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wait for me

Chapter Text

“And then you can tell everyone that I’m crazy, right? Fuck you!"

“N-no! But I need that back! Can—can you please—can you just give it back?”

Evan stood quivering where Connor had left him. He couldn’t believe what just happened. Connor—Connor had his letter. He needed that letter. He needed it for therapy and what if he showed it to the whole school, or worse, Zoe. Zoe would think he had some creepy crush on her and he didn’t, he really didn’t, he just wanted to be her friend, and his only hope at a friendship would be gone forever, all because of that stupid letter.

Evan felt his breath coming shorter and shallower, and he was helpless to stop it. He twisted his fingers in the front of his shirt. Otherwise he knew he’d dig them into his palms till they bled, and that would be very hard to explain to his mom (if she even noticed). 

Panic attacks would have to wait. Evan needed that letter back. 

Energized by this sudden burst of motivation, Evan swung his backpack over his shoulders and scurried off in the direction Connor went. Somewhere between that and stormed was a more accurate verb, really. 

“Hey—Connor! Connor! Wait! Please, w-wait for me! Please!” 

Evan’s intimidating classmate made no move to acknowledge his pleas. He huffed and tried to run faster, his cruddy sneakers squeaking along the linoleum floor. 

Connor slipped around a corner, and Evan followed suit only to burst out of the side exit of the school. He was pretty sure it was an “emergency exit” door. That was concerning. 

“What do you want?” Connor snarled, turning to face Evan at last. 

Evan was wheezing after running halfway across the school. He wished he had his inhaler with him. He said the first thing that came to mind when he could finally get the words out. “T-That was an emergency exit, I th-think.” 

“Yeah. So?” Connor Murphy stuffed his hands into his hoodie’s pockets and nudged some hair out of his face. His hair was brown. It looked really soft. 

“So…” Evan took a deep breath to steady his heart rate. “Aren’t you g-gonna get in trouble for using it, then?” 

“I guess. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get detention.” The alleged school shooter’s nose twitched. “Why are you talking to me again?” 

“I-I—um,” Evan floundered pathetically. “You have my letter. Can I have it back, p-please?” 

Connor’s face clouded over. “Why would I do that? It was obviously a prank, right? You were saying creepy things about my sister—” 

I don’t have a crush on your sister!” Evan blurted. 

That caught Connor’s attention. “What?” 

“I don’t like your sister!” Evan repeated. “N-Not like that, anyways. I just—she’s been really nice to me, and I thought, I dunno, maybe we could be friends? But obviously that would never happen, because she’s so p-popular, and I’m very not, and I—I just really need my letter back please. Sorry.” 

“Stop apologizing. It’s annoying.” Connor said shortly. He shoved the letter back into Evan’s hands and couldn’t seem to make eye contact. 

Evan stared a bit. He didn’t really know how to respond to that, other than— 

“You really want to say it again, don’t you.” 

Was Connor—it looked like maybe he was—smiling? That couldn’t be right. It was more of a lip twitch, really, but that had to count for something. 

Evan nodded. 

Connor sighed. “Fine. Just this once.” 

“Sorry.” In all fairness, he did feel better after apologizing. Evan felt a small weight lift off his shoulders. 

After a beat of silence, Connor spoke again. “Did you mean what you said in that letter?” He jerked his head towards the paper in Evan’s grasp. “Besides having a weird friend-crush on my sister, I mean.” 

“Uh. Yeah.” This was awkward. “Like I said, therapy and all…” He trailed off in a nervous laugh. 

“Oh.” Connor’s eyes were blue. And so expressive. Evan kind of wished he didn’t have a curtain of hair partially separating himself from them. They were nice. “That’s… that sucks. That was some depressing shit you wrote.” 

“Sorry…” 

“You’re apologizing again. And—I just wanted to say, uh…” He ran a hand through his hair and Evan nodded encouragingly. “I know what it feels like, okay? Feeling like it would be better if you just didn’t exist anymore. So, uh, if you ever needed to talk to anyone about it… you could talk to me. Or something.” 

“You—” Was Evan hearing this right? “Y-You want to be friends, like, for real?"

Connor laughed; a harsh, jagged, stilted sound. He didn’t sound like he did it often. “I guess. Don’t think about it too much, Tree Boy. Here.” 

He took out a marker from his messenger bag, opened the marker with his teeth, and scrawled a series of digits below his enormous claim on Evan’s cast. 

“Text me. I literally don’t care when. I kind of… don’t sleep.” He laughed shortly again, more natural this time. It would get better with practice. 

“I—o-okay!” Evan said at last to the already retreating form of Connor Murphy. The taller boy didn’t turn back around, but he did raise a hand in farewell. 

Evan made a friend. The scariest person in his entire school, sure, but a friend nonetheless. That was crazy. This was crazy. 

“O-oh my gosh.” He muttered to himself. “I have a friend.”

Chapter Text

Connor Murphy gave you his number?" 

“Jared.” Evan sighed long-sufferingly. “H-he just wanted to have a f-friend. Like me.” 

“Ouch.” Jared grinned through the phone. “Really feeling the love here, dude.” 

“You s-said it yourself, Jared. F-family friends.” 

“Ya got me there.” Evan could sense the obscure meme Jared was referencing, but didn’t have the emotional strength to try and riddle it out right now. “So… from one Murphy to the next, huh?” 

Jared!” Evan hissed. “It was m-middle school! Everyone had a c-crush on Zoe Murphy! You had a crush on Zoe Murphy!” 

“Touché. But I’m just saying, if the school shooter is trying to romance you I will have no part in it.” 

“He’s not a school s-shooter, Jared.” Evan defended. “He’s… nice. When he’s n-not yelling.” 

“Oh, don’t tell me you like him back, Evan.” Jared’s voice had an incredulous tone to it. “Do you have a death wish?” 

Yes

“I-I gotta go, Jared.” Evan looked at the clock. Almost time to take his meds anyway. Not that they were working much, evidently. “The house phone is ringing.” 

“You’re actually gonna get it this time?” 

Just keep lying, Evan. Lies on top of lies on top of lies. “Yes. Bye.” 

“Bye, loverboy!” Jared screeched. “Have fun talking to your psycho boyfriend!” 

Evan sighed and hit ‘end call.’ Jared was always doing this. Making fun of him. But that was okay. Everyone had friends who teased them. Right? Not that Evan would know. He only had just the one. 

Or maybe two. 

The blocky letters and numbers on Evan’s cast burned a hole in his arm. Metaphorically. He really wanted to call Connor. Or text him. Or something. But what if it was too soon? What if the proper etiquette was to wait three days or something and Evan would immediately be cut off for his violation? Why was everything so complicated all the time? 

At least Connor didn’t actively try to make Evan overthink everything, like someone else he knew did. 

He spent fifteen minutes taking his medicine, then trying out different greetings, finding something wrong with them, and moving on to his next idea. After much deliberation, he settled for a simple Hey, Connor, it’s Evan! 

Immediately after sending it, Evan grabbed the nearest couch pillow and screamed into it. He probably wrote it wrong. Connor probably wasn’t even serious about being friends. Connor probably put a fake number, and now Evan was going to have to explain to some stranger why he was texting them and calling them Connor, oh, no— 

Evan’s phone dinged quietly, and he lunged for it. 

Connor: hi evan. 

That was it. How many—did Connor have any idea how open-ended that was? That could be a friendly hi, or an angry hi, or maybe it was an automatic text? No, it had Evan’s name in it, so at least he knew Connor was really there. Still. The amount of ways “hi evan” could be interpreted had his head spinning. 

Evan typed a few times, and erased a few times, fully conscious that Connor could possibly see the bubbles appearing and disappearing each time. It was a lot of pressure. 

Evan: Hi Connor :-) How’re you? 

Evan smacked himself in the forehead after sending the text. A smiley face with a nose. Great. Apparently he thought it was 2002 in his brain. Connor was going to think he was so lame. 

Connor: not terrible, which is always a surprise. wbu 

Evan wracked his brain for any half-truthful response to the surprisingly non-hostile message. I’m great! was both overly earnest and a complete lie. Completely losing my mind in a constant state of fear and panic was more accurate. But that would definitely scare Connor away, so he wasn’t going to say that. He settled for a noncommittal I’m alright. Kind of bored. 

He was lying. He was lying to his only almost-friend. Evan was a horrible person. Why was he so horrible? Why couldn’t he just be honest for once in his life with one person? 

Connor: that wasnt how u were earlier. u seemed stressed af. wanna talk about that, if ur so bored? 

Crap. Connor saw right through him. He must’ve taken too long to respond. What was he going to say? He didn’t want Connor to be mad for lying to him. Mad Connor was a terrifying sight. Evan knew that firsthand. 

Evan: I wouldn’t want to dump all my problems on you. I’m sure you don’t want to listen to all that. 

Connor: you calling me problematic? Connor shot back. 

Crap, again. No, of course not! You’re not problematic, I’m problematic. Lol. I just wanted to make sure you were okay listening to all my nonsense. 

“Lol” was still something people said, right? Evan didn’t text much with anyone aside from his mom and Jared. Jared was very fond of the abbreviation, but Jared wasn’t an extremely reliable source for what the trends of the modern world were. Sometimes he made up expressions or memes, just to mess with Evan. Evan didn’t find them very funny, but Jared did, so it had to be a friendly joke of some sort. That was how friendship worked, he was pretty sure. 

Connor: im fine with it hansen. got nothing better to do. 

Evan: If you’re sure you’re alright with it. Evan gnawed on his lip nervously. 

Connor: yeah im fine with it. let it all out buddy 

“Huh.” Evan said aloud. He didn’t even tell this kind of stuff to his therapist. Why was he so eager to spill his guts to the school shooter? 

But he wasn’t a school shooter. He was nice, and responded to Evan’s texts and offered to listen to him and wanted to be friends for real. The least Evan could do was tell him the truth. 

Evan: I never talk to my mom anymore. Not really. She’s at work and school all the time. I get that she’s providing for me and I appreciate that, but sometimes I wish we could actually hang out like family is supposed to do. My only friend is Jared, and even he doesn’t want to really be friends. He just talks to me so his parents will pay his car insurance. I can’t afford college and I’m a burden on everyone I know. I fail at everything I try. I’m a compulsive liar, I can’t talk over the phone without having an anxiety attack but I also hate texting because you can’t hear a person’s tone, I can’t sleep at night because I’m always worrying about something, and you’re the only person in the entire school who wanted to sign my cast. That’s the short version of what’s bothering me. 

He didn’t mean to write that much. Why did he have to shove all of that onto the only person who wanted to talk to him? There went his chances of making a friend today. Or in the next several years. Way to go, Evan. 

Connor: damn hansen thats rough 

That was all he had to say. Evan just told him the most immediate things that were bothering him in that immediate second, and all he had to say was “that’s rough”? Evan didn’t know whether he was relieved or offended. 

Connor: i mean i thought my mind was a dark place but fork

Connor: fork

Connor: why cant i say fork

Connor: F O R K

Connor: DAMMIT ZOE 

Evan giggled quietly. Why are you yelling at Zoe? 

Connor: BECAUSE she loves to fork with my texting shortcuts

Connor: case in point

Connor: im going to murder her 

The sandy blond thought about what Zoe had said to him earlier—how her brother was a “psychopath.” If he went around screaming bloody murder every time she played a prank on him, Evan could see why. With that in mind, he typed out, No, don’t do that! 

Connor: why not? 

Because, Evan typed, deleted, and typed again. Murder is bad. I wouldn’t murder my sister, and I barely know her. He cringed. Was that oversharing? It totally was. 

Connor: you and me both. 

Oh. In that case… I wouldn’t kill someone unless I knew them completely. If I had seen their entire self for what it really was and couldn’t find a single redeemable quality in them. I guess that’s why I hate the stories of murderers killing strangers more than crimes of passion. At least the latter makes sense, you know? 

Connor didn’t respond for several minutes, during which Evan threw his phone across the couch, then a few pillows, and yelled at his succulent, Dave. He overshared again. Why couldn’t he find the middle ground between complete lies and complete truth? The lies made him feel awful and were hard to keep track of, but the truth would only drive people away. Even people like Connor. 

Connor: wanna hang out somewhere? 

The sudden noise of his phone made Evan jump. He read the text eagerly, and was left a confused and panicked mess by the end of the sentence. Connor… Connor wanted to talk to him in person? 

The most logical conclusion to be made here was that Connor had listened to what Evan had said about disliking both texting and phone conversation, and wanted to instead speak to him face-to-face. But Evan’s brain was not the most logical one. It took several minutes for him to make that deduction. 

Sure! He typed enthusiastically. Where do you want to meet? 

Connor: think i know a place. ill send u the address 

Evan hadn’t ‘hung out’ with someone other than Jared in… years. He thought about it for a while. The last time he could remember was when he had a playdate with a girl named Liz in second grade. Liz was shy like him. She transferred out of school at the end of that year. Her birthday party over the summer was the last time he saw her. 

Connor had a phone number, though. And Evan had his phone number. Even if he hypothetically transferred out, Evan could still talk to him. 

Maybe this really could work out. Or maybe it would all go to shit. He guessed he’d just have to wait and see.

Chapter Text

Evan really did not expect Connor Murphy to be an ice cream person. 

He was severely mistaken, apparently. He supposed most people were ice cream people. 

The address Connor had given him led him to a cutesy little ice cream shop with a hand-painted sign over the door proudly proclaiming the establishment as A La Mode

At least Connor hadn’t taken him somewhere illegal. Evan picked at his cast. 

It took Evan’s new friend fifteen minutes and twenty four seconds to show up. Evan absolutely did not almost have a heart attack within that time. 

Finally, he spotted the taller boy approaching from the end of the street. Connor cast an intimidating shadow, all dark colors and hard edges. Evan wondered if he did that on purpose. Very excited to see that he wasn’t being ditched, the blond waved enthusiastically towards the other boy. Connor raised a hand in response. 

“Hey, Hansen.” 

“Hi, C-connor.” 

Connor was tall. A lot taller than Evan, that is. He was dressed the same as earlier in the day, covered in greys and blacks from head to toe, but looked slightly different without his trademarked messenger bag. His hands, instead of twisting the bag’s handle like usual, were kept occupied by a hair tie that he had around his wrist. 

“Wanna go inside?” Connor tilted his head towards the doorway, and Evan caught sight of the plane of porcelain skin across the other boy’s face and neck. 

Evan felt like a boiling teakettle, his ears were so hot. “Um, yeah. S-sure.” 

There was a little bell that chimed as Connor swung the door open with his (long) arm. Evan found the sound extremely pleasing. 

A La Mode was as tiny and quaint on the inside as it was on the outside. The floors were a black-and-white checkerboard, and each booth and table had differently colored seats around them. The counter, behind which stood a bespectacled woman who looked to be in her late twenties, seemed to be as old as the building itself. Connor stepped forward to the register with an ease that only came from routine. 

“Hey, can I have chocolate and mint chocolate chip in a medium cone with chocolate sprinkles?” The words rolled off Connor’s tongue so naturally that Evan was sure it was his regular order. 

Connor sounded a lot nicer when he wasn’t angry. Even if his voice was kind of monotonous sometimes. Evan wished he could keep his voice under control like that. 

Oh. Connor was talking to him. “You want anything?” 

“Yes—no—um.” Evan stared at the floor. He couldn’t even put a sentence together. And the cashier wasn’t even that scary, he just… couldn’t talk right now, not to someone he wasn’t comfortable with. 

Connor patted his shoulder rather hesitantly. “It’s fine if you don’t want any, you know. I probably should have asked before dragging you out to ice cream in September.” 

Evan sucked in a breath. He couldn’t have Connor blaming himself for his life-ruining anxiety. And he really did want ice cream. “Could I—” he asked quietly, “Could I get some vanilla? In a cup.” 

Connor’s lips did the twitch thing, which Evan was now coming to associate with the Connor Murphy version of smiling, and he turned back to the lady at the counter. “And some vanilla in a cup.” 

The cashier nodded and saluted to the both of them, getting to work on their orders immediately. Within less than two minutes, Evan and Connor were staring at two masterpieces made of ice, dairy, and various artificial flavorings. 

Evan reached into his pocket to scrounge for whatever money he could use for ice cream instead of lunch the following day, but Connor swatted his hand away. Evan looked up in surprise. 

“Uh, sorry.” The brunet grimaced. “I can—I’ll pay for it.” 

“Oh, n-no, that’s nice of you, really nice of you, but I-I—” Heidi Hansen’s stubborn pride persisted yet in her son. They could manage just fine on their own, they didn’t need any help, they didn’t need anyone but each other. They only wanted that. But, as Heidi was fond of saying, need not, want not

“I’m paying for it, Evan. Let me do this.” Connor said firmly. He thrusted a handful of crumpled dollar bills at the cashier and left no room for argument. 

Evan was tempted to protest, but faltered as he processed the taller’s words. He called him Evan. Before it was Hansen, or Tree Boy, but Connor had used his real name this time. That had to mean something. And it did do a good job of shutting him up. 

Instead of saying anything stupid, Evan grabbed his ice cream off the counter and took a spoonful. 

And holy crap, that was some good ice cream. 

The stripey-shirt-clad boy made a noise of appreciation and pointed to his bowl with his spoon before swallowing. “That’s good.” 

Connor stared at him for a second like a deer in headlights, and Evan’s brain immediately started running through every instance where he could’ve done something wrong. Before he could start hyperventilating, though, Connor cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah, it is. I know.” 

Evan’s friend took the liberty of finding them a table, plopping himself down in a blue chair and starting on his already melting cone with vigor. He gestured to the pink chair opposite himself with his free hand, and Evan took the hint to sit down as well. 

He didn’t eat as quickly as Connor did, but for once he didn’t feel rushed to do so. Connor was driven by a need to finish his meal before it melted, a thought process that was the sole reason Evan stuck with bowls as opposed to cones. Besides, Connor’s cone was stacked high with topping-covered scoops, while Evan’s cup was barely filled to the brim. He was content to take it slow and push his food around in the meantime. 

At school, Evan always felt a crushing pressure to finish his food as fast as humanly possible. Even though he sat alone, in the computer lab, he always felt like he was taking up someone else’s space. Another person could need to sit there, to do work or talk to a friend or anything more important than eat their lunch like Evan was. 

Maybe he should try not eating alone once in a while. 

“So what’s your deal, Hansen?” Connor asked in between mouthfuls of mint chocolate chip. “Why are you… the way that you are? Not the anxiety thing, but like… what were you even doing up a tree in the first place?” 

Evan pretended like just thinking about that tree didn’t send a spike of dread to coil in his stomach. He pushed his melting vanilla around some more. “I like trees,” he mumbled. 

Instead of laughing or calling him ‘acorn,’ Connor surprised Evan by asking him more. “Why?” 

“I don’t kn-know,” Evan stuttered. “They’re j-just nice. Better than people, I think.” 

Connor motioned for him to continue. 

“They’re—they’re good for the environment, for one thing. All plants. Not just trees. I-I like every plant. Just trees especially, you know?” Evan winced. He was failing at this talking thing so miserably. Despite this, the taller boy remained a rapt listener. 

“A-and, and, trees are good to talk to. Not that—not that I don’t talk to real p-people, but—yeah. It’s easier to talk to someone, o-or something, that doesn’t judge you or say a-anything back. Does that make sense?” 

Connor nodded and started on the cone of his ice cream. He was finishing that meal at an alarming rate, Evan noticed. “I guess, yeah. It sounds super weird, not gonna lie, but I can’t really judge. I’m the one who pushed you and almost gave you a panic attack for no reason.” 

The blond gave up on his meal and let his spoon rest among the remainders of the half-melted vanilla. “That was—wasn’t your fault. You didn’t k-know about my tic. It p-probaby looked like I was laughing at y-you. Which I would’ve been m-mad at too, if I were you.” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to be such an ass about it. I could’ve just, like, yelled or something. I don’t know. Something other than shoving you to the floor and making a scene. All I ever do is make a scene.” Connor looked down at Evan’s bowl of half-eaten ice cream. “You gonna eat that?” 

Evan shook his head and watched as his companion stuck his cone top-down into the mess of dessert and scooped out the remaining content of the bowl. 

“You’re a real chatterbox, aren’t you?” 

“Oh—um—sorry.” Evan flinched slightly and tried to focus on the present. He had spaced out with his eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the coffee-brown cloud of Connor’s hair. “I guess I-I really haven’t… This is the longest I’ve talked to someone in—in a while, so.” 

“This is the longest I’ve been sober in a while.” Connor laughed somewhat stiffly. As Evan had hypothesized, it sounded more natural the more he did it. He was so caught up in the sound that it took him a moment longer to process what the other boy had said. 

“You—you smoke often?” He asked, unsure what else he could be asking. Evan didn’t usually get this far into a conversation. Especially with someone like Connor Murphy. Which, what did that even mean? 

Connor snorted dismissively, his stance blatantly defensive. “I’m the school stoner. Don’t pretend like you don’t know. Just about everyone in our fucking school does. Yeah, I smoke weed. Got a problem with that?” 

“N-no!” Evan exclaimed. He slammed his hands on a table in a panicking reflex, and one hand landed atop Connor’s. The blond withdrew it equally quickly, as if burned. He held it in his other hand and couldn’t focus his eyes on a single spot around him. “It’s none of my business what you do in your spare time, d-drugs or otherwise. I don’t—it doesn’t matter to me…” He finished lamely. 

For a minute, Evan was seriously worried that he’d just singlehandedly taken a sledgehammer to the fragile connection the two had formed. Then Connor smirked. “Damn, Hansen, I didn’t know you had it in you.” 

“W-what?” Evan stared. 

“That’s the first time you’ve said anything above like ten decibels this whole time.” Connor’s eyes, his whole face really, got softer when he smiled. The angry, hard edges smoothed over into something less intimidating, and more beautiful

Evan hunched his shoulders together while his face burned. “Oh. S-sorry.” 

“Don’t be. I was impressed.” Connor crushed the bowl, which was made of some strange mix of paper and cardboard, into a vaguely ball-ish shape and tossed it in the direction of the garbage can. He pumped his fist when it landed inside. 

“Good job.” Evan congratulated him, half-smiling. 

“Years of practice have led me to this moment.” Zoe Murphy’s scary older brother took a fake bow, and Evan clapped for him indulgently. “Thank you, thank you.” 

“I really don’t—don’t care if you smoke. Or not. It just… doesn’t seem like the healthiest of coping mechanisms?” Evan circled back to their earlier topic. He couldn’t let anything go, could he? “But, I mean, if—if that’s what works for you, then I c-can’t really judge.” 

“Thanks.” Connor fiddled with a hair tie around his wrist. “You’re one of the only people I know who doesn’t care.” 

Evan started at the abrupt sound of Connor’s phone vibrating on the table. The brunet cursed when he read whatever message he’d gotten. “Speaking of which…” 

“Wh-who is it?” He asked timidly, not sure where the boundaries of their friendship lay at this point. “If—if you don’t mind t-telling me. You don’t have to.” He added to be sure. 

“It’s Zoe.” Connor rolled his eyes and typed something out furiously. “She’s pissed ‘cause I didn’t give her a ride home. She says our mom’s freaking out since I didn’t go home.” 

“Oh.” Evan toyed with the hem of his shirt under the table. The threads were frayed after so much abuse. “Do you have t-to go?” 

“Yeah, sorry.” Connor pushed his bright pink chair backwards and its legs screeched against the floor’s tiles. Evan found himself standing to join him. The two boys stood at the side of the table in a loaded silence. 

The taller opened his mouth to say something, but Evan spoke over him, surprising both the other boy and himself. “Could I—could I come with you?” 

Under Connor’s gently inquisitive gaze, he felt something light and fluttery explode in his chest, like the more familiar sensation of nerves, but less oppressive. Evan felt like someone had just pitched him off the top of a tree, but this time the only thing awaiting him at the bottom was a trampoline. 

