Read: Part 1Kevin is slightly buzzed. He stopped drinking two pubs ago, when he couldn't remember the name of the place he was at. He and Zac are sitting in the outside part of The Roost. Around them people are so loud, so they have to stay really close to hear each other, and even then two times out of three they have to repeat themselves. Zac is funny -- he sometimes randomly bursts into ridiculous songs that he makes up for the occasion ( it’s like being friends with a musical. Kevin likes it a lot, it appeals to his inner dork.). He misses California, Zac had managed to shout over the noise, but he loved Maynooth more which is why when the faculty proposed him a scholarship to study here after his exchange year was up, he accepted. He left his boyfriend back home and they’re still trying to make it work, it’s not easy but they’re doing their best.
“Shia’s great.” Zac was saying. “He tries to come here every six weeks or so and every time we have a break I fly home. It’s crazy how the distance makes everything more intense, it makes the relationship even more worth it. And the sex is even better!” he added, giggling a bit in his beer.
Kevin is really envious of Zac. He knows that Mike and him aren’t in a relationship and that he’s supposed to be here to learn how to live without Mike’s presence constantly in his life but during the few phone conversations they shared Mike sounded as if nothing had changed for him. As far as Kevin’s concerned, it doesn’t matter how exciting things are, he misses Mike everyday. Some days it’s so overwhelming he can hardly breathe, but he powers through because he’s lucky to be there and he won’t go back home to his mom, leave all the great people he’s met so far, just because he has separation anxiety.
Something must have shown on his face because Zac asks him “ What’s wrong? Did I say something?”
“No!” Kevin reassures him. “ I’m just jealous I guess, of you guys doing your best to make it work. I wish I had something like that too.” He’s getting melancholy, he should probably have stopped drinking way before he did.
“Did you guys have an argument?” Zac inquires softly. Well as softly as one can ask when surrounded by loud drunken people. Kevin mouths ‘what?’ so Zac repeats himself. “You and your boyfriend, what’s his name again? Mike! Did you and Mike had an argument?”
Seriously what is up with people always thinking that Mike is Kevin’s boyfriend. Zac is the third person to mistake their relationship for something it isn’t. Can’t a guy talk a bit about his best friend without people jumping to conclusions?
“Mike is not my boyfriend.” Kevin corrects. “We’re best friends, childhood friends.” he clarifies.
Zac’s face looks like it doesn’t know if it should settle on pitying or unbelieving, and Kevin feels like breaking down in tears.
“Come on. Let’s go.” Zac says grabbing his hand. Once they leave the pub, they make their way slowly towards campus. The streets are empty except for a couple of other students stumbling drunkenly. Kevin follows Zac to his place, where Zac makes him a nice cup of tea , fixed just the way Kevin likes it. Kevin smiles in his cup as he spares a thought for Vicky-T. Is she going to count tonight as a win or a failure? He is with a nice boy that he might take home one day -most likely to meet his friends, but she didn’t clarify that point anyway- but their conversation is centered around Mike, because it’s seems to be the only thing Kevin can talk about.
“Wanna tell me the whole story?” Zac asks, and Kevin starts talking. He tells Zac everything from the time he and Mike met while Kevin was in kindergarten and Mike in second grade, how quickly they became friends. He talks about their teenage years and how he knew he was in love with Mike when he was 13, and how scary it had been to come out to his family, but even more so to Mike. He explains how he’s been dealing for ten years with being in love with his best friend, how pathetic it makes him, that it doesn’t matter how much he tells himself he needs to let it go he can’t because he doesn’t believe he can love anyone else. He tells Zac that this year abroad is a last ditch effort for him, he needs to learn to be a functioning member of society without Mike around even if it’s the hardest thing he ever had to accomplish so far in his life.
When he stops talking, he can’t even look at Zac. They’re not really good friends just yet, even if he’s known him a bit longer than he’s known Vicky-T, their relationship is completely different. He enjoys spending time with Zac and he hopes that all his drama won’t scare him away. When he hears Zac singing the chorus to Mary J.Blige’s ‘No More Drama’ under his breath, he snorts.
“Sorry,” Zac apologizes. “ Bad habit.”
