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Dead inside, but somehow still kicking.

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Wearing a charcoal mask and her plush bathrobe, Beatrix danced in her kitchen to her mother’s playlist. Naughty Girls (Need Love Too) pulsated out of the bluetooth speakers outside. Her back patio double doors, which were connected to her kitchen, were open, with only the retractable screen doors kept closed (separating her from the bugs). This allowed her to hear the crickets and see Jamie put a bucket of ice with his parents’ favorite champagne by the jacuzzi. Sushi had arrived and she was setting up a tray for both her and her best friend to share. Putting wasabi and ginger on a small plate, their sushi designed on the tray as if this were a charcuterie board, Trixie thought about her morning, trying her best to formulate in words what she experienced with her ex. Trying her best to think of ways to express her emotions to her best friend without sounding like an idiot.

She loved Jamie. No matter the highs and lows, they were always there for each other. No matter how many times AJ broke Jamie’s heart, and Jamie broke AJ’s, she was there at his side. If he was alone, she was a phone call away. When she had her quinceanera, he was her dance partner (even though they needed to practice a lot), since she had broken up with Theo already by then. When her parents were considering a divorce, he was with her every step of the way. Her parents decided to stay together and work through their problems. Or at least staying was the easiest route for them because it wouldn’t have ruined her father’s campaign when he was running for governor. Jamie helped her through her inferiority complex with her brothers and channel it with a positive outlet, the newspaper. Together they found their passion and together they decided they would make The Pirate’s Hook better. Worth reading. A project that only they could handle.

She loved Jamie. So why was it so hard to tell him what happened this morning? Evidently, she fucked up. All of her memories of Theo, with them living right next to each other, were wonderful until they broke up. Even after she decided to not be the power couple they were freshman year, after that god awful fight, she noticed him in the hallways and promised herself she would never fall weak to love ever again. She would never let an infatuation change who she was. She would never date someone she considered a friend.

Uncertain and confused for the next year or so, somehow, she found herself worried about him. She wondered how he was doing. What he was up to besides hanging out with the Elite and playing football. And if she was being completely honest, she thought about whether or not he still kept her in his mind and if he missed her. Not in the romantic kind of way but as a friend. If their break up didn’t go so south — she was to blame since she didn’t text him while she was away for an ice skating tournament — would he have been so upset? Should she have texted him constantly like a girlfriend even though she knew she wasn’t into him in the way he wanted her to be? How could she have made their break up… less painful for him?

The questions spun in her mind. Trixie felt absolutely guilty for hurting him and she wondered if this was normal. If doubt, shame, and pain were normal after something like this morning. Theodore was in the wrong for barging into the bathroom after her, right? Then again she did forget to lock the door. Wouldn’t that make it her fault? This incident and the distance that continued to grow between her and her ex best friend caused her very foundation to crack. She wasn’t even sexually abused. She was just made extremely uncomfortable. Was that right for her to think though? They used to cuddle together in the same bed. They made out before! Then why? Why was this all so hard for her to process?

Breaking out of a daze, Trixie could see the soy sauce overflowing from a small bowl. “Shit,” she said under her breath. Swiftly, she brought the bottle upright. Placing it on the counter, she cleaned her mess. Thankfully, she was pouring the soy sauce away from the tray. If she poured it over the tray, dinner would be sushi drowned and soggy. No thanks. Once she was all cleaned up, she grabbed the tray and shuffled to the back entrance, to her destination with her black slippers on. When she reached the side door, she held the tray with one hand and carefully opened the screen doors. Creeping out, not wanting to drop the tray, Trixie closed the doors behind her, to prevent the insects from coming in. Returning to her original position, holding the tray with both hands, Trixie tiredly smiled (today was a long day), “How are we feeling?” She surveyed her friend who was now in the jacuzzi. “Sushi’s here!” She proudly showcased her display before placing it on a table beside him.

“Better now,” Jamie said from the jacuzzi, uncorking a bottle of champagne and holding it off to the side, letting the bubbles fall onto the stone below. He took a swig from the bottle before holding it out for Trixie to take, shaking it ever so slightly. “Ooh, California roll. Who needs AJ when I have you?” he said, leaning out of the hot tub to pluck a piece of sushi from the plate. “How are you feeling?”

Once her bathrobe was off, revealing her bikini, Trixie reached for the champagne bottle and took a tiny sip. With the bottle in hand, she tested the water with her big toe. Steadily, without hurry, she joined her friend, face mask and all, and gave him back the bottle. As she got herself situated and her body used to the temperature of the water, she answered, “Yesterday I missed school because of a migraine and today I had a shitty day wishing I didn’t come in. I’m tired as heck, Jamie.” Exhaustion was all she could think about after the day she experienced.

Not having much of an appetite at this instant, Trixie leaned back, extending her arms out on the rim of the jacuzzi, and closed her eyes. Focusing on her breathing, the latina let the calm of the night, and the heat from the water, pacify and soothe the raging war inside her body, her heart, and her soul. Seconds passed where there were no words between the friends. Allowing her mind to slow down and her body ease, grounding herself to her conversation with Jamie, Trixie’s lips curved upward, ever so gingerly, into a gentle smile. She wasn’t ready to talk about Theo. Not yet. First, she wanted to ask a question to her friend. An icebreaker of sorts to get them going and set the tone.

“Introspection time,” she stated, breaking the silence. “Do you regret your relationship with AJ?” Never one to mince her words, Trixie wasted no time to get to the hard hitting topics. Out of the two friends, she was the serious one of the two. There weren’t many people who could make Trixie laugh and just the fact that she started their talk with regret showed she acknowledged him and would tell him what happened this morning. She just needed a little more time and a soft push. Prideful through and through.

“Ughhh,” Jamie groaned and snatched the bottle back, taking another gulp, and pursing his lips as he swallowed. No matter how much he pretended to like wine, his face gave him away. “Today? Yes. Tomorrow, probably. Three months from now?” He paused, sighed, and rolled his head back to look up at the decidedly starless sky. “I don’t know. Maybe I will, but I hope I won’t.” He paused for another sip. “He sucks, and I think if I saw him right now I’d try to drown him, but he was the first person who really cared about me. Loved me, I guess.” Jamie rolled his eyes at the end, as if the idea of AJ really loving him was nothing more than a juvenile fantasy. “Why?”

Trixie shrugged and scooted closer to her friend to join him in his starless gazing. “Just grappling with that myself, I suppose.” If she never dated Theo he could still be in her life and she could still help him through his issues with his father. Imagining how he would’ve turned out versus the monster she created, that is where her mind was. “The first person to ever love you and now he wants to move on.” Trixie spoke her thoughts out loud, wondering if she would be relieved if her ex stopped hyperfixate on and gave his attention to someone else. Would she be okay with that? She wished she would be but the idea of knowing Theo, and the way he is, ending up with a girl that would want to fix him only to get hurt in the end? That made it hard for her to be okay with it. He was going to hurt someone one day and if it wasn’t her, it would be a defenseless, naive girl who didn’t know any better. Turning to rest her head on her arm, which was now on the ledge, she observed her best friend and smiled, “It’s for the best, you know? There’s plenty of other boys out there, Jamie.”

“Yeah, but–,”Jamie stopped mid-sentence, and narrowed his eyes from across the hot tub, brushing off her words of encouragement. “Wait, what do you mean you’re grappling with that yourself?” As far as he knew, the days of Trixie and Theo were long gone, along with any angst that might’ve accompanied them. So why the hell was she pondering the intricacies of regret. Pieces began to click into place, and he began to suspect that he was staring down the barrell of a troubling relapse. “Please tell me you’re not talking about Theo,” he groaned, exasperated and concerned all at once. “I thought we were done with him. Like, ages ago.”

“I am done with him,” Trixie scoffed, sitting up and adjusting herself defensively. “What I mean is if I didn’t break him, if I didn’t leave him when I did, I could still have him in my life and maybe he would be less of an asshole.” Taking a moment to lean over the jacuzzi to grab a sushi and dip it in soy sauce, Trixie confessed, admittedly not proud of how she ended things with her ex, “I regret dating him because if we didn’t get that close, my words wouldn’t have weighed so heavily on him. I was so…” Stupid. Selfish. Self centered. Placing the sushi in her mouth, Trixie chewed in silence. Once she was done eating the piece of nigiri, she continued her explanation, “His father was so cruel to him and I hated that he didn’t do anything about it. The Theo we see now, wasn’t the Theo I grew up with. And it didn’t help that I felt useless. No matter what I said, it didn’t matter. That’s when I started distancing myself and all the butterflies we once had.. nothing we did really interested me anymore. I got bored and we grew apart. And that’s sad because in a sense that means I gave up on him, you know?” She gave up and he turned heel. Her biggest regret: dating her childhood best friend. Don’t do it.

This was what Gay Best Friends ™ called, “a hot fucking mess,” and Jamie wouldn’t be a good one if he didn’t fix it. That was the least he could do. “You didn’t give up on Theo, you broke up with him. It’s not your fault he got pissy about it.” Jamie was hardly a sympathetic person by nature, but he was even less so when it came to Theo. “You were looking out for you, as you should be,” Jamie said, gesturing with the champagne bottle to illustrate his point. “And like, again, babe, it’s Theo. He calls himself The Franchise. How great could he have been?”

“He didn’t always call himself that. Our break up just… did something to him. Like I was the only good thing he had. I know!” Trixie leisurely grabbed the bottle from her friend and grimaced, “I know that’s an unhealthy coping mechanism and makes him codependent as heck but he was my friend and I feel…” her words trailed off, allowing a brief moment for her to gingerly take a sip of champagne. She was too emotional right now so the last thing she needed was to get drunk and do something dumb. Offering the bottle back, she sighed, “I feel like I’m part to blame. I was so good at not thinking about any of this but I saw him this morning and it took a toll on me. That’s why I cried… I thought I was over him.” As soon as she started, she backtracked and apologized. “Sorry.” It wasn’t right for her to paint her ex in a bad image. He was only checking up on her. “I’m overthinking. It’s not like I have anyone to compare Theo to! He’s the only one I ever gave a chance.” And that would stay that way until she found someone who respected her in the way she deserved. “Silly me.”

Jamie pursed his lips, humming a sound of disapproval. He washed the bad taste in his mouth down with another gulp of champagne. “Well, only one of us can be mopey over their ex, and I called dibs.” He stretched out of the hot tub and grabbed his phone off the nearby table, determined to lift his friend’s spirits, and remind her that there were other, much more worthy options, than one Theo Van Cise. “Did I tell you about Scott’s cousin? Tall, mysterious, very hot? I gave him a tour today. He is very your type.” He didn’t know if Trixie had realized what her type was, with her limited sample size, but he was pretty certain he had. It was the least a friend could do. “He is a total ghost on social media, but trust me.”

Raising an eyebrow, Trixie listened albeit annoyed at this new information. If she hadn’t slept in the car most of her school day, she could’ve met the transfer student. Alas, she got too damn high. Reluctantly, she moved closer to her best friend to see if he could find a picture of this so-called hottie. “I don’t have a type,” she objected. With her small dating pool — it was just Theo — the most Jamie could gather when it came to ‘her type’ were comments she said when they walked past someone at the mall or the beach, or even as they watched trashy shows together.

Sure, she had a lean toward boys with pent up aggression, discipline, and a heart of gold underneath all of the muscle, but that didn’t mean she had a type. And yeah, it would be nice to have a boy that could pick her up and throw her over his shoulder (or the bed) with ease and who found enjoyment in the little things like nature, exploring or dancing, but that didn’t mean she had a type. She would die on this hill. Trixie did not have a type and if Scott Lyon was who she had to compare this mystery person to then Jamie was so off, like did he even know her? “I could never date someone like Scott, like ew? Nothing against Scott but I don’t know how Katie can handle him. HELL, I don’t know how you could handle AJ. They’re so LOUD and flashy and gah!” She didn’t want a man that did too much to show she was his. His very being should suffice that they were together. Subtle and intimate things like him texting her in the middle of the night saying he missed her or him putting his hand on her waist and pulling her close while they were at a party. Jamie might’ve been into AJ’s flash mob promposal but Trixie would rather die. For her, she prefers the private moments, when it was just her and her man… whatever that may look like. That still didn’t mean she had a type.

“You’re hilarious,” Jamie replied, wholly and thoroughly unconvinced. “Babe, you like a project. It’s the workaholic in you,” Jamie leveled a teasing grin her way, before returning his eyes to his phone. He had scrolled through what seemed like miles of posts with low engagement and little relevance to his ultimate goal of proving he was right. “God, I know Twitter is fucking dead, but like, his is a fucking fossil. Oh wait–,” he turned the phone towards Trixie, proudly showing off a video of Owen Lyon, shirtless, sweaty, and going head to head with a sandbag. “It’s okay, you can say it. Scott’s cousin is hot.”

With another sushi in her mouth, Trixie slowly chewed and watched Jamie scroll through his phone. He was trying way too hard to get her mind off of her shitty morning. Or perhaps he was trying to redirect the conversation so that she didn’t keep pressing on AJ. The longer Trixie waited the more she began to believe he was talking right out of his ass. It wasn’t until he brought the phone to her face that she saw herself face to face with a blue eyed, stunning well kept brown hair, his body only achieved with a strict gym range, capable of enormous leverage, and— Beatrix choked on her food.

Breaking into a little coughing fit, Trixie tried to use the champagne to wash down her fish. Teary eyed, she tried her best to regain her composure. When she did so, she traded the bottle with phone (at this point she didn’t know how many times they passed the bottle). Jamie’s phone in hand, expression, stunned, Trixie couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Shut up,” she commented. “This is NOT Scott’s cousin.” As much as she was protesting, she didn’t look away. Her gaze rested on his soft smile before she snapped back to reality.

Returning Jamie’s phone, Trixie gave the faintest of blushes or was it from the heat of the pool? Or the champagne? “If you’re not messing with me, okay, I’ll give it to you. He is hot. But why would you show me that after you said I like a project?!” Trixie passionately moved her hands as she spoke, just how her mother did. “Just because he’s hot doesn’t mean he’s a good guy!” She was not going to let some really hot guy with a chest she wanted to lick, hands she wanted around her neck and lips she wanted to bite distract her. “How are you going to prove that, huh?”

“Cause he’s Scott’s cousin, and Scott is an annoyingly good guy if we’re being completely honest. Gimme three minutes, and I’ll have your proof on the way.” Jamie said, reaching over and snatching his phone back. With one hand, he brought the bottle of champagne to his lips, and with the other, he opened up the lonely message he’d received from Owen earlier, and gave it a friend.

To: Teenage Ghost
what are you doing?
answer: inviting trixie and i to hang out. you’re welcome
next question: where are you?

From: Teenage Ghost
hi jamie. i think this is the jamie my year
because it says (reporter?)
hi! owen is getting in deep with the paint
i read back
you’re coming to us with trixie?
that’s so COOL. i need to tell my boy

To: Teenage Ghost
who is this?
hi dash

Jamie took a moment to reconsider this course of action, well aware of where it would lead: Owen and Trixie macking in a car while he distracted Dash Day. Oh, the things we do for love.

To: Teenage Ghost
ubers dont work without addresses

From: Teenage Ghost
do you want me to tell owen
or is this a surprise

To: Teenage Ghost
dash, that’s exactly what i was trying to do
tell him

From: Teenage Ghost
ok i won’t tell him
he is going to be so happy to have more friends here
did you know his parents are so nice
and so cool
you’ll love them
okay we are at
the gym

To: Teenage Ghost

From: Teenage Ghost

Jamie sighed.

To: Teenage Ghost
thank you dash

From: Teenage Ghost
does this mean were friends
here my number
we friends

TIMESTAMP: Before the game
Introducing: Coach Boone & Jem @LovelyComplex
Starring: the Football team



As the minutes ticked by and the bleachers grew crammed with bodies, all chattering over eachother, an energized feeling fell over the field. There was a palpable excitement in the air, stirred on by the cheer team’s routines and the efforts of the student section. Inside the boys’ locker room however, a quiet tension had settled over the Pirates. They were coming off of some bad losses, and while nobody wanted to say it, and risk jinxing the whole thing, they were all thinking it. We need to win this fucking thing.

