 

“It’s not okay,” Connor says, quickly, his eyes looking away. “I treated you like shit and you don’t deserve that and I’m sorry”

 

Evan nods, wiping his eyes. “I’m sorry too.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Don’t you dare start apologizing again. You didn’t do anything.”

 

Sighing, Evan resists the urge to apologize again. He really wants another hug, regrets pulling away so soon. “I... I missed you,” he says slowly and hesitantly. Now that Connor’s back, he’s back to being shy. It’s been so long since he’s shown anyone affection in the way that Connor and him used to, even if it is just platonic. He hopes desperately nothing will change between them, that they can still be the way they were before.

 

Connor looks back at him, a tiny ghost of a smile on his face. It’s a start. Evan wants to see the real thing, sooner rather than later. After a moment of silence, he looks around. As if anyone was watching. As if anyone at that stupid school cared about them except for each other. “Okay, fuck this place,” Connor finally says. “I am not having a heartfelt conversation with my best friend at the worst place on earth.” He turns and starts walking back toward the door.

 

“Um, wh — what?” Evan asks, following him. His brain is reapeating heartfelt conversation and best friend over and over again. He has to walk fast to keep up with Connor’s long strides, as usual.

 

“I know you don’t like breaking rules, but we’re getting out of here.” Before they go in, Connor puts his hood up. Evan wipes his face again. They both walk with their heads down to hide their teary eyes, and manage to get through the cafeteria without anyone noticing them. What’s new? When they get to the empty hall, Connor puts his hood back down. “Go get your stuff from your locker and meet me in the parking lot.”

 

Evan does, without argument. Yes, breaking the rules makes him anxious. But he was an anxious mess for too long without Connor, so he’s not wasting any opportunity he has to spend with him. When they get back to the argument, Connor is holding Zoe’s keys.

 

“Doesn’t she need those?” Evan asks.

 

Connor shrugs. “I’ll pick her up after school.”

 

It’s weird. They’re both laughing quietly, shyly. But their faces are still covered in tears, their breathing still shaky from crying.

 

“Where are we going?” Evan asks as they leave the parking lot.

 

“Anywhere other than here.”

 

It doesn’t matter to Evan where they go. He’s pretty sure that actual hell would be better if he was with Connor. So he sits back, watching the road, and sometimes his best friend. They’re both still sniffling, eyes still tearing up. But they don’t say anything about it. They just sit in silence, letting themselves cry.

 

And somehow it makes sense to them. This friendship is so goddamn important to both of them. Fixing this relationship is so important to Evan and Connor. It deserves to happen somewhere better than a school that they’ve both felt alone and miserable at for years. They need it to happen somewhere they can both be themselves, where they can be comfortable enough to say anything they need to, where they can just try and try and try as hard as they possibly can to be okay.

 

And so they drive. Looking for the perfect place to pick up the broken pieces of the most important friendship either of them have ever known.

Chapter Text

When they pull into the lot of the park, Evan doesn’t know how to feel. At first he just feels immense sadness, remembering his panic attack that night, then the many times he came back here to just sit and think. But then he remembers that he’s back next to his best friend again, and they’re about to fix everything, at least he hopes.

 

Both still sniffling, they get out of the car. Connor goes around to the trunk, opening it and rummaging around. There’s a bunch of random items in there — water bottles, reusable shopping bags, an ice scraper, gloves. But Connor pulls out a blanket. A big fluffy one, and he smiles softly. Evan’s heart flutters at the sight.

 

“Zoe’s always prepared.”

 

Hugging the blanket to his chest, he starts walking, and Evan follows him. He knows exactly where they’re going, though.

 

Sure enough, when they reach the woods behind the park, Connor makes his way back to the tree. The one he was sitting under reading that first day they hung out, the one that Evan will forever be grateful for. They sit down, close together, their backs against the trunk, and Connor throws the blanket over them.

 

And suddenly Evan doesn’t know what to say, and it seems like Connor doesn’t know either. They look around, once in a while looking over at each other. If they end up looking over at each other at the same time, they look away immediately, blushing. Why is it so weird all of a sudden? Why can’t it just be easy to talk to Connor, like it used to be?

 

And Evan starts getting anxious. What if it’s not possible to fix this? What if nothing is the same as it used to be? Maybe things will just go back to before. To Evan being alone, and Connor having Miguel, and them being apart. He doesn’t even want to imagine that.

 

Connor talks first, but it doesn’t get them anywhere productive. “Your cast is gone,” he says simply, looking down at his bare, pale arm. “That’s... good.”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah.” He just got it off a couple days ago, and he ended up keeping it. It was all he had to keep him close to Connor at the time. God, he’s pathetic.

 

Then another silence, this one longer. It’s unbearable. Eventually Evan has to break it. He moves, so he’s facing Connor, and his side is against the tree. Connor just turns his head.

 

“I came here a lot,” Evan admits sadly. “Just to think.”

 

Connor is quiet for a moment, but he looks more relaxed. Probably relieved that Evan started the conversation. “I didn’t,” he says simply, eyes looking at the ground. “I thought about it, but I didn’t.”

 

“Why?” Evan asks hesitantly.

 

Connor shrugs, taking a deep breath. “Cause then I’d have to think about you. And I didn’t...” He looks at Evan, then looks away. He can see all the guilt in his eyes. “I didn’t want to.”

 

A pang in his chest, Evan picks at his nails. He doesn’t want to get too upset, because they’re supposed to be working through things right now. But they’re already both crying, and hearing the person that he can’t stop thinking about tell him that he doesn’t want to think about him? It hurts, a lot. “Wh — Why?” he asks again.

 

“It would just make me feel worse about everything.”

 

There’s another silence, and Evan hesitates a lot before asking his next question.

 

“Do... Um... So do you like me or not?” he finally asks, talking fast. He’s still staring at his hands as he picks his nails.

 

Connor quickly looks up, his face red. “W — What?”

 

Evan sighs. “Do you want me around? Do you want to be my friend? I’m... There’s kind of... um, mixed signals.”

 

Connor lets out a long breath, turning to fully face him, and he reaches out and grabs one of Evan’s hands to stop him from picking at his skin. In the process, though, Evan notices that his nails are also short and stubby, and there’s red spots around a few of them, too.

 

“Yes,” Connor says, finally looking Evan straight in the eyes. “I definitely want you around. I need you around. Everything’s been... really bad without you. And I miss you.”

 

Evan smiles softly, reassured, and he squeezes Connor’s hand. But immediately after he does, Connor’s eyes fall, and he pulls his hand away, and Evan feels his heart shatter a little. The last time Connor pulled away from a sign of affection was at the very beginning, when they first started hugging. Something has changed, and Evan doesn’t know what.

 

“O — Okay, but if you actually like me, which I don’t know why you do, but if you do, then why... what happened that night?” Evan asks, trying to push aside his embarrassment. Connor clearly isn’t up for being affectionate right now, and he shouldn’t come on so strong.

 

Sighing, Connor wipes his face. “Um, I don’t... I guess you were right. I mean, I’m scared of letting people in...” he says, staring down at the fabric of the blanket.

 

“But I — I told you I wouldn’t change my mind about you, and you — “

 

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” Connor says quickly, tears still in his eyes. “I don’t know, I guess... Like, if I push you away, it’s my fault, it just means I don’t want you around, right? But if I let you get closer and you see everything... And then you decide to leave. Then it means that you don’t want me.” His words are coming out fast, and he’s rambling on like Evan does. “And it just makes everything I think about myself true, and I don’t want anyone else to think those things about me, because I’m a fucking mess and — “

 

“Stop, stop,” Evan says, speaking over him so that he’ll hear him over the rambling. He has to resist the urge to grab his hand or move closer, because he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want that when he pulled away from him. “Connor, you... If anyone understands how it feels to be a fucking mess, it’s me. You should know that.”

 

Connor is quiet for a moment, then shakes his head. “You’re not that — “

 

“Yes, I am. You have no idea how bad it is,” Evan says. He doesn’t know where this is coming from. He’s been an anxious mess the past few weeks, so it feels good to be able to think and speak coherently for once. “Or — Or maybe you do. And that’s... it’s okay.”

 

Once again, Connor is quiet. He’s head is down, but once in a while his eyes move up to look at Evan.

 

“Do you think any different of me because I have anxiety? Or because I get panic attacks way too often? Do you like me any less because of that?”

 

Connor looks up at him fully, shaking his head. “No. No, of course not.”

 

“Then why would you think that I’d like you less because of any issues you have?”

 

Connor shrugs. “Because you’re easy to like. And I’m — “

 

“An amazing person,” Evan says quickly, before Connor can put himself down anymore.

 

Connor rolls his eyes, scoffing in disbelief. So Evan continues. And rambles.

 

“How many times do I have to tell you how much having you around has changed my life? You’re amazing because you don’t think differently of me with my anxiety. And you don’t make a big deal out of it. If I have a panic attack, you know what to do, and you don’t judge me, and you don’t make me feel like I’m weird for all my flaws. And it’s easy to talk to you, which is something I’d never thought I would say, but it’s true, and I need that kind of friendship in my life, and I didn’t have it until you, and I love — “ He just barely catches himself in the middle of his rambling “ — I love our friendship, and I’m so grateful for it and you, and I just... Thank you, is the stupid point I’m trying to get to, I’m sorry I rambled again.”

 

The longest silence this time. Connor just stares, and Evan overthinks everything he just said. He might have gone too far, Connor probably caught his slip up, and now he’s gonna change his mind about everything.

 

But finally, he talks, and it’s not what Evan expects.

 

“Can I hug you?”

 

“Uh, wh — sorry, what?” he stammers. Connor hasn’t asked to hug him since the first time they hugged.

 

Connor immediately looks away, shaking his head. He’s blushing. “That was stupid, forget it, I — “

 

Evan doesn’t let him finish. He launches forward, wrapping his arms around him tight and closing his eyes. Connor nearly loses his balance, but he catches himself — and Evan — and just holds him in return.

 

Evan sighs into Connor’s shirt. “Why’d you ask?” It doesn’t really make sense, since they had just embraced back at the school. “I told you, you never have to ask. I missed your hugs,” he says with a smile.

 

Connor shrugs, pulling away to look at Evan. And Evan swears he almost kisses him right then and there. He’s just overcome with the urge to confess, but he holds back. He just got this back, he can’t ruin it so quickly. “Everything feels... different right now,” Connor answers. “And I’m so scared that I ruined how we used to be and nothing is gonna be the same.”

 

Evan pauses, thinking. “Maybe things don’t have to be the same,” he suggests. “Maybe they can be better. Maybe... Maybe I can meet your parents? For real this time?” Connor goes quiet, and Evan’s heart nearly stops. This is exactly what ruined everything in the first place. This was a mistake. He shouldn’t have said anything.

 

After a few moments, Connor lets out a breath. “Okay. Come over tonight. Have dinner with us. And please don’t hate me if anything goes wrong.”

 

“Deal,” Evan agrees, and he has a hard time stopping himself from smiling. Connor grins at his smile, and they both laugh.

 

The wind blows a little harder. Evan pulls the blanket up over his arms and scoots closer to Connor.

 

“Do you wanna go?” Connor asks, noticing how his friend is shivering.

 

But Evan shakes his head, his grin still glued to his face. “No.” He wants to stay here for as long as possible, in this perfect moment, with his perfect best friend. Because it feels like here, he can’t screw things up anymore.

 

They stay huddled under the blanket for as long as possible, talking about different things or just sitting in a comfortable silence. In the middle of a discussion about Evan’s favorite trees, during which Connor teases him nonstop but also smiles admiringly, Evan’s phone rings.

 

He pulls it out and sees Jared on the caller id, and considers getting up to talk in private. But it’s too cold to take the blanket off, so he just answers it.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Dude, where are you? You haven’t been in the last two classes, did Connor kill you?”

 

Evan glances over at Connor’s who’s not too far from where his phone is held to his ear, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, he killed me. I’m dead,” he says flatly. “Also, he can hear you.”

 

“Great, now I’m next on his list,” Jared says. “Wait, are you skipping class? The Evan Hansen is skipping class? Who are you?”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. “It’s fine. Just... Can you get my homework for my classes I’m missing? Please.”

 

Connor starts cackling next to him, hair falling in his face as he doubles over. “That’s priceless.”

 

Jared is quiet, then asks, “What’s that sound?”

 

“Connor,” Evan answers, smiling over at him.

 

“Connor... laughing? What the fuck, that’s so weird, is he okay?”

 

Connor sits up, still laughing. “Tell him to shut the fuck up.”

 

Evan nods. “Connor says to shut the fuck up.”

 

“Clearly this guy isn’t a good influence, and I am extremely disappointed in you, young man,” Jared jokes, making himself sound like a mom. After a few moments, he sighs. “But I’m... I’m happy you’re okay. And I’m glad everything’s working out for you.”

 

Nodding again, Evan smiles softly. Jared’s been such a good friend lately. “Thank you, Jared. I’ll talk to you later.”

 

Jared hangs up without saying goodbye, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary, and Evan puts his phone away.

 

“I know you don’t like him,” he says to Connor, who’s starting to calm down. “But he’s been — “

 

“I know,” Connor says quickly. “He’s not that bad.”

 

“He’s starting to learn how to deal with my anxiety attacks... Which is, y’know... good.”

 

Connor nods in agreement, leaning back against the trunk of the tree and staring at the ground. “Yeah, that’s really good. I’m glad he doesn’t treat you like shit... You deserve that.”

 

Evan lets his stare at Connor linger. He can see something in his eyes. But he thought they had already gotten through all this, that it was all behind them. “Are you... Are you okay?”

 

Connor nods, but continues looking ahead. It looks like he’s zoning out. “I’m so happy you’re my friend and that you’re back and everything, but... Why? What I did and said, I... I’m just lucky you forgave me.”

 

“We already went over this,” Evan says, rolling his eyes. “Do I have to give that whole speech again? You — “

 

“I saw you have a panic attack,” Connor admits, then immediately closes his eyes as if he’s bracing for an impact.

 

Evan is quiet for a moment, then nods. “Yeah, I’ve had a couple in front of you. And you’ve helped me through them. And you’re really good at it, too.”

 

“No,” Connor breathes out. He rubs his face and finally turns to look at Evan. “The other day. When you ran into me in the hall.” He almost looks like he could have a panic attack on his face. He’s close to tears again even though they’ve been crying all afternoon, and his words all jumble together as he searches for breath. “I saw your panic attack. I saw you crying and you couldn’t breathe and you said my name and I just watched and I should’ve helped, I should’ve done something, because I know exactly what that feels like and no one should have to feel that, but I just stood there and I watched until Jared came and thank God for Jared cause I don’t know how I would live with myself if I left you all alone and — “

 

Evan grabs Connor’s hand. He doesn’t care if he pulled away. He needs this right now. He doesn’t say anything. Just squeezes it, looking at his best friend, hoping he can find the strength to just breathe, to let himself relax.

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor says quietly, so shakily. “I’m... I’m so fucking sorry, Evan.” He closes his eyes and some tears fall onto the blanket.

 

“It’s okay,” Evan promises. “It’s fine.”

 

Connor shakes his head, opening his eyes again. He hasn’t made a move to pull away from Evan yet. “No, no it’s not. I know it’s not okay, so I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just need to make sure that you know how sorry I am.”

 

Evan nods, and after a moment squeezes his hands again. “I know you are. Thank you.”

 

Connor only pulls his hands away to wipe his eyes, then groans. “Fuck, I hate crying. I’ve cried too much today.”

 

“I just cry too much in general,” Evan states, and Connor laughs a bit as he continues to wipe tears away.

 

After a moment, Connor sighs, more calm now. “Miguel’s gonna be happy about this.”

 

Evan nods. “He’s been pushing me to talk to you again.”

 

“Yeah, same here. He was really upset about all this.”

 

“He came to school the other day and invited me to this party he’s having next weekend? He told me you’d be there, so I said yes.”

 

Connor groans, throwing his head back and rolling his eyes. “I don’t wanna go...” he whines, and Evan laughs softly.

 

“Neither do I really, but it’ll be better with you,” he says, trying to will himself to not blush. It doesn’t work. “How — Um... How are things with him?”

 

Connor is quiet for a moment, letting out a long breath. “I don’t know. We’ve been fighting a lot lately. I love him, but... I don’t know...”

 

“Wh — What?” Evan asks hesitantly. He doesn’t want to pry too much.

 

“It’s like...” Connor takes a moment to think, pushing his hair out of his face. “I don’t know, it’s like he doesn’t even try to see things my way. I — I know I said I didn’t want him to ever understand what it feels like for me, but it’d be nice if he just understood that things do feel different for me.”

 

Evan pauses again. “What do you mean?”

 

Connor bites his lip. “Okay, you know how, with anxiety, it’s like everything is heightened? Like the tiniest things seem like the end of the world?” Evan nods. Of course he does. “He doesn’t get that. The tiny things are just tiny things to him. He just feels things differently. Which is fine, but it makes me feel so stupid for feeling the way I do.”

 

Immediately, Evan shakes his head. “It’s not stupid. I get it.”

 

Nodding, Connor sighs. “I know it’s not, but he doesn’t get it. If I get worked up over something, he thinks it’s dumb even if he doesn’t say that to my face. I know he does. And if I have a day where the depression’s worse than most and I get in a mood, he just thinks I’m mad at him or something. And since I have a problem with turning everything into anger, it just... There’s been a lot of yelling.”

 

Evan frowns. “I’m sorry, Connor.” He feels awful, because he knows exactly how it feels, when it feels like the world is falling around you, but really everything is perfectly fine. But this is the most they’ve ever talked about this. Yeah, he’s had his panic attacks and Connor’s gotten him through them. But they never really discuss their mental health in detail. He’s also pretty sure it’s the first time Connor’s ever used the words anxiety and depression when referring to himself. He really is opening up to Evan, and there’s almost no hesitation in it. This is where he’s wanted to get to since the first day he really talked to Connor.

 

Connor shakes his head. “Not your fault. But thanks for listening to my problems. I’d rather talk to you than my therapist.”

 

“I get it. I know how all that feels,” Evan says. “And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work this out with Miguel and also be able to talk to him and have him understand... But I’m always here if you need to talk or vent or cry or just a hug.”

 

Smiling softly, Connor glances down. “I think you might be the best person on the planet. No joke.”

 

Evan just laughs, resting his head on Connor’s shoulder. Like he used to. He prays that Connor doesn’t pull away... And he doesn’t. But he does tense up a little.

 

Another phone rings, this time Connor’s. Evan sits up so he can get it.

 

“Hello?”

 

Evan can hear Zoe yell through the phone. “Did you steal my fucking car?

 

“Wait, what time is it?” Connor asks, pulling his phone away to check. “Oh shit, that was fast. Uh, be right there.” He hangs up and quickly gets to his feet.

 

Evan follows, standing up and shivering again.

 

Connor smiles, grabbing the blanket it and tossing it to Evan.

 

Evan proceeds to wrap it around himself, relaxing at the warmth and grinning at his best friend.

 

“You look happy.”

 

“I am.”

 

They walk back to the car, and Evan keeps the blanket around him even when they turn the heat on. This afternoon was amazing, really. It went by so fast, too fast. He wishes he could relive the day again. Yeah, it was emotionally challenging. There was a lot of crying, a lot of hugging, a lot of uncertainty. It was kind of draining, and kind of rejuvenating. Because now he has Connor again, and it feels like nothing else matters right now.

 

The day was an emotional roller coaster, and it’s not even over yet. He still has dinner with the Murphys.

Chapter Text

The school parking lot is basically empty by the time they get there, because everyone rushed home for the weekend. After parking, Connor gets out so Zoe can drive, and Evan gets out so he can sit in the back with Connor. They open the trunk and put the blanket away, and when they turn back around, Zoe’s walking out the door looking at her phone.

 

She looks so angry, and she glances up for one second before looking back down. And then she does a double take, stopping in her tracks.

 

“Is that...” Then a grin spreads across her face and she literally jumps, pumping her fist in the air. “Evan’s back!” she shouts, breaking into a run.

 

Evan gets the air knocked out of him when she attacks him with a hug, but he’s smiling. He never thought Zoe Murphy would be so happy to see him. And he can’t stop thinking about how a couple months ago, he would have been absolutely speechless, he would have probably died on the spot if she had hugged him. But now there are no romantic feelings at all, he just enjoys the hug from a friend.

 

“It’s so good to see you,” Zoe says as she pulls away, still smiling.

 

Evan nods. “Yeah, it’s been... a long time.” Obviously, dummy. He makes himself sound so stupid sometimes.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “A hot minute, I believe is what the cool kids say these days.”

 

“Right, yeah,” Evan says. “It’s been a hot minute.”

 

Both the Murphy kids laugh in a similar way, grabbing their stomachs and putting their heads down. Connor’s hair falls in his face, but Zoe’s is up in a ponytail. Evan wishes he could see Connor’s smile more, but that stupid hair is always in the way... Not stupid. Definitely not stupid. Why does Evan still have the urge to touch it? To push it out of his face so he can see his smile.

 

“Alright, well, this calls for celebration,” Zoe says once she’s stopped laughing. She opens the trunk and throws her guitar and backpack in, then closes it. “Who wants coffee? It’s on me.”

 

Connor looks at Evan, smile faltering a little. “I’m not in the mood, but thanks.”

 

Evan feels like jumping up and down. He remembered. Weeks and weeks ago, Connor had asked Evan if he wanted to get coffee, and Evan told him that he’s supposed to avoid caffeine because it makes him feel more anxious. And he remembered. Such a small thing, but it means everything to Evan.

 

Zoe shrugs. “Okay, McDonald’s?”

 

Connor grins. “Yes.”

 

“Get your asses in the car,” she replies right away, smiling at Evan once more before getting in the driver’s side.

 

The ten minute ride to McDonald’s is amazing.

 

Connor asks for the aux cord, and Zoe actually says yes. Every time Evan’s been in the car with the two of them, Zoe always refuses because she hates his music. Evan understands. It’s definitely unique, but he’s grown to like it, even if it is totally depressing most of the time.

 

Then the siblings start having a conversation about the meaning of one of the songs. They debate what it’s about and analyze the lyrics. There’s yelling at one point, but it’s not angry.

 

Evan stays quiet sitting behind Zoe the whole time, smiling over at Connor. This is the most productive interaction he’s ever seen between these two, and it makes him so happy because he knows that Connor really loves his sister, even if he acts like he doesn’t.

 

After they order and get their food, they sit down at a table in the McDonald’s. It’s empty except for them and the workers, and they sit in a back corner.

 

“Also, I can’t believe you stole my fucking car,” Zoe says, sliding in the booth across from her brother and Evan.

 

“It was an emergency,” Connor says with a shrug.

 

Zoe rolls her eyes. “Yeah, okay. But where did you go?”

 

Connor pops a few fries in his mouth. “None of your business.”

 

“It’s my car, it’s my business.”

 

“Fuck you,” Connor says flatly, but Evan and Zoe can tell he’s not trying to be aggressive.

 

Again, she rolls her eyes. “Dude. If my car was spotted at the scene of some crazy drug deal, I’m gonna need to be prepared.”

 

“It wasn’t a drug deal,” Connor answers simply. “Really, do you even know Evan?”

 

“Yeah. I do.” Zoe turns to Evan. “Where were you guys?”

 

“We went to a park.”

 

Zoe grins, and Connor turns to look at him, staring blankly. “Really, dude? Come on.”

 

Evan shrugs, smiling softly. “Sorry.”

 

“Are you really though?” Connor asks, and Evan just shrugs.

 

Zoe sighs, still smiling softly and looking back at Evan. “Do you need a ride home after this?”

 

Before Evan can answer, Connor shakes his head. “He’s, um... He’s coming over for dinner.”

 

She pauses, pursing her lips. “Do Mom and Dad know about that?”

 

“Not yet,” Connor answers emotionlessly. “Does it matter?”

 

Zoe sighs. “No, except that Dad is pissed at you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“He’s been trying to find a time to yell at you for skipping school for the past week and you’re never around for him to do it.”

 

“Because I’m avoiding him. That’s not new, though,” Connor replies with a roll of his eyes. He shrugs. “Whatever. He’s not gonna do it in front of Evan, it’s fine.”

 

As Zoe is about to reply, a phone starts ringing, and she and Evan both look to Connor, who pulls his out of his pocket. Evan glances over and see’s “M” on the caller ID. Connor slides out of the booth, muttering that he’ll be right back and walking outside.

 

Evan’s heart races. He loves Zoe, but after so long of not seeing each other, it’s so awkward to be alone together. What are they supposed to talk about?

 

“So... H — How’s band?”

 

Zoe nods. “Good. Good. How’s... trees?”

 

Evan can’t help but laugh at that. At least he’s not the only one who feels awkward.

 

“So who do you think he’s talking to out there?” Zoe asks, nodding toward the window.

 

Evan turns and looks out. Connor is smiling, looking down and kicking at the ground as he talks on the phone. God, his smile... “It’s his — his friend.”

 

Zoe scoffs. “Sorry, his what?”

 

Evan sighs, turning back to her. “His friend.”

 

“I thought you were his only friend.”

 

“Nope,” Evan says simply. He hates when she assumes her brother can’t make any other friends. Cause who wouldn’t want to be around Connor?

 

Zoe frowns. “Sorry, I didn’t — “ She stops, sighing and then putting on a smile. “Thank you, by the way.”

 

“For... For what?”

 

Zoe glances at her brother outside. “I know he probably messed up really bad, but he missed you so much. He just seemed so much worse when you weren’t around. So thanks for — for forgiving him, and giving him a second chance.”

 

Evan smiles softly. “I missed him too.” It still feels so good to hear that Connor missed him, that it wasn’t just one sided.

 

Connor’s back by his side in no time, still smiling. “Who was that?” Zoe asks, and Evan can see the hope in her eyes. She wants him to open up to her.

 

“My drug dealer,” Connor replies quickly, sliding back into the booth and smiling at Evan.

 

“Okay, I know you like weed, but I didn’t think drugs made you that happy,” Zoe says, squinting at her brother. “I’ve never seen you smile so much.”

 

Connor shrugs, taking a bite of his burger. “Whatever.”

 

Zoe looks at him for a few more moments, a suspicious look on her face. After a while, her mouth drops. “I know. It’s a girl.”

 

Evan almost instinctively laughs, but he covers it up by clearing his throat and taking a bite of a chicken strip.

 

Scoffing, Connor rolls his eyes. “What?”

 

“You have a secret girlfriend,” Zoe states matter of factly.

 

“No I don’t. No one likes me, remember? I can barely make friends, how would I get a girlfriend?” Connor is playing it off cooly, but he’s very much avoiding looking at Zoe. He’s mostly staring down at the table.

 

Evan grins over at his best friend. Resists the urge to hold his hand. To lean over and hug him again. He can’t stop smiling and his cheeks hurt. Damn it, Connor.

 

“I don’t know how you did it, but you did,” Zoe replies. She’s smirking. “I can see it.”

 

Connor huffs. “See what?”

 

Zoe looks at him like an idiot. “No one smiles like that unless they’re in love.”

 

And suddenly Evan is very self conscious, sure that both of the Murphy siblings can see his stupid grin, that now they know. He looks down, trying to force himself to stop smiling. It’s hard to do.

 

Connor chuckles, and it’s almost close to natural, but Evan can sense his nerves. “That’s fucking stupid.”

 

“Then who was on the phone?” Zoe asks, tauntingly, still smiling mischievously, teasingly.

 

“It was just my — my...”

 

He pauses. It’s only a few moments, but Evan can see something in him change. Connor looks up at his sister, and almost smiles at the way she’s looking at him. Then Evan can see something like fear passing through him as he looks back down. Uncertainty. He looks and sees him wiping his hand on his jeans. And Evan’s seen that way too often on himself. His hands are sweaty. He’s nervous, anxious.

 

Connor takes a short breath, like he’s preparing, then breathes out like he changes his mind. Then closes his eyes. Then —

 

“My boyfriend.”

 

Evan looks up, eyes wide and in shock. That’s the last thing he expected Connor to do.

 

Zoe nearly chokes on a fry, and covers her mouth as she coughs before quieting down and just looking at him. It’s very obvious she doesn’t know what to say.

 

Connor’s face goes red quickly, and he shakes his head and rubs his face, then finally opens his eyes and glances between the other two. “Never mind,” he mutters, suddenly looking mad. He stands up. “Just don’t tell anyone.”

 

He turns to walk away, but Zoe swiftly grabs his wrist. “Wait, stop,” she says, and he turns back around.

 

“What?”

 

Zoe motions to the booth across from her, and Connor reluctantly sits back down next to Evan, who’s looking nervously between them. “I didn’t mean to — Sorry, I was just caught off guard.”

 

Connor doesn’t say anything, just stares at her. He kind of looks like he regrets saying it.

 

“Thanks for telling me,” Zoe says with a small smile. After another awkward silence, she tries to continues. “So... Your boyfriend? What’s his name?”

 

Connor sighs, face still bright red. He glances at Evan, who tries to smile encouragingly. “Miguel.”

 

“Where’d you meet?”

 

“School.” He doesn’t specify which one.

 

Zoe’s phone buzzes on the table, and she looks relieved to have an excuse to get out of attempting to break the awkwardness. “Mom’s wondering where we are.”

 

“McDonald’s,” Connor says flatly.

 

Evan chuckles and so does Zoe, and Connor relaxes a little more at that. He tries to take a deep breath as he looks over at Evan, forcing a soft smile at him.

 

“You’re okay,” Evan mouths to him, nodding.

 

Connor nods, still breathing shakily. “Thank you,” he mouths back.

 

“We should go,” Zoe says, sliding out of her booth and grabbing all the trash to throw it away.

 

While she goes to the trash cans, Evan takes the opportunity to squeeze his friend’s hand quickly. “I’m proud of you,” he whispers. “Good job.”

 

-

 

Did he really just do that? Did he actually just come out to his sister in the middle of a McDonald’s? What the fuck? It’s definitely not how Connor was planning to to do it — he wasn’t ever planning on doing it, really. But she was there, and she was smiling at him for the first time in so long, and it’s been such an amazing day and he just felt so happy and it just happened.

 

And he supposes he’s glad it did. But he can’t help but feel anxious on the way home. Or maybe that’s just because Evan is about to eat dinner with his insane family.

 

When they walk in the house, Cynthia is standing in the kitchen cooking. Connor leads Evan in, and Zoe follows and sits at the table, looking at her phone.

 

Cynthia glances up, and when she sees Evan, she smiles. “Oh, hi, Evan! It’s so good to see you.”

 

Evan smiles and nods. “You... You too.” He looks so nervous. Connor wishes he could do something to help his friend feel less jittery, but he’s anxious too.

 

“Can he stay for dinner?” he asks.

 

Cynthia nods. “Yeah, of course! Your dad should be home soon, and then we can eat.”

 

“Oh. Great.”

 

It was probably a mistake getting McDonald’s after school, but he was hungry. And now he’s not. Whatever, he’ll still eat.

 

Cynthia sighs, shaking her head. “Be nice to him. He’s had a long day.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Connor crosses his arms. “That’s what you always say.” At her silence, he huffs. “Whatever. We’ll be upstairs.”

 

Without another word, he turns and leads Evan up to his room while Cynthia starts asking Zoe about her day.

 

“It feels like forever since I’ve been in here,” Evan says quietly as he shuts the door.

 

Connor sits on the bed. He stares at the door. Evan is standing in the exact spot where Connor yelled at him that night, where he pushed him and scared him away. “That’s cause it’s been forever.”

 

Evan nods, then after a moment of silence sits down by Connor. “So... You — You told Zoe?”

 

A small laugh comes out of Connor without him even thinking about it, and he buries his face in his hands for a moment, and when he looks up he turns to his friend. “I can’t believe I just did that.”

 

“How does it feel?” Evan asks.

 

Connor shrugs. “Weird.”

 

“What did Miguel want when he called?” Evan asks, pulling his legs onto the bed and sitting criss cross.

 

“To hang out,” Connor replies as he lies on his back and rests his arms under his head.

 

Evan nods. “So is he coming?”

 

Shaking his head, Connor watches as Evan absentmindedly picks at his nails. “No, I told him I wanted to be with you since it’s been so long.”

 

Evan smiles to himself, then tries to hide it. But Connor sees. And he wishes he would keep smiling, because he deserves that happiness, even if Connor is incapable of giving that to him.

 

And yes, he’s still scared. Absolutely terrified that those things he felt about Evan for just a few quick moments that night, the feelings that caused him to lose it, will get stronger. He doesn’t know what he’ll do. He can’t lose Miguel. But he can’t lose his best friend either. So his resolution is to push it down. He wants everything to be the same with Evan. He wants to be able to hug him whenever he wants and call him cute and adorable once in a while like he used to. So he decides that he will. He’ll hug him for as long as he wants and tell him he’s adorable and they’ll sleep in the same bed and Evan will rest his head on his shoulder, and they’ll do it all without feeling weird or different. And if those feelings get stronger, Connor will push them way down. Because it’s all worth it if he has Evan in his life.

 

Before they know it, Cynthia is calling up to let them know dinner is ready. Connor takes his time leading Evan down the stairs, completely dreading this stupid dinner.

 

Larry and Zoe are already at the table and Cynthia is putting food on everyone’s plates. There’s an extra chair right next to Connor’s and the boys take their seats.

 

“Thank you, Mrs. Murphy,” Evan says as a piece of lasagna is placed on his plate.

 

“Of course, Evan.”

 

Connor looks at his friend and resists the urge to smile. His jittery energy, his weird politeness. It makes Connor just wanna hug him. But instead he keeps a straight face and doesn’t say a word as his mother puts his food down.

 

“Good to see you too, Connor,” Larry says flatly, sarcastically.

 

Connor only glances up and rolls his eyes.

 

“My day was great, thanks for asking, how was yours?” Larry says, looking at Connor once again.

 

Zoe sighs, poking at her food with her fork. It looks like she’s about to say something, but ends up staying quiet.

 

Larry huffs, turning his attention to Evan and Cynthia sits down. “It’s good to see you again, Evan. How was school?”

 

Evan, clearly caught off guard, looks up from his plate and glances around. “What? Oh. Um. G — Good, thank you.”

 

Connor catches one of his hands under the table, fiddling with the fabric of his jeans nervously. And he subtly reaches over and grabs it, squeezing it reassuringly. Connor really didn’t want him to be here right now with his family, but now that it’s happening and it’s inevitable, it means everything that Evan is working through his anxiety just to talk to his parents. And just because he cared about Connor. Why is he such a good person?

 

“Good.” Larry turns his attention back to Connor. “So, how was school?” he asks. In a normal voice this time, not annoyed or sarcastic. But before Connor can say anything, he continues. “Wait, you wouldn’t know. You weren’t there.”

 

Connor’s stomach drops. He was waiting for something to happen. He sees Zoe roll her eyes next to him, and he does the same as he pulls his hand away from Evan’s, but neither of them say a word.

 

Cynthia sigh. “Do we really have to do this right now, Larry? We have a guest.”

 

“When else are we gonna do it? He’s been avoiding me for a week.”

 

“I wonder why,” Connor says flatly, slouching back in his chair and crossing his arms. This is so stupid. Right now? Really, Larry?

 

Larry leans forward, putting his fork down. “This behavior needs to stop, young man. I’ve had it up to here with this.”

 

Connor just stares past him, eyes landing on the wall. He bounces his leg up and down, tries to take deep breaths. He can’t lose it in front of Evan, not again.

 

“Your mother and I have received too many phone calls telling us that you aren’t attending classes,” Larry continues. “It’s embarrassing for us as parents to — “

 

Zoe slams her hand down on the table. “Dad, stop!”

 

And thank God she said something, because Connor was about to burst.

 

“Zoe, this isn’t your business.”

 

Zoe looks at him incredulously. “Then why the fuck are you talking about it in front of me?”

 

Cynthia, who before now was looking nervously between her husband and son, looks over. “Zoe, language.”

 

But Zoe just rolls her eyes. It’s fine. Connor knows she tried.

 

He huffs. “So what are you gonna do?” he asks. “Send me to another school? Maybe a private one with uniforms and strict rules? Oh, wait, you already did. Remember how that turned out?”

 

Larry is quiet for a moment, not sure how to respond.

 

“Connor,” Cynthia says gently, putting her hand on his.

 

But he yanks it away roughly. “This is so fucking stupid.”

 

“So is everything else, according to you,” Larry says. “Are those the only words in your vocabulary? Maybe you’d know more if you went to class.”

 

Connor lets out a long breath, rolling his eyes yet again. He looks over at Evan, who looks so ridiculously uncomfortable, and a wave of guilt rushes through him. He needs to get out of here. So he just stands, patting Evan’s back to tell him to do the same.

 

He lets Evan leave the room first, him following closely behind, and Larry yells after them.

 

“Connor, do not walk away from — get back here!”

 

When they get to his room, Connor locks the door. “I’m so sorry.”

 

Evan shakes his head, and when Connor looks at him, he seems so much more relaxed than when they were at the dinner table. Still nervous, but not nearly as bad. “It’s okay. He — He shouldn’t have... Done that.”

 

“Well, I’m definitely grounded. But please stay here as long as you can. It won’t be as bad if you’re around.” Connor takes a seat on the bed, and Evan sits next to him.

 

“That... That wasn’t bad?” Evan asks hesitantly.

 

Connor scoffs. He wishes that was bad. “Fuck no. It’s been way worse than that.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says sadly, frowning.

 

Connor forces a smile. “It’s fine. I don’t care,” he lies.

 

“No, it really sucks that you have to deal with that.”

 

Connor shrugs. He lies down, because he feels like he needs to. Today has been exhausting. “Probably wouldn’t suck so much if I were a better person.”

 

Sighing, Evan lies down next to him. They’re both on their sides, facing each other. “You’re an amazing person.”

 

“Not amazing enough for my parents.”

 

Evan is quiet for a moment before asking another question. Connor’s thankful, because he didn’t wanna talk anymore about how much he sucks.

 

“Why don’t you go to class?” Connor just shrugs, so Evan continues. “I mean, all you have to do is show up and your parents won’t get mad. You don’t even have to pay attention if you don’t want to.”

 

After a few moments of thinking and trying not to get distracted by Evan’s eyes, Connor finds his answers. “What’s the point? None of that information is worth anything. It doesn’t mean shit. Why wouldn’t I just spend all that time doing stuff I care about instead of having facts thrown at me that I won’t need at any point in my life?”

 

“Cause you need to pass your classes in order to graduate and you’re not gonna do that by skipping,” Evan answers after a pause. “It can be boring and pointless sometimes, but you just have to.”

 

“Guess I just won’t graduate then,” Connor says with a shrug as he starts to fiddle with the fabric of the blanket they’re on top of.

 

“The only way you can go to college is if you graduate.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and sits up. He hates thinking about college. “Looks like I’m not going to college.”

 

“What?” Evan asks, following his lead and sitting up to look at him. “I thought you’d be dying to get away from your family.”

