A/N: lsdkfjsldkfj this has been an absolute PAIN to write. You have no idea. There were days where I only wrote, like, two sentences. Major props to my friend Eta Piscium for being my lovely beta/helping me out with my plot issues (as always!).
Parts of this are vaguely reminiscent of the HTR A Love Song synopsis, which is funny because I actually plotted the whole thing out about a week before that synopsis hit. GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE, OR SOMETHING.
Also I do not own the song "Nonagon" by They Might Be Giants. The only things I DO own here are Zander and Stevie's song lyrics, which is honestly nothing to brag about. (There's a reason I stick to prose writing.)
i. the crush
Nina comes to their show, which surprises Stevie because Zander had spent all of second period the previous day complaining about how Nelson and Kevin made him scare her off. Most of the show he sings in Nina's direction, and she blushes and Stevie rolls her eyes because really. Girls are so easily impressed.
(Sometimes when he looks her way in practice she forgets, temporarily, what line of the song they're on, but she conveniently ignores that fact.)
As has become tradition, after the show they straighten up their equipment and get ready to head out to Danny Mango's for celebratory smoothies. Zander hangs back.
"I'll catch up with you guys in a little bit, okay?" he says, his eyes flicking to the other side of the band room, where Nina stands waiting. Kacey winks and Stevie rolls her eyes again and the boys give him congratulatory punches on the arm before they all shuffle toward the door. "Get me a smoothie!" he calls after them.
Stevie can hear the opening strains of "Don't Get Me Wrong" as she closes the door behind her. Kacey looks back, startled. Okay, so maybe she actually slammedthe door behind her.
(She does order him a smoothie, but she drinks most of it before he gets there. It would've melted anyway, she tells him as he pouts at her.)
He stops walking to most of her classes with her, which is, y'know, whatever, but she worries he's going to start bailing on their writing sessions, too. To his credit, he doesn't cancel a single one, never even asks her to show up a little later or anything.
"Don't you want to hang out with Nina?" she asks one day, hesitantly, as she sits cross-legged on his bed. She pencils down some lyrics, almost immediately scratches them out.
"Don't you want to hang out with me?" he teases.
"Of course." She chucks her pencil at him. "I was just thinking, since she's your girlfriend…."
"Not my girlfriend," he corrects, throwing the pencil back at her, and she bites back an unexpected grin and he ducks his head and plucks out some notes on his ukulele.
(A couple days later he's waiting for her outside her first period class, like he used to, and they walk to history together, like they used to. On her way to lunch she passes Nina, chatting by her locker with a couple of girls she doesn't know, and catches the words "-just felt like I was competing with her, you know, so I told him-" before she's out of earshot again.)
ii. the teacher
It's sixth period on a Friday with five minutes to go. Stevie and Zander both have math with Ms. Willems, which isn't so bad except that she's twenty-two and fresh out of college and on top of it she's thin and blonde and pretty and all the guys are in love with her and all the girls wish they wereher.
(Stevie doesn't have a problem with her, really, but it's a little frustrating when she and Zander are doing homework together and she realizes he doesn't remember a single thing they learned that day because he had been paying more attention to Ms. Willems' lips than the words coming out of them. She's this close to charging him for the tutoring sessions their study sessions have been turning into.)
The entire class is restless and chatty in the way only a group of teenagers facing the prospect of a gorgeous weekend can get and on top of it they still haven't been assigned any homework and it's obvious everyone's hoping Ms. Willems forgot. No sooner does that thought cross Stevie's mind than Ms. Willems stands up, claps her hands a couple times to get attention.
"So over the weekend-" she begins, and the class groans in unison.
"Come on, Ms. Willems, you can't give us weekend homework with weather like that!" one girl protests, motioning out the window to the cloudless blue sky. Everyone chimes in their agreement - "It's a travesty!" "It's cruel and unusual punishment!" "I can't pick up chicks at the beach if I'm stuck inside doing math homework!" (This last one, from Zander, earns him an elbow in the ribs from Stevie because they have a gig on Sunday and practice all weekend and he's not going to beat the beach, homework or no homework.)
Ms. Willems just laughs, shaking her head. "Guys, I can't just notgive you homework over the weekend; we've got a lot to get done before the end of the year-"
"What if I play you a song?" Zander interrupts, swinging his ukulele onto his back. Stevie rolls her eyes, but to her surprise Ms. Willems seems to be actually considering it.
"Make it a math song and we'll talk," she says eventually.
"All right!" Zander hoots. He hops up onto his chair as the class cheers him on. "Give me a beat, Stevie," he says, and she claps out a beat that the class picks up as he strums along.
