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 headfirst into the ocean

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:41 pm

1998.

He stayed the night. And the one after, and the one after that. Kind of predictable, honestly.

I told him that he can stay as long as he wanted to, and he said that he'd stay until he had another place to stay. Technically, he did, but that time was a little more than I expected.

I set up an inflatable mattress in my room, found some old plaid shirts from my dad so January wouldn't be in dirty clothes, and that was it. A routine developed easily. I provided home, and he provided friendship.

At first it was difficult to hide him from my parents. Every day I'd shove the mattress into the bathroom, and I started learning how to cook (badly) through my mum's cookbooks. We'd share the chores and life seemed a bit easier.

Twice during the weekends my mum heard laughter from my bedroom. First time I said that I was reading a funny book. The second time, that kind of excuse was impossible.

"Frank?" I heard mum through January's fit of laughter over some of the more interesting drawings in my Biology book. "Who's that with you?"

"Shit", I whispered. January stopped laughing and went eerily quiet.

"What do we do", he said through his teeth, thinking fast. "Do you have anybody in your class whose name is similar to mine?"

"No, we don't have anybody named after a freaking month, January", I hissed.

He got up and zoomed pass me through the door, and I didn't know how to react, so for a second or so I stood still, then I sprinted after him.

"Ja—" I started, but then I remembered one girl from my class. Jamie Jones. Who we called J.J. "Mum, this is J.J." She always checked who was in my class, so at least I had a safety net. "He and I are studying for the Maths exam that's coming up this week."

"Oh, good. Nice to meet you, J.J." When I was downstairs, I saw my mum shaking January's hand.

"You too, Mrs. Holbrook", he smiled politely, and I noticed something I only processed later. He didn't look at me like that. When his smile was meant for me, it had more teeth, more warmth, and a hint of something in his eyes that made me feel as warm as his smile. It was sunshine through the clouds.

"You two tell me if you need any help."

"We will." And January zoomed past me back to my room.

"Hey!" I called after him. When we were in my room, the door closed, he started giggling uncontrollably.

"Was about time they knew about me."

"Fuck you." He flashed me a bright smile, and I couldn't help but smile back. It was my first introduction to the daring, dynamic side of him, and I was wondering where it came from.

"Oh, and J.J.?" It took me a second to realise he was talking to me.

"I have a J.J. in my class. Makes it easier to sell the lie."

"I don't like lying", he said, just as a side note, and shrugged. "It's too unnecessarily complicated. Like this task." The task he's pointing at was half-done, and I was reminded to return to it.

As we were working, he was glancing at me, and I couldn't help but smile at him.

Skip forward a month or two, and we were done with school. We decided to celebrate it by going to the beach.

We exited the bus, and he seemed confused.

"What's up?" I asked him.

"Wasn't the beach here bigger?"

"There are two", I explained and put the backpack with the beach towels down. "But this one is generally ignored. Only those who jump off of cliffs prefer this one", I nodded towards the cliffs which surrounded the beach, and the result looked like a bowl.

Then I got an idea, and January, noticing my eyes growing wide, began violently shaking his head.

"No. No to whatever you have in your brain now. Not a chance. Over my dead body."

"Nah, you're my friend, I wouldn't kill you." The look he gave me at that statement was precious. I grabbed his hand and pulled him to the cliffs.

And we sometimes held hands. He sometimes put his legs over my lap, and I sometimes fell asleep on his shoulder. It became a reflex. Because that's what friends do, right? When he smiled at me and I smiled back, it felt like a hot air balloon got popped in my stomach, and that's normal with friends.

Whatever the case may be, he didn't see me in the way that I saw him.

Right?

We climbed the cliff without much difficulty and I carefully went to the edge. It wasn't that high, maybe ten or fifteen feet, and staring down made me want to jump. I turned to January with a grin and he glanced up to the sky, as if begging for strenght to deal with me.

"Frank, no."

"Frank, yes."

He crossed his hands on his chest and raised his eyebrows, challenging me.

"Fine then. Frank, yes, but after Frank falls and dies, J.J. gets all his CDs."

I slowly walked to him and stopped inches away from him.

"J.J., yes."

"Nobody will find our bodies. Nobody will look for our bodies. Or we will freeze to death. Or hit the rocks. Death is really not something I want to experience while still a teen. Give me at least two decades and then we'll talk."

Somewhere nearing the end of his speech I made a decision, and when he finished, I grabbed his waist and pushed both of us off the edge.

We were falling for what seems like years, he was screaming and shouting swears, while I was laughing. He held onto me as we crashed against the water, and at that moment I felt young and dumb and endless and free and desperately in love with the feeling of falling.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:42 pm

2016.

I knock on the door of January's small flat and wait for him to answer. He always got up and opened the door himself, and I wonder what he's afraid of.

If I were him, I'd be afraid of me.

I hear unlocking from the inside and the door opens, revealing him to me.

After all these years, he is still gorgeous to me. All doe-like brown eyes, a mouth that expresses emotion better than my whole body. Hands that held me throughout the currents. We stare at each other for a while until I remember how to breathe.

If he notices the pause, he doesn't point it out.

"Hey", I say and immediately pass half of the papers from my hands to his. "Paperwork." He sighs.

"How fun."

I walk into his flat and drop onto his desk chair.

"Wanna go through them together? I can't deal with this much fancy long words on my own." He goes through some of the pages as he sits cross-legged on his bed.

"Says a teacher."

"Hey, I teach kids how to spell words like traffic and apple and horse. Not words like…" I pick one from the text randomly. "Superfluous. Occurencies. Interlectorial."

"What?" he makes a face. "Is that a word? That isn't a word."

"God knows. Or maybe not even he does. Anyhow", I go back to the first page, where the text seemed a little bit simpler, so I get on it. We work through our papers in silence which is broken only by our pens scratching the paper and a cough or two.

I take my glances, of course. I notice things about him, things that I'm sure I noticed before, but which were too small to become permanent in my mind. A wave of his hair falling into his eyes and the way he keeps moving it out of his face, but it always returns. The crease on his forehead when he raises his eyebrows, which drowns a dozen freckles. His damned long legs, which are lazily thrown off the bed and are just hanging. There are memories about those things that I forgot, and now I'm being constantly reminded.

But, it's okay. Because we are friends and I can appreciate people aesthetically. Bullshit.

He opens his mouth and I notice, so I wait for him to say something. He doesn't, and bites his lip, which makes my body feel like it's pooling a liquid at the tips of my fingers and balls of my feet. He then speaks.

"What does Section Seven mean? The entire thing. Don't understand a word of it."

I flip forward to find it and immediately give up.

"Nope. Me either. Let's just leave it and ask the others about it."

He frowns, just a bit.

"Didn't you say… that Anjali, that she already gave her papers in?"

There is a beat and the pooling feeling is gone, and it's replaced with an alarm-like, rhythmical pounding in my head.

Anjali. What do I do with her? Moreso, what does she do with me? I've been living with her for nearly seven years and yet, even though we've bonded significantly, she's never meant more to me than a friend. I wouldn't even compare her to Sylvie and Clary and the connection I have with them. She just exists. She has her own heap of friends outside of the work and her house, and I have my own. Sometimes I'm invited to her parties, and she's sometimes invited to our Sunday dinners. I mind it much less than I thought I would.

"Yeah. I'll ask her when I come home and tell you how to do that part in school, okay?"

"Yeah." I receive a stiff nod from him.

Home. Even now, when I say the word home, I think about my room in the now-Rossi flat, with a black and white cat, smoothie bottles, drawers full of old CDs, and, more often than not, a tall figure asleep on the sofa. They are truly like a family to me. A familiar bed to rest in. And they still accept me as one of their own. When I'm having a rough time, they let me sleep on the couch. Spookie immediately notices an intruder in her space and lies on top of me, half-liquid. They don't ask, and I'm far from telling.

My problems are not only centred around January. Sometime last year, my mother had a heart attack, which was to be expected, because most of the elderly in our family lived through at least one, but it caught me unprepared nevertheless. After the visit to the hospital, I found myself knocking on the door of my old flat and spending the night with the Rossi clan, covered in blankets and hugs, because they only allowed one person to stay. Of course, I could have stayed with Anjali, but while she would make me calm in no time, with her soothing voice and stories about squirrels and leaves, she wouldn't make me feel better, whereas Sylvie made sure I didn't think about my mother. She told me shitty puns and used Spookie as her parrot in a lame imitation of a pirate. The best way to make me feel better is to distance me, at least for a while.

I overthink, then I think some more, and if brains could get raw from thinking, I'd be dead three times already.

Sometimes I occupy my brain with simpler things. I picture Marc, and how lucky he is to have the parents he has. How lucky he has to live on Clary's cooking and Sylvie's twisted sense of humour. He has me, and I'm always there to help him with homework. He has January, who is a like cool hipster who is slowly, but surely shaping his music taste. He has Sacha and Ezra, an example of what not to do in life.

I can't help but think that we're building a better future this way.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:43 pm

1999.

It took me nearly a year to realise that what I felt was more than a friendship I built it up to be in my head.

The way our hands accidentally touched while trying to change the radio station was absolutely mind-blowing to me. I'd seen it in many movies and soap operas my grandparents watch, and I felt so incredibly lucky that it was happening in real life as well.

Because, at the time, I thought that love was huge. That it was as vast as an ocean, as warm as a fireplace and that it caused immeasurable satisfaction. I just wasn't quite ready to experience it yet.

I couldn't have been more wrong if I tried.

Love is not a lightning bolt. It cannot be compared to natural disasters because it's not grand. The news won't do a report on it, masses of people won't yell out its name unless it's being forbidden. No, love is a whisper. It is dust, building up over the years until there's nothing that can erase it from the shelf of your heart, where you keep your memories, dreams and emotions.

Love came to me while I was falling asleep.

I lay on my bed, head turned to January on the air mattress, and I just noticed it, like one notices rain and the first snowflake of the season. I noticed that I'm in love with the person lying below me. So I stared at him with childlike wonder.

He was awake, of course. It always takes him a bit longer to fall asleep, and he noticed I didn't take my eyes off of him for some five minutes.

"Frank? Everything okay?"

"Hm?" I mumbled, trying to make sense of my brain. I thought that, if I ran the scenario through my head one more time, I'd know what to do. That I'd notice something he did which proved that he felt the same way about me. Something to make my next sentence easier to form, easier to wrap my mouth around, easier to utter.

It didn't get easier, but I did it either way.

"You can kiss me, if you want."

The room went still. No bed covers were rubbing against each other, no bird noises from the outside, no creeks in the house. A stage silence fell upon us, and I felt like I made a mistake. To fix it, I wanted to say how I was joking, that he heard me wrong, something lighter than this.

It was hard to read his eyes in the dark.

And then he moved. He got up, tripped over the covers and lay down next to me, so we were eye to eye. I was surprised to no end that he actually listened to me.

It progressed too fast, I didn't know if I was ready for it, I didn't know if he understood what I had said, and my heart was pounding before he even leaned in.

It's an unnecessarily overglorified thing, a first kiss. It is inexperienced, clumsy event which has to happen before you learn just how kissing actually works. But I was terrified of it. What if I wasn't any good? What if he'd kissed people better than me before? What if my breath smelled bad? And, the most embarrassing thought I had while he was inching closer, I should have shaved.

His face was nothing but a shadow as he got closer, and I could feel his breath on my skin.

I inhaled, and he missed.

His warm lips grazed my cheek, missing my lips for what it seemed to be a mile.

"Oops", he muttered, and I started laughing. As if I wasn't endlessly relieved already because he wanted to kiss me, he laughed with me. Quietly, of course. It was a Saturday, and my parents were asleep in a room directly below us.

His body was trembling with silent laughter, and it only made things funnier to me. We settled down, eventually, and when we regained our breath, I noticed that he was hesitantly shifting, as if he was to leave my bed. Maybe he wasn't sure if he was welcome.

So I quickly pulled the covers over him and wrapped my arms around his waist, like I'd done before, but this time it was heavy with meaning. I heard his lips separating, and then a couple of beats of silence.

"You… am I staying?"

"If you want to", I told him, even though, if it was up to me, I'd never let him go. For a split second I was worried that he might leave, but he didn't. He settled against my chest, tossing his leg over me, like an overgrown backpack.

I laughed, and I'm sure he could feel my chest moving.

"You know what?" I asked him after a couple of minutes of sharing the heat. He hummed noncommittally and settled the bridge of his nose against the crook of my neck. "I don't think I'm ready for my first kiss yet."

"That's fine. I don't think I was ready to kiss you either."

"Did you miss on purpose?" I asked, trying to hold back a grin.

"No, no, I didn't. At that moment I was convinced that I wanted to do it. Now I'm older and therefore smarter." I considered the situation a bit before coming up with the most ridiculous wordplay.

"You could say it was a Miss Kiss."

"You could but I don't think I will."

"Humour me."

His chest rose and fell with a sigh, and he pressed his lips against my Adam's apple.

"Okay. Just this once."

It felt too easy. I couldn't believe that he was actually in my arms, that he was pressing kisses against my skin, but I woke up with him still in my arms, with a ghost of a smile on his face, so it had to be real.

And I couldn't help but smile back at his sleeping form, because, just then, I felt serene.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:45 pm

1999.

As soon as a band we liked would release a new album, January and I would find a way to get our hands on it. And we liked a lot of bands.

Soon my book shelf was filled with Green Day, blink-182 and Refused, and other bands which played music similar to theirs. We weren't picky; if it was on the Alternative shelf, it was worthy of our time. During homework, during reading, or even during talking to each other, there was punk music playing in the background.

So that one day, we had a slightly older album by Oasis playing, and he was going through some of his English homework, and I was staring at the ceiling, daydreaming.

"How do you spell 'necessary'?" he asked. It was one of those lazy, hot afternoons and thinking was hard.

"With a bunch of s'. I don't know, J.J., use a different word."

"How come you get a cool nickname to call me and I don't?"

I rolled over onto my stomach, my right side pressed against his left.