A comfortable silence settles between them while Kevin finishes his drink. He’s been so engrossed in his story that he didn’t notice when Zac refilled his cup. “Come on” Zac says when Kevin has finished his drink. “I have an extra mattress, we’ll have a sleepover” he says gently and Kevin follows him. He is so drained that as soon as his head touch the pillow he falls asleep.
* * *
Some days Mike feels like he should be in mourning, the way people treat him. Everybody and their uncle is acting as if he’s going to break any minute, they barely mention Kevin in his presence, no matter that he regularly is the one to pass Kevin’s greetings along to them. He’s not a child anymore, he won’t throw a temper tantrum because Kevin is away from him like he did when Kevin left for two weeks at Bible camp. He’s an adult. He can deal.
But he has to admit that there is something unsettling in watching Kevin’s Facebook updates filled with references he doesn’t get, or looking at pictures of him with his new friends, looking so happy . Part of him wants Kevin to call him and tell him how horrible it is for him, that he should never have gone, that he misses Mike. And not just in the offhand way he tells Mike that he can't wait for him to come visit.
Tonight he is going out with the Bill, Butcher, and Sisky. He's running late because he had to fight with himself to leave the house, when the only thing he feels like doing is staying home and watching some stupid movie, or maybe trying to call Kevin again. They haven't talk to each other in almost in two weeks, and the fast approaching end of the semester always turns Kevin into a library dweller. Mike remembers Kevin's first year at college; he had to stage an intervention the week before finals just to feed Kevin and tell him that he needed to sleep. He wonders if there is someone on the other side of the world who is taking care of Kevin right now, making sure that he eats and sleeps. He hopes someone is.
He stops in front of the bar and takes a few minutes to smoke a cigarette before going in. At this point he's just stalling because there is nothing worse in his life than a sympathizing Bill. You know something is going really wrong in your life when Bill minds his words around you and doesn't lord over you the fact that he is right, once again. He puts is butt in the ashtray outside the bar and goes in. He sees Bill making his way to a table at the back of the crowded bar and he thanks God for Bill freakish size because it means he doesn't have to walk around the place for ages to find them.
As soon as he sits he can feel the atmosphere shift. He hopes it won't turn in another 'let's look pitifully at Mike and commiserate in silence'. He's not in the mood for it.
“So, how are you guys?” he asks in a futile attempt to get them going. He receives a series of laconic “great, man”, “cool, and you?” answers. He is in for a long night where he'll have to prove to everybody that he's not made of glass. An awkward silence settles over the table and Mike decides right then and there that he won't do anything to fight it this time. If the guys enjoy those awkward outings then he won't be the one to ruin their fun. Maybe the next time they'll have learn their lesson.
After a couple of minutes that feels like an hour, and an entirely silent conversation between Sisky and Bill that involves a lot of eyebrows, Sisky turns towards Mike. He looks like someone who drew the short straw and has to give someone the worst news of their life.
“Did you talk to Kevin today?” he starts. When Mike shakes his head no, his expression turns sour. “Did you have a look at his Facebook page? Call his parents maybe? Send him an email?” he asks almost frantic.
“We haven't talked in two weeks.” Mike answers. “He has a shitload of papers due before the holidays, and you know Kevin and his work. He's probably already started cramming for finals, even if they don't start until freaking January.” He takes a good look at everybody around the table but no one seems able to meet his eyes. He feels something cold settle in his stomach. “What's going on?” he asks, looking at Bill whose eyes he managed to catch.
“He...he's not coming home for Ch...Christmas.” Bill stutters out. He looks sad and sorry, Mike can't stand it and averts his eyes.
“I gotta go” Mike tells them, stomach roiling as he stands up. “I'll see you later.” He doesn't hear them calling him, and none of them follows him as he makes his way slowly to his place.
The thing is Mike has no problem pretending that he can live perfectly without Kevin here, even if all his friends know that he's in love and that it's probably killing him slowly, but he's been clinging to the knowledge that they would see each other on Christmas day. They've been spending the afternoon of Christmas day together since Mike was 10 and he’d managed to convince his mom to let him give Kevin his present, since Kevin was sick and probably sad to spend Christmas in bed. It had been their tradition ever since.
It's one thing to accept that Kevin decided to study abroad for a year but it's completely different to accept that Kevin prefers spending their Christmas apart with people Mike knows nothing about. This is what he's been afraid of all along; that Kevin would meet someone better, finds something better, and without Mike being around to defend himself and prove to Kevin that he could be the best thing in Kevin's life, Kevin would forget.