Some of the players were stretching, others were abiding by their pre-game superstitions, and another group was trying to distract themselves by ranking the hottest girls in the senior class. Benji Mayhew was standing against his locker, eyes closed, doing his very best to not lose his mind. He had ridden the high of the Great Bullhorn Heist into the evening, but the momentum had run its course as the cheers outside grew louder. He felt like all their eyes were watching him through the walls, waiting for him to fuck up. The pads on his shoulders felt tight, restrictive, and it was making him nervous. The potential for failure was staring him down, and he was losing the contest.

You are going to fuck it up. In front of the boys, in front of Aunt Gina, in front of Athena. You should bench yourself. Go home. Do everybody a favor.

His thoughts spiraled and he dug the nail of his index finger into the skin of his thumb, a desperate attempt to stem the sudden deluge of doom and gloom. He pressed harder, until he couldn’t even feel it anymore, and then he pressed some more. His nerves screamed when he finally released the pressure, but his mind was on that now, and that he could deal with.

Whose house?

The Franchise’ house.

The stadium, the crowd, those beautiful Friday night lights that shone brighter than the pearly gates of heaven which he knew he would never see. This was Theo’s house, this was where he thrived. Between the manic stomping of feet from the unwashed masses clamoring to get to their seats, which they would never use anyway because they’d be giving the pirates a standing ovation constantly and the cheesy eighties rock that all football stadiums favoured on game day, he was fucking ready to go.

Pressure created diamonds and Theo Van Cise was at his absolute best when he was under the lights and in the watchful eyes of the entire pirate coast. He didn’t need to worry about scouts, he was already recruited by multiple D1 schools. He was the top ranked middle linebacker in the country, with a record amount of sacks to boot. Alumni? They didn’t mean shit to him. Fossils of bygone days, dead as the dinosaurs and only half as interesting. There were only three faces amongst the sea of onlookers that he needed to impress, that he needed to be a diamond for; his parents and his sister.

Bronwyn was his lifeblood, his humanity. He would protect her with his life and he needed to show her that no matter what happened, they would always rise above where they came from; they deserved better. Showing out on the field meant that they could be safe, at least for a short time. He rarely got to see his Mom, Bobbie, since the divorce and the custody agreement meant that he had to stay with his old man but she was there watching tonight and he was elated to see her. All he ever heard was how much he looked like her. He couldn’t wait for the game to finish so he could say hi. The third face was that of his father, a man who Theo really didn’t need to see any more of. Kip Van Cise was at every game, every practice, nearly every session Theo had at their home gym, his father was there. Glory, that’s all that mattered in the Van Cise house and Kip was desperate to control and share in his son’s.

Sitting on the locker room bench, holding his helmet in hand, Theo surveyed the room at his Pirate brethren; a means to an end, the lot of them. As long as they did their jobs, he could block anyone. They just had to carry a ball across the line, how hard was that?

“Game faces boys, it’s nearly time.”

“You’re absolutely right, Theo, it’s time for us to put our game faces on,” Coach Boone responded, his voice echoing in the locker room chamber, as he entered through the side door that led to the gym. With his arrival, the football team grew silent, waiting on his word to be released into the battlefield where pirates would protect their turf from knights. Wearing a black tracksuit with red stripes, Coach strolled to the white board and crossed his arms. He looked at each of his boys, seeing nothing but potential in front of him. His lips quirked up, his own way of breaking the tension and nerves. This had been a rough season, anybody that’s anybody knew that but they weren’t done yet. They still had a season to finish.

Even if they did lose tonight, he wanted them to understand that losing was essential to success. The secret to life was not winning but learning how to lose and while he didn’t think they would, he knew they were just kids and this was a game they thought would define the rest of their lives. Truly, Boone believed they could go out there and do something great. The game was all about the moments anyways. The journey. Sure, winning was nice and if you really wanted it, you could achieve it, but what people would remember was who rose, even after they fell. As long as they remember that football was an honest game, where the team at its core needed to share, they would be able to fulfill exactly what they wanted to tonight. If their common goal was winning? They’d win. In return, with a hard fought battle, they’d gain the ultimate reward of a lifelong lesson to carry throughout their lives. They’d grow stronger and find out a bit more about themselves. If they left the field tonight understanding who they were a little bit more, as growing teens, Boone would've done his job. Boone would be content.

However, that wasn’t why he was here. He was here to motivate not give a lesson in philosophy. Motivate, he will. “Team first. A battlefield. A neverending feud. I want you to think back on this season. The ups and the downs. The wins and the losses. The quiet before the storm. You’ve all worked hard to get to this place. I’ve seen some of you grow from lost boys Freshman year to the most dangerous, ambitious Pirates this school has ever bare witnessed to.” Nodding to himself, proud of what his team had become, Coach continued to encourage, “Don’t forget how much you had to work through to get to this game. The weight room. The drills. The constant pain. That is all you. You got us here. Nobody else.” Coach paused briefly, to let his words settle in the room. He wasn’t here to be the humorous, goofy coach they knew well. He was here to be the coach they needed and that was someone that spoke firmly and told them to leave the bullshit at home. To go on the field as the hard working athletes he knew they all were and kick some warrior ass.

He glanced between Theo and Benji, and the space between them, before looking back at the rest of the team. “If you don’t want to be here, I suggest you leave right now. What was the point of all the hard work if you didn’t want to be in this locker room to play ball? I say that not personally but as a man who tore his ACL and MCL in his right knee, my college days, preventing me from pursuing a sport that runs in my veins. I’m not here stopping you from walking out of this room and calling it quits. The storm is here, boys, and if you can’t handle it, there’s the door.” He gestured toward the side door he came from, emphasizing his point.

When none of the football players got up, all eyes on him, showing him how deadly serious they were, he nodded, glad they received the message, “I know I’m a meme at this school because of my use of the word ‘believe’, but that isn’t a joke to me. Belief whether you care for it or not is part of the process to win a game. It’s in you, here,” Boone gestured to his mind, “Here,” Boone gestured to his chest, “And here,” Boone gestured to his gut. “All that junk floating in you, your doubt, your fears, and your problems — whatever it is that is your junk — a lot of times we let that stuff get in our way. This isn’t the place for that shit and personally, I don’t want to mess with it, do you?”

“No coach,” one of the players muttered in response. He was leaned up against a locker, observing his teammates quietly. A boy with eyeliner, a nose piercing and tattoos covered with bandages on his arm, marking his age. A boy who looked more suited for music than sports. A boy that was a raging rebel, or simply misunderstood because of how he expressed himself. Coach Boone found potential in him, even if he stood back a year. Even if he was almost at risk for expulsion. Even if he didn’t believe in himself. Coach was able to give this kid an outlet in football. First it was mandatory but then it became something he found comfort in and Coach made sure to set him on the right path. The path of success. He was a hidden strength on the team, an OT that many opponents underestimated. An emo kid that had more strength in him than he knew how to handle sometimes. Jeremiah Clark. A good boy that Boone believed in, just as much as he believed in the rest of his team.

“That’s right, Jem. We’re done messing with those bad vibes that bring us down. Regardless of what you achieve or not, I want you to believe that you matter. That you deserve more than a win, you deserve love. Whether you've been hurt or you hurt somebody else, you deserve to believe in yourself. Belief is just hope and you know what? That’s what I want to mess with. I believe things can get better, they always can, and if you want to win this game, we need to believe we will get better. As a team, as people, as men. To believe in yourself and to believe in one another? That’s just important to life.” Boone took a step forward. “Now what's it going to be, team?” He asked, putting his hand out, waiting for his students to follow suit, “Are you going out there into the storm or are you going to stay here and not set sail? Who’s going to believe with me? Who’s ready to fight?”

Benji listened to Coach’s speech with a stoney expression, but still, the words helped. He was young and impressionable, and despite appearances, desperately wanted to reclaim his lost confidence. Even if the words weren’t necessarily true, even if the sharp and prickly part of his mind told him they were spilling from the mouth of a washed up has-been, he could pretend, for at least the next two and a half hours, that Coach was right. All he had to do was believe. The rest would come easy.

“We’re with you, Coach,” Benji said as he stepped forward and placed his hand in the steadily growing pile.

“Believe in me.” Theo got to his feet and bashed his helmet against his locker. “I’ll get us where we need to go.” He struck the locker again. “Put them in my eye line, I’ll break them in half, you boys run up that scoreboard. That’s all there is to it.” With his blood boiling hotter than hell's swimming pool, TVC violently bounced his headgear off of the steel locker door several more times, each strike with an increasingly more visceral growl. “Believe in the Franchise and the Pirates will sail the seven seas as fucking kings.” Theo’s deep dark eyes shot over to Benji, it was not a positive look that he was giving his Elite brother. “Let’s fucking go.”

Benji didn’t know if Theo was trying to light a fire under his ass with his shitty little glare, but it worked. He’d been seeing a lot more of that look, ever since he’d started missing passes and fucking up plays. He hated that look, and he didn’t want to see it again. He met Theo’s gaze, and echoed his words. “Let’s fucking go.”

Andre sat there, listening to Coach’s speech as he applied the eye black on his face. He’d heard it all before, but yet, he felt like running through a wall for his coach.

He knew what he had to do.

As the coach put his hand in the middle, Andre got up, helmet dangling from his other hand as the team gathered for one last pre-game rally.

“Let’s fucking go!”

“Woo,” Jem finalized, putting his hand in, on top of the rest of the team. Coach Boone nudged him, giving him permission to give the last hoorah, as he stood beside the kid that needed him the most. Perhaps it wasn’t that Jem needed him but over the years he grew a fondness over the kid. So many of his students needed hope to climb themselves out of the gutter and he felt like he was doing just that with his team. The James Dean of the class of 2025 rolled his eyes. Instead of saying ‘believe’, he grumbled, his baritone, singsong voice echoing in the silence of the locker room, “Let’s get ‘em.”

The locker room roared.



Three hours later, amidst the cheers from either side of the field, the game felt closer than anyone would’ve liked. The Pirates were down by three: not preferable, but not a death sentence either. They could still win this, if they kept their cool. Truth be told, for the first time all season, it felt like they might actually have a shot at doing just that. Andre had made some incredible catches, Benji had made some ridiculous runs, and Theo had skillfully managed to keep their opposition’s offense at bay.

As Benji looked up to the scoreboard, he allowed himself a moment of premature celebration. I think we might actually fucking win this. There were seven seconds on the clock, and thirty yards to go. He could do this. He had to do this. He had a moment to take a breath, feel his heart pounding in his chest as the teams stared off with eachother, a churning mass of adrenaline and heaving breaths. A moment of calm. Then, with a single shout, it shatters, and the seconds began to fall.


The offensive line begins to fall back at the quarterback's signal, as though to protect his pass. He fakes a pass to the right, before handing it off to Benji.


Benji cuts left, as his o-line returns to position opening up some space. His cleats dig into the turf as his legs push him forward.


His heartbeat is thudding in his ears while he cuts across the line of scrimmage and the Warriors’ defence. His breaths come quick as he begins closing the daunting gap between himself and the end zone.


Jem and another member of the o-line are in front of him, pushing back against the linebackers hellbent on putting him on the ground. The scuffle threatens to send him out of bounds, and suddenly it is do or die and he is doing. He twists and maneuvers himself around the mass of bodies. Fuck yes he thinks to himself.


He can hear the thudding of cleats behind him, but the way before him is clear. He pumps his arms and says a silent prayer. He has just enough time for his gaze to fall on the bleachers, for his mind to register a familiar face. Mom?


He refocuses on the endzone he’s barrelling down on, so close he can already hear his peers going wild. He is almost there when he hears a grunt, and suddenly something is crashing into his side, knocking the air from his lungs and sending him hurtling into the ground. Shit.


Benji hits the ground with a groan, as the buzzer echoes across the stadium. His head throbs, as he slams it back into the ground, slapping away the hand of the boy who’d just ruined his night, and potentially, his entire life. All he can think is, Yeah, that seems about fucking right.

And just like that, the game was over. Go home everybody, the Pirates lost.

”Are you fucking kidding me?”

The vile and venom spat out of Theo’s mouth like the poison slides from the gullet of a snake. He launched his helmet across the field with great force, his roasted chestnut eyes burning with rage as he watched the face guard break off in the mud. He was playing the game of his life, he had blocked every motherfucker that had gotten in his way. He had damn near broken the opposing quarterback in half and yet here they were, an L in their column and why? Because the offensive line couldn’t do their jobs properly. Because Benji couldn’t do his fucking job properly.

Theodore turned his attention away from the field, the chorus of cheers for his opponents felt like an acid rain on his skin, burning him up from the outside in. In the stands, he could see his mother and sister waving, timidly albeit, disappointment and pity throwing daggers from their eyes. A few seats away, as per the sealed restraining order that only those in the family knew about, was his father. Kip’s arms were crossed, his face statue-like in its stern perfection. He glared silently and rage full towards his son. He stood and simply began to make his way through the crowd; leaving Theo to further wrap himself in the arms of his own furious temper.

This wasn’t just any other game.

This was the homecoming game.

This wasn’t just a loss.

This was a death.

Theo scoured the masses on the field that were crashing between each other in waves of ecstasy and depression until he found what he was looking for; Benji. With clenched fists, the Franchise marched through the crowd, throwing several players out of his way until he reached a small circle of his fellow pirates. He made his way through the players until he reached the center and threw his head forward, straight into Benji’s nose.

“What the fuck did you fucking do?!” Theo spat onto his “friend”. “Useless. Pathetic piece of shit! You fucking choked!” The crowd sounds and audible gasps began to disappear into a high pitched white noise that rang out in the linebackers head. Rabid, he jumped atop his friend and began throwing haymakers. The mask of sanity had slipped.

Andre ran over from his side of the field, coming toward the scuffling of his teammates who were about to devolve into a flurry of blows and punches.

Watching his teammate run directly into his offensive line and bounce away from the endzone was about the last thing he wanted to happen. As he had his hands on his opposing man, he could only watch as Benji got wrapped up and taken down. It was the last chance they had to win the game, and they’d fumbled it.
Still, it didn’t mean that Theo was justified in doing that to Benji. He tried to get in between the scuffle, his helmet still on as the two were basically trying to kill each other.

“Hey! Knock that shit off!”

The first hit caught him by surprise. The second, less so. By the fourth, he’d decided that honor and dignity, and all the other bullshit he thought he cared about was complete and utter trash, because he desperately wanted to hit Theo back. If only he could catch a fucking break. The bridge of his nose burned where Theo’s forehead had crashed into it, and the fire radiated out across his face, stinging his eyes. He could feel blood trickling from his nose, and then Andre was above them and he was trying to halt Theo’s attack, and it was enough.

Enough of an opening for Benji to shove Theo off of him and scramble to his feet. “Fuck you,” he shouted, spitting blood onto the sideline, staining the white paint red. He launched himself forward, throwing a furious right hook that sent shockwaves up his fist as it connected with Theo’s jaw. He knew his mother and his friends and the entire fucking school was watching him, and he didn’t care. He knew that, beneath the shitty delivery, Theo was right, and still, he didn’t care. All of it only made him want to hit harder. He threw another punch, and took one in return. He shoved Theo backwards, creating a space between them, and they stood, glaring at eachother. Two Pirates, out for blood. Benji smirked, unusually cruel and far too callous. “I think I finally get why Trixie broke up with you. You’re a fucking psychopath.”


That word hung around Theo’s neck like a noose, waiting to hang him for his crimes. It was a word that had been battered around him his entire life in some way, shape or form. He was always told he was a little different, a little off. There’s just something not quite right with Theodore. There had been too many times to count where someone had to step in because of one of his rages. Usually it was one of his boys in Elite, there was always some excuse and when calm, Theo always had a way of talking his way out of a problem. If not the crew, his parents and family could always be counted on to bury the bodies for the prince of the clan. The self proclaimed Franchise was born under a bad sign, with fire in his eyes and acid in his veins, he was born dangerous.

