time crunch - #3
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
genre: contemporary romance/magical realism
word count: 715
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The worst part of college isn’t the classes or the homework or the shitty food or even the clarinet player who lives across the hall and has some kind of massively inconvenient undiagnosed sleep disorder.
No, the worst part of college is the hockey.
The hockey team.
The hockey team that’s fine, mostly, and good, definitely, but that has a suspiciously Dougie-shaped hole in it because Dougie is in Wisconsin with, like, cows and cheese and badgers and farms and lots and lots of very tan girls with long blonde hair who paint his fucking jersey number on their cheeks on game days, apparently, which—sucks.
It all sucks.
It all really fucking sucks.
“Oh, thank god,” Dougie breathes, cheeks puffed out, as soon as Carson flings open the door. “You’re here.”
Carson registers a brief, flickering twinge of déjà vu—isn’t that how Dougie greeted him in the timeline with the séance? Like, exactly?—before his brain catches up with his face and he realizes he’s smiling. Grinning. Beaming, like his mouth and his teeth and his pores and his taste buds are leaking goddamn sunshine.
“Hell yeah, I’m here,” he says, darting forward to pull Dougie into a hug that’s maybe not as carefully premeditated as their old hugs always were. Always had to be. This one’s full-bodied and sweeping and warm and Dougie’s belt buckle is digging into Carson’s lower abdomen and there isn’t any hesitation, isn’t any space between them, and Dougie smells like fresh ice and locker room soap and Mountain Dew and those gross orange Tic Tacs he eats like candy because his mom used to lie to him when he was a kid about how they actually were candy and it’s—
“I know you’re gonna be wearing a different color tonight, but it’s gonna be, like, so hard not to pass to you,” Dougie says, voice reverberating in his chest, right through to Carson’s. They’re still—hugging. Embracing? They’re still touching. “Like, so hard. So, so hard.”
“Stop saying hard,” Carson mumbles, squeezing his eyes shut. Dougie’s chin is hooked onto Carson’s shoulder, his nose buried in Carson’s neck. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
“No, you’re not.”
“No,” Dougie agrees. “I’m not.” A moment of contemplative, comfortable silence passes, and then: “College sucks, man.”
That startles Carson into almost letting go, into almost moving backwards just so he can look at Dougie, can stare at Dougie, can study Dougie like Carson has never—will never—study any of the fucking textbooks currently collecting dust on the shelf above his bed.
“Yeah?” Carson asks, tentatively, cautiously, like he’s sweating bullets in an episode of The Pacific and trying not to step on a fucking landmine.
Dougie presses even closer, somehow, sagging against Carson—sagging into Carson—and heaving a big, tired sigh. “Yeah. It’s just—”
“I guess it never, uh, it never occurred to me . . .” Dougie trails off, tensing a little, and pulls away, lowering his arms and clearing his throat and coughing into his fist. His hair is drooping down, feathered ends sticking out from under his beanie, and his cheeks are flushed.
Carson licks his lips, shifting his weight around, curling his bare feet into the dingy industrial blue carpet. It’s pretty fucking strange for Dougie to be the awkward one. The uncertain one. The one who can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it.
“Homework,” Dougie eventually blurts out, except it sounds more like a question than an answer. “I didn’t, uh—I forgot there would be homework, you know, and it just—reading. Writing. Like, papers and stuff. I’m re-taking Spanish and we have, like, vocab quizzes every week? What the fuck—like, what’s that about, right? It just—yeah, it sucks.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Carson says slowly. “It sucks.”
Another moment of silence—less contemplative, less comfortable—and then Dougie’s huffing out a laugh, strangled and fast. “Hard.”
“It sucks hard,” Dougie clarifies with a solemn, shit-eating grin. “Get it? Yeah?”
And even though Carson doubts Dougie’s being completely honest—with himself, with Carson, it’s impossible to guess—he snorts and shakes his head and rolls his eyes and waves Dougie inside, anyway.