A/N: Oh boy…how to explain myself? Well, as many of you know I fell into another round of writer’s block that lasted most of the summer, a realization that got me panicking so much that I started asking for suggestions on how to break it and one of the recommendations I received was to ask people to send in prompt requests and write those instead to help inspire me.
So, I asked for requests on Tumblr and some amazing people sent them in and well, it worked! However, my inability to write anything short (this author’s note in point), led to THIS. Ahem. So, what exactly is this? WELL, dandylion240 sent in the prompt request “So, what are we now?” for Isaac and Augustus and I thought this fit so well for their past that it turned into a short story comprised of a collection of flashbacks from their past. Ta da!!!! *crickets chirping* I uh, well, I think it’s pretty good…maybe. I mean, I’m proud of it and…and it’s canon!! So, I think it could help you guys understand better? What happened between them? Thereby providing context? *laughs nervously* Alrighty then, well, um, I’ll let you guys decide if this was worth the detour. Yeah? Yeah.
Also, I’ve split this into two parts because it’s long and honestly I got impatient to post. It’s a bit stupid because it’s supposed to go together, but I’ve ceased to care and this way you get an update sooner, followed by another update quickly after that! Good? Good.
I sincerely hope you all enjoy this labor of love and hopefully I get back on-track after this. Generation 5 (and its side arcs) seriously need to end, lol. Happy reading!
I’m super excited and anxious to see what you all think! ❤
Sophomore Year. Late September. Scene I.
Augustus Winters was usually a very good listener. He listened because he had an innate need to understand and to know, but today, he was so inarguably bored that his attention kept shifting to the window beside him. It was covered in fingerprints; dust and indeterminable grime gathered on the sill. There was a tiny spider perched on its web in the corner. Augustus watched it for a time, but when it showed about as much life as a doorknob, his gaze slid out the window instead.
It was a windy day; great masses of clouds roving quickly across the sky and small twisters of leaves twirling on the concrete as the strengthening winds swept them up. Augustus felt the itch to draw the scene, or better yet, paint it, but instead he was trapped inside a classroom, compelled to listen Mrs. Fenton’s ringing tones as she described the first project they would be completing this semester.
The requirements were listed on the handout she’d passed out, but evidently she felt the need to go through every component individually and in excruciating detail. Augustus had already read the handout five times and she was still near the middle of the page.
Truth be told, he felt a little bad because judging by the glassy eyed stares of his fellow classmates, no one was paying attention. There was even a bleach blonde girl who was filing her nails beneath her desk. How Mrs. Fenton failed to notice this Augustus had no idea because it was making this grating scratching noise that made him want to snatch the filer out of her hand and hurl it out the window. Clearly at least one person shared his sentiments though because a paper ball suddenly soared across the room and pelted her in the back of the head.
The girl whipped around in the direction of the throw, looking about ready to lob her nail filer like a javelin at whoever threw it, but of course no one fessed up and hardly anyone had even noticed it happen, too absorbed in their daydreams or surreptitiously texting.
The blonde narrowed her eyes, a silent dare to the unknown person to try that again, and then slowly turned back around. Augustus almost wished someone would throw another paper ball (into the trashcan or something) if only because it would at least be interesting, but the air was once again devoid of flying debris.
“Alright then,” Mrs. Fenton said happily, oblivious to the retaliatory stabbing that had nearly taken place in her classroom. “Each of you will now be given a number and your task will be to find the one or two other people in the class who share your number. Once you find them, take a seat together and begin brainstorming how your group wants to tackle this project. I recommend getting some ideas jotted down for how you’ll make your presentation both engaging and interactive, as this portion of the project typically tends to be the trickiest. Are there any questions before we continue?”
No one raised their hands, so Mrs. Fenton strolled over to her desk, picked up a stack of halved notecards, and then began to pass them out.
“Now remember, don’t look at the number until I say ‘go,’” she warned, but Augustus could see some students peeking at their cards anyway, already mouthing to their friends what they got and looking to trade numbers.
Mrs. Fenton set a card on the corner of Augustus’ desk, her peach, manicured nails clicking briefly against the wood before she continued down the aisle. He was also tempted to peek, but there was no real point since he didn’t know anyone in this class anyway.
“Okay!” Mrs. Fenton declared once she had passed out the last card. “Quickly and quietly find your group members. Most groups will consist of two people, but there are some groups of three so keep a look out! ….well, quickly now, go, go, go!” She waved her hands as if shooing them, the many bangles on her wrist clinking as she did.
Reluctantly, her students began to stand, but from there they mostly looked confused, staring at one another or half-heartedly holding up their cards.
“¿Quién tiene el otro siete?” mumbled a girl standing a few feet away from Augustus. She had long, thick curly-hair that looked crunchy because of all the mousse she used to style it. Her sandals were creased as she tiptoed to search the crowd. “¿Lo tienes, Floribel? I will buy you lunch if you trade,” she said to a girl with perfectly tweezed brows and carnation pink lips.
Floribel laughed in response, a tinkling sound that reminded Gus of wind chimes. “No, pero if I did have ‘7’ I wouldn’t trade it even with you,” she confessed, earning a disapproving scowl from her friend.
Vaguely wondering why they wanted that number so badly, Augustus flipped his own card over and then snorted. The number ‘7’ was neatly printed upon it.
Standing, Augustus debated whether or not he should be nice and trade the card with the curly-haired girl, but he’d scarcely walked two steps when he nearly crashed right into someone. He halted in his steps, about to apologize, but before he could say anything the guy he’d nearly bowled over casually asked, “Number seven?” and then held up his card between two fingers.