"Everybody at the party is a many sided-polygon,
When a guest arrives, they will count how many sides it has on."
Stevie's giggling already, because she knows the song and it's a perfect choice considering they're in geometry. She can tell Ms. Willems is fighting a smile.
"And the one who has nine is looking fine,
And its name is Nonagon."
A few of the students obviously know the song too, because they start to chime in as he sings, and by the final verse he's got a pretty good backup chorus going.
"Nonagon lets in a guest who has shown up late,
Its name is Octagon and its sides add up to eight.
Turning the music on,
Is a six-sided Hexagon,
And they all get in a line and do
A dance called 'The Nonagon.'"
The few students not in hysterics belt out the final lines along with Zander - "The Nonagon! The Nonagon!"
The bell rings as Zander plays the final chord and throws his hands up in the air triumphantly. Tears are rolling down Stevie's cheeks by this point. Laughing almost too hard to speak, Ms. Willems waves everyone out of the class. Zander gets high-fives, pats on the back, and punches in the arm as the room empties.
"I can't believe you serenaded Ms. Willems with 'Nonagon,'" Stevie laughs as they pack up and leave for the band room.
"I didn't 'serenade' her."
"You kinda did."
"Jealous?" he asks, nudging her.
"Gross, she's like thirty."
"Twenty-two," he corrects.
(It crosses her mind later, while she's tuning her bass for practice, that maybe he wanted her to be jealous. She wonders if she actually was, but never does come to a definite conclusion.)
iii. the fangirls
Zander disappears on their way to the band room, rushing back to his locker for a forgotten textbook. The rest of the band waits fifteen minutes before sending Stevie after him. She hears him before she sees him, following notes that lead her like bread crumbs through the near-empty hallway - he's the only one in the school who would be playing ukulele in the halls, after all. (It's almost endearing, really, that he lost track of time like that, and she feels a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.)
When she rounds the corner she sees him, back to her, playing for a couple of girls who look like they may pass out at any moment. Her smile vanishes instantly, because is he seriouslybailing on band practice for a couple of fangirls? One of them, a tall, dark-haired girl, notices her over Zander's shoulder, nudging her friend and nodding in Stevie's direction. The two stare. Likely confused by the sudden lack of attention on him, Zander turns around mid-song. Stevie glares him down, arms akimbo. His strumming slows and then stops.
"Youare now about twenty minutes late for practice."
"Sorry, I, uh... I got sidetracked." He glances over his shoulder at the two girls, who giggle and wave to him.
"Obviously," Stevie says dryly. The dark-haired girl whispers something to her friend; all Stevie can catch is the word "girlfriend" and from the looks they're both shooting her it's obvious who they're talking about.
It's not the first time she's been mistaken for his girlfriend and it probably won't be the last, even though she knows she's not his type. (It's not a self-pitying observation - simply a statement of fact. After all, she doesn't titter and bat her eyelashes and turn into a simpleton whenever he's around.) But it gives her an idea. Crossing the few feet between herself and Zander, she reaches up and wraps both arms around his neck, practically hanging off of him. His eyes go wide and it takes all of the self-control she can muster to keep a straight face.
"Come on, Zander," she says, looking up at him and doing her best to imitate the flirty voices she hears other girls use on him sometimes, "if we don't get back soon everyone's going to think I dragged you into the janitor's closet again."
Zander makes a strangled sound and the girls scoff and Stevie has to bury her face in the crook of his neck so that no one will be able to see her laughter. (He smells good, she notes absently, somewhere in the back of her mind.) By the time she's under control enough to look up, all she manages to catch of the girls' departure is the sound of clacking heels and a flash of long, dark hair disappearing around a corner. Satisfied, she lets her arms drop, spinning on her heel to stride off in the direction of the band room.
She hears Zander sputter her name after a moment, hears his footsteps behind her. "What was that?" he asks as they fall in step.
"That was me getting them to leave and getting you back to band practice."
"But… why did you-"
"They thought I was your girlfriend."
He laughs, flings an arm casually over her shoulders. "So you don't actually want to drag me into the janitor's closet, then? Because it's right there if-"
(She waits for him to laugh it off like she laughed off his "jealous?" comment a few weeks previous, but it never comes, and the silence stretches uncomfortably long. It's a relief when they finally cross the threshold of the band room and the weight of his arm lifts from her. She replaces it with the familiar weight of her bass, vows silently to never pull anything like that again.)
iv. the lead singer
Stevie reaches the band room a good half-hour before school starts, peeks through the window in the door. She's trying to find Zander (they're supposed to be doing some last-minute review before their history test, but for some reason he's not answering his phone) but only sees Kacey, staring at a piece of paper in her hands with an unreadable expression on her face, and has just made up her mind to go see if he's waiting at their table when he rushes in through the other door. Lunging over the couch to try and grab Kacey's paper, he misses and a scuffle ensues between the two of them. Kacey holds the paper out at arm's length, turning so that her body is between Zander and the paper as he reaches for it.