He doesn't think when he takes his phone and calls Kevin. Timezones don't matter anymore if Kevin just decided to walk all over them and their tradition. He's been spending his days trying to convince himself that none of the people Kevin can't seem to shut up about are just friends, that there was nothing there. He's not so sure now. He hears the now familiar ringing tone, and waits for Kevin to answer.
“'Lo” Kevin answers sleepily, voice hoarse, and Mike feels twinges of guilt at having woken Kevin up when he knows how little sleep Kevin is probably getting right now. However the feeling is not strong enough to overwhelm his anger.
“When the fuck where you planning on telling me that you're not coming home?” Mike snarls. “You didn't think I'd like to know?”
“Mike?” Kevin asks incredulous. “What the... it's 4 in the morning, Mike. Couldn't this wait?”
“No, it couldn't!” Mike snaps. “Not when everybody, except from me, seems to be aware of this.”
“I was going to call you,” Kevin sighs. “I'm sorry you had to learn this from someone else, I really am, but I planned on telling you tomorrow, well today.”
“Why?” Mike demands.
“You're not going to let this go, are you?” Mike considers the question to be purely rhetorical and doesn't reply. “Fair enough,” Kevin sighs. “I can't afford to fly back home. Vicky-T and I found a place off campus that won't cost me as much as right now, but I don' have a job so I really have to be careful. I spoke with my parents and they agreed that I should privilege my finances on this one. That's the whole story.”
“So what? You're just going to hole up in your room on campus until the break is over?” Mike asks unbelieving.
“Of course not!” Kevin splutters “ I'm not the only staying for the holidays, so we're going to have a huge Christmas dinner in the Reception office, and then Vicky-T, Zac, his boyfriend and I are going on a road trip around Ireland. They know people pretty much everywhere, so apart from gas and food we won't have to pay for anything.”
“You know if you told me earlier I would have paid for your flight ticket.” Mike says softly, because this is what's wrong right here. Somewhere along the way, during their weekly phone calls they stopped telling things to each other; because there are only so many times Mike can tell Kevin that he misses him before sounding like a lovesick puppy. Calling each other has become a scripted formality: ask if Kevin's okay, sum up his week, fight not to scream every time Kevin expound on how much he's enjoying his stay abroad, and make some assenting noises when Kevin tells him he should come visit. He's losing his best friend and there is nothing he can do about it.
“That's part of the problem, Mike.” Kevin whispers tiredly.
“What is this supposed to mean?” Mike demands. His stomach tied in knots because he knows this is the moment he's been waiting for since Kevin told them he was leaving.
“I just...” Kevin takes a deep breath and starts again. “I just need to do things things by myself Mike. I can't constantly rely on you, I'm supposed to be an adult. We... we can't always fix things for each other, or we shouldn't.”
“There is nothing wrong with helping one of your best friends out, Kevin!” Mike growls, because seriously, when did this become a problem between them?
“You're right. There is nothing wrong with helping a friend. But that's not what we're doing, we're taking over each other's life all the time: you're an asshole to one of our friends, I'm the one who apologizes, my boyfriend breaks up with me, you track him down and threatens him. We veto the other's relationship all the time, you're the only person I truly listen to Mike. We- we just...”
Mike wishes Kevin would stop talking. This feels too much like breaking up, and no matter how much he dreaded this moment he was never really ready for it, and he's never going to be.
“Okay, I get it,” Mike cuts him off. “I'm an overbearing asshole you can't stand anymore. I hope you'll enjoy your stay, Kevin.”
“Mike! That's not...” Kevin starts to say but Mike hangs up on him.
Mike has never felt more depressed in his life than after hanging up on Kevin. He turns his phone off and go digging into his liquor cabinet. Tequila can be his best friend now that Kevin doesn't want the position anymore. He'll have the time to think the situation over starting tomorrow, and maybe if he's lucky the hangover will numb everything he's feeling.
