Cyrus stepped inside and shut the door quietly behind him. He wasn’t sure why he felt like he should be sneaking around, but it seemed like the thing to do at the moment. He took one more step into the dorm room when Hayden called out, muffled, from the bedroom, “I heard you come in.”
Cyrus sighed. So it was going to be like that. He steeled himself and headed into the bedroom. Hayden was leaning against the wall, legs extended in front of him and arms crossed over his chest. He had a brooding look on his face, and scowled at Cyrus when he came in. Stifling a second sigh, Cyrus sat down across from him.
The silence reigned for several minutes. It was like some sort of contest, and neither wanted to be the one to break first. Whenever Cyrus would look over at Hayden, Hayden would look away. When Cyrus wasn’t looking, he could feel Hayden’s eyes on him. It was childish, really, and after a while, Cyrus said so. “This is stupid.”
Hayden shrugged. There was another tense silence.
“I’m sorry,” Cyrus tried, finally giving in. “I didn’t mean to say it like that.”
“But you did mean it?”
“Not entirely,” Cyrus replied. He sighed again. “If you’re passionate about it, go for it. I guess I’m just used to keeping my head down, and I tried to force that onto you, which I shouldn’t have. So, I’m sorry.”
After a beat, Hayden said, “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you like that. You were just trying to keep me out of trouble.”
“I think I’ve realized that’s a lost cause.” With a wry smile, he added, “It won’t happen again.”
Hayden smiled at that, too. “We good, then?”
“We’re good,” Cyrus replied, feeling a hundred times lighter. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s a really good thing you’re doing.”
“Someone has to do it. It might as well be me with absolutely nothing to lose.”
“So, you’re going to contact administration, then?” Cyrus asked.
Hayden nodded, plucking a keychain puzzle off a stack of books and fooling with it idly. “I’m going to write them a strongly worded email, and if they want to come talk to me, I’m all for it.”
“Sign my name, too.”
The impact of that one sentence caused Hayden to look up, brows raised. “Really?”
Cyrus smiled. “Really.”
Hayden grinned, and everything was right with the world once again.
“It went something like this,” Hayden was saying. He cleared his throat. “'To whom it may concern, it has come to my attention that there are no current policies regarding relationships,” he said, using a fake dramatic voice. “In every other school in the country, reasonable public displays of affection are allowed between couples. As such, I kindly request that you allow them here. After all, prohibiting them because the notion of homosexuality is distasteful to you would seem an awful lot like discrimination. The media loves discrimination stories, and I could cite a dozen where schools were forced to change their policies due to public outrage...' Then some other mildly threatening stuff about how it was easier to do it quietly or that could be them blah blah… Sincerely, me. And you. What do you think?”
“Well, it started out polite, at least…” Cyrus said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “What happened?”
“I had to make it sound less like a suggestion and more like a demand, you know?”
“It’s out of your hands now, I guess,” Cyrus conceded. “Let’s hope they take it well.”
Hayden and Cyrus were walking back from the dining hall, but neither wanted to head back to the dorm on such a beautiful May day. Instead, they were wandering around campus, soaking in the sun and enjoying each other’s company. That was, until an all too familiar voice called out, “Hey, Gayden!”
With a tired sigh, Hayden stopped walking and turned around. “Well, congratulations. I liked your nickname so much, I decided to turn gay,” he deadpanned.
Mike sneered. He was, as usual, flanked by two other boys who never said a word. “I heard you and your boyfriend here were gay for each other for all of ten minutes before he got tired of you. That’s probably your record, isn’t it?”
“Would I still be here if that were true?” Cyrus asked, stepping closer to Hayden and brushing a hand against his.
With fake gagging sounds, Mike turned away. “Stop, you’re disgusting.”
Cyrus just looked at Hayden and rolled his eyes. Hayden, however, was in an arguing mood. “What’s your problem, Mike? Can’t you just go away?”