 

Shaking his head, Connor sighs. “People go to college so they can do what they wanna do with their life... But I have no idea what I wanna do with my life.” He’s spent all of high school either too high or too angry or both to figure out what he wants to do, what he’s passionate about. Other than Miguel, and Evan, and Zoe, he’s realizing, he can’t find any passion, anything he really cares about and loves.

 

Evan scoffs. “Neither do I. And neither do most of the people in our class, probably.”

 

“Yeah, and everyone says that you don’t have to know what you wanna do right now, but it would make everything so much easier if I did. It freaks me out thinking about it so can we just not, please?”

 

Letting out a long breath, Evan hesitates. “I think if anyone has the opportunity to go to college, they should. I might not be able to go to the college of my choice, but I want you to be able to jump at any amazing opportunity you get.”

 

“Why wouldn’t you be able to go to the college you want?” Connor asks, crossing his arms over his chest.

 

“I can’t afford it,” Evan answers, cheeks turning red.

 

A sudden rush of guilt comes over Connor. He’s been feeling that way so much lately. “I’m — “

 

Evan shakes his head quickly. “It’s okay. I’ve accepted it by now, but I’m saying that if you have the opportunity to go to an amazing school that you love, you should take it. You’d be able to get away from your family if you wanted, and you could figure out what kinds of things you’re interested in.” They look at each other for a few more moments, then Evan looks down, clearly embarrassed. “I’m not trying to force you to do anything, obviously, like, it’s your choice and it’s totally fine if you don’t go to college, I’m just, like — “

 

“I get it,” Connor says, smiling softly. It’s hard not to smile when he’s with him. He just wishes his emotions weren’t so confusing. “Thank you.”

 

There’s a knock at the door, and Connor rolls his eyes. He ignores it. If it’s Cynthia, she’ll give up eventually. If it’s Larry, he’ll yell a little and then give up. If it’s Zoe, she’ll just let herself in.

 

The question is answered when he hears the sound of her bobby pin in the key hole, and the door creaks open a few moments later. He feels Evan smiling and laughing softly at her next to him, but he keeps his eyes on his sister.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“I just thought I’d warn you that dad is pissed. You should probably just go talk to him.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. Yeah, right. “Fuck no. Not with Evan here.” She opens her mouth to talk again, but he cuts her off. “And I’m not sending Evan home just so I can get yelled at.”

 

“That’s not what I was gonna say, but never mind. Obviously my ideas aren’t valuable to you.” Zoe turns to walk out, but Connor stops her.

 

“Wait. What was your idea?” Connor asks.

 

She smiles softly, mischievously at the two of them. “You guys sneak out your window and meet me out front. I’ll take you to get dinner since you didn’t eat much downstairs and maybe you can stay at Evan’s or something. Dad’ll be calmer in the morning.”

 

Connor doesn’t really know what to say. He is so lucky to have Zoe for a sister, but he’s never been able to express that. Why is she so good to him after all these years of him treating her like shit? All he can really do is stare at her, mouth half open in shock.

 

Zoe shrugs. “I know. I’m the best. Now go.” And with that, she turns and leaves the room.

 

Connor laughs as soon as the door is shut, turning to Evan, whose eyes are wide as he grins. As they gather their backpacks and phones, they can hear Zoe telling Cynthia and Larry that she’s going out. Connor opens the window and shows Evan how to get out.

 

There’s a backdoor with a semi-flat, smaller roof over it directly under the window. He jumps down onto it and then into the backyard. When he looks back up, Evan has a terrified expression glued to his face. Connor is pretty sure he’s close to hyperventilating. And it’s not just the height, he’s sure. Something is wrong. Really wrong.

 

-

 

Evan is stuck. He can’t move. It feels like he’s on top of a mountain instead of the second floor of a house. It’s not even that high, is it? It might as well be, though. He finds himself holding his arm to his chest, just like he did when he broke it last summer.

 

And suddenly he’s back there. Alone and afraid and trapped and letting go. He can feel the weight on his chest again, pushing and pushing him further into the darkness. Is he breathing? Why can’t he breathe?

 

“Evan,” Connor says, from all the way down there. Not that far down. It can’t be that far. But he seems so far away.

 

Evan shakes his head. “I — I can’t.”

 

“It’s okay, Evan, come on,” Connor says. “It’s not that far. And I’m right here, I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“No, you don’t — you don’t understand, I can’t...” Evan breathes shakily. “I can’t d — do it.”

 

“Okay,” Connor says, nodding. “You don’t have to. Just... Just take a minute to breathe and then go downstairs. You can just go out the front door. I’ll meet you out front, okay?”

 

Evan nods. How is he so understanding and amazing and wonderful? Thank God for Connor Murphy.

 

After a few deep breaths, he heads out of the bedroom and down the stairs carefully. He’s terrified that Mr. Murphy is gonna yell at him, even though there’s no reason that would happen. He’s never been more thankful that the front door is close to the stairs. He’s able to make it through the door just as one of the Murphy’s starts to ask a question, but he isn’t inside the house long enough to hear what it is.

 

Connor is right outside the front door, and he hugs Evan as soon as the door is shut. It’s a fast hug, because then they run to the driveway, where Zoe is waiting in her car. The car ride is silent until they get to Evan’s house, where they both say thank you and then get out.

 

Connor’s been staring at Evan with concern the whole car ride, but Evan is trying to ignore it. He’s just been taking deep breaths the whole time, and he’s actually starting to calm down. When he sees his mom’s car in the driveway, a whole new fear takes over.

 

“Oh, God, my mom is home,” Evan says, turning to Connor.

 

Connor smiles softly. “Can’t be as bad as my family. Come on, I wanna meet her.” He’s holding the box of pizza they picked up on the way, but Evan has never been less hungry than right now.

 

As soon as the door opens, Heidi comes around the corner. “Evan? Where — Oh. Who’s this?”

 

Evan sighs shakily. “This is Connor. M — My friend.”

 

Heidi takes a moment to take it all in. She looks him over. His dark clothes, long hair, chipped nail polish, old shoes. She hesitates, and then she smiles. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Heidi.”

 

Connor’s face is red as he shyly sticks his hand out for a handshake, but Heidi hugs him tight instead.

 

“We... We brought pizza,” Connor says. “Do you, um... Do you want some?”

 

Heidi still smiles as she pulls away. “No, thanks, Connor. What are you boys doing tonight?”

 

“We were just gonna... um... hang out,” Evan says. “Can Connor sleep over?”

 

“Yeah!” Heidi says, very enthusiastically. “Yes, yes, of course.”

 

They say an awkward thank you and then scurry up the stairs to Evan’s room, where Connor sets the box of pizza on his bed. As soon as Evan closes the door, Connor puts on a more serious face.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“What? Nothing.” Evan can’t talk about this.

 

Sighing, Connor shakes his head. “That wasn’t nothing. You were really close to a panic attack back there. What happened?”

 

“It wasn’t a panic attack, I just got... scared.”

 

Huffing, Connor steps closer. “Come on, Ev. Please talk to me.”

 

Evan is quiet for a moment, and considers coming clean about everything. But he chickens out, because Connor doesn’t need to know how truly, deeply fucked up his brain is. “Okay, yeah, I almost had a panic attack. But I really don’t... I don’t wanna talk about it.”

 

“It might help.”

 

“Please stop, Connor,” Evan begs. “You haven’t told me all your shit and I’m not ready to tell you all mine. Not yet.”

 

After a few moments of silence, Connor nods. “Okay. I’m sorry. Let’s just eat.”

 

So they do, and the rest of the night gets normal again. They joke around and laugh and sit in comfortable silence. They watch a movie on Evan’s laptop and lie close together, both of them blushing and anxious but neither wanting to move away from other.

 

Evan loves Connor for trying to listen to him, for trying to help him. And he loves him even more for being so understanding and now forcing him to do anything. He just loves him. That’s it. Evan Hansen loves Connor Murphy with everything he’s got, and nothing he does is gonna change that. No matter how hard he tries to not feel this way, it’s inevitable.

Chapter Text

One week later and it’s time for Miguel’s party. Evan has been dreading it since he got invited, but he doesn’t want to let either of his friends down. So he sucks it up and has Jared drop him off at Connor’s house. They’re gonna take Zoe’s car from there. Larry tried to ground him, but nothing his parents say ever really sticks with Connor.

 

When he gets to Connor’s room, he’s curled up under the covers. Evan approaches him slowly, not wanting to wake him up. But his head pops out quickly, scaring Evan.

 

Connor chuckles, putting his phone up. He was just watching YouTube, not sleeping. “Sorry, Ev,” he says when he sees him jump.

 

Shaking his head, Evan sits on the bed next to him. “It’s okay.”

 

“Hey, so, um,” Connor says, sitting up. “Miguel called a few minutes ago. The party’s cancelled, his family ended up staying home.”

 

Evan tries to hide his relief at that fact, pursing his lips and nodding. “Oh. Okay.”

 

“Sorry, I know how much you love parties,” Connor jokes, nudging him.

 

Laughing softly, Evan nods again. “Yeah, it’s a shame.”

 

“But I know what we can do.”

 

When Connor doesn’t continue talking, Evan has to prompt him. “What... What is it?”

 

“Remember that deal we had a while ago?” Connor asks, leaning forward in excitement. He looks like a little kid on Christmas morning, and Evan can’t stop smiling at him. “We keep track of how many times you apologize without needing to and each sorry is a dollar?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“I think we’re due for a dinner.”

 

Evan’s heart nearly bursts at that. A dinner alone with Connor. It’s basically a date. Except it’s not, because Connor is happy with Miguel and would never want to go out with him. “I think you’re right.”

 

Grinning wider, Connor grabs his phone and opens up his notes app. Evan does the same. “How many do you have?” Connor asks.

 

“Thirty two. You?”

 

“Sixty seven. So we — Wait, how do you have less than me?”

 

Evan shrugs. “Other than hanging out with you and Miguel, I’m alone a lot. Not really many people to apologize to. It’s mostly Jared and random people in the hall at school.”

 

“That’s pretty fucking sad, Ev.”

 

“Yeah. I know.”

 

Connor sighs and smiles again. “Okay. So, 99 dollars. Looks like we’re having a pretty nice dinner.”

 

Evan takes out his wallet to make sure he actually has money. Luckily his anxiety is bad enough that he really doesn’t want to talk to delivery people, so he has several twenty dollar bills in there, enough to pay for the dinner. “It’s a — “ He stops himself from using the word date. “Sounds like a plan. Where do you wanna go?”

 

Within an hour, they’re inside a pretty fancy restaurant with expensive steak in front of them. They both seem pretty underdressed for the occasion, so Evan feels like he stands out a lot. That’s the last thing he wants to do.

 

“This is literally the best meal I’ve ever had,” Connor says, mouth full of steak.

 

Evan laughs softly. “Me too. I usually just have leftovers or takeout or something.” After a moment of silence between them, he takes a drink of his water and asks, “How... How are things with Miguel?” The three of them have had lunch together almost everyday this week, so he’s seen Miguel a lot, but Connor had mentioned there was some tension, so he’s not sure how it’s going behind closed doors. He’s not hoping they break up or anything, of course not, that would make him a terrible person. He just wants Connor to be happy.

 

“Um...” Connor thinks for a moment, looking down. His smile goes away a little bit as he clears his throat. “They’re — They’re okay. He still wants to meet my parents, I still want to keep him as far away from my family as possible.”

 

Evan shrugs. “You’ll get there one day,” he says, a lame attempt at making him feel better.

 

“Can we not talk about Miguel tonight?” Connor asks after a beat. “You and I... we just made up, we have a lot to catch up on, so can we... Can tonight just be about us, please?”

 

It’s hard to ignore the heat in his face as it turns red, but Evan nods as he smiles and looks down at the table. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

 

Connor takes another bite of his steak, and after swallowing starts the conversation again. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. I went to all my classes this week.”

 

Evan feels bad that he’s shocked, but he is. His jaw drops, and he chuckles. “No way.”

 

Connor nods. “Yep. I even answered a question in calculus. Are you proud?”

 

“Yes, very.” Evan sips on his water and notices his leg bouncing up and down nervously. “Good job.”

 

“And I was thinking about what you said,” Connor continues, “about college. And I think I do wanna go. I can get away from my parents for a while and I think I wanna start off with an English major. I mean, like, obviously everyone changes their major so that could change but... It’s a start, right?”

 

Grinning ear to ear, Evan nods. “Yeah, that’s... It’s really amazing, Connor.” He really is proud. It makes him wish he could afford to not live at home for college. It also makes him wish he had any idea what he really wanted to do for college.

 

“Yeah, I mean, like... I really like reading. And English majors basically just read, I think. It’s kind of perfect.”

 

“You also have to write papers,” Evan adds.

 

Connor just shrugs. “I can pull those out of my ass. How do you think I’m passing AP Lit?”

 

Before Evan can respond, their waitress comes over and places a plate between them. It’s a chocolate cheesecake with raspberries and cute little designs on the plate in what must be raspberry sauce. Caught off guard, Evan looks up at her. “Oh, we didn’t order dessert, I’m sorry — “

 

“The lady over in the corner booth bought it for you,” the waitress says with a smile, motioning over to an older woman sitting in a booth with a man who’s probably her husband. The woman isn’t looking at them, but she looks so kind with her warm smile. “She thought you two looked so happy together.”

 

Once again, Evan’s face goes bright red. “Oh. We’re not — “

 

“Ev,” Connor says, grabbing his hand across the table. “Free dessert. Shut up.” He turns to the waitress, smiling. “Thank you so much, we appreciate it.”

 

Evan smiles. He’s not sure where this nickname came from, but Connor’s been using it a lot lately and he’s not complaining. Plus, the idea of being Connor’s boyfriend isn’t too bad.

 

When the waitress walks away, Connor lets go of Evan’s hand and picks his fork up again. “That just made my day,” he says, his bright smile warming Evan’s heart. He takes a bite of the cheesecake, and after a moment he closes his eyes. “That’s good shit.”

 

Evan slaps his hand playfully. “That’s dessert. You didn’t finish dinner yet,” he jokes.

 

“No, seriously, you have to try it,” Connor says, motioning to the slice.

 

Evan shakes his head. “I’m enjoying my steak right now, thank you very much.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes, taking it upon himself to grab another bite of the cheesecake. He makes sure to scrape up some of the raspberry sauce and then holds out the fork. “Do it.”

 

His smiles makes Evan smile. Everything he does makes him smile. How is that fair? So he opens his mouth and takes the bite. It really is amazing. But it’s hard to focus on how good it is when he’s looking at the wonderful guy in front of him.

 

“Good, right?”

 

Evan nods, swallowing. “Really good. We should thank that lady when we leave.” He hates talking to strangers, but he really doesn’t want to seem rude and not say anything.

 

Nodding in agreement, Connor goes back to his steak. “Thanks for dinner, by the way.”

 

Evan shrugs. “This was your idea, so really I didn’t have a choice.”

 

“Hey, it’s not my fault you can’t control how much you apologize. We could be at Burger King right now, but thanks to your anxiety I’m having the best dinner of my life,” Connor jokes.

 

Evan laughs. “Thank God for my anxiety,” he replies sarcastically.

 

“Hopefully this actually helped and didn’t just empty your wallet,” Connor comments. “Like, if you just bought me a fancy dinner and there’s no improvement in all your apologies, I’m gonna feel pretty fucking guilty.”

 

“It’s fine, this is really... It’s really nice.”

 

“Way better than a stupid party,” Connor agrees.

 

After another twenty minutes of sitting and talking and laughing and eating their dessert, they get their check. Evan leaves the cash on the table, plus an extra twenty for the tip. On their way to the door, they stop by the table of the lady their dessert was from.

 

Evan opens his mouth to say something, but freezes when the lady and her husband smile up at them. He has no idea how to say thank you for some reason. Does he explain that they aren’t a couple, or does he just go with it, pretend they are? God, he wishes they were. He looks to Connor for help.

 

Connor smiles. “Hi, we, um... We just wanted to say thank you... y’know, for our dessert. So... So thank you. So much.” It’s so cute how he’s putting on his kindest, softest voice while talking to them.

 

The woman nods, smiling wider. “Of course, dear. You two looked so happy together. I’m just so happy that you’re able to go out on proper dates nowadays. When my brother met his husband, they could never go in public as a couple.”

 

Evan still has no idea what to say. But his heart might burst from joy.

 

Connor nods. “A lot of things are a lot better these days. It’s amazing to... like...” He pauses, looking like he’s thinking hard about how to phrase this. “I’m just glad I can be myself... Unapologetically myself... around the people that I love.” He glances over to Evan, and something passes through his eyes. Evan can’t tell what it is, though. All he can focus on is his heart pounding faster and faster.

 

“Thank... Thank you so much...” Evan stammers out, having a hard time tearing his eyes away from Connor to look at the old couple.

 

The old woman reaches out and squeezes Evan’s hand. “I hope life treats you two with as much love as I see between you,” she says, so sincerely.

 

Evan clears his throat. “Thank you,” he repeats, returning the squeeze gently. “That... It means a lot.” His face is burning red again.

 

“We’ll let you enjoy the rest of your dinner,” Connor says after a moment, nodding awkwardly. “Thank you so much, again.”

 

Evan lets go of the lady’s hand and they walk out. As soon as they get through the door, Connor doubles over and laughs. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe that just happened.”

 

Evan laughs nervously along. Yeah, it’s just hilarious, the idea of them dating... “Y — Yeah.”

 

When Connor stands up again, his face is bright red, and he clears his throat awkwardly. “That was... That was interesting.” He calms down after a moment, sighing. “But really, that made me so happy. That was so sweet. I can’t wait to tell Miguel about that.”

 

Right. Miguel. That dinner made it feel like it was only the two of them in the world. Now that it’s over, Miguel is back in the picture.

 

“Yeah,” Evan says again, unsure what else to say. He wants to disappear with Connor again, wishes that was possible. He’d give anything for that.

 

When they get back to Connor’s house, his parents are gone. Zoe tells them that they went out and then takes her car keys and leaves for her friend’s house. And Evan is happy. It’s just them again.

 

“Hell yeah, we have the house to ourselves,” Connor says with a grin, plopping down on the couch. He grabs the remote and turns on the TV. “Now we can use the big TV.”

 

“What are we watching?” Evan says, plopping down next to him. He hesitates before leaning over and resting his head on Connor’s shoulder.

 

Connor shrugs, smiling over at him. “I don’t know, but we should definitely make popcorn.”

 

Groaning at just the thought of food, Evan shakes his head. “God, no, I’m so full.”

 

“That dinner was so fucking good. We should do that every month,” Connor suggests.

 

While the idea of that makes Evan want to literally jump with joy, he doesn’t know if that’s possible. “I don’t think I can afford that.”

 

“I’ll buy next month. You buy the month after that. It’s called equality, Ev.”

 

Evan laughs, nodding. “Okay, then, I guess we’re going next month.” He should start counting down the days now...

 

They end up putting on some superhero movie that Evan has a hard time paying attention to because how could he pay attention to anything else when Connor Murphy is living and breathing right next to him? Evan glances over and watches his friend’s face. He goes from focused to leaning forward in anticipation to laughing at stupid jokes, and all Evan does is smile softly at him.

 

Halfway through, the doorbell rings. Connor pauses the movie, a smile still on his face, and gets up, and Evan twists around and looks over the back of the couch to see who it is. When he opens the door, Evan can’t see who it is very well because Connor’s right in front of them. Connor freezes in place for a second before saying anything.

 

“Hey, what... what’s up?” He sounds hesitant, worried almost.

 

Miguel steps forward and Connor has no choice but to move out of the way. “Hey, babe, I brought you soup and — “ His eyes land on Evan, and he’s smiling still, but he looks confused. “Hey, Evan. What — What are you doing here?”

 

Evan shrugs, smiling at his friend. “Hanging out. We went to dinner and now we’re watching a movie. Wanna — “

 

Connor spins around quickly, and the look he gives Evan scares him into silence. It’s angry but panicked. Then Connor and Miguel both just stand in silence, Connor keeping his eyes on Evan and Miguel watching Connor with confusion and hurt in his eyes.

 

“What’s going on?” Evan asks slowly, waiting for the explosion. He can feel the tension.

 

It’s silent, and Miguel stares at his boyfriend. “Yeah. What’s going on, Connor?”

 

Connor’s no longer looking at Evan. His eyes are closed, anticipating the bomb that’s coming.

 

“Connor told me he was sick. With a fever. Couldn’t get out of bed. That’s why he couldn’t make it to my party. So I left the party to bring him soup.” Sure enough, there’s a container with chicken noodle soup in it. The anger in Miguel’s eyes is scary, but it’s mixed with so much hurt, and Evan doesn’t know how to feel.

 

He knows that Connor is probably in the wrong here, but it means a lot to know that he lied to his own boyfriend and spent time with him instead. Does that make him a terrible person?

 

“I’m sorry, M,” Connor says, finally opening his eyes after forever. He turns around. “I’m really sorry.”

 

“How is that supposed to help?” Miguel asks. He slams the container of soup down on the side table by the edge of the couch. Evan jumps.

 

He definitely shouldn’t be here. This is none of his business. So he stands. “I — I can go.”

 

No.“ Connor takes a deep breath. “Sorry, no, just... Just go wait in my room. I’ll be right up.”

 

Evan really doesn’t want to argue, and he’s not sure how he’d get home anyway. He already asks Jared for rides too much. He nods and heads up the stairs, opening Connor’s bedroom door when he gets there. But something he hears from downstairs makes him stop.

 

“So it’s him over me now? That’s what’s been going on?”

 

Evan pauses. He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. But he does. He closes the door to make it seem like he’s gone inside, then he quietly walks back to the top of the stairs and kneels behind the wall, peeking around the corner to watch the war unfold.

Chapter Text

Connor rubs his face, stressed. This was not supposed to happen. “Him over you?” he asks. “That’s ridiculous, come on.” He steps forward, chuckling nervously to try and play it off. He reaches for Miguel’s hand, but his boyfriend steps away, and Connor’s heart hurts a little more.

 

“Is it?” Miguel asks. “You lied to me about plans that we had to go out to dinner with another guy.”

 

“It wasn’t like that,” Connor says, although he has to admit it was hard not to think of it like that. Especially when they got mistaken for a couple. But it wasn’t like that. “And it’s not that big of a deal.”

 

Miguel stares incredulously. “No, it is a big deal, Connor,” he says, and as his voice is slowly getting louder, Connor is so grateful that his family isn’t home. “I’m your boyfriend, you shouldn’t be lying to me just because you don’t — “ he pauses, looking hurt, and then continues. “And I never see you anymore. We don’t go to the same school, and you never want me over here. You see Evan everyday, and I just wanted an excuse to hang out with you for once.”

 

“I’m sorry, okay?” Connor tries to ignore the pit in his stomach and his racing heart. “You know I don’t like parties and — “

 

“I am always doing stuff because you like it,” Miguel interrupts. “I started reading the books you liked because I wanted stuff to talk to you about, and I watched all those creepy movies with you even though I hate that kind of stuff, because that’s the shit couples do. We always do your shit, we sit alone and smoke weed and never go out, but why can’t you ever do something just because it’s something I like? I was so fucking excited for this party, you were gonna get to see all your old friends and we — “

 

That’s where Connor has to stop him, feeling the anger growing in his chest. “Your friends.”

 

“What?”

 

Your friends were at that party,” Connor says. “Don’t pretend that you were gonna hang out with me at all. Every time I go to one of those stupid parties, you always end up getting drunk with your friends and ignoring me and I’m all alone because I don’t know anyone except you.”

 

Miguel scoffs, and he’s not trying to suppress his anger like Connor is. “So you thought you should lie to me instead of talking about it like a healthy couple does? What the fuck, Connor? Like, ‘Oh, I don’t like parties so I’ll just lie and go out with another guy.’ You can’t — “

 

He can’t hold it back anymore. If Miguel isn’t gonna try to suppress it, why should he? “Oh, my God! Stop!” Connor screams, throwing his hands in the air angrily. “The reason I don’t go to those stupid parties is because I have fucking anxiety, okay? I don’t just not like them! I get panic attacks and they’re really bad, and maybe they wouldn’t be so awful if my boyfriend actually paid attention to me when I was there instead of ignoring me for his friends.”

 

Miguel pauses, taking a deep breath before talking again. “I know you have anxiety, Connor. But how am I supposed to know how you feel about things when you won’t open up to me? I’ve been trying to get to know you more since we first met and you never tell me anything. All I really know about you is that you like pot, reading, weird movies, and Evan Hansen. Oh, and you get panic attacks at parties. Maybe you could have told me that the first time we went to a party together, that would have made this whole thing so much easier.”

 

Connor scoffs. This is fucking ridiculous. “That’s not all you know about me. Come on, this is stupid. Can we just... Let’s just sit and hang out, okay? I’m sorry about tonight.”

 

Miguel is quiet for a long time, just looking at Connor sadly. Connor can practically see the thoughts running around in his head, and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s pretty sure he’s about to start yelling again. But no, what comes next is so much worse than yelling.

 

“No, Connor. I... I think I’m done,” he finally says, looking exhausted.

 

Those words hit him like a ton of bricks, and it’s like he can’t breathe. “What... What do you mean?”

 

“You know what I mean. We should... We should break up.”

 

Tears are stinging Connor’s eyes, and his hands start shaking at his sides. “M, come on, you — I’ll go to the party, okay? And I’ll — I’ll go to every party after that, just don’t — don’t — “

 

“It’s not just the party, Connor,” Miguel says. “It this whole thing. If you had explained to me earlier that you felt that way about these dumb parties, we never would’ve had this fight. I’ve been trying to get you to open up to me since we met, and you barely have. You won’t even let me meet your family. I’m ready to move forward in this relationship, and you’re clearly not. So I just think it’s better if I go and we just... stop.” He turns and starts toward the door.

 

Connor shakes his head, wiping his eyes and grabbing his hand. “No, no, please, M, come on, you can meet my parents if you want and I’ll... I’ll tell you all about my anxiety and we can... Whatever you want, okay, just don’t... don’t leave.”

 

“No, it’s okay,” Miguel says gently, holding Connor’s hand loosely. “You’re not ready to take that step and I’m not gonna force you to, cause that’s not fair to anyone.”

 

Everything is falling apart, including Connor. He lets his tears fall, because there’s too many to wipe them all away. “M, please. You don’t know how bad everything was before you. I love you so much, I can’t lose you, please,” he begs, sounding pathetic.

 

Miguel shakes his head. “I’ve been... I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks now and I think this is for the best. You have Evan and it’s gonna be okay and — “

 

Connor looks up from the floor, confused. “Evan? What does he... He has nothing to do with this.”

 

There are tears on Miguel’s face too, and he rolls his eyes. “Come on. When was the last conversation we had where you didn’t bring up Evan?”

 

Connor almost calls that ridiculous, but now that he thinks about it, they do talk about Evan a lot. Except for those weeks he and Evan didn’t talk at all. “That’s not... He’s just... I love you.”

 

“I love you too.” Miguel lets go of Connor’s hand to wipe his own eyes, and suddenly Connor feels empty. “And Evan is an amazing person, and a great friend, and I’m so happy you have him in your life. But lately it’s just felt like our relationship hasn’t been about us.”

 

Connor just shakes his head. He has no idea what to say. How does he justify that? He’s been such a bad boyfriend, and he hates himself for it. He probably deserves this, and that makes it hurt more. And yeah, he had some mixed feelings for Evan, but he was working through them, and how is he supposed to function without Miguel?

 

Miguel takes a shaky breath and pulls Connor close, hugging him tight. “I love you so much. But I think there’s just a lot of reasons neither of us are ready for this relationship yet.”

 

Connor holds on tight, still letting his tears silently fall onto Miguel’s shirt. “I don’t wanna lose you...”

 

Miguel sniffles, pulling away and shaking his head. “You won’t. I’m always gonna be here for you as a friend, if you ever need me. I know there’s a lot of shit you’ve dealt with even if you refuse to tell me about it, and no one should deal with that shit alone. So I’m here if you need to talk or cry or anything. Just not... not as a boyfriend.”

 

Connor feels like he’s about to fall off the edge. This can’t be happening. He feels so far away. “No, M, please, please, don’t leave.”

 

Miguel just looks at him. Just a few seconds more, then he slowly turns and takes the last few steps to the door. Connor walks after him, hoping he’d get one last kiss or maybe just one last glance. But Miguel shuts the door without looking back, like it’s just that easy.

 

As the door latches, Connor finally breaks.

 

-

 

Evan is completely numb. So much just happened, it’s hard to process. All he knows is that his best friend is heartbroken. Connor slowly and shakily walks over to the front of the couch, but doesn’t actually sit. Instead he drops his head, finally letting out those loud sobs that Evan could see him holding back.

 

At the sound of the first sob, Evan snaps out of his pity trance and runs down the stairs. He doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around Connor, and Connor hugs him back, holding him tight as if scared that he’ll leave too. He doesn’t know what to do. Connor hurting like this is the last thing he wants to see, but he’s never gone through a breakup. How is he supposed to help?

 

Connor is shaking so bad and leaning on Evan for support. After few moments, he seems to give up on trying to keep himself up and starts sinking to the ground. Evan follows, letting him lean on him the whole time.

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says quietly, his face in Connor’s hair as Connor buries his in Evan’s neck. “I’m so sorry.”

 

Connor only replies with more broken cries, curling in on himself more. Evan sees and feels his shoulders heaving with sobs, and he can tell that he’s about to start having trouble breathing because of all the crying.

 

And then he looks out the window in front of him and sees Miguel’s car still parked in front of the house. He hasn’t left yet? The lights are on in the car, so Evan can see him. He’s sitting in the driver’s seat, staring off blankly. And then a few seconds later, he leans forward and rests his head on the steering wheel. Evan can’t see his face very well, but he can see his shoulders moving in the same way Connor’s are. He’s sobbing too.

 

And Evan has the urge to go out there and tell him to come back in and fix this because Connor needs him. But he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to leave Connor’s side. Instead he rubs Connor’s back in an attempt to comfort him and watches both of his friends hurt until Miguel eventually drives away, still crying.

 

Evan holds Connor for the longest time until Connor pulls away slowly. Seeing his face pains Evan even more. His eyelashes are soaked with tears that are still coming, and his chin is wobbling and his face in twisted in pain. Evan wants to take all that hurt away, but he has no idea where to even start.

 

“I — I don’t know... wh — what to do,” Connor says, clearly trying to get control of himself.

 

Evan shakes his head, frowning. “You don’t have to do anything. I’m here.”

 

Connor shuts his eyes tight and leans forward again, this time burying his face in Evan’s chest. He lets out more sobs, his arms wrapping around his friend again. Evan’s hands fall to Connor’s head, and he just pets his hair. It probably looks weird, but he honestly doesn’t care right now. Nothing matters except Connor.

 

After who knows how long, Evan notices a car pulling into the driveway. The headlights are bright, so he can’t tell if it’s Zoe or their parents, but either way he doesn’t know what to do. Connor obviously hates showing any kind of emotion except anger in front of his family, but Evan doesn’t have the heart to tell him to get up so they can go to his room. Before he knows it, it’s too late, because he sees the doorknob turn, and his heart stops until a moment later when he sees Zoe’s face. Better her than her parents.

 

Zoe has a huge smile on her face, but when her eyes fall to the boys on the ground it’s gone immediately. Connor must not have heard the door open, because he doesn’t change his position even a little bit. Zoe looks between the two of them, concern all over her face. She starts to open her mouth and say something, probably to ask what happened or how she can help, but Evan just shakes his head. Connor probably doesn’t want all that attention while he’s falling apart like this.

 

Zoe just nods in understanding and slowly closes the door, then quietly makes her way up the stairs and to her room.

 

Evan sighs, turning his attention back to his best friend. His legs are starting to hurt underneath him, and he can’t imagine Connor’s very comfortable either, curled up and hunched over on the floor. So he gently pulls away, moving his hands so he can hold Connor’s. “Come on,” he says quietly, slowly getting to his feet. “You can lay down here.” He takes the few steps to the couch, still holding Connor’s hands and sitting down. Connor follows his lead, at first just sitting, and then moving and lying his head on Evan’s lap. Evan plays with his hair, hoping that maybe it’ll bring him just a little bit of comfort.

 

He can’t see his face, but based on how his shoulders are moving up and down, Evan assumes he’s back to sobbing. His crying is just silent now.

 

“What can I do?” Evan whispers softly, desperately. He’s gonna freak if he has to watch Connor like this any longer.

 

Connor shakes his head, reaching his hand up and grabbing Evan’s. “Just... Just stay here,” he answers shakily.

 

Evan nods, but he knows Connor doesn’t see that, so he squeezes his hand and says, “Of course. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

They sit there for a while and Evan racks his brain for any ideas on how to help. He’s obviously never been in a relationship, and therefore has never been through a breakup. He has no clue what’s gonna help Connor. So he turns to the only experience he has with a breakup. TV and Movies. Whenever a female character gets dumped, her friends always bring her ice cream and they stay in pajamas and watch rom-coms. And when a guy gets broken up with, his friends take him out drinking. At least that tends to be the trend in most things he’s seen. But he doesn’t think getting drunk is what Connor needs or wants right now.

 

By the time he’s made up his mind, Connor’s sobbing has died down to soft sniffling. Evan can feel him trying to take control of his breathing. He shifts over and gets to his feet, then readjusts his grip on Connor’s hands and pulls him into a sitting position. “Come on, get up.”

 

Connor shakes his head, closing his eyes, which are still wet. “No, just let me cry.”

 

“You can cry as much as you want, but right now just get up,” Evan says, pulling on Connor’s arms. It’s weird being so pushy. He feels like he’s being so annoying, but all he knows is that he’d do anything to help Connor feel a little better.

 

“Why, what are we doing,” Connor asks flatly, his red blotchy, tear-stained face pouting.

 

“Going on a walk,” Evan answers vaguely. “Put your shoes on.” He lets go of Connor’s hands once they get to the front door, where their shoes are sitting. He puts his on, and after Connor very slowly slips his on, he opens the door.

 

It’s colder than he thought outside, and all he has is his zip up hoodie. But he’s not backing down now.

 

He knows that there’s a convenience store a few blocks from here because he passes it every time he comes over. It’s cold, but they should probably walk. Connor’s not in any state to drive, Evan can’t drive, and he really doesn’t want to bother Zoe. Again, Connor probably doesn’t want her around when he’s like this. So walking it is.

 

After a block, Connor slips his hand into Evan’s, and Evan doesn’t hesitate to squeeze it reassuringly. He intertwines their fingers after thinking about if it’s too much for him to do that for about thirty seconds. After another couple minutes, Evan realizes that Connor’s teeth are chattering, and then that he’s only wearing a t-shirt.

 

Usually Connor would be the one to make sure Evan is warm enough, comfortable enough, not hungry or thirsty. He always makes sure he has everything he needs. But tonight Evan doesn’t hesitate to take off his jacket and hand it over to Connor.

 

Connor shakes his head, looking down at their hands, which aren’t holding each other anymore. “No, I’m fine.”

 

“Connor, take it. I’m not even cold,” he lies.

 

“You’re always cold, Evan.”

 

True. Evan gets cold easily, and after so long it must have been hard for Connor not to notice, because he was always asking for another blanket or a sweatshirt or socks. But Evan shakes his head. “Not right now.”

 

Still, Connor refuses to take it, so Evan reaches up and wraps it around his shoulders. He puts the hood over his head in an attempt to joke around, maybe get a little smile out of him. But Connor ends up just putting the jacket on, eyes still tired and sad.

 

Evan sighs, grabbing his hand again. They walk for another block and a half, fingers intertwined. Connor walks close to Evan, holding his hand tight, as if afraid that, if he let’s go, Evan will leave him too.

 

But Evan’s not going anywhere. He’ll stay by Connor’s side as long as he needs and longer, anything to make him happy, to help him get better. He needs to see that light back in his eyes. Because the light that Evan has found in Connor has become the light at the end of his tunnel. There are a lot of times when the world seems like it’s crumbling around him. But when he sees that little glimmer of joy in Connor’s eyes when he smiles, he knows that there’s hope. That maybe the world will be okay — maybe he’ll be okay — as long as Connor Murphy is here.

Chapter Text

When they get to the convenience store, Connor puts the hood on Evan’s jacket up to hide his teary face. He probably looks extremely suspicious, walking in with a dark jacket on, head down and hood hiding his face. They head back to the freezers and find the pints of ice cream.

 

“Okay, what do you want?” Evan asks.

 

Connor sighs, looking down. “You don’t have to — “

 

“No, I want to.”

 

“But — “

 

“It’s just ice cream,” Evan insists. “Just pick a flavor.”

 

Letting out another defeated breath, Connor mutters a small thank you and grabs a pint of coffee ice cream. Evan gets himself a chocolate. “You want anything else? Candy? Soda? We can get brownie mix and — “

 

“No, I’m fine,” Connor answers flatly, still not really looking at his friend.

 

Evan nods, and they go up to the counter. Luckily he had a little money leftover from dinner. After that, they head back outside and Connor immediately grabs Evan’s hand again. Evan looks over at him as they walk.

 

His hood is still up, pushing his hair forward so it’s hiding his face. He’s also looking down at their feet walking in sync. Since he stopped crying a little bit ago, his breathing has finally returned to normal. Now he’s just slow and sad and gloomy. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, but Evan wonders how long he’ll be like this. He’s really not good at being the leader in this friendship and trying to take charge and take care of everything. He feels like he’s being too pushy and irritating.

 

When they get back to Connor’s house, they stop in their tracks before going inside. His dad’s car is in the driveway, which means Larry and Cynthia are home.

 

“Shit,” Connor says, stepping back. “I don’t wanna go in there, they’re gonna see me like this and everything is just gonna be so, so much worse and — “

 

“Hey, it’s fine,” Evan says, although he’s not sure he believes himself. But then he remembers what Jared did for him when he was having a panic attack and his parents were home, and knows exactly what to do. “Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do.” He switches the bag of ice cream to his other hand. “We’re gonna go in and just run up the stairs right away, go right to your room. Just don’t stop until we get there and keep your head down.”

 

Connor nods, readjusting the hoodie like he’s trying to cover his face more. “Okay. Okay.”

 

“Great. Awesome. Let’s go.”

 

So Evan opens the door and lets Connor run up while he closes it and follows closely behind. As they get to the top of the stairs, Cynthia calls, “Connor? Is that you?” but they ignore it and get inside Connor’s bedroom. Evan locks the door for him.

 

Cynthia calls up again. “Do you know where this soup in the living room came from?”

 

Connor sits on his bed, looking exhausted, and he leans forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his face buried in his hands. Evan’s sure he’s about to cry again, but he just sits there looking exhausted instead.

 

Evan sits down next to him, then slowly and carefully leans over and rests his head on his shoulder. After another few moments, he wraps his arms around him from the side, not caring even one bit that he doesn’t make a move to hug him back. And then, after hesitating for a long time, he leans in more and kisses his head. Just right over the fabric of his hood, which is still up, and then he goes back to hugging him. He hopes he doesn’t freak out about that.

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says quietly. “I wanna help but I don’t know how.”