“I-I could walk home, if I—if you don’t want me to come. I just figured, I mean, I’ve got nothing b-better to do.” He picked at the edge of his cast. 

Connor stared a while longer. Then he shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Why not. The car’s around the block.” 

Evan offered what he hoped was a friendly smile, and Connor returned the gesture. Connor led him out of A La Mode, waving to the cashier as they went, and Evan tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. Going out to ice cream with Connor Murphy was one thing, but getting in his car? Evan was praying he didn’t end up dead in a ditch. Which was unlikely, because Connor was really nice, but still. The voice in the back of his head would not shut up about Connor’s hair being ‘school shooter chic.’ 

So the voice in Evan’s head was Jared, then.

Huh. That actually made a lot of sense.

Chapter Text

In Evan’s mind, Connor’s car was supposed to be a monster truck. Not an old-looking Chevy with chipping navy paint and a stuffed dragon in the rear window. 

“Her name’s Marilyn.” Connor told him offhandedly, rummaging through his pockets for the keys, probably. “Make yourself comfortable and whatever, but keep your feet off the dash.” 

“I wasn’t—I wasn’t p-planning on it.” Evan responded. He wasn’t an animal. “What kind of car is—is Marilyn?” 

“Chevrolet Caprice Classic. 1980. Got her for my birthday last year. She’s a little banged up, but she runs great. And I’d like to keep it that way.” 

Connor opened the passenger door and, after receiving a raised eyebrow, Evan stepped inside. It was a lot cleaner and smelled a lot less like marijuana than he had expected. There was a Starbucks cup sitting sadly in the driver’s cupholder, and a pair of odd-looking metallic dice swung from the day/night mirror. Evan reached out a hand and poked them. 

“Are these—” 

Star Wars dice?” Connor slipped into his seat and slammed the door shut. “Yeah.” 

“They’re the ones f-from the Millennium Falcon, right?” Evan grinned. He used to love those movies. Still did. 

“Yep. I’m a regular Han Solo.” The brunet said sarcastically. He turned the key in the ignition and Marilyn’s engine sputtered to life. 

“Is he your f-favorite character?” Evan asked curiously. Connor did seem like the type who would appreciate a morally ambiguous hero. 

“Of the main group? Yeah, probably.” He tilted his head lightly in Evan’s direction. “Overall, though, I think Boba Fett is the best. What about you?” 

Marilyn the Caprice peeled out of the parking spot at Connor’s mercy and Evan gripped his seatbelt for dear life. Of course Connor was a reckless driver. Evan just had to trust that his desire to keep Marilyn intact would outweigh his evident lack of self-preservation. 

“I-I like Luke.” He managed to squeak out. “And the Ewoks. They really are—aren’t as bad as the fandom says th-they are.” 

“Not surprised you like them.” Connor responded. On one hand, his fingers drummed on the steering wheel while the other messed around with the radio. He settled on some grungy alternative station and finally placed both hands on the wheel. It only alleviated a small amount of Evan’s worry, but he’d take it. “They like trees almost as much as you do.” 

“Well, y-yeah. They do live in them.” Evan said offhandedly. 

“Evan Hansen, was that sass?” Connor gasped. “I never thought I’d see the day.” 

The blond ducked his head. “I-I wasn’t trying to be—to be sassy. It’s just t-true.” 

“Sure, buddy. You keep believing that.” His companion, unsurprisingly, frowned at the next song to come on and flipped through several more stations. “Where do you live?” 

“Wh-what?” Why was Connor asking that? Don’t tell any strangers where you live, his mom’s voice blared in his brain. Was this something that normal friends asked each other? Evan didn’t know

“So I can drive you home?” Connor looked at him with an odd expression on his face. “You don’t want to be at my house for dinner. It’s hell. Plus, your parents will probably be worried or whatever.” 

“They—they won’t be. But yeah, I should p-probably get home. It’s, it’s a couple blocks away” Evan wrung his hands and tried not to think about how he was lying again, because he was awful, he couldn’t even tell Connor about his own parents— 

“Why not? Why wouldn’t your parents worry, I mean.” Connor’s voice was quieter than usual, gentler. “I mean, I barely spend time at home anymore and my mom still insists on calling me until I pick up every time. Does your mom or dad not do that?” 

“Well, um, m-my mom’s at work for most of the time, s-so…” 

“What about your dad?” 

“Not i-in the picture.” Evan responded shortly. He crossed his arms across his chest defensively. 

“Oh. Shit, man. I’m sorry.” Connor chewed the lower part of his lip. Evan tried not to mirror the action. His mouth always ended up bleeding once he started. “Where do I turn?” 

“N-next one. Grant Lane, on—on the right.” He allowed his gaze to flicker towards Connor for a split second, and was taken aback at how not repulsed his friend was at his admissions, both about his father and his address. Jared would’ve made fun of him for getting prickly over his dad, and he knew it was no secret that he lived in a poorer part of town. 

The car was quiet for a bit after that, the only sounds coming from the radio and Connor tapping his fingers on Marilyn’s steering wheel. He had black nail polish on. It was chipping at the edges. Evan wondered if Connor bit his nails, like himself, or if it came from something else. At Evan’s instruction, Connor pulled up to a small starter home, Evan’s house, and killed the engine. 

Evan reached to grab the door handle, but Connor stopped him. “I’ll get it.” 

He withdrew his hand obediently and waited while Connor walked around the car to open the door. After exiting the vehicle, Evan noticed that he was standing remarkably close to the other boy. He could see Connor’s eyes properly from there, and they drew him in, in an almost hypnotic trance. They were really blue. Like sky on an overcast day, where the clouds make the color less overwhelming. And there was a patch of brown in one of them, like an island in a stormy sea. Evan had a feeling he was going to drown in that ocean. 

Connor coughed. “I, uh, my dad. He is also an asshole.” 

Evan faced him with a look of pure confusion. 

“You said your dad left. Which means he’s terrible, because that’s not how you parent. And I’m not trying to, like, compare your life with mine or whatever, but I’ve got my fair share of daddy issues, too.” Connor ran a hand through his wavy hair. 

“Oh, I—I’m sorry.” Evan said, and he really meant it. He had no doubts that his new friend had deep-seated trauma as well. Frequent angry outbursts and drug use didn’t come from nowhere. Just like Evan’s stutter and his nail biting. 

“I’m gay,” Connor confessed, sounding like he half expected Evan to smack him across the face for the admission then and there. “And my dad isn’t an outright prick about it, but he’s definitely not in the running for Ally of the Year either, you know?” 

Evan nodded in understanding. He rubbed the hem of his shirt between his thumb and forefinger to ground himself before making a decision. “I’m bi, so. I d-do know, to some—to some extent.” 

“Just a couple of queers, making nice.” Connor smirked. “The het’s better watch out for when we conspire to overthrow the system.” 

The freckled boy laughed. “Y-yeah, we’ll show them. We’ll make it so—so everyone assumes you’re gay until you say other-otherwise.” 

“Good idea.” Connor’s phone blasted out what Evan recognized as “Sugar We’re Goin Down” and the phone’s owner rolled back his head in exasperation. “I have to get that or my mom will call the cops.” 

“S-sorry.” 

“What did I say about the apologies, Hansen?” Evan was on the receiving end of a very deadpan expression as Connor reached for his cell. 

“It—it wasn’t on purpose!” He protested. 

His objection fell on deaf ears as Connor held the phone to his ear. “What do you want?” He said into it accusingly. 

Whoever was on the other end launched into a long speech and Connor leveled him with a face that clearly said he’d rather listen to nails on a chalkboard. Evan smiled in return and tried to get over the fact that Connor had sounded so mean to whom Evan assumed was either his mother or sister. After spending so much time with Connor in a day and seeing how kind he could be sometimes (in his own unique way), it was hard to imagine him acting any different. The live demonstration certainly helped keep things in perspective. 

Connor gritted out an aggravated “Yeah, fine, give me a few minutes,” and ended the call with all the fury one could end a call on an iPhone. Evan liked flip phones for how satisfactory they were in that regard. 

“I gotta go,” Connor told him, appearing actually sincere rather than distracted or smug like Evan was used to. The demeanor made his heart go through all sorts of palpitations. Was this what friendship was supposed to be like? 

“Th-that’s okay.” Evan once again smiled up at the taller and double-checked that his key was somewhere in his pockets. It was, thank goodness. “Thanks for—getting ice cream with me, a-and everything else.” 

“Anytime, Tree Boy.” The two did nothing for a beat, facing the same dilemma: how did they say goodbye? Fist bumps were lame, but they didn’t know whether hugs were allowed yet or not, and only weird people in frat houses did that hand clap/hug thing. Eventually, Connor took initiative and held out his hand for a handshake, which Evan happily returned. 

The handshake probably lasted longer than an average one, because neither of them wanted to let go, and also because Evan’s mind was in a semi-detached state as he worried about his sweaty hands and possibly-too-soft-or-firm-who-knows grip. 

Evan waved at Connor from his doorstep, and Connor waved back through Marilyn’s front window. It only took ten minutes for Evan’s pulse to return to normal.

Chapter Text

Evan’s mom had left him a note on the kitchen table. 

Hey sweetie, had to take another shift so I won’t be home until later than usual. Try to eat something other than pizza—there’s cereal and waffles in the fridge. Don’t stay up too late. I love you!! From Mom <3 

He sighed and folded the paper into a neat square. He tried to throw it in the recycling bin, like Connor had done at A La Mode, but the paper bounced off of the rim and landed silently on the floor. Evan’s shoulders slumped and he crouched over to pick it up and put it in the bin. 

The house was predictably noiseless and empty. Evan guessed his mom had forgotten about the therapy appointment she’d set up for today. That was fine, though. He wasn’t in the mood for any soul searching anyway. They could always reschedule, which he’d be a lot more nervous about if they hadn’t done it already a million times. Dr. Sherman was used to it by now. She wouldn’t mind. 

He excavated his laptop from the depths of the backpack at the foot of his bed and set it on the coffee table in the center of the cozy living room. Then he went back into the kitchen, poured a bowl of cereal with the bare minimum of milk because he didn’t want to overload on dairy, and sat himself on the crumbling relic that was the Hansen family couch. After switching idly through the available channels, he settled on a halfway-through documentary about the architecture of New York. It wasn’t something that would hold his attention for long, but that didn’t matter much. Evan needed background noise to do his homework properly, and he’d rather it be that versus the news. The news gave him nightmares. 

His phone buzzed on the armrest, and Evan snatched it up quickly. It was from Connor. 

Connor: home safe and all that? didnt see u get inside 

A tingly feeling shot down his arms and back before settling in his chest. Yes, thank you! 

He didn’t get a response, which stung a bit, but he reminded himself that Connor had other things to do besides text him when they just talked. He was probably burning homework papers or committing some other acts of rebellion or whatever it was Connor Murphy did with himself. 

Evan spent the rest of his night doing homework. For the first day of senior year, his teachers had been a bit trigger happy in terms of assigning work. He already had an English essay due by the end of the week, which he only started out of sheer boredom and fear that he’d somehow forget it. 

He didn’t remember falling asleep, but the next thing he knew he was waking up to the sound of keys jangling outside the front door. Evan startled from his spot awkwardly slumped on the couch and dragged himself to the door. The clock read 3:04 a.m. Mom must’ve finished up her shift. 

Evan pried the door open with some difficulty to find his sleep-deprived mother holding her incessantly noisy keychain out as though to insert it into the lock. She appeared surprised to see her son up so late, though Evan had no clue why. This wasn’t new. 

“Oh, hi, honey,” She smiled at him brightly, but not bright enough to blot out the dark circles under her eyes. “You’re still up.” 

Evan hummed noncommittally. “Fell asleep on the—the couch.” 

“Did you get anything for dinner?” Heidi hung her well-loved vest on the hook beside the door and made her way towards the kitchen. 

“Y-yeah, I had some cereal.” Evan picked at the edge of his cast. Connor’s name stared back up at him. 

“Just cereal?” His mom grabbed a Hot Pocket out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave. Evan pretended not to hear the strained hope in her voice. If he didn’t eat, that wasn’t healthy but even when he did, it wasn’t enough. He was never enough. If he didn’t talk to anyone he wasn’t being an active member of society, but even when he did he was expected to become best friends with anyone who spoke to him just like that

Which is kind of what he did with Connor. But that was different. 

“I had a—I had a big lunch.” And a bowl of ice cream after. 

“Okay, well, next time maybe try and eat something a little more healthy, alright? I’ll try and pick up some soup you can have or something.” 

“Sure.” She wouldn’t get it. She’d forget. Evan smiled nervously at her anyway. 

“So, how was your first day? Did anyone sign your—” Heidi Hansen caught sight of her son’s cast and Evan winced. She was going to blow this completely out of proportion. “Someone did sign it! Let me see!” 

She grinned and reached for Evan’s cast, but he pulled it back before she could touch it. He realized what he’d done and stuttered out an apology, but the damage was already there. Evan couldn’t talk to his own mom right. There must’ve really been something wrong with him. 

“Y-yeah, um. Someone did.” He held the cast protectively to his chest, where Connor’s name could be read but his phone number was hidden. “From—from my history c-class.” 

It wasn’t an outright lie. Connor was in his history class; Evan had seen his name on the roster. He just hadn’t shown up. Evan thought the boy had left school altogether until he approached him in the library and told him to text him. But his mom didn’t need to know that. Still, the half-truth made him feel disgusting. He couldn’t take it back now. 

“That’s so great, Evan! Did you two talk much?” Heidi looked so trusting, it made Evan want to meld into the floor like Kitty Pryde. He wanted to tell her the truth, he really did, but a voice in the back of his head said that she’d ruin his friendship with Connor somehow, she’d find a way to scare him off, and Evan was disappointed but not surprised when he heard himself say no, not really. 

Despite this news, his mom only slightly deflated. “That’s good, though, that you talked to someone today. I’m so proud of you!” 

Evan twisted his mouth into a smile and let his mom hug him. He loved his mom, and she loved him, but sometimes he felt like they spent too much time apart to properly fit together anymore. When he was younger, his mom used to play fairies with him, and they’d wear blanket capes and she’d lift him up into the air and they’d soar together. When she hugged him, it was warmth and cookies and happiness. Not that that wasn’t there anymore, it was, just now it was under a layer of distance and disjointedness. Evan missed when he and his mom fit together better. 

“You know what? We should celebrate.” Heidi’s nose scrunched up when she grinned, something that made her light freckles bunch together. “We should have a Taco Tuesday tonight.” 

That… that actually sounded really nice, if his mom actually managed to remember to show up. She’d most likely take another shift or go to a class she forgot she had, but for now Evan was going to let himself think that she’d actually come home at a normal time. 

“We could even look over some of those scholarship applications you found over the summer,” Heidi continued, “And watch a movie.” 

Tangled?” Evan asked, trying not to sound overly excited. 

“Sure. Whatever you want.” His mom pet his sandy blond curls gently. 

Evan had this thing, add it to his list of Weird Miscellaneous and Anxiety Things, where he liked to watch a select few movies obsessively and try to learn the script. If the films offered him minimal emotional trauma, that was definitely a plus, but for some reason he had really latched onto Tangled when it came out. It was like comfort food, but a movie. He liked it. Not as much as he liked plants, but the whole idea that Rapunzel’s powers had come from a flower was enough to keep him satisfied. It was his go-to de-stressor. Plus, the better he learned the words, the less he stuttered when saying them. 

“You should head to bed, mister.” Heidi told him fondly. “Jared’s gonna be here to pick you up at six thirty. I figured you’d like the extra few minutes of sleep versus taking the bus so early, especially on the first week of school.” 

“Oh. T-thank you, Mom. I’m gonna sleep now, so—good—goodnight.” Evan escaped to his bedroom as soon as he could. The thought was nice behind his mom arranging a ride for him, but dealing with Jared at six a.m. was not an enjoyable experience for him. He wouldn’t tell his mom that, because he didn’t want to ruin the nice conversation they just had (in which he completely forgot to tell her about the missed therapy appointment, shoot). 

It was only Monday, he thought to himself. Well, three in the morning on a Tuesday, technically. The point was that he still had four more school days to get through before a grand weekend of absolutely nothing. He could do it. He knew more than one person in the school now. Hopefully this one wouldn’t mind being associated with him, because Jared sure did.

Evan drifted back to sleep and dreamt of chocolate-covered everythings. He knew there was more beyond that, but he had a horrible habit of forgetting his dreams in all of two seconds. That didn’t stop him from having a strange craving for ice cream when he awoke once more.

Chapter Text

Evan wanted to say that he didn’t sleep past his alarm, and to a certain extent he wasn’t wrong. He jolted awake to the incessant beeping, turned the alarm off instead of hitting snooze, and promised himself that five more minutes of sleep wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

The next time he woke up was to a car horn blaring outside his window. 

Crap.” He bolted upright in bed and ran to the window. Sure enough, Jared’s year-old Accord sat on the street outside, with a very put-out Jared in the driver’s seat. Evan cursed with feeling and got dressed as fast as he physically could. He grabbed his phone and shot Jared a message that he’d be Out in a second, sorry!!!!! 

The blond dashed about the house, hurriedly pulling on his shoes and grabbing his backpack as fast as he physically could. Momentarily, he paused and stared blankly into the kitchen. Breakfast. What was he supposed to do about that? Jared would leave without him in negative eleven seconds. 

Without thinking, he grabbed one of his mom’s beloved energy bars and bolted out the door. It wouldn’t be filling, but it would keep him going at least until lunch. He didn’t need it to do much more than that. 

“What took you so long, Acorn?” Jared’s voice was remarkably loud at this hour. His tone was an interesting mix of amused and annoyed, as it most often was, and didn’t help Evan’s already-on-edge state of mind. “Get caught up with your emo lover or something?” 

“No, I—my alarm didn’t go off,” Evan wheezed at his morning speed run and held his backpack like it was a teddy bear. Another lie, the grating voice in his head teased, Add it to the list of things you’ve done wrong today. 

“You didn’t even set your alarm? Wow. You’re a mess, dude.” Jared snickered and turned up the volume on some obnoxious pop-rap station. 

“I-I know.” Evan mumbled, knowing full well Jared wouldn’t hear him. Even if he did, he likely wouldn’t respond. 

“Did you get any of the English homework done last night?” Jared asked a minute later. “I think we might have a pop quiz at some point.” 

“Uh, y-yeah. Do you need the answers?” He did. Evan didn’t hesitate to take a picture of his notes and text it to his fr—family friend. It was the least he could do for Jared since he waited up and gave him a ride this morning. 

The remainder of the car ride was silent, with the exception of Jared quietly singing along to Ariana Grande. At last, the car slowed to a stop in the school’s parking lot. Evan wordlessly opened the car door and prepared for another day of hell. 

“Hey, Evan?” He whipped around to face Jared, a questioning expression across his features. 

“Don’t forget to tell your mom about this so she can tell my mom. Gotta keep that car insurance coming!” Jared’s grin was smarmy and full of showmanship, one that Evan knew from experience was fake

Evan was fake, too. Most people he knew were fake. They were all pretending to be people they weren’t for the sake of society. So he couldn’t judge. He smiled in an equally fake manner to mirror Jared in their pretense of normalcy. “Okay, I w-will.” 

The hallways were just as crowded as yesterday, and Evan hadn’t expected any different. He kept his head down and tried to take up as little space as possible, no doubt looking like a human-turtle hybrid as he made his way to his locker. He watched his shoelaces, which had come undone despite his repeated tying, flop around with each step he took. 

With his luck, Evan wasn’t any more panicked than usual when he literally bumped into someone. He startled. “Oh! S-sorry.” 

Alana Beck, resident overachiever, beamed back at him. “No problem, Evan! How’s that arm doing?” 

“Um, pr-pretty good, I—” 

“That’s great! I’m glad to hear it.” Alana motored onward, completely oblivious to Evan’s response. “Do you happen to be friends with…?” She pointed towards the name taking up the entire front of his cast. “I’m supposed to be his peer tutor, but he didn’t come to our meeting yesterday. I was wondering if you had any idea where he was.” 

Evan nearly forgot to respond at all, drowning in a sudden whirlpool of guilt that somehow he was at fault here. Maybe Connor was supposed to be at that meeting instead of in the library, or out to ice cream. Before he could go into Stage 5 Overthinking Mode, he forced out a reply. “S-sorry, I don’t really—I don’t really know. I just saw him at—right after school. Sorry.” 

“It’s fine, Evan, don’t worry about it!” Alana was incessantly optimistic. Everyone she knew was made well aware of that early on. “If you see him, let him know I’ll be in room 14 during lunch if he wants to meet.” 

“Sure, I c-can do that. How are—” 

“I’m good, thanks for asking!” To her credit, the class president did seem genuinely pleased by Evan’s question. “I’ve got to go, though. There’s a student council meeting before homeroom. Nice seeing you!” 

“Y-you too…” Evan waved halfheartedly to his already retreating classmate. Alana was nice, he thought, when she wasn’t talking over him. Maybe it was a nervous habit or something. Like the opposite of being shy. Being so desperate for approval that you’ll constantly talk to anyone that’ll listen. He could kind of see the appeal. 

And Alana had asked him how his arm felt, which was more than he could say about anyone else. 

Despite his surprisingly positive interaction with Alana (he participated and asked his own questions and everything), Evan was still glad that he didn’t bump into anyone else on the walk to his locker. One normal person plus Jared was enough for him to want to shun humanity for the next several days. 

Evan jumped nearly half a foot in the air when he felt someone tapping on his shoulder. Probably Jared. He sighed. “Wh-what’s up?” 

The face he met was, in fact, not Jared Kleinman, but one of some guy that he’d never seen in his life. He had a vaguely muscular figure and strawberry blond hair in a curly, overgrown crew cut. “Sorry, dude, didn’t mean to scare you.” 

“It’s—it’s fine.” Evan muttered. As long as he wasn’t trying to frighten him, like certain others would have been. 

“I’m Daniel.” The boy, wearing a soft lemony sweatshirt reading ‘FREE HUGS’, extended his hand for a handshake. Evan accepted it, reluctantly. He didn’t have anything against this guy, he just wasn’t in the mood to be touching anyone. He withdrew his hand as fast as he could, skin crawling. And he felt terrible about it. 

“I’m new,” Daniel explained, looking less than thrilled about it. “Which is weird for a senior, I know, but here I am. I think my locker is next to yours. What’s your last name?” 

“Hansen—Hansen—Hansen.” Evan rolled the word around in his mouth a few times before he could say it properly. He couldn’t even pronounce his own surname. Add it to the list. “My last n-name is Hansen.” 

Daniel ignored Evan’s slaughter of the human language and nodded, like this information had confirmed his suspicions. “Makes sense. Mine’s Hanselmann, the most German to ever German. So I would be…” 

He glanced calculatingly between the lockers on either side of Evan’s. Evan could practically see the gears turning in the other’s head. Daniel furrowed his eyebrows and held a clenched fist to his lips. “L is after N. No. Before N?” He squinted as he undoubtedly went through the alphabet song inwardly. 

“Before N.” He snapped his fingers. “So that would put me…” 

Daniel faltered again. Evan wondered if he should help, but his locker-neighbor shook his head when he opened his mouth. “Let me figure it out.” 

Fair enough. After a beat, Daniel’s face lit up. “This one.” 

He headed towards the locker on Evan’s left, and the latter shifted out of his way. He had what he needed from his locker, anyways, and didn’t mind closing it to make room. “I should—I should get to homeroom, D-daniel.” 

“That’s cool. Thanks for your help, man, I appreciate it.” The pair exchanged polite smiles and Evan was ready to crawl in a hole of solitude and wrap himself in a weighted blanket. Fortunately enough, first period for him was the nearest thing, study hall. 

“Hey, Evan? Got a second?” 

