Cyrus collapsed on the couch, laughing harder than he had in years. His sides hurt, and he was all but breathless.
“Did… did you see… his face?” Hayden choked out, in the same situation as Cyrus. “Oh god, that was beautiful. So worth it.” His face was flushed, and he couldn’t stop smiling. Neither of them could.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Cyrus tried to compose himself. “He so smug, thinking that I wouldn't have it!”
Hayden grinned, eyes twinkling. “And then when you just tossed it at him and said, ‘Congrats, now you’re in possession of stolen property,’” he said, mimicking Cyrus, “and slammed the door? That was perfect.”
Cyrus matched his grin and chuckled, “Well, hopefully we won’t be hearing from him for a while.”
“Yeah, hopefully,” Hayden replied, his mood dimming a bit. He didn’t look convinced, but Cyrus didn’t push it.
“Thanks, man. Really,” Cyrus reiterated, grateful.
“No problem,” came the dismissive reply. “It was strangely fun.” Hayden stretched, glancing at the clock. “Ugh, we’ve got that math test tomorrow. Seriously, who gives a test on the third day of school?”
Cyrus shrugged. “Well, they have to know where everyone is. It’s like a refresher, I guess. They want you to study for it to make sure you remember Calc I.”
Hayden let out a little scoff. “Ha. That worked.”
“Didn’t it?” Cyrus asked. “Worked for me.”
Raising a brow, Hayden looked at him. “It did?”
“You studied for this?”
Cyrus rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you didn’t study at all. It’s on an entire year’s worth of material, Hayden!”
Hayden didn’t reply, but rubbed the back of his neck and gave a sheepish smile. “…I’ll just wing it?”
Shaking his head, Cyrus said, “Fine. If you want to fail, go for it.”
“I’ll be fine,” Hayden assured him. “All I need is a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.” He stood, clapping Cyrus on the shoulder as he walked past. “So, I say we call it a night.”
“Sure,” Cyrus agreed, suddenly realizing how tired he actually was. Twenty minutes later, they were both in their beds, but the light was still on. There was a moment of silence. Cyrus and Hayden looked at each other across the room, an unspoken argument going on about who was going to leave the comfort of their warm bed to turn it off.
“Fine,” Cyrus grumbled. Tossing off his blanket, he stalked over to the light switch and flicked it off. Though the room was now dark, Cyrus could see the smirk of triumph on Hayden’s face.
With a rustle, Cyrus settled back into his bed. He lay on his back, but stared at the ceiling rather than closing his eyes. After a few minutes, Hayden whispered, “Goodnight, Cyrus.”
When at last he did close his eyes, Cyrus slept the best he had in weeks.
The rest of the week flew by so fast that Cyrus was legitimately surprised to look up and realize it was the last period on Friday. The past few days had been refreshingly normal, what with classes and homework and tests. It was true, this school was harder than his previous ones, but there was one notable difference that changed everything. That difference was Hayden. Instead of holing up in his room doing homework all night, Hayden would drag Cyrus out to watch a movie, or hang in the lounge with friends. And, no matter what he told himself, Cyrus was having fun.
Busy watching the minutes in the day tick down, Cyrus almost missed his Calculus II teacher, Mrs. Hughes, returning the tests they had taken a few days ago. She dropped a packet of papers on his desk, and Cyrus flipped it over. Ninety nine percent. Not too bad.
“I’m very disappointed in you,” Mrs. Hughes said in a low tone. Cyrus’s head snapped up, thinking for a moment that she was talking to him. When he realized that she was looking at Hayden in the seat beside him, he felt instant relief, which soon turned to worry. Cyrus glanced at the big C- on Hayden’s test and felt embarrassed for him.
Hayden didn’t seem to care. He leaned back in his chair. “It’s not so bad,” he argued.
The teacher pursed her lips. “I really wish you would try harder. I’m know for a fact that you can do this.”
Still nonplussed, Hayden replied, “Yeah, maybe. It’s not like it matters.”
Cyrus was surprised to hear a teacher call him by his first name. The general trend around here seemed to be more formal than that. Hayden waved her off. “I’ll work on it, okay?”
“Please do,” she replied, giving him a stern but concerned look before moving away.
Hayden glanced sidelong at Cyrus. “Teachers,” he grumbled.
Cyrus gave a nod, not quite sure what else to do. After a lengthy moment, he said, “You know, I could… help you, if you want? Not that I don’t think you can do this on your own, but…” he added quickly.
“No, no,” Hayden cut him off. “I could probably use some help. Or someone to force me to do stuff, at the very least. Thanks, man. Maybe tonight?”
“Sure.” Cyrus shuffled some papers without really looking at them. “You know where to find me,” he added, an attempt at levity.
Hayden grinned. “Sure do.”
