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five years to forever

Chapter Text

One Day After

 

Cyrus wakes up to a sky that seems to mock him, cloudless and a brilliant shade of blue.

He doesn’t like it.

_____________________

Three Days After

 

Tomorrow is Monday, which means tomorrow is school, which means tomorrow is the day Cyrus will burst into tiny pieces of humiliation. He can’t face anyone, not even his friends, who are more concerned than understanding. Cyrus feels guilty, but he knows they won’t get it. It’s not exactly relatable, his feelings. Buffy and Andi are beautiful, witty, flawed in ways that are okay—they’re good enough. Better than good enough, actually.

Cyrus doesn’t even come close.

 

_____________________

 

Eight Days After

 

It’s going to be a good day, Cyrus thinks. He walks with his head held high, beaming at everyone he makes eye contact with. It’s going to be a good day. It’s going to be a—

T.J. is holding hands with Kira.

Yesterday, it was kissing.

Oddly enough, this seems more intimate.

_____________________

 

Fifteen Days After

 

Today is the day. T.J. is going to apologize to Cyrus; it’s already long overdue. He’s been busy, though. With Kira. His girlfriend, he supposes—but that doesn’t matter.

They haven’t talked much. Not total radio silence, as T.J. did give him a brief apology through text a couple of days ago. ( The costume thing is totally okay. Not a problem. I’m happy for you and Kira. ) And an invite to the newest superhero movie, which they’d planned to watch together from six weeks ago. ( Oh no, already watched that with Andi and Buffy. Not in the mood to cry again. Have a good weekend though!)  

It’s okay, honestly. Their friendship is unscathed, able to withstand, and as Cyrus said, it’s not a problem. Right? Cyrus would tell him if he’s upset. 

But of course, an uncomfortable part of T.J. has to observe that a cohesive change has occurred. For one, Cyrus never texts him with proper punctuation. Ever.

So he waits outside of Cyrus’ third period, vaguely nauseous, as if he’s kissing Kira or something—anyway, it’s taking him forever to come out of the classroom door, and T.J. wonders if he’s sick. Poor Cyrus, he hates pills, so T.J. hopes that liquid medication can cover whatever’s plaguing him—

“What class is this?” T.J. asks aloud after spotting a sixth-grader whose backpack is too big for his body.

“Mandarin.” The boy seems nervous and takes a step back. “Don’t hurt me.”

He grumbles and walks away, cursing everything. Cyrus’ classroom is 32A, and T.J. has been standing outside of 23A, because, fuck, he really can’t do anything correctly. Numbers were never his friend, but Cyrus was, and look what he’s done—

And then Cyrus passes by him, animatedly chatting with Jonah Beck. T.J.’s forgotten, or never fully appreciated, how beautiful his voice is.

And T.J. knows that if he was a better friend—person, even—he would’ve stopped and given him the apology he deserves. But instead, he stands, like the coward he is, watching Cyrus’ retreating figure.

Lastly, he spots the girl who was the catalyst to this whole thing. Perhaps this really is okay, he muses as she kisses his cheek.

Cyrus deserves better.

Kira doesn’t.

_____________________



Twenty-Three Days After

 

The cafeteria introduces a new muffin to the menu. Summer blueberry flaxseed. It kind of sounds like shit, but apparently it isn’t, not according to a gleeful Cyrus who jumps around with Buffy.

T.J. smiles widely when he sees him, even moves closer to the boy, but his momentary happiness vanishes after Buffy catches his eye. The expression on her face is clear as she jerks her head in Kira’s direction, who’s watching the scene with a raised eyebrow that suggests she’s too good for this whole affair. You stay on your side, and I’ll stay on mine.

He steps away.

_____________________

 

Forty Days After

 

Cyrus fumbles with his tie, but his stepdad helps him with a kind smile that doesn’t decrease his embarrassment. He should know this by now. He’s hit with a memory, from not too long ago, when he and T.J. were fooling around in the basement. Cyrus’ dad’s tie was splayed on top of the chair.

T.J. had grinned, placed the fabric right below Cyrus’ chest, and adopted a terrible English accent. “You look dashing, mate.”

“I look old.” He made a face. “Can’t believe I’ll have to wear this in graduation. I can’t even tie it. Bowties—or even suspenders — are so much better, in terms of fashion.”

“I’m going to have to stop you right there,” T.J. had said, one hand on his hip. “You don’t know how to tie a tie?”

“No. I mean, I can barely tie my shoes, Kippen.”

“You’re not kidding? Okay, let me teach you—”

“Aw, not today, Teej. Please. We have Iron Man 2 waiting.”

He’d sighed, then, faking exasperation. “Fine then. Before graduation, though.”

“Before graduation,” Cyrus had echoed, smiling. “But not a flamingo tie, God, please.”

And now, on eighth-grade graduation day, he inspects himself in the mirror. His tie is black, Cyrus sighs wistfully; there are no flamingos in sight.

He can’t find T.J. either.

_____________________

 

Fifty-Six Days After

 

The scalding summer sun finally sets, which leaves Cyrus to venture the boring streets alone. He makes his way to the park, knowing that barely anyone would be there in the dusk, not when the annual carnival is on the other side of town. Cyrus knows he should be there, laughing with his friends at the photo booth, letting himself be forced on rides. But for some reason, he can’t do it. Perhaps its because there’s a huge aspect of pretending in there—and Cyrus has never been much of an actor.

He can feel his discontent wear way as he seats himself on the familiar swing. It’s much too hot in the afternoon, and so evening is the only time to disassociate. Cyrus closes his eyes, not going high; there’s no one here to push him, after all.

But Cyrus’ contemplation of his entire existence is interrupted. A pitchy giggle makes its way to his ears, coming from somewhere—the opposing swings on the other side of the park. And the noise isn’t coming from children, but from teenagers; a boy and girl.

It’s dark now, but the streetlights bounce, and he can make out the silhouettes that are suddenly facing him. The girl is sitting on the boy’s lap, a possessive hand on his shoulder.

Cyrus scrambles off the swing, stumbling a bit before tripping. The girl laughs again, but the boy is quiet, as usual, never fucking saying anything. Not an I’m sorry or We’re still friends. Even an insult is okay— I know that you’re gay, I know how you feel about me, you’re disgusting, etc. Anything is fine. He can take the hurt, but not this, this silence that speaks volumes.

And then he runs. He’s not athletic, but he still goes fast, racing past the cookie cutter houses with their white fences. Cyrus hates it all at this moment, this bubble that he’s imprisoned in, with the idyllic lifestyle of high test scores and electric cars; not to mention the dark side that contains boys that will steal your heart and then repeatedly crush it into pieces.

Cyrus knows that they’re dating, that they can hold hands in public without judgemental stares, that they make out and laugh and enjoy. He knows that T.J. has never really been Cyrus’, that what he feels is nothing more than a fleeting delusion, but it hurts, hurts so damn much. A foolish part of him still thought that the swingset was theirs, that Cyrus’ safe haven meant something to T.J., despite their lessening friendship. He’s so dumb, so naive, so done.

He doesn’t break down, not really, but Cyrus stops and sits on the sidewalk, tears mingled with sweat. Ants crawl around his ankles, but he pays no mind; at least insects are okay with him.

He laughs incredulously. What has he become?

Cyrus has let himself get hurt too many times.

It ends now, he realizes, as moonlight peeks through the tall fir trees. In fact, if an English class had to analyze his whole life as if it were a book, the pale light coming from the sky would represent a new beginning.

Plus, he doesn’t actually have to say goodbye to T.J. Kippen—it’s already done.

Chapter Text

Seventy-Two Days After

 

Freshman year has barely begun, and T.J. already hates it with a burning passion. The math is harder, the people are meaner, and life is just rougher. He gains some attention from the sophomores, considering Kira, most unfortunately, is not against PDA. (Whenever he brings out the fact it makes people uncomfortable, even high school students, the old argument of Do you even like me, T.J. ?! starts again, so he lets it go.)

“I have a dentist appointment; I’m gonna have to take a rain check,” he informs her blandly during history, gaze fixed out the window. It’s an October day, cool and crisp, and T.J. finds himself daydreaming. And when he daydreams, it’s usually about one person.

“This is the third time you’ve canceled on me in a week,” Kira whispers angrily, pretending to scribble notes about Jefferson or whoever the fuck. “I don’t get you, honestly, didn’t you tell me you had a dentist appointment last week? Why lie to me? I get that you’re busy, if you’re practicing— are you even listening to me?”

“Voice down, Kira,” their teacher chides disapprovingly.

“Sorry.” T.J. rubs his forehead. “I do have an appointment, though. I do.”

She huffs, scooting away. “Okay. If you say so.”

“I’m not lying, Ki.” He tries to grasp for her hand; she pulls away.

