The next chapter of Just Friends is giving me some trouble, so I thought I'd at least give you guys something while I struggle with it. This is a little oneshot of how Nick and Jeff met back in fifth grade and became friends. I may do other prequel-esque oneshots, I may not, but if I do it will be because I'm struggling to write something else, so don't expect frequent updates or anything.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy :) You don't have to have read Just Friends to understand this.
Nick didn't really want to seem like a nerd, but he couldn't help it if he liked getting to class before everyone else, ready to go when the bell went and school began. He just liked school – and their first class of the day. He figured it was probably a little weird that he liked Math, but it was easy for him and he always breezed through the work set for them. He always finished before everyone else and it gave him time to himself. His teacher didn't mind what he did as long as he stayed quiet and didn't disrupt the class.
He was in his usual spot by the time the bell rang and the rest of the students began filing in. He'd spent the last few minutes reading, and was at a particularly good chapter of The Prisoner of Azkaban when someone knocked the book from his hands. Nick knew exactly who it was before he glared up at them in annoyance. Luke was always picking on him, along with his brother. The boy laughed and made his way of the back of the room where he normally sat. As he retrieved his book from the floor, Nick was glad the bully's brother wasn't in the same class as them. The two of them together were a force to be reckoned with and it was enough dealing with them outside of class without having to do the same while trying to work. Everything had become much more peaceful when Adam had been transferred to another class – what was known among the students as the 'dumb class'. If you didn't keep up your grades and couldn't do the work, you got 'moved down' to work with the other 'dummies'. Normally the kids would gossip if someone got moved down, but Luke didn't like anyone talking about his brother like that.
The teacher walked in just as Nick stuffed his book in his bag, and he sat up, his smile turning to a look of curiosity and intrigue when he saw the boy who followed her, staring at the floor with arms wrapped around his chest. He had to be a new student, and the room was suddenly buzzing with chatter. Who was he, why did he look so shy, where was he from, might he be a bully or a nerd or just plain normal? The questions flew quietly between classmates until the teacher interrupted them.
"Class, this is Jeff, a new transfer all the way from Los Angeles!" Mrs Matthews said brightly and the blonde boy ducked his head further to avoid the other children's gazes. "I hope you'll all be nice to him and help him settle in. Jeff, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?"
The blonde looked up at the large woman suddenly, eyes wide, and he shook his head fiercely. Nick watched him carefully as Mrs Matthews let him off and seated him in the only free desk in the room, next to Ty. Ty didn't seem too bothered with the new kid and Jeff just kept his head down, staying quiet.
As Mrs Matthews began handing out sheets of math problems for the class to begin working on, Nick started wondering about the blonde boy. Los Angeles was a long way away – why had he moved all the way out here? And why was he so quiet? Maybe he was just nervous about starting a new school. Nick figured he'd be nervous too if he had to start at an all new school with no friends or anything.
When the class was let out for the break, Mrs Matthews assigned Ty to help Jeff and be his friend – show him around the school, help him out if he needed, not let him be alone on his first day. But as soon as they were out of the room, Ty ran off with his friends and left Jeff to himself. Nick watched him the whole break from across the playground but didn't go over to him. He didn't know what to say. Jeff just sat on his own in the shade of one of the school buildings, and while he didn't look happy, he didn't look unhappy either.
For the next two days Nick watched him from across the playground, wanting to go over and say hi but not brave enough to. Every time he psyched himself up he'd find some way to back out of it, until the bell sounded and they were to head back to class. But eventually his hand was forced when he spotted Luke, his brother, and a few of their friends making their way towards Jeff.
He could hear them from where he was sitting, and it didn't sound very good.
"Hey loner," Luke said, folding his arms across his chest "What are you doing?"
Jeff mumbled something Nick couldn't hear, and then Adam spoke. "Why'd you move all the way out here? I bet it's 'cause you're stupid. You're probably too dumb to go to school in LA."