"Call me whatever you like, just stop asking questions. I can't function." I did, however, stretch my neck so I could kiss his cheek. He smiled and nudged my shoulder with his.

"You don't have a nickname-able name."

"There are noises coming out of your mouth and I have no idea what they mean. Sorry." He shook his head.

"You're too much."

Then he wrote a couple more lines and I examined the way his handwriting formed under the tip of his pencil. He stopped mid-word and looked at me in a eureka moment.

"You're like more than one Frank. You're many Franks."

"What?"

"Franks."

"No."

"Yes. I let you name the Miss Kiss, you let me give you a nickname."

"I hate you." He laughed and shook his head.

"That's not a no."

I groaned and tried to push him off the bed, but that didn't work as I thought it would. He grabbed my hand.

"If I fall you're coming with me, I swear to god."

"If I fall after, I'll land on you. Bad idea."

He sighed, but nodded, and kept on writing his homework, with his left hand in mine.

For a first relationship I've ever been in, it was surprisingly comfortable. I've learned to let myself go and not feel surprised by every touch and the every time he held my hand. After a while, it even became natural to me. And I think I was ready for the real kiss, but I was too afraid to talk to him about it. It felt like it was the final obstacle until I trusted him completely.

But, even if our relationship didn't move past that point, I was still happy I had him on my side.

"Are you done yet?" I asked him.

"Fuck off, I'm like half way there."

"Well, hurry up. This day is too lazy to be spent doing homework."

"Gimme a minute."

I hummed along to the song in the background while he was writing. I knew the order of the songs, and I knew that he did as well, so we could sense that Wonderwall was coming soon. And I knew that he loved Wonderwall.

"Dude." I nudged him again, when the song started. "Duuude."

"What?!"

"It's Wonderwall." I took the notebook from him and got up to put it on the desk. We sang along quietly to the first verse, he, sitting up on the bed, and I, leant against the desk.

Then the chorus came, and the overwhelming urge to kiss him flooded my brain like a tidal wave.

He stared at me like he could read my thoughts.

I could feel my pulse beating in my ears as he got up, but he needn't go far because I rushed into his arms, on my tiptoes to meet his lips.

The kiss was fairly unspectacular, as far as kisses go, and it still managed to cover me in goosebumps. I didn't even need more than his body pressed against mine, all warm and shivering, for the time being. It lasted for a couple of seconds as I soaked it all in, him, the song, my clueless parents downstairs and the fact that my eyes closed, and I didn't even notice it.

When I opened my eyes and fell back on my heels, he was already looking at me, all bright eyes and teeth.

"Well…" I started, but my mind was pleasantly, but numbly abuzz and I couldn't think of a word to utter.

"Practice?" he asked, and I laughed.

"Practice. We ain't half bad, though."

He tilted his head to the side. A 'maybe'.

"We're not half good, either."

"Hey", I elbowed him in the ribs. "For the first time, I'm just glad I didn't drool on you."

"Oh yeah, if that happened, I'd dump you, dude, without thinking about it."

I shook my head and played with the hair on his temple. It was wonderfully wavy and I was only discovering just how much I liked running my fingers through it.

I liked little things about him, the ones he probably never noticed. The way his tongue pressed against his teeth when he was focusing onto something, and the way he always, always slept on his right side, on my chest, under my neck, even though he was growing to be taller than me. I really liked him, and it used to be as simple as that. We existed in a space we made for us in our heads, and it was easy.

"Did you finish your homework?" I asked him softly, leaning from side to side in time with the music. He huffed helplessly, blowing a lock of his hair from his face.

"No, but fuck it. It's useless anyway." I agreed with him wholeheartedly.

And he kissed me again, and this time it felt less scary and more warm and soft, and I thought, 'I don't think I can ever get used to it'. And I never do.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:45 pm

2016.

We finish paperwork without mentioning Anjali. And if there's anything I hate more than myself, it's lying. Especially to January.

I talk too much about Anjali. I'm a master of stretching one scene into a full movie, because there's just not a lot to talk about. Once, during a dinner at Sylvie and Clary's, I talked about how Anjali did the dishes when it was my turn for fifteen minutes. I just want to make them believe that I'm happy. At least Clary. Sylvie sees through me as if I was a window.

"So", I click my pen once and throw it into my bag. I miss, but don't acknowledge it. "What are the plans for the show?"

"What show?" he replies, not fully into it. He's still going over his answers, tracing them with the tip of his pen.

I don't know when the shift happened. We used to be so confident, loud and dynamic, and now he is timid and I'm passive. Maybe it happened when we stopped trusting each other. When I stopped believing in him, and he stopped believing in me.

In all honesty, it would be better if we fought all the time. If we threw lamps at each other, yelled and went to bed mad every night. Because then I would know what page we are on.

At this point, I just want him to talk to me again. Truly talk.

I'm willing to settle on 'just friends'. I really am. It would be hard for me, knowing that I'll never have him like I used to again, but in the long run, it would be infinitely better. At least I'd know how not to act around him.

Not knowing how this whole thing with him is going to end up is scary. Knowing it's mostly up to me is terrifying.

"The show, in June. Where the kids show the parents what they learned and other such shit." He glances up at me, ushering me to continue. "We always do either a play or a concert, but the headmaster decided, fuck it, us teachers need to come up with something more interesting this year."

"Huh, nobody told me. What are the plans so far?"

"No idea. The rest of the teachers are keeping Anjali, me and the new kid, what's-his-name Weston, out of the collective discussion, because apparently we're too 'inexperienced."

He opens his mouth, and closes it.

"How long have you been working there, again?"

"Eleven years."

"Inexperienced my ass." I crack a smile. "You can get a doctorate in eleven years. Maybe two."

"I sure as hell wouldn't be working here then. I'd go to NASA or something and go live on Mars."

"Good luck with that."

Again, a silence. I won't let it take over.

"Weston said we should do a sport competition, but that's a terrible idea."

"I'm not doing any sports, leave me out of it", he immediately writes himself out of the equation.

"Yeah, and the sixty-year-old teachers are thrilled to run around with small children."

"I don't think anybody wants to run but the kids."

I start putting the papers into my bag. Slowly and insecurely, with no intention of leaving soon. Even if he notices, he doesn't comment.

"Maybe an art show?" he suggests. "I'm just brainstorming."

"That would work if everyone knew how to art. Not everyone does."

"Children…" He looks at me and raises his eyebrows. "I mean, they generally 'can't art' very well. Not their fault, they just didn't have time to practice." I roll my eyes and I can see that he's fighting the urge to flip me off.

"Still. I can't force all those parents to suffer through a walk through the school gym filled with bad crayon drawings."

He nods and puts his feet on the desk he has.

It's interesting that, even though he bought new clothes and eventually threw away Clary's shirt, he still had the same style; plaid, black and denim. Devoting (too) much thought to his dressing choices, I trace them all back to 1998 and my father's old shirt. Maybe we shaped each other in many ways, not just the one. If he didn't get shot years ago, he'd still wear plaid shirts and listen to punk music and I'd still succumb into the person I am because of somebody else.

Or maybe I wouldn't. Maybe nobody could break me like he did. Like he does.

"Fuck it", I finally say. "They will figure out something. The other teachers. It's none of my business anyway, they kicked me out of the planning so they get none of my help."

He nods along a bit, as if to assure me he is listening, but I can see that he is far away in thoughts. I don't ask, because I never do.

"So…" I keep the fight alive a little longer. "Is Sacha still holding her monthly balcony story nights?" I ask, because the only time I hear about her life is on the balcony, going through a pack of cigarettes until they're all gone.

"Of course. Only when she has an audience."

January has adapted well to the dynamics of Sacha and Ezra's relationship. I'd even say they consider him a close friend. He's quick to react, has no filter or boundary when it comes to interrupting Sacha's stories and he knows enough about cards to entertain Ezra. Legend has it he even beat him once, but they don't speak of that.

And I am glad. I'm happy that he's made at least some friends, even if he was forced to do so, because they were around him most of the time, after all. I think it makes me feel less guilty, but I don't know why.

One of these days I'll figure it out, I keep telling myself. One of these days I'll have the perfect amount of friends, I'll be great at my job, I'll sleep more and January and I will be friends and nothing more.

My brain actively refuses to take on the latter half.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:46 pm

1999.

A new Friends episode was playing in the background, but we didn't pay much attention to it as we ate dinner. As it always was when my parents were at work, we didn't eat at the table, but on the sofa, just because it gave us an excuse to be close to each other.

And so we were, my legs under his thighs and his hand playing with the collar of my shirt, equal parts distracted and calculated.

"I never understood how people just knew who they liked", I said after watching a dialogue on screen. I collected his plate and put it with mine on the coffee table, something to do later.

He hummed as a response so I kept talking.

"Like, how do they just go, 'yeah, it's right for me to like only guys if I'm a girl'?"

Until that point, we never discussed sexuality. It didn't matter to us. Neither of us were experienced in relationships either way, and we didn't know how things were 'supposed' to go, so we did whatever felt right.

"It's the society, I'd say", he crossed his legs and leaned back, relaxing more into the sofa. "Because we're taught that there is no alternative. That's like 1984., if you don't know it exists, you can't miss it."

"But you do know", I argued. "I mean, my parents never told me about anything else but liking girls and yet I like you."

His lips quirked up in a smile.

"A special snowflake. I mean, I don't know. We could have two sides to this, but to me, being with you or being with a girl, or anybody, as the matter of fact, doesn't feel all that different."

"I just… I don't think it is that way for me." I intended to say something else, but I couldn't word it, and he kissed my jaw, and then I couldn't think at all. "Hey, thst's distracting."

"Don't blame me for not wanting you to think about anybody else but me", he said, and it comes as a micro-shock to me.

Because I never even considered it. It didn't seem like an option to me. Touches and kisses were taken over by him in my mind, so all I could associate them with was him. When someone mentioned a relationship, I didn't immediately think of a generic rom-com couple. I thought of us.

"Like I could", I said after a short pause. "And I don't think I can."

"Well, good, because I'm not leaving you unless you kick me out", he laughed and I joined in. As if I was going to throw out the only friend I had. The first person who kissed me.

I've always heard people comparing kisses to a 'giving' sensation, while I always fashioned it into the one of 'sharing'. Because I always knew that my first was his first, and his third was my third. I shared every nuance of if with him, and it was always new to us.

As the show faded into commercials, I tried wording what I felt.

"When it comes to girls, I just… Don't?"

"Wow." He said, completely blank. "You enlighten me."

"Shut up", I nudged his ribs. "I don't think I could… be with girls. I mean, I probably could, and I liked them before, but kissing them? It doesn't sound all that likely. I don't know. I hate being complicated."

"Be whatever you want to be, and I'll support you through it all", he said.

There was something in his nonchalant delivery of these heavy, big words that makes me trust him. He said it as if it was the only truth. And, even though I believed I could say those exact words and mean them, I didn't think that he could. But he did. There were loads of tiny moments like those which assured me that we were on the same level, and it was incredibly comforting.

"Likewise", I told him, because I meant it.

And I was able to easily fall asleep at that moment, even though it was barely night and moments ago I felt as awake as ever. Being next to him felt warm and I wanted nothing more than his hands around me, so I cuddled against his shoulder, mirroring how we usually slept, and just relaxed into him.

He did exactly what I wanted, wrapping his arms around me and pressing a kiss into my hair.

"You don't have any homework or anything to study?" he asked, quietly, and it only helped to lull me to sleep.

"I'll do it in school or something."

"I'm just asking. Don't want you to be screwed over later."

"Thanks, mum", I said in my obnoxious tone, and his chest moved in laughter.

"Don't mind me, being worried for your academic success."

"Yeah, like that's in any danger."

He sighed and let me enjoy the silence for a while.

"I just want you to be happy, that's all."

There it was, the nonchalance again, and I didn't have the power in me to stop myself from kissing him. He tasted like sleep and smelled like my shampoo, and it was cozy and warm.

"Well, you make me happy."

"Because that's not cheesy at all."

"C'mon, you started this whole cheesyness circle!"

"Stop bending the language to fit the twisted vision of it you have in your mind. It never works." I made a point by loudly sighing and pushing him to lie down on the sofa.

"Here you go, ruining the moment."

"What moment? I was gonna get up and get a shower anyway."

I leaned down and kissed him again.

"I swear to god, you're a romantic at heart."

"Never claimed I was."

And I saw where he was coming from. We couldn't fall asleep on the sofa because my parents would see us, and hiding from them was something I insisted on doing. I couldn't tell them. Not when I was this confused about myself anyway, without external pressure on labels.

But I knew that I never had to pretend around him.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:47 pm

2016.

The next day in the classroom I find myself up to my knees in papers. I tried to occupy the children in some way but they finished their assignments early and now were throwing some ideas around. One part of them wanted to do the same thing we did every year before, but the majority wanted something completely off-beat.

I hear fashion show and waterballoon fight and immediately get a migraine.

"Have mercy on us adults", I fake-beg, and they laugh at me. Well then. "We can't have anything exploding, Tom."

"Science fair?" a student who isn't Tom asks.

"We can't have anything exploding. Tom." I find myself laughing along with the kids. Tom once ruined a volcano project and I don't think we're ever letting him forget that. He loves it, though. He soaks attention in like a sponge.

Through laughter there's a knock on the door.

"Come in", I say, putting away the papers on my desk. To give the illusion I was doing something useful. Once I see who it is, I immediately stop. "George?"

It's been a couple of years since I've last seen her, but it's definitely her. There's still some January influence on her, a grunge flannel and a full fringe, and that makes me smile.

Once we discovered her dysgraphia, it was just a matter of time she rose above it and worked her way to all As. She is stubborn and hard-working, and that combined with the family pressuring her into studying, made her a top notch student.

She was January's ticket into the school. He tutored her and, if she passed the grade with at least a B, he got to stay.

Georgia passed with an A. Not perfect, because that B in Maths was unavoidable. Nevertheless, January got the job and Georgia managed to find an outlet for what her brain was trying to say, but up to that point, didn't have the means to.

