Emery isn’t sure how he feels.
It’s not that he’s angry anymore. He got over that pretty quickly. But whatever he feels is a lot more uncomfortable than anger. Anger he understood; anger was familiar. This feeling is altogether foreign and he hates it. He feels like it’s choking him slowly from the inside, suffocating him until there’s nothing left.
Worse, he can’t even go to his usual places for comfort because he isn’t sure he’s ready to tell them about what Tay did—about what he did—and he’s afraid they’ll judge him as harshly as he’s been judging himself. Not to mention, the most comforting of them is Jem and that’s the one person he’s got no right to ask anything of right now.
Which is why he’s going to the one place that he always goes when feelings make him uncomfortable and nothing else makes sense: August’s.
August’s father made a good bit of money with his criminal enterprises. Not enough to earn them a nice house on the good side of town, by Jem, but enough to make sure he’s got the best, most secure house in the bad part of town. Problem with that is getting there.
Emery has always hated making the walk to August’s. He hates the glares of the people standing on the curb, their hushed voices which go immediately quiet when he passes by them. He keeps his hands in his pocket, but he doesn’t look down, forcing himself to keep looking ahead with purpose in his step. Looking down made you a target, showed you were afraid or lost; looking down was like a giant red sign saying “Hey! Mug me!”
And the last thing Emery wants right now is a mugging to add to his list of bad feelings lately. He’s good enough at beating himself up.
Thankfully, he makes it without incident and pounds hurriedly on August’s door, waiting anxiously for him to open up.
When he does, it’s clear that he’s been sleeping. His hair is sticking up at odd angles, more blonde than mint green now, and his eyes are puffy from sleep. “Is this a bad time?” Emery asks, biting his lip.
August examines him a moment, then shrugs, opening the door wider for Emery to enter.
Emery takes the invitation for what it is, hurrying inside so August can close the door. Problem is, now that he’s here, Emery isn’t sure what to say.
“Want some soda?” August asks lazily, padding into the kitchen.
“Uh…yeah, actually,” Emery agrees, realizing now that he’s kind of parched.
August returns to the living room with two cans of Coke, passing one to Emery before popping open the other and sitting in a worn armchair. After he takes a sip, August looks up at Emery. “What’s up?” he asks.
Emery takes a sip of his own soda to stall for time. He knows how much August hates the feelings talks. That was one of the reasons Emery found himself with the other more often than not. But why else did he come here, if not to talk about his new feelings with Tay and the new information about Jem and all the confusion that entails?
“Have you ever done something you weren’t supposed to and now you’re not sure how to make it right?” Emery asks finally.
August arches an eyebrow questioningly. “You know advice isn’t my strong suit,” he says and Emery looks down, cheeks coloring.
“I know but…that’s kind of why I wanted to ask you. I trust you to be honest and not try to coddle me. Because I know what I did was wrong, I just…”
“You don’t want someone to tell you it’s okay when you know it isn’t,” August suggests.
“Yeah, exactly. I just…want to know what to do next.”
“I guess it depends on what you did in the first place.” August settles back into the seat like a mob boss, fingers tapping on the can of his soda.
This is the really hard part. Emery sighs. “I kissed someone,” he says, figuring straight to the point is better. “And then I found out that the person was in a relationship with someone I also care a lot about; and then I might have told the person I kissed that he was a cheater and now I feel like shit because he looked really broken and I just…hate that I hurt them.”
“Ah…Tay and Jem.”
Emery’s mouth falls open. “You knew? Tay said nobody knew.”
August shrugs. “I may suck at the touchy feely shit, but I’m observant. I’d probably be dead by now if I wasn’t.”
Emery stares at August with barely concealed awe, and August shifts a little at the attention. “Okay, so maybe Tobi told me about it the other day,” he adds. “But I totally had my suspicions already.”
Emery’s mouth snaps shut, remembering how Tobi had all but dragged Tay away from the pool to have a private conversation with him. He couldn’t believe that Tay had told Tobi everything; did Tobi now think Emery was as much of an asshole as he felt right now? Probably—he and Tay went back a long time. “I really fucked up, huh?” Emery says after a moment.
