Trigger warning: Semi-explicit sex scenes. All consensual.
Heavy rock music shakes the walls as I rake my nails down his back, panting and moaning. Gray eyes flash across my vision until the boy on top of me presses his forehead against mine, obscuring me in blue. I grip his hair with one hand and tug. His face pointed at the ceiling now, I squeeze my eyes shut. Gray eyes.
He rolls off me, his chest rising and falling as he pants. “Damn,” he breaths, fumbling around for a cigarette. I absentmindedly toss him my lighter. My skin tingles with pleasure, my sweat starting to cool.
“I’m gonna shower,” I say, sliding off the bed.
He nods, sitting up properly. Smoke comes out of his mouth as he speaks. “Care if I join you?”
I pause while pulling on my boxers, before mumbling, “You don’t have one at your place?”
The grin stays on his face even as his eyes narrow. He laughs humourlessly, shaking his head. “Right. Okay. Nice meeting you, Collin.”
I go into the bathroom and a few minutes into showering, my front door slams shut. I can’t be bothered to feel guilty.
The hot water pours down over me as gray eyes swim in my vision, sweaty auburn bangs hanging in front of his face. The ghost of my hookup invades my senses; His hands on my hips, his lips on my neck, and, for a moment, it almost feels familiar.
I get out of the shower and get dressed in my work uniform- Black jeans and a gray polo -before leaving my apartment and starting on my walk to work.
I work in this annoying hipster music store. Half of our stock consists of vinyls with the sole purpose for entitled teenagers to stare at for half an hour before coming to the sudden realization that they don’t have anything that’ll play a vinyl, and then leave to, I don’t know, complain about coffee or something.
When I get there, Janie’s already sitting on the counter, talking animatedly to a group of scene kids about whatever alternative emo albums have come out this month. Janie’s a goth, but bubbly, kid who works here only to disappoint her parents.
She excuses herself, brushing off their disappointed gazes, and meets me at the register. She hops on the counter, swinging her legs delicately- They’re covered in nothing but ripped stockings.
“Late again,” she chirps.
I eye her, her snake bites, the blue and green streaks through her black hair, her heavy eyeliner. I shake my head.
“Who was it this time? Or, no- You don’t remember his name, do you?”
“Could’ve been Jake,” I murmur, pulling out the clipboard from under the counter and opening up the register. “Could’ve been Isaac. I have no idea.”
“You really are a slut,” she says happily.
“Yep. I really am.”
A group of semi-normal looking college boys come in, the bell above the door jingling, and Janie jumps off the counter to go greet them. She’s good at her job- Better than I am. Most people can tell there’s something off when I smile at them, that I’m lying when I recommend music to them. But even if Janie was lying, it wouldn’t matter- She’s charismatic and excited about everything. She can get along with anyone; Middle school runaways, high school dropouts, boyfriends trying to put up with their hipster girlfriends.
One of the guys breaks away from the group and comes up to me a few minutes later with a CD in his hand. I take it from him- Billy Talent, Dead Silence -and scan it. I watch him impassively as he takes out his money; His fingers brush against mine as he hands it to me. He meets my eyes.
“Those your friends?” I ask as he takes the CD back. He leans against the counter, nodding. “You don’t look much like them.”
He raises an eyebrow. He has deep, dark brown hair that falls in his eyes, veiling the colour. “Am I supposed to?”
“See that girl?” I look pointedly at Janie, who’s pointing emphatically at an Blink-182 poster. He nods. “She’s my friend. So I guess not. But we work together. So I guess I’m just curious how it happened.”
“See the blond? With the lip ring? He’s my dormmate. They’re his friends, not mine.”
“But you’re out with them.”
I lean forward, crossing my arms over the counter. “So was the hipster record shop your idea or theirs?”
He turns his head in my direction. His breath wisps against my mouth. “Theirs.”
I pull away, a small grin playing on my lips. “Seems like it might benefit you anyway.”
He hums. “What time do you get off?”
“Got it.” Then he’s gone, gone back to his friends, and my buzzing excitement evaporates.
When they leave, the store characteristically empty, Janie jumps back on the counter and points a finger at me. “No.”
I turn around, busying myself with the schedule. We’re the only ones scheduled for the next two hours. “Aye.”
“Collin!” She swings around so she’s facing me. I resign myself to the conversation and face her as well. “Twice in one day? Come on, man, you’re a mess.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Getting laid means I’m a mess?”
She points to my arms. “Defensive.” I drop them to my sides. “And excessive? Yes, you’re a mess. Just talk to him.”
My mind is too busy thinking of ways out of the conversation to respond to it. My eyes snap to three unpacked boxes stacked behind the counter- I grab the top one and check the label, before making my way to start restocking the shelves.
“God, would you stop running?” Janie asks in annoyance.
I slam the box on the shelf- A bad idea, since the vinyls inside could easily break -and shoot her a sharp look. “He doesn’t want to talk to me.”