Oh, well. The bell rings and T.J. walks out of school, mind whirring. He strolls the familiar pathway to his appointment, which he actually does have. Not for his teeth, though.

When his mom told him she was going to hire a therapist, the only thing T.J. requested was to make sure the doctor’s last name isn’t Goodman.

 

_____________________

 

Eighty-Six Days After

 

High school is quite bearable.

Sure, it’s not like a Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens duet, but good enough. Cyrus is busy with fourteen different clubs, ranging from chess to computers. He’s not overwhelmed, though, not yet. His classes are relatively easy (for now.)

Andi’s adjusting well, too, and Buffy’s as confident as ever. The fact that she now has a boyfriend hasn’t really registered with Cyrus, who still remembers when Buffy gave him an in-depth analysis on how exactly cooties is spread, but he’s overjoyed for her.

“They’re too cute, aren’t they?” he says to Andi, sighing. They’re watching the lovebirds giggle at a pathetic pun few yards away.

“I know. Lucky, too.” The smile she gives Cyrus is incredibly soft. “You’ll find that one day, you know that?”

He blushes and puts his arms around her. “You will too, Andi.” She nuzzles her head into his sweater-vest clad shoulder.

“You will too,” Andi echoes, a reassurance more than anything.

 

_____________________

 

One Hundred And Three Days After

 

T.J. wonders why he puts himself through the continual torture. For a while now, his life has been teetering off the edge, and he’s done nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop it. There was one person, only one, who made him happy. And now it seems like that person’s vanished in the crowded halls, into a new bout of academic glory.

He’s proud.

It’s a lie if T.J. doesn’t admit he keeps track of Cyrus Goodman’s writing accomplishments. He’s always known the boy’s abnormally, yet amazingly, gifted on paper. So it doesn’t come as a surprise when he sees the headline on the school bulletin: Freshman Boy Represents School in Statewide Competition.

T.J.’s already read this work. Cyrus used to send him so many, ranging from simplistic poems to descriptive love stories. He takes on a whole new persona with a pen.

T.J. misses a lot about Cyrus Goodman, though, and his writing is only second. Right after his smile.

 

_____________________

One Hundred and Seventy-Two Days After

 

“You know, T.J., everyone has secrets. I have far too many, actually. But it helps when I let them out.” Dr. Gonzalez takes a deep breath. “Sometimes, things that seem bad aren’t, at all. Is there anything you want to share with me, T.J.?”

The lady’s smile is too kind. But he knows other people won’t react the way she will.

“No,” he murmurs, eyes fixated on the cracked ceiling. “I don’t.”

 

____________________

 

Two Hundred and Fifteen Days After

 

First, I’m going to congratulate him. For winning nationals in that essay competition. Then I’m going to ask if we can go to The Spoon later, to catch up. Hopefully he’ll say okay, and then over baby taters, I’ll explain everything. Please don’t let him be grossed out. Next, I’ll apologize, if he hasn’t left. I’ll break the news that I’m no longer with Kira (by then, I shouldn’t be). And then…

T.J. lets Cyrus walk past him. Again.

____________________

 

Two Hundred and Eighty-Four Days After

 

The teacher passes back the tests extremely show, adding to Cyrus’ anxiety. God, he’s failed, hasn’t he? Geometry has never been his strong suit—

But she beams when he reaches him. He’s gotten an A.

Cyrus lets out a sigh of relief and turns to talk to the nice girl behind him, but she’s in deep discussion with someone who talks more than listens.

“I can’t believe Shreya and Connor didn’t win cutest couple in that stupid poll thing.” She rolls her eyes.

“Then who did?” the gossiper asks. “Oh, no, don’t tell me—”

“T.J. Kippen and that Kira girl, yeah. God, they’re sickeningly adorable. Did you see them the other day? I couldn’t believe—”

Cyrus turns around, exhaling, and realizes that the paper he was so proud of moments ago is crumpled in his hand.

____________________

 

Three Hundred and Ninety Days Later

 

Time is meaningless. It’s like everyday is a repeat; basketball, Kira, math, Kira, visits to Dr. G.

Soon enough, freshman year draws to a close. So do his sessions.

“You’re sure you’re doing better?” his mother asks, worry thick in her tone. “You’re not—”

“I am, Mom, loads.” T.J. smiles, all bright and brilliant. “C’mon, trust me. I got what I wanted.”

She smiles, genuinely happy, and pecks his forehead.

A week ago, T.J. accidentally found out the price of each visit. He’s so stupid, he hadn’t thought about it before. Anyway, it’s no use.

Time may be meaningless, but it’s not good to waste it, especially if you’re spending an hour talking to some woman just because you’re scared to admit that you’re—

 

____________________

 

Four Hundred and Sixty-Two Days After

 

“I’m Evan.” He’s freckled, tall, and wears round glasses that’s kind of endearing. “I’ll have fun being your biology partner this year.”

Cyrus laughs. “You know, you’re making it really obvious that you’re new. No one ever has fun with me.”

The boy looks straight—well, not really straight, an onlooker might note if they happen to observe— at him, as if he’s accepting a challenge. “Want a bet?”

____________________


Five Hundred and Six Days After

 

“—That’s bullshit!” Cyrus’ dad hisses, standing up, as if the ref would listen to him through a screen. “Can you believe that they’re just purposefully picking on them, those biased scum!”

Cyrus shakes his head and sits down next to him. He doesn’t care about basketball, but as they watch the play in slow-motion, he can’t help but say, “Well, that’s a total flagrant foul, Dad. Come on, he was practically jumping on him as he was trying to shoot that three pointer. That’s not a defensive play, it’s aggressive behavior.”

Cyrus can’t help but grin as his dad looks at him in surprise. “How the hell do you know that?”

His smile vanishes and he looks away. His father is absorbed in the game again, and Cyrus sighs.

It’s a long story, how the hell he knows things like that.

____________________

 

Five Hundred and Ninety-Two Days After

 

Softest lips touch his. How can lips be so soft? T.J. gasps at the sheer bliss of it, one hand in silky, brown hair. The best feeling in the world, no doubt, this electric thrill—

They break apart, even though the last thing he wants is for it to stop. Cyrus stares at him, brown eyes suddenly narrowed.

“You’re revolting, Kippen.” His voice is harsh, shrill, and vaguely familiar, as if it’s coming from someone else. Cyrus doesn’t talk like that. Cyrus talks like sugar, if sugar had a sound. “Don’t fucking come near me. You’ve been doing such a good job so far.”

“No, Cyrus, please.” The whimper is pathetic, but he can’t help it. “Cyrus, I’m sorry.”

Lips touch T.J.’s again, no longer so naturally addicting, but tasting like the same strawberry chapstick. The same voice speaks again, however. “You’ll never be good enough for him. Kiss me, T.J., and it’ll only ever be me.”

He wakes, but soon enough he realizes there’s no difference between reality and nightmares when he goes back to school the next day.

Cyrus is holding hands with someone. A boy.

 

___________________

 

Six Hundred and Sixty-Nine Days After

 

“You’re ridiculous,” Evan laughs. “It’s Captain America all the way.”

“Oh, so not true. The Avengers would be nothing without Tony.”

“You’re telling me Cap doesn’t matter?”

“Not as much.”

“Should I kiss you so you can stop your dumb argument?”

Cyrus shrugs diplomatically, trying to hide his blush. “If you want, I guess.”

 

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-One Days After

 

“I’ll be right back,” Cyrus tells his history group mates, although they don’t care. At all. They’re already scrolling through social media, even though the teacher explicitly said they could only take their phones out for the project.

He rolls his eyes and picks up all the material. The only classroom that has a hot glue gun is located on the other side of the school, and he can’t take it out of the class, so he has to carry the whole thing.

“Thanks for the help,” Cyrus mutters. He carefully trudges around the hallways, and is relieved when he sees he’s almost there. God, they better get nothing less than an A, not with all the work he’s been putting in—

“Fuck!” Everything is scattered around him. The project is on the floor. “Oh, no.” Cyrus looks up to see a frozen T.J. Kippen.

“I’m so sorry,” he says immediately. Cyrus has seen his face in a lot of ways: smug and condescending, happy and carefree, even teary and upset (after watching Sirius Black die). But Cyrus has never seen him like this, so mortified.

“It’s okay,” he says truthfully, because it is. Everyone, especially T.J., knows Cyrus is a klutz. “It’s not your fault. I’m sure we can redo it.”

Cyrus has forgotten how handsome T.J. is up close, and he scans his face for the familiar oozing confidence, but it seems dimmed from the dark spots under his eyes. He repeats himself slowly. “It’s okay, T.J.”

He seems to snap out of his trance and helps Cyrus up. T.J.’s palms are calloused, no doubt from basketball, but his grip is as warm and tight as ever.