“Get the fuck off me!” Theo managed to free himself from Andre’s grasp before leveling a punch at his friend. He clenched his jaw, trying to shake off the ache caused by Benji’s solid fists and he stared down at a fallen Dre. “Put your filthy hands on me again and I’ll put you in the dirt in chains like the rest of your fucking people.”

He turned his rabid eye to Benji once again and wiped some blood from his mouth. “Don’t you fucking dare bring my Bea into this.” Every word uttered from Theo’s lips were absolutely soaked in furious anger. “You wanna drag up the skeletons, Mayhew? Here’s one. Daddy goes to jail. Mommy is an addict and the son is a pathetic loser with no future but being locked up next to the old man just in time to see him get shanked in the showers.”
Hearing the vile words come out of Theo’s mouth struck an incredibly large sized nerve in him. Never before had he heard something come out of his own teammate’s mouth, and he wasn’t about to roll over and take it like that.

Benji was right, Theo was a psychopath after all.

“The fuck you say to me?” Andre got up in Theo’s face, shoving him back, “BITCH, IMMA FUCKIN’ KILL YOU!”

Andre immediately threw a punch at Theo’s face, as hard as his 6’4 frame could muster. It didn’t matter if it was his own teammate, nobody who said shit like that deserved any ounce of decency.

Okay. This was enough. Jem did not sign up for this and if they kept it up, they’d all get expelled. The last thing he needed was another reason for his father to take out his disappointment on him and his younger siblings. This was supposed to help Jem’s anger, not make it worse. Smoldering with resentment as his teammates threw quips at one another and acted like they were raised like he was, with a survival mentality, the eldest in the group felt the rage quicken his blood. All Jeremiah could see was stupid teenagers that couldn’t take a loss. They were all fucking dumbasses for not seeing the recruiters in the bleachers.

“You, him,” Jem gestured for Eli, the other offensive tackle, to take care of Andre, doing whatever was necessary to de-escalate/sedate one member in the situation. It wasn’t worth letting a racist get under your skin, especially not Theo. Andre knew better than to stoop to his level. “Hayes.” Grabbing the attention of the middle guard, the son of the principal, Jem led his eyes to Mayhew and growled, with a clenched jaw, “Grab him.”

Glaring at the rest of the team, veins bulging out of his neck, Jem cursed, “Let’s all just fucking watch and not do shit! Van. Cise.The nineteen year old who was known for having surging adrenaline, bloody rage and many horror stories following him of sending people to the hospital because he hurt people more than a rich boy ever could, stomped toward his victim. Everyone knew that Jem stood back not only because he failed all his classes but because a student was handicapped, nearly brought to death, and ended up transferring, out of fear of seeing Jem again. This wouldn’t be the first body on Jem’s record.

Since then he was forced to take anger management classes, strongly advised to join a sport, and was diagnosed with a few things that were no one’s business but his own. There were many people who wanted to play monsters but none of them truly knew what a monster looked like. The only ones that he could respect, that could hold their own, who understood where he came from were the kids from Gravette but even then he kept his distance. He wasn’t going to ruin anyone’s chances to succeed in life and Jem knew he was a curse and destined to fail. The Gravette kids had a chance, a chance that was hard for him to believe that he could have too. He had too much to protect and no help.

Both Eli and Hayes grabbed their assigned peer from behind, bringing them into a bear-hug, over their opponent’s arms, and lifted them off their feet. They could handle getting kicked in the shins if Benji and Andre decided to oppose. There was a reason Jem sent the big boys to them. Cracking his neck, oozing with fierce, violent wrath, Jem was quick to enter the chaos, leering at the rabid animal that was Theo. There were no words left for Jem to say. His focus was on one thing and one thing only: the problem.

Theo had found himself back on the floor, after Andre decided to fight back, which put him in a good position for Jem to put his arm around his neck, adjusting himself so that his teammate’s chin was in the crook of his elbow. He wasn’t trying to crush his windpipes. Not yet at least. The older boy pulled the volatile player by the neck back up, bringing him to his feet. Keeping him in a neck hold, he turned him to face the crowd, showing the boy exactly who he was disappointing. His family.

It was then the principal and security came rushing out and Coach Boone had made his way through the crowd to his team.

“Well boys, you really fucked things up.”

Most of the team shuttered at the fact that Boone was cursing. He never cursed. He was a ray of sunshine. That is until now. When security came in, running ahead of the principal to the boys involved, Mrs. Hayes looked at each of them, one by one, with a cold and calculative stare. There were videos already trending online and from a distance, the team could see teachers talking to the recruiters and the local news.

They really did fuck up and it was only a matter of time they’d suffer the consequences of their actions. One storm ruined their ship and now it was sinking. They were sinking. They’d be lucky to finish the season. Any chance of big leagues were ruined for the class of 2025.

Happy Homecoming.
TIMESTAMP: After Shut Up
@LovelyComplex @smarty0114 @Hey Im Jordan


Outside the Callaghan house the rumble of Scott’s engine called Katie down the stairs. An hour ago, she was excited to see Kim, and spend time with the boyfriend she was beginning to think she didn’t deserve. The excitement hadn’t been replaced, but it had been overshadowed by an overwhelming need to scream at AJ Tyler. Jamie had swayed her away from murder, but he would not stop her from giving AJ a piece of her mind. If not for him, then for the next person unlucky enough to stumble into the Gearhead.

Katie had developed a number of coping mechanisms over the years. Meditation, overworking herself, and sex were all commonly used and abused, but her absolute favorite way to avoid her own issues, was to focus on someone else’s. It had simply been good luck that Jamie’s breakup came right in the middle of her own self-induced angst. She was more than happy to take it on, whether he wanted her to or not.

She sauntered out to Scott’s car, front door locking behind her with a mechanical whirr and click. She hadn’t given much thought to his conflict of interest, partly because she hadn’t made her way back to the land of clear thoughts. As she opened the car door and slipped inside, her mind was consumed by her own version of what had happened at the shed this morning, filled in by Jamie’s description and her own imagination. The vision made her angry. She leaned over to give Scott a kiss before pulling away. “We’ve gotta stop at AJ’s on the way.” She paused, before deciding there was no point in trying to hide her goal. “I have to scream at him.”

As Katie slid into the passenger seat, and loudly announced her goal, Scott couldn’t help but audibly sigh. “Gee honey, I’m so happy to see you too.” At least he got a kiss out of the deal before she announced she had every intention of ruining his best friend’s evening further. Scott had not yet heard from AJ, which was never a good sign. “Please don’t be harsh.” Scott made his plea, but he knew well enough that it was going to fall on deaf ears. Katie was pissed, and the righteous fury Scott had seen AJ inspire in Katie in the past was almost impressive.

He shifted the car into drive and rested a hand on his passenger princess’s thigh as he pulled away from her home. Keeping the volume on the radio low, Scott pursued the conversation. “Is there any particular reason why you want to scream at AJ? Also, ‘scream’ is pretty harsh. Can we go for a ‘yell’?” He asked, glancing at her with a pleading look in his eyes as he rolled up to a stop sign.

“No promises, but for you I’ll try,” she shot back, wry smile decorating her face. “He broke up with Jamie, which is not the issue. The issue is how he did it.” Once upon a time, Katie had tried very hard to stay out of the hurricane force winds that Jamie and AJ tended to kick up. It was only right that she and Scott remain Switzerland, especially if they wanted to avoid an argument. Those days were long gone, stamped out by one breakup too many, and she was dragging Scott with her. “Did you know he’s been getting high at school?” Her tone dropped, any traces of good humor suddenly replaced by an uncharacteristic sternness as she studied Scott’s profile. It wasn’t that she suspected he was caught up in whatever AJ was huffing, but still, years of warnings and educational videos about the dangers of drug use had suddenly made her worry, for Scott and AJ. Despite her bravado, there was a nagging voice in her head that was certain she was only at the beginning of a very long and tragic Lifetime movie.

“What, like smoking weed in the bathroom?” Scott asked, quickly attempting to bring back the light hearted mood in the car. When it didn’t work, he kept talking. “ I don’t know what AJ’s been up to. He’s been kinda distant with me ever since he got a new fuck buddy… and I don’t like to push him. He can lash out.” Scott’s voice was kind of hesitant, like he wasn’t sure if he should have been sharing that information with his girlfriend. Would Katie be more upset? Did she know about the new friend with benefits? Did Jamie? Scott was playing a dangerous game, but he had no choice. He turned the car, headed down AJ’s street. “Just don’t bite his head off. I know he broke up with Jamie, but you know as well as I do that they both hurt each other equal amounts.” It wasn’t fair that he and Katie were heading to AJ’s house to attempt to kick him while he was down, but Scott knew that if he tried to stop Katie, she’d go on her own. And then he wouldn’t be there to hold her back.

“No, Scott, like getting high enough that he freaked out and bit Jamie’s neck like some cracked out vampire,” she huffed, a storm of pent up emotions rushing out of her. “Somethings off with him. I thought it was just Jamie…but, I don’t know.” She paused and stared out the window as they turned into AJ’s neighborhood, then whipped her head back to face Scott. “Wait, what the fuck do you mean by ‘new fuck buddy’?”

He brought the car to a stop in front of AJ’s house and killed the engine. “Take it easy on him.” Scott said, but he didn’t stop Katie from approaching the door. He just followed along.

Inside, in his predictable yet impressive custom car-themed bedroom, AJ Tyler laid back in his bed, his head hanging over the edge. He stared at his tire shelves, with his toy cars displayed. Upside down, he counted them one by one and named each car out loud. He tried to focus on the one thing that made him happy, his cars, but when he stared at his toys, they all looked dull in comparison to anything else in his room. What was the point of having things to love if you didn’t have someone to share it with? Dramatic, as always, that was a trait he obtained from his broadway star mother, AJ found himself bored with his collection. Bored with his cars. Bored with life. That was not a good sign at all. What was AJ without his cars? What was AJ outside of his friends? What was AJ… in general? Dull. Boring. Unlovable. AJ Tyler was a nobody and now he was a nobody with a broken heart.

On the floor there was an open cardboard box and written on the side of it in black permanent marker was: Jamie’s shit.. He finally grabbed the courage to move the box out of his closet and out in the open. One step closer to finishing this chapter in his life. One step closer to forgetting. One step closer to moving on. Not wanting to cry, he did enough of that already, he laid there, still in his day clothes, listening to Thank You by Dido, out of his bluetooth speakers. He replayed his regretful morning and closed his eyes, remembering the final expression on his ex’s face. He replayed it over and over and over until that was all he could think about. His mistake and why Jamie clearly deserved better. He hated himself and he couldn’t believe he got in a position where he could have harmed the boy he loved. Why did he do that? All he wanted to do was ease the pain and get Jamie to see that he didn’t want to be just friends with benefits but in return, he pushed him away. For the best, he supposed.

Turning in his bed, he grabbed his pillow and buried his face in it. Instead of smelling Jamie, he could smell Gavriel’s hair products. The scent of hyacinths and sandalwood. In response, he sighed. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell but it also wasn’t what he wanted. Releasing the pillow, he turned on his back to stare at the ceiling. Chris said it would get better but right now he felt like an empty shell, with no purpose, no direction, and no love. His wallowing in sadness was disturbed by the banshee that was his younger sister and a loud knock, “AJ! KATIE IS HERE FOR SOME FUCKING REASON. SHE’S ON CAMERA.”

AJ sighed again.


“Molly. I can handle it. Go to your room, please.”

From the other side of the door came an incessant knocking, as Katie threw her closed fist against the Tyler’s door, unburdened by fear of consequences. “AJ! I swear on Meryl Fucking Streep, if you don’t open this–” her knocking and shouts were abruptly halted by the door swinging open, and the sight of AJ’s beleaguered expression. She stopped her fist just before it would’ve slammed into his chest, but resumed her shouting almost immediately. “Who the fuck do you think you are? Quickly,” she shouted, pushing a finger into his chest as she stepped across the threshold, five feet and six inches of righteous indignation.

Rather than give into the heat that was Katie Callaghan, AJ looked over her and gave his boy a salute with two fingers, acknowledging his presence. Then and only then, he allowed Katie to forcibly push him backwards and into the foyer. “The guy you really wanted to work out with your brother.” AJ scoffed, not appreciating the audacity of Katie coming into his home and sticking her nose in something she knew very little about. He sarcastically probed, already going on the defensive side, “Jokes on you, Katie. Experiment failed. Guess you need to find a new distraction for Jamie. Or are you here just to tell me how much of an asshole I am and that you hate me? News flash: I already fucking know. Tell me something I don’t know.”

Katie ground her teeth together. She was wholly unamused by AJ’s quips. “That’s exactly why I’m here you fuck, because I don’t know if you’ve heard it enough quite frankly.” Katie huffed, and took a moment to shake her head at AJ, a mixture of anger and disappointment coming off of her in waves. “Don’t stand there and set up your pity party for me, it’s beneath you. What the fuck did you do to my brother this morning? I want to hear it from you,” she said. She knew what she was doing, even if she wasn’t totally conscious of it. She was pushing, hoping to light AJ’s terribly short fuse, so she might distract herself with the explosion.

If looks could kill, AJ’s glazed eyes, mocking smile and lowered head would do just that. The more his ex’s twin spoke, the more he realized he made the right decision. Callaghans held no accountability for their actions, talked right out of their asses, and believed they could do no wrong. To think, he fell so stupidly hard for one. Katie felt entitled to his pain, just how Jamie felt entitled to his love. Neither of them deserved his time or energy. The only reason why he was giving Katie a chance to speak her mind was because she was, unfortunately, his best friend’s girlfriend. He would respect what Scott had with her but he didn’t have to be her friend. “Exactly what he wanted,” AJ retorted, crossing his arms and glaring at the unwelcome guest. “Next question.”

“God, you know, I thought you’d at least have the decency to show some fucking remorse,” Katie said, refusing to balk as AJ glared back at her. An ugly, juvenlie piece of her wanted to slap him, and she was trying very hard to keep that piece locked away. She focused her anger into her own withering stare, so similar to her brother’s, and restrained herself. Physically, at least. “No, instead you want to play the victim, to me of all people. You are fucking beyond,” Katie said, gearing up to lob another barrage of cutting words and spiteful glares. Later, she would not be particularly proud of the words that followed, but in the moment, she was past thinking. “Here’s another question for ya. Is it really Jamie you’re upset with? Or are you just mad that you were too fucking proud to have all these big feelings months ago? King of The Gearheads everybody, cockiest man alive until, God forbid, someone hurts his little feelings.” Her tone, harsh and sharp, suddenly jumped up in pitch, becoming something cruel and mocking. “Poor little AJ, can’t commit to Emilia, can’t have a single productive conversation with Jamie, tell me, what can you do, other than feel bad for yourself?”

Fuck this.

Why was he doing this to himself? Katie didn’t deserve an explanation, it was none of her business. Emilia was none of her business. He couldn’t commit to Emilia because he was falling stupid hard for her fucking brother and Emilia did not deserve that. Katie was all happy when he decided to chase Jamie and now, suddenly, she was a martyr, acting like she didn’t partake in their fall. She was the one in her brother’s ear! She could’ve told him to stop being a bitch and just love him. Just… love him. Giving himself a quiet moment to breathe, AJ cracked his knuckles before shaking his head, in disappointment. At Katie, at himself, and at the situation. “I’ll be right back.” Fuck him for being in love with a boy that was too scared to love and be vulnerable. Too scared to commit. Too scared to explore the unknown with someone that genuinely adored everything about him. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Fuck him, right? He should’ve known better. Leaving Katie with Scott, AJ walked away from the couple to retrieve the box and be done with this. Done with Katie, done with Jamie, and done with love. He was so over this Callaghan drama. He needed to move on.

Scott had had enough. He looked over at his girlfriend and took his hat off to run his fingers through his short hair. It was hard to see it any other way, Scott was glaring at her as he finally spoke and joined the conversation. Katherine. That's enough.” He in a stern voice, before raising a hand and pointing toward the car. “Go wait in the car.”