She bites her lip, startled by my outburst. “Collin…” I harden my gaze, and she just shakes her head, leaving me to restock.
Three hours later, I’m standing outside smoking a cigarette as the boy from earlier pulls up in a sleek black car.
He rolls the far window down. “Change your mind yet?”
I flick the cigarette to the sidewalk, saying, “Not a chance.”
He unlocks the doors and I get into his car, giving him the address to my apartment. An addicting swell of fear, regret, and anxiety rises in my stomach; He could lock the doors and take me anywhere he wanted. He could run the car into a building in some weird murder-suicide. We could get all the back to my apartment and be in the middle of it, and he could attack me. Icy chills shoot across my skin.
I lead him into my apartment and as I’m turning on the light, he comes up behind me and places his hands lightly on my hips, kissing my neck. I place my hands over his and let him kiss me there for a moment, closing my eyes and letting myself feel it, before I turn to face him and wrap my arms around his neck.
He presses his forehead against mine, and my heart beats slowly, steadily, in anticipation, until he kisses me, and my excitement crescendos. I press myself closer to him and push him towards the bed; He stumbles backwards, over notebooks and pencils and CDs, until he’s fallen back on my bed and I’ve crawled on top of him. He puts one hand on my back and the other on my hip, pulling me closer, so we’re slowly grinding against each other.
I break the kiss as he moves to unbutton my jeans, pressing my lips to his neck. He flips us over and discards my jeans, and I do the same for him, and soon our clothes are in piles on my floor, and we’re moving against each other, whimpers and pants pouring from my lips, his own roaming over my chest.
I take his face in my hands and pull him back up to kiss him, before pressing my forehead to his, barely able to keep my breath.
He has gray eyes.
He collapses beside me as I catch my breath, panting and closing my eyes.
“Collin,” he says suddenly, and I look at him. “From your name tag.” I nod slowly. “I’m Constant.”
My eyebrows raise. “Seriously?”
His cheeks turn red and he looks away. “Yeah, I know.”
I sit up and pull on my boxers. “I’m going to shower.”
“Alright.” He rolls over, grabbing his phone.
I look at him strangely, before shaking my head and going into the bathroom. When I come back out, I expect him to be gone, but no.
I consider waking him up- I’ve done worse things -but decide that that would be more trouble than it’s worth, and drop my towel, climbing into the bed beside him. When I wake up, he’s gone, but there’s a note taped to the pillow he was using. His phone number.
I ignore it. Instead, I get up and start getting ready.
My apartment is no bigger than my bedroom when I still lived with my parents- It’s cluttered and barely has room for my bed, and then there’s the bathroom, and that’s it. I somehow crammed a desk and a dresser in here as well, and the window looks out onto the street, so it’s not all bad.
My phone buzzes as I’m shoving my laptop into my backpack.
Janie: I’m here.
I shove my phone in my back pocket and get the rest of the things I’ll need for school. I leave my apartment and step into the watery sunlight of Spring, flicking up my hood and ducking my head as I walk.
I step into Eva’s Cafe and look around, spotting Janie at a table in the corner. I sit next to her and she pushes my cup of coffee towards me.
“Thanks.” I set my backpack on the table and grab the mug, taking a big sip from it.
“Long night?” She asks sarcastically.
I look at her curiously. “You changed your hair.”
“Don’t try to distract me-”
“Is that auburn or maroon?”
“It’s maroon, and I’m so glad you-” She scowls. “Stop!”
I lean my elbow on the table, holding my head up. “You know you want to talk about it.”
She keeps her lips pursed, before finally saying, “Okay, so first I bleached all the colour out, and dyed everything maroon. Then I took the black and added highlights.”
“It looks good,” I tell her, taking out my laptop.
She beams at me. She takes a quick sip of her latte, leaving black lipstick on the cup, before asking, “So what class do you want to work on today?”
I pull up the school’s website, grimacing at my grades. “English.”
“Get out your notebook.”
We spend the next couple of hours chugging coffee and watching English lectures, Janie guiding me through note-taking, assignments, and tests. Come noon, she apologizes and starts packing up her things, saying she really has to go or she’ll be late. I just smile at her, nodding. She’s like this every time.
“I’m so sorry I can’t stay later,” she says as I practically push her towards the door. “We’ll fix your math grade tomorrow!”
I stay at Eva’s until they close, working through as many classes as I can, and collapsing on my bed in exhaustion once I get home. At 8:30 on the dot, Janie texts me.
Janie: You better be home.
Collin: I’m home.
Janie: And is the computer shut?
I roll my eyes, amused.
Collin: Are you implying I have wifi?
I toss my phone to the side and it lands on Constant’s note. I stare at it impassively for a moment, and grab it.
Collin: Where are you?
Constant: That’s a really weird way to start a conversation.
Collin: I’m a stranger
Constant: In that case
Constant: I’m at my house. Why?
Collin: Are you alone?