 

Connor shakes his head and looks up, putting the hood down. “It’s okay. Thank you.”

 

“Do you wanna go to sleep? I can put this ice cream in the freezer and we can eat it tomorrow.”

 

“Are you staying over?” Connor asks.

 

Evan nods. “If... If you want me to.”

 

Connor nods. “Y — Yeah, of... of course. Thank you, Evan.”

 

Putting on a smile for him, Evan stands up and grabs Connor’s laptop from his desk. “What do you wanna watch?” he asks, handing it to him.

 

“I don’t know,” Connor says with a shrug. He rubs his eyes. “Fuck, my head is pounding.”

 

“You’re probably dehydrated,” Evan says, because he’s learned that all those headaches he gets after crying for so long are actually because of all the tears he shed. “I’ll go get you some water. We need spoons for the ice cream anyway. You look through Netflix and pick something out.”

 

He heads downstairs reluctantly, hoping Larry and Cynthia have gone to bed already so he doesn’t run into them. He gets the glass of water and the spoons safely, but just before he goes back upstairs, he realizes he should bring up some Ibuprofen, and he has no idea where that is.

 

“You okay, Evan?”

 

Evan jumps, turning to find Cynthia at the kitchen entrance. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I was just... Um, do you have any Ibuprofen or Advil or something?”

 

Nodding, Cynthia walks past him and opens a cabinet, grabbing a bottle of the painkillers. “There you are. Are you okay, does something hurt?”

 

Evan takes the bottle, shaking his head. “I’m okay, Connor just has a headache. We were just gonna watch a movie and then go to — Oh, my gosh that was so rude of me, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Murphy, um can I... Is it okay if I sleep over? I can’t invite myself, that’s so rude, I’m really sorry, it’s — “

 

“Evan, it’s okay,” Cynthia interrupts, smiling. “Of course you can stay over. We love having you around.”

 

Blushing, Evan nods. “Um, thank you, thank you so much.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Evan heads back upstairs, but before he can get to Connor’s room, Zoe’s door flies open and she motions him over to her. She lets him into her room and closes the door.

 

Zoe’s room is really cool. A guitar in the corner, lights up, a few posters here and there, pictures of her and her friends hanging. It’s organized but not too organized, and just really awesome, like her. Evan’s only been in here twice. Now three times.

 

“Hey,” Evan says, probably looking weird with his bottle of painkillers, glass of water, and two spoons.

 

“Is Connor okay?” Zoe asks immediately.

 

It makes him so happy that she cares so much. If only Connor realized how much she did. “He... Not now, but hopefully soon.”

 

“What the fuck happened?”

 

Evan sighs sadly. “His boyfriend broke up with him.”

 

A sad look washes over Zoe’s face. “I’ve never seen him like that. I can’t... I can’t get it out of my head. I don’t think he’s ever been so sad.”

 

“He was... He loved him,” Evan agrees, nodding. “Or, well, loves him. He’s not over him and probably won’t be for a while.”

 

“This guy must be really awful if Connor was hurting that bad. Once he gets over him he’ll realize — “

 

“No.” Evan shakes his head. “Miguel is such an amazing person. That’s what makes it hurt so much.”

 

After a moment of thinking about that and still looking extremely sad, Zoe nods. “I just feel awful. I wanna help him.”

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

Sighing, Zoe hugs Evan quickly. “Okay, well, you go back and do your amazing friend thing. And I’m gonna go get him chocolates and figure out other ways to cheer him up.”

 

There’s been a lot of crying tonight, but Evan grins at that. Zoe is truly amazing.

 

When he gets back to Connor’s room, Connor looks up from his laptop. The bags under his eyes are so dark. “What took so long?”

 

“I ran into your mom.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor says, actually sounding so apologetic.

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. Did you figure out what we’re watching?”

 

Nodding, Connor scoots over so Evan can sit next to him. “Mamma Mia.” He takes the water and painkillers and downs a couple, then sets the bottle and cup aside.

 

Extremely surprised at that, Evan smiles softly. “Really?”

 

“What? You don’t like Mamma Mia?”

 

“No, I’ve never even seen it. I’m just... That’s not the kind of movie I’d expect you to like.”

 

“Okay, well, prepare to be amazed.”

 

Connor looks like he’s about to smile. Evan can see it trying to come through. And then it’s like everything comes back to him at once, and he lets out a sigh and sits back. Evan hands him a spoon and they get their ice cream, hitting play and trying to forget tonight for just a little bit.

 

Evan really likes the movie. And his ice cream. And Connor. After a bit they both get tired of sitting in the same position and decide to move to the floor. They pause it and grab a blanket, spreading it out on the floor and setting up pillows against the bed frame. Leaning against the bed, they set up the laptop on another pillow in front of them and then hit play again.

 

Connor finishes his ice cream first, and Evan looks over while he stretches up to set the empty container on his nightstand. He still hasn’t smiled, and he misses it. He’s also still wearing his hoodie, and he looks so cute in it. Of course, Evan would think he looked cute if he didn’t shower for a week and rolled around in mud.

 

“How was your ice cream?” Evan asks as Connor sits back.

 

“Good. Thank you.” Connor sighs, sliding down and putting his head on Evan’s lap.

 

Evan nods and starts playing with Connor’s hair. “Of course.”

 

They sit in silence a while longer. Cynthia tries to come in and say goodnight, and gives up after Connor ignores her.  Larry knocks on the door and tries to get Connor’s attention, then get pissed when he ignores him. He doesn’t go away until they hear Zoe come out and tell him to leave Connor alone. They go back and forth yelling for a minute, and it ends in two doors slamming. No wonder Connor is dying to get away for college.

 

After the movie is over, neither of them make a move to shut the laptop off or change the movie. They stay where they are on the floor, Connor resting his head on Evan’s lap, and Evan playing with his hair. It’s so soft.

 

“I like that, it was good,” Evan says after a while, just wanting to break the silence.

 

“Told you,” Connor says simply.

 

Another a few minutes of silence, then Connor sits up and looks at Evan, then looks down at his hands and starts picking at his nails. Evan has a flashback to the first time they hung out and Connor made him stop hurting himself by doing that, and he wants to do the same thing now, but before he can, Connor starts talking.

 

“Hey, Evan, thanks for... for, like, sticking around,” he says quietly. “I know I’m kinda the worst, but you never leave me and that means a lot, and I love you for it. So... Thanks.”

 

Evan smiles softly, but what Connor just said, and the way he said it with his broken voice and now stubby nails makes him so sad all over again. “You’re not the worst. You’re literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

 

“That’s really fucking sad,” Connor comments, only glancing up before looking down again.

 

“No, it’s not,” Evan says sternly, the most sure he’s ever felt about anything he’s ever said. “I’ve told you this a million times. I’ve never been able to be myself around anyone. I always felt like such a freak and so alone.” He pauses and tries to make a joke. “And now I’m a freak and I have a friend,” he says, smiling a little bit and poking Connor’s arm.

 

Connor looks up, finally. And it happens for just a second. He actually smiles, the smallest hint of joy. It feels like a million years since he last saw that thing, and it’s only for a second, but that’s all Evan needs to find the confidence to keep going.

 

“You’re my best friend and you don’t judge me for how weird I am and how I overthink every little thing and how I sometimes just get sad for no reason, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that because I’ve never met anyone who understood me so well.” Evan really wants to hold Connor’s hands, but he’s already probably been too affectionate and pushy today. And there he goes again with the overthinking. “And I don’t know, I think that you’re just an amazing person even though you act like you aren’t.” He pauses and hesitates. Connor said it, so he can say it, right? “And I love you.”

 

Connor stares at him, and he instantly regrets saying it. He wasn’t even trying to make it seem romantic, he just wanted to tell him how much he cares about him. How is he gonna fix this one?

 

“You’re such a good friend,” Evan adds on quickly, blushing. “And you act like you don’t care about anything in front of everyone else, but I’m so happy you decided to care about me, because you somehow made me go from hating myself to liking who I am when I’m — when I’m with you.”

 

He could literally go on all day about the things he loves about him. But as he talks, he sees something pass through Connor’s eyes. He can’t tell what it is, but something is there. Maybe if he just keeps going and gushing, he’ll finally laugh or smile or something and —

 

But then they’re kissing. Connor is rushing forward and his hands are holding Evan’s face, and their lips are on each other’s and everything feels different.

 

It’s not a long kiss. Because Evan pulls away. In those few seconds, so many things go through his head. This is perfect. It’s everything he imagined it to be and more. And then regret and guilt. Connor is so broken emotionally. It’s way too soon to do anything. Evan would only be taking advantage of him, right?

 

So he pushes Connor back, both of their faces bright red as Evan gapes at what just happened.

 

Words start coming out of Connor’s mouth like a waterfall. “I’m so sorry, I know you don’t like me whywouldyoulikemeI’mashitperson and I know you still like Zoe and everything but I thought maybejustwecouldlike I don’t know I think you’re amazing and — “

 

“No, no it’s okay, stop,” Evan says fast, trying to get Connor to take a breath. “It’s... It’s okay.” He doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but he’s having a hard time looking Connor in the eyes. “I think it’s too soon and — “

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Evan shakes his head. “It’s — “

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor says again, this time quieter, practically a whisper. Those tears are back again, threatening to spill out over the edge.

 

Evan purses his lips. He just wants to cry looking at Connor, but he holds it back.

 

One more, “I’m sorry,” this time barely even a breath, and he falls forward slowly, his face in Evan’s chest.

 

Evan, taken aback by everything that’s happened, slowly wraps his arms around Connor. He’s mostly holding his head, since that’s just the position that he fell into. He doesn’t know what to do.

 

“It’s okay,” he finally says again, gently. “It’s okay.”

 

Connor just stays there, holding onto Evan so tight and crying once again. The sobs aren’t nearly as violent as when it first happened, but they’re definitely there. And Evan wishes he could make all the tears go away, all the pain ease up. But he can’t. All he can do is sit there and be there for him and figure out how to deal with the fact that he just had his first kiss with his best friend who he loves so much.

 

After a while, Evan clears his throat. “It’s late, Connor, we should get some sleep.”

 

Connor sits up slowly, wiping away tears and looking at the ground. “Sorry. Sorry, yeah, okay, I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay, don’t apologize. Just... Go brush your teeth and get some more water and I’ll clean this up, okay?”

 

Nodding, Connor gets to his feet and makes his way out of the room with his water cup in hand. When Evan gets up, he realizes how long they’ve been on the ground. His butt hurts. He throws the ice cream tubs in the trash can and runs the spoons downstairs to the sink quietly so he doesn’t wake up the rest of the Murphys. Thank God for carpeting. Then he comes back up and grabs the blanket and pillow from the ground, setting them on the bed nicely. By then Connor is done and back with a full glass of water.

 

“Tired?” Evan asks, even though the answer is obvious as Connor yawns and rubs his face. He still looks so heartbreakingly sad.

 

“Very.” Connor comes over and crawls into the bed, curling up under the covers.

 

Evan secretly smiles at how cute he is. “Do you want me to sleep on the floor? Or the couch, or — “

 

“No.”

 

Good. Just checking. He might have felt weird about it after the kiss.

 

Evan nods and shuts off the lights, then crawls under the covers with Connor. He gets hit with this wave of exhaustion. It was a long, emotionally draining day, and he’s ready to sleep for three more now.

 

Connor falls asleep right away, and Evan watches his face as he snores lightly. He looks a lot less sad, which is a relief for Evan to see. He can’t stop thinking about that kiss. It felt like it was out of a romantic movie where everything is happy in the end. Connor deserves that. That and so much more.

 

Evan lies there for a long time before he can fall asleep, just hoping that they can wake up tomorrow and all the pain and sadness and desperation in Connor’s eyes will be gone. Maybe he’ll just smile tomorrow. That would be okay, too.

 

So Evan has a goal for the next day: make Connor smile. Not just any smile, though. It has to be that genuine, on brand Connor Murphy smile. The one where his eyes light up with joy and that joy stays there for a bit even after he’s stopped smiling, and it gives Evan a sense of hope and love and a reminder of why he loves him. That’s the smile he’ll aim for tomorrow.

 

Right now, he needs some fucking sleep.

Chapter Text

Evan wakes up to his phone vibrating in his pocket. He forces his eyes open, groaning and looking over at Connor. He’s still asleep and he doesn’t want to ruin that, so he quickly picks up the phone without looking at the caller ID.

 

“Hello?” he whispers.

 

“Hey.”

 

It’s Miguel. Evan’s stomach does a flip and suddenly he’s wide awake. He glances over at Connor again, then carefully gets out of bed and steps out into the hall. “Um, hi. What... What’s up?” This is so weird, he feels so fucking awkward.

 

“Is Connor okay?” Miguel asks right away. “I feel terrible and I couldn’t sleep last night and, just — Is he okay?”

 

Evan shrugs, making his way to the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. It’s probably more private in there than in the hall. “He’s... He’s — I mean, no, he’s not okay.”

 

Evan can hear him sighing on the other end. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

 

“I don’t think I’m the person you wanna be saying that to.”

 

“I just... I never wanted to hurt him, Evan, I love him, you have to believe me.”

 

Nodding, Evan leans against the sink. Why him? Why is he stuck in the middle of this? “I do believe you.”

 

“You’re not mad at me for breaking up with him?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, Miguel. It’s none of my business.” Of course he has some opinion on this whole thing, but he doesn’t need to voice it. He wouldn’t say he’s mad at Miguel, mostly just sad that both of his friends are so sad. It’s just a lot of sadness to handle.

 

“I’m sorry,” Miguel breathes out. “You probably don’t wanna hear my voice right now, so I’m sorry to bother you, I just needed to know if he was alright.”

 

“He will be,” Evan promises.

 

When he gets back to the bedroom, Connor is just waking up, rubbing his eyes groggily and groaning. “Morning,” Evan greets, getting back in bed and lying down again.

 

Connor just yawns in response, then closes his eyes again. How is it possible to be so cute?

 

“Thanks for letting me stay over,” Evan says after a few moments, smiling over at his friend.

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Connor replies with a shrug, his eyes still closed.

 

Sighing, Evan nods. “So... Do you wanna do something today? We can go out for breakfast or — “ He looks at the time on his phone. 11:30. “Or lunch.”

 

After looking at the time himself, Connor rubs his eyes again and stretches. “I’m surprised my dad hasn’t yelled at to get my lazy ass out of bed yet.”

 

“So lunch?” Evan asks.

 

“I’m not really hungry, but — “

 

He’s interrupted by Evan’s phone vibrating once again. It’s Jared. “Sorry, can I — “

 

“Yeah, go ahead,” Connor says with a shrug.

 

“Hello?” Evan greets Jared. It’s weird. He doesn’t voluntarily call him often.

 

“Wanna come over and let me copy your paper for lit?”

 

It takes Evan a moment to register that, but then he remembers that they got assigned a paper over the weekend due Monday that he hasn’t even thought about. Oops. “Shit. I forgot about that.”

 

“Cool, then you can come over, write your paper, and then I’ll copy it,” Jared jokes.

 

Evan shakes his head, glancing over at the amazing boy lying next to him. “I can’t, I’m sorry. I’m with Connor.”

 

There’s a pause, and then a sigh, and then, “He can come too.”

 

“I — I don’t think — “ But Evan looks at Connor again, who can definitely hear the conversation through the phone, and he shrugs. “One sec.” He holds the phone away. “Are you sure?” he asks Connor. “You hate Jared.”

 

“Heard that!” Jared yells into the phone. “Hate you too, buddy.”

 

“Why not?” Connor asks. “I need a distraction.”

 

Sighing, Evan nods and goes back to the phone. “Okay. We’ll be over in a bit.” He hangs up and looks back to Connor. “Okay, but are you really sure? Jared is a lot to handle.”

 

“It’s fine,” Connor assures him. “You like him for some reason. Maybe I can learn to like him too.”

 

Evan smiles, beyond happy to hear that. Then he remembers his deal with himself, that he has to get Connor to smile for real today. He really, really wants to, but he’s not sure how easy that’s gonna be with Jared around. “Okay. Yeah, sure. We just have to stop by my house to get my backpack. And probably change.” He’s getting uncomfortable in these jeans that he slept in.

 

They get up and Connor grabs his backpack from the floor right by his door, and they go knock on Zoe’s door. When she opens it, Connor is leaning against the doorframe. She looks surprised to see him.

 

“Hi.”

 

Connor nods. “Can we take your car out?”

 

She doesn’t question it, just nods. “Yeah, sure.”

 

Connor starts to turn and leave, but she says, “Wait, stop.”

 

She disappears around the corner for a second, and when she comes back she’s holding a bag of KitKats and her face is bright red. “These are... These are for you.”

 

“For what?” Connor asks, taking the bag hesitantly.

 

Zoe clears her throat awkwardly and glances at Evan. “I — I just know that you were really upset last night and KitKats used to be your favorite chocolate, I don’t know if they still are, but, I just, um... I thought they’d help.” She takes a long breath after her ramble and looks at her brother nervously, like she’s afraid he’s gonna explode.

 

“Um, thanks,” Connor says softly, after a long moment of awkward silence.

 

Nodding, Zoe crosses her arms over her chest. “Of course. I... I hope things get better, and I’m... here, if you, y’know, need to talk or — “

 

“Thanks, Zoe,” Connor says, probably just to get her to stop talking before he shows too much emotion. At least that’s what Evan guesses.

 

Zoe nods and the boys rush out the door avoiding Larry and Cynthia sitting in the living room and jumping in the car quickly. They stop by Evan’s house super quickly and Evan changes and gets his backpack, then they get back in the car. Evan starts telling him how to get to Jared’s house while texting Jared that they’re on their way and also using Connor’s phone to put on music. He’s so distracted by all the different things he’s doing and all the thoughts that are going through his mind that he doesn’t realize where exactly they are until they enter Jared’s neighborhood. He looks up and Connor has realized too. Jared doesn’t live too far from Miguel.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Evan says immediately. “I forgot and — and I’m sorry, I can call Jared and we can cancel or we can meet somewhere else or — “

 

Connor shakes his head, taking a deep breath and tightening his grip on the steering wheel. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

 

“Are you sure?” Evan asks. It would suck to run into Miguel today of all days, and he doesn’t want to put Connor through that so soon.

 

“Yeah, it’s fine, just — just, where’s his house?”

 

“Turn right here and it’s the last one on the block,” Evan points, sighing.

 

They park in front of the house and Evan leads Connor up. His parents’ cars aren’t here, so Evan walks right in and Connor looks worried by that, but Evan shrugs it off. “If his parents aren’t here, he tells me to walk in cause he doesn’t want to get up and open the door.”

 

Connor squints. “You know this guy is a giant dick, right?”

 

“Sometimes,” Evan agrees, but he smiles softly. Jared is a jerk, but sometimes he can be a really good guy. Like when he was going through that shit with Connor, he helped him with panic attacks and it was the nicest he’s ever seen him act.

 

They head up to Jared’s room and walk in. His room is covered in posters like Connor’s is, except his posters are either for Star Wars and Harry Potter or they just have funny sayings on them. Jared looks up from his computer, nodding once to acknowledge that they’re there.

 

“Hey,” Evan greets, closing the door behind him.

 

“Did you have a slumber party or something? You two look like you haven’t slept in days.”

 

Evan looks over at Connor, and he supposes he can see why Jared would say that. The bags under his eyes looks darker than ever despite getting so much sleep, and he didn’t brush his hair so it looks extremely messy. And Evan forgot to fix his hair, too, so it probably looks like bedhead.

 

“Uh, yeah,” Evan says quickly, setting his bag on the floor and sitting on the bed. He motions to the swivel chair and Jared’s desk. “You can sit there if you want, Con.” A split second later he realizes that he used a nickname. It felt weird on his tongue, and his face goes bright red, but luckily Connor doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. And while Connor is turned around to pull the chair closer, Jared nudges Evan and raises his eyebrows suggestively with a shit eating grin. All Evan can do is try to ignore him.

 

He notices immediately how awkward Connor feels when he sits down, looking around the room or down at his hands, but not at either of them. So Evan tries to get a conversation started to ease his nerves a little. “So... You didn’t do the essay either?” he asks Jared.

 

Jared shakes his head. “I do my best work when I procrastinate, but I honestly have no idea what to do for this stupid prompt. It’s too hard.”

 

“You’ve never gotten below a 95 on one of these papers,” Evan points out. “You’ll be fine.”

 

“Well, I’m pretty sure you get like 107 on every single one of them, so...”

 

Evan blushes, shaking his head. “That’s not even possible.”

 

“Shut up and help me. I hate this prompt.”

 

That’s when Connor finally adds to the conversation. “It’s literally an opinion prompt. It’s not hard.”

 

They’re both quiet for a moment, and Jared beats Evan to speak. “Like you even looked at it.”

 

Connor stares at him blankly, and Evan can see the anger behind his eyes. He’s afraid he might blow up, but instead he keeps talking flatly, too exhausted to do anything else. “Yeah. Two weeks ago. When she assigned it.”

 

Evan looks at him, confused. He’s pretty sure this was just assigned. “Didn’t she assign it yesterday?”

 

“Do you guys even pay attention in class?”

 

Yes, actually. Evan definitely does, and he’s pretty sure that Jared does, even if he acts like he’s bored out of his mind.

 

At their silences, Connor continues. “When we first started the book, she gave us the prompt and told us we’d have to write the essay the weekend after we finished it.”

 

Evan definitely does not remember that. But that was during his whole drama with Connor, so maybe he was out crying during that part of class. “Oh, my God. I’m so stupid.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes, shaking his head. “No, it’s fine. It’s really not hard, I can help you with it.”

 

Jared stares, dumbfounded. “Wait, you already wrote it too?”

 

Connor nods again. “Yeah, I did it when she assigned it.”

 

Again, his jaw drops. “Who are you?”

 

A little bit offended on Connor’s behalf, Evan nudges Jared. He doesn’t know Connor even a little bit, he can’t just assume that he’s not a good student or anything.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Can you shut up for, like, two seconds?”

 

“No, seriously, you’re telling me you wrote this essay when it was assigned? Two weeks ago, before we had even started the book?” Jared asks.

 

“I read it last year,” Connor replies with a shrug. “I didn’t know it was on the list for this year.” Jared falls silent once again, just kind of staring, and Connor scoffs. “See, this is why I — You’re such a fucking — “

 

“No, no, I’m not trying to be — “ Jared says quickly, waving his hands up in surrender. He lets out a huff. “I’m just, like... Kind of impressed?”

 

Connor’s face goes red, but he doesn’t show any other kind of emotion.

 

Jared’s face looks red too, and he looks back to his laptop. “Okay, can you just help me with this prompt? I don’t know how to even start this.”

 

Evan sighs as he looks at the prompt up on his own laptop that he’s gotten out. He tries to hide the smile he’s got from what’s going on. Is there actually a breakthrough between his two best friends happening here? “Yeah, I think I get the prompt, I just don’t really know how to answer it.”

 

Connor nods, scooting up on the bed behind Evan and looking over his shoulder. Jared turns to look at him. “Okay, it’s literally just an opinion. This whole book is a redemption journey, and it’s just asking if you think he got redemption in the end.”

 

“Yeah, I get that part,” Evan says. “But what if my opinion is wrong? I don’t wanna sound stupid.”

 

“Oh, my God. Evan, you’re an amazing writer, there’s no way you could make yourself sound stupid, even if you tried,” Connor insists, shaking his head. “I mean, as long as you have text evidence to support whatever your argument is, you can’t really go wrong.”

 

Evan lets out a long breath, nodding and opening a new document to start the essay.

 

“What are you gonna argue?” Jared asks, peering over at Evan’s screen even though nothing is even written yet.

 

“I don’t know. I... I think he deserves redemption,” he replies hesitantly, scared that one of them are going to disagree with him. He’s probably wrong.

 

Jared, not surprisingly, looks at Evan like he’s an idiot. “Dude. Really? You can’t — “ But Connor quickly punches Jared in the arm, pretty hard. “Ow! What the fuck, asshole?”

 

“Don’t talk to him like that,” Connor says angrily. After a moment, he takes a breath to calm down and gets back in the chair in front of them.

 

Evan smiles softly at him, reminded again how much he loves him. But Jared just looks at him, confused. “What are you — “

 

“Helping you write your essays. You’re welcome.” Connor looks between them. “Okay. Evan, you think he deserves redemption. And Jared, you disagree. Go back and forth and talk about that.” Just as Jared opens his mouth, Connor adds, “Without being a dick about it,” and Jared shuts up again. “You go first, Ev.”

 

Once again blushing about a stupid nickname, Evan turns to Jared and tries to get his words in order. “Okay. I think... I think he deserves redemption. I mean, everyone deserves forgiveness, I think. Like... Like a second chance, and... He messed up pretty badly, but he spent his whole life trying to make up for it.”

 

Jared waits until Evan is done talking, then looks to Connor to see if he can talk, probably because he doesn’t want to get punched again. “Messed up? He majorly fucked everything and everyone over. You deserve forgiveness if you accidentally break a window or something, but what he did was so fucking awful. No way.”

 

“But he — he was a kid,” is all Evan can reply with.

 

It’s so weird. They continue going back and forth and talking about what they think. It’s such a strange scenario, sitting in his asshole friend’s room discussing literature with him while Connor Murphy the Secret Academic Scholar sits and mediates between them. And Evan has such a good time with it. Eventually Connor cuts back in.

 

“Okay, so you guys both have good arguments for whether or not he deserves redemption,” he says. “But the essay is about if he gets it. Did he?”

 

Evan looks to Jared to start the conversation again, but instead his eyes light up behind his glasses, like he’s just had an epiphany. He quickly looks down and his fingers start racing across the keyboard. Guess he figured out what to write...

 

Evan looks back to Connor, smiling at him. Connor still hasn’t really smiled, but the day isn’t over yet. He still has time to get that smile out of him. He’s so impressed and shocked by how he handled that little debate. And it kind of seemed like Connor was having fun with it too, even if he didn’t get a full smile out.

 

“That was really good,” Evan says to him, reaching out with his leg and gently kicking his foot.

 

Connor just shrugs. “It’s not a big deal.”

 

“No, you could be, like, a teacher or something,” Evan responds. “You could be really good at that.”

 

Scoffing, Connor shakes his head and looks away. He doesn’t reply to that, instead his eyes find a poster on Jared’s wall. After a minute of looking like he’s contemplating whether or not to say anything, he speaks up.

 

“You’re a Ravenclaw?”

 

Jared glances up at the Ravenclaw poster he’s staring at. “Yeah. So?”

 

“I thought you’d be a Slytherin,” Connor answers. Evan thinks it’s so nice how he’s making an effort to actually talk to Jared. Is it possible to fall even more in love?

 

That makes Jared look up at him. “Why the fuck would I be a Slytherin?”

 

“Well, cause you’re... like, you’re kind of a dick.”

 

Jared huffs. “Okay, rude comment aside, how dare you assume that all Slytherins are bad. I’ll have you know that Evan here is a Slytherin, and he is the nicest person either of us have ever met.”

 

That very obviously gets Connor’s attention, and he leans forward in his chair. Evan thinks he sees a hint of a smile on his face, but he could be seeing things. “What? No way. He’s definitely a Hufflepuff.”

 

“I’m right here,” Evan jokes, raising a hand. “And no, I’m a Slytherin. Jared made me take the test.” He’s read all the books and seen the movies, but he is definitely not as invested in the series as these two are. It’s kind of adorable.

 

“Explain,” Connor demands.

 

“I mean, didn’t he go behind your back and show up uninvited just because he wanted to meet your parents?” Jared asks. “That’s ambition right there.”

 

Connor looks over at Evan as Jared explains, and just kind of stares in awe. “I guess that makes sense, kind of.”

 

“What’s your house?” Jared asks. “Wait, I wanna guess... Um, either Slytherin or Gryffindor.”

 

“I thought I was Slytherin but now I’m not sure,” Connor answers.

 

“Have you taken the sorting hat quiz?”

 

Connor shakes his head, and Jared looks at him like he just killed his whole family. “What the fuck. Okay, come here.” He pulls up a new window on his computer and gives it to Connor, who takes a seat between Jared and Evan.

 

Evan laughs softly at what’s going on between them. Is this actually happening? Do they maybe not hate each other? He rests his head on Connor’s shoulder instinctively, forgetting for a second that Jared is there.

 

After a few minutes, Connor finishes taking the quiz and gets his result. When Jared sees the blue on the screen, he jumps to his feet. “You’re a Ravenclaw? We cannot be in the same house. No way.”

 

“Why not?” Connor asks, flatly.

 

“Cause we’re — “

 

“Mortal enemies?” Evan cuts in as a joke.

 

“Yes!” Jared cries.

 

And that does it. Evan sees the smile crack on Connor’s face, and he throws his head back and laughs loudly. Evan’s a little bit jealous that Jared was the one to make him laugh so hard and smile so big, but his heart is too busy fluttering at the sight of it that he doesn’t really care.

 

While Connor’s eyes are closed laughing, Evan notices Jared smiling over at him extremely suggestively. He’s probably very not subtly ogling at Connor’s perfection, and Jared saw right through him. Evan clears his throat, looking away and blushing.

 

“We should probably be doing our essays,” he says softly.

 

Connor sighs, joy still evident behind his eyes even as his laughter and smile fade. “I wouldn’t think of you as a procrastinator, Ev.”

 

“I forgot about it,” Evan replies, jokingly defensively. “And also, I definitely am a procrastinator. I never get anything done unless it’s last minute.”

 

“Okay, okay, get to work, slackers,” Connor says, getting up from the bed. “Do you have a bathroom?” he asks Jared.

 

Jared shakes his head, face completely straight. “No.”

 

Connor throws him a death glare, crossing his arms.

 

“It’s down the hall to the right,” Jared says, rolling his eyes.

 

Connor leaves the room, and Evan looks down at his blank document and starts typing. After a moment, though, he can feel eyes on him and looks up to find Jared staring at him with a shit eating grin on his face.

 

“What?”

 

Jared wiggles his eyebrows. “There’s something happening there.”

 

“Where?” Evan asks, face burning red.

 

“You know where.”

 

Evan drops his face in his hands in embarrassment, then looks back up and shakes his head. “No.”

 

“Yes!” Jared exclaims in a whisper yell. “Dude, I know I make a lot of stupid jokes, but seriously, I can see the way you guys are looking at each other. It’s weird, but it’s love.”

 

Evan sighs, looking at the door to make sure Connor isn’t coming back anytime soon, then looking back and pursing his lips. “Miguel broke up with him last night.”

 

Jared’s face falls in sympathy. “Oh. That’s... That sucks.” Then he smiles again. “But now you can make your move.”

 

“No, listen,” Evan pleads, hitting Jared’s arm lightly. “He... He kissed me last night and he hasn’t mentioned it since and I don’t know what to do.”

 

Jared’s jaw drops to the floor. “Oh, my God. My boy is growing up. Get it, Evan! You — “

 

“No, no, be quiet, please,” Evan begs. “It felt awful. I mean, not awful. It felt really — really good, but I felt so guilty because he doesn’t actually like me, he was just lonely and sad after Miguel dumped him, and — “

 

“You are so fucking oblivious,” Jared says, shaking his head in shame.

 

“What?”

 

“He likes you, dude.”

 

Evan shakes his head, scoffing. “No, he... No, why would he? No, he doesn’t.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “Seriously, Evan. You’re not seeing what I’m seeing. Connor is not someone I ever thought I’d see happy. But the way he looks at you, it’s kinda ridiculous. He’s not even being subtle about it. He loves you.”

 

“How could he move on from Miguel that fast, though? You should have seen him last night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so sad.” And that includes himself.

 

Shrugging, Jared glances at the door. “Maybe he’s not just moving on. Maybe he’s liked you for longer than you realize.”

 

He wants to believe him. So much. It would make everything so much easier on him. He wouldn’t have to question whether or not Connor wants to be with him anymore. But he just can’t be sure. Evan has such a hard time believing anyone could like him, especially someone as special as Connor. Then again, he was never sure that Connor wanted to be friends with him, and he was wrong about that... He desperately hopes he’s wrong about this too.

Chapter Text

Evan and Connor end up spending that night together too. Then the next, and they go to school together on Monday. Days go by, then a week, and then two. Soon enough it’s been a month since Connor got dumped, and he’s able to laugh easier, smile more, and hear Miguel’s name without seeming like he’s on the verge of a breakdown. Things are normal. Still, not one word has passed between them about that kiss.

 

Connor talks about it with his sister, though, which is a whole new level of strange for him.

 

Their parents are out one night and Evan is having a night with his mom, so the Murphy siblings order pizza and watch a movie. About halfway through, Zoe spits out a question.

 

“How are you doing?”

 

Connor glances over and squints. “Fine...”

 

Shaking her head, she says, “No, I meant... I meant with Miguel. Are you doing okay?”

 

“Oh.” Connor’s face suddenly feels hot, and he’s sure he’s bright red. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever get used to having real conversations with his sister. “I’m... fine. I miss him, but I’ll be fine.”

 

Zoe nods. “That’s good. And how’s... How’s Evan?”

 

That really catches him off guard. “Um. Fine.”

 

She smiles at him, mischievously, like she’s trying to hint at something through her eyes. “Just fine, huh?”

 

“What the fuck are you on?” Connor asks, rolling his eyes and looking away. He knows what this is about. How can he avoid it?

 

“Oh, come on, stop playing dumb,” Zoe huffs. “You like him.”

 

Is it possible to blush even more than this? “He’s my friend, that’s kind of implied.”

 

“Shut the fuck up, you know what I’m talking about.”

 

Connor takes a deep breath and forces himself to look at her. “No I don’t,” he lies. “And even if I did, he doesn’t like me, so it doesn’t matter.”

 

“How would you know?”

 

“Because he doesn’t.”

 

“But how do you — “

 

“It doesn’t matter! I don’t like him!” Connor insists, lying once again. “He’s just a friend.” Sadly, that one’s the truth.

 

“He doesn’t have to be just a friend, though,” Zoe pushes.

 

Why does she care so much about this? It’s really starting to piss him off; it just reminds him of how much he does like Evan, and how Evan definitely doesn’t feel the same way, and how he feels like he’s letting down Miguel even though they broke up, and all of the emotions that are fighting in him. He hates this.

 

Connor slams his hand down on the side table by the couch. “Stop, Zoe!” he shouts. “Who gives a shit? He doesn’t fucking like me, okay?”

 

There’s a millisecond of silence, then Zoe asks again, much quieter, “But how do you know?”

 

Connor replies in the same yelling tone. “Because I kissed him! And he pulled away!” He stops, taking a deep breath and leaning back on the couch. “So yeah,” he says, softer. “I like him. And he doesn’t like me.”

 

Zoe is silent for a few moments, watching her brother sadly as she practically sees his heart breaking all over again. Finally, she takes a breath and perks up. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean,” Connor says flatly, annoyed at how far she’s pushing this.

 

She shrugs. “I see how he looks at you.”

 

Connor pauses. He doesn’t want to get his hopes up, but he’s intrigued. “How does he look at me?”

 

Zoe thinks for a moment, then starts. “Like you’re literally the only other person in the world. Whenever I’m with you guys, it’s like I’m not even there. He just forgets about me and is so focused on everything you do. And I’ve never seen someone smile so much just because of one person. I just don’t think there’s any way he wants to be just friends.”

 

Silent and thinking, Connor stares at the floor. He can’t let himself get too hopeful about this, but the way she was talking about how Evan looks at him. That’s exactly how he feels when he’s around Evan. And he’s seen Evan look at Zoe like that, long before they were friends. And Evan definitely liked Zoe, so maybe he likes him now? This is too much overanalyzing.

 

“Also,” Zoe begins again, and Connor looks up at her. “You know how he does that thing where he hunches over and picks at his nails or stares at the floor? Or sometimes he stutters and can’t really get a real sentence out?”

 

Connor nods. He doesn’t do that as much anymore, but he remembers it.

 

“Almost all of that anxiety seems to just disappear when you’re around. He feels so comfortable around you. You should be proud that you make him feel so secure.”

 

Connor really can’t stop a small smile from creeping onto his face “I am. He makes me feel comfortable too.” Zoe just smiles for a few moments, and Connor blushes more. He hates all the attention on him, even if it’s just from one person. “What?”

 

Zoe shrugs. “I’m really happy you have someone that makes you feel like that. And I’m happy that we’re talking. You know, like this.”

 

Connor can’t help but smile back at her, but he’s so embarrassed, so he ends up looking away. “Shut up.” Talking with her like this is so weird.

 

Before Zoe can reply, Connor’s phone buzzes and he checks it. His heart flutters when he sees a text from Evan.

 

I just realized it’s been a while since our fancy dinner. Your turn to pay :)

 

Now that he thinks about it, it was his idea to do this every month. How did he forget about that? But what he can’t get his mind off of is that Evan brought it up. He made the first move. He never does that. It’s always Connor that has to act first, which is just another reason Evan definitely doesn’t like him. But maybe this is proof that he does actually want to go out with him... or maybe he still just wants to be friends.

 

Connor is so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t realize Zoe is staring over his shoulder at the text. “Holy shit,” she says, and Connor jumps away from her. “How do you not think he likes you? That’s a date right there.”

 

“No, we went out to this place a while ago but it was... it was just a friend thing,” Connor insists, shaking his head sadly. He was still with Miguel then. Actually, that was the last night he was with Miguel.

 

“It doesn’t have to be just a friend thing, though,” Zoe continues. “You can ask him out.”

 

Connor scoffs. That’s insane, right? “No. That would just ruin everything if he didn’t like me back.”

 

But Zoe shrugs. “You’ll never know until you try.”

 

She gets up and leaves, but he stays on the couch with those words ringing in his head for another twenty minutes. Try. Try. All he can do is try...

 

-

 

Evan feels like he’s bursting at the seams with excitement. The past month has been pretty depressing with Connor dealing with the breakup and Evan always being there for him, especially when it’s Miguel that Connor is so upset about. Not that he isn’t happy to be there for Connor whenever he needs it, but sometimes Evan doesn’t want to be reminded that Connor is still hung up on Miguel, and therefore will never like him back.

 

But it’s fine. Because he took a leap and asked him to go out for dinner again. Connor said yes, and it’s happening tonight. Not a date. A friend date. Something like that. But it’s just them. And maybe they can both forget about Miguel for a while.

 

At lunch that day, they go to the library. Since it’s getting colder out, they don’t sit under the tree anymore, which Evan misses. But the library is nice too; it’s quiet and completely empty, since all the students are with their friends and the librarian eats in the cafeteria. Technically there’s a sign that says no food is allowed in there, but Connor is there all the time, so he gets an exception. Evan gets an exception because he’s always with him.

 

“What’d you do with your mom last night?” Connor asks as they sit down at a table.

 

Evan pops a tater tot into his mouth. “We went and got Chinese food and just talked for a while.”

 

“About what?”

 

Evan sighs. “Kind of... everything. How I’m doing, how she’s doing, how you’re doing, and — “

 

“How I’m doing? Why was I involved in this?” Connor interrupts, his eyes wide. He almost looks worried.