As quickly as she had stormed into AJ’s house, Katie spun around, turning her glare onto Scott. He was supposed to be on her side. “Are you fucking kidding me? Katherine?” she hissed, unfazed by Scott’s sudden sternness. Orders in the bedroom were one thing. Orders while she was verbally eviscerating somebody were something else entirely. “I’m not a fucking dog Scott, you don’t get to muzzle me and send me outside because you don’t like what I’m saying.” She glared up at him, before shooting a look behind her at the space where AJ had been. Coward. “If you don’t like watching your boy get yelled at, why don’t you go tell him to act right? Remind him to keep his fucking hands off my brother.” She pushed past Scott, jaw clenched and eyes aflame. He’d have his own battle to fight when he got back to the car. “Go save AJ, he’s clearly in so much distress,” she said, and stormed back towards the car, petulantly kicking at AJ’s driveway as she went.

There was no time for Scott to respond back to Katie because AJ was making his way downstairs with a box he taped closed. When he only saw Scott, he gave a sigh of relief and offered the box, “Sorry… this will hopefully be the last time you ever have to deal with something like this. You don’t deserve that. My bad.” It was unfair that Scott got caught in the crossfire of his girlfriend and best friend. If AJ kept his emotions and temper checked, he wouldn’t have reacted. He shouldn’t have reacted. “Mind taking this and having her give this to her brother? When she’s in a better mood.”

When AJ returned and held out the box, Scott took it. There was a pregnant pause as his mind tried to decide what he wanted to say. There were so many things he wanted to say, he felt like he hadn’t talked to AJ in a long time. That made him a bad friend, and he knew that. Everyone had things going on in their lives, and Scott’s drama with his father, and then learning to live on his own had distracted him from his best friend. He took the box. Scott was struggling with emotions, and deciding what to say. That much was clear from the expression on his face. He sat the box down — carefully, of course.

Then, he stepped forward and wrapped AJ up into a hug that was almost too tight, and lasted longer than it should have. He released the embrace and put both of his hands on AJ’s shoulders. “People care about you. Seriously. Make good choices. I got Katie. Just… call me, okay?”

Taken aback, AJ stood there, lost and confused. He didn’t expect that. Not from Scott. They were brothers, and they hugged, but this hug was different. There was a lot of meaning behind it. He hadn’t hit him up in awhile because AJ knew what Scott was going through and he also knew that when Scott did have free time, he wanted to spend it with Katie. While Chris was the one that dropped the hard truths he needed to hear, Scott was the one that gave him the softer approach, showing he cared. That he wasn’t alone. He knew he wasn’t alone but sometimes he needed to feel he wasn’t alone and that hug caused AJ to tightly close his eyes, knowing he was about to cry like a bitch in front of his boy. He gave him a thumbs up, unable to respond with words right away.Turning away, he allowed the tears to run down his face. “Tomorrow, we’re going to have fun. That’s all I want right now. Okay? And yeah, I’ll call you. Tonight, if you’re free.”

Scott grimaced. He wasn’t free that evening, and up until that very moment he had completely forgotten. They were meant to go to movie night, weren’t they? With Katie’s best friend and… someone. Scott didn’t remember. “I can’t tonight. I have to go to a movie night with Katie, and before you suggest it, I don’t think we can cancel this one.” He kneeled down and picked up the box, adjusting it slightly against his chest. “I can call you though, when it’s over. Shouldn’t be more than a couple hours, maybe less if she’s really mad.” Scott still had the boss fight of his girlfriend to go through, something he never looked forward to. When was the last time they’d even had an actual fight? It had to have been a while ago now, maybe over something stupid, like chess. This was the real deal though.

“Does that sound good?”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” AJ agreed, masking the sudden heart drop he felt. Once he gained control over his emotions, he turned back and waved at his friends, his eyes red from a long day of pain, “Enjoy your time. I’m not going anywhere today and don’t be surprised if I don’t pick up. I think I’m going to take a nap. But yeah, don’t worry about me. I’ll see you tomorrow regardless. Now go, before Katie screams your head off.”

Scott heard the hitch in AJ’s breath and knew that it was only going to get worse before it got better. That, Scott figured, couldn’t be much further from here. How much lower could it go? He knew he’d hurt AJ. Katie was waiting for him in the car, surely ready to blurt out a mouthful of angry words he didn’t deserve. He made eye contact with AJ and gave him a nod, trying to say as much with as few words as possible, and hoped the message was received loud and clear before he turned to walk away. Approaching the car, he took a big breath. What will my sentence be? He wondered.

He opened the backdoor to place the box of Jamie’s belongings safely beside his own and then closed the door carefully. He looked down at the driver’s seat, and pondered how much easier it would have been to go into the Tyler home, and watch America’s Funniest Home Videos with AJ until they fell asleep. Unfortunately, Scott had chosen the difficult road of falling in love with soon-to-be homecoming Queen Katie Callaghan.

He put his hand on the handle and the door unlocked, signaling his arrival to his girlfriend. He pulled the door open, slid into his chair and pulled the door closed behind himself. He gripped the steering wheel, and faced forward as he made his choice. “Can I talk first?” Head on into the abyss it was.
TIMESTAMP: During the game
LOCATION: The Callaghan Home
Featuring: Jamie “It’s Been A Shitty Day, Alright?” Callaghan & Katie “Communication Is So Last Season” Callaghan

When Malcolm Callaghan met with architects to design his house, he had asked them to make it feel “unique.” He had come from nothing, and he wanted his home to scream his success out to the world. He wanted a house that his wife could tour for Vanity Fair, a house that would remain on tours of Hollywood long after he’d died. The result was a sprawling complex, all glass and concrete walls. Boxy and minimalistic, it peered down at the city, an austere eye in the heart of Beverly Hills. It was cold and sharp, a house but hardly a home.

The interior was all white and black marble, smooth and sanitized. The house, despite being occupied and well furnished, hardly felt lived in. It was simply too big, too empty. It was the kind of home built for a family of seven, but tonight, it held two. It was rare to have every Callaghan under this expansive roof; the twins’ parents flitted around the country with abandon, for work and for parties (which their parents insisted were for work) or for whatever camera called to them next. The twins themselves had gotten used to it a long time ago. They made do.

Jamie spent most of the time he was home, in his room. Bigger than any teenager needed, the walls were decorated with photographs purchased from art shows, and a collage of his own, pictures of himself and friends and family. A bookshelf loomed large against one wall, filled with every book he’d collected in his seventeen years. There were a lot. Some nights, he could be found curled up in a large chair in the corner, digging into whatever novel had caught his attention, and others he was seated at his desk, ruthlessly killing his darlings. Tonight, he was crying on his bed, and listening to Olivia Rodrigo blare from a bedside speaker.

♫♫ I told my friends you were the one
After I'd known you, like, a month
And then, you kissed some girl from high school
And I stayed in bed for, like, a week
When you said space was what you need
Waited by my phone like a goddamn fool ♫♫

He was lying still, on his back, eyes trained on the ceiling. He had managed to get through the rest of the school day intact, through the afterschool Newsroom meetings and the quick drive back to his house, only to fall apart at the sight of AJ’s hoodie hanging in his closet. The sudden reminder had landed him face down on the bed, and the boy who hadn’t cried in two years finally shed a tear.

The eldest Callaghan twin might have given off the impression to the rest of the school that he was cold, calculating, and unfeeling. It was not a difficult impression to give off. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. He felt things deeply, too deeply. When he was angry, it was a raging fire, lapping at the walls of his mind. When he was happy, it was the death of sadness, the dawning of a new day where bad moods were not allowed. And when he was sad, it was a flood of Biblical proportions, wiping joy away for what felt like 40 days and nights. All this to say: Jamie Callaghan loved to wallow.

So, he cried until he couldn’t anymore, and then he put on music he hoped would soothe his troubled soul, turned it up loud enough to drown out his thoughts, and finally rolled over to face the world. And then he cried a bit more. He did all of this without getting up. That would’ve been too much work.

♫♫ And now, it don't mean a thing
God, love's fuckin' embarrassing
Just watch as I crucify myself
For some weird second string
Loser who's not worth mentioning
My God, love's embarrassing as hell ♫♫

So much of his day was spent managing himself and his emotions, regulating his reactions and focusing them into something worthwhile. He hadn’t felt this unbalanced, this insane, in years. He wanted to text AJ until he couldn’t ignore him, but that felt desperate. He wanted to go by his house and bang on the door until someone answered, but that felt embarrassing, not to mention a bit insane. Mostly, he just wanted AJ again, but that felt stupid and selfish and like the exact thing he had been taught not to want. As he stared up at the oscillating blades of his ceiling fan, guilt and shame and heartbreak beat their somber rhythm against his heart, and he wondered if it would always be like this.

“Hey, is this cut–Oh. Yikes.” Katie Callaghan disturbed her brother’s peace the same way she always did: without knocking. Jamie lifted his head up slightly to look at her, but could only muster up a defeated groan.

“Go away.”

Katie looked down at him, lips pursed in concern. She had been through enough of his and AJ’s breakups to recognize the fallout, and despite what Scott had said, there was nobody else in the world who understood her quite like Jamie did. They had come into this world together, had survived the same parental failures and endured the same well meaning parental guidance. Her and Scott were forever, but she and Jamie were infinity, even on the days when she hated him. Luckily for him, it wasn’t one of those days.

“Move over,” Katie said, shoving her brother's legs out of the way so that she could take the spot next to him on the bed, joining him in his staring contest with the ceiling. “So. AJ?”

“Shut up.” Jamie rolled his eyes. He did not want to hear his sister gloat over the ashes of his ill-advised entanglement. Still, he turned the music down.

“I didn’t even say anything!” Katie fired back, immediately raising her voice as Jamie went on the attack. “It’s just very obvious.”

Jamie sighed. “You’re thinking it, I can tell.”

“That’s not fair, okay, of course I’m thinking it, I love Nobu.” Her attempt to lighten the heavy mood that hung over his room was in vain. He didn’t even crack a smile. “Tough crowd.”

“I hate you,” Jamie said, crossing his arms over his chest with a huff.

“No you don’t. If you hated me too you’d be down to Mom and Dad and Trixie, and that’s a depressingly small list.” Katie rolled over, to stare at the side of her brother’s head, waiting for him to turn and meet her eyes. This was how they’d always had these talks, since they’re problems began to outgrow their youth. “Where the fuck did this hickey come from?”

Jamie put his hands over his eyes, pushing down as though the pressure might make it all go away. It did not. “Jesus fuck, Katie, I don’t want to talk about it!” The words exploded out from him, sharp and unforgiving. If he couldn’t have AJ, if he had fucked that up so irreparably, then he wanted to be alone, replaying the supercut of his failures.

Katie smacked him on the shoulder, confusion and a flash of anger etched onto her face. It had not taken long for her to grow tired of her brother’s self-pity. There was something exhausting about watching him self-flagellate like this, when their entire lives had been the story of how fucking wonderful he was. He was the smart twin, the less abrasive twin, the one that nobody but her bothered to worry about, because he was Jamie and of course he was okay. Their proximity meant that she couldn’t make the slap sting, but she’d gotten her point across all the same: "We don't lie. Not to eachother.” “I wanted to talk about my outfit, you’re the one wallowing, and now you’re being weird.”

“We broke up. It sucks. What else is there to say?”

“Uhhh, a lot?” she said, “Start at the beginning. Scott’s not gonna be here for a bit.” Jamie finally rolled over to meet her gaze. She clocked the red, puffy eyes and tearstained cheeks with ease. Okay, so they were in this part of it all. Slowly but surely, he began to recount what felt to him like the end of all things, AJ’s words and the text that came later. He attempted to skip over the harsher parts of the story, the origin of the mark on his neck and the crazed energy that had swirled around the Gearhead in the moments before homeroom. Katie did not fall for the ruse. “You’re leaving shit out, I can tell.” She was the master of lies of omission, after all.

Jamie sighed, turning back to face the ceiling. He couldn’t face Katie for this. “He just…out at the shed while we were talking…he just got so fucking angry. It was like…I don’t know how to even describe it. He was just…unhinged. Which is when that happened,” Jamie gestured to the mark on his neck, as though it were an unwanted zit.

Any good humor Katie had still possessed fled in the wake of Jamie’s confession. She sat up abruptly, staring down at him, lips pursed into a tight line. “Did he hurt you?” She wasn’t sure what would happen if the answer was yes, but she feared it would involve a lot of yelling. Still, that was a small price to pay for Jamie. “Cause I can go over there and handle a twink if I need to.”

Jamie sighed. “Jesus, you sound like Trixie. He didn’t hurt me, I’m fine. He was…high and upset. Which was probably fair, if I’m being completely honest. Why does everybody assume I can’t look out for myself?” he said, long arms flailing with exasperation. He wasn’t sure why he was so insistent on denying what had happened back at the shed. Maybe it was the pain of admitting to it, or maybe it was his own guilt, over seeing what he’d turned AJ into. He did know that he didn’t want to be pitied. He had never wanted pity.

“I’m gonna kill him.” Katie said the words calmly, void of emotion. It was a simple fact, as indisputable as the color of the sky and the curvature of the earth. She was a force of nature, a storm in the form of a blonde with an affinity for cherry chapstick and combat boots. By this point, Jamie should’ve known that you didn’t stop storms, you endured them. Still, he gave it his best shot.

“Did you listen to a single thing I just said? Besides, you can’t kill him. You’d go to prison and then who would be around to make sure Scott didn’t drive his car into oncoming traffic? Me?” Jamie’s words barely chipped Katie’s stoney exterior, but they kept her from getting up immediately. He’d count that as a win.

“Fine. I won’t kill him. I’m just gonna make him wish that I had,” she said, shrugging. There was no swaying her from this course of action. She still wasn’t sure exactly what AJ had done, but she’d heard enough to draw a solid picture in her mind. Breaking up with her brother was one thing; he probably deserved that, if she was being honest. He’d crossed a line though, in the process. It wasn’t just a betrayal of Jamie, it was a betrayal of her. When she’d set them up last year, she hadn’t realized she’d needed to explicitly tell AJ to keep his hands to himself. “Scott wouldn’t kill himself if I went to prison. He’d help me break out.”

“Even if you’re there because you murdered his best friend?” Jamie said, sighing and sitting up.

“I have faith he’d see my side of things eventually.” She grinned and placed a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “You deserve a lot better than that, Jay. You know that, right?”

Jamie groaned and fell back onto the bed, out of her grip. “Stop being sappy, I’m going to combust.” Katie laughed, and then he joined her, and for a moment, they were children again and the world was still years away from barging through their door. He was glad he had her, even if she did consistently threaten to drive him off a cliff and into the depths of insanity. “So. Have you told Scott yet?”

Katie scowled. “Shut up, we’re talking about you right now,” she said, turning away from Jamie’s prying gaze. She had done a very good job of forgetting that particular wrinkle, until just now.

“That’s a ‘no,’ then?” Jamie replied, smirking. At least he wasn’t alone in this troubled paradise. “That boy pretty much worships the ground you walk on, you know? He’s gonna be excited for you.”

His sister shook her head. “I know that. I do. It’s just…” She paused to take her bottom lip between her teeth. There was no lying to Jamie, a concept that had grown more perturbing as they approached young adulthood. “What if he isn’t? Or what if he just pretends to be excited, but really, it’s eating him up inside? People break up over this shit, Jamie.” Her words fell onto the room, and silence fell with them. “I love him and I just…I don’t want to hurt him. I mean, what if I totally blindside him for no reason. I might not even get in, it’s fucking Juilliard!”

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “And blindsiding him for a laughably mid reason is better?” He shook his head. “You’re definitely gonna get in. If talent doesn’t do it, I’m sure nepotism will. Then, it’ll just be a bigger, different kind of problem.” He took a beat before adding, “People break up over this shit because they don’t talk about it.”

It was Katie’s turn to groan. “Shut up. We were literally just talking about your failed relationship.”

Jamie put up his hands, smirking. “Hey, I’m great at managing other people’s relationships. It’s mine I have a problem with. Also it wasn’t a relationship. Technically.” Katie smiled.

