Cyrus moved through his graduation day in a daze. He and Hayden had shown Will around in the morning, but carefully managed to avoid the people they knew for fear of him being targeted as Hayden’s brother. Unfortunately, the day still passed all too quickly, and the graduation ceremony went from looming in the future to something that was happening in just under a half hour.
“Have you seen my tie? My blue and gray one?” Cyrus asked, frantically digging through his drawer.
“Just wear your red one,” Hayden said, distracted. “It looks just as nice.”
Cyrus glanced around for it one more time, then shrugged. Slipping on the red tie, he managed a quick, but neat, knot and slid it up to his throat. Hayden stood combing his hair in the mirror, his white button down shirt a little wrinkled. Cyrus wished he had more time to study his boyfriend, because he looked pretty hot dressed up.
“Okay, cap and gown, cap and gown,” Hayden muttered to himself, turning from the mirror and searching through his closet for the black robes. “What did I do with those?”
“Right here,” Will spoke up. He pointed to the garment bag hanging draped over the baseboard of Hayden’s bed, on which he sat crosslegged.
“Thanks,” Hayden said, dragging it on over his clothes. Cyrus followed suit, and soon they were ready to go. Sharing a glance with Cyrus, Hayden said, “You ready for this?”
Cyrus blurted, “No.”
“Neither am I,” Hayden admitted. He offered his hand, which Cyrus took. “But that’s never stopped us before, huh?” He tugged Cyrus in for a quick peck on the lips, and squeezed his hand. Cyrus’s lips twitched into a small smile.
“No, it hasn’t. Let’s do this,” he said.
Hand in hand, Cyrus and Hayden set off.
It wasn’t until after he had gotten his diploma that Cyrus realized his mother was there. He knew that she was supposed to be present for the ceremony, but she must have disappeared into the crowd. Now, after the event had broken up and everyone was milling around, she sought him out. “Cyrus, congratulations,” his mother said, coming up to him from behind. “Though I’m not sure why it is customary to congratulate someone for doing what every child in the country is legally required to do.”
Cyrus didn’t even feel like getting annoyed with her at the moment. “Thanks, Mother,” he replied.
“Mrs. Angeles,” Hayden greeted from Cyrus’s side. “I’d like to thank you for the scholarship. I’m honestly so honored; I don’t even know where to begin.”
Cyrus’s mother actually smiled. “I like you, Hayden. Don’t disappoint me.” She glanced around at the other parents. “I should go mingle with the other important people here. Cyrus, your driver will be here at ten AM tomorrow to pick you up.”
“Okay,” Cyrus said, feeling some of his happiness at having graduated drain. As she moved away, Cyrus asked Hayden, “You don’t think anyone’s going to mention that we’re together to her, right?”
“Nah,” Hayden assured him. “That’s not the kind of thing you say casually to someone as intimidating as your mom.”
Swallowing, Cyrus nodded. “Good.” Just then, Lee came over, smiling and clapping them both on the back.
“Well, guys, this is it,” he said. “We are officially done.”
Hayden rolled his eyes. “Please. You’ve been done for a month now.”
Lee shrugged. “What can I say? Senioritis is a bitch.”
“Watch your mouth! My brother’s here,” Hayden scolded, gesturing at Will who had been silent for a little while now. He looked a little out of place, standing with his hands in his pockets surrounded by a sea of adults and graduation caps. “Will, this is Lee, the annoying one I told you about.”
“Hey,” Lee protested, but smiled as he stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Will.”
Will shook his hand. “You too.” He seemed genuine. Perhaps he realized how important it was that Lee still chose to be their friend.
With a final nod, Lee turned back to Cyrus and Hayden. “Now, you two are going to stay in touch, right?” he asked. “You know I’m going to school in Virginia, which isn’t too far away. We can meet up sometime.”
“Of course,” Cyrus replied. “I have your number written down. I’ll send it to Hayden.”
Lee nodded. “Good. Don’t be strangers, you hear me?” He gave them both a stern look as they promised not to. “Okay, I have to get back to my parents before they permanently damage what’s left of my reputation. See you.”
“Bye,” Hayden said. Glancing at Cyrus, he asked, “What do you say we get out of here? I mean, unless you actually want to stay and socialize…”
“God, no. I have to get packing anyway, and no one else cares about us,” Cyrus said. “Want to grab some food and take it back to the dorm?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Cyrus was in such high spirits that when he caught Clay watching them from the corner of the reception, he didn’t even feel a spark of anger. Instead, he handed his plate to Hayden, saying, “Hold this for a sec.”
