Jem knows that Tay is going crazy. Why? Because for some reason, he’s brought him flowers—actual flowers—and he’s looking like he’s just kicked a puppy and trying to find the words to tell him about it. It’s disconcerting, actually, seeing him this serious. One of the things that had drawn him to Tay in the first place had been his playful, carefree nature. It had been so at odds with who Jem had been at the time—painfully insecure, afraid to even have an opinion, working so hard just to feel for one second that he belonged—and the opposition had been intoxicating. He’d grown since then; the insecurities were still there, of course, but being around someone who cared so little about what others thought had been refreshing and interesting and he’d been trying his best to emulate that same confidence. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?
That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t seen different sides to Tay in the time since then. Two years was a long time, especially for teenagers, and he’d been there through the good, the bad, and the ugly just as Tay had been there for him.
Even so, this was the first time he’d seen this side of him. This…shame? Worse, it seems like it’s connected to him in some way, seeing as how Tay was giving him flowers for the first time in the entire history of their relationship.
“Are you okay?” Jem asks, tilting his head and frowning.
“I—yes…no…” Tay runs a hand through his hair. “No. No I’m not.”
Jem immediately grabs Tay’s hand and pulls him further into the room, shutting the door behind him and gently leading him to the bed. Tay follows without protest, even when Jem pushes him down onto the mattress and straddles him. “Tell me about it.”
“I…Jem, how am I supposed to tell you anything with you on me like this?”
“Well, you can’t escape,” Jem says, grinning mischievously down at him.
“You weigh like a pound. I could easily lift you…”
Tay tries to, but Jem dances almost as well as Tobi and his hips and thighs are well-muscled and strong, and there’s no way that Tay is getting him up if he doesn’t want to move. Jem arches a stubborn eyebrow down at the slightly younger boy.
Tay sighs heavily and Jem knows he has him right where he wants him. Still, the frown line between his eyebrows is proving quite a distraction and Jem finds himself reaching down to smooth it away with one of his small hands. Despite himself, Tay leans into the touch, his eyes falling closed and a sigh escaping his lips.
Tay is always like this—completely malleable in his hands, unable to resist Jem’s physical affection in the slightest; not for long anyways. “What’s troubling you, TayTay?” he asks him softly. “You know I hate it when you’re sad.”
Tay sighs again and this time there’s nothing that could be called contentment in the expression; only a bone-weary exhaustion and a deep-seated shame. “I did something horrible,” Tay begins. “To you.”
Jem’s eyebrows scrunch together in confusion as he sits back some, trying to remember any time Tay had done something to hurt him. As hard as he tries to remember it, however, there’s nothing. “Hm…I think you’re mistaken,” Jem says, trying for a smile. “You know I can hold grudges, so I feel like I’d remember if you’d hurt me lately.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Tay shuffles out from underneath him and Jem can’t help but frown deeper. He lets the other go this time, however, sitting back on his heels and allowing the younger to sit up some more. Tay sounds so serious and it’s honestly starting to make him feel really uncomfortable—like something is twisting in his gut.
“Are you about to break up with me?” Jem asks, trying not to let his voice crack at the thought. “Like, did you fall out of…whatever you feel for me…and that’s what you mean that you did something horrible to me? Because if so, I get it—I mean, I hate it, but I get it. I just…can you at least tell me why?”
Tay is shaking his head. “No! Jem—what the hell—of course I’m not breaking up with you,” Tay says. “You didn’t do anything wrong and anyway, if anything, you’re going to want to break up with me when I tell you what I’m trying to tell you.”
Jem bites his lip. “I don’t know if I want to hear it, then,” he mutters uncertainly, beginning to twist his hands together. He isn’t prepared for this. He’s never been good at confrontation and the way Tay is looking at him, like he might break and it’s all his fault, is not giving him any confidence. What had he done?
“Ugh—I knew this was a bad idea,” Tay groans suddenly, raking his hands through his hair. “But I can’t—I have to get this off my chest or it’s going to kill me, and Tobi said it would kill you and Emery, too, so I just…I have to tell you the truth.”
Jem sighs and steels himself. He doesn’t want to hear this, he knows he doesn’t, but he has to. As much as he would like to protect himself, he wants to protect Tay even more and. Worse, it involves Emery, too, and he would do just about anything for that kid. If telling him this awful thing in any way helps them both…Jem knows he’s gonna have to listen. No matter how much it hurts, he has to hear it. “Fine,” he says. “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
Despite the prompting, Tay seems at a loss for words. He keeps on looking everywhere but at Jem’s face, like he hopes he can find an escape route or a wormhole into another dimension as far from this situation as he can go.
Honestly, Jem isn’t sure what he expects to hear when Tay does finally speak. But it certainly isn’t what he hears.
