Trigger warnings: Implied suicide, implied self harm
Luke had always been what I called subtle.
When we were toddlers, I remember sitting in the playroom with him messing about with some toys and overhearing a conversation our moms hadn’t thought we could hear. I wasn’t paying much attention to it to start with- I’d been much more engrossed in the stuffed lion Luke had brought with him -but I caught one word and suddenly I was engaged.
Luke didn’t stop and react, so I’d assumed he didn’t hear it. I tried to casually act normal and listen to the conversation the best I could, but, little as I was, my acting skills weren’t exactly refined and I could barely catch anything they were saying anyway.
I’d learned later that our parents were worried– see? -about Luke being so quiet and reserved. They weren’t wrong- He almost never spoke and when he did, it was syllables at best. I’d been outgoing and bubbly as a kid, so seeing us in comparision must have struck some kind of fear into his mom.
It wasn’t until elementary school that she began dragging him to therapy. At first, nobody would tell me where he was going or why suddenly he was being dragged from my room without explanation. I’m not entirely sure how I figured it out- It just became apparent. He’d come back hours later with some sort of candy he didn’t want and let me take instead, sometimes with a colouring book or picture book he’d drop on my desk without a second glance.
As we inched up in grade level and broke through to middle school, Luke began to take less than a liking to school. He would sleep in class and skip out on assignments, getting yelled at by teachers and his parents and getting all sorts of harassed, but he never flinched or changed. Even when his mom broke down in tears in front of all of us- Her husband, Luke, me, my parents, and my younger sister -and begged him to be normal, to say something, he just watched silently with his hands in his pockets.
Soon she started breaking plates to see if she could get him startled, and that’s when Luke’s dad stepped in and brought her home. Luke spent the night that night.
Kids were less than nice to him. As people accused him of being a robot and a zombie, some even going as far to saying he had died somewhere along the way, I kept him under my arm and led him through the halls myself. Whenever we out of earshot, I would mumble to him the same thing every time- He wasn’t emotionless. He was subtle.
I’m not sure if he believed me, or if he even cared, but I still said it. I’d been his friend since birth and I felt like I had the same kind of connection to him twins would have, and therefore believed myself without hesitation when I said that I knew there were emotions somewhere inside him.
We started at high school and I kind of expected- hoped? -Luke to break into an emo phase, dying his hair and wearing all black and generally caring too much about not caring, but he stayed the same. In fact, most days he looked like he had just rolled out of bed and when I encouraged him to actually go to school that day- Which he did. Countless times his dad stopped us from leaving until Luke put on clothes he hadn’t been wearing for the past three days.
I didn’t know if he was depressed or not, but I made the decision to believe him when he told me he wasn’t- Whether it be because I actually did or because I wanted him to know I trusted him.
When his mom died, he didn’t even flinch. Everyone was crying, including my sister and, embarrassingly, me, but he just gave a little sigh- The most emotion anyone had gotten out of him all week -and left. His bedroom door shut a moment later and he didn’t reemerge until his dad threatened to break the door down, a week later.
I was standing behind him and I think we both sort of expected to have to break the door down, to see Luke in the same pool of blood from the wrists as we walked in on his mom, but he just opened the door and looked at his dad with a blank expression.
I didn’t know what was going on with him- What had been since birth -but for a small amount of time, a ball of resentment rolled around in my stomach whenever he was in the room. His mom had died and, while a part of me knew I didn’t really want him to think that, I was mad at him for not coming out with some sort of guilt-ridden apology, or breaking down and proclaiming that it was his fault.
We were in his bedroom one night when he brought it up. Before then, I hadn’t realized he knew.
“I don’t hate you,” I said seriously, my face morphing into surprise. Which was true- I could never hate him.
He had his arms crossed over his chest and only looked at me briefly, curled into the corner of his bed and the wall. He shrugged. “Okay.” His voice was slightly gravelly, likely a result of almost never using it.
Frustrated, I’d asked, “Do you believe me?”
He just nodded, gazing into the middle space, and I knew he didn’t. What I didn’t know, is whether or not he cared.
He took up writing one day, which was a shock and excitement to anyone invested in his life- Still just his dad, me, and my family. He wouldn’t let anyone read what he wrote, even me, but nobody complained. Any time he wasn’t sitting somewhere and daydreaming, which he used to spend every waking moment, was better than nothing.