I’m already outside by the time he sends it. Seeing as it’s several miles away and I don’t own a car, I pick up my pace, until I’m practically sprinting.
When Constant opens the door and sees me, panting and sweating, he cries out, “Did you run here?!” but I put both hands on his chest and push him back, kissing him.
He places his hands on the backs of my thighs and lifts me up, carrying me up the stairs and into a bedroom. It’s bigger than my apartment.
“I’m not confused about where this is going, right?” He asks, and I say, “It’d be really awkward if you were,” so he drops me onto the bed and kisses me again.
I look into his eyes again, his eyes the colour of stormclouds, and he looks back, sort of amused. I fall back into his covers- Which are lighter than air -and pant, running my hands through my hair.
“That was the most exciting, unexpected thing to happen to me,” he says after a moment.
“You must be pretty boring, then,” I say.
He elbows me. “I’m serious. What was that about?”
Quirking an eyebrow, I ask, “What, you didn’t like it?”
“I didn’t say that. Stop avoiding the question.”
I turn onto my side to face him. “Maybe I decided you stole half of my bed last night, and you need to pay for that.”
“So I’m sharing my bed tonight?”
“Just don’t be loud,” he grumbles. “My parents will hear.”
“You still live with your parents?” I ask curiously.
He laughs. “Did you think I lived in this house by myself? As a college student?”
“You’re funny,” he deadpans. Then, when I don’t say anything, he gapes at me. “Oh my God, you’re serious?”
“I mean.” I nod.
“You must be stunted,” he mumbles. “Go to sleep.”
When I wake up the next morning, Constant is gone. I don’t bother worrying about it and instead revel in the fact that I’m waking up warm, and there doesn’t seem to be any stains on the comforter.
He comes back in a moment later with two bowls, his eyes widening as he sees I’m awake. “I thought you’d sleep in later.”
He sets a bowl on the nightstand beside me before climbing into bed with his own. “Breakfast in bed,” I muse. “You’re practically a boyfriend.”
“My parents haven’t left for work yet,” he explains, “but I thought you’d be hungry.”
When I’m finished eating, I set the bowl back on the nightstand and slip out of bed. “Where are you going?” He asks, grabbing my wrist and pulling me back.
I look at him in surprise, laughing. “I gotta go, dude.”
“My parents aren’t gone yet. You’re stuck here.”
I narrow my eyes. “What if I have things to do?”
He shrugs one shoulder and grins. “That’s your problem.”
“So what am I supposed to do while I wait for your parents to leave?”
I barely get the words out before he’s kissing me again.
We don’t have sex again, but it’s nice in its own way. Constant has a way of running his fingers from my bangs, down through my hair, to tuck it behind my ear, that drives me a little insane, and when he keeps his eyes open while we’re kissing, I can take in the gray.
Constant eventually deems it acceptable for me to leave out the front door- Which I couldn’t help but notice was an entire twenty minutes after his parents’ cars had disappeared from the driveway -but he follows me out.
“Hey,” he says, looking at me strangely as I start down the sidewalk. “You really ran here?” I shrug one shoulder. “I can drive you back into the city, if you’d like.”
I narrow my eyes slightly, chills running across my skin. “I’m fine.”
I start walking and he doesn’t say anything else, driving past me a moment later. The walk into the city is exhausting, but I take it with content, falling into my bed when I get back to my apartment. As soon as my back hits the mattress, my phone buzzes.
Janie: I’m here.
I haul myself back up and scramble around for my notebooks, slinging my backpack over my shoulder and heading to Eva’s Cafe. When I get there, Janie’s sitting at the same table, maroon hair and all, staring intently at her phone.
“What’s that?” I ask, setting my backpack on the table and looking for my wallet.
She scowls. “You know those guys that came in the other day? You slept with one of them.”
I grin. “I remember.”
“The blond guy got my number. He’s invited me to a party.”
I furrow my eyebrows. “A party?”
“Well.” She sets her phone down. “No. More like a barbeque. He said there won’t be a lot of people. But…”
I bump my hip against her side. “But you still hate parties.”
“I’ll go with you.”
She snaps her gaze to me. “Really?”
I snort. “Obviously.”
“Alright…” She bites her lip nervously, pushing her lip ring against her skin. She picks up her phone. “I’ll tell him I’ll be there.”
I go and grab our usual orders, setting her coffee down in front of her, and we get started on math, as promised.
“I don’t understand why you still need my help,” she mumbles after a little while. “You’ve aced all of these problems.”
“Then why are you still here?” I ask.
She snorts. “My parents think I’m doing heroin with high school dropouts.”
“I don’t think they’d be much prouder to find you here with me,” I point out. “I mean, I’m not a heroin addict but I’m basically a high school dropout and I’m not exactly stable.”
“You were homeless for two years,” she mumbles, her focus on reading through the problems I answered, “but you still went to the library every day to finish high school online, and you’re doing the same thing to get through college.” She looks up and sees the look I’m giving her, rolling her eyes. “I’m just saying. No one expects you to be stable. You’re doing fine.”