Augustus’ eyes focused on the card first, where a bold ‘7’ was printed upon its surface. “Uh, yeah, I—” he began to say, and then to his utter dismay instantly felt his entire body flush when his gaze shifted to the boy’s face.
A pair of bright, impossibly golden eyes surveyed him inquiringly; a small smirk turning up the corner of his lips, which looked temptingly kissable. Upon having this thought, Augustus promptly dropped his gaze again, his face burning and the vague desire to vault out the window increasing with every second that he couldn’t quite manage to get his voice back. He didn’t even know one could actually react this way upon seeing another person. It seemed a reaction specially crafted for storybooks and movies, yet here he was with sweaty palms and pink cheeks.
Suddenly, it made sense why those girls were so interested in the number seven. Fuck.
Taking in a steadying breath and mentally kicking himself for being so ridiculous (not to mention transparent), Augustus forced himself to calmly say, “Yeah. Seven. Guess we’re a group.”
“Guess so,” the golden-eyed brunet echoed, and then after a brief pause confidently added, “I’m Isaac, if you didn’t know. Isaac Santiago Taveras.” He let his full name roll fluidly off his tongue, which did absolutely nothing to slow Gus’ bounding heart.
“Well, hope you don’t mind if I just stick with ‘Isaac,’ Augustus joked a little nervously.
Isaac tilted his head, as if bemused by Gus’ comment. A moment later a faint smile graced his lips and he replied, “I guess that’d be fine.”
“I’m Augustus. Or August. Or Gus.” He absently rubbed the back of his neck and then added, “Um, most people go with ‘Gus,’ but I don’t really have a preference myself.”
“Alright, Augustus, August, Gus.”
“Well don’t use them all at once!” Augustus admonished him, and then abruptly smiled without meaning to when Isaac laughed. He had a really nice laugh. Augustus thought it was like the real life version of a cheering charm from Harry Potter: It made you feel happier and, if overdone, it was likely to send you into a fit of hysterics too.
“So you do have a little bit of a preference then,” Isaac noted with a smirk.
Augustus rolled his eyes. “Yeah thanks, you helped me discover it.”
The brunet’s smirk turned into a genuine smile and then he gestured toward the window. “Shall we sit?”
Augustus opened his mouth to say ‘yes,’ but then caught a glimpse of the curly-haired girl over Isaac’s shoulder. Much to his discomfort, the girl was openly glaring at him and, judging by the way her friend Floribel was also looking their way, had just been talking about them. Augustus chewed his lip and then glanced back at Isaac apprehensively. “Um, well…that girl with…with the curly hair?”
“Elena?” Isaac interjected with a raised brow.
“Uh, yeah. Her, I think—wearing the red shirt. Um, she wanted to be paired up with you. Do you want me to trade numbers with her?”
Isaac turned to look back at Elena, and for an inexplicably disheartening moment Augustus thought he was going to say yes, but then he shifted his attention back on Gus and slowly shook his head. “Nah, it’s fine,” he said, and then seeing the expression on his face smiled and added, “Don’t worry about it. She’s just used to us working together, that’s all. She’ll be fine.”
“Oh. Um, well, you’re sure? I don’t mind either way.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Isaac inquired with a playful smirk.
Augustus flushed. He vaguely wondered if Isaac practiced those smirks of his, or whether they came naturally to him. “No,” he mumbled.
“Then let’s sit.”
The two boys sat; Augustus returning to his old seat and Isaac turning a chair around so they could share his desk. The close proximity gave Augustus butterflies—another sensation he’d previously believed was made up. He cautiously glanced at Isaac through his bangs. He was reading his copy of the project requirements, his brow furrowed slightly in concentration. The butterflies in Gus’ belly went rather mad, causing him to have to drop his gaze again.
It wasn’t as if Augustus had never noticed the brunet before, he had (how could he not?), but they’d never spoken before, nor even sat on the same side of the room let alone face-to-face. He wasn’t sure what to say. Something about the project, he supposed, but he didn’t have any ideas for it yet and as it wasn’t due for a couple weeks, didn’t feel any urgency in thinking up some. He chewed on his lip, staring blankly at his paper and wondering if he even should talk, because Isaac seemed pretty focused.
“Hang on,” the brunet finally mumbled, and then got up.
Augustus watched as he walked back over to the other side of his room and grabbed his backpack. Elena rushed up to him, taking holding of his arm and engaging him in conversation, but whatever she was saying was in Spanish and somewhat muffed, so Augustus didn’t have a hope of figuring out what it was.
Isaac replied and Augustus couldn’t make that out either, but he did see the unhappy frown that appeared on Elena’s doll-like face. Worrying now that he had caused some conflict between them, Augustus looked back out at the window. The wind was picking up even more. It was likely going to rain.
Isaac took his seat in front of Augustus again, his half-open backpack now propped up against the desk. Still at a loss for words, Gus turned his attention back to his paper, but a second later he found his interest shifting to Isaac’s backpack, where the corner of what looked to be a sketchbook was sticking out.
A jolt of excitement infiltrated Gus’ mood, but he forced himself to ask in a casual tone, “Do you draw?”
The brunet glanced up at him questioningly, his eyes then following Gus’ hand as he pointed toward his backpack. “Sometimes,” he muttered, looking as if he wanted to drop the subject.
“Could I see?” Augustus pressed anyway.
Isaac’s bright, topaz eyes flickered upward again to meet his. His gaze felt searching, but for the life of him Augustus couldn’t figure out what he was looking for. He felt his face grow warm again and the desire to dive into the bushes beneath the window increased again, but he managed to keep his expression merely mildly curious.
“Only if you show me yours,” he finally answered.