Why on earth did everyone need to talk to him today? Evan Hansen was a nobody, and the one day he wanted nothing more than to avoid avoid avoid, the universe was happy to throw a thousand people at him. Evan didn’t want to talk to any of them. He wanted to be at home, eating popcorn, watching Tangled or maybe the Princess Bride, not feeling nervous about anything for once, maybe with Connor. He did not want to interact with the entire population of his school. 

Nevertheless, he faced the newcomer with what can only be described as a mask of cheer, and immediately went into cardiac arrest. 

Because it was Zoe Murphy. 

Evan didn’t have a crush on her anymore. He hadn’t for years. But in every way that Connor was imposing and terrifying, his younger sister was so in an ethereal way. Connor was wholly and unapologetically himself. He practically held a neon sign over his head telling everyone what to think of him. He had nothing to hide. Zoe, on the other hand, was an absolute enigma. Connor was a machine gun. Zoe was a carefully concealed knife. The most beautiful, most intelligent, most amicable scary person Evan had ever laid eyes on. 

And she was power-walking right in his direction. 

“Uh, hi, Zoe.” Why was his voice so loud? Smile, he told himself, Remember to smile. Not like that. You look insane. Try to be an average person, please, for crying out loud. 

“Hi, Evan. Were you with my brother yesterday?” Zoe had her arms crossed. Her caramel blonde hair was only barely hanging onto the hair tie keeping it in the messiest bun known to man. She was somehow making pajama pants and a denim jacket look cute. Then again, Zoe Murphy could wear a trash bag to school and it would be a hot new trend within the week. 

“Yeah, yeah, I was.” Evan said after an uncomfortably long five seconds. (Well, it felt uncomfortably long to him.) “Why—why do you ask?” 

“Did he blackmail you to say that?” Zoe raised a skeptical eyebrow, eerily similar to how Connor had done the day before. Sometimes Evan thought of them almost like twins. “Or kidnap you to hang out with him?” 

“N-no! Of course not.” Evan was ridiculously proud of the next statement. “I’m his—I’m his friend.” 

“How much did he pay you to be his friend?” Zoe asked uncomprehendingly. She exhaled. “Look. You’re nice. He’s not. There’s no way my crazy brother would just decide to not be anymore. You’d be better off steering very clear.” 

Evan frowned. As much as he liked Zoe, which was a lot, he was pretty sure that she was wrong about Connor. Sure, he was quick to anger, and self-destructive almost as much as he was destructive, but that didn’t make him bad. Connor was Evan’s new friend who liked ice cream and listened to Green Day for more than his reputation and named his car Marilyn. Connor couldn’t be evil the way Zoe thought he was. 

“C-Connor was nice to me yesterday.” He retorted, trying his very best not to let his voice waver or get too loud. “He pushed me, but then he apo—apologized, and even got me ice cream t-to make up for it. He’s not—he’s not mean, Zoe. Not all the time.” 

Zoe looked stricken, and took a moment to pull back a lock of loose hair and compose herself. “Fine. It’s your funeral, I guess.” 

She strode off down the hall before Evan had a chance to protest. He was left stewing over the conversation, wondering why Zoe hated Connor so much, and what he could’ve said wrong, and why Zoe refused to say her own brother’s name. 

“She was interesting.” Daniel remarked. 

Evan hummed in agreement and decided to follow Zoe’s example. Homeroom would be quieter than the hallways, at least, and he could prevent any further conversation by occupying himself with mindless busywork. He had a feeling that maybe he wouldn’t want to talk to anyone for a while after today. The day hadn’t even technically started yet, and already he was exhausted. 

What else could he do? He yawned and opened his encyclopedia of trees that he’d brought in his backpack. If there was one thing that could soothe him, it would be rereading about the fascinating differences in various types of leaves. 

He really liked trees.

Chapter Text

It felt like eons before Evan retreated back to his locker in search of lunch money, having already suffered through four hours of lecture after lecture. His Spanish teacher had gotten mad at him, again, for not being able to stagger his way through a conversation about his summer nearly fast enough. He’d tried to explain to her (or, his mom tried to explain to her) on several occasions that the stutter wasn’t his fault, but a product of anxiety. If Evan had the choice, he would do everything in his power to sail through a conversation without the stop-and-start, but he could barely do that in English after years of practice. Spanish? Not likely. 

He wasn’t ambushed with classmates the way he was that morning, which was a welcome change. 

Five bucks would probably be enough to cover a sandwich. Or maybe a singular chicken nugget. The school cafeteria was not designed for anyone other than the one percent’s trust fund babies. Evan didn’t care that much. He didn’t eat a lot at lunch regardless, since he preferred eating alone in the confines in his own home (or in front of people who didn’t rush him). 

He grabbed a slightly crumpled fiver from its hiding spot in between two of his textbooks, braved the inundated lunch line to grab a container of chicken nuggets, and headed off to his secluded corner of the library. 

Someone else was there already, and Evan’s heart came to a dead stop before restarting like a Windows computer. 

“Hello—um—hi, Connor.” He waved awkwardly and shuffled his feet, unsure whether or not he was allowed to come any closer. It was his spot, but maybe Connor wanted it for himself now. Evan wouldn’t mind giving it to him. Connor deserved a safe spot just as much as Evan did, if not more. 

“Hello, Hansen.” Connor mirrored him with a half-wave of his own. “Is it cool if I eat in here?” 

Evan swallowed, throat suddenly dry. Probably nerves. It was always nerves. “Uh—yeah. You can. I-if you want.” 

That seemed to be all the clearance that Connor needed, because he made himself comfortable on a beanbag and began digging into a bag of McDonalds. He got through half of his fries before he looked up at Evan. 

“You gonna sit down or what?” 

“Oh, um.” Evan played with the end of his shirt. “C-can I?” 

Connor gave him a now-familiar look of skepticism. “You tell me. Does this bookshelf look like it belongs to me?” 

Evan shook his head. 

“Exactly. Go crazy, Tree Boy. You could set this room on fire and I would only kind of care.” Connor smirked at his own joke, and Evan laughed quietly. With some hesitance, he sat down on the floor across from Connor, setting his backpack beside himself, and took a small bite out of his meal. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes. 

The silence was deafening, and the sounds of nothing but food being chewed drove Evan insane. He blurted out the first stupid thing to come to mind. “What’s your favorite color?” 

Connor regarded him with an expectedly perplexed face. Evan could tell that he wanted to question where that query had come from, but he refrained from doing so. “Does black count?” 

“Yeah, it d-does.” Evan picked at the edge of his lunch’s styrofoam container. “It could be any color you—you like. And also—also why you like it?” 

Connor grunted and took a bite out of his (bacon?) burger. “It’s not just because I’m goth or anything, which is what I guess most people think. Truth is, I like black because it goes with every other color. And it’s easy to hide stains with. And because I’m sort of emo.” He ducked his head and faced Evan accusingly. “What’s your favorite color, Hansen?” 

The blond felt his face and neck heat up under Connor’s scrutinous gaze and he squirmed. “You probably guessed,” he admitted defeatedly, “It’s pretty ob-obvious. I like blue. If you couldn’t—couldn’t tell from literally a-all of my shirts.” 

“Why?” Connor rested his cheek on one hand, the other drifting to rest in his pocket. Evan felt a strong sense of deja vu. His friend had asked the same thing when he announced his love of trees. No matter what Evan said, it seemed that Connor always wanted to know more. It seemed like he wanted Evan to ramble on about whatever he liked. It was nice. 

“It’s—it’s calm.” He tried to explain. “Does that m-make any sense? I get nervous a—a lot. And blue is a color that helps me n-not freak out all the time. Like, um, how red is sup-supposed to make you angry? Blue makes me calm. And it’s the color of a lot of nice things, like the—the sky, and water, and probably—probably some other stuff…” 

Evan slowed as he lost his train of thought. His attention was, instead, focused on what Connor was doing. The abnormally tall boy had taken a tube of something out of his pocket and was applying it to his lips. Whatever it was made them shiny. 

He really tried his best not to stare, but wow it was hard. 

“Hey. Hansen. Friend-person. You with me?” Evan shook himself and looked back up at Connor’s bright blue eyes. Hey, blue, that was his favorite color. He hummed questioningly in response. 

“Chapstick.” Connor held said item out for him to inspect before tucking it away again. “My body is a temple. But not the Parthenon or whatever. More like one of the ones from Psyche’s story, the ones with all the graffiti and garbage everywhere.” 

He winced at Evan’s dumbfounded expression. “Too obscure?” 

“No!” Evan was all too happy to correct him at a criminally loud volume within the walls of the library. He grimaced despite the surprising lack of ‘shh’s’ directed his way. He knew people were mad at him all the same, on the inside. He lowered his voice until it was almost a whisper, but couldn’t help still feeling giddy at this new side of Connor. “I l-love Greek myths.” 

“Me too.” Connor smiled wide for a split second, and Evan caught sight of his teeth. It was gone before he could think on it much. “If I didn’t already make it obvious.” 

“It wasn’t th-that bad.” Evan was still ridiculously excited that he and Connor both liked the same thing. He felt like a third grader, one who made friends with people after one conversation over a shared interest. He wished life was still like third grade. High school was nowhere near as simple. But he was spacing out again. “If you—do you—which, like, god or d-demigod or monster—which character—that word, yeah—which character is your f-favorite?” 

Connor pursed his lips thoughtfully and his eyebrows drew together. “Uh… that’s hard. There’s a lot of them. I mean, Hades is cool as fuck. Obviously. But I actually kind of like Persephone. Cuz, when you think about it, Hades was stuck in the underworld because it was the only territory left. I don’t know how much he wanted it. Persephone had her flowery pastel aesthetic and went down there on purpose, and wanted to stay because she liked it, and she wrapped the king of death around her finger without even trying. That’s metal.” 

“Yeah, it is.” That was a really good point. Connor was smart. Evan smiled, but looked down at the floor in embarrassment. “It’s—it’s funny, since people always ex-expect me to like Demeter, and Perse—Persephone. And I do. But Demeter is kind of… angry? And—and Persephone is much more ag-agressive and independent than I could ev-ever be. I like Hades,” 

Evan allowed himself to make eye contact again, and Connor looked equally confused and intrigued. He heard the unspoken ‘why’ before Connor could say it aloud. 

“Be-because he’s nice. Not a lot of the gods, or anyone r-really, in mythology, is nice. Even Persephone, um, she m-murdered Minthe that one time. Like you said, Hades d-didn’t really have a choice in—doing what he does. He gets a bad rep-reputation. And he named h-his dog Spot. So he’s my—my favorite.” 

“Cerberus means spot?” Connor crossed his arms. “Seriously?” 

“S-seriously.” Evan nodded. “Not—not directly, but it comes from kerberos, which means sp-spotted. So he basically n-named his dog Spot.” 

“Damn. Hades is lamer than I thought. Spot? Really?” Connor whistled. “You sure he’s your favorite? You know some Greek. Maybe you’re more of an Athena guy with that brain?” 

Evan laughed. “No, I’m—I’m not that smart.” 

If anyone he knew was Athena, it was Alana. Which—shoot. Alana! 

“Speaking of—of smart, I-I ran into Alana earlier. She shaid she—she said she,” Evan blanched and tried not to blush himself into oblivion. He had trouble with similarly sounding words, which made him sound dumb beyond belief when he messed up. Maybe he should invest in speech therapy, after dealing with student debts and medical bills. He could probably deal with a stutter and slurring until he was fifty. 

“She said she was looking for you? For—for peer tutoring or s-something. She said if you wanted to find her, she’d be in r-room 14, I think. So. Yeah. Sorry.” He uttered that last bit on reflex, but managed to keep from saying it loud enough to hear. 

“I heard that.” Dang it, never mind. “And yeah, I probably should go.” Connor sighed and stretched himself along the beanbag. He was long and lean and his hair was slightly ruffled, like a cat fresh out of a nap. Evan had the odd and unexpected image of Connor purring and cuddling up against him like a person-sized feline. He shoved it away as fast as he could. 

“O-okay, then, I’ll—I’ll talk to you later, r-right?” 

Connor slung his messenger bag over his shoulder and turned back to face Evan. He loomed over him somehow more noticeably from Evan’s seat on the ground. “Yeah, I’ll text you or something. Later, Hansen.” 

“Yeah, later.” Evan waved as his friend walked away from him. Despite his absence, Connor still held a massive presence over Evan’s thoughts, bleeding into everything he could think of. Evan tried his best to make it stop. He’d only known Connor for two days. He couldn’t get attached too quickly. He didn’t know if Connor planned on sticking around at all. 

He didn’t think he was supposed to care so much about Connor after such a short amount of time. Was that normal? Was their friendship normal? 

Evan didn’t know. And neither did the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, as he came to find out. 

It was a good book, though. He was glad someone donated it and shelved it back by him. Supporting local libraries was such a good thing to do.

Chapter Text

Evan’s last class before he could go home was film. 

It wasn’t his favorite class by any means, nor one that he especially wanted to take. But he didn’t hate it either. It was just an elective to keep his mind busy because he knew if he left it as a free period he’d go stir-crazy with boredom and loneliness. And it wasn’t mind numbingly boring either, which was a plus. 

He winced when he remembered who he’d have to sit next to. Zoe sat unassumingly at her desk, twirling her pencil between her fingers. Evan really did not want to talk to her after their conversation earlier. Nevertheless, he forged onward. 

“Um, hello, Zo—Zoe.” He nearly cringed at how bad at talking he was. Evan was an utter and complete failure. 

“Hi,” For what it was worth, Zoe didn’t seem monumentally pissed. Evan took that as his cue to sit down and shut up. Unfortunately, Ms. Williams, their teacher, had other plans after a long and mind-numbing lecture about characterization. 

“Alright, everyone, pair up, please,” She wrote ‘movie musicals’ in large letters across the whiteboard. “I want you and the person beside you to watch a movie musical, any movie musical, at some point between now and Monday. Pick it apart in terms of plot, dialogue, staging, camera directions, themes, and anything else you can find. The report should be two to three pages, and I want it in my dropbox by 12 a.m. Monday the latest. Sound good?” 

Evan nodded to show he was listening. Beside him, Zoe did the same with less enthusiasm. Mrs. Williams continued. “Alright. I’ll give you the rest of the period to pick a movie and strategize, but please keep it down.” 

Her pleas, of course, fell on deaf ears. Evan grit his teeth and tried to block out the influx of voices that threatened to crowd his ears. It only sort of worked. 

“So, movies,” Zoe propped her chin on her hand. “Any suggestions?” 

“Uh,” Evan thought about it. He watched a lot of movie musicals. Why couldn’t he think of a single one now, when he actually needed to? Zoe was going to think he was so weird. Weirder than she already knew. “What about—about the Sound of Music?” 

“That’s fine. You can come to my house this weekend and we could watch it, if that works.” 

The air was thick around them, heavy with all the words Evan knew he at least wanted to say. It wasn’t the kind of tension he felt with Connor, because yeah, he realized, he did feel that with him, but it wasn’t stifling like this. When he was with Connor, it was like an adrenaline rush. Whatever substance the air held only served to lift him up higher while simultaneously smushing him. This air was just plain crushing him. He needed to say something. 

“If you—” His sentence came out start-and-stop, the way it tended to do when he was really nervous. Which he was. “If I—If I said anything t-to be rude earlier, or if I of-offended you at all, I—I wanted to say I’m s-sorry.” 

Zoe stared at him for a while. Evan didn’t like it very much. It felt like she was dissecting him with her eyes. Not pleasant. Thankfully, the inspection didn’t last long. 

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Evan,” She spoke slowly, seemingly choosing her words with great care. Evan would interpret it as condescending if she didn’t have such a pensive expression across her elegant features. “You’re just being a great guy. Because that’s who you are. You’re kind, and helpful, and trusting.” 

Evan fought the urge to interrupt her. He was not trusting! He was afraid of everything, even himself! He wouldn’t trust anything or anyone unless he knew for absolute certain he was safe. But he held his tongue. 

“My brother hasn’t done a single decent thing in at least two years,” Zoe continued. “No matter how fixable he may seem to you, he’s not. Trust me. I know.” 

“I’m not trying to—to fix him. I like Connor the way he is. Yeah, he’s angry and r-rude, but he’s also the first person to talk to me like a—a—a—normal person in a really long time.” Evan wasn’t yelling. He wasn’t. That would direct attention to him, and he really didn’t need to think any more people were looking at him than usual. But Zoe… nice, pretty Zoe, who danced like nobody was watching and dyed her hair before it was cool… Zoe was making Evan kind of mad. He attempted to reconcile his version of Connor with Zoe’s. “Maybe he’s n-not like how you see him all the—the time?” 

Zoe frowned. It quite reminded Evan of Connor. They were far more similar in looks than personality, it seemed. “Maybe. I don’t think so, though.” She paused. “We used to be best friends, you know.” 

“Really?” That didn’t seem likely. Evan could tell he looked ridiculous by the slight smile on Zoe’s face. 

“I know. It sounds weird, but… we’re only a year apart. Dad called us ‘Irish twins.’ And we acted like it, too, until Connor hit his teen angst phase. I got out, he didn’t. I’m pretty sure the Connor that I know has been dead since then. Now all he is is angry, and sad, and I want to help but every time I try all he does is scream at me. I’m his sister. If he’s willing to hurt me… I just don’t want to see you hurt, too.” 

Evan couldn’t think of anything to say to that. (That was a lie. His ever-active brain was brimming with sentences and fears and whims that he could blurt out at any second, but in the moment he had a good enough handle to keep them inside.) He couldn’t be too careful when it came to talking to Zoe. And he’d never seen her this upset. Evan had seen Zoe in the hallways, at jazz band concerts, at the mall, and a million other places. (What? He did say he had it bad for her for a while there.) She had never seemed so hopeless before. 

“That—that makes sense.” He conceded, picking at the edge of his cast. “What if I—I promised to tell you if he was being m-mean, and then you could. I mean. Have you—how have you been, uh, ‘reaching out’ to him, exactly?” 

Zoe tapped a finger against her cheek. “Mostly just telling him to stop, I guess. I don’t want to say the wrong thing and get murdered.” 

Evan swallowed the compulsion to refute with ‘Connor would never do that,’ and settled on something more diplomatic. “Then, maybe you could try being, um, nice t-to him a little bit? Not that you—you haven’t already or anything, I just…” 

“No, you’re… you’re right.” 

“W-what?” 

“You’re right.” The prettiest girl in school, in Evan’s humble opinion, slumped onto her folded arms and rested her chin atop them. “I’ve been running around calling him an ass this whole time, when I haven’t been much better myself. I’m a jerk, too.” 

“I’m sure you’re n-not,” Evan clenched his fist. He wanted to pat her on the shoulder or something, to reassure her that she was Zoe Murphy and she was awesome, but he wasn’t used to having to initiate physical contact. Nobody wanted to touch him, and if they did, then they’d do it themselves. Evan couldn’t imagine someone wanting him to touch them first. Dad used to say he needed to stay tough, that he needed to be a man. “You’re not a j-jerk, and neither is Connor. The both of you are some of the—the nicest people I’ve ever met.” 

Zoe laughed. It wasn’t a loud or grating sound. It wasn’t a chortle, or a cackle, or anything of the equally-silly-sounding sort. It was a soft, sweet acknowledgement of what had been said. A small blip of happiness that managed to slip outside. It was real. 

“You’re too good for this world, Evan Hansen.” She smiled, light and forgiving and everything Zoe. 

Evan blushed. “Th-thanks, I try my best.” 

“Can I sign your cast?” She asked suddenly. “Somewhere my brother hasn’t already claimed, obviously.” 

She wanted to sign his cast. She asked to sign his cast. Evan nearly fainted. That meant there were two people in the whole school who wanted to be—or, at least, didn’t mind being—associated with him. Zoe and Connor wanted to write their names of Evan’s cast in permanent letters and have their names be seen on Evan’s arm for the whole time the cast was there. Evan didn’t know a whole lot about friendship, but he was pretty sure that was pretty close to it. 

“Uh—yeah!” He answered, entirely too loudly. Luckily, it wasn’t too noticeable amongst the voices of their classmates noisily discussing their projects. “Y-yes, please.” 

Zoe laughed again at his response and took a fuchsia sharpie out of her pencil case. She signed her name in cursive along the top of his cast, near the crook of his elbow. The cursive was impressive, considering how hard it was to write in print on the cast’s rough material. Despite this, it stood out small and bright beside Connor’s big, pitch-black label across the center. 

“There. Now you’re stuck with the both of us.” 

Evan smiled at that. It was probably a joke, going off of Zoe’s tone. But also, it was sort of true. 

He wasn’t surprised to discover that he didn’t really mind.

Chapter Text

Evan’s mom wasn’t home when he got there, huffing and puffing after speed-walking across the street to avoid inconveniencing a car waiting at the crosswalk. He knew he had the right of way, but he didn’t want to hold anyone up longer than he had to. That would be rude. 

Anyway. Mom. She wasn’t home, but he didn’t let it shake him. This was to be expected. Evan was hoping she’d get there by around dinner, in the best case scenario. What was more likely is that she’d walk in the door at eleven p.m., if at all before he fell asleep. 

But she said she’d do this for him. And Evan wasn’t going to let himself think otherwise. 

Instead, he did his homework. It took him a few hours regardless, and it would be better to occupy his mind with confusing equations and terms than let it sit idle and unoccupied. That was a breeding ground for worry, which was something Evan was very good at. He even worked up the nerve to text not one, but several whole people. 

He asked Jared if he’d missed anything important in English, because he may or may not have had to leave the room for ten minutes and calm down after he got a really simple question wrong, seriously, what was wrong with him— 

Jared replied with a simple How should I know dude, u expect me to pay attention? As if!! 

Evan ignored the feeling of a small stone sinking onto his chest. He was used to the weight by now, even when it slightly let up while talking to Connor earlier. Every little thing that the people around him did seemingly had no effect on Evan, but in reality it was just another brick in the wall. 

That was a song, he thought. By Pink Floyd. A good song. He did like to think that he didn’t need no education. 

But the things people said tended to add up, as bricks often do. A pound of feathers was the same as a pound of lead, right? No matter the outward impact that others’ words had on Evan, he never forgot a single one. Every utterance of “freak” and “fairy” and other words that started with F that tended to make him cry, every time someone called him weak or stared at him or whispered behind his back about how he could barely go a sentence without stuttering, every time someone called him “special” or “strange” or “different” with that tone in their voice, they all added up. And they came back to haunt Evan if he didn’t keep himself otherwise occupied. His mind could never be quiet, or he’d risk the return of that insidious voice. The same one that told him to lie

He texted Alana, which was weird because he didn’t remember ever receiving her number, asking her the same question about their English work. She took a few minutes to respond, but at least her actual message was worded with all the kindness of real-life Alana. No problem, Evan! I’m actually at a girl scout meeting right now, but the second I get home I’ll send my notes right over! 

Evan smiled at that, and responded with a Thank you so much!!! 

Alana was nice. She was always going out of her way to help with as much as she could. That was probably how Evan got her number—knowing Alana, she’d probably posted it on the school website or something in case anyone needed to contact her for whatever reason. Their classmates may have seen her as weird now, but Evan knew that when Alana hit the real world it would be everyone else that was sent reeling, not the other way around like usual. 

English notes and biology homework completed, Evan settled down for the daunting task of precalculus. Math had always been his weak point. The formulas and variables all got jumbled together in his head into a mesh of confusingness. Because the thing Evan definitely needed more of in his life was confusion. If he missed something as simple as a minus sign the whole equation would be wrong. It was stressful, to say the least. 

Precalc took longer than Evan would like to admit. It was just so hard. He knew, logically, that he could always ask Alana or somebody else for help with it, but that thought was always eclipsed by the more persistent one—What if you’re bothering them? They have better things to be doing than helping your stupid self understand what’s going on. They don’t need help, so why should you? 

