Cyrus is running late. Even though he pretty much runs all the way to school, nearly coughing his lungs out in the process, he still only makes it there with fifteen minutes before the first bell rings. It’s one of the worse ways to start the day, and Cyrus can feel the negative energy sinking deeper into him, nearly dooming him to a Bad Day. He assumes he’s going to have to text his friends to let them know he’s here, but as he walks (or stumbles) through the front door, TJ is there, practically jumping at him. Cyrus is more than just a little flustered.
“Hey,” TJ says casually, bright and sunny and seemingly completely unaware of Cyrus’s state of disarray. He’s rocking back and forth between his heels and his toes, and just the simple movement is enough to make Cyrus feel disoriented.
“Hey,” he responds, much less cool and casual, and much more out of breath than TJ, but he’s honestly surprised he was able to get anything out at all. TJ laughs lightly, but Cyrus knows him well enough to know that it’s not at his expense. He just finds a large majority of Cyrus’s mannerisms humorous for some reason. Cyrus would be lying if he said he understood it.
“You run here?” TJ asks. Clearly, it’s meant to be a joke. Cyrus running? No chance. Cyrus starts laughing along and he’s not sure if it’s because he thinks it’s funny or if he’s slowly becoming delusional from lack of oxygen.
“Yes, actually. My alarm didn’t go off for some reason so I missed the bus, but my mom and stepdad were already gone for the day and I didn’t really wanna burden either of them by calling and asking them to come pick me up, so here I am,” he says, breathily and taking pauses every few words. He gestures to himself and coughs a few times. TJ is still smiling at him, but with slightly wider eyes now.
“Sorry, I’m gonna shut up,” Cyrus says when he’s done with his small coughing fit.
“Well, don’t shut up for too long because I have something for you, and I want a reaction. Preferably verbal.”
“Something for me?” Cyrus asks, confused about whether today is his birthday and he just forgot. He thinks for a second and is 98% sure that it’s not. TJ just nods and reaches into his backpack, asking Cyrus to close his eyes. It only takes about five seconds, but the anticipation nearly kills him, and Cyrus thinks he’s had enough heart palpitations for the day.
“Hold out your hand,” TJ says, clearly giddy over whatever it is. Cyrus’s heart pays for it. He extends his arm out, palm up, waiting for a second until there’s cool, satiny fabric falling between his fingers. Cyrus opens his eyes to baby blue and his own confusion.
“This is a basketball jersey,” Cyrus says upon further inspection. He’s still holding the garment out at arm’s length as if he’s expecting it to explode at any sudden movement.
“Yeah, it’s mine,” TJ confirms what he assumed. It still leaves about a hundred questions unanswered.
“Thanks, but I don’t think I’m prepared to take your spot on the team yet,” Cyrus jokes, moving to hand it back, but TJ’s arms stay firmly at his sides.
“Ha ha, he’s got jokes. Sometimes guys on the team give their jerseys to people to wear on game days for good luck.” Cyrus blinks once at that.
“Well, that just thoroughly cemented the fact that I know nothing about sports,” he says, still awkwardly grasping the jersey. TJ laughs again, and honestly, Cyrus kind of wishes he was actually trying to be funny.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. So?” TJ looks at him expectantly. There’s really nothing Cyrus can do, but he pretends like he’s making a choice. He holds up the jersey in front of himself, eyeing it skeptically. He lets out an exasperated sigh, entirely fake and TJ knows it.
“You’re lucky this matches my pants,” he says, and if he’s being purposely difficult just to see TJ’s cute little smile and the way he rolls his eyes then that’s nobody’s business.
“They’re black. They match everything.”
“Well, then you’re lucky I decided to wear black pants today.” TJ scoffs, guiding Cyrus down the hall with a hand between his shoulder blades.
“Yes, yes, I’m the luckiest man alive. Now go change. I wanna see you before we have to go to class.” Cyrus has to do everything in his power to not smile like an absolute idiot at that. As soon as he’s no longer facing TJ, he can’t help it. He enters the bathroom, going into one of the stalls, and immediately unbuttoning his shirt, surprised at his own speed. He quickly tucks it into his bag before pulling the jersey over his head.