(Stevie notes with satisfaction that she was the one to teach Kacey that move during basketball practice. Good to know that she listens sometimes.)
Zander finally backs off, and the two stare each other down for a moment. Kacey waves the paper around and Zander bounces anxiously on the balls of his feet. He makes a couple more cursory grabs for it, but Kacey always keeps it just out of range. Eventually, Kacey puts her hands on her hips, her posture screaming no-nonsense. Zander drops his head, stares at the ground, and Stevie thinks she sees his lips move a little. Kacey takes a step forward, putting a hand to her ear. (Subconsciously, Stevie moves a little closer too, though the room is near-soundproof and she knows she's not going to be able to hear anything with the door closed.)
There's a shout (the voice is obviously Zander's, but the door muffles the words to the point of being unrecognizable). For a moment, Kacey's jaw drops, but her expression quickly changes to a giddy one. Stevie watches her shove the paper at Zander, watches her push him over to his guitar as he shakes his head. When he refuses to pick it up, Kacey picks it up for him, placing it in his hands before stepping back and folding her arms over her chest. (Zander, of course, looks like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world). Reluctantly, he plops down on the couch. Kacey stands behind him, hovering over the back.
(Stevie gets the feeling that whatever is going on here is private, something that wouldn't be happening if she were in the room, and she's never been nosy but she gets the sudden urge to push the door open just enough to listen. She does so quietly, crouching down below the window to press her ear to the crack, unseen.)
The opening chords are familiar and Stevie places them almost immediately - they're a favorite of Zander's when it comes to love songs.
He usually writes them for whatever girl has caught his eye at the moment. Rarely are they very serious songs; that, or they're serious to the point of moony and ridiculous. Stevie has outright banned them from their songwriting sessions (a move she occasionally regrets, as she sometimes misses laughing herself silly at them). It occurs to her, though, that a week ago she walked in on him quietly plucking something that sounded suspiciously similar to one of his love songs, but he had stopped the second he saw her and she had been so preoccupied with trying to keep a melody in her head that she hadn't paid it any mind.
She wishes now, as she hears Zander start to sing to Kacey, that she had asked about it.
In her haste to pull the door shut it slams, and she sits down hard, pressing her forehead to the door and letting her breath out slowly. A second later the door opens and she pitches forward, nearly colliding with Zander's legs.
Stevie scrambles to her feet, clutching her bag. "I was just… we were supposed to study, but I couldn't find you, and then… it's fine, I know you're busy, I'll just study on my own, I made flashcards…." She yanks them from her jacket pocket, waves them in the air as she makes her retreat down the hallway.
(Zander and Kacey both call after her, and she thinks maybe she hears footsteps behind her, but she ducks into a bathroom and locks herself in a stall and drills early Roman emperors until the first bell rings. When she comes out, she peers around the corners cautiously, but Zander's nowhere in sight. She can't decide if she's relieved or disappointed.)
v. the best friend
When she leaves first period she nearly walks straight into Zander, who moves as if to block her from escaping. She tries to smile, knows she's always been bad at faking emotions.
"Hey, Zander," she forces out, focusing on adjusting the strap of her bag so that she doesn't have to look at him. "Ready for the history test?"
He doesn't answer, just takes her by the arm, leading her to a little alcove in the hallway where the traffic passes them by and leaves them undisturbed. (It's a popular make-out spot - a fact Stevie tries her hardest not to think about - and more than one couple glares at them for occupying it as they walk by.)
"So, this morning… how much did you hear, exactly?"
"Enough," she tells him, chewing her lip. Before he can say anything else she steps out, lets the crush of students carry her down the hall to class.
(Several students look surprised when she and Zander enter minutes apart from each other. It's not like we're dating, she wants to yell at them, but instead she just sits at her desk and runs through her flashcards once more, forcing her eyes not to flick to Zander's desk on the other side of the room.)
At lunch she and Kacey are the first ones to the table. Kacey slides in next to her, too close, and Stevie has to fight the urge to scoot away. She picks at her tater-tot-and-green-bean concoction, wonders if the ground beef in it is real.
"So," Kacey begins, in a conspiratorial whisper, "Zander's song, hm?"
(It's infuriating how completely oblivious Kacey Simon can be sometimes.)
"Well, I uh… didn't hear much of it, but I'm sure it's great," Stevie says vaguely.
"That's it?" Kacey sounds oddly disappointed.