It started to spin into perspective then, but only slowly. One night I was sitting at the head of my bed and he at the foot, typing away on a laptop his dad had handed down while I half-heartedly paid attention to whatever movie was playing on screen.
His typing was going furiously- Something I’d learned quickly was Luke was an incredibly fast typist -but they began to get slower and slower as hours passed by, until he was finally closing the laptop. He set it on my desk and came up to the head with me, and laid down next to me. He stayed laying, facing me, and watching my features as I stared at the television.
“I have something to tell you,” he said, once the credits were rolling. I briefly wondered if he thought I was interested in it and just wanted to let me finish.
I decided quickly that that was about the least important thing going on right now. Luke has only ever said that sentence twice in his life, once when he confided in me in staying the entire school day in the bathroom to avoid teachers and students, and once when he told me his dad was making him start therapy again.
We were sixteen now, only a year after his mother’s death, and I could count on one hand the things he’d said to me within that year. Still, we were together every day and I’d never been much of a listener or talker regardless.
I nodded, rolling onto my side to face him. “I’m listening.”
His gray eyes passed over my features again, as I noticed him doing a hundred times a day, until he came out with, “I’m starting on antidepressants tomorrow.”
This made my eyebrows shoot up in surprise. I sat up, and he followed suit. “Why?” I demanded, but he just looked at me with his big eyes and slight pout. I shook my head, rubbing my forehead. “That’s bullshit,” I mumble. “You’re not depressed.”
He had told me this when we were thirteen, and I knew it was likely to not be true anymore, but I didn’t miss the affect it had on him when I remembered things aloud. It’s not like he made any outward emotion or expression- But the air around him got lighter and he seemed like he was melting the slightest bit.
He did as I expected, and, as usual, it sent a flurry of butterflies through my tummy. We laid back down as it was clear he had nothing else to say on the matter. We climbed under the covers after I switched out the night, it now being close to midnight, and dark bags were starting to form under Luke’s eyes.
“Thanks for telling me,” I finally said, not having expected a response.
He didn’t exactly… Speak it. Speaking, as you can probably already tell, wasn’t his thing. But we were still facing each other and my heart dropped into my stomach and I think exploded as his chapped lips twitched into what could have been, may have been, unlikely have been, a smile.
I didn’t sleep that much that night and I think he noticed. When I woke up, close to noon, he was awake and watching my features again, but his ankle was crossed over mine. He’d do this every now and again, obviously not big on affection, but it got the message across.
I knew him better than anyone.
After I saw what could have very well been my mind tricking me into some sort of perverted hope, I became addicted. I did everything I could to see if I could make his lips twitch again. After I while, I was convinced it was really just my mind, and felt more than stupid.
Emotion wasn’t Luke’s thing. He was subtle.
He showed his gratitude through crossed ankles and I Have To Tell You Somethings. He showed his affection through making my bed for me when he knew I was going to get yelled at for it, for cooking his dad lunch to take for work even though Luke really was a shit cook and there was a few restaurants right by where his dad worked at. He showed his sorrow through not ever changing his clothes, and not getting out of bed for anything. And he showed his anger in the worst way of all- He didn’t.
Sometimes I didn’t know whether he repressed it, worked through it himself, or was never angry at all.
His dad having just gone to bed after thanking Luke for the lunch and Luke giving a once nod back, Luke started to lead me up the stairs, apparently assuming I was staying over.
I hadn’t planned on it but I never complained when it came to Luke. There really just wasn’t any reason to.
I’d been thinking for weeks, having been so painfully defeated, that if the smile I saw before wasn’t real then I had to make it real. Nobody should have to go through life without smiling, or only smiling once.
Especially not Luke.
So I’d tried a million things over, and nothing worked. He was being extra gracious, though, sitting by me at lunch instead of hiding out in the bathrooms and organizing my backpack for me when I neglected to do so, but still. No smile.
So as I was laid down on his bed and he was climbing over me to get to the inside, I leaned up and did the only thing left I could think of- I kissed him. My lips just brushed his cheek, but he faltered so hard that his arms gave out under him and he fell on top of me. That was by far the most emotion anyone had gotten out of him ever, so I concluded that even if he decides he hates me and doesn’t want to be around me anymore, tonight was a success.
