Nick thinks it's ridiculous how close you get to people when you go to boarding school with them.
You see each other every damn day, you sleep in dorms with them, you see them first thing in the morning at breakfast, you see them in classes, and you see most of them during the weekend when there's absolutely nothing to do. People tend to bond quickly when they're bored out of their fucking brains and will come up with the weirdest shit to entertain themselves.
When he looks back at the early stages of his friendship with Jeff, Nick just remembers a blur of scenes. He and Jeff playing pranks on the better half of the boys in Birch house, cracking up over some stupid inside joke that absolutely no one but the two of them would ever find funny, scribbling notes on the covers on each other's binders in particularly boring classes. Well, the interesting classes too.
The point is that most of his Dalton memories, up until now, at the age of sixteen, involve Jeff in some way.
It's not that they're dependent on each other.
No – it's just that from his first day at this school, Jeff has always just been there. Looking back to his first five minutes at Dalton – when he walked into his shared dorm room one day a few weeks into the term and saw this kind of dopey looking blond kid unpacking his stuff on the other side of the room – Nick thinks that maybe they were destined to have this kind of friendship.
He doesn't know how but they somehow ended up becoming "the best friends"; the two guys that never really seem to be apart. They don't spend every second of the day together, of course, that would just be ridiculous - but Nick knows that when he walks into the common room alone, people will ask "where's Jeff?"
Nick's fine with that. It's pretty cool that they're like that.
They're friends for a fair few reasons. Good reasons and bad ones; reasons that aren't really that important and some that really, really are.
The first reason, one of the less important ones, is that when Jeff came to Dalton, he was put into the same house as Nick: Birch House. Strangely, all the houses at Dalton were very originally named after fucking trees.
Jeff chose to be put in Birch, because the animal mascot is a frog, and how freaking cool is that?
Nick is in Birch because his father had been. Simple shit, really.
Jeff spent his first few nights at Dalton in an empty dorm and then somehow ended up being moved into Nick's dorm because Nick's former room mate had spent his first two months at Dalton crying, feeling homesick, and generally being an irritating mess before his parents took him home. Jeff could kind of see where the guy was coming from, though. Dalton was a long way from home and he may have cried a tiny bit (into his pillow) on his first night, but that soon disappeared with all the awesome new friends he was making.
The second reason that Nick and Jeff became friends (best friends, if you want to split hairs) was because Jeff has this fucking badass guitar.
Well actually, he has two fucking badass guitars.
One acoustic, which Jeff keeps in a case in their dorm room, but the other one's electric. It's bright red and completely awesome. However, Jeff has to keep his completely badass electric guitar in the music wing because playing electric guitar in a dorm room where people do homework is really not practical. According to most of their teachers.
Jeff's first impression of Nick was that the other boy really liked his posters. Like, really liked his posters. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the colourful pictures decorating Nick's side of their shared dorm room, and when Jeff asked about them, Nick just grinned and mumbled something about being a photography nerd.
Jeff didn't mind, he liked that Nick had cool stuff on his wall. Lots of the guys didn't, and that scary Wes guy just had rehearsal calendars and a huge poster of Katy Perry. That was kind of weird. But no, Nick wasn't weird; Nick was fun and awesome and undeniably cool.
Jeff was pretty cool with having this guy as a roommate.
Jeff himself covered the wall above his desk with posters of bands and singers, mainly just rock bands at first, but as he settled into Dalton and realized that no one was going to judge him here, he also put up a few programmes and posters from various musicals.
Nick liked his pictures, he pointed out the musicals he'd been to on his recent trip to London over the summer (Nick had super rich parents) and the bands he liked. They had similar tastes, it turned out.
After seeing Jeff's guitars on that first night, Nick told Jeff he'd always wanted to play the guitar but his parents had paid for lessons for pretty much every other instrument. Of course, Nick was excellent at these instruments; he could play piano, violin, cello, and flute, not to mention he was trying out for the Warblers because 'he decided he needed a fun hobby'.