When he looks in the mirror, he mentally notes that the jersey makes his arms look a little weird (this is why he doesn’t wear things without sleeves) and that his torso kind of drowns in the fabric. However, even his own negativity and low self-esteem can’t overpower the way his heart thunders in his chest. Despite the lack of sleeves, Cyrus feels incredibly warm. He opts to ignore both feelings, the way he’s been doing for the past few weeks and walks back out into the hallway.
When he emerges, TJ is pacing, actually looking a little nervous, but when he sees Cyrus his face lights up. Cyrus can feel his heart squeezing and he’s pretty sure his internal organs weren’t designed to deal with this much trauma in just one day. And it’s not even lunch yet.
“You look great,” TJ says, his mouth gaping in awe. Cyrus half expects him to backtrack and say something a little less earnest, but he just keeps smiling.
“Well, I personally think I look ridiculous,” Cyrus says, less self-deprecating than normal. Maybe even joking.
“No, you look amazing.” Cyrus can feel himself blushing as TJ continues to look at him. Needless to say, he’s not used to be scrutinized like this, but he’d be lying if he said it wasn’t nice. They’re interrupted by the first bell, TJ shaking himself out of his gaze.
“I’ve gotta run, class is on the other side of the building, but I’ll see you at lunch?” TJ asks, already walking in the other direction but still looking back at Cyrus. All he can do is smile and nod, TJ returning the gesture before running off.
Cyrus looks down at his chest and smiles to himself again, walking to his class.
It happens when he’s walking to his second period. A girl he’s sure he’s never seen before approaches him in the hall; no name, just a ‘hey’ and a gentle, nonthreatening tug on his wrist. When he turns to face her, he sees what she’s wearing: a blue jersey and black jeans. He eyes the number on the jersey, he’s ashamed to admit to himself that despite going to every game, he doesn’t know who the particular jersey belongs to. He’d be hard-pressed to name anyone on the team except TJ, and he should probably work on that.
“Well one of us is going to have to change,” he kids, and Cyrus decides she’s a very nice girl because she laughs at his very-not-funny joke. But the look on her face makes it obvious she has something else to say.
“You’re wearing TJ Kippen’s jersey,” she says, seemingly insinuating something, but Cyrus isn’t sure what. He’s not going to ask either.
“Uh, yeah. He gave it to me this morning.” That is what happened. He’s not sure if he’s supposed to relay the whole story to her, but he figures neither of them really have the time right now anyway.
“Wow… I mean, congrats. I just wanted to say I think this is so cool. And I support you 100%,” she says, a little erratic and sounding a little like she’s looking for the right words to say. Cyrus is lost. His face screws up in confusion, but he’s never been one to question a person’s kindness (sometimes against his better judgement).
“I’ll see you at the game later?”
“Yeah, sure.” The both smile and walk in different directions. Cyrus tries to ignore how weird that was.
When he arrives at the cafeteria for lunch, he can’t find TJ, but he does spot Andi and Buffy and opts to join them since he missed them in the morning.
“Hi, friends!” he greets the girls, sitting across from them, about to dig into his lunch until he notices their stares.
“So, it’s true…” Buffy nearly whispers, awe coloring her voice. She’s still staring but now she has a smile just as wide as her eyes. When he shifts his focus to Andi it’s like she’s struggling to even come up with words to say.
“What’s true? What’s going on? I wanna know!” he pleads. It only makes Andi and Buffy look at each other in vague disbelief, both giving short laughs. Cyrus still doesn’t get it. He makes a face the implies one of them should start explaining.
“That you’re wearing TJ’s jersey,” Andi says, every word slow and carefully enunciated. The purpose of this, however, is completely lost on Cyrus. He looks down at his chest again.
“Yeah, he gave it to me this morning. Also, I accidentally slept in; forgot to set my alarm. That’s why I didn’t meet up with you guys in the art room,” Cyrus explains while they continue to search his facial expressions for something. They turn away from him to look at each other again, raising their eyebrows.
“You know what this means, right?” Andi asks, and Cyrus can finally hear some of the confusion and uncertainty in her voice that he’s been hearing in his own. He’s not sure if it reassures him or not.
“No, but I assume you’re gonna tell me.” They look at each other again, only this time they both look disconcerted. It effectively sets his nerves on edge.
“He didn’t tell you anything?” Buffy asks cautiously.
“He told me it’s for good luck. He said that guys on the team give them to people all the time.”
“’People,’” Andi says, complete with air quotes.