 

Smiling softly, Evan shrugs. “You’re my friend. One of my only friends. So you’re kind of important to her.”

 

“That’s... sad. But also cute,” Connor comments before taking a bite of his burger. Evan has a hard time focusing on eating his meal when he’s around him, so distracted by how much he wants to hug him and just how amazing he is.

 

After a moment he snaps himself out of it. “What did you end up doing last night?” he asks.

 

Connor finishes up his bite then takes a drink of water. “Zoe and I ordered pizza and rented a movie.”

 

“What movie?”

 

“Iron Man.”

 

Evan nods absentmindedly. “I haven’t actually seen that.”

 

He’s pretty sure Connor almost chokes, because he lets out a loud cough and stares at him with wide eyes. “Sorry, what?”

 

Evan just shrugs. “I don’t really watch superhero movies. I’m not against them or anything. Like, if they’re on TV I’ll watch but I’m not gonna spend money on it.”

 

Connor shakes his head slowly, like he’s disappointed. And he might actually be. “You don’t get it. You’ll never understand the magic of these movies.”

 

Evan can’t help but laugh at that. So many unexpected things leave Connor’s mouth. Things that Evan never thought he’d hear him say a few months ago, before they were friends. “Okay, so a musical nerd, a Harry Potter nerd, and a superhero nerd,” he lists off, unable to hold back a grin. “You’re a lot lamer than I thought you were.” He also never thought he’d be comfortable enough to tease Connor like this.

 

“You’re just now realizing this?” Connor jokes. “But seriously, you have to watch all the Marvel movies with me. In order.”

 

“Aren’t there, like, thirty?” Evan asks.

 

Connor pauses. “That’s exaggerating, but basically.”

 

Laughing quietly, Evan nods. “Okay. Sounds time consuming, but I’ll do it for you.”

 

There’s a silence, and Connor just keeps smiling at Evan. It makes him blush and look away, and when he looks back, Connor opens his mouth, about to say something. Then as soon as it’s there, it’s gone, and he shuts his mouth and looks down at his food.

 

“You okay?” Evan asks, still smiling softly over at him.

 

Connor nods quickly, his lips pursed. “Mhm. Yeah, I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah,” Connor says quickly, forcefully, so Evan doesn’t push it.

 

“Okay... So, tonight? You can pick me up?” he asks instead. His mom is picking him up after school to take him to therapy, so he can’t just go over to Connor’s house.

 

Connor nods again. “Yeah, I’ll be there around 6 or 7, depending on if my dad finds something to yell at me about.”

 

It’s sad, but Evan laughs a bit because he’s gotten used to those jokes from his best friend by now. “Sounds good. I’m excited.”

 

“The food’ll probably taste even better this time cause you don’t have to pay.”

 

Evan nods in agreement. That was a shit ton of money, at least it feels like it to him. “I can pay for my own bill if you want.”

 

But Connor shakes his head immediately. “Absolutely not. It’s on me.”

 

“If you insist,” Evan sighs, trying to sound over dramatic. He thinks he sounds stupid, but Connor laughs anyway. He always does.

 

They talk nonstop for the rest of the lunch period, and Evan gets so distracted by the beauty of Connor Murphy that he loses track of time. Usually he leaves a few minutes early so he doesn’t risk being late for class, so when the bell rings he’s caught off guard. He stands up quickly and grabs his bag, leaving his tray on the table. Connor likes to skip this period, so he usually cleans up their space.

 

“Shit, I gotta go,” Evan mutters, giving Connor a quick side hug. He’ll take all the hugs he can get throughout the day. “See you later.”

 

“I — “ Connor sounds like he’s gonna say something, then stops. “Okay. See you tonight.”

 

Evan shoots him another quick smile then rushes out of the library. The hallway is already starting to empty out as students make their way to classes, but he still has to weave his way through people, apologizing profusely and just trying to be on time to class. But that plan is thrown out the window when he hears his name called.

 

“Wait! Evan!”

 

He turns to find Connor making his way out of the library and moving around people to get to him. By the time he reaches him, there’s almost no one in that hall. Evan looks around, nervous. He’s gonna be late to class and everyone is gonna stare.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Can we... Um...” Connor looks so nervous he might pass out. That takes Evan’s attention away from his own anxiety. He’s staring down at his hands, shifting his weight from foot to foot, not able to stand still. It’s concerning.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Connor nods quickly. “Yeah, but can we, maybe, uh... Can tonight... Do you think tonight can... Can this maybe not be a — a friend thing?”

 

Evan feels his heart stop for just a second. What does that mean? He thinks he knows what it means, actually, but he really can’t let himself get his hopes up. So he forces a small chuckle and crosses his arms self-consciously. “What do you... What do you mean?”

 

Connor looks at him for a moment like he’s thinking, then finally blurts it out. “Can tonight be a date? Like a... a real date?”

 

Evan’s head is spinning. So many thoughts. There’s no way he means that, right? He literally said the ward date, but he can’t be serious. Why would he want to go on a date with Evan? But then, who cares? He wants to go on a date with Evan, so who is Evan to question it. But he still does. With all the thoughts and feelings racing through his head, all he can get out is a stupid, “Why?”

 

Connor looks lost, like he just got punched in the gut and he doesn’t know what to do now. “Oh. Never mind. I thought — I’m sorry, just forget it, it was stupid.” He slowly turns and starts to walk away and Evan sees how bright red his face it, and how sad he looks. He’s not sure what to say.

 

He knows what he wants to say. Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes. But he just can’t get it out. So he reaches and grabs Connor’s arm, tugging him back. “Wait. I — um. I just don’t — “

 

“I like you,” Connor says, so quickly that Evan isn’t totally sure it was ever said. But then he says it again. His is are fixed on the ground, feet kicking at the floor. “I really like you, and I wanted to go on a date with you, but I get it, you don’t like me back, so just forget — “

 

“Yes.” He just had to talk, to get something in with all the rambling Connor is doing.

 

Connor stops and looks up, a confused look on his face. “Wait, what?”

 

Evan smiles at him. How can he not? “I’ll... I’ll go on a date with you. Tonight.”

 

“You don’t... Evan, you don’t have to... You don’t have to pretend to — “

 

“I’m not pretending. I — I like you. And I... I wanna go out with you, so — “

 

“Really?” Connor asks, grinning ear to ear. The light in Connor’s eyes makes Evan’s heart so happy.

 

Evan blushes and nods, smiling profusely himself. “Y — Yeah.”

 

It looks like Connor is trying to calm down his excitement, which really only makes Evan feel more confident. Is he really this excited that Evan likes him? No way he’s as happy as Evan is. He never in a million years thought Connor Murphy would want to go out with him.

 

Connor nods, cleaning his throat. His grin is still very much present, probably not leaving anytime soon. “Yes. Great. Cool. So — Um. I’ll just... I’ll pick you up tonight, and — Wow.”

 

Evan laughs nervously. He doesn’t know how to act. It seems like Connor doesn’t know either. He’s never seen him so speechless before. “S — Sure, yeah... Um, see you then, I — I guess. Thanks for... y’know... asking me.”

 

Connor chuckles. “Thanks for saying yes.”

 

Evan nods, hoping he doesn’t look too red in the face. And that he doesn’t look so excited that it’s creepy. Cause that’s how he feels. How is he supposed to focus the rest of the day when he knows that he’s about to go on a date with the boy he’s been in love with for months? But who cares? It’s happening. The day that he literally never had hope about has finally come. Connor Murphy actually likes him. Starting now, he’s counting down the hours until their first date. Just wait until Jared hears about this.

Chapter Text

Connor takes a bit longer to grab his things after school that day, so distracted by his excitement for that night. When he gets in the car, Zoe is waiting for him. She’s on her phone, but she puts it down once he gets his seat belt on and she starts backing out of the parking spot.

 

“What the fuck took you so long?”

 

Connor just shakes his head in response, not sure what to say. She was the one that told him to go for it with Evan, so should he tell her?

 

“Are you... good? Your face looks weird.”

 

For just a second, Connor is confused. And then he realizes that he’s smiling, a huge grin plastered on his face. “I... Yeah, I’m good.”

 

They get out of the parking lot, and Zoe glances over at him as she starts speeding up. “What is up with you, dude?”

 

“Nothing. I just...” Connor looks down at his hands, done trying to cover up his joy. “I asked Evan out. It’s a date. Tonight.”

 

Zoe stares over for probably too long before a big smile grows on her face and she reaches over and hits her brother in the arm. “I fucking told you he liked you.”

 

Connor scoffs, brushing the hair out of his face. “You love to be right.”

 

Zoe laughs softly. “How about a thank you? For making you ask him?”

 

“You didn’t make me,” Connor argues. “But yeah, thank you. God knows he never would have done it.”

 

“So you guys are just gonna go get dinner?”

 

Nodding, Connor clears his throat. “Yeah, I think so. Maybe we’ll come back and watch a movie or something. He can sleep over if he wants.”

 

Zoe is silent for a moment, and then it’s like Connor sees a lightbulb turn on behind her eyes. She glances over at him with a mischievous smile. “Dad’s gonna be out late for a work thing tonight, I think. Do you want me to get mom out of the house somehow so you guys can be alone?”

 

Connor is pretty caught off guard. Is she asking what he thinks she’s asking? “Are you... trying to help me get laid?”

 

Zoe laughs, her hair falling in her face when she does so she has to take one hand off the wheel and push it back. “I didn’t say that, did I? Just so you can have the house to yourselves. Some peace and quiet. Whatever you do with that peace and quiet is up to you... Take it or leave it.”

 

Connor smiles over at her. “You’re the best. Yes, thank you.”

 

She nods. “Cool, just text me when you’re leaving dinner and I’ll figure something out.”

 

Connor is so happy he doesn’t even know how to put it into words. A date with the most amazing guy, a sister who’s so good to him even despite all the shit he’s put her through. God, how did he get so lucky?

 

-

 

When Evan’s mom brings him home from therapy, he runs up to his room to change. What does he wear? Last time he was pretty casual about it, but this is a real date. He needs to look really nice, right? He doesn’t know how this stuff works.

 

He ends up going with some dark blue jeans and a button up shirt. It’s nice, but not too fancy. It’s probably fine. Then he rushes back downstairs, where his mom is standing in the kitchen looking in the fridge and freezer.

 

“Honey, what do you want for dinner?” she asks, yelling before she realizes he’s standing right there. “Oh. Hi. What sounds good?”

 

“Um, actually, I’m going out tonight.”

 

Heidi looks over at him and closes the fridge. She looks exhausted. “Evan, we... I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages. When’s the last time we had dinner together?”

 

Evan shrugs. “I don’t know. You’re never home.”

 

“Well, I’m home now.”

 

“I already have plans, Mom. I’m sorry.”

 

“I was just really...” Heidi lets out a long sigh. “I wanted to talk to you about some things tonight. Your — “

 

“Can it wait? Please?” Evan feels bad, but he can’t just cancel his date to hang out with his mom. He’s been waiting for this for the longest time.

 

“Fine,” Heidi agrees, reluctantly. “But next week, on my night off. Dinner, okay? Just you and me.”

 

Evan nods in agreement, smiling softly. It’s not that he’s against spending time with his mom, he misses her a lot actually. But there’s no way he’s backing out of this date. Date. He just keeps repeating the word in his head. Is this really happening?

 

“So what are your plans tonight?” Heidi asks.

 

Evan almost lies. Well, half-lies. He almost just says that he’s hanging out with Connor. But something is pushing him to tell the truth. Maybe his happiness, maybe how close he’s been feeling with his mom lately, even though he never sees her. Actually, he thinks since he’s doing so much better mentally, his relationship with his mom has only gotten better. So he tells her.

 

“I... I have a date.”

 

Heidi’s jaw drops, and her eyes light up. “What? Evan, that’s amazing. What’s her name?”

 

He hesitates a moment before answering. This is the time. No backing out now. “It’s with Connor.”

 

There’s more of a silence this time, but she’s still smiling. He can’t tell what’s going through her eyes right now, but he knows for sure that it’s — thankfully — not disappointment. She’s probably just glad he’s socializing more.

 

“That’s really amazing, Evan. I’m happy for you. He’s a sweet kid.”

 

Evan can’t even explain how happy those words make him. An adult that doesn’t assume the worst in Connor. It’s refreshing. He keeps smiling wide, looking down and blushing. “Thanks, Mom.”

 

“So, are you... You’re — You’re gay, then?” Heidi asks. He can tell she’s trying to make it seem like it’s not a big deal. Which it really shouldn’t be.

 

He blushes more, shrugging, still looking away. “Um... I guess I’m... I — I’m bisexual. So... yeah.”

 

He sneaks a glance at her before continuing to avoid her eyes, and she’s still grinning. “Okay. Thank you for telling me, Evan. I’m glad you did.” And then she steps forward and wraps her arms around him. It feels really good, being hugged by his mom like this. His heart is beating so fast. “I love you.”

 

Evan nods. “I love you too. Thank you for being... such a good mom.”

 

When he pulls away, she looks like she’s close to tears. “Honey...”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Zoe’s car pull up in front of the house, and a new rush of adrenaline kicks in. “Connor’s here, I gotta go, love you, thank you, bye,” he says, all in one breath before practically running out the front door and hopping in the passenger seat.

 

As soon as he sits down, he freezes. He doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know what to say or how to act. Is he supposed to act differently than normal on a date? He looks over at Connor, who’s grinning like crazy, and suddenly it’s impossible for him to overthink it anymore. He loses himself in that smile, and then he’s smiling too, and then they both laugh.

 

“Hi,” Evan says, probably sounding dumb. He doesn’t care, though.

 

“Hi,” Connor responds. It takes him a minute to actually be able to pry his eyes off of Evan and onto the road so he can start driving. Once they do, he clears his throat. “How was — How was therapy?”

 

Evan nods. “It was good. Kinda boring.”

 

“Boring?” Connor asks. “How?”

 

Evan shrugs. “I’ve been doing really well lately. I haven’t needed my Ativan at all, and I’ve just been really happy. So there’s not really anything interesting to talk about.”

 

“Makes sense, I guess.”

 

“I do have news, though,” Evan adds quickly.

 

Connor raises his eyebrows, glancing over. “Continue.”

 

“I... I came out to my mom.”

 

Connor’s jaw drops, the same way his mom’s did. “Shit, Evan. Good for you. Did she take it well?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah. Really well. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t think she’d be so... cool about it, I guess.”

 

“She’s probably just happy you’re happy.”

 

Evan just smiles at him for a few moments. “Yeah,” he says softly. “I really am.”

 

When they get to the restaurant, they end up getting the same server as last time, and she recognizes them. She must like them, because she makes sure their food is out in front of them as fast as she can. It’s a perfect night.

 

“This is really nice,” Evan says after he takes his first bite. “Thank you so much.”

 

“You don’t have to thank me,” Connor says with a shrug. “Thank you for... y’know, for saying yes.”

 

Evan laughs softly. “I don’t think there’s any way in hell I would have said no.”

 

“Oh, I’m just that cute?” Connor jokes.

 

“Yes,” Evan agrees, forcing a straight face.

 

They both laugh for a few moments, and then Connor continues. “Seriously, though. I was convinced that you didn’t... That you didn’t like me, so I was freaking out about asking you.”

 

Evan sighs, looking down at his food and poking at it with his fork, just trying to avoid eye contact as he blushes. “I’ve liked you for — for so long, I just couldn’t do anything about it.”

 

“How long?” Connor asks, almost hesitantly.

 

Evan looks up at him. He’s not sure why he’s so nervous to talk about this. He knows that Connor likes him back, so what’s the big deal? “I — I think before that day I came out to you... That was the day I really realized it, I think.”

 

Connor’s eyebrows go up in surprise. “Yeah, that’s a while to go without saying anything. I was so sure you didn’t like me, so you did a good job of keeping a secret.”

 

“Really?” Evan asks, smiling and laughing softly. “I thought I was being so obvious. Like, I’m clingy and annoying and — “

 

“So am I, so we’re basically meant for each other.”

 

Evan really doesn’t know what to say to that, all he knows is that he blushes deeper and tries to hide it by looking down and taking another bite. This is so weird, talking so openly about this. He never thought this would happen.

 

“Seriously, Ev,” Connor says, kicking his foot lightly under the table. Evan looks back up. “When... When I kissed you last month... If you liked me then, why’d you pull away?”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. “You had just gotten dumped. I thought you just kissed me cause you were lonely or something. It was too soon.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor says, looking like he really regrets it. “I didn’t mean to — I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t apologize,” Evan says, hesitating before reaching over and grabbing his hand. “It was a good first kiss.”

 

Connor’s eyes widen a little in surprise. “That was your first kiss?” Evan nods, and Connor shakes his head. “With me while I was covered in tears and snot? I am so sorry.”

 

“No, no, it’s fine. It was good,” Evan insists.

 

Connor squeezes Evan’s hand. “Well, maybe I can give you a better first kiss sometime soon.”

 

Evan really can’t stop his mouth from opening in shock, like he just heard something hugely risqué. He can’t believe he’s here, he can’t believe he’s doing this, and Connor is talking about actually wanting to kiss him again. How did this even happen?

 

“Should we get that cheesecake again?” Connor asks. “Since this is an actual date this time?”

 

Evan nods. “Yes! That was delicious.”

 

Connor laughs, squeezing Evan’s hand before letting it go. “You’re cute.”

 

Evan shrugs. “Why, thank you.”

 

After their dinner, and their dessert, and forty five minutes of talking about literally whatever comes to their minds, they pay and had out to the car. Connor texts Zoe to let her know they’re leaving before putting the car into drive and starting to head home.

 

“Thanks for dinner,” Evan says after they get out of the lot and onto the street.

 

Connor smiles at him quickly, blushes, then reaches over and grabs his hand. “Of course.”

 

Evan smiles, squeezing his hand back. “So I should probably start saving up for next month.”

 

“Please tell me I don’t have to wait a whole month to go on a date with you again,” Connor says, frowning.

 

Evan chuckles, so unbelievably happy that Connor’s so open about wanting to go out with him. “No, but you have to wait a month until you can get overpriced steak.”

 

“Deal. Next time it’s McDonald’s,” Connor decides. “Hey, do you wanna come over?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah, sure.” He catches Connor smiling to himself, like he’s so excited he actually said yes. Why wouldn’t he say yes to more time with Connor, though?

 

They pull up to the house a few minutes later, and Connor is disappointed to see his mom’s car still in the driveway. He checks his phone to see a text from Zoe.

 

Still working on it. I’ll get her out soon, sorry.

 

They get out of the car, and Connor sighs. “Let’s just walk around for a little bit. It’s nice out.”

 

Evan looks at him like he’s insane. “It’s freezing, but okay.”

 

Connor laughs and takes off his jacket, tossing it to Evan. Sometimes Evan fights him on it when he tries to do this kind of stuff, but tonight he just puts it on, happy as ever.

 

They turn away from the house and start walking, and Connor intertwines their fingers. Both of them are just smiling softly at the ground, completely content with each other’s company. Evan kind of buries himself in Connor’s arm while holding his hand, still freezing and really just wanting an excuse to be closer to him. He can’t remember the last time he was this happy, this comfortable with who he was. How did he ever survive without Connor Murphy?

 

They circle the block, and when they get back to the house, the only car there is Zoe’s. So Connor leads Evan up to the front door, but he stops there.

 

“You okay?” Evan asks.

 

Without a word, Connor just wraps him in a hug, his arms around his middle. Evan has to get on his toes to wrap his around Connor’s neck, and he buries his face in his shirt. It’s so warm, and he’s so cold. When they pull away, he feels so freezing again, and it doesn’t warm him up when Connor puts his cold hands on Evan’s cheeks. He gets goosebumps from the temperature, and — Oh, that’s what’s happening.

 

He was so distracted by the cold and Connor’s eyes and the hug that he didn’t even realize Connor was leaning forward until a millisecond before their lips touch for the second time. And suddenly he forgets about the cold and he’s only in this moment. He never wants to leave this moment.

 

He doesn’t know how to do this. How to kiss. He does his best to just follow Connor’s lead, moving his lips whenever he does. It seems to be working okay. It was probably only a few seconds, but time moved so slow when they were kissing that it felt like an eternity. He’d be totally fine with kissing Connor for eternity, actually.

 

Both of their faces are red, either from the cold or from blushing. Does it really matter? Connor opens the door and lets Evan in, then follows him and closes it. They both kick their shoes off, then just stand there, not really sure what to do after that. For Evan, it feels like everything has just been leading up to that. That one kiss was all he needed, and now he can die happy. So he has no idea where to go from there.

 

He follows Connor’s lead, as usual, and takes his hand when he offers it. They head up the stairs and into his bedroom without a word. All Evan knows is he wants to keep kissing. It felt so good. Is it always that good? He just wants to try again. He sits on Connor’s bed, legs hanging off the edge, and watches him carefully.

 

Connor looks so nervous, like every move he makes is being calculated very carefully. He makes his way over to the bed as well, and stands, one leg on the floor, one kneeling on the bed.

 

“Is this... okay?” Connor asks, starting to lean forward again.

 

Evan smiles softly, nodding. “Very.”

 

Connor smiles in response, letting out a breathy chuckle. “Good.”

 

Evan lets their lips touch again before lying back and swinging his legs up on the bed one by one. He reaches up as they kiss, hands touching Connor’s hair. It’s so soft. After a few moments, he feels something on his leg, and he looks down and realizes exactly what it is. Is that actually happening? Right here, right now?

 

He’s definitely feeling it himself, and he just goes with it. He kisses Connor again. God, he loves kissing him. It might be his favorite activity. Connor pulls away and unzips his jacket that’s on Evan, and Evan sits up and lets him pull it off. Then Connor sits up and pulls off his own shirt. Evan thinks he’s getting more attractive by the minute. He moves his hands and runs his fingers up and down Connor’s bare arms, and he feels goosebumps form.

 

“You’re really...” Evan starts, but he’s breathless, speechless, completely dumbfounded, and stupid in love. “Wow.”

 

Connor smiles, laughing quietly and leaning forward again to kiss him. While he does, he reaches down and starts to fiddle with Evan’s pants. He manages to get the button undone, then the zipper and he tugs them down as far as he can until he has to pull away from the kiss to get them completely off. While he throws them onto the floor, Evan realizes how vulnerable he feels. He’s not sure if he likes it. He loves Connor, and everything else feels good, but the idea of being completely exposed is terrifying to him. He tries to ignore it, for Connor.

 

Instead of leaning forward again, Connor undoes his own pants and throws those on the floor. Now the only thing between them and completely vulnerability is their boxers and Evan’s shirt.

 

Connor goes forward again, but this time he just pecks Evan’s lips, then slowly kisses all the way down to his neck. Now that feels really fucking good. Almost good enough to distract Evan from his fear.

 

He lets out a moan involuntarily, and Connor catches on that he likes that. Evan can feel his smile against the skin of his neck before he begins to suck on it, and Evan really can’t control himself now. Connor’s name slips out of his mouth in a whisper, and his legs wrap around Connor’s waist.

 

Connor pulls back and unbuttons the top two buttons on Evan’s shirt, then kisses him again as he makes his way down. When he gets to the last button, his hands are amazingly close to Evan’s boxers, just lightly brushing the skin, and Evan can feel himself get goosebumps again. He lifts himself up to let Connor take his shirt off completely.

 

And there’s the vulnerability again. He’s never loved how he looked in the mirror, he never thought he had a good body. And showing it off completely to Connor? That’s a big step. But he really can’t deny that the physical aspect of it feels so amazing.

 

As Connor comes back up to kiss him, Evan notices how red his face is, and he wonders if his own is that red. Probably more. And their lips are together again, and this time it’s Evan who grabs Connor’s face, his thumbs stroking his cheek, trying to show how much he loves him without actually having to say the words. Connor moves his hands up and down Evan’s stomach and sides and waist, and it tickles a little bit, and it makes him extremely self conscious, but it mostly feels perfect. Connor feels perfect.

 

And after a minute Connor stops moving his hands and keeps them at Evan’s waist, his fingers running along the top of his boxers. And his body is begging him to take them off, but his mind is screaming at him not to. He ignores it. Just once in his life he wants to ignore his brain, his stupid anxiety.

 

Evan lets out an involuntary whine, just waiting for Connor to get it over with. Once they’re off, it’ll be done, and he can move on and focus on how good this is. But Connor smiles up at him, then moves back up, completely on top of him, and goes back to his neck. He’s fucking teasing him. That little shit. Damn, he’s good at this.

 

“Connor...” Evan says, so soft it’s almost inaudible.

 

Connor lifts his head up and grins at him. “You’re so impatient.”

 

Evan can’t help but smile back at him, and Connor kisses him quickly again before going back down to his boxers. His fingertips drag along his waist before they stop at the top of the fabric and start slowly pulling them down.

 

But just as that starts, it’s suddenly like Evan can’t breathe. He thinks it’s Connor, but then he realizes Connor isn’t on top of him anymore. It feels like ten tons just got slammed on his chest, and he really really really cannot show anymore of himself. It’s too much. He’s too vulnerable already. He doesn’t feel safe. Something he never thought he’d say when Connor was around.

 

Finally Evan roughly grabs Connor’s hands to stop him from going any further. “Stop! Stop, I can’t. I — I’m sorry.”

 

Connor sits up completely, and Evan pushes himself back and pulls his knees towards himself to hide his body. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he whispers over and over again, holding the sides of his head tight.

 

Connor puts his hands up, probably to show he’s not gonna try anything. But why would he? He’s trustworthy, and Evan knows that, so why is he so freaked out right now? “It’s okay, Ev, you’re okay. What — What’s wrong?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “I don’t — I don’t know. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I — I can’t.”

 

“You don’t need to apologize, Evan, you’re fine. You’re safe, okay?” Connor slowly puts his hands down and scoots closer. “Can... Can I hold you?”

 

Evan nods hesitantly, moving away from the middle of the bed so Connor has room to sit next to him and hug him close. Evan stays curled up to hide himself while Connor wraps his arms around him.

 

“You’re okay,” Connor whispers, kissing Evan’s head. “It’s okay. Is there anything I can do?”

 

Evan shakes his head, burying his face in Connor’s shoulder. “Just this. I’m sorry.”

 

After a few minutes of letting Evan catch his breath, Connor tries to talk it through. “Was it something I did?”

 

“N — No. I just... I don’t know, I’ve never — I just couldn’t.”

 

Connor nods. “Okay...”

 

Evan shrugs, pulling away and looking at him. He’s still holding his knees to his chest. “It felt... really, really good. I loved it, but I didn’t... I didn’t like having all my clothes... y’know, off, it made me feel... weird and I don’t like how I look, so I was just — And, I don’t know, I didn’t — “

 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Connor says, reaching over and squeezing Evan’s hands. “You don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to.” He stands up and grabs Evan’s clothes from the floor, handing them over to him. They both get their clothes back on, and Connor climbs back on the bed. He lifts up the covers and they both lie down, Connor holding Evan close. And they just lie there, losing track of time until they hear the front door open and close.

 

“Connor!” Cythia calls. “Are you home?”

 

“Yeah!” Connor yells, probably too loud, and Evan laughs into his chest.

 

“Is Evan here? I think his ride is waiting for him!”

 

Connor sits up and looks out the window, then turns back to Evan. “There’s a car here. You asked your mom to pick you up? I told you I’d take you home.”

 

Evan frowns in confusion, shaking his head. “No, I didn’t. What time is it?”

 

Connor looks at his phone. “9:30. It’s not even that late.”

 

“Weird.”

 

They get out of bed, and Evan makes sure he has his phone in his pocket. “I’ll walk you out,” Connor offers. Evan nods, and they start to leave, but before they open the bedroom door, Connor stops him. He leans down and kisses him again, squeezing his hands. “I’m... I’m really happy you’re in my life, Evan.”

 

Evan grins, pecking Connor’s lips quickly. “Right back at you.”

 

When they get downstairs, Evan slips his shoes on, but Connor doesn’t bother since he’ll be right back inside anyway.

 

“Hey, Evan. How was your guys’ night?” Cynthia asks, coming out of the kitchen.

 

Evan smiles at Connor. “Good.” He’s pretty sure he hears Zoe laughing in the living room.

 

Evan opens the door and heads out first, and he’s so distracted by the night that he’s halfway to the car before he realizes that it’s not his mom’s. His mom’s is old and beat up. This one is sleek and black and probably expensive. He stops in his tracks and looks back at Connor, a concerned expression on his face.

 

“Evan? You okay?” Connor asks.

 

Then the driver’s side window rolls down, and it’s a face he never thought he’d see again. Or at least not for a long time.

 

“Dad?”

Chapter Text

“What... What’s going on?” Evan asks, completely frozen in place. He feels like the world is spinning around him, and the only thing he can focus on is his father’s face staring at him, smiling. And then he’s getting out of the car, coming towards him.

 

Evan sort of stumbles back, and Connor puts a hand on his back. “Is that... Is that your dad?” he whispers.

 

The passenger door opens, and out comes a familiar face. Thank God she’s here, that’s at least a little bit of reality to ground him.

 

“Mom? What’s going on?”

 

He’s lost, so confused, doesn’t know what to do or think. He can’t remember the last time their parents were in the same state together, he was so sure his mom hated his dad after everything.

 

Heidi walks past the stranger in front of Evan and looks at her son, smiling. She looks nervous. “Honey, your dad came to visit. Isn't that nice?"

 

Evan looks blankly from his mother to his father, still dumbfounded at what’s happening. “I don’t... O — Okay.”

 

He completely forgot about Connor behind him, even though he was rubbing his back to try and calm him down, subtly so no one saw. But then he speaks up, and it makes Evan jump a little.

 

“I’m sorry, didn’t you leave? Like... years ago?”

 

His dad looks at him, like he didn’t even notice he was there. “Who — Who’s this, Evan?”

 

“He’s my... My, um...” God, he’s so shocked and confused that he can’t even talk. Why is this happening?

 

“This is Evan’s best friend. Connor,” Heidi says, still smiling nervously.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “And you’d know that if you had taken any interest at all in your son’s life.”

 

“Connor,” Heidi says, only half stern. She doesn’t really seem like she wants to fight him on this. Maybe she agrees.

 

“You’re right.” He looks from Connor to Evan. “But I’m here now. And I wanna get to know you.”

 

Evan isn’t sure what to think. He’s wanted to have a relationship with his dad his whole life, but the past few months he’s been doing so great he hasn’t thought about him much. Is it too late, though? Probably not. He can still get to know him. Maybe now that he’s doing better mentally, he can be the son his father always wanted him to be. So he smiles softly, tiredly, feeling tears in his eyes. And he nods.

 

“O — Okay. Yeah. Thank you.” Evan steps forward, away from Connor and toward his dad, and his father embraces him. And then the tears really come. He honestly doesn’t remember the last time he got a hug from his dad.

 

When they pull away, they start to walk toward the car, but Connor grabs his friend’s — boyfriend’s, maybe? — arm. “Evan,” he says, seeming unsure.

 

But Evan is fine. He’s hopeful. Everything is going to be good. It’s finally gonna be good. “Con, I’m fine. I’ll see you tomorrow. You’re picking me up, right?”

 

“Will you just call me?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah, I’ll try.” He hugs Connor. “Thank you for everything,” he says quietly.

 

When they get in the car, it’s completely silent. Kind of awkward. Evan isn’t sure how to start a conversation, but thankfully his dad does.

 

“It’s so good to see you, Evan.”

 

“Yeah, it’s... it’s really good to see you, um, too.” There he goes, back to the stuttering, nervous mess he always was. Everything’s fine, though. It’s gonna be fine.

 

“So what do you say, guys? Tomorrow we’ll go get lunch, maybe see a movie?”

 

Heidi looks over at her ex. “Mark, I work tomorrow. And Evan has school.”

 

“Oh, come on, Heidi, it’s a special occasion. You can’t have fun just one day?”

 

Heidi rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “No. I’m going to work, and Evan is going to school. You can stay on the couch tonight, but tomorrow you need to check into a hotel.”

 

“Why, mom?” Evan asks, scooting up in his seat. “The couch is fine, and he’ll be around more that way.”

 

Heidi glances back at him. “Honey, he’ll be... he’ll be comfier in a real bed.”

 

“It’s okay, Evan,” Mark insists. “We’ll go out sometime, just you and me. It’ll be great.”

 

When they get home, Heidi runs upstairs to get blankets and pillows, and Evan and his dad sit in the living room, Evan on a chair and his dad on the couch across from him.

 

“So, whatcha been up to, sport? Girls? Parties? Drugs?”

 

Evan can tell he’s joking, but he feels so awkward laughing along. He feels awkward all the time, so this shouldn’t be new. “Just... Just, um, school and stuff.”

 

“Where ya goin’ to college?”

 

Evan shrugs. “I don’t — I don’t really know. Somewhere close, probably.

 

Heidi comes back with a couple of blankets and pillows and sets them on the couch next to Mark. “Okay, Evan and I need to get to bed, we gotta get up early tomorrow. Use the TV or whatever, just don’t have it up too loud.”

 

Mark nods, smiling. “Thank you, Heidi. Goodnight.”

 

Evan smiles back, still completely not over the fact that his dad is back. “Night, dad.”

 

When he gets up to his room, he grabs his phone and calls Connor, who picks up immediately.

 

“What the hell just happened?”

 

Evan collapses on his bed. “My dad’s back, that’s what happened. This is the best day of my life. I went on a date with my favorite guy in the world, my dad came back... This is amazing.”

 

Connor sighs on the other end. “Evan, I’m glad you’re so happy, but...” he trails off.

 

“But... what?” Evan asks.

 

“I don’t know, I have a bad feeling about this,” Connor answers.

 

Evan scoffs, laughing softly. “It’s fine, Connor. Seriously, everything is gonna be great.”

 

Connor pauses before letting out a long breath and moving on. “So — So you had a good night?”

 

Evan grins. “So good, thanks to you. Thank you so much for being so amazing.”

 

“I’m not that amazing.”

 

“You are. Don’t fight with me about it, it’s true.”

 

Connor laughs a little, then sighs. “Okay. I’m glad everything’s okay. Zoe and I will pick you up tomorrow morning, alright? Sleep well.”

 

Evan nods. “You too, see you tomorrow.”

 

He hangs up, and lies back, staring at the ceiling. Could it get more perfect than this?

 

-

 

“So, what, he just showed up after years of being gone?”

 

Connor nods, searching for a song to play on the aux. “Yeah. You don’t think that’s weird?”

 

“It might be,” Zoe answers, shrugging. “But maybe he just realized his mistake and wanted to fix it.”

 

Shaking his head, Connor rolls his eyes. “I don’t think so. I saw him, and I don’t... I don’t know, something just seems off with everything. I don’t know what it is.”

 

Zoe sighs. “I guess all you can do is have Evan’s back. If things go wrong, just be there for him. But if not, just be happy for him.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” Connor replies, looking out the car window as they pull up in front of Evan’s house.

 

Evan’s always prepared, and he runs out as soon as they park. Connor gets out and opens the back door for him, but not before he pecks his lips and smiles. “Morning.”

 

“Morning.”

 

They get in the back, and Zoe starts the journey to school.

 

“How’d you sleep?” Connor asks as they drive.

 

Evan shrugs. “I didn’t really. It was weird having my dad being in the same house again, I was so excited and I just never got to sleep.”

 

Sighing, Connor forces a smile. He really wants Evan to know that he supports him, that he’s happy for him, but he feels so weird about this whole thing. He’s pretty sure the conversations about his dad are never going to stop, and he doesn’t know how much of it he’ll be able to take. But he tells himself to suck it up and get over it, be happy for Evan, be there for Evan. Always for Evan. Anything.

 

They separate for a few minutes when they get to school so Evan can go to his locker, but they meet back up at Connor’s locker right after, smiling at each other.

 

“I had a lot of fun last night,” Evan says, leaning against the locker next to Connor.

 

“Me too,” Connor agrees, happy to talk about anything other than Evan’s father.

 

“And thanks for being so understanding about... the whole thing.” Evan blushes, looking down like he feels guilty. “I’m sorry.”

 

Connor quickly shakes his head. There’s no reason for Evan to feel bad. “Don’t be. It’s not a big deal. I got the whole night with you, I don’t care what we do with it.”

 

Evan smiles quickly, then stops and hesitates before opening his mouth. “Um... So does that mean... Are we, like... I know we only went on one date but I — I like you a lot and I think you still like me, so are we... uh — “

 

“Boyfriends?” Connor asks, laughing softly. Evan almost seems more afraid of that word than he always was.

 

Evan blushes even more. “Yeah.”

 

Connor pauses and thinks. He never liked using the word with Miguel. It took him so long to use it when they were alone, and even longer to admit it to anyone else. Maybe it’s because he’s gotten more comfortable with himself or maybe it’s just because it’s Evan. But he’s fine with it. He even likes the idea of it. So he nods. “If you want.”

 

Evan grins. “I — I do want.”

 

“Then I guess I’m your boyfriend.” Connor takes Evan’s hand in his own and leans down, pecking his lips before starting to walk with him down the hallway. He can’t ignore how shocked Evan looks at what he did, though. “What?”

 

“I just... I — I don’t know, I thought you’d wanna keep it a secret.”

 

“Do you wanna keep it a secret?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “Not necessarily. I mean, I think a total of four people in this school know who I am so no one would notice me. But I — and don’t... don’t take this the wrong way — I thought you were like the guy in all those movies. The gay jock with the asshole dad who doesn’t want to admit he’s gay so he keeps his relationship secret and — “

 

“Okay, you got the asshole dad and the gay thing right about me. But do I really remind you of a jock?” Connor says, grinning and on the verge of laughing.

 

Evan pauses, looking Connor over a few times, and then sighs deeply. “No.”

 

Connor lets out a loud laugh, one that he doesn’t think anyone at this stupid school other than Evan and Zoe have heard. Then he notices a few stares from around them, and he forces himself to quiet down. No one wants to hear that, no one cares enough about him. Except Evan. Thank God for Evan.

 

“Are you staying over for dinner tonight?” Connor asks after a moment. They’ve both gotten used to Evan just coming over after school everyday, and usually eating dinner with them since his mom isn’t home often.

 

“Oh, uh...” Evan purses his lips like he’s thinking, then shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. Since my dad’s home I wanna spend more time with him. If you wanna eat dinner with us, I can ask my mom.”

 

Connor pauses. He’d honestly rather not spend time with Evan’s dad, but he can tell from the glimmer in Evan’s eyes that he really wants him to. So he shrugs and nods. “Sure.”

 

Evan grins. “Yay. I’ll text her now. See you at lunch.” He reaches up and pecks Connor’s lips, then turns and heads off to class.

 

How can Connor ever say no to that face? He’s practically perfect, it’s impossible to not give him the world and more.

 

-

 

In the library at lunch, Connor finds Evan working on homework, but he looks up when he hears Connor come in, smiling. “Hey. My mom said you can eat over tonight. We’re having tacos.”

 

Connor kind of forces a smile, wanting to seem excited for Evan but really not wanting to spend time with his father. “Sounds great. How was your morning?”

