Better By Far

JC was in a hurry. He was always in a hurry, but this time it was really, *really* important, because if he didn’t get to the chemistry lab in five minutes, his students were going to rake him over the coals again. He dropped his skateboard to the ground with a clatter and did his best to speed across campus. It didn’t matter, though. He knew he was going to be late.

When he finally jogged into his classroom, breathing hard, his glasses were slipping off of his nose and the big hand was ten minutes past the hour. The students were chattering away, putting things away in their bags when they caught sight of him.

“Hey hey hey,” he said defensively, warding them off with his skateboard. “It’s a fifteen minute rule, right? I see only ten minutes. Sit back down.”

With something very like a grumble, his students began to pull out their notebooks, papers and books. JC used the time to cool down, shrugging off his jacket and digging out the day’s lecture from his bag. There was a lab for this, which was luckily later in the week. JC flipped through his notes, and inwardly winced. He’d have to break some bad news.

“Okay, guys. We’re going to have to stay about fifteen minutes extra today–” and there, the mass groans started, “–which I know is not your favorite option for a Tuesday afternoon, but that’s what you get for signing up for a chem lecture at four o’clock on a weekday. I also want to remind you that the lab will take place as usual, and Dr. Rosen will be there to work through the experiments with you.” JC looked pointedly around the room, but luckily no one raised their hand. JC was grateful; he didn’t want to hear another sophomore bitching about the class just because they were there for a requirement.

“So, if you could please open your books to page seventy-five, we’re going to be talking about atomic structure today,” JC started, and it was that easy to get into chem-mode and teaching-mode.

The hour slipped by more quickly than he had expected it to, and by the end of the class even the annoyed ones had seemed at least mildly engaged by the material. JC spoke to a few of his more interested students as he was packing up, promising them appointment time later that week.

He checked his watch. Five-twenty, Tuesday afternoon, and that meant it was time to head over to the Bell’s Coffee and Tea, a habit as predictable as the sunset. Justin would be there with the comic books he’d bought the week before, re-reading them to be ready for this week’s pulls. JC put on his backpack and skateboarded away.

When he walked in, Brandi waved at him from behind the counter and made the “usual?” gesture. He grinned and made the “yep” one back. It was a little system they’d developed, as he was the most regular of regular customers, coming in everyday without fail for his caffeine fix–sometimes twice in one day. When the place got too busy, like it was right now, they’d just signal at each other and JC would get his coffee pretty quickly. It was one of the perks of living in a small college town.

Justin was near the back wall, slouching against an overstuffed couch and resting his feet on the beat-up wicker coffee table. He was concentrating so hard on reading his comic books that he hadn’t even bothered to take off his coat. JC couldn’t help but smile when Justin didn’t notice him standing right there in front of him, so JC nudged at Justin’s feet. “Hi,” he said when Justin looked up.

“I can’t believe I missed the part about the killer, it was there the whole time,” Justin replied, sticking his thumb in his comic book to mark the place and training his gaze on the second button of JC’s shirt. He did that when he was thinking hard about something, staring at whatever was in his line of sight without really looking at it.

JC rolled his eyes. It was simultaneously annoying and cute how intense Justin could get about his comic books. Well, mostly it was cute. It only got annoying when he started favoring the lives of superheroes over talking to his boyfriend.

JC had to remedy the situation, so he leaned down and kissed Justin. It was soft at first, crescendoing into deep and meaningful. JC pressed Justin back into the couch, the weight of his backpack tipping his weight forward. When he finally pulled away, Justin looked dazed for a moment, but then his eyes cleared and he continued. “Seriously, I think everybody must have seen it but me, and no one bothered to tell me.”

Justin gave JC his most endearing look, while JC sighed and looked put upon. But Justin couldn’t keep it up forever and finally broke into a smile. “Sorry, sorry, it was too good not to continue,” he said as JC’s coffee arrived.

JC thanked Brandi, turning back to Justin. “Sometimes I think you favor Arsenal over me,” JC said half-jokingly, taking a careful sip of his drink. They made the coffee hot here.

Justin scooted forward on the couch and put a hand on JC’s knee. “Not a chance,” he said seriously.

JC grinned. “Oh, honey, you’re so easy,” he teased, and Justin grinned back.