“Yes, ‘people’. Unless there’s something I’m not aware of and I’m no longer classified as a person,” Cyrus responds sarcastically. It’s not really like him, but there’s obviously something they’re not telling him, and he wishes they’d just get it out already. Buffy takes a deep breath and then sighs.
“The ‘people’ that the guys give them to are their girlfriends.” Cyrus can feel his blood leave his face, running cold in his veins as he looks for any indication that Buffy is lying. He gives a small, slightly hysterical laugh.
“Well, obviously I’m not TJ’s girlfriend,” he jokes, hoping his joke will cancel out theirs and they can go back to talking about normal things. The both manage to smile, but they’re not very convincing.
“Obviously… but you should probably talk to him.”
“Talk to him about what? I don’t think there’s anything to discuss.” Cyrus knows he’s being purposely difficult, but he refuses to let his friends’ assumptions spark anything even closely resembling hope in him. He’s not dealing with something that doesn’t exist.
“No. Maybe he just doesn’t know that’s the tradition. Maybe he’s starting a new one.”
“Girls and basketball are the only things the team ever talks about. He’s bound to know. There’s no way he doesn’t.”
“I’m sure this is all just some big misunderstanding,” Cyrus decides, though he can’t control a handful of rogue thoughts claiming otherwise. He starts standing up from the table, no longer interested in lunch.
“Even if it is, right now it’s enough to make everyone interested. Very interested,” Buffy says, looking past Cyrus and over his shoulder. When he finally turns around, he’s suddenly aware of just how many pairs of eyes are on them. On him. He gives a little awkward wave.
“I have to go somewhere else.” He bolts, as quickly as he can manage, trying to ignore how the gazes follow him. Andi and Buffy know better than to come after him.
Cyrus overthinks to himself on the swings as he’s prone to do. He can’t help but stress out over how much this is going to embarrass TJ; how it’s going to affect their friendship whether they want it to or not. He squeezes his eyes shut and drags his feet across the ground. He imagines there are already people making jokes, and he finally feels a tear escape his eyelashes as he thinks about what it would be like if this were all real.
It’s time to go back to class, and Cyrus has to force his feet to move. When he’s back in the hall, the eyes return, and yet he still hasn’t seen TJ since that morning. He wonders for a second if TJ’s avoiding him, then promptly tries to ignore the thought. He’s not sure seeing TJ right now would help with much anyway. All he knows is that he can’t wait for classes to end.
He leaves his jacket on and zipped all the way up for the rest of the day.
When the final bell rings, he’s anxious, stepping out into the hall and sending a single text to TJ.
Do you still want me to go to the game?
To his surprise, the reply comes within seconds:
of course i do! can you not make it?
TJ never really uses emojis – he says it takes too long to find the ones he wants to use – but even without them Cyrus can sense his disappointment. Cyrus breathes in. He does want to go to the game, despite everything that’s happened today.
No! I’ll be there! Just making sure
are you okay? And that’s the last question Cyrus wants to be asked because he’s not even sure how to answer it. He’s lucky he’s a better liar via text than he is in real life.
I’m great! Can’t wait to see you!
It’s the truth, and yet Cyrus has never felt more terrified in his life. He spends the next minute and a half agonizing over his word choices, wondering if he scared TJ off with his eagerness. Is it obvious that Cyrus likes him now? Is TJ trying to find a way to let him down gently and tell him not to come to the game after all? What if this whole thing was a joke with his teammates and now he’s realized that it’s gone too far?
In the midst of his unbridled panic, Cyrus receives another text.
can’t wait to see YOU
Right beside it is a single blue heart emoji
When Cyrus gets to the game, he’s still feeling self-conscious about the jersey, but slightly less so when he notices everyone’s attention is on the court. He’s still undeniably nervous, probably because everyone else was too busy to come with him. And so here he is, alone in the bleachers, cheering for one boy.
The score is really close and it’s making Cyrus sweat. How is he supposed to prove to TJ that he’s good luck if they don’t even win this game? It’s a stupid thing to be worried over, but Cyrus can’t stop himself from spiraling. He’s on the edge of his seat for the last ten minutes of the game, watching as the lead continues to flip flop back and forth between the two teams.
At the final buzzer Jefferson still has the lead.