Now she is in high school, holding up the nerd reputation, and absolutely killing it.

"Hiya, Mr Holbrook!" She grins, and waves to the classroom. "Hiya, shrimps. Your teacher isn't too boring, is he?"

I return her grin.

"Classroom, this is Georgia Truman, she was my pupil years ago."

"Geez, teach, I'm seventeen, not fifty seven. No need to make me old." The mouth on that child.

"If you're fifty seven, then I'm dead." She looks at me. "I'm joking."

"Sure", she says, and I feel like I'm being patronised. "Anyway, you kids don't mind if I take your teacher away for a minute?"

The reply she gets from the kids isn't exactly understandable, but it's not like she cares anyway.

"Can we take this outside?" she asks me, "where it's a bit quieter?"

I silently exit the classroom. I figured, might as well listen to her.

When we're outside, she looks excited about something.

"So, did you see it? In the newspapers?"

"Um, no", I shake my head. "I don't know anyone under forty who reads newspapers." She eyes me suspiciously for a moment. "I'm not forty, George."

"Alright, alright. But if you did read the newspapers, you'd find something interesting in them." I don't reply, so she continues. "It's me! I'm in them!"

"What for? You didn't kill anyone, did you?"

"Not that the police know of. No, my poem won the prize for the best short poem of the year by some poetry organisation you probably don't know about. But it is totally legit. And I won."

"That's great!" I noticed that she liked writing poems maybe a year after we discovered her dysgraphia, and I read some of them, corrected the grammar in a few, and I was impressed. Much less so when she started being recognised and started missing classes to finish up poems for competitions, but January jumped in there as well and made sure she picked up her schoolwork right where she left it off. "What does that mean for you, though?"

"I mean, there were these dudes who wanted to make sort of a compilation of some of my better poems."

"Like a book?" I ask. Her face doesn't look too excited, but she is physically shivering, so I guess it's a big thing.

"Not like a book. An actual book of all the cringy poetry I've written. Like, they want to go all the way back to the emo goth stuff I've written, and that's actually terrible."

"'Oh, the black roses/may their falling petals'—"

"Reflect the pain I feel", she finishes it off for me. I know that poem by heart, partially because it's the worst poem she's ever written that I know of, and partially because Sylvie requested to have it signed by Georgia and has it framed above the stereo. I'd have pinned Georgia to be born too late for the emo scene, but I was proven wrong, and I didn't mind it one bit.

"Magnificent."

"Yeah, sure." She still thinks our punk obsession is questionable. She even tried to alter my music taste by giving me a USB with some of the newer pop-punk, rock ballad type music she likes. I listened to half a song before I got scared that it might actually be better than punk and turned it off. One of these days I might go through it to get a grip on what the youth are listening to.

I wonder at what point I stopped being youth.

"But main point is, I need a place to, like, promote my book. Because otherwise nobody's gonna buy it and I won't get paid for my emo bullshit."

"Language", I warn her almost instinctively.

"Bullcrap. And I was wondering if you had like a play or a competition or any place with a lot of people where I can plonk down my little stand and make people buy my book. Emo book of bloody tears."

At that moment, she was godsent to me, because she solved one of the few problems I had in my life that were actually solvable. The rest are still queued up in my brain, being promptly ignored.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:48 pm

1999.

I was in school one day and I saw that one redhead outside of the window, in the school yard, with my father's plaid shirt, crossed legs and a lost expression on his face. The five minutes of class lasted for ages. He didn't figure out where my classroom was and I couldn't wait to see him.

As soon as the bell rang, I was up and running. The books were in my bag in a couple of seconds and I was out of the classroom in twenty.

Some kid from my Chemistry class stopped me in the hallway.

"Hey, Frank, what's the rush?"

"My b— friend is outside, I'm gonna meet up with him."

After a lot of discussion, January and I decided that we were each other's boyfriend, even though we both felt like it was a word that felt so unworthy of how we actually felt. When he said it to me for the first time I grinned like an idiot, so that must count for something.

And he was never my friend. Not truly. Perhaps I felt that he was just because I didn't have any friends beside him. I didn't allow people near. I only later realised just how much I needed them in my life.

The kid looked genuinely surprised that I had a friend. I didn't blame him.

"Oh. Okay. Have a good time." I intend to, I thought as I went past some of my classmates on my way out, and they thankfully didn't stop me again.

When I (finally) reached the school yard, I couldn't find him. Now, I don't consider myself to be a stupid person, but for a minute or so, I just stood there, wondering how he disappeared.

Somebody poked my shoulder and I turned around to his smile.

"Good afternoon", he told me, but his voice had an expectation of sorts. I knew what he wanted me to do, but I couldn't. Not in front of people I knew.

"Hi", I returned his smile, feeling tense, and gestured him to follow me. My hand was incredibly empty without his, which was inches away from mine. I guided him behind the bleachers which surrounded the football court, not saying a word and just kissing him.

"Hi yourself", he said through laughter as he pulled away from the kiss. "Was this trip necessary? People are going to think that we're doing something scandalous here."

"No, no, they won't." A sigh escaped my mouth as I looked at our fingers, intertwined. "They'll think you're my dealer, or that I owe you money, or whatever. The last thing on their mind is… this." I swung our hands back and forth a little bit. "I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"That I'm afraid. I'm really scared of what they might do to us if they find out."

He had his thinking face on for a minute, and then he hugged me.

Kisses were fine. Making out on the beach until our clothes began to smell like the sea was even better. But the thing I loved the most was his hugs, because he absolutely enveloped me with his limbs, and his nose ended up in the crook of my neck, mine just barely. For a brief moment I began to smell like him, and I would have rather died of starvation than ever left his arms.

"Hey. It's okay. I get it." His words were soft, barely audible and unintrusive. He knew how to make himself invisible just enough that I could fill in the blanks.

Don't get me wrong, he was loud also. He was dynamic, direct and fast and open, and he always had a response to everything. Once he settled in one spot, he was the most confident person in the world.

But he knew the limit. There was a line between being obnoxious and being funny, and a line between a character we all play and the true human bits of us. He respected boundaries and expected his to be respected as well, which was really not the hardest task.

Most often, he was exactly what I needed. Because I changed as well, and he matched me perfectly. When I was a storm, he was a storm. When I was mist, he was mist. There was something about the way he adapted to my wild hormonal mood swings, as if he was feeling them too.

For the first time ever I thought that maybe there were people out there who were like me.

"I'm fine. I don't know whether to be pissed or sad so I'm neither", I laughed weakly, enjoying my last few moments in his embrace.

"I guess it's for the best", he told me and slowly removed his hands from around me.

We took our school bags and leaned them against the thick wires which held the bleachers together, sitting on top of those wires. And we didn't talk for a while, locking ourselves into our brains until a relevant thought swam up in our minds. His was the first.

"It's a sad world we live in, if people like us are judged like criminals, and actual criminals go by unscathed." The thought landed heavy in my brain and it took me a while to figure out how to respond.

"But it's not because of us as people. It's because of the beliefs that were put into kids who then grew up to be adults with shaky morals." He nodded along to my response.

"And it's because people are afraid of those who aren't like them."

"One big egoism trip, actually."

He laughed.

"Definitely. But, luckily, we're just teenagers and we're allowed to think we're better than everybody else now, right?"

"I don't have to be better than everybody. I just need to be better than you."

He put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me off the wire. Since I grabbed his arm, he fell with me. It took us a long while after that to stop laughing.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:49 pm

2016.

Sacha invited herself over to my house for lunch and I already knew she needed something from me.

"What's for lunch?" she asks, all innocent and quaint, as if I believe that facade of hers one bit.

"The rest of the lasagna Anjali made on Wednesday."

"Don't you cook at all?"

"Who said I don't?"

"I've known you for years and not once did I see you cook anything that didn't involve a take-out menu and an apologetic smile." I take out two plates and hand them over to her.

"I cook. Badly, but I do." She rolls her eyes at me.

"Yeah, okay, sure." There's a brief moment of silence, and then she turns to me. "Hey. I need to ask you something."

Boom, there it is.

"You come to my house, eat my food, and still have the audacity to ask questions?"

"I'm loud, I'm rude. Quit acting like you don't know that about me." She shrugs and goes through my drawer to find the forks. "Anyway, it's Jan's birthday in a couple of weeks and I don't know what to get him."

It takes all my self-control not to slam my head against the fridge.

January dislikes gifts. He said that they make him feel as if he needs to repay the gift-giver in a way, so I never got him anything, respecting him wishes. When we were still together, we'd bring some blankets downstairs and cuddle up in front of a movie which was irrelevant to us just enough so that we could make out over it.

Every year, for the past six years, Sacha came to me, asking what she should get January for his birthday, and every year I answered with nothing. Every year, but one.

2012.

"Okay, so the question is: what am I getting January for his birthday? And don't say nothing because it's his thirtieth and it needs to be special."

Sacha'd invited me out for drinks in some sort of a smoky bar, and it was apparent that I was going to drag her home around two in the morning. Not that I minded. Every once in a while it was nice to get out and get shitfaced. Lose yourself a bit, dance with a stranger. Or, in my case, make sure that Sacha doesn't flash anyone.

She ordered a couple of beers for us and flirted with the bartender a bit. She once told me she did it for a discount, and I never believed it until I was actually there when somebody put all her drinks on their tab.

"Do I need to repeat this every year? Nothing. He wants nothing and if you don't bring him anything for his birthday he'll like you more than if you do. End of the story."

"Er, no. That's not how birthdays work."

"If you're so keen on finding him a perfect present, Google it or something. Stop nagging me about it."

She handed me my beer and clinked our glasses together.

"I like nagging you. Gives me purpose in life." We drank in silence for a while before she started the conversation again. "You know him better than I do, right?"

"Sure." I felt like I knew him better than myself, and then not at all. "If you say so."

"So, what does he like? Movies, art, music, alcohol? Anything? He doesn't really exit his place so I know nothing about him."

I shrugged and kept watching my glass.

He did like movies, but didn't care about their quality too much. We watched everything from rom-coms to thrillers and he seemed equally interested. Art? Neither of us understood it very well, especially the modern art. Sure, we doodled in the corners of our notebooks, but it never went past that. And alcohol was something that made him feel like he isn't himself, so we never drank.

And then we have music.

"Get him some punk or alternative music albums or something, if you still want to give him something even though I told you he dislikes presents and that he'd prefer to get none."

"Punk and alternative? That's very ten years ago." There wasn't any mocking in her voice, and it looked like her eyes got lost for a moment, watching some earlier times play in her head. "I was too young for punk. I got caught up in pop mostly, so I'm uneducated in that field. Do you have any reccommendations?"

"Try Oasis." It shot out of me like a bullet. Because, of all the good and great and not so great bands, Oasis always reminded me of kissing him. "Or, like, Green Day. Blink-182." I tried to save the day, but it didn't look like she was buying it.

"I need to write that down somewhere", she said, with no intention of actually writing it down. "How do I give to him, though? I can't actually invite the band over so they can play to him. Perhaps a CD."

"I don't think he'll be able to play it."

"Oh." She frowned, and went down through her mental spreadsheet of other options. "How about a USB? If I can find the one for the mobile mini-USB thingy… I don't understand tech too much, I'll google it. So, Oasis on a USB that can be accessed by a phone. Gotcha."

"Are you happy now?" I asked her. "You finally found out what gift to give him. You got that information out of me. Will you leave me alone now?" It was meant to be a joke, but it came out harsher than I expected it to.

"Sure, sure, yeah", she told me and downed her drink. That was a complete lie, but I can't say that I mind it. Trust Sacha to lie to you. She's reliable; you know that she's (almost) never honest.

Later that week I found myself humming along to Wonderwall, because it played on speakers in a grocery store.

It felt almost real. The words almost tasted like his lips, but instead they were just bitter on my tongue.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:51 pm

1999.

He was kissing me and I forgot I existed for a while.

"Wait", he pulled back. He was heavily panting, as if after running a marathon, and I would've found it charming if I didn't want his lips on mine again as soon as possible. "I thought your parents were home."

"Left", I said, but it was muffled since I pressed a kiss into his neck. "Some sort of meeting. Like you care."

His arms gave in, so he fell on top of me, and I could feel his elevated heartbeat on my chest.

"If they aren't home, what are we doing in bed?" he looked up at me.

"Just kiss me again", I told him and he happily obliged.

After maybe ten minutes of that, I realise where it was going and it felt like stars.

We weren't kids. He was seventeen, I was sixteen and yet, we had never considered it before. Not until that one specific moment.

Before January, I hadn't given it much thought. I assumed that I'd lose my virginity drunk, in a club, with someone I didn't care about and that it'd be awkward but tolerable. It wasn't a big deal, just something to deal with.

It grew to be a huge deal in my eyes as soon as he snuck his hands under my shirt and I realised that I wouldn't want anybody but him doing it.

"This okay?" he murmured, not capable of producing anything louder than a whisper. Instead of an answer, I kissed him harder, and the moan he left in my mouth caused a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I saw it as an encouragement, so I began taking my father's shirt off of him.

"As much as I love you in this shirt", I said, "I bet it will look even better off of you."

He pulled away from the kiss again, this time to laugh.

"Was… was this your attempt at dirty talk?"

"Hey", I pushed him a bit. "At least I'm trying here."

"It's counterproductive."

He was right, because we spent the next couple of minutes laughing.

"This is so stupid", I said and he nodded.

"Well, I like being stupid with you."

When he kissed me after that, it was infinitely sweeter.

We sat up, and my legs were wrapped around his waist somehow, and even the slightest touch made me feel dizzy.

"So your parents aren't home?" he asked.

"We've already established that."

"I think we need to address the elephant in the room."

"Man, I don't think I eat that much", I said and he shut me up by kissing me again.

It started all slow and careful, and each place we touched we asked for a permission. I settled on wrapping my hands around his neck, and his hands ended up on my hips, something which continually blew mind every second.