Nick didn't like what they were saying. No one liked Luke or Adam or any of their friends, but not many did anything about it. They were too scared. But there was no way Nick was going to let them talk to the new kid like that. It was just mean. He got up and started to walk over to them. As he got closer, he heard Jeff's reply to Adam's taunting.
"If you have to be dumb to go to this school, doesn't that make you guys dumb as well?"
Nick couldn't hide his little smirk as Adam tried to work that out in his head. Luke figured out the insult first and instantly stepped forward to be in Jeff's face, slightly taller and threatening.
"Don't be mean to my brother, or I'll punch you."
"Leave him alone!" Nick said as he finally reached them, standing by Jeff's side. The blonde stared at him incredulously and Luke just glared.
"Go away nerd."
"You go away," Nick replied stubbornly.
With a final glare, Luke threw one last threat in Jeff's direction before walking away with his friends. "Remember, I'll punch you if you're mean to my brother again. I will."
There was a moment of silence between the boys, Jeff staring at the ground and Nick chewing on his lip. Finally he broke out in a grin and said, "That was like, the funniest thing I ever heard."
Jeff looked up at him curiously. "Really?"
"Yeah! You totally insulted Adam but he didn't even get it!" The brunette laughed. Jeff gave a hesitant smile at the other boy's reaction, blushing. Midway through his laughter, Nick realised he hadn't actually introduced himself properly to Jeff and he calmed himself down. Holding out his hand, he grinned and said, "My name's Nick. Nick Duval."
The blonde stared at him for a moment before tentatively shaking his hand and replying, "Jeff Sterling."
"Well, Jeff Sterling," Nick teased "If you ever need help with those guys, which you probably won't because it looks like you can handle yourself, just ask! They're really mean bullies, but I'm not scared of them."
"Thanks," Jeff smiled, just as the bell rang.
Despite his good intentions, Nick barely spoke to Jeff after their first conversation. Mrs Matthews had announced there would be an important test in a few weeks' time to test how their math skills were developing. He was pretty sure he'd be okay, but he wanted to ace it and show his parents how well he was doing. He studied hard and focused on his work – so much so that he practically forgot there was a new kid in class just across from him. One who was growing even quieter than usual and increasingly jumpy.
A week before the test, when the bell rang to signal the lunch break, everyone raced out of the room as fast as they could. Nick wasn't far behind them, packing up his things and heading for the door. But just as he reached it, he heard a small sound from behind him and he turned to see what it was.
Jeff hadn't moved from his seat, and while he'd put away the work they'd just been completing, he now had a dozen sheets of math problems spread out over his desk and was staring down at one of them intently. What worried Nick and made him step back into the classroom was the fact that Jeff was trembling slightly, pencil shaking in his grip.
"Jeff?" he asked quietly, flinching when the blonde jumped. "Are you okay?"
The boy nodded but said nothing. There was a long moment of silence as Nick wondered what he should do – something wasn't right but should he stay and try to find out what? In the end he walked closer and sat on the desk in front of Jeff's, swinging his feet absently.
"Why aren't you coming out for lunch?" he asked.
"I h-have to finish this," Jeff replied with a sniff. Nick frowned. Is he crying?
"Why don't you do it at home?"
The blonde moved a hand to his face and now Nick was sure he was crying, even though Jeff's fringe covered his face and he couldn't see his eyes. "I-I can't. I don't have enough time… I have t-to do it all so I don't fail the test…."
Nick crossed his ankles and tilted his head to the side a little. "The test isn't that importa…"
"Can you pl-ease leave me alone?" Jeff coughed out before rubbing at his eyes furiously.
The brunette chewed on his lip, starting to slide off the desk but once his feet hit the floor, he didn't move. Very quietly, he asked, "Do you want a hug?"
That stopped Jeff in his tracks. He looked up, still brushing stray tears away and stared at Nick with confusion. "What?"
"Um… It's just… a hug always makes me feel better when I'm upset, so… I thought it might help," Nick finished lamely, ducking his head. He glanced back up when he heard a small, "Really? Y-You're not going to laugh at me for crying?"
