Quick Note: No worries folks, One Candle in the Water is still on the stove, even if some original fiction has pushed it to a back burner. This story is something that I've had sitting around for a while and is something that's easier to work one whilst brain fried from my job. Hope you enjoy.
Shawn started keeping track of milestones the second time he dated Angela. He'd missed things like "First Kiss" and "First Date" during the undocumented Two Week Rule time and started wildly overcompensating when Angela had run into him at his locker one morning kissed him and said "Happy Week Three" with a smile. He'd kept a mental file ever since. "First Time I Went to Her House" when they'd partnered up for a History project on Pearl Harbor and he'd been so worried that she'd ask to come over to his trailer "First Thing She Told Me Something She Hadn't Told Anyone Else"- when she was little she'd run over a frog with her bike and been so upset about it that later she'd scraped it off the sidewalk and buried it in her apartment's window box. "Our First Valentine's Day", "The First Time We Said I Love You" "Our First Time".
He never brings it up. He never tells anyone, even Cory, that he does it. He just keeps track. As though he were afraid of some sort of audit, where someone would want to check the paperwork on "The First Movie I Took Her To" or subpoena "The First Present I Got Her".
When Angela got into Columbia and took off for Chicago, Shawn carefully demarcated all previous files into the category of "First Real Relationship" and started over with an optimistic list of his own. "First Day of College"- September 3rd. "First Dorm Room" Stevens 314, "First Girl to Flirt with Me" Donna Lachmann- Junior.
He's started keeping another list too, and still can't quite figure out why it's "Firsts Without Topanga" rather than "Firsts Without Angela", but it is. Maybe it was just that they'd known her longer. Even when he and Cory hadn't been friends with Topanga she'd been a presence that was hard to ignore. Maybe it because Cory is trying so hard to pretend she hasn't left.
So while September Third is mostly "First Day of College" Shawn had also been fully aware that it was "First Ever First Day of School without Topanga."
Shawn tries to bring Cory along with him, tries to make him a part of all of his firsts, but Cory is obstinate, terrified to change, and refusing to admit that their group had changed.
So Shawn feels a little guilty when he comes across "First New Friend at College" Peter MacDonald- Sophmore. They were both taking the same math class and both doing it in order to get something they hated having to do out of the way so they never had to do it again. They bonded over the fact that the class made them both miserable and after one particularly bewildering Friday afternoon class Peter had invited Shawn to his dorm room to go over the homework. Peter's roommate, Jeremy, who wore a lot of black and a little bit of eyeliner, had agreed to tutor Peter in exchange for Peter using his ID to buy booze whenever Jeremy asked him for it.
One night after both Shawn and Peter have completely and totally failed to understand imaginary numbers, Jeremy gets frustrated and kicks them out. Peter grabs his back pack and they head down to Shawn's room to hang out. "First Time I Hoped Cory Wasn't Home" Shawn thinks to himself, feeling guilty about it.
Cory was having a tough time at college. He'd signed up for a couple classes that were beyond him, he wouldn't come to anything that Shawn tried to invite him to, he missed Topanga and he was having a lot of trouble with the long-distance thing. He calls every day, at the same times he would have seen her, or to ask for some help with his homework or during the detective show they used to watch together. But he get depressed when she doesn't answer, he checks his phone obsessively for a reply to text messages and three days ago Topanga had gotten frustrated with him and told him to go and try something new, then wait for her to call him. She still hasn't called and Cory is sinker further and further into a black, nasty mood. And while he isn't exactly taking it out on Shawn, Shawn is still bearing the brunt of it. So when he and Peter arrive at his dorm room door to find it locked, Shawn's relieved.
They pick a movie off Cory's bookshelf, Shawn grabs Cory's pillow off his bunk and makes his own bed into a makeshift couch. Peter pulls a bottle of Jack Daniels out of his back pack as the credits roll.
"D'you have glasses?"
Shawn swallows. Somehow, in his little daydreams about college girls and college parties, this scenario had escaped him.
"Oh, I… um…" he stammers, not sure how to explain. He gets up and retrieves one of the three cups he and Cory collectively own, "Here."
Peter smiles, "There's enough for two you know. And I have," he pulls two cans of coke from his bag, "Mixers. Cause I'm classy like that."
"I can't," Shawn tells him. Fantastic. "First Time," (probably of thousands) "That I have to explain I'm an Alcoholic", he marks it off in his head.