 

“Good,” Evan answers, still grinning. Connor doesn’t know if he’s ever seen him this happy for so long. “Everything is so perfect right now. Thanks to you.”

 

Connor blushes, rolling his eyes. “Shut up. It’s not just me.”

 

“But you’re a big part of it.”

 

He pauses, then shrugs and takes a bite of his burger. “Okay, I’ll accept that.”

 

Evan opens his mouth to say something when the intercom system clicks on. “Evan Hansen, come to the office please. Evan Hansen.”

 

Connor notices how red Evan’s face gets and how wide his eyes go. He looks so confused and nervous and panicked. There’s no way it could be anything bad, though. Evan never does anything wrong. “Hey, it’s fine. Want me to go with you?”

 

Evan shakes his head hesitantly. “No, it’s… it’s fine. I’ll be right back.” He gets up and leaves his lunch and backpack at the table, and squeezes Connor’s hand quickly on his way out.

 

Connor takes another bite of his sandwich and looks at his phone. He gets bored after a few seconds, though, because he never has any notifications, and he doesn’t really have social media so there’s nothing much to check up on. Instead he takes to staring out the window of the library door, watching a few students pass by once in a while. Most of them are in the cafeteria or in lunch meetings, so the halls are pretty empty. But once in a while someone will walk by with a friend, laughing at a dumb joke, or gossiping about the dumbest shit. Sometimes couples walk around in the halls during lunch for more privacy. Like that one. A guy walks by with his arm draped around a girl’s shoulder, and the girl is staring up at him. He can’t see her face, but he assumes she’s having a good time considering how close she’s clearly trying to stand next to him. The guy is tall, probably around Connor’s height. But muscular. Super muscular. Connor is pretty sure he plays on the football team or something, because that’s just the kind of guy he looks like, but he could be wrong. And now he’s leaning down, his eyes closing, and wow, Connor is really just gonna watch this, huh? Is this an invasion of privacy? Probably. But he’s bored. The guy’s arm moves through the girl’s long hair until it rests on her back, over the flannel she’s wearing, and — Connor knows that flannel.

 

Of course it’s his sister.

 

He can see Zoe laughing a little bit, then she looks around like she’s avoiding eye contact, her face red. And their eyes meet through the door, and now Connor’s face is red. He probably shouldn’t have just watched that, but it’s not that big of a deal, right? He was just there. Zoe’s smile is gone, and somehow her face turns an even deeper shade of red. After a terribly awkward few moments of looking at each other, both embarrassed, Zoe turns back to her friend. Friend? Most definitely something more, but Connor doesn’t know what to call him. She says something to him, then quickly kisses him again and he walks away. And then she’s actually walking into the library.

 

“You saw that?” Zoe asks.

 

Connor nods. “Yeah, you weren’t exactly subtle. How long have you been keeping that secret?”

 

Zoe rolls her eyes and takes a seat across from her brother. “It’s not really a secret. I’m not actively hiding it, I just haven’t mentioned anything about him.”

 

“So... You’re hiding it?”

 

She lets out a long sigh. “Yeah. Have you met Mom and Dad?”

 

Connor nods. “Yeah. Now you get why I never tell them anything.”

 

Nodding in agreement, Zoe crosses her arms. “I hate to say you’re right, but you are. If Dad found out I was with a guy, I’m pretty sure he’d put him through a background check or something, and Mom would scare him off with how excited she’d be.”

 

“How long has that been going on?” Connor asks.

 

“Like a month.”

 

Connor shrugs. “You’ll have to tell them eventually.”

 

“You had a relationship for way longer than that and you never told them. And you’re not planning on telling them about Evan anytime soon, are you?”

 

Connor scoffs, looking at her like she’s an idiot. “That’s different.”

 

“What? How?”

 

“It’s a bigger deal for me. You’re perfect in their eyes, so they wouldn’t really be surprised if you brought home a boy. But I’m a problem child and gay, so it’s just… I don’t know, it’s different, okay?”

 

Zoe laughs softly, shaking her head. “I’ll tell them eventually. Probably soon. Ish. Maybe… But when they make him come over for dinner, you have to sit through that nightmare with me. And I’ll do the same for you when you tell them about Evan.”

 

“Deal.”

 

Smiling, Zoe stands up and grabs one of Connor’s tater tots. “I’m gonna go get lunch now. See you later,” she says, popping it in her mouth. She turns and walks away, and as she does she hears her say, “Hey, Evan.”

 

Connor looks back up and sees Evan coming back in with a huge smile on his face.

 

“Are you in trouble?” Connor jokes. “Get caught smoking weed in the bathroom again?”

 

Evan laughs, nodding. “Yeah, obviously you’re a bad influence.” Instead of sitting down, he grabs his backpack from the floor and sets it on the table, then starts stuffing his laptop in it and closing it up.

 

“What are you doing?” Connor asks.

 

Evan pauses, then puts his backpack on. “My dad’s here. He’s taking me out to lunch.”

 

Connor feels his smile falter, but he tries not to make it obvious. “O - Okay, that’s… nice, I guess. We’re already like fifteen minutes into lunch, are gonna make it back in time for fifth period?”

 

Evan glances at a clock on the wall, shrugging. “It’s fine. It’s one class. My dad actually wants to spend time with me, Connor. I don’t think you understand how insane this all is.” That perfect smile is still glued to his face. It almost makes Connor want to ignore how bad he feels about this whole thing, and just let Evan be this happy forever. Maybe he’s wrong, maybe everything is fine.

 

“I — You’re gonna skip class? Voluntarily?”

 

Clearly thinking that Connor is acting shocked as a joke, he laughs, then hugs him. “I’m turning into you. Okay, bye, I’ll be back before dismissal and my mom will pick us up and take us home for dinner.”

 

“Great,” Connor says flatly, and he doesn’t even have time to get the word ‘bye’ out before Evan rushes out the door again.

 

Connor lets out a long sigh. Is it bad for him to wish Evan’s dad would just leave already? It is. He shouldn’t think that, but he honestly feels like things were better when he wasn’t in the picture. Everything seems too good to be true, and the last thing he wants is for poor Evan’s hopes to get crushed.

 

As he’s picking at his lunch absentmindedly and zoning out, he doesn’t notice the door open and someone sneak in behind him, then put their hands on his shoulders and yell, “Boo!”

 

Connor genuinely jumps, instinctively turning and hitting the person’s arms. “Jesus, fuck! What the hell?”

 

Jared snickers happily, leaning against a bookshelf. “Hello to you too.”

 

“I never said that.”

 

“I did.”

 

Connor just stares at him, until Jared asks, “Where’s Evan?”

 

Rolling his eyes, Connor turns back around and looks at his lunch tray. “Out to lunch with his dad.”

 

There’s a silence, and Connor looks over to see Jared looking completely lost. “Wait, his what?”

 

“His dad. He came and picked him up to — “

 

“His dad’s back?” Jared asks forcefully, a look of concern on his face as he leans over the table.



“Yeah. He didn’t tell you?”

 

Jared shakes his head quickly. “No. Shit.”

 

“What?” Connor gets the impression Jared feels the same way he does about this.

 

Jared takes a breath and a seat, then leans forward. “Don’t you know the story? He left when Evan was little.”

 

Connor nods. “Yeah, I know that part. But he said he’s here to stay this time,” he responds, playing devil’s advocate.

 

Jared scoffs. “Right. I don’t trust him. I don’t like him. And don’t ask me if that’s just because I’ve heard my parents talk shit about him my whole life, because that’s definitely the reason.”

 

“Your parents hate him too?”

 

Jared nods. “They’re good friends with the Hansen’s, and even before he left they had a bad feeling about him.”

 

“I knew it,” Connor says, rubbing his face. “And I have to have dinner with him tonight.”

 

Jared winces, like it pains him just to think about a dinner with Evan’s dad. “Damn. Good luck, man.”

 

-

 

After school, Heidi picks Evan and Connor up. She looks nervous and uncertain, which is exactly how Connor feels about this entire thing.

 

“Thanks for letting me come over,” he says about halfway through the car ride. Even though this is the one night he’d rather not go over to their house.

 

Heidi smiles in the rearview mirror. “Of course, Connor. You’re welcome anytime.”

 

Mark is already starting dinner in the kitchen when they get home, which seems to throw Heidi off. “I told you I’d take care of dinner,” she tells him as the boys drop their bags by the door and sit on the couch.

 

“I wanted to help. Is that okay, boss?” Mark responds. Something about the way he says it puts Connor off a little. Sarcastic, maybe a little rude. Or maybe he’s reading into this too much. Maybe he should just let the Hansen’s deal with their business and stay out of it. He could be a perfectly good guy. But then again, would a perfectly good guy just up and abandon his family? Connor doesn’t think so.

 

Heidi sighs. “It’s so early.”

 

“What’s wrong with an early dinner?” Mark says with a shrug. “I usually eat dinner at five with — We eat dinner at five.”

 

Connor sees Heidi’s face go through a range of emotion. Anger, then hurt, then just exhaustion. “Well, we’re not — I’m not her. So just — It’s too late now. I guess dinner’s at five.”

 

Connor’s taken aback when Evan leans over and kisses his cheek, but he looks over and realizes his parents aren’t paying attention to them. He pries his attention from them back to his boyfriend and smiles.

 

“How was the rest of your day?” Evan asks.

 

Connor shrugs. “Fine. I went to all my classes.”

 

Smiling, Evan glances over to make sure his parents aren’t looking, then quickly pecks his lips. “I’m impressed.”

 

Connor is almost speechless. What is going on with Evan? He’s never this forward. Or confident. Last night Connor was making all the first moves. Evan isn’t the kind to make any kind of move. And now he’s kissing him in front of his parents? Connor clears his throat, nodding. “Thanks.”

 

Dinner is… awkward, to say the least. It’s silent for most of it.

 

After a good five minutes of the four of them just eating and clearing their throats awkwardly every thirty seconds, Mark finally speaks up. He looks straight at Connor, and Connor immediately loses his appetite. Something about having a direct conversation with this dude makes him nervous.

 

“So. Connor.”

 

Connor is quiet for a moment, then instinctively moves into his form of self defense he uses when he’s anxious. Bad attitude. Oops. He doesn’t even think about it before raising his eyebrows while avoiding eye contact. “What.”

 

Mark clears his throat, then continues. “I don’t think we got a proper introduction. Tell me about yourself.”

 

Connor just glances up very quickly at the others. Mark is staring at him, waiting for an answer. Heidi looks kind of nervous, and Connor remembers she’s never seen him act out. Probably because she’s the kind of adult that he feels comfortable being himself around. And Evan just looks confused, probably wondering why he’s pulling this attitude again. He looks back down quickly, hating the feeling of being judged by Heidi or Evan. He doesn’t care what Mark thinks. “Why do you wanna know?”

 

Mark shrugs. “You’re my son’s best friend. I feel like I should get to know you.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes, scoffing. “And I feel like I don’t want you to.”

 

It’s silent for a few moments as everyone seems surprised by his rudeness. Evan kicks his leg under the table, and Heidi just says, “Connor,” like she’s giving a warning. He feels bad acting like this in her house, when she’s been nothing but good to him.

 

Mark tries to play it off with a chuckle, shaking his head. He’s clearly not sure what to say to that.

 

Connor hates the eyes on him, so he looks back down and clears his throat. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, picking at his taco absentmindedly. “Sorry, I just… Sorry.” But it’s still too quiet for his liking, so he looks over at Evan and acts like it never happened. “Where did you, um, end up going to lunch today?”

 

Evan’s face falls and turns red, and his eyes glance over at Heidi, who’s face looks the exact same. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

 

“I…” Connor looks between Mark, who’s staring down at his food, and Evan, who’s staring over at his mom with a blank expression. “Uh…”

 

Heidi’s gaze turns to Mark. Connor’s almost scared of how angry she looks. “Didn’t I tell you Evan had to go to school? I specifically told you not to take him to lunch.”

 

“Mom, it’s fine,” Evan cuts in. “It’s just — “

 

“No, Evan, it’s not fine.”

 

“It was one class.”

 

“You don’t skip classes, Evan. Ever,” Heidi says sternly. She turns her attention back to Mark, who’s now trying to play it off like it’s no big deal.

 

“Come on, Heidi, it’s not that bad. He just wanted to spend time with his dad.”

 

The anger in Heidi’s eyes is something that Connor’s only ever seen in himself. But she stops herself, and takes a deep breath, and turns to Evan and Connor. “Boys, why don’t you go hang out in Evan’s room for a bit? You can take your food if you’re still hungry.”

 

Neither of them do. Connor follows Evan upstairs and into his bedroom, waiting to hear yelling start downstairs, but it never does. Evan’s parents are way better at quiet fighting than his.

 

“Sorry,” Connor says flatly, honestly not really that sorry. Maybe his dad shouldn’t have made Evan sneak around behind his mom’s back. “I didn’t know it was supposed to be a secret.”

 

Evan sits on the bed, looking nervous. Maybe he’s waiting for the screaming to break out too. “It’s okay.”

 

Connor takes a seat next to his boyfriend and smiles. It’s so much easier to do when it’s just the two of them. “Can we just… Let’s just forget about it for now, and — Do something else?”

 

“Like what?”

 

Putting on a little smirk, Connor leans over and kisses Evan’s neck, then pulls back and presses their lips together. He loves being able to do this now. Before, he thought about it a lot, but he could never act on it. Now he knows Evan actually wants him to.

 

Evan’s hands come up and play with his hair as they kiss, and Connor gently pushes him back so they’re lying down. Connor’s halfway on top, and Evan’s free leg is draping over Connor’s. They’re tangled up in each other, and now the sheets on Evan’s bed are getting tangled under, between, and on top of them.

 

Connor kisses his neck again, then sucks on the spot he remembers Evan really enjoying last night. Evan squirms under him, his back arching, and just as Connor is sure this is gonna go somewhere else, Evan starts pushing him off.

 

“Connor, stop.”

 

Connor listens right away, sitting up. Evan doesn’t seem as panicked as last night, so he’s not sure what’s going on. “Are you okay?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah. I just… I can’t stop thinking… Wh — Why were you talking to my dad like that at dinner?”

 

“Like what?” Connor asks, hoping that just maybe Evan will let it go.

 

“You know what. You were talking to him like you talk to your parents… Which isn’t very good.”

 

Connor shakes his head and rolls his eyes, trying to hide what he’s really thinking. “You’re reading into it, Ev.”

 

“Am I?” Evan asks. “What’s going on with you?”

 

“Nothing,” Connor says flatly, moving from his knees to sitting with one leg off the bed and one under him. “What are you talking about?”

 

Evan shrugs and looks down, fiddling with the fabric of his bedsheets. “I don’t know… You seem kinda weird and distant.”

 

Connor scoffs. “I’m distant? You were the one who just pushed me away when we were making out.”

 

“Not that kind of distant.”

 

Getting pretty fed up with the lack of communication from Evan, Connor rolls his eyes again and nudges his boyfriend’s leg to tell him to look at him. “Evan, just fucking say what you mean.”

 

Evan looks back up at him and sighs. “I feel like you’re hiding something… like you’re not telling me something, I don’t know.”

 

Connor isn’t sure what to say to that. Yeah, he’s not being completely honest about how bad he feels about this whole thing with his dad. But he did tell him that he had a bad feeling about it, and Evan ignored him, so why would he try more? “I don’t have to tell you every little thought that goes through my head, you know.”

 

“So you are hiding something,” Evan says softly. “I knew it. Con, what’s wrong?”

 

Honestly, the way he’s being talked to reminds him a lot of being chastised by his parents. Prying into things that he has no obligation to share. Evan isn’t nearly as invasive as his parents, but he can’t help but get annoyed like he does with them. “Jesus fucking Christ, Ev, let it be, okay?” he says, standing up and crossing his arms over his chest.

 

“What is your problem?” Evan asks. “If something’s wrong, I just wanna help, you just have to let me know what’s going on and — “

 

“I already told you,” Connor interrupts quickly. “I had a bad feeling about your dad. I still do. And I know you’re really happy he’s back but I just don’t trust him.”

 

Evan is quiet, going back and forth from staring at Connor and avoiding eye contact. “He’s doing his best.”

 

“Why couldn’t he do his best when you were a kid and stick around to see you grow up?”

 

Evan shuts his mouth, not saying anything this time. He stares at the ground.

 

“Jared agrees with me,” Connor adds on.

 

“Why does it even matter to you?” Evan asks. “He’s not your dad, it’s not like you have to like him.”

 

Connor sits back down on Evan’s bed and scoots close, but Evan moves away. It’s just the slightest move, just a few inches further from him, but it still hurts Connor. “We just don’t want you to get hurt.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Evan looks down and picks at his nails. “I won’t get hurt. I’m fine. I — I feel great.”

 

Connor purses his lips, worried. Evan looks sad and anxious again. He was so happy earlier. “I’m not trying to tell you to not get to know your dad. I think you should be allowed to get that chance, but I just want you to be careful.”

 

Evan shakes his head, still staring down at his hands. “Can you just go?”

 

Connor just stares at him for a few moments, the blow of those few words hitting him pretty hard. “Wh — What?”

 

Looking up, Evan gets to his feet. “Can you just leave? Please.”

 

Completely taken aback, Connor stands up too. He thought this conversation was actually going somewhere, but clearly he was way off. “Wait, why? What’s wrong?”

 

Evan huffs. “My dad’s been gone my entire life, and most kids who go through that never see their fathers again or are too pissed off to want to. Since the day he left, all I’ve wanted was to see him again, and now I actually have the chance to have him back in my life and you’re trying to chase him away by treating him like shit and trying to convince me not to trust him.”

 

Okay, that’s not completely true. But it might have some truth to it. Maybe he secretly doesn’t want Evan to trust him, and he doesn’t want him to let his dad stick around. And maybe that attitude at dinner was in some way an attempt to get Mark to leave him alone. But it’s not completely true. And it hurts that he’s making that assumption.

 

“Evan, that’s crazy… I’m sorry, but — “

 

“Just get out, Connor,” Evan says sternly. He’s not exactly angry, but it’s scaring Connor. He can see the anger in his eyes, but he’s talking so softly, and his body is in that hunched over, trying-to-make-himself-smaller position. But his eyes are determined and angry, and that scares Connor. He can’t tell exactly what he’s feeling, so he doesn’t know how to help.

 

Connor finally just nods slowly. He takes a step forward to kiss his cheek, but Evan just takes a step back. His heart hurts in his chest, and he turns around and walks away dejected. “I’ll call you later?”

 

Evan shakes his head. “Don’t. I’m gonna spend some time with my dad tonight. I’ll call you eventually.”

 

Nodding again, Connor doesn’t say anything else as he leaves the room and heads down the stairs. Then he realizes that he didn’t drive here tonight, so he can’t drive himself home. Hopefully Zoe can come get him. When he gets downstairs, Heidi and Mark are still arguing in hushed voices. And he knows he shouldn’t do this, he knows it’s none of his business. But they can’t see him as he stands around the corner and listens in on them.

 

“Why are you even here?” he hears Heidi ask.

 

Mark chuckles. “Aren’t you the one who’s been begging me to come for months?”

 

“Exactly! I’ve been asking you for months, Mark. Then out of nowhere you show up.”

 

“I can’t just leave my home for no reason, Heidi. You never gave me a good reason to come back.”

 

Heidi’s voice is dripping with anger, and Connor can tell she’s close to screaming. “Is your fucking son not a good enough reason for you? He needed you. He’s had it really hard for a long time and I thought seeing his dad would help him. Instead he’s just been telling himself that his father doesn’t want him for his entire life.”

 

“So you think just because Evan has a few loose screws, I just have to stop everything I’m doing and leave at the drop of a hat?”

 

Heidi is completely quiet, and Connor is having a hard time holding himself back. His fists are clenched and his face is getting hot with anger. He’s ready to throw hands and end this guy’s life in a heartbeat. He hears Heidi laugh, and it’s honestly terrifying, but then she speaks and his heart breaks. She sounds like she’s crying.

 

“You didn’t seem to have a problem with that before.”

 

Connor really doesn’t want to have to listen to Mark’s voice anymore, and he doesn’t want to have Heidi deal with him either. So he takes a breath, unclenches his fists, and walks into the kitchen.


When Heidi sees him, she immediately wipes her eyes, sniffles, and puts on a smile. “Hi, honey, what’s up?”

 

Connor clears his throat, trying to snap himself out of it. It hurts to think of this sweet, amazing mom ever being sad. He wishes he could just hug her right now. “Um… I… Can you… Will you take me home? Please?”

 

Heidi starts to nod, but Mark steps forward, and Connor’s sadness for Heidi is replaced by anger for him. “I can do it, I’d be happy to.”

 

Heidi must see how upset Connor seems by this, cause she shakes her head and grabs her jacket that’s draping over a kitchen chair. “That’s okay. I’ll be back. Let’s go, Connor.”

 

“Thank you,” Connor says softly, following Heidi’s mom out to the car.

 

“Is everything okay?” Heidi asks once they’re on the road. “You’re always welcome to stay over if you want.”

 

Connor nods. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he lies. He’s beyond worried about Evan.

 

Heidi nods, and after another few moments of silence she glances over. “Hey, I wanted to talk to you. I noticed you don’t seem like the biggest fan of Evan’s dad.”

 

“Neither do you,” Connor mutters, but he doesn’t even think before he says it. He pauses, speechless for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean — I just — “

 

But Heidi starts laughing, which helps Connor relax a lot more. He smiles too, picking at his already chipped nail polish. “You’re funny. The point is, I’ve noticed how you’ve been talking to him. And as much as you’re right, I’m not his biggest fan, I also have to be the adult and tell you not to talk to him like that.”

 

Connor’s face goes red in embarrassment. He never thought he’d get scolded by Evan’s mom. Except it’s not exactly scolding. It’s probably some of the best parenting he’s witnessed in a long time. Not yelling, but not letting him get away with anything all the time. He just nods, looking down. “Sorry. Sometimes I just do things and I don’t… I don’t think.”

 

Heidi shakes her head. “It’s okay. Thank you. And I just want to tell you how happy I am that you’re in Evan’s life. He’s always needed someone like you.”

 

Connor pauses, hesitating a lot before asking this question. He doesn’t want to pry into their life too much. “I’m sorry, can I ask… I know I wasn’t supposed to hear that conversation earlier, but did you say you’ve been asking him to come back? Is that why he’s here?”

 

Heidi glances over, and Connor sees the wheels turning in her head, thinking about if it’s appropriate to talk to him about this. Finally she does. “I’m sure it’s not the only reason… You probably know by now that Evan has some… some mental health issues?” Connor nods. “I felt like he kept getting worse up until he met you, and I’ve been calling Mark for so long asking him to come visit. I thought maybe it would help Evan somehow, but he just kept ignoring me or saying he was busy and that he couldn’t.”

 

“I heard how he was talking about Evan’s mental health. Loose screws?” Connor says, getting angrier just thinking about it. “Who talks like that about their own son?”

 

Heidi looks over at him, and he knows she’s trying to hide it, but he’s pretty sure he sees something like pride go through her eyes. “I don’t know. He can be…”

 

“A dick?”

 

She almost stops herself, but then nods. “Yeah.” Connor laughs softly, then she says, “Please don’t tell Evan what I told you. I probably shouldn’t have told you in the first place, but if he knows that his dad refused to come see him even when I asked for months on end, it would break his heart. He just thinks that his dad and I aren’t on speaking terms.”

 

Connor nods. “I won’t.” The last thing he wants is to see Evan hurt more.

 

When they pull up to his house, she puts the car in park and looks fully at him. “Thank you so much for everything, Connor.”

 

Taken aback, Connor squints. “What do you mean?”

 

Heidi shrugs. “Evan has been so happy lately. I’ve never seen him so confident and comfortable, and I just know that’s because of you. You are such a good friend, and an even more amazing person.”

 

Connor just wants to cry. When was the last time an adult validated him like that instead of making him feel like a freak or a ticking time bomb? He really can’t stop himself from launching forward and hugging her. She seems shocked at first, but doesn’t hesitate to hug back. She squeezes him quickly. A really, really quality mom hug. He doesn’t get those often.

 

“Thank you,” he whispers before pulling away and smiling. Luckily he stops himself from crying, and Heidi smiles over at him.

 

“Of course. I’ll see you later, okay?”

 

Connor nods, getting out of the car and waving goodbye as he walks up to his house. He always feels like shit going from Evan’s usually peaceful house to his own, where there’s pretty much always yelling. But tonight he feels different. It’s not that big of a deal going back to his dysfunctional family, because they’re not the only family with problems. Everyone has shit to deal with, and before he had Evan, he felt so alone because he thought he was the only one dealing with any sort of shit. And sure, he just got kicked out of Evan’s house by the one person who makes him feel like he’s not alone. But somehow he doesn’t feel very alone right now. Maybe it’s that mom hug lingering with him.

 

Chapter Text

When Connor gets to his room, he gets his laptop out and opens it up. He was going to start on a paper for school, but with Evan mad at him and all the emotions he’s feeling right now, he really doesn’t have the ability to even think about school. So he decides to go watch Netflix. And he’s in the middle of a really good movie when the sound turns off and his screen switches to an incoming FaceTime call.

 

From Jared.

 

He’s completely thrown off. He doesn’t know if Jared has ever called him before, and they’ve certainly never talked over FaceTime. After a few moments of confusion, he hits answer.

 

“…Yeah?” he asks.

 

Jared gets right to it. “How was dinner?”

 

Connor sighs, really not in the mood to think anymore about it. “I like Evan’s dad even less now.”

 

“Told you.”

 

“And Evan’s pissed at me.”

 

Jared pauses, confused. “Why?”

 

“Cause I don’t like his dad. I don’t know how to get him to get over it cause it’s not like I can just start liking him,” Connor rants, frustrated. “I think it might be literally impossible to like him.”

 

Nodding, Jared rolls his eyes. “Now you get it. What did he do?”

 

Connor releases another heavy breath, really, really not wanting to think anymore about this. He’s already in a bad mood with Evan mad at him, and thinking about Mark just makes it worse. “Apparently Heidi’s been asking him for months to come visit because she thought it would help Evan. And he just showed up now for some reason. Oh and he replied to Evan’s mental health as ‘a couple loose screws’ to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal that he just fucking ignored her for months and — “ He stops himself, getting worked up all over again. “I want him gone.”

 

“Jesus, well don’t make it sound like you’re gonna kill him,” Jared says. He pauses, then adds, “But if you did, I’d deny ever hearing you say that… Like. Under oath.”

 

Connor honestly laughs at that. Jared was never his favorite person, but it’s helped getting closer to him. He can make him laugh and feel better about almost anything, and he never realized how much he needed to be able to laugh away his problems sometimes. “You’d commit perjury for me? Damn.”

 

“It’s called friendship, bitch.”

 

Connor chuckles softly, then sighs again, back to the problem at hand. “Evan is so mad at me. I don’t even know what to say to him or where to start.”

 

Jared shrugs. “He’ll realize how dumb he’s being.”

 

“He’s not, though. It’s not dumb to want to know your dad. I feel like it makes sense that he’s so… I don’t know, blindsided? Like he’s so happy to see him again that he doesn’t realize how off it all is.”

 

“I guess,” Jared agrees, nodding.

 

“Also,” Connor adds, just now remembering that he dropped Jared’s name when he was with Evan. “Evan might be a little mad at you too. I maybe told him that you agreed with me about his dad.”

 

Jared just stares at him for a few moments, mouth wide open as he stares incredulously. “Dude. I’ve made it literally my entire life without telling Evan my opinion about his dad.”

 

Connor scrunches his face up in sympathy. “Sorry, it just happened.”

 

“Whatever, asshole. It’s like I — “

 

Jared keeps talking, but Connor doesn’t hear anything he’s saying. His screen has changed again to let him know that he’s getting another FaceTime call. Not only does he never, ever get this many calls in one day, but he thought he’d never hear this name again. He never changed the contact picture either, and he’s painfully reminded of that when he sees the picture of the two of them, kissing and smiling like nothing could ever go wrong.

 

“Connor?” Jared asks, waving his hand in front of the screen. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

 

Connor only absentmindedly acknowledges him, his eyes glued to the picture of him from what feels like a lifetime ago. “Sorry, I gotta go.”

 

Without waiting for a response, he ends the call with Jared, and hovers over the answer button. He misses him. So much. His face, his voice, his smile. Everything. But why is he calling? Why would he want to talk to him again after everything?

 

And he’s so busy overthinking this entire thing that he runs out of time, and the picture of the two of them disappears. Connor’s heart is racing way too fast. It was just one call, and he didn’t even pick up. Why is he so fucking anxious? 

 

There’s a knock at the door, and it makes Connor jump more than he should have, but next thing he knows Zoe is walking in with a smile on her face. But it’s gone when she sees Connor’s.

 

“Dude, why do you look like you just saw a ghost?”

 

Connor opens his mouth, and it feels dry. “I… Uh… Miguel… Just called me.”

 

Zoe’s eyes go wide, and she glances at his laptop quickly. “What? What did he say?”

 

Connor shakes his head. “I didn’t… I didn’t answer.”

 

“Are you… okay?” Zoe asks hesitantly, clearly not sure if it’s the right question to ask.

 

Connor lets out a long sigh, looking down. “I… will be, I don’t know. Why did he — Why — I’m sorry…” He takes a deep breath. “Did you want something?”

 

Zoe pauses. “Um, I just wanted to see how dinner went?”

 

Connor involuntarily lets out a long groan, lying back on his bed and putting a pillow over his face. Why does everyone want to know about the stupid dinner? He can’t talk about it anymore.

 

Zoe puts her hands up in surrender. “Sorry, did I offend you?”

 

Connor puts the pillow down but stays lying down. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

 

“That bad?” Zoe asks. She waits a moment, then hesitantly adds, “Why?”

 

Connor huffs. “I hate Evan’s dad. Evan hates me because I hate his dad. But his mom gives good hugs, so that’s good. Can you just go? I’ll tell you about it tomorrow but I’m too tired right now.”

 

Zoe nods, making her way to the door. “Sorry it was so bad. Night. Sleep well,” she says before leaving the room.

 

-

 

When they pull up in front of Evan’s house the next morning, both are surprised when he doesn’t come out right away. After a couple minutes of waiting and a few unanswered texts and calls, Connor goes up and rings the doorbell. Heidi answers, looking rushed as she’s putting her hair in a ponytail. But even though she’s probably stressed and late, she still smiles when she sees Connor.

 

“Hey, Connor, you okay?”

 

Connor nods. “Is Evan ready yet?”

 

Heidi’s smile falters a bit as she looks at him, confused. “Evan’s dad took him this morning. He didn’t tell you?”

 

Connor feels that pit in his stomach again, and so much sadness. He thought Evan would have cooled down by this morning, but no. Not even a text to let him know that he doesn’t need to pick him up. He’s just ignoring him.

 

“Oh. Okay. Sorry to bother you.”

 

“You’d never bother me, sweetie. Have a good day.”

 

Connor nods, walking back to the car. “His fucking dad took him,” Connor huffs as he puts his seatbelt on.

 

“Why didn’t he tell you?” Zoe asks.

 

He shrugs. “He doesn’t wanna talk to me. We just got together and we’re already fighting.”

 

Zoe frowns. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t gonna help, but I’m sure he’ll come around eventually.”

 

“Whatever. Let’s just go.”

 

Honestly, the only reason he doesn’t decide to skip after that is because he wants to see Evan. But when he gets to school he’s no where to be found. Not by his locker, or in the library. He goes to Jared’s locker to see if they’re hanging out, but it’s just Jared when he gets there.

 

“Thanks for hanging up on me, asshole,” Jared says.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Shut up. Where’s Evan?”

 

“Shouldn’t you know that? You’re his ride.”

 

“Not today. His dad took him and he didn’t tell me.”

 

Jared sighs. “Maybe call him? That’s what phones were invented for.”

 

Crossing his arms, Connor stares at him for a few seconds. “I tried. He’s ignoring me.”

 

Connor searches the halls for Evan all morning with no luck. Then he finally catches his face in the sea of students when the bell rings for lunch. Except he’s going to opposite way. Instead of heading to the cafeteria, he’s going to his locker. Connor doesn’t hesitate to follow.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me your dad was gonna take you today?” he asks as soon as he’s close enough and there’s no one around them.

 

Evan jumps, eyes wide as he looks up. As he realizes who it is and calms down from the jump scare, he sighs and opens his locker. “Sorry,” is all he says, softly.

 

Connor sighs, a little ticked off himself. “I get that you’re pissed at me, Evan. But it’s one fucking text. Not a big deal.”

 

“I said sorry,” Evan says as he puts books from his bag into his locker.

 

Connor can tell that Evan is saying as little as he possibly can to him, and it hurts. He lets out another long breath. “Can we please talk about this?”

 

Evan looks up at him for a moment, then looks away and grabs his phone from his backpack and sticks his bag in his locker. Then he closes his locker, puts his phone in his pocket, and looks fully at his boyfriend. “Sorry. I’m busy right now,” he says. He actually sounds at least a little apologetic, but then he turns and starts walking away. Once again, not toward the cafeteria.

 

“Where are you going?” Connor asks, but already knowing the answer.

 

“Out to lunch with my dad.”

 

Connor starts following him, and it’s too easy to keep up since his legs are so much longer. “Again?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You know your mom doesn’t want you doing that,” Connor says softly.

 

Evan stops walking and looks at Connor. “Yeah, I know. And you’re not gonna tell her, right?”

 

It’s almost scary seeing Evan like this. He’s angry, but Connor can still sense that old anxiousness in his voice when he speaks. He hates this. “Evan,” he says simply, sadly.

 

“What?”

 

Connor glances around, then gently grabs Evan’s hands. “Are you okay? You’re not… acting like yourself.”

 

Evan looks at him confused, brows furrowing and eyes squinting as he pulls his hands away. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“That!” Connor exclaims, gesturing to Evan. “You don’t wanna hold hands, you don’t wanna talk, you’re keeping secrets from your mom and skipping class. You’re not acting right.”

 

Evan scoffs. “Don’t. You can’t get on my case about all the same shit that you do. Don’t be such a hypocrite, Connor.”

 

“Yeah, but that’s me. You’re not me, you’re Evan. You’re better than me.”

 

Evan’s phone buzzes and he pulls it out and glances at it before putting it back in his pocket. “My dad’s outside, I gotta go.”

 

He turns and starts walking away, and Connor only follows. “Evan, please,” he pleads. “Can we please talk about this? It doesn’t have to be right now but tonight? You can come over to our house after school. Please.”

 

Evan sighs. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he says.

 

Connor hesitates before speaking again. Heidi asked him not to tell, but it might be the only way to get Evan to think clearly. “Yes there is,” he says, grabbing Evan’s hand and stopping him from walking. “I… I overhead your parents fighting last night.” He can see Evan start to walk away again, but he stops and listens, clearly curious. Guilt is already eating Connor up for not keeping it secret, but it’s too late now. “Apparently your mom’s been asking your dad to visit for months. He kept… saying he was too busy or just ignored her, and now he’s here and he didn’t even tell her he was coming.”

 

Evan’s face suddenly looks completely different. For a second it’s just blank, not angry anymore, just staring at Connor expressionless. Then he looks hurt, and then confused.

 

“I just…” Connor continues, sighing. “I’m not trying to turn you against him or anything. I know you think I am, but I just… I just think it’s weird, y’know. Why would he say no for so long and then just show up out of the blue? I don’t — “

 

“I gotta go,” Evan says quickly. He still looks confused and a little sad, which hurts Connor to see. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. But Evan steps forward and hugs him tight, and he feels so much better. He wrap his arms around his boyfriend, kissing the top of his head. Evan pulls back a bit and kisses him on the lips. “We’ll talk later. I’m sorry I’m being so weird.”

 

Connor shakes his head, kissing him again and then pecking his cheek. “It’s okay. Have fun at lunch. See you later. Zoe and I will wait for you after school.”

 

Evan nods in agreement, and they kiss one last time before he turns and leaves.

 

Connor’s not sure what to think. That was weird. He doesn’t know if they completely made up or not. It feels like they did, but they didn’t really talk about anything fully. It’s so hard to tell what’s going through Evan’s head right now.

 

-

 

It didn’t feel right being mad at Connor. But what was Evan supposed to do? His dad just came back and said he wanted to actually get to know him. He’s actively trying to spend time with him, and then Connor comes and tells him that it’s sketchy. Deep down, he’s had this voice telling him that its too good to be true, but he’s been ignoring it. It was all just so perfect, he couldn’t question it. But now he has more news. He didn’t want to think about it, but now he has to. Why would his dad just show up out of nowhere, especially after months of his mom asking him to come? As they drive to lunch, he prays to whatever god may be up there that he really had a good excuse to stay away for so long, and that he came as soon as he could. But then, what was his excuse for staying away the rest of his life, before Heidi started asking him to visit? And why was his mom asking him to visit? Too many questions, too many things that don’t make sense. Evan liked it better when he was blissfuly ignorant of all the things that didn’t add up.

 

Evan tells his dad that he wants to go to McDonald’s, because he can’t stop thinking about Connor and how guilty he feels about ignoring him. He just wants to get back as fast as he can. They sit down with their food and Mark immediately starts talking.

 

“So I’m thinking a movie tonight? We can sneak a bunch of junk food in and — “

 

“I have plans with Connor,” Evan says softly, staring down at the table.

 

Mark pauses. “What? You have to talk louder, Evan.” 

 

Evan clears his throat, his face going red. “Sorry… I’m having dinner with Connor tonight.”

 

He can see in his dad’s face that he doesn’t like the idea of that. “Does your mom know about that?” he asks, sounding like he’s trying to parent for once.

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, she has work tonight. I usually stay over at Connor’s.”

 

“All the more reason to go to the movie with me tonight,” Mark pushes. “If you’re always with your friend anyway, and your mom won’t even be home to yell at me, it’s the perfect night to go! I’ve been dying to see that new horror movie.”

 

Evan shakes his leg up and down. Is this his first time saying no to his dad? Like, ever? This is really hard, and he finds himself losing his volume again as he takes a breath to calm himself down. “I don’t — I don’t like scary movies.”

 

“Speak up,” Mark insists, talking louder himself.

 

“I said I don’t like scary movies,” Evan repeats.

 

Mark scoffs. “Everyone likes scary movies.”

 

Evan just shakes his head. “I promised Connor I’d hang out with him tonight. I’m really sorry.” Mark rolls his eyes and stuffs a few fries in his mouth. He doesn’t say anything, and Evan feels even worse. For a split second he contemplates changing his mind. Maybe he’s right. He’s always with Connor, and he’s just now spending time with his father. And he can put up with one little horror movie for a night. Who cares if it gives him nightmares and extra anxiety and paranoia for a week. It would make his dad happy. But instead he just says again, softly, as he makes himself slightly smaller. “I’m sorry.”

 

After a few minutes of eating in silence, Mark starts talking again, this time asking questions about Evan. “So? Any girlfriends I should know about?”

 

Evan blushes and shakes his head. “No.”