* * *
The good thing about having so many papers due the week before the start of the holidays is that nobody expects you to socialize. The downside is that Kevin has way too much time on his hands to think about Mike and wonder how he managed to screw things up so badly. He's been trying to reach Mike ever since he hung up on Kevin but to no avail. To top it all off, he thinks he might be getting sick. When he wakes up with a splitting headache on Saturday morning, he thinks it's because he fell asleep crying the night before, but when he starts shivering he has to face the fact that he's sick.
He drags his sorry self to the doctor's office uptown and spends his morning waiting in a room full of sick and crying kids and their exhausted parents. After he gets diagnosed with the flu and fills his prescription, he goes back to his dorm and huddles under his comforter. He's awaken by his phone ringing but he is too drained to move and lets the call go to voicemail. If it's important they'll leave a message.
He can't help thinking about Mike. He still wonders what went wrong, how did he get from going-away-to-get-over-Mike to losing his best friend. And the worst thing in this situation is the fact that his feelings for Mike still haven't changed. He wishes he could afford to fly home to try and knock some sense into Mike. And if it doesn't work he would confess his feelings, like Zac told him; they could always rebuild their friendship from there.
He tried to get help from Bill, because if someone knows what it's like to have Mike pissed at you, and dodging your calls it's Bill. Unfortunately, Bill wasn't really reassuring. Mike has been cranky, and downright aggressive since the last time he talked to Kevin. When Sisky asked him if he managed to talk to Kevin, Mike pretty much tore him apart. Only the fact that the guys had been there saved Sisky from what would have been Mike's biggest tantrum to date. Against his better judgment, Kevin sent Sisky a text to apologize for Mike's behavior. Old habits die hard, he supposed.
He has to call home tonight but the mere idea of speaking to his mom makes him wary. He knows that the minute she asks him if he's doing okay, he'll cave and tell her everything wrong with his life. He doesn't know how to lie to her when she asks him a direct question. But he’d give anything right now to be back home, his mom fussing over him. In the months he’s been here, he’s never felt as alone as now,when he knows that calling Mike will only lead him to a voicemail, and that he’s never going to get a call back even if he pours his heart out.
* * *
In the span of a few weeks, Mike’s life has taken a turn for the worst. The day after he called Kevin, he woke up with the worst hangover he’s ever experienced. And instead of numbing the pain he felt, it just made everything even more unbearable. He’s been an asshole to all his friends ever since. The only one who talks to him anymore is Bill because as he likes to remind Mike “ I’ve faced your wrath when you were a seventeen year old asshole, and you’re not nearly as good at it now as you were back then!”.
But noone else seems to want to come near him now. It doesn’t matter to him that much anyway, not when all he can focus on is Kevin. He spends every waking moment thinking about every little thing he might have done wrong throughout the years; maybe if he hadn’t clung that hard on Kevin, if he hadn’t constantly dissed his boyfriends/girlfriends.... What if, what if? It’s making him crazy.
Part of him holds Kevin entirely responsible for the state of their relationship, because Kevin could have talked to him. If Kevin hadn’t hidden the fact that he was leaving, or that he wasn’t coming home because of Mike, if Kevin had been straight with him from the beginning, they could have talked it over, and Mike wouldn’t have blown up like he did. But the other part, the grown up part, knows that they’re both at fault. Kevin wasn’t wrong when he said they’ve been taking over each other’s life in ways they shouldn’t have been. Mike gets jealous of anyone Kevin shows an interest in, treats them like shit because he knows that, given an ultimatum, Kevin will choose him. He gets involved with assholes that Kevin can’t help but hate but if one of them as much as look at Kevin in askance he dumps them without a second thought.
Mike hasn’t been in a relationship in years because he doesn’t need anyone but Kevin. Even if they don’t have that kind of relationship, it works for him. When he wanted to get laid, he goes out and hooks up with some stranger, no strings attached. He was doing fine that way, he just never noticed how much it weighed on Kevin’s shoulders. He knows that this is no way to live his life but he would have done it anyway, even if it meant listening to his mom’s lectures about her need to become a grandmother until the end of times.
Speaking of his mother, she’s invited him for dinner tonight. She’s the only person who genuinely want to see him these days, he’s never been so pathetic. When he comes she is in the kitchen, he finds her sitting at the table. Before he has the time to say ‘Hello’ he sees Mrs. Jonas, standing against the counter a cup of tea in her hands. If he knew he could get away with it, he’d beat a hasty retreat out of here. He knows this isn’t a social call; they’re both looking at him with soft eyes but he can see in the set of their shoulders that there is no escaping this intervention.