She thought hard about what she said next, lips pursed until she could parse her feelings into words.“He loves me so fucking much. What do you do with all of that?” The question hung in the air for a moment before she tilted her head and followed with another. “Did our parents do this to us?”

Laughter overtook the pair, leaving them breathless and at least a little bit less dejected. “Almost certainly. They make up for it with the money though. Some kids have absentee parents, and they’re still poor.”

“Well then, remind me to thank them for the Black Card.”

Jamie grinned. “We’ve got Black Cards and issues with intimacy. Watch out world, the Callaghans are coming, and they’re unstoppable.”

The conversation drifted from their respective troubles in paradise, to matters of more fun. They caught eachother up on everybody else’s gossip, traded opinions on the latest celebrity scandal, and broke down the recent developments on their favourite show, Blackfyre.

When the tell-tale hum of Scott’s car alerted them to his arrival, their anxieties had been soothed, at least for the evening. Katie leapt up, smoothed out her skirt, and checked her reflection in the mirror. “Tell Trixie I said hi,” she said once she was satisfied with her appearance.

“Tell Scott I said his best friend’s a dick,” Jamie called out, holding his position on the bed.

“I will, but a lot nicer.”

“You are the twin that everyone likes for a reason.”

Malcolm and Alison Callaghan hadn’t built much of a home, but their children had still managed to make one for eachother, in spite of them.
TIMESTAMP: Lunch Period
@smarty0114 & @LovelyComplex




FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
I’m sorry

There was a brief pause before Jamie's phone began to buzz with numerous text notifications.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
I fucked up. I wasn’t myself and I feel like shit.
I’ve sobered up a bit so this is me.
I need space because I can’t deal.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
I said some fucked up shit, did some fucked up shit
and this whole situation got me fucked up.
Can’t keep doing this.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
I want more, Jamie, and that’s not what you want.
I’ll respect that.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
Moving on.
I need to.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
I’m sorry I’m not right for you but I know it’ll be ok.
You’re badass and I know you’re gonna do great.

There was a long pause and all that could be seen on the screen was AJ typing.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler

Similar to Mordechai texting AJ, the length of the message that came through on Jamie's phone did not match the wait it took to send it.

FROM: AJ Motherfucking Tyler
Good luck.

And then it stopped. Everything, all at once, stopped. No phone buzz, no notifications, and no 'I love you'. There was nothing more for AJ to say. He was finally following through with his words and what he needed to do. He needed it all to stop so he’d do just that. Make it all stop. With two simple words, AJ stopped everything.

Good luck.

Jamie looked down at his phone, foot tapping against the floor of the Newsroom. His stomach had twisted itself into knots when he saw AJ’s name appear on his screen, and it had only gotten more tangled as he read the messages. Jamie Callaghan hadn’t cried since he was fifteen, but he wanted to right now. He wanted to cry and scream into the void, but there was no void to be found. Only the judgmental faces of his classmates and all the potential consequences of absolutely losing it in front of them.

His mind spun, trying and failing to process the sudden stream of information. AJ had broken up with him, then AJ had…well he didn’t really know what to call AJ’s behavior earlier. He thought of the lectures the teachers had given them freshman year, of the talks he and Katie had received from their parents when they came home with matching hickeys. This wasn’t like the horror stories he’d heard…but it wasn’t not like them either. He couldn’t help but trip on the context of it all, blinded in part by the AJ he’d known, and his own part in making it disappear.

Because he didn’t want that moment to be how he remembered AJ. Angry and hurt, probably coked up (he didn’t have the bandwidth to even approach that can of worms) and worst of all, scary. He wanted to remember driving up the coast with him, top down, wind tousling their hair and music drowning out their laughter. He wanted to remember climbing out his bedroom window to watch the stars from his roof, dull as they were against the LA sky. He wanted the late night conversations, and the backseat hookups and fuck, there might’ve even been a part of him that missed doing homework in the garage while AJ tinkered with his toys.

And yet, he couldn’t have any of that anymore, not without thinking of the way his stomach dropped when he was between AJ and that wall. He ground his teeth together as he felt his eyes sting. Jamie Callaghan hadn’t cried since he was fifteen, and he wouldn’t start now. Instead, he would do the next best thing.

He texted Trixie.

To: Trix
where are you???
i need to scream

He waited a few minutes, tapping his fingers against the table in front of him, anxiously awaiting a response. When none came, he picked up the phone again.

To: Trix
are you dead??
i stg
i’m coming to find you

Moments later, he was zooming in on a map, where a picture of Trixie hovered over the parking lot. What the fuck was she doing out there? He snagged his bag and threw it over his shoulder with a huff, storming out of the Newsroom without a word, and making a beeline for the parking lot. The student body didn’t move out of his way quite as quickly as they did for The Hive or The Elite, but it was quick enough.

Once he was outside, it didn’t take long to find Trixie’s parking spot. Her car was parked right next to his, as inseparable as they were it seemed. He marched over, expecting to find her doing homework in the driver’s seat, or working on an article for the paper, away from the distractions of the school. Instead, she was splayed out across the back row, passed out. “Trixie, what the fuck?” he said, mostly for his own benefit before he began rapping his knuckles against her windows. “Bitch, wake up, I thought you were dead!”

What year was it?

When Trixie awoke, her stomach had the rumblies and her hair was disheveled. She could barely process the knocking on her window. Her best friend was outside clearly trying to check on her but her mind was set on two things: her thirst and her hunger. Her gaze searched her car and by luck, she caught sight of water and a bag of snacks. Reaching forward, she grabbed the water first and began downing it. As she drank, Trixie noticed Jamie watching her and she held up a finger, telling him to hold on a second. She needed to quench this intense thirst. What the fuck did Monarch do to her? After she practically emptied it, she urgently grabbed the bag and pulled out the Takis Fuego chips. Unceremoniously she stuffed her face.

Why was she so hungry?

Trixie had cravings and urges but nothing like this. She felt like she hadn’t eaten in ages and was going to die from starvation. With her mouth full, Trixie finally unlocked the door and beckoned Jamie to come in, not ready to go outside just yet. After ravenously eating a couple more handful of chips, she gasped and cursed, “Fucking hell… remind me to be with you when I try to smoke ever again. I’m so sweaty. I need a shower. And I’m HUNGRY. What time is it even?”

Jamie looked down at his phone then up at her as he climbed into the car. “Queen, it’s noon. You slept through second period.” he said, slamming the door behind him to punctuate his words. His own problems seemed to melt away, subdued by his friend’s strange behavior. “Since when do you get high in the middle of the day with Monarch?” He raised an eyebrow before digging around in his bag for his leftover lunch. “You want a granola bar?”

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Trixie accepted with her chip bag on her lap. As she licked her fingers, she reached for the granola with her free hand. Would she survive? She had no idea. She was so hungry, it was hard to fathom. The small Latina didn’t think anyone could get this hungry but here she was throwing all elegance out the window, inhaling food she wouldn’t usually partake in that was conveniently by her. She figured the bag full of snacks was from Monarch, which would explain how she got here but how did the girl retrieve her bag? Did she run into Theo? Did Theo mention something to her friend? Oh god. The thought of Monarch and Theo talking caused Trixie to nervously chuckle. What if he told Monarch lies and she believed it? To hide her internal turmoil from her best friend she bit into the granola.

Chewing in silence before finally answering Jamie’s first question, Trixie admitted, “I had a real shit morning and I might’ve been caught crying so rather than tell them anything, I just agreed to get high. And you know what? I’d rather feel famished than like shit. How ‘bout you? You tend to track me when you need me. What’s up?” Trixie deflected, turning the conversation around and toward Jamie. It was a clear maneuver that her friend knew well. When she didn’t want to go into detail she volleyed back in hopes he’d cave first.

No matter how long they’ve known each other, Trixie habitually avoided talking about the bad. Jamie usually had to pull her teeth in order for her to admit her hurt. Kingsleys were stubborn as fuck. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell him either. It was just whenever she thought about it, she could feel an uncomfortable sensation throughout her body and she didn't want to feel that. She was ashamed to feel bad. Beatrix Kingsley considered sadness, fear, and guilt as weakness and didn’t want to be pitied, not even by her best friend. If he probed, she’d answer but she was going to buy herself time for as long as she could. That’s just how Trixie was. How do you even explain being sexually harassed by your ex without it sounding like something horrible? Was it right for her to paint Theo in that light? What gave her the right? She broke his heart, maybe she deserved it.

On any other day, Jamie might’ve pushed harder. Today though, he was all too happy to dive into his own issues. “AJ dumped me, like, out of nowhere,” he said, letting his head fall back against the seat. “Look at this text. I mean, what do I even do with that?” He handed his unlocked phone over to her. Realistically, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do with that text. It was plain as day; walk away, and let it go. Unfortunately, he’d never been great at either of them. “He’s not himself right now. This is just…I don’t know what it is, but it’s stupid.” Something stopped him from telling the whole story of this morning. Maybe because he knew how it sounded, or maybe because he just didn’t want to relive it.

Okay. This was surprising yet not surprising all at the same time. Trixie wiped her hands on the napkins that Monarch also provided in the plastic bag before grabbing the phone to examine the text. Silently, she scanned and analyzed every word. Once she was done digesting AJ’s message she looked up at Jamie, examining his expression. Not only did he press forward with her issue, volunteering to start with his problems, which was not like him, but he looked like shit. No matter how hard he could mask his stress, she could see the confusion in his stare and how he was in complete and utter disbelief. It didn’t take long before she saw the bruise on his neck. Trixie gritted her teeth, “Did he hurt you?” Her hunger turned to anger, seeing how not long ago she too was put in a predicament this morning with her ex. “What happened this morning?” Trixie sharply asked, her expression growing cold.

Jamie’s hand flew instinctually to his neck, trying to play it off like he was scratching an itch. “No, not really.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “He just…he shoved me and grabbed my arm–it wasn’t bad it was just…I don’t know. He’s not like that, I swear.” He heard it as soon as the words fell out of his mouth. “Okay, I know how that sounds, but I am not a battered woman. I’m fine.” He shook his head. “I may or may not have tried to get him and the Gearheads blacklisted from Ethan’s party, and Levi may or may not have told me to go kick rocks.”

Furrowing her brows at his explanation, Trixie tried to ease her jaws and relax. The anxiety from earlier, that sat in her stomach, made it so easy for her to grind her teeth and look unamused. She felt sick. Her head was pounding too from the pressure and there was this uncontrollable rage coursing through her small body. Her friend needed her. She had to stay calm and not lose her cool. “You do realize if that wasn’t something you gave consent to, you can press charges on AJ, right? We could skip all that law bullshit though! I can take my gun out of my glove department...” Trixie’s voice trailed off as her hands subtly shaked. The thought in her mind wasn’t that of AJ Tyler but of Theodore Van Cise. She didn’t even care about Jamie’s petty reaction of trying to prevent the Gearheads from going to the party - Levi was the worst person for him to go to and when she had a cool head she’d address that - what she cared about and was hyper fixating on was the fact that AJ hurt Jamie. After putting the plastic bag filled with both snacks and garbage on the ground, she reached over her center console, trying to climb over it, to get to her glove department, “Just say the word, Jamie, and I’ll shoot his fucking head off. Like why the hell was he doing party drugs or alcohol at 8am in the goddamn morning? ‘I’ve sobered up’ the fuck? Yeah, no, not today. Bitches gonna’ die.”

“Oh my god, we are not going to kill him,” Jamie playfully shoved her back into her seat. He wanted to do a lot to AJ Tyler, but homicide wasn’t one of those things. He laughed, and as the laughter subsided, he stared at Trixie with the kind of look you can only get from someone who knows you pretty damn well. “And I don’t need the cops. It was…shitty and weird, and it’s done.” Despite everything happening with him, he could tell that Trixie was off, to say the least. He had a sneaking suspicion that her reaction was less about him, and more about whatever had led her to Monarch’s smoky embrace. “Okay, why were you having a shitty morning? Don’t bullshit, you’re clearly in a mood.”

When Jamie turned the tables, bringing the focus on her, Beatrix grew silent. She looked from Jamie to her hands and found it hard to disclose her experience to him. He was her best friend. If she couldn’t tell him, who would she be able to go to? “Um,” the small Latina whispered, clasping her hands together to ground her. My Bea. She could hear his voice and it made her sick to her stomach. Was it wrong for her to put Theo in such a bad light? He was checking on her even if he overstepped boundaries… he was checking on her. It was similar to Jamie’s encounter with AJ, right? But then why was he able to tell her what happened and she found herself speechless. Lost for words.

Tightening her grip on her hands, she played back her morning and how surprised she was. The shock, the confusion, and… the fear. He didn’t hurt her. He would never hurt her. She broke his heart but he wasn’t capable of harming her. She’d be an idiot to think he’d lay a finger on her, right? “Um,” she repeated, her eyes beginning to water. Reliving the memory, stuck in the bathroom, Trixie’s breath shortened. Something she’s never experienced in her life.

She couldn’t breathe.

Frozen in her tracks, Trixie closed her eyes as her tears began to trail down her cheeks. “Can… we… talk…” she stammered, catching her breath in between her words. She wildly shook her head, her hair covering her face as she did so, to get his smile, his touch, and his eyes out of her head. She needed to get a grip. “To…night. My… place.” With Theo as her next door neighbor, Trixie didn’t want to be home alone tonight and her mom was in another country with one of her star figure skaters, her dad was at a conference, and all her brothers no longer lived in the nest.

Trixie was utterly alone.

Stopping this sudden fit of terror to the best of her capabilities, having no idea she was experiencing a panic attack, Trixie released her hands and slapped her cheeks, swallowing her tears, “I lied to you,” she admitted, redirecting her train of thought to something less intense. “This morning…” she breathed, finding it easier to talk about the time they were together versus the time they decided to go about their days to their own personal hell. “Marcos isn’t getting anyone knocked up. Actually, my life is so… lonely!” Trixie forced a smile on her face. Her voice went up an octave. There was clear anxiety in her tone. “I spend so much time focused on my future and school,” she continued to explain, finally meeting Jamie’s gaze. “That… I feel so empty.” Trixie’s guard completely dropped at that moment. While she wasn’t able to talk about her morning, she was capable of talking about her internal crisis that she’s been feeling for months now. Trixie was a fucking mess and she was so desperate not to be. “I go home some weeks completely alone. My parents are very busy people and outside of you, I suck at trusting. I have ‘friends’ but only you really know me. Look at me, my grades are great and I have a plan for the future. Woohoo. Then why am I still miserable? What the fuck is wrong with me?”

Jamie furrowed his brow as concern etched a frown across his face. “Babe…” Jamie sighed, and chewed his bottom lip. He wasn’t used to seeing Trixie like this. Out of sorts wasn’t even the right phrase for it. She was spiraling, worse than he was, which was saying a lot. He put his own freefall on pause. It was surprisingly easy to do, with Trixie’s sanity on the line. “The only thing wrong with you is that you think there’s something wrong with you.” He tilted his head. “I’m gonna sound like Katie for a second, but I think you need a good time. Like, ASAP. So yes, I will come over tonight, and I will bring a bottle of my parents’ favorite champagne. We can do a spa night and order sushi, and pretend like our lives are not falling to pieces.” He paused, before adding, “And you’ll tell me what the fuck happened this morning, because it absolutely was not Bambi ruining your shirt.”

Wiping her fingers under her eyes, Trixie gave a genuine smile and nodded, “I’d like that a lot. And I promise. I’ll tell you everything, I just don’t want to cry at school right now. God, I missed second period?” Burying her emotions deep, deep down to be a functional human being in BHHS society, Trixie glanced at her rear-view mirror to see her hair going every which way. God, she looked like she just had rough sex and Trixie was, sadly, still a virgin. Raising her arm, she wafted her armpits before grumbling, “I should slip in the gym locker room to shower. People will talk and assume the worst.”