It was probably best that he just figured it out for himself, for the sake of his own sanity. Even if it did take a while. 

By the time seven p.m. rolled around with still no Mom in sight, Evan was beginning to reach the end of his rope. He’d put popcorn in the microwave ten minutes earlier, and was trying his best to keep it warm, but if his mom took much longer he would have to start eating it without her. In his gloom, Evan did not expect for his phone to suddenly ring, and when it did he almost jumped out his skin. 

He hated phone calls. But the only person who knew that was Connor, so this could be anybody. He steeled himself and looked at the screen. Mom

“H-hello?” Evan accepted the call as fast as he could. 

I’m on my way,’ He imagined his mom saying, ‘Fire up the DVD player! I hope you made popcorn!’ Then Evan would smile and say ‘Yeah, I did. Ready when you are.’ And then Mom would say ‘I was born ready,’ in a weird imitation of Jack Burton from that old movie she liked, and Evan would laugh, and everything would be okay. 

I’m so sorry,” Heidi Hansen said instead. Evan’s face fell. “I have class tonight and I forgot! I have to go, you know, honey, how important this is to me…” 

She sounded frazzled. Stressed. Searching for Evan’s approval in leaving him alone again. The tone was painfully familiar. 

“Y-yeah, I know…” Evan rubbed at the edge of his shirt. It was one of his older ones, with more fraying strands at the bottom a reminder of how many times he’d done it before. “It’s f-fine. I’ll be—I’ll be fine.” 

I know you will. I promise, next time we’ll have Taco Tuesday for real, alright?” 

Evan could only hope so. “Yeah.” 

He waited for his mom to hang up, just in case she had anything else to say, and then stared at his phone blankly for a while. He believed her. He actually believed her when she said she’d be there for him. How stupid could he be? 

He hunched in on himself as he felt tears prick the corners of his eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. All the words he’d held at bay with the single thought that maybe Mom cares came rushing forward. She didn’t care. Not about him. Evan wasn’t anything but a painful reminder of the broken marriage she’d tried to leave behind, his medical and therapy and school bills holding her back from doing what she wanted to. Evan was a burden weighing her down. 

And it wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to remove himself from the picture, either. 

Evan thought about the bottle of anxiety medication in his bedside table drawer. And the razor on the shower shelf. And the… the tree at Ellison State Park. 

The tree where he— 

His phone buzzed, and he inhaled so quickly he nearly choked on air. Connor

Connor: zoe’s been telling me about some dude she met for the past 15 minutes also shes letting me use her nail polish????? in what world 

Wiping at his eyes, Evan tried to derail his train of thought as quickly as possible and focus on Connor. Connor was better than the evil voice in Evan’s brain. 

Evan: Is that a bad thing? 

Connor: no just completely weird considering zoe hates my guts

Connor: i’m not used to this much attention its weird

Connor: send help 

Evan’s hand was shaking as he typed a reply, his spelling all mixed-up and his mind too scattered to care. I could help maybe? I can give you an ecxuse to leave or somethign 

Connor: yes pLEASE she wants to braid my hair save me evan 

Braid. Hair. braided hair. Connor’s braided hair. Connor’s soft hair in a braid. Braids. Braids with flowers in them. Magic hair and braids and flowers and singing and softness and love. Magic hair and softness and singing and safe

Evan eyed the DVD player. 

Evan: Have you ever seen Tangled?

Chapter Text

The first week of school dragged on at a snail’s pace for Evan, each hour-long class coming across more like a day each. It felt like slowly but surely his brain was being stretched taut, and by the time the weekend hit he had all but forgotten about the film assignment, buried in his subconscious under dates for essays and tests that had already been assigned. Compared to a precalc test on Tuesday, film was far from his top priority. 

He’d told Connor about it, on Wednesday, after an in-depth conversation about music that left Evan marveling at the amount of trivia within his friend’s mind. Connor may have been failing two classes that Evan knew of, but now he was absolutely sure it had nothing to do with lack of ability. Connor just didn’t apply himself. Which Evan supposed made sense, considering the anti-higher-education tangent that Connor went on the following afternoon. Connor had known for a while that “in real life,” he wouldn’t need any more knowledge than he’d already gathered by middle school. 

“I haven’t really… thought about my future much, I guess.” He’d said. “But whatever I’m gonna do, I can say for sure that it’ll have nothing to do with anything we’re learning right now. I mean, where would I use the entire periodic table if I wasn’t a scientist? And I don’t wanna be a scientist. I dunno, I just… this all seems kinda stupid to me.” 

He’d trailed off after that, picking intently at a speck on his thigh. Evan had picked up the conversation, telling Connor about his dreams of becoming a dendrologist. Connor was happy to listen for a change. 

His only reaction to Evan’s announcement concerning the weekend was to peer at Zoe’s signature on the cast scrutinizingly and grunt. “As long as you don’t ditch me, you can hang out with my sister as much as you like. ‘S fine by me.” 

And Evan would never dream of ditching Connor. 

Saturday morning, he finally worked up the nerve to tell his mom. That he was going out. Voluntarily. 

“Hey… M-mom?” He all but mumbled, wringing his hands and flitting his eyes about the room. Heidi had just woken up, catching up on all the sleep she’d missed during the week. She had a shift in less than an hour, but was trying her best to have an abridged version of what she called a “lazy day.” 

“What’s up, hon?” She faced him attentively, pausing in her movement to open the kitchen cabinet where they kept the cereal. Her honey-blonde hair fell in frizzy waves around her face, and she didn’t bother hiding the shadows under her eyes, but Evan’s mom really was beautiful. She didn’t deserve the lot in life she drew. And Evan didn’t deserve her. 

“I’m going out to-today. Is that—is that fine?” There was a crack along the ceiling, near a vent to the central air that they couldn’t afford to activate. The longer Evan stared at it, the longer it started to look like the Nile River. 

“Sure thing!” Evan released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “To Jared’s?” 

He tensed up all over again. What should he say? No, I actually made a really good friend, he’s the boy who signed my cast, yeah, I lied about him the other day. We’re actually pretty close. And I’m going to his house now because I have a project to do with his sister, the one you made fun of me for for years because you found out I liked her in the sixth grade. Which really wasn’t that bad, just a healthy bit of mother-son teasing, understandable really, but you’d be wrong if you assumed it hasn’t stuck with me this whole time and given me trust issues. Sorry for lying! Again! See you later! 

Not happening. If his mom knew about every lie he’d ever told her, Evan didn’t know if she’d ever trust him again. He’d dug his hole deep enough that the only way to go from here was down. So, down he went. 

“Y-yeah.” Evan Hansen was a despicable human being. Lying to his own mother. He was disgusting. “I’ll tell his mom you said hi, if—if you want.” 

“That’d be great, sweetie. Let me know when you get home, okay? Just to make sure I don’t set up the alarm before you’re home.” Evan nodded and reached for his phone. He told his lie, now he’d have to back it up. 

Evan: Hey, Jared, could you do me a favor? 

Jared: As long as the payment is u getting ur butt kicked in call of duty later today

Jared: Youre coming over because I said so!!! 

Evan gnawed at his lip and had to pull it out with his hand to get himself to stop. Chewing his lip would only make it more bloody and chapped than it already was. He needed chapstick. Like Connor. 

Evan: I’m acutally kind of busy today? Which is why I need a favor. 

Jared’s typing bubble hovered for too long before sending an actual message. Evan hated every second of the waiting game that texting presented. 

Jared: Does someone have a daaaaate???

Jared: Evan u sly dog

Jared: U sly sly dog with depressingly low standards 

The blond frowned and typed out a reply as quickly as he could. 

Evan: It’s not a date Jared!! And even if it was, Connor isn’t as bad as you think. He’s nice. And he’s not ugly or anything.

Evan: I’m going to the Murphys’ house because I have a project to do with Zoe. Can you tell my mom I went to your house? And tell your mom that mine says hi. 

Evan held a clenched fist to his mouth to stop himself from chewing any more. Was he being too pushy? In all the years he’d known Jared, he’d never been the one to ask for stuff. Jared was the one who needed his back covered. Was Evan allowed to ask for the same? 

Jared: Gayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy 

He rolled his eyes. At least Jared wasn’t getting mad. He could endure the friendly jests as long as he wasn’t hurting his former-best-friend. Jared may have been a jerk, but he still had feelings. Evan was pretty sure. 

Jared: Don’t want ur mom to know about ur weird sibling love triangle? Jared continued. Thats fair I’ll cover for u. U owe me big time though ;) 

Evan: FOR THE LAST TIME I STOPPED LIKING ZOE OVER THREE YEARS AGO. DONT YOU STILL LIKE HER??? 

“You okay over there?” Evan jerked his head up at his mother’s voice from the kitchen. “You look really red. Do you have a fever?” 

“N-no, mom, I’m fine.” He covered his cheek with the same hand he’d used to cover his mouth and read what Jared had sent him. 

Jared: Ur deflecting my guy….

Jared: Zoes a fine looking specimen I will admit,

Jared: But I’m over her I have my gf from Israel remember? 

Oh, right. The girlfriend Jared had bragged about incessantly that sounded so incredible that Evan was almost one hundred percent sure she was fake. He humored Jared nonetheless. 

Evan: Tell her I say hi also!! 

Jared: Will do chief B) 

“Who were you talking to?” Heidi asked, her tone light but her intentions evidently as nosy as they often were. She was searching through her purse for something before she could leave, what it could be Evan wasn’t sure. His mom’s bag was a realm of mystery. 

“Just Jared.” Evan said shortly. And. He didn’t feel gross about it, for once. Because he was really telling the truth. It was kind of nice. He wished, sometimes, that if he stopped lying, nothing bad would happen to him and he’d be able to live his life in peace. But he couldn’t stop. He was on a speeding train, trying desperately to keep it on track as it continuously sped up and when he tried to pull on the brake it snapped off like he was in a Western movie. Now all he could do was curl up into a ball, shut his eyes, and pray that he didn’t crash into anything important. 

He didn’t care if he got hurt in the process. All that mattered was that no one else did. 

“I’ve got to go.” Evan’s mom smiled at him, hefted her handbag onto her shoulder, and hurried out of the door, leaving him alone again. She was always in a rush, whether or not she actually needed to be. 

Evan sighed in the emptiness his mother had left behind. They may not have had the best track record when it came to communication, but Evan would rather have her company than none at all. She was his mom. He wanted to be able to count on her to be there for him when he needed her. And he couldn’t. 

He spared a glance towards the clock on the wall. It was nearly noon. Connor had offered to meet him for lunch and drive him the rest of the way, so if he wanted to be on time he needed to leave soon. 

After a moment of hesitation, he decided to bring his favorite backpack along with him. It was smaller than the one he used for school, with a pleasing blue-and-green triangle design across it. For such a nice bag, Evan was surprised he found it for such a low price at the Goodwill across town. He liked to think that the coincidence was fate throwing him a bone in the midst of his trainwreck-in-progress of a life. 

Armed with nothing but his backpack and the knowledge that Connor would give him an out anytime he needed one, Evan steeled himself for an afternoon of more family drama than he knew he could handle. He would handle it, for Connor’s sake. He would.

Chapter Text

Connor looked tired from where he loomed on Evan’s doorstep, his eyebags seeming more pronounced than ever. His cloud of gloom was especially potent today. Still, that didn’t stop him from asking Evan how his day was going and how he was doing. Evan took his distant demeanor as an excuse to ramble, figuring that Connor would rather listen to his babbling nonsense than the own demons of his mind. 

They stopped at McDonalds, and Connor insisted on sharing a packet of fries with Evan despite the latter’s insistence that he wasn’t hungry. He was too nervous to be hungry. 

“Believe me,” His friend had warned, “You’ll want to eat up now if you want to make it through dinner. My mom’s on another health kick, and I don’t think anything she’s fed me in the past week has had any substance to it.” 

That only made the fries slightly more enticing, but Evan took a few obligatory bites to satisfy his companion. He just didn’t like fast food, but he knew he wouldn’t get out of not eating that easily. 

“Want to do another movie night next Friday?” Connor piped up after a while. Evan figured they were getting close to his house by now, considering the quickening tapping of Connor’s fingers against the wheel and how frequently his leg was bouncing. “I could choose the movie this time. Haven’t watched my favorite in a while.” 

Evan smiled despite himself. Their impromptu movie night had been fun, despite Evan’s tumultuous feelings over his mom having to back out. (Connor had watched Tangled in his own house, on Netflix or something, and the pair had talked over the phone throughout the whole film. Connor didn’t even judge Evan for crying at Flynn’s death scene.) He just had certain… reservations. 

“Your favorite movie isn’t—isn’t scary, is it?” He wrung his hands and looked towards Connor, despite the brown-haired boy’s focus placed firmly on the road. The slope of his nose was quite noticeable from this angle. And the shape of his throat. 

Connor smirked. “My favorite movie is The Shining. Yes, it’s slightly scary.” 

Evan gulped. “I-I don’t—I don’t know if I could… I’d rather n-not watch that alone in my house.” 

He almost said sorry, but stopped himself as Connor replied. “Fine, I guess we’ll have to watch it together sometime. Face to face, that is. How do you feel about Hercules?” 

“Yes.” Evan said loudly. 

“I thought so.” Connor smiled. It always had a slight tilt to the left. Evan had caught him trying to hide a grin at a corny joke he told the other day, but the taller boy couldn’t completely suppress the left side of his mouth from pulling up insistently. It was rather endearing. 

“Can I ask you something?” Evan nodded, caught off guard at the sudden drop of amusement from Connor’s voice. The brunet sighed, and pulled Marilyn to a stop. 

“Don’t… just…” He searched for the right words. “Promise me you’ll still be my friend after this, alright? I act different around my parents than I do around you, and I don’t want you to, I dunno, get scared? You know I’m not the best when I get pissy. And my parents are professionals at making me pissy. Just don’t… don’t leave, I guess is what I’m saying. Please.” 

Connor was staring at his hands in his lap, twisting one of the silver rings around his fingers. He looked so small, for someone who usually seemed so big. Evan scratched at the rough material of his cast where Connor’s bold signature was a comforting familiarity. 

“I p-promise I won’t run away if you get mad at your—your parents.” In a freak moment of impulsivity, Evan reached out and hesitantly placed his hand on the other’s shoulder. The dark-colored jacket was a soft and pleasant material. “Or your sister, for that m-matter. I think—I think everyone acts a little d-differently around their families. It’s okay.” 

Evan started as Connor turned his head upwards to face him because alright, eye contact, that’s not overwhelming at all

Blue eyes. Kind of grey, like a cloudy summer day. There was that island again. If Evan really looked close enough, there might’ve been a speck of hazel, too. Like plants. On the island. Or one plant; it wasn’t a very large spot on an already small area. One plant was still good. No matter how many plants were on the tiny island in the cloudy sea, Connor’s eyes were a stark contrast to the rest of his pale face. Like a piece of china, if he could ever be perceived as anything delicate. The fierce look in his storm-eyes suggested otherwise. Were they kind of closer than before? And why was it so hot in this car? Was Marilyn’s AC broken? 

“We should probably go in,” Connor said softly. His voice wasn’t sharp and stilted as it usually was. Like someone had thrown a blanket over the craggy mountains of his vocal cords. Though Evan rather liked when Connor got excited, and his words came out louder than he intended. It was something they had in common. “Before I chicken out and drive us back to McDonalds.” 

“Y-yeah, sure.” Evan did need to go inside, whether he wanted to run for the hills with Connor or not. He needed to at least get the project done with Zoe first. 

Connor leaned back (when did he lean over in the first place?) and yanked the keys out of the ignition. Evan liked the Deathly Hallows keychain it had on it. Jared had thought it was a cult symbol one time, even though he’d sat through a full Harry Potter marathon for Evan’s ninth birthday. Evan had just laughed, which was funny because he never found Jared’s intended jokes humorous. It was weird to not have to force a laugh for the sake of Jared’s dignity. 

“Remember,” Connor caught his eye again. “The second you want out, you let me know. I’ll figure out an excuse. And… be prepared to answer a lot of weird questions.” 

With that in mind, Evan cowered behind Connor as he led him up the walkway to the front door. The Murphys’ house was impressive, to say the least. A modern suburban mansion. The picture of domestic perfection. Evan knew they were well-off, but now he just found his own home more embarrassing. 

“Hey,” He felt a sudden pressure on his hand, and looked down to find Connor’s curling around his own. The twisty rings were cold, but nice. The texture of Connor’s leather bracelet was smooth and cracked in a way that made Evan think he must’ve had it for a while. “You’re gonna be fine.” 

Connor swung the door open and stepped inside, tugging Evan along as they entered the cavernous foyer. It felt like they had stepped into an interior design magazine. The meticulous ornaments on a desk, perfectly vacuumed patterned carpets, and potted plant right next to a doorway were arranged as though they served as nothing but aesthetic pieces. Evan seriously doubted the plant was even real; if it was it was a sad excuse of a weeping fig tree. Upon closer inspection, the layer of dust on the leaves confirmed his suspicion. Not a real plant. 

“Yeah, there’s no way my mom could keep an actual plant alive.” Evan’s friend smiled in his sideways manner. “Sorry, Tree Boy.” 

Evan felt his ears turn red and opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by someone else coming into the foyer. Connor went rigid, slouching with his head down even further than usual and pulling his hand from Evan’s. 

He missed it, even if his hands were sort of sweaty now. He hoped Connor hadn’t minded. 

“Welcome!” The woman who’d entered the room exclaimed. She trapped Evan in a vice-like (and very unwanted) hug. “You must be Evan, I’m so glad to meet you.” 

Finally freed from the woman’s iron grip, Evan fought the strong urge to run out the door, despite being rooted to the spot. He needed to be here, he reminded himself, for his grades and for his friend. He just hoped he didn’t look as much like a deer in headlights as he felt. Behind him, he felt the recognizable presence of Connor, like an overprotective and very tall shadow. 

“Can you back off, mom? Zoe and I both told you he needs his space.” Evan winced internally. He’d nearly forgotten how Connor sounded when he got, well, pissy

“Yes, yes, my apologies, Evan, dear.” Mrs. Murphy smiled apologetically. “Connor, would you please tell your sister that her friend is here?” 

Her classmate, my friend.” Evan heard Connor say under his breath. He chose not to comment on it, mostly because it was true. Also because being on the receiving end of Connor’s protective streak prompted the fluttery things in Evan’s chest to throw a party. 

“So, Evan, you’re in Zoe’s film class, right?” Connor’s mom had her son’s angular eyebrows and soft hair, but her hazel eyes and caramel blonde hair made her look far more similar to her daughter. “Are you looking to work in film when you graduate?” 

“Oh—n-no, not really.” Evan was sweating like a pig. If there was one thing he detested more than small talk, it was small talk with random adults. He had a fear of authority figures, more than he was afraid of regular people, anyways. “I’d like to—to be a d-dendrologist.” 

Mrs. Murphy made a questioning noise that was essentially the polite version of saying “And what the hell would that be?” 

“It’s a—it’s a scientist that s-studies trees.” He elaborated. The hem of his shirt was really hurting; it was a good thing he’d worn one of his newer shirts today. He missed Connor’s hand with the twisty rings and leather bracelet. They felt like they’d be good for Evan to keep his hands occupied with. Maybe that’s why Connor had them. To keep his fingers busy. 

“Oh, like a biologist?” Mrs. Murphy seemed very proud of herself for making that distinction, and Evan hated to burst her bubble. 

“Y-yes. Sure.” That was a lie. A biologist was a gross oversimplification, covering a variety of specialized fields that in turn covered literally every living thing in the universe. But whatever made Connor and Zoe’s mom happy. Evan didn’t want to offend her on accident or something. He only just met her. When was he allowed to correct her? 

“Hey, Mom, Evan’s here?” Zoe leaned over the banister barring the upper floor from looking into the foyer below. She looked more put-together than she had during the week, probably because it was the weekend and she’d probably gotten a healthy amount of sleep. Her hair was pulled back with a sparkly purple barrette, and she wore a slimming t-shirt reading ‘Too Glam to Give a Damn.’ 

Evan smiled genuinely up at her and waved, but he was sure he was radiating fear to the point where Zoe could feel it. She smiled back at him. “Hey, Evan, you brought a notebook, right?” 

The blond took a moment to rummage through his patterned backpack before triumphantly displaying a green spiral notebook. In his rush, he nearly dumped the rest of the bag’s contents on the floor, and he hurried to push it back in before his hand-me-down 3DS ended up on the hardwood floor. 

“Cool. Come on up, I’ve got the movie loaded up here.” Zoe gestured towards her left, where a hallway led from the staircase, presumably to the bedrooms and whatever else. 

A TV. Upstairs. Yes. Because the Murphys were super rich. Evan steeled himself, remembered that Connor was ready to drive him out of there at a moment’s notice, and started the hike up the grand staircase.

Chapter Text

The Sound of Music was just as good as Evan remembered it. Every time he watched it he rediscovered how much one could respect Julie Andrews. And how much someone could get mad at that mailman character. He and Zoe both agreed that Liesl deserved so much better. They also indulged in a fair amount of yelling at the screen during the later scene where Rolf told Liesl that he was a Nazi. What a piece of trash. 

Their report was easier than Evan expected with Zoe’s help. She turned out to be almost as much of a movie nut as he was, though he suspected her obsession may have been confined exclusively to the movie musical genre. 

“Ugh, the soundtrack!” Zoe fell back onto the upstairs lounge couch as the notes of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ played dramatically on the television. “I love it.” 

Evan glanced upwards at her from where he was writing the finishing touches of his analysis in his notebook. “It is one of—one of my favorite movies.” 

“So I’ve noticed.” Zoe grinned. “You thought you could lip-sync to ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ without me noticing, very sneaky.” 

“I wasn’t t-trying to!” Evan blushed. “It’s just a—a really nice song, is all.” 

The Sound of Music had been one of the first movies he’d latched onto, right around after his dad moved away. He and his mom had watched the movie on the inaugural Taco Tuesday night. It had nice songs, pretty costumes, and a happy ending. Evan wanted his life to be like the Sound of Music

“Looks like we have a hopeless romantic on our hands.” Connor’s sister teased. “How cute!” 

At this point Evan’s ears were most likely bright red. He ducked his head. He wasn’t used to compliments. Although ‘hopeless’ was an apt adjective to describe him. Maybe even ‘romantic.’ ‘Cute,’ not so much. But he appreciated the sentiment. “Um, th-thank you.” 

“Hey. Dinner’s ready.” Evan jumped and looked towards the doorway, where Connor had poked his head inside the room. When the brunet caught sight of Evan’s flustered expression, he focused a glare on Zoe. “What did you say to him?” 

“Nothing!” She insisted. She was very good at playing innocent, Evan noted. “I just told him his lip-syncing was cute, because it is.” 

Connor’s eyes narrowed. “Come here for a sec, Zo.” 

“C-Connor, wait,” Evan intervened, though he noticed with pride his friend’s casual use of a nickname for his sister. They really were healing. “She wasn’t—she wasn’t b-bothering me, I promise. I was kinda em-embarrassed, that’s all.” 

“If you say so.” Zoe looked on between the two boys like she was watching an Olympic tennis match. “C’mon, mom made salad, and something remotely similar to tofu. I think.” 

“Cupcakes after?” Connor nodded to his sister. Zoe turned to Evan and jabbed a thumb towards her brother. “Connie over here has a secret stash of goodies that he’s been using to retain weight while Mom’s on a health craze.” 

Evan muttered a “huh” at this revelation, and barely stifled his giggling when Connor fired back at Zoe with a middle finger and a threat. 

“Call me Connie ever again and I will murder you.” 

For a second, Evan was worried that Zoe would be frightened by the death threat, but she laughed it off. “I don’t know, I think it suits you. Evan, thoughts?” 