“I kissed Emery,” he says, and he sounds like he just confessed to murder, his voice broken, eyes wet with tears.
The words take a moment to process. “You…you what?” Jem asks, feeling his heart sluggishly twisting in his chest.
“I’m sorry, Jemmie,” Tay says hurriedly. “I’m so sorry. I know it’s…I don’t even know why I did it. I mean, he kissed me first, but that’s beside the point and…”
“He kissed you first?” Jem repeats. Each consecutive word out of Tay’s mouth grows progressively more difficult to process. Emery was gay? Emery had kissed Tay? Tay had kissed him back? A thousand and one thoughts swirl through his head, making him feel kind of faint and confused.
“Yeah—I—I mean he had no idea at the time, about us you know, but when I told him…”
“You told him?” Jem knows he’s sounding more and more like a parrot, but Tay seems not to mind, just barreling on heedlessly.
“…he just looked so upset, and you know, I thought it might be jealousy or something, but no—he was angry at me because I’d cheated on you and that’s why we haven’t been talking and…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jem says, finally reaching up and placing a finger on Tay’s lips, silencing his tirade for a moment.
Tay looks taken aback, eyes wide and guileless. The fear in his eyes is what really hurts Jem, though, and he can’t believe that Tay’s been keeping all of this inside of him. “TayTay,” he begins, and Tay almost winces at the use of his nickname. What the hell did he expect him to call him? “Do you really think you cheated on me? All because of a kiss?”
Tay’s expression freezes for a moment, as if he definitely can’t comprehend the words that Jem has just uttered. He tries to speak, but the words just come out garbled because of Jem’s finger on his mouth.
Jem removes it for him and Tay tries again. “You mean, you aren’t even mad?”
A huff escapes Jem’s lips and he sits back folding his arms across his chest. “Of course I’m mad,” Jem says and Tay’s expression falls.
“I’m sorry…” he says.
Jem shakes his head. “I’m not mad about the kiss, though,” Jem continues as if Tay hadn’t spoken. “Well, not really. It’s just…it’s Emery.”
“I don’t understand,” Tay says.
“If it were a stranger, you know, it would be different. I don’t know how, but it would be. But Tay…Emery is our best friend. He’s naïve and impulsive and emotionally constipated and…”
Tay nods, agreeing with each of the words Jem is using to describe their best friend, but it’s clear that he doesn’t understand where Jem is going with this, so the pink-haired teen continues. “And I love him.”
There’s a tense silence, Tay staring at Jem with an odd expression. When it’s clear he isn’t going to say anything just yet, Jem sighs.
“I love him, and I love you, and you can deny it if you want, but I know that you love him too—and to know that you guys did this and that Emery is at home, feeling angry at you—and probably worried about me, the stupid Bunny—and thinking that what you guys did is wrong…it hurts me. I never wanted his first experience of love to be like that. I wanted…I wanted…ah, I don’t know what I wanted. But not this. Never this.”
Tay bites his lip. “So…what do we do about it?”
Jem scoffs. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Apologize?” Tay ventures.
A disgusted noise escapes Jem’s throat at the suggestion. “You really think an apology will fix this?”
Tay sighs in frustration. “I don’t know, Jem—I’m as clueless about all this as anyone. What the hell can I do? I’m happy you haven’t dumped me yet, but short of turning back time, I don’t know how to make up for this situation with Emery.”
“And here I thought you were the world-wise one,” Jem tuts, shaking his head. But he takes pity on Tay’s confusion and decides to tell him what he has in mind. “Obviously…I’m going to have to kiss him too.”
This stuns Tay into silence again and Jem is getting really proud of himself for figuring it out. Usually, he could never get the slightly younger boy to shut up. Today, he’s managed to succeed more than once. “Think about it,” Jem continues. “If we kiss, it proves I’m not mad at the whole thing. And he won’t have to feel bad because now that he’s done with me what he did with you, it’s all even. Everyone’s on an equal playing field again.”
“And…uh…what if he doesn’t want to kiss you?” Tay says uncertainly.
“How dare you—are you implying that you’re more crush-worthy than I am?” Jem is offended by the thought. He knows he isn’t the most beautiful creature—he probably knows it better than anyone—but even he had noticed the way Emery looked at him whenever he was doing a particularly sexy dance move or when he hit a difficult high note. There was no mistaking the lust—he’d just been planning on letting Emery figure it all out for himself. Now, though, the cat was out of the bag. He’d kissed his boyfriend, which brought him to his next point. “And anyway, it doesn’t matter. He kissed you—Bunny owes me, and it’s time to collect.”
“You’re insane,” Tay says, but it sounds like he means it as a compliment.
“Operation: Make Emery Kiss Me—is officially a go.” Jem grins mischievously.