Sometimes, Jeff questioned Nick's levels of sanity.
Nick was great at all of this stuff, but, as he'd said, he wanted to learn guitar. And as fate would have it, Jeff was pretty good at guitar; so one day he grabbed his case, pulled out the instrument and sat down on his bed, telling Nick this was his first lesson.
Neither Nick or Jeff would remember this in the following years, but this was probably the moment they started being best friends.
Nick was pretty smart, like, crazy smart. He was a really fast learner when it came to guitar, probably because he was already so good at all those other instruments. Jeff doesn't really know if that's how it works, he's only ever really played guitar and drums. He doesn't think drums are really the same thing.
Jeff, even though he'd never really thought of himself as a teacher before (because his Mom's a teacher and he found it really weird when she taught him for a year in middle school), was starting to see that maybe this was something he was good at.
Dalton really was showing him new and different parts of himself that he'd never noticed before, not all of them good, but most of them not bad either. He'd always thought of himself as a pretty shy, quiet guy. At middle school, he'd always had a steady group of friends to kick around with, play soccer and guitar with, but here at Dalton, it seemed like he could finally break out of his shell and find out who he really was.
So, he spent most evenings during those first few months holed up in the dorm room with Nick Owens, teaching him songs, watching the other boys' fingers awkwardly make up the more difficult chords before his fingers loosened and he got used to stretching them across the frets.
He laughed when Nick complained about the calluses that were starting to build up on his otherwise soft fingers, called him a spoiled rich brat, but Nick never got mad, just laughed back and blushed.
In classes they sat together, slowly building up a group of friends between the two of them. When Warbler auditions came around, Jeff went along to support Nick, who took the whole thing far too seriously, in his opinion.
But yeah, Nick's father was a Dalton (and Warbler) alumni, and yeah, sometimes it seemed to Jeff that Mr. Owens forgot that his only son had opinions of his own. Nick never complained though. Jeff knew that Nick really did want to be a Warbler, no matter how stressful the audition process was. So, of course, he went along and auditioned right beside him, because that's what friends (and awesome room mates) do.
Nick was pretty stressed the day of the audition and didn't eat anything until Jeff and Trent force fed him a salad at lunch. Trent had just laughed, but Jeff knew that for whatever reason this whole thing was really important to Nick; it was just one of those things that Nick took really seriously. So he stayed close to his friend for the rest of the afternoon, made sure Nick's drink bottle was full and distracted him with funny doodles on his World History folder.
The actual interview was fine, if not a bit formal and (in Jeff's opinion) over the top. He'd heard Nick sing before in their dorm, and he knew he'd be fine. The other boy was a smooth, strong tenor, and Jeff wouldn't admit it to Nick's face, but he actually really liked hearing Nick sing.
As fate would have it, it turned out that Jeff actually had a pretty decent voice himself and a nice wide range.
Nick had laughed and shook his head when the list of successful applicants had gone up the Monday after their audition, with both their names on it. Jeff smiled and shrugged, joking that he got in because he was just that awesome, but later as they lay in their beds in their room, he'd felt like he needed to say something.
"Hey, Nick... you awake?" he'd whispered across the divide between their beds.
"Yeah... what's up?" Nick answered after a few seconds, sounding awake but a bit strange, like he'd been waiting for Jeff to say something.
Jeff rolled onto his side so he was facing Nick, even though it wasn't really like he could see him in the dark of their room.
"You're not mad at me or anything are you?" he threw it out there, not being able to come up with anything better or more delicate.
He could almost feel Nick thinking in the silence of the dorm. Again, the boy took a while to answer.
"About what, man?"
Jeff was pretty sure that Nick knew what he was talking about. He usually did. However, it was almost like he had to ask, in a way. Sometimes it was almost awkward how in tune they were. So, he went on.