“I’m sorry again,” he says. T.J. begins picking up the pieces. “I bumped into you.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” This is so weird, Cyrus realizes, alone with your ex-best friend, who just so happens to be the first person you ever fell in love with   most popular guy at school. Said most popular guy at school hands back his work. “Thanks.” He examines his ruined project sadly. “Well, it’s no problem. I can remake the Sistine Chapel any day of the week.”

T.J. is staring at him intently, which makes Cyrus clears his throat and continue, “Well, I should be going back to class.”

“Right, yeah, me too.”

“Okay.” And then Cyrus speeds off, pieces of clay falling down as he does.

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-Two Days After

 

It’s a rather stupid thing, but T.J. didn’t expect to ever interact with Cyrus Goodman again. At first, it was because T.J. deliberately distanced himself. But now, it’s as if Cyrus is nothing but a figment of his most beautiful fantasies, a life where T.J. doesn’t feel guilty at the thought of him.

And when he bumps into Cyrus on accident, as he races off to the bathroom for a quick smoke, all T.J. can think about is how that he’s kissed those lips, uttered those three forbidden words in his ear—all in his head, of course. But does it not count for anything?

Cyrus is gay, he knows now. Or bi. T.J. doesn’t know, or care. It’s been much too long since their fallen friendship to even attempt a reunion. He has no chance, not when Cyrus has someone else—Eric? Edwin?—someone who’s confessed to him much before, someone who’s not such a goddamn coward.

It’s a comfort to think that Cyrus probably wouldn’t have been revolted if T.J. had confessed two years ago. But now he would, T.J.’s sure, not after what he’s done. That Costume Day. That distance he put between them.

He stranded Cyrus as if he were nothing, when really, he was everything.

He is everything.

Yet T.J. doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts. So he returns to his girlfriend. He still doesn’t enjoy her company, but he’s grown used to it, and isn’t that enough?

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-Three Days After

 

Cyrus is over T.J. Kippen.

But his hands are so warm.

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-Three Days After

 

You have a boyfriend, Goodman, who has never put anything before you. And yet here you are, thinking about some boy who broke your heart in the EIGHTH GRADE. Fuck, get it together. He’s someone who doesn’t even care about you, let alone think about you…

Cyrus remembers all of their inside jokes. All of their sleepovers. All of their laughter.

Cyrus remembers everything.

And he misses it all.

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-Three Days After

 

Cyrus watches him out of the corner of his eye.

T.J. Kippen doesn’t look too good. The prominent bags under his eyes, and the way he hunches, as if he's trying to disappear—it makes Cyrus uncomfortable, as if he’s witnessing something obvious but not doing anything to fix. Maybe because he is.

Whether or not Cyrus is over some middle school crush—something insignificant, he’s sure—is not the question. Sure, T.J. has hurt him, but Cyrus knows he’s hurting.

And he vows to do something about it.

___________________

 

Seven Hundred and Forty-Five Days After

 

T.J. walks to the office, a little bit of fright intertwined with the numbness. If they caught him with the weed, or whatever he’s been smoking lately, he’s fucked. His mom would be so disappointed, God, and he can’t stand to see her sad face, not after everything she’s been through, everything she’s done for him.

He tells the kind secretary his name, and she leads him to the counselor’s office. Something isn’t adding up, but T.J. soon finds out.

“Hello, Mr. Kippen,” she says politely. “Someone has anonymously reported that you may need to visit me.”

His brow furrows. “Who?”

“Anonymously, remember?” She smiles. “If they’re mistaken, it’s alright. You have a thirty-minute excuse from math class—which I’m sure no one enjoys—so why don’t you talk to me? About anything. I’m here to listen.”

T.J.’s throat tightens. The last time he’s heard those words were from another lady who was paid to do it, too.

Perhaps the counselor reads his mind, or can uncannily understand his facial expression because she corrects herself. “I want to listen, T.J.”

And so he lets her.

Chapter Text

 

Nine Hundred and Five Days After

“You can’t keep doing this, Cyrus,” Buffy sighs.

Andi nods vigorously. “You’ve been listening to “The One That Got Away” on repeat for the past two weeks.”

Cyrus ignores them and buries his face in his pillow, and even though he’s not looking at them, he knows the two girls glance at each other with equal amounts of exasperation and worry.

“Cyrus,” Andi speaks kindly, a different approach. “Cyrus, I know, honey. It hurts. But you can’t stop your life.”

“Such as eating real meals—”

“Yes, cinnamon toast crunch out of the box doesn’t count—”

“Come on, Cy, get up.” Buffy touches his shoulder. “Your parents are worried, you know. We’re worried. Even Jonah’s told us to remind you to ‘hang in there, dude.’”

Andi snorts. “Yes, very wise words. But Cyrus, please, it’s Evan’s loss. You know that, right? And I’m sure he wouldn’t have ended things if he weren’t so busy, like he claimed.”

Cyrus shoots up from his pillow, eyes like daggers. “Like he claimed. Claimed, Andi, claimed. Fuck, I’m busy. You’re busy. Buffy’s busy. Just because he wants to get into Stanford or whatever doesn’t mean he breaks up with me on our anniversary. God, my workload is so much more than his, and he has the nerve to—” He trails off. “Whatever, I get it. I wouldn’t want to date me either.”

“Cyrus, stop with the self-deprecating humor,” Buffy speaks sharply. “Come on, you’re getting up.”

Andi helps her in the feat of forcing him to his feet, despite his death glare. They lead him to the foyer, and all Cyrus can think is how he doesn’t involve in self-deprecating humor. Just self-deprecation.

___________________

 

Nine Hundred and Eighty-Nine Days Later

 

“So, are you going to Reed’s party?” Mrs. Lansing asks.

T.J. raises an eyebrow in surprise. “You know about Reed’s party?”

The high school counselor smiles. “I know a lot of things, T.J. For example, I know young Mr. Connor Edwards hosts a beer pong contest in the janitor’s closet during school dances.”

He blushes because he was at that beer pong contest just a week ago. “What? And you don’t do anything to stop it?”

She shrugs. “High school kids are going to drink either way. At school, in school, what can I do? Although I have executed my plan perfectly: the principal is going to get the tip-off at just the right time. Which is my hint for you to not go during the next dance...Anyway, you haven’t told me if you’re going or not, T.J.”

He considers this. “I knew Reed pretty well back in middle school, but we drifted after I snitched on him.”

Mrs. Lansing nods. “You’ve told me this one. Another Cyrus story, isn’t it, with the gun?”

Another Cyrus story. “Yes.”

“Do you think Cyrus will be going to the party?”

“I don’t know. Probably not, he’s always working.” His tone is indifferent, but Mrs. L catches the emotion. She always does.

She smiles. “Well, you never know. If you plan on going, be careful. You know what I mean—”

“Yes, I do.” T.J. doesn’t want to hear about restraining himself from drugs or whatever. He can totally do things sober.

“And look out for Cyrus, maybe. Try talking to him.”

T.J. resists rolling his eyes. Mrs. L is keen on reuniting the two, but he knows better; their friendship’s too far gone at this point. He can’t deny that the suggestion is tempting, though, not when Cyrus visits him at random times in his head. It would be nice to have him around, even when T.J. isn’t lucid.

He nods and stands up. “Okay. Maybe. Thank you, Mrs. Lansing. I’ll see you next Tuesday.”

“Wait, T.J. Before you go, I just wanted to ask you what’s going on with you and Kira.”

He stiffens. “Same answer as last time.”

“A break, hm? Why not add the ‘up’ to it already, my dear boy?”

“It’s complicated,” is his answer before leaving hastily, even though her words swirl around. Why not add the ‘up’ to it already? He’s never liked Kira, not really, and God, they’ve dated for two years. Is that not enough?

But she’s familiar, someone to fall back on, an idea to latch onto. That he is the basketball captain everyone’s made him out to be.

That he is attracted to girls.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

“This is so stupid. Did you know this is so stupid?” Cyrus looks up at the brightly lit house, full of loud music and talk. It fills him up with foreign anxiety that he really doesn’t want to explore.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don’t you remember our high school bucket list?”

Andi puts her hands on his shoulders and nods. “‘Attend sick, awesome parties.’”

“We were nine when we wrote that. Nine. ” Cyrus feels faint. “Guys, I’m not a huge gathering type of person. And we’re not exactly going to go in there and play Just Dance and Twister, it’s going to be full of shots and vape and all the stuff that is going to KILL my lungs. And my brain cells. Which I have to save for the SAT—”

“No one’s saying you have to do all that, Cyrus,” Buffy says reassuringly. “Just come inside and have a bit of fun.”

“And don’t worry about your brain cells.” Andi’s smile is mischievous. “We all know you have none.”