After Janie leaves, sprouting apologies about not being able to stay longer and having to get to her shift at the vinyl store, I wait until she’s gone before leaving as well, heading back to my apartment. I drop my bag at the doorway, not even bothering with my shoes as I fall into my bed. The blanket is stiff and my mattress is bulky, my pillowcases stained with something unidentifiable, but I find comfort in it, allowing myself to drift off into a restless sleep.
I startle awake to a crash and a long string of cursing. “Damnit, Collin!” Janie snaps, struggling to her feet. She plucks my backpack off the ground and dangles it in front of her. “Seriously?”
I grumble to myself and snuggle into my pillow. “What.”
She drops it and sits on the edge of my bed. “How much work did you do after I left?” I stay quiet. She sighs. “Okay. Come on, party time.”
I look at her, but she doesn’t look angry at me. A little disappointed, which is almost worse, but not angry.
I haul myself out of bed and toss clothes around in my drawers until I pull out what seems like an acceptable outfit- Blue jeans and a plain white t shirt. Janie steps up to me as soon as I pull on my shirt, running her fingers through my hair and messing about with it until she seems satisfied.
I grab my phone and wallet. “Ready.”
Once we’re in her car and she’s shooting down the streets, she asks, “Are you getting drunk tonight?”
I think for a moment. “Nah. I got work tomorrow.”
“Are you getting laid tonight?”
I look at her strangely.
“Yeah, whatever,” she scoffs. “Just wait until I get to Logan, okay?”
I look around the neighborhood she pulls into, taking in the familiar surroundings. She bypasses Constant’s house and goes deeper into the neighborhood, where the houses get bigger and the roads get cleaner.
She parks the car. “Ready?”
I look around. There’s three other cars, two in the driveway and one parked in front of the lawn. All the lights are off inside so I assume they’re already in the backyard.
I shrug. “Yeah.”
We get out of the car and I sling an arm around her shoulders as she nibbles on her lower lip, leading me around to the backyard. A small group of kids around our age stand around a fire pit with clear glasses in their hands, laughing and talking loudly. My eyes immediately snap to Constant, standing by a guy with dark hair and big hipster glasses.
“Shit.” Janie looks at me worriedly. “I’m sorry, I had no idea he’d be here. Really, Logan told me he’d be busy tonight.”
I hide my grin. “We’re all good.”
She looks at me in shock, but doesn’t have time to question me as the blond- Logan? -looks up and sees us. He waves us over, and Janie breaks off to talk with him and a guy with a tattoo sleeve. I stand off towards the back, observing, my eyes occasionally roaming to the fire, when a boy slides up next to me.
I turn to him, expecting Constant. “Oh. Hey.”
“Not who you expected?” He raises an eyebrow- Dyed blue, like the rest of his hair.
“Not really.” I shove my hands in my pockets.
“You want a drink?”
I peer inside his cup. “What is it?”
“Vodka and Sprite,” he says, offering me his cup.
I shrug one shoulder and take it, not bothering with sharing as I down half the glass. He chuckles, looking at me in amusement. Finally, I say, a little reluctantly, “Collin.”
His eyes widen a little and he laughs lightly. “Oh. You’re Collin.”
“I know Constant. I mean- Obviously. But I know about you and Constant.”
I lean against the side of the house, crossing my arms over my chest. “There’s nothing between Constant and I.”
“So you didn’t have sex?” He questions, his green eyes flashing in amusement. “Twice?”
“Since when did sex become such a big deal?” I grumble into the cup, taking another sip.
He steps closer and places one hand on my hip, the other on my chest. He gently pushes me against the wall. “Nothing, huh?”
I raise my gaze to meet his, keeping my expression stoic. “Nothing.”
A grin curls on his lips. “I kind of like the sound of that.”
My eyes slide away from his to the crowd; Constant quickly flicks his gaze away from mine. I look back to the boy, smirking.
He runs his hand from my hip down my thigh, before grabbing my hand and tugging me into the house through the sliding back door.
“Your house?” I guess, and he nods, leading me up a flight of stairs and into a bedroom. He goes to kiss me, but I put my hand on his chest. “What’s your name?”
Surprised, he says, “Zac.”
I nod, and drop my hand from his chest. He puts his hands on my sides and pulls me against him, pushing his lips against mine, kissing me fast. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him back just as fiercely.
Zac pushes me onto the bed and climbs on top of me. He’s rough, and insistent, and it shoots pleasure down my spine and into my stomach. He tears my jeans from my body and tosses them somewhere in the room, pressing his lips to my thigh. I close my eyes and tip my head back, a rush of emotions coming down on me like a collapsing ceiling, stealing my breath and turning my bones to rubber.
Zac takes this reaction as his own doing, smirking and kissing up my stomach, pushing my shirt up as he goes. Once it’s on the floor with my jeans, and I’ve gotten rid of his shirt, too, I pull him down to kiss me, wrapping my legs around his waist and grinding against him.