“I-I don’t know…” He picked at the edge of his cast, his voice barely above a mumble, “I think it’s k-kind of cute—or, uh—nice? Y-yeah. That.” 

Evan swore he saw Connor’s cheeks flush, but it could have easily been a trick of the light. The brunet crossed his arms and adopted an affronted tone, though his mouth pulled insistently into a smile. “Traitor.” 

“Well, boys, it’s been fun,” Zoe stretched her arms out flamboyantly. “But if you’ll excuse me, there’s an air salad downstairs with my name on it.” 

“Yeah, alright.” Connor reached out an arm and helped Evan up. “We should probably go.” 

“I j-just have to get through—through this, right?” The blond tried to ignore the wave of panic that was washing over him. He didn’t know what he was doing here. What if he said something wrong? What if he made Connor’s parents mad and then he hated him? What if Zoe hated him? He was going to screw everything up, like he always did. 

“Hey.” Connor grabbed his hand again. “You okay?” 

Evan tried to block out the amount of sensations around him, but this happened every time he panicked. Dr. Sherman called it sensory overload. Rather suddenly he felt too hot, everything was too much, his skin felt uncomfortable everywhere, his shirt was too itchy and the room had really strongly scented candles and the end credits were rolling and everything was too loud, too much— 

“Evan.” With some effort, he forced his eyes to stop darting around the room and settled on Connor’s eyes, only occasionally flitting down to his black shirt. The blue of his eyes wasn’t bright enough to hurt Evan’s, the way the fabric of his own shirt was. Evan had never been more thankful for Connor’s monochromatic fashion sense. “Look at me. Can I touch you? Uh,” He looked down at their joined hands. “Or, should I let go?” 

The shorter boy shut his eyes and shook his head emphatically. “D-don’t—just—can you—t-talk to me? Ple-please. About a-anything.” 

“Okay, um…” Connor sighed. “Here’s one. I used to go to this stupid apple orchard when I was younger. The whole family would go. This was before Larry worked on weekends, and he would buy me and Zoe ice cream at A La Mode after. We’d have a picnic, at the orchard, and Mom would bring us actually good food, and Zoe and I used to have paper airplane contests, to see whose could fly farther. One time, she threw hers so far…” 

That sounded fun. Evan kept his eyes closed and tried that trick Dr. Sherman had taught him, tensing up every one of his muscles and taking a deep breath through his mouth and holding it. If Connor found this strange in any way, he didn’t say it. With Connor’s voice resonating mutedly in his eardrums, Evan tightened his grip on the other’s hands. The twisty rings were cool against his naturally warm hands. Connor’s hands were rough and slim and cold and grounding. 

A chill went from his neck down to his toes, and Evan let himself relax and breathe out again. When he opened his eyes, he saw Connor. And the world was slightly more bearable. 

“You good?” Connor asked, his brow furrowed in what was either concern or frustration. Evan hoped it was the first one. He wasn’t quite ready to speak just yet, so he nodded. Connor mirrored the action. “Say the word and I’ll get you out of there. It’s just dinner, then we’re home free. Promise.” 

The Murphys had an honest-to-god dining room, with a china cabinet and a chandelier and everything. Evan felt even more out his element than usual. He spent his dinners at the kitchen table, if at a table at all. The couch was often too comfy for him to bother sitting elsewhere. What if there was some set of dinner etiquette that he was supposed to know? He racked his brain desperately to dredge up any ideas of table manners he had. No elbows on the table. Say please and thank you. Don’t start worrying the tablecloth when you feel anxious. Keep your tactile needs to yourself, they’re not welcome here. 

Evan forced his nervously chomping teeth to the inside of his mouth, where they resumed chewing on the ridges they had previously formed. He couldn’t remember not having those, he’d been biting the insides of his cheeks for so long. At least it was less noticeable than when he targeted his lips. 

“Sit here.” Connor gestured to one of the dark wooden chairs, and Evan lowered himself onto it without question. His friend took the seat beside him. 

Zoe had situated herself in the chair across from Evan, and she greeted him not unkindly when she saw him. Evan smiled back and tried not to think about the billions of ways that this dinner could go wrong. He was overthinking it, he was overthinking it, he was definitely overthinking it, he would be okay… 

“Here we go, everyone.” Mrs. Murphy entered the room with a flourish, carrying a plate of what Evan could only describe as leaves in each of her hands. “Evan, I hope you like kale!” 

He’d never tried kale before. It sounded kind of gross. Yet, Evan smiled and nodded. He’d consider eating a bag of garbage if it meant that Connor and Zoe’s mom would like him. 

Mrs. Murphy placed a plate in front of Evan covered in an assortment of green leaves and healthy looking plants. Evan liked plants. They were pretty and helped the environment. He wasn’t sure he’d like how some of them tasted, though. 

Do it for Connor, a voice in the back of his mind coaxed, Do it for your friend. 

He picked up his fork in the same way a soldier would pick up his weapon—with determination and resolve. His verdant enemy was stabbed without mercy by a four-pronged spear. Evan ate the bunch of kale faster than he could think. And fought the urge to grimace. It wasn’t that the flavor was too strong or unpleasant, it was that there barely was any flavor in the first place. Maybe if the salad tasted like more than someone eating a normally flavored food three rooms over, it would be an enjoyable food. That being said, it wasn’t. 

Evan gave Mrs. Murphy a thumbs-up as she traveled back to the kitchen, presumably for her own plate. “I-it’s great.” 

Good thing he was such a practiced liar. He pretended not to preen when Connor gave him an elbow of congratulations. 

“Ever thought of being an actor, Evan?” Zoe asked jokingly. “That was impressive.” 

The blond finally let himself express his disgust and made a face. “Th-thanks. I get the—I get why you eat the—the cupcakes, now.” 

The meal was awkward but bearable once Mrs. Murphy returned. She guided the conversation with polite questions directed towards Evan which he answered to the best of his ability, occasionally accompanied by defensive or humorous remarks from the siblings. They got a real kick out of Evan’s run as a theater kid, back when he could stand on a stage without losing his voice. Zoe demanded to see pictures of Evan when he played Simba in a small production of the Lion King. Connor wanted to hear more about how much plot Fame lost when it was made into a junior production. 

Evan showed them a picture of his third-grade self in orange face paint and a cardboard lion’s hat, which Zoe proclaimed to be the most adorable picture in existence. She asked him to text her the photo for his contact picture (oh yeah, Zoe also gave him her number!). Connor laughed so hard that water nearly started coming out of his nose when Evan sang him the words to ‘The Body Electric.’ 

It wasn’t Evan’s voice that got him, he insisted. He just didn’t understand how a decent show with a decent plot could produce such a disaster. “Become one with the sun? Really? What does that even mean?” 

Cynthia Murphy looked at Evan like he was a magician when Connor stopped laughing long enough to take another sip of his drink. He wondered, abruptly, when the last time Mrs. Murphy had heard her son laugh. He wondered why he was the one Connor had chosen to react to. To laugh with. 

When the uneasy air had just about cleared, and Evan had told Connor all about Carmen Diaz’s drastically altered plotline, it came back with a resurgence as the front door of the Murphy house creaked open. 

“I’m home!” A masculine voice boomed. Evan watched as the family resumed their roles they had held before Evan managed to break the ice. Mrs. Murphy scurried back into the kitchen for another plate, Zoe pulled out her phone and began playing what Evan deduced to be some form of Candy Crush from the sound effects, and Connor withdrew further into himself than when the two boys had first come into the foyer. 

Evan put his fork down and went to touch Connor’s arm, and ask him what was wrong, but he was interrupted by the arrival of who could only be the patriarch of the household. 

“What’s for dinner? Salad, I assume?” Connor and Zoe’s father was hard and square in every way their mother was soft and round. He had a head of thick grey hair and a few conspicuous worry lines along his forehead. Both of his children had his upturned nose and prominent cheekbones. He wore the outfit of a typical businessman—tie, slacks, loafers, the whole nine yards—and exuded an energy of deep exhaustion rivaled by that of Evan’s own mother, though he couldn’t tell whether this tiredness was physical or emotional. With Connor’s badmouthing of his dad in mind, Evan decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt. 

“Hello, Zoe. Connor.” Evan arranged his face into something hopefully amicable when he made eye contact with Connor and Zoe’s dad. “Who might this be?” 

Zoe glanced up from her phone to acknowledge her dad. “Hey, Dad. This is Evan, from my film class.” 

“Uh, n-nice to meet you.” Evan had to stop himself from reaching for Connor’s hand. He was scared, frankly, of this man that his friend detested so much, and scared for Connor. The brunet hadn’t uttered a word since Mr. Murphy walked into the house. “I’m—I’m also friends w-with Connor.” 

The man half-laughed, claiming his chair, fittingly, at the head of the table and dropping his briefcase at his side. Mrs. Murphy handed him a bowl of his own kale salad. “Son, I find that hard to believe.” 

“No, i-it’s true, see?” Evan held up his left arm for Mr. Murphy to inspect, Connor’s name printed proudly for all the word to view. “He signed it, um, a few d-days ago.” 

“How nice.” Despite Mr. Murphy’s seated position, it was evident where Connor had inherited his height from. For a while there was a lull in the conversation, as Zoe carried on doing whatever she was doing on her phone, Mrs. Murphy continually rearranged the vase of (artificial) flowers at the center of the table, her husband dug into his anything-but-hearty meal, and Connor evidently kept himself from leaving the room, his knuckles turning white as they held tight to the seat of his chair. 

“So, Evan, do you have any hobbies outside of school?” Mrs. Murphy questioned him lightly. She had given up on the fake anemones and moved onto making sure the place settings had their utensils in the proper order. 

No. No, he did not have any hobbies. Not worth mentioning, anyways. He went to school, which everyone did, played video games, which he doubted would be taken well by any health-focused mother, read various science articles and was fond of those ‘Facts You Didn’t Know’ videos on YouTube, which were too nerdy to ever be admitted aloud, and all he really did outside his house was… 

“I-I don’t know, I guess I—I go to therapy twice a month, that’s s-something.” 

He nearly jumped when Connor’s hand shot out to form a vice-like grip over his own. Evan had a feeling that bringing up therapy might’ve been a mistake. He tried to squeeze as much apology as he could without saying it aloud. 

“Therapy? What for?” Mr. Murphy asked. Mrs. Murphy looked at Evan with a partially masked, stricken expression, Zoe was shaking her head discreetly, and Evan couldn’t bring himself to look to his right at Connor. He was afraid of what he’d find there. “Did you break your arm that badly?” 

“Oh, not—not physical therapy. My arm’s d-doing alright. I’ve got—I’ve got anxiety, so,” Well, it was too late to back out now, might as well try out the truth for a change, “So I go to therapy for that.” 

“Well, every teen gets anxious about things from time to time, you know.” Mr. Murphy reasoned. “Do you really need to see a doctor for that? Seems mighty costly.” 

Connor was starting to hurt Evan’s hand. He had a really firm grasp. “Y-yeah, but I’m—I’m anxious all the time, more than—than a n-normal person my age.” 

“Has the medicine helped much?” Okay, that was kind of rude. Still, Mr. Murphy didn’t appear outright ignorant, just confused. 

“Larry, what the hell?” Connor said sharply. “Leave him alone! First of all, Evan never said he took meds, so that’s really rude of you to assume, and second, fuck off! So he goes to therapy. What he does there is none of your business! Maybe if you had a little more faith in that whole system, I wouldn’t be as much of a trainwreck as I am!” 

“Connor, we have a guest.” Mrs. Murphy scolded. Evan tried to convey to her that it was fine, he really didn’t mind, he was happy simply to sit and be quiet, and Zoe didn’t do anything but hold her phone closer to her face. 

“You aren’t that way because of anyone else but yourself, young man.” Mr Murphy didn’t raise his voice, he toughened it. A more controlled version of Connor’s angry voice. “If we’d let you get your hands on pills, you’d either get addicted to them or try to off yourself! I’m just trying to protect you, Connor.” 

Evan had stiffened at the words ‘off yourself.’ The angry voices became drowned out in a sea of white noise that came crashing over his mind, and the next thing he knew Connor was prodding him on the shoulder. 

“We’re leaving.” He sounded upset. Evan didn’t like when Connor was upset. Why was Connor upset? 

He heard himself thank Mrs. Murphy for the meal, and say that he’d see Zoe in school on Monday. He told Mr. Murphy it had been nice to meet him. He was mad at himself for lying. 

Evan didn’t let himself feel anything the whole walk to the car, from grabbing his backpack to opening the door to sitting down on Marilyn’s comforting passenger seat. He gazed blankly at the shiny dice hanging from the mirror, and caught sight of the stuffed dragon (Toothless?) in the backseat. He heard Connor stomp around, kick the curb until he yelled in pain, and slam the car door shut behind him. 

Only then did Evan allow himself to break.

Chapter Text

Connor was madder than Evan had ever seen him. Not yelling, like when he’d found Evan’s letter at the printer. This was a different kind of mad. One where he was clearly making an active effort to contain himself from the full force of his fury. His fists shook and his shoulders stood rigid and his voice quaked and his eyes reddened with emotion. His voice was overflowing with barely restrained rage that wavered on the precipice of shouting, but somehow miraculously didn’t achieve it. He was saying some continuous nothings about his dad. Evan couldn’t bring himself to hear anything more specific. 

He remained completely silent, forcing steady breaths in, out, in, out, and trying to ignore the gaping pit in his chest. He didn’t want to think about it. Or what put it there. 

At a mention of “what a fucking asshole” Mr. Murphy had been for asking about his meds, Evan couldn’t prevent the shaky inhale and subsequent pathetic whine that escaped his lips. Connor glanced over at him in worry. 

“You, um. You okay, Evan?” He seemed to have cooled down slightly, as Evan’s unintentional interruption served to take the steam out of his ire-fueled rant. 

Evan shook his head. He wanted to tell him, but he knew if he started to talk he’d start to cry, and if he started to cry, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he’d completely emptied his tear ducts, and that would be even more embarrassing than his sensory overload from earlier. But he wanted to talk, he wanted Connor to know, and so the words came tumbling out of his mouth in tandem with great, gasping sobs. 

“I—the pills, and the tree, and I-I didn’t want to jump, I didn’t, but then I was—and I couldn’t—I thought—I thought m-maybe it would be better that way.” His voice had cracked several times, notably on ‘better,’ and by the end Evan couldn’t find the voice to continue. Why was it so hard to say out loud? 

Because saying it aloud would make it more real than he was ready to admit. 

Connor was holding his hand again. He didn’t know why the brunet was so insistent on doing that now, at every given opportunity, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to complain. It kept him grounded. Anchored. He couldn’t go too far into his own mind with a reminder of the outside world so close. But he wanted him closer. 

Evan knew that Connor wouldn’t come any closer without express permission to do so. He’d told his friend about his, to put it mildly, issues with personal space, over lunch a few days ago. Since then, the absurdly tall boy almost always went out of his way to ask before initiating physical contact. Handholding seemed to be the one area where he fell short. Though, Evan supposed, asking to hold his hand would have probably made things more awkward than they were already. 

He pulled Connor into a hug before he could think about it too much. Thankfully, Connor went without complaint. Now that would have been awkward. Absently, Evan noted how the seatbelt scratched uncomfortably on his neck at this angle. 

Connor leaned back, scaring the wits out of Evan (what if I just messed everything up, he totally hates me now, I shouldn’t have done that), and looked at him with an unidentifiable emotion in his mismatched eyes. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” 

Evan shook his head again, like the unintelligent bobblehead he was. “I-I want to. I want you to—to know.” 

“Okay.” He sat back further and played with the rings across his knuckles. Connor didn’t seem to be in any sort of rush. The lack of pressure made Evan feel slightly better about the whole situation. 

“I broke my arm.” He said at last. 

Connor raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, from falling out of a tree. Remember? I said it was the saddest thing I’d ever heard.” 

“I didn’t fall!” Evan blurted. He hated the words the second he’d said them, but he couldn’t change that they were there. 

“What?” Evan’s friend—Evan’s only friend—was confused. He looked lost. Evan knew how that felt. Images flashed through his mind—a big truck outside his house, his mom crying when she thought he wasn’t looking, her face, broken and pained, when he asked her if a truck would come and take her away too. He shoved the memories away before they consumed him. 

“Well, I mean, I did, but—but I didn’t,” He tried to explain. “I was just climbing, you know, for—for fun. I w-wanted to see how the park looked from up high… When the branch broke, I could’ve—I could’ve grabbed another, but part of me thought that maybe—maybe it was f-fate.” His tears, which he’d fought so hard to keep away, came back with a resurgence. “Like m-maybe the world was telling me something. So I let myself go. It’s my fault. And I didn’t even die. I couldn’t even do that right.” 

Connor hugged him, again. Not as gentle as last time. He really had a death grip. It was like being embraced by a lanky, angular, weirdly affectionate boa constrictor. Evan felt slightly less like a bag of trash. 

They were quiet for a while. Evan was fine with that. He didn’t have anything else to say, now that he’d admitted to… what he had admitted to. As much as he wanted to change the topic, he had trouble thinking of a single thing to say. His mind had gone blank, aside from a set of blaring, repeating questions. What if it had worked? Would Connor have another friend to watch sappy movies with? Would his mom have anyone else to hug and fuss over? Would people actually have missed him? 

“Can I tell you a secret?” Connor asked, breaking the silent spell that had come over them both. Evan nodded dumbly. “Zoe made fun of me three times this week for naming my car after Marilyn Manson. I told her to shut up, obviously. But she was wrong.” 

Evan scrunched his nose and sniffled, trying to dispel the last of his emotional outburst. What was Connor getting at? 

“You ever seen a Marilyn Monroe film?” 

No, Evan had not. He told Connor as much. 

“You’re gonna. Next movie night, we’re watching Niagara.” 

Evan heard the unspoken declaration within those words: I’m not going anywhere. 

Connor started Marilyn’s engine, powered on the radio, and drove Evan far away from his troubles. He didn’t comment on Evan’s occasional resurfacing sniffs, and didn’t try to fill the heavy air with any frivolous small talk. His admission concerning his car’s name and his own readiness for their next movie night was enough to convince Evan that things might just be okay. The pair was seemingly content to leave nothing but the somber notes of Queen’s “Love of My Life” playing in the background, softer than Evan had ever heard Connor’s radio. 

He couldn’t ignore how timely the song felt, but he could choose to keep that thought inside. 

Which he did. Mostly. 

Handholding didn’t have to mean anything if they never said anything about it.

Chapter Text

The remainder of September flew by in a blur of tests and essays and autumn leaves beginning to leave their perches on branches. Evan didn’t pass on the opportunity to add a few of the earliest ones that descended into his scrapbook of pressed leaves that Jared had gotten him for his eleventh birthday. The worn tome was almost overflowing with fallen leaves of years past. Adding more to its crinkly pages was something that kept him looking forward to the season every year. 

He’d told Dr. Sherman about his latest leaf findings at their appointment yesterday, along with filling her in on all the changes he’d seen since they last met. He had friends to talk about now. Evan couldn’t tell which one of them was more excited. 

Now he had four new friends, since Daniel had written his name in crude lettering on the top of Evan’s hand before first period four days ago, and Alana had added her neat signature to the collection along the wrist of his cast when he stopped by her homeroom to pick up a flier for the GSA she was attempting to start. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already. 

Evan’s cast was starting to get crowded. He couldn’t be happier about it. 

He told his therapist all sorts of things he had learned over the past month (wow, he really needed to show up to his appointments more often). Zoe, for example, loved chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting but hated them any other way. She also knew the entire script of Newsies by heart, and her favorite constellation was Orion. 

Daniel hummed as a way of concentrating, Evan noticed in the study period they shared. The green-eyed student made noticeable efforts to stop whenever someone shushed him about it, but he slipped back into the habit several times before the bell had rung. Evan thought it was endearing. Plus, Daniel’s favorite color was very obviously yellow. Two facts. Evan was on a roll. 

Alana always had a cup of coffee on her whenever Evan ran into her, so the next time he saw a Starbucks gift card up for grabs at a raffle, he made sure to let her know. As it turned out, she was a part of the club that organized the raffle, but to Evan’s relief she seemed grateful nonetheless for Evan’s bothering to tell her. Her favorite class was history, he discovered when he asked her for pointers on a homework assignment after school. It was a good thing it hadn’t rained that day, because Alana talked right through the bus leaving. Evan didn’t mind the exercise in walking home, though, so he was content to listen to her passionate ramble. 

The person Evan knew the most about was Connor, probably because they’d taken to spending their lunches and free periods together. He always chose a fire-type starter in Pokémon, but was merciful enough to use every monster but his charizard against Evan’s mighty-but-gentle torterra. Connor had an endless pit of a stomach, and could eat all of his own lunch and Evan’s without any qualms if nobody stopped him. He had an affinity for comic books, because the pictures made everything easier to read, and only grew his hair long in the first place because he got an undercut in freshman year without telling his parents. It had grown out by now, but Connor liked the new length and stuck with it. Evan had to agree, the style did suit him. 

Connor’s favorite Zelda game was Majora’s Mask. Connor’s favorite food was lasagna. Connor’s favorite band was Queen. Connor’s favorite place was in the front seat of his car, especially at night. Evan probably knew more about Connor than anyone else in their grade, and yet he only wanted to know more. 

He really liked meeting with Dr. Sherman, even if he only ever talked to her about silly stuff like this. It was nice to have someone to tell about Daniel’s favorite color and Zoe’s favorite constellation, without having to worry that he was being annoying or bothering anyone. It was Dr. Sherman’s job to listen to him talk, no matter how stupid the subject matter may be. That alleviated a good deal of the pressure. 

In a fantastic turn of events, Evan only had two bad things to report to his therapist (within his realm of comfort, of course). For one, he’d just barely passed a precalc test and was only more confused than when he first read the textbook. After talking it out he figured he’d ask Alana for help the next time he had the emotional fortitude to endure another conversation with the chatty girl. The only other distinctly Bad Thing that happened was the other day when Evan had woken up late (again) and grabbed a shirt in a rush, only to find that it smelled slightly off just before he walked out the door. He guessed it had maybe been in a weird part of the closet or something, so he grabbed a different one, but it still had the same, unfamiliar smell. It threw Evan off his near-nonexistent game for the rest of the day. As it turned out, his mom had bought a new brand of laundry detergent and forgot to tell him. It took a couple more days for him to get used to the smell, but Evan was more upset that he almost missed the bus because of a shirt. 

Connor had thought it was funny, though. Evan supposed it was, in a way. Or maybe he just laughed along for the sake of laughing. He knew he wasn’t laughing from embarrassment or fear, which was something he had to get used to. Laughing from genuine happiness. 

Speaking of which, Evan giggled to himself as he extended himself up the empty stairway three steps at a time, confident that on a Friday enough people would have cleared out that he could goof off a little without getting caught looking like a loser. Well, even more of a loser than usual. 

He had read somewhere that the stronger half of the population took the stairs two at a time, and his weekend-freedom-addled brain dared to wonder what that made him if he took it a step further. 

Ha. Puns. 

However, his peace of mind didn’t last much longer once he rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. The sight that awaited him there wasn’t the prettiest, to put it lightly. 

Jared, his best friend since he could remember, was hunched over clutching his bleeding nose, exclaiming indignantly a string of expletives that essentially added up to “What the hell, man?” 

Standing across from him was a distinctive, tall, dark figure. 

“C-Connor?” 

Evan hated how small his voice sounded. 

Jared looked up in Evan’s direction, looking half guilty and half relieved, and Connor whirled around at the same time. Evan would never forget the expression Connor wore—frightened, but aggressive; feral. Like a cornered animal. 

Connor bolted down the hall before Evan could say another word.

Chapter Text

“Evan, man, thank god you’re here,” Jared started. His hands were bloodstained from holding his nose. 