Isaac clicked his tongue in disapproval and then gestured lazily toward Gus’ backpack, which also had a sketchbook sticking out of it.
“Oh,” Augustus said, letting his hair fall into his face to hide his ever reddening cheeks. “Um, okay.” He practically dove beneath his desk, taking his time fetching the book before he slowly rose to face Isaac again.
He was already holding out his worn sketchbook to him. Augustus carefully took it and then replaced it with his own.
Isaac muttered a thanks, placed it on his desk, opened the cover to look at the first drawing and then, much to Augustus’ shock, slammed it shut and yanked his own sketchbook back out of Gus’ hands.
“Hey! What the hell?” Augustus cried out, earning a reproachful look from Mrs. Fenton. “Sorry,” he mumbled, lowering his head in apology. The dark-haired boy felt his teacher’s suspicious stare linger, but eventually she turned around when someone on the other side of the room called her name.
As soon as she did, Augustus’ eyes snapped back to Isaac’s. “What’s the big i—”
Isaac jabbed his finger at Gus’ sketchbook. “You draw like this and you want to see mine?” he asked in a hushed voice, his brows raised in disbelief. “Fuck no. What are you, a prodigy or something?”
“Huh? No, they’re not that g—”
“Yes, they are. I’ve never seen drawings like this. Not in person anyway. You’re fucking talented. Holy shit.”
Augustus didn’t know what to say. His tongue was tied up and his face was burning again. “I—” He sighed deeply. “May I please see your drawings?” he requested earnestly.
“Are you pouting?”
“What? No. I mean, I don’t know. I can’t see my face.”
“You can’t see your face,” Isaac deadpanned, which for some reason made Augustus laugh.
“Stopppp, come on,” he complained. The brunet chuckled and then, shaking his head in defeat, tossed his sketchbook back at Augustus, who caught it happily.
“You’re ridiculous, you know that?”
Augustus ignored him, flipping open the notebook and then immediately smiling anew. Isaac’s drawings were of dozens and dozens of characters that looked like they’d come straight out of a video game or an anime. They were good too, he didn’t care what Isaac thought, not to mention interesting to look at. There were characters striking poses, leaping, drawing weapons he’d never seen before, making silly faces, or even locked in combat. He supposed if he were familiar with more video games, he might even be able to name some of the characters, as a few of them looked vaguely familiar.
“You must really like video games,” Augustus mused.
“Nah, hate them.”
“Aren’t we hilarious?” Augustus muttered, turning the page again. “Oh, hey! Link! I know that one.”
“I know that one,” Isaac mouthed and this time Augustus lobbed his pencil at him.
“Don’t be an ass!”
“Hey!” Isaac exclaimed in surprise, clumsily catching the pencil and nearly dropping it in the process. “Said the guy looking to give me lead poisoning,” he noted, holding up the pencil as evidence of Gus’ alleged murderous intent.
“It’s not lead, it’s graphite,” Augustus informed him, reaching to take it back.
“Graphite poisoning,” Isaac dryly corrected, pulling back the writing utensil at the last moment so that Augustus grasped at air.
“Oh, very funny. You’re an idiot. Do you know that?” Gus retorted, and then abruptly turned to look out the window with an expression of abject horror. Isaac turned his head too and Augustus took that opportunity to snatch the pencil out of his hand.
“Clever boy,” Isaac praised with a smirk once he realized what had happened.
Augustus couldn’t quite rid himself of the triumphant smile that spread across his face.
The golden-eyed brunet briefly raised an eyebrow and then leaned back in his seat, drawling, “’Stay in a group with him,’ my brain said. ‘He’ll be a nice partner,’ my brain said. Lies.”
“Hey, I’m nice,” Augustus protested with another unintended pout.
Isaac snorted. “Yeah, to look at maybe.”
Augustus froze, gaping at Isaac and midway through turning another page in his sketchbook. He felt as if the ceiling had suddenly fallen upon on his head. He might have even had the blunt force injury to prove it. After all, he certainly felt stunned enough.
Isaac, meanwhile, grimaced. “Don’t fucking look into that,” he growled, sitting up. “I just meant the only nice you might be is that, and maybe not even. You’re annoying, in fact. And way too fucking sensitive,” he added when Gus’ face fell.
Augustus couldn’t help his reaction though. The conversation had taken a complete one-eighty. Or…or maybe it hadn’t? Maybe…maybe this entire time Isaac was actually irritated by their banter? Maybe Augustus had misread everything.
“I’m sorry,” Augustus uttered quietly, his head slightly bowed and his bangs falling into his eyes. “I didn’t mean to…to annoy you. I thought—I…I’m sorry.” He handed Isaac’s sketchbook back to him, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but here. He should have traded that damned number from the start.
“Don’t do that,” Isaac mumbled uncomfortably and then sighed heavily. The sound pulled Augustus out of his thoughts. He watched uncertainly as Isaac shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You are nice and you’re not annoying at all. I don’t know why I said that.”
Augustus frowned, a slow and utterly disappointing realization dawning upon him. “Isaac…if…if you have a problem with me then we can just—”
“I don’t have a problem with you,” Isaac interjected so vehemently that Augustus looked up at him in surprise. “I promise you. Okay?”
Isaac promised…but what good was a promise from someone you’d only spoken to for about fifteen minutes? Augustus made a slight face, tapping his fingers against the desk as his brain debated. “You’re a little fucked up, you know that?” he asked.
Isaac let out a short, humorless laugh, but he didn’t say anything else. Instead, he returned to skimming the project requirements, looking quite put out. The sight made Gus’ heart sink. He wanted to go back to five minutes ago when they’d been laughing and joking. Only fifteen minutes of conversation and that was already all Augustus wanted.