He didn’t get mad, though. He sat up, and I think I saw him blush, sitting on my thighs. I didn’t think I’d get this far but I did plan on what to say, so it wasn’t entirely terrifying when he tilted his head to the side and asked, “Why?”
I tried to think whether or not it would make things bad to place my hand against the side of his face, but decided to do it anyway. He didn’t pull away but he didn’t lean into my hand or anything, either.
“Do you feel things?” I whispered.
This made me feel exponentially better, and while I could have stopped there and been completely fine with it- for a few months -I pushed it.
“Why don’t you show it?” I asked.
He kept his gaze level with mine. “Ari,” he said, and paused for a long while, so long I thought that was all he had to say, before he said, “Why should I?”
His answer was jarring; My eyes widened and I genuinely didn’t know how to respond. He was right. Why did he have to show emotions? He was clearly doing fine without it. And now that he had a laptop to project everything he had been daydreaming about for all those years, and still quite often now, I wasn’t worried about him.
“Don’t you like smiling?” I asked, feeling a little stupid.
“It’s only been the one time,” he pointed out, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was absently running my thumb across his cheekbone now, and running my fingers back through his hair. “And with that, comes… Everything else. Didn’t you see her?”
I knew he was talking about his mom, and the image of her chucking plates at the wall inches from his head bursted into my mind.
“But it isn’t just that.” I sat up and he was now sitting in my lap, his legs around my waist, and for a brief moment I wondered why neither of us seemed to care. “You could be so much happier.”
He almost seemed sarcastic. “I know that. But I don’t want to deal with any of it.”
I dropped my head onto his shoulder, an aching spreading through my chest, my lips brushing against the skin of his neck. “I just want you to feel.”
“You shouldn’t be so apathetic all the time.”
“Because you deserve to feel things.”
I raised my gaze to be level with his. I didn’t know what to say to that. He looked at things from an intellectual level, me an emotional. He thought it didn’t matter one way or another because he was just another person going through the cycles. I knew it mattered because I cared about him.
So I didn’t say anything. I just kissed him.
This time, I brought my mouth to his, tangling my fingers through his hair. He jumped, and I was drinking in all the emotion he was providing me with that night.
I thought I was crazy when he started to kiss me back, but his hand came to rest on the back of my head to pull me closer. My mind was swimming and the bed was a cloud as we fell back on it, and his weight on me was the only thing I’d wanted.
I flipped us over and pushed his uncut bangs out of his face, since he seemed to like it when I touched his hair, and I pressed my lips to his forehead, his nose, his cheek.
“Feel,” I whispered as I went along, “feel, feel, feel.”
I kissed a spot on his neck and he arched his back, and I stopped then as I realized I didn’t know if he hadn’t pushed me away because he wanted to kiss me, or if it was one of his moments where he decided he didn’t care what was happening to him as long as he knew it would end eventually.
His closed eyes fluttered open slightly, looking at me through cracks of gray. I was still on top of him, and still had my fingers running through his hair.
“Why do you care so much?” He whispered.
“I love you,” I said honestly, “and when you smiled at me, I realized how much I’d been waiting for it.”
“Can’t just be enough that you’re the only person who’s heard my voice,” he murmured, his eyes fluttering shut, but, amazingly, his lips twisted into some sort of crooked smirk smile thing.
I let out a large breath and it turned into a breathy laugh, and, incredibly, his smile widened just the slightest bit. I took a chance, and kissed him again, and he kissed me back, his leg wrapped around mine in a similar way his ankle would cross over mine, and I think I might have passed out a little bit when he flipped us over and sat on my lap.
“I’ll work on it,” he mumbled into my ear as he grazed his teeth over my skin.
My eyes fluttered shut and I draped an arm around his neck. “I’m not asking you to change anything major.”
I heard his smile through his voice. “Never.”
Trigger warning: Vague sex scene
At first, nothing changed.
Other than Luke’s and my new, confusing relationship, we were more or less the same. He still sat on my bed every night tapping at his computer, but he sat next to me with our shoulders pressed together as I half-paid attention to whatever T.V. show or movie happened to be on. He hadn’t smiled since we kissed, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
When I was sure it was safe, rather we were in one of our rooms with the door shut, we were in the house alone, or in a precariously hidden position, I would grab him by his shoulders and push him against the nearest wall, kissing all over his face and neck and anywhere I could get.