"It's really okay, Shawn," Peter said, "I brought it to share."
"It's just that I can't drink," Shawn admits, "Well… I can drink I just can't… stop."
The grin falls from Peter's face, "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry. I didn't think…" He opened his back pack again, "Never mind, I don't have to-"
"No," Shawn presses the cup into his hand, "It's okay. Seriously, it's fine. You can have your drink. Doesn't bother me."
"I don't have to,"
"Please," Shawn insists. He's going to meet new people, they are going to drink around him, Jack and Eric having beers in the apartment never bothered him. He's fine.
Peter gives him a little bit of a wary look, but pours some whiskey in the cup, tops it off with coke and hands Shawn the other can.
They sort of watch the movie, but mostly they talk. All of Shawn's stories are still high school stories, but Peter seems to appreciate the "Shawn and Cory" chronicles. Peter recounts a couple pranks gone wrong and nights of curfew breaking with his high school best friends, Gary and Linda. Peter's from a smaller town so his stories are closer to the "make your own ridiculous-not-sure-it-was-legal-and-it-was-definitely-trespassing fun" variety.
He also gives Shawn some campus heads up from someone who's already survived their first year of bizarre professors, unexpected cafeteria induced sicknesses (apparently nothing made of tofu is to be trusted) and roommate issues. Shawn tells him about Cory and the issues they've been having and admits that he's been thinking about calling Topanga himself and asking her to take it easy on Cory. Peter laughs, then suddenly spots Shawn's bookshelf, and jumps for it, seizing "Catcher in the Rye" and squatting down in front of the shelf. When the movie ends they're still talking about how many times they've gone back over the book and how they can't figure out if identifying with Holden Caulfield means they're nuts, normal, or just pretentious. Peter admits to having been pretentious enough in high school to have carried around a volume of Pablo Neruda's poems with him everywhere. He's horrified when Shawn's never read it and insists that he borrow it if he's interested in poetry at all.
"Yeah, absolutely!" Shawn agrees enthusiastically, then out of nowhere, "I've been writing poetry forever."
He flushes red- he's never told anyone that. Turner didn't know, Feeny didn't know, Angela didn't know, Cory doesn't know- and he's telling some guy he's only known for two weeks. Maybe it's a contact drunk.
"That's awesome," Peter says, slurring just the tiniest bit, "I love poetry, but I can't do it. Course back in my Neruda days it's not like that stopped me. I've burned the extant evidence, but that level of douchery still haunts me," Peter giggles and pours a little bit more whiskey into his empty cup setting the open bottle on the floor. He gulps it down and expels a breath. Shawn can smell the whiskey in the air. God it smells good.
"I do short stories now, still a little pretentious, but at least I don't suck at it. So what do you write poetry about?" Peter asks.
"Umm… my family. About thinking I was a tough little shit. I have one about JD Salinger actually. Well not exactly about him… but … he's involved."
"Do you have poems about Cory?" Peter asks quietly.
Shawn snorts, "Yeah a couple. There's "Death by Llama" and "Where Did All This Cake Come From?" They're… awful poems, but… it's something that I just do for myself so… you know… they don't have to be good."
Shawn's guilt at enjoying Cory's absence suddenly becomes guilt at not worrying about his continued absence. His eyes flick to the clock on his bookshelf. It's 10:30. That's a completely unreasonable time for Cory to still be out. There is a wild chance that he took Topanga's request that he try something new as an order, but it's unlikely and Shawn knows it.
"I'm sure they're good," Peter tells him. In Shawn's moment of guilt over Cory's whereabouts, Peter's moved closer. Shawn remembers how affectionate a drunk he used to be and shakes his head.
"What does Cory think of them?"
Shawn looks down at his hands for a moment before looking back to Peter, "He doesn't know. I didn't really have literary friends in high school. I've never told anyone about the poetry thing," Shawn shrugs and opens his mouth to continue that it's nice to have met someone to talk to about it and then Peter's kissing him.
The use of tongue is understated, but the trace of whiskey is overwhelming and the unheralded kiss from this unexpected quarter is so stunning that Shawn lets himself be kissed for a misleading amount of time before he pulls away.
"Umm," he tries for more words, but poet or no, they aren't forthcoming.
"So I kinda like you," Peter tells him softly, warm and close, his hand slipping to Shawn's neck. Shawn's heart sinks and his cheeks flare.
