This’ll be the day that I die.
Joshua always hated gym class, and today was no exception. The week leading up to homecoming always meant that the gym teachers were far too focused on football practice rather than the actual classes they were paid to teach, so once again, the class was playing dodgeball.
Joshua didn’t mind the concept of dodgeball at first, but there were just some kids that got way too into the game that had ruined it for him over the years. He loved a good friendly competition with friends, but being forced to chuck plastic balls at kids he barely knew and getting nothing out of it other than a hollow victory or a few swollen bruises made him despise the game.
It would have been better if Wes had been in the class, but being the over-achiever that he is, he was in one of his many college-level classes this period. He was too smart for his own good, and Joshua had told him that countless times before. When their SAT results came in this past April and Wes had received a score just short of perfect, Joshua had told him that he must’ve been part terminator because no real human could be that perfect. Wes had laughed and brushed off the compliment like he always did, and Joshua laughed along with him, but he had meant what he had said. To him, Wes was perfect. He was able to do anything he set his mind to and he was so well rounded: a star football player for the school’s team, a singer in the chorus, one of the top students in their class. He was great in every way to Joshua, but he knew deep down that Wes didn’t care for him in the same way that he did.
They had known each other since kindergarten, as kids from small school districts always did. Their relationship ebbed and flowed with their class schedules, drifting apart whenever they were placed in different homerooms in middle school or had to go to separate lunch waves. With high school, they were brought closer together, the freedom that came with cell phone privileges and access to the internet allowing them to speak even when they hadn’t seen each other in person for over a week. Joshua loved texting Wes, even if he always made fun of his spelling errors. That was part of his charm, he reckoned, making fun of Joshua. Even if it was harder for Joshua to make fun of Wes, he managed to do it, albeit far less than the other boy did. The insults were more akin to compliments in a mocking tone; ‘ Oh look I got an A on the test everybody failed.’ ‘I got another scholarship offered to me by a college I’ll never go to.’ Wes always dismissed any genuine compliments that Joshua gave him, so it was his favorite loophole to praise his friend when he wouldn’t let him otherwise.
A sharp sting on his leg pulled Joshua back to reality, a shrill whistle blow and shout from the teacher signaling that he was out of the game. He was relieved as he jogged to the bleachers, where the other estranged students in his class sat. Some of them had written excuse notes about asthma preventing them from participating, others had complained about needing to study for a test the next period. Only one of them had just refused to participate in the class entirely, and she was the one that Joshua threw himself next to at the top of the bleachers.
Mari Takahashi was known for being brash and generally unpleasant to be around by the majority of the student body. Her dark clothes and strong personality acted as both a deterrent for bullies and as a flame that brought in the other outcasts of the school like moths. While she portrayed herself as an introvert who despised people, she really did appreciate the students who didn’t have a place where they truly fit in the outlandish social hierarchy that had been established at the school long ago. Joshua had been one of those kids, despite being a year older than her. He found her boldness admirable, something he wished he could find in himself. Although she dressed like she had just robbed the Hot Topic at the local mall, he loved the dry sense of humor and genuine appreciation for his nerdiness that she had.
“Nice job, Jovert. You really suck at this game.” The nickname and playful insult bounced off Joshua’s skin like rubber as he relaxed against the smooth wooden bleachers that were uncomfortable, but just tolerable enough for him to ignore the corner jabbing into his back.
“Eh, who cares. They just want to run the football players to death so we don’t lose another game.” It was true, their school’s football team hadn’t won a game since the end of the previous season, and the coaches were guilt-tripping the players as much as they could in order to coax a win from them. At least, that’s what Wes had told Joshua. He didn’t particularly care that much about sports, especially school sports, but he went to the football games to support Wes, even when the team lost miserably.
“We could just skip.” Mari suggested, looking to Joshua with questioning eyes. He considered it for a moment but shook his head.
“I’m not trying to get detention before the game. Wes is making me go on Friday and I don’t want to deal with him pouting about how I got myself in trouble and couldn’t go.” It technically wasn’t a lie, since Wes really would be upset if he couldn’t go, but he wasn’t being forced to attend the homecoming game at all.