(She's starting to wonder how much damage a plastic fork would do if you drove it into someone's hand hard enough.)
"Look, Kacey, as long as you like the song, that's all that matters, right?"
"As long as I like the… Stevie, why would it matter if I like the song? It's for you."
There's not enough time for her to process this information because suddenly Nelson and Kevin and Zander are there, arguing over whether it would be better to fly on a giant hawk or a broomstick, and even Kacey can tell now is not an appropriate time to pursue this topic.
(It was hard to look at Zander before, but now it's impossible, and she excuses herself from the table fifteen minutes early so that she can go sit in the quiet of the band room. She spends the entire time staring at his guitar.)
When she gets to his house that afternoon she knocks before she enters his room; she's not sure why, as she's been in the habit of just letting herself in for months now. His voice calls "come in," so she does, crossing the room to hop up to her usual perch on his bed. She draws her knees up to her chest, wraps her arms around them. They're both silent for a while. The quiet isn't new, but this tension is.
"Kacey told me. About the song," Stevie says finally.
"I guess I didn't… hear as much as I thought I did."
There's another stretch of silence. (Stevie desperately hopes Kacey was right, that she wasn't just jumping to conclusions about the song.)
"Play it for me?"
He doesn't say anything, just grabs his ukulele from next to him and starts to play. Stevie closes her eyes.
"Beanies and bass and your dorky dance,
You're no come-and-go girl,
This no come-and-go chance."
His voice is quieter than usual, words coming out a little more thick and husky than they normally do. When he's finished there's silence of an entirely different kind, and Stevie opens her eyes to find him staring at her like she's the only thing in the room.
She reaches over and grabs a wadded-up lyric sheet out of the wastebasket near his bed. "Well, you've definitely written lamer love songs," she teases, throwing the ball of paper at him.
Zander bursts into surprised laughter. "I pour my heart out to you through song and that's the response I get?"
Sliding off his bed, she crawls over to the beanbag chair he's sitting in. (Her heart is thudding almost painfully, but she does her best to ignore it.)
"And this," she says, and then she's leaning in and it's a little clumsy and awkward but he reaches up to catch her face in his hands, fingers tangling in her hair.
"So," he says when they break apart, "about that janitor's closet…."
(He pulls her back in, hands sliding from her face to her neck to finally rest on her back, and now maybe she wishes, a little. She wonders why on earth they didn't do this ages ago. Because really, this is a lot easier than guessing and jealousy and pretending.)
i. the boyfriend
There's the usual gaggle of fangirls surrounding Zander at his locker the following Monday. Stevie elbows her way through them, ignoring their protests, until she's standing in front of him.
It hits her as he's looking down at her that she's not actually sure where their relationship stands, or if they're even going to acknowledge it at school at all. (After all, they hadn't done much… talking… about it, and she's not all giggles and fluttering eyelashes like his usual girlfriends and anyway, aren't you not really supposed to date fellow band members?)
"Hey Stevie," he says, his face instantly splitting into a grin, and before she has a chance to respond he pulls her in and kisses her soundly, right in front of everyone.
"Hey, Zander." She feels a little like the breath has been knocked out of her.
(Behind her, she thinks she hears a couple girls burst into tears. She can't bring herself to be particularly concerned at the moment.)
He finishes shoveling a couple books into his locker and slams it shut. Picking up his ukulele, he adjusts it on his back and throws an arm over Stevie's shoulder. It's not the first time he's ever put an arm around her, but it's the first time as her boyfriend and her stomach turns a couple flips.
"I wrote a song," she says, stopping at her locker.
"Without me? I'm hurt."
"It's not very long. And in my defense, you wrote a song without me."
"To be fair, you banned love songs from songwriting sessions."
"Touché." Her locker opens with a click and she reaches in, pulling out the pink ukulele she keeps stored in it. Zander snorts and she fixes him with a death glare. "What?" she challenges.
"Nothing, I just… don't ever think I've seen a pink uke before."
"My aunt bought it for me when I told her I wanted one, okay? She thought it was cute and I wasn't about to tell her to take it back."
"Do you want to hear the song or not?"
He raises his hands defensively. "Fine, fine, play your pink uke."
He's obviously holding back laughter, and she rolls her eyes at him as she starts to strum. "I'm not sure you deserve this song," she grumbles before she starts to sing.
"Our lunch begins
At a quarter to -
By the janitor's closet,
I'll be waiting for you."
She puts the ukulele back into her locker, slams it shut, and leans forward to kiss an incredibly gobsmacked Zander on the nose. He stammers out something unintelligible and she just laughs, walking off to first period unable to keep the grin off her face.
(He shows up, of course.)