A/N: this is an amnesia!fic. –facepalm- I don't even know. (also, there are so many clichés in here, I can't stand myself.)
When Kellan wakes up the first time After, there's a man leaning against the wall of the hospital room (he's in a hospital room, but he doesn't know why. He knows he's himself, except he doesn't know who that is. His throat feels raw, but everything else seems fine.), whistling softly to himself. "Kellan?" he says, voice breaking on the 'a,' eyes watering immediately.
Kellan blinks and says, "I don't—"
A nurse comes in and says, "You took quite a roughing up, young man."
The man against the wall makes a noise like he's being strangled and ducks out of the room. "I'm sorry, I don't—what's—things are…" Kellan croaks.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You're probably a bit boggled, aren't you? I'm sure you want some time with your granddad. How's your head feeling?"
"My granddad? I—I'm sorry, just," Kellan (he guesses it's his name—it's what people are calling him. Something's wrong, right? He should know his name without people having to tell him) says.
The nurse cocks her head and glances down at his chart. Her brow furrows for a moment and she bites her lower lip. "Hon," she says, "can you tell me why you're here?"
"I'm, um, hurt presumably. Or—I mean, right?"
Her mouth goes slack, "Kellan, can you tell me your birthday?"
"Sure," he says, "Sure, I—" but he can't. He has a birthday, he knows, but he doesn't know when it is. He tries to sit up but the nurse presses him back down gently. "Wait," he says, "what happened? Why—" he struggles a little, but she won't let him up, and then he can't breathe because he's trying to remember things he should know, like his last name and his favorite band and what grade he's in at school, but he can't. He can't.
"Shh," the nurse is saying, "Shh." And then she's messing with his IV and he's catching one last view of the man who left the room—he's rushing in, face red and eyes wide, mouth caught open like he's yelling, like he's angry. But Kellan's eyelids flutter and then fall shut.
The second time he wakes up After, the man is sleeping in a chair next to Kellan's bed. There's an index card in his hand that says, You are Kellan Green. You're turning nineteen in four days. You live with me, your grandpa. You're getting your associate's degree at Washington Community College. You were in a fight, and you hit your head, but you're okay now.
Kellan wants to debate the validity of that last clause, because he must not be okay if he needs a card to remind him of his own last name. At least it explains why he can't remember anything.
When he's ready to talk, he clears his throat (which aches) and watches the man's eyes shoot open. "Kellan?" he says.
"Right," Kellan says, "Um. So. Grandpa?" He feels his expression twisting uncomfortably, but he can't do anything to stop it.
The man's face falls and he rubs a hand over his eyes tiredly. "You can call me Mac if it's easier on you."
"No, I—" Kellan shifts awkwardly, wondering if he'd normally reach out and squeeze Mac's hand or if they're not the touchy-feely sort, "Grandpa's fine."
They want to keep him here for a few days to run some tests. Everyone keeps saying his memory will come back soon, probably before the next time he wakes up. So he takes a lot of naps.
On the second day of napping and not-remembering, a blond guy who looks like he's Kellan's age (18 for three more days) comes in. He looks like he's been crying and Kellan immediately doesn't want to deal with it. "I can't remember anything," he says, rudely, just to rip the band aid off. He figures this kid already knows, judging by the tears and the hesitant way he slips into the room, but Kellan wants it to sink in, hard, that he doesn't feel like being quizzed ("The people in this picture are your parents. Remember? They died a couple of years ago."). "I don't remember you," he clarifies.
The boy winces, says "Figured. Mac said you wouldn't."
"But you thought I might?" Kellan snaps. He's been taking so many naps he feels sluggish and hazy all the time. He doesn't like it. He doesn't know any other way of feeling.
The boy shrugs, "Not really." He pauses, bites at his fingernails, and says, "We're best friends. Known each other since we were four. I'm Nate."
"I'm—" Kellan starts to say automatically (I'm Kellan Green. I go to WCC. I live with my grandpa because my parents are dead. I'll be 18 in three days.).
Nate smiles crookedly, holds out his hand and says, "Nice to meet you. Again." When Kellan clutches on for a handshake, Nate erupts in laughter and then looks surprised at himself for it. "Sorry," he says, "it's just that this is much more civil than the first time we met. I pushed you off the swing of your own play set."
"This is the first time we've met," Kellan says, just to see Nate's face fall. It's one of those days where he just feels like being an asshole (but then, so is every day in recent memory. Which is to say every day he can remember.).
"Right," Nate says, scuffing his feet on the linoleum. "Is there—I mean, is there anything you want to, like, know about yourself? Or about me?"
Kellan blinks. "I guess I—" he has so many questions he can hardly line them up in his mind. His grandpa just keeps talking at him like if he vomits up enough facts Kellan will say, 'Oh my god, yeah! Gosh, I misplaced my entire life there for a while, but oop! Here is it again!' But any time Kellan asks a question ("How did they die?", "Why was I in a fight?", "Do I have any friends?") his grandpa just clears his throat and changes the subject. "You may want to sit down," Kellan says, "we might be here a while."
Nate looks simultaneously relieved and sick to his stomach as he perches on the chair next to Kellan's bed. "Shoot," he says.
"Okay, first: you said we've been friends since we were four, right? So you knew my parents?" Nate nods, "How did they die?"
Nate exhales quickly, "Man, you don't ease in, do you?"
"I'm sorry," Kellan deadpans, "What's my favorite color?"
Nate grins, shakes his head, says, "Lavender."
"Maybe," Nate says, "Anyway, a car crash. They were really nice people."
"What?" Kellan says, "Oh." Because, well, it's all so abstract to him. Two people who he loved and lost but has never actually met (at least not this him). He supposes he should at least try to feel sad about it, but he can't. He's too angry at his situation. "And then I moved in with my grandpa?"
Nate nods, "We tried to rig it so you could live with me—you didn't really get along with Mac in the beginning—but, you know, my mom and stuff."
"I don't know."
"Right," Nate says, face tightening, "Well, she had cancer."
"Oh," Kellan says, looking away, "I'm sorry." And he is. He wonders if he should pat Nate on the hand or something to show how sorry he is.
Nate just shrugs, "Yeah, me, too. Anyway, next question?"
"You like me, right?" Kellan says.
Nate makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. Says, "What?"
"You," Kellan says, "Like me? My grandpa keeps avoiding the questions I ask that make him uncomfortable and any time I ask about friends, he gets all fidgety. I kind of figured I didn't have any, or that they were all meth-heads or something. Are you a meth-head?"
"No, and neither are you. I do, um, I like you just fine. Mac is probably acting that way because he's pissed at me."
"I was with you the night this all happened."
"What?" Kellan says, pressing his palms against the mattress so he can sit up straighter. "What happened? He won't talk about that either."
"We don't know what happened. I—we were at a college visit and you and I went to separate parties. I was supposed to meet you, but you never showed. I figured—I…don't know what I figured, but I guess campus security found you and took you to the hospital there, and then they moved you here."
"Oh," Kellan says.
"How do you even know about meth?" Nate says suddenly, cocking his head to the side. "Aren't you supposed to like, have no memory?"
"I'm also still potty trained, and can read," Kellan says. He wants to talk more about what happened to him, but no one seems to want to. He thinks that if he can just reconstruct that night, he'll be able to remember. It's dumb, but what else has he got to go on?
"Sorry I'm not intricately aware of how amnesia works," Nate sulks.
"No," Kellan says, rubbing his forehead, "I'm sorry. It's just frustrating. It's like, I mean, it's kind of like I've moved to a foreign country or something, and my backstory doesn't matter anymore, I'm just sort of, existing without an anchor. I know some things, because apparently I learned them, but I don't remember learning them. Meth is bad for example. Brushing your teeth twice a day is important. But everything that makes me me is just kind of…locked up where I can't get to it."
Nate doesn't say anything for a long time, and when he does, it's just "Well, fuck."
Kellan laughs until his belly aches.
They let him go home the next day, once they figure out there's nothing they can do about his memory but wait. "You might want to think about the idea that it won't come back," they say. Which—which is unthinkable so he ignores them.
"So," His grandpa says, swinging the door to Kellan's room open, "This is, well, yours. I'll let you get settled in, and, uh, is pizza okay for dinner?"
"Yeah," Kellan says distractedly, wandering into a room that for all intents and purposes belongs to someone who is not him.
He sits lightly on the bed and looks around. There are a few plaques on the wall from sports and academic stuff. A computer on the desk. A few textbooks thrown on a high shelf, the lower ones filled with DVDs.
Something seizes him suddenly, that he's got to figure out who he is. He can't just not remember. He starts with the drawers, diving his hands into the bottom to see if he's got anything secret hidden under his underwear and socks. There isn't anything.
He tears through the shoeboxes in his closet—finds a bunch of old school reports, but nothing personal. (Apparently he's fantastic at Math and just okay at English.) He lifts up the mattress to see if he's hidden a journal or something between it and the box spring. All that's there is a stray sock. He wonders how secretive he used to be—maybe he should try prying up the floorboards or something. He's so frustrated he feels like crying. There's nothing here—no pictures, no notes from girlfriends, no birthday cards. Nothing. It's like he's nobody. He is nobody.
He clicks through the files on his computer next, figuring he probably should have started there first even though his previous search was more physically satisfying, at least. Anyway, it doesn't matter because there's nothing on it either. Just school stuff.
There are a few emails from Nate, all brief and for the most part school related ("This class is the worst. Why do they make us take computers, but block us from all the useful websites? Like facebook and porn, I obviously mean." Before Kellan had responded, "You forgot livejournal and xanga. What am I supposed to do with this overwhelming urge to emote all over the place?")
He sighs heavily when the doorbell rings and his grandpa calls him to dinner.
"Grandpa," he says, chewing on some pizza that is apparently his favorite kind. "Why are you so angry at Nate?"
His grandpa stops eating for a moment, looking startled. "Did he tell you I was angry with him?" Kellan nods. His grandpa sets down his pizza, looks like he's gearing up to say something big, and then just says, "Well I'm not."
"Why would he think you were?"
"I don't know. Kid was a mess. You're his best friend, it's no wonder he was so upset."
Kellan rolls his eyes, knowing his grandpa's keeping something from him. "Whatever," he says, and stomps out of the room. His grandpa calls after him once, but doesn't follow him. Kellan doesn't know if that's what he wanted or not.
He gets to his room and throws himself on the bed, wants to call Nate but isn't sure how okay that is. Instead, he writes him an email (and to be fair, he isn't sure how okay this is either, but he figures he gets some kind of leeway for amnesia. That's a thing, right?).
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: I haven't remembered anything. don't get your hopes up.
Listen, you said my grandpa and I didn't get along at first. Why? Any idea of how it got better? Asking the guy a question seems to be as difficult as a heist. Although he did say he's not pissed at you.
Also, I've been raiding BK's room (Before Kellan, I mean, that's what I'm calling him. Like the serial killer. You know? The BK Killer? I don't…know about him, that is, I just remember that he existed. She existed?).
Nate, it's obvious I'm going crazy over here and I feel weird talking to you about it because, sorry, but I don't know you. And you don't know me. Not really. This is stupid, but I—if you could just respond, that'd be great.
Within minutes, he gets a response:
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: Hope sufficiently low, promise
Dear Kellan (I'm not calling you AK),
Your grandpa's not a talker, really. He never wanted to talk to you about your parents or anything difficult. You learned pretty quick that if you had anything deep to talk about, you could do it with me. So, I mean, looks like you're already getting the hang of things.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, I can come over and we can zone out in front of the television for a few hours. That's what we usually do (did?).
P.S. The only cultural references you've made recently involve drugs and murder. Should I be worried?
He writes back:
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: Good, I'll keep you updated on the broken-brain thing
I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Nate has to come over a lot after that, and they steadily work their way through Kellan's stacks of movies.
He and his grandpa continue to skirt around touchy subjects (most of which Kellan learns are touchy only by stumbling into them), and he continues to not remember anything.
A week passes, and then two, and the third is almost out when his grandpa says, "Look, if you're bored here all day, you can take your job back at the store. Don't tell anyone I said this, but it's not that difficult. Unload the shipments and stack 'em up. Display the best shoes. Get people the sizes they need. I can man the register until we get you retrained on it."
Kellan doesn't think he wants a job—all Nate does is complain about his and Kellan's grandpa always comes home exhausted (although maybe that's because Kellan hasn't been around to help). "Okay," he says. "Can I start tomorrow?"
His grandpa smiles and pats him on the back, "It'll be good to have you back."
Kellan wants to say something snarky like, you won't really have me back. But he doesn't. Instead he goes out to sit on his porch and wishes Nate wasn't working tonight.
He takes a book with him—East of Eden, which was apparently his favorite; he had it listed that way on facebook—but he feels pretentious even holding it. Instead he just watches the cars go by and the sun sink over the roofs of the houses in his neighborhood. He thinks about what it would be like if he never got his memories back.
On his birthday, his grandpa had said, "A fresh start, Kellan." And the way he made it sound was like he never expected Before Kellan to come back. Like After Kellan is supposed to just start over at 19, pretending the loss of the first 18 is no big deal. And that's—it's unacceptable; he won't do it. He won't.
So he picks up Steinbeck and plods through the first few pages. Pretends he's got a history like Salinas Valley—long and rich and tangible. Heady on his tongue like the weight of it is almost too much, like it could break over him at any moment and rip him to shreds.
But he keeps on not-remembering.
He hurls the book down the concrete steps.
"Whoa there," someone says (Kellan jumps). "It's not nice to mistreat books like that."
A girl wanders into his front yard, wearing a pink denim mini-skirt and a lime green cami. Her hair is in tangles down to her elbows and her bangs are heavy and in her eyes. She picks up the book and cradles it like a baby. "There, there," she coos.
Kellan raises his eyebrows, wondering how fast he can scramble up and into the house if this girl goes completely insane. "Um," he says.
"I'm Grace," she chirps, setting his book down beside Kellan and plopping down on the other side of that. "I heard you have amnesia. That's very exotic. Doesn't really affect me though, since we weren't friends before."
"Um," Kellan says again. "I'm…sorry?"
"Oh don't be. I mean, well, you can be a little. You were pretty horrible to me. But it's all forgotten," she giggles, "literally, right?"
He doesn't know whether to be angry or laugh, too. The result on his face must be hilarious because Grace starts laughing hysterically.
"Anyway," she says once she's calmed herself down. "Are you still going by Kellan or have you come up with a new name for yourself?"
"Why would I do that?" he asks.
"I just figured, you know, if you can't remember your old life then it's not really yours anymore. Why not make a new one? Personally I'd go with Archibald or something mysterious like Mist. That way no one would ever forget your name."
"My old life is still mine," Kellan says, "And those names are awful."
Grace shrugs because she apparently doesn't pick up on social cues. "Suit yourself," she says. "Anyway, if you need a friend, I'm right across the hedge."
With that, she hops off the steps and back to her yard. Just before she goes inside, she turns on a heel and says, "But you really should treat your books with more respect, memorable name or not."
Kellan squints at her like she's crazy (which she is) until the screen door slams behind her.
He goes back inside, mostly because he doesn't want to run the risk of her coming back out again, and emails Nate.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: drugs, murder, and the insane asylum next door
Does the name Grace ring a bell?
Working at a shoe store is actually kind of relaxing for Kellan. This probably has more to do with the fact that they're small, and traffic is light, but it means Kellan has something constructive to do with his time.
By his third day, he's relearned the register and his grandpa lets him run the place for short spans of time so he can get some work done on the paperwork end.
It's twenty minutes until close and Kellan has only had three costumers all day. He texts Nate to see if the other boy is up for a movie after they both get off work. They've been doing things outside of Kellan's house lately—mostly because Grace has taken to coming over every once in a while ("To see if you've developed any extraordinary abilities with your new outlook on life.") and his grandpa refuses to lie and say he's not there.
Turns out, Grace has always been a little nuts. Nate says they all went to grade school together, but then Grace went to a private school until they all started at WCC and somewhere in that time, she stopped brushing her hair and started talking to books. "She's a nutcase," Nate told him as they watched her through Kellan's blinds as she cartwheeled her way through her backyard. "She's absolutely crazy."
His grandpa comes out from his office, heaves a sigh and says, "Why don't we just call it a day?"
Kellan feels bad, wonders what they're living on if the store has always been this slow. Maybe he should offer to get another job? Would that be rude? Maybe he'll ask Nate what he should do.
When they get home, Nate's texted him back saying he picked up another shift, sorry, but he can't hang out tonight. Kellan sighs and lies down, not knowing what to do with himself.
It's like Grace has a sensor for these types of things because a full hour doesn't pass before she's knocking on his window. "We've got a front door," he says through the glass, not bothering to open it.
"I know," she says, "I just felt like doing something new today. Are you busy?"
"Very," he says.
"Can I come in?"
He sighs heavily, but can't think of an excuse why not. Says, "Fine. I'll meet you at the door."
"Actually I was thinking it'd be fun to climb through the window. All the kids in the '90s did it."
Kellan rolls his eyes as he opens the window. "Knock yourself out."
"Well I should hope not!" she says, clambering in. The window isn't even three feet off the ground and somehow Grace still ends up in a heap on the floor, saying, "Oof! You think with a name like Grace I'd have a little more."
Kellan laughs, unexpectedly, and then covers his mouth with his hand to try and block it. Grace smiles up at him brightly. "So," she says, "What's got you so busy?"
"What?" he says, "Oh, um, I was trying to perfect my telepathy." Grace gasps and bulges her eyes out very wide. "Are…you okay?" he asks, finally, after she shows no signs of stopping.
"I'm pushing a thought towards you, obviously."
"Oh," Kellan says, "Well I guess I'm not a telepath after all."
"Shame," Grace says. She looks at him pointedly for a moment before continuing, "Well? Aren't you going to ask me what I was thinking?"
"What were you thinking, Grace?" Kellan deadpans.
"I was thinking I haven't seen The Outsiders in ages and you've got it on your shelf. Well, at least that's the thought I was feeding you. I actually think quite a few things simultaneously. Like right this second I'm thinking movie, testosterone, pizza."
"Are you hungry or…" he's going to say horny, but he doesn't know how that would be received.
"Incredibly turned on by your masculinity? No, neither of those. I'm just demonstrating that the human mind is a twisty and confusing place. Even for people without messed up brains like yours."