Cyrus cheers along with the rest of the crowd and TJ spots him immediately. They run towards each other, Cyrus descending the bleachers as quickly as he can without injuring one an extremity. When they’re both on the floor, TJ takes Cyrus into his arms, spinning him around before placing him back down as carefully as he can.
“You did so good!” Cyrus yells over the noise.
“Yeah, thanks to you,” TJ says into his ear, taking his hand and lacing their fingers together, right there in front of everyone. Cyrus can hear his pulse pounding in his ears. His palms start sweating so he lets go of TJ, wiping his hand down on the side of his pants.
“Can we talk somewhere… not here?” Cyrus asks, anxiety lacing his voice. TJ looks nervous but nods his head silently. They step outside into the brisk winter air, neither of them wearing jackets, so Cyrus tries to make it quick. He takes TJ’s hand again.
“What does all of this mean?” he asks, holding up their joined hands and gesturing at them as well as the jersey. TJ’s face flushes, but Cyrus can’t be sure if that’s just side effect of the fact that it’s freezing. He squeezes their hands together before breathing out heavily.
“I mean, isn’t it obvious?” TJ asks. Cyrus thinks that if it were, they wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
“Maybe it is, but I’m not in the habit of making assumptions.” TJ sighs, his face getting redder, and now Cyrus definitely thinks it’s because of this conversation. He’s sure he looks similar.
“I guess it was my way of asking you to be my boyfriend. Go ahead, laugh at me,” TJ says, looking down and away from Cyrus. Cyrus does laugh, a small, sweet sound, not rude or mocking (he’s pretty sure he’s not capable of either of those things). He squeezes TJ’s hand again, urging him to make eye contact.
“I’m only laughing because my day would’ve been a lot easier if you had just said that from the beginning. You know, actually asking someone to be your boyfriend is a pretty effective way of asking someone to be your boyfriend,” he teases, poking TJ’s arm with his free hand. TJ continues to look more and more embarrassed as the seconds pass.
“Listen, I was going to, I swear I was. But then I saw you, and you looked really cute, and I couldn’t get over the fact that you were wearing my jersey… then it was time to go to class, and I guess I just blanked on the whole ‘asking you’ part. I assumed you would get it,” TJ rambles, words running into each other as he struggles to take a breath.
“I think it would be safer for all parties involved if you just never assume I understand anything. At all.” Cyrus hopes that’s enough to help avoid any future incidents like this, but he won’t hold his breath.
“Okay. Not assuming anything, does this mean you’re my boyfriend now?”
“I think it does.”
“Cool…” Cyrus stares at him in disbelief.
“’Cool’? That’s all you have to say after all of this?”
“Listen, I’ve been through about ten different emotions in just as many minutes, some of them I’ve never experienced before. I think I’m entitled to some slack.”
Cyrus laughs and moves closer to TJ, finally realizing just how cold it is when he sees the way the way the vapor from their mouths intermingle. Suddenly, TJ’s easy smile is gone, replaced by something a little more serious.
“Not to make more assumptions, but this feels like the part where we kiss,” he whispers, as if he’s afraid being any louder will scare Cyrus away. Cyrus smiles with reassurance.
“Not to make assumptions, but I think you’re right.”
They slowly lean in, hesitating slightly as they grow closer, before stopping altogether when Cyrus’s phone chimes with a new text. He scrunches up his face, making a tiny whining noise and pulling back to look at his phone.
“My mom’s here,” Cyrus announces regretfully, still holding onto TJ’s hand until TJ pulls away, rubbing his hands up and down his goosebump-covered arms.
“Right. Yeah, we should go anyway. It’s cold out here,” TJ says, once again looking anywhere but Cyrus as his cheeks go red again, clearly still flustered and nervous. Cyrus has never seen this side of TJ until tonight and he has to say, it’s really cute.
“Alright,” Cyrus says with a confident smile, giving TJ’s hand a final squeeze.
In a split-second decision, Cyrus rises up to the tips of his toes and leans forward until their lips are pressed together, kind of awkwardly, but still one of the best things Cyrus has ever experienced. It only lasts a handful of seconds before Cyrus leans back again, blushing furiously. They look at each other with the goofiest smiles, Cyrus biting his lip and TJ laughing like he’s choking. It’s still perfect.
When his mom asks him why he’s smiling so much, he says it’s because of their victory. He figures he can try explaining the whole boyfriend thing tomorrow.