Clothes got lost somewhere. I remember putting his shirt next to me and then pushing it off the bed completely. I got stuck in my t-shirt and it took us some time to pull it off of me. Jeans, his and mine, came off much quicker, and it felt like we were in more of a rush. I don't remember where our underwear went but I'm guessing we threw it somewhere as well.

Feeling his whole body against mine was a new sensation. He was warm and he held me and he was completely mine at that moment. I don't know about him, but my brain completely shut up and all I knew was him.

He called me 'baby', once, in the heat of it, and I don't think I minded it at all. In fact, it only made the whole affair shorter.

And laughter. Every now and then, his arm got stuck beneath me, or our teeth bumped into each other and he'd laugh and I'd laugh with him, and no one has ever been or will ever be as gorgeous as he was that day.

It didn't matter that we were inexperienced and that it probably wasn't as good as it could've been, but all that mattered in the end was that, when we were done, he kept on kissing me, and his hands were still around me, and he showed no intention of letting go. It's not like I wanted him to stop. Some ten minutes after, he released me.

"Sorry", he drawled, "dunno what came over me."

I aimed for another kiss but it missed and landed on his jaw.

"Don't apologise. If you didn't keep on kissing me I'd make you."

He let out a soft, happy sigh and wrapped himself around my left arm, like he always did.

"I'm so tired", he said after a longer period of silence.

"So fucking tired", I agreed. But I didn't want to go to sleep, because I feared that he wouldn't be there when I woke up. It felt unreal and overwhelming.

I took a handful of his hair and looked into his amber eyes.

"You're here", I said to him, uselessly pointing it out.

"I'm not leaving you." I kissed his forehead, because it was the only place I could reach, and I let myself fall asleep.

It came in waves. He came in waves and I was the rock, and he kept on reappearing, completely new in my eyes.

I only realised how much he became vital to me when I couldn't imagine anyone else sleeping next to me. It was his place, on the left side, his head moving with my chest. The weight of him became reassuring, and he became a necessary part of my sleeping routine.

I gave into him completely. I let him into everything in my life and he made it better. At that moment I realised I loved him more than I could ever love myself and that letting go of him meant spiraling into something dark, something I couldn't even imagine.

I won't let go, I promised myself. This is the only good relationship in my life, the only one who mattered to me and ruining that relationship meant ruining myself. More than I already was, at least.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:52 pm

2012.

"There's this particular age at which all of your friends start turning thirty and you look at yourself in the mirror and go, 'fuck, am I that old?'" Sylvie said to no one in particular and continued to mix the batter Clary gave to her.

"Language", Clary warned her. "Marc might hear you."

"Close the door", Sylvie nodded towards the door of his room. Once Clary closed it, Sylvie said, with relish, "Shit."

"That's it, no more sex for you."

I sighed. As if this day wasn't hard enough for me.

Honestly, I couldn't even picture it. January, who I only imagine as a teenager is thirty today. It doesn't feel like the same person.

And, in a way, he isn't. He was completely unreachable to me now, and every word felt like walking on snow, so I just was sinking further. It's not as if I avoided talking to him. If anything, during the weeks nearing his birthday I craved him more before.

I didn't want to read through a hundred layers of his smile only to discover it wasn't really a smile at all. I didn't want to accidentally touch him and then move away like he burned me with his fingers.

I promised myself almost every couple of months to let it go. It seems that, whenever I make that promise, I think about him more. Even Sylvie has gotten tired of telling me to move on.

"Dude", Sylvie sat on the table in front of me. "You're in a terrible mood."

"Long week." Like she believed me. "Who's babysitting Marc?"

She read through me as if my skull was clear and there were words written on my brain.

"My work friend. She has had kids of her own so I trust her and I made Clary trust her too. Right, Clary?"

"No, but okay."

Sylvie groaned.

"Never get married, Frank. It makes the lovely person you first fell in love with into a controlling freak." Clary didn't dignify that statement with a response, and when Sylvie didn't get the audience she had hoped for, she just continued. "Anyway, is Anjali coming?"

"Mhm. But she's gonna leave around ten, her best friend has his engagement party, or so I heard."

And I left it at that.

In a way, I'm glad that she was attending the party. She was great to have around in a group of friends because she was incredibly positive and laughed at almost all the jokes. Clary once said that Anjali was a bigger ray of sunshine than she was, if that was even possible.

But I am also glad that she's leaving, because I had a gift for January. It wasn't something I was proud of, but something I couldn't keep myself from doing. Not anymore.

Having him existing next to me is a strange experience. Some days I'm content with the place we were at, and some days (most days) I hate myself for wanting him. And I want him so badly, that it made my heart ache sometimes.

It's a bit ironic, isn't it? I ended things between us and now I want him back. I don't know anymore.

"Do we have beer?" Sylvie asks and gets up to open the fridge. "There's six of us, right?"

"Seven, but Sacha and Ezra are coming. That's more like ten."

"Frank, shopping." Sylvie left Clary with the birthday cake and pulled me towards the door. "We're gonna get so wasted, I can already see it," she said as we were putting our shoes on.

"Yeah, sure. You do you."

"Lighten up, you little emo. Drink to forget", she told me.

We drove to the nearest supermarket and did something we could only dream about when we were teenagers.

When we got to the check, we were carrying two sixpacks each. The look on cashier's face was priceless.

"D'ya need an ID?" Sylvie asked.

"Don't flatter yourself", I replied.

"Ouch."

After a second or two of shock, the cashier started doing her job. Sylvie paid because I 'forgot' my wallet back at their place and we were off.

We got into her car, and Interstate played.

It gently nudged me off a cliff.

"Sup?" Sylvie asked when I stopped mid-sentence.

"It's Interstate."

"Stone Temple Pilots?" she checked. "Haven't heard it in a while."

"Me neither." If three years can be considered a while.

I'd only heard it once, and I remembered it nearly whole. I remembered his voice, humming the melody. Pulling over. The beach, and the sunset in his hair and eyes. What followed after.

My gift for him was long overdue.

As much as I pretend I'm strong, and that it doesn't bother me, and that I never want to be with him again, it feels more and more like a lie as time passes. As if I couldn't be myself if I wasn't near him.

There's still so much of him in me.

"I thought you disliked grunge. I specifically remember you calling it unfocused and dirty."

"This is soft grunge. It's tolerable." I tried to joke, but it didn't come out right.

The song passed, and I could breathe properly again.

"You…" Sylvie started. She trailed off.

"I what?"

"Nothing", she shook her head. "Just… you're very self-destructive. Have you noticed?"

Have I. It seemed like everything I do brought me more pain.

"I don't know, Syl. I'm just waiting for it to pass."

"Waiting for what to pass? Life? Because if so, you're doing a great job."

Move on and forget, or return to him and forgive. I picked none, and I was heading towards a dead end.

"I can't. I don't know why, but I can't." I didn't even have to tell her. She knew, like she always does.

"At one point you're gonna have to."

To lose him in my life would be as if I lost everything that made me who I am. As if I lost my music.

I reached out and turned off the car radio.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:53 pm

1999.

I woke up under him, and at first, I was alarmed, because it was incredibly warm and I couldn't move, but when I shuffled, he only cuddled closer into my shoulder. I decided to leave him as is and just inhale him.

I rewinded back in my mind to where he was kissing me, quickly realising that, if I thought about it any further, I'd want to relive the memory. So I stopped and begun counting the freckles on his shoulders.

It's a consuming, useless time-killer, and it absolutely engulfs me.

Because, whenever I think of his freckles and ginger hair, I'm immediately thrown back to his southern drawl, and it's incredible just how much of him I found in me after such a short period of time.

I didn't wake him up, even though I hear my parents downstairs. They never came up anyway, that's why we managed to sleep together in the first place.

After a while, my arms went numb and I shuffled a bit to free myself from his grasp. My quest was unsuccessful, because it only made him curl up against me more.

"J.J.", I whispered, quietly at first but, when he didn't move, louder.

"No", he mumbled and pressed against me in a way that I was completely enveloped by him, and my lungs were almost crushed.

"I need to breathe", I gasped. He sighed and released me, rolling onto the other side. I caught the opportunity and did the exact same thing to him.

"Not fair", he mumbled. As a response, I nuzzled more into his neck and pressed a kiss against his shoulder.

"You need to wake up", I told him.

"Waking up is overrated."

"You're overrated." He hummed a noise of disapproval and turned around to capture my lips in a kiss.

"Parents", I said a couple of seconds into the kiss. We separated, and he looked at me as if he couldn't believe I had just said that.

"Why is it that, whenever I kiss you, you instantly think about your parents?" I chuckled.

"Because they could hear us, you idiot. And you wouldn't want that, now, would you?"

"Hm." It seemed as if my joke was taken seriously. "What if they knew? I mean, would they… be okay with it? Or whatever. No, forget I said anything, it's stupid."

"No, it's not", I said brushing his hair from his face. Then, I traced his jaw, enjoying the feel of his skin against my hand. "Listen", I started, trying to make sense of his thoughts, as well as of my own. " I honestly don't care if they know or not. That wouldn't stop me from being with you. I am, however, underage", I said, and he smirked. "And they still control me up to a point. If they decide that they don't like you, they'll kick you out, and I don't want you on the streets."

"Let's be eighteen and run away", he said and closed his eyes, and I'm convinced he's falling asleep again.

"Give me some two years and then we can make a deal."

"I always forget you're younger", he said, and then yawned.

The sun made its way through the window in my room and the sunrays fell onto the floor, a foot away from my bed.

"Not by much." He hummed a soft tune that I couldn't place, but then I didn't hear a thing because there were footsteps coming up the stairs, and January instantly sprinted to the bathroom, his own feet against the hardwood almost catlike, soundless. I covered myself up to my nose and turned my back to the door.

"Frank?" My mum knocked on my door and opened it, just a bit. I tried not to move and keep my breathing steady, which was not easy, because I could feel my heartbeat in my throat.

And January was right. What if they knew?

"Is he awake?" I heard my dad from the bottom floor.

"No, I'll just leave him a note. Do we have any milk?" mum walked away, leaving the door open.

They bickered for a minute about who drank the milk (when, in reality, it was January and I), and when there was a sound of a car driving away, January exited the bathroom and hopped into the bed again.

"That was close", he said cheerfully. I smacked his shoulder.

"You idiot! Too risky", I shook my head, but I couldn't stay mad at him for too long because his lips landed in a kiss just below my jaw. "Let's not get into a situation like that ever again."

"And not repeat this?" he let out a happy little sigh against my neck, and I had to admit that he had a point.

"Yeah, sure. But only when my parents aren't home."

"They're not here now."

There was hope in his eyes, and a sweetness I can't place on his tongue, in his mouth and in the way he wrapped his arm around me, and I let him crawl into the space between my skin and completely occupy my thoughts and my body until I didn't know anything but that moment.

A word stormed into my brain like an angry flood, and I felt an incredible urge to let it slip past my lips, and, even though I felt it with an intensity that almost scared me, I didn't say it out loud. It's possible that I mouthed it into the kiss, or the skin of his neck. My breath was wind that carried it across to his mouth, into his core. It felt like it seeped out of my hands and left a mark wherever I touched him.

Love. Was it love? It was supposed to be grander and earth-shattering, but I don't think I ever needed something grand. Maybe I just needed kisses broken by laughter, and albums learnt by heart, and sunny, lazy mornings, and a ginger head above mine, with sunrays making a halo out of his hair.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:54 pm

2012.

The dinner/party goes as well as anyone'd expect it to go. After a loud conversation over food, it was time for cake.

Clary packed a slice for Anjali to try on the way out, and as she was leaving, I felt incredibly heavy.

"Have fun", she told us.

As for the others, Sacha and Ezra took the biggest slice and ate from the same plate, which looked so disgusting to Sylvie and Clary that they made a point of having a plate each and eating as politely as they could.

We took our cake to the living room, sat on the floor and, once Sacha downed a beer, started playing Truth or Dare. As, you know, all cool parties do.

It landed on Sacha and January.

"Well, I'm drunk", Sacha stated before asking, "truth or dare? Wait, are we playing the kissing version?"

"No", most of us said.

"That's Spin the Bottle, love", Ezra told her.

"Shame."

"Truth", January said. He wasn't drinking, even though Sacha offered him a bottle, and he was in the same mood as I was.

"Hmm. Help me out, guys", Sacha looked around our circle. Even though she drank maybe half a beer, Clary looked absolutely done, with her head in her hands.

"I hate drinking", she said.

"Why aren't you drinking?" Sacha asks January. "That's my truth question."

"I don't drink. I like being in control of myself", he explains it shortly, but Sacha doesn't look satisfied with the answer.

"You need to chill every once in a while and that time is now." She reached out and grabbed a bottle from the now-half-empty sixpack. January looked it for a moment, then took it from her. He won't finish it that night, the bottle will end up with Ezra who will down it in a breath.

"Here's how I see it", Sacha bolts herself up leaning against her elbows. "Do everything. Because if you don't, you'll regret it, and regrets are the absolute worst in life. You can't go back and and fix them." He considered it. Sighed, and took a sip.

Sacha, Ezra and Sylvie clapped. Clary sank further onto the floor.

Sacha spun the bottle and it ended on Ezra and Clary.

"Babe. Babe." Sylvie nudged her twice.

"I'm weak", Clary whined and dropped her head into Sylvie's lap. Sylvie brushed through her hair once before pushing her up.

"Truth or dare?" Ezra asked.

"Truth."

"Boring", Sacha interrupted.

"Well, when you get married and have a kid, you become boring", Clary slurred out.

"No kids for us then."

"Don't wanna sound disrespectful or anything, but", Ezra started and, in case he said something politically incorrect, he gulped some of his beer, so he can blame the alcohol for his words. "When did you realise you were female? Did you start wearing dresses or?"

"Not really. I mean, it's definitely easier to realise that you're a woman than a man, because there are loads of masculine women, and not a whole lot of feminine straight men." Clary stopped, surprised that she is still able to form coherent sentences. "Is anybody writing this down? This was good."