"Do you always just say whatever you want?"
"Oh no," Grace says, eyebrows up under her Cleopatra bangs, "That would be plain rude."
A small laugh bursts out of Kellan's mouth before he can stop it, and embarrassingly, this turns into a doubled-over laughing fit. Grace doesn't laugh at all, she just plucks The Outsiders off the shelf and makes her way into the living room. Kellan follows after her helplessly, still choking on giggles.
"Hello, Mr. Green," Grace chirps at Kellan's grandpa.
"Grace," he says, "I didn't see you come in."
"You wouldn't have," she says, fiddling with the DVD player like she owns the place. "I climbed through the window."
"Oh," he says, looking at Kellan. Kellan shrugs and shakes his head like I have no idea. His grandpa smiles and says, "Well, I'll leave you two kids alone."
On his way out of the room, his grandpa grips Kellan's shoulder and leans in to say, "She's a looker."
"What?" Kellan sputters, scowling at the back of his grandpa's head as he laughs all the way down the hall.
Grace is not—she's not a looker at all. She's…a ragamuffin.
She hurls herself down on the couch and pats the cushion next to her. Kellan sits in the chair instead. "Suit yourself," she sing-songs. He rolls his eyes.
Halfway through the movie, he figures out Grace doesn't understand the concept of being quiet. "I can't decide if I like Patrick Swayze better in this or Dirty Dancing. I know they're totally different, and of course he's got a bigger part in Dirty Dancing but…I don't know, maybe they're not totally different. Tough Greaser, Tough Dancer—kind of the same concept right?"
Kellan grunts in response.
"Hey, are you going to take classes at WCC this semester?"
He jolts a little at the direct question after the mindless drabble from before. "Uh," he says, "I don't know. I haven't really thought about it."
"Well, I think you should. Registration opens tomorrow. I think I'm going to take a theatre class, although I've been told I'm horrible at acting. I can't seem to let go of reality long enough to sink into the role. Anyway, what do you think you'll do?"
"I've only been thinking about it for the last thirty seconds, I don't know yet what I'll do." He snaps. When will she ever stop talking?
"But you probably have some idea of what you'll do. I mean, it's like when you play eenie-meanie-miney-moe, right? Only you already know which option you'll choose and if you land on the wrong one, you just tack on a bunch of stuff about tigers and mothers and things."
"Well then I probably won't go back," Kellan says. What's the point, anyway? He should start looking for a full-time job to help support his grandpa.
"That's a shame," Grace coos, and Kellan thinks she's talking about him, but then she whispers, "The good ones always die young. Bye, Johnny."
Kellan thinks his eyes might fall out of their sockets from rolling so hard.
"Well," Grace says, slapping her thighs before leaping to her feet, "I'm beat. See you tomorrow."
"I work tomorrow," Kellan says quickly.
Grace looks thoughtful for a moment. "I need a new pair of shoes for school!" she says, cheered-right-up.
Kellan wants to tell her she doesn't—that her tattered Converse are fine—but he knows they need the business. "Alright," he says, "See you tomorrow."
The next day, as expected, Grace sweeps into the store two minutes before they officially open. "Good morning!" She says, stretching out the 'or' until it hurts Kellan's ears.
"H'llo," he says, not bothering to stop doing up the laces of a new pair of Nikes they got in. They're starting a big sale on P.E. shoes soon, so he's got to get the storefront display ready and he's not in the mood for Grace's boisterous act. Not that he'd be in the mood for it even if he didn't have things to do.
"So I was thinking…I either want some like, sparkling stilettos or some floppy boots—you know, a bit like combat boots but more, like, worn in or something."
"I thought you needed shoes for school," he says.
Grace gasps, "And people are saying you're having problems with your memory."
"Grace," he growls, slamming the shoe down on the counter.
"Kidding, kidding," Grace says, "But in any case, you're right. I'd better go with the stilettos."
Kellan rubs a hand over his face, torn between laughing and crying. "There's some blue shiny ones along the back wall. Let me know if you like them and I'll grab your size," he mumbles from behind his palm.
Grace skips away and then shouts, "Oh, these are perfect. I'm a six and half, narrow!"
"We don't carry anything in narrow, but I can order them for you."
"It's fine," she says, "I'm not really a narrow, I just think it makes me sound more elegant."
He stomps to the back room and fishes out the goddamn six-and-a-half regulars and shoves them in her arms.
For the first time since he's met her, she looks a little sad. "Kellan," she says, slipping one of the shoes out of the box and cupping it in her palm, "If you don't like me, you can just say so."
"I—" don't like you, Kellan starts to say. But Grace sucks her bottom lip into her mouth when he quivers and her face flushes so pink his own face heats up in a sympathetic blush.
"It's just that I thought maybe you could like me now," she says quietly.
He closes his eyes for a second, because shit he is such a douche. "I do like you, Grace. I'm sorry. It's—rough time, lately. I'm sorry."
Grace gives him a watery smile, slides the damn blue stilettos on her feet and whispers, "Perfect."
She spends the rest of the day teaching herself to walk in them, tripping all over the store while Kellan goes on like it's business as usual. She continues to talk at him for the most part, but he doesn't let it get to him, and by the end of the day, he actually thinks she's really funny.
"Have you signed up for your classes yet?" She asks.
"I told you I'm not going to take any this semester." He says lightly, straightening some of the boxes on the shelves (he's already straightened them about twenty-five times, but there's nothing else to do).
"No," she says, giggling a little as she tilts to the side on her heels, "You said you probably wouldn't, not that you definitely wouldn't."
"Did I tell you I was going to take a theatre class? Well I changed my mind. Real life is much more interesting. Besides, it was at the same time as World Geography and I need that to graduate. Anyway, let me know what you sign up for. Maybe we can carpool."
"I—" Kellan says, "Yeah, okay. I will."
(Later that night he signs up for Astronomy, Spanish, Geometry, Mythology, and World Geography.)
On the first day of classes, Nate shows up in his bright green Jeep and begs Kellan to make him a coffee.
"It's 11," Kellan says, pulling a travel mug down from the cabinet, "that is sleeping in."
"Some of us don't have the luxury of working at a place that closes at 5, alright? I didn't get off until 1 this morning." Nate grumbles.
Things have been a little strained between the two of them since Kellan started sort of actively participating in his friendship with Grace. He tried, once, for the three of them to hang out together, but Nate had made Grace cry and Kellan really doesn't want to relive that. So he'll just keep them separate. Nate works so much these days, anyway, it'll hardly be a problem.
"Ready for today?" Kellan asks, handing Nate his coffee.
He leans back against the counter while Nate takes a huge swig, and then makes a face. "Uck," he says, "Sugar?" Kellan points to the bowl on the table. "And about today: not really, but it's whatever. Looking forward to any of your classes?"
"I'm nervous more than anything. I wish you and I shared some of them. It'd be nice to see you around more."
Nate winces, "I'm sorry—it's just a really busy time at work and—"
"Nate, no," Kellan says, smiling, "I didn't mean it as a guilt trip or anything. Although I still can't understand why you wouldn't want to repeat Spanish 101. I mean, if you were my real friend—"
"Yo queiro ser más que tu amigo," Nate says quietly.
"See," Kellan says, slinging his backpack onto his shoulder, "I have no idea what the fuck you just said. And you're leaving me alone to face my embarrassment."
Nate grins and follows Kellan out the door.
Campus is about a twenty minute drive from Kellan's neighborhood, but with the way Nate drives, they get there in twelve. "Um," Kellan says, joints of his fingers sore from gripping onto the seat so hard, "I'll drive on Wednesday, alright?"
Nate laughs, calls him a pussy, and turns off the ignition. Suddenly everything is quiet and serious and Kellan feels like he's going to throw up. Nate moves to get out of the car, but Kellan grabs his wrist, "Nate," he says, panicked, "This is—I mean, people are—"
"You're gonna be fine," Nate says, flexing his hand. Kellan drops his wrist sheepishly. "I promise."
"Yeah," Kellan says, "Okay. Let's go."
The day doesn't go as bad as he was expecting, but there are plenty of things that do go wrong. For one, he has to relearn the layout of the school. He ends up late to Spanish but the teacher just frowns a bit and moves on with role.
The worst part is when he goes to Geometry and some guy in glasses says, "What up, Kellan?" And Kellan kind of pretends to know the guy for the remainder of their strained conversation before class starts.
Between that and Astronomy he's got a two hour break, but he can't leave campus since Nate drove him. He wishes Nate had a break too, but he's got to fit all of his classes into a MWF schedule so he can work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. ("It's not so much that I need the money," Nate told him, "It's that the more shifts I work, the more time I'm away from my piece of shit dad." And that's not something Kellan knows enough about to argue with.)
So he sits alone, waits out the two hours, and then goes to Astronomy where he thankfully makes it on time and meets no one he's supposed to know.
After, Nate is waiting outside his classroom. Kellan lets out the breath he's been holding all day and grins, "Hola, mi amigo!"
"See?" Nate says, "You don't need me at all."
"Lies," Kellan says. "So, how was your day?"
"Better than expected. Still, I am more than ready to get out of here."
"Agreed," Nate says, jingling his keys in Kellan's face, "Let's go."
Nate drives him home, going a little bit closer to the speed limit this time, which Kellan appreciates. When they get to Kellan's house, Kellan sees Grace on his porch. She smiles, bounces on her feet a little (she's got the heels on), and waves. Nate slumps down in his seat and makes a displeased noise. Kellan suddenly feels kind of guilty, but doesn't know what to do about it. Before Kellan would probably have made a joke at Grace's expense, but he can't do that, so he goes on instinct, brushing his knuckles over Nate's clenched fist and saying, "I wish you didn't have to work. I miss hanging out with you."
He realizes about halfway through just how that sounds, especially paired with the touching thing, but it's not like he can take it back. He's not really sure where it came from—just that he has this protective urge with Nate that he can't squelch.
In any case, Nate just makes a face, "I know, right?" He smiles warmly, "Enjoy your evening. Pick me up Wednesday morning?"
"Yep," Kellan says, "See you."
"So," Grace says, drawing out the 'o.' She's still bouncing up and down and smiling hugely. "How was it?"
Kellan shrugs, "It was alright."
"Did anyone target you for a position in the FBI?"
"Me either," She says. "Anyway, ask me how my day went."
"How did your day go?" He asks, sitting down with her on the steps and grinning at her. Now that he's spent the whole summer getting used to her peculiarities, he thinks she's really charming (although still somewhat tiring).
"I'm in love," She says with a proud huff of her chest, like someone challenged her to it and she succeeded.
"Anyone I know?" He asks, and then laughs because it's funny. He only knows Grace and Nate and his grandpa.
"I only know his last name," she says unhappily, "But if we got married I would have the best semi-biblical name on the planet: Grace Haven."
Kellan blanches, "That's a horrible name."
"Hush, you," she says, elbowing him with a pout on her face. "I think it's a very nice name. He's my English professor, but that's not even the best part," she swoons.
"You consider that a good thing?"
Grace swats at his arm, "Yes, and the best part is—"
"Oh," Grace says, "I should have investigated that. Hmm. Anyway, no, the best part is that he was wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches," She pauses to squeal, "I don't know if you understand what that means to me so I'll just tell you—it means he is one step closer to meeting every qualification for being my perfect mate."
"A tweed jacket?"
"With elbow patches."
"Right," Kellan says, "Of course."
Grace sighs dreamily, "I take it you didn't fall in love with anyone today."
"Well my Astronomy professor was wearing an argyle sweater. You know how hot that gets me," Kellan says.
"Oh, I know!" Grace says and Kellan winces, always vaguely amused and horrified when Grace ignores blatant sarcasm. "I just can't wait until tomorrow! I mean, I won't see Professor Haven, but I will have a ride to campus for once!"
"What do you usually do?" Kellan asks.
"Take the city bus. It usually makes me feel very adventurous but sometimes is a bit too sketchy, even for me."
"Ah, well, yeah. We'll ride together tomorrow."
"I also spotted this great hill today when I was staring out the window during my math class and I think we should eat lunch together there. Okay? I also think that you should bring lunch with you and we can trade because, you know, I always pack gross things like apples and celery and what I really want is pudding cups."
"If you're packing it, why don't you bring what you want?"
"Well then I'd be too selfish to trade, and that's no way to make friends."
Kellan laughs and shakes his head, "Alright, Grace. I'll be sure to pack a pudding cup."
The first week of classes goes by in a blur, and then another, and then another. On the surface, Kellan is doing alright. School is okay, work is okay, Nate and Grace are okay. He's navigated his way through plenty of awkward conversations with acquaintances who don't know about his amnesia, and for the most part, they've died down.
It's just that it's been almost four months and he still can't remember a goddamned thing.
Nate is kind of helpful, but he's so busy. His grandpa is characteristically evasive, but available. And Grace is helpful half the time, and weird the rest. He ends up talking to her the most. "It's just that it's hard to have conversations with people sometimes," he says, "when they bring up the past like it's nothing. All I've got to go on is the last four months and there's only so many times I can tell the crazy-neighbor story."
Grace giggles, "I know! Mrs. Baxter is nuts!" Kellan snorts, but doesn't correct her. "But," she continues, "I think you should just make it up."
"My life?" he says, "Just make it up?"
"Well yeah, why not? It's still yours—I mean, you own it. Why not make it something you want?"
"I don't know how I'd even begin to do that," He says. He suddenly feels like crying, because he shouldn't have to be sitting around with Grace making up a life for himself. He should be able to remember his own.
Grace seems to sense the seriousness of the situation and for once, doesn't say something crazy. Instead she just grabs his hand and holds it between their hips, says, "You can be whoever you want, Kellan. So just do it."
Something catches in his throat when he looks at her. He swallows, wondering if the tang under his tongue is what he thinks it might be.
(He's never noticed how blue her eyes are.)
He and Grace are sitting on the hill they seemed to have claimed since the start of term, each of them working on assignments for a class. Well, Grace is working on an assignment for class (psychology—"I'm not a psychologist or anything," she says, chewing on a strand of hair, "but I can say without a doubt that your friend Nate seems to be suffering from an Electra Complex. Not that I don't like him. He's very charming when he wants to be. Not that I've seen that side of him, I'm just assuming.") and Kellan is staring at her.
Ever since she said the thing about him being able to be whoever he wants to be, he hasn't been able to stop thinking about her. And then last night, when he'd been settling in for his evening jerk-off, it'd been her hands he'd pictured on his body. Her hair falling in brown waves over his chest. Her upturned nose wrinkled in a smile as she leaned in to kiss him.
It's…quite strange, really.
And now, sitting next to her like he's done every day for three weeks now, he's thinking of just how strange it is that she's both here, clothed and frowning over a difficult concept ("I just don't understand why nobody bothered to tell Freud how misogynistic he was.") and she's trapped in his head, naked and shuddering under him.
Those two images are not the same Grace. But they are.
"Grace," he says, closing his book with a definitive snap. She looks up, blue eyes wide and blinking as he leans in to press his lips against hers.
She sucks in a breath and pulls back, fingertips touching her mouth. "Kellan?"
"I thought maybe—when you—"
She smiles warmly and touches his forearm with her slender fingers, "You're my best friend, Kellan. I've never—I mean, until this term I've never really had friends and I," she licks her lips, "I just don't want to ruin that."
"Oh," he says, "right."
"Besides," she says, eyes twinkling mischievously, "it'd never work out between us. I'm still holding a candle for Professor Haven."
"How could I compete with a middle-aged English professor?"
"Well," she says, "you could do, but it'd be useless. Something about his receding hairline just drives me mad."
He laughs, flops back on his elbows, watching the image of Grace in his mind fizzle away until there is only one of her—the real her—blabbering about B.F. Skinner and how annoying his children must have found him.
It turns out getting over Grace isn't all that difficult considering he hadn't fallen into it much before planting one on her. "It's because you never wanted me in the first place," Grace tells him, "Just somebody who isn't expecting anything of you."
"I'm not exactly sure how I should take that," he says, tapping his pencil against his chin. "On the one hand, you're letting me off the embarrassment hook. On the other, you seem to be implying that I'm shallow and unconcerned with anyone else's needs besides my own."
Grace laughs, "We're nineteen; we're meant to be shallow." Kellan scoffs and nudges her with his foot to show his displeasure. She softens, "You know I didn't mean it like that. It's just—it's got to be a big burden trying to live up to someone's expectations when you've got no idea what you're going for. Even with me, probably, it's a little hard. Considering Before Kellan was a right bastard when it came to being my friend." Kellan winces and she presses her fingers to his hand to let him know it's okay. "So it makes sense," she goes on, "That you'd want to get your rocks off with someone who didn't know you Before. Someone you can be you with."
"I wasn't just looking to get my rocks off," he mutters, flushing at the memory of what it felt like to come with her face in his head. It all seems ridiculous now—thinking even for a little bit that Grace could be anything more to him than a friend.
She just laughs and laughs and says, "No, but I bet that's somewhere near the top of your list."
Kellan purses his lips together to keep from laughing. Says, "Yeah, whatever."
The sixth month mark really gets to him. He goes through the day, supremely focused on pushing his mind as much as he can, hoping the stress will break the dam keeping his memories in or something.
But nothing happens, and all it does get him is a headache.
When his last class is over, he doesn't even bother saying hi to Nate, who's waiting for him as usual. He just storms down the hallway towards the parking lot, hoping Nate will follow him.
Nate falls into step beside him and claps him on the shoulder. "Been a long day?" he asks.
Kellan sighs, "You could say that."
Nate grins, "D'you work tonight? Wanna come over to my place? My dad's on some business conference so we can raid his liquor cabinet—loosen up a bit."
"I—" Kellan starts to say no-thank-you, he doesn't think getting wasted will help his situation any, but Nate's face falls and he says, "We used to do it all the time." And, well, if that's true then Kellan guesses he has no excuse to say no. "Alright," he says, and smiles a little when Nate's eyes light up.
Two hours and who knows how many Kitchen Sinks later, Kellan leans back on Nate's leather couch and sighs happily. He's so drunk, it hardly matters that his brain's all fucked up and nobody knows how to fix it. He smiles at Nate, says, "Thanks, man. You're right—I needed this."
Nate nods and smiles back. "You're my best friend. Of course I know what you need."