“Alright pussy, suit yourself.” Mari grumbled. She stayed in her position on the bleachers, chuckling as a freshman was hit in the face with a ball.
They sat there in silence for a while and Joshua checked his watch every few minutes to count down the time until the bell rang for the end of the period. Mari watched the students in the gym, strands of bright purple hair framing her face. Her eyes were glazed over, her mind clearly somewhere far away from the musty old gym. Joshua wished he could take himself away like that, but he had been cursed with never being able to take himself out of a moment without the aid of a drug or another distraction.
“Do you think I should go to homecoming?”
The question surprised Joshua. Mari’s voice was quiet and far away, the inquiry not directed at him but more so to the air.
“Do you want to go?” Joshua asked. He leaned in closer to Mari and waved a hand in front of her face, but she continued to stare ahead, even though the cloudiness in her eyes had gone away.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been to a school dance. Why not give it a go when it’s the last year I can do it with my best friends?” Joshua cracked a smile. He and Mari had talked about what would happen when he, Wes, and David had graduated and it had taken a bit of alcohol and some of David’s stash to convince her to really share that she was upset they were leaving.
“Then, uh, go for it. If you hate it you can always leave, we’ll come with you.” Mari turned to him and gave him the slightest hint of a smile.
“Thanks Jovie.” Joshua nodded to her and he felt his own smile creep onto his face.
“I’m saving up for the 360, I’m taking double shifts. This thing better be fuckin’ great or I’m gonna throw it out my window and run it over.”
“Dude, it’s like the best console out right now. It’s gonna be great.” Wes assured David. Joshua sat across from the two at their lunch table eating the crappy frozen pizza that the school had served today. Wes looked tired. He had already mentioned the mountain of homework that he had received from his Calculus class digging into his practice time with the football team, but there was something more weighing on him that Joshua couldn’t pinpoint exactly.
It may have just been his usual pre-game routine that caused his exhaustion - before a big game like homecoming Wes would work out incessantly and eat only when absolutely necessary. Joshua didn’t know how he found the self-control to do it, especially considering the boy’s insatiable sweet tooth. But Wes had something more in his eyes, something that was deeper than the stress of the homecoming game. Joshua made a mental note to check in on him later.
“I think it’s just a fad. Playstation is way better anyways.” Sohinki spoke up, which sparked a debate across the table that Joshua became heavily involved in, but he faltered when he noticed that Wes had a far off look in his eye. He stared down at the table solemnly, rolling the lone apple he had as his lunch between his hands.
The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. The group got up from their table and all began to head off to their respective classes, but Joshua hung back to catch Wes before he disappeared for the rest of the day.
“Are you doing alright? You look kinda like shit.” Joshua tried to phrase the question as delicately as possible, but he knew that Wes would just brush it off if he didn’t throw in the insult if you could even call it that.
Wes sighed. “I…” He was clearly thinking, trying to formulate an excuse for his appearance. Wes was always great with excuses and had saved their friends’ asses more than a few times with his creative explanations.
“I can’t get into it now. Can you meet me in the gym after practice?” He looked at Joshua with pleading eyes. His eyes held so much depth to them, and if Joshua were a better poet he could write about them all day. They were playful and kind, but they held a deep sadness behind them. He had never been able to tap into it, but he had gotten close before. Maybe this would be his chance.
“Yeah, totally. I’ll see you then.” They both turned to walk away, but Joshua felt eyes on the back of his head burning a hole through his skull. He looked back to see Wes smiling at him sadly, where it came across on his face but didn’t meet his eyes. Joshua felt his heart skip a beat when he nodded at him and slowly spun to begin walking in the opposite direction. He pushed the warmth in his chest aside as he walked to his History class, but he couldn’t let the look of Wes’s eyes leave his thoughts.
Joshua sat on the same bleachers he had been at earlier that day waiting for the football team to finish practice. He had been waiting for over an hour at this point, and he would be lying if he wasn’t annoyed. Not with Wes, but for the fact that this was eating into his time to be playing the Halo game he had left sitting on his bed in the wee hours of the morning. He shot a quick text to Mari complaining about the wait and stared at the flaking ceiling of the gym. They would have to fix that before some kid hits a baseball too hard and collapses the roof.