“Yeah, no, you definitely should. I love you, but this is not a good look right now.”
Timestamp: Between homeroom and first period
Levi “Hot Shit” Green-Locke and Sully “Not Shit” Harper
A @smarty0114 and @Aces Away collab



As the hour ticked by, the October air warmed, and Levi decided it was time for him to rejoin the throngs of students that would soon be heading towards their next class. The day was hardly done, and even though he would’ve rather walked a mile wearing nothing but polyester, he did have a Physics class to attend. He stood, and brushed off his pants, always keenly aware of every speck of dust or dirt that threatened to mar his carefully crafted appearance. His steps were slow, and measured, striding with a confident posture, wearing a cold and callous affect that had become second-nature by now.

If it seemed like he’d practiced, it was because he had. Every night when he was twelve years old and held by the throat by the iron grip of his own hormones, he walked back and forth infront of his mirror. He wasn’t born with Andy and Celeste’s confidence. In those early days, he was timid, perpetually clinging to his sister’s sleeve. He could learn to project that confidence, though. He was determined to. He straightened the slouch that everyone but him seemed to notice, over and over and over again until he had crafted the ‘Levi Suit’ he wore so well.

The quiet of the outdoors was pierced by the shrill ringing of the school bell, ushering the BHHS student body onward to their next class. Levi pulled open one of the heavy metal doors and reentered the jungle he so dutifully helped oversee. He folded his sunglasses onto the collar of his shirt, and smiled as he parted the sea of red and black with a simple wave. Moses didn’t have much of anything on him.

He walked down the hall, smiling to himself as he drank in the adoring gazes and vengeful glares. They were jealous of him, his proximity to Naomi, his looks, his money, his everything. He was prepared to keep on his way, uncaring, until someone caught his eye. He almost ignored the tug in his gut, before pausing in his procession down the hall. It wasn’t easy to catch his eye, harder still to keep his attention. Sullivan Harper, though he might’ve been unaware, had managed to do both. No, he hadn’t been stalking his TikTok. The algorithm just did that. Like the serpent moving through the Garden of Eden, Levi slithered over to where Sully was quietly taking a textbook from his locker. He shooed the freshman standing next to him away, and leaned against the wall of lockers as Butler watched. “I know you, don’t I?”

Sully hadn’t been paying any attention as the crowded hall behind him pressed back and shifted. It wasn’t important, usually just some hotshot making their way down the halls and people reacting like they were royalty. Well…Sully supposed that technically some of the kids here were royalty, but jesus, dude, they all went to the same school. Sully didn’t like to cause scenes, but he also wasn’t one to move unless asked properly or forced, and it hasn’t failed him since. The freshman from this morning was babbling her thanks to him once more from the other side of his opened locker, her face completely blocked by the painted metal door as he freed his Physics textbook from within its depths. He barely registered when she went silent and disappeared, now focused on making sure his cig boxes didn’t get crushed under the book being added to his bag. When someone new addressed him before he even realized the previous conversation had ended, Sully let out a heavy sigh and closed his locker door to see the face that had been hidden behind it.

By the sudden wide bubble of space around them in the crowded hall, and the grown ass man standing a couple feet away, anyone in school would be able to tell that the person talking to him was a Green. Sully was at least that aware of his classmates and surroundings. He didn’t even need that, in fact, because Levi was a part of the theater kids and had done his fair share of trying to dictate Sully in his building process freshman year before they all gave up when they realized he didn’t listen to them. What he didn’t understand is why the boy was here in front of him, or why he opened with such a stupid line. Sully was still trying to process the whole indentured servant thing from earlier and seeing the one Green was making him think of his deal for the party he made with Ethan. He was really hoping he’d have a chance to smoke a cigarette and gather his thoughts before this next class, but that chance was getting slimmer and slimmer the longer they stared each other down. So Sully relented, if only a little, as he dropped his arm from his closed locker door and swung his backpack onto his shoulder, looking up at the taller boy past the bill of his cap.

“Sully. I’ve been buildin’ your theater sets for the past three years?”

Levi wasn’t used to anything other than reverence when he made introductions, not here at least. Sully’s answer pierced the veil of confidence he wore, ever so slightly. His smile twitched but did not fall. “I’m sure you’re right, but it’s not that.” His fingers drummed a slow rhythm against the painted red metal. “You do the Morning Show too, don’t you? You’re the cute little one in the middle.” He looked down at Sully with the eyes of someone who was accustomed to getting the things he asked for. “I’m Levi, but you knew that,” he said, his voice softer than satin, and just as likely to suffocate you. “I like the hat. Looks good on you.”

Little? Sully thought, a flash of distaste making its way across his face before he contained his expression again. I’m literally average height. It wasn’t Sully’s fault he had to crane his neck up to look at the boy towering over him, not everyone could break the six foot ceiling with their final growth spurt. Ethan was tall too but not as tall as Levi, and at least the hockey player hadn’t called him little. Sully tilted his head in confusion at Levi when the boy complemented his hat, almost going cross eyed to stare doubtfully at the frayed bill covered in mechanical stains. He didn’t know a lot about Levi in particular, but he knew enough about rich people and their tastes to know that the guy was lying about liking his hat.

“Dude, it’s a plain red hat from the Goodwill, are you sick or somethin’?” Levi was acting weird. The fact that Sully was aware of how Levi was acting at all was weird, because that meant Levi was interacting with him. And why was he towering like that? Someone being so in your face was different when they were smaller like Rye, but something about the way Levi leaned into his space had him swallowing nervously. Levi was probably trying to lead up to something, right? And his ma didn’t raise him to be rude right off the bat, so when Sully realized what he had just said he frowned and looked away, fingers flying up to fray the brim of his hat even more with his constant fidgeting. “Sorry, I ain’t mean nothin’ by that, I just don’t- like- why are you here?” He tried again, and that certainly sounded better than asking the boy if he was sick because he decided to talk to him. “Are you tryin’ to get me to announce somethin’ on the show for you? ‘Cause I don’t get to write the script. Ion’t think I even know who writes it.”

Okay, okay, so his first approach wasn’t working. He hadn’t been prepared for that. One of the many downfalls of buying into your own hype. That was fine. He could adapt. Probably. “I could’ve been meaner about it, but I’m prepping for a new role. Man of the people,” Levi said, grinning but refusing to elaborate. “I wanted to make sure you and your friends heard about Ethan’s party tomorrow. It’ll be the best one of the year until Naomi decides to one up it.” If anyone asked him, this was what Jamie got for trying and failing to beat him at his own game. It certainly had nothing to do with his almost pathological habit of finding the poorest kids he could, and trying to give them a taste of the Green lifestyle.

“I already told Ethan yes,” Sully responded in exasperation, now worried that he’d be getting a visit from a different Green every couple days now. He wasn’t really a fan of the idea. Sully took his hat off and ran his hands through his wavy locks, trying to stall so he could find himself and Levi’s intentions, because it didn’t feel right the way the taller boy was talking. He looked up again, now free of the hat, and met Levi’s piercing blue eyes for the first time. “Was I not clear?”

Levi could practically hear the whoosh as his flirtations went over Sully’s head. God, had he lost his touch? “I’m sure you’re a lot of things, but unclear doesn’t seem to be one of them,” he said, tilting his head ever so slightly. Most people were desperate for Levi’s approval, or terrified of him. Sully was neither, and it unsettled him. If anything, he seemed confused. Levi wasn’t exactly used to a challenge, but that didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy one. He’d figure out the angle soon enough. He simply had to. “I’m just…doing a friend a favor. I know Jamie was really hoping to see AJ there.” He smiled. “Maybe someone’s hoping to see you,” he offered alongside a shrug.

“O…kay?” Sully faltered, the memory of what he overheard from Trixie and Jamie’s conversation this morning coming back to the surface. The blonde boy had said that he and AJ were hooking up again, so he supposed it made sense, but wasn’t Rye supposed to be hanging out with AJ at the party? Things still weren’t adding up, but Sully didn’t have the energy to chase the puzzle pieces and he hadn’t had a cig in hours so he wasn’t settled enough to try and put those pieces together even if he did manage to grasp them. He could feel his jaw clenching and realized he was grinding his teeth, so he quickly reached into the front pocket of his backpack and pulled out two suckers, offering one to the other boy after he unwrapped his own and put it in his mouth. “Want one? And is this some set up? Someone hopin’ to see me sounds like a date, I thought I was just supposed to be chillin’ with Andy. I was even told I could bring my DS.”

Interesting. Since when did Andy have friends? Andy, who’d been even more timid than Levi growing up, was a lot of things, but a social butterfly wasn’t one of them. Jamie Callaghan did not have a patent on being nosy at BHHS. Levi just didn’t feel the need to flaunt what he heard, unless he stood to benefit. If you were feeling generous, you could call it familial responsibility; if you were being realistic, you might call it an obsessive need to look under every stone, to know every secret. Regardless, his interest, still on the rise despite Sully’s staggering oblivion, had begun to crescendo. Why was Ethan personally inviting this boy to the party? Why was he suddenly hanging out with Andy, and most importantly, why the fuck could he not tell that Levi was desperately trying to find a way into his pants?

“Thanks,” he took the candy, deft fingers removing the wrapper and placing it onto his tongue. His lips curled back into a smile around the white stick. He decided to eschew the coy words in favor of the only thing Sully seemed likely to understand. “The someone is me, and it can be a set up, if you want it to be.” He twirled the sucker in his mouth. “I do try to be a better time than a game of Pokemon with my cousin.”

“I was gonna play Nintendogs, actually,” Sully answered honestly as he watched the other boy swirl the sucker around. He blinked a bit when the other parts of Levi’s comments registered and for a moment the confusion behind his eyes seemed to clear a bit. “Oh, are you hittin’ on me? Is that what this is?” Sully stared at the boy, his eyes alight in surprise. Levi’s more direct wording was certainly effective, as Sully finally seemed to get to the point, but that didn’t stop him from now having a few more questions about the whole matter. A bit of heat in his cheeks, because regardless it was flattering that someone would waste their time hitting on him, Sully apologized, “I- I don’t, uh, sorry but I don’t even know who I like? Or- what I like? I doubt I’m your speed, dude, even with how high I’m gonna be at the party.”

Oh, well that explained it. Levi could continue to feel assured in his charms, for this was just a boy who had not figured it out yet. Now that, he was used to. He might’ve hated science, but he loved experimentation. “That is most definitely what this is,” he said. “And I wouldn’t be so sure. My versatility is astounding,” and then, as though to prove it, “What dog?”

Having been asked a question he finally has an answer to, about something that he genuinely enjoys, Sully visibly perked up. He didn’t really quite follow the versatility comment, sounded like something Rye would say so probably more flirting, but he certainly understood the question ’what dog’. His shoulders unhunched from their wary position and fell back as he straightened out and he met Levi’s eyes for the second time in their conversation, pulling his orange lollipop out of his mouth so he could speak properly, twirling the weighted stick around his fingers like it was a pencil as he spoke.

For the first time since Levi came up to Sully, the shorter boy was genuinely engaged.

“I got my two retrievers and my german shepard, Birch, Beech, and Hickory, in the hotel right now while I work on trainin’ and buildin’ up my boxer and husky,” They were all fine and well at the doggy hotel, and Sully had an obsessive streak when it came to taking care of and training the new pixels in his possession while also being attached enough to the old ones that he couldn’t just donate them out. The first three dogs had won all the competitions he sent them through and he was letting them rest like the champions they were. “My husky Pine has already won first up to the master class, so two more to go, and Oak is pretty good in the obedience trials considering how stubborn he is. He’s more fun just to play with than to compete with, honestly.”

Sully stopped spinning the stick of his candy and popped it back into his mouth now that his piece had been said clearly, willing to talk past the treat unless he was going to be speaking quite a bit. It was unlikely, he wasn’t much of a talker when the cameras were off, but Levi had managed to peg one of the few things that could get him rambling if he wasn’t careful. Dogs and- by extension- the different types of wood they were named after. Pushing the candy into his cheek with the stick popping out of the corner of his mouth, Sully tilted his head and asked the other boy- whose height would probably have hurt his neck if he’d tried to keep eye contact with him more than twice in this interaction- his own question in return.

“Do you have it? I’m usin’ like, the original DS because I found one at the thrift store and got it workin’ somehow. Thing could honestly go any day now, one of the screens flickers every other boot up,” That totally didn’t make him anxious, didn’t upset him that one day he was going to wake up and the black screen of the handheld device would remain as such, that he’d have to go on another scavenging expedition in hopes of finding the piece he could fix on the damn thing. The more…technological aspects of things tended to have the boy going to Monarch for help- funny, given he was the streamer- and she’d already warned him that once this one goes dark one more time it is likely its last. Sometimes, oftentimes, especially in times like when his DS is faltering or he’s feeling extremely lost in his own mind fog, Sully wished they could get a real dog for the house. Pixels could keep you company but they couldn’t keep you warm, couldn’t ground you with soft fur and a rising chest to remind you of reality when you started to fade away. The pixels, if anything, made it easier for him to fade away instead of fighting to engage and stay engaged when it started to wear on him.

Alas, for someone like Sully, money and time were an issue, and there never seemed to be a right time to get a dog with how the house is often empty of anyone for twelve hours at a time. Sully could never do that to a living being, no matter how much he wanted a man’s best friend.

The change in Sully’s demeanor spurred Levi forward. “I used to. I, uh, I had a yorkie named Zordon,” Levi said, mask slipping for just a moment. “I was going through a Power Rangers phase,” he explained. “God, who even knows where that old thing is. It’s been years since I touched it,” As though he needed to distance himself from this peek back into his childhood. He pictured Sully tinkering with a battered piece of tech, or restoring one of those antiques he’d seen on his feed, half amused, half amazed. Levi wouldn’t be able to salvage something if his life depended on it. He used things up and threw them away, a consumer in the truest sense.

A sharp vibration against his thigh cut through his thoughts, and he pulled his phone from his pocket, eyes locking onto Naomi’s message. He grinned, and checked the time, all too aware that the passing period was not infinite. “Where are you headed after this?” he asked, returning his attention to the boy before him.

“Damn, maybe I should have named my dogs somethin’ sick like that,” Sully mused, responding to Levi’s glance of authenticity much better than anything the boy had tried before. He checked his battered old watch when Levi had reached for his phone and realized the same thing as the other- time was running out. He ran his tongue along the candy in his mouth as he gave one last mourning thought to having a cigarette before class and responded to the tall blonde. “If you ever find it, maybe we can play together,” Sully made to put his hat back onto his head, realizing they would be moving soon. “I’m headed to physics, you?”

Levi pushed himself back into his usual posture, the cat with the canary. This wasn’t going to be easy, but everybody was always telling him that the best things in life weren’t. He supposed that applied to boys as well. “It’s your lucky day. So am I,” Levi said. “Walk with me? You can tell me why all your dogs are named after trees,” he offered, taking a step back into the center of the hallway.

I don’t really get what’s lucky about that. Sully thought, but let it go. Levi’s movement reminded Sully of the bubble the boy created around him as he watched the few straggling students all but jump out of the tall boy’s way when he moved. Jesus, that was still ridiculous. Sully looked over to Levi’s butler before looking back at him and carefully falling into step as they headed off to the class that they apparently had been sharing this whole time. Who knew?

“D’you know how often I have to look at different types of wood? I’ve got plenty of knowledge in that area,” The DIYer asked, completely unaware of the double meaning he’d just provided, mind already wandering a bit to his and Ethan’s future trip to the hardware store. Some nice solid lumber was definitely on his list. “Just figured it would be an easy theme to follow if I ended up gettin’ several dogs, it was and I did,” The candy clacked lightly against the back of his teeth as he rolled the stick between his fingers before he bit down harshly on the remaining bit and tossed the stick away in the trash under the next water fountain they passed. “Guess I could have gone with car parts or types of tools, but at least wood is from a beautiful thing in nature first, right? Trees are nice.”

“Fair enough,” Levi said, politely ignoring the accidental double entendre. “I named my cat Blanc, ‘cause he’s white, but if anyone asks, I just tell them I’m a big fan of Knives Out.” He had learned a long time ago that life was just a collection of different roles, and the hard part was figuring out when to bring each one out. Some wanted him to be everything they built him up to be, the spoiled, trust-fund baby who excelled at everything. Others wanted him to be exactly that, but with the caveat that he failed at everything; it made them feel much better about themselves. Still, there was a contingent that wanted him to have untouched depths that they could explore, the rich boy with a heart of gold. He figured Sully was of the latter group.