 

“What about hobbies? I played a lot of sports when I was your age. And I was the life of all the parties,” he says, and Evan can’t tell if he’s joking or not.

 

“I… No, not really,” he answers. “Sorry.”

 

“What’s your — “

 

“Why are you here?” Evan asks, so fast he doesn’t even know if he said it or not.

 

“… What?”

 

Evan sighs and looks down, to the side, anywhere but at his dad. “Why did you come back?”

 

Mark chuckles. “I just wanted to pay you guys a visit, is that so bad?”

 

“You’ve been gone for years, Dad. A — And you got a new family and everything. And I just… I just found out that Mom’s been asking you to come visit for months and you’ve been ignoring her, and now you’re here suddenly and I don’t — “

 

“Okay, I was going to wait until later to bring this up.”

 

Evan stops, confused and suddenly extra nervous. “What?”

 

Mark takes a deep breath before he starts explaining, sitting up straighter and looking at Evan very seriously. “Evan, Theresa and I just finalized a divorce.”

 

Evan’s stomach drops, completely taken aback. He always thought Theresa and Mark were the perfect couple. Not that it ever hurt any less that he chose her over him and Heidi, but he thought they had the perfect life. He can’t really say anything.

 

“I made some mistakes, and now I have to find a place to stay, but I’m tight on money.”

 

Evan squints, his world spinning as he puts the pieces together. “So… You want to… move back in with us?” What would that mean for them as a family?

 

“Just until I find somewhere more permanent.”

 

Evan shakes his head, like that’ll shake some of the confusion from him. “Why are you asking me? It’s Mom’s house.”

 

“Because I know your mom, and your mom will say no without even putting a thought into it. But if you can put a good word in and help sway her…”

 

Back to feeling overly anxious about this whole thing, Evan pick at his nails under the table. “I don’t know…” What if he did move back in? That would be so much change, Evan doesn’t know if he’d be able to handle it.

 

“Evan,” Mark says, almost like he’s pleading. “Come on, please. It wouldn’t be long, just until I can find a job in the area and have a steady income so I can get back on my feet. And I’d get to know you more… I’ve been gone for so long, and my biggest regret is not getting to know you.”

 

Evan feels a pang of sadness at the reminder that he really doesn’t know his father at all. But then a little bit of hope. Because maybe his dad actually does want to know him. He stares down at the table, completely frozen with uncertainty. He’s backed into a corner, he has no idea what to do. How could he say yes to this? It’s asking so much of his mom and of his own mental health, considering how much change it would be. But how could he say no? All he’s ever wanted to do was get to know his dad, and now he gets the chance. Not only to get to know him, but to live with him again, at least for a little bit.

 

“Please, Evan,” Mark says. “I love you. Please.”

 

Evan looks up. That’s the first time he can remember his dad saying that to him. It feels so good, to be honest. And now he really can’t say no. And honestly, he doesn’t want to. How bad would it be to be able to catch up on years of missing his father? So he nods, taking a breath. “Okay.”

 

Mark grins, and he leans over and hits his son’s arm gently. “That’s my boy. Thank you. I’ll talk to her about it soon, okay?”

 

Evan nods, looking down at his phone for the time. “Can you take me back to school now?

 

-

 

Evan had only been ignoring Connor for half a day, and he’d already forgotten how happy being around him makes him feel. The two of them and Zoe go back to their old ways of jamming to Connor’s music on the aux while the siblings fight over music and Evan just smiles at the two of them. Then they pull up in front of their house, and Zoe turns the volume down. “I’m just dropping you guys off. I’m going to a friend’s house.”

 

“A friend, huh?” Connor asks, raising his eyebrows suggestively. Evan must have missed something, cause he’s lost.

 

“What?”

 

Connor grins. “Zoe got a secret boyfriend and didn’t tell us.”

 

Honestly, this is so weird. Just months ago, Evan thought he was straight and was ogling over Zoe Murphy. And now he’s dating her brother and overly happy for her having a boyfriend. “I can’t believe you’d keep that from us.”

 

“I know, I’m a terrible person.”

 

“I mean, I thought we were close enough that you’d tell me you had a crush on someone,” Evan jokes around, scoffing. “Even before you’d gotten to the dating stage. You disappointed me.”

 

“Don’t be a hypocrite,” she replies with a smile. “You didn’t tell Connor that you had a crush on me, right?”

 

Evan completely freezes in place, his face going bright red. He can feel Connor looking between them with a shocked, shit-eating grin on his face. “Uh… Uh — What? How did you — “

 

“You weren’t very subtle,” Zoe says with a shrug. Then she motions to her brother. “But neither was he, and I wasn’t about to steal the guy my brother was crushing on. That’s just low.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “You’re just trying to hide that you’re hurt Evan picked the cuter Murphy.”

 

“Fuck you, we all know that’s me,” Zoe says, flipping her hair. “Now get out of my car.”

 

The boys rush out of the car and into the house, both laughing, and Evan still completely thrown off and embarrassed by the mention of his crush on Zoe. When they get inside, they realize no one’s home, and Evan is in such a good mood that he surprises himself by grabbing Connor’s hand and rushing up to his bed room. When’s the next time they’ll be able to do this? Have the whole house to themselves to do whatever they want?

 

It’s so much faster than the first time, or even the second. Evan is so happy and excited that he throws his shoes off and jumps on the bed then rushes Connor to do the same. God, Connor’s smile is so pretty.

 

As soon as Connor is close enough, Evan grabs his face and presses their lips together. Just as good as before. It’s never not gonna feel like absolute heaven kissing this boy. He doesn’t hesitate to start lying back to let Connor lay on top of him, and wraps his legs around his boyfriend’s waist. Connor hums against his lips and moves his hands down to his waist, where he slips them under his shirt. His hands are freezing, and Evan shivers but enjoys the goosebumps he gets.

 

He runs his hands through Connor’s hair and lets his boyfriend’s hands roam where they please. Connor seems to be careful where he’s putting his hands, making sure not to freak Evan out. But honestly, Evan’s feeling great right now. Better than great.

 

He pulls away for breath, and Connor’s mouth moves to his neck, kissing him there a couple times and then sucking the skin, and Evan can’t hold in a moan. Then Connor’s mouth is right next to his ear, hot breath sending more shivers down his spine. He bites Evan’s earlobe gently, tugging a little bit. Evan hates that he’s not very good at this. He wants to be able to make Connor feel as good as this. But he doesn’t have time to think about how bad he is at it, because he’s arching his back and whispering Connor’s name under his breath, squirming and tugging at his shirt.

 

Connor clearly knows what he wants, because he sits up and takes his shirt off, and Evan reaches up and runs his fingers over his chest and stomach. Why is he so perfect? Then he sits up himself and takes his shirt off. Maybe the secret is going fast. If he just hurries and gets it all off fast enough, he can get to the really good part and not overthink the entire thing. Guess they’ll find out.

 

They’re both sitting up now, and Evan’s legs are still wrapped around Connor’s waist. They go back to moving their lips together while their hands run all over each other’s bare chests and backs. And then before he knows it, Connor’s hands are stopped at the button of his jeans, but he pauses.

 

“Are you okay?” he asks, pulling away from Evan’s lips just the slightest bit.

 

Evan nods, and lets Connor undo his jeans before scooting back so he can slide them off. Connor does the same, and they get back to each other as fast as humanly possible.

 

“Are you sure this is alright?” Connor whispers, pulling away again and kissing Evan’s neck.

 

Evan tilts his head and cranes his neck, and Connor gets the hint to keep going, but he pulls away after a moment. “Are you trying to a get a hickey or something. Jesus,” he mutters.

 

Evan laughs softly. “Shut up, it feels good,” he says with a smile, then gives up and pulls Connor back to kiss him again.

 

Connor laughs softly against his skin, and lightly trails his fingers around his waist, tugging at the top of his boxers. And honestly, Evan is ready. He’s not freaking out. He’s a little nervous about it, but he doesn’t feel like he’s suffocating. But just as he starts to move to take them off, the sound of the garage opening makes them both freeze. Then after a millisecond of fear, Connor jumps off the bed and starts throwing his clothes on, and Evan has to do the same.

 

“Connor? Zoe? Are you guys home yet?” Cynthia yells up the stairs. Connor almost ignores her, then she adds, “Can you come help me with the groceries?”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and groans, straightening himself out in the mirror hanging over his door. Evan follows him down the stairs and says hi to Cynthia, blushing deeply.

 

“Where’s your sister?” she asks Connor as they go out to the car and grab bags from the trunk.

 

“Her friend’s house,” he answers flatly.

 

“Which one?”

 

Connor just shrugs. “I don’t know,” he mutters as they come back in the house and set the bags on the kitchen counter.

 

“Are you staying for dinner, Evan?” Cynthia asks with a smile, obviously trying not to show that she’s bothered by the way Connor still talks to her.

 

Evan nods, face still hot and bright red. “Um, if I can, yes please.”

 

“Of course! You’re always welcome.”

 

“Can we go now?” Connor asks, hands in his pocket.

 

Cynthia just nods, and Evan follows his boyfriend back upstairs.

 

When they get back to his room, Connor seems to be ready to get back to it. Maybe not as far as they were before, but he goes back in for more making out, and Evan can’t help but laugh.

 

“What?” Connor asks, a small smile on his face.

 

“You’re really… eager.”

 

Connor scoffs. “If I remember right, you were the eager one before my mom got home.”

 

“Good point.” Laughing, Evan pulls Connor back in and presses their lips together.

 

And of course Connor’s phone starts buzzing. They both groan and pull away, and Connor answers it.

 

“What?”

 

Evan didn’t see the caller ID, but as soon as Connor puts it on speaker he knows who it is.

 

“Okay, okay, okay, I know it’s last minute but hear me out,” Zoe says. “What if I bring Will home tonight? Then I can get the nightmare with Mom and Dad over and go about my life.”

 

Evan is silent, confused for a moment and completely forgetting the conversation they had when Zoe dropped them off. “Wait, wha — Who’s — “

 

“The guy she’s dating,” Connor explains, then looks back to the phone. “I don’t want to sit through that tonight.”

 

“You promised me you’d do it for me, and I’d do it for you guys.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “I didn’t think it was gonna be that soon, though.”

 

Zoe groans over the phone. “Evan, will you pretty please convince him to stop being stubborn and just have an awkward family dinner? Please?”

 

Evan smiles, unsure. “I’m eating dinner with you guys tonight, I’d rather not sit through that much tension.”

 

“Come on, you sit through that much tension every night when you eat with us,” Zoe replies. “Have you met our parents? Come on, guys, please, I just wanna get this thing over with.”

 

Connor and Evan look at each other, and after seeing Evan shrug, Connor sighs. “Fine. You owe me.”

 

Yes, thank you so much, I love you guys, byeeeeeee,” Zoe says fast, then hangs up.

 

Connor lets out a long breath and plops back on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Evan follows suit, except he lies on his side and drapes his arm over Connor’s body in a hug. Connor ends up putting his arm around Evan, and Evan rests his head on his chest and curls up more. Sometimes he forgets how comfortable and safe Connor makes him feel.

 

“So, awkward family dinner, I guess,” Evan sighs. “Lucky me.”

 

“I swear if that guy is a douche I’m gonna be so disappointed,” Connor says absentmindedly. “Zoe can do so much better than that.” Evan smiles up at him, and he notices after a few moments of silence. “What?”

 

Evan shrugs. “You’re just cute, I don’t know. You act like… You act like you hate your family, but you’re so overprotective of your sister. It’s cute.”

 

“I’m not being overprotective,” Connor mutters, but he’s blushing. “I’m calling her an idiot if she picked a douche over an actually good guy.”

 

“Uh-huh, okay…”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and looks away, nudging Evan. “Shut up.”

 

Evan smiles at Connor for a few more moments, then takes a breath and sits up. They’re gonna need to talk about this at some point.

 

“You okay?” Connor asks, sitting up as well.

 

Evan nods, fiddling with his fingernails and taking another breath before speaking. “I just don’t — I don’t wanna start fighting again. I just wanna let you know that I talked to my dad. About… About why he’s here.”

 

Connor raises his brows in interest. “And?”

 

Evan sighs. “He… He’s having a really hard time. At least th — that’s what it sounds like, and — “ He takes another deep breath. He’s not sure why it’s so hard for him to talk about. Maybe because he knows Connor won’t like it. “He got a divorce, with his second wife. And he said he messed up pretty bad and doesn’t have anywhere to live right now, so he wants to — to live with us until he can get a steady job here to pay for his own… his own place.”

 

Connor’s expression is frozen, eyebrows raised, eyes wide and confused, mouth open a little like he’s searching for words to say but he can’t quite find them. “But how… How… I mean, your mom isn’t gonna go for that, he knows that, right? She’d never let him move back in.”

 

“I told him that I was — I’m gonna help convince my mom. To let him stay.”

 

Connor’s eyes go wider in shock. “I’m sorry, what? You’re just… You’re just okay with this? I mean, that — it’s crazy, Evan.”

 

Evan shrugs. “It’s not that crazy. He just needs some help. He doesn’t have enough — ”

 

Connor scoffs. “No, he doesn’t need help. I’m sure he’s perfectly capable of getting back on his feet by himself. I mean, look at that expensive ass car he has. No, he just doesn’t want to do it alone.”

 

“What’s wrong with that?” Evan asks. He’s not gonna let Connor turn him against his dad. He already has his mind made up. “No one wants to be alone. I was completely alone before you and I’m doing so much better now, and if I can just show him that he doesn’t have to be alone, things are gonna be okay and he’ll be fine and I can have a — a real relationship with him.”

 

Connor adjusts his position, now sitting completely facing his boyfriend and leaning forward, his face serious and concerned. “Evan,” he says. “He is using you.”

 

Evan rolls his eyes. That sentence hurts too much to think about, so he just won’t. “No. He just — “

 

“He didn’t want a relationship with you before. Why would he now?”

 

And Evan knows that Connor is just speaking the truth, but it still hurts coming from his mouth. It sounds so harsh, and makes Evan just a little angrier. “He realized his mistakes,” he answers simply. “He wants to make up for it.”

 

“And he decides to make up for it right after his second wife leaves him? After he has no one left. Think about it, okay? You guys were his last resort. He only came back to you when there was no other option.”

 

Evan stares at Connor incredulously, not sure why he’s so intent on this. It really feels like he’s trying to convince him to hate his own dad. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that he might just want to get to know me? Is it so crazy to think that something good might actually happen to me?”

 

“He only started taking interest in you when he wanted something from you,” Connor says. “You see that, right?”

 

Some small part of Evan’s brain is telling him to listen to Connor. But a much bigger part is reminding him that this is all he’s wanted his whole life — a chance with his father. He won’t let it go so easily. “No. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”

 

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Connor explains, reaching out and grabbing Evan’s hands. “I just wanna help you.”

 

Evan pulls his hands away, shaking his head. “I don’t need your help. I just want you to trust me. I made a decision to help my dad and I’m not changing my mind.”

 

Connor rubs his face, looking stressed. “This is a terrible idea, Evan. Seriously. What, you think he’s just gonna suddenly start liking you and decide to stay forever?”

 

Feeling his heart crushed by the way Connor says that makes Evan want to cry, but instead he gets angry. He really is turning into Connor. “Why? Cause it’s so hard to like me? Thanks, Connor. You really know how to boost my confidence.” He shakes his head and gets to his feet, walking to the bedroom door and grabbing his shoes.

 

“Evan!” Connor exclaims. He can see a little bit of his regret in his eyes, but he doesn’t apologize. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

 

Evan shrugs and slips on his shoes. “I don’t really care what you meant, I’m done. I’m going home.”

 

Connor scoffs. “How are you getting there? Gonna walk the whole way?” When Evan doesn’t respond, he takes a breath and continues. “I’m sorry, okay?” he says, but sounds more upset and desperate than apologetic. “Let’s just… Let’s just talk about it and we’ll have this stupid dinner and we can — “

 

“We’ve already talked about it,” Evan interrupts. “And we’re not getting anywhere with this, so I’ll… I’ll see you later.”

 

Evan turns and opens the door, and Connor stands up and keeps trying to get him to stay. “Ev, come on. You don’t have a ride home and it’s too far to walk.”

 

But Evan’s already pulling out his phone. “I’ll just call Jared,” he says simply, and he turns and leaves the room.

 

Connor huffs angrily, going to the door. “Jared’s only gonna tell you the same things I have!” he shouts, then slams the door.

 

And once the room is empty and he’s alone with himself, the anger is gone and he just wants Evan back. This is so fucked up. The very beginning of their relationship and they can’t see each other for one day without fighting. He drops his face in his hands, taking a deep breath and rubbing his eyes. This is exhausting.

 

Connor plops back on his bed, opening his laptop and staring at the screen. Nothing even sounds fun to him right now. He could watch Netflix or YouTube. He could even just read a book like he loves to do, but he doesn’t care about anything right now. He just wants Evan. But he can’t have that, so he settles for just staring at his computer desktop until the screen goes black. He’s too lazy and unmotivated to move the mouse so it wakes back up, so he watches the blank screen.

 

Until it lights up on its own. Another FaceTime call. He’s ready to ignore Jared’s call because he doesn’t have the energy to talk right now, but then he looks at the picture. Once again, they’re kissing, and Connor’s heart hurts. The contact name is still the same, too. A simple letter M. His mouse hovers over the answer button as his heart races and his mouth goes dry, until his shaky hand finally takes over and answers the call.

Chapter Text

There’s a good seven seconds of silence, the two of them just staring at each other, almost in disbelief. The relief in Connor’s chest at seeing the familiar face is overpowered by so many other emotions. Sadness and anger at what just happened with Evan, anxiety and guilt about answering the call in the first place.

 

“Hi.”

 

Connor almost jumps out of his skin at the word. He can feel tears stinging his eyes, so he wipes his face to hide it. “Hi, M.”

 

“I don’t… I don’t really know what to say, exactly…” Miguel says softly, staring down.

 

Connor purses his lips and tries to stop his hands from shaking, but has no success. “Well, you — you called me, so…” he says, laughing quietly, nervously.

 

“I know, I know, I just… I wanted to check up on you.”

 

Connor looks up and pauses, squinting. “… Why?”

 

“I… I miss you, Connor. A lot. I really care about you and — ”

 

And that’s when he starts to get even more emotional. This really was the worst day to have this happen. Seriously, a conversation with his ex-boyfriend after he just had a fight with his boyfriend? He’s feeling so many things right now, and so many of those feelings are not good. “Then… Then why’d you leave?”

 

“What?”

 

“You dumped me,” Connor states, his eyes filling with tears again. What a terrible night that was. “You knew how much you hurt me, M. You can’t just do that and then come back and expect me to just be okay with it.”

 

Miguel sighs and nods. “I know. And I’m sorry. I just really needed to see your face.”

 

Connor shakes his head, taking a breath. This is his chance to say everything he’s bottled up. “You chose to leave. That was your decision. I spent a month telling myself how I probably deserved all that pain because I thought I wasn’t a good person. It took me so long but I’m literally just now figuring out that I don’t deserve to be hurt like that, and that maybe I’m kind of an okay person. I’m gonna need a better excuse than just ‘I wanted to see your face.’”

 

Silent, Miguel nods again. After a few moments, Connor sees him wipe his own tears away and sniffle. “I’m sorry,” he says, chin wobbling. And then he rambles on in a way that can only remind Connor of Evan. “Connor, I know how much I hurt you and I hate myself for it. I was just worried about you. The last time we talked you — you were going on about your anxiety and panic attacks and that’s all I’ve been thinking about since then. I’ve never had one of those, and I have no idea what it feels like so I never really understood where you were coming from, and it’s my fault for not trying harder to understand, and I just don’t wanna be the cause of one of those and — “

 

“It’s too late,” Connor says quickly, to stop him from saying anything else. “Literally just seeing your name on my computer screen gave me a panic attack, okay? I feel like I’m about to explode, and I can’t stop shaking, and I don’t — “ He stops talking, taking a shaky breath and wiping his tears. “I never wanted you to understand what my anxiety is like, okay? And that’s why I never talked to you about it until it was too late. And it’s just too confusing for me if you keep changing your mind. You can’t leave me and then come back like nothing ever happened.”

 

Miguel’s face scrunches up, and he’s shoulders shake as he lets out a couple silent sobs. “I know, Connor, I am so, so sorry. I was just really worried about you. And I’m… I’m here if you ever need me… That — That’s all I need to say. I don’t want you to think that I want you out of my life, or that you don’t have anyone to help you. If you ever need it, I’m always here for you.”

 

Connor honestly doesn’t know how to find the words to respond. He’s so sad and angry and anxious, but also ridiculously happy to see Miguel again. He wishes they could hug again. Finally, he gets a few words out. “Is that all?”

 

Miguel nods. “Yeah.”

 

“Thanks. Bye, M,” he says, shutting his laptop.

 

As soon as it closes, and Miguel’s face is gone, he regrets it. That wasn’t the right way to end it. He sounded so mean and unimpressed. But that’s the opposite of how he feels. Yeah, he’s still super anxious and upset, but he’s so thankful that Miguel made sure he knew that he wasn’t alone. It feels good to have one more shoulder to lean on, but if he ever does need it, he knows he’s gonna have the hardest time getting the confidence to reach out to him again.

 

-

 

Three days passed by and they still hadn’t said a word. Connor spent the entirety of this three days either thinking about how much he missed Evan, or about his awkward, emotional conversation with Miguel, and how he probably has to tell Evan about it eventually. Mostly, he just really misses Evan. He’s been so quiet and sad the entire weekend that his room is basically filled with his favorite chocolates, little gifts that Zoe keeps leaving for him. He appreciates the gesture and how she cares so much, but having a shit ton of chocolate isn’t really helping.

 

The dinner with her boyfriend was beyond awkward, as expected. Their parents were being weird as always, and because of what had happened with Evan and how weird he felt about the conversation he had with his ex, he was back to his usual quiet self at the dinner table. His dad, unsurprisingly, got pissed at him, and yelled at him, told him if he couldn’t “get through one nice dinner for a guest, he could spent the rest of the night in his room.” So he did. And when Zoe’s boyfriend left, she came in to check on him. Why is she always so good to him?

 

The weekend was absolute hell. He just kept waiting for a text or a call from Evan, but none came. And Connor didn’t want to bother him by being the first one to call, because he knew how pissed off he was. He even hoped for a call from Jared at some point. He just felt so lonely, and it’s not like he could just call Miguel back like it was an everyday thing. Even if he could call him back, it would be too much to explain his relationship troubles with Evan to him.

 

Then Monday came, and he saw Evan in the hall. But as soon as they made eye contact, Evan broke it, turning and walking away. It’s almost worse than when they went weeks without talking. For Connor at least, because now he’s the one being ignored by person he loves most. How the fuck is he supposed to fix this?

 

That day after school, Connor meets Zoe by her car, and she’s brought her boyfriend along. Connor sighs. He’s happy for her, so happy that she found someone she likes, but it’s hard watching them when he can’t get through to his own boyfriend.

 

When they get in the car and start driving away, Will turns around and smiles at Connor in the backseat. “Hey, I don’t think we got off to the best start on Friday. It seemed like you were having a rough night. But you seem like a really good dude, and Zoe loves you to death, so obviously you can’t be that bad.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. This guy sounds like he’s really trying to make a good impression, like Connor’s opinion really matters. Yeah, right. But he seems like a nice guy, and he’d rather his sister date him than some dick. So he forces a smile and nods. “Thanks.”

 

“Any word from Evan?” Zoe asks, looking in the rearview mirror.

 

Connor shakes his head, smile falling as he crosses his arms. “No.” He really doesn’t want to talk about his relationship in front of a stranger.

 

“Do you need more chocolate?” she asks with a smile.

 

“No. God, no. I’m gonna be sick just thinking about any more.”

 

Zoe chuckles. “How about coffee? My treat.”

 

Connor takes a moment to think, then shrugs. “I’ll take that.”

 

So they go through the drive-thru of Zoe’s favorite local coffee shop, then go home. Their mom is waiting when they get there, and she puts on a bigger smile than usual when she sees Will.

 

“Hey, how was school, guys?”

 

Connor and Zoe shrug and Will answers, “Good, thanks. How was your day, Mrs. Murphy?”

 

Cynthia laughs. “It was good! And I’ve told you, call me Cynthia.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and takes a drink of his iced coffee, sitting on the couch.

 

“So,” Cynthia continues. “I had a really busy day, and I didn’t get anything ready for dinner. I’m really sorry, but I think we’ll just go out for dinner tonight if that’s okay with you guys?” she asks, looking between Connor and Zoe. “Your dad’s on his way to the restaurant from work right now, we can go meet him there. And Will, you’re always welcome to join.”

 

Connor shakes his head. He doesn’t need to be in a big group setting right now, especially not with his family. “No, I’m not in the mood. I’ll find something here.”

 

“Okay,” Cynthia says, then looks to the others. “Zoe? Will?”

 

Zoe shakes her head too. “We’re okay, too, I think. Have a good time, though, love you,” she says quickly, and kisses her mom on the cheek before disappearing into the kitchen with Will.

 

Cynthia sighs, coming and kissing Connor on the head, to which Connor rolls his eyes once again. “Call if you need anything, okay?”

 

Connor nods. “Bye, thanks.”

 

As soon as the door shuts behind her, Zoe comes back out with Will. “We’re going over to Will’s house, so you really are on your own. If that’s okay,” she says.

 

Connor looks up at them and tries not to laugh. Like he doesn’t know exactly what they’re planning on getting up to. “That’s fine. Have fun, but not too much fun,” he jokes, and Zoe hits him upside the head.

 

“See you later. Don’t just eat chocolate for dinner, find real food, please,” she says on the way out, sounding just like a mother.

 

Connor can’t help but smile after her. He’s not even a little bit hungry, so he just gets out his laptop and opens it to start working on homework.

 

An hour later, music is blasting through the house as he’s sitting on the living room floor doing calculus. Math isn’t fun, but the loud music makes homework more enjoyable. Plus, this stuff isn’t too hard for him. Maybe if he’d started going to class sooner he could actually be good at it. After a while, he looks at his phone to change the song, only to realize when he turns it on that he has three missed calls. From Evan.

 

He immediately turns off the music and goes to call him back. But Evan beats him to it with yet another call, and he doesn’t hesitate to answer.

 

“Ev? What — “

 

He’s crying. A lot. That’s noticeable right away. “C — Connor… Can y — you please come p — pick me — e up?”

 

Connor heart drops to the floor, completely breaking at the sound of Evan so sad. He gets to his feet, pacing the room. “Evan, what’s wrong?”

 

“Please p — pick me up, p — please, ple — ease…”

 

“I — “ Connor looks outside, like he doesn’t already know there isn’t a car he can use. “I can’t, I don’t have a car, I — “

 

“J — Just come over, please,” Evan sobs, sounding desperate.

 

Connor nods, quickly slipping on his shoes and rushing out the door. “What happened, Ev? Talk to me.”

 

“I — I just… There’s so much, and I — I don’t kn — know… what t — to do…”

 

Barely able to understand him, Connor keeps walking. He puts him on speaker and goes to google to find a bus schedule. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Just stay on the phone, okay? I’m on my way.” After a few minutes of listening to Evan ramble on and not make sense while doing some googling, he finds his nearest bus stop. It’s not the most convenient route, but it’ll be close enough that he can run the rest of the way to Evan’s.

 

On the bus, he takes it off of speaker and puts it back to his ear. “Evan, I need you to try and take deep breaths, alright? You’re gonna pass out,” he says, close to hyperventilating himself, just out of worry.

 

“I — I — I’m sorry, C — Connor,” Evan sobs.

 

Connor quickly shakes his head, as if Evan can see him. “Just stop, Evan, don’t apologize. Just sit down, focus on your breathing. Can you do that for me?”

 

After a few moments, he hears Evan breath in very shakily, then breathe out, but that just turns into more sobbing.

 

Connor wants to cry just knowing that Evan is this broken. “Here, just… just try focusing on my voice, okay? Just listen to my voice until I get there. It’s gonna be alright, I promise. You don’t need to apologize, none of this is your fault. I’m gonna come over and we’re gonna talk whatever this is through and you’re gonna be okay. Where are you right now in your house?”

 

“M — My room,” Evan answers softly.

 

“Are you sitting like I said to?”

 

“N — No, I’m walking around, I — I can’t sit st — still, I’m sorry.”

 

Connor purses his lips, praying that he can help at least a little bit. “Okay, I need you to go sit on your bed. Put me on speaker and set the phone down…”

 

“O — Okay. I’m sitting.”

 

“Now can you, um… Put both of your feet on the ground and your hands on your sides, just set them on the mattress. Just take deep breaths and feel the ground and the bed, okay? Those are real, just try to ground yourself, focus on what you can feel and hear and — “ More sobbing. “Evan?”

 

“No, I can’t, I can’t, I’m sorry, please hurry.”

 

Connor puts his face in his free hand, taking a deep breath to try to calm himself down. “Okay, I think I’m almost there. I promise it’s gonna be okay, you just have to be patient, I’m coming as fast as I can. Just don’t hang up.”

 

“Where are you?” Evan asks, sounding so desperate it hurts.

 

Finally, after eons, the bus slows down, and Connor rushes off as soon as the doors open. He’s a few blocks from Evan’s house. He’s never been one for sports, but with how fast he runs to get to him, he could have won an olympic medal.

 

“I’m — I’m here,” he pants as he rushes up the front step. Just as he raises his hand to ring the doorbell, he hears a sound that he only ever hears at his own house. Screaming, yelling, fighting. “Are those your… your parents?”

 

Even more sobs. “C — Come in the back door, sneak up the — the stairs,” Evan says, and then hangs up.

 

Connor puts his phone in his pocket and runs around the house, opening the door and stepping in. He’s honestly not too worried about being sneaky, he’s just thinking about Evan. And as he’s rushing toward the stairs, he sees Mark and Heidi in the living room, both yelling, arms flailing angrily. Someone slams a fist down on a table. He can’t hear anything they’re saying, because they’re talking over each other, but he doesn’t care what the fight is about.

 

When he gets to Evan’s room, the sight is heartbreaking. He’s sitting on his bed, knees to his chest, hands over his ears tight, face scrunched as he sobs and tries to block it out. His pillows are all over, and Connor can just see him trying to use them to cover his ears, then throwing them off when they didn’t work.

 

Connor rushes to the bed, not hesitating to hold Evan close, kissing his head, hugging him tight.

 

Evan is shaking so hard, and he shakes his head as he cries. “I can’t — They won’t — won’t stop… I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…”

 

For a few moments, Connor isn’t sure why Evan is reacting like this. Fighting is something that happens all the time at his house. It’s weird if there isn’t a fight at least every few days. And then he remembers that Evan’s gone almost his whole life without his dad around. This is probably his first time hearing his parents fighting that he can remember. And it’s clearly a really intense one.

 

“I’m so — so stupid,” Evan whispers shakily, leaning into Connor.

 

“What… What happened?”

 

Evan’s face contorts in a sob again, like bringing back a traumatic memory. “I… I tried to convince my mom to let him stay, and I — I didn’t… This is m — my fault, I’m sorry… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I — “

 

“Ev, stop,” Connor says sternly. “Stop. None of this is your fault, okay? How long has this been going on?”

 

Evan shrugs. “A — An hour?”

 

“You… You’ve been like this for an hour?” At Evan’s nod, Connor lets him go and gets to his feet, completely fed up. “I’ll be right back.”

 

“Wait, where are you — “

 

But it’s too late. Connor’s already marching down the stairs, enraged. Mark and Heidi are still in the living room. Heidi is screaming about going behind her back. Mark is shouting about his right to see his son or some bullshit. But Connor doesn’t stay quiet long enough to hear the rest.

 

“Guys, stop!” he yells, then when they don’t hear him, he adds, “Shut the fuck up!”

 

They both go silent and are suddenly surprised to see him there. Heidi puts on her mom face, but Mark stays angry. “Connor, sweetie, I didn’t know you were here.”

 

“But you knew Evan was, right?” Connor asks, looking between the two of them. Heidi nods slowly. “Well, good fucking job. While you guys have been down here screaming for an hour, he’s been alone having a panic attack. A+ parenting right there.”

 

At first Heidi is just completely shocked by the way Connor is talking to her, but at the mention of Evan’s panic attack, she glances at her ex before running up the stairs. Connor follows, and Mark is after him.

 

“Evan, honey?” Heidi says softly, coming into his room much slower than she ran up the stairs, like she’s being cautious.

 

Evan has eyes shut tight and his head in his hands, but at the sound of his mom’s voice he looks up. “I’m sorry,” he says in a quiet, broken voice. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m okay. I’m okay, I’m sorry.”

 

Heidi shakes her head and sits on her son’s bed, pulling him close and hugging him. He’s still curled in on himself so he doesn’t bother hugging back. “No, Evan, it’s okay, you don’t need to apologize. This isn't your fault.”

 

“What is this?” Mark asks, and Connor jumps. For a second he forgot he was there, but he turns and finds him leaning against the doorway.

 

Did he really just ask that? As if it’s not obvious what’s happening? “It’s a fucking panic attack, thanks to you.”

 

Evan seems to just realize that his dad is here too, because as soon as his eyes land on him, they widen and his face drops into his hands like he’s trying to hide. “I — I’m fine, I promise, I’ll be okay, you don’t have to deal with me like this, I’m sorry.”

 

Connor goes and sits on his other side, wrapping his arms around him the best he can while Heidi also holds him. “Ev, you don’t need to feel guilty about this.”

 

Heidi nods in agreement. “Your health is the number one priority here, honey, you need to take care of yourself and let yourself feel whatever you feel. Don’t apologize for it.”

 

Connor wants to smile, but it’s hard in this situation. She’s such an amazing person and he wants another one of her hugs. 

 

And then Evan takes in the longest breath, his entire body heaving with the shakiness of it. He lets out a whisper when he breathes out, that only Connor and Heidi can hear. “I don’t want him to see… I don’t w — want him to know that I’m… like this.”

 

Connor sees Heidi wipe away a tear, and she kisses Evan’s head. Then she looks at Connor, and gives him a look that he somehow understands without her ever using words. He’ll stay with Evan and help calm him down, and she’ll get Mark out and do her best not to fight anymore. Connor nods, and she gets up and walks over to her ex. “Let’s go downstairs, give the boys some alone time.”

 

“You’re just gonna leave him here? He’s falling apart, Heidi, you can’t — “

 

Heidi doesn’t seem to think twice before literally just pushing Mark out of the doorway and closing the door. Connor can faintly hear her whispering, probably telling him that she doesn’t want to fight anymore.

 

“He’s gone, Ev. It’s okay,” Connor says, moving so he’s sitting across from Evan instead of beside.


Evan very reluctantly lifts his head up, and it’s obvious he’s going to cover his ears again to block out more screaming, but there’s nothing. Very slowly, he allows his body to relax. Instead of curling up with his knees against his chest, he finds himself sitting crisscross. And instead of holding his head, his hands make their way down to rest in his lap, where they pick at his nails. His face is so red and completely soaked with tears, his eyes bloodshot and his hair messy. His body is still visibly shaking, and despite looking so red, he also manages to look pale, like he might pass out any second.

 

After five minutes of silence and letting him get himself relaxed and grounded, Connor reaches out and loosely holds Evan’s hands. “You got through that really well,” he says. He instinctively wants to talk quietly, because he wants to be gentle with Evan since he’s still fragile. But he makes sure to talk in his normal voice, because he knows how much Evan hates to feel like he’s broken, or that everyone is treating him a certain way because of the way he his. Cause Connor feels that exact same way.

 

Evan rolls his eyes and scoffs, grabbing a tissue from his night stand and wiping his nose. Then he wipes his tear soaked face with his sleeve before going back to holding hands. “N — No, not really. But thanks.”

 

Connor squeezes his hands, then brings them closer and kisses them. It makes Evan laugh at least a little, which is a huge weight off of his shoulders. The sight of even the smallest smile on his face is enough to make Connor grin. “You wanna talk about it?”

 

Evan shakes his head, staring down at their hands. “No. I already know what you think about it.”

 

Connor sighs. He still hates Evan’s dad, but of course he’s not gonna start yet another argument over it, especially not with the state Evan is in. “I didn’t ask if I could talk about it. I asked if you wanted to. You can just tell me what’s going on and I won’t judge you or say anything about it. I just want you to feel like you have someone to talk to.”

 

Evan lets out a long breath, then nods. “Okay… Um, my — my dad and I talked to my mom about letting him live with us until he found somewhere else. She got… mad, obviously. She didn’t like that he went behind her back and talked to me about it, and… I don’t know. They said a lot of things and there was a lot of yelling and I couldn’t really keep up.”

 

After waiting a few moments to see if Evan had anything else to say, Connor hesitantly asks a question. “And you’re still… you still want him to stay with you guys?”

 

Evan pauses, then nods, and Connor forces his expression to stay the same. He promised no judgement. “I really want to get to know him better. I think if I had a relationship with him, I’d be… a lot better off than I am now.”

 

Connor squeezes Evan’s hand. “Okay. Whatever you think is right for you.”

 

“But my mom’s never gonna let it happen,” Evan says, shaking his head. “You saw how bad that was.”

 

“Whatever happens, I’m here,” Connor promises. He never wants Evan to forget that.

 

Evan closes his eyes and rubs the sides of his head. “I’m so tired.”

 

“Do you wanna just lay down?” Connor asks, and Evan nods. So he moves to the side so Evan can extend his legs. Evan lies down on his side, and Connor lies right beside him, wrapping his arm over his torso and finding his hand to hold. He kisses the back of his neck and squeezes his hand. Evan might have just had a panic attack, and Connor might not agree with any of his boyfriend’s decisions right now, but somehow it all feels really perfect. Laying in silence, cuddling with just each other’s company. Connor doesn’t need anything else.

 

He's pretty sure Evan’s fallen asleep after a while. Either that or his breathing’s just calmed down considerably. Whatever it is, Evan bolts up when there’s a knock at the door, and they both move away from each other as the door opens. Heidi might technically know they’re together, but they’ve never actually addressed it. And he’d still rather not have her walk in on them cuddling.

 

“Hey,” she says as she comes in, closing the door behind her. “How are you feeling, honey?”

 

Evan shrugs. “Better. Is everything… okay?”

 

Heidi nods, sitting on the end of Evan’s bad. “Yeah, I think so, I just wanted to talk to you about some things.”

 

Connor catches the nervous look on Evan’s face, so he moves so he’s sitting right next to him and rubs his back subtly.

 

“First of all, Evan, I am so sorry about all this,” she says, obviously feeling really guilty. “I didn’t — “

 

Evan shakes his head. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault Dad and I went behind your back, you have a right to be mad at us.”

 

“No, no, honey. I’m not mad at you at all, okay? And that’s not what I meant. I just… I didn’t know he was coming,” Heidi explains. “If I had known, I could have prepared you better and been prepared myself. I think if I were prepared I wouldn’t have been so freaked out this whole time and maybe I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did today. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry and I know it upset you to hear that and I am so sorry.”