"I know that, um, being in the Warblers is a big deal for you, and you spent a lot of time practicing and stuff. I just hope you're okay with me getting in too. You know, because I wasn't really planning on it. I can tell them I don't want to be in the club, if you want. I mean, it would be fun to be a Warbler with you, but not if you don't want..."
"Jeff. You really need to stop that."
Jeff was kind of lost.
"Stop... stop what?"
Nick just let out a laugh and Jeff heard his bedcovers rustling as he turned to face him.
"You're too nice. Stop being such a good person."
Jeff was pretty sure no one had ever said that to him before. He didn't know if he was supposed to be pissed or say thanks. He just settled for:
"What the fuck are you talking about, man?"
Nick laughed again.
"Jeff, I'm maybe slightly pissed at you, I won't deny that I was a tiny bit irritated that this happened so easily for you when it's the only thing my dad has talked to me about since I started this school. If you hadn't noticed, Jeff, the Warblers have a bit of a thing about honour and tradition. Because my dad was one, it's a pretty big deal that I am too, and I guess I wanted to live up to that, or whatever."
Jeff rolled onto his back. He still didn't really get what Nick meant with the 'being a good person' comment. But he was pretty happy that they're still cool and Nick wasn't really mad at him.
"Well," he said, "you did. You're a Warbler."
"I am," Nick replied. He sounded like he was smiling.
Nick continued. "And so are you. To be honest, I'm really glad you did, it's a bit intimidating now that I think about it. Also, I have to put it out there - that Wes kid terrifies me. Jeff snorted.
"Thank fuck, I thought it was just me."
Over their four years at Dalton, the boys cement their friendship that started with a guitar lesson and a show choir audition. They room together through most of their time at the school, requesting each other as roommates when they get a choice. They find themselves separated in classes, more often than not, due to the fact that the teachers seem to have zoned in on them as a 'source of distraction' to each other.
Nick thinks that's a bit unfair. They just like having a bit of fun, that's all.
Short sheeting and flipping the occasional mattress in the dorms isn't anything people should really take seriously.
That time Trent woke up with his eyebrows missing was just plain hilarious.
They paid to replace the carpet in that corner of the chemistry store room that they somehow set on fire (Nick will neither confirm nor deny that a large amount of magnesium wire was involved).
They really just enjoy having a bit of fun. Dalton's a great school, it's a super interesting, super old place, but Nick and Jeff sometimes feel that it's a bit uptight.
It's less uptight when they're replacing Thad's shampoo with peroxide.
It's in sophomore year that things start to feel a bit off kilter.
For Jeff, anyway.
You see, he's always been a fairly onto it guy. He prides himself on being that way, being put together like that. He knows who he is; he has his friends, he has Nick, he has his daily routine, and the Warblers. Or so he thinks.
Nick stays at Dalton during most of the short holidays and long weekends they get. It's not that Jeff doesn't want to see his family, he does, it's just that when given the choice between being lectured by his parents and bugged all holidays by his little brother and spending time with Nick, he'd choose Nick any day.
Jeff's family lives too far away for him to go home very often. It's a pity, Nick spent Christmas there one year when his parents were in the Bahamas and absolutely LOVED it. The Galvens are amazing people, and Jeff has two brothers, so it's not like an extra mouth to feed really a difference. Nick sometimes wishes his family could be more like the Galvens. He's an only child, so Christmas is usually just him and his parents, sometimes his grandparents, who insist on asking him if he has a girlfriend about every half an hour.
Jeff's family home is amazing, cozy and in Nicks opinion, perfect.
Jeff admitted once that he was embarrassed that his house wasn't as nice as Nick's; they didn't have a pool or a gym or any of that kind of thing.
To be honest, the first time Jeff went to Nick's house he was terrified. The Owens have a housekeeper and a gardener.
They have horses.
Compared to Nick's house, Jeff feels like he lives in a cardboard box.
