They’d said goodbye a hundred times already, but Greg knew he’d say it as many times as Jack wanted.
Greg walked the path along the side of the football field, behind the bleachers and down the row of trees that separated the school grounds from the lake. There was only one tree with a trunk thick enough to lean against, and that was where he was heading.
It seemed as if no one else was around, the rest of their graduating class out on the front lawn, where the rows of fold-out chairs and the stage were set up for graduation. But he knew he wouldn’t be alone back here. Not today, when the clock was ticking and they were both due on planes in opposite direction in a day’s time. And this was the last time they’d be on their high school campus together.
Jack Davidson was a burly teen. By the end of senior year, the span of his shoulders nearly doubled Greg’s. When Greg had first laid his head upon them, years before, Jack’s collarbone had bit into his cheek. But now, if he were to rest there, Greg knew he would settle in that dip of muscle between his shoulder and his pec that felt like home.
Jack was sitting against the tree with one leg out in front of him and one bent at the knee. It made his graduation gown stretch against his legs. He looked up at Greg and, ever since they’d Decided, every time Jack saw him, his breath caught in his throat, a startled jolt that was a slap in the face against the endless ease they once had. Fuck, even here by this tree – especially here, where Greg should be resting in between those long legs, watching the football team run around the field or reading a book to one another – Jack was startled by Greg.
Jack made that gasp, his hands clenching around his graduation cap that rested in his lap. They’d said goodbye a hundred times already, but Greg knew he’d say it as many times as Jack wanted. Meet in the trees behind the Greg’s Family Farm or stand in the alley behind the Davidson’s apartment, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
“I was waiting for you,” Jack smiled, but it was tight, pulled at either end by the unrelenting reality of their circumstance. “Not for very long though.”
Greg smirked, and it felt like his heart was being squeezed as he prepared to say the familiar reply. “You may have longer legs, but I’ll never be that far behind you.” Though really, soon, Greg would be hours ahead of Jack, no matter what. The thought twisted at his gut as he folded onto the grass. He was never good at keeping his sadness in, keeping any emotion to himself, when it came to Jack. “At least, until we both leave.”
Jack groaned, and Greg didn’t have to look to know he was banging his head against the tree. It was a damaging habit, and one he’d found Jack doing far too many times, after a particularly difficult midterm, or enraging interaction with Huck and his gang. Greg kept his gaze on the grass. It was easier than seeing Jack’s face twist in frustration.
“Greg, –” Jack reached out, kept his hand hovering over Greg’s back until he nodded. The formality, the asking, all of it, soured how good it felt to have Jack’s hand on him once more, so large that it rubbed half his back in one stroke. Greg wanted to collapse into it, and probably would’ve if Jack hadn’t been so cautious about touching him in the first place.
“This is hard,” he told the grass, and Jack’s reply was the miserable, affectionate sigh he used when he thought Greg was being petulant. Greg ached at the sound, and Jack must’ve seen it because he pulled Greg against his chest and wrapped his arms around him.
Greg’s eyes closed against the rush of tears stinging the back of his eyes. Being here in his arms… Jack felt too good, too right; it was home in a person. And he’d found this, what all the books talked about, what the songs sang about, and Greg was a scientist, but he didn’t need to run an experiment here. He didn’t need the scientific method to determine that Jack Davidson was his soulmate.
Except that was what they were doing, what they’d agreed to during there Lake Accords – named after the location they had their Very Mature Break Up conversation – where they decided that they were young, and thus should be wild and carefree. Greg was off to MIT and Jack to USC, and if they tried to make it work, they’d still be breaking down in each other’s arms right now, but for completely different reasons.
The heartache of having each other but not. Being there for someone, but only to a point. They tried it, three times in fact, when Greg was away in robotics sleepaway camp between his high school years. Greg remembered how waiting for his skype call with Jack felt, a small part of him sad he was missing out on whatever event the camp had going on that evening.
Four years of that? Of breaking each other apart when they were supposed to be growing, and learning– or whatever the admissions manuals said to let parents feel comfortable sending their prides-n-joys hundreds of miles away.
It’d break them, eventually, one way or another.
Jack had been running his fingers up and down Greg’s arms, resting his cheek on top of his head. Greg wondered if he knew he was humming, a purr-like sound that let him know Jack was deep in thought.
“I don’t think I’ll ever know anyone else as well as I know you.”
The fingers stopped their journey under the sleeve of his gown. “You’re going to keep knowing me. We’ll still–You know that we’re going to still talk, we decided–”
“I know. We will.” Greg pulled out a blade of grass and started twisting it between his fingers. “But if– No, when, one of us starts moving on… You know, it’s college. And you’re gorgeous, I bet you get the Orientation Leader’s phone number written on the corner of your welcoming packet with little hearts all around it. I’m not dumb. In fact, I’m a genius, so I can tell you that neither one of us is going to want to hear the details of the other one’s…. experimentation.”
He didn’t expect Jack to nuzzle his face into his neck and chuckle.
“What?’ Greg asked, aware his pout could be heard in the word.
“The way you think I’m going to want anyone’s digits anytime soon, especially on the first day. You’re not that easy to get over, Greg.”
They’d been together–would have been together– for four years this August, and Jack still managed to surprise Greg silent. It was one of the first things that attracted Jack to him.
The wind picked up, blowing the branches above them, and Greg froze the memory in his mind. He wanted to be able to close his eyes and be right back here in this moment, warm and loved, cherished.
“I’ll miss Georgia.” Greg’s words vibrated against his back. “I can’t see myself settling down anywhere else, not really.”
“You can take the boy out of the South…” Greg twisted in Jack’s arms, wanted to see him, to run his thumb along his cheek while he still could. He leaned in, slotting their lips together, because the act was as easy as breathing for Greg. When he pulled back, he rested against that dip in Jack’s chest, and closed his eyes. “Four years is a long time. But it’s not forever.”