“Ha ha.” He looks up at the house one last time before following them inside, his stomach churning.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

T.J.’s pretending to listen when he spots Cyrus Goodman.

The girl he’s talking to is obviously flirting, some junior forgot the name of, twirling her hair and batting her eyelashes. Yet all of his attention seems to drain away and only focus on the boy who enters Reed’s living room with hesitant steps.

Cyrus seems pale and antsy, glaring at Andi and Buffy. T.J. can’t breathe. It’s his chance now, isn’t it? He’s almost completely done with Kira, all he has to say is the magic conclusion.

Soon enough, he sees Cyrus lose his two friends in the crowd, looking extremely lost and rather sick. T.J. feels a pang of sympathy and decides to fuck it. He’s going to talk to Cyrus Goodman tonight.

With natural confidence he’s finally getting the hand of again, T.J. steps closer to the boy in the corner. It’s crazy, how Cyrus seems to grow even more beautiful every time he sees him. He’s not sure if boys are supposed to be considered beautiful, but there’s no other way to describe Cyrus in his entirety, pink lips and tousled hair and wide brown eyes that T.J. can lose himself in any day of the week.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

“Hello.”

Cyrus looks up and snaps out of his absorbing thoughts.

It’s T.J. Kippen.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

“Do you want a drink?” T.J. tries to seem at ease, but he’s pretty sure he’s failing. For one, he doesn’t know why it’s a natural urge to act like the host of the party.

“I don’t drink,” Cyrus says shortly. But then he breaks into a smile. “I’m fine with water, though.”

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

T.J. looks much better from the last time Cyrus interacted with him.

That last embarrassing encounter was imprinted in his mind, but he’s glad it occurred, for maybe it’s the reason why those dark spots underneath T.J.’s green eyes are gone. It fills Cyrus up with odd happiness and he steps closer to his tall frame, but then retreats back to the corner. T.J. is just being polite, after all. Customary. He’s not actually looking for a conversation.

“Where are Andi and Buffy?” T.J. inquires. “Wait, don’t answer. But stay. I’ll be right back.”

Cyrus listens even though he’s not really sure why. T.J. returns with iced water, but he suddenly taps his forehead with the glass.

“You don’t like ice,” he says. “Right. Be right back again.”

His mouth is extremely dry when T.J. returns; Cyrus can’t believe he even remembers that little detail. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”

T.J. shrugs. “You don’t like ice, though.”

“But I mean, you didn’t have to get me a drink.”

“Oh, please.” He rolls his eyes. “Water hardly qualifies as a drink.”

Cyrus scoffs, scandalized. “What? Water isn’t a drink. It’s the drink. We wouldn’t be here without it.”

“I could manage without it at a party.” T.J. smirks, and Cyrus remembers that confidence far too well. “I prefer drinks that look like water, but don’t really taste like it.”

“I hope you mean Sprite.”

“Of course. What else would I mean?”

They laugh, then, and suddenly it feels like they’re the only two attending that crowded party.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

T.J. and Cyrus talk for thirty minutes, the longest they’ve spoken for in two years. They mostly share abuse on a science teacher they both had the previous year. It’s funny, but the conversation never steers to the topic of their departed relationship, only strays dangerously close to the subject, and that’s when T.J. spots Kira talking to a boy with round glasses from across the room.

It’s almost like they’re conspiring, which is dumb to think. But just in case they’re running out of time...T.J. looks back at Cyrus and says bluntly, “I wish we talked more.”

He raises an eyebrow before sighing. “Me too.”

Perhaps it’s the effect of the alcohol or purple party lights or Cyrus himself, but T.J. is spurred on. “I miss you a lot, you know.”

“Really?”

They’re close now, much too close, and T.J. can smell his scent, detergent and freshness he’s never understood how Cyrus obtains. It’s like he’s in one of those dreams, those blissful dreams where he usually wakes up right after kissing him. Perhaps he should test out the theory right here, right now.

“I miss you too,” Cyrus concludes, and now here’s T.J.’s chance, his lips are right there—

But this time it ends before they can kiss.

Because Kira—seriously, what kind of cliche is this?— is tapping on his back.

___________________

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

“Evan’s looking for you,” Kira says to Cyrus. “You should probably talk to him. Right now.”

“Who’s Evan?” T.J. blurts stupidly, before realizing. “Oh…”

Cyrus’ face hardens before departing across the room. Kira grips at T.J.’s wrist and he hisses.

“What is your problem, Kira?” he snaps. “Just leave me the fuck alone.”

“How dumb are you?” Her eyes flash dangerously. “Don’t you know Evan and Cyrus just broke up? Fuck, you’re stupid, you don’t even realize he’s using you to make him jealous—”

“Oh, shut up.” That can’t be true. Cyrus isn’t like that. He wouldn’t do that to T.J.

Right?

Kira seems to tell what he’s thinking, for she says, “You really think Cyrus is chill with you? After what you’ve done to him? Don’t you remember—” she chokes back on a laugh—“that costume day in the eighth grade?”

“That was years ago.” But it doesn’t come out dismissive; more like a question. Unsure.

“Okay, T.J., whatever you say.” She sighs. “I’m not being a jealous ex, I swear. I was totally fine when Abby was flirting with you. I was watching. But you need to stay away from Cyrus Goodman for your own benefit. He’s always been weirdly attached to you, and you with him. It’s unhealthy. He’s using your soft spot for him to get his little nerd boyfriend all riled up.”

“I don’t believe you,” is all he can say again. He can feel his throat close.

“Then see for yourself.”

T.J. looks up.

Cyrus and Evan are kissing.

___________________

 

Nine Hundred and Ninety-One Days Later

 

“You know, I thought you were okay with us being just friends.”

Cyrus stares back at him indignantly. “I am!”

Evan sighs. “So weeks after our break up you’re going to go running to T.J. Kippen, of all people? Fuck, come on, Cyrus. You’re this incredible, smart guy, and he’s already hurt you before—”

You’ve already hurt me before.” He shakes with quiet fury. “You have too, Evan. So just go away. Stop trying to control my life. I can talk to whoever I want.”

Evan shakes his head in exasperation. “You don’t understand. He’s just using you as a fucking prank. Kira told me everything, Cy. You’re a joke to those basketball pricks because you’re openly gay. She was laughing about it, babe.”

“Don’t call me that.” His voice is sharp and his head is hurting and he just doesn’t know what to do. “It didn’t seem like a prank, okay? Me and T.J. have a history. As friends. And he misses me—”

Evan cuts him off with a chaste kiss that he breaks away from immediately. It’s too wrong, this whole thing.

“Are you serious?”

“ I’m so stupid, Cyrus.” His eyes well up. “I don’t want you to think about Kippen, now that I think about it. I want us to continue our history. I’m so, so stupid, I don’t know why I ever ended things with you, I’m sorry, please forgive me—”

“Oh, I can’t do this right now.” Honestly, fuck parties. “Let me find T.J. and tell him...”

But it turns out Cyrus doesn’t have to. T.J.’s still across the room, very noticeable...

... Especially considering the fact he’s kissing Kira with such ferocity that it makes Cyrus want to throw up the water he just drank.

___________________

One Thousand and Sixteen Days Later

 

Cyrus runs across the sandy track, hating it all—the burning sun, the way his footsteps hit the ground, the goddamned nausea. God, what kind of punishment is physical education?

Buffy is trying to run slow today. He knows why and he’s not in the mood for it.

“My grade is almost a B,” she informs him. “But I don’t care. Why? Because I want to run with my best friend. Just like I’ve been trying for the past three weeks.”

He doesn’t answer.

“Oh, Cyrus. I’m sorry. For the five-hundredth time.”

“I told you, I’m not even angry. I’m just—” he pants— “trying to save my breath.”

“But I’m so sad about this, Cyrus.” She gives him puppy dog eyes and he looks away quickly. “Oh come on, me and Andi still feel so, so bad. We were looking for you the whole time, we swear, we’re so sorry we lost you that night—”

“I’m over it, Buffy. It’s been almost a month, okay? Let—” Cyrus attempts to exhale— “it go.”

“You’re so quiet, Cyrus. These days, even before that terrible party and the stupid Evan drama, you’ve been so...On edge. I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy, Buffy. Just tired, I swear.”

“Okay. But just ignore Evan, okay? He’s more trouble than he’s worth. You’ve always been much too good for him. And that bitch Kira and her puppet—I mean, boyfriend. You’re so much better than all of them. Just think, in two years time, you’ll be in New York studying about electoral college fraud. All you’ll care about is your studies, your two best friends, and the loans you have to pay off.”

Cyrus can’t help but laugh. “You always know how to make a boy feel better.”

Buffy pecks his cheek in response, and his heart feels considerably lighter.