Deciding to take a real gamble, Augustus took out a sheet of paper and then began to write upon it in large, looping cursive letters. There was every possibility that this could backfire, but if Isaac really didn’t have a problem with him….
He turned the paper around and slid it across the desk toward Isaac. The brunet lifted his head to look at it and then went through a series of reactions in rapid succession, first letting out a short, incredulous laugh; then rubbing the back of his head and taking a cursory look around them; and finally scoffing and pushing the paper back toward Augustus in seeming annoyance. Though as the page was still face up, the neatly written words were still clearly visible: You know, I think you’re pretty nice to look at too.
“Whatever,” Isaac grumbled, resting both of his arms on the desk and determinedly avoiding Gus’ eyes. “Let’s just…figure this damn project out, okay?” he asked, though not entirely unkindly.
Augustus lowered his head to hide the smile of amusement that graced his lips before he pocketed the note and quietly replied, “Okay, Isaac.” Okay.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. October. Scene II.
The sun was burning low on the horizon, dappling the waves in tawny light and casting long shadows across the smooth, ecru sand. Isaac and Augustus walked along the shoreline, enjoying strawberry ice creams they’d purchased to celebrate the completion of their project.
It had been much more difficult than they’d anticipated, but this they knew was their fault as they’d chosen to make a stop-motion video instead of a much less time-consuming PowerPoint or tri-fold poster board. It had taken many late nights, unfortunate program crashes, and despairing groans of frustration, but mostly it had been long conversations by the fireplace in Gus’ living room, laughter, munching on salty snacks, and falling asleep surrounded by Lego bricks and storyboard sketches as the fire died down and Gus’ parents peered in bemusedly.
Even with its challenges, it was the most fun Augustus had ever had doing a school project and now that it was coming to a close, a strange sense of emptiness was beginning to settle upon his heart.
“You seem kind of down,” Isaac observed, peering over at him. “Is something wrong?”
Augustus lifted his gaze from a clump of seaweed that had washed up on the shore, feeling surprised that Isaac had noticed his shift in mood so quickly. He hadn’t even realized that he’d been showing it. Dropping his gaze and with slightly rosy cheeks Augustus replied, “I dunno…it’s just, well, after we present tomorrow, the project’s over.”
Isaac’s ice cream froze midway to his mouth as he looked at Augustus in astonishment. “Please tell me you’re not that much of a dork.”
The dark-haired boy laughed in spite of himself, shaking his head. “No, shut up. That’s not what I meant. I…” He paused, taking a self-conscious bite of his ice cream. This sounded so silly, but….
“I guess I realized that…that we won’t really be hanging out as much anymore, you know?” Augustus looked over at Isaac apprehensively as they walked. There was a small frown pulling at the corners of his lips, his brows furrowed as he took in Gus’ comment.
“Why wouldn’t we hang out as much?” he asked.
“Because we run in different circles,” Augustus answered almost immediately, having given this some thought. “I mean we’ve only got the one class together and our assigned seats are nowhere near each other; you’re about to get even busier with Cross Country and me with Art Club; and we share no friends at all in common. Not to mention you’re clearly cool and popular and I’m—”
“Smart, creative, fun to talk to, and one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met,” Isaac quietly interjected.
Augustus blushed, the apples of his cheeks now practically matching the shade of his strawberry ice cream. “Oh, um…well, oh….I mean…but, the rest.…” he trailed off stupidly.
“I get what you’re saying,” Isaac reluctantly began, “but we’ve managed so far. Why should that change now?”
Augustus frowned. Admittedly, he didn’t have a good answer to that, but somehow the empty feeling within his chest remained. It was easy enough to say they would keep hanging out, but without the prospect of a specific goal they needed to accomplish, who could guarantee they wouldn’t fall out of touch? Even thinking of it made his ice cream taste less sweet.
“Gus,” Isaac said, his footsteps coming to an abrupt halt in the sand.
Augustus stopped too, looking up at him questioningly.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he reassured him seriously. “Not unless you want me to.”
“No,” Augustus whispered. “Never.”
In a rare instance, their eyes met one another’s simultaneously, bright golden honey and deepest reddish-brown. A feeling unlike any other Gus had experienced swept over him, causing his heart to skip, his stomach to flutter, and his skin to flush all at once.
If he took a mere step closer, their lips would touch. Augustus so wanted that…he so wanted to kiss him and part of him thought that maybe Isaac did too, but he didn’t feel sure enough. Sometimes he felt like it’d be welcomed, but other times he’d catch Elena running her fingers down Isaac’s arm while she talked to him at school and the brunet would smile at her in return and that was so very confusing.
“Your ice cream is melting,” Isaac noted, taking a step back and giving a slight nod in its direction.
Augustus glanced down, flushing as he realized it was beginning to drip all over his hand. Isaac reached into the pocket of his jeans, pulling out a napkin and handing it to him.
“Thanks,” he mumbled in embarrassment, but Isaac only smiled a little and then looked away, bringing his own ice cream back to his mouth.
The two resumed their walk in relative silence, Augustus still vaguely mortified that he apparently ate ice cream like a five year old. A slight breeze rustled his jet-black hair. Although he would have preferred to be talking to the brunet, Augustus couldn’t help but notice that there was a comfort he derived simply by being in his presence. God, it was almost scary—how much he could come to like Isaac in so little time.
They finished their ice creams, crunching on the last bits of cone and then tossing their paper wrappings and used napkins into a trash can further up the beach.
Isaac took a look out across the sea, where the sun was beginning to disappear beyond the rushing waves. The golden light made his eyes glow even brighter.