It’s not fair. Kevin is too far away to get ganged up on by their mothers and Mike for once would like to stomp his feet, and say that he won’t listen because Kevin doesn’t have to.
“Can we not do this, please?” he asks knowing full well that it won’t change a thing.
“Sit down, Mike.” his mom answers, smiling wistfully. “ We need to talk.”
* * *
Mike’s just spent two hours being told that he and Kevin are both idiots, albeit more nicely. He doesn’t know what to do with what’s happened tonight. He’s just been manipulated by his and Kevin’s moms, he’s aware of that. He is in possession of a flight ticket for Dublin airport for tomorrow night. He tried to get out of it, claiming that he couldn’t leave the shop so close to Christmas, but his mom just told him that she worked everything out with Patrick. With the way he’s been acting recently, he’s sure Patrick was more than happy to relieve him of his obligations.
He’s got to hand it to them, they didn’t actually pry, simply told him that Kevin was sick on top of being sad because of their argument, and that as an early Christmas present they were sending him to Ireland to ‘fix this mess’. He’d bet good money that the reason why they didn’t try to find out from him more about their disagreement is because Kevin already told his mom everything there is to know. Sick Kevin is compliant to a fault.
His stomach twists painfully as he imagines Kevin sick in his dorm room, alone on the other side of the globe. Deep down, he knows that it’s not his fault if Kevin is sick, but it doesn’t prevent the part of him that is loyal to Kevin from beating himself up. It’s not easy to admit to himself that he’s been selfish. He’s been so busy resenting Kevin for being away, and for staying in Ireland for Christmas that it didn’t even occur to him that Kevin would be the one alone on Christmas Day. That having a big dinner with the other kids left behind, and road tripping with his friends is just a method to occupy himself while his family is celebrating an ocean away.
For someone who’s supposedly not wired to be an asshole to Kevin, he really outdid himself on that one. He’s going to have to grovel, but he feels strangely okay with that. He really hopes Kevin will forgive him.
* * *
Kevin is miserable. He’s never been a good patient on a good day, and being on his own makes him even grumpier. Vicky-T and Zac comes by his place regularly to check on him but they can’t actually stay and dote on him until he feels better. Vicky-T managed to score two extra key-cards for them so that Kevin doesn’t have to move from his deathbed when they come by. Zac has just brought Kevin chicken noodle soup, honeyed lemon tea, and a new stock of tissues. He had a pair of gloves and a mask on: “if I gets sick before Shia arrives, I’ll have to kill you” he said when Kevin asked if he wasn’t overdoing it.
The upside of this deathflu is that Kevin doesn’t have the time to mope over Mike, or to wonder what kind of gift his mom’s sent him that had her so excited over the phone yesterday. He’s too busy sneezing, coughing, and falling asleep for his brain to engage in any strenuous activity.
He’s awoken by the intercom. He hadn’t planned on leaving the comfort of his bed any time soon; he doesn’t have the strength to do so anyway. He hopes that whoever is pressing that intercom button will leave soon because the noise is killing him. When it seems obvious that the mystery person is not going to lay off that button, Kevin drags himself out of bed, wrapped up in his comforter and ready to tear into whoever is on the other side of the phone.
“What the fuck?” he snarled, picking up the phone. He doesn’t care that this is no way to greet anybody, nobody’s going to tell on him and his mom’s not here. His mouth drops open as he the person outside says ‘hello’. For a minute, he worries that he might be hallucinating because he’s pretty sure that he’s just heard Mike’s voice.
“Come on, Kevin. Open the door, please.” Mike repeats. It really is Mike, there is no doubt about it, Kevin’s heart beats wildly just at the sound of his voice. Before he can question himself, Kevin opens the building door and waits for Mike to make his way to his flat, leaning on the hallway wall for support. If this is his mom’s idea of great present he really needs to have a talk with her. He’s not sure he wants to see Mike just yet. On one hand he wants to fix things between them, wants Mike to understand that he is not the problem, Kevin just needs to be independent, but on the other hand, he just wants, to scream and rant while Mike shuts the fuck up, because Mike was being an asshole to him. Kevin is not used to it, and he just wants to vent.
* * *
Read: Part 3