Evan had more questions running through his mind than he was prepared to process. The one that ended up making it out of his mouth was, “What happened.” 

His voice was flat and shaking. Evan was scared. Of what could have transpired and of the consequences. 

“I don’t know!” Jared’s eyes were wide and his tone defensive. “I was trying to establish a buddy-buddy relationship with your new friend, Hot Topic, considering you only ever spend time with him anymore, and all he did was glare at me. Then I told a joke, and he started whaling on me! Control your attack dog, dude.” 

Remember to breathe, Dr. Sherman liked to tell him. Easier said than done. “What did you—what did you say, Jared.” 

“Nothing, I swear! Nothing bad!” Jared examined his glasses. “Just made a friendly joke about you, you know, like friends do. Geez, I hope these aren’t broken…” 

“I-I thought we weren’t friends.” Evan said, perplexed. 

“Well, no, yeah, you know what I mean.” No, he didn’t. “Family friends. Same difference.” 

The way Jared said it, it was almost like he didn’t know how much those words hurt Evan every time he said them. 

“N-no, not same dif—difference.” Over the past month, Evan had started to realize something. Saying it aloud only made him more sure. “Jared, you don’t—you don’t treat me like a friend or-or a family friend.” 

“... what do you mean?” 

“N-never mind, I have to go find Connor.” 

“No, what were you going to say, Evan?” Jared knew Evan didn’t like to be pushed. He knew Evan liked to keep his words inside, and roll them around in his head, so they didn’t come out glitched and choppy like how he often spoke. Jared knew he liked to spend time and plan out what he had to say, but he pushed him regardless. The goading only served to steel Evan’s resolve further, about what he’d been beginning to suspect. 

A rush of instances came to the forefront of his mind: Jared ditching his birthday last year for a gaming session, Jared sitting silently on his computer and expecting Evan to do the same when their moms thought they were hanging out, Jared refusing to sign his cast, Jared refusing to be called his friend. 

“Friends don’t—friends don’t make friends give them th-the homework answers. Or make them p-pretend to not know you. Or pre-pretend to hang out with you so you can keep your car insurance.” Evan spat the words out like profanities, because they hurt him more than any curse had.                     

Jared stared at him uncomprehendingly as he continued. If he had tried to interrupt, it wouldn’t have mattered. Evan couldn’t stop if he wanted to. 

“If—if you were my friend, Jared, you wouldn’t have to a-ask me for all that stuff.” Evan glared and clenched his jaw. “‘Cause I’d do it for you anyways. If you were my friend, you’d do the—you’d do the same for me.” 

Evan took a leaf from Connor’s book and left before Jared could get a word in edgewise. The blond hurried in the direction the aforementioned brunet had fled. 

He hefted his backpack higher on his shoulders as he went and pushed back weakly against the torrent of worries flooding his psyche. What if Connor’s seriously hurt? What if he hurts himself? What if Jared was right and Connor really did punch him for no reason? What if Connor really is bad for me? What if I just pushed away my best friend for.. Forever? 

The nearest bathroom seemed like a likely enough place for the school’s resident degenerate to hide. And sure enough, there he was, hunched over against the wall with his head hanging in between his legs and his hands in his lap. Evan couldn’t see much of the boy due to his curtain of hair and shielded position, but he blew out an involuntary sigh of relief regardless. Despite Connor’s confusing actions, Evan couldn’t deny that the sight of him like this pulled at his heartstrings painfully. 

“Connor?” Evan asked unsurely. Later, he’d congratulate himself for not stuttering in such an emotional state. 

Connor tilted his head up to face Evan, so graceful for someone so brash. “Hey, Hansen.” 

He coughed and lifted an arm to cover it. Evan half-gasped. “You’re bleeding,” 

Evan went into action almost unconsciously, kneeling down in front of the other and hurrying to separate himself from his backpack. After some fishing around, he pulled out a small white container marked with a red cross. For once, his mom’s nursing skills would come in handy. 

Connor was hesitant to give Evan access to his hands, but after some gentle persistence he acquiesced. His fingers were splattered with blood that circled around his usually-shiny rings, and it looked like one of his knuckles had split. “Y-you really did a number on him, huh?” 

Evan tried to say it lightly, but all he got in return was a hum. He shook it off and pulled the twisty rings from Connor’s digits, placing them delicately on the counter beside them. “Roll up your sleeves, pl-please.” 

He was met with a shake of the head. “You don’t want to do that.” 

“Connor, I need to clean your hands. Do you—do you want your jacket to get wet?” 

A sigh. “Fine.” 

In a matter of seconds, Evan understood why the warning had been issued. The insides of Connor’s forearms were covered in little horizontal lines, packed together like each limb held an unusually long barcode. They were covered by shallower, blunter, reddish marks that Evan recalled a classmate with severe eczema used to get, from scratching. Running down the center of the right arm, bisecting each of the little ticks, was one vertical line. 

Scars. 

“Told you.” Connor said, even as Evan continued cleaning his hands with some wet paper towels and peroxide. “You shouldn’t have to look at those.” 

“W-well, I mean—” The shorter of the two made a snap decision and put everything down for a second. He held up his own right arm and twisted it so Connor could see a few marks on the inner part of his upper arm, an area usually obscured by the sleeves of his polo. 

“I’ve got a few more on my o-other arm, because, you—you know, I’m a rightie,” He was messing this up, somehow. Evan was sure of it. “But those are ac-actually under where the cast is. So.” 

They didn’t say anything else for a while. Evan worked all the blood out from the in-betweens of Connor’s fingers, and put peroxide over wherever a cut could have formed. He even put some on the twisty rings, to make them shiny again. (He hoped it worked. He’d only seen the trick on a video recently.) When he’d finished and wrapped bandages around both arms for good measure, Connor took Evan’s hand and knotted them together like they were saying a joint prayer or something. His fists were only slightly warmer without the rings. 

“Wh-what happened?” Evan questioned for the second time that day, when the silence had practically become too pronounced to bear. 

Connor, who had softened considerably since Evan’s entry into the deserted bathroom, went tense again. “I don’t want to talk about it.” 

He waited a bit, but at Evan’s persisting, pleading face, elaborated. “Jared was being an ass, alright? He said some dumb shit and I just needed to shut him up. Look, I’m sorry I punched your friend, but holy fuck, he is an asshole. He deserved it.” 

“What did—what’d he say?” Knowing Jared, it could have been anything. His humor tended to be slightly more offensive than Evan thought he intended. 

Connor’s lips drew into a thin line. “Something bad.” 

Oh. Evan’s face fell further. It must have been really bad, if Connor Murphy refused to say it aloud. 

“Something about you.” 

Evan remembered the sinking feeling in his stomach when he’d walked into chemistry class sophomore year and everyone else was pulling out worksheets from their bags, worksheets that Evan had never seen in his life. He felt like he was living through that all over again, searching frantically through his backpack brain to find answers he was supposed to have but couldn’t remember getting in the first place. Watching a few students eye him with pity as he scavenged, their faces resigned and sympathizing for a truth Evan had yet to discover. 

“W-what did he—he s-say, Con-Connor?” 

Connor shook his head vehemently. “I won’t say it.” 

“I-I need to—I need to know, Connor, pl-please.” He did. Evan wanted to know what Jared had said about him that was so bad. Jared, the kid who only had Evan to sit with for a full year when he went through a phase thinking he had superpowers. Jared, the first guy who Evan had come out as bi to, who wouldn’t tease him about it when he knew it was a bad time. Jared, the boy whose idea of a good weekend was 48 solid hours of World of Warcraft. 

Another sigh, more defeated than the last. “He called you stupid,” Connor admitted. “But he used a different word for it.” 

Evan took a minute to fully grasp what Connor had just said to him. He knew what word Jared used. He knew it all too well. It had been one of his dad’s favorite words for him. Heidi had even had him evaluated to see if he really was on the spectrum, after another fun-filled rant from Dad about light colors and crying and stutters and slurring. The fact that he wasn’t only seemed to make his dad madder. Not diseased. Not fixable. Not explainable. Just weird. Retarded. 

He got used to most people calling him that, after a few years of crying during tests and mixing up the beginnings of words. However, he was also used to Jared telling those people to buzz off, telling Evan that he was perfectly normal. He was not used to his former protector being the bully. 

“‘M sorry, Ev.” Connor mumbled miserably. And he really did look sorry. Not pitying, or condescending. Just sorry. 

No apologizing, Evan thought to himself. He was in no condition to talk, though, so instead he curled up against Connor and tried to forget the world outside their bubble in the second floor boys’ bathroom. 

It only kind of worked.

Chapter Text

Evan and Connor grew a lot closer after the whole Jared Fiasco. Not just metaphorically, but physically, too. At Evan’s permission, Connor liked to rest his head atop the blonde’s when he was tired. They hugged as a way of saying hello, and Connor even sometimes let Evan braid his hair. Evan found that the more time he spent touching someone, whether that be by holding hands or linking arms or anything of the sort, the less overwhelming it felt. He supposed it worked in the same way Connor’s laugh did. Practice makes—well, not perfect, but certainly better. 

Another good thing: a large part of October passed by without issue. Part of that was due to the fact that, with so many people to talk to and spend time with, Evan didn’t have as much time to get stuck in his own head. 

Alana took him out to bubble tea. Evan didn’t particularly like the texture of the tapioca pearls (not to mention that he didn’t really like tea all that much in general), but Alana was happy and so passionate about the beverage that he drank it all the same. She was an excellent conversationalist. Evan wasn’t feeling particularly chatty that day, and Alana was all too eager to fill the room with words. 

Evan still hadn’t seen Daniel outside of school, which he didn’t mind much, honestly, but the redhead had had a weird conversation with him when they crossed paths in the bathroom. Evan didn’t know what to make of it. 

Daniel had looked nervous. His green eyes darted about and refused to land on one thing, and he was worrying his thumb against the bend of his forefinger. He spent so much time repeating his words that he started to sound like Evan. In the end, all he wanted was for Evan to call him ‘Danny.’ Evan spent a while wondering if he’d missed a major social cue or something, but Connor confirmed that nicknames weren’t that big of a deal and Danny was just being weird about it. That was fine. Evan could handle weird. 

Speaking of Connor (because when was he not?), the delinquent and his outgoing sister had brought Evan along when they went pumpkin-picking. It was a lot of fun. Mr. Murphy was at work, and Mrs. Murphy stayed behind at the farm’s cider stand while the three teens wreaked havoc across the field in search of the perfect pumpkins. 

During this trip, a few noticeable facts came to light. One, Evan should really start to carry his inhaler around instead of leaving it on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, because running to keep up with those long-legged Murphy kids in cold weather proved to be a wheeze-inducing challenge. Two, Zoe knew a frightening amount of hayride-related songs that she was glad to serenade the boys with on their bumpy ride back to the cider stand. Evan didn't even know those types of songs existed. Three, Connor occasionally tied his hair back when the wind whipped it around too much. 

Four, Connor looked really nice with his hair tied back. 

Not that Evan had paid a lot of attention to it, he just… noticed. 

The fifth thing he learned about a Murphy in October wasn’t one definite fact, more like a weird experience that happened. Evan couldn’t make much sense of it. It was an accident, first off. He didn’t like sticking his nose anywhere without consent. 

In the case of this particular situation, he had been wandering around the drama classroom during a free period, because Connor was busy in English class (a subject that he actually enjoyed), and Evan had no one to hang out with. He could have gone to the library or the cafeteria, but he was worried he’d run into Jared and that was not something he was ready to face just yet. He was hoping that maybe Zoe would be around. She was always nice to talk to. 

And she was there, sitting atop the upright piano, dressed in her doodle-covered jeans and a flowy cream-colored top. She was mumble-singing contentedly and swinging her legs to the beat of the piano, which was being played by none other than Daniel Hanselmann. 

Evan’s first thought was, Huh, I didn’t know Danny could play the piano. And he was great at it, too. The notes were clear and elegant, and Daniel looked more relaxed than Evan had ever seen him. While it was true that Evan’s locker neighbor always projected a chaotic yet mellow energy, this version of himself appeared to be absent of his usual stress and tiredness. Daniel looked serene and unburdened. He looked happy. 

Evan was about to make his presence in the doorway known, to say hi or nice piano playing or something, but before he could Zoe started to talk. 

“Hey, Danny,” She said, a questioning lilt to her voice. Her companion hummed in response. “Wanna get coffee or something this weekend?” 

Daniel stopped playing. “Huh?” 

It was almost like some higher being had played a record-scratch noise. Zoe tucked some hair behind her ear and continued. “If you want. If you’re busy or something that’s totally fine… I just figured, you know, it would be fun.” 

Danny took a moment, but a grin slowly spread across his face and he leaned up towards Zoe. “Sure, it does sound fun. How’s Saturday, at that place next to Target, in the mall with the ferris wheel? We could go shopping after. Noon-ish?” 

Zoe stared. “Uh, yeah, I think that works.” 

Daniel’s smile grew wider still. “It’s a date.” 

Now, Evan wasn’t exactly well-versed in romance, but he was pretty sure that was flirting. 

But anyways. 

October was going smoothly providing Evan a merciful reprieve after the drama of the Jared Incident. He should have known it wasn’t going to last. 

Halloween was one giant candy-covered trainwreck lurking on the horizon.

Chapter Text

Three days before Halloween, Evan was scheduled to get his cast removed. 

His feelings about the whole ordeal were… complicated, to say the least. 

Because the cast served as a tangible reminder of a lot of bad things—the tree, dinner with the Murphys, Connor and Jared’s fight—but it also stood for some good stuff, too. Sometimes Evan would be unexpectedly dragged into a whirl of doubtful thoughts in his mind. When that happened, the menagerie of signatures on his left arm helped him claw his way out. 

They were real. His friends were real. And their names stared back up at him through thick and thin. 

His mom had taken a half day off work for the day, so that he wouldn’t have to go get his cast removed by himself. Evan was grateful. He didn’t know how he would have handled it on his own. Heidi was happy to hold his hand and talk to him about the weirdest ailments she’d seen people with around the hospital. Her throat was sore from sleepless nights and overworking, but that didn’t stop her from raising it to be heard over the buzzing saw on Evan’s left. The added noise wasn’t exactly pleasant, but certainly a welcome distraction. 

In a few mere seconds, Evan’s arm was free, and Connor’s name had been sliced right down the middle. He examined the cast as it sat in his lap. Alana’s impeccable print, Danny’s haphazard scrawl, Zoe’s loopy script, and Connor’s conspicuous capitals were all small imprints of their souls upon the rough material. It felt so weird not having them on him. Evan felt so exposed. 

In the end, he asked to keep the cast. 

“Where do you want to put that, bud?” Heidi asked, shutting the front door closed behind them. 

Evan made a noise of acknowledgement, barely moving his gaze from where it was locked on the cast in his hands. He had a weird tan line almost like a dark band around his upper arm where it was left out between the cast and his shirt sleeves. He wanted to keep the cast in his room. His mom could live without knowing immediately. Evan just felt like being quiet for a little while, after so many loud noises and strangers being pushed at him over the last hour. 

They watched Tangled, finally. And ate tacos. Also finally. 

“Are you doing anything special for Halloween this year?” Heidi asked, finishing off her second taco and placing her plate off to the side. 

Evan shook his head. He never had “plans” for Halloween. Every year he stayed home in a low-budget costume and doled out candy to everyone that stopped by. And that was how he liked it. He always found a non-scary Halloween movie to watch (this year he was thinking Hocus Pocus) and enjoyed the night in. Not a bad way to spend the holiday, in Evan’s opinion. 

“I heard Jared’s going to a party with some friends,” Heidi smiled hopefully. “Would you want to join them? It’ll be fun,” 

The blond rolled his eyes and sighed sheepishly as his mom nudged his shoulder playfully. “N-no, I like staying in. Seeing the cos—costumes and all. It’s fun.” 

Plus, it occurred to him, he could ask Connor for another movie night. They could watch Hocus Pocus together! A delightful flutter went off in his chest and Evan couldn’t help the smile that began to creep across his face at the thought of his friend. 

“I know you do,” Heidi hugged him from the side affectionately. “But it would be fun to hang out with your friends, right? I’m sure they’d love to see you, Evan.” 

Evan twisted his hands together and folded them. Holding his own hand wasn’t as fun nor as comforting but at least it gave him something to do. “I don’t know, Mom, I—I wouldn’t really h-have that many friends to see.” 

“Are you kidding?” His mom sounded incredulous. “I saw your cast, buddy! You’re so popular, sweetie, I think you have more friends than you know what to do with.” 

Heh. He supposed she was right. Evan did get overwhelmed sometimes when he had to talk to so many people in rapid succession. Not that he didn’t enjoy having friends, he just wasn’t used to it. “I—I guess.” 

“Why don’t you tell me about them?” Mom propped her head on her hands. “They must be nice, if they’re your friends.” 

Evan hesitated. He didn’t really want to tell his mom about everyone. Wait. That sounded wrong. He did want to be honest and open and all, but something held him back. He felt… protective of his friends. He didn’t want to share everything about them with his mom, because if he did, she might scare them away. Or something. Evan didn’t know. He enjoyed having a life that was private. A life that was his and his alone. 

But he loved his mom. And she deserved to know some things about his life. It was the least Evan could do to repay her for raising him and everything. 

“W-well, there’s Alana,” He pointed to her name along the wrist of the cast. “She’s the—the class president. She helps me with homework sometimes. A-and—and Daniel, he’s my—my locker buddy. And Zoe, f-from my film class. I talk to her about theatre sometimes. And Connor, he’s the one who signed my—my cast first.” 

Heidi smiled. “Do they make you happy?” 

Evan thought about Alana going out of her way to say hello in the hallways, and Daniel remembering Evan’s favorite band and recommending similar ones, and Zoe asking for his top three musicals for a get-together she was planning, and Connor scaring away anyone who tried to steal their spot in the corner of the library. And he smiled. “Yeah. They—they do.” 

“Good. I’m happy for you, bud.” Evan pretended not to see the tears gathering in the corners of his mom’s eyes and instead opted to stare at an empty spot behind her ear. 

Heidi seemed to notice her son’s discomfort and switched gears, perking up into a more energetic mode. “So. Do you know what you’ll be for Halloween yet?” 

Evan shrugged. “I dunno, I’ll pro—probably just use something from last year. Or something.” 

“Aw, that’s no fun!” She said lightly, snapping her fingers together a moment later. “Oh, I’ve got just the thing. Follow me.” 

Three nights later, Evan glanced uncomfortably at his reflection in the mirror and prayed for some trick-or-treaters to arrive so he could take a break from fiddling with the straps of his outfit. 

Heidi had dressed him as a gardener, with an old pair of denim overalls that used to be hers, a baby-pink-and-white plaid shirt usually saved for special occasions, her just-slightly-too-big hiking boots, a pair of beige gardening gloves, and a well-worn straw sunhat that Evan didn’t remember seeing ever in his life. His mom finished off the look by equipping him with a lavender-handled trowel and a dusting of sparkly highlighter on his cheeks. 

He told her he didn’t need to look so nice for anyone. She told him that the boy in the mirror would appreciate it. 

(He did.) 

One of the buttons on the aged overalls was looser than the other, after years of accommodating Heidi’s tendency to hold the right one out idly like the band of a suspender. Evan couldn’t stop jiggling the button in the space it had acquired over time. The clink of metal against metal was like a kiss to his ears. 

He’d left a bowl of candy on the doorstep, so if someone out the window looked too scary he could pretend not to be there. If they didn’t seem intimidating, Evan could open the door and say that he’d just gotten back from an outing. It was a plan that he’d developed over the course of many Halloweens. 

Evan had just about established a pattern of movie-watching and door-watching at the commercials when his phone rang, the ringtone and vibrations coming from his pocket strong enough to shake him out of any calm he had acquired. 

He hurried to pick it up, whoever it was. Connor could be in trouble… Or Zoe, or Daniel, or Alana. Any of them. 

Then he saw the caller ID. 

Jared. 

What could he want on Halloween night? Evan didn’t think they were in any position to be trick-or-treating together anytime soon. They were in a fight. Connor told him that usually friends didn’t talk when they were in a fight, unless it was to work out their differences. Or insult each other. Maybe Jared wanted to work out their differences? 

Evan remembered to breathe and think of calm, safe, home, and accepted the call. 

“Hello?” He asked the second the connection went through. No response. He tried again. “H-hello? Jared?” 

“Evannn,” Evan would recognize that drawl anywhere, no matter how weirdly exaggerated. “Evan, Evan, Evan, it’s meeee. Your best frienndd.” 

“Jared, are—are you okay?” He certainly didn’t sound like it. 

“I miss you, dude.” Jared sniffled loudly. Evan cringed at the crackled noise. “All you ever do is hang out with your stupid boyfriend all the time, and I get so lonely. I’m so lonely, Evan. Evan, Evan, I think I flirted with, like, Bridgit Mendler on accident. You remember Bridgit Mendler, from that movie Lemonade Mouth? The one with Lesbian Jesus in it? I think she’s here.” 

So, Jared was not, in fact, okay, if that speech was anything to go by. Evan glanced at the clock. Only eleven at night. He didn’t have a car. But he knew a few people who did. 

Connor was his first thought, but he’d told Evan in advance that he wouldn’t leave his room if the apocalypse happened Halloween night. Something about a party his sister was throwing. Evan understood wanting to avoid parties, but he guessed now he’d have to go wherever Jared had landed himself. 

Daniel had a car. He got it for his birthday. He told Evan about it the other day. He also said that Halloween wasn’t really his cup of tea, and that he probably wouldn’t be up to much if Evan wanted to talk about anything. 

With this in mind, Evan straightened his hat and spoke into his phone once again. “Hang on Jared, I’ll be there soon.”

Chapter Text

Daniel showed up looking just as worried as Evan was. When he asked why, the answer made him feel like an idiot. 

“You said he’s at a party, right?” The other boy ran his hand through his close-cut reddish curls. “Zoe. Zoe’s throwing a party. From what she told me, she invited a decent number of people. He’s probably there.” 

Right. Because Connor had told Evan about Zoe’s party, and Evan’s mom had told him that Jared would be at a party, and Zoe had a theatre friend who did kind of look like Bridgit Mendler if you squinted and stood on your head. How could Evan be so clueless? 

“Come on, we’d better hurry before your friend hurts himself.” Daniel jangled his keys in one hand. A good sound. Evan nodded, grabbed his trusty first-aid backpack (just in case), and followed his friend out the door. 

“Oh, by the way,” Daniel grinned. “Nice costume.” 

Evan’s face burned and he pulled at the sides of his hat. “I-I know, I look stupid.” 

“No, dude, it’s cute.” Danny assured him. “The whole flower aesthetic is very you.” 

“Th-thanks.” That was nice of him to say. 

Unfortunately, the Murphys’ house looked to be more crowded than either Evan or Daniel had expected. The latter placed his hands on his hips and surveyed the cars that lined both sides of the street. “She said she was having a few friends over…” 

“L-looks like the whole sc-school’s here,” Evan commented. He was probably wrong, but as someone whose entire friend group left room to spare on a forearm cast, he wasn’t used to gauging large groups of people. 

“Guess so.” Danny pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright. Let’s get your friend and get out of here.” 

Daniel knocked on the door after a full sixty seconds of the pair staring at it blankly. A black-haired girl in a witch costume that Evan recognized from the TV club’s weekly show opened the door for them, excitedly yelled something in a mix of Spanish and what sounded like Korean, and ushered them inside. 

From the moment Evan crossed the threshold, he knew he was going to hate this party more with every second. Some alt-pop was blaring through the house’s speaker system to the point where he could feel the bass rattling through his skull. He couldn’t turn without facing three other people he didn’t know, and the air smelled of sweat and cheap alcohol. Evan was surrounded, and the only escape was the door behind him. 

“You okay, man?” Daniel asked from beside him. 