“It’s getting late,” he remarked, and then glanced over at Augustus with a sudden, mischievous smirk.
“No,” Augustus immediately protested, holding up his hands. “Absolutely not. The last time I ran back with you I nearly passed out!”
“You were being way overdramatic.”
“I couldn’t breathe!”
“You flopped down into the grass on the side of the road and began crying out, ‘I’m dying! I’m dying!”
“I honestly felt that was an accurate description of my condition at the time.”
Isaac laughed, a warm, open laugh that caused Gus’ heart to swell and a smile to return his lips. “Just to City Hall then,” Isaac bargained.
“Oh! Only a mile, don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” Augustus drawled sarcastically.
Another laugh escaped the brunet and then after a quick wink, Isaac took off, bolting ahead so fast that Augustus couldn’t help but gape for a moment in mild admiration. As the distance between them became more noticeable though Augustus cursed and took off after him.
He knew that he would never catch him, but he also knew that he would always try.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Late October. Scene III.
“You really are hopeless, aren’t you?”
Augustus tore his gaze away from the opposite side of the lunchroom, where Isaac was sitting and laughing with his friends, a certain curly-haired girl settled right beside him. She kept covering her mouth and giggling whenever Isaac spoke, her eyes almost never leaving his face.
He sighed unintentionally, gloomily prodding at the last of his yogurt before he muttered, “I prefer to call it ‘royally fucked.’”
His twin sister laughed, causing Augustus to lift his head and narrow his eyes at her.
“Oh, don’t be angry,” Gemma chided in disapproval. “I’m not laughing at you. It’s just…I’ve never seen you like this before, about anyone. It’s very odd.”
“And so you laugh?”
“Well, it’s sort of cute. How much you like him, I mean. Don’t you think there’s any hope?”
A second, longer sigh escaped Augustus before he slowly shook his head. “I don’t even know anymore. Sometimes it feels like there is…and other times….” He cautiously peered back over at Isaac’s lunch table, where Elena really seemed to be turning up the charm for him.
Gemma followed his gaze with a thoughtful expression. “He doesn’t seem wildly interested in her,” she commented bracingly.
“I’m not sure what that says though,” Augustus quietly replied. He picked up his turkey sandwich to take a bite, trying to ignore how dry it tasted and how the back of his neck felt increasingly hot.
“Tell me about the times in which it feels like there is hope. What does he do that makes you feel that way?”
Augustus swallowed with some difficultly, then twisting the cap off his water bottle to take a sip. “The way he looks at me.”
Gemma raised both eyebrows, the escaped fluffy curls of her ponytail making her look even more surprised. Augustus felt his face warm up as he hastily clarified, “It’s not like that. It’s like a…a soft look, I guess? And then when we’re completely alone—and I mean completely—he’ll….”
“He’ll…?” his sister prompted, tilting her head slightly.
Augustus exhaled sharply. “I mean it could be accidental or not mean anything at all, but he’ll do things like…brush my hair out of my face or…kind of lean against me a little when we’re watching a movie or something.”
“I see. Well, you’re an idiot,” Gemma confidently concluded.
“What? Wait, why? Those aren’t things guys typically do to their friends, I—”
“Exactly,” she interjected, flourishing the cheese stick that she was eating for added emphasis. “There’s no way he’s not interested. Most of the guys I’ve ever spoken to would sooner chop off their left testicle than brush their male friend’s hair out of their eyes. I mean, come on. Their friend could be completely blinded by their hair and they would likely only laugh because god forbid they ever get near a guy like that. I mean I suppose there could be exceptions, but honestly speaking…wouldn’t you agree?”
“Chop off their left testicle?” Augustus echoed incredulously.
“Was that all you heard? It was only an example.”
Gemma shrugged, popping the rest of the cheese stick in her mouth while Augustus slowly took another sip from his water bottle. He wanted to believe that his sister had a point, and part of him did feel this way, but it wasn’t enough to convince him either way. In fact, there were some days when Augustus would have given anything for his feelings toward Isaac to be purely platonic.
Unbidden, his gaze once again slid across the lunchroom, where Elena was spearing a peach slice on the end of her fork. She offered it to Isaac and then giggled when the brunet smirked and pulled it off with his teeth.
Gemma shifted uncomfortably, having followed Gus’ gaze and seen it too. “Whatever,” she muttered, waving her hand dismissively. “I still stand by what I said.”
“Confront him,” she firmly instructed, ignoring her brother’s plea for death.
Augustus rubbed his temple, feeling a faint headache coming on. “I want to,” he began tiredly, “but what if doing so makes me lose him as a friend? This sucks, yeah, but I’d rather be friends and have a stupid crush than never be able to talk to him again.” Augustus paused, chewing his lip and then quietly adding, “I like having him in my life too much.”
Gemma made a muted tsk sound with her tongue, stirring her yogurt with a pitying expression. “I honestly don’t know whether to cry or slap you.”
“Do either, but don’t give me that look, please. I’ll eventually confront him. I’ll have to, but for now I’m not confident he won’t run away if I do.”
His sister’s gaze snapped up to meet his, her amethyst eyes flashing dangerously. “If he runs he wasn’t worth having in your life anyway,” she told him in a low, serious voice.
Augustus opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it upon realizing that he didn’t have an argument. Gemma was right. She often was, much to Gus’ displeasure. She was completely right, and yet he still couldn’t bring himself to tackle the idea of having such a conversation with Isaac. Augustus was too afraid of losing him, and maybe that was inevitable, but if that was true he was going to forestall that happening for as long as he possibly could. The time they spent with one another was worth that much, at least.