___________________

One Thousand and Fifty-Six Days Later

Find x in ax^2+ bx + c = 0

 

T.J. stares at the problem, hoping that if he looked at it long enough, it would open a portal to the second grade, where they learned to count apples and had no heartbreak.

“Do you need help, baby?” Kira asks, looking up from her textbook.

“No.” He sighs. He hates math for a multitude of reasons, but T.J. knows he’s better at it now. It gives him pain to remember how he became better—because of who made him become better.

Whatever. He has a lot of work to do.

___________________

One Thousand and Eighty-Two Days Later

 

“Hey, Goodman! Who’re you checking out in the locker room lately?”

So witty. Cyrus rolls his eyes and opens his locker, but the dumbass jocks won’t leave him alone. They circle around him like sharks or something.

“I’m not homophobic; I just feel weird I have P.E. with you,” one of them admits to general agreeing murmurs and nods. “What do you think, Kippen?”

Cyrus’ head snaps up. He didn’t even know T.J. was standing with the boys that reek of uncontrolled sweat and testosterone.  

“You don’t understand. He’s just using you as a fucking prank. Kira told me everything, Cy. You’re a joke to those basketball pricks because you’re openly gay...”

He’s not looking at him. “Let’s just go, guys.”

“Why?” Cyrus says before he can stop himself. “Why, Kippen? Scared you’ll catch my homosexuality? Start checking out your teammates?” It’s so unlike him. Usually, he just shuts up so they can all walk away, moving onto their next activity, but seeing T.J. stand there made him snap.

Especially after that night.

Especially after they were so close to each other.

Especially after they were so close with each other.

This boy was once my best friend. “I miss you a lot, you know.” Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

The boys chortle, but T.J.’s face twists in fury. Cyrus seems to have touched a nerve but he doesn’t fucking care. Not anymore.

“No, that can never happen,” he spits. “See, I’m not a fag, for one thing.”

Cyrus’ heart sinks to the ground and bile rises up his throat. No one laughs this time; they’re all quiet, eyes wide. T.J. seems shocked, too, at his own choice of words. He opens his mouth to say something, but Cyrus speaks first.

“I hate you.” He wills himself not to cry, but tears fall as he races past them. “I fucking hate you, T.J. Kippen.”

Chapter Text

One Thousand Three Hundred and Twelve Days Later

 

SAVED TEXT DRAFTS 

 

To “underdog” on 1/6/19, 5:06 PM [UNSENT]:  you looked really nice today, maybe we can

 

To “underdog” on 2/8/19, 4:02 PM [UNSENT]: CYRUS how do you properly pronounce “challah”????? 

 

To “underdog” on 3/1/19, 1:06 AM [UNSENT]: cyrus, i’m so sorry i don’t think i’ll be able to do costume day, i know it’s short notice but something came up

 

To “underdog” on 3/1/19, 2:05 AM [UNSENT]: cyrus my guy don’t think i’ll be able to do costume day, don’t worry about it have fun doing andi’s mount rushmore idea((:

 

To “underdog” on 3/1/19, 4:10 AM [UNSENT]: i wish i was brave enough to

 

To “underdog” on 3/1/19, 3:02 PM [UNSENT] : you mean so much to me, i hope everything’s 

 

To “underdog” on 3/5/19, 12:15 PM [UNSENT]: hey, there’s a little ice cream spot that just opened near my house do you want to

 

To “underdog” on 6/20/19, 7:45 PM [UNSENT]: how’s your summer going? i know you’re going to england in july, do you want to hang out before

 

To “underdog” on 9/18/19, 2:44 AM [UNSENT]: i read your essay and i loved it so much. i can’t believe you’re so talented

 

To “underdog” on 1/1/20, 12:34 AM [UNSENT]: happy new year’s! my resolution is to hang out with you more lmaooo i mean maybe we can go hang out after 

 

To “underdog” on 2/23/20, 6:50 PM [UNSENT]: Happy birthday! Hope you have a great, amazing day. Remember when I bought you a dozen muffins last year? I actually baked them ahaha I was too embarrassed to admit

 

To “underdog” on 2/23/20, 6:52 PM [UNSENT]: I know it’s been a while, Cyrus, but happy birthday! You deserve a great day. I really do miss you and I hope

 

To “underdog” on 2/23/20, 6:56 PM [UNSENT]: Happy birthday Cyrus!!! Lmao I hope you have the best birthday ever. I’m so happy for you and your boyfriend, Edison. Actually, my girlfriend, Kira, is the one that told me to switch back to autocaps! Lol. So how’s everything

 -----> To “underdog” on 2/23/20, 7:12 PM [SENT] : Hey, happy birthday!

From “underdog” on 2/24/20, 8:08 AM [READ] : oops, saw this late. thank you! (:

 

To “underdog” on 3/8/20, 4:22 AM [UNSENT]: Do you know how much I miss you? I regret it, Cyrus.  I regret growing distant, I regret not talking to you all these years. I wish I could talk to you the way we used to do. I wish I could be the one to hold your hand as you walk to class. I wish I could kiss you, and only you, I promise no one else. She’s nothing compared to you. It’s always been that way. I’ve been in love with you since the eighth fucking grade and I’ve never been able to 

 

To “Cyrus Goodman” on 3/14/20, 2:05 AM [UNSENT]: I was so close to kissing you. I’ve wanted to do that for years. I’ve liked you for so long, and I know I’ve been a douchebag, but I can’t believe you used me for your ex. I would never do that, Cyrus. I thought I meant more to you. But I was probably deluding myself anyways

 

To “Cyrus Goodman” on 6/14/20, 6:30 PM [UNSENT]: Hey Cyrus, I’m sorry about earlier today. I can’t believe I said that word and I wish I could take it back. I know it doesn’t excuse anything but I really do apologize. In truth, sometimes I question my 

To “Cyrus Goodman” on 6/14/20, 6:34 PM [UNSENT] : I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.

 

To “Cyrus Goodman” on 6/14/20, 6:38 PM [UNSENT]: You definitely did not deserve that and I can’t believe I

 -----> To “Cyrus Goodman” on 6/14/20, 7:19 PM [SENT AND READ] : I apologize. I shouldn’t have said that. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness

 

T.J. rereads his drafts to his ex-best friend after he realizes that his overbearing girlfriend of three years has been texting another guy. He wonders if he misses Cyrus, and then realizes that’s the stupidest question to ask.

___________________

One Thousand Four Hundred Days Later

T.J. holds the shiny golden cup into the air, satisfying triumph running through his veins as the crowd cheers. They’ve won, they’ve really won. After a long drought without winning any basketball championships, their school is number one. 

“I’m so proud of you, baby!” Kira squeals, suddenly next to him. She kisses him and T.J. closes his eyes, wishing she would go faster, and when he opens them, he scans the crowd once more. His rushing blood turns cold as he makes eye contact with Cyrus Goodman, who is standing upright and clapping with a defiant expression on his face as they look at each other.

___________________

 

One Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-Three Days Later

 

Cyrus is upset junior year is ending.

He takes five AP classes, runs the GSA, edits three articles for the school newspaper per month, and goes to SAT prep in the afternoon. Of course he finds time to spend with Andi and Buffy and Jonah, albeit separately, for rocky waters have taken over their tight-knit friendship.

He doesn’t have time to sulk about it, or anything—yes, anything—else. Cyrus has no time to dwell. And it’s better that way, but summer will bring unignorable feelings, more overbearing than ever before.

___________________

 

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Two Days Later

 

This year, our school has achieved so much. The chess club ranked number six nationally. Junior Andrea Mack won a prestigious art award, representing our state in the process. And let’s not forget our basketball championship, the win attained by our hardworking basketball team, lead by captain TGay Kippen—

“You have got to be fucking kidding me, Goodman,” T.J. snarls, so close to Cyrus he practically engulfs him. Cyrs just sighs wistfully and looks up seemingly sheepishly.

“Oh no, you’ll have to forgive me, T.J.” He rolls his eyes in a way that can only be seen as sardonic. “What an embarrassment to me as chief editor.”

“It’s an embarrassment to me. TGay, are you fucking—”

“Kidding you? No.”

“This is not funny.”

“When did I ever say it was?”

T.J. curls his lip as he stares down at Cyrus, at those big brown eyes that have been haunting him since day one. “You know what? Fuck you.”

“Okay, now you’re really starting to act like the name in the paper suits you.” He winces and pats T.J.’s hand. “I’ll be sure to fix the mistake as soon as possible. And don’t worry about it, Kippen...Everyone knows you aren’t a faggot .”

T.J.’s head snaps up and he swallows, watching Cyrus walk away. He didn’t even know it was possible for Cyrus Goodman’s voice could hold so much venom, and if anyone had told him three years ago that the malice would be directed towards him, T.J. would have laughed in their face.