Sylvie hands her bottle to Clary.

"Here. You need it more than I do."

The rest of the night followed suit. And it felt terrible.

January kept glancing towards me. Like he knew I was going to act out. Sylvie and Clary gave him a present, so did Sacha and Ezra. And I didn't. Yet.

For the past few years I always got him a band t-shirt or a poster or a book. Something generic. He didn't comment on it, even though he knew I remembered that he disliked gifts. Maybe he thought that I finally decided not to get him anything.

But whenever I closed my eyes, an image of us played in my mind. For his every birthday, we spent the night beneath the covers of my bed, kissing and talking about everything. About us, my parents, school, an imaginary future. How utterly ridiculous and optimistic of us, to think that we'd have a future.

Well, it's certainly a future, but not the one I prefered. If I added all the love, and substracted all the hate he caused in me, I'd be right in the middle, with no idea where to go from that point on.

Couples around me worked around their mistakes. Sylvie and Clary fought often, and most of the time it was Sylvie's fault, but they talked it through and continued as better people than they were before. Sacha and Ezra had this weird way of communicating by exchanging frowns and sighs, and there was a specific frown Ezra knew how to form to let Sacha know she messed up, and she apologises, regardless of what she's done.

I guess January and I have our own brand of coping. Living in silence.

Not for tonight. Tonight I was going off record and doing something I'd usually regret.

"Pals", Clary said. It was about three in the morning and everybody looked more or less done. "I think we have to call it a day. A night."

"You're not as young as you used to be, Sach", Ezra noticed. Sacha was lying on the sofa, face down.

"I can't hold my draft beer."

"Okay, that settles it. I will politely ask you to leave my house so I can sleep for days", Sylvie tried to get up. Failed once, twice, then succeeded by holding the edge of the armchair.

"I'm gonna follow you guys", I told Ezra. If January found it suspicious, he didn't show it.

We left Clary and Sylvie half-asleep on the sofa and walked to the housing facility. All the way there we let Sacha blabber on about drinking and Vegas and I got an idea.

When we arrived, January and I waved the married couple goodbye.

"I guess this is goodnight", January said, in that awful, forced tone.

"I still haven't given you my present." I told him. I felt my fingers trembling, wanting to reach out and hold him closer.

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow.

"In your flat", I said, and went up. He followed.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:55 pm

2000.

My parents loved chess, but I didn't manage to inherit the love. Nevertheless, I knew the basic rules.

"What does my horse dude do?" January asked as we're lying/sitting on my bed, with a board between our bodies. Electricity had died in our entire street and we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves, and chess would be the funnest way. Or so I thought.

"He jumps over other figures", I took his white knight and hopped him three spaces toward me, and one to the right. "In an L."

"Why? I mean, humans can jump too. Buildings can't, I get that", he lay a finger on one of his rooks, "but all my army should be able to jump over one another."

"This game is ancient, maybe they didn't evolve enough to jump that high."

"Are you kidding me? Have you seen ancient Greeks? They were ripped."

I sighed and he took it as a victory.

"Now, if I train my pointy-headed guard enough, he'll be able to jump over other guys?"

I leaned my head back and it hit my bed, causing it to shake and toppling over my side of the board, mainly my king and a couple of my pawns.

"Man down!" he exclaims "Can my king now buy your queen? He needs it for his harem." I hated him and loved him at the same time.

Some fifteen minutes passed, and we were in full on battle mode.

"My tower steps on your short dude, therefore flattening him and sending him to the hospital", January victoriously threw my pawn onto the sheets, where we made a small nest for injured army members.

"My lawyer sues your tower for being a little bitch."

"You can't sue it, it's not sentient."

"My pawn takes your tower apart and uses its bricks to fix my tower."

"Bullshit", January watched me recover my rook from the hospital nest. "My queen attacks your new tower, which is weak because its made out of used bricks."

"When were bricks invented?"

Cue a discussion which lasted fifteen minutes, and ends up without an answer. We returned to the game, and my scientists were just about to discover nuclear weapons when the lights went back on and I scared myself off the bed. January lost it.

"You weak shit, goin' out and gettin' yourself killed", he said through wheezing laughter. Later, when my parents came home and my mum noticed a bruise on my jaw, she asked me what happened. I told her and she laughed so hard she cried.

"Are you okay?" January asked after a couple of minutes of laughter. Out of shame, I didn't get up. I stayed on the floor, in pain, until he dropped onto the floor as well and kissed my temple. "I didn't mean to laugh, but it was funny." I didn't dignify that with a response. "C'mon. I'll let you win the next time."

"You'll let me win always", I argued.

"Sure." Then we packed the chess set to never open it again and walked downstairs to watch a sitcom.

Sometimes, it was hard to hide. My mother would ask me about the girls in my class, if I liked any of them, and I laughed it off.

"What?" she asked. "You don't think you'll date anyone?"

I do, I thought, but not them.

"They're really not my type, mum."

"How do you know if you haven't asked any out on a date?" she asked as she carried a pan to the dining room table. I followed her being useful and carrying the plates.

"I'd rather not."

"It's your choice. Maybe it's for the best, what do you say, David?" mum asked dad, and he peeked at us from over his glasses.

"As long as you're happy", he told me, and I felt warm in my heart.

I told January that night, that I was happier with him than without him, and the smile he gave me was probably the best thing in the world.

"Honestly? That's the only thing I want right now. You, happy."

I don't know how I would spend my days if he didn't exist so close to me. Sure, I might have studied more and I might have passed school with the best possible grades, but what what would that mean for me? A better job? More knowledge? How important is that to me?

Not at all. And he was incredibly important to me. And still is.

We reached a decision one day, that I would tell my parents that he had a tense situation back home so that we didn't have to hide anymore. Or at least, hide as much.

Dad told January he was welcome to stay whenever things got rough back home, and we blew up the mattress again. Nobody slept on it.

I never thought about telling the truth. I didn't even consider it as an option. Because I thought I knew what they'd say. That I'm too young to recognise my feelings, that I took it all too far, that I don't yet know what real love was. But I knew. I knew that nothing could ever feel as good as his laughter, knowing I was the cause of it. His silly brain, wandering far and wide, and his loose tongue made me open up to society, think outside the boxes I always put myself into, and start breathing.

I don't remember air without him. I don't recall the weight of it in my mouth and the scent of it, because it was him who made it all taste like summer, like sunshine and freckles and sea-formed curls of hair.

Sometimes I wondered what that miracle of a boy was doing with me. Because I was nothing, a blank slate, without an opinion and a voice. And then I remembered. The way he kissed my neck, because he loved the way it felt under his lips. My jokes, my help, my charity.

And in the end, where do all those things bring us? How come I'm more miserable than I used to be?

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:55 pm

2012.

I let him enter first, and, before I closed the door, I turned to him.

"Remember what Sach said?" He looked at me, not understanding. Air became thin, and I had to inhale twice before it felt safe to speak again. "What happens in Vegas?"

"Okay?" he said, his words a soft mutter, gentle and breathy and hopeful, he had it in him to be hopeful, and I needed his hope as much as I needed air, and none was being offered. Both were filled with static and expectation, and we were cat-like. If one moved, the other would, but nobody was moving.

"This room is Vegas." Beat. He moved.

I only realised how much I missed his kiss when his lips touched mine again. It really is deprivation of the worst kind.

It was so slow. His mouth was nothing above fire, and I wanted everything at once, and he gave me nothing at all.

I mumbled his name, to rush him, to make him truly kiss me, but he's a rock and I'm the tide and I broke against him like a child. When he didn't move, I felt myself trembling and reaching out, my arms tangling around his neck, as if they wished to merge his body with my own and never be apart again.

And it was heavy. It was so heavy it left a metal feeling in my mouth and I wasn't sure if it was blood or my imagination.

"January", I gasped. "Closer, god…" He didn't respond, didn't speed up. If I had to describe it, I'd say it felt like claws tearing my chest to shreds. "J.J.", I called out, my last attempt to pull a reaction out of him.

He pushed me away just enough so that our top lips still touched.

"Franks", my name sounded like a prayer dripping from his mouth. His eyes were locked in position—staring into mine. "Are you drunk?"

"No", I exhaled, with my hands full of his t-shirt.

Then he was kissing me again.

We ended up walking backwards to his bed, and our clothes vanished. Mechanical, it was all mechanical, I moved to satisfy my body and to try to feel him like I felt him years ago.

It reached a point where there was no pleasure, just pain, because his kisses and his touches and his body were torturously slow and I was on the edge of a knife for what it seems to be hours. He held my very core and I couldn't move, not even to hold him closer.

I think I let out something resembling a whine.

"Baby", he allowed this word to be utterred in a quiet, helpless question which doesn't have an answer. I answered it anyway, with my hands tangling in his hair and pulling him closer, until I was close and fell off the edge. Release was something purely physical, because I couldn't hold it back any longer. I blacked out for maybe half a second. It hurt too much and I felt like crying.

I didn't cry, but wasn't far from it.

He buried his head into the crook of my neck and left a stuttered inhale there, wrecked and whimper-like, and fell next to me, his arms giving out.

I just breathed for a long time. Tried to feel my body, to see if it was there still. The experience was a tidal wave and it wiped me clean of any emotion I had prior, focusing on the emotions I had now.

The pain didn't go away. It migrated from my stomach to my head and it burned my eyes because I could never be with him, he wasn't what I thought he was, I didn't want him, I didn't love him anymore. Maybe the last two were a lie.

January reached out for the covers with a shaky hand and pulled them over us. But I needed to go.

I couldn't stay, because staying might make me change my mind, it might make him trick me again, but I didn't have it in me to get up and leave. Not for the first few minutes, at least.

He wasn't talking. Usually, after our bed affairs, we'd talk about just about anything, exhaustion would ruin all our filters and we said things we didn't mean to, but they were the truth, and it only made me trust him more. And I couldn't trust him anymore.

"I need to go", I whispered. "Anjali's probably gonna be home soon."

I don't know what made me say her name. It was a shield that I raised whenever I realised I went too far with him.

He rolled away in a millisecond and it stung. It hurt more than before, and I hated myself and I hated him, as well. I got up and was going through a heap of clothes on the floor, this time careful about whose shirt I put on, when I heard a sob.

The muscles in my hand spasmed and I dropped the shirt, but really, what was he expecting? He knew that this was temporary. Just like that night after the beach, it was a get-off with no emotional bounds to it and I wonder how many lies I have to tell myself before I start believing in them.

He sobbed twice more, this time quieter and muffled by a pillow, and I couldn't. I couldn't hear him like this, I couldn't repeat this ever again.

I got dressed and left without a word.

When I got to my apartment, tired and weak, I found out that Anjali wasn't there yet, so I searched for the key in my jacket. It took me a long time, because the sound of him sobbing haunted me and, when I finally found the key, I held it tightly in my hand because my body didn't know how to let go, and I loosened the grip when I saw blood coming from my palm. I didn't even feel it.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:56 pm

2000.

"This is what memories are made of", January declared.

Because it doesn't get better than that, does it? The moon was full and it was reflected on the sea surface, as well as the hundreds of thousands of stars. And we were there, basking in their glory.

We'd just gotten off a bus, like many times before. The beach had become a day out in the summer, a hide-out in winter and a beauty in spring, but then, in autumn, when the cold still hadn't begun to clasp its bony fingers around the sea, it was as if it belonged in a dream.

We dropped the backpacks onto the sand. There were no people at this hour, in this season, and we were not afraid of theft. The thieves wouldn't profit much from us anyway. My phone, a towel, a change of clothes, and that was pretty much it. Because we didn't need much else, but each other.

"This time I'm not allowing you to express your discomfort caused by the temperature of the water."

"You sound as if you have been preparing that sentence in your head for days", he laughed. I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying that I actually did exactly that. "C'mon."

It had been his birthday wish, to go swim at night, and we never had a chance to go until then.

"Wait", he said, and I groaned, because I had fully braced myself and was prepared for the cold, and now I had to wait. "I have an idea."

"That's worrying."

He kicked me in the ribs, and I truly felt like I deserved it.

"What if we took off our clothes? Then Mrs Holbrook won't ask questions such as, 'why do you smell like fish?'"

"Not so bad, Fryeman. Not so bad." I immediately pull my t-shirt off. I was in a rush of sorts, because doing things which aren't conventional is one of my all time favourites. Swimming, in autumn? Unheard of. And I was giddy to finally do it.

We piled up our clothes onto the backpacks and ran into the sea (okay, I started running, he chased after me), and I'll be damned if it wasn't the best thing I had done thus far.

When we were somewhat in the deeper end and our feet didn't touch our ground anymore, January opened his mouth to say something and I stopped him before he even started.

"Yes, it's cold!" I was almost shouting at him, my voice was loud through our laughter. "But, by God, is it not phenomenal?!"

I looked around and took it all in; the cliffs, the shore, the city lights in the distance, the reflection of space against the sea, and then him. Closed-eyed, floating away, soaking the feeling of everything.

It felt blue, all of it. From the air I breathed to everything I could see with my eyes. His brown eyes, when they opened, glowed blue, and his lips, which curled up into a smile, were blue, and a kiss we then shared felt the bluest of it all.

"Why can't everything be like this", he asked when we separated, in each other's arms.

"Like what?" I frowned. "Cold?"

"No", he chuckled and held me closer, to share a bit of his body heat with me. "Well, that too."

"It's all part of the mood", I told him, closed my eyes and pressed our foreheads together. He inhaled and it felt serene. His skin was pale against mine.

"You're beautiful", he sighed, and I looked at him, as if I didn't think the same thing about him every day. Then we kissed, and I couldn't tell him that he's the most wonderful person I've ever met, or that I loved him.

Because, by that time, I'm pretty sure I love him. We finally grew around that word and now it was in the roots of our relationship, the only way from there was to continue doing exactly what we were doing. It was much more than his body—which was a major plus—and it was more than his music taste or his personality. It was because of something so fundamentally 'January' that made me feel feather-light. Floating.