“You know, I’m beginning to think you don’t like Isaac at all,” Gemma said, her voice unexpectedly soft. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
Augustus gave an uneasy laugh. Now that was a leap, wasn’t it? They’d only been talking for about a month and in that time their relationship hadn’t ventured at all from companionate friendship. He wasn’t even sure if the possibility existed to extend beyond that.
“You laugh, but you haven’t actually answered my question,” his sister noted.
“Haven’t I though? I’m laughing because the idea is ridiculous.”
“Yes, it is,” Augustus insisted, but he glanced across the lunchroom again anyway, only to find that Isaac had glanced up at the exact same time. Gus’ heart leapt and a small, crooked smile began to pull at Isaac’s lips before he abruptly dropped his gaze and forced his attention back to his friends.
Augustus looked down at his barely eaten sandwich. He could deny it all he wanted, but if Gemma was right, and goddamn it she usually was, then Augustus was even more fucked he’d thought.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Early November. Scene IV.
It was the end of the school day and the hallways were exploding with the sounds of laughter, slamming lockers, and the clamoring of students eager to get home. Augustus suppressed a yawn and then stared blearily at his own unorganized locker as he tried to remember which books he needed to complete his homework tonight. He was exhausted, but admittedly his spirits were still fairly high because the reason he was so tired was because he’d stayed up until nearly four in the morning talking to Isaac on the phone. They hadn’t intended to stay up so late, but time had sort of slipped away from them and the next thing they knew the first birds were beginning to chirp. They’d laughed themselves silly and decided they may as well pull an all-nighter, but sometime between the hours of 3:30 and 4:00 they must have drifted off because Augustus woke to find his phone dead and resting next to his head on the pillow.
Once his phone had gained enough charge he’d texted Isaac only to find that he’d had a similar experience. It made Augustus feel kind of pathetically happy—the fact that, in a way, they’d fallen asleep together and that the last sounds they’d heard had been one another’s voices.
Done collecting the books he needed and having stored the rest, Augustus shut the door to his locker and replaced the lock, fastening it with a distinct click. As he made his way down the hall he vaguely thought to himself that he might try to take a nap before dinner and start on his assignments after he ate. He would usually use that time to paint and unwind from the school day, but sleep would probably be more beneficial in this case. Otherwise he was bound to get stuck reading the same lines over and over again.
There was a sudden, loud metallic thud followed by a jubilant whoop and scattered laughter. Confused and a little startled, Augustus turned his head in the direction of the clamor, where the crowd’s attention was focused on a girl next to the lockers with a familiar mass of tightly curled hair. Her slender arms were thrown around the neck of a guy she had pinned against the lockers and she was kissing him as if her life depended on it.
Augustus didn’t need to see the guy’s face to feel his stomach turn, but when the couple came up for air and Isaac’s golden eyes caught his, he felt his heart shatter like a crystal figurine tumbling off a high shelf and exploding into dust.
His legs moved toward the exit before his thoughts had caught up with him, but Augustus was still several feet from the windowed doors when a set of strong fingers wound around his wrist and brought him to an abrupt stop.
A sharp breath escaped his lungs upon hearing Isaac’s panicked voice, hope cresting at the same time that an iron fist smashed it back down where it belonged.
Stupid! He’d been so fucking stupid! Hadn’t he seen those two together time after time? This shouldn’t have been in the least bit surprising. This shouldn’t have been in the least bit upsetting because there hadn’t been a single promise made between them; no confessions or conversations about what they were or what they might have wanted to be. There was nothing of the sort and yet still Gus’ blood writhed in his veins, vicious and turbulent as his heart pounded in his ears. He was so stupid! He wanted to scream. He wanted to disappear—no, needed to.
“Please, let go.”
“I can’t. That wasn’t what it looked like. She—” Isaac began, but Augustus cut his words off with a bitter laugh of disbelief and wrenched his arm away.
“I don’t care!” he burst out loud enough that a few scattered students halted in their steps to watch. “It doesn’t matter! You’re free to do whatever you like.”
“But that wasn’t what I—”
“Oye, Isaac! ¿Qué estás haciendo? ¿Por qué me dejaste así?” Elena’s irritated voice rang out above the din. What are you doing? Why’d you leave me like that?
She came to settle at the brunet’s side, her confused gaze flickering from Gus’ overly bright eyes to Isaac’s face, which was suddenly an odd, ashen color instead of the warm shade of sandalwood it usually was. “¿Estás bien? ¿Qué pasó?” she asked worriedly, looping her arm with Isaac’s. Are you okay? What happened?
Isaac opened his mouth, to respond to Elena or to respond to him Augustus wasn’t sure, but he shook his head regardless to stop him.
“You should probably comfort her. She sounds upset,” Augustus whispered, and then turned around a second time and bolted out the door.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Early November. Scene V.
Augustus stared up at the darkened ceiling of his bedroom. He wanted desperately to sleep, but his mind came replaying the last hour like he was trapped in some sort of infinite time loop. Every time he closed his eyes all he saw was Isaac and Elena going at it like professional lip wrestlers. It made him feel queasy, but mostly it made his throat tighten so painfully that it was a wonder to Augustus that he could even breathe.
He didn’t think he had ever felt so stupendously idiotic; so utterly betrayed. He had thought…thought what, really? What the fuck gave him the right to ever think that there’d been something between them?
Augustus reached up, angrily wiping hot tears from his cheeks. If he didn’t have the right to believe that there’d been something between them, he certainly didn’t have the right to cry upon discovering that there wasn’t either.
A sharp knock sounded at Gus’ bedroom door. He suppressed a groan, turning on his side and fully intending to feign sleep.