Though I could tell he was happy, he didn’t smile. I don’t think he was purposefully holding out on me- After sixteen years of keeping his emotions exclusively to himself, it just wasn’t on the forefront of his mind to express.
So we found… Alternatives.
Instead of telling me he loved me, which I knew made him uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons, he would wrap an arm tight around my middle and nuzzle into the back of my neck. Instead of telling me he trusted me, he let me read his work (which, I found, was quite morbid). When we went to school, even though he was already getting harassed on a million different levels, he would twine his fingers with mine and not let go until I deposited him at his classroom.
The word, of course, eventually got back to our parents. We’d been keeping it a loose secret up until that point- Putting a little bit of effort into not having them find out, for the pure reason that we didn’t know what we’d tell them, but not caring one way or another if they did find out.
They were waiting for us when we got home from school, only an hour before Luke’s first therapy appointment after summer break, sitting in the living room and looking decidedly more than nervous.
Luke and I looked at each other, before he just shrugged and we sat down, letting ourselves have it.
“Boys.” My mom gave us a shaky smile. “You go to school with Susie Rhys, right?”
“She’s in a few of our classes,” I agreed.
“And you realize I’m friends with her mother?”
I nodded while Luke stared at her impassively.
Luke’s dad pursed his lips as mine shifted around uncomfortably. “Well, we were talking today…”
Luke waved his hand at his side, Get on with it, so he just came out with, “Susie says you’ve been holding hands lately.”
It wasn’t anything we didn’t expect. We weren’t doing anything remarkable while we were at school- Just holding hands and the usual stuff, like when I put my arm around him to steer him away from assholes. So we both just nodded.
“Are you guys… Together?” My mom asked.
Luke looked at me, and I knew he wanted me to decide whatever we were going to tell them, so I just said, “Yeah.”
They all, surprisingly, let out sighs of relief, Luke’s dad shaking his head. Even Luke looked a little confused as he tilted his head to the side, passing his gray eyes over each of them individually.
“We were nervous it was a stunt,” my mom explained. “Tricking people.”
“Why would we do that?” I asked curiously.
“We know Lucas gets harassed,” Luke’s dad said. “We thought you were pretending to date so that people would know he has emotions. Leave him alone.”
“Luke doesn’t care what people think,” I said matter-of-factly, Luke nodding in agreement.
They just smiled.
So I guess after that we were out. We still didn’t really ‘up the ante’ or whatever- We would hold hands and maybe cuddle outside of either of our bedrooms, but didn’t so much as share a kiss unless we were behind a closed door. I didn’t mind it at all- It was just as special as being the only one to hear his voice, or read his writing.
One day Luke came back from his therapy appointment, shutting my bedroom door and striding over to me, climbing on top of me, and pressing his lips to mine.
I immediately dropped the book I was holding and wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him closer. With his knees on either side of my hips, he ran one hand up my chest and over my shoulder, holding me against him. I flipped us over with a breathy laugh, before kissing him again, and kissing his cheek, and kissing his jaw, and kissing his neck. He let out a minuscule sigh as his eyes fluttered shut, tilting his head to the side.
I carefully pulled away and brushed his bangs away from his eyes. “Why?”
His lips twitched. “Missed you.”
At the moment, it made my body flush with euphoria, but a few days later a vague idea hit me that maybe his sudden outbursts were just a result of the pills he was taking once a day now. He’d started on antidepressants just a few days before we’d started dating, and they take a few weeks to start working- When Luke attacked me in my bed.
So maybe things really weren’t any different. Maybe it was just the medication.
Luke, as usual, brought it up before I did- Or even planned to. Sometimes I think I’m more reserved than he is.
He came back from therapy and crawled into bed with me. I was doing my homework, only putting half my attention into it as he snuggled up to my side and rested his chin on my shoulder. He started kissing my neck, then, and I pushed my books and papers away to face him and wrap my arms around his neck.
After a few minutes of kissing, Luke pulled back with furrowed eyebrows. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know what to say- How could I tell him I was worried his medication was changing him? -so I stared blankly at him, my mouth opening and closing. He simply reached out, pushing up on my jaw and effectively closing my mouth. Then he looked at me expectantly, resting his hand on my hip.
