Connor’s two worlds weren’t supposed to collide - he had his summers, then he had the rest of his life. Yet here Dylan was, standing at the front of his chemistry class as if he had any right to be there.
Connor’s not too sure what face he pulled, but he figured it was probably a picture of shock, and dread, and a little more shock. The test tube he held slipped from his now-lax fingers and crashed to the floor, the glass smashing.
“What the hell, man?” Jack exclaimed, jumping back so the hydrochloric acid that was now spilling onto the floor would not flood his sneakers.
Connor’s eyes snapped up, gaze landing on Jack and then at the mess on the floor. He winced.
“Sorry,” Connor mumbled, clamping a hand to the back of his neck and rubbing the short hair there. “It slipped.”
Jack murmured something no doubt unpleasant under his breath as he dropped to the floor and started gathering the glass in a heap. Cheeks flaming, Connor pointedly ignored looking at the front of the room where Dylan - and no doubt the rest of the class - were staring at him.
Connor dropped down beside Jack, leaning forward to help him with the mess. Their foreheads smacked together.
“Jesus, Davo,” Jack groused, falling back on his haunches as he rubbed at his forehead. “What is your problem?”
“Sorry,” Connor said, offering Jack a sheepish smile as he rubbed at the sore spot on his own forehead. He sneaked a glance toward the front of the class and found Dylan deep in conversation with the teacher. He turned back to Jack, “I’m just a little distracted.”
“I can tell,” Jack muttered. After grabbing a few paper towels and mopping up most of the mess, Jack stood up, gaze landing on Dylan. “Hey, who is that guy?”
“I’m not sure,” Connor lied, keeping his head down as he returned to his seat. “I’ve never seen him before.”
Of course this was a lie in the most extreme definition of the word - Connor had seen Dylan before, more than seen, but that was something for Connor and Dylan to know, no one else. Connor could only hope that Dylan shared the same sentiment.
“Must be new,” Jack shrugged, dropping into the seat beside Connor.
Connor could only watch dumbly as Dylan got sent to sit beside Noah. How had his two worlds got so twisted in such a short amount of time?
In the short time they had known each other, Noah and Dylan had supposedly become best friends. This became apparent when Noah dropped into his usual seat in the canteen, across from Connor, and Dylan was hot on his heels.
For a little while, Connor had been able to pretend that his whole life wasn’t going to the shambles, that his equivalent of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future hadn’t transferred to his high school. Picking at his lunch, Connor had lost himself in a conversation with Jack and Mitch; the thoughts of chemistry, Dylan and summer all shoved to the back of his mind. He had been able to breathe for a moment.
Well, until Noah brought Dylan over.
“Guys, this is Dylan,” Noah said, pointing to the empty seat beside him and gesturing for Dylan to sit down. “He’s new. He plays hockey too.”
Of course, Connor already knew this, he knew Dylan’s game almost as well as he knew his own. The thought of Dylan joining the hockey team hadn’t even occurred to him, and now Connor cursed himself for being so stupid.
“Hey,” Dylan said, offering the guys a shy smile and a small wave of the hand as he glanced down the table. When Dylan’s gaze landed on Connor, his breath caught in his throat, but Connor may as well have been a stranger for how much attention Dylan paid him. The punching feeling in his gut was confusing, because this is what Connor wanted, right? He’d made it more than clear that he didn’t want to introduce Dylan as an old friend, a boyfriend of sorts - or whatever the hell they were when summer came around. So why did the fact that Dylan was going along with it hurt so much? It was what Connor wanted, seriously.
Connor zoned out as Noah went through introductions of the table, the timbre of his voice barely registering as Connor stared at the table, boring a hole into his sandwiches.
“And this is Connor and Jack,” Noah said. Connor’s head snapped up and he watched as Dylan’s gaze landed on him, his brown eyes cool and distant, not the usual warmth he recognised in them. “They were in our chemistry class earlier.”
“Yeah, I think I saw you,” Dylan said, turning to Jack. Connor should have been grateful that Dylan was paying him no attention - he was doing the same thing, after all - but all he could feel was hurt, his chest tight and his head dizzy.
He pushed his chair away from the table with an obnoxious screech.
“I-I need to go study,” he said, feeling his friends’s eyes on him. He rushed away from the table without a reply, and if he turned back and caught Dylan’s eye before leaving the canteen, he wasn’t going to acknowledge it.
Connor wasn’t avoiding Dylan, he just happened to find himself having more and more revision sessions or emergencies at home whenever Dylan entered the room. Connor wasn’t running, he was better than that, more mature, or at least he liked to think so.
The fact that Dylan was playing hockey alongside Connor now meant that he couldn’t exactly avoid him - especially when Coach kept playing the two of them together because they gelled so damn well. To anyone else, it looked like it was a great coincidence, but both Connor and Dylan knew that it had taken summers of practice to get to where they were today. So they talked, granted, only on the ice, but it was still a conversation - even if it did only consist of talks of strategy and a ‘well done’ thrown in here and there.
Connor acknowledged Dylan enough that no one could call him out on being rude, unfriendly, and Dylan did the same. At lunch neither one of them spoke, but that was fine because Mitch spoke enough for the whole hockey team. At practice, they never hung out afterwards, but that was fine too because it was their senior year, and they really did have to study.
With only a few months left at high school, Connor thought he could deal with this. Things weren’t too bad, Dylan hadn’t outed him - not that he’d ever thought Dylan would - and through all of this he had hockey, his teammates. Well, until Dylan spoke to him.
Connor was in the lunch queue, his defenses down as he filled his tray with the usual muck the school tried to pass as food, when a warm breath tickled his neck. He whipped around to see Dylan beside him, close, his head bent and mouth next to Connor’s ear. It acted as a reminder of the many times in the summer Dylan would lean close and whisper stupid, inappropriate things in Connor’s ear whenever they were anywhere but their shared room - at the time, he’d loved it, even though he would always deny it. Now, he felt his cheeks flush and his pulse raise, both at the reminder of what had been and also the fact that they were at school.
“Hey, stranger,” Dylan said, voice low and quiet. His mouth twisted into a smirk that was the nearest thing to his real smile that Connor had been subjected to in the past couple of weeks. It made his chest ache.
“What are you doing?” Connor hissed, eyes darting around as he pulled away from Dylan. Dylan frowned a little.
“No one said we couldn’t talk when we were alone,” Dylan said. “Or is that another hidden rule in the ‘pretending Dylan doesn’t exist’ handbook?”
“I’m not pretending you don’t exist,” Connor argued, the excuse sounding ridiculous to his own ears.
“Sure you’re not,” Dylan said. He paused, opening his mouth as if he’d wanted to say something more, but stopped himself with a slow shake of the head. “Whatever, Connor,” Dylan sighed, knuckles whitening as he gripped his tray a little tighter. He paused, gaze bouncing to the table where their friends sat and then back to Connor again, he plastered a smile onto his face, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”
Connor opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out, he could only watch as Dylan shot him a quick wink as he sidled past him.
Connor watched as Dylan made his way over to the table, the smile slipping from his lips as his shoulders slumped. He wasn’t sure what Dylan was hoping to get from the conversation, but whatever that was obviously wasn’t it. Still, Connor hoped that this wouldn’t change anything between the two of them, Dylan had actually referred to them, to their past - or at least Connor was pretty sure he had. Surely Dylan wouldn’t go and tell the guys the truth now, right?
God, Connor felt like an asshole.