"Is anybody here?" he asked, slightly breathless against my lips.

"Of course not."

Then his lips are on mine again, this time with meaning.

I started laughing, a couple of minutes later, when he was kissing a bruise into my neck, and he looked up with a small, confused smile.

"What?"

"You're gonna kill me."

"Hm." He considered it. "Probably. Just let me get off first and then we can do the killing." That only made me laugh harder.

"I was thinking about how my parents would react if they saw how I spent my Saturdays."

He grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me underneath, only to immediately pull me out of the water because I started choking.

"Don't laugh while I'm trying to drown you!" he yelped.

"Don't drown me!!"

He let me catch my breath before we went at it again.

Being with him was one of few things which didn't feel mandatory. I didn't feel forced to hold his hand, sleep next to him, reply to his kisses. As years passed, it felt more and more natural, until I felt as confident existing next to him as breathing.

We were dripping wet when we finally dragged ourselves to the shore and, after he wrapped us up in a towel, we sat down and watched the stars, finding shapes.

"That looks like a cat."

"Does not."

"D'ya think we'll ever own a cat?" he mused.

"Sure. You're feeding it though."

"Did you know that, if you die, your cat will probably eat you?" I thought about it for a moment.

"Preservation of energy?" He laughed. "Well, I'll be dead anyway, at least my cat will not starve."

"Fair enough."

I want a cat with him, I thought. I want a house and a garden and a cat, and laughter and kisses and tears, and everything.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:57 pm

2016.

"Hey", Anjali says. We're in the flat, lounging on the sofa and half-watching a lukewarm comedy on the TV. "D'ya think Syl and Clary are free at this hour?"

Considering it was Saturday afternoon, they were probably doing the exact same thing as we were.

"I suppose." Anjali lets out a soft sigh, then inhales, as if preparing herself.

"I need—want to talk to them."

I didn't say that she could talk to me, because we generally didn't talk much about actual issues. It's just not something we did, and I had a feeling she enjoyed avoiding them as much as I did.

"Want me to walk you there?" I ask, partially because I want to see the girls, and partially because I want to know what's so important to Anjali that she doesn't want to tell me.

She had gone quieter, I notice, the last month, and while I usually fled from any conversation with her (out of fear she might try to amp up our relationship to a physical level), I've grown to miss our talks.

Because, all things considered, while she was no Sylvie or Clary, she was a good friend. Polite, kind, cheerful. In a different life, we could have made it work.

"If you want to. I just need to—" she stops and shakes her head, "clear some things up."

We lock the flat and beeline to the pet shop. I only realise I hadn't called prior when I knock on the door, and a very messy head of hair opens it.

"You utter cockblock", Sylvie whines. "One night. A single night when Marc's on a sleepover, and then you. You can smell the opportunity to be trouble from miles away."

Anjali, contrary to herself, smiles.

"I'm afraid I'm the intruder."

"Oh, okay. You can come in. Frank, you stay out."

In the end they let us both in, and when we're settled on the couch, Spookie's sat on my lap and Clary's out of the bedroom, wearing a baggy dress which looks like she just threw onto herself, Anjali does another one of her long, unintentionally dramatic sighs.

"I… This is stupid", she immediately throws her head into her hands. "You're the only people I know who might... Know about this? Can I say it like that?"

"You can say it however you want", Sylvie says, gently, and I notice realisation blooming behind her eyes. I, on the other hand, don't understand.

"Uh. Okay, here it is. I… I don't like people. Romantically or sexually. It's always been like this. And, lately, I've been doing some research, and found terminology for this… this, what I'm feeling. And I wanted to ask you about the conotations behind these words."

"Which?" Sylvie asks.

"Asexual and aromantic?" Clary suggests.

"The very two."

"Oh, sweetheart", Clary says, her voice transforming into what I recognised as the soft tone she used to lull Marc to sleep. "That's nothing to be ashamed of."

Then I get it. Sylvie understands, and so does Clary, because they had to go through the unnecessary struggle of coming out, and they could taste that brand of discomfort from a mile away. The fact that I never had to come out to anyone hits me like at least three tonnes of bricks, and it completely overshadows Anjali's sexuality. Because it shouldn't matter, really. It's none of my business, who loves who, or if they love at all. The only time I want to interfere is when love is forbidden.

Clary hugs Anjali, and from what I can see, Anjali looks like she just had those same three tonnes of bricks lifted off her back.

I don't know what to say at first. Maybe I shouldn't say a word. But Sylvie's eyes are burning into my skull and I can't utter a single thought I have in my head.

When Clary takes Anjali to the kitchen for a warm cup of anything Anjali likes, Sylvie metaphorically pounces.

"Can't believe you", she exhales. "I'm fucking speechless. All this time—" I have a feeling that she's suffering as much as I am at this point, "—I thought you moved on. I thought you were happy."

I look at her, and hope that my eyes convey as much anguish as my brain, which has been on-and-off screaming for quite some time now.

"Frank", she leans her head against her palm. "Have you been with anyone else but January?"

"I can't", I'm damn near close to choking, but I won't let the tears out, "I can't. Because if I'm going to date anyone, I expect to become invested. And I… don't know any other love but his."

"Jesus Christ, you don't go searching for him in someone else! You go out and find a new love!"

"I don't want anyone else!"

The shouting dies as soon as it started.

"Frank", Sylvie starts again, this time with something hollow in her voice. "You both think and feel too much."

"Don't I know it", I remark bitterly.

Anjali steps out of the kitchen holding a mug I used to serve coffee in. A mug January used to drink from.

"I don't know what's going on", she starts, carefully, "but I might help. Why don't you just tell him what you feel?"

"Can't", I immediately shake my head, but Anjali continues talking over me.

"There's that poem competition, I think? Your former student came and nearly organised the entire thing herself. The preparation starts next week. Sometimes…" she looks up, as if to some higher force, "sometimes it's easier to say things through poems."

That doesn't sound too bad.

"What do you want, after all? From him, I mean", Clary asks.

"I want him to be seventeen and be exactly the person I thought he was."

"Well, tough shit, ain't it?" Sylvie gets up and, I think, goes to grab a beer. "Because he isn't. People don't change, and he's just the same as he was and the only person who's to blame is you. But, incidentally, you're the only person who can fix it, too."

I feel like I'm sobering up, for the first time in what seems to be years.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:57 pm

2000.

January decided to call his sister one day.

"To tell her that I'm still alive", he'd said, and I deemed it as a good-enough reason. Like I needed any in the first place.

He was sat on my bed when he called her from my Nokia, and I did my homework on the floor in the corner, not to disturb him.

I sometimes did his homework, as well. Not because he asked me to, but because I saw that, if I don't do it, he won't either, and then he'd get detention or something similar. His school was much stricter than mine when it came to things like that and I figured he had smarter things to do than to do algebra. And it was no sweat off my back.

At first, no one returned his call. I told him that she was busy or something, but it was a Saturday, and he didn't believe me all that much. The phone then rang.

"Hello?" he said, answering as quick as lightning. "Ember, is it you?"

It was. I heard only one side of the conversation, but I stitched it back into whole in my mind.

She wanted to know where he was, and he said that his school offered a place to stay as long as he was in schooling there. He later told me that he didn't mean to lie, but the words just slipped out of his mouth and he didn't stop them afterwards.

She asked about school, and how he was doing. He told her vague things, about his boring teachers ans wild classmates and cramped classrooms and gross biology lessions. I heard laughter from November on the other side.

Then January started asking questions, and I wasn't able to restore those replies.

He asked about their parents, and November's college, and her plans. He asked if he could move in with her when she gets a stable job, and he later said that she said it wasn't likely. Not that he could move in, but that she'd get a job.

I wished I could help. In any way. I hated feeling this useless in a situation that could use change, but I couldn't deliver it. I could only help one person at the time, with my limited resources, and the person I chose for now was January. If I could, I would have tried to save the entire world.

But I was only seventeen. I dreamt big and I thought big. I thought I could get what I want, and I wanted everything.

"I'm sorry", I told him when he hung up.

"Well, I can't do much", he sighed. "I wish I could, though."

"Me too."

But he already did a lot. He saved me from being mundane and ordinary, blending in with the background, being obedient and submissive. He taught me how to be loud and develop my own opinions, and be unapologetically myself. At least around him.

And so I did. There were few things I liked more than talking with him about things surrounding us.

Most of the times, it was at the beach. When it wasn't, it was in my bed, or on the floor of my room, or while doing homework, or walking home from school. I found out that I could talk for hours without running out of things to say, laughing every now and then, but not in mockery. I learnt to be self-sufficient, not to rely on anybody to make fun of, or to talk about. Instead, we commented the world and analysed the lyrics of the songs we listened to, if for nobody but us.

"You could write a song", he told me, after we went through a punk song, line after line, and found nothing interesting.

"I can't sing."

"Well, learn two chords on a guitar and write songs for the main vocalist", he suggested. I shrugged and played another song, by a different artist.

"Who'd take me? With my social skills and prior experience, I'm quite a catch."

"Shame. I'd love to be a fan on your every concert and tell everybody that my boyfriend is in a band."

"If I had any musical inclination, I'd be a solo act, and every song I'd write would be about you."

The smile he gave me after that was picturesque.

No, I couldn't sing, and I couldn't draw, but dear Lord, if I could, I'd do anything to capture his essence on paper. The ease with which he moved, the simplicity of his smiles, his child-like laughter. I felt so fortunate, that I got to exist on the same planet, at the same time as he did. And he somehow thought the same, and even though I didn't believe it, I didn't believe he saw me as I saw him, I hoped that maybe one day I could feel worthy.

The most beautiful memory I have of that time, or at least the most peaceful one (and dear Lord knows how much I need peace) was is a memory of a winter morning, being completely engulfed by his arms and a bed cover, while he hummed a ballad I didn't recognise in my ear.

"Cold?" he asked when I sighed against his chest.

"A bit. I miss the summer."

"It'll come soon enough, and when it does, you'll miss winter."

"You're probably right."

He laughed and I moved with his chest.

"I suppose I am. Hey, it's gotta happen sometines, you can't always be the smart one in the relationship."

I kissed his nose and he smiled down at me.

"I'd argue that I'm the least smart. The only thing I know is how to do well at school. Like school is very important or something."

"Don't say it like it's an irrelevant thing."

"It is irrelevant to me. You know what I find relevant?"

"What?" he asked, with genuine confusion.

"You."

He then kissed me and continued humming, this time it was Wonderwall. I hummed along.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:57 pm

2016.

"Georgia. George." When she doesn't reply, I nudge her. "Hey."

"Yo, Teach", she shakes out earbuds out of her hair and they dangle out of her Iron Maiden tank top. "Sup."

There's a bunch of people around us, setting up the stage and the lights. The poem competition is a week away still, but the school liked to be prepared. Georgia and I were carrying boxes with her books to stack up in front of her stand. I already requested three, signed. One for Sylvie and Clary, one for Sacha and Ezra and one for my private collection of approximately seventeen books. When we place the last of them around the stand, Georgia sits on one of them and takes out a Swiss knife (how alternative. Not sure if I should confiscate it or not). She stabs a box and cuts it open.

"How do you feel about this whole situation? After all, it's a big deal."

"Haven't seen it in flesh yet", she mumbles. "I don't know. I'll tell ya after we sell at least half."

"Two thirds."

"Hm, 'kay. But you buy me a beer afterwards." I just look at her. "I mean, a juice box." I roll my eyes as she guts a box. "Look, look, it's pretty!"

She takes out two books and tosses one my way. It isn't very big, and it's a muddy grey colour with a marble pattern. The cover says Georgia Truman, 2010-2016, 'The Best and The Worst Of'. There's a design on the front which looks like it could be an album cover, with a bunch of notebooks, a single dark rose (!) and a couple of pencils and calligraphy pens (as if she uses them).

"You chose the title?"

"Of course", she snorts and folds a leg under herself. "Look at these doodles", she opens at a random page and flips the book at me. Before every song there's an illustration done in black ink. "My stupid boyfriend's sister did 'em." It comes a shock to me.

"You have a boyfriend?"

"Yeah." She fiddles with a shoelace and unties it, only to tie it again. "Tyler. Remember him? He's a nerd and he's stupid and I love him."

How lightly can she throw that word around like that? It's not only her, and I'm not calling her out or anything, but in a family I was brought up in, it was a heavy word. I heard my parents say it to each other maybe three, four times a year, and every time it meant the world and they'd share that one special smile.

But then again, what do I know? Today's world is fast, and people fall in and out of love, and who am I to judge?

Nobody, apparently. I have had one relationship in my whole life and I managed to fuck it up.

We proceed to take the books out, and when we're done, she signed a few and shoved them in the bunch.

"Maybe years from now they'll mean something and make some people happy", she shrugs. "You prepared a poem?"

Because, as she announced, everyone has to join the poem competition. Children, teachers, the principal and some lunch ladies who aren't working that day. Anjali already started and I had to recycle half a notebook because she ripped it out after many failed attempts. I, on the other hand, didn't start yet, because I knew exactly what I wanted to say and I had no idea how I was going to translate it into words.

"I have a vague theme", I answer. "It's sort of a letter—a message—to someone."

"Ooh, tell me all about it."

I lean my head against the wall. There goes Georgia again, meddling with my love life.

"I used to date someone and then I realised that they weren't who I thought they were and now we're not dating."

"Wow", she gasps, "thrilling. Enciting. Ya think you can be less specific?" I open my mouth but she talks over me. "I'm kidding. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I asked because I'm a nosey fuck, not because I want to make you uncomfortable."

"Language."

"Oh, come on."

I let a few seconds pass before I told her a little story.

"When I was fifteen I met someone I was sure I would spend my life with, and so it went on until I was eighteen. Then it all fell to shit. Crap. And eight years after that, I saw them again and I remembered all the reasons why I loved them in the first place, and…"

I stop, because I see January and Anjali walk past us, talking about the methods to make their pupils write the poems. It seems like they're just going to force them, as they conclude that there's no way that a bunch of tweens are capable of some sort of artistic expression.