He shook his head. "No. That would be mean, and… I'm not mean. Everyone cries sometimes." He held out his arms a little, smiling, and suddenly he was almost knocked off his feet by Jeff slamming into him and hugging him tightly.
"You probably think I'm weird," the blonde mumbled, but made no effort to move. Nick shrugged. "No. What were you crying about anyway?"
Jeff tensed and let go, hands loose by his sides until he gestured vaguely to the math work on his desk. Nick raised an eyebrow. "Really? The test isn't that important, you know. It's just to see how we're going."
Jeff stared at the floor. "Yeah, but… Mrs Matthews told me that if I-I didn't do well, she'd…" He finished in a whisper, "She'd move me down."
Finally Nick understood. Jeff hadn't been immune to the quiet mutterings around class of what 'moving down' meant. They both knew what it meant, and they both knew what the repercussions would be if someone were to be moved down. Bullying, taunts, insults; the works.
"I don't want to be dumb." Jeff wrapped his arms around his chest. "I'm not dumb."
"I can help you, if you want," Nick offered "I'm pretty good at math, I could help you pass the test."
The blonde's head snapped up faster than Nick could even see. "Really? You'd help me?"
When he got a nod in return, Jeff grinned widely and crashed into his new friend for another hug. Nick just hugged him back with a smile. When they let go, the brunette grabbed a chair and set it beside Jeff's.
"So what are you stuck on?"
When the tests were completed and returned a few days later, Nick wasn't bothered with his own results. He knew he'd do well enough – it was Jeff he was worried about. They'd been studying hard whenever they could so he'd be ready, and now it was time to see if all their efforts had paid off. The brunette glanced over to see Jeff receiving his test paper back. Mrs Matthews whispered something to him and smiled – that had to be a good sign, right?
They'd both agreed to wait until after class was over to look at the results together. He could see Jeff was fidgeting and desperate to look at his score, but one look at Nick kept his paper face down on the desk and his hands under his knees. That was how he stayed until the bell signalled first break and the other kids raced for the door. Jeff grabbed his paper and held it close to his chest as he ran to Nick's desk.
"What did you get?" he asked nervously.
Nick flipped his own test paper over and smiled. "A."
Jeff's smile faded when he heard that. Nick rushed to reassure him. "You only have to get a C to pass. I bet you got an A anyway."
The blonde glanced down at his test before slowly laying it flat on the desk. A large letter B was circled at the top in red pen. They both stared at it for a moment before Jeff grinned and shouted, "Yes!" He pulled Nick up from his chair and into a tight hug. "Thank you!"
"You did all the work," Nick smiled "You're really smart."
With a shy smile, Jeff ducked his head. "Thanks. I really didn't want to get moved down. Then I wouldn't have any friends at all."
"I'm your friend though… right?" the brunette asked, his happiness starting to fade. Weren't they friends? They sat together at lunchtime now, and Nick had even gone over to Jeff's house to help with the math homework and study. If they could, they'd sit together in class; but they'd already asked Mrs Matthews and she'd said she wasn't moving anyone around.
Jeff looked up with wide eyes and nodded, taking a moment to process that before another grin split his face. "Yeah! Of course you are!"
Nick was about to reply when a loud shout came from the doorway, interrupting them.
They both turned to see Luke poking his head in the room, Adam hanging around behind him. The latter laughed and pointed at them, shouting with glee, "You're losers!"
Jeff didn't pause for a second as he replied smartly with, "Yeah, but can you spell that?"
Adam glared and attempted to prove Jeff wrong. "Yeah I can! L-O-O-Z-"
Luke grabbed his brother by the arm and dragged him off, shooting a dirty look in Jeff's direction as they left. As soon as they were alone, Nick and Jeff burst into giggles.
"You're funny," Nick grinned "No one else would say stuff like that to Luke and Adam."
"I know, I'm amazing." Jeff tossed his head, flicking his fringe away from his face, which only made the boys laugh harder. Nick grabbed the other's hand and dragged him to the door. "Come on! I'm hungry, and break isn't going to last forever!"