 

Nodding, Evan lets out a breath. “It’s okay. Is everything okay with you and Dad now?”

 

Heidi sighs. “We talked it over. I obviously don’t like that he went behind my back and talked to you about it before me, and he just needs a place to live for a little bit, so he was just trying to find the best way for that to happen. Doesn’t mean it was the right way, but… Anyway, I told him that if he stays, there are rules, and these apply to you too, so listen up.”

 

Evan’s eyes light up with hope, and Connor seems to lose all his. He thought Heidi would be better than this. He was sure there was no way she’d let Mark stay.

 

“There’s gonna have to be a time limit, so he can’t stay forever. If he doesn’t have a stable job and place to live within a few months, we’re done. Okay?” Evan nods and she continues. “And no more sneaking out of school and skipping classes to get lunch. If you go anywhere, I want to know… I’m not trying to be a strict parent, I swear, I’m just trying my best and — “

 

Evan shakes his head. “No, no it’s okay, what else?”

 

“And I need a dinner with you at least once a week.”

 

The grin on Evan’s face is almost enough to make Connor forget how unhappy he is with all this. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Evan says, launching forward and hugging his mom.

 

Heidi pulls away. “I also want you to start seeing Dr. Sherman again. I know you’ve been doing well lately — “ she smiles at Connor “ — but this is a lot of change and I think it might help.”

 

Nodding and still smiling widely, Evan hugs her again. “Okay. Yes. Anything else?”

 

Heidi nods. “Yeah, actually.”

 

Evan sits back down and gets more serious when he sees the look on her face. “This is the most important. I need you to watch out for yourself. If something doesn’t feel right to you or you get a bad feeling about anything, you need to tell me. I know you don’t want to disappoint him, but you need to follow your gut. Your health comes first. Always. Understand?”

 

Evan smiles softly. “Yes. So it’s… official? He’s staying?”

 

Heidi purses her lips and hesitates. “I’m leaving it up to you.”

 

“What?”

 

“You can come down right now and tell him he can stay, or you can take some time to think about it, and make sure this is what you really want.”

 

Evan smiles bigger. “I already know what I want.”

 

Heidi nods. “So are you coming down now?”

 

Evan looks over at Connor, and somehow his eyes light up even more. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Heidi sighs and leaves the room, and Evan immediately tackles Connor in a hug, then pulls back and kisses him.

 

“Someone’s happy.”

 

Evan pulls back more, but stays close enough that he can play with Connor’s hair and kiss his cheek. “I know you don’t like him. But this is literally a dream come true for me. I have a really good feeling about it. And I think it’s gonna be amazing.”

 

Connor forces a smile, cause he can’t really do anything else. “I’m with you then.”

 

Chapter Text

They go downstairs a while later, using their time alone to just keep cuddling some more. When they get to the living room, Evan’s parents are sitting, his dad on a chair and his mom on the couch. They aren’t really saying anything, and he can feel the tension in the air. When his dad notices him, his eyes fill with hope, and it makes him smile. It feels so good being able to help, and even better now that he’s really gonna have a relationship with his father.

 

“So?” Mark asks, smiling back. “What’s the verdict?”

 

Evan thinks about pausing for dramatic effect, but instead he just grins and nods. “I want you to stay.”

 

Mark jumps up, fists in the air victoriously before running over and hugging his son. “Thank you, Evan, Thank you.”

 

The feeling is amazing, just a big bear hug from his dad. He’s engulfed in his arms and he can’t help but laugh. “Of course. Thank you for… for coming back.”

 

They pull away, and Heidi stands up. “Remember the rules, though. Both of you.” She looks at Mark. “You start looking for jobs tomorrow.”

 

Mark nods in agreement, still smiling wide as he puts his arm over Evan’s shoulder. “I think this calls for celebration. Ice cream, anyone?”

 

Evan smiles and looks over at Connor, who shrugs. Then he nods up at his dad. “That sounds good.”

 

“Great, let’s go,” Mark says.

 

Heidi puts her arm out in front of him. “Wait, Evan, you told me you had a bunch of homework tonight.”

 

Evan huffs. He forgot about that. “Fine…”

 

But Heidi can’t seem to disappoint him, and she lets out a sigh. “I’ll go through McDonald’s.”

 

Mark shakes his head. “No, you know Dairy Queen is better. You’re smarter than this, Heidi.”

 

Rolling her eyes but still smiling a little, Heidi grabs her purse and puts on a jacket. “Dairy Queen’s line takes forever.”

 

“But it’s worth it.”

 

“Fine. What do you guys want?”

 

Mark grins. “Banana split, please.”

 

“Just a fudge sundae,” Evan says.

 

“Connor?” Heidi asks.

 

Connor looks up like he was just in a trance. “Oh. Um… I just realized I didn’t eat dinner yet. Could you maybe get a burger for me?”

 

“Of course!” Heidi exclaims. “If you need something to hold you over until I get back, help yourself to anything in the kitchen. Do you want ice cream too?”

 

Connor shakes his head. “No, thank you.”

 

When Heidi leaves, Mark turns to his son. “Evan, again, I really appreciate you doing this for me. I’m so excited to spend more time with you.”

 

Evan smiles wide, nodding. “Me — Me too.”

 

Connor tugs on Evan’s sleeve gently. “We should go… um, do our homework. We have a lot, remember?”

 

Evan knows full well that Connor didn’t bring his backpack, but he goes along with it and nods. “Yeah. We’ll be in my room if you need anything.” They start walking up the stairs, and he waves, just so fucking excited. “Bye, Dad!”

 

He collapses on his bed, unable to stop grinning. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

 

Connor crawls on the bed next to him, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend and kissing his cheek. “Me neither.”

 

“I know you don’t like it, but I hope you can try to get to know him. Maybe you’ll realize he’s not actually that bad,” Evan says. God, he hopes so. If Connor hates Mark forever, Evan doesn’t know what he’ll do. They both mean so much to him.

 

Connor shrugs. “Maybe.”

 

Evan turns to face him completely, both of them now lying on their sides. “Thanks for coming over tonight and helping.”

 

“You don’t need to thank me,” Connor says as he reaches out and holds Evan’s hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up sooner.”

 

“It’s fine.” Evan looks at their hands intertwined, resting on the mattress, and he smiles. “You came, that’s what matters… So, um, how was dinner the other night with Zoe and her boyfriend? Sorry I just ran out on it.”

 

Connor pauses, and Evan notices for a split second that he looks almost sad. Then he sighs and shrugs, starting to rub his thumb lightly on the skin of Evan’s hand. “It was… okay. He seems decent, I guess.”

 

Evan watches Connor’s thumb move over that small patch of skin, and he gets the sudden urge to kiss him. Of course, when does he not have the urge to kiss him? Still, he’s so tired and still reeling from his episode, so he doesn’t have the energy to move fast or go far. But he does inch forward and gently peck Connor’s lips, smiling softly.

 

Connor smiles back, moving his hand from Evan’s up to his boyfriend’s face as he kisses him again. He pulls away a moment later, though, and Evan frowns. “Wait, don’t you have homework? Lots of it?”

 

Evan stops and thinks. He should probably do that. But then again, his mom said that he needed to take care of himself, didn’t she? And he’s too exhausted and just not in the state to do homework, so really this is self care. Finally he shrugs. “It can wait.”

 

Seeming happy with that answer, Connor laughs softly and presses their lips together again. They both scoot even closer, completely content with just lazily making out until their ice cream gets here. Evan’s hand trails over Connor’s arm and chest while Connor turns the tables and starts playing with Evan’s hair for once. It all feels so fucking good.

 

After a few moments, Evan pulls away to breathe. “You’re stupid good at this.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and chuckles. “Shut up.”


“No, like… It’s kinda freaky.”

 

“Are you calling me a freak?” Connor asks, sitting up. Evan can see him trying to act serious and scary, but that light in his eyes is giving him away.

 

He sits up too, nodding and grinning. “Yes I am. Now keeping kissing me, freak.”

 

Connor laughs, then gives in and does as he’s told. Now sitting up, their legs tangle together under them while Evan’s arms wrap around Connor’s neck, and Connor’s hold Evan tight, like he’s never wants to let go. It just makes Evan feel so much more loved and safe.

 

And they’re just so immersed in each other that they don’t hear the bedroom door open. They don’t realize they aren’t alone until they hear another voice.

 

“What the hell is going on?”

 

They both jump, pulling away from each other and whipping around to see Evan’s father standing at the open door. Faces bright red, they look anywhere but at him.

 

“Sorry, sorry, we didn’t — didn’t hear you and — Sorry,” Evan says, clearing his throat and staring at the floor. “Is — Um — Is Mom back already?”

 

Mark shakes his head. “No, I mean — what do you… what is this?” he asks, motioning between the two of them.

 

Evan looks over at Connor’s whose face is bright red, then back to his dad, still at a loss for words. This is so embarrassing. “I — I don’t — What do you mean?”

 

Scoffing, Mark once again motions to the two of them. “What, are you — are you fucking gay or something?”

 

Evan is completely speechless now. He doesn’t even know how to feel. Frozen in shock and fear, he looks between Connor and his father, eyes wide.

 

Connor gets to his feet, looking at Mark angrily. “Do you have a problem with that?”

 

Mark just shakes his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “My son is not gay.”

 

“No, but I am,” Connor says before Evan can cut in. “Do you have a problem with that?” he repeats, slower, louder.

 

“So it’s you,” Mark says, pointing his finger. “You’re making him do things he doesn’t want to, trying to force him to be something he’s not.”

 

Evan finally stands up, legs shaking. “Dad. What… What’s wrong?” He can’t think of the right words. He can’t really tell what’s going on, feeling completely out of it. He can’t fathom what he knows deep down is happening.

 

Mark points to the two of them. “This!” he shouts, making Evan jump. “This is not okay, Evan, what are you thinking?”

 

The pain that hits Evan is an all new one. He’s always been ashamed of himself, just for who he was, for acting the way he did, always feeling anxious and never able to talk to anyone. That was a person he hated. But he never thought to be ashamed of himself for who he loves. He’s never associated hate with his sexuality. Until now. 

 

His eyes fill with tears, his hands shaking along with his legs now. “I — “

 

“You don’t need to let him pressure you into anything,” Mark says, walking over to him. “Just say the word and he can leave and — “

 

“He didn’t — He didn’t pressure me,” Evan says, chin wobbling as he looks up at his father. “I was — We — We’re dating.”

 

The pure disappointment on Mark’s face shatter’s Evan’s heart. “Unbelievable. This is — “

 

“I’m sorry.” Evan’s head drops. He knows this is wrong. He knows that he has the power to stop this, to kick his father out right now. He knows he has the power to put him in his place, to get angry and not feel bad about who he is. But he just feels so guilty. His father just came back into his life and he’s already a huge fuck-up. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

 

But Connor is suddenly right by his side, grabbing his hand. “No, don’t apologize.” He pulls Evan away, then steps between them. “Get away from him,” he says, right to Mark’s face, not an ounce of fear or hesitation. Just anger.

 

“Watch how you talk to me,” Mark says, warningly. “Get away from my son, he’s not like you.”

 

“I’m not scared of you,” Connor replies, still holding Evan’s hand behind him. “And yeah, he is like me. So either accept it and love him because he’s your son, or leave him the fuck alone.”

 

And Evan is so, so grateful for Connor, doing this for him. But it also makes him feel so much worse. It just reminds him how helpless he is. He can’t even speak up for himself? It’s pathetic.

 

“This isn’t you, Evan,” Mark says, talking to him over Connor’s shoulder. “It’s like it — it’s cool these days to be gay, everyone tries so hard to be different and no one is just… just normal.”

 

Another blow and Evan closes his eyes tight, tears falling when he does. Maybe this is just a nightmare, maybe he’s going crazy and this isn’t really happening. Why can’t something good just happen to him? Is that too much to ask? When he opens his eyes, though, they’re still standing there, his father still tearing him down, making him feel so small.

 

“It’s just a trend. I’m trying to protect you, bud. If you keep going on like this, you’re gonna get over it and realize you’re perfectly normal and you’ll just be embarrassed about this whole phase. I’m saving you the embarrassment.”

 

Connor steps forward, away from Evan but toward Mark, making him step back and further the distance from his son. “Do you ever shut the fuck up? If you don’t like it then get out.”

 

“It’s not that I don’t like it, I’m just looking out for my son,” Mark insists. He looks at Evan again, pauses, then asks, “Do you want me to leave, Evan?”

 

He can’t move, he can’t speak. No. He doesn’t want him to leave, he wants him to stay and accept him. Or maybe he can just stay and they never have to talk about this again, and they’ll both be somewhat happy.

 

After a few moments of silence, Mark scoffs and shakes his head, then steps back. “For fuck’s sake,” he mutters, rubbing his face. “If I knew this is how your mother would raise you, I never would’ve left.”

 

Then Evan surprises himself by finally speaking up. “That… That’s what would make you stay? To make sure I turned out straight?”

 

Mark raises his eyebrows, shrugging. “Come on, Evan. She clearly doesn’t — “

 

“No, stop!” Evan says, his voice just barely getting louder. The second his mom was brought into this, his sadness and anxiety turned into anger. “Don’t blame this on her, this has nothing to do with her. She did better than you ever could have.”

 

Mark sighs, turning and starting to leave the room. “I guess we’ll never know, since you’re obviously too far gone.”

 

Connor and Evan make eye contact, Connor looking at him so sadly, and Evan still crying — a lot — but filled with rage. He goes after his dad, following him into the living room, and Connor stays behind him. “You really care about this that much? Is it really that big of a deal that I — I like guys?”

 

“Is it really that big of a deal to just be normal and like a girl?”

 

Evan can’t reply coherently to that, since he’s crying so hard. But he’s also so enraged, and he ends up letting out a short, frustrated scream. Frustrated at the situation, at his dad for being so close-minded, at himself for not being able to say what he wants. His hands go to his face as he attempts to take a deep breath. He roughly wipes his tears away — not that it stops anymore from continuing to fall. “Are — Are you fucking kidding me?” he’s able to get out, then his voice disappears in a few sobs.

 

“Watch your tone,” Mark warns.

 

Furiously, Evan steps forward on his shaking legs. “N — Now you wanna be my parent? You’re… You’re too late.”

 

Connor reaches out and rubs Evan’s arm. He doesn’t say anything, but it makes Evan feel at least a little better. Just a gesture to let him know that he’s still there for him.

 

At the sight of it, though, Mark scoffs and turns away, almost like it pains him to look at it. But just as he’s about to turn back around, the door opens up.

 

Heidi’s smile is immediately wiped off of her face, and she quickly sets down the Dairy Queen bags holding all their food. “What’s going on?”

 

Mark steps forward to talk to her, pointing at Evan as he does. “This is how you raised our son, Heidi? To go around and act like some sort of fag?”

 

An even worse blow. He could physically feel that one. Nauseous and feeling like he can’t breathe, he looks over at Connor with wide eyes. Connor looks the same way, like he can’t believe what he just heard. But once he notices how hurt Evan is by it, he grabs his hand and holds it tight. Evan’s never actually heard the word spoken out loud before. Especially not talking about him. And it feels awful.

 

There’s this look of utter shock and confusion and anger on Heidi’s face as she sputters, completely taken aback and at a loss for words. “Excuse me?”

 

“You can’t encourage that kind of behavior, okay? If you just — “

 

Heidi puts her hand up, and Evan is pretty sure he can see it shaking. “Stop talking, Mark. You are in no position to tell me how to parent. You obviously don’t know how to be one."

 

Mark shakes his head. “All I know is this isn’t okay. No wonder he turned out the way he did. You’re putting these ideas into his head that it’s — it’s okay to be gay, or whatever, and it’s not — not right. I mean, look what you did. He’s confused and — and unstable. And with the way you’ve raised him it’s no surprise he’s as messed up in the head as he is.”

 

The worst blow of all. Everything in his body and his heart hurts so much. A sob involuntarily rips through his chest as he hugs himself and drops his head. Connor wraps his arms around him, kissing his head. He’s shaking too, actually, probably from the rage. Evan’s eyes are shut tight as he heaves, crying and trying to make himself smaller and smaller.

 

Heidi slams the door shut, making Evan jump out of his skin and look back up. “Get out. Now. Get your shit and get out of my house.”

 

Mark doesn’t say another word to her, only stares at her for a few moments before turning to the boys. As soon as he looks over, Evan pulls away from Connor. He doesn’t need anymore criticism for being the way he is. “Evan. I’m your dad, I’m just trying to help you. Listen, okay? I just got back, we’re just getting to know each other. I can help and — “

 

“You’ve been gone my whole life,” Evan says, making his voice sound as steady as he can. “If you’re gone for the rest of it, I’m sure I’ll barely notice.”

 

Mark shakes his head and steps closer. “Evan — “

 

“If you a — actually cared about me, you would’ve acted like my dad way before you wanted something from me,” Evan says, now not only shaking from anxiety but from rage. “You — You used me for your own good. You don’t love me and you don’t care about me and — and you never did.” He has to wipe his face again, snot and tears making him look like such a mess.

 

“You’ll see later on, you’ll realize I was right. I’m just looking out for you — “

 

“You’re looking out for yourself,” Evan says, turning and starting to walk away. “Leave me alone.”

 

Mark takes a few steps after him, but Connor immediately gets between them and doesn’t hesitate to push him back. “He said leave him alone!”

 

“Please just get out,” Evan says as he turns back around, starting to lose it. He feels like he’s on the edge of something and when he falls off he doesn’t know where he’ll land. “If you hate who I am so much why are you trying to fucking hard? Get out!” he screams. “Get out and leave me the fuck alone!”

 

After a few moments of silence, Mark scoffs angrily. “Fine. Nice job making sure the family didn’t go to hell without me, Heidi,” he mutters sarcastically.

 

“This family went to hell as soon as you came back, Mark,” Heidi spits. “Just leave. I’ll drop your shit off wherever you stay, you just need to get out. Now.”

 

Finally, Mark complies. He’s just so angry. He gets to the door and opens it, and right before he leaves for second time in Evan’s life, he turns and looks between him and Connor. Rage, disgust, disappointment. That’s all Evan can see, and it breaks him. At the sound of the door slamming, he falls apart.

 

He’s right in front of the couch, so he collapses into it, curled into a ball on his side as he hides his face and sobs.

 

Heidi and Connor are by his side immediately, Connor kneeling by his face and rubbing his arms since his hands are too preoccupied to hold. Heidi sits on the couch by his feet, but he’s curled up so tight that she’s able to easily reach over and rub his back.

 

“Honey, I am so sorry,” Heidi says softly, her eyes watering up. “If I had known he would react like that, I never would’ve let him stay here. I’m so sorry.”

 

Evan’s breathing is so fast and uneven and he can’t get control of it. His head is pounding and he start getting dizzy, and he squeezes the sides of his head to try and help, but it does nothing.

 

Connor squeezes his arm once before getting up and leaving the room. Evan is too busy hyperventilating, so he doesn’t bother asking what he’s doing, but he ends up coming back with a washcloth in his hands and kneels back down by his boyfriend. “Who cares what he thinks, Ev?” he asks, taking the wet cloth and gently wiping his face.

 

“I — I do!” Evan exclaims, pushing the cloth away and sitting up. And it hurts, but it’s true. He was so happy to have his father back, he just wanted to do something to make him proud, to make him happy he came back. Instead he drove him away because he’s just that bad of a person. “I want him to — to actually love me and stick around to see my — my life and I — “ The words are caught in his throat as he lets out more sobs, leaning forward and rest his face in his hands.

 

Heidi and Connor have an easier time comforting him this way. They’re both on either side, rubbing his back. 

 

And somehow it makes it worse. Having his mom and his boyfriend there coddling him makes him feel so helpless. He’s so mentally unstable he’s having a meltdown like a toddler, and with the two of them by his side trying to comfort him, he just feels so overwhelmed and paralyzed. He loves them and appreciates them. But it’s all too much for him right now.

 

“Can I please be alone?” he finally blurts out, his head still in his hands.

 

They both stop, pulling away. Connor speaks first. “I don’t… I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Ev.”

 

“I — I’m fine. I just need… I need to be alone. Please.”

 

“Are you sure, honey?” Heidi asks.

 

Evan nods, finally opening his eyes and looking between the two of them. “Yes. Please. Thank you.”

 

Sighing, Heidi nods and gets to her feet. “Okay. Uh, Connor, do you need a ride home?”’

 

Connor looks like he really doesn’t want to leave, but he gives Evan the space he wants and answers. “Y — Yeah, please.” He kisses Evan’s head and squeezes his hand before stepping away.

 

On the way out the door, Heidi reaches into the Dairy Queen bag that’s sitting by the door and pulls out a burger, handing it to Connor. “You need to eat.”

 

And as soon as they’re gone, Evan realizes he was wrong. He doesn’t need to be alone. He really does not want to be alone. He just needs a different kind of company. Someone that won’t coddle him or make him feel powerless and pathetic and weak. Without putting too much thought into it — because his head hurts too much for that — he gets his shoes on and heads out the door.

 

It’s only a couple blocks away, so it doesn’t take long, but before he goes in he calls Jared.

 

“Hey, I’m kind of in the middle of a really important battle and I’m about to win, what do you want?”

 

“Are your parents home?” Evan asks immediately. The only car here is Jared’s but he just wants to make sure.

 

“Nope.” Jared knows the drill, so he hangs up without waiting for an answer. If his parents aren’t home, he wants Evan to just walk in so that he doesn’t have to come all the way downstairs. Actually, Jared would prefer that to be the way it is all the time, but Evan didn’t like the idea of just walking in when his parents were home, so they compromised.

 

Evan heads up to Jared’s room, and when he opens the door, Jared pauses his video game and turns.

 

“Dude, what happened?” he asks as soon as he notices his red face and still tear-soaked eyes, getting to his feet.

 

Evan wipes his eyes and sits down on Jared’s bed, taking deep, shaky breaths and picking at his nails. “My — My dad.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “I’m sorry, I do not like that guy — “

 

“He left again.”

 

Jared goes quiet for a moment. Evan knows he’s probably celebrating deep down, but he doesn’t care. “I’m… sorry. Do you know why?”

 

“I made him,” Evan answers simply.

 

“You… you made him,” Jared repeats, clearly confused. “But you were so excited about — “

 

“He found out about Connor and me.” Evan brings his legs onto the bed and sits criss-cross, rubbing his eyes. “Apparently he… he’s not a fan of gay people.”

 

Jared frowns. “I’m really sorry, that… that sucks. Do you need anything?”

 

This is the kind of comfort he needs right now. An apology and just being there when he needs it. Not constant coddling and treating him like he can’t take care of himself. “Can I… Can I sleep here?” he finally asks after hesitating. “I don’t wanna, like… invite myself, that’s so — it’s rude, so if you don’t want me to, it’s okay, I just — “

 

“Evan. It’s fine,” Jared says, putting a hand out to tell him to chill. “You take the bed. And maybe get to sleep now, you look like you need it.”

 

He feels like he needs it too. He’s physically and emotionally drained, and ready to sleep for two hundred years. But he also knows that when his mom gets home and he isn’t there, she’s gonna freak. So he sends her a quick text.

 

I’m staying at Jared’s. He’ll take me to school tomorrow. I’m sorry about tonight.

 

He gets a call from her right away, and doesn’t hesitate to answer it. “Hi.”

 

“What are you apologizing for?” Heidi asks. “None of that was your fault at all.”

 

“I don’t know,” Evan says, lying down. All he knows is he feels guilty. Maybe just about not being straight. He knows he shouldn’t feel bad about that, but somehow he just does. If he was straight, this never would have happened. “I just… I don’t know,” he sighs.

 

“I thought you wanted to be alone,” his mom says.

 

Evan shrugs, yawning. “I changed my mind.”

 

“That’s okay,” Heidi says. “I'm so sorry again, honey. Let me know if you need anything, okay? And get some sleep.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I love you.”

 

Evan takes a breath and wipes away a tear. Both of his parents have said that to him now, but only one of them has meant it.

 

“I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Connor runs into Jared when he walks into school that morning, before he even gets a chance to look for Evan.


“How is he?” he asks immediately, full of concern. He looks around the hall to see if he can catch a glimpse of his boyfriend somewhere.

 

Normally Jared would make a joke about how Connor has no manners and didn’t say good morning, but he’s completely serious too. “Holy shit, dude, how bad was it yesterday?”

 

Connor shakes his head, frowning. “Awful. It was… so bad.” He thought he’d be glad to have Mark gone, but at least Evan was happy when he was ignorant of all the problems his father had. He knows it’s better that Evan know and not be surrounded by someone that toxic, but it hurts so much to see him as sad as he was yesterday. “Was he the same this morning?”

 

Jared shrugs, going with Connor to his locker and leaning against the wall as he grabs his book for his first couple classes. “Not really. He was quieter. He barely said a word. He definitely didn’t sleep enough last night. He wouldn’t stop tossing and turning and I heard him get up a few times, but I don’t — “ He pauses, sighing and shaking his head. Connor is so glad Jared isn’t the dick he thought he was, that he actually does care about Evan. “So what exactly happened?”

 

Taking a breath and really wanting to think about anything other than last night, Connor closes his locker and leans up against it. “His dad walked in on us and he was just… He was so mad. And — And first he blamed me and said I’m the reason Evan wasn’t ‘being himself’ or whatever. It was so fucking stupid and then he started blaming Heidi for the way she raised him.”

 

“That’s crossing a fucking line,” Jared says. “Heidi is a saint. She always lets me eat her frozen pizzas when I come over.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and continues, though he doesn’t disagree. “And Evan was crying so much and he didn’t say anything at first and I just — I mean, like, how do you even do that?” he asks, working himself up and getting furious again. “Evan was crying and he could barely talk and he just kept — kept fucking yelling at him. And then Heidi came home and he yelled at her for the way she raised him and he called Evan a — a — “ He literally has to stop talking for a few moments and collect himself. It’s like he’s back in Evan’s living room, and he really does wish Mark was there so he could punch him. “And he said that Evan is… is messed up in his head. Cause that’s how you talk about someone’s mental health. Right in front of them.

 

“I’m gonna kill him,” Jared finally says simply. “I’m gonna find him and I’m gonna murder him. I hate him.”

 

“Me too,” Connor agrees, forcing himself to take a breath and calm down. “I just don’t know how to help Evan. Where did he go when you guys got here?”

 

Jared looks around. “He went to his locker.”

 

“Yeah, but usually he comes over to my locker after he gets his books.”

 

When it’s clear Jared has no idea where he’d be, Connor says bye and heads over to Evan’s locker down the hall. At the sight of his mop of messy hair from the back, Connor relaxes a little, and he gently reaches out a touches his shoulder. Evan jumps, spinning around with wide eyes, but he eases up a bit when he sees Connor.

 

God, he doesn’t look like himself. It’s almost like a ghost. There are dark circles under his eyes that make it clear he didn’t sleep, and his hair is all over. He’s wearing the same clothes from yesterday since he didn’t have anything to change into at Jared’s, so they’re all wrinkled and unkempt. He looks pale, somehow, or maybe it’s just the contrast from his dark, tired eyes. And his whole body seems tired and tense.

 

Connor gently hugs Evan, and Evan hesitantly hugs him back. He’s almost afraid to break him, so he rubs his back instead of squeezing him like he wants to, then he pulls away. “Are you doing okay?” Stupid question, and he knows it as soon as it leaves his mouth.

 

Evan shrugs and glances around, like he’s avoiding eye contact. “I’ve been better.”

 

“Do you need anything?” Connor asks, holding Evan’s hand lightly. 

 

Evan stares down at their hands, pauses, then shakes his head and looks up. “No. Thanks.”

 

Connor nods, and they start walking down the hall. “Okay. Um, how about dinner tonight? Just you and me. We can go get some food and then maybe see a movie or go to — “

 

“I’m not really in the — the mood to go out,” Evan says. “I’m sorry.”

 

Connor stops, turning toward his boyfriend and shaking his head. “Don’t apologize, it’s okay. We can stay in? If your mom’s not home tonight I can cook for you, or — or even if she is home and I can make you both dinner,” he tries, completely desperate to do something to help. “I don’t really, um, know how to cook very many things but if you’re in the mood for mac and cheese or ramen or eggs, I can — “

 

“It’s okay,” Evan insists. “I’ll be okay. You can come over if you want, but you don’t need to do all that.”

 

Connor sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I just feel awful.”

 

Evan shrugs. “Well, so do I, so…”

 

Connor kisses the top of Evan’s head. He hates this. Evan deserves so much more than this. “Okay, we’ll stay in tonight. I’ll have Zoe drop us off after school.” Then he leans down to kiss him goodbye, but Evan pulls away, letting go of Connor’s hands.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says quickly, looking down at his hands.

 

“What’s wrong?” Connor asks, trying not to show how hurt he is. And how guilty. Is this how Miguel always felt, when Connor refused to show him affection?

 

Evan takes a breath and looks up. “I just, uh… I think I changed my mind. I don’t really wanna do the whole — um, public thing,” he answers quietly. “Can we just — keep it between us?”

 

Connor purses his lips and once again tries not to show how much that hurts. He never thought Evan would be the one to want to keep it a secret. “Okay, but… I mean, people at school already know, we’ve already been doing the public thing.”

 

Evan nods. “But not for that long. And no one really pays attention to us, right? So they probably didn’t even notice.”

 

“Or they just don’t care,” Connor points out. “It’s the twenty first century, Ev, not everyone is — “

 

“I already have one person who hates me because I like guys,” Evan interrupts quickly, talking quieter. “I don’t wanna risk it.”

 

Connor feels his heart break a little more in his chest. There’s so much sadness in Evan's eyes. It hurts to watch. And Connor doesn’t want to make him feel worse or disagree with him right now, so he just nods. “Okay. I get it. Just between us… I’ll see you at lunch, okay?”

 

Except by the time lunch rolls around, he’s nowhere to be found. Connor waits in the library for a bit, texts him and doesn’t get a reply, waits a little more, then gives up and goes to the cafeteria. Maybe he’s sitting by Jared or something. But he finds Jared in the back of the room at a table, and Evan isn’t there. He taps him on the shoulder and sits next to him. “Have you seen Evan?”

 

Jared purses his lips and pauses, then nods. “Yeah.”



“… Where?”

 

Sighing, Jared turns toward him. “I took him home during my free period. He said he was feeling sick.”

 

Connor raises his eyebrows. He can’t decide if he believes it or not. He probably just felt too upset to be at school, which is completely understandable. But he wouldn’t be surprised if he did feel sick considering how little sleep he got last night. Either way, Connor hates the idea of him being alone. “Is Heidi home?”

 

“No, she has work,” Jared answers, shaking his head.

 

“Really?” Connor asks incredulously.

 

“Yeah. What’s the problem?”

 

Connor huffs. “You really think it’s a good idea for him to be alone right now?” Maybe Jared wouldn’t understand, but Connor does, and the worry is eating him up. He’s been that low before, to the point where it seems like there’s no other way out. The thought of Evan being at that point is too much to handle, but he knows that it’s a possibility. He hopes and prays that Evan never gets to that state of mind, because he knows how terrifying it is, and he can’t imagine a world without Evan Hansen.

 

Jared shrugs. “I think he wants to be alone. He probably just needs rest, he didn’t sleep last night, remember?”

 

“No, he needs — “

 

“You?” Jared interjects, almost snappy.

 

“What?”

 

Rolling his eyes, Jared shakes his head at him, like he’s an idiot. “You’re not the only one who cares about him, dude. He’s my…” He sighs heavily. “He’s my best friend. I did what I thought was best for him. He needs to just take a break.”

 

“Good for you. You’re finally not a shit friend. But come on,” Connor says. “I really don’t think he should be alone right now. Can you please just take me to his house?”

 

But Jared shakes his head. “I think he knows what he needs better than either of us, and he clearly wants to be alone.”

 

Connor groans, fed up. “Fine. I’ll just get Zoe’s car,” he mutters, getting to his feet.

 

Just as he’s turning away, though, Jared grabs his arm to stop him from leaving and gets to his feet. “Connor, wait,” he says, and Connor turns back around and raises his eyebrows expectingly. Jared lets out a long breath. “Listen, I think there’s a reason he didn’t even tell you he was leaving.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Jared takes another breath and lets go of Connor’s arm. “He really cares about you, dude. But I think he probably just needed some time away from you.” Connor’s heart drops at those words. Evan is finally tired of him. “Otherwise he would’ve asked you for a ride, or at least let you know he was leaving.”

 

Connor stays quiet, so hurt, and starting to get angry at Jared. Maybe he doesn’t deserve the anger directed toward him, but that’s just what’s happening as he tells Connor how his boyfriend doesn’t want him around.

 

“I’m sorry,” Jared says softly, and Connor can hear the honest guilt and sadness in his voice. “I’m really sorry. Evan really does care about you. Like, so much it’s stupid. He just needs to take a minute to himself, I think.”

 

Connor forces himself to take a deep breath and nod. “Okay. I guess that makes sense… Thanks,” he says, and without another word he walks away. He gets his phone out and texts Evan again when he gets back to the library.

 

You went home? Are you ok?

 

Again, it’s a dumbass question, but he doesn’t know what else to say. He absentmindedly eats his lunch until his phone vibrates with a text.

 

Yeah. Sorry. I don’t feel good.

 

Connor sighs and replies back. Do you wanna cancel tonight? I can just stay home so you can rest up and get better.

 

The reply makes him feel so much better.

 

No. Still come over please.

 

Smiling softly to himself, Connor nods and responds Of course. I’ll be over after school.

 

So when he gets out to the parking lot and to Zoe’s car, he hops in the back while her and Will get in the front. “Can you drop me off at Evan’s?”

 

Zoe nods, reversing out of her parking spot. “Yeah, did he stay home today? That makes sense, considering...”

 

“No, he came this morning,” Connor answers, watching her sister and her boyfriend. Their hands are intertwined, resting on her knee as she uses her free hand to steer the car. He’s honestly glad she’s so happy, but he just wishes his own relationship could be that easy. “Jared said he didn’t sleep last night, so he was just feeling like shit and he went home.”

 

“I can’t believe his dad did that,” Zoe says softly, shaking her head. “I’ve never met him and I want to punch him in the face.”

 

Connor nods in agreement. “That’s how I felt before that even happened.”

 

Will looks between the two of them. “Wait, what happened?”

 

Zoe opens her mouth to explain, but Connor quickly stops her. “Nothing, he just — he’s a… he’s a dick.” He knows for a fact that Will doesn’t know him and Evan are together yet, because he asked Zoe if she’d said anything and she said she didn’t. And now that Evan wants to keep it a secret, he has to start actively hiding it. He was used to hiding things when he was with Miguel, but it’s different now. He’s closer to his sister now, he has more friends than he did back then. It’s gonna be weird. But for Evan, anything.

 

Zoe looks confused for a moment, but they make contact in the rearview mirror and she seems to get that he doesn’t want her to say anything about it.

 

When he gets to Evan’s, he walks right in, not realizing that Heidi’s car was in the driveway. She peers around the corner from the kitchen, looking concerned for a moment until she sees Connor. Then she smiles.

 

“Hi, sweetie, how are you?” she asks.

 

Connor gives her a small smile and nods. “I’m fine, thanks. Is Evan here?”

 

Nodding, Heidi points to the stairs. “In his room. Are you staying for dinner?”

 

Connor starts walking toward the stairs as he answers. “If it’s okay with you,” he says casually. He’s grown to love how comfortably he can talk to her.

 

“Always,” she replies, and he disappears up the stairs.

 

He knocks on the door gently, waits for a response, then opens the door. Evan is on the bed, curled up with his eyes closed, one hand under the pillow and the other hugging the blanket to his chest. From far away he looks peaceful, but as Connor gets closer he sees how he fell asleep. Sobbing. His breathing is just starting to become even, so he must have just fallen asleep. His nose is red and running, and his face and eyelashes are still wet, as well as a big spot on his pillow where his tears landed. Frowning, Connor carefully grabs the blanket from under Evan’s arm and covers his body with it, then slowly and quietly climbs in behind him. He wraps his arm over his stomach and spoons him, kissing the back of his neck.

 

It hurts that he can’t just snap his fingers and make this all better. Evan is so beautiful and amazing, and he doesn’t deserve any of this. He just deserves to be happy, and all Connor wants to do right now is give him that. But he has no idea where to even start.

 

He closes his eyes and just lies there with his boyfriend for a while, and ends up losing track of time because he’s off in his own world, thinking about so many different things. Mostly Evan. But eventually, Evan breathes in deeply and lets it out, then adjusts his position a little bit. Connor freezes, trying not to wake him up, his eyes still closed. Then Evan flips over onto his other side, and Connor feels him scoot closer, face in his chest as he drops his arm over him in a hug. Connor can feel Evan fiddling with the fabric of his shirt, and he starts rubbing his thumb in circles on his back. Neither of them say a word for the longest time, but both of them say how much they love each other at the same time, with just the smallest gestures.

 

Then Connor notices Evan’s shoulders moving in an odd way, and the front of his shirt suddenly feels wet. Just as he’s about to ask if he’s ok, Evan breathes in, shakily, and lets out a few quiet sobs. Connor starts to pull away, but Evan shakes his head and holds him tighter, his shoulders still shaking with his crying. So Connor kisses the top of his head and stays quiet, holding him for as long as he needs.

 

And it’s so much different than it usually is. Connor has helped him through plenty of panic attacks, but he’s never seen him just cry, just because he’s sad. He’s only seen his tears caused by his anxiety. And this is somehow so much harder than watching him go through panic attacks. Because with panic attacks, at least he knows they’ll be over eventually, and he’ll calm down and his breathing will steady and he’ll be able to talk through it. But this is just sadness, and he has no idea how long that will last. God, he wants it to be over now.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Connor whispers, almost silent, before kissing his head again.

 

But Evan doesn’t respond, just adjusts his grip on Connor’s t-shirt and continues to quietly cry.

 

There’s a knock at the door, and both of them jump. “Dinner’s ready, guys,” Heidi calls.

 

“I’m not hungry,” Evan calls out, not even bothering to move from his position curled up in Connor’s arms.

 

After a few moments in which Connor assumes Heidi struggles how to deal with the situation, she answers. “Okay. I’ll save it for later. Love you.”

 

Finally, Evan moves away. He slowly sits up, his face once again covered in snot and tears and his hair much worse than it was this morning. Connor gets ready to stop him from apologizing for whatever it is he feels guilty about — getting tears on his shirt, not telling him about leaving school, or whatever. But he doesn’t. He gets out of bed and leaves the room. Connor can hear him bustling around in the bathroom, and when he comes back he looks at least a little better. His hair is the same, but he’s clearly blown his nose and splashed some water in his face, so it’s much cleaner and not as blotchy.

 

Then he sits back on the bed, criss-cross, and looks up at Connor. “Thanks for coming. You could have woken me up.”

 

Connor sits across from him, holding one of Evan’s hands with both of his own. “No, you needed it,” he says, shaking his head.

 

“Are you hungry?” Evan asks. “You don’t have to wait for me, you can go get food if you want.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “No,” he half-lies. He could eat, but he’d rather stay sitting here with Evan. “I’m okay.” He hesitates, then asks, “Do you wanna talk?”