___________________

One Thousand Five Hundred and Ten Days Later

 

“Our last summer as high schoolers and we’re here sitting on our phones,” Buffy says, putting down hers with an eye roll. “Come on, guys, let’s do something fun.”

Cyrus and Andi share an exasperated glance. “You know I’m starting to like it better when we weren’t talking for a month” is his quip, and he looks up mischievously.

“You take that back,” Buffy challenges, holding up the couch pillow and standing up. 

“Nev—” The first hit is smooth, the second rough. Cyrus gasps dramatically. “ E tu, Andi ?”

“I’m always going to be on the slayer’s side!” she pledges, and Cyrus finally gets up, entering the pillow fight with full force. He can’t aim for shit, though.

“The gays can’t win pillow fights, huh,” Andi smirks.

“Neither can the lesbians.” Cyrus finally reaches her torso and laughs before getting jumped on by Buffy, who is way too damn strong. 

After fifteen minutes, it leaves the three of them tired and giddy, and they collapse onto the couch. Suddenly, there’s so much nostalgia in the room, thick and heavy—the end is really coming. 

Everything is going to change.

“So, senior year, huh?” Cyrus says quietly. 

“Yeah.” Andi clears her throat, burrowing herself deeper into the couch. 

Buffy is quiet until she shakes her head. “Fuck sentiment, guys. We still have a whole year. We have a whole summer. So let’s pretend we’re not grown up, okay?”

“We don’t have to pretend for that,” Cyrus answers seriously, and the three of them laugh, hopeful once more.

___________________

One Thousand Five Hundred and Fifty-Eight Days Later

 

“—You humiliated me,” Kira snarls, throwing her coat on the floor of T.J.’s car. “What the fuck is your problem?”

He hums lightly in response, turning on the radio. “Don’t you think you’re exaggerating?” 

“No. I’m not.” T.J. ignores her and she shrieks louder. “Put the music off!”

He swears and faces her with disgust. “Goddamn, do you want to get into an accident?”

Kira grits her teeth and looks out the window, clearly about to burst with frustration. “I can’t believe you. You’d rather be with a guy than me? Are you for real?”

“I was kidding. As in, a joke. That’s why everyone laughed.”

“You know what, you’ve always been so fucking weird. And it’s been worse lately. Like, what’s wrong with you? That’s not even a good joke—”

“You’re right. It’s not a good joke.”

“Yes, I know, you’re so—”

“I mean, it’s not a good joke because it’s not a joke.” He stops the car on the side of her street, facing her squarely in the eye. “Sorry.”

Silence. Kira stares at him, her head tilted, the way she always tries to figure him out. And then she nods. “Yeah, okay. So it’s not just Cyrus fucking Goodman? You’re gay. Just say it. You’re gay .”

“I’m gay.”

Her nostrils flare. “Fuck you. Just—fuck you.” She unbuckles her belt angrily. “I can’t believe you would do this to me, after everything we’ve been through.”

T.J. laughs loudly. God, the whole scenario feels so fucking funny. “Right. Sure, Kira.”

“What? You think I haven’t been a good girlfriend all these years? I genuinely love you. I care about you. Ever since the eighth grade. You’re so ungrateful.”

“Our whole relationship has been about manipulation and control.” He phrases his words carefully, but then goes for it. “Let’s be honest, you’ve always known it’s one sided, isn’t it? But even then, even after how shitty you’ve been to me, I’ve never been with anyone else. Talked to anyone else.”

T.J. can see the cockiness deflate from her, sense her vulnerability. It makes him want to cringe. “T.J. I—please. Matthew isn’t anything to me.”

“You’ve been talking to him for months, Kira.” 

“Well, if my own boyfriend is gay, it’s pretty hard.” Her malice returns extremely quickly. “And don’t pretend you haven’t fantasized about that fucking nerd during most of our relationship.”

T.J. shrugs. “Guess you’re right. Well, I’ll be seeing you—”

“But we work, T.J., despite it all.” Her hand rests on his thigh, and she leans in. “Come in, you know it too. We’re both fucked up. We always find our way back to each other—”

“Kira, please leave.”

“Don’t be that way.” She kisses him, but he breaks away hastily. No more.

“Trash doesn’t belong with trash, Kira. Get the fuck out.”

___________________

One Thousand Five Hundred and Sixty Three Days Later

 

Cyrus’ last first day of school is bittersweet, to say the least. He can’t entirely relax yet, but he will be able to soon. College essays, college applications. They’re all coming up and it makes him emotional, from both excitement and apprehension.

His classes go by extremely quick, and he laughs with his friends. It feels good, honestly, to be a senior. To watch the frightened freshmen go by and reminiscence.

But by the end of lunchtime, Cyrus’ good mood shrinks a bit. His ex-boyfriend is with someone else now, did he know? A junior boy, yeah, ask anyone. He scoffs it off, says he doesn’t care, but as he walks to sixth period his heart feels heavier, almost.

And then his heart sinks when he realizes who he’s assigned to sit next to in English class. Fate must work in really fucking funny ways, because this is the first class Cyrus has with T.J. Kippen all throughout high school.

Chapter Text

One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty-Five Days Later

The bespectacled English teacher is also the school counselor. She camouflages with the grey walls and always passes back the tests extremely slow. There was a time where this caused Cyrus extreme amounts of anxiety, but with high school nearing its end, he knows it’ll be okay—

Except it isn’t. He’s gotten a 70.

This has to be a joke, he figures, staring at the paper. He’s never gotten anything below an 80, except in P.E., and especially not in English. He enjoys the subject, and the test went okay, or so he thought. 

Panic fills him up. This isn’t good, considering he’s already nearing a B plus. Fuck. And so near college applications too.

Cyrus needs to talk to someone, anyone, and so he turns to T.J. Kippen. They sit next to each other, now. Except nothing has changed.  Kippen is just a fucking jerk who spits out homophobic slurs and also happens to be the boy he once loved. It’s not a big deal.

They don’t even talk to each other, unless it’s a few snide insults here and there. But Cyrus needs to know. He inches closer, smiles all friendly. As if it was the eighth grade again. “So what’d you get? On the test?”

T.J.’s head snaps up, focusing on him blearily. Hungover, probably. Cyrus resists the urge to roll his eyes, but suddenly wonders if the other boy’s doing okay. He remembers when he reported him to the counselor and wonders if he should do so again. Who gets drunk on a school night—

“Wait, Kippen,” a low voice whispers from the boy who sits across Cyrus. “That party was so fucking sick last night.”

“It was!” T.J. smiles and Cyrus does roll his eyes. Okay. Nothing to be concerned about; he was just out doing regular teenagery bullshit. Anyway, he wasn’t even concerned about T.J., he was concerned in the general sense, because he is a good person. A good person who got a C-. 

“So?” Cyrus presses. “I’m sorry if you’re not comfortable sharing, though, I’ll—”

T.J. pushes the paper towards him, frowning slightly. He’s beaten him by thirty-six percent. That’s totally fine. Totally, totally fine.

The bell rings and they stand up. Cyrus tries to walk hastily, but the basketball captain doesn’t seem keen to let him go yet and catches up with him quickly. Of course he does.

“Are you okay?” T.J. asks. “You look kind of pale.”

“I’m fine.” Cyrus turns away from him, praying that he won’t ask him his score. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Is it about your ex-boyfriend?”

Cyrus looks at him in shock, the queasy feeling replaced with irritation. “Why would I—” He takes a deep breath. “How is that even related?”

“He has a new boyfriend.” He half-expects T.J. to smirk; he doesn’t. Instead, he’s still frowning, leaning against a locker. “You know, if you’re ever feeling too down, you can visit the school counselor, Mrs. Lansing—”

“Evan and his new boyfriend began dating months ago.” Cyrus grits his teeth. His voice rises in volume. “Back when school started. How oblivious are you?”

A bitter expression lands on T.J.’s face and he says much too hastily, “Well. I thought you might be still hung over him, considering you used me to get him jealous last year.”

The foolish statement rings in Cyrus’ ears. “What? What?

“Cyrus, keep your voice down—”

“No. What the fuck are you talking about? I used you to make Evan jealous? You liar, you piece of shit, you homophobic asshole—” To his surprise and fury, his voice cracks. 

It’s too much, all too much. All the expectations to go to an Ivy League, just to feel good about himself. He hates the insecurities that have been plaguing him for years.

Cyrus didn’t even feel that happy with himself when he was with Evan. It always felt like Evan was competing with him. Boyfriends aren’t supposed to do that. 

It’s painful to admit, but the only time Cyrus felt utterly content with everything about himself was all those years ago, when he hung around T.J. Kippen. They were such good friends, until he went and ditched him for Kira. And now it’s almost five years later, but what has really resolved?