The truth of him, the Levi beneath the suit, lay somewhere in between these ever shifting roles, but that was for him, and him alone. These shows of vulnerability were calculated displays, an almost militant effort to retcon his life into something at least halfway normal. Sully (and the rest of the world, quite frankly) didn’t need to know that his cat’s name came from a childhood obsession with Percy Shelley, born from long days in the Green-Locke library.

“It leaves something to be desired in terms of theme, but it fits.” He finally crunched down onto the candy in his mouth, tossing the stick into a nearby trash can. “Where’d you learn all that shit anyways? About the wood, I mean? Is there a class I missed?”

“Well I mean, there are woodshop classes at this school, dude,” Sully answered with a raised eyebrow, pulling one of the pencils Oli had gotten him out of the pocket of his outer shirt and started fiddling with it, sending the plastic wingnut up and down its spiral at impressive speeds. With a chance to speak about his mother, Sully didn't hold back. “But no, my ma likes to upcycle so I learned what I could from her and my uncle Del when I was a kid. She was always makin’ such cool shit and I always wanted to help her so I had a tool in my hand and knew their names and uses before I could ever use ‘em myself. It ain't that hard to retain when you learned it young, and Ma made sure I knew what I was doin’ once I did start usin’ them,” Sully thought back to one of the first projects with his mom, where he'd overestimated his first hammer strike and smashed his hand with the head, crying from the shock before realizing it hadn’t hurt. His mother had picked up the faux, foam headed tool from where Sully had dropped it and plainly stated that that was why you were careful and calculated with tools, and you knew what you were holding before you used it. It wouldn't always save you from pain or mistakes, but it saved you a helluva lot of stupid injuries. “What I didn't learn from them I picked up from harassin’ the other guys scroungin’ ‘round the scrap yard, or at community workshops once I got a little income for it. Most of it was just learnin’ things hands on though, y'know? Summer jobs in construction and shit. I'm good with my hands and they pay me shit rate under the table since I'm a minor.”

Levi stared at this boy he did not understand, and forced a smile. He had two moms, and still, he wasn’t sure he could remember them teaching him much of anything. Not like that at least, and never without the looming threat of their disappointment. Sully’s words reflected the absence back at him, and it stung. Monarch was right. You are a masochist. he thought as they approached the physics room. “Hmm. I didn’t realize anyone actually learned anything in those. My ex just used it to make me a shitty piggy bank.” He laughed at his own story and pulled open the classroom door, holding it for Sully. “After you.”

“Okay but was it functional as a piggy bank?” Sully asked, not quite seeing the problem. “Also that sounds more like a pottery paintin’ thing, it’s a bit different. Thanks,” He acknowledged the other boy holding the door from him, tapping the blonde’s bicep lightly with his fist as he passed. Ever one to encourage people to learn new things, new trades that can make them self sufficient- hell, that was his whole schtick on social media- Sully gave his confusingly prospective new friend an offer. “I’m assistin’ in teachin’ a juniors class at the community center next week if you wanna see what the simplified course is like. You’d be surrounded by kids though and I’d be up helping the volunteer the whole time. Maybe you’ll wanna build somethin’ yourself after you see how easy it is to make a birdhouse.”

“I can confidently say I’ve never done that before,” Levi said. He took a moment to ponder if a bit of fun and potential campaign inroads were worth a smashed finger. It was. “Sounds like a date.”

“Oh,” That had not been what he meant, but Levi seemed happy about the idea and Sully didn’t really find himself caring what he called it. It’s not like anything date-like could happen in a community center class. “Okay, sure!”

@Fabricant451 BAM! Accepted!
TIMESTAMP: Just after “Typecast” and "A Brief Flash of Imperfection"
LOCATION: Bleachers
Featuring: Levi “Cui Bono?” Green-Locke & Jamie “Wow I Didn’t Know I Could Be Outsnaked” Callaghan

Despite the spot waiting for him in homeroom, Levi headed outside towards the football field, Butler close behind. He needed the air, even though he’d never admit it, and he wanted the peace and quiet. Besides, it was hard to tell Levi that he needed to be anywhere, when his name was being lended out to more buildings on campus than he could keep track of. He stormed up the bleachers, long slender legs sending clangs ringing out across the empty field.

Anger and panic were not unfamiliar to Levi. If he had been back at home, he would’ve had Butler find him something to break. Unfortunately, he was at school so Butler could only follow him outside, then stand and watch as Levi ground his teeth together and stared down at the football field from his perch atop the bleachers. Mr. Mackenzie’s words were still floating around his mind, taking a knife to his ego and cutting it into fine ribbons, almost as well as his mother did. He had four years of perfection under his belt, and now it was crumbling to ash and drifting off into the wind. Sure, he would be okay, but he didn’t want to be okay; he wanted to be the best. That’s what Green’s were, after all.

That’s what this campaign would be. He had fought tooth and nail to be…mediocre, apparently, but he still had time. He hadn't heard back from Naomi, but he’d already begun drawing up a mental list of artists to call later, to request mockup flyer designs. Busy, important people who would drop everything when the name ‘Green’ scrolled across their phone screen. Nothing but the best for him and his girl. He and Naomi would send Katie Callaghan running back to Scotty Boy, and maybe just maybe, he’d finally feel like his life hadn’t just been something that happened to him.

Levi’s musings were interrupted by the clang of shoes on the bleachers. Slow and smooth, his gaze trailed down to Jamie Callaghan, stomping his way up the metal steps. Great. Levi flipped his sunglasses down, and trained his eyes back on the field. “You’re disturbing my peace, Callaghan.”

Jamie came to a stop with a huff, his breathing faster than normal. Had he run here? “We need to talk.”

“Do we need to talk, or do you need to talk?” Levi peered down at the boy, bored already. Jamie was much more entertaining when he was being useful, and ever since their deal last year, he’d been decidedly less so.

The disgruntled, wannabe Anderson Cooper scoffed as he took a seat. We need to talk because I’m calling in my favor.” Jamie looked up at Butler, wary. “Does he have to be here?”

Levi kept his face stoney. “Of course he does, he’s my emotional support Butler.” Levi could think of a thousand and one things that Jamie might want from him, all of them juvenile and hardly worth his time. Jamie, much as he liked to hide it, was driven by emotion in a way that Levi found exhausting. It was all so predictable. Two things motivated the boy standing in front of him: ambition, and insecurity. They were easy things to take advantage of, sure, and unlike Trixie, he didn’ balk at doing what he was paid for. Still, he was a tiring addition to his life, one that he might’ve regretted more, if he hadn’t been so damn effective. “Spit it out then, before all of your fucking energy starts to ruin my day.”

“Ethan’s party. I want AJ off the list.”

Levi smiled. Who would’ve guessed that Jamie and AJ would crash and burn like the Challenger? He had, for one. “AJ moved on? Shocking.” Levi’s voice dripped with cruel sarcasm as he finally turned to face Jamie. “Is the hickey someone else’s work then?”

“Shut up, are you gonna help me or not?”

Levi sighed, and leaned back against the chain link fence that enclosed the bleachers. “You know, I do love being of service, but this one’s out of my incredibly soft hands,” he said, waving into the air to prove his point. “It’s Ethan’s party, which means the guest list is not nearly exclusive enough, and not likely to get better. Trust me, if I had any sway over those, I’d have exercised it by now.” He shrugged, unfazed by the demand in Jamie’s voice. “Besides, cui bono? I don’t need beef with the Gearheads, not right now.” He figured he would never hear the end of it from Monarch if he tried to excommunicate her friends from anything, and truth be told, she scared him more than Jamie. Not to mention, he was a politician now. He couldn’t go banning a bunch of his constituents from his family’s vineyard.

Jamie didn’t seem to love that answer. His scowl deepened, his eyes narrowed. He looked cute when he was angry like this; if he’d been a stranger, Levi might’ve tried to sleep with him once upon a time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a stranger, he was Jamie Callaghan, and he was so tightly wound that even Levi didn’t fancy the idea of taking a risk unwinding him. Cui bono? Seriously? What did I do all your dirty work for if you were just gonna cui bono me? Figure it the fuck out, or I tell everyone what I know.”

Another grin broke out across Levi’s face. “And what exactly do you know, Jamie?” Jamie opened his mouth to respond, but Levi silenced him with a raised finger. “Here’s what I know. The only copies of those pictures are on a flash drive in your possession. The only editing that was done to them, was done on a school computer, in the wee hours, on one of your cute little Newsie’s accounts. The only proof you have, that I did anything to anyone, is your word against mine? Are you ready to take that risk?” Jamie stayed silent, stewing upon the realization that he had been outplayed. “So I think, if Amy Kwon’s name ever leaves your mouth, it should be followed by the words, ‘is a treacherous bitch,’ okay?”

“You did my dirty work because you wanted to do it, because it’s fun for you. Be real with yourself. The favor was just an added bonus, a slap on the ass on your way out. I’m not a genie, I don’t grant wishes.” He laughed softly before continuing, his voice overflowing with condescension. “You want more eyes on your paper, or a new boy toy, I’m your guy? This stupid, petty shit? No. Besides, getting AJ banned from this party won’t stop him from crashing it anyways. Or the next one. Or the one after that. You’re smart, you should know that.”

Jamie groaned, a sound of resignation that burst from his throat in place of the violent scream he wanted to let out into the ether. It was music to Levi’s ears; it was a symphony of defeat. “You’re right. Fuck. I just–”

Levi held a hand up, stopping Jamie’s divulgence in its tracks. “Stop. We aren’t friends, we’re business partners, and I don’t want to hear about how AJ makes you into an insane person. I’ve got plenty second-hand embarrassment just watching you.”

Jamie almost laughed. “Well, thank you for absolutely nothing, Levi, I’m so glad this partnership has borne such bountiful fruit. I suppose I’ll let you know when I have a favor worthy of your time.”

“Y’know, maybe if you didn’t sound like an encyclopedia with control issues, AJ would’ve stuck around. Just a thought.” Jamie got up to leave and as he did, Levi decided to offer up one more piece of sage advice, less out of any goodness in his heart, and more out of a desire to watch the world burn. “Best way to get over someone, is to get under someone new,” he shouted after Jamie, earning him an over the shoulder middle finger. He enjoyed a good laugh for his efforts. Ugh, he’d needed that.

“That seemed unnecessary.” Butler’s voice was stone cold, gravelly, the kind of stern voice you’d expect from a tall, well built man that was paid too much money to babysit a spoiled child. “You didn’t need to gloat.”

Levi snorted. “He thought he had something on me, Butler. I had to remind him who he was dealing with.”

Butler didn’t sigh. He didn’t need to. The silence spoke volumes.

@smarty0114 & @Hey Im Jordan
TIMESTAMP: Just before The Morning Show
The Halls
FEATURING: Jamie Callaghan & Owen Lyon

This was the first day of the rest of Owen Lyon’s life. He was free from the burden of reputation that followed him around in his past school, he had basically gotten to hit the reset button, and it was oddly freeing. Even homeroom, which he hated, seemed like something that he could easily overcome. That was why he strode up to the teacher with so much confidence, and handed her the paper he’d been given as part of his welcoming packet. Owen was being assigned a guide to show him around the school, which was something he desperately needed.

His last school had been a lot smaller, and a lot easier to navigate. Owen was already almost ten minutes late when he managed to make it to the homeroom class. After he talked with the homeroom teacher a bit and introduced himself, Owen was directed to Jamie’s desk. He walked across the room and stood in front of it, holding his right hand out to shake as he introduced himself.

“Hey, I’m Owen.” He slightly furrowed his brow, barely noticeable unless Jamie was paying close attention to his expression, and then he added after the briefest of pauses. Owen Lyon. You’re supposed to show me around the school for this period? The lady said the office told you.” Owen pointed at their homeroom teacher. The office, of course, had not said a damn thing to Jamie, but Owen slid a piece of paper across the desk that explained he was in fact telling the truth. Owen Lyon was, for the day, Jamie Callaghan’s ward.

There were better days for it.

Jamie looked up at Owen and tilted his head, lips pressed tight as he decided how much potential he saw in this new face. “Lyon. You’re Scott’s cousin.” He’d been doing a wonderful job ignoring the uncomfortable fact that his sister was dating AJ’s best friend, so of course the office sent his cousin to follow him around. “He’s about ready to elope with my sister, so I guess that makes us almost family. Which can be useful around here.” He finally decided he saw a good deal of potential, and stood to grab his bag. “They sent you to the right person, lucky for you. Let’s go, Owen Lyon, this place is way too big for its own good.”

He was glad to get out of Belmonte’s class after Decky, and the Jones’ abrupt exit, and he quickly led Owen back into the hall, letting out a sigh. He didn’t bother explaining where they were, or where they were going. Jamie wasn’t a map. He was, however, a trove of knowledge concerning the school’s social scene. Consequently, his tour was less about locations, and more about the dangerous creatures you might meet along the way. “So, like, what does Owen Lyon do? What’s your thing? You’ve gotta have a thing or you’ll just drift the halls alone like a sad, teenage ghost.”

Owen followed Jamie as he stepped out of the room, listening to him talk. It was about forty seconds into Jamie talking that Owen realized he’d been paired with a classic yapper. “Uh, teenage ghost doesn’t sound too bad to me. I had a bad time at my last school… so I’m sort of hoping to just skate under the radar?” He presented it as a question, as he wasn’t sure that skating under the radar was something that could be done at BHHS. Between what his dad and uncle had said, and what this guy was already saying… he wasn’t about to hold his fucking breath, that was for sure. “Scott and I aren’t really close, but my dad said I should try to hang out with him. He made it sound like this place is like, an active warzone.”

“I don’t really have a thing, by the way. I go to the gym, and I train a lot. I played football in my other school, but I’m not interested in trying out here.” Owen explained, hoping that Jamie wouldn’t dig too far into what he was saying. He didn’t want to cross that particular bridge quite yet, but he was trying his best to be sociable. “My parents and I are re-opening the gym my dad went to when he was here, so I’m thinking that’ll take up most of my time anyway.”

Jamie studied the boy next to him, curious as to just how genuine this kid was. Genuine people tended to mix poorly with the kids here, for better or worse. “Scott’s fine, but his friends suck,” he said, all too happy to throw AJ’s name in the mud. “Under the radar is an option here, but that’s boring, and you don’t seem boring. Broody, but not boring.” He sped up his pace and spun around so he could face Owen, walking backwards as he began to list off the potential safe havens for a new kid at BHHS. “You’ve got your classic band geeks, but that’s social suicide. If you smoke there’s the PLC for all your illicit substance needs, and if you’re serious about flying under the radar, the gamers like to practice there,” he said, pointing towards a closed door.

“You don’t seem like any of those though.” Jamie came to a stop in front of a large trophy case, filled with pictures of sports teams, past and present, and the myriad trophies that had been won for the school over the years. An empty space was reserved in the middle, where this season’s oversized golden cup was expected to eventually rest. “You, my friend, are an Elite.”

This was not the kind of tour Owen had expected. In his head, he’d imagined a quick trip around the school, a little ‘here’s the classrooms for the classes on your schedule,’ then bam, right back into the homeroom to finish up the day. Instead, he was getting the real tour of Beverly Hills High. To him, it almost felt like he was stepping into a TV show. “An Elite? What the hell even is that? It sounds like a boy band, and I ain’t no pop star.” Had he mentioned a PLC? Owen only knew PVC.

Owen shook his head as he could already feel that Jamie was trying to typecast him as a jock. He looked at the trophy case in front of him, and tried to defend himself before it became too late. “Dude, I’m really not trying to join a sports team. I get too competitive.” He hoped that Jamie wouldn’t pry any further, but every single fiber of his being said that he would. At least he hadn’t been Googled yet, though he could almost sense in Jamie’s aura that he would be shortly after this conversation. “What about you? What’s your group? I’m gonna guess it ain’t band geeks or the gamers.”