“Yes,” August agrees and Emery winces even though this honesty was precisely the reason he’d come to August in the first place. “But not the way you think.”
Emery glances up uncertainly. “How do you mean?”
“The kiss itself wasn’t a big deal,” August continues sagely. “It’s the reaction. Why did you tell Tay he was a cheater?”
“Because he kissed me back. Like…really kissed me.” Emery’s cheeks color even more at the memory.
“But were you really bothered by the fact that he had seemingly betrayed Jem…or because you wanted to get back at him, knowing you’d just put your feelings on the line and he’d all but rejected you by telling you he was with someone that you also care about?”
“I…I don’t know. Both, I guess.” Emery scratches his head. “I’d never thought of myself as…you know…”
“Gay?” August suggests.
Emery nods. “Yeah. And then to find out that maybe my feelings weren’t so unrequited after all, it validated it. I…I was so happy.”
“Except it didn’t last.”
“Yeah…it was my first kiss, and he liked it and it was good, but then…Jem…and I just…I care about them both so much, you know? I thought of what Jem would say if he found out, and it made me feel bad. Like…dirty, but inside. And then it was my fault so…”
“You wanted to ensure that the bad feelings weren’t just felt by you,” August finishes for him and Emery nods again. It was disconcerting how easily August seemed to read the situation, considering his reputation for being bad at this. He had a way of reducing feelings to their most basic components; not every feeling was created equal, and whatever wasn’t relevant was tossed to the side in favor of the more important things. It made things less complicated.
“So let me ask you this,” August continues. “Do you really think that you and Tay betrayed Jem by kissing each other?”
“Yes,” Emery answers without hesitation. “Jem is…he’s incredible. If any other boy had done that to him, I’d punch him in the face. He’s such a good person and he’s so talented and I just…I don’t ever want to hurt him. I hate that we hurt him.”
“Sounds like you might have more going on than you think,” August says. “Let me ask you one more question: do you love Jem?”
“Of course I do,” Emery says. “Who wouldn’t?”
“And what if it had been Jem that night? Would you have kissed him, instead?”
“I…I don’t know,” Emery says, feeling his cheeks heat up for the third time in as many minutes. Could he not stop blushing for half a second? “It wasn’t really a conscious thing in the moment. I just…I was worried and Tay made me feel better and he looked so pretty with the lights from the city shining on his face and I just went for it.”
“So you don’t even know if your feelings for Tay are any different than your feelings for Jem?” August says. “What if it had been me, or Damian, or any one of the others?”
Emery shakes his head. “No, I never—I promise, I’ve never had thoughts like that about you guys. Just…sometimes, when Jem is dancing or he’s singing or he’s just laughing, I get these butterflies in my stomach, you know? When he’s sad, I feel like doing the most ridiculous things just to turn his eyes into those crescents—the ones they always turn into when he really smiles—and I would die to protect that smile, as dramatic as that sounds. With Tay it’s just…I don’t know. He makes me laugh and he tries so hard to be happy even when his life is shit; he’s so strong and talented and he’s never hesitated to help me when I need it. I want to return the favor somehow. I love all of you, but with them…I don’t know. I don’t know if it would have been different if I found out that it was Tay and Tobi, or Tay and Donny, or literally anyone else, but it’s Jem and I just don’t know what it is I feel about the whole thing.”
Emery huffs a deep breath when he finishes his tirade, having said more words in that moment than he remembers having said in a good long while. He is a man of few words, and even those were always inadequate.
Suddenly, his phone chirps in his pocket and he pulls it out to see that it’s a text message from Jem.
‘Come over?’ it reads.
A moment later, before Emery can come up with a suitable excuse to say no, another message comes through.
‘I know about you and Tay.’
Something must show in his face because August looks almost smug. “Looks like you’re going to have to figure it out,” he says. “And soon.”
Emery wishes he wasn’t right.