"Yeah," Kellan says, "Yeah, it's—it's just so hard, y'know? It's like. Have you ever had amnesia? Wait. That's dumb. 'Course you haven't. I'm—where's the bathroom? I have to pee."
Nate hoists himself up on his feet, sways a little, and says, "C'mon, I'll show you." Kellan trips along behind Nate down a long hallway and up a short flight of stairs. "Ah, here we are," Nate slurs, leaning against the wall and pushing a door open with his index finger, "The commode!"
Kellan laughs a little and walks past Nate into the darkened room. He fumbles for the light switch until Nate finally says, "Let me," and flips it on himself.
"Thanks," Kellan says, attempting to shut the door between them. But Nate seems to have made himself at home. "Um," Kellan says, "I have to go."
Nate nods at the toilet, "No one's stopping you."
"But you're—" Kellan starts to say, but Nate gives him a look like so? and Kellan really does have to pee. He watches Nate in the mirror as the other boy shuts the door and leans against it, looking at his feet. It's not so different from a public restroom, he guesses, and it's not like Nate is staring at him so…they have been friends since they were four (just because he can't remember it doesn't really mean much).
He finishes, washing his hands and drying them on the sides of his thighs. He turns to go, expecting Nate to open the door and follow him out, but Nate just stands there.
And now he is staring.
"Um," Kellan says, shuffling his feet, "I'm, err, done."
Nate's face tightens and he steps forward until Kellan is pressed back against the sink. Nate's shorter than him—he's just now noticing—and smaller, too. And he smells like peppermint. (None of it is familiar.)"Um," Kellan says again, gripping the sink for balance. Nate is almost pressed against him, but he's looking down at his feet still, like he's nervous. And, okay, Kellan is nervous, too, and he doesn't understand what's happening when Nate's shaking fingers skim along Kellan's waistband and he says, "We used to do this, too, sometimes."
Nate undoes his own pants and reaches inside, shuddering against Kellan's body. "Wait," Kellan says, "Wait, what are you—"
Nate gasps and presses his face against Kellan's neck, "Please," he says. "Please—I'm sorry, I—I miss you. Please just—" he breaks off in a wrecked moan.
Kellan wants to pull back and get Nate to look at him—thinks that maybe he'll get a better handle on things if he could do that. But then Nate's knuckles brush over the front of Kellan's pants and Kellan jerks forward accidentally, forgetting everything for a moment except that he has never done this before. Not this him anyway. "We—were we—I don't—" Kellan tries, but Nate is panting against his collar in a very distracting way.
Nate presses in and up so that his mouth is against Kellan's ear and his knuckles are dragging purposefully over Kellan's bulge (which is definitely a bulge now, where it hadn't been at first. Is—what's going on?). He starts murmuring Kellan's name in his ear, breath hot and shaky. Kellan sways on his feet, warm and dizzy and not-just-a-little-bit drunk. He puts his hands on Nate's hips—more for balance than anything—and Nate's gasp catches into a groan and he's saying, "Miss you, miss you, remember me," and then he's coming and Kellan's coming because of it.
He puts his arms around Nate, who's crying and gripping the front of Kellan's shirt. "Shh," Kellan says, stroking Nate's back, "Shh. It's okay."
It's not really—okay, that is—but Kellan doesn't know how to say that. Doesn't know how to tell Nate he's not who he used to be, and he might not ever be again.
When he wakes up the next morning, it's to a splitting headache and a dry mouth. Nate seems to be suffering under similar conditions judging by the way he doesn't even bother to say good morning before tossing Kellan a bottle of aspirin and passing back out.
Kellan sees himself out—suddenly needing to be away from Nate's stuffy room (and from Nate himself, who's only wearing a pair of boxers riding low around his hips). The walk home clears the fog in his head a little, but doesn't get rid of the shaky-nausea that's settled in the pit of his stomach.
Another problem of not having very many memories is that the ones he does have are that much sharper. It's like he can hear Nate's panting breath loud and hissing in his ear, still. Like his knees still want to buckle from it. Fuck.
After that whole charade in the bathroom, they'd stumbled back to Nate's room where Nate had informed him that neither of them were gay, they weren't, and then he'd kissed Kellan until Kellan was trembling against the mattress, arching up into Nate's hands (which seemed to know every place Kellan needed them to be). After coming again, from Nate palming at the front of his tented boxers, Nate spent another twenty minutes saying he was sorry—that he'd promised himself he wasn't going to do this kind of thing anymore.
It's all very confusing.
When he gets to his house, his grandpa is reading the paper at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal. The sound of it crunching between his teeth makes Kellan want to puke and he says so, filling a glass with water from the tap and sipping it cautiously. "Ah," his grandpa says, eyeing him over the paper, "I know that look. Nate had his way with you again, didn't he?"
Kellan sputters, leaning over the sink to spit out the water in his mouth. "You mean you know about that?" From the way Nate had gone on, this was a pretty dark secret for them both.
His grandpa shakes his head, "That boy has been getting you drunk and sending you home hung over since you were seventeen."
"Um," Kellan says, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering how much time he has to chat before he actually does have to succumb to his need to vomit.
"Relax. He's had a hard time of it since his mom, and you—" his grandpa looks down and clears his throat hastily, "You've been a good friend to him."
"Right," Kellan says, feeling as awkward as always when his grandpa accidentally alludes to his parents' deaths. He supposes it ought to hurt more (that it will hurt a lot if he ever gets his memories back) but it's hard to be upset about people he never knew. This him, anyway.
"Go lie down," his grandpa says, waving him out of the room, "and try to take a shower. Your smell is boozing up the house."
Kellan does both of those things in reverse order, settling down carefully on his bed still warm and wet from his shower, hair clinging to his forehead as he pulls the covers up to his chin.
He's halfway asleep already but he's thinking of Nate, and Nate's hands all over him and how it felt good. So good. But, he thinks just before he falls completely asleep, what would Before Kellan say about all of it?
He spends all of Sunday clicking through old emails between he and Nate, looking for clues that they were together. He supposes they did say some suggestive things to each other, but he always assumed it was kind of a normal teenage boy thing to do. And anything that suggests a deeper connection than that, he'd been attributing to the fact that they'd both lost parents and helped each other through it. He guesses they did help each other through it, in more ways than one.
By the end of the day, he's going half-mad, wanting to talk to Nate about what happened, and maybe do it again. Okay, no, definitely do that again.
In some ways, having no memory lets him off the hook. He doesn't have a big gay crisis because he figures he'll leave that to Before Kellan, if he ever shows up again. It's still frustrating, though, because he doesn't know the protocol for this kind of thing. What would Nate want him to do?
In the end, Nate solves it for him in an email that Kellan reads about fifteen times.
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: You're probably busy freaking out right now
…but don't. What happened last night is no big deal, okay? Just a way we relieve stress. We used to do it all the time. But if it makes you uncomfortable, we can totally stop.
On the sixteenth read-through, Kellan gets it, and responds:
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: You busy next Friday night?
I definitely don't want to stop.
The week goes by so slow Kellan is constantly in a state of wanting to scream. Grace asks him what's wrong a few times, but he mumbles some emo-bullshit (sort of) about not having a working brain that successfully sends her into a rant about how is brain is just fine and he should stop beating himself up.
When Friday finally does get here, Kellan spends the whole day with his leg bouncing up and down impatiently. His last class is cancelled, so he shoots a text to Nate to let him know, and goes outside to wait, not wanting to be trapped inside for one second longer.
He leans against Nate's car, waiting for him to get done with class, itching to get home. His grandpa is working all evening and they'll have the place to themselves. They'll be able to take their time. Kellan shudders at the thought.
Nate smiles at him when he catches Kellan waiting, leans against him under the pretense of unlocking the door. "Been waiting long?" he asks, voice already husky. Kellan gulps in a breath.
"Feels like it," he rasps, wishing he could just hurl Nate into the backseat and have his way with him in the parking lot. Knows Before Kellan would be ticked at having his reputation ruined, not to mention Nate's reaction.
But he doesn't want to think of Before Kellan now. Not really. Not when Nate says, "I've been thinking about it all week." And Kellan knows just how he feels. He clenches his hands into fists to keep from reaching for Nate, who seems to understand his struggle and steps away, putting the car between them to get to the driver's side. He grins, one side of his mouth higher than the other, and runs a hand through his hair. "Shall we?" He says. Kellan hops in the car and drums his fingers on his knees anxiously.
Nate fiddles with the radio and Kellan can see his hands are shaking, knows his are shaking too, like they're drug addicts. Which is actually kind of a good comparison if he thinks about it. He wants to ask if they were like this before, together, but he doesn't want to ruin anything. Instead he nudges his pinky and ring finger under Nate's thigh just to get some contact. Nate huffs out a breath.
Kellan can smell the peppermint shampoo Nate uses and it really is like some kind of drug and all he wants to do is sink his nose in Nate's hair and take a deep breath, get his eyelashes tangled up in the silky strands. Drive faster, he wants to say, but doesn't, because he's still not sure how he's supposed to be acting about this arrangement. He groans instead, to get his point across.
Nate laughs a little and it's high-pitched and breathy, like he's about to do something crazy and he's trying to convince himself it's fine, it's no-big-deal. Kellan has the same kind of laugh stuck in his throat.
They pull onto Kellan's street and into his driveway and it's not until Nate turns off the car that Kellan realizes how loud his heart is hammering in his chest. "So," he says, "Wanna come in?"
Nate laughs again. Says, "That was the plan."
They're all tough-guy to the door, shouldering their backpacks and keeping a lot of distance between them. Kellan unlocks the front door and moves to head for his room because he doesn't really know what else to do (he almost gives a tour but then he remembers—Nate's been here before, loads of times). His foot hits the carpet in the hallway and he hears Nate's backpack drop with a thunk by the door, hears his three quick footsteps to catch up with Kellan, feels a hand grab his shoulder to spin him around.
He has just enough time to smile welcomingly before Nate's mouth is on his, hungry and open and wet, and god this is actually completely like being on drugs.
Kellan tries to grip onto the wall but his hand slips and he ends up crashing to his ass on the floor, but Nate follows him, cupping his face in his hands and laughing into his mouth. "Smooth," he says, bracketing Kellan's hips with his knees.
"My middle name," Kellan murmurs, tipping his face up to fit his lips to Nate's better.
Nate pulls back, eyes wide, thumbs stroking under Kellan's eyes. "What did you say?"
"Uh," Kellan says, dazed, "my middle name? You know—smooth's my middle name?"
Nate smiles, "Yeah, dumbass, I know the joke, I just—" his face darkens for a split second but he hastily covers it up by leaning in for another kiss.
"Wait," Kellan says, pushing him back, "What were you going to say?"
"Nothing," Nate says, teeth scraping down Kellan's neck in a way that makes him gasp. "Nothing," he says again, hand working its way under Kellan's shirt.
"Nate—what," he breaks off in a groan as Nate bites his earlobe.
He's losing the plot so quickly he can't exactly remember what he's asking Nate for anyway, but Nate pulls back, looking thoughtful, and says, "You just used to say that. You—the first time we—" he shakes his head as if to clear some thought from it. Kellan feels the now-familiar pang of jealousy that Nate has the luxury of doing that—of having so many memories of the two of them that he can pick and choose which ones to focus on.
Nate hoists him up and they practically run down the hall to Kellan's room, groping each other along the way. They land in a heap on Kellan's bed, sending it rocking against the wall noisily. Kellan snorts with laughter as one of his plaques (academic achievement, eleventh grade, highest math scores in the state—he wonders if Before Kellan is proud of that) clatters to the floor. Nate ignores him, tugging his shirt over his head and working on buttons of Kellan's. When his fingers brush down Kellan's bare stomach, Kellan quivers and inhales sharply. Looks up at Nate's kissed-raw lips and lust-blown eyes, thinking shit.
He wonders if it's always been this intense, and he asks, and Nate's hips buck against his thigh but he says, "I don't know."
They get each other's pants off and then it's just skin, and tons of it, every inch burning where it meets Nate's. Kellan is shaking and locking his ankles behind Nate's back instinctually to get closer, to get anything and Nate's writhing against him, breathing hard in his ear.
Kellan gasps, eyes screwed shut, sweat dripping down the backs of his thighs. "Tell me," he says, "Tell me about it."
"What?" Nate grits out, hips stuttering.
"The first time we—" he groans, "the first time I touched you."
Nate laughs, "How do you know you made the first move?"
"Yeah," Nate says, blush spreading over his cheekbones. (Kellan wants so badly to be remembering what Nate is. To know how it felt when it was new for them both.)
They've stopped grinding into each other and Kellan's fingers are trailing up and down Nate's back like tell me tell me tell me. Nate sighs, drops his forehead against Kellan's shoulder for a second and says, "It was a few months after my mom died. I wasn't," he swallows, "coping that well. I was getting into fights all the time, with everyone, including you." He looks up, eyes flashing guiltily. Kellan shrugs like it's no big deal even though he doesn't know if that's true or not. "Anyway, we were at my place, and you said I needed to get my head out of my ass and stop being such a little bitch. So, I called you a cocksucker and you said, that's my middle name. Which, I mean, it was stupid—it didn't make any sense, but you just wanted me to laugh. And then, well, then it kind of was your middle name, because you grabbed the front of my shirt and kissed the shit out of me."
Kellan kisses him now, licks into his mouth and bites at his lips. Says, "then what?"
Nate's breathing speeds up again, and his face feels hot where it's pressed to Kellan's neck. His hand slides down to circle Kellan's cock and he gives it a pull, flicking his thumb over the head. "Then we did this," he murmurs.
Kellan moans, body bucking up wildly, and thinks Grace was totally wrong. He could get off just on Nate telling him how they used to be together.
To prove it to himself, he grips one hand in Nate's hair and angles his mouth to press against Nate's jaw. "Like this?" he says, reaching between them to grip Nate's cock.
"Yeah," Nate groans, "Yeah."
When he comes, it's saying Nate's name and Nate's face drops open like oh my god and he says, "Kellan, Kellan, Jesus." For a second, his expression is so unguarded that it yawns in Kellan's chest and he's so full of wonder that he thinks he might cry or something. The feeling crashes through him, making him shake harder than his orgasm did, but then he looks up and Nate's got his eyes closed and the moment's gone.
After that, he thinks a lot about what it would be like to have sex with Nate. Like, actual sex-sex. He wants to talk to someone about it, but he can't, obviously, so he sometimes plays out conversations in his head instead.
He starts with Grace, because she's the easiest. She'd say they were already having sex-sex, silly—the penetration bias is so patriarchal and close-minded. Then she'd probably complain about his choice of partner before moving on to be incredibly supportive and almost creepy in her thirst for details.
His grandpa—well, this one is harder because Kellan can't imagine ever actually talking to him about this stuff. But when he does think about it, he imagines his grandpa sort of gruffly talking about safety and practicalities like preparation. Not that the grandpa living outside Kellan's head would know anything about gay-sex practicalities, but it's reassuring to have someone (in his head at least) worried about that kind of thing.
When he has a pretend conversation with Nate about it he always ends up hard and jittery, needing a fix and fast, so he only thinks about that when he's alone.
He keeps it a secret as long as he can until one night, Nate's got his mouth around Kellan's cock and Kellan moans, "Oh my god, I want to fuck you."
Nate pulls back, heinous popping noise of his lips leaving Kellan's cock echoing through the room. "What?" he gasps, mouth bruised and slick with spit. Kellan groans just looking at him.
"I," he says, suddenly shy, "I want us to…I want to be inside you."
Nate makes a face, "Why would we do that?"
Kellan's blood runs cold. "Why—" he says, voice breaking a little, "Why wouldn't we?"
"Uh," Nate says, face like duh, "Because we're not gay."
"What?" Kellan says, gesturing at their naked, sweaty bodies. "This is—I mean, this looks gay, Nate, I'm—"
"You're not," He says, "You're not, okay? I know you better than anyone knows you and you're not gay."
"Maybe I wasn't…Before, but—"
"You're the same person! Goddamn it, Kellan. You're the same person. And we are not gay."
Kellan takes a deep breath and rolls out from under Nate and reaches for his pants. "Where are you going?" Nate sighs, trying to press Kellan's jeans down, "Just—don't—"
"Nate, I am glad to be your friend. Okay? I think you're great. Let's be friends." He takes a deep breath, "But if I'm going to do this thing with you—well it's. I just can't. Not if…" he stops, looks at Nate who's just sitting on the bed, eyes on his hands, mouth etched in a frown.
Kellan feels panicky—he doesn't want to lose this with Nate, he wants him, all of him. He reaches out to touch Nate's jaw—two fingers pressed against the point under his ear. Lays it on the table, "Please," he says. "I know you have…feelings for," he scoffs at himself for not knowing the words to say. "You don't have to be afraid or anything, just—"
"Yeah," Nate says, "You should go."
"I'll see you in school."
"Alright," Kellan says, tugging his sweatshirt over his head, "See you."
He hurries out of Nate's house and drives away, going way over the speed limit just to get away faster.
"I have a brother," Grace says, apropos of nothing (which seems to be how she begins all conversations). "His name is Will. Which, look, alright? We were born before the show so it's not like my mom was ripping anybody off, but it ended being kind of creepy in a psychic way because Will, my brother Will, is—well, actually, never mind. But anyway, yep. I've got a brother."
Kellan takes a bite of his apple. "Cool?" he says, eyebrows raised in invitation.
Grace just shrugs, "I just felt like telling you." Kellan doubts this is true, knows there's got to be more, but he'll wait for Grace to say it because he doesn't feel like fishing today, not when he's still glum over the whole Nate thing.
It's been three days and Nate's not been showing up to campus or returning any of his calls. He's tired of wondering what Before Kellan would have done because the fact is—apparently, Before Kellan wouldn't have done something as stupid as except the guy he's fooling around with to have any actual feelings for him. (Part of him knows this isn't true—that Nate does have feelings for him, at least Before him, and that's probably most of the problem.)
"He's away at college," Grace says, "Iowa State. He's getting a degree in Computer Science. Do you know the kind of money you can make in computers?"
Kellan says, "No, a lot?"