Confused, Hayden took the plate as Cyrus pushed through the crowd towards Clay in the back. He couldn’t resist the smile that sprung onto his face as he said, “Thank you.” Clay scowled at him, but Cyrus just continued, “If it weren’t for you, Hayden and I wouldn’t be together. So, thanks. Have a nice life.” With a borderline sarcastic wave, Cyrus turned before Clay could reply and trotted back to Hayden.
“What was that?”
Cyrus smiled. “Just thanking him.”
“He looks angry about that,” Hayden commented ruefully. Cyrus laughed, taking his plate of food back.
In the end, the three of them had a much more enjoyable meal in their room than they ever would have had at the reception. Alone with two of his favorite people and riding high on the thrill of being free at last, Cyrus couldn’t seem to stop smiling. Cyrus's mother had dropped by after the reception, and Cyrus was actually glad that she had bothered to say goodbye. Perhaps things could change after all.
When Cyrus finally got around to packing, he did it as fast as possible. After all, the more time he shaved off of the tedious task, the more time he could spend with Hayden. He wanted all the time he could get.
After Will had gone to sleep on the couch in the living room and Cyrus’s things were packed up in boxes and suitcases, he and Hayden sat together on Cyrus’s bed. For a long time, they said nothing. There was too much to say, but no words with which to say it. Eventually, Cyrus managed, “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“It’s going to be a rough three months,” Hayden agreed. “I’ll text you every day.”
“And we’ll Skype so often it’ll be like you’re actually there,” Cyrus promised. “What are you going to do over the summer?”
Hayden replied, “I’m going to get a job. I know Will’s parents refuse to make me pay rent, but I’m going to try and give it to them anyway. At least it’ll give me something to do.” He added in an undertone, “Something to pass the time.” After a moment of silence, Hayden said, “I forgot to tell you - the administration replied to me. They said they would review the policies for next year, and would take my letter into account. I guess the ball’s in their court now.”
“That’s good. I hope they make the right decision.”
Cyrus glanced at the time. It was getting late, but he was reluctant to go to sleep if it meant Hayden moving back across the room. “It’s getting late,” he observed aloud.
“Yeah,” Hayden replied without inflection. “Been a long day.”
“Do you want to go to sleep?”
“Not without you,” Hayden muttered, leaning his head on Cyrus’s shoulder and wrapping his arms around Cyrus's waist. A warm, fuzzy feeling spread throughout Cyrus’s chest as he pressed a kiss to Hayden’s forehead.
“You know, all of my stuff is out of the way now. We could push the beds together,” Cyrus suggested, his voice hesitant. He felt his face flush as he rushed to clarify. “I mean, we wouldn’t do anything unseemly - your brother’s in the next room - but we could just sleep… together.” He held his breath and waited for Hayden’s reply, wondering if he’d gone too far.
Hayden sat up, shifting to look at him, one eyebrow raised. “I’ll grab the top end?” he asked simply.
Cyrus let out a breath of relief. “I’ve got the bottom.”
Together, they stood and picked up each end of Hayden’s bed, walking it across the room so that it sat right next to Cyrus’s. Cyrus untucked the blankets so that they covered both beds, and then climbed in. Hayden followed, and they nestled together in the middle of the now double sized bed. Cyrus laid his head on Hayden’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “Goodnight, Hayden.”
“Goodnight, Cyrus,” Hayden replied. Both of them felt the full impact of those words. It was their tradition from the very early days of their friendship, and that would be the last night they would say it in person until the end of August. As if able to feel Cyrus’s distress, Hayden pulled him a little closer. Cyrus could feel the warm rise and fall of Hayden’s chest as it lulled him to sleep. Despite the crushing dread that settled upon him, Cyrus got the best night of sleep that he had ever had.
Breakfast was a somber affair. Cyrus said his final goodbye to Lee, figuring he wouldn’t see him later. They promised to keep in keep in touch, hugged, and that was it. Cyrus wondered if it would be any different when he said goodbye to Hayden.
That was one thing he didn’t want to think about.
Unfortunately, he would soon have to. Upon returning from breakfast, Will had sensed that the two needed some space. He politely retired to the living room, and Cyrus and Hayden closed themselves in the bedroom. Somehow, the minutes melted away until it was almost time to go.
“Don’t go,” Hayden urged. “Stay with me.”
Cyrus’s heart broke. “Hayden… I really want to. Believe me, but…”
Hayden nodded, then shook his head in a rush. “No, no. I shouldn’t have asked. That was stupid of me; I know you need to go.”
“I don’t want to,” Cyrus insisted.
There was a long silence. “I should leave. My mother will kill me if I’m late.”