“The antidepressants,” I managed. A brief expression of confusion crossed his face, but it was quickly gone. “I think…”
The silence he gave me would be terrifying on anyone else- But, with Luke, it was comforting. It meant he was listening. It meant he was taking me seriously.
“You were never like this before,” I settled on, continuing before I could lose my confidence. “You’re talking more, you’re touching me more, you’re more affectionate…” He nodded slowly. “Is it real?”
He shrugged one shoulder and said, “It doesn’t feel fake.”
“It isn’t just the medication?”
He pondered this for a moment, running his thumb over my hipbone. Then, he said, “The pills aren’t creating it. It was there before. They’re just making me comfortable enough to act on them.”
I had never thought of Luke as ‘uncomfortable-’ It seemed impossible. He was always easy going, casual. But, of course, that’s because he never did anything- He sat and daydreamed, safe in the walls of his own body. And the antidepressants gave him the little give he needed.
After that, the progress sort of plateaued. For weeks after, it was the same things every day (not that I was complaining much). Conveniently, it happened when all of us were together.
We were inching towards Christmas now and therefore spending much more time as one family rather than two, opting to grab tables for six and meet up at local movies theatres and parks. Luke, Luke’s dad, my little sister, my parents, and I had just gotten back from going out to eat and was about to pop in a movie.
Mel had threatened to dye my hair red in my sleep in time for the school dance coming up- As our school doesn’t allow coloured hair -and I offhandedly said, “Yeah, that’d look great with the rose Luke promised me.”
And he laughed.
As the words left my mouth he snorted, covering his mouth and rolling his eyes. We all kind of stopped and looked at him, which put him on a spotlight I guess he wasn’t ready for, because he straight up turned around and left the house.
“I got him,” I said, but our parents were already excitedly talking and only Mel heard me, looking a little shell shocked.
I snatched Luke’s hoodie off the hook as I left the house, rushing to catch up with him. He was walking back towards the centre of town, I noticed, even though I expected him to just go across the street to his house.
I draped the hoodie across his shoulders when I caught up to him and stuffed my hand in his. “Hey.” He looked at me, and nodded, before looking down. “Why are you so embarrassed?” I chanced. He just shrugged. I sighed and, deciding I wasn’t getting much out of him, pulled him to a stop and wrapped my arms around his middle, my forehead pressed into his shoulder.
He let out a long breath and buried his face in my neck, holding onto me tightly. “I like it,” I let him know. “It’s cute.” He squeezed me a little tighter, and I knew I was embarrassing him, but I just laughed. “Come on, it’s cold. Let’s go back.”
He nodded and let me tug him back to my house, where the movie was already up and running, his face a pale pink. I gave Mel a look as she was about to say something, so she just grumbled to herself and settled further into the couch. Luke and I took the bean bag chair next to it, and even though Mel was constantly kicking me in the head, and our parents were shamelessly trying to weasel another laugh out of Luke, it was nice.
Over the next couple of months, things seemed to be getting better. Our parents had given up on forcing emotion out of Luke and let him excel at his own rate, and we were spending more and more time together- If that were even possible.
One night, while we were laying on my bed with my arm lazily draped over him while he typed up some idea on his phone, he said, “My mom always wanted me to go to prom,” which was just about the most random, unexpected thing he could have said then. I tried masking my surprise but clearly did a poor job, because he looked away from his phone and quirked an eyebrow at me.
“Uh, really?” I managed. Prom was coming up, but neither of us were really big on ‘doing stuff.’ We didn’t even end up at that Christmas party.
He nodded, and rested his head on my shoulder. “Wouldn’t shut up about it. Always planning.”
“Do you wanna go?” I asked.
He sighed. “No.”
This was the first time I saw Luke regret something. And, I have to say, it wasn’t a good look on him. His shoulders drooped and his bangs fell in his face, and he somehow looked paler than usual, his eyes darkening in a way that made my stomach drop.
“But…?” I prompted, because I knew he wasn’t used to talking so much in one sitting, but I also knew there was more he wanted to get out.
“I feel… I feel like…” He struggled with his words, furrowing his eyebrows in frustration. “Like I’m fucking up.”
I pulled him closer, then, because, even though he’s never even hinted at it, I was afraid of him doing something stupid.