“Open the door, Augustus! I know you’re not asleep!”
This time Augustus did groan before shouting back, “Just leave me alone, Gemma! I’m tired!”
“You realize it’s quite simple for me to dart downstairs and grab the skeleton key, don’t you?”
Feeling distinctly irritated, Augustus dragged himself out of bed and then flung open the door, but he didn’t get the chance to spit the angry words on his tongue because his twin sister immediately said, “I think you should talk to Isaac.”
Augustus grit his teeth, which gave Gemma the opportunity to add, “He’s outside right now. He asked to see you and of course I noticed the state you were in so I said no, but he grew increasingly more distressed, so I think you should talk to him.”
“That’s why you think I should talk to him?” Augustus asked with a skeptical raise of his eyebrow.
“Yes, it’s completely pathetic. I feel bad. Also, he ran here,” she emphasized incredulously, her eyes opened wide. “Are you aware of how far that is? On that note, perhaps I shouldn’t have left him alone. He looked rather close to passing out. Ah, well. I’m sure he’s still conscious.”
Augustus made a strangled sort of noise and bolted out of his room, practically tripping down the stairs and then flying outside, but the sight he was greeted with was not Isaac’s limp body splayed across the walkway, but Isaac on his feet and looking surprised at his sudden appearance, but otherwise perfectly fine. Augustus had fallen right for his twin’s manipulation and found himself all the worse off for it after seeing Isaac’s face. He thought this was what swallowing glass must feel like.
“You didn’t have to come here. You don’t have to explain. Like I said earlier, you’re allowed to do whatever you want,” Augustus automatically intoned.
“I do have to explain because you have the wrong idea!” Isaac stated vehemently even though he must have been exhausted. “Please just…hear me out for a second.”
Augustus pressed the tip of his tongue hard against his teeth. He wanted to tell the brunet to leave, but now that he was here before him the last thing he wanted was for him to go.
That’s how stupid you are, Gus. You still want him in your life.
“I don’t,” he began to say, but Isaac instantly cut him off with another sincere, “Please” that made Gus’ heart twist uncomfortably.
“I…don’t see how it will help,” Augustus said haltingly, “but fine. Just…whatever. Come in for a second. No one’s home yet except my sister.”
A look of relief crossed Isaac’s features, but Gus couldn’t stand to look at it for even a second as he turned to go back inside. He heard the brunet pick up his backpack and soon enough the two were standing awkwardly in his air-conditioned living room.
Augustus was in the middle of debating whether offering him a water bottle would be idiotic considering the circumstances, but right as he about to ask Isaac blurted out, “I didn’t kiss Elena. She kissed me. I didn’t even want her to and she knows it!”
A dark cloud descended on Augustus’ mood upon hearing these words, his eyes narrowing and his arms folding firmly across his chest. “If that’s the case then using your tongue to fend her off probably wasn’t the most useful strategy you could have employed,” he sourly replied, all thoughts of hospitality gone from his mind.
Isaac grimaced, averting his gaze. “I couldn’t…push her off, exactly. It would have been—I mean…everyone around and—” He glanced at Augustus and then looked away again. “I can’t have them saying—have them…figuring out….”
“Figuring out what, Isaac? You’re not making any sense.”
Isaac sighed in exasperation before he cast Augustus a look of impatient disbelief, threw his arms up and exclaimed in a vicious whisper, “That I’m gay! Obviously! Fuck!”
Augustus gaped at Isaac for a split second before he flushed hotly and bit back, “What do you mean ‘obviously?’ I’ve only ever been on the fence when it comes to figuring out where the hell on the scale you lie and when I witness shit like you and Elena tickling each other’s tonsils I’m supposed to fucking conclude that you’re gay?!”
“Tickling each other’s…What the fuck?”
“Never mind what I called it! It doesn’t change anything! It doesn’t change what you did or the fact that you were apparently stringing Elena along! I mean, do you know how fucked up that is? Do you know how fucking messed up it is of you to make her feel like you liked her when you didn’t give a shit about her at all!?” Augustus demanded, though at this point he admittedly didn’t know if he was still talking about Elena.
“She knew I didn’t—ugh, you wouldn’t understand,” Isaac said, but that only further pissed Augustus off.
“WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND!?” he shouted, glad that his sister’s room was all the way up the third floor. “Wouldn’t understand!? What the fuck?! You did not just tell me of all people that I wouldn’t understand! You did not just tell me that I wouldn’t understand when every day I keep my head down at school so that no one looks my way and decides it’d be a good day to fuck with me. You did not just tell me that I wouldn’t understand when I have to watch every goddamn thing I say and who I say it to because SOMEHOW the business of who I like is a personal fucking affront to people! You did not just tell me I wouldn’t understand when I could barely come out to my own family who I know loves me because I was so fucking afraid that I’d be seen as a disappointment!”
“What?” Augustus asked, out of breath and somewhat thrown off by the unexpectedly calm question.
Isaac glanced at him cautiously, perhaps afraid that Gus would explode again. “Did your parents see you as a disappointment?”
Augustus gave Isaac a searching gaze, but he couldn’t glean anything from his expression. “No, they didn’t,” he answered, “but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. I was saying that I think I could probably understand, even if it’s not the same.”
Isaac absently kicked at a small piece of reptile kibble that his brother Tobias must have dropped. He was quiet for so long that it began to make Augustus feel anxious.
“I mean, is it that you’re confused about it, or…?”