“Yeah, I’ll get right on that. I’ll make like your straightness and split,” he replied, thinking he was clever. Cyrus wanted to point out that the “split” part didn't even make sense, but he didn’t. Not seeming to care about technicalities, Mike’s friends chuckled.
“You’re not really as tough as you look, are you?” Hayden mused.
“Wanna try me?”
Hayden just smiled. “You know what they say about hyper-masculine men.”
Mike’s eyes narrowed, searching Hayden’s for signs of insult. “What?”
“That they’re just compensating for something.” Hayden shrugged. “I don’t normally think that’s true, but in your case, it kinda is.”
“What?” Mike demanded, forehead scrunching up in anger. “How would you know?”
“Please. I’m the only one who would know.” Hayden winked. Mike flushed bright red in anger and opened his mouth to say something, but Hayden cut him off. “I know, I know. We agreed not to mention it. Sorry. I should go before Cyrus gets jealous.”
Cyrus was nothing of the sort. In fact, he was far too busy forcing down his laughter to care much about anything. Regardless, Hayden pulled Cyrus away just as Mike’s friends turned on him, taunting and teasing. The moment they turned the corner of the nearest building, Cyrus doubled over in laughter. Hayden couldn’t help but join in, and they were soon a mess of happy tears.
“That was great!” Cyrus praised, wiping his eyes. “His face was so red.”
“Even if he kills me for that, it was still so worth it.”
Leaning against the wall and taking a minute to compose themselves, Cyrus asked as casually as he could, “So, were you being serious back there?”
“About what?” Hayden asked. “Me and Mike?”
“No, of course not,” Hayden replied. “I just made that up to mess with him in front of his friends.” Pausing, he looked over at Cyrus. “Hang on. You’re not… jealous, are you?”
“No,” Cyrus said a little too fast.
It was too late. Hayden was already grinning. “You are, aren’t you?”
“Mike? Really? You thought I would ever…” Hayden shook his head, a smile still on his lips. “He’s not my type, you know. Don’t be jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” Cyrus protested in vain.
“Uh-huh.” It was clear Hayden didn’t believe him. “It’s okay, you’re allowed a healthy level of jealousy. Just don’t go all Edward Cullen possessive on me, okay?”
Cyrus was definitely blushing by now. “I won’t,” he promised. Hayden was still smirking. “Shut up, I’m not even jealous.”
“You’re not?” Hayden teased. “I’m hurt.”
Cyrus did his best to try.
The days between then and graduation fell away with alarming speed. Cyrus tried to savor every moment that he and Hayden had together, but time was slipping away from them. Over the past few days, Cyrus had noticed Hayden’s mood slipping to somber. He was quiet more often than not, and his jokes had begun to sound forced. Cyrus knew what was happening and didn’t try to stop it. Hayden had done this before - right after he had said goodbye to his brother. Hayden was dreading their separation, and that was strangely gratifying to know how much Cyrus meant to him.
In truth, Cyrus wasn’t doing much help to Hayden’s mood, for he himself was dreading leaving. Upon realizing what was going on, however, Cyrus figured it wouldn’t hurt to orchestrate a small surprise to cheer Hayden - and himself as well, for his mood seemed interconnected to Hayden’s happiness.
His plan took effect the day before graduation. Both had unashamedly been moping around, and clinging to each other even more than usual. The only difference between them was that Cyrus was hiding a secret - a happy secret that should be pulling up in front of the school any minute now.
Cyrus separated himself from Hayden where they lay entangled on the couch, listening to music. “I’m going to run to the bathroom, be back in a minute.”
Hayden nodded. “Hurry back.”
Leaving the dorm room, Cyrus didn’t head down the hall to the bathroom, but instead to the front door. He arrived just as a sleek black car pulled up. The back door opened and a familiar kid got out, looking a little sleep-ruffled. “Cyrus!” he shouted, spotting him in the doorway.
“Hey, Will,” Cyrus managed before he was enveloped in a crushing hug. He was surprised to find Will was nearing his height. “Have you grown in the past couple of months?”
