Words: 13,553 • Date: Jul-17-2018 • Warning: NSFW

“This was our thing. An needs and I give. An wants and I give. And that was fine by me.” (Or: A study in love, friendship, intimacy and a relationship that stays in-between.)

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Notes:

Tristan and Andrei (and Chase, Ragine, and company) were characters from my first novel. It was about a girl (Ragine) writing a novella inspired by the interesting people who lived in her apartment building. It was very very problematic because I just about romanticized every fucking thing. EVERY FUCKING THING. Give me some slack, I was like, fifteen.

So while the novel had been tucked away in my dark corners, what I did here is take some of the more interesting characters and dust their stories off for a better and more nuanced exercise on character study.

Here is one, about perhaps the strongest, non-romantic, but intimate relationship between two of my faves from the old novel. I hope you enjoy!

hey, beautiful. i love you.

We can talk it so good. We can make it so divine.
We can talk it good, how you wish it would be all the time.
Lorde: “Ribs”

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When I was ten, I told a crazy woman that I thought my best friend was pretty.

Okay, so. Not a random crazy woman I met on the street, per se. More like, the crazy woman who lived in the house across the street.

Aunt Rena was a nice lady. The other adults used to tell me that she was crazy because she didn’t talk to people and just sang in her room all day, and because she never went out the house and was always lookin’ out the window at nothing. I always thought Aunt Andrea was more fun, but mom always told me that she might be a bit crazy too, ’cause she still acted like a ‘delinquent teenager even though she already had two kids and a husband’.

They were not my real aunts. My real aunts lived several towns away. I was Ragine’s and Andrei’s playmate so I was always over at their house. Thinking back on it now, it was actually a mansion, but Little Me just saw it simply as it was: a house.

To everyone in the house, I was “that congresswoman’s kid”.  To Gine’s and An’s mom, Aunt Andrea, I was “Andrei’s friend from school”. To her sister, Aunt Rena, I was always and only ever “Tristan”.

Aunt Rena was like that. She saw people as who they are and not as who they belonged to.

The family kept Aunt Rena in the attic room, where she couldn’t ‘bother’ the rest of them. Ragine liked spending time with her, though. So sometimes An and I were there too. Aunt Rena liked us enough, and when she got into one of her ‘moods’, she would softly ask us to “go along now, don’t be spending your time here with strange old me”.

Aunt Rena was a nice lady, really. She wasn’t… violent. She never screamed, like crazy women on TV did. She was just a bit… wishy-washy and… well, weird. Up until now, I’m not even sure if Aunt Rena had really been sick, because for all we knew she could simply be an awesome super-weird lady. Our house maid used to tell me to stay away from her, but Little Me was stubborn, looked it up in books and proved that whatever Aunt Rena had wasn’t contagious. So she finally let me go and there I went, to the house across the street, hanging out with my best friends and their crazy aunt.

This crazy aunt I confided into because she was a nice lady, and she didn’t talk, and I wasn’t even sure if she would really listen to me, and maybe she would just brush it off because she didn’t care… And for me, it had felt… safe. To tell her. Because she was… quiet. (And about to say goodbye.) And I was… this ten-year-old kid who was afraid to be judged