“They aren’t a boy band, unfortunately. And they aren’t all jocks,” Jamie said, quietly running through the mental list of Ethan Green’s band of brothers. It would be kind of nice if they could perform synchronized choreography to pop music, but alas, that was a fantasy for another day. “Okay, well, I guess that part’s not really true, but you don’t need to be a jock. They’re just,” Jamie let out a particularly perturbed sigh, “the ‘bros’, y’know? Not to typecast you or anything but like…is that not your thing? I mean, your parents own a gym.”

He crossed the hall and pointed at a poster advertising the school paper. “Trixie and I run the school paper, and keep track of everything that’s happening around here. Well, everything that matters. You can grab lunch with us if you want, but you don’t strike me as someone with a passion for journalism,” Jamie said. He crossed his arms and tilted his head. “Ethan thinks with his dick more than he should, but he’s not the worst person in the world.” He walked further down the hall, gesturing for Owen to follow. “What I’m saying is, you can either be a loser burnout, or you can put the biceps to good use and go get your parents some new gym patrons?” Jamie looked back at Owen with a smirk and a shrug. If he was being honest with himself, he needed a man on the inside of the Elite more than he needed Owen Lyon to survive his senior year, but sometimes you could kill two birds with one stone, and it always paid to get the new kid in your pocket. You never knew what tricks they might have up their sleeve. “Here, give me your phone,” Jamie extended his palm, tapping his fingers as though he had anywhere else to be.

Owen stared at Jamie as he held out his hand expectantly. Was this guy serious? Had Owen died and gone to hell? After Jamie asked for his phone, Owen didn’t hand it over. Instead, he focused on a particular part of what Jamie had said, “dude, are you hitting on me?” He asked, then looked down at his arm, absentmindedly tensing it slightly. They did look good, he supposed, but he wasn’t sure how to take what was happening then and there.

“Who’s doing the typecasting now?” Jamie replied, one eyebrow raised as he looked expectantly down at his empty hand. Owen was hot, Stevie Wonder could’ve figured that out. He was much too focused on a certain Gearhead however, and the events of thirty minutes ago, to even consider exploring that feeling. Besides, he knew a straight man when he saw one. “I’m making sure you don’t spend your last year of highschool as a complete and utter nobody. You will thank me later.”

He hesitated at first, and then thought back to his father’s words. BHHS was weird, and the number one rule was simply to not trust anyone. But where had trusting his parents ever really gotten him anyway? There was a hint of caution, but he dropped his phone into Jamie’s open palm.

“My gym’s not like… a weightlifting gym. It’s more for MMA, y’know? Self-defense. That kind of thing. You know anyone that might want to sign up? I can teach ‘em how to throw a mean 1, 2.” Owen quickly threw a couple of punches in the air, shadowboxing as if he were fighting with the very idea that he ‘belonged’ with the jocks. After he did so, he looked at Jamie almost as if he expected to impress the other boy with his half-hearted swings. “Are you a journalist? Cool. My last school didn’t have a paper.”

“Journalist, paparazzi, school’s biggest gossip. Pick your favorite I guess.” Jamie’s focus remained on the phone as he added two numbers. The first belonged to Ethan Green, and the second to Jamie himself. God, he really was starting to hand that out like candy. “Tell Ethan that I said he owes me one for not telling any of his girlfriends about eachother. He’ll get the hint,” he said, handing the phone back to Owen. “MMA?” He was hardly impressed by Owen’s shadowboxing, but he could still feel AJ’s breath on his neck and he took the bait. “You wanna teach me how to deck my ex-boyfriend? For legal reasons, I don’t think I actually want to. I just wouldn’t hate having the option.” He rubbed the mark on his neck, almost absentmindedly, and looked up at Owen. This was not his usual kind of friend, but this was not his usual kind of day, and the more he thought of it, the more he realized…he didn’t have a lot of fucking friends.

“Dude? Totally. I’ll text you the gym’s address, you can come by after? If you sign up for classes, you’ll probably be working with me. I can teach you how to throw a couple punches. Since you’re like… the first friend I’ve made, you don’t even have to pay. We have a discount.” Owen was making a hell of an assumption, but he could kind of feel it in the air. Neither one of them would normally socialize with the other, but fate seemed to have brought them together. And also, Owen wanted to make a good impression because meeting people was stressful and Jamie seemed connected enough to introduce him to a few different people. Including… the Elite, whoever that was. “For legal reasons, I can’t tell you to do it, but if your ex deserves it, they deserve it.” Owen opted to be gender inclusive, a little unsure of how he was coming off after the jab about typecasting. He didn’t mean anything by it! He just couldn’t help but notice when miring was happening. It wasn’t like he minded. What was the point of all the muscles if people didn’t look at them?

“Who’s Ethan?” Owen asked, looking down at the number in his phone. It was a bit weird to have someone playing friend matchmaker for him, but Owen was tentatively going to explore the option that Jamie was giving him. It seemed like the right thing to do, but that didn’t stop Owen from asking a second question. “Hey, if this uh, boy band tryout doesn’t work, you’re gonna teach me how to be a good journalist, right?” He grinned, and for the first time in a while, Owen found himself not feeling the weight of his past mistakes on his shoulders.

“Ethan Green. Lead singer of the boy band, so to speak. He’s throwing a party tomorrow, and you should be in attendance. ” He returned Owen’s smile with one of his own, more reserved, but still, surprisingly genuine. Another idea was beginning to take shape, featuring this new kid, his best friend, and some forced proximity. “The Newsroom is always open. You should talk to Trixie, she’s a much better teacher than me.”

Green? Owen frowned almost immediately after Jamie said the surname, as he recalled what his father had to say about that particular family. “Green? I don’t know about that one… my dad said everyone with the last name Green is evil.” He paused for a second, thinking about it to himself. What else had his dad said? “No, wait. He said the women were heartless demons and the guys are sometimes okay.” He shrugged, and pulled out his phone, quickly penning a text to the mysterious Green.

“Eh, it’s hit or miss. Ethan, Andy, and Diana? Safe to engage. Levi and Celeste? Keep your distance.” Jamie said, habitually looking over his shoulder to ensure they weren’t being overheard. You could never be too careful. “Which does bring me to the most important rule of surviving Beverly Hills High. Don’t piss off The Hive. Whatever mean girls you had at your last school pale in comparison to Naomi Davis.”

To: Ethan
yo, im new. my name’s owen. jamie suggested i text you
he said i need to be in attendance for your party tomorrow
he also said you owe him one for telling your girlfriends about each other

Owen dropped his phone back in his pocket, only then starting to realize how much blind faith he was putting in this guy he’d met only a few minutes ago. Unfortunately, there was no way for him to take it back, as the tweets were already flying over the airwaves. That only left one question burning in his mind, and Owen couldn’t help but blurt it out. “Trixie? She cute?”

Jamie smirked. He loved being right. “I’m sure you’ll decide that for yourself sooner rather than later.” He paused, debating just how hard he wanted to play this before deciding that he wouldn’t be a very good best friend if he didn’t take some risks. “But yes, she is.” Jamie’s next thought was interrupted by the slapping of shoes on linoleum, and the quickly passing figures of Levi Green-Locke and Butler. “Speak of the devil,” Jamie muttered, once they were out of earshot. “That’s Levi. Naomi’s red right hand.” Jamie took his phone out and checked the time. Perfect. “He doesn’t know it, but he’s got a meeting with me in ten minutes. You’ll be good on your own right?” He didn’t wait for confirmation. “Send me the address for your gym, and don’t flake on the party tomorrow. I’m your first real friend here, so you kind of have to.”

Owen had to admit, in his high school career, he hadn’t really had a friend do this much for him. He’d only known Jamie for a few minutes, but the other boy had already set him up with a party, a friend group, and was shilling a cute girl. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, at least as far as Owen was concerned. Owen had been unable to do anything but stare as the pair of Levi and Butler walked past. He ended up not responding to Jamie’s question, or even acknowledging the request for the address - though that went unspoken.

“Does that kid have a bodyguard?”

Jamie gave a solemn nod. “Yeah, you’ll get used to it.”
Location: Front Office
Mentions/Interactions: Naomi & The Hive @Fabricant451@Aewin@LovelyComplex@NeoAJ

The Hive had descended upon the school with all the glitz and glamour they advertised. Truth be told, this was why he did it; for the attention. He relished every gaze that fell on him, gulping it down like it was the secret to everlasting youth. He was going to need it. As The Hive passed the front office, Levi bid them adieu. “I’ve got a meeting with Mr. Mackenzie. Indy, Angel, don’t let anyone take my seat.”

He didn’t offer up any more info than that. Indy and Angel had hardly proven themselves worthy of an explanation, Lottie would forget it in two minutes, and Naomi was more clued into his movements than anyone else at this school. She’d been there when he made the appointment with Mackenzie last week, a preliminary step before he began mailing in applications. This all felt like formalities wrapped in formalities; his last name would probably get him farther than any personal essay would. Still, he knew how to play the game, and he would not ever let it be said that he wasn’t any good at it. Not to mention, the guidance counselor had a good eye and he needed someone to look over his portfolio.

Butler followed him into the front office, down a narrow hall, and stood stoicly as Levi sat in one of the surprisingly comfortable chairs that had been bought and paid for with Green money. Butler followed him everywhere, always had, always would. He hadn’t been in Naomi’s car, of course. That would be ridiculous. He was following them at a safe distance in an unmarked, black sedan. Duh.

Four doors, spaced evenly down the hall, marked the different BHHS guidance counselors and their offices. Levi hadn’t bothered remembering the other ones. He’d been assigned to Mackenzie at the beginning of his freshman year, and he’d never been given a good enough reason to request a swap. He didn’t really like anybody, other than Diana and Naomi, and Lottie on a good day, but he tolerated Mr. Mackenzie, mainly because he was a good listener who was legally bound to keep his mouth shut.

Levi sat and waited, tapping his Italian leather shoes against the linoleum as the clock ticked forward. Five minutes, then ten, then fifteen. He was about to have Butler bang on the door when it opened and some poor little freshman came scurrying out, eyes freshly dried. Mr. Mackenzie leaned against the doorframe, dressed like a lumberjack with a thick, greying beard to match. He watched the girl leave, before turning to Levi with a warm, welcoming smile. “Levi, come on in,” he said, gesturing inside his office.

Mr. Mackenzie’s office was decorated with motivational posters (Levi’s favorite featured a cat and the words “Hang in there!” in bold font), bookshelves packed with tomes on psychology and self-help. His desk featured pictures of a happy little family in front of a quaint little house. The room was warm in a way that Levi found alien, but comforting. He figured that was the point. Butler took his place at the back of the office, and the counselor smiled. “Stoic as ever, Butler.” Butler nodded. “So, Levi. College applications. Can I ask you a question?”

“You’re going to regardless, right?”

Mr. Mackenzie leaned against his desk, still smiling. Did he ever stop fucking smiling? What is it that you want to do?” Levi blinked. “I’m looking at your portfolio and…well, I’m not sure you’re giving me a very clear idea of who Levi Green-Locke actually is.”

Despite appearances, Levi was very accustomed to failure. He had lost MVP on his Little League soccer team every year until he finally quit, he’d always struggled with science and math no matter how hard he tried, and he’d been failing to win his moms’ approval for pretty much his entire life. He knew that feelings were reserved for after the conversation, in private. “Are you saying it’s shit?”

Mr. Mackenzie clicked his tongue. “Language. I’m not saying that. Technically, you’re very good at what you do. The pictures you used are compositionally great, it’s just…well, they don’t seem to say much. I know what these places want, and it’s somebody with a message.” The counselor threaded his fingers together and placed them on the desk. “They lack heart, Levi. Vulnerability.” Mr. Mackenzie opened a familiar binder and splayed out a series of pictures that Levi had taken. A picture of the ocean, taken from one of the family’s boats, and a series of shots from his summer trip around Europe. They were beautiful photographs, but they weren't anything special. Every queer kid with a camera and a way to get to Florence had taken a picture of David. “I mean, where do I see you, in these?”

Behind his eyes, a small star was exploding, boiling his blood. He clenched his jaw and his fists, desperate to keep his composure. “So…I should be taking pictures of my friends? Family? My adoption papers?” The indignance in Levi’s voice was unmistakable. He might’ve grown accustomed to failure, but he’d never grown to enjoy it.

Mr. Mackenzie leaned back, and offered up a measly, useless shrug. “Is that what you want to show off? I mean, comeon, art is about having something to say. I know I'm not the first person to tell you this. Do you even want to be a photographer?”

“I want to travel the world on my parents' Black Card.” This was not quite a lie. Levi, for all his pomp and circumstance, had no earthly idea where he’d be in ten years. Everyone else seemed to have been born knowing, while he had spent the last seventeen years trying on different hats, desperate to find one that fit. He’d been good on stage, he thought he’d been good behind a camera, but really, he just liked new things. New places, new people, new experiences. Everyone wanted him to go and be something, and he…well he just wanted…okay so he had no idea what he wanted.

“See, you’re sitting here, at 7:45 on a Friday, discussing this with me, so I have to believe that’s at least a little bit of a lie.” Well, he had him there. “You don’t have to know what you want to do right now. Most people don’t figure it out until years after high school! I mean, when I was your age, I thought I was going to be a lawyer.”

“And now, here you are, helping spoiled kids like me live out their dreams? I think a lawyer would’ve made more sense. Financially speaking.”

“I am really gonna miss that sense of humor, Levi,” Mr. Mackenzie said, with a tone that made it clear that he would not. “I’m just trying to say that, if you spend this time actually trying to figure out who you are, instead of pretending to be someone you aren’t, you might end up happier for it. What do I know, though? I’ve only got a masters in psychology.”

To his credit, Levi’s thoughts did not immediately jump to ways to get Mr. Mackenzie fired. Those would come later, and would likely fizzle out by the time he got home. His initial thought was, What the fuck does this guy know? followed by, Maybe a little bit. Levi stood up, collecting his bag with a huff. “Are we done?”

“We’re done when you want to be done,”

Levi spun on his heel. “Great, thanks for nothing.” If it wasn’t for the stupid little mechanism that forced the door to close slowly, it would’ve slammed behind him. He made a mental note to see if those could be removed. They really killed any dramatic exit.

“You’ll talk to him, Butler?” Mr. Mackenzie asked from his desk, as Levi stormed out. Butler nodded. “Good. He might actually listen to you.”

Stupid, stupid, stupidstupidstupidfuckingstupid. At a certain point, as Levi stalked down the now empty halls of BHHS, it became unclear if his thoughts were directed at Mr. Mackenzie, the school, the universe in general, or just himself. He wanted to be anywhere but these halls, he wanted to be anyone but Levi Green-Locke. He tugged at the collar of his shirt as his face began to heat up, and his breathing began to accelerate. What was he going to do, who was he going to be, how the hell was he going to get there? His heart pounded in his ears, his chest grew tight, like his body was betraying him and squeezing the air from his lungs. Fuck, fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. This was not happening.

He was vaguely aware of Butler coming up behind him and ushering him into the bathroom. At least someone is good at what they do, he managed to think. His fingers grew sore as he clung to the sink, white-knuckled and shaking with adrenaline. It took five minutes to clear his mind, five more to slow his breathing. The panic left as suddenly as it came, and he felt his body relax as it did. He looked up at his reflection, flushed and flustered, perturbed by this brief flash of imperfection. He fixed the strands of hair that had fallen out of place, adjusted his shirt, and wet his face, waiting for the redness to subside while Butler guarded the door.

As he stood and stared at his reflection, his posture straightened out, the anxiety was put away, and the unfiltered emotion on his face faded into his usual stonefaced expression. He was going to be perfect. Perfectly perfect. He dried his hands and glanced up at a flyer on the wall. “VOTE CALLAGHAN” was printed in large, black and red block letters. He paused. Katie had been talking about her student government campaign for a few weeks, though he’d mostly tuned it out. It hadn’t seemed important until now. A thin smile crept up his face. This was who he was.

To: Nomes 👑
Crazy idea, but hear me out. Let’s run for office.

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