He constantly apologizes to Nick for the mess, the crap his brothers leave everywhere, the 'organised chaos' as his mother calls it.
Nick absolutely loves it.
Over Christmas, Jeff starts spending even more holidays at Dalton. He says it's because it's becoming harder for his parents to pick him up all the time with all the work they are doing and so he can keep his grades up, but the truth is (although he would never admit it) that he doesn't want Nick to have to spend all that time by himself. The larger part of the break is spent watching movies in the Birch House room and seeing what school rules they can break with only a few people on campus while still causing a respectable amount of trouble.
The workload at Dalton is becoming harder, and they find themselves bent over books in the library more often than not. They still study together, still room together and Jeff still gives Nick those weekly guitar lessons. In return, Nick starts teaching him the piano. Jeff's a fast learner and the Dalton music wing becomes a new haunt of theirs.
Of course, as with any boy's school, especially one where they all basically live together, the big subject is girls.
Especially in the first few months of sophomore year.
Dalton is basically out in the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of Westerville, and the closest the boys can really get to any form of normal contact with the feminine species is with the ladies of Crawford County Day.
Crawford is their sister school and also the closest school to them for miles, so it makes sense that about seventy-five percent of the Dalton boys are dating Crawford Girls. Occasionally, the school puts on co-ed dances, reasonably formal events that are usually preceded by dinner and a soiree by the Warblers.
Jeff kind of hates the things. He's kind of confused by girls in general, really.
He likes girls, well, he doesn't not like them. They're always really nice to him; he just doesn't understand how some of the guys get so dumb around silly giggling girls in those silly Crawford school skirts.
Jeff doesn't really get the way the guys talk about girls - he kind of just doesn't get what the big deal is.
For him, the fact that the other boys are all spending their Saturday nights off campus with their respective girlfriends makes him feel a little more apart from everyone else. He spends less time with the friends he and Nick made last year and more with just Nick.
It all starts to make a bit more sense one day when he's talking to David after a practice and realises that David's actually sort of really good looking. Then he realises that he's thought this for a while, and maybe that's something he should be paying attention to.
He suffers through a whole semester of miserably crushing on David and getting butterflies in his stomach every Warbler practice. It's
stupid, he knows, because David's had a girlfriend for over a year now and is definitely not interested, but it helps him figure out the reason he'd never really looked twice at any of the Crawford girls.
The next time he goes home for a break, he tells his older brother that he thinks he likes guys. It's not really what he'd expected. He at least thought he'd get some interrogation, some teasing, maybe?
He just gets a huge hug and told that if he ever needs to talk, he can just pick up the phone.
Jeff figures that he should probably wait to tell his parents, not because he's worried that they'll be angry or anything, just because he thinks he should probably figure this out for himself before laying something that big on them.
For Nick, his sexuality is becoming something more vibrant, more in the forefront of his mind. He's experimented a bit, dated girls, and he knows that he likes kissing them, likes it in a physical way that makes him feel wanted, but in the end it's like it doesn't really feel right to him. Nick will never admit it, because he's trying to keep up his reputation as a bit of a bad-ass, but he's sort of a romantic. He wants something big, something real.
He thinks maybe he has a few screws loose.
Until the something real he was waiting for happens.
It sneaks up on him, comes completely out of left field. Everything goes from slightly confusing to a whole lot worse.
Nick starts to realise that he does have feelings; he is capable of noticing someone in that way.
He starts noticing Jeff.
It's little things at first, like wanting to brush Jeff's ridiculous blond fringe out of his eyes when it falls into his eyes in class. His heart speeding up when he messes up a guitar chord (which was happening a lot lately) and Jeff corrects it by covering his hand with his own.
By September of junior year, Nick's having issues with just being in the same room as Jeff. Which is highly unfortunate for him, seeing as they fucking live together.
By December, Nick Owens is about ninety-five percent sure he's falling in love with his best friend.