The sound of voices and footsteps alerted Joshua to the mass of football players walking through the doors of the gym. He noticed a few of them giving him strange looks and others double-take, but he didn’t care. He was used to that.
Wes held up the back, talking with some younger players and laughing. His uniform was covered in grass and dirt stains, and his hair was plastered to his head with sweat. The maroon jersey he wore stood out against his pale skin and hugged his torso closely. Joshua could see the outline of his muscles under the tight undershirt he wore and put the thought to the back of his head as something to ‘save for later’.
Wes caught his eye and waved the younger students ahead, making his way over to where Joshua sat. He put one knee up on the bleachers and leaned his arm onto it, a small smirk on his face.
“Sorry for the wait, practice went long.” I hadn’t noticed, Joshua thought. He nodded to Wes as an acknowledgment and then got straight to the point.
“What’s going on with you? You don’t seem like yourself.” Wes’s smile dropped from his face and he sighed heavily. He collapsed into the space next to Joshua, hanging his head to his chest.
“It’s just… everything is so stressful right now.” Joshua nodded. He could attest to that. Applying for colleges and trying not to fail the classes he was taking was stressful enough on its own, but the added pressure of being with friends and keeping his parents happy was just more to think about. Wes had so much more going on than him, he couldn’t imagine how that felt.
“I can’t focus on one thing at a time normally, and that’s helpful sometimes, but when all of this shit is happening I just lose my mind. I just feel like giving up sometimes, let myself fail and drop out. But I can’t do that. Especially to my family. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
Joshua slowly placed a hand on Wes’s back. He could feel the sweat through the padding of his uniform, but he hid his recoil well.
“You’re not a disappointment to your parents. You never will be. You’re a great person.” Wes tried to say something in response, but Joshua quickly interjected. “For somebody who sucks a lot.” He saw the corners of Wes’s mouth turn up slightly. He turned to Joshua with those sad eyes that made his heart ache and smiled.
“Thanks. You suck too.” They laughed quietly together until the moment passed and they fell into silence. Joshua noticed that his hand was still on Wes’s back. He thought about moving it, but Wes didn’t seem to mind that much. And to be honest, he didn’t want to move his hand. Instead, he wrapped it around Wes’s shoulder and pulled him into a side hug, something Mari had joked he ‘specialized’ in. Wes’s head fell into his softly, and Joshua could feel the sweat against his head. He felt Wes sigh next to him as he leaned into the hug, which made Joshua’s heart flutter.
“I don’t know how to dance.”
“What?” Joshua turned to Wes, confused. Wes looked to him with a shy smile.
“I don’t know how to dance. I’ve been thinking about it since homecoming is Friday. I don’t want to look like an idiot.”
Joshua laughed, the smile spreading across his face all on its own. “You’re worrying about that? Dancing doesn’t matter, just feel the music, man.” Wes laughed at the ‘surfer dude’ accent Joshua shifted into for the last part of his statement.
“I know, like, regular dancing. But I never learned how to slow dance. I skipped the ballroom thing we did in gym freshman year ‘cause I got that concussion, remember?”
Joshua looked at his friend quizzically, still beaming. He chuckled.
“Do you want me to teach you or something?” He joked. Wes’s eyes lit up, and Joshua’s laugh faltered.
“Uh, yeah. If you’re okay with it.” Joshua’s smile fell from his face and his heart began to race. The thought of slow dancing with Wes made his stomach churn suddenly, and his voice caught in his throat. He knew he could show him, he had aced that unit in gym. But he didn’t know if he could emotionally handle being that close to Wes like this. He had been letting the wandering thoughts of his friend pass through his mind for months, but he would have to confront them head-on if he danced with him. It felt silly, but dancing felt like something too intimate, he could barely handle the thought.
“Um…” Joshua started. He saw the light in Wes’s eyes, the genuine excitement that he had. That was enough to convince him to say yes. “Sure. Here, come on.”
Joshua guided Wes to the floor of the gym, standing in front of him. Wes stood almost a full head taller than him, and even though he wasn’t necessarily short, he had never felt smaller than under the gaze of his friend.