"I don't know, I was actually asking. Anyway, he's coming home this weekend and he always takes me out for dinner. Kind of like this horrible cheesy sibling love fest that our parents force on us, but he always lets me have some of his booze and anyway," she says, not even pausing for a breath (although she'll need one soon, judging by the way her eyes are bulging out of her head a little), "I told him about you. He's always been rather protective of me, and he's so glad we're friends. He mentioned that it'd be fun if you came along. He'd pay and all—or, well, he'd pay with the money my parents bribed him with but it's all the same."
Kellan smiles halfheartedly, "Yeah, sure I'll come."
Grace exhales, "Oh good." It's like he can see her mentally checking off that point on her to-do list before she takes a deep breath and says, "Now tell me what's gotten up your butt. I'm equipped with a small array of psychological terms that I can use should they be necessary. You know, even if they're not necessary I may use them. Keeps my mind fresh and all."
Kellan laughs despite himself and says, "If I tell you, do you promise to keep it a secret?"
"It's flattering that you think I've got others to tell," she says, grinning so he knows she's not actually hurt by the fact that he's her only friend.
He takes a breath, covers his eyes with his hands like a little kid and says, "Was there any indication Before that I was, err, gay?"
He doesn't know what he's expecting Grace to do, but it's definitely not barrel him down with a hug. He sputters into her hair, says, "What?"
She pulls back, beaming, and says, "I don't know—I've always had this fantasy that someone comes out to me and I surprise them by being completely open-minded about it and they cry in my arms and later dedicate their autobiography to me."
Kellan blinks. "You're very—"
"Compassionate, I know. Anyway, about your thing, no, you didn't ever seem gay. But, then, I didn't know you very well. Have you asked Nate?"
Kellan winces, "That's…kind of…we…"
Grace's eyes get comically wide and her hand slaps over her mouth. "Oh that is so rich," she gasps.
"Grace! Don't you dare think of saying anything. "
She shakes her head, "I wouldn't. I wouldn't, just—oh my gosh, he's such a Freudian goldmine."
Kellan waves his hand in the air like whatever, we're talking about me and says, "Anyway, I just, nothing's actually happening now. With us. But I sort of really want there to be."
"I have to say this and then I'll be all supportive-friend, but gross. Nate? Honestly? Sure he's kind of attractive but he's such a—"
"Does it matter? I said we're like, over, or, we never were or something, I don't know."
"Okay, okay. Um, well. Besides him have you, like, been with anyone?"
Kellan groans, "How would I know?"
"I don't mean Before. I keep telling you—Before doesn't matter. You're you, now."
"I'm not anybody now!" Kellan thunders, hurling the core of his apple down the hill like a baby. "I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to be doing."
"You're not supposed to be doing anything," Grace says, "besides maybe lowering your voice. What do you want to be doing?"
"I don't know," Kellan says honestly.
"Well who does?" Grace says, scooping her books to her chest and reaching down to offer him a hand up. "Certainly not me, and my brain's not even boggled. At least not as much as yours." She winks at him and he can't help but smile in return.
"Where are we going?" he asks.
"First, World Geography—it starts in five minutes. But then, we're going on a soul journey."
"I don't know, it just sounded cool. We'll probably end up at the library or somewhere mundane like that." She tugs him along beside her, and he feels better although he doesn't really know why. Then she says, "Just so we're clear—if you ever do write an autobiography, I expect to see my name in the acknowledgements. Gay or not."
Kellan rolls his eyes, but squeezes her hand like you got it.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: Community College Dropout?
So, I just wondered if you were ever planning on showing up to school again?
I meant what I said about us being friends, you know. We don't even have to talk about…things.
I miss you.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
…I refuse to drive by your house to see if you're alive because that's too stalkerish. So…are you alive?
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Natew. Listen. I think you should come back to school now because were friends. Right? We;re friends.
So stop being so dumb, oakky? I still want to fuck you but ill keep that ro myself.
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Kellan, go to bed. Who is even getting you drunk? That's my job.
See you Monday,
The restaurant is some dive downtown and Kellan is choking on smoke the second he walks through the door. Grace makes a squealing noise and dashes forward, darting through the tables that are placed to close to each other it's like everyone's sitting down to a meal together.
Kellan watches her hurl herself at a tall brunet in a corner booth, watches him laugh and squeeze her to him. He hangs back, giving them their moment, shuffling awkwardly from foot to foot until Grace turns starts motioning at him wildly with her hands like get over here, you dumbass.
Grace's brother stands up and shakes Kellan's hand firmly. "Hey, nice to finally meet Grace's lover boy. I'm Will."
"Oh," Grace gushes, swatting Will on the arm, "He's just my friend, I told you. Not that he didn't try."
"Try what?" Will says, all big-brother suspicious.
Kellan swallows. Says, "You're not going to hit me, are you?"
Will bursts into a laugh, "Wouldn't dream of it, Freckles." (Kellan blinks. Somebody's called him that before. His grandpa maybe? Must have been.)
Grace smiles, "Anyway, you don't have to worry. Kellan is way over me. So completely over me. Big-brothers worldwide can breathe a sigh of relief, actually."
"You're not obvious at all, Grace," Kellan deadpans.
"I actually found that a bit confusing," Will says, winking. Kellan feels himself flushing.
"Anyway," Grace says, "everybody sit down. I've come up with an icebreaker for this evening."
"You what?" Kellan says, "There are only three of us."
"I'm just trying to facilitate group discussion, Kellan. It worked really well in Professor Haven's class."
"Has Grace told you she's in love with her English professor?" Kellan says.
"Many times, and how's that going, by the way?"
"You two are horrible," Grace says, plunking her elbows on the table and propping her face on her fists. "But since you asked, it's not going well. And by that I mean, he mentioned his wife of twenty years the other day in class. I almost had to excuse myself, I was so devastated, but I soldiered through."
"Sorry," Kellan says, trying to look sincere but failing when Will makes a face at him. He ends up pressing his hand over his mouth to hide his smile.
"I'm getting the feeling neither of you are very sorry at all. But it's fine. Unrequited love is romantic and tortured and me."
"Oh, Gracie, you're not tortured, you're whimsical," Will says, "And someday some boy in a tweed jacket is going to fall crazy in love with you." He turns to Kellan and says, "Big brother comment of support, check."
Grace giggles, "Yeah, whatever, anyway—my icebreaker! I worked really hard to think of this. Okay, I didn't really. I googled "icebreaker," and this one seemed very popular."
"Among camp counselors and first grade teachers?" Kellan asks. Grace glares at him. "Sorry, sorry, okay what is it?"
"If you could have one superpower—and it can't be the ability to collect superpowers, that's dumb—what would it be and why?"
"That's original," Will says.
Grace glares at him like game on. "It also can't be mind-reading, invisibility, time-travel, flight, or immortality. Oh! Or super-strength or smarts."
"I'm not sure there's anything left," Kellan says.
"That's what makes it original," Grace says proudly. "And anyway, I already know what mine would be. I would be able to touch a book and absorb its contents in less than thirty seconds."
"Isn't that kind of like super-smarts?" Will says.
"What would happen if you only had twenty-nine seconds?" Kellan says at the same time.
"I would skip the table of contents and dedication page. And no it's not—there are plenty of dumb people reading books every day."
"What would you do with that power?" Will asks.
"Isn't it obvious? I'd finally be able to get through Anna Karenina." Grace says, "You two are up."
"I've got one," Will says. "I'd be able to figure out the ingredients of any substance just by looking at it."
"Oh!" Grace says, "That's a clever one! You could work for all the kings."
"All the kings?" Kellan says.
"Grace, I don't think they hire tasters anymore," Will says. "She means to check for poison."
"Oh," Kellan says, "Valuable trait."
"What would you pick?" Will asks. (Kellan both notices and refuses to notice that he has the same eyes as Grace, and that they're…nice.)
"Would it be pathetic if I said photographic memory?" He blushes, wants to rub the back of his neck embarrassedly, but holds off. Waits for the sad smiles from Will and Grace.
Instead, Will takes a thoughtful sip of his drink and says, "As long as it was flawless, I'd say that was a good power. Only it can't be like those teenagers who say they have a photographic memory just because they have some vague idea of where they read something on a page, you know?"
"It'd be absolutely flawless," Kellan says. He looks at his hands pressed flat against the table, nail-beds white from pushing so hard. He bites his lower lip and tells himself for the millionth time that he will get his memory back.
"Actually," Grace is saying, "We'd make a great team with those powers. We'd be able to process a huge breadth of information and store it forever—or at least for as long as Kellan's brain is functioning. This is great." She claps her hands, "See? If we'd never done this exercise, we'd have never known how compatible our superpowers are!"
"And that would have been the worst," Will says, grinning.
"I know," Grace breathes. "Hey—order me the chicken fingers, I have to use the ladies'."
"Is it pushing it if I ask if you're okay?" Will asks after she's bopped off.
"What?" Kellan says, looking up.
"It's just—Grace told me about the amnesia thing, and I know I don't know you at all, but I just wondered if you're okay. I mean, the whole superpower thing…"
"Oh," Kellan says, "Yeah, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put on damper on anything."
"You didn't," Will says, reaching out like he's going to put his hand on Kellan's, but stops short. (Kellan watches his hand, blinks, and gets what Grace was talking about before—about the creepy-psychic show.)
"So you're gay?" he blurts, and then rears back, hand slapping over his mouth. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry. I don't usually—I mean, I must be hanging with Grace too much, my filter is shot. Oh shit, I didn't mean to insult your sister. I really do like her. I mean, not like that. Oh god." He drops his face in his hands and groans.
He feels fingers prying his hands away from his face and Will is smiling at him, eyes warm and laughing. "It's fine, Freckles. I am gay."
"Oh," Kellan says, something clenching in his stomach like the feeling before the drop in a rollercoaster (not that he remembers riding one).
"Is that going to be a problem?" Will asks, eyebrows raised. He lets Kellan's hands go.
"No!" Kellan says quickly, "Not at all. I'm actually—Uh, no. It's not a problem."
The waiter picks the perfect moment to show up so Kellan has an excuse to stop embarrassing himself.
Grace skips back from the bathroom and Kellan is so grateful to have her back, he must look a little doe-eyed because she gives him a funny look and asks him if his health is alright. Will spits some of his water out in a laugh.
Grace looks between the two of them and gets an evil smile on her face that Kellan wants to protest, but also doesn't want to draw attention to. Will seems to have the same thing in mind, because he hastily brings up something about operating systems that nobody in their right minds could actually want to talk about.
After dinner, they walk out to the parking lot. Kellan has to get home because he opens the shop early tomorrow morning. Grace gives him a hug and hops in Will's car, leaving the two of them awkwardly staring at each other.
Finally Will smiles, "I wanted to thank you for being such a good friend to Grace, by the way."
"Oh," Kellan says, blushing, "Yeah. She's great."
"She is," Will says. "She also has good taste in friends." Kellan barks out an embarrassed laugh, blush tearing through him. "Really," Will says, stepping closer, but still a comfortable distance away. "I mean it."
"I—well I can't say anything about her taste in brothers because she really didn't get a choice in that," Kellan says. He almost blanches when he realizes how overt his flirting is. God, how pathetic. Just because Will is gay doesn't mean Kellan has to throw himself at him. Doesn't mean he's even interested. Oh, this is a disaster.
Will laughs, "Ah, well I'll take it as a compliment anyway."
"It was nice to meet you," Kellan says, suddenly feeling too hot and flustered to drag this out any longer.
"Yeah, you to," Will says. "Hey, Kellan, could I maybe—"
"See you around!" Kellan practically shouts at the same time, and then turns and jogs to his car. He realizes as he's getting in that Will was probably going to ask for his number or something and Kellan acted like he was turning him down. He wonders if it'd be weird if he went back now. But what if that wasn't what Will was going to say? And what if it was?
Kellan makes a big production of looking for something on the floorboards of the passenger seat while Will drives out of the parking lot.
"Oh my god," he moans to himself, "I am so dumb."
On Monday, Nate shows up just as Kellan is putting his keys in the lock of his car, piece of toast hanging from his mouth. "What are you doing?" Nate asks, "It's my turn to drive."
"Um," Kellan says, catching the toast when it falls out of his mouth. "Okay."
He gets in cautiously, like he's waiting for Nate to peel out of the driveway with Kellan caught halfway out of the car. "So," he says, "How are you?"
Nate turns to face him (Kellan's heart hammers in his chest), "Can we just forget last week happened?"
Kellan looks out the window for a second to regroup before looking back, "How much of last week?" He means, of course, the part where you threw me out of bed? and Nate knows it.
He winces, "I mean, we're friends right?"
Kellan knows from the way he says "friends" what he means. He sighs, says, "Sure. 'Course we are." Takes a bite of his toast to keep his lips from tightening into a frown.
"Good," Nate says, grinning (it sends a pang of hurt through Kellan. He takes another bite.). "So, did I miss anything good last week?"
"Not really," Kellan says, looking out the window and refusing to pout. It's just that he doesn't know how to look at Nate and not be halfway in love with him. (He wonders if Before Kellan had it just as bad.)
"Hmm," Nate is saying, "I actually had kind of a crazy week, myself."
"Oh yeah?" Kellan says, only half-listening.
"Well I worked a lot, and we got this new server—her name is Nikki." Something hot roars through Kellan—he bites the inside of his cheek against the welling up in his eyes.
"Is she hot?" He snaps, hoping Nate will pick up on all the anger he's feeding into it.
Nate just laughs, "Hell yeah. But she's actually cool, too. Like, she has great taste in music and movies and stuff. You'd like her."
"I probably wouldn't," Kellan mutters.
"Are you going to ask her out?"
Nate laughs (Kellan hopes it's as forced as it sounds), "Already two steps ahead of you, man. We've been out twice."
"Oh," Kellan says, voice dead, "That's cool."
"I really like her, Kellan." Nate says, eyes wide and lips chewed-red and Kellan wants to kiss him so bad it makes him shake. He wants to throw the car in park and straddle him and kiss him until he's weak against the seat, pupils blown and panting. And he wants to say you really like me.
But he just smiles and says, "Good on you. Seriously. That's awesome."
He avoids Nate for the rest of the day, actually hides out in the bathroom instead of going to his last class so Nate won't wait for him. He thinks Grace has a pottery class in about an hour, so he loiters around the art wing to try and find her. Eventually she bustles out of a classroom, hands and wrists caked with clay. "Grace!" he calls, watches her face brighten immensely as she jogs over.
"What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to learn how to use the public transit system," he says. "I hear it's better for the environment."
"Now you sound like Will," Grace says. "What really happened?"
"Nate's seeing someone," Kellan says miserably.
Grace exhales like she's been punched in the gut. He knows the feeling. "That absolute—"
"Don't," Kellan says quickly.
"Sorry," Grace says. She links arms with him and smiles, "Not that this will make it any better, but my brother will be happy to hear you're not with anybody."
"Oh please, you two were more obvious than a Thestral to a tragic war-orphan."
"I don't know what that means, Grace."
She rolls her eyes, "I'm not going to spell it out for you. I can give you his email address if you want. You don't strike me as a guy with enough balls to call, so faceless internet interaction is probably your best bet."
Kellan scoffs, but says, "Um. Yeah, okay, can I have it?"
Grace grins and pats his arm, "Yeah. But we actually have to like, sprint now unless we want to wait for the next bus. Which doesn't come for another forty minutes."
They race each other out of the building.
Grace gets off at the downtown stop because she wants to pick up some fruit from the Asian market that smells like rotting flesh. "I learned about it in Anthropology today!" she says excitedly, "Anyway, if you get off in two stops, you'll be a block away from home. See you later!"
He listens, enjoying the crisp feeling of early December air against his skin on the walk home. He's got Will's email address in his pocket and he's composing the most chill email ever in his head—one that will guarantee Will sees him as cool and interesting and maybe, if he's lucky, hot.
But then Nate is sitting on his porch, and Kellan can't think of anything.
"Where the fuck," Nate says, stomping off the porch toward Kellan, "were you? I waited for two fucking hours before coming here."
"I rode the bus with Grace," Kellan says, like what's your deal, who cares?
"Jesus fuck, Kellan!" Nate seethes, "Do you even know—" he scrubs his hands over his eyes. "I couldn't find you. You were supposed to be there and you weren't. God damn it."
"Oh," Kellan says, shocked numb, "Oh."
"Yeah, oh. I thought, Jesus. I thought it was like before you piece of shit." He's choking on tears and Kellan suddenly can't not touch him, so he drags him to his chest, rubbing his knuckles up and down his spine, whispering, "Hey, it's okay. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Nate's mouth is open and hot on Kellan's neck and his hands are clutching at Kellan's coat. "Come on," Kellan says, "Let's go inside."
He starts to gently push Nate away, but the other boy says, "No, wait. Wait." He rises on his tiptoes and presses his mouth to Kellan's, wet and desperate and Kellan can't breathe.
He tries to slow the kiss down, to show Nate it's okay, he's okay. But then Nate stumbles back, wipes the back of his hand over his mouth, and glares at him. "Don't you ever do that again. If you say you're going to be somewhere, be there." And then he's marching to his car and driving away before Kellan can wrap his mind around what just happened.
Kellan goes inside and hangs up his coat, leaving Will's email address in the pocket.
Will comes home for Christmas break the day after Kellan finishes his finals. Kellan is so deep in confusion over Nate, he wouldn't even notice except Grace shows up with a bottle of champagne, her brother in tow.
"Come on, then," she says, "Will's gonna take us somewhere cool and we're going to celebrate our new ability to name all the countries of Africa."
"You mean Africa isn't a country?" Kellan says, grinning, very glad for the excuse to resurface from his angst for a few hours.
"Nope, and neither is Quebec, although it honestly should be," Grace babbles. Behind her, Will just shrugs like I love her, but she's insane.
"Hi, by the way," Will says, blush stealing over his cheeks. Kellan knows the feeling.
"H'llo—how'd the rest of your semester go?"
"Pretty well, yours?"
"Guys," Grace whines, "Are you done with the small talk? Can we go? I'd like to be drunk within the next hour."
"Grace, do you need to tell us about any sort of alcohol addiction?" Will says, ushering them to his car. Grace sits in the back, leaving Kellan with no choice but to sit by Will. He's not sure if he minds, or if it's exactly what he wanted.
"Ha ha," she says, "I just want to celebrate. It's been a really good semester."