He still loves him, Cyrus realizes; even after everything, he still loves him. And he misses him. The way his green eyes crinkles when he laughs. The way he used to be so nice to him. The way everything used to be so blissful, until a certain someone had to enter the picture. It’s enough to render anyone hysterical. 

“Cyrus, please, calm down.” People are staring, a whole crowd and everything. “Please.”

“I’m calm. I’m calm.” Tears roll down his cheeks. “I’m calm.

“Let’s go. Come on.” T.J.’s eyes are a gentle green. “School’s out. We can grab a milkshake and talk. Please. I want to.”

He should say no. A part of him wants to. Not too long ago, T.J. Kippen called him a slur. He did apologize, though...through text. And of course, there’s the whole debacle about their broken friendship.

But something about Cyrus has always been drawn to that boy. It sucks, but he’s dealt with worse.

“Okay.”

 

__________________ 

 

One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty-Five Days Later

 

Cyrus crying broke something in him. He really did try to detach himself from that boy, enter a casual, sneering enmity, but it’s impossible. T.J. faces the guilt head-on; it was so stupid to accuse Cyrus of that thing from the party, especially since he was already looking so upset.

And now they’re strolling to the parking lot. He glances at Cyrus, who seems detached himself.  T.J.’s head starts to hurt even more.

“Cyrus?” he asks tentatively. “Do you want to, uh, go to The Spoon, maybe?”

His brown eyes, beautifully illuminated from the sunlight, focus on him. “I have homework. I’m sorry. Listen, thanks for walking with me.”

T.J. tries to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “I thought we were going to get a milkshake.”

“I’m really busy. I’ll catch you later.” A pause, and then: “I don’t know what you think, or why you think it, but I didn’t use you to get Evan jealous at that party. I would never do that. In fact, last time I checked, he pulled me and kissed me. I broke away. I wanted to go back to you. I turned around; you were kissing Kira.” He laughs mirthlessly. “Kind of sums up our whole relationship, huh?”

T.J.’s stomach plummets. He can’t believe it. Of course. Cyrus would never, could never, do such a thing. To anyone. “Kira, she—she told me you were, and I...I fell for it.”

Cyrus nods as if he was expecting that. “Like I said. Sums up our relationship. Kira, always causing rifts, huh?” He doesn’t even sound hurt, not anymore. Just resigned.

“No. It’s me. I didn’t have to believe her. You’re right, Cyrus, you’ve always been right. I’m oblivious. And I’m so sor—”

But he has already begun to walk away. “I’ll see you later.”

T.J. buries his face in his hands. And because of that, he doesn’t see Cyrus look back.

__________________ 

One Thousand Six Hundred and Seventy Days Later

 

It’s a nice autumn day. The park is an inviting place to think things over. Cyrus sits contently, humming a tune he doesn’t even remember the name to. It came out when he was in middle school. He smiles reminiscently. They’d play it at every school dance. 

“Hey,” a voice startles him. It’s Jonah, sweaty and holding a Frisbee. Of course. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just thinking. Still coaching the little kids?”

“You bet.” He takes a seat next to Cyrus. “Still applying to Columbia?”

“Well, actually. I don’t know.”

Jonah’s brow furrows. “Seriously? It’s been your aim since...Since...Well, forever, dude. Why not? You’ll totally get in.”

He shrugs, considering this. “I always wanted to go to film school. I know I’ve been working hard these past four years, but I don’t know.”

“Oh yeah. Remember when you had to shoot a movie back in seventh grade? You were sweating more than me.” He sighs. “Panic attack, huh? Did being the star scare you?”

“No, um, you did.” Cyrus doesn’t know where this unexpected courage is coming from, and all of a sudden he can’t stop. “I had a crush on you. While you were dating Andi. I hope it’s not weird that I’m telling you this. I got over it, though. Don’t worry.”

Jonah stares at him. There’s a moment of silence before he says, “It’s not weird at all. In fact, uh, I could kind of tell.”

“No way! Seriously?” 

“Hey, I’m not that oblivious.” He nudges him playfully.

Cyrus sighs. “That’s good. Unlike some people I know.”

Jonah nods wisely. “T.J.?”

His heart clenches at the mention of him. Unbidden feelings rise up, but Cyrus quickly pushes them down. “Okay, now you’re starting to freak me out. How—”

“C’mon, Cyrus. I literally didn’t know you guys didn’t date in middle school. Andi told me the other day when we were talking about it.”

“Oh my god, no. No way. He would never.”

He snorts. “Really? I guess you’re the oblivious one, after all.”

“He dated a girl for years. And besides, he once called me a faggot.”

“He did what?”  Jonah stands up in anger, but plops right back down again. More silence. “Cyrus, I’ve dealt with my anxiety for a while now. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people do terrible things when they’re scared.”

__________________ 

One Thousand Six Hundred and Eighty Two Days Later

 

T.J. still doesn’t tell Cyrus Goodman how he really feels. Even though his mind is always centered around him. 

He’s not that brave. At least, not yet.

__________________ 

 

One Thousand Six Hundred and Ninety-Four Days Later

 

Cyrus still doesn’t apply for film school. Even though his heart tells him he should.

He’s not that brave. At least, not yet.

 

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eight Days Later

 

“For your project, which will count as the final, you will pair up with the person to your left,” the English teacher explains, “and you will both choose a book that we’ve read this year. Then, you’ll show how the novel would’ve ended up if one little event had gone differently. The Butterfly Effect, if you will. I don’t care how you display it—a novel, a drawing, a PowerPoint. Years of English class should’ve prepared you for this.”

It really didn’t. Cyrus takes a glance to the person to his left. And then to the passionate teacher, who told him his lack of “courage” in writing landed him a C- on that test.

“You’re holding back, Mr. Goodman,” she’d told him.

He’s determined to prove her wrong this time. Even if it means working with T.J. Kippen.

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifteen Days Later

 

T.J. adjusts his hoodie nervously. He stares at the mirror and decides to push his hair back. And then he parts it again.

“Okay, so who is the mystery guest?” his mother asks. “You’re not telling me anything.”

He’s not too keen on telling him any details. “I told you, it’s for an English project.”

She rolls her eyes. “I know that, baby, but you’re not telling me who.” 

T.J. turns to face her. He walks into the hall and pours himself a glass of water before relenting. “It’s Cyrus. Cyrus Goodman.”

His mother smiles, really smiles. “My, am I glad to hear that. You haven’t talked to him in so long. I always liked him. Maybe this can finally make you two bond? Have one last fling before graduation?”

He almost spits out his drink. “ Fling ? Mom, what do you mean?”

“Just kidding, dear.” Her tone doesn’t convey so, however. “Anything’s better than miss Kira, though. Just had to put that out there.”

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifteen Days Later

 

He doesn’t remember T.J.’s house being this big. It’s been awhile. And then Cyrus realizes they’ve removed their long dining table. T.J. hated it, he recalls. His father had bought it for them as a gift to “make up,” before leaving again.

Instead of that piece of furniture, they now have a small mahogany table. It’s cute. T.J.’s mom is super nice, of course. Dotes and hugs. Cyrus remembers when she would make him nervous. Meeting your crush’s mom isn’t an easy feat.

“I haven’t seen you in ages, dear. I read the news a couple of times, you’ve won so many writing competitions!” She offers him a brownie; he politely declines. “I bet you’re going to Harvard, huh?”

“Actually, Columbia,” T.J. speaks suddenly. They stare at him and he blushes. “He likes New York. Or at least, he used to.”

“I still do.” Cyrus is stunned. How does he remember that, of all things? Back when they were close, he wasn’t so fanatical about the city.

T.J.’s mother raises her eyebrows. “Uh, well, that was a great reunion. But don’t you two have a project to start? I’ll bring you some rice krispies, please don’t refuse, Cyrus...”

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-One Days Later

 

Buffy and Marty are fighting. It’s an odd thing, considering they’ve had a pretty steady relationship. They broke up in sophomore year, but they emerged again sometime in the next December, stronger than ever.

“What do you think it’s about?” Andi whispers. The two of them are waiting in the middle of the movie theater hallway waiting for their friends to ‘sort things out.’ 

“I don’t know. But if she’s crying, we’ll—”

“Kill him,” he finishes. All of a sudden, Buffy’s back, no tears in sight. There’s a smile on her face.

“Alright. Ready to get our Marvel on?” She starts to walk away, but he grabs her arm. 

“Where’s Marty? Did he leave?” Andi asks. “Come on, Buffy, tell us…”

She sighs and begins the whole story. Buffy got early admission to Duke; Marty is staying local. Buffy wants things to work out; Marty isn’t so sure.

“Long-distance, right? It sucks.” Tears roll down her cheeks. “I love him. And I know he loves me too. So how can it be so hard?”