“So, put your hand here…” Joshua took Wes’s hand and placed it on his waist, which sent shivers up his spine. He put his other hand on Wes’s shoulder and clasped their hands together gingerly, holding them on level with his own shoulder. He caught Wes’s eye for a moment and nearly melted under the warmth in the look he gave him. He was fully smiling now, his eyes bright and full of emotion. Joshua averted his gaze quickly and stared at their feet.
“Now, follow my lead. Count with me. 1, 2, 3.” He let himself slip into the routine, stepping in time to the beats he counted out loud. Wes spoke with him quietly, stumbling along with Joshua. He chuckled as Wes struggled, but he felt himself being pulled closer by the hand on his waist and stopped. Their chests were almost touching and it felt like electricity was shooting through the space between them as they danced.
They only grew closer as they continued. Joshua was lucky that Wes was a fast learner because he felt like his brain was short-circuiting as his friend pressed against him. Wes began to get bolder as they danced to Joshua’s counting, daring to spin him with a glowing smile. Somehow Wes had taken the lead and was swinging Joshua around while laughing to himself, and while Joshua could feel his face burning, he laughed along with him. He had given up on counting at this point and let Wes guide him around the gym in long strides, smiling as he hummed a song Joshua didn’t recognize.
Wes spun him at least three more times before they ended up in front of the locker room doors. In one fluid motion, he dipped Joshua down. He had to look into his eyes now, and they were so close that he could feel the beat of Wes’s heart against his chest. They breathed in unison, staring at each other in silence. Joshua wanted to say something, but he couldn’t muster a sound from his throat. Wes’s eyes looked so open, so full of life. He didn’t realize that their faces were growing closer until their noses touched lightly. Wes pulled them up suddenly, but he let his hand linger on Joshua’s waist for a second longer than he should have before he separated them.
“I should... go shower.” Wes pointed to the locker room door with his thumb and gave Joshua an awkward smile, which he returned.
“Oh, uh, yeah. You should.” There was a moment of silence as neither of them moved. Joshua bit his lip tightly and clasped his hands behind his back.
“So, uh…” Wes rocked back and forth in his spot, shifting his weight between his feet. “I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah. Great. Cool.” Wes turned towards the door.
“Hey! Good job. You’re gonna be a dancing machine at homecoming now.” That was a fucking stupid thing to say, Joshua.
Wes flashed him a quick smiled and waved before entering the locker room, leaving Joshua standing alone in the gym. He let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding in as his whole body relaxed. Jesus.
His thoughts raced as he walked out of the school to the parking lot, unlocking his car from a few hundred feet away. There were a few other cars in the lot, he recognized Wes’s blue pickup in a spot a few spaces away from his own car. He continued to walk towards his car until he heard a voice from behind him.
“Wow.” Joshua turned to face Mari as his heart jumped out of his chest.
“Jesus, Mari! You scared the shit outta me.” Mari just chuckled and looked at him with knowing eyes.
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” Joshua took a step back in shock.
“What?” His heart began to race and he broke out into a sweat. He could brush it off and pretend it was a joke, laugh along with Mari. But the panic he felt his expression shift into was by far the worst poker face he could’ve come up with, and Mari noticed it quickly.
“You are.” She said, and a small smile grew on her face. Joshua took a shaky breath before he nodded to her.
“How did you know?” He whispered, his voice jumped in pitch like it did when he was nervous.
“I saw you were dancing together in the gym, just spinning around and laughing. I can see the way you look at him. You’re smitten, Jovie.”
Joshua couldn’t protest. He knew that the feeling of floating was because of how he danced with his friend, and in good conscience, he couldn’t lie to Mari. She would be able to tell he was anyway.
“It’s cute. I hadn’t noticed it before, but you guys would be really good together, honestly. You should ask him out.”
Joshua sputtered out a string of excuses for why he couldn’t do that, but Mari placed a gentle hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“I get it. You don’t have to. But I think you’ll regret it if you don’t say anything.” Her eyes lit up with an idea. “You should tell him at homecoming!”
Joshua shook his head violently. “No fuckin’ way. I can’t do that.”