Kellan turns around in his seat (shoulder brushing Will's) and smiles at her. "Ditto," he says.
"Right then," Will says, "Well, if it's cool with you Kellan, I thought we could go back to my place. It's far enough away that you don't have to worry about anyone seeing your drunk-asses make fools of yourselves, and you can stay over if it gets too crazy."
Grace claps her hands and bounces in her seat. Kellan wishes he'd have brought a toothbrush.
It's a bit of a drive to Will's, but it's not uncomfortable. Grace starts singing a song of all the African countries to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner, which is ridiculously funny to Kellan, who's already high on adrenaline at being around Will.
He never ended up emailing him, but he thinks about him a lot—between worrying about finals and worrying about Nate, that is. He decides he's not going to do either of those things tonight, but let himself get insanely drunk and loosen up.
Will lives in an apartment just off ISU's campus. It's small, but Kellan likes it—likes the small touches of Will that are all over it. The three separate recycling bins ("paper, plastic, and glass," Will says, like duh.), the pictures of he and Grace making silly faces, the CD's littering the floor by his desk. "Home sweet home," Will says, "It's not much, but it'll do."
Grace goes into the kitchen and helps herself to a beer, taking a long draw and wincing after the swallow. "Uck," she says, "I don't like beer, I've just decided."
"There's some wine coolers in there," Will says, taking the beer from her hand and leaning back to take a swig from it. Kellan watches the column of his throat flex, and quickly grabs a beer for himself as distraction.
They work their way through a refrigerator full of booze, and okay, so that may be exaggerating, and maybe they're really drunk on being done with the semester, but either way, Grace is standing on a table singing a song she claims is famous ("This is the quintessential singing-on-a-table song, Kellan, how have you not heard of La Vie Boheme?")
Will is leaning out the window, watching other people stumble around drunk on the street. Sometimes he yells something down to someone he knows and Kellan keeps saying, "Shhh, shhh," to the both of them because he's trying to think.
He grabs a book off Will's shelf—Oh The Places You'll Go (and what? Why does Will even have this?)—and starts reading aloud just because he can. Because he wants to be loud, too. Also because what he really wants to do is haul Will away from that window and on top of him, so he can kiss him quiet.
Grace starts singing Part of That World and Will's having a discussion with somebody on the sidewalk about a statistics final that was, apparently, fucking bogus. "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes," Kellan tells them both. (Grace kicks off her shoes as she's singing the line, "Flippin' your fins you don't get too far. And then throws in, "Now my shoes are feetless!")
It goes on like this for quite sometime, until Will insists that you can't read a children's book unless it's in bed, so they all troop into his room for Kellan's dramatic rendering of the Dr. Seuss classic.
He's starting to sober up about the time Grace conks out on the floor by Will's bed. He and Will turn out the light and go to sit in his living room, each nursing warm beers.
He's still pleasantly buzzed when Will puts his hand on Kellan's knee (it's big with slender fingers, and when it flexes over Kellan's leg, Kellan wants to moan) and says, "Am I reading this wrong?"
"What?" Kellan says, setting his beer on the coffee table and running his fingertips through the empty space between Will's fingers.
Will chuckles softly, turns his hand palm up and draws Kellan's fingers onto his skin. Kellan sucks a breath through his teeth and traces Will's lifeline. "It's just," Will says quietly, deep voice reverberating through Kellan's shoulder where Will's got his chest pressed against it. "I thought you'd get my number from Grace or something. After dinner that time. But you didn't."
"I got your email address," Kellan says, pulling Will's hand up to his mouth. He doesn't know what he's doing, but he feels so fucking breathless and he can't stop.
"But you never wrote me," Will says, shifting so he's pressed even closer to Kellan's side. Kellan flicks his tongue over the tip of Will's pointer finger. Will inhales sharply and breathes out near Kellan's ear.
"I meant to," he says, biting at the place he just licked.
Will hisses, "Jesus." And then, "Why didn't you?"
"I had—" he pauses, rubs his cheek over the back of Will's hand like a fucking cat—what is wrong with him? "There was someone else, sort of. But he's…he's nobody now." He scrapes his teeth along the swell of Will's hand under his thumb, noses along his wrist and plants a kiss below his ring finger. "Oh my god, your hands are—"
Suddenly those hands are on his face and in his hair, and Will's eyes are boring into Kellan's. "You're sure he's nobody now."
"Uh huh," Kellan says, eyes locked on Will's lips. The guy has such a kissable mouth it's insane. Who has lips that full? Nobody Kellan's ever kissed. "Promise," he whispers.
Will makes a sound like a whimper, but sexier somehow, and says, "Can I kiss you?"
Kellan feels his eyes flutter shut and he says the first thing that comes to mind, which is: "Why do you always ask me that?"
He's expecting Will's lips on his, but what he gets is a startled, "What'd you say?"
"What?" Kellan says, furrowing his brow and licking his lips.
"You said, 'why do you always ask me that?'"
"Do you ever remember me asking you before?" Will says.
"What? No, I—I'm a little buzzed, okay. I don't—I don't know what I'm saying, just please. Will. I've been thinking about kissing you all night, please."
Will's face softens and he says, "Yeah, okay, sor—mmph."
When Kellan pulls back, Will is smiling goofily and Kellan can tell he is, too, and he says, "D'you wanna go out with me sometime? On, like, a date?"
"Absolutely," Will says, and kisses him again.
"Is it weird," Kellan says between kisses, "to be asking you now? I don't want you to think I'm weird."
"I don't think you're weird," Will says, biting Kellan's lower lip and pulling it out away from his teeth and it's so sexy Kellan can't think.
"Are you sure? Is it too forward? I don't know how these things are supposed to—"
"Kellan," Will says, his lips moving over Kellan's as he whispers. "Shut up now." Then his fingers sink into Kellan's hair and Kellan does. Shut up, that is.
Kellan wakes up with his head half off the couch and his arm numb under his body. Will is sleeping on the floor and Grace, he supposes, is right where they left her. He groans as his arm starts to wake up, pins-and-needles feeling nearly unbearable.
Will gasps awake and sits straight up, "What's—" he starts to say, and then he slumps back down, grumbles, "Oh. Go back to sleep."
"I can't," Kellan says, "My head hurts. Where's your aspirin?"
"Um, just, let me think for a minute. Fuck, I think I'm still drunk."
Kellan stumbles up to go in search of it himself, but Will's hand shoots out and grabs his ankle. Kellan trips to the floor, hissing as his knees hit the hardwood. "Ow," he moans, flopping like a dead-weight onto his stomach, "What'd'ya do that for?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Will whines, crawling so he's over Kellan's body and nuzzling into the back of his neck. "I didn't mean to."
Kellan sighs, and wriggles until he's on his back, looking up at Will. "S'fine," he says, offering a brave smile.
"I want to ask if I can kiss you, but that seemed to get a negative response last night. But feel rude just doing it. So can I?"
"You realize you just asked again, right?" Kellan says, craning his neck to put his mouth against Will's. Will makes a hungry noise in this throat and licks into Kellan's mouth. He tastes like beer and stale breath and it's horrible, really, but Kellan clambers up on his elbows to get a better angle. The stubble on Will's face makes Kellan's lips raw and he's achy everywhere from a hangover but he can't get enough.
"Wow," he says, pulling back to lay on the floor. The room is spinning a little from his headache. "If kissing you drunk and then hung over is an accurate representation of your abilities, I can't wait to make out with you sober."
A weird expression flits over Will's face, like he's guilty or something, but it's gone as quick as it came and he's kissing Kellan's forehead and saying, "Aspirin is absolutely necessary at this point or I would kiss you again."
"Without asking first?"
"You bet," Will says. He rolls off Kellan and crawls toward the kitchen, which Kellan thinks is stupidly cute but can't bear to laugh for how much it would hurt his head. He concentrates on laying very still and not puking until Will brings him a glass of water and three aspirin. "Come on," he says, "Let's get you into bed. Pillows will do wonders for your head."
"That rhymed," Kellan says, pressing the glass of water to his forehead in hopes it will dull some of the pain.
"I'm a secret free-verse master," Will says. "Up you go." He slides his hands under Kellan's armpits and hoists him up. Kellan grunts and flops about, intent on being incredibly useless, apparently. Will rolls his eyes at him and pushes him towards the bedroom.
"I'm starting to think you're not taking my pain seriously," Kellan says, leaning heavily against the taller boy.
"You're not the only one with a hangover," Will says.
Kellan stands up immediately. "Sorry," He says.
Will tugs him back to lean against him, "Hey, hey, it's fine. I like you laying all over me." Kellan shudders—more because he doesn't feel good than anything, but also a little bit because a sudden image of Will writhing under him blooms in his mind. "Oh," Will says, "I will definitely exploit that when we're both sober."
Will presses his mouth to Kellan's ear and murmurs, "You could, you know. Be on top of me. Your hair falling in your eyes and your arms shaking from holding yourself still for so long. You'd be naked, probably, unless we only had the patience to get our pants off. I'd be moaning for you to move. Just move."
It should be cheesy and gross because they're hung over and it's—it's dirty talk. Which is, weird, right? But Kellan is practically panting—he is panting. He knows his eyes must be as wide as saucers where they're glued to Will's mouth and he wants to throw him against a flat surface and tear at it with his teeth. He watches as it curves into a small smile.
"Shit," Will says, "And we haven't even been on a date, yet."
"I don't care," Kellan says. "I don't care," again, for good measure.
"Yeah well," Will says, smile turning shy, "I care. I want to take you out."
Kellan sighs, like it's the biggest burden in the world, rolls his eyes and says, "Fine."
Will grins and tips Kellan gently into bed, laying down beside him. They don't curl around each other or anything—Kellan's stomach hurts too much for that. But a few of their fingers get tangled together. Purely by accident, of course.
The next time Kellan wakes up, Grace is looming over him looking like she got hit by a truck. "Scoot over," she says, "I slept on the fucking floor. Some gentlemen you two are."
"Grace?" Will mumbles, "What—oh god, I forgot you were here."
"Please tell me you didn't fuck while I was on the fucking floor," she says, pushing Kellan over and tumbling into bed. Kellan wonders if she always cusses this much when she's sick.
"We didn't," Kellan assures her when she practically growls at their silence. She's snoring before he can finish.
"This is extremely awkward for me," Will whispers.
"I can't say it's my favorite thing either," Kellan says. "I'm actually feeling a little better if…"
"Yeah, let's go watch TV or something. You up for breakfast?"
"God yes, I'm starving."
"Right, well, I can offer you dry cereal or questionably-old pizza."
"Is it some weird granola-type cereal?" Kellan asks, picturing a box with a koala bear on it—the kind that gives money to the rainforest or something.
"Nope. Fruity Pebbles." Will says. Kellan opens his mouth, but Will cuts him off with, "If you make a gay joke right now, I will seriously reconsider kissing you ever again."
Kellan snaps his mouth shut, grins, and says, "Noted."
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
I came by your place last night for our annual finals-are-over drinking binge, but your grandpa said you were with Grace. I guess I should have talked to you about it beforehand. Anyway, are you still up for celebrating? I thought you and I and Nikki could all go out or something. I guess you could bring Grace.
Let me know,
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: RE: Celebrate?
Yeah, sorry. Didn't know we usually did that.
Um, look, not that I don't want to meet Nikki, but…I don't want to meet Nikki.
Sorry if that makes me a dick,
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: It does.
They plan to go to the independent movie theatre near ISU for their first date. Kellan calls Grace on his way there, asks her if his button-down and jeans is an okay outfit for something like this. Grace just laughs. Says, "Will would think you looked good in cut-offs and a wife-beater. It's a bit alarming how much he likes you."
"Gee thanks," Kellan mutters.
"Oh you know what I mean. Anyway, listen, I was going to draw up a contract or something, but I've been busy making Christmas crafts—"
"I'm American. I still celebrate Christmas, Kellan. And more importantly I celebrate crafting. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that no matter happens between you and my brother, you are morally obligated not to let it affect your relationship with me. AKA, if he's a douche bag to you, you can't cut me out of your life."
"Does he often act like a douche bag?"
"Hardly ever, but the point is, I'm allowing you to date my brother on the condition that you're still my friend. Oh, and on the condition that I absolutely do not want to hear anything about your sexual endeavors. As far as I'm concerned, the only physical thing you two do together is shake hands."
"Got it," Kellan says. "And of course we'll be friends no matter what."
"Okay, so I've got you on record with that, right?"
"Right." He says, "Now, do you have any juicy insider information I should know before embarking on this first date?"
"Oh!" Grace says, "I'm glad you asked. Whatever you do, don't talk to him during the movie. It's so annoying, but he really hates when people talk during movies. I don't know why. I've never met anyone else like that."
Kellan laughs, "I can see where that'd be hard for you to accept. Thanks for the tip."
"That one's on the house. Good luck!" she says. "Alright, well I've got to go, my hot glue gun is all warmed up now." With that, she hangs up.
Kellan shakes his head and tosses his phone on the seat next to him. He's nervous, of course. He's never been on a date before (at least that he can remember), and he's not entirely sure what the protocol is. Although he suspects that even if he had the memory of a normal person, this situation would be a bit nerve wracking. He feels like he's going about things backwards, first making out with a guy and basically begging him to have sex with you while his sister is passed out drunk on the floor and then start dating. But at least he knows for sure there's chemistry there.
It's been a few days since he last saw Will, but they've been emailing non-stop it seems like. The first Kellan sent right after Will dropped he and Grace back off at home, apologizing for acting like an idiot while intoxicated.
Will had responded:
To: Kellan Green
From: Will Tabor
Subject: RE: apology
1. I think being intoxicated and acting like an idiot may be in a kind of cause and effect relationship. (and you weren't even an idiot, really.)
2. It's endearing that you are apologizing, though.
3. But is it just a ploy to get me to find you adorable?
4. Because I already did.
5. Although I don't mean that in a demeaning way.
6. I like adorable things.
7. i.e. youtube videos of cats and dolphins.
8. But I also liked the parts of the night when you were decidedly less adorable.
9. And by that I mean the parts when your tongue was in my mouth.
10. In fact, those may have been my favorite parts of the evening.
Kellan may or may not have read that email until his eyes wanted to bleed. Especially the last two things on the list.
Even now, his heart starts hammering in his chest thinking about it. He takes the exit into town, shoots Will a text that he's almost there, and tries to will his hands to stop sweating. It's just a date. Not a big deal. Not at all. (He feels like he might throw up.)
Will's waiting for him in the parking lot outside his building when Kellan pulls up. "Wanna walk there?" Will asks, leaning down and putting his arms on the side of Kellan's car.
In the last few days Kellan somehow forgot how attractive Will is. It makes his mouth dry. "Sure," he says.
He gets out of the car, but Will doesn't back up much to give him room and it's cold outside, sure, but he's sweating. "Hi," he says, grinning when he catches Will's eyes on his mouth.
"You look nice," Will says.
Kellan winces. "Yeah, I didn't really know what to wear. I've never," he sighs embarrassedly, "I can't recall ever having been on a first date."
Will laughs, not unkindly, and says, "You're doing an okay job so far. They never seem to get any easier, so you're not really at a disadvantage."
"Can we just—how about we just not be nervous. Is that, I mean, is that a thing we can do?" Kellan says.
When Will laughs this time, it's loud and bright, like he's surprised in a good way. "Yeah," he says, "let's do that."
Kellan is very aware that just saying so doesn't make it true, but he does feel marginally better about the whole situation. "Should we get going?" he says.
"Yeah," Will says, "Hold on just one—" he cuts himself off by kissing Kellan slowly, like he's trying to draw something out of him. "Second," he murmurs, pulling back.
Kellan swallows, says, "Well, now that that's taken care of, shall we?"
Will tips his head back and to the right, says, "This way."
Their walk takes them through the square downtown, and Will tells him all about the cool places there. "Are you still thinking of coming to ISU next fall?"
"I haven't really thought about it too much. Probably. I mean," Kellan furrows his brow, "I guess that's what I was planning Before."
"Is there somewhere else you'd rather go? I mean, I love it here and I think you would, too. But you don't always have to do stuff just because you were going to Before."
"I know," Kellan says (but he doesn't really—he's been letting his Before plans pretty much guide him through this thing so far). "But no, there's really nowhere else I'm dying to go."
"What do you want to do?"
Kellan laughs, "I don't really know that, either. Wanna make a bid for Computer Science?"
"Pssh," Will says, "Not at all. I just do it because I'm good at it, but it's boring as fuck. You should do something exciting."
"Taxidermy," Will says quickly.
Kellan sputters out a laugh. "Yeah, okay."
"You're right," Will says, "That would be disgusting. Also, animals have rights blah blah environmental-spiel blah."
"What about puppet making? Sort of the same concept but without the dead things." Kellan says.
"I don't think ISU has a program for that."
"And they do for taxidermy?"
Will laughs, "Honestly? I wouldn't be surprised."
"If you could go back and pick something that wasn't Computer Science, what would it be?" Kellan says.
"Tough one," Will says, "I guess, probably Global Studies. Something where I could learn about all different kinds of people."
"Ah, a humanitarian," Kellan says, smirking.
Will rolls his eyes. "Fine," he says, "What's your dream job then, Freckles?"
Kellan blushes at the nickname, and says, "I don't know. I'm pretty good at math. I wouldn't mind teaching that."
Will smiles, "I know for a fact that ISU has a math program."
"It's settled then," Kellan says, laughing.
They're at the theatre then, and Will pays for the tickets, waving Kellan's money away. "I'm the one who asked you," Kellan says, frowning slightly.
"You drove all the way here," Will says, "It's the least I can do."
The movie starts almost immediately after they sit down, and Kellan's more than a little disappointed because now he's can't talk to Will for at least an hour and a half. He sighs, settling in his seat and trying to pay attention to the previews. But it's hard because Will's arm is so warm where it's pressed against Kellan's and it's so tempting to just turn and stare at the side of Will's face—the plushness of his lips and the straight line of his nose. He keeps his head steadfastly forward, though. He thinks he probably deserves some kind of award for it, too.