As he moves his body against mine, sending me into a muddled, moaning mess in the bedsheets, I keep my eyes closed, and his roughness, his impulsiveness, is familiar. I have to bite my lip to not call out his name as I come.
He collapses on the bed next to me, panting. “Holy fuck,” he breathes.
I shrug one shoulder and sit up. “Got any cigarettes?”
“You smoke?” He asks with a laugh, and when I look back at him, he shakes his head. “Sorry, no.”
I shrug, starting to get out of the bed. “Care if I use your shower?”
He shifts up behind me, wrapping an arm around my stomach and kissing my shoulder. “You know,” he mumbles, and I have to stop myself from shuddering with pleasure, “you’re probably the hottest person I’ve ever fucked.”
I lean against him. “Really?”
“Really.” He kisses my neck, the underside of my ear. “I don’t think I’ve ever came harder.”
I take his chin in my hand and guide his face towards me, so I’m staring into his eyes. I smile. “I’m a limited time offer.”
If he’s surprised, he doesn’t show it. “Oh, really?” His eyes flash. I nod slowly, still smiling. He slides a cool, soft hand up my thigh. “Maybe I should make the best of it, then.”
I put my hand over his. “Sorry. Time’s up.”
I climb out of the bed, ignoring the shiver running through me, and start collecting my clothes. He sits up properly, furrowing his eyebrows. “Wait, seriously?”
“Jesus.” He shakes his head. “This is why you aren’t supposed to share guys with your best friend.”
“Why, because they turn out to be assholes?” I laugh.
He narrows his eyes. “Because they turn out to be sluts.”
“You’re calling me a slut because I won’t sleep with you,” I mumble, heading towards the door. “Original.”
“I’m calling you a slut because you have the nerve to fuck my best friend, fuck me, and then be a total prick about it.”
My mouth goes dry and I swallow. I turn to him. “You were begging for it.” I look him up and down dispassionately, his naked body just barely covered my the blankets, the hurt expression on his face. “You’re the slut.”
I slam the door on my way out of the bedroom. I find a bathroom and lock myself inside, running my hands through my hair and taking in deep breaths.
I used to have panic attacks. I had them for a little while when I was in middle school. I got bullied a lot for being gay and emo, so whenever I had to do anything that involved other people, whenever someone looked at me the wrong way, hell, if I just had a bad day, I would get these massive, horrible panic attacks. They were so bad I would get panic attacks thinking about my panic attacks. I wouldn’t be able to breathe, which was the scariest part, but my skin was also always sweaty and itchy, and even when it was over I was shaky, oversensitized, and shell-shocked.
My parents put me in therapy because back then, they still cared about me, and I got them under control. I learned coping techniques and I stopped needing to worry. They were almost completely gone. Then, when I was sixteen, and my parents kicked me out of the house because they couldn’t handle having a kid anymore, I started having them again. Sometimes my manager would let me power nap in the storage closet at the vinyl store for a few hours after my shifts, but overall, I was out on the streets, using all my money for food and clothing, only able to put a small amount of it away for savings. It took forever for me to afford an apartment- I would have taken a box if someone had offered it to me.
They started in the Winter. I started having nightmares about freezing out on the street, getting mugged, raped. When I woke up, I was already in the middle of the panic attack, and I had no choice but to ride it out myself. Anyone who happened to see me thought I was performing some bullshit homeless insanity exorcist show and didn’t bother so much as asking if I was alright.
I didn’t find any real solution that time- Saving my money got easier and online schoolwork got lighter, I eventually got an apartment, and Janie started working with me. By the time she had started tutouring me, they were completely gone.
Now, here I am, feeling like a middle schooler again, hiding in the bathroom after someone called me a name and trying not to have a panic attack.
I leave the bathroom when my breathing is short at best, and peek outside. Zac is talking in hushed voices with Constant, which gives me a small sense of satisfaction, and Janie is laughing, genuinely, with Logan and his other friends. I take that as my cue, turning around and heading for the front door.
When I get home, I fall asleep immediately, and wake up to about a million missed calls and texts.
I call Janie back, sighing and flopping against the pillows. “What?”
“WHERE WERE YOU?!”
I hold the phone a little away from my ear. “Home. Why?”
“God, I was worried about you!” She snaps. “You just leave without telling anyone?!”
“I was tired. You looked like you were fine.”
“I was, until you just left. God, what happened, anyway? You and Zac just completely disappeared and he came back without you. He looked livid.”
I wait for it to click.
“Oh, no,” she moans. “Collin, you didn’t. You slept with him?!”
She sighs. “What happened?”
I stay silent for a moment, but I know Janie, and I know she’s getting the answer one way or another.