"Oh… Peter… look-"
And that's when Cory gets home, already in a temper, judging by the way he kicks the door as he comes in.
"I just tried to call Topanga and she-"
Cory stops dead still as he takes in the scene, Peter's larger frame hovering over Shawn's, faces still together, Shawn's furiously red cheeks, whiskey on the air and the bottle on the ground.
Cory grabs Peter by the back of the shirt and hauls him to his feet.
"Out. Now. Take the bottle and get the hell out."
"You," Cory points a finger at Shawn with his free hand, "Are not making decisions right now, Shawn."
"I'm not drunk!" Shawn shouts.
"He's not drunk," Peter says at the same time.
"Let him go Cory- Jesus what is your problem?"
"You really aren't drunk?" Cory demands.
"No!" Shawn spits- and that hurts- Cory thinking that Shawn can't make it two whole weeks at college without swan diving off the wagon, "I really can control myself, Cory."
Cory lets go of Peter, who rubs his hand across his neck where his shirt collar choked him.
"I should go," Peter lunges for his bottle and his bag and then the door, screwing the cap back on the bottle as he leaves.
"Wait!" Shawn calls heading after him and shooting Cory a dirty look as he ducks into the hallway. He grabs Peter by the shoulder.
"Wait," he says again and Peter turns around, just as red as Shawn now, "I'm sorry about that… Cory's… having a shit time of it… and he's like a mother hen. Like a mother of many other hens."
"Yeah," Peter drops the bottle into his back pack and rubs his neck again, not really looking at Shawn. He looks strangely small right now for such a big guy, "That was exciting."
"And he's… the last time I was drinking I peed on a police car and threw my girlfriend into a wall… he's got reasons."
Peter's face scrunches up in embarrassment, "Girlfriend."
"Yeah," Shawn says gently, then realizes everything else that's just spilled out, "Threw into a wall sounds bad- I didn't… throw her. It was more of a shove. I didn't hurt her, but I really scared her and it was really really not like me. At all. And umm…. Neither is- you know- what he walked in on," Shawn tries to wrap up the rambling, "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry."
"No, it's cool," Peter manages then finally looks up at Shawn, "I'm sorry. I usually read people better than that."
Shawn nudges the back pack Peter's using as a shield with his knuckles, "Maybe you over did it," he jokes uncomfortably. Peter coughs out a fake laugh.
"Yeah, okay… I should go home," he says, beginning to turn again.
"Look, Peter," Shawn says, "We're… okay right? Like if I come sit by you in class Monday we aren't both going to sit in this terrible awkward silence wishing we were dead, right?"
Peter laughs for real this time, "I think I'll survive sitting by you in class on Monday, yeah."
"Good," Shawn nods, then just to make sure Peter's really getting it, "And don't worry. Everybody gets a crush on me eventually. It's the hair," Shawn gives him an explanatory hair flip.
Peter snorts, "Okay-that did it. Crush over. I'll see you Monday. I'll bring the book."
Peter walks down the hallway, shoulders still hunched a little, and Shawn returns to his room, where Cory is still standing, fuming in the center of the room.
"You understand why I assumed you'd been drinking right?" Cory asks, clearly trying to ask apologetically, but on his last damn straw of the day.
"Yeah. But I wasn't."
"I know. I'm sorry," Cory lets out a sigh that almost sounds painful, and squeezes his thumbs briefly into his temples, "Soo.. what was going on in here?" he asks, as though it's just a point of clarification.
"You know Peter that I keep trying to get you to come to dinner and meet?"
"That's him?" Cory asks carefully.
"Yeah. Apparently he's got a crush on me. And I was trying to explain to him that I'm flattered but straight when you strolled in and went insane."
"Again- very sorry- but the first glance around the room was an open bottle of whiskey and you doing something crazy. It looked like he'd gotten you drunk."
"Well good for you- you got here in time to save my sobriety and my virtue," Shawn snaps then feels bad, "What happened with Topanga?"
Cory sighs, relieved to be back on familiar territory, "Ugh. Topanga-"
Shawn starts putting his pajamas on, only half listening to Cory but picking up the important details. Cory's trip to the student art gallery all by himself was not enough of "trying out campus life" to merit calling Topanga instead of waiting for her to call him and now she had gotten into the fall play, so she was going to be busy every night.
Shawn leaves his light on and when Cory finally falls asleep, he grabs Catcher in the Rye off the shelf and starts re-reading.