“I just can’t Mari. Please believe me.” The smile fell from her face and she shoved her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
“Okay, I understand.” Joshua gave a sigh of relief. “But we need to talk about this more, okay?”
Joshua nodded begrudgingly and Mari turned away and walked back toward the school. He got into his car and started it, the CD in the player beginning as he pulled out of the space.
A long, long time ago…
The November air bit at Joshua’s skin as he sat on the metal bleachers watching the football game. He shivered and held himself, rubbing his arms in an attempt to get warm. The second quarter was coming to a close, and unsurprisingly the school’s team was losing horribly already.
Joshua exhaled a puff of air into the cool afternoon and scanned the field in search of Wes. He knew very little about football, but he at least knew the quarterback was towards the back of the lineup, and he spotted Wes’s number just as he threw the ball towards another one of his teammates. The student section began to cheer as the player ran along the field, but stopped once they were tackled to the ground by a massive member of the opposite team. Joshua winced at the collision and sighed as the buzzer signaled the beginning of halftime.
He checked his phone, revealing no new messages. That was expected. He pulled his jacket closer around him and watched the students walk by to the snack stand next to the bleachers. He could see Wes chugging a water bottle on the sidelines and talking to his teammates, probably encouraging them in the face of a definite loss.
A flash of purple hair caught his attention as Mari walked up the bleachers to him, buried in a long black coat and scarf.
“Losing again?” She asked as she took a seat next to him.
“Figures.” They sat for a moment in silence, watching as the cheerleaders did a short routine involving a lot of throwing of the younger girls.
“We still haven’t talked about Wes.” She said. Joshua sighed. He had assumed this was coming since the day Mari had caught him in the parking lot, but he really didn’t want to have that conversation now.
“Uh-huh.” He muttered. Mari leaned towards him and tried to look him in the eyes, but he averted his gaze from hers.
“Dude.” She said, her voice hard. Joshua looked to her, his eyebrows narrowed.
“What? I don’t super want to talk about it now.”
“Well, then when will you? You’re gonna destroy yourself if you keep pining over him. Please.” He sighed in exasperation.
“Fine.” He threw his hands up in defeat. “What do you want?”
Mari glared at him. “Just talk to me. You don’t have to be a dick.”
“I’m not being a dick! You’re forcing me to talk about something I don’t want to talk about! I think that’s being a dick more than I am.”
Mari looked hurt, but she pursed her lips and nodded. “Okay. Sorry.”
“It’s fine I just… don’t want to ruin anything. I wish I could stop feeling this way, but I don’t know how to without throwing myself into something that I don’t care about.” He sighed. “Wes deserves so much. He’s such a great person and a great friend and I feel awful that I can’t just enjoy our friendship without wanting something more.”
Mari nodded. “I get that. But how do you know he doesn’t feel the same way?”
Joshua stifled a laugh. “Uh, he doesn’t. It’s Wes, he would’ve said something by now. You know how he is about that stuff.” But there was a hint of doubt that crossed his mind. He went back to that day in the gym where Wes danced with him so fondly, how he looked at him like he was the only thing in the world. How their noses touched when Wes dipped him. Those eyes staring into his soul like he could read every thought he was having.
“I don’t believe you for some reason.” Mari teased. “I saw how you danced with him. I think he has some feelings for you too, Jovert.”
Joshua tried to come up with some excuse, but his mouth hung open without a sound. Mari smirked at him.
“I know I’m right.” The conversation stopped there, and the two of them watched the game start up again.
The fourth quarter came fast, and thankfully the game hadn’t become a total bust, as Wes passed the ball to a player who had scored a touchdown at the end of the third quarter. The student section of the bleachers held their breath as the next play started, and even Joshua felt the anticipation building up in his chest as he watched the score grow closer and closer until the opposing team only had a two-point lead.
There was less than a minute left in the game as the home team took their position on the field. Joshua saw Wes point to one side of the field as the ball was thrown into play. It was a blur of bodies as the ball made its way down the line of players. The student section was whooping and hollering from the bleachers, encouraging the player who was running straight for the endzone with the ball in hand. Joshua and Mari stood up, holding each other in anticipation. There was a second where it looked like the player wouldn’t make it, but just as the buzzer rang he slid into the endzone. They had actually won the game.