About halfway into the movie, Kellan is very aware of the fact that they're the only ones in the theatre, and that Will keeps making these little gasps any time something surprising happens. Still, he keeps quiet and watches the damn movie. Even when Will's hand tangles in his and he starts running his thumb over the inside of Kellan's wrist. And who knew his wrist was such a sensitive area? He breathes out a shaky breath. Will drags his thumbnail gently over the Kellan's skin and Kellan goes stiff in his seat. Does Will even know what he's doing to him?
The maddening thumb-over-wrist routine keeps up for some time. Or maybe it's only a few minutes, Kellan doesn't know. But then Will whispers, "Kellan." And Kellan turns his head (his neck aches from not moving it for so long), and Will's hand slides along his jaw and they're kissing.
Kellan sighs into Will's mouth, hungry sound catching in his throat.
Will's tongue is hot and slick along Kellan's bottom lip, and his fingers are tugging in Kellan's hair like oh god, and he's mumbling, "Sorry."
"What are you sorry for?" Kellan asks, only pulling away long enough to form the question before diving back in.
"You seemed really into the movie," Will explains. Kellan scoffs and throws a leg over Will's lap so he's straddling him. "Fuck," Will hisses. "Okay, I guess I was wrong."
Kellan doesn't know what's gotten into him. His knees are stinging where they're crammed between the armrests of Will's seat but he could give two fucks. He and Will just keep kissing and kissing until Kellan's lips are buzzing and awkward for everything but that. When he pulls back to get a breath, Will's looking at him in awe, and it makes Kellan blush and say, "What?"
"Nothing," Will says, smiling, "I just like you."
Kellan exhales quickly. He's not used to this openness thing. With Nate, it was always so dark and dangerous, which was fun to a certain extent, but always left him feeling a little dirty and used afterwards. But this, this is upfront and nerve wracking and nice. "I like you, too," he says, softly.
Will's fingers stroke up and down Kellan's spine and soon, Kellan's melting into it, breath slowing but getting louder, wetter, needier. And then Will's hand slides under Kellan's shirt and touches skin and Kellan arches into it, panting. He's hard in his jeans and so overwhelmed he's got tunnel vision. He presses his forehead against Will's and murmurs shakily, "Oh my god."
"You're so responsive," Will says, nails dragging down Kellan's back this time.
Kellan fights back a cry, bites down hard on his lip to keep it contained before saying, "And you're so mean."
Will just chuckles, breathlessly, and palms the small of Kellan's back. "Sorry," he says.
Kellan gulps in breaths, trying to will away his erection, but not entirely succeeding. Eventually he has to clamber off Will's lap and back into his own seat. The other boy laughs knowingly, but shifts in his own seat uncomfortably, which Kellan doesn't miss.
When the movie is finally, finally over, they hurry out of the theatre. Kellan checks the time and, "Fuck!" he says, "It's later than I thought. I have to open the store tomorrow. Shit."
"It's alright," Will says, looking slightly pained, "We should wait anyway."
"Says you," Kellan shoots back with a glare. "You got me all worked up in there."
Will snorts, "Oh, right, and that was all my fault, Mr. I Will Sit On Your Lap Now, Thanks."
Kellan blushes. "Well," he says. Like that's all that needs to be said.
Will rubs a hand over his face and peeks out at Kellan through his fingers. "Alright," he says finally, "I guess we should get you back to your car."
Kellan wants to whine and pitch a fit, feels like his dick is going to kill him in his sleep if he doesn't follow through with this Will thing right this minute. But he really does need to get back. "Okay," he says.
At least Will's in the same boat.
When he gets home, there's an email from Will in his inbox.
To: Kellan Green
From: Will Tabor
Subject: You're not in public, are you?
…because this may not be work safe. (I'm also not entirely sure if it's appropriate, but I'm going to do it anyway, because jesus fuck, Kellan.)
Email me back right when you get this. Tell me you're home. Tell me you're touching yourself.
Kellan sucks in a breath and gets up to lock his door. He types back:
To: Will Tabor
From: Kellan Green
Subject: I'm home
I'm touching myself.
You'd better be, too.
On Christmas Eve, Kellan is rummaging around for something to eat when his grandpa comes in and says, "Where's Nate?"
"Huh?" Kellan says, slapping a piece of turkey on the heel of bread from the loaf on top of the fridge.
"I figured he'd be here, is all. You two always spend Christmas Eve together."
Kellan takes a bite of his sandwich, chews it thoughtfully. "Grandpa, what do you think of Nate?"
His grandpa gives him a strange look. "I don't really think anything about him. I just know he's been there for you through a lot. That's enough for me."
Kellan immediately feels like an asshole. "Yeah. Maybe I'll give him a call. He might be spending time with his new girlfriend, though."
"Oh, he's got a girlfriend now?" His grandpa says, "Well good for him. She's welcome to come too."
"Right," Kellan says, "Because that wouldn't be awkward at all."
"Well, invite Grace. That'll take some of the pressure off."
"Grandpa," Kellan says carefully, "You know Grace and I aren't dating, right?"
His grandpa just shrugs, "You can invite Will, if you'd rather. It's your house just as much as mine."
Kellan gapes at him. "Why would I do that?"
His grandpa looks at him over the rims of his glasses like I was not born yesterday. Says, "Kellan, the way you look at that boy doesn't leave much to the imagination."
"Um," Kellan says, flushing hotly, "And you're okay with that?"
His grandpa shrugs. "It's not exactly what I wanted for you, but that doesn't have anything to do with you. It's hard for an old man to let go his prejudices."
"Oh," Kellan says, shuffling his feet.
"What I'm trying to say is, I never want your life to be harder than it has to be. But I guess you haven't really had a walk in the park to begin with."
"No," Kellan agrees. "Anyway, I know you don't like talking about this stuff. So, thanks."
His grandpa just grunts in response and Kellan grins, "Well," he says, "I'm going to go invite the others over. Thanks."
He calls Will first, still shaking a little from the conversation with his grandpa. He can't stop smiling. "Hey," he says, breathless and happy.
"Hi, there, neighbor," Will says.
"So, two things," Kellan says, "One, you and Grace wanna come over for a while?"
"Yes," Will says immediately, and Kellan laughs.
"And two, my grandpa knows about us. Apparently I've been oogling you too openly or something, but he knows and he's mostly okay with it."
"That's great, Kellan! It'll be a little awkward around him for me now, I won't lie, but seriously, that's so great for you!"
"I know," Kellan says, "I guess I didn't realize how guilty I was keeping it from him. But it's—Will." He wants to say, I am so proud to be with you, but that's so stupid. He wants to say, I really care about you, but that's even worse. So he says, "Just get over here already."
Will laughs and hangs up the phone without saying goodbye.
Kellan takes a deep breath, gearing himself up for a conversation with Nate, who he hasn't talked to in person since school let out.
"Kellan?" Nate says, picking up on the first ring.
"So," Kellan says, clearing his throat awkwardly. "My grandpa informed me that you forgot to mention our Christmas Eve tradition." He hears Nate take a deep breath. Something in him clenches tight. "So I was just calling to remind you. In case you'd forgotten."
"Yeah," Nate says, "Um."
"You can bring Nikki if you want," Kellan says.
"Kellan," Nate says, voice pitched low like he's trying to keep their conversation private from someone. "I'm not—I was never actually with Nikki. We just went on a few dates. I don't—just. It doesn't matter. Do…I mean, I used to stay over. On Christmas Eve. Is that…I mean."
Just as Kellan is working himself into a panic, Will taps on his window and Grace starts miming something frantically. "Nate," he says, "Hold on I—just hold on a second."
He pries open the window, takes a quick kiss from Will, and says, "Yes, Grace?"
"'It's freezing out here, open the window!' is what I was trying to say, but, it's kind of pointless now. Get your scrawny butt inside, Will, before my eyeballs start freezing. That's a legitimate fear, you know. I saw it on TV once."
Will looks a little affronted as he clambers in. "Do I have a scrawny butt?"
Kellan laughs and says, "Kind of. But I like it."
"Oh gross," Grace says, toppling over herself into the room, "this is getting dangerously close to a sex-related conversation and I know you two both remember the thing where you promised not to do that in front of me."
"Relax," Will says. Then, points at the phone, "Did we interrupt something?"
"Oh god!" Kellan says, "Nate? I'm sorry. Anyway, um, you're welcome to stay over, I guess, if that's what we normally do." He winces at Will's face, which makes him look both astonished and like a kicked puppy. Grace's face goes spectacularly red like she is holding a shout in her mouth.
"Are there…who's there with you now?" Nate says.
"Grace," Kellan says, "And her brother." (Will's face goes blank and he starts to go back out the window.) "Wait!" Kellan says to him. "Seriously just—"
"Who are you talking to?"
"My—" Kellan says, "I'm—Grace's brother. He's, we're—"
Grace gives him a look like you better hurry up and fix this, you absolute dickface.
"Nate, I want you to come over. Grace is here and the guy I'm seeing—her brother, Will, is here too. I want you to meet him." He's breathing heavily, face so hot he doesn't even want to know what color it is at this point.
Will pauses, keeps his back to Kellan, but at least brings his leg back inside. Kellan sighs.
"I don't think—" Nate starts to say.
"Nate, shut up. You're my best guy friend," (Grace shoots him a blinding smile at this), "You always come over on Christmas Eve. So come over. I want you to be here."
He can hear Nate breathing heavily on the other end, doesn't know if it's good or bad, and Will still won't look at him. "No," Nate says, "I don't think I will."
"But," Kellan says, "Why?"
Nate scoffs, "For plenty of reasons, Kellan. Seriously? Fuck you. Your best guy friend? Do you know what we did last year on Christmas Eve?"
"No," Kellan says shakily, curling in on himself a little. Grace's face goes concerned and she takes a step toward him.
"I jerked you off so many times you were raw. You told me you loved me. But you don't remember that, do you? Of course you don't."
"Nate, that's not fair. You—"
"Oh, you want to tell me about unfair? I lost my best friend. What's worse is, all I get now is you, you shirt-lifting asshole. Fuck that." Nate hangs up.
Kellan sits numb for a second, says, "So, that didn't go well."
Grace opens her mouth and then closes it. Her eyes go innocently wide when she says, "I forgot a thing at my house. A thing that's really important and Christmas-Eve-y. So. I'll be back in like, ten minutes or something." She bumps Will with her hip to get him out of the way, whispers something to him, and then hops out of Kellan's window.
"Will," Kellan says, "I'm sorry. Honestly it wasn't—I just didn't know what to call us. We've only been on one date and—"
Will walks towards him, cups Kellan's face in his hands and leans down so he's eye-level. Says, "That guy is a fucking waste of space. You are perfect."
"I'm not—" Kellan says, "You could hear him?"
"You've got the volume on that thing all the way up," Will says a little guiltily, pointing at Kellan's cellphone.
"I can guess what he is," Will says. "But that's not an excuse for the things he said, okay?"
Kellan licks his lips, looks down. Will sighs, presses his mouth to Kellan's forehead and leaves it there, just holding him. "I'm not perfect," Kellan mutters, pressing his nose up under Will's chin.
"No," Will agrees, "but you're not those things he said. You're not."
"What if I was really different Before?" Kellan says miserably, "I just want to be like I was Before."
"Do you really?" Will says, "Fooling around with your closeted best friend, being a dick to my kid sister—which, to be clear, I would have kicked your ass for if I'd have known—hiding from your grandpa. You wanna be that guy?"
"You're only saying the bad things." Kellan says, burrowing in closer, clenching his hands in Will's shirt.
"Alright, so maybe, unbeknownst to us all, Before Kellan was a symphony writing prodigy or something. Or maybe you were funding a kid in the Dominican Republic and now the kid is without presents this Christmas." Will says, "But probably, none of those things are true."
Kellan bristles, "I don't strike you as a musically-gifted philanthropist?"
Will laughs, "Man, I can't say anything that meets your approval tonight."
Kellan pulls back so he can look at Will. Says, "I'm sorry. I'm being difficult."
Will smiles and kisses him lightly on the mouth. "What else is new?" Kellan rolls his eyes.
"How much time before Grace gets back?" Kellan says, still feeling wound up and in need of…stress relief.
Will looks apologetic. He leans in so his mouth is warm against Kellan's ear. "As much as I'd love to do what I hope you're suggesting, Grace never actually left. She told me she'd be waiting outside for us to talk and we'd better not do anything gross while she was freezing her ass off."
Kellan laughs. Says loudly, "Will, oh my god, touch me please." (he shivers when Will murmurs in his ear, "I wish you were serious right now.")
"I'm back!" Grace practically screams, hoisting herself up on the windowsill. "I'm back! You sickos seriously cannot keep it in your pants for ten stinking minutes?"
"Aw, Grace," Kellan says, "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
"I'm wearing a sweater with a reindeer on it, Kellan. There is no possible way for me to be more spirited."
"Touché," Kellan says.
Will goes back to ISU a few days before New Year's, which Kellan thinks is stupid, but he understands not wanting to stay with his parents' any longer than he has to after having lived on his own.
On New Year's, Grace comes over and convinces him to run around the neighborhood banging pots and pans at midnight. So it's them and all the neighborhood nine-year-olds and Kellan wants to roll his eyes but Grace looks like she's having so much fun, he can't help but join in.
Before he knows it, school is starting back up.
He and Grace made their schedules so they could carpool to campus every day, since Nate seems to have forgotten him completely. Part of him is nervous to see Nate at school, but another part of him hopes he does. Regardless of some of the things he's done and said, Nate is a good friend, and Kellan misses him.
On Monday, he's got two math classes and a history class. It's a lot easier going back knowing he's not starting from scratch this time. When he nods at people in the hallways, it's not some empty gesture, but it's because he knows their faces.
When he does end up seeing Nate, it's like a punch to the gut. The other boy's gaze flickers over Kellan's face and then away, like he could care less. Like he doesn't know him. It hurts more than Kellan would like it to.
When he gets home, he sends Nate an email.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Do you maybe want to get lunch sometime? Coffee? Hunting gear? Used books? UFO-sighting equipment?
Nate doesn't respond for a few days, and when he does, it's:
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
I'm pretty busy with school.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
I just want to talk to you. I'm still the same guy I was, mostly, and I miss you.
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: RE: please?
I have an hour between classes on Friday. If you want to get lunch in the caf or something.
"I don't know," Kellan says to Grace the next day, "Do you think it's weird to miss him?"
She shrugs. "I never knew what you saw in the guy. As a friend or more than that. But, I can't tell you it's weird to feel a certain way, that'd be unfair."
"But," he says, "Do you think it's going to seem weird to Will?"
"Will's a big boy. Just tell him what's going on if you haven't already." She pauses, purses her lips, "But Kellan, you just want to be Nate's friend, right? Because I will kick you in the balls if you cheat on my brother."
Kellan raises his hands in surrender, "My motives are pure, madam, I assure you."
"Good," Grace says, "because Will's got it bad for you."
"The feeling's mutual," Kellan mutters, blushing.
"See? You tell him that, and he won't give a rat's ass about you wanting to be friends with idiot-boy."
"Sorry, sorry," she says, giggling. "But not really. He's just plain dumb."
When Kellan gets home that evening, he calls Will right away and blabbers, "I'm crazy about you. Okay? And not about anybody else. But I miss Nate as a friend so I'm going to have lunch with him on Friday. I don't want you to feel weird about that, though, because of the part where I'm crazy about you. Also, just as sort of a… thing I need to know, are we like, exclusive? If not, can we go ahead and be…that?"
Will's quiet for a second and Kellan's heart stutters in his chest. Then he just says, "Okay."
"Okay to what part?"
"All of them, mostly the last bit about exclusivity, but, yeah, all of it."
"So you're okay with the Nate thing?" Kellan says.
Will sighs, "I—okay, so I'm not thrilled about it. But I'm not going to tell you who to hang out with—first off, I'm not into the whole creepy-controlling bit, and second off, I trust you. Mostly I don't want him to be a jerk like he has been."
"Oh," Kellan says, biting back a smile. "Um, so, on another note, I don't have to work this weekend."
"Oh?" Will says.
"Yeah, so I was thinking you could give me a tour of campus?"
"What?" Will says sharply.
Kellan blinks, "Or, you know, I guess we could just stay in the whole weekend. Or, I don't have to come up if you're busy."
"No," Will says quickly, "Sorry. I just—I mean, sorry. I don't know what…anyway, absolutely I will give you a tour. I am an excellent tour guide. I actually got paid to do that when I was a sophomore. I had a spiffy jacket and everything."
"Do you still have it? That could be kind of kinky," Kellan says, relieved that Will wants him to come visit.
"I think so," Will says, laughing. "I'm glad you're coming. I miss you."
"Ditto," Kellan says.
The rest of the week goes by surprisingly quick, leaving Kellan waiting by the cafeteria nervously much too soon for comfort.
He spots Nate walking towards him, and reminds himself for the thousandth time that as soon as he gets through this, he can run away to Will's for the weekend.
When Nate's eyes lock on his, Kellan smiles weakly and waves. Nate smiles back, which Kellan assumes is a good sign. "Hey," he says.
"Hey," Nate says back.
Kellan gestures to a table by the window and says, "That okay?"
"Yeah, sure. You eating? I'm going to grab some food."
"No, I'm not really hungry. I'll just—I'll meet you over there," Kellan mumbles, slinking off to sit down. He feels like an idiot and is really regretting this whole thing. If Nate truly does see him as some sort of invader in Before Kellan's body, well, Kellan can't really argue with him since he feels that way himself.
While he's waiting for Nate, he checks his phone to find a text from Grace saying "Don't let him walk all over you, Champ." He snorts at the nickname, but feels better all the same.
"So," Nate says, setting his tray down on the table, "How are you?"
"Good," Kellan says politely, "You?"
Nate shrugs, "I'm alright."
Kellan nods like, that's good. He feels panic welling up in his throat because, oh god, he has no idea what to say. This is the worst.
Nate sighs and twirls his fork between his fingers. "Kellan," he says, "I—I shouldn't have said those things to you on Christmas Eve. I just…I know it's not your fault. I just feel like you were the one person I lo—had left."
"I'm still here," Kellan says carefully.
Nate shakes his head, "I'm sorry, but you're not. You've got Grace now, and whatever-his-name is."
"Will," Kellan says.
"Right," Nate says darkly.
"You could—I mean, if you were nicer to Grace, we could all hang out."
Nate grunts like, no thanks.