Evan flinched. He hadn’t realized how tightly he was holding his shoulders until he took the time to relax them. He hated this. He hated this so much. “F-fine. I’m—I’m fine.” 

He shook himself and began wading through the crowd, every other exhale accompanied by an apology as he tried to avoid disturbing the drunken dance routines and kisses. It was an uncomfortably frightening few minutes before he finally spotted his family friend, sniffling pathetically into a red cup, reminding Evan of every teen coming-of-age movie to ever exist. 

“J-Jared!” He awkwardly contorted his way through the blob of people in the Murphy family’s living room over to his family friend. “I’m here! Are you okay? You—you d-didn’t sound okay, over—over the phone...” 

Jared’s face lit up at the sight of his savior. “Evannn, you came!” He slurred, gesturing vaguely in Evan’s direction with his cup in what he guessed was supposed to be an invitation to a hug. Evan did not want to hug Jared and whatever party germs he had on him right now. 

“I thought you were gonna hate me forever, man, I was so sad, you’re—like—my best friend—and I can’t feel my arms—” Jared babbled, his rectangular glasses sliding down his nose as he leaned forward. 

“Y-you—” Evan paused to crouch down and catch the evidently very intoxicated boy before he fell on his face. “You can’t feel your a-arms. Ok-okay. That’s—that’s not good. What did they put in your drinks?” 

“I can’t feel anything, dude! I’m a marshmallow!” Jared shouted, flailing his arms at his sides. 

The blonde made a placating gesture towards him. “Sh-shush. I’m going to get you out—out of here, okay? Let me help you up.” 

Before he could do so, however, a new voice from behind told his every fibre to stay still, clench up, defend. 

“Hey, who let the town idiot to the party? I was just starting to have a good time, too.” 

There was a boy in Evan’s gym class. He knew about the anxiety, and the meds, and definitely the stutter. He didn’t seem to like Evan very much. 

Evan turned around to stand defensively in front of Jared. It wasn’t a superhero-worthy stance, more like a cower with purpose, but at least it was something. He was used to hearing stuff from this guy. But he wouldn’t let him get his hands on Jared. 

“Oh, you got a little friend over there?” The boy’s friends laughed. They sounded drunk. They looked drunk. They smelled drunk. Evan hated it. He hated the smell most of all. “Is that your boyfriend, idiot? You’re gay now, too, aren’t you?” 

Not technically. He shifted his gaze to the floor and rubbed his freshly healed arm. He’d heard worse. His brain could do better. Would do better. Evan didn’t need a cliché bully to tell him what was wrong with him. 

“What, can’t even talk now? What a baby. I bet his parents don’t even love him, fucking waste of space that he is. Sounds stupid even when he does talk.” 

“Leave him alone, asshat.” 

Hey. Evan knew that voice. He wiped away the wetness that had begun to form in the corners of his eyes while his unfriendly classmate was distracted by the owner of one of Evan’s favorite voices, smooth like the strumming of a bass guitar and rough like the crackling of a fire. 

“Wow, Connor Murphy, I’m so intimidated.” The boy sounded sarcastic and childish. Evan thought he was the one who was supposed to act like an idiot, but maybe it was the other way around. “Cute nail polish, did you have a spa day with your sister or something?” 

“Yeah. Actually.” Connor was wearing a black-and-white skeleton hoodie, something that Evan wasn’t entirely sure was exclusively worn during the Halloween season. He looked like what would happen if Hades was a sleep-deprived high schooler (so, if Hades was a high schooler). “It only cost me five bucks. Got a problem?” 

Evan’s classmate opened his mouth like a codfish. 

“Before you answer that,” Alana Beck stepped beside Connor, wearing the antennae and wings of a monarch butterfly. “I’d like you to consider the numerous times I’ve caught you sneaking out of peer tutoring sessions, and how forgiving I tried to be.” 

She smiled saccharinely and tilted her head innocently. Her victim spluttered. “This—this is stupid, anyways. Come on guys, this party blows.” 

The guy stomped off alongside his band of merry men, leaving Evan feeling a tiny bit safer. He made sure to make a lot of sincere eye contact as he thanked his friends. 

“No problem at all, Evan!” Alana chirped. “I was happy to help. He needed a taste of his own medicine, I think. It’ll do him some good.” 

“You alright?” Connor asked him, arms crossed. He would seem nonchalant to any passersby, but Evan could see that he was just as on-edge as Evan felt. 

He nodded. “Y-yeah. Jared isn’t, though. I th-think the drinks were spike—spiked or something.” 

“Damn.” Connor craned his neck to catch sight of the inebriated Jared, immobile against the wall. “He’s not doing so hot, that’s for sure.” 

“Let’s take him back to my house.” Alana suggested. “It would be best to keep an eye on him, I’ve got plenty of water to make sure he doesn’t get alcohol poisoning, and we could throw a little party of our own! It’ll be so fun!” 

Evan caught Connor’s eye and the latter smirked. The blond couldn’t help but smile slightly in return. They were doing it, then. 

He saw Daniel on their way out, smiling somewhat nervously as a pirate Zoe Murphy chattered animatedly to him about something. The redhead gave him an approving nod to go on without him after some interesting hand signaling on Evan’s part. 

Alana had a maroon sedan with only two doors, so loading everyone in (notably the drunk one) was a hassle. With long-legged Connor in the passenger seat and a half-unconscious Jared sprawled out next to him, Evan felt cramped in the miniscule space offered to him. He really needed to stop getting into uncomfortable situations in cars. He liked cars. He wanted to do something he liked in one, for once. 

The Beck house was a modest two-story colonial with a Porsche in the driveway and a sign on the lawn proclaiming to the world that their daughter was an honor student at Evan’s school. He pointed it out to Alana. 

She laughed. “Yeah, I know it’s embarrassing. My parents are my biggest cheerleaders. And definitely the loudest.” 

“It’s not emba—embarrassing. It’s nice, that they care so much.” Evan said. Connor’s hand was a comforting weight against his own. He didn’t remember grabbing it in the first place. Jared shuffled along between them, using their shoulders and joined arms as a support system. 

“I suppose.” Alana opened the front door and led the group into a cozy front room with cream walls and a couch perfect for Jared to pass out on. “Let me grab some Tylenol or something for our friend here. You guys make yourselves at home. There’s water and soda in the fridge, and chips in the pantry if you want them. I’ll be right back.” 

Water sounded amazing. Evan made his way into the adjacent kitchen, and heard Connor follow behind him. He took a bottle for himself and handed a soda can to his friend, who reached for it gratefully. 

“I like your costume.” He remarked after a hearty sip. 

Evan’s cheeks warmed and he glanced downward self-consciously. “Th-thanks. Yours is nice, too.” 

“Thanks.” Connor answered. “It’s not really a costume so much as a thing Zoe shoved me into to make me look semi-festive, but still. Thanks. For getting me out of that party, also. It’s not nearly as fun when you’re sober and trying to have good, clean fun with Alana Beck of all people.” 

“You two are friends?” That was an odd pair: the school’s most notorious rebel and the class president. 

“I guess so.” The taller boy wandered over to a vase of flowers on the kitchen counter. “I started going to peer tutoring every once in a while… and she is supposed to be my tutor, so…” 

Evan tried to fight the ear-splitting grin working its way across his face. “That’s—that’s good. That you’re doing that. I’m glad t-to hear it.” 

Connor smiled softly. It was nice. For a moment, the pair was content to simply stand in the safety of the other’s company. Evan was starting to zone out by the time his companion spoke once more. 

“I’m not sorry that I stole your letter at the beginning of this year.” 

The freckled boy stopped jangling the loose strap of his overalls to meet Connor’s gaze with wide eyes. He pondered his next words very carefully. And Connor didn’t mind waiting. 

“I’m not sorry I f-followed you after you took—took my letter.” 

Connor smiled again. Evan smiled back. “You’re—you’re probably the best thing that happened to me this year.” He confessed shyly. “I don’t know wh-where I’d be without you.” 

This silence wasn’t like the easy one of just minutes earlier. Connor was staring at Evan with an unidentifiable emotion behind his eyes, and began drawing closer. The latter felt frozen, feeling a confusing mix of sensations as his chest sank and his stomach flipped. 

“Me neither.” The brunet said lowly. He was so close. “You’re something else, Evan.” 

He drew nearer still, leaning downward so his face was level with Evan’s own under the brim of his straw hat. Evan, in turn, tilted his head slightly upwards without much thought. Their noses were a hair’s breadth apart. Connor’s breath smelled like Pepsi and chocolate chip cookies, and felt weird as it mingled with Evan’s and landed on his face. On his mouth. Connor was going to kiss him, Evan realized very suddenly. Connor was going to kiss him and he was going to kiss Connor and he was going to enjoy it immensely— 

“Guys, I set Jared down on the couch with lots of supplies.” Alana called from the living room. “Could you grab a few waters for him?” 

“Sure, Alana.” Connor responded. He withdrew from Evan casually, as though he wasn’t just about to kiss his possibly-best-friend on the mouth. “I’ll get them.” He told him. 

All Evan could manage was a dumb nod and a nearly inaudible, “Uh huh,” as Connor took a few water bottles from the fridge and strolled out of the room, leaving the blond alone to stew in his thoughts, the most prominent of which was, What the heck just happened and what does it mean? 

The first part was easy. What just happened was that Connor Murphy had intended to kiss him, and Evan was prepared to reciprocate on instinct. The second part was trickier. He knew at least one thing, and it hit him like a ton of bricks as the reality sunk in. 

He had a big, fat crush on Connor. 

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

Evan didn’t get crushes. Not often, at least.

He remembered Jared telling him excitedly about his crush on one of the girls in their third grade class. He wasn’t too descriptive on what crushes felt like, other than getting “butterflies” when he saw her. Evan didn’t get butterflies when he looked at anyone, but he was worried that if he didn’t pick a girl to like then he’d be labeled as weird. So he picked a random classmate and tried to convince Jared (and himself) that he had feelings for her. He didn’t last for a whole year before giving up the act.

He had crushed on Zoe Murphy from fifth through eighth grade, and that was it. He half-forced the feelings down by freshman year and had almost made it out of high school scot-free.

She caught his eye for punching one of the boys in their grade in the eye. He had a shiner for weeks afterward. Later, Evan discovered that the boy had called her older brother a freak for having longer hair.

Her victorious grin didn’t waver for a full day, and it was the most beautiful thing his fifth grade eyes had ever beheld.

However, Evan realized pretty quickly that Zoe was miles out of his league. She was pretty, and only became more so as the years went on. And she was confident, so confident. Evan was not either of those things. She was a shooting star. He was just another aimlessly floating rock.

Zoe gave him butterflies, once upon a time. And now, it seemed quite obvious what those fluttery tempests he got when he looked at Connor were. This was not good. Evan was going to mess up the best friendship he had.

Speaking of the boy in question, his actions after The Incident only made Evan more confused and frustrated. He was acting like it never happened.

When Evan joined him and Alana in the living room, Connor barely so much as spared him a glance. He merely plopped down on the couch, shifting Jared’s half-awake form aside to make room for Evan beside him. The blond obligingly did so, forced by the confines of the love seat to stay closer to his friend than he would’ve normally. Somehow, the brunet’s arm found its way over Evan’s shoulders. His face and neck felt like they were on fire, which meant that A) the Beck house had an over-active heating system, or B) (the more likely option) Evan was blushing like mad. Is this flirting? It feels like it’s flirting! Oh my god! What the heck!

Connor laughed at the show on the screen, and Alana was shocked and appalled to discover that he had never seen Spongebob before.

“I was never allowed to watch Nickelodeon,” He explained. “You know, because I’m a good Catholic boy.”

“Connor, you’re Protestant.” Evan said thoughtlessly, barely shifting his focus from the space he was blankly staring into.

Alana burst out laughing, and he flushed with self-consciousness under the attention. He looked to his right, and Connor was smiling. “Technically atheist, actually, but whatever floats your boat.”

The three of them didn’t talk much after that, happy to sit and absorb the childish humor before them. Evan hadn’t watched Spongebob in some time, because he didn’t have cable, but it was too silly for him to get worked up over most of the time, so it was nice. He had enough to worry about right now, like how Connor was getting up, where was Connor going, was Connor mad at him, what did he do wrong—

Connor came back less than a minute later with one of the gardenias from the vase in the kitchen, and secured it on the brim of Evan’s hat without preamble. His legs were so long, and he was wearing black jeans that bunched up around his ankles, and this was really going to be a problem, wasn't it.

“To finish the look.” He said. Evan tried not to evaporate on the spot. Alana was none the wiser to this exchange, too wrapped up in brushing the fur of her tabby cat, Nala. (Evan had known Nala for just under a month and this was his first time seeing her in person. He would die for Nala.)

The episode ended, and they all took turns grabbing handfuls of potato chips from a bag on the coffee table. Evan pretended not to scream internally and tried not to tense up too noticeably when his and Connor’s hands brushed together. It sort of worked. Connor did give him a weird look though, but maybe it was unrelated. Hopefully it was unrelated.

“So, if you never watched Spongebob,” Alana asked, “What did you watch as a kid?”

The lanky boy leaned back into the couch, smiling thinly. “Movies, mostly. My dad’s got a collection in the basement that takes up a whole bookshelf. My mom never let me watch much TV anyway, so I stuck with movies.”

“What’s your favorite one?” Alana asked. The Shining, Evan thought, but before Connor could confirm, the girl gasped, suddenly apparently struck with an idea. “Wait, hold that thought! We should play truth or dare!”

Evan cringed minutely. He didn’t like truth or dare, even when he knew that the people he was playing with wouldn’t make him do or say anything he wasn’t comfortable with. Still, it was a lot of trust to hand over, more than he’d really allowed anyone to have since he was really small.

But he was sitting on Alana Beck’s couch with Connor’s arm around him, a flower on his hat and his best-family-friend deliriously watching cat videos at his side. He was safe. He was with friends. He was allowed to have fun. He was allowed to trust them.

He turned to the boy on his right with a questioning look. Connor shrugged. He turned back to Alana.

“Alright,” The two of them said, in unison.

Alana giggled. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you do anything crazy. It might surprise you, but I’m not as much of a party animal as you’d think.”

Evan tried to mask his snort as a cough. Alana, a party animal. The thought was ludicrous. Judging by the slight upturn of Connor’s lips, he thought so too.

“So, Connor, truth or dare?” Alana beamed. Evan had the sudden and vivid image of Alana poring over a sleepover handbook that would live on the shelf of an average fourth-grade girl.

“Truth.” He relaxed further into the couch. Something told Evan he just didn’t want to have to move for whatever dare Alana would throw his way.

“What is your favorite movie?” She leaned forward.

Ah. That should have been an easy one. Evan was surprised to see Connor cross his arms guardedly, cheeks coloring to a slight rose. Was it not really The Shining?

“I like eighties teen dramas.” He muttered, the blond right next to him barely able to catch the statement. “Like, John Hughes kind of stuff.”

“What?” Alana breathed in awe. Evan could only sit dumbly.

“My favorite is The Outsiders, but, you know, I like the classic Molly Ringwald trio and everything. They’re good movies.”

Evan didn’t like the way Connor said that last part, as though he had to defend his taste in media simply because it didn’t fit the image that seemed to push itself upon him at every turn. He was allowed to like whatever he wanted. People were so much more than the simplified generalizations everyone was so keen to shove upon them. Connor could wear dresses and heels for all he cared and Evan would still find him impressive and intimidating.

That. That was actually something he should probably stop thinking about right now.

“Evan, your turn.” The brunet was quick to deflect. Evan willed the heat out of his face and shifted his attention to Connor. He refused to think about the last time their faces were this close to each other.

“Dare.” The word slipped out unbidden and Evan resolutely ignored any possible implications it might have had. He was a compulsive liar, this was just his way of avoiding an awkward situation. Nothing more.

“Ooh, I’ve got one!” Jared came back to the world of the living to grace the group with his presence. “Give Gerard Gay over there a big ol’ smooch, for science, will ya?”

And the heat came rushing back, full force. “I-I—I wouldn’t—I don’t—”

“You don’t have to do it, Evan.” Alana said comfortingly.

Connor rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah, he’s just drunk. You can do a headstand or something; you don’t have to listen to him.”

Evan bit his lip harshly. No, he didn’t have to listen to Jared. He was in charge of his own actions. Nobody could tell him what to do but himself.

So he surged forward and brushed his lips against Connor’s cheek.

That’s all it was. A split second of contact that ended as suddenly as it had started. Still, Evan was on fire. He stared, and Connor stared back.

He wanted to say something about it, but the words got jumbled in his brain before they could even migrate to his throat. Instead, he turned to Alana. “Your turn.”

Evan didn’t get home until two a.m., and even by his insomniac standards he was starting to feel tired. He pushed the door open with his head swimming, and immediately came face to face with his mom.

“Where were you?” She asked. Heidi looked exhausted, emotionally and physically. Evan could relate. “I called. Five times.”

“Oh.” He pulled out his phone. Yeah, there the notifications were. If he didn’t change his attitude towards noise on a dime, maybe he would leave the sound on more often. “Sorry.”

Heidi exhaled long-sufferingly. “Where were you?” She repeated.

“Party.” Full sentences eluded him. He was lucky his mom was used to deciphering his monosyllabic messages. “W-went to—to get Jared.”

“Was he okay?” Evan nodded. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah. I’m fine. Just—just tired.” He lied. It was a good thing he didn’t pick truth. He was awful at it.

“Alright, honey, can you please go right to bed?” His mom enveloped him in a loose hug, with plenty of room to escape if he needed it. “You’re lucky you’re off tomorrow.”

He hummed, taking in the soft feelings and smells of safety. Evan was lucky to have his mom.

She kissed his forehead, and he dragged his feet into his bedroom, flopping unceremoniously onto the mattress.

Sleep wouldn’t come, no matter how he tried to relax. He needed to tell someone.

Truth or dare, Evan asked himself.

Truth, he answered.

Who did he know who would understand? Who wouldn’t judge him, wouldn’t tease him, wouldn’t offer bad advice? Who did Evan know who had their life together, and knew how romance was even supposed to work?

To Zoe Murphy:

I think I might have a crush on your brother.

From Zoe Murphy:

UMMMM HOLY FUCK WHAT

To Zoe Murphy:

Please help me.

Chapter Text

Evan woke up on November 2nd feeling, pardon his French, like absolute shit. He practically rolled out of bed and immediately wanted to die. His eyes drooped and his chest hurt and he wondered, absently, why his mouth felt like it was filled with cotton.

Then the events of the day before came rushing back to him.

His mom got a phone call around noon. She waited until after dinner to tell him what it was about, for fear of upsetting him.

She upset him anyway.

He didn’t have the time or the emotional fortitude to be thinking about that right now. School was, regretfully, a thing that existed.

The bus ride was as dreary as ever. Evan pushed his head against the window and attempted to close his ears from the noisy surroundings, making a valiant effort to ignore the rattling of the glass on his forehead. He would rather focus his efforts on that than think about The Call.

Three-quarters of the way to school, his head shot up and he swore. He had a test today. And he didn’t study for it. He was going to fail. He was a failure. He’d fail the test and fail the class and then he’d never get a scholarship, which meant he’d never get into college, and then he’d never get a life— And so on.

“Okay, okay, okay, okay…” He whispered, already rifling through his bag to find his notebook. He’d be fine. He just had to study, maybe he could ask for help during lunch or something.

He checked his schedule. Nope! He had the test during first period. Fantastic. Fuck.

The walk to his first class was nearly insanity-inducing. He still couldn’t bring himself to talk at anything above a whisper, and the air around the blond seemed to push in in an effort to suffocate him. All he could try to focus on was the notebook in his hands, dodging people left and right as he desperately attempted to make heads or tails of the alien equations to no avail.

To be honest, Evan didn’t remember most of the test itself. He kind of blacked out. He knew the basic math of the test, of course, the grade would just be a question of how well he’d managed to cram a chapter’s worth of formulas into his brain.

The most prominent memory he held of the whole ordeal had nothing to do with the test, but rather, his own nerves over said test.

His leg kept bouncing. Ordinarily, this was no cause for alarm. While a generally stationary person, occasional bouts of anxiety would sometimes prompt him to sudden bursts of movement, most commonly manifesting in the Leg Bounce.

So, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was Evan’s chair.

This chair, first of all, had begun to drive him nuts the moment he sat down. One of the legs had somehow managed to lose its bottom, leaving the seat itself in a very unbalanced position that shifted with every slight movement of Evan’s leg. He didn’t like when things were uneven, especially when those things were touching him. If he scratched one wrist, he did the other for the sake of symmetry. He couldn’t place only one hand in his pocket, it had to be both. He always carried a backup pencil, but insisted on sharpening each one after the faintest use. Hit the stairs accidentally with one foot? He’d make sure to hit one with the other on his way up.

But he digressed. The point was, the chair bothered him greatly. And that was without the squeaking.

See, the obviously old chair wasn’t just missing a foot, the support under the seat had also come loose, prompting it to emit a high-pitched sound every time the pressure upon it shifted.  Thus, the leg bouncing was a lot noisier and more distracting than usual.  Evan kept his head down and wished on every deity that could possibly exist that his classmates weren’t staring at him.

In short, the test did not go very well.

The next period was English, a class that Evan usually didn’t have much trouble with, except for the fact that today they had a substitute teacher. Substitutes had to send their attendance to the office manually, and they always needed a volunteer to run it down there. When today’s teacher asked for a helping hand, nobody batted an eye.

Evan squirmed uncomfortably. Someone would speak up. Someone had to feel bad for the obviously tired substitute, besides the kid with crippling social anxiety.

A beat passed. Nothing. It reminded him of that thing Alana had told him about the other day, the diffusion of responsibility. Everyone else was thinking the same thing he was. Someone else will do it.

He grimaced and reluctantly raised his hand.

The teacher looked thrilled, which made him feel a bit better. “Thank you. Just send this down to the office.”

The office. “Wh-which o-one is that?”

“The attendance office.”

Oh. right. Because of the attendance. Made sense. Evan shoved the information into his mind— attendance office, attendance office, attendance office —but each time he recited it to himself the words seemed to slip further out of his brain until they came out through his ears.

He ended up missing ten minutes of English class, and over half of that time was spent calming himself down in the middle of the hallway.

This streak of bad luck did not let up come lunchtime.

He joined the mass of students about to throw their money into overpriced trash-food, picking out a small container of French fries, the cheapest food on the menu, to keep his stomach satisfied.

The student in front of him punched her student ID into the machine, and Evan wasn’t sure exactly why it set him off so badly, but there was something about seeing numbers besides his numbers, the right numbers, being typed out threw him for a loop. Way more than it should have. It felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back, as all the stress of the past two days came tumbling down onto his consciousness all at once.

Evan ended up eating his fries in the bathroom. At least the noise wasn’t as bad as the cafeteria, and the stall allowed for some greatly needed privacy.

A part of himself tugged insistently at the same thought, Go to the library! Why didn’t you go there in the first place, you idiot? It’s safe in there. You know that.

The library did sound tempting. It was where he went for lunch every day, after all. And Evan did like routine. Why didn’t he go there in the first place? He guessed in the cacophony of sensations in his head it may have slipped his mind.

That was fine. He could tell Connor why he was late. However, as he reached a hand towards the lock of the stall door, the main door to the bathroom swung open and slammed shut.

Evan must have jumped a foot in the air, and it took every ounce of his being not to yelp at the sound. The door wasn’t usually that loud. It could be abrasive on occasion, sure, but this was outright painful—a harsh smack to the eardrum. It sounded like the hinge might have been broken.

Two more people entered the bathroom. Slam. Slam. Evan clapped his hands over his ears. He didn’t like this at all. Too much. Too many sounds, too many smells, too many anything. He barely registered the dull whine that began to build up in his throat until the door slammed again four times in quick succession and the vocalization spiked involuntarily at the noise. At this point his thoughts were nothing but a mess of white noise and irrational panic.