“I know,” Justin said. “So how was class?”

JC told him the whole story of being late, leaving out the boring parts (“But they’re *all* boring parts,” Justin pointed out, and JC swatted at his head) but still managed to talk for ten minutes on the beauty of the chemical formula he’d been relating to the class until Justin started shaking his head. “I swear, you should have been the writer,” Justin said. “When you start talking about chemistry, you manage to make even me interested. And I avoided science like the plague.”

“I know, sweetie,” JC said, with a faintly mocking emphasis on the endearment. “It’s just,” he continued, pausing to try and gather his thoughts, “it’s just so perfect, the way everything fits together like it was meant to. Like there was some big plan to it all, and I can understand this little bit of it, which is enough to understand that there *is* a plan, even if I don’t understand that plan wholly. There’s something beautiful about it, that kind of balance. It’s like us,” he added, smiling when Justin nodded for him to continue. He had Justin’s attention now.

“There was us, and we were like two separate elements that had the potential to combine, but it wasn’t the perfect situation yet, so we couldn’t. We were two elements that worked in theory, but needed a catalyst for the actual getting-together process. And then Chris comes along, and looks at us, and says, ‘Together!’, which it totally wasn’t that easy, but that’s the idea. We became this perfect balanced molecule with just the right number of atoms on both sides, with some of you coming into me and some of me coming into you, so that it ended up as something new and…beautiful,” JC finished, at a loss for how to continue.

Justin had rested his head on his hand, and remained just looking at JC until JC got a little nervous and went to his coffee cup for comfort. “What?” he said finally, eyes peering over the rim of his mug.

“Just, you,” Justin said, shaking his head. “I have no idea how you do it, but you make chemistry attractive. And you keep *doing* it. Next thing you know, I’ll want to take a class.”

“All you need–”

“–is one good teacher with one good class and you’re hooked,” Justin said as if by rote. “Yes, JC, I know. It’s why I went into creative writing and not international politics.”

“I just say it ’cause it’s true,” JC said with a shrug.

“And yet, I still love you no matter how many times you tell me the same things, over and over again,” Justin said, taking the last bite of his Danish that had been sitting there since JC arrived.

JC rolled his eyes. “So what are we doing tonight?” he asked.

Justin thought for a moment. “Well, Kevin and Nick are supposed to have a party for their new apartment building, but you already took over that bottle of wine and really, I don’t feel like happy fun Justin today. I feel more like spaghetti and a movie Justin.”

“Isn’t Lance supposed to come over for that thing?” JC mentioned.

“Yeah, he is,” Justin said, fiddling with the pen he pulled from behind his ear. “He’s also going to take a look at the portfolio I have for my short fiction class, and really, if we’re going to do the spaghetti thing we might as well invite Joey, because he’ll take over in the kitchen mid-way through dinner and make it better anyway.”

“Oooh, and I can get some of that garlic bread from Rossetti’s,” JC said, his mouth watering.

Justin nodded. “Good idea,” he said. “Also, if Lance and Joey are coming over, we gotta call Chris.”

JC finished his swallow of coffee before saying, “No, wait, I think he was coming over anyway. He has that new cd, and you know how he gets when he has new things he believes everyone has to hear–he would have come over tonight anyway. We can just save him some spaghetti and wait for him to show up after his shift at the bar.”

Justin snorted. “And then we’ll get to hear all the drunk stories from the evening,” he laughed.

“Somehow, every time he tells them they get funnier,” JC said.

“It’s his talent,” Justin said with a grin.

“I think he likes to call it his gift to the world,” laughed JC.

“So, there you go. We have plans. Movie, spaghetti, the guys, voila, it is an evening.”

JC finished his coffee and made the, “no, I’m good, no more coffee” sign at Brandi before moving to sit next to Justin on the couch. He threw his arm over Justin’s shoulders and started playing with his scarf. Justin leaned his head against JC’s, and they sat there watching the busy coffee shop. “I think,” Justin said, loudly enough for only JC to hear, “we got really lucky, coming here.”

JC watched the college population circulate in and out of the shop, the bar, the tables, and nodded so that Justin could feel his head move. “Yeah.” he replied. “I think we did too.”