Despite knowing that he needed to figure out his feelings quick, Emery has no more clarity by the time he finds himself standing outside of Jem’s house than he’d had sitting in August’s. In fact, if anything, he feels only dread.
Still, he knows that the sooner he gets this over with, the sooner things can go back to normal. Hopefully.
So, steeling himself, Emery raises his hand and moves to knock.
The door opens before he even lands the first blow, causing him to nearly fall forward as it’s wrenched inwards. Jem’s hands steady him before he can topple, and his cheeks are red as he looks up at him and tries to gather his balance again. “Oh…um…sorry,” Emery begins.
He glances at Jem’s face, hoping to see some indication of what he’s in for within his features, but whatever Jem is feeling is carefully concealed behind an impassive mask. He wants to say sorry, wants to beg him to forgive him, to swear he had no idea that Jem and Tay were even a thing at the time. He wants to tell him it was all Tay’s fault for kissing him back, but at the same time, he wants to beg him not to go too hard on Tay because Tay’s had enough shit to deal with in his life already and Emery cares about them both so much it hurts.
But again, he’s no good with words, so all he can do is stare for a minute before finally looking down.
“Come in,” Jem says, moving aside so Emery can take a few steps into the house.
As always, Emery is struck by the feeling of being inside of a museum. Priceless works of art decorate the walls, furniture looking more like it’s for show than actual living on. It’s only ever comfortable when they reach the second floor, where things start to look more natural. Old antiques, photographs of a younger Jem and his mother, remnants of all the hobbies Jem has tried throughout his life—a baseball bat and glove in one part of the hall, a stack of gardening tools in another, a half-finished drawing on a table—and Emery relaxes a little, following the familiar path to Jem’s bedroom.
His sense of comfort ends abruptly, however, when he steps into the room and finds Tay already sitting there. He’s just as unreadable as Jem and Emery feels like he’s slowly suffocating. He hates this feeling between them, this tension. Usually, the three of them are all over each other—heads in laps, brushing of hands as they move around each other; laughing, shoving, poking…there’s none of that now, and there hasn’t been in over two weeks.
“Have a seat next to Tay, Bunny,” Jem says behind him, startling Emery, who shuffles awkwardly on his feet and glances uncertainly between them. Jem sighs. “I already told you I know; there’s no point in avoiding each other now.”
Emery sighs and goes over, taking a seat next to Tay on the bed. Tay still won’t meet his gaze, and it’s odd how quiet he is. Jem joins them a moment later, glancing between them with that same unreadable expression that Emery is really beginning to hate.
“I don’t like this,” Jem says, and Emery feels as if he’s been struck.
“I’m sorry I…”
“Let me finish,” Jem continues, halting Emery’s apology before it can really get started. “You don’t even know what it is I don’t like.”
Emery just stares. What else could he mean?
“I don’t like that there’s all this weirdness between us now, all because of a kiss. I don’t like the fact that you guys can’t meet each other’s eyes and that both of you are missing a vital part of your life by avoiding each other. You’re best friends—we all are—and best friends work things out.”
Emery sighs. He knows that Jem is right, but he isn’t sure how they can fix this. It’s not like they can go back in time and prevent the kiss from ever happening.
“But you’re more than best friends, right?” Jem continues and Emery blushes. He doesn’t want to think of what Tay—and even Jem—really mean to him. They both make him feel so many conflicting emotions that he isn’t sure what any of it means. “You like each other—in a not-so-platonic way. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have kissed him and you wouldn’t have kissed back.”
“Jem…” Tay begins, and his voice sounds like it’s a warning. Emery glances between them once more, wondering what this means. Is Jem going to break up with Tay right now, in front of them both? It seems cruel, but he supposes he’d be cruel too if he’d been betrayed by two of his best friends. Still, he’d always thought Jem was kind—far too kind, in his opinion. It made it possible for people to walk all over him, take advantage of that kindness, so that seemed unlike him. Especially with Tay.
“Tay, I said let me finish,” Jem chides. “Do you guys want to be together?”
Emery immediately sits up. “I would never—Jem, that’s ridiculous. After everything…how could I possibly…he’s your boyfriend. I kissed him, and it was wrong, I know that now, but I would never take him away from you.”
Jem scoffs. “I never said you would—or even that you could. My TayTay loves me; I don’t think he could leave me even if he tried.”
Emery glances at Tay and sees that it’s true. He bites his lip, feeling an odd mix of emotions swirl inside his chest. It seems pretty low to dangle that question out just to trap him and remind him that he isn’t good enough, that he never could be, and Emery knows it—he does—but he’d never thought that Jem would be the one to show it to him in this way. He’s beginning to suspect that Jem’s got some acid buried deep inside, that maybe he’s not the perfect angel they all thought. He isn’t sure if this makes him feel better, or worse because he’s the one that’s on the receiving end of said acid. “Then why ask?” Emery gets out between gritted teeth, staring at his clenched fists in his lap so that he doesn’t cry like a giant fucking baby. “Do you just want to hurt me? To punish me for kissing Tay?”