"Hey. That's the end of the story?"

"Not even the beginning, but, sure. If you want it like that", I shrug.

"No, no, it's fine. You've given me enough. Now I can imagine fifteen-year-old Teach Holbrook falling in love with this super hot Russian spy and you two going on super secret spy missions", she grins, and I laugh at that.

"Sure. That's exactly what happened."

Human life isn't a book, or a story. It's too plain and slow, and our brain speeds the past up in our head so we remember only the interesting moments. A story won't describe the moments In Between. Every time you shower, or read a book, or buy detergent from the store. Unless it's relevant to the story, it won't be mentioned. Real life is much more. It has tons of information coming from everywhere and it's up to us to sift through them, find the ones which we find valuable and hold onto them.

Hold onto them like you're holding onto your life, because the past is the only thing you can't lose.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:58 pm

2000.

Sometimes it was nice just to shove all safety aside and be actual rebels. For two teens who listened to exclusively punk, we were laughably unintimidating.

"Kiss me", he said when we finished with homework. It was a rainy autumn evening, and my parents were downstairs so there was nowhere we could go and nothing we could do. Parents.

"J.J., fuck", I gasped when I ended on my back with his lips on my jaw. "Oh, you're gonna hate me."

"What now? If you say anything about your family I swear I'm going to bite you." Just as he promised, he let his teeth trace my neck.

"Now you became Dracula or something?" I muttered a smart-ass response before my brain short-circuited. "They're literally. Downstairs."

"Then I suppose we're gonna have to be quiet, right?" His voice went dark, and I relished every second of it.

I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him hard until he let out a gasp.

"Shh", I laughed, moving his hair out of his face so he could see me. "I can be quiet, can you?"

"Hm", he shrugged, "that's a hard question. Not if you kiss me like that."

And what did I do? The very thing he told me not to.

Sometimes I just wanted to say 'fuck it', run downstairs and tell them everything. Tell them about how I don't think girls are for me, and that I've already had my first kiss and I already spent a night with someone. And every time, those thoughts scared me. I couldn't imagine doing that. Whenever I'd try, my mind would go blank and I'd become terrified. What would they think of me? Would they think anything at all?

There was a kid in my school whose parents kicked her out of the house because she was gay. And I couldn't put January through that again.

I was not selfish, or at least I tried not to be. For his every kiss I tried to return two, for his every kind word I returned a sentence. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated him, how necessary to me he became.

I think I nearly dared to say the dreaded three words, with his lips outlining my collarbone and my hands in his hair, but then I heard footsteps.

We panicked. He couldn't go to the bathroom because we had shoved the inflatable mattress there this morning, when we pretended he slept in my room. And he had nowhere to hide.

I could see an idea forming in his eyes and I instantly knew it was a bad one.

"Grab a book", he told me and… That glorious idiot climbed out of my room through a window only to hop onto a tree. I nearly screamed in delight, but there was no time for that. I sprinted to cover the window with curtains, picked a book from the bag and made it to my bed just in for my mother to open the door.

They knew, looking back, that I hid something from them. They're not dumb, my parents, but I thought I was smarter than them, always. In the winter I wore scarves, but in the summer I had nothing to hide small bruises January loved leaving on my neck. They probably thought I had a girl in school, though, and that I was just ashamed to tell them.

I often thought about how my life could have been different. Could I have been happier with some nice girl from my class? Overall, yes. I could soldier through and everything could be easier. But, god, January. His hands, his hair, him, him, him. Everything.

"Hey, Frank", my mother told me, leaning against my doorframe. "Homework?"

"Book report", I answered. "It's a horror." My saving grace was that I had put the book in a cover, so that she couldn't see that it was my Maths book.

"You read a lot", mum shook her head, "too much schoolwork."

I nodded, trying to ignore the fact that I had a January dangling from a tree just outside my window.

"Dinner's soon", she told me and left.

I closed the door and hurried to save my soldier.

"Fucking brilliant", I exhaled as I moved the curtains. "Did you think about climbing down?"

He was lucky that the tree had many branches and he could just step off it, with faked elegance.

"Hold on." He dropped into the room, sliding like a snake, with a dull thud. "Hi!" he exclaimed, with a grin as wide as an ocean and as bright as the sun.

"Shocked, but not surprised", I said, my voice shaky, and then I couldn't hold back my giggles. He clasped my mouth with his hand.

"Do you want me to have to do this circus act again?" he hissed, and then hugged me, so his shoulder muted my laughter.

What a lovely moment, I'd later think, in his hands, following the movements of his chest, up and down. He was much better at hiding laughter than me.

We thought we were so smart.

Bottle it up, put this scene in a mason jar and seal the lid, wrap it up in a nice and shiny paper, and shelve it. Think about these memories late at night, when you're hurting, when there's nothing that could help you but him. A wound which can't be healed can only stop bleeding with a scene like this.

And hope, sometimes. Hope that you'll be able to sleep after reaching for this memory. Don't think about him after.

Nobody can understand this. Neither can I, sometimes, but when I do, it's my only sanity. I know nothing but him. Nothing, nothing but this.

And who am I, after all, to keep emotions in.

He let go after I stopped laughing and kissed my nose. Then we shared a smile and spent the rest of the day listening to music.

Each and every song I listened to with him will forever be burned in my mind.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:59 pm

2016.

I sit in front of a blank page, on-and-off, for an entire Sunday.

I first sat down intending to write a poem for the competition around nine, when I woke up, then I got up and made breakfast for Anjali and myself. Then I ate. Then I decided that I should really vacuum the flat. And that's what I did. The windows looked unclean as well. And then I cleaned the windows.

I could go on, but I made a point I was trying to make.

It's easy for others to say, 'just write it through a poem', as if poems were easy. And they're not, especially because I was trying to capture a person. An emotion. A certain type of rage.

But the problem is, I know exactly what I want to convey, but my brushes are too big for such a small canvas, metaphorically.

I drift away, slowly losing focus, and take a short nap on the desk.

The dreams I have had throughout these years are uneventful. Either there's something chasing me (like hundreds of times before) or I'm falling, or I have to step out on a stage and I forgot all my lines. Today, I dream of the beach.

My memory of it is fresh, as I had, not even a week ago, woken up at four after a realistic, bloody nightmare, and I needed peace. The first place my mind went to was the sea. And so I sat there, with my toes in the sand, waiting for sunrise. It got boring after a while, even though I enjoyed the serenity, so I took out my phone.

Nothing, nothing. Of course there would be nothing. It was too early to expect any life from the world.

Music? Perhaps it would calm me.

There's a playlist on my phone, the one I made when Georgia gave me a CD of her favourite music. I downloaded all the songs, to listen to them on the road, and I never did. I decided, what better time than this one?

A soft song played when I raised the volume on my phone's side. Beach Baby, it informs me of the song's title, and I melt into it as if it was honey.

Maybe I wasn't fit for punk anymore. Maybe it was a vocalisation of the rebellious attitudes I held so dearly when I was a teen. Punk was rough around the edges, filled with unreasonably loud angst and it protested against all rules, even the ones keeping it safe. Maybe I was too old for it now.

Maybe all I needed was this calm song to fucking break me. Because that's exactly what it did.

Why not, I thought to myself as I let my guard down. There are no people here. You can feel here. And, oh, did I feel.

I felt everything. Every note of the song brought back an emotion. Some were happy, some were sad, sometimes I felt like crying, and sometimes I felt like throwing myself off a cliff.

In the end, I gently leaned from side to side, as if in a dance, to heal my newly-opened wounds.

Of course I listened to more of the songs after such a beginning. Every one brought something new and opened my eyes to a new society. Because you could listen to all genres, not just one. You didn't have to limit or label yourself. You could just be.

What a wonderful world the youth is creating. It's such a shame the old generation will destroy it before it gets a voice.

I don't know a single song from Georgia's mix. Not because I avoided music, but because I was closed-minded to anything that didn't fit the idea of myself I wanted to portray. I still have so much to learn, and I sometimes feel I'll never get where I'm supposed to be.

Then again, maybe I won't. But I won't quit trying, I decide, I won't give in to blending in with the background and being obedient. People did not fight for my rights in the past just so I can do nothing with my life.

I listened to the entire playlist, full four hours of it. Soaked it in. Relived some of the memories I had tied to it (even though I really shouldn't have). It's strange how this beach means so much to me and so little to other people.

Something clicked. This beach, this experience, this memory was so unique to me. It was mine. And it was his.

All this time I was searching for a person who knew me and who listened to my music and who was connected to this beach, and of course I didn't find anyone. Because that person doesn't exist. Wait, I'm lying. That person is January, and I was trying to get away from him.

It was either him or nobody. I could live with that, I guess.

Of course, that means I'm going to spend the rest of my life alone, but that's a problem, like most in my life, for later.

And I finally start writing something. I write a line and scratch it out, heading a completely new direction. When I'm done, I rewrite it, just to make it neat and somewhat readable. His Fs and his Gs, his loops in my handwriting, and I'm not afraid of it anymore. I embrace it, because it's become mine. I've lived with it for long enough and now I can call it my own.

I write another poem, something very light-hearted and safe, in case I lose my courage and decide to not read the poem about January.

The best part about my poem, though, is that nobody will know but him. It was written for him only, in a way that only he will know. There is no double meaning in it. And I'm either making the worst mistake or the best one.

It doesn't matter. I'm alone either way.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:59 pm

2001.

"All joking aside", January said as laughter faded—another silly joke I wouldn't remember tomorrow, but it made me smile then. "What do you think, where will we be ten years from now? Twenty? Seems like an awful load of years."

"God knows", I answered. "I don't even know where I'll be tomorrow."

"Aren't we supposed to think about our future now that we're supposedly adults?"

We were, weren't we? He was nineteen, and I was edging towards eighteen, every day now. Even though I often thought about it, being grown up, renting out an apartment to live in with January, getting a job, those things felt distant and unreal. As if I was never going to have them.

"I guess. It should be far from now but it's getting closer and it's…"

"Scary?"

"Terrifying", I laughed a bit, to ease up the edge I had in my voice. "But that's okay. I got you."

"You got me", January confirmed. He pushed himself backwards—we were hanging around the playground, he was on a swing and I was sprawled across a slide—and just swang for a while, with me watching him.

He hadn't changed much. Not really. His shoulders got a tad broader and there's more hair on his arms, and I loved to occupy my hands with both of those things. His freckles are still there, a bit more noticeable in the sun, and his eyes are still that gentle colour of dark honey, and I loved to get lost in them.

I loved him so much in those moments, when I took a step back and looked at it with more perspective.

"When… I was growing up", he started, then paused. "I used to think that there was nobody… like me." Something was off, and I couldn't tell what it was, but I didn't stop him. "And I guess I was on the lookout to find… I dunno. I can't get my thoughts in order."

"That's okay", I told him. Then I realised. It's that weird pause in his speech I noticed years back, but never brought up. As we spent more time together, it completely disappeared, and it was back, so whatever he wanted to say to me must have been important.

"I was just looking… for someone like me. To… you know."

To make him normal. To be with. To listen to music with. To laugh with. To jump into the ocean with. To kiss. To wake up to. To love.

He didn't say it, and I didn't push it because I knew what he was going to say.

"There's nothing wrong with you", I offered uselessly, and he laughed it off. There was a bitter note to it.

"I know that now. Thanks to you."

"Dude, I'm so good. I should be a doctor of sorts", I joked. I wish I was more sensitive when it came to him that day, because it had the power to change everything. I just didn't see it right.

When we talked about the future again, it was in the safety of my bedroom, sweaty and having troubles breathing.

"Christ", I whispered as I came off a high and cuddled closer to him.

"I dunno who you've been sleeping with, but I am not Jesus", he said. Neither of us had enough breath to laugh. We stayed in silence for a while longer, just so we could calm our heartbeats, then he started again.

"What are your plans? For college, I mean."

Looking back, he was worried. Worried out of his mind. Because the logical step after I finished high school was to go to college, and what would be of him? Where would he go? Perhaps he thought he meant so little to me that I could just leave him. He could've thought of those, as well as a million other things.

See, the second we started talking about any moment but now, everything fell apart. And I couldn't sense it at the time.

"I can't wait to hear the train of thought behind that", I told him, twisting my body so I could face him. He shrugged absentmindedly.

"A girl I used to go to class with is going to Harvard."

"No way, I'm not smart enough for Harvard", I shook my head with so much force it made me a bit dizzy. "Plus, it's far."

How inconsiderate was I? Not enough, I guess.

"I think you're smart."

"I like to think I'm smart but I'm not Harvard-smart."

He went quiet and I felt like I was missing out on something. Of course, he would tell me if something was wrong, right?

I was a temporary solution, and he needed a bed. Might as well pay for it.

Except it wasn't it. I don't—I refuse to—believe that every smile and every laugh was fake. Every word he ever said and every touch. If I believed that, maybe things would make more sense. But, if I believed that, I don't think there would be anything strong enough to keep me stitched together.

"I'll shut up now", he laughed it off. No big deal.

"It's late, nothing I can say now can possibly be coherent." I felt his chest rise and fall. Perhaps a snicker at the way my words mumbled together. I just wanted to go to sleep, not realising what luxury I lived in. A luxury that January lost.

Everything is coming back to me as clear as day and I still can't piece it up together. I don't understand how it all fell apart like a building during an earthquake. Because up to this point, nothing is wrong. Nothing has ever been more right in my life, and if I could turn back time never to meet him, I wouldn't. Because those moments I have with him are my clarity.

It's the last time we slept together until 2009., when it all started again. When my pain kickstarted and didn't leave. It hasn't left, but maybe it'll fade.


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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 1:00 pm

2016.

Anjali's asleep on my shoulder and I'm not far from drifting off as well. Yesterday there had been some issues with the seating area and of course they had Anjali, Weston and me running around the city to find some chairs. I downed a coffee so I'm relatively fine, but Anjali is far from it.