Hayden nodded, eyes downcast. He stepped forward and kissed Cyrus so hard and desperate that it almost knocked the breath out of him. Cyrus savored every moment, and when he pulled away and wrapped him in a hug, he also savored Hayden’s indescribable scent. They stayed locked in that embrace for a long time until Hayden finally pulled away. He didn’t meet Cyrus’s eyes as he said, “I’ll help you down with your stuff.”
Cyrus nodded and picked up the handle to his suitcase. He took one last look around the dorm room - one last look at the place where his life had been changed. He would miss it. Turning his back, Cyrus headed out, feeling more and more lost with every step he took away from his room.
Will, too, offered to help carry stuff, and so he followed them down to the car waiting outside. Between the three of them, it was loaded disappointingly quick. What followed then was what Cyrus considered to be one of the worst things in existence: goodbyes.
“Bye, Will,” Cyrus said, turning to the younger boy first. “I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.”
“Good luck at Princeton,” Will replied. “And thank you so much for everything.”
Cyrus managed a smile. “My pleasure.”
After a quick hug, Will disappeared back inside and Cyrus and Hayden were left alone. “So, this is it,” Hayden said eloquently.
“Yeah, this is it.”
They stood there, not speaking, for a long minute.
“This isn’t really goodbye, you know,” Cyrus said. “Just a… change of scenery. I’ll be back.”
“I know,” Hayden said, giving a weak smile. “Really, that’s all that’s keeping me going.”
Cyrus stepped forward and hugged Hayden as tight as he could. It was difficult, but after a moment he pulled away. “See you later,” he said.
“See you,” Hayden replied, his voice thick.
Cyrus tried to keep his eyes from watering as he took one last look at his boyfriend. He admired how the summer light filtered through Hayden’s hair, and how his gorgeous eyes bared every emotion for him to see. He was going to miss this sight. Cyrus pulled open the door to the car before he lost his strength. Just before he got in, Hayden grabbed his hand and pulled him back for one last kiss, rough and hurried. It was perfect.
“There. Now you can go.”
If anything, that just made him want to stay. Nevertheless, Cyrus gathered all his willpower and stepped into the car. He closed the door and watched through the window as Hayden stepped back to allow the car to leave. The driver said something, but Cyrus didn’t reply. He just stared out of the window, locking eyes with Hayden, and stayed that way until they drove away. When at last Hayden disappeared from his sight, Cyrus faced forward and let the tears he was holding back fall, silently, into his lap.
Cyrus was broken out of his bubble of misery by something buzzing in the small duffle bag he had at his feet. With a frown, he bent down and pulled out his cell phone, expecting to find his mother calling to yell at him for being late. Instead, it was a text. From Hayden.
Hayden: Open up Spotify on your phone. I made a playlist for you to remember me by :) Hope it keeps you company when I can’t
If that wasn’t the sweetest thing Cyrus had ever heard, he didn’t know what was. His fingers fumbled in his haste to open the music app, and he immediately clicked on the playlist entitled “For Cyrus.” Scrolling through the titles, Cyrus found some songs that he recognized, and some foreign. “O-O-H Child” caught his eye - it was the first record Hayden had ever given to him. “Fool in the Rain” was also familiar, only this was the real version and not Hayden’s, which was a little disappointing.
“Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” also stuck out to Cyrus - so much so, in fact, that he nearly teared up again. Those songs were from Cyrus’s records. Hayden had listened to them, he had just never mentioned it. If he had done so while they were together, Hayden would have said something about it. That meant he had given Cyrus’s records a chance long before spring break, and the thought filled him with warmth. Even then, Hayden was making an attempt to connect with Cyrus. Through the wetness on his cheeks, Cyrus smiled. He stuck in his headphones and pressed shuffle.
Cyrus leaned back and closed his eyes. These were songs Hayden had especially picked for him, and he began to listen to them as if Hayden were saying the lyrics straight to him. He was glad that the ride to the airport was long, for he wanted to hear every song a thousand times.
Thinking only of Hayden, Cyrus listened as Billy Joel sang,
I don’t care what consequence it brings
I have been a fool for lesser things.
I want you so bad,
I think you ought to know that
I intend to hold you for the longest time.
Cyrus put the playlist on repeat. He got the feeling that by the end of summer, he would have every word to these songs memorized.
Glancing at his schedule, Cyrus double checked the dorm room to which he had been assigned. Four twenty two. He stuck his key in the lock and turned. Pushing open the door, Cyrus found a tall, tanned boy with well groomed light brown hair. He had a wide, easy grin on his face as he offered his hand. “Hi, I’m Johnathan.”
Cyrus had a new school, a new roommate, and a new life. He knew the drill; he had been through it enough times. Only this time it was different. This time, Cyrus didn’t know if he was ready for it.
Cyrus accepted the handshake.
(Of book 1)