"Look," Kellan says, frustrated at Nate's refusal to even try. "You were really there for me at the beginning of this thing. And according to everybody, we've always been there for each other. But then you just stopped. And I don't know how to get you back." Nate looks up sharply, sadness etched in his eyes. Kellan swallows. "But I'm not…doing that with you anymore."
Nate scoffs. "Doing what, exactly?"
Kellan leans forward, touches Nate's hand purposefully, says, "That." Nate jerks his hand away. "And that's why," Kellan says. "You've got a lot of things you need to work through—"
"Don't you think I know that?" Nate hisses.
"Okay," Kellan says softly, "Sorry. That's not the point, anyway. The point is, I want to be your friend. I want to help you through this if you need me."
"So now you're a big gay expert because you have your first boyfriend." Nate says harshly.
"He's not my first boyfriend, and you know it," Kellan shoots back. He watches a blush blossom over Nate's cheeks. "I'm not saying you are or you aren't anything. I'm saying I'm your friend no matter what. And I'm hoping you're my friend, too. Memories or not."
Nate looks out the window and bites his bottom lip. They sit like that for a while, not talking—long enough for Kellan to wonder if the conversation is over. But then Nate looks back at him and says, "Yeah." Says, "Yeah, I am."
Kellan smiles so wide it hurts a little. Watches Nate's eyes flicker down to his mouth and flick away in frustration. His smile droops a little at that, because there's nothing he can do about it now. He just hopes they really can be friends.
"So," he says, trying to ease the tension, "how are your classes going so far? D'you like your schedule?"
Nate smiles stiffly, but looks grateful at the distraction, and launches into a complaint about how dull his English professor is.
"Is his name Haven, by chance?"
"That's the one!" Nate says, "God, he's awful."
Kellan laughs until he's sure he must be blue in the face. Nate looks confused, but smiles goofily, anyway.
When Will opens his door, he's wearing a red blazer with yellow piping. It has a huge I on the breast pocket. He holds out his arms and spins in a circle, says, "Found it."
Kellan laughs. "Oh man, that's horrible."
"Hey now!" Will says, "I think I look sharp."
Kellan snorts, drops his bag, and hauls Will closer by the lapels. "I can't think of anything cheesy to say except that I really want to kiss you."
Will offers a one-shouldered shrug. "That'll do, I suppose." And kisses him.
"How'd you lunch date go?" Will says when he's pulled back.
"Well, I think," Kellan says. "It was awkward as hell at first, like painful bad. But it got a little better. I think we'll be able to be friends again."
"I'm glad," Will says. "I'm also starving, wanna order something in?"
"Sure," Kellan says, stomach grumbling as if on cue.
They end up ordering Thai food and eating it on the floor in front of the television. When they're done, Will wraps a hand around Kellan's hip and tugs him closer. Says, "Want dessert?"
Kellan spits out a laugh, ducking his head to press into Will's neck as he cracks up. Will starts laughing, too. Holds Kellan close to him, and smiles at him warmly when he comes up for air. "I mean," Kellan says finally, "Yes I do." This almost sends him into another laughing fit, but Will kisses him through it, slow like they've got all the time in the world.
Soon enough, all thoughts of laughter are gone, and Kellan is languid against Will's body, bending and arching in his hands like it was made for it. "Do you want to move to my bed?" Will asks, nervous edge to his voice that Kellan finds immensely sexy for some reason.
"Yeah," he says, already getting to his feet and offering Will a hand.
They walk to the bedroom holding hands. Kellan had always pictured them sort of stumbling through the house groping each other, but this is nice, too. More genuine, maybe, he hardly cares because soon they're sitting on the edge of Will's bed, kissing again.
Will's hands are shaking a little when he tugs at the bottom of Kellan's shirt like he's asking for permission. Kellan raises his arms to make it clear that he knows exactly where they're going, and he wants to get there. This seems to give Will all the confidence he needs, because he pushes Kellan back onto the mattress and climbs on top of him, murmurs, "Feels like I've wanted you forever."
"I know," Kellan gasps as Will yanks his shirt over his head and tosses it to the floor. Now it's Kellan's hands shaking as he sets them on Will's bare chest. "I know," he says again. Will ducks down to kiss him, skin pressing together in a way that makes Kellan squirm.
By the time they're completely undressed, some of the nervousness has crept back in. Kellan knows what he wants and he wants it bad, but the last time he asked somebody this, everything went to hell. Still, Will is nothing like Nate.
"Will," he gasps as Will's firm thigh slips between his legs. "Can we…do you have…"
Will groans, drops his forehead against Kellan's. "Have you ever?"
"No," Kellan says. "Have you?" When Will nods silently, Kellan swallows down a hot rush of jealousy.
"I—" Will breaks off in a gasp as Kellan bucks up his hips possessively, Will's cock sliding along the groove of his hip. "You…since…"
"Spit it out, Will," Kellan teases, setting up a rhythm with his hips.
Will growls and pins Kellan's hips down to the bed. A sharp pang of desire shoots through Kellan at that. "Oh," he gasps. Will raises his eyebrows and tightens his hands, pressing Kellan's hips even deeper into the mattress. Kellan nearly bites through his lip to hold back a moan. "Okay," Will says, "you're gonna—I want you in me."
Kellan can't keep in his moan now, and shifts to put him on top of Will. But Will makes a noise and holds him down by the hips. Kellan feels his eyes widen and his mouth waters. "Oh," he says, broken and soft.
"Yeah," Will says.
He leans over and rummages through the side table drawer for lube and a condom. (Kellan never would have thought someone putting a condom on him could be sexy, but oh, it is.) Will teaches him how to prepare him, and Kellan thinks he might pass out from lust by the time Will's fucking himself on three of Kellan's fingers.
"Oh," he gasps, "that's enough. Now you."
Kellan swallows and closes his eyes for a second, afraid he might come just from looking at Will now, thighs tensed and sweating, eyes wide and so dark blue it's insane. "You look really good," Kellan babbles.
Will brushes a thumb over Kellan's forehead, says, "You can't see me with your eyes squeezed shut." As he's saying it, he takes ahold of Kellan's cock and angles it at his opening, whispers, "Push."
And then it's white noise.
Kellan's afraid he's already come, but he must not have, because he's still pushing up and into Will and how the hell is he fitting? He's distantly aware that he's cursing up a storm, but he can't be bothered to care right now because Will is sighing brokenly and taking him in to the root.
"Oh my god," Kellan says.
"Yeah," Will says, "Just give me a second."
"T-take your time," Kellan grits out, his body screaming at him to move. And then Will is smiling down at him, feral and sexy as fuck, and he rocks his hips. The friction of it around Kellan's cock is like the end of the world and he doesn't know how he's supposed to keep his heart beating while this is going on.
Not surprisingly, he doesn't last long, toes curling as he comes with a loud moan. When the haze clears, he looks down between the two of them to find Will jerking off desperately. Kellan wraps his hands around Will's hips and says, "Yeah, come on." That seems to do it, because Will jerks and comes between them, warm on Kellan's stomach.
They both lie there, panting and sated, until Will gets up and comes back with a wet cloth to clean them up. "Don't mind me," Kellan says, "I'll just be here in a puddle of mush."
Will laughs and kisses Kellan on the forehead. "Nap time," he says, pulling Kellan against his side. Kellan's already halfway asleep when he pillows his head on Will's chest, his heart thudding below Kellan's ear. He sighs happily, humming in appreciation when Will's fingers tangle in his hair to stroke his scalp.
Their nap turns into a full night's sleep, which is kind of embarrassing, considering they're young and should presumably have more stamina than that. Will just shrugs and yawns, body flexing in ways that make Kellan's mouth go dry.
Will catches him staring and grins lewdly. "Yes?" he says.
Kellan flushes. "I don't want to sound like—well, I guess technically I still am a teenager, gross. Anyway, I don't want to—just…"
"Spit it out, Freckles," Will mimics.
"Last night was really good. For me."
Will's grin turns soft and he leans in for a kiss. "Yeah," he says, "For me, too."
They spend the day walking around campus. Will gives him his whole tour guide spiel, including the dorky stories they forced him to memorize. "I always felt so stupid saying some of this stuff."
"But not with the walking backwards and wearing that jacket, huh?" Kellan says.
Will laughs and squeezes his hand.
They go back to Will's and eat more takeout, although it devolves quickly into making out (this time, they do stumble to the bedroom).
Naked and shaking, Will above him like he'll always be here, Kellan says, "I want to—I want to try the other way."
Will stops kissing him and says, "Are you sure?" Kellan just nods. "D'you want to be on top of me?" Will asks.
"No," Kellan says, "just like this."
Will smiles, kisses him deeply. "Tell me if it's ever too much, okay?"
It's jarring, at first, with the way it makes Kellan so hot when Will sinks a finger into him. His eyes prickle with tears and his chest aches a little. It's not bad, really, just overwhelming.
Will soothes him through it, free hand brushing Kellan's hair back from his forehead. Whispering encouraging words into his ear. "You're gorgeous," he says. "You're amazing."
Kellan doesn't say anything, just makes like whining noises when Will adds a finger and starts stretching him.
When he adds a third finger, Kellan groans loudly, tips back his head and bares his neck for Will's teeth. He feels feverish and shaky all over, but in the best way. "Oh," he gasps, "I think I'm…ready, I—"
"You sure?" Will asks, crooking his fingers so the pleasure of it pools in the small of Kellan's back. Kellan nods wildly.
He watches Will roll on a condom somewhat deliriously, clenches his teeth at the burning stretch of him sinking in, inch by inch. He moans, choking on air as he sucks in a breath. Will's hand flutters to Kellan's cheeks, wiping away the tears Kellan should probably be embarrassed about, but he can't find the energy to care. "Please," he gasps, not entirely sure what he's asking for.
"Shh," Will says, "I've got you."
And then he moves.
Kellan nearly cries out, feeling so wet and hot and open. Above him, Will's jaw is clenched and his eyes are half-lidded, so black there's almost no blue left. "Will," Kellan murmurs, "Oh, Will."
He picks up the pace at that, hips stuttering so he presses deeper into Kellan's body, and it feels so good. And then Will reaches between them, barely swiping a palm over Kellan before Kellan's coming, gasping at the shock of it. Will's mouth falls open and he goes down on his elbows to rock into Kellan faster and harder until he's coming, too.
When he pulls out, Kellan chokes a little, feeling so empty it almost hurts. But Will is wiping him clean with a cloth and pulling him closer, murmuring things to him like, "Are you alright? Did I hurt you?"
"I'm perfect," Kellan says, "You're perfect."
Will huffs out a breath over the Kellan's lips. He presses his fingers to Kellan's jaw and leans into kiss him.
Just as Kellan's eyes are sliding shut, something shifts. He gasps, leans away from Will, and nearly throws up. He's—this has happened before.
Kellan scrambles backwards, nearly toppling off Will's bed. "Wait," he's saying, "Wait a minute. I know you!"
"Like in the biblical sense?"
"No," Kellan says, gripping his hair, hard. "No, no. I know you. I—Before, I. Fuck. Fuck."
"Wait. Are you—?" Will says, hand outstretched like he wants to touch Kellan, but isn't sure how it'll be received. Kellan doesn't really know either.
It's like a sieve opened up in his mind and instead of hitting the gray-haze like normal, he can see things. Memories, he's—he's remembering.
Nate's face when he got the phone call about his mom. His grandpa teaching him to tie a tie before his parents' funerals. Going to a college visit at Iowa State and meeting a guy—a really nice guy who kissed him on the mouth and said he deserved better than someone who wasn't proud to be with him. A nice guy who called him Freckles and offered to walk him across campus to a party.
"I—" Kellan stammers, "I turned you down. Nate was…I was supposed to meet him halfway but I never made it, I guess." He has to close his eyes against all the thoughts tripping over him. "I got jumped. They—I can't even," his face is wet, he knows it. And then he's just sobbing because his grandpa was right—there are a lot of things he should have been thankful not to remember.
"Can you," he's saying, "I want to go home." And Will is already getting into his jeans and handing Kellan his, buttoning them up for Kellan when his hands are too shaky to do it himself.
"Come on," He says, "It's alright, Shh. Come on."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Kellan says, pressing his face against Will's chest, breathing in a wet gasp. "Why didn't you tell me we'd met?"
"Hush," Will says, weaving his fingers into Kellan's hair and rubbing his scalp soothingly. "One thing at a time, okay?"
"Yeah," Kellan snivels. "Yeah, I want to go home."
Once they're completely dressed, Will takes his keys and gets him into his car, sliding into the driver's seat and pulling out of the parking lot. "D'you mind if I call Grace to let her know?" he asks.
Kellan makes a gesture like, go ahead, and drops his head back into his hands. It feels like it may split open. There is no room.
"Grace?" Will says, "Yeah, no—I mean, everything's mostly fine. Don't freak out. Listen, Kellan—he got his memory back. Yeah. All of it, I think, I don't know. We're on our way to his place, so could you maybe—yeah, that's what I was thinking. Okay. Alright, we'll see you soon."
Will touches Kellan's hand hesitantly, and Kellan lets him. He says, "Grace is going to run over and tell your grandpa what happened, is that okay?"
Kellan nods. Thinking about his grandpa being woken up in the middle of the night, twice now—once when this all started and then again now, makes Kellan let out a breath-hitching sob. "I'm sorry," he says, "It's just—this is…"
"Shh," Will says, rubbing circles over his upper back. "It's fine. I'm kind of scared, too, but it's going to be okay."
Kellan wants to ask him again, why he never told him that they'd met before, but he's so tired, he can't get his mouth to shape the words.
When they get to his house, his grandpa is sitting on the porch with Grace, huddled in his winter coat and hat, and Kellan starts bawling all over again. His grandpa hurries to the car and opens the passenger-side door, unbuckles Kellan's seatbelt for him, and pulls him into a hug.
"I'm so sorry," Kellan sobs. "I'm so sorry I forgot you."
His grandpa squeezes him tight and says roughly, "Don't you dare. You didn't do anything wrong."
"I'm so tired," Kellan says numbly when his grandpa lets him go. He backs off to give Kellan space to get out of the car.
"Let's get you inside to bed, then," he says.
"Yeah," Kellan murmurs, leaning against his grandpa's side.
Grace hangs back, looking like she's about to cry herself, and something clicks in Kellan's mind that she's afraid he hates her again. So he stops, jogs over to her and pulls her into a hug. "Hey," he says, "We have an agreement, remember?"
She lets out one sob and nods, tears leaking down her face. "Call me when you're feeling better," she says. He nods.
Will follows him and his grandpa inside to set his car keys on his desk. Before he leaves, Kellan grabs his wrist and stands on his tiptoes to kiss him, right there in front of his grandpa. "I'll call you tomorrow," he says.
Will cups his cheek for a second before nodding and leaving.
"Alright," his grandpa says, "I'll be in my room if you need anything, okay? You try and get some sleep."
"Okay," Kellan says. He lies down and closes his eyes, doesn't want to think anymore, about anything. But he keeps remembering that last night Before.
Nate elbows him, says, "There's a frat party at Kappa Tau. We're going, right?"
Kellan shrugs, "The tour guide invited us to his dorm for that mixer thing. I think we should go to that, at least for a while."
Nate groans, "Why? KT would be so much cooler."
"We said we'd go, though." Kellan doesn't really know why he's pushing this so hard. To be fair, he'd rather be going to a KT party, too. But Will had seemed so happy that they said they'd go. It'd be rude to leave him with all the other dorks from their tour group. (And okay, so it's a little bit about the way Will called him Freckles and—that's flirting, right?)
"You can go if you want, but you'd better meet me at KT when you're done being Mr. Manners."
Kellan doesn't even bother lying to himself that he's disappointed about Nate not coming with him. It'd take a half-hour at best and he can't even bother to—never mind. It's stupid to get worked up about. Especially when Nate looks as good as he does today, with that brown sweater that makes his hair look like a disheveled wet dream.
He glances around to see that they're not being paid attention to in the slightest before leaning in and whispering, "I want to kiss you so bad right now."
Nate hisses, and for a second Kellan thinks it's in a good way, but then it's not. It's so not, because Nate is pushing him away muttering, "We said we weren't going to do this anymore."
Kellan shrugs, trying to look unaffected when his chest is aching. "You said we weren't going to do this anymore. I don't see the big deal."
Nate sputters, "You don't see the—shit, Kellan. The big deal is I'm not gay and neither are you!"
"Maybe I am," he challenges, wanting to get in Nate's space and make him see that it doesn't matter what they are or aren't because either way they want each other so bad it's in their bones.
"You're not. Okay? Drop it."
Kellan wants to tell him that's not how these things work. Nate's not allowed to tell Kellan that Kellan isn't something (especially when he's pretty sure he is). But he keeps his mouth shut, meets Nate's blazing glare straight on and says, "Enjoy your party."
For a second, Nate's face softens and he says, "You'll meet me there, right? I can—I can meet you at the dorm and walk over with you."
"Wouldn't it just make more sense to come to the mixer with me and we'll walk over together?"
"Kellan," Nate almost-whines. He smiles his goofy smile—the one where one side of his mouth is frowning and the other is grinning and Kellan wants to kiss both sides until Nate's mouth opens in a gasp.
"Fine," he says, smiling back, "Have fun. Meet me there around 11:30?"
"Alright," Nate says. And Kellan wants to kiss him, still, so badly. But he lets him walk away instead. It'll work itself out somehow, once Nate gets his head out of his ass, anyway.
He's got an hour to kill before the mixer starts and another half hour after that if he doesn't want to look to eager (which he doesn't), so he wanders around the Student Union, buys himself a coffee and reads a copy of the school paper. He looks up when someone clears his throat loudly, thinking it might be Nate—smile already on his face in case it is. But it's not. It's the tour guide, Will, holding his own cup of coffee. "Hey," he says, smiling warmly at Kellan.
"Hey," Kellan says back, talking himself out of the hot blush creeping up the back of his neck. "What's up?"
Will tilts his cup towards the empty end of the couch next to Kellan. Says, "Can I?"
"Oh!" Kellan says, shuffling farther against the arm at his side, "Sure." There's no stopping his blush now. Not when he's almost positive Will's gay and paying him attention.
"Still coming to the mixer tonight?" Will asks, blue eyes locked on Kellan's, steam from his coffee blurring his face.