The 'competition', if you dared to call it that, is well on its way. The youngest classes and their teachers had recited their poems and we were working towards the older classes and us, a group of teachers who aren't a year away from their retirement. I see January every now and then, he's helping parents get to their seats, and my hand which is holding my two poems is getting sweaty.

I'm less than an hour of this being over. I will say what I have to say, he'll either understand it, or he won't, and that will be it.

Georgia hops into a room which serves as backstage.

"Shh", I tell her, pointing at Anjali. "Aren't you supposed to be at your stand?"

"My stupid boyfriend Tyler is taking over. I wanted to see how you two were doing. You got your poems ready?"

I raise my hand, and show her a floral notebook in Anjali's lap.

"We're not half-assing this, don't worry."

"Gasp, Teach. Was that a swear?"

"Fuck no." Georgia lets out a delighted giggle and Anjali shuffles in her sleep. "Teachers are humans after all. You should hear Sylvia when Clary leaves her alone to cook."

"I miss those two, you need to invite me for dinner so I can play with the cat."

Anjali spends more time with the girls as of lately, and they're set on making Anjali as comfortable with herself as possible. They're giving her a supportive family Clary never had growing up, and I wish I could help more, but Syvie kicked me out because every word I said was the most unhelpful thing in the world. At least Anjali appreciates me.

"I can't believe you managed to put yourself last", Georgia says as she skims the paper taped to the wall. It has the order of classes, and I'm last, on purpose. Anjali is one class before me, and I saw that Georgia didn't succeed in making January a poet for the day. He didn't have to do it, after all. He wasn't a teacher, just a helper, and he used it as an excuse.

"My only talent is avoiding responsibility."

"TBH."

No idea what that means. Lord, I am getting too old to hang out with teenagers.

"I've done some thinking."

"Ain't that dangerous."

She glares at me, but it has no fire in it.

"I wondered, who were you writing your poem for, and why? Like, there's got to be more behind it."

I sigh.

"You'll see, I guess. This day is going to become extremely dramatic extremely fast."

There's applause, and Anjali wakes up.

"Huh, what?"

"Morning", I tell her. She shuffles away from my shoulder and taps it.

"Sorry for using you as a pillow."

"Don't sweat it."

"Hi, Georgia. How's your book selling?"

"Oh, it's great. I'm gonna win a bet with teach Holbrook here", Georgia grins at me, and no matter how delinquent I had been in the past, there's no way I'm buying her a beer. I think she was joking, or at least I hope.

"Not even gonna ask. I don't care. Wait, crap, is it my turn?" she gets up and immediately rushes toward the stage.

"Anjali, no", I laugh. "Your class goes first."

"Well, bummer." She sits back down next to me and plays with her notebook. "Did you do as I told you?"

"Took me like a day."

"Hey, gang, I've a feeling you're excluding me. I want in on the action", Georgia pouts and sits on the ground in front of us. "Teach Holbrook always gives me half a story and I'm left to connect the pieces, but what's in my mind probably isn't as interesting as the real thing."

"Don't ask me, I know less than you, probably", Anjali says.

"Stop meddling. My love life is my love life", I huff.

"I mean, I don't know much, but I haven't seen you with anybody, ever. I could be wrong." Georgia glances at me with a wicked grin. "In other words, I don't even believe you have a love life."

I groan and lean my head back against a wall.

We talk for a while more, then it's Anjali's turn to read her poem. She does so; it's soft and sweet and about a forest, and at the moment I want to protect her from the outside world. Maybe we can keep her in our circles after my mind passes this storm.

Then my class reads their poems. Then it's just me.

"Guess it's my turn now", I sigh and get up, gripping my poems.

Georgia eyes me, then tiptoes up and gives me a hug.

"Good luck, Teach."

"Thanks, George", I say, slightly surprised, but I hug her back anyway. At this point, any sort of friendlyness is welcome.

"I'm in the first row with my fingers crossed", Georgia tells me and hops away.

I watch after her, and I change my mind. I can't. I can't read this poem. I can't end this.

I leave my poem on a chair and take my safe, boring poem and head to the stage.

There aren't many people in the audience. Parents of the kids in my class, some teachers, Georgia and Anjali sitting next to each other, and January sitting in the far back, not even looking up.

I stand in front of a microphone, place my poem onto the stand, and, be it destiny or clumsiness, it was the poem about him. I didn't check which one I left behind.

I inhale, thank the parents for another great year, praise my pupils, fill some five minutes with meaningless words, then I read the poem meant for him, only for him.

"I was fifteen and you were sixteen
And we were as tall as the mountains
And as bright as the sun
I was sixteen and you were seventeen
And I promised that your face would be
The last thing I see as I fall asleep
The first thing I see when I wake
I was seventeen and you were eighteen
And the second beach knew every line
Of the songs we called ours
I still call them ours
I was eighteen, you were nineteen
And it all crumbled and I was forced
To pick up the pieces and move on
Now I'm thirty-three, you're thirty-four
And I tried to kiss some other lips
I tried to wake up to someone else
I tried to forgive, or to forget
But then I'm fifteen and you're sixteen
And I love you all over again."

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 1:01 pm

2001.

Everyone has that moment when their childhood ends. For some it merely hides away, and for some it completely shatters. I thought I was going to be a child forever. I thought his arms would always be my shelter from the storm, and that we'd never be apart. It's a childish fantasy.

It was a normal day, a Saturday, early into the school year, and we had the inflatable mattress out since my parents saw him in my room the day before. We fell asleep together, tired after school, and I dreamt of him.

My dreams were often full of us, in different worlds, different times, different dimensions. What ifs, what abouts and why nots. What if I hadn't found him that day, freezing? What if I hadn't dared to ask for a kiss, or he didn't want it?

Would I settle with being lonely? Probably.

But dream-me, he didn't settle. He fought against the system, he took January somewhere far from here and found us shelter. He provided comfort and was no less than the best, because that's what January deserved. Not me, someone better.

Because I gave him my everything, and yet it felt like he gave more. Oh, that boy deserved the world, and I couldn't give it to him.

I can't imagine how afraid he was at those moments. Maybe he wasn't at all. Maybe he still trusted me.

Who knows what was going on in his beautiful brain. He never told me, and I was too young to want to know. Somehow it feels like I'm always hiding for the truth, under excuses that I was too young for it, or too scared, or it wasn't the right time.

The truth only hurts the liars.

Couldn't he notice all the times that last year when I changed the subject whenever the topic was us? I grew blind to giving, and took everything in my way.

I'm done. I'm so done with glorifying myself, pretending that I'm the absolute best and that everything I do is good because it's not. Everything that I touch inevitably falls to shit and people around me pick up the pieces, and I just move on, to destroy something new.

I destroyed us. Not January. Realising that makes my insides fall apart and I'm positive there's a black hole in my stomach and it's sucking out everything that I was and everything I am and it's destroying all hope that I'll ever be anything at all.

Here's how I remember it.

He wasn't in my room when I woke up, after dreaming about him. He can't have been long—the bedsheets on my left were warm, full of his scent (my shampoo, a bit of sweat, him), and I didn't think much of it. He was either in the shower, or eating breakfast, or doing homework in the living room. He was somewhere around, because that's where he always was. Close to me.

I stretched calmly, willing sleep out of my eyes and bones.

"J.J.?" I called out, trying to locate him. I got no answer, so I hopped out of my bed and got dressed. Perhaps he was out, I thought, even though I didn't know why, it didn't make sense to me.

I started walking around the house. Everywhere I looked was empty, the bathroom, living room, kitchen. Worry grew, and I headed outside. I called again. Nothing but the noise of the streets.

You know the feeling you get right before disaster? It's white and blurred around the edges and sharp. Your limbs start to shake, and your stomach turns. And you don't ever forget the feeling. It's not falling. It's constant tripping, dropping and crashing against the ground.

I heard voices coming from an alleyway not far from here, and, in lack of anything better to do, I walked towards them. When I got closer, I could distinguish the words they were saying.

Slurs of the worst kind, insults, horrible nicknames I heard in school, not necessarily directed at me, but it stung nonetheless. My name, somewhere in the mess of profanity. Laughter. Then, January's voice.

I felt like my legs were going to give out. It couldn't've been him. He would never say things like that. I never heard him say things like that.

More insults, but this time they were more specific. I heard someone being pushed into a trash container, the brick walls. Laughter, growing louder and meaner and it made me sick. I would've ran, but my feet wouldn't guide me away. Not until I knew what was going on.

I peeked out, and that must have been a mistake, because there was a gunshot, and I instinctively closed my eyes. When I opened them, January was holding the gun, and I felt like I was going to faint.

In my mind, it was clear as day. My jaw fell as I watched him, and I slowly backed away.

"Franks", he started to say something, but I couldn't stand to listen to more of his lies.

It was all a trick. He saw an opportunity to find a place to stay and he took it, taking me down with him. Of course. He saw a chance, and took it.

"Don't", I choked out. He was a part of one of those gangs, teenagers who have nothing better to do so they steal their fathers' guns and mock everybody, because nobody was as good as them. It was so obvious. My love for him was just a joke, everything was fake and I was too stupid to see it. "Don't ever talk to me again! Don't you fucking dare!"

I turned around and walked away from everything I knew. He never came back, and I began hating him. But nothing could ever replace what he was to me, so the hate slowly faded into wishes. Wishing that he was everything I wanted him to be, and not what I knew he was.

A gun was in my dreams for weeks. His face for years.

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PostSubject: Re: headfirst into the ocean   Mon Aug 07, 2017 1:01 pm

2016.

Before the obligatory applause, before any sound at all, there's a scratch of a chair against the ground. It's January, getting up and rushing out. I don't see his face.

I stay on stage, frozen, watching after him. I don't move until I feel a hand pulling me, and then I just follow wherever it leads. I don't care anymore.

"Frank", Anjali says in a hushed voice once we're backstage. "Go after him."

"No", I say, gulping back emotions threatening to engulf my voice. "I can't."

"You have to. You've started this, and now you have to finish it."

I hear footprints and hope it's January telling me to fuck off once and for all so I can continue my life without him in peace. It's not that easy. Footprints are Georgia's, and she ran to us, slightly breathless.

"Oh my god. Oh my god", she whispers. "Teach Holbrook, please go talk to him. It's… you. You're Wonderwall."

"What?" I ask—my voice breaks.

"I asked about his ringtone once when he was giving me school materials. He told me it reminded him of someone he lost. I thought someone died but it's you."

I don't know what happens afterwards. I just know I'm out of the school, out of the neighbourhood, trying to find a place where he would go. I go and try his flat first, it makes the most sense.

I don't know what to tell him.

On my way up, I pass Sacha and Ezra on the community couch, watching an action movie. They look at me and I can almost see pieces falling into place in their heads.

"Is January here?" I ask, panting a bit. I don't know when I lost my breath.

"Yeah", Sacha says. Something passes her face like a shadow. "Was it you who did something to piss him off or?"

"Probably", I say and climb the stairs to his flat. Once I'm in the hallway, with my hand on the door, I hear my heart beat in my ears and in front of my eyes. It's crushing me and for a second, I don't believe I can utter a word, let alone form sentences. Then I open the door.

He stands up the second he sees me. The back of his knees is still touching the bed, and he's staring at me with his lips parted. We do nothing for a couple of seconds, letting time pass aimlessly.

"I…" he starts, his voice hollow and unfocused. "I don't know what to say."

"Um. I had—I needed to get some closure. I guess." I just blurt it out.

"Closure?" he asks. "That—that's the opposite—" he stutters out. "Y—you can't—" he then stops and calms down a bit, so he can string together a proper sentence. "Why did you do it?"

"I… just wanted to get it out."

"No!" he shakes his head. "Not that. Why did you leave me? Why did you take me to the beach that time? Why did Vegas happen? Why do you keep giving me these false hopes just to shoot them down? I mean, let me live!"

"Because I love you and I can't just let it go!"

He stops and looks at the ground. Whispers something.

"What?"

"You never said it."

More silence, more waiting, the dust is settling and my lungs feel like they're expanding against restraints. "Why did you leave me?" he asks once again, quietly.

I force myself to think about it, truly think about it after all these years. I don't want to, but I do.

"Because—There was a gun! And… words…"

"You…" He stares at me as if he wants to drill holes into my skull. "You thought I said them? That… I shot the gun?"

"Yes."

"How?" he asks, and it's such a simple, genuine question it leaves me speechless. "How could you think that?" I open my mouth but nothing comes out. He inhales, deeply, and it's a bittersweet reminder of something so very far. "They threw rocks at the window of your bedroom, and I woke up. I went out, to tell them to stop, but they dragged me away. It was their guns. Their… terrible words. I would never say such things. I thought… I'd hoped you'd have a higher opinion of me." He runs his fingers through his hair, trying to steady his voice. "Is that why you've abandoned me?"

Abandon. A harsh, sharp word. It knocks out all air I had in my lungs. It bounces around my head and tears down everything it finds. I did that, didn't I? How could I?

"I thought it was you."

"And… why did you kiss me? All those times after?"

"Because I still loved you."

A silence falls, in which neither of us know what to say. I miss the comfortable silences around him, when we didn't have to say anything. But he's so far from me now.

"Fifteen years", he finally says.

"What?"

"I spent fifteen years wondering what I did wrong. How I hurt you. Turns out, I did nothing."

I cannot breathe. Every reason I ever had against him was completely gone. He is still as perfect as he was. It's me. I ruined everything.

"Um", his voice gets high-pitched as I'm struggling to keep myself standing, "I don't know how to process all of this."

I look down, trying not to show emotions, but I know I'll break sooner or later. Why do I end up hurting him? I feel my hands shaking. Maybe I want to reach out for him. After everything, he's still a rock I lean onto, even though I've done nothing to deserve him. Everything's slowly falling apart and I can't pick up the pieces.

"I just… I have to go."

I don't want you to leave, I think. Please stay.

I'm still staring at the floor when the door creaks and he walks out. My legs finally give out and I slide down against the wall. The door slams shut.

I can't believe he's finally gone.

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