 

Evan pauses. “What?”

 

Connor takes a breath. “Do you wanna… talk about it? It’s totally fine if you don’t and you just wanna be sad, and I know that maybe there’s not that much to say, but I just — I don’t know, maybe talking will help a little?” he rambles.

 

Evan doesn’t say anything for a few moments, and then he lets go of Connor’s hands and holds the side of his head, staring down at the mattress. “I just feel so stupid.”

 

“You shouldn’t, Ev, you’re not.”

 

“No, I am,” Evan says with a nod, looking back up. “I’m so fucking stupid. I mean, you warned me about him. And so did Jared, and I was too stupid to listen.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “It’s not stupid. He’s your dad, it’s completely understandable. You were excited and he led you on and that’s his fault, not yours.”

 

Evan starts picking at his nails and sighs. “I never really get mad at anyone,” he says softly. “But I’m so… I can’t even… I’m so fucking angry it scares me.”

 

“Well, obviously you’re gonna be mad. He fucked up. He’s an asshole, you deserve to be mad, Ev.”

 

“No, I’m not mad at him, I’m mad at myself.”

 

Connor just kind of stares at him for a moment, baffled. How is he not pissed off at his father?

 

“I’m so fucking pissed off at myself for not taking you seriously. Why would I listen to him over you? I mean, you actually care about me and he wasn’t even around for my whole life so why — “

 

“Evan, Evan, it’s okay,” Connor says quickly, just trying to get him to stop bashing on himself. “It’s okay to be angry. But you have to forgive yourself eventually because this wasn’t your fault. I know it feels like it is but it’s not.”

 

“It is my fault, Connor,” Evan disagrees. “Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but it is my fault. This never would have happened if — “

 

“If you had listened to me? That’s not — “

 

“No, if I was straight.”

 

Connor goes quiet, his heart breaking a little more at the sadness in Evan’s voice. Finally he manages to speak up. “Evan… Your dad is a homophobic asshole, but that is not your fault.”

 

“But if I was straight he would’ve stayed,” Evan points out, looking down as he continues to pick at his nails.

 

“You’d really want to have that kind of person in your life?”

 

Evan shrugs. “At least he’d be here. And if he did leave again, I’d only think it was because of me. I wouldn’t know it.”

 

Connor is having the hardest time consoling his boyfriend right now. Everything he’s saying is only making him sadder and sadder for Evan, and more upset that he can’t help. “You can’t control who you are, Ev. There’s nothing wrong with being gay or bi or — “

 

“I know,” Evan says, still staring down at his hands. “I just…” He looks up for a split second and makes eye contact with Connor. In that second, Connor sees so much hurt and sadness and anger. But then he looks back down and opens his mouth, then closes it a moment later. He can see how much Evan is struggling to put what’s going on in his head into words. “I can’t — I don’t…” He looks back up, and there are tears in his eyes again, his chin wobbling as he takes a deep breath. “I hate who I am.”

 

Connor feels a horrible weight in his chest. He knows what that feels like, and it’s unbearable to think about Evan feeling that way. It hurts even more to hear him say, but he knows that it’s probably good for him to talk about it. Still, he can’t stop himself from tearing up at the words. All he can do is listen.

 

“I — I hate how I talk and how I’m completely messed up mentally and how I’m so uncomfortable and worthless around everyone. And you — you were the one fucking person that I started to like who I was when I was around you.” Evan takes a shaky breath, wiping his eyes. “I — I’m not afraid to be myself around you and I can talk like a normal fucking human being instead of being anxious and sweaty like I am with everyone else.” Another long, shaky breath. “But he… he made it so now I hate myself for who I am when I’m with you too.”

 

After he’s done, he finally lets out a sob, and Connor quickly moves so that he can hug him. Evan doesn’t hesitate to hug back, holding him so tightly like he’s afraid to let go. Completely filled with sadness for the amazing boy in front of him, Connor rubs his back and kisses his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

 

After a few moments, Evan pulls away and wipes his face, then continues to ramble. “And I just — My sexuality was the one thing I didn’t have a problem with, and now I hate that part of me too and I’m so confused because you make me so happy but now every time I’m with you I think about him and how he hates me because I’m not and I just hate that part of me and I wish I didn’t because I fucking love you so much and I just wanna go back to before when it was just you and me and I could actually be myself and not be completely overwhelmed by how much I fucking hate who I am.”

 

It’s also concerning to hear Evan swear so much. It’s not like he’s never heard it, but he definitely doesn’t do it as often as Connor’s heard in the last five minutes. He doesn’t care about that, though. He’s struggling to process everything Evan is saying while also trying to keep himself together for him and — Wait.

 

“Did… Did you just say you love me?”

 

Evan pauses, freezing and not saying anything. It looks like he’s thinking. Does he even remember anything he just said? Then his eyes go wide. “I… Um…” Clearly he didn’t mean to let it slip.

 

“I love you too,” Connor says quickly, before Evan has the chance to start feeling guilty about it.

 

“You do?”

 

Connor nods, and he knows this is such a sad day, but he can’t help but smile. “Yeah. A lot.”

 

Evan purses his lips, obviously overcome with so many emotions. His eyes start watering again, and he launches forward and just hugs Connor. Connor wraps his arms around him too, and kisses his head. “Thank you,” Evan says into his shirt.

 

Connor pulls away, wiping under Evan’s eyes for him. “Listen to me, okay? I’m so happy that you love me, but I need you to start focusing on yourself before me.” He just wants Evan to see how amazing he is for himself. He wishes he could see everything that Connor sees in him. “I want you to get back to being able to love who you are when you’re around me, but I want you to love who you are all the time. Because you’re so amazing and you deserve that.”

 

Evan sniffles. “I’ll try.”

 

Nodding, Connor hugs him again. “You should eat. Then get some sleep.”

 

“I just slept for like three hours,” Evan says, pulling away.

 

“Good. Sleep some more,” Connor replies, getting to his feet and wiping his own eyes. “After we eat, though. I’m starving.”

 

Sighing, Evan gets up. “Me too. Do you want to stay over?” he asks as they make their way out of the room and down the stairs.

 

“Sure,” Connor replies as they reach the living room.

 

Heidi is sitting on the couch looking at her laptop, but she looks up and smiles at the boys when she notices them. It’s pretty clear she was crying too. “Hey. How’s it going? You guys hungry now?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah, what’s for dinner?”

 

“Spaghetti,” she answers. “It’s in the fridge, take as much as you want.”

 

“Thanks, mom,” Evan says, and they go into the kitchen.

 

They each eat two servings, both of them starving and exhausted from crying. After they’re done, they go back into Evan’s room and Connor texts Zoe to bring him a change of clothes in the morning when she picks them up. Then they just lay in Evan’s bed and cuddle, talking until they’re both too tired to say anything coherent. Except “I love you.” They both say I love you to each other before falling asleep, and while today was full of emotions — mostly bad ones — that’s the one thing that makes them smile today.

Chapter Text

Zoe gets to Evan’s earlier the next morning to drop Connor’s change of clothes off, and when they’re both ready they run out and hop in the back seat. Evan’s still reeling from everything that’s happened, but having Connor around him really does help. Zoe’s boyfriend is sitting in the front seat when they get in, and he suddenly realizes that they never met.

 

“Hey, I’m Will,” he says, smiling back at him.

 

Evan nods, caught off guard and suddenly back to his anxious self like he gets around new people. “Um — Hi — Uh. Evan. I’m — I’m Evan.”

 

“Nice to meet you.”

 

“You — You too.” Evan clears his throat, glancing over at Connor, who’s smiling softly at him.

 

“Evan, I heard about your dad,” Zoe says as they start driving. “I’m… I’m really sorry.”

 

Evan shakes his head. He’d rather talk about literally anything else. “It’s… Not your fault.”

 

“No, but I still feel bad,” Zoe says, sighing. “I almost got you chocolate, but Connor basically threatened to kill me if I bought any more.”

 

Evan half-heartedly smiles at Connor. “I don’t know, I — I like chocolate,” he says, making himself sound like an idiot.

 

Zoe laughs, which helps Evan relax a little. He keeps telling himself there’s no need to be so nervous, because he’s with people he loves and who love him, but it’s not helping as much as he’d like. “We can go get you chocolate, if you want.”

 

Evan looks at the clock on the radio. “We’ll be late for school.”

 

Shrugging, Zoe glances back at them. “I don’t know… How do we feel about taking a day to ourselves?”

 

Connor grins next to him, making Evan smile too. “Yes. Please.”

 

Evan hesitates, unsure. “I skipped the afternoon yesterday.” He really doesn’t want to get in trouble.

 

“You were sick, that’s different,” Connor says. “Come on, Ev, you deserve this.”

 

After a few moments of watching Connor smile at him and Zoe laugh and smile back at her brother, Evan lets out a sigh. “Okay.”

 

“I didn’t peg you for a rule breaker, Zoe,” Will says, nudging his girlfriend’s leg.

 

Zoe just shrugs. “I can be…”

 

“So where are we going?” Will asks, intertwining their fingers together.

 

“Uh… Well we have to get Evan his chocolate,” Zoe replies. “And then wherever you guys want.”

 

It’s silent for a few moments as they all brainstorm, and then suddenly Connor gasps loudly. “Got it.”

 

“What?” Evan asks.

 

Connor smiles mischievously at him, then takes his seat belt off and leans forward to talk to Zoe.

 

“Get your seatbelt on!” Evan exclaims, hitting his arm.

 

But Connor ignores him and whispers something in Zoe’s ear, then just pulls back and grins.

 

Zoe looks like she’s thinking for a moment. “Okay, first of all, it’s like 40 degrees out. Second of all, it’s 7:30 in the morning and they probably aren’t open.”

 

“They open at 8, we’ll be just in time,” Connor says smoothly, and both Will and Evan look between them, extremely confused. “And that way we can get Evan his chocolate and we have something for the rest of us to do.”

 

Finally Zoe gives in. “Okay, fine.”

 

“Yes!” Connor exclaims, sitting back and putting his seatbelt back on.

 

“How did you know when they open off the top of your head?” Zoe asks, looking at him like he’s crazy.

 

Connor’s smile falters a little and he clears his throat, avoiding everyone’s eyes. “I went there with, um, Miguel a lot.”

 

“Where are we going?” Evan asks, frustrated but unable to not smile a little at Connor.

 

But just before Zoe can answer, Connor once again gasps and unbuckles his seat belt, moving toward his sister and whispering in her ear. This time she gasps too and smiles widely. “Dude, that’s perfect. Evan would love that.”

 

“What?” Evan asks again, tugging on Connor’s jacket.

 

“You’ll see,” he responds, sitting back again and grinning. Evan has the urge to lean over and hold hands with him, but he’s careful about his actions in front of Will. He still hasn’t changed his mind about keeping this a secret. He’s not risking anyone else hating him just because of who he loves.

 

“Okay, but for that we need something warmer,” Zoe says aloud, and she makes a u-turn.

 

“What are you doing?” Evan asks.

 

“Going back to your house. You have to get warmer clothes on, and wear layers. And maybe grab a couple blankets. I have some in my trunk, but it’s really cold out.”

 

When they pull back up to Evan’s house, Connor goes inside with him and they run upstairs. “Where are we going?” he asks again, thinking maybe the answer will be different.

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll love it,” Connor promises, searching in Evan’s dresser. He throws a couple things at him. A long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt. Then he goes into his closet and grabs a couple jackets. “Can Zoe and I borrow a jacket?”

 

Evan nods as he takes off his t-shirt and puts on the long sleeve. “Yeah. Will can too if he wants, but it probably won’t fit. He’s… muscular.”

 

Connor laughs. “By muscular do you mean cute?” he asks, forcing a straight face and faking jealousy.

 

Evan blushes and laughs along. “I mean, he’s not… not cute. But he’s not my type.”

 

Connor raises his eyebrows. “Yeah? And what is your type?”

 

Evan just rolls his eyes and throws the t-shirt that he just changed out of at him. “Shut up, you already know.”

 

Connor holds his stomach as he laughs and leaves the room. Evan can hear him rummaging around in the hall closet and he comes back with a few bigger blankets. “Okay. We ready?”

 

“I don’t know, cause you won’t tell me what’s happening,” Evan replies, grabbing the extra jackets.

 

“Just trust me, you’ll love it,” Connor insists, pecking Evan on the lips and then leading him out of the house and back to the car. He sets the blankets between the two of them in the back and grabs the various jackets and sweatshirts from his boyfriend, giving Zoe and Will each one and keeping one for himself.

 

Zoe looks at the sweatshirt she was given and glances at Will’s. “Wait, that one’s cuter, let’s trade,” she says, gesturing to the one he’s holding.

 

Evan watches will smile over at her, and he’s just so glad that she has someone like him. They just met, but it seems like he really cares about her, and he makes her genuinely happy.

 

“What if I want the cute one?” Will asks.

 

Zoe chuckles, trying to reach over and take it, but Will pulls it away playfully. “Please?”

 

“Hands on the wheel!” Will exclaims, pointing to the steering wheel.

 

Zoe pauses, looks around them for a moment, then takes both of her hands off the wheel and stares over at her boyfriend.

 

Evan’s heart starts racing, and he freaks out for a split second about someone hitting them. Then he realizes that there’s no one else on this road, and he feels a little better. But not really. “Watch where you’re going!” he yells instinctively. Honestly terrified that they’ll run into a tree or something, he shuts his eyes tight and tenses up. “Oh, my God, Zoe!”

 

He hears Connor laughing next to him and opens his eyes to find him holding his stomach and leaning over onto the blankets between them. The sound of his laugh and the sight of his smile is enough to ease his tension a little, and when he looks back to the front Zoe has her hands back on the wheel and she’s looking straight ahead, grinning.



“You’re fucking insane,” Will says, setting the sweatshirt on her lap and taking the one she had for himself.

 

“It worked, didn’t it?”

 

Evan lets out a breath. “Are my clothes really good enough to kill us over?”

 

“I did not almost kill you,” Zoe says, rolling her eyes. “I just wanted the sweatshirt.”

 

Connor leans forward and reaches up front. “Give me the aux.”

 

“Please?” Zoe replies, one eyebrow raised.

 

Connor pauses and stares at her for a moment, looking unimpressed. “Please.”

 

Zoe smiles and hands the cord back, and Connor plugs it into his phone and sits back. “I just want to apologize in advance,” Zoe says to Will. “He has shit taste in music.”

 

“Are you kidding me?” Connor asks. “You love it. You sing along all the time.”

 

“Yeah, well, when you force me to listen to the same shit songs over and over again I’m gonna have a hard time forgetting the lyrics.”

 

Connor just scoffs and presses play while Zoe turns down the volume so they can hear each other. “It’s literally your aux cord, no one is forcing you to do anything.”

 

“Wait, you still haven’t told us where we’re going,” Will interrupts.

 

“It’s a surprise,” Zoe says, hitting his arm lightly. “Stop asking!”

 

Will sighs, and holds hands with her up front. “Okay, well, you also promised me coffee on the way to school and I’m about to fall back asleep.”

 

“Oh, I forgot,” Zoe says quietly. “Okay, kids, who wants coffee? We’re making a pit stop.”

 

Both Will and Connor raise their hands, and Evan shrugs. Zoe takes a right turn and winds up at a Starbucks. She seems upset that it’s not the local coffee shop that she likes, but she doesn’t seem to care so much when she gets her coffee.

 

“Want a drink?” Connor asks, offering his iced coffee to Evan.

 

Evan thinks for a moment. Just one sip isn’t gonna make his heart rate go through the roof, so why not? He takes a sip and immediately regrets it. After forcing himself to swallow, he looks at Connor, disgusted. “How can you drink that?”

 

“What?” Connor asks.

 

“Just… black coffee.”

 

“It’s delicious.”

 

“It tastes like dirt,” Evan disagrees, and Connor laughs and takes another sip. “Also it’s so cold out. Why are you drinking iced coffee?”

 

Smiling, Connor leans over on the stack of blankets between them. “Iced coffee is a year-round beverage, Evan.”

 

After driving a while longer — long enough that everyone’s finished their coffees — they end up pulling into a parking lot. It’s empty except for two cars, which he assumes belong to the employees of this place.

 

“A la mode?” Will asks, looking at the building. “What is this?”

 

“An ice cream shop,” Connor says. “Read the signs, dumbass.”

 

Zoe reaches back and hits Connor. “Don’t be mean, asshole.”

 

“I think he means why are we here?” Evan asks, nudging Connor. “Like I said, it’s freezing.”

 

They all get out of the car, and Zoe throws on Evan’s sweatshirt. It’s too big on her, and she looks so cozy. Will puts his arm around her, and Evan looks at them sadly. He wants to be that close with Connor right now. But he’d still rather not risk it. He doesn’t need anyone else pointing out how messed up he is when they find out he likes guys. So instead he just walks side by side with his boyfriend, behind Zoe and Will.

 

“Our family used to come here all the time,” Zoe answers, looking back at them. “I almost forgot about this place.”

 

“You came here with Miguel?” Evan asks Connor, quietly so the others don’t hear.

 

Connor purses his lips and nods. “Yeah, sometimes when we’d skip school we’d come here.”

 

Evan knows he shouldn’t feel jealous, but he does. Only a little. He knows that Miguel is still an amazing person and friend, and he can’t control that they used to date. He wants to say that he doesn’t know why he’s jealous, but he does. Because he feels so inferior to everyone he meets that he knows if Connor got the chance to go back to Miguel — to leave him for his first love — he’d do it in a heartbeat. Because Evan is nothing compared to Miguel. Miguel is nicer, smarter, funnier, more attractive and fun. Not to mention he’s not riddled with endless issues and a fucked up, broken brain. Of course Connor would choose him.

 

When they get inside, the only people there are two people behind the counter. Zoe knows what she wants right away, and Will tries a few samples.

 

“I’ll have a scoop of coffee,” she says.

 

Evan steps forward. “Um, can I have a scoop of chocolate, please?”

 

The workers get their ice creams and give it to them, then look to Connor and Will. “Cookie dough?” Connor asks, his hands in his pockets. Evan notices that he isn’t looking the employees in the eye. He always forgets that he’s a completely different person around people that aren’t him or Zoe, and sometimes Jared. But he’s like that too, he supposes.

 

“I’ll just have vanilla,” Will says finally.

 

“Ugh, boring,” Zoe groans, getting out her card.

 

Evan starts to look for cash in his wallet, and Connor gets his out too, but Will puts his hand out to stop Zoe from paying. “I got it,” he says, before handing his own card to the cashier.

 

“All of us?” Zoe asks, eyebrows raised.

 

Will smiles at them all and nods. “Yeah.”

 

“Thank you,” Evan says.

 

“No problem.”

 

They all get their ice creams and sit at a booth in the back of the shop. “If Mom and Dad find out about this, we’re fucked,” Zoe comments, bringing one of her legs up onto the seat and leaning against Will.

 

Connor scoffs, taking a bit of his ice cream. “No, I’m fucked. You’ll be fine cause you’re perfect.”

 

“No I’m not.”

 

“To them you are.”

 

Evan sighs, wiping his mouth before speaking. He hates the idea of having attention on him with chocolate all over his face. “Thanks for the ice cream, Will,” he says again.

 

Will shakes his head. “Don’t mention it, it’s no problem.”

 

Zoe grins over at her boyfriend, looking completely in love, and Evan can’t help but smile at her. Happy looks really good on her, and when he sneaks a peek at his own boyfriend, Connor’s smiling at her too.

 

As they all eat their ice cream and converse about so many different things, Evan feels Connor slowly move his leg closer to his, until they’re up against each other. Connor slips his hand under the table and puts it on Evan’s knee, squeezing it. Evan slyly moves his hand and squeezes Connor’s, and after a few moments they both let go and go back to eating their ice cream, smiling shyly to themselves while Zoe and Will banter back and forth about who knows what.

 

“Okay, kids, back in the car,” Zoe says after everyone is finished. She gets up and throws everyone’s trash away.

 

“Where are we going now?” Evan asks.

 

Connor nudges him, grinning. “You’ll love it. Let’s go,” he says, tugging on Evan’s arm and running past Zoe and Will, out of the shop.

 

Evan laughs softly, following after him at a run. They run through the parking lot and to the car, but Evan is running so fast that when he slows himself down, Connor tries to catch him to stop him from running past him, and they end up both spinning around, almost falling over in the parking lot. Both laughing hysterically, Connor’s arms around Evan, and Evan holding Connor’s arms to his chest, they stumble a bit before standing back up. It feels like forever since Evan has laughed so hard. Especially after what happened with his dad, he thought he’d never laugh like that again.

 

When Zoe and Will walk out, they let go, but they’re still hysterical, trying to catch their breaths. Evan throws his head back while Connor holds his stomach and bends over, his hair in his face.

 

“What the fuck are you guys on?” Zoe asks as they get closer.

 

Nothing is even really funny, but they both look at each other and start laughing harder. Evan blushes, embarrassed that he probably looks insane in front of Will. But he’s having such a good time that he honestly doesn’t care.

 

They all get back in the car, Evan and Connor starting to calm themselves down but still smiling so hard that their cheeks hurt. 

 

“So how far is this place?” Evan asks.

 

Zoe shrugs. “Not far. Connor, you should make him close his eyes when we get there.”

 

And so he does. After about five minute, Connor tells Evan to shut his eyes.

 

“I feel like you guys are planning to kill me,” Evan jokes, but closes them. He opens them a crack to get a glimpse at Connor’s smile.

 

“No peeking!” Connor exclaims, reaching over and covering his eyes himself. Evan feels the car slow down, and hears Zoe put it in park. “Keep them closed.”

 

He hears Connor get out of the car, and a moment later hears his door open. Connor’s hands cover his eyes again, even though he’s keeping them shut, and he carefully gets out of the car. Evan can hear Zoe grabbing the blankets from the back.

 

“This place is really cute,” Will says.

 

“Connor,” Evan says, almost whining. “Where are we?”

 

“Just hold on. I wanna take you to a better spot.”

 

Connor helps lead Evan for a minute, and Evan keeps putting his hands out in front of him, scared he’ll run into something. “Please don’t kill me.”

 

“Just trust me,” Connor says quietly.

 

Evan starts to hear leaves crunch under their feet, and after another minute or so, they finally stop walking. “Are we here?”

 

Connor answers the question by taking his hands away from his eyes, and Evan opens them. As they adjust to the light, all he sees are trees. Because that’s all there is. All around them, they’re just surrounded by trees. Most of them have lost their leaves, but a few still have the prettiest fall colors on them. Evan grins.

 

“Told you you’d like it.”

 

Turning around to face his boyfriend, Evan realizes that Zoe and Will are nowhere near them. He completely takes advantage of that and wraps his arms around Connor, reaching up and kissing him. “I do.”

 

Connor smiles softly at him, hugging him and pecking his lips before pulling away and just holding his hands. “Knew it.”

 

“But I like you more,” Evan says softly.

 

Connor raises his eyebrows, like he’s impressed. “Really? Would you say you… love me?”

 

Evan squints and looks up, feigning thinking. “Mm… I don’t know…” But the sound of Connor’s quiet laughs breaks his character, and he just nods. “Yes, obviously I love you,” he says, pressing their lips together again.

 

“I love you too,” Connor replies when they pull away.

 

“So where are we, actually?” Evan asks, looking around them and taking in their surroundings. There’s so many big trees, he’s pretty sure they just took him to the middle of the woods.

 

Connor intertwines their hands together and they start walking slowly, hands swinging between them. “This apple orchard my family used to come to when Zoe and I were little. It’s pretty much abandoned now, but I thought you’d like it.”

 

Evan pauses, confused. He doesn’t see any apple trees anywhere. “I do, but… This doesn’t look like an apple orchard.”

 

Connor chuckles, gesturing away from them. “The apple orchard is where we came in. Zoe and Will are over there right now. This is just some forest behind the orchard that I thought you’d like more. Cause… I don’t know… The trees are bigger?”

 

“You’re so sweet,” Evan says, heart skipping a beat at the way Connor squeezes his hand and pecks his cheek. Sometimes he can’t believe how he’s still able to fall even deeper in love with Connor Murphy.

 

He looks at a tree further ahead of them. It’s the first one he’s seen that would be easy to climb, and suddenly he’s back in the summer, all alone. He thinks about how alone he felt then, how what he did seemed like the only option. He thinks about his dad, and how if he were alone right now — like he was last summer — how much worse he would feel about the whole thing. It all just makes him so sad, remembering how terribly hopeless he felt. How it felt like the entire world was falling apart around him, but really it was just him that was falling apart.

 

But now it’s different. He’s not alone. Not only does he have Connor in his life now, but he’s so much closer with Jared, and knows that he actually cares about him as a friend. He has Zoe, who never in a million years did he think would ever want to be friends with him. And he has his mom, and somehow their relationship seems so much stronger than it ever has been. He’s not too afraid to talk to her about most things, and they’ve just been through so much together. Right now, everything in his life is just better.

 

It’s hard for him to forget that not everything is good. He’s completely devastated about his dad, and now he has this constant fear in the back of his mind that if anyone found out he liked guys, they’d hate him. Deep down he knows that the people who really matter would never leave him for that, but it’s still nagging at him.

 

But still, all the better and brighter things just make it easier to focus on his happiness, at least for a little while. And that’s all Evan thinks about as he runs toward the tree. His foot is on the branch before Connor can catch up.

 

“What are you doing?” he asks, standing on the ground and watching Evan step onto the next branch, and then the next one, pulling himself higher and higher.

 

“What does it look like?” Evan replies, glancing down at him. Last time he climbed a tree, it was the worst day of his life. This might be one of the best.

 

“You’re gonna break your arm again, dumbass.”

 

Evan grins down at him on the ground. “No I won’t. I promise.”

 

“You’re scaring me. Evan, you’re really high,” Connor comments, from way below.

 

That makes Evan laugh so hard he has to hug a branch to stop from slipping. “That sounds more like you.”

 

Evan sees Connor trying to hold back a laugh, but he gives up, rolls his eyes, and chuckles as he steps up on the branches.

 

“See? Isn’t it nice?” Evan asks, pulling himself one branch higher.

 

Connor shakes his head, struggling to find a foothold. “Shit, Evan, stop. You’re too high already, you’re scaring me.”

 

“You said that already,” Evan says, but he does stop for him. “I’m fine, I swear.”

 

“Okay, but I’m not,” Connor replies, out of breath. “I don’t climb trees for a hobby, I read books.”

 

Evan props himself up and sits on a limb, his legs dangling down as he looks over the other trees. He watches as Connor catches up to where he is and gives up on trying to sit next to him. He ends up just leaning up against the same limb that Evan is sitting on, having to look up to see him. “See, you did it.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and reaches out, grabbing Evan’s hand. “Barely.”

 

They sit there for a few minutes in silence, Connor absentmindedly playing with Evan’s hand, tracing his fingers over his palm, drifting off into his own world.


After a while, Evan starts a conversation. Hesitantly, because they haven’t talked about this in a while. “Have you… Have you gotten any scholarship packages from your schools yet?” He knows that Connor ended up applying for a bunch of colleges, and he’s so proud of him. He’s glad he’ll get out of the house after high school and get a break from his parents, but he really doesn’t want to think about Connor leaving and him having to stay here.

 

Connor nods. “A few,” he replies with a shrug.

 

“And?” Evan asks, once again hesitating. Maybe they weren’t that great, and Connor is just upset about it and doesn’t want to talk about it.

 

Connor’s still looking down at Evan’s hand, blushing a little. “Uh, they were pretty good. I got a full ride to one school, half tuition to a couple.”

 

Evan’s jaw drops, and he feels bad for being surprised. “Oh, my God. Connor, that’s amazing,” he says with a huge grin. In the back of his mind there’s that voice telling him that he’s inferior again, because he didn’t get anywhere near that. But he’s mostly just so proud of Connor.

 

Connor shrugs. “I guess. I mean, I still have to buy my books and pay room and board, so it’s still a lot of money, but the tuition would be paid for.”

 

“So… Are you… Do you think you’ll go there, then?”

 

Connor shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

 

“Why? If your entire tuition is covered…”

 

“Yeah, but the money isn’t the only thing I’m worried about,” Connor says, finally looking up at him.

 

It’s weird for Evan to think about someone not worrying about money. That’s all he can think about with college. “What other things are you worried about?”

 

Connor shrugs. “Mostly, like… I don’t know. I have no idea where I wanna go. Some people know exactly where they wanna live, but I honestly don’t care, I just wanna — I wanna get away from my family. So I just applied to a shit ton of random schools, and I didn’t look into any of them so I have no idea what I like and I don’t wanna go somewhere just because it’s far from home and then hate it.”

 

Nodding, Evan squeezes Connor’s hands. “You could go on campus tours.”

 

“That would involve bringing my parents and I cannot spend more time with them than I need to,” Connor says. “My dad would just find something to yell at me about and my mom would be overbearing and — I just really don’t want to.” After a moment, he takes a breath and shakes his head, like he’s shaking himself out of it, and looks up at Evan with a smile. “What about you? Did you get your scholarships yet?”

 

He didn’t get much. Mostly because he didn’t do great on the ACT. He got a 27, which is pretty good for the most part. But what makes him feel terrible is that he knows he could do better, it’s just that the pressure and anxiety of tests gets to him and he loses confidence and forgets everything he’s ever learned. Connor, on the other hand, got a 32. Again, Evan was so proud of him when he told him that, and he felt so guilty for being surprised. He knows Connor is super smart, and he’s sure that if he went to class more, he might have gotten a perfect score. Even with the 30, it’s a great score to get him plenty of scholarships. 27 is right below the perfect spot to get those scholarships. There are other scholarships he can apply for, and he has, but so far he hasn’t gotten any.

 

Evan sighs. “Not really. Not enough to help me. I got offered a grant, which would help, but I’d still need to take out so many loans, and I really don’t want to.”

 

“So which schools are you thinking?” Connor asks, looking almost sad for him.

 

“Probably the community college,” Evan shrugs.

 

Connor frowns, tracing his fingers over Evan’s palm and wrist again. “I’m sorry.”

 

Looking down at the ground below, Evan shakes his head. “It’s fine,” trying to make it sound genuine. He really doesn’t feel like being sad today. So forcing a smile, he looks over at his boyfriend.

 

Despite it being freezing outside, the sky is still clear and the sun is still shining, and it’s shining right on Connor’s face. It makes him glow and his face instinctively turns into a bright smile as he squints to block the light. He looks stunning, honestly, and Evan can’t stop staring. “Can I see your phone?” he asks out of the blue.

 

“Why?” Connor asks, but he reaches in his back pocket and hands it over.

 

“You look nice,” Evan answers. He needs to capture this moment. “And your camera is better than mine.”

 

Connor groans, putting his face in his hands. “No, don’t.”

 

“Please?” Evan asks, opening up the camera. He starts taking pictures anyway, and captures the moments that Connor slowly peeks his eyes out, puts his head back down, then gives up and looks up.

 

Connor tries to force a straight face, but the sun is making it hard, so he grins and laughs. “If you drop my phone,” he says, like he’s making a threat. But he doesn’t finish it, instead just keeps smiling. Not at the camera, but at Evan. “My turn, give it back.”

 

Evan blushes, but hands the phone back, and Connor turns it on him. At first he gives an awkward thumbs up, but he quickly relaxes at the way Connor looks at him, and the sound of his laugh. He smiles at the camera, at Connor, then looks back out at the view, sighing.

 

“You’re perfect,” Connor comments softly, swiping through the photos.

 

Scoffing, Evan shakes his head. “Thanks, but no.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Okay, fine, unfair standards. But I still love you.”

 

Will Evan’s heart ever not flutter at those words? “I love you more.”

 

“Don’t make this a competition, cause I’ll win,” Connor insists.

 

Evan laughs, leaning over and pecking Connor’s lips. “I’m freezing. Let’s walk around.”

 

Nodding in agreement, Connor starts making his way down the different branches and limbs, and Evan follows. When they get to the ground, both of their hands are covered in dirt and scratches, but neither of them care. They intertwine their fingers and start walking further through the woods.

 

After a while of thinking about their talk about college, Evan gets the courage to speak up. “Do you… Um. Do you ever — Are you ever worried about college? Like, what — what’s gonna happen to us?”

 

Connor lets out a long breath beside him, and it looks like his whole body eases up. “I thought I was the only one freaking out about that.”

 

Evan smiles softly, squeezing Connor’s hand as they walk. He keeps looking ahead as he talks. “I don’t want it to… to sway where you choose to go,” he says. He obviously would love if he went to school in state, but it would be harder for Connor because he wouldn’t get the break from his family that he needs. “You should go wherever… wherever you’re gonna be happy.”

 

Connor shrugs. “Yeah, but if you’re staying here… I mean, you make me happy.”

 

“But you might be happier getting away from your parents.”

 

“I could always live on campus,” Connor responds. Evan can feel his eyes on him, but he keeps looking ahead. He knows that Connor needs to be further away, because Connor’s told him so many times. He doesn’t want the false hope that maybe he really does want to stay close, that he’s not just saying it to make Evan feel better.

 

“You know that your parents would still drive you crazy if you stayed here,” Evan says. “Even if you didn’t live at home. I mean, your mom would probably be upset you wouldn’t come by the house enough and your dad — “

 

“But I’d have you,” Connor says. “And I don’t know, you can… you could stay in my dorm with me, and we could walk each other to class and… I don’t know. I’m just saying, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.”

 

Evan stops walking, finally making himself turn to look at his boyfriend and talk seriously. “Connor. I… I don’t want you to stay here just because of me if it’s gonna make things hard on you. You should go wherever you want, and where — wherever you can live your life to the — the fullest and be happiest.”

 

Connor looks down at their hands, still holding each other between them. “I’m at my happiest when I’m with you.”

 

Evan shakes his head. It’s so sweet, and he hates contradicting that, but he feels like he needs to. “You don’t know that. You could be way happier far away from me at some amazing school with the best English program and all the superhero and Harry Potter nerds you could ever meet. Who also happen to smoke a lot of weed,” he adds with a laugh.

 

Connor laughs, too. “I haven’t smoked in a while, actually.”

 

Evan moves his hands up Connor’s arms, and Connor wraps them around Evan’s middle. Evan’s hands are on Connor’s upper arms, and their bodies are close in a hug, but he pulls his head back so they can see each other. “What I’m trying to say is, I just… I’m really happy that you started going to class more and that you want to go to college, but please don’t make all of your decisions based on me. I don’t have many options with this, but you do. And I’m so glad you do, and you’re really lucky to be able to go pretty much wherever you want. So you should go wherever you want.”

 

Connor just looks at him for a few moments, then purses his lips and glances away. “I really don’t wanna think about this right now.”

 

Evan nods. “We don’t have to. I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay,” Connor says. “It’s probably a good thing in relationships to actually talk. I never really did that with M, so… And we — we don’t have to worry about this yet. We have months until we have to decide on a school, so we have months to just ignore it and be with each other.”

 

“Exactly,” Evan agrees, smiling softly, and pecks Connor’s lips.

 

“We should go get one of those blankets from Zoe,” Connor says when they pull away.

 

Evan just shrugs. It’s cold, but he’d much rather stay alone with Connor right now. “I’m fine.”

 

“You’re the one who keeps complaining about being cold.”

 

Evan laughs softly as they sit against a tree. “You can just keep me warm,” he says quietly, face going red as he presses their lips together again.

 

He feels Connor smile into their kiss as he gets onto his knees and gently push Evan onto his back, his hand under him so that he’s not completely on the cold, hard ground. “You’re getting good at this thing,” he mutters, then kisses him again.

 

“Are you saying I wasn’t good before?” Evan asks, acting offended. He knows he wasn’t great.

 

Connor just chuckles, moving his lips against Evan’s and using his free hand to hold Evan’s face. Evan’s hands start in Connor’s hair, but end up moving to his chest, then to his back. He slips his hands under Connor’s black jacket and runs them over his back, still over his undershirt. It’s warming up his hands a lot, and it feels amazing.

 

“I love you,” Evan says, a whisper between breaths. He finds his hands moving to the pockets of Connor’s jacket, slipping inside and tugging on the fabric, trying to pull him even closer.

 

Before Connor gets a chance to say it back, they hear the sound of leaves crunching. At first Evan thinks it’s just the leaves under them, and then he realizes it was further away. So maybe an animal or something? But he opens his eyes and finds Will, several feet away, standing frozen, speechless, eyes wide, sputtering for words.



Evan quickly pushes Connor off of him, wiping his face and coughing. He can feel himself blushing as he stares anywhere but at Will.

 

“Oh, my God,” Will finally says. “I am so — so sorry. I didn’t mean — um…”

 

Evan and Connor get to their feet, looking down. “I’m sorry — I’m sorry, please don’t — um… I’m sorry, you weren’t supposed to…” Evan stammers.

 

“Zoe… Zoe sent me to give you this,” Will says, and Evan just now notices the blanket in his arms. He gets a little closer and tosses it over.

 

Connor catches it, still staring down at the ground. “Sorry, it’s — we’re — Um — “

 

“It’s — It’s cool, dude,” Will replies, a weird smile on his own blushing face. “I didn’t mean to — uh — intrude.”

 

He starts to walk away, but Evan stops him. “Please — Please don’t tell anyone,” he begs. Now Will probably thinks completely different of him now that he knows. He doesn’t need him telling everyone else, too. “Please. We don’t… It’s not… Just… Please don’t say anything.”

 

Will shakes his head. “I — I won’t.”

 

Evan nods, internally freaking out as Will walks away. He turns to Connor, eyes wide. “Shit. Shit.”

 

“It’s okay,” Connor says quickly. “He seems chill, right? It’s gonna be fine.”

 

“I — I guess,” Evan says, unsure.

 

“Come on, let’s just sit back down.”

 

Connor unfolds the blanket and wraps it around them. It’s big enough that they can sit on it and still wrap it over them, so they lay down, Connor’s arm around Evan and Evan’s head on his chest. “That was so embarrassing.”

 

Connor laughs softly, which inevitably makes Evan smile too. “Kinda funny, though.”

 

“How?”

 

“I don’t know, it just… is.”

 

Evan sighs, closing his eyes and curling up. It’s actually really cozy under the blanket and cuddled up to Connor. He’s warm enough that he can relax his body and not have his teeth chatter from the cold. “Do you think Jared’s wondering where we are?” he asks after a while, eyes still closed. “Or maybe worried that we’re dead or something?”

 

He feels Connor just shrug. “He’s probably mostly mad that we left him alone for the day.”

 

“True,” Evan says, halfheartedly trying to keep the conversation going. He’s perfectly happy just laying here in silence, and he’s starting to get tired anyway. “I’m glad you guys are kind of friends now.”

 

Connor nods. “Me too… I probably shouldn’t have judged him too soon.”

 

“Well, he judged you too, so… I’m just happy you got to know each other.” Evan can feel himself drifting off.

 

Half asleep, he can feel Connor shift a little and kiss the top of his head. “I’m glad I got to know you, Evan.”