A deafening roar erupted from the bleachers, and some students began to rush the field, leaping over the fence and charging towards the players. Joshua and Mari followed behind, sprinting as fast as they could towards the players gathered at the end of the field. He could hear a voice over the speakers calling the students back, but nobody was listening. He could see Wes cheering on the player who had scored along with the rest of the team and beamed.
Wes turned towards the group of students forming on the field and quickly noticed Joshua and Mari. He ran straight for Joshua and before he could even realize, Wes was holding him in his arms and spinning him around gleefully.
“We won! We actually won! Holy shit!” He jumped for joy, still holding Joshua. He cackled as Wes held him, the euphoria of their team winning washing over him like rain. He felt elated, like everything was perfect. He looked to Wes, who still had his helmet on, and saw his eyes shining with happiness. He beamed at him as Wes let him down onto the ground, still holding his waist where he had picked him up. They stayed there for a moment, looking at each other like they were the only people in the universe. Joshua could already hear Mari making fun of him in the back of his head.
Wes was pulled away by a few of his teammates, leaving Joshua standing in the midst of a swarming sea of students and football players. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Mari giving him a small smile.
“C’mon, we need to get ready.”
Seven o’clock came quickly, too quickly for Joshua to get himself sufficiently ready for the dance. His suit was scratchy and stiff, but he had never worn it before so that was expected. He waited on his porch in the biting evening, looking for the headlights of Wes’s truck to appear on the street.
Joshua thought of what Mari had said earlier about Wes. He felt too hopeful when he thought about the idea of Wes liking him back, but he couldn’t dismiss the wandering questions that crossed his mind. Did he feel the same warmth in his chest when they were close? Did he try to find excuses to be near him when they hung out with friends as he did? Was he thinking of him like he was now?
The sound of tires on the gravel driveway pulled him out of his thoughts. Wes smiled from the driver’s seat, waving at Joshua to come in. Mari sat in the back and nodded to him as he slid into the passenger seat.
They were both in suits, Mari’s a dark blue that complimented her hair nicely. Her tie was printed with colorful flowers that stood out against her white shirt. Wes wore a tan suit, a pink carnation pinned to his chest in a small boutonniere. His hair was brushed back against his head neatly. Joshua noticed that it was getting long again.
“Lookin’ sharp, buddy.” Wes smiled at him. He reversed in the driveway and started down the road to the school. His radio was softly playing an 80s rock station as per usual, and even though it was barely audible, Wes mumbled along as he drove.
The parking lot was filling up fast when they arrived, but they managed to snag a spot towards the entrance that miraculously wasn’t taken. As they stepped out, Wes waved to David and Sohinki, who were leaving David’s car and making their way over to the gym doors. They made small talk as they walked in, the decorations pleasantly surprising the group.
Streamers hung from the ceiling, balloons were tied up in bundles near the doors and around key points in the room. The entire gym had been transformed, a small stage set up with a live band in front of where the locker rooms were. A dozen or so tables were set up next to the stage covered in white cloths. Students milled around holding cups of punch from a snack table that spanned the length of one set of bleachers. The planning committee had really outdone themselves this year.
A group of football players immediately noticed Wes and started discussing the game, leaving Mari, David, Sohinki, and Joshua to peruse the snack table on their own. Everything looked pretty good, so they all filled their plates and sat at a table close to the stage.
“Mar told me that our shitty team actually won for once.” Sohinki said, looking to Joshua with a questioning tone. He shot a look to Mari about the nickname, but she shrugged it off.
“Uh yeah. It was pretty great, honestly.” Sohinki nodded, turning to the stage.
“The band is starting up. I hope they don’t play that trash music on the radio now.”
“You listen to hip hop, Sohin. That’s not much better.” Mari told him. He turned to her with a surprised look.
“Hip hop is great! Don’t compare it to that crap.” Mari laughed and held her hands up in surrender.
“Alright, alright. Sorry.”
Wes took a seat next to Joshua with a plate of cookies and other sweets from the snack table, half of a cookie already in his mouth.