"Yeah," Kellan says (has he forgotten all of his multi-syllable words? God.) Will makes a surprised sound. "What?" Kellan asks.
"I just heard there's a KT party. Figured you'd want to go to that instead."
"Well," Kellan admits, "Yeah. But I said I'd go to the other."
Will smiles, "That's nice of you. You don't owe me anything, though. Not that I don't want you to come—I do. I really do."
Kellan wants to ask why, but can't dredge up the courage so he just says, "I want to come."
"Alright, then," Will says, smirking a little.
They sit like that for a while, not talking. Kellan's not sure if he's free to go back to reading the paper or if that would be rude. Will doesn't have a paper. Should he try to make conversation? About what? The weather? He's never really been suave at these kinds of things but he doesn't remember ever being this tongue-tied before.
"You're cute, Freckles." Will says suddenly. Kellan's mouth drops open like a fish and Will bursts out laughing. "I'm sorry," he gasps, "I'm sorry—I'm not laughing at you. Or, well, I am, but not to mess with you or anything." He gets ahold of himself, "I'm sorry. I'm just a little blunt when I want something."
Kellan's heart makes a loud thud, knocking against his ribs and echoing down his limbs. "Oh," is all he can say. "I'm not—"
"Sure what to say," Kellan corrects. "I'm—I'm actually pretty sure I am gay."
"Ah," Will says, "Well you don't have to say anything. What are you doing for the next hour? I'm supposed to buy a bunch of shit for the mixer. Wanna tag along?"
"Sure," Kellan says (probably a little too eagerly, damn it).
Will smiles, showing his teeth, and gestures for Kellan to follow him.
There's still a little bit of snap to the air even though it's nearly May, which ends up being kind of a blessing since it means he has an excuse to keep his hands shoved deep in his pockets instead of wondering what he should do with them. Will hums to himself a little, breath steaming out of his mouth on his exhales and Kellan thinks he's so ephemeral-looking he almost wonders if he's real. His eyes are so big and blue and watery looking and his eyelashes are the darkest he's ever seen on a boy, it's—Kellan won't lie and say he finds Will unattractive. (He will, however, talk himself out of thinking that Will is probably the prettiest boy he's ever spent time around. That'd just be too infatuated sounding.)
"So," Will says, "You think you're gonna come to ISU?"
"What?" Kellan says, dumbly, eyes caught on Will's mouth. How cliché. How embarrassing. "Oh," he says, "Yeah, I guess."
Will laughs, "It's not so bad. I mean, a state school is a state school is a state school I guess. Might as well only have to pay in-state tuition, right?"
"Yeah," Kellan says. He almost says he doesn't have to worry about the money. That he's got it covered. His parents' life insurance policies pay for tuition and then some. But he doesn't say that. He just says, "It's also really easy to transfer my credits from WCC."
Will's eyebrows go up. "You go to WCC? My sister goes there!"
"What's her name? I might know her," Kellan says, even though it's probably not true. He hasn't bothered to make very many friends at WCC. It's kind of pointless because he's got Nate, and only two more semesters left and then he'll be here.
"You probably don't. She's a loner." Will looks sad about this, but he lets it drop there.
"Hmm," Kellan says, just to fill dead air. He's nervous. His heart is beating too fast. It's like he's a thirteen-year-old again.
Will keeps the conversation light, though, and pretty comfortable. And then they're shopping for chips and cookies and red Solo cups and there's no time to be tongue-tied. "I like this store," Will is saying, "Because they sell local produce, and they're so close to campus. I try not to drive a lot."
"Why?" Kellan says. He loves driving. Loves to take rides with Nate down the winding country roads near their houses, testing the limits of his accelerator. Watching the sun set over the fields until the sky is shot through with color and the wind is watering his eyes. Until it turns Nate's cheeks pink and he's gasping in breath and smiling like the world is theirs, just theirs, and the road will never end.
Will shrugs, "Just trying to reduce my carbon footprint."
"Oh," Kellan says. Thinking, oh, you're one of those types.
Will laughs, "I try not to be uppity about it, don't worry. I won't judge you for your gas-guzzling planet-killing ways." He bumps Kellan with his hip playfully. Kellan smiles.
Something sharp and almost predatory glints in Will's eyes as he says, "Can I ask you something?"
"Um," Kellan says, "Sure." (He's already blushing with nerves. He's glad he has things to hold so his hands won't shake.)
"Are you seeing anyone? A man, I mean."
Something about the way Will says 'a man' makes Kellan flush hard. It echoes through his body and starts a steady thrum like this is it this is it this is it. This is what he wants. A man. (Nate.) (Will.) (Someone with a hard chest and a sharp smile.) "Not really," he says.
"Not really isn't a 'no.'"
"I—" Kellan starts, shoving his hands back into his pockets while Will pays for everything. "I don't really know."
"Can I ask you something else?" Will says, ushering Kellan out the door and into the night.
"You don't have to keep asking that," Kellan says, smiling. He likes Will, he realizes. Not just because he's gorgeous or seemingly interested, but because he's genuine. So far at least.
Will smiles back, eyes definitely lingering on Kellan's for a tick (it makes Kellan smile wider). "Alright," Will says, "Is it the boy you came with today? On the tour?"
Kellan wonders if he should deny it, feels like he's betraying Nate a little either way. In the end he just nods, once and jerky. "Is he your first?" Will asks, and then immediately, "I'm sorry, that's none of my—"
"No," Kellan says, "It's fine. It's kind of nice to…anyway, he's my first, like, I mean we haven't done that. And I think he's, well, he's pretty afraid of admitting he's gay. I don't know, maybe he's not even gay."
"But you are," Will says gently. Asks, almost.
"I am," Kellan says, looking up at Will so that he knows Kellan's being honest. It's one of those rare moments in Kellan's life when he's absolutely sure of himself. Right now, here, with Will (and thinking of Nate) he knows part of who he is is wrapped up in the tight feeling in his chest and the sting on his tongue when he sees the wiry-hair on a muscled forearm and a t-shirt stretched over a broad back. He licks his lips (watches Will watching).
They stand like that for a moment, looking at each other, transfixed. Then Will's eyes crinkle at the edges and he laughs breathily, "We'd better get back to campus."
They don't really talk on the walk back, but it's alright. Something about the moment before made it okay for them to be quiet for a while, regroup.
"So," Will says, swiping his ID card at his dorm, "Here we are! We're having the party in the common room downstairs. Follow me."
On the way to the basement, a lot of people nod and smile at Will, but not in a way that makes him seem over-the-top popular, just well-liked. Kellan feels a little swell of pride to have garnered the interests of someone like Will. He's still not sure exactly what Will wants out of him, if anything, or if Kellan is even willing to give it. Part of his mind is still caught on Nate, who's halfway across campus at the KT house probably. When he thinks of Nate, something warm sweeps through his chest at the same time a deeper sort of ache settles in. He doesn't know what he'll do when Nate really does stop coming around. On the one hand, it's nice to know people like Will could theoretically be there, but on the other, he fucking loves Nate. And you can't just—you can't get rid of a feeling like that.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Kellan says, wanting an excuse to get out of his head for a while.
Will looks around, says, "You can make a playlist on my computer."
Kellan smiles, "Okay." He's eager to see what Will's taste in music is. Part of him thinks it'll be some kind of tribal beat with an ecological message, but that's worse-case scenario. Turns out Will likes a lot of the same stuff Kellan does. "You want upbeat or background music?" he asks.
"Background," Will says, somewhat apologetically. He leans in, cupping his hand around his mouth to whisper, "I hate to break it to you, but this is probably going to be as far from a KT party as you can get."
Kellan shrugs, keys up Jónsi, and says, "I'm glad to be here."
Will smiles brightly, and says, "Me, too. I mean, I'm glad you're here, too. Not that I'm here. Or—well, alright," he starts laughing, "You've got me all flustered."
"Why?" Kellan says, smile stretching across his face.
Will scoffs exaggeratedly, "As if you don't know. Take a look in the mirror, Freckles."
Kellan blushes, murmurs, "You're—you should…too." He drops his head in his hands in a groan because, what? Why can't he just say what he means? He hears Will chuckle, but the other boy doesn't say anything. When he looks up, Will's got his back to him, getting the snack table ready. Kellan swallows.
People start arriving shortly after that, filtering in from the elevator bay. Will greets some of the people from their tour enthusiastically with, "I'm so glad you came!" and "How was the rest of your visit?"
Kellan hangs back under the pretense of keeping the music going even though he's got a playlist now that will go for three hours. He liked it better when it was just he and Will, but he's still not ready to leave.
After a half and hour, Nate texts him, "Dude, you coming soon or what?"
"I think I'm going to stay a while longer," Kellan texts back, "I'll let you know when I'm heading over."
"I'll meet you halfway," Nate texts back, and that cheers Kellan up immensely.
Will wanders back over to him and hands him a cup of soda. "Enjoying yourself?"
Kellan smiles, "Yep."
"First college party," Will says, raising his eyebrows, "Think of the stories you'll be able to tell on Monday." Kellan laughs loudly. "Seriously," Will says, "You can skive off to KT if you want."
Somebody switches off the lights so the streetlights through the windows and some scattered laptop screens are all that's lighting up the place. In the glow, Kellan feels braver, says, "Trying to get rid of me?"
"Not at all," Will says. "I just don't know how much longer I can keep myself from kissing you."
"Nice line," Kellan says.
"It's not," Will says, taking a step closer. "I mean it."
"I don't see anyone stopping you," Kellan says, heart hammering like mad in his chest. It's going to happen. With all these people around. Will is going to kiss him in front of everyone.
Will makes a 'hmm' noise in his throat and presses two fingers to Kellan's jaw, angling his face up to Will's. "You sure?" he breathes over Kellan's lips. Kellan nods, eyes wide and staring into Will's blue ones, hands opening and closing into fists nervously. Oh, but he wants it.
And then Will's mouth is on his, dry and chaste, but sexy all the same in its surety. Kellan swipes his tongue over Will's lips to open the kiss, to make it hot and wet, and he can feel Will smiling and kissing him back.
When Will steps away, Kellan's head is swimming. It's not that it was that great of a kiss—it was good, sure, and he wouldn't mind doing it again, but it wasn't anything to write home about. It's the fact that no that his eyes are opened again, he can see other people looking at them. Some of them smiling and others looking confused, but Will isn't pushing him away or saying anything about not being gay. Will's just smiling at him goofily, like he might want to kiss again, too.
And it's so goddamned nice.
Kellan smiles, says, "Um, thanks."
Will laughs, rubs a hand over his face, and says, "Sure thing." When he drops his hand, he's serious as he says, "Tell that boy of yours there are plenty of people who'd be proud to claim you if he's not man enough."
Kellan laughs, but suddenly feels horribly guilty about the whole thing. It's not Nate's fault; he's just scared. Kellan's scared, too. They can be brave together. He knows Nate can be brave. "Right," he says, "I've—listen, I'm sorry, I've gotta go."
Will's expression shutters closed for a second before his smile is back (but it doesn't reach his eyes). "Yeah," he says, "Well. It was nice to meet you. Look me up when you get here, alright?"
"For sure," Kellan says, wondering what goodbye protocol is for someone you're mutually attracted to, and have kissed, but would like to avoid similar situations with him in the future. He goes for a handshake.
Will laughs and it lights up his eyes again, for a second. "Hey listen, d'you want me to walk with you? It gets kind of sketchy late at night," he says.
"Oh, thanks, but my—"
"Boyfriend?" (Something hot zings along Kellan's spine at the thought of calling Nate his boyfriend.)
"My friend is meeting me, so I'll be fine. Um, it was nice to—"
"Get out of here," Will says, smiling and waving him off.
On the way out, Kellan texts Nate, "Hey man, I'm leaving now. Meet me?"
He puts his phone in his pocket and starts a brisk walk towards KT, thinking of Will and Nate and what life will be like when he graduates WCC and starts fresh at a place where it's apparently tolerable to kiss other boys at dorm-mixers. He wonders if Nate will loosen up if he knows that, but he can't figure out a way to tell him without implicating himself.
He's thinking of these things when he hears footsteps jogging up behind him. He thinks it might be Will and he tenses up, ready to say 'I'm sorry, that was a mistake before. Let's not kiss again, okay?' But there's a loud, bright crack at the back of his head and he's on the ground, confused as to how he ended up there.
When he wakes up, the house is quiet. Kellan has a feeling something important happened, but it takes a moment for it to sink in. His stomach tightens and he wishes he were still sleeping, but now his brain won't shut up.
He staggers out to the kitchen, finds his grandpa at the table reading the newspaper like it's any other day. "Morning," Kellan says cautiously.
His grandpa smiles, "Morning. How are you feeling?"
"I've got a headache," he says, lips quirking into a small smile.
His grandpa chuckles. "I'd bet so. You remember where the aspirin is, don't you?"
Kellan surprises himself by doubling over in laughter. His grandpa stares at him in shock until Kellan says, "I do remember." And then he's laughing, too. Because the whole thing is beyond ridiculous.
He gives himself the morning to sit quietly, letting some of the harder memories sink in, and once he feels like he can face things without falling apart, he calls Grace. Says, "Man, I really was an asshole to you, huh?"
Grace laughs cautiously, "I was going to say, it's forgotten, but I thought that might be rude."
"Oh, so now you're going to start watching what you say." Kellan teases.
Grace huffs out an affronted breath, but covers with, "So, are you feeling any better?"
"Yeah," Kellan says, "It's just weird, you know. It's like I'm drunk on my own mind or something. It's pretty overwhelming."
"Are you glad they're back, though?"
Kellan pauses. Says, "Can I get back to you on that?"
"Sure thing," she says. "Hey, not to pry or anything, but Will has been a hot mess all night. Did—I mean, did he do something?"
"No, I mean—I don't know. Did you know that he and I had met Before?"
Judging by the shocked gasp that echoes through the phone, she didn't. "Are you serious?" she says.
"Yeah," Kellan says, "He was my tour guide the day this all happened. He—we sort of…we kind of connected."
"Oh my god," Grace breathes, "He told me about you. I mean, like, before I knew it was you, obviously. Oh, Will," she says softly. "He must have liked you this whole time."
"Oh," Kellan says.
"Kellan, don't—I mean, don't be too mad at him if you can help it. I know you must feel like, taken advantage of—"
"I don't," he assures her, "Not really. It wasn't like we had a relationship or anything, we just had a good conversation."
"Well, it would mean a lot to him if you called. He's still here, obviously, so you could come see him, too, if you wanted," Grace says.
"Yeah," Kellan says, "I think I will."
"Grace?" Kellan says, "I know it's really corny and stupid to say, but I'm glad we're friends."
"Me, too," Grace says, "Now get your ass over here before my brother goes off the deep end."
Kellan gets dressed and tells his grandpa where he's going before walking to Grace's. She answers the door and takes him to Will's room, leaving him to face the closed door on his own. When he does work up the courage to knock, it sounds jarring in his ears.
"I'm not hungry, Grace," Will calls, sounding absolutely wrecked.
Kellan opens the door slightly and peeks in. "Hi," he says.
Will's eyes widen and he jumps out of the chair he was sitting in. "Hi," he says, "Come in. How are you feeling?"
Kellan smiles a little, says, "I've been better." Will looks so distraught, Kellan reaches for him. Says, "Oh no, Will, it's not because of you. I'm not…I'm not angry with you."
Will leans into Kellan's embrace, presses his cheek to the top of Kellan's head. "I'm sorry I never said anything," he says, voice rough from lack of sleep.
"Why didn't you?" Kellan asks.
"I don't know. Grace just kept telling me about her friend with amnesia who was dwelling on the past, and who needed to have a friend that didn't know him before. And then I met you and realized who you were, and I—I just didn't want you to think you had to live up to any of my expectations of you. And honestly, we didn't know each other. We just—"
"Kissed once," Kellan finishes. "You're right," he says, "About all that. I—probably wouldn't have been interested if I'd known about Before. Not that—oh god, that came out kind of wrong. I just mean, things with Nate were so…it was like he held my past over my head and I could never live up to it."
"I didn't want you to feel like that with me," Will says.
Kellan takes a deep breath, "Grace asked me earlier if I was glad to have my memories back, and I told her I didn't know."
"Well that's understandable. It'll probably take a while for them to sink in," Will says.
"Yeah," Kellan says. "But I do know I'm glad this whole thing happened. I—I'd have never met you or made friends with Grace, and that…well that would have sucked." He says, and then laughs a little at the inadequacy of his words.
Will hugs him tighter and leans back to look at him, "Does it make me a dick if I say I'm glad, too?"
Kellan laughs. Says, "I don't even know. I just know I spent all this time thinking that if I could just have my memories back, everything would be easy. And now it's like, I still don't know who I am."
Will pulls back and kisses him gently. Says, "Kellan, you can still be whoever you want to be. It's always been that way."
Kellan smiles and leans up to kiss Will deeply, trying to put all his feelings into it. "Alright," he says, "taxidermist it is."
They burst out laughing and Grace pokes her head in the room. "Just checking in before this inevitably progresses into oh-my-god-I-thought-you-were-gonna-break-up-with-me-but-you-didn't sex—everything's good with you two, right?"
"Yeah," Kellan says, "Things are gonna be fine."
"Good," Grace says, like phew. "Also, I had a song prepared for the moment you got your memories back, but last night was so dramatic—not that I didn't appreciate that—so just come get me when you're done with your shenanigans and I'll sing it for you. I also choreographed a dance, so, get excited."
She closes the door behind her and Kellan starts laughing. "So I've been thinking," he says, pushing Will back towards the mattress. "Last night, you basically fucked me to health. Your dick may be a miracle healer."
Will glances down between his legs and says, "Well, old friend, we've been found out."
Kellan laughs and straddles Will on the bed, leaning down to kiss him. "This is a matter of national defense, Will, your dick could potentially save the world."
"Are you advocating for me to become a U.S. Government-hired prostitute?"
"No," Kellan says, ripping his shirt over his head, "I'm advocating for you to get out of these clothes and into me."
"Well then," Will says, "That's another thing altogether."
A/N: on a side note, I wanted to call this story "Magical Dick Cures Amnesia," but I bitched out.New A/N (12/29/11): Working on a sequel from Nate's POV. : )