“God, Collin!” She lets out a strangled breath of frustration. “He’s Constant’s best friend! You couldn’t have slept with anyone else there? Why are you so obsessed with ruining everything? He was good for you! You have to stop thinking-”
I end the call, setting my phone on my bed. I bite my lip, hard, staring up at the ceiling. A murky sorrow fills my stomach, like I drank a gallon of lake water, and it makes me so nauseous it’s hard to move.
I wait for it to settle as my phone goes off a thousand more times, before leaving it on the bed and leaving my apartment. I have work today, but I keep the thought out of my head as I walk towards the edge of the city.
I contemplate on whether or not this is a horrible idea but before I come to a decision, I’m at his front door, ringing the doorbell. I checked before; His parents’ cars aren’t in the driveway.
Constant pulls open the door, looking completely unsurprised to see me. “Are you here to apologize?”
I bite my lip. “No.”
He shrugs. “I didn’t figure.” He lets me inside and we go upstairs, to his room. He sits at his desk while I sit on the edge of his bed. He speaks before I get the chance to. “I forgive you.”
I blink. “What?”
He smiles. “I forgive you.”
“I didn’t apologize,” I mumble.
“You don’t have to.” He moves to sit next to me.
“So what do you want, then?” I narrow my eyes at him.
Constant just laughs, shaking his head so his dark bangs fall in his face. I have the most annoying urge to push it away, to run my fingers through it. “Nothing, Collin. I don’t want anything.”
“You’re lying,” I accuse.
“And you’re unstable.”
He startles me into silence.
“Okay?” He shrugs, looking away. “I knew that the moment I saw you. Zac did, too. I didn’t expect anything more.”
I stare down at my lap intently. A new, unfamiliar feeling rises in my chest, something completely uncomfortable and misplaced, something I don’t know what to do with.
“So who is he?”
I look at him. “What?”
He leans back on his palms, looking at the ceiling. “The boy. I mean, there’s a boy, right? You’re always thinking about him. You pretend I’m him when we have sex. What’s his name?”
“Ajay,” I mumble.
I look away uncomfortably, and he shrugs.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask, my voice uncharacteristically small.
He leans forward and doesn’t take my hand, which I know he wants to, but rests his hand on my knee. “Because I like you. I don’t trust you. But I like you.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I mumble. “How can you like someone you don’t trust?”
“Should I trust you?”
I bite my lip. “No.”
He kisses me.
It isn’t the hard, fierce kiss I’m used to. There’s no desperation, no anger, not even much lust. It’s soft, slow, and he places one hand on the side of my throat, and the feeling in my chest rises, expands, pushes against my ribs, cuts off my breathing.
I pull away, gasping more than I would be if we’d just been making out. Constant pushes his forehead against mine, and it’s so intimate, so confusing, that I can’t think of anything to do but fall back, let him follow me, and curl up to his side. He drapes one arm around me, resting his chin on the top of my head, and I close my eyes.
“So I have an idea,” he says as I wake up, rubbing my eyes and stretching. I put a bit of distance between us, but he doesn’t seem to mind, laying on his back and watching the ceiling.
“Yeah?” I mutter, yawning. “What’s that?”
“Okay, so you know friends with benefits?” I nod slowly. “We do the opposite of that.”
I can’t help but feel a little curious. “What do you mean?”
“Well, we be exclusive,” he says, “but we don’t date.”
I sit up, defensive and annoyed. “Why are you trying so hard? Why don’t you just date someone with their shit together?”
He switches his gaze to me, calm. “Because I like you.”
He says it so simply, like it’s the answer to all of my problems. Because he likes me. Me.
I lay back down slowly, and he says, “It’s not as hard as you think it is, you know.”
“I fucked your best friend,” I mumble.
“And I expected that. He’s a slut, too.”
I choke on my laughter, looking at him wildly. “What?”
“Yeah.” He chuckles, shaking his head. “I kind of figured you’d sleep with him if you guys met. I mean, it hurt, and I was hoping to keep you guys from meeting until after you and I decided to date or stay single, but when Logan told me you were coming I knew it was going to happen.”
“You’re so weird,” I mumble. “Seriously. You don’t make any sense.”
“You like me, right?” I bite my lip, and hesitate, once, twice, before nodding slowly. “And I like you. So it doesn’t matter.”
“So…” I clear my throat. “Exclusive, but not dating?”
“Right. If that’s okay with you.”
“So we only fuck each other.”
He stifles a laugh. “Right. But there aren’t any strings attached- You can break it off whenever, wherever. And we don’t have to do date stuff, either.”
I keep my gaze on the ceiling as I ask, “Like watching movies?”
“Do you want to watch a movie?”
I stay silent.
He smiles, grabbing my hand and hauling me to my feet. “Come on, there’s a big T.V. in the basement.”
I follow him into the basement; The walls are deep blue, a flat screen covers pretty much an entire wall, and there’s the biggest bean bag chair I’ve ever seen.
He chuckles as he watches my expression. “Go ahead.”
I hesitate, before running forward and jumping on the beanbag, immediately sinking into the fabric. I look at him, and he grins.