“No,” Isaac mumbled in answer, his eyes never leaving the floor. “It’s not that, but I don’t….” He sighed in frustration. “Let me try to put things into…into perspective. I’ve known, or at least figured, since I was like…six. My mom used to take me to the park when I was little and there was this boy I always hung out with whenever his mom brought him too. I remember I thought that he was nice and cute and one day, I kissed him on the cheek. I didn’t think anything of it. I think the boy even smiled, but my mom? She flipped.”
“She leapt right off the bench she was sitting on, grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me all the way back to the car. I remember I was terrified because I’d never seen her like that before. Not ever. Then when we got home she shouted and spanked the ever living hell out of me, but I don’t really remember crying. All I can remember is that I knew I’d something wrong—I was being told that I had done something wrong, but I didn’t understand what and I was too afraid to ask.”
“Then my dad got home and she told him what happened and well…same story. Not that it did any good, as you can see. Man, I don’t think I could sit properly for a week,” Isaac admitted with a strange laugh, but Augustus had never heard anything less funny in his life.
Isaac hadn’t done anything wrong and they punished him. They punished him, a little kid with a crush, and made him believe that he had done something wrong.
Augustus felt sick to his stomach. He suddenly felt horribly guilty for having gone off on Isaac like that. In fact, he almost felt guilty for having been angry at all. Everything was beginning to make sense.
“Truth is,” Isaac whispered, still looking anywhere but at Augustus, “I hate myself for it. I hate that I’m this way because it would be so much easier if I wasn’t.” His voice abruptly broke and Augustus felt his heart plummet as Isaac shakily added, “You can hate me for that, or be pissed at me for that because I know that I should be fucking proud or whatever, but it’s so damn difficult for me to feel that way when all it’s been is a…is a fucking burden.”
“I don’t hate you for that,” Augustus hastened to reassure him, taking a half-step forward. “I’m not even mad at you for that. Honestly, all it does is…make me feel really sad because—because you’re one of the best people I’ve ever known.” Augustus paused and pressed his lips together, uncomfortably aware of how tight his throat felt and how his eyes had embarrassingly begun to sting.
“Isaac, I…I don’t know how much my opinion is worth, considering, but obviously I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, or that there’s ever been anything wrong with you. Everyone else—they’re the wrong ones and I wish you could see that! I wish that you could see yourself the way that I see you because that’s…that’s someone I don’t think you could ever come to hate.”
Gus’ voice finally cracked, but he might have been able to hold himself together had it not been for the fact that Isaac had already begun to cry, his body half turned away from him and his hands coming up to hide his tear-streaked face.
It had never been Gus’ intention to make Isaac cry. It had never been his intention to go off on him like that. It had never been his intention to pull Isaac into a tight hug and make him freeze in fear. None of these were his intentions, but they all happened anyway.
Augustus hastened to loosen his grip, but before he could create even an inch of space between them Isaac’s body melted into Gus’ all at once, his arms wrapping around him and his fingers digging into his shoulder as he tried to draw him even nearer. Augustus reached up to cradle the back of Isaac’s head while the brunet burrowed his face in the crook of Gus’ neck. His shoulders were shaking with his barely muted sobs, a fact that made Gus’ own tears impossible to prevent.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Isaac whispered miserably. “I don’t know how you don’t feel this way too.”
“I used to,” Augustus murmured. “I used to feel that way sometimes, but…this is who I am and I’m not about to waste my life hating myself for it. I’m not about to beat myself up over something I can’t change. It’d be like hating myself for not managing to be two inches taller. I may as well accept it and be happier for it—otherwise I think I’d go crazy.”
“Sounds about right,” Isaac feebly joked, but then slowly shook his head. “I am trying, Gus. I’m trying, but I’m also so tired of it all. I’m fucking tired of it and I’m only fifteen years old,” he added with a self-deprecating laugh.
“I could help,” he said in a rush. “I could…try to help make it easier. And maybe…maybe it could be easier now because you’re not alone. You’re not alone because you…you have me.” Augustus felt his face warm up, but he hastened to finish, “I don’t know how much that means, but for whatever it is worth, you’ll always have me.”
Isaac caught Augustus off-guard by stepping back to cast him a skeptical look. “Do I? Even after the way I’ve treated you?”
Augustus wiped his eyes and then lifted his chin to meet Isaac’s strikingly bright eyes. “Yes, of course you do. I’ve never thought the way you treated me was bad. Just…confusing, I guess. Although I could have done without seeing that lip wrangling competition. That was pretty shitty.”
“Just how many weird terms do you have for kissing anyway?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve only just begun,” Augustus truthfully answered, which drew a soft, genuine laugh from Isaac and brought a smile to Gus’ lips.
“I’m sorry,” Isaac said, drying his face with his sleeve. “It was shitty and I’m really sorry. I’m also going to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I’ll…I’ll tell her that I like someone else.”
“Oh?” Augustus tentatively inquired.
Isaac smiled at his reaction, reaching out to tenderly brush Gus’ bangs to the side of his face. “Yeah,” he said, sounding a bit shy. “Someone…far away, but also pretty near.”
Gus’ heart rose like bubbles in a fizzy drink, but he wasn’t sure if it’d be okay to utter the words that rose to the tip of his tongue, so instead he tried to show them by rushing to hug him once more. The action made Isaac’s breath catch, his heartrate increasing markedly. He knew because it was beating so hard that Augustus could feel it racing against his chest. Isaac’s body radiated heat and he smelled like a subtly spicy body spray, sweat, and the salty, ocean air. Augustus pressed closer to him—pretty near indeed.
“I like hugging you,” Augustus murmured.
Isaac gave an unexpected, tearful laugh, burying his face in the raven-haired boy’s neck and squeezing him tight. “Yeah,” he whispered. “Me too.”
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
To be concluded in Pt. 2