Jem makes a shocked noise, suddenly reaching forward and grabbing his hands. Emery lets him, watching as the other unfurls his fists to reveal the crescent-shaped cuts on the inside of his palms made from his fingernails digging in. “Bunny…do you really think I’m trying to hurt you?” Jem’s voice is low, concerned.
Emery makes a frustrated noise. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Jem,” Emery says. “I don’t know what you want from me. I tried to apologize. I never meant to insinuate that I could…that I would ever be good enough for…”
Emery stops and he knows it’s a lost cause. He’s going to cry—his vision is already blurring, the stinging in his eyes becoming unbearable, and his throat’s constricted to the point that it feels more like a straw. But then Jem’s hands are on his face, directing his gaze upwards so that their eyes can meet, and oh…that unreadable expression is gone now.
In its place, Jem’s dark eyes are glistening with unshed tears of his own, plump lips turned down in a frown of concern and hurt. “Em, I wasn’t trying to hurt you, or to trap you, or whatever it is you think I was doing. I just want to know if you want to be with him.”
“I don’t understand,” Emery says, and he knows his voice sounds like a groan. “You already said he wouldn’t leave you.”
“He doesn’t have to leave me to be with you, though,” Jem points out, and Emery’s mind comes to a grinding halt. Isn’t that what being in a relationship meant?
“Jem, I told you—you’re just confusing him,” Tay suddenly speaks up, and he sounds mildly amused, which seems so at odds with the rest of the conversation that Emery just wants to sob because he’s never felt so lost in his life. “What my idiot boyfriend is trying to tell you is that he’s willing to share. On one condition.”
“Sh-share?” Emery’s cheeks turn deep red. “What condition? I don’t…I’m so confused.”
“The condition is simple,” Jem says. “Anything you do with him, you have to also do with me.”
Emery doesn’t know what is happening. None of this makes any sense in his mind. He looks between Jem and Tay once more, trying to find evidence of a joke, but their looks don’t really seem to be joking. Amused, certainly—he’s sure he’s making quite a spectacle with all his stuttering and blushing—but not mocking.
Jem continues, “I understand if you don’t want to. Not everyone can handle being in a relationship with one person, let alone two, but I’ve noticed you looking at me and I don’t think I’m flattering myself by saying it’s not exactly a platonic look. We’ve always been touchy—all three of us—and so it won’t even be all that different. Truth is, Emery, Tay and I love each other. But we have enough room in our hearts—and my bed—for another person. If you’ll have us.”
Emery thinks he might be dreaming. He admitted to August that his feelings for both Jem and Tay were different from his feelings for the rest of them, but he never in a million years thought that he could in some way have both of them. He didn’t know the first thing about dating one person, let alone two, and this whole thing was very much out of his realm of experience. “Is this…is this for real?” he asks uncertainly.
Tay laughs. “Of course it is,” he says. “I was surprised, too, when Jem mentioned it. But I dunno—it kinda makes sense.”
“And you…” Emery looks at Jem. “You really think this can work? All three of us? Won’t there be…I dunno…like jealousy and stuff?”
Jem shrugs. “Won’t know until we try. So, what do you say?”
“I say,” Emery begins, “Yes. I mean, how could I not? You’re both…and I just…but I don’t know how any of this works. Tay was my first kiss and now I’m in this whole thing and I don’t know the first thing about this so…where do we even begin?”
“Well,” Jem says, grin spreading out on his face. “We begin by evening the score. By my reckoning, you and Tay have two kisses and I have none from you. As per our deal, I think we should kiss.”
Emery blushes. “I might not be very good,” he admits.
“Luckily, I’m an excellent teacher,” Jem purrs and closes the distance between them.
Emery’s lips are tentative at first, still unsure of what’s going on and whether or not this is really a thing that he could or should be doing, especially with Tay right beside him, but the thoughts flee his brain rather abruptly as Jem’s lips meet his.
He’s always thought that Jem had very soft, kissable lips. He’s happy to say he isn’t wrong. In fact, those words do very little justice to the feel of Jem’s lips against his. He tastes faintly of cotton candy, and where Tay had been rather intrusive and fervent in his kissing, Jem is full of patience. Just teasing at the possibilities, really, and when he pulls back, Emery finds himself unconsciously leaning forward as if to hold onto the kiss a little longer. But Jem just smiles, presses a more chaste kiss to the corner of his lips and flings his feet off the bed. “Now, why don’t we celebrate by getting some food?” he says, and Emery nods dumbly, glancing at Tay briefly.
Tay smiles back at him and Emery thinks that maybe they can do this thing after all. Not all change was bad, right?