“Hey guys. Sorry they pulled me away. What are you talking about?”
“How Sohinki’s music taste sucks.” David replied. Sohinki lightly punched him in the arm.
Wes chuckled. “Okay, so the usual.” He looked to the band, who were introducing themselves to the deaf ears of the student body.
“I hope they do play something good, though. If they did Queen or something I would absolutely dance to that.”
A familiar piano riff filled the room as the beginning of some pop song Joshua didn’t know the name to started. The band was good, but he didn’t really care about the music all that much.
After the third top 40 song the band played, Wes hushed the complaints from the table and stood up, laying a hand on Joshua’s shoulder.
“C’mon guys. Even if the music’s shitty we can still have fun. Come dance.” He extended the hand on his shoulder to Joshua, who took it and allowed himself to be led to the dancefloor by Wes.
He had to admit it was fun dancing to the music he didn’t really know. He liked dancing, it let him let go of the world around him. He liked feeling the rhythm of the music course through his veins as he moved his body. He knew he wasn’t the best dancer, but compared to Wes he looked like a trained professional. He flung his arms around wildly to the beat, barely moving his feet. Despite his horrific moves, he was beaming at Joshua.
He took his hands and began to spin them around in the center of the gym. Joshua could feel eyes on them as they laughed together, but he held Wes’s hands tightly and spun with him as the music swelled and filled the room.
They stumbled around as the song ended, giggling to themselves and complaining about how dizzy they were. Wes looked at Joshua with the happiest look he’d seen on him in years and his heart swelled.
“Okay we’re gonna take a quick break for the crowning of Homecoming King and Queen!” The singer said, which promoted a small cheer from the crowd of students. Wes’s face turned to worry as he looked up at the stage, where their principal stood holding the plastic crowns.
“Courtney nominated me for Homecoming King. I don’t want to go up there.” He whispered to Joshua. He turned to Wes with eyebrows raised. He knew Courtney was a freshman on the cheerleading team that Wes had been assigned to help with during freshmen orientation earlier in the year. He didn’t know how close the two were, but a pang of jealousy shot through his chest.
“Don’t worry, you probably won’t get it. You suck too much.” Wes cracked a small smile, but he still looked worried.
“For our Homecoming Queen, Kimmy Jimenez!” Their principal announced. A girl Joshua just barely recognized jumped for joy in a group of her friends and ran towards the stage. He clapped politely as the plastic tiara was placed on her head and the sash was draped over her.
“And our Homecoming King, Wesley Johnson!” Joshua heard Wes curse quietly beside him, but he quickly put on his winning smile and walked to the stage. Joshua wasn’t clapping out of politeness at this point, cheering loudly along with Wes's friends from the football team as Wes had the crown placed on his head. He towered over Kimmy comically when they posed for a photograph.
Wes left the stage swiftly and came up to where Joshua, Sohinki, Mari, and David were standing.
“Nice crown, your highness .” Sohinki sneered. Wes chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his neck. His posture had completely changed from how he looked on the stage. His shoulders caved in and he shrunk down a few inches. His ears were tinged red along with the tops of his cheeks. Joshua placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t want to wear this thing,” Wes said. Joshua saw Mari’s eyes light up as she snatched the plastic crown from Wes’s head and placed it on her own.
“I’m the king now. Kneel before me, bitches.”
The group laughed at her joke, Wes especially.
“You deserve it. It suits you.” He said. Mari beamed and grabbed Sohinki’s arm, shouting a response as she pulled him towards the dancefloor.
“You’re damn straight!”
David looked to Wes and Joshua with an exasperated expression before chasing their friends into the crowd.
Joshua turned to Wes, who looked instantly relieved after having the crown taken from him. He pushed his hands into his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels, looking around the gym at the decorations. He looked nervous, albeit much less than he had before being crowned.
“Are you okay?” Joshua asked him. Wes snapped his attention toward him, eyes rolling over him like waves on the shore.
Wes sighed. “Yeah,” The way his voice trailed off wasn’t convincing. “I just…” His eyes met Joshua’s again with a twinkle. “do you wanna get out of here?”