They comfort her until she’s cheerful again. Cyrus pities her, he really does. At least he doesn’t have any high school attachments to worry about. Except—

“So?” Buffy wipes the tears from her cheeks. “How’s your English project with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”

“Uh, it’s going well, actually. We’re getting a lot done.” Cyrus looks away. “You know what’s funny? Jonah thinks T.J. had a crush on me in middle school. How ridiculous, right?”

Andi and Buffy look at each other. Andi finally says, not unkindly, “Not really. I mean, both of us still kinda think he does.”

He opens his mouth indignantly. What are they thinking? “No. That’s so stupid. Don’t. He—he called me a—”

“A terrible slur, yes,” Buffy says. “But he’s apologized, hasn’t he? I’m not saying it’s an excusable thing, but have you not heard what Kira’s been saying?”

“I try not to.”

She chuckles. “Well, apparently, she broke up with him because he’s gay. And I know T.J. was a jerk to me, but he was always so nice to you.”

“Extremely,” Andi pipes in. “You should’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

Buffy nods. “It makes sense. He’s not homophobic. He’s scared. So he isolated himself with Kira, but then tried to get with you at that party. She manipulated him again, since that bitch knows what frightens him. And now they’re finally over. He’s waiting for the right opportunity to tell you everything.”

Well. Fuck.

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-Eight Days Later

 

T.J. detests iced coffee. But Cyrus has generously bought him one, so he can’t really refuse. He glances at the other boy and suddenly the drink is much sweeter.

They’re sitting on a park bench. It’s nice. The evening sunlight hits them both, and there’s practically no one there. T.J. doesn’t quite know what to do with the fact.

Cyrus sighs and partially closes his laptop. “So, it’s decided, then? We’re choosing the car accident?”

“Of course. It’s a pretty integral scene, though.” T.J. chews on his straw. “Mrs. Lansing said to choose a tiny part.”

“Well, it will be. Technically. We won’t just say the car accident never happened; we’ll show what would’ve happened if Gatsby had driven instead of Daisy.”

“Cool, cool. You come up with the best ideas.” T.J. can’t help but compliment him. 

“You’re the one who said we should do The Great Gatsby. My dumb ass was going to choose East of Eden. The most boring book to ever exist.”

They laugh and fall back to working. Cyrus types furiously, T.J. scribbles on paper. He’s in charge of the fictitious part of the assignment. Cyrus will write the overall meaning.

After a while, Cyrus pushes his laptop towards him. T.J. guess it’s an invite to read the draft. He does.

Tears well up in his eyes.

“Cyrus. You’re an amazing writer.”

He shakes his head, blushing. “Not really. Actually, our own English teacher thinks I lack courage in writing. She’s right.”

T.J. laughs. “She’s jealous. She wishes she could describe her thoughts like you.” His smile vanishes. “What you’ve written…”

Cyrus knows he knows. Because the brown-haired boy inches closer and grasps his hand. 

“T.J., is there anything you want to tell me?”

He tries not to cry; he really does. But it comes out as a choked whisper. “Cyrus. I’m gay.”

It’s much, much harder to admit this to Cyrus than to Kira. With Kira, it was an excuse to break up with her, mostly. But this, this is reality. Reality that has been haunting him for so long. And all of a sudden the guilt melts. Melts as he looks into those brown eyes.

“And I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Cyrus. For everything. From costume day to dating Kira to blaming you about the party to calling you that horrible word—I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” It’s like one of his text drafts coming to life. He can’t stop now. “I hated being with her. She knew what to say and I would do things for her. I can’t even compare you to her. Because for years, you’ve been the guiding force. My guiding force. Even when we weren’t talking. Just the thought of you helped me.”

And then he realizes. Cyrus was the one who reported him to the counselor. He can just tell. Another example of Cyrus Goodman saved his life. Or more accurately, made his life worth living.

T.J. has to kiss him now. He just has to.

But he doesn’t.

Because Cyrus kisses him first.

It’s not short. It’s not even like his dreams. It’s the best thing he’s ever experienced, kissing a boy. Kissing the boy. He never wants it to end, this intoxicating bliss that he’s waited too long for. 

It was so worth it.

__________________ 

 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty-Seven Days Later

 

Cyrus stares at the phone screen in disbelief. There’s no way.

Meanwhile, his boyfriend shoots a basket with ease. “Underdog, did you see that? That was a total three-pointer…” T.J. spots him hunched over his phone and asks hesitantly, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah…” Cyrus nods curtly. “It’s just...I got into Columbia.”

A pause. But T.J. drops the basketball. “Cyrus, oh my god! Cyrus!”

And then both of them are cheering. T.J. hugs him and lifts him up into the air; they kiss in celebration. You can tell how proud his boyfriend is. Cyrus hopes he still will be after he tells him the unexpected news.

When they stop, gasping for air, Cyrus finally confesses, almost off-handedly, “But I’m not going.”

 

__________________ 

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Two Days Later

 

Prom night brings joy T.J. never expected. One hand is intertwined with Cyrus’, the other waves cheerily at Kira, who’s broken her punch glass in apparent anger. What a shame.

It’s too perfect. Cyrus’ friends gather around them, accepting and optimistic. They all look so beautiful. It looks like Buffy and Marty are okay again—Cyrus had been worrying about them for the past couple of weeks. Everyone’s smiling and laughing and dancing. If only this had happened sooner—

No. This is no time to dwell on the past. Only on the future, which happens to be the boy he’s holding hands with.

“I love you, you know that?” he whispers in Cyrus’ ear. The neon lights hide his boyfriend’s blush. Now that’s actually a shame.

 

__________________ 

One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-Nine Days Later

 

In his prized book, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald displays how simple choices lead to simple tragedies. When our protagonist chivalrously let Daisy drive during that fateful evening, it led to a series of events. 

Every little thing affects the big picture.

As my classmate T.J. Kippen described in his piece of work, we can only theorize that if Gatsby had driven, it would not have led to the grim crash. This means there was no vengeful Wilson out to get him. An optimist may believe this would’ve finally let Daisy accept her feelings for Gatsby, therefore concluding the book with a happy ending. Others can indulge in the bitter possibilities; somehow, Tom would’ve gotten rid of our strapping hero. If it wasn’t Wilson who murdered Gatsby in cold blood, it would’ve been someone else. A henchmen, perhaps, or Tom himself.

Many believe in the promise of what could’ve been. In a real life sense, it is not illogical to ponder in the same way. Ferdinand’s driver didn’t make the wrong turn. James Comey decided not to restart the Clinton investigation.

If I apply it to my own life, I will go back almost five years ago. My first love—sorry if I’m making this too personal, Mrs. Ortega, but my hands dictate my heart—made the simple choice of not doing a costume with me. This sounds incredibly dumb, I know. But because of that one decision, our friendship shattered. We distanced ourselves. We were caught up in each other; just never with each other. Whenever we attempted to return back to where were, it ended in more fatality. 

If we backtrack, and we go back to that one night, when the first love in question put on a white T-shirt instead of the costume we’d planned on, it can signal the start. For ever since then life has never been the same; for me, it was years of insecurity. For T.J. Kippen, it was years of repression.

But we overcame it, and this project plays a big part. So even with all the odds against us, that once choice he’d made a terrible obstacle, we continued our friendship and began a relationship. Maybe if he had put on our costume, it would’ve started way earlier. 

Yet I am going to adapt Gatsby’s logic now. He didn’t believe in what could’ve been; he believed in what could be. The proof lies in the green light he stared at very night.

We were each other’s green lights, no matter how cheesy that may sound; a promise that we believed was unattainable. But no matter how many times we looked away, the illumination caught our eyes and led us home, to the future, to each other. 

 

(And from now on, the costume day won’t be the start. Like normal people, we will believe in the daily rising of the sun as a new beginning.)

__________________ 

 

Cyrus wakes up to a day that seems to greet him, cloudless and a brilliant shade of blue. He loves it.

College is a blur. A fun blur. Cyrus’ classes are much more entertaining than what he’s endured throughout high school. He sets up the camera Andi and Buffy bought him, zooms in on the cheap dormitory carpet. Tons of fleas. Ugh. Perk of film school: you get to know when you have to call the exterminator. Feeling slightly sick, he decides to examine the script that he left on the dusty floor.

 A notification lets him know that it’s time to stop reading his own screenplay. Cyrus runs out of the compacted apartment and into the sweet Utah air. He’s not too far from home, or from another college that gave someone he knows a full basketball scholarship. In fact, he’s looking around for that certain someone.

When Cyrus finds him, he can’t help but let his jaw drop.

“There’s a costume competition at the park today,” T.J. explains. On his head lays a colander. “I figured you would want to be summer…”