“Evan, is that you in there?”

There was a pair of familiar beat-up converse sneakers standing outside his stall, attached to spindly legs clad with a typical pair of jeans. “It’s Connor.”

Yes, it is Evan! He wanted to yell. Your friend, Evan! But the lump in his throat stubbornly refused to let him talk. Instead, he opted to reach up from the floor to turn the latch and push the door open a crack.

“Hey,” The brunet said softly. “We have to stop meeting like this.”

Evan huffed a silent laugh at the poorly-timed joke. He appreciated the effort.

“You alright?” Evan started to nod, but thought better of it. He was trying to tell the truth, now. The truth was a vehement shake of the head.

“Stop that.” Connor crouched down in front of him and pried his hand away from his mouth. Huh. Evan hadn’t even realized he was doing that. He opted to alternatively keep his hands busy with the hem of his shirt. “You’re gonna have to start wearing chapstick like me if you keep doing that to your mouth.”

Evan leveled him with an expression that he hoped conveyed one very clear thought: You don’t say. It was called a nervous habit for a reason. Evan was always nervous. Therefore, he did what he had to do to alleviate the stress. So what if he constantly looked like a bear had mauled his mouth in a fit of rage? Whatever worked.

Connor took a seat beside Evan on the tiled floor. His ever-present jacket smelled faintly of earth and smoke and was ever so soft against him. The shorter leaned sideways into the sensation, resting his cheek atop his shoulder. He let himself be enveloped and consumed by nothing but the boy at his side.

Connor’s sleeves slid down slightly as he brought them to rest on his bent knees. Evan could see the leather bracelet and the rings and a few new, handmade, braided and colorful wristlets, and under all the ornamentation, the faded and plentiful scars. He reached over and toyed absently with a pink-and-yellow band. The light material was pleasant to move between his fingers, and the frayed edge reminded him of his own shirt, which was nice.

“Do you want to talk about it?” The taller broke the silence carefully, delicately. Like Evan was something to be cared for.

That was a simple question that warranted a complicated answer. More than anything, Evan wanted to release the growing tension that had been forming in his chest since two days prior. He was stressed out of his mind, the recent events weighing down on him like a heavy backpack. He wanted to tell someone, someone he trusted, and there was nobody he trusted more than Connor.

On the other hand, Evan was ninety percent sure that forcing himself to talk around the lump in his throat would result in him crying. He already had cried in front of Connor on more than one occasion, and really didn’t want to make a habit of it.

Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth , he scolded himself. Lying got him nowhere helpful and made him feel bad. He told Dr. Sherman and himself that he’d work on that, and he meant to keep his word.

“My—my mom got a ph-phone call, yester-yesterday.” Evan’s voice was squeaky and garbled from lack of use and surplus of emotion. Connor hummed in interest and shuffled closer.

“And she told me—she—she told me,” He had to steady his breathing, otherwise he’d start to hyperventilate and fall back down the spiral that Connor had been so kind to pull him out of. “She told me that my—my d-dad wants me to visit for Thanksgiving.”

Evan couldn’t help the way his voice wavered as he spoke. Nor could he help how his head dropped to stare at his feet by the end of the sentence, or how hot tears began to run down his cheeks. Knowing he was an ugly crier, he wiped at the unwelcome salty sadness frustratedly. This was so stupid. He hadn’t cried over his dad in years. He felt like a little kid all over again, waiting for a truck to come and take away his mom, too.

Connor didn’t offer any words of pity, or ask any further about why he was so upset. He understood enough. Evan had told him before that his father was a jerk, and that was all the context he needed.

“Do you want to go?” He asked, when Evan’s breaths had steadied and his tears had dried.

Evan shook his head. “I—I don’t know.”

“Well,” Connor looped an arm around his companion. “Nobody is forcing you, alright? Say the word, and I’ll fly up there myself to kick his ass—whether you’re there with him, or not.”

The freckled boy let out as close to a giggle as he could manage after a meltdown like the one he’d just had. “I be-believe you.”

“Come on.” Connor hauled himself up to his feet and held out a hand. “Let’s go raid the library. I haven’t read The Great Gatsby in a while.”

Evan liked that book. He was sure he’d like listening to Connor read it even more. He smiled and took the hand waiting for him.

Chapter Text

November was moving at a pace that was very much too fast for Evan. His classes were full steam ahead because midterms were only two months away (which totally wasn’t keeping him up at night). His mom was even less present than usual as she began preparing herself for her own exams. Evan was really proud of her for managing to handle school and a job on top of the plethora of problems that he brought into her life. He tried to make time to help her go through a chapter’s worth of flashcards when they spent time together that wasn’t at three a.m. He wasn’t sure how much of a help he was really being, but he liked being able to participate in Heidi’s education in some way. He wanted to support his mom in any way he could.

The monotony of if-Thursday-was-a-month was starting to mess with Evan’s head after a couple of weeks. School, eat, study, stare at the ceiling, sleep, repeat. He almost missed the drama that being close with both Jared and Connor had brought. Almost.

The only reason he thought of those times with slightly rosy glasses was because in November’s steady beat of routine, his mind was left with nothing to occupy it other than pining over Connor and thinking about Dad. While both were torturous pastimes, Evan far preferred the former to the latter.

Thinking of Connor was nice. After all, he was pretty sure he had a crush on the boy. Evan liked to busy his mind with images of soft hair, cool hands, and lips twisted into a satisfied smirk. It was hard to keep his brain in check when he was actually with his best friend, but Evan managed. He had a stutter and anxiety anyways. There wasn’t much of a noticeable difference. Admittedly, over recent months he had become more comfortable around the brunet, but now his on-edge demeanor had a simple explanation for those who wanted it. They could easily assume that he was thinking about the other thing. About his dad.

November was flying by and Evan hated it because Thanksgiving was coming up quickly as Evan’s trainwreck of a life careened towards it and he still hadn’t decided.

It was eating at him from the inside. He couldn’t sit through a conversation about the upcoming break with anyone without his brain conjuring unhelpful and unwanted snippets of memories from when his parents were together. But despite the hurt each one brought, Evan couldn’t dispel the gnawing in his stomach that yearned for his dad’s approval. Maybe Dad had changed since he last saw him. It had been a long time.

Evan had never been any good with decisions. In a way, he was kind of glad his choice of colleges was so limited. If he had his pick of any university in the world, he wouldn’t know what he’d do with himself. The bigger the decision, the more it ate at him from the inside yet frightened him into leaving it undecided. The opportunity to meet his dad again was making him positively miserable.

A sudden thunk against his bedroom window distracted him from his stupor and he shifted his vacant stare from his laptop to the source of the disturbance. The metaphorical gears in his head began to churn in earnest as he processed the situation. Someone was outside his house. Who was outside his house? Was it Bigfoot? A serial killer? The Mothman?

He nervously stuck two fingers in between the blinds and made an eyehole for himself. Nope, none of those things. He breathed a sigh of relief. Then he sucked it back in as he observed who had caused the noise.

Connor was standing a few feet away from the slightly elevated house, a pebble in hand serving as an indication of what had hit against Evan’s window. Behind his friend stood Alana and Zoe, smiling at him innocently. It was his friends. His friends were here.

“B-be there in a second,” The blond tried to notify them. It was no use through the window. He contemplated spelling it out in ASL for them to read (a skill he hadn’t dropped from his near-mute days), but he knew for a fact Connor’s grasp of sign language consisted of exactly two phrases— “thank you” and “fuck you.” Instead, he held a single finger up to the group and scampered around the hallway to the front door.

“H-hey,” He greeted, already instinctively pulling the door wider to grant them all entrance. “What’re you guys—what’re you, um, doing here?”

“You’ve been acting so down lately.” Zoe told him sympathetically. “This is a feel-better party! Surprise! Danny wanted to come, but his sister had a dance recital.”

“Oh.” That was… really nice. Evan didn’t know what to do with himself. Either Jared had set the bar depressingly low, or he just had really great friends these days. Possibly a combination of the two. “Th-thank you. Uh. You can c-come in, if you want.”

Evan had to admit, the company did manage to lift his spirits a bit. Zoe and Connor fought over what type of music they should play while Alana unpacked and set up a game of Monopoly she had brought along. It certainly didn’t hurt his mood when Evan got first pick of the game pieces to be his. He picked the thimble. He always picked the thimble.

He enjoyed games like this, slow-paced and forgiving, offering a steady, secure route for those who chose to play that way and a risky one for those who did not. Evan’s personal strategy was simple. He bought whichever properties he came across first. He didn’t see much reason behind placing so much blind faith in the dice to shoot exclusively for the more expensive lots. That strategy was the very reason Zoe found herself struggling to pay rent as she struggled around the board.

Normally, Evan was aware, his insistence to check over the manual to make sure they were playing correctly would come off as irritating in a group setting. He was lucky to have friends who didn’t mind. They treated him as if sticking his nose in the Monopoly manual every time he passed GO was the most average thing in the world. He was grateful for that.

When Connor nearly flipped over the board in a fit of rage as his cat was forced to pay yet another fee for landing on Alana’s top hat’s Boardwalk space, the four decided that maybe it would be best if they took a break from the intense gameplay. Zoe asked if there was any popcorn, and Evan directed them to the sparse pantry towards the back of the kitchen. The only reason he knew there was any popcorn was because he’d purposefully stocked up several movie-nights-with-Connor ago.

“I th-think,” He piped up when the room had gone silent and Connor had begun twisting the hair tie on his wrist in a hypnotic pattern, “I think I’m gonna—gonna do it.”

His companion shifted, stray sunlight from the window behind him casting a glow around him as he turned to face the blond, pale skin like porcelain being warmed by the sun’s fire. Fuck, he was beautiful. This wasn’t a new realization, but Evan still started at its insistence. He hurried to tamp down the thought and school his face into something other than the lovesick and goofy smile that he felt beginning to spread across his cheeks. He couldn’t afford to be feeling like this now.

“Visit your dad, you mean?” Connor asked. His expression was completely serious. Evan was grateful that he was taking a matter that could seem so trivial to some as being as important as Evan felt it was.

“Y-yeah.” Evan hummed as he tried to organize his thoughts into words, wringing his hands as he did so. “I mean, it’ll—it’ll be scary, but I was th-thinking about it, and. I would be madder with myself if I—if I didn’t go, because I-I’d just be thinking, all—all the time, like, what would’ve happened if you—you did go? Like, what if—what if this is the o-only time you get to see your dad again and you just d-don’t do it because you’re scared?”

“Well, what do you find scariest about it?” Connor tilted his head, his hair falling sideways with the movement.

Evan sniffed. “It’s—some of it’s st-stupid.”

“I guarantee you it’s not.” The brunet’s mouth formed a hard line. “Being scared isn’t stupid.”

You’re not stupid, is what he meant to say. Evan pretended not to hear that unspoken comfort, because he was a senior in high school who shouldn’t be craving validation so hungrily with the enthusiasm of a small child.

He breathed harshly to steady himself. “I’m scared of my dad, and what he—what he might say about me. I’m scared of his wife. She could hate me for n-not being her kid. I’m scared of his kids, because what if th-they’re mean, too? I’m scared of their house, it could be too big or in a—a weird place. I’m scared of the plane ride. I’m scared of ac-accidentally eating something I’m allergic to, or—or forgetting my inhaler, or getting k-kidnapped. Connor, I’m a-afraid of the smells.”

Connor stopped him at that. “What do you mean, you’re afraid of the smells?”

“W-well, you know how I get with—with sensory stuff.” Connor nodded and Evan blushed uselessly. “Going to another state and staying i-in a new house might be a lot. And I never really liked how my d-dad smelled to be-begin with. I’m just w-worried that I’ll get there and hate it, and then have to—have to breathe through my mouth the whole t-time and look like an idiot.”

Close your mouth, boy, you look stupid like that. Have you looked over those spelling words yet? No son of mine’s going to be an idiot.

“Okay, first of all, you wouldn’t look like an idiot.” The taller boy frowned. “And could you bring anything that you really like the smell of? That way you can smell it whenever you start feeling gross.”

That was a decent idea. Evan used to have a teddy bear that helped him with that. He’d bring it along with him wherever he went, and for a while being in public places could be easily made more tolerable by sticking his face into the soft, familiar fur and breathing. Dad took the bear away when he turned five. He was getting too old for stuffed animals, anyways.

“You could always borrow my jacket if you wanted.” Connor’s voice sliced through Evan’s mind and all of his cognitive functions briefly went offline. “I mean, I assume you don’t hate how I smell because we’re friends, but it’s totally up to you. I don’t care.”

Shit. Holy shit. Connor was going to let him wear the jacket. Evan was going to be allowed to wear the jacket. He nodded jerkily when he regained the ability to move.

“Don’t make this fucking weird, alright?” His friend warned, tapping his painted fingernails along the elbows of his crossed arms.

“Y-yeah. N-no. I—I won’t.” He was going to wear his best friend’s trademark jacket when he went away for the express purpose of having Connor’s scent on him. Not weird in the slightest. Evan was very normal.

Zoe and Alana returned to the living room bearing copious amounts of popcorn, and Evan rushed to get his hands on a bowl. The sooner he got popcorn in his mouth, the harder it would be to put his foot in it.

Alana ended up winning Monopoly. Because of course she did.

Chapter Text

Evan was starting to think that maybe going to the airport alone was a bad idea.

But his mom had work, and he felt bad enough for making her late when he hugged her and tried not to cry outside the entrance, so alone he went. It was singlehandedly the second-most frightening experience of his life, the first being the time he almost died falling from a tree.

He was tempted, two days prior, to ask one of his friends to at least walk with him to the TSA line. Evan wouldn’t have to talk to many people after the security check. He was most worried about checking his suitcase, something that somebody else could easily come in for.

However, because the universe was dead set on making Evan as uncomfortable as possible at all times, the Murphy siblings were away on a ski trip, Alana had a scholarship interview to prepare for, and Danny was busy dealing with his visiting grandparents.

There was always Jared, but Evan still hadn’t mustered up the courage to talk to him and he wasn’t eager to now.

So, he was alone in an airport making a fool out of himself every time he was spoken to. He tried to make the most of it. He had headphones to drown out the sounds, and, like he said, once he got past the TSA, he didn’t have to do too much in the human interaction department. For all its controversial, brain-melting reputation, Evan’s cell phone proved to be extremely useful in this circumstance.

Sitting in between a sleeping businessman and a stone-faced woman, the blond busied his fretting mind and shaking hands with the only two games his phone storage allowed for: pixel art and crosswords. The coloring helped him relax and the crosswording kept his thoughts occupied. If he was trying to come up with a racehorse whose name started with Z, he wouldn’t be thinking about how much he disliked airports, and the smell of airports, and how trapped he felt at this very moment, and how badly he wanted to crawl out of his skin.

Evan was so scared. Scared beyond the usual baseline of fear that came with an anxiety diagnosis. An anxiety attack was about to rear its ugly head in the middle of the airport at two p.m. and Evan was all alone. He didn’t have anyone but himself to calm him down, and it was scary. In the back of his mind he thought that he should start on his homework, so he wouldn’t have to worry about it later, but then he pictured trying to balance books on his lap and writing at weird angles and having to pack it all back up to get on the plane and he decided that it was a problem for later.

Very suddenly feeling that his hands felt all too smooth against each other, as they sometimes did, Evan redirected their neurotic kneading to the sleeves of the oversized jacket he wore. The jacket didn’t match the rest of his outfit, another blue polo with another pair of khakis and his only pair of sneakers. The jacket was bulky and practically swallowed the diminutive boy whole, and the void-black coloring was nowhere near Evan’s usual brand of style. The sleeves flopped over his hands unless he made the periodic effort to pull them up, and the hem fell to halfway down his thighs when he stood. But it was Connor’s jacket. It was Connor’s jacket and to Evan it was nothing less than a shield to protect him from the unspeakable horrors of the world around him. It was Connor’s jacket and it made him feel some semblance of safe.

The boarding call was crackly and unpleasant through the microphone, and the flight attendant’s voice had been a little off-putting to begin with. Evan winced and burrowed a little farther into the hood of Connor’s jacket. Everyone began gathering their things and moving towards the gate, but Evan purposely waited to be towards the end of the line. The less time he spent on that plane, the better.

He opened his messaging app while waiting on the line, texting in a group chat dubbed “spaghetti” (at Danny’s insistence) that he’d be Taking off soon, wish me luck!

A response came with lightning speed from Alana: Good luck Evan! You’re going to do great!

How did she always reply so quickly? And she never even had typos. Alana Beck was an enigma.

Zoe’s response came next. AAAAAA GOOD LUCK BB I BELIEVE IN U!!!!

He huffed. A little overenthusiastic, sure, but. Nice of her to say.

Danny sent him a gif of a cat giving a thumbs-up with the caption ‘you got this.’ It was very typical of him. Danny liked pictures better than words. Evan had seen his camera roll. The amount of gifs he had saved for when texting might permit them was practically obscene.

Finally, a message from Connor came through. Evan hadn’t been anxiously awaiting his particular response, because that would be dumb. He refused to let himself submit to this feeling. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it only to have it fizzle out, as it had in the past once or twice. Attraction was a fickle thing when it came to Evan Hansen.

Connor’s message told Evan to breathe. dont overthink too much shit. youre going to get through this, and if your dad does anything ill kick his ass myself.

The heat that spread across Evan’s cheeks and neck was a reaction to the jacket’s ( Connor’s jacket’s) absurd amount of warmth, not flustered gratefulness for his friend’s protective side.

That was a lie. Evan was still working on not lying, even to himself. He knew for a fact he had feelings of some sort for his best friend, no matter how fleeting or fragile he feared they might be, and it was about time he acknowledged them. Maybe he’d tell Connor about them when he got back.

No. That was an awful idea, the awfullest he’d ever had. If he wanted to keep the strongest genuine friendship he had in his life alive, he would do well to keep his big dumb crush to himself.

Despite this conviction making its presence strongly known, Evan absentmindedly scrolled to his and Zoe’s private messages as the line scooted closer to the check-in. Zoe had been texting him a lot, lately. She was the only one who knew about the Connor Situation, and she was taking full advantage of being his sister to spam Evan with pictures of the boy whenever she saw fit. Which was often.

Her latest picture had come in not a whole hour ago, and showed Connor staring out of a large window in what Evan assumed was their ski cabin. The brunet was wearing ski pants, the kind that looked almost like overalls with straps over the shoulders, and a grey sweatshirt underneath that. His hair was slightly frizzy from being kept under a helmet and his cheeks and nose were pinked with frost. The top of a collared magenta shirt peeked out from over the sweatshirt. He looked completely, unreasonably soft.

Evan saved the picture to his limited photo gallery and pocketed his phone to present his boarding pass to the flight attendant by the gate. She didn’t explicitly ask for conversation, only smiled, glanced at his ticket, and nodded, and for that he was grateful. His voice was probably embarrassingly quiet and trembly right now, if his voice was existent at all.

He adjusted the strap of his backpack, the one with the blue and green triangles, and wheeled his hand-me-down suitcase down the hall and onto the airplane. He fought to keep his eyes up as he crossed the threshold between the walkway and the plane. No turning back now.

His seat was towards the back of the aircraft, which he supposed was good because it positioned him near the bathrooms and emergency exits. But it was also bad because now he was thinking about what if the plane crashes, oh god, wouldn’t that be horrible.

A buzz from his pocket grabbed his attention. Connor again. the planes not gonna crash. statistically youd be more likely dying in a car crash i think. ur gonna be okay. just think about all the trees youre gonna see in colorado. get hyped. I know theyre your jam, u plant nerd

Damn. Connor knew him too well.

Evan almost smiled, touched by Connor’s emotionally stunted way of comfort. It was very charming. It was very Connor. He typed out a response as soon as he got himself situated in the window seat of his row. Thank you :-). He thought for a moment, then continued. Persephone likes plants and she’s a badass. What makes me a lame plant nerd?

never said u were lame, his friend was quick to refute. and only one of u managed to seduce the king of the underworld, so. call me next time you willingly wear something not colorful or listen to heavy metal tree boy

I’m wearing your jacket. It’s pitch black. Evan scrunched his eyebrows together. Then, he startled, as the seatbelt light flipped on and the plane’s engines roared to life. Gotta go, we’re taking off.

He hoped Connor could hear the worry laced in every word he sent. He hoped he could turn his phone back on at cruising altitude to find an insult about his fashion or music tastes to keep him sane. First, though, he had to turn his phone off and bury his head in the plush arms of Connor’s jacket while the plane gained speed and took flight.

The ascent was fucking terrifying. As the plane tilted upwards and lifted into the sky, Evan’s insides lifted with it, like an agonizingly slow roller coaster with no drop in sight. Just climbing, climbing, climbing. He was climbing. He was climbing and the houses were so tiny now and he could almost touch the clouds and reach the sun—

And suddenly he feels the branch give way—

A soft, robotic chime from above was enough to jar Evan out of that spiral. He glanced upward. The no smoking sign had blinked to life, alongside the seatbelt sign. Beside him, a woman of around thirty with short, buzzed hair was settling into a neck pillow, and closest to the aisle was a child holding a tablet that Evan could only assume was the woman’s charge. His hands twitched. He wanted to hold something. It was another Weird Thing of his. He liked hugging and grasping at stuff to alleviate excess energy in his hands. And while he no longer had a teddy, he did have a backpack. If it wasn’t against the rules to take out his bag before the plane stopped rising, he would. But he couldn’t. All he had to claw at was the sleeves of Connor’s jacket. So claw he did.

Evan hoped the lady sitting next to him didn’t find it weird that he had himself positioned facing his lap, flexing his fingers methodically on the rolls of sleeves in place of a stress ball. The texture was softer than he was used to on his backpack, but he managed. He needed to focus on something other than the invasive, unwanted memories that threatened to overtake his mind. He needed to focus on any other memory. Any happy memory. It was a depressingly difficult task.

But. He had the Jacket.

He yawned and wished he’d brought a stick of gum like Alana had recommended has his ears began to pop. Evan had never chewed gum in his life. He always worried he would accidentally swallow it, and that unnecessary stress outweighed whatever health benefits chewing gum may have had. And when he could open and close his mouth three times without his ears popping, he let his mind wander.

Evan remembered the first time he had seen the jacket, after holiday break of junior year. Connor had stalked past his locker at the beginning of the day with a scowl on his face and his fists clenched tightly around the strap of his messenger bag. He remembered that he couldn’t help but notice that the strings of the jacket’s hood looked really fun to play with.

Not two weeks later he caught Connor fiddling with the strings during a study hall. That’s when he knew Connor couldn’t possibly be all bad.

He remembered the first time he smelled the jacket, really, when Connor had dropped him off at his house at the end of their first day as friends. Smoke and pines and mint and a tinge of pot. It smelled like Connor. The only surprise, frankly, was that it didn’t smell more like weed. It was a nice smell, though. Probably one of Evan’s favorites.

He also remembered the first time he’d felt the jacket, beyond brushes of arms as they walked or, more recently, held hands. Being able to put on the jacket himself and be completely consumed by it was an overwhelming experience. Like stepping into Connor’s very skin. Overwhelming, and shockingly intimate. How could a simple article of clothing could mean so much?

The sensation of the comforting fabric under his hands. Grasping, grabbing, clutching, scrabbling for purchase. The jacket on Connor, but Evan pulling him close. Plush, chapped lips against his own, gentle and light, and he was drowning, he was drowning, he was drowning.

The plane jolted on a bit of turbulence, and Evan bolted upright. Oh. He was dreaming. About Connor. That was embarrassing.

He looked to the map on the head of the seat in front of him to find that they were over halfway to their destination, giving him plenty of time to panic. He didn’t know what horrors awaited him in his dad’s new house with his dad’s new family, and he wasn’t excited to find out.