“I’ll make popcorn. Pick a movie.”
When he sits down with me, a giant bowl of popcorn in his hands and admiring the movie I chose, it feels dangerously close to a date. My heart speeds up and my throat starts to constrict but I grab his face in my hands and kiss him hard on the mouth, until he gets the message and we’re making out, just for a little bit, until my heartbeat is tolerable and I pull back, breathless.
We keep the bowl in between us, and by the time the movie is over, I’m just about late for work.
“I gotta go.” I stand, brushing my lap down. “I’m gonna be late.”
He looks at me curiously. “Are you gonna let me drive you in?”
I look at him for a moment. “I like walking.”
Constant stands, picking up the popcorn bowl. “Don’t look at it like a favour. You’re going to be late if you walk, and I’m heading into the city anyway.” He looks back at me with a small smile. “Think of it as convenient.”
We get into his car and he hooks up his phone to the radio. I look at him, pleased, when the heavy vibrations of Alesana comes through.
He laughs, peeking at me before turning back to the road. “What?”
“Nothing.” I shrug. “I just expected you to be into the alternative scene.”
He thinks for a minute. “I like both. Zac is more into that stuff than I am, though. He’s probably bought out your entire store.”
“It’s not my store.” I snicker. “If I had my own store, it would not be a dumb hipster store.”
He nudges me. “You’re so judgemental.” As he pulls to a stoplight, he turns to me and says, “You know, Zac is really into that stuff. He’s growing a collection of vinyls, even though he doesn’t have anything to play them with, and it’s actually really impressive. He has old stuff, too, but it’s mostly the alternative stuff we were talking about. Green Day, twenty one pilots, Blink-182.”
“I could pretend to be impressed,” I offer.
He elbows me, laughing. “I’m not trying to force you into caring. I’m just saying, don’t judge something you don’t understand. He’s real dedicated to it.”
I just shrug and nod. He has a point, but I wasn’t looking for a lecture.
When he pulls to a stop in front of the vinyl shop, he puts his hand over mine, stopping me from opening the door. For a moment, my heart jumps, and I think he might kiss me goodbye, something simple, like kiss my cheek or my forehead, but my heart calms and slows as he slips a hand on the back of my neck and pushes his lips against mine. I push forward and wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him closer, kissing him hard. He laughs breathlessly when I pull away, pushing his forehead against mine.
“See you later, Collin.” He pulls away.
I stumble out of his car and into the store, the two other coworkers that showed up looking at me in amusement. I meet Janie at the counter and sit up on it next to her.
“I am so confused,” she says, and I nod in agreement.
My shift goes impossibly slow. Usually work feels quick, from one motion to the next, until I’m walking back to Eva’s for dinner and then to my apartment. But today I feel like I’m going out of my mind. I check the clock only to find it hasn’t moved. When I’m certain I’m about to walk, my shift isn’t even close to being over. Janie watches me in a sort of astonished amusement, her eyes gleaming like she knows something I don’t.
When our shifts finally do end, I speed walk out of there, Janie scrambling after me and trying to stifle laughter.
“So when are you seeing Constant again?” She asks, and my stomach clenches.
“God, I don’t know,” I snap. “Why’s it matter?”
“Someone’s defensive,” she muses. “Come round mine for dinner, I have leftovers.”
I look at her dubiously. “You think I’d rather eat leftovers than Eva’s?”
“I know you’d rather eat leftovers than Eva’s.”
She drives us back to her apartment, deep in the city and surprisingly nice considering her paycheck. Even though Janie constantly strives to get on her parents’ nerves and they’ve been pressuring her to be perfect since the beginning of time, I know they still give her money once every month and practically beg her to let them help pay for the apartment.
She sets a plate in front of both of us as we sit at her counter. “So what’s this all about?”
I stare at the counter, nibbling on my bottom lip. “I don’t know,” I finally say.
She shrugs one shoulder. “Then let’s figure it out.”
I look at her. “You think I can figure it all out in one night?”
“Listen, I know you’ve been avoiding this shit for a while, but it’s really not that hard,” she promises. “I mean, you just… Do. You don’t have to think about it. You just do whatever you want, provided it doesn’t make the other uncomfortable.” She stops for a minute, thinking, before saying, “I think you’re trying too hard to make something definite out of it. There’s nothing definite about a relationship. It’s just feelings, and feeling are weird, you know? They’re convoluted and tangled and abstract, and they don’t always make sense, but they shouldn’t.”
“You’re right,” I mumble reluctantly.
She perks up. “So are you gonna see him tonight?”
“Feelings don’t always make sense, right?” I keep my voice quiet, and avoid meeting her eyes. She nods. “I’m scared. And I don’t know why.”
Janie drops her gaze to her food, pushing her teeth into her lip ring. “Well. That certainly can be a problem.”
We finish eating and she offers to let me stay over, but I just dismiss it and start walking home. The walk, as starting to seem usual, is mind-fuckingly slow, and I’m much too exhausted by the time I fall into bed.