“How could you be fucking up?” I asked incredulously.
He let out a dry laugh, and I found I liked it much less than I liked the real one. “She killed herself, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, but that’s because she thought she was fucking up.” I thought back on the note. “She thought she fucked you up, specifically. But she was wrong.”
“How does that make it any better?”
“You feel guilty?” I questioned, and he slowly nodded, averting eye contact. “It was her choice. And you and I both told her countless times that nothing was wrong. Even your dad tried to convince her you were fine. But she didn’t believe us, and she put all the blame on herself. And now you want to go to prom to prove her wrong, right? To show her that nothing’s wrong?” He nodded, and I pulled him against me, kissing the side of his head. “The best way to prove her wrong is to make your own decisions.” He nodded again, but there was a smile there, this time. “So how about prom night we just order pizza and watch movies?”
Come prom night, we did just that. His dad ordered it for us and we huddled up on his bed with a million blankets and pillows, playing horror movies all night.
Somewhere around four in the morning, during the climax of the sixth movie of the night, Luke climbed into my lap and attached his lips to mine. Surprised, I tangled my fingers through his hair and kissed him back, matching his speed the best I could. He pushed me onto my back and straddled me, kissing down my neck while I tried to get a grip on what was going on.
“What are you doing?” I whispered, and he stopped, as I wasn’t fully consenting.
He brought his lips back to mine, once, and whispered back, “I want you to be happy, Ari,” and I knew that he loved me.
I kissed him back and grabbed his hips, pulling him closer. He dragged his lips down to my neck as the movie played on the background, kissing around until he hit a spot that had me sucking in a sharp breath. I closed my eyes and tipped my head back as he continued kissing at it, slowly running a hand down his back. He jumped as I grabbed him through his jeans, panting against my neck as he grinded against my touch.
I fumbled with his jeans, pulling them down to his knees. He kicked them the rest of the way off as he lifted my shirt off. I got his shirt off, too, and he my jeans, before I flipped us over so I was on top, pressing my mouth to his. He let out a small gasp and kissed me back furiously.
As we got closer, I felt every bit of emotion Luke had kept inside flowing into me. And we finished, and he collapsed beside me, panting and gasping for breath. I guess he felt it, too, because soon enough tears were dribbling down his cheeks in uncontrollable fits. He was clearly trying to hold it back, swallowing and clenching his jaw, but I leaned forward and kissed him again, softly this time. And then he fell asleep like that, with his body curved against mine and his head on my shoulder, his face red and damp.
The next morning, he was in a predictably bad mood. I hadn’t been expecting the outburst, either, but it caught him so off guard that he refused to get out of bed, go to school, or make eye contact with anyone. I, caring at least somewhat about my education, went to school anyway, but came back immediately and sat on the edge of his bed, taking his hand into mine.
“It’s a good thing, you know,” I tried to reason with him, but his face just burned bright red and he looked away. “It means progress.”
I guess he didn’t exactly agree because he yanked his hand from mine and pulled the blankets over his head. I didn’t leave, though, just settled next to him and pulled a book out from my bookbag. He eventually came out of his cocoon to rest his chin on my shoulder, but stubbornly kept his eyes shut.
I pressed my lips to the side of his head and mumbled, “Even though you’re embarrassed, I appreciate it.”
“Progress, huh?” He murmured, so quietly his words muddled together.
“You did promise me you would try,” I pointed out.
He hesitated, before muttering, “I didn’t like it.” He sat up so I put my book down and faced him. “It gave me a headache. And made my nose stuffy. And I know it was obvious, because my dad came in while you were gone and looked heartbroken.”
“Did you tell him it was happy tears?” I asked, and he shook his head. “Was it happy tears?” He nodded.
I hooked an arm around his waist and drew him closer, kissing his neck lightly. “Do you feel something right now?” He nodded. “Where?”
“My stomach,” he mumbled.
“Every time you’re sad, or angry, or anything, and want to go back to how you were before, remember this-” I placed my hand on his tummy, “-because it’s the best choice you have.”
He rested his hand over mine and nodded, sinking against me.
So, no, Luke still wasn’t there yet, and he’d likely always have temptations, or bad days. But even though his progress was gradual, he was doing his best, which was all I wanted.