Joshua quirked an eyebrow at him. “You want to leave?” His eyes flickered to where Mari and Sohinki were dancing together, David nursing a cup of punch as he looked at them with a small smile. “You think they’ll be okay?”
Wes shot a quick glance to the dancefloor and turned back to Joshua with a mischievous smile. “They’ll be alright. C’mon.”
He grabbed Joshua’s wrist and pulled him through the doors of the gym into the cool evening. Nobody seemed to care that they were leaving, as the chaperones just let them walk out without another look.
They piled into Wes’s truck and sped out of the parking lot. Wes had turned the music up and rolled the windows down despite the cold. His smile spread from ear to ear and his entire demeanor had shifted, Joshua couldn’t help but smile along. He didn’t know where they were going but he didn’t really mind. He was happy just being with Wes.
He stared at Wes in the pale light from the streetlamps. The features of his face became more defined by the dark shadows against his skin. He really was handsome. Every feature he appreciated: the way his nose curved, the gentle angle of his jaw, the shape of his lips like a blooming flower, and his eyes. His eyes were Joshua’s favorite part of Wes; the way they sparkled when he talked about the latest book he had read or when he was watching a movie he loved. The way they turned up when he smiled. How they looked so deeply into everything, analyzing the world around him hungrily, like he couldn’t get enough. He only wished those eyes would look at him that way.
Wes turned a corner onto a backroad Joshua only just barely recognized. He knew this was the way to the reservoir where he and Wes had swum in the summer as kids. The night was just visible enough to see the water come into view as Wes pulled right beside the wall they had always climbed over, reaching into the backseat for something. He came back up holding a large checkered blanket and, to Joshua’s surprise, a bottle of whiskey.
“Whiskey?” He asked. Wes held the bottle out to him, and Joshua wasn’t one to refuse. He unscrewed the cap and let the liquid burn the back of his throat, savoring the taste.
Wes opened his door an stepped out, motioning for Joshua to follow. He opened the back of his truck an crawled into the bed, laying the blanket down an sitting on it. He patted the space next to him, and Joshua climbed in clumsily. Wes grabbed the bottle from him and pressed it to his lips, downing a quarter of it right before Joshua’s eyes.
“I thought you didn’t drink.” He said. Wes smirked.
“I’m a bag of surprises.”
They traded the bottle back and forth for a bit, talking about nothing in particular as they looked into the distance. Joshua felt the warmth in his stomach spreading through his body slowly but surely, but Wes seemed to be feeling the effects much quicker. He sang along to the music pouring from the radio loudly, making Joshua laugh. As the conversation turned to pleasant silence, the space between them grew to be less and less until their shoulders were touching. Joshua looked at Wes and smiled, leaning his head on his shoulder. He felt Wes tense up for a moment, but he moved his arm to wrap around Joshua’s back. The touch sent shivers up his spine, and he pressed his face into Wes’s shoulder.
“The stars are pretty.” Wes’s voice was loud and held a tone of childlike fascination. Joshua turned his head to look up at the sky above him, still resting on Wes’s shoulder. The song on the radio was something soft and sweet that made him nostalgic for a time he didn’t know.
“They are.” He felt his eyelids falling down as the alcohol began to catch up to him. Wes was warm like a furnace, and he pressed closer to him.
“Joshua?” His voice was quiet now, just loud enough to hear. Joshua hummed an acknowledgment, but he felt a hand turn his chin to look up at Wes.
His face was flushed pink, his eyes warm and full. Joshua could melt under his gaze.
“Yeah?” He questioned.
“I love you.” Joshua could feel his heart rate grow faster as he looked into Wes’s eyes.
“I… I love you too.” Wes smiled softly. His face grew closer in slow motion, and Joshua felt a gentle kiss against his cheek linger. Wes leaned against his head, and he could feel him smiling against his cheek.
“I love you a lot.” Wes whispered against his skin. He felt himself shiver under the breath.
He didn’t know who leaned in first, but those soft lips soon touched his own. The taste of whiskey touched his tongue and warmed his soul as the radio played a song he knew too well.
So bye, bye, miss American pie
Drove my chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die.