I used to love this part of the day. In fact, it was my favourite part of the day. Which I guess is kind of pessimistic, when I really think about it, that my favourite part of the day is just before it ends. But I’m so tired all day and by the time night falls I’m downright exhausted, so even though my blankets are stiff and my mattress fucks with my back, I feel warm and soft and secure, and I can fall asleep without having to think about what might happen in the morning.
Right now, though, right now it doesn’t feel like that. Right now I can’t fall asleep. Right now I can’t get comfortable. Right now, I’m lonely.
It feels pathetic at first, so I don’t admit it to myself. I think, I really need a new mattress, and start thinking of ways to divide my paychecks so I can pay for it. And I think maybe I can start diving into my air conditioning bill, because it’s way too hot in here. Then my phone buzzes with a text from Constant, simply saying, Goodnight, and I have no choice but to realize how absolutely fucked I am.
I text him, saying, You should come over, before turning off my phone because I don’t want to hear his answer and I know he has my address, so if he decides to, I’ll know.
I lay awake for nearly thirty minutes, in horrible silence, a dull ache spreading through from my stomach down my legs, my arms, my neck, until someone knocks on my door so suddenly I start up.
I slowly lay back down, calling out, “It’s open.”
Constant pushes open the door and drops his keys, wallet, and phone on my desk, before coming to sit at the edge of my bed. “You should really lock your door.”
He leans over me, kissing me softly. My heart thunders in my chest and I immediately lose my breath, but I reach a hand up, tentatively, to place on the side of his neck. I kiss him back, closing my eyes, taking his quietness, his softness, and wrapping it in familiarity.
He strips down to his boxers and climbs in bed with me, pulling the covers over us, and he hesitates, before draping an arm over my waist.
“I think I have a problem,” I whisper, comfortable enough to disclose in the dark.
He moves to take his arm away but I put my hand over it. He bites his lip, swallowing. “What is it?”
I close my eyes. “I like you, too.”
His smile leaks through his voice. “That’s a problem?”
“I wasn’t kidding. You shouldn’t trust me.”
He shifts, so I open my eyes, and suddenly he’s cradling me against him, his head rested against mine. “Tell me what happened.”
“I…” I take in a breath, and submit myself to the situation. “I used him. I met him at the library- That’s where I worked on my schoolwork. And it was really obvious he had money, you know? He was there with his parents, wearing all this expensive clothing and using Apple products and…” I take another breath and keep going. “He was talking on the phone, in the bathroom, I guess he thought he was alone. I didn’t mean to hear what was going on. I’d assumed it was his girlfriend when he was talking about being cheated on, but he called her ‘Evan.’ So when he got off, I came out of the stall, and he saw, uh, how I looked. He started talking to me first, but I started flirting with him.”
I can’t see Constant’s face, so I don’t know how he’s reacting, but I decide that’s a good thing- It can’t scare me -and I continue.
“Ajay got me off the streets,” I say softly, almost laughing. “Uh, this apartment, he helped pay for it. I actually almost lost it when we broke up.” I shake my head and get back on track. “Janie knew, and he overheard us talking. He yelled at me in front of the entire store and then I never heard from him again. I mean, I obviously knew where he lived, but I kind of figured he didn’t want to see me.”
When it’s clear I’m finished, Constant asks, “Why were you on the streets?”
I laugh, my chest hollow. “Therapy is expensive. Medication. Insurance. My parents didn’t want to be responsible for that. I was sixteen.”
I hesitate. “So? Do you trust me?”
He pulls away a little. “No. But my opinion hasn’t changed.”
Startled, I look at him in confusion. “Why?”
Constant grips my hand. “Collin, you were homeless. You were desperate-”
“You had an opportunity, and you took it. It was wrong. I know that.” He smiles. “But how do I know I wouldn’t do the same?”
I look away. I haven’t thought of that.
He kisses me softly. “I know why you’re scared.”
“I don’t even know why,” I mutter.
“I think you’re scared to mess up,” he says, and I can tell he’s right. “But you don’t need to worry about that. I’m not going to leave you just because you mess up.”
“So you know I’m going to mess up,” I muse.
“Well, of course.” He laughs. “I’ll probably mess up a few times, too. It’s just what happens.”
I bite my lip and look at him. “I’ll try not to.”
His smile widens tenfold and his eyes light up. He kisses me, and I kiss him back, intensely, not wanting it to stop and get lost in my shitshow of a life.
It’s different, this time. It wasn’t supposed to be, but it is. I’ve always heard sex will be different when you fall in love. Yet I’m not in love with Constant, and this is different than any time before, even with Ajay. I don’t think the change is because of love. I don’t think love itself changes a lot of things. I think the things that make up love, the things that come right before it, is what changes things, what makes people better. The security and trust Constant puts in me, in quantities I’ve never felt before, can make me a better person. And maybe along the way I can make him happy, too.