A warm feeling blossomed in his stomach. Offering to help with homework was something a friend would do, and Cyrus had begun to feel less and less opposed to the idea. After all, Hayden had treated him with nothing but kindness. He had never abandoned Cyrus, never ditched him, as Cyrus kept expecting him to do. And now, accepting his help so easily, Cyrus thought he knew what it felt like to be valued. It wasn’t a bad feeling, not at all.
The final bell didn’t take long to ring, and they were freed for the weekend. Feeling like a weight had dropped from his shoulders, Cyrus stepped out of the classroom, Hayden on his heels.
“Hey, what do you say we go change and then round the guys up for a game of football or something out on the field?” Hayden asked, already loosening his tie. “Do you play?”
“I never have before,” Cyrus admitted. “But it can’t be that hard to learn, right?”
“Nah, not at all,” Hayden replied. A slow grin spread across his face. “You don’t mind being tackled do you?” he joked.
Cyrus matched Hayden’s grin. “If you can catch me, I deserve to be tackled,” he said. “I may not have played football, but I was pretty good at track.”
Hayden’s eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re so on. Race you to the dorms?”
“Sure.” Cyrus hefted his bag more securely on his back. “On three. One…two- Hey!”
Cyrus took off after Hayden who had bolted early. He caught up in just a few strides and slapped Hayden on the arm as he ran past. “Cheater!” he accused. Hayden shot him a grin and put on an extra burst of speed.
Neck and neck, they rounded a corner, skidding to a stop before an irate Assistant Headmistress McMillan. Cyrus stumbled, but Hayden caught his arm and pulled him upright so that they were standing side by side in front of the terrifying woman. She squinted at them through her glasses. “What in Heaven’s name are you two doing?”
“Uh…” Cyrus droned.
“We were late,” Hayden blurted. Recovering a bit of his usual smoothness, he went on, “We were late for a study session on the other side of campus. The only way we’d make it is if we ran, and they’re real strict about the time. Plus, you’re always trying to encourage physical activity, right?” he asked, looking hopeful.
McMillan glanced between them, not quite buying it. She zeroed in on Cyrus, and he could swear her gaze was boring into his soul. He tried his best to look innocent but couldn't help wondering if she knew about the flask. “I realize you are new, Mr. Angeles, but do make sure you’re associating with the right kinds of people.”
“Yes, Ma’m,” Cyrus replied immediately.
“I had better not see either of you running through the halls like that again,” she said, her voice hard. “Next time, plan ahead so that you don’t have to rush,” she chided.
“Will do,” Hayden agreed flippantly.
McMillan narrowed her eyes at him. “Behave yourselves. Go on. Go to your study session,” she said, tone bordering on skeptical.
Hayden and Cyrus didn’t have to be told twice. They nodded to her, then hurried away, waiting to break out into laughter until they had rounded the nearest corner.
“Nice save!” Cyrus told Hayden. He raised his hand for a high five, which Hayden gladly completed. He was smiling as they headed down the hall at a more leisurely pace.
“So what do you think - am I one of the ‘right kinds of people’?” Hayden joked.
“Definitely not,” Cyrus replied immediately. Hayden pulled a mock-offended face. “But I’m feeling rebellious this year,” he added.
Hayden laughed. “Glad to help. You know what Billy Joel says, ‘I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the sinners are much more fun,’” he singsonged with a grin. He glanced over at Cyrus, who was pretending to know what he was talking about. “Dude, ‘Only the Good Die Young?’”
Cyrus looked sheepish. “Yeah…?”
Hayden let out an exaggerated groan. “Where have you been living all your life? Under a rock?”
“It was a warm, dry, well-lit rock of classical and folk music,” said Cyrus with a shrug.
“I have so much you need to listen to. So much. Do you have an iPod?”
“Sure,” Cyrus replied. “Though I make a point to listen to all my music on record first. It’s so much better than digital.”
Hayden stared at him for a minute, squinting a little as if trying to unravel the enigma surrounding Cyrus. He must have given up when he looked away, shaking his head and saying, “You’re something else, man.”
Cyrus’s stomach clenched subconsciously. He knew Hayden didn’t mean it to be hurtful, but those words were so close to the ones that had been used to attack him, used to call him a freak. Maybe Hayden noticed the subtle change in Cyrus’s demeanor, because he added, “But I like it. It suits you. Come on, that game of football won’t play itself.”
Quickening his pace to keep up with Hayden, Cyrus changed the subject. “Won’t McMillan see us playing when we’re supposed to be in some study group?”
“Maybe,” Hayden grinned. He shrugged one shoulder. “I thought you were being rebellious this year?”
“Yeah, but if I’m going to be rebellious, I at least like to be subtle about it,” Cyrus replied.
“Nah, if you’re going to do it, you’ve gotta do it right. Be bold,” Hayden said. “If you act confident, like you’re actually allowed to be doing whatever you’re doing, sometimes people just buy it. And the more you pretend, the more confident you actually get. You should try it.”
Cyrus shot him a glance. “You really are a bad influence.”
Hayden just smiled.