“Yeah,” Will said, pulling back with a grin. He lifted one of his legs. “All my pants are too short; I haven’t gotten out to buy new ones yet.”
Cyrus laughed. Will’s cheerfulness was already becoming infectious. “Come on, let’s get your stuff, then go surprise Hayden.”
“How’d you manage to keep this a secret?” Will asked, opening the trunk.
Helping him lift out his suitcase, Cyrus replied, “The fact that it was a last minute idea helped. Oh, by the way, I got permission for you to stay with us by telling them that you were visiting to see if you wanted to come here next year. Just in case anyone asks, that’s your story.”
“Sounds good,” Will said, dragging his bags over to the door. Cyrus waved to the driver and he pulled away. “You excited to be graduating?” Will asked conversationally.
Cyrus shrugged. “I have mixed feelings.”
“It’s a shame you can’t spend the summer in North Carolina,” Will said, glancing over at Cyrus. “I’m sure Hayden’s going to miss you.”
Managing a smile, Cyrus replied, “Well, that’s what you’re there for, right? Keep him entertained for me.”
Will grinned. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Is he staying with you?” Cyrus asked as he lugged a large duffel bag up the stairs, wondering how much luggage the kid needed for two nights. “Over the summer?”
“Yeah, my parents are cool with it. He said he’ll get a job and pay them, but they won’t hear of it,” Will said. “But if you ever need to find him, you know where we live.”
Cyrus couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s good to know.”
They topped the stairs and headed towards the dorm. A small group of people were in the lounge area, but Cyrus pushed Will past them. If Hayden wanted to introduce his little brother to anyone, he could make the decision himself. Cyrus let them into the dorm room, leading the way. “Hayden?” Cyrus called. “I have a surprise for you.”
“What kind of surprise could you have possibly gotten me from the bathroom?” Hayden asked, turning to look at Cyrus and glimpsing Will behind him. “Will?! You found my brother in the bathroom?”
“I wasn’t actually in the bathroom,” Cyrus said, rolling his eyes as he stepped out of the way and let Will past.
Hayden and Will met in the middle of the room in enthusiastic embrace and wide smiles all around. “Hi, Hayden,” Will squeaked. “You’re crushing me a bit.”
“Sorry,” Hayden said, letting go. He held Will at arm’s length and looked at him. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“I wanted to be here for your graduation,” Will said. “But the fact that I actually am is all on Cyrus.”
Hayden looked over at Cyrus with a tender look of affection. “Thank you,” he intoned.
“You’re welcome,” Cyrus replied, locking eyes with Hayden. As far as he was concerned, it was worth it if only for the look in Hayden’s eyes at that moment.
Looking back at Will, Hayden’s brows lowered. “Have you grown?”
Will glanced at Cyrus and laughed. “Yeah, some,” he replied. “Cyrus noticed the same thing.”
“God, you’re almost my height. This isn’t cool,” Hayden grumbled, sitting down on the couch.
Will laughed and plopped down next to him. “You knew it was going to happen eventually.”
“Doesn’t mean I like it any better.”
Rolling his eyes, Will replied, “Okay, mom.”
Hayden punched Will in the arm. He tried for a glare, but could only keep it up for a few seconds before laughing. Will laughed right along with him, and Hayden wrapped an arm around his brother’s shoulders, then ruffled his hair.
Cyrus smiled at the pair of them, and Hayden caught his eye. He didn’t need words to tell Cyrus how much bringing Will up for graduation meant to him; it was written in his eyes. Cyrus hoped Hayden knew that he didn’t need thanks, for seeing how happy it made Hayden was more than enough. Even though neither of them spoke, they could communicate all of that through a single glance.
Cyrus realized then that Will’s presence meant sacrificing their last few hours of alone time, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. No, there was no way he could regret something that caused Hayden to smile so wide that his eyes crinkled, or laugh until his sides hurt. Cyrus didn’t regret it for a second. After all, this was one of the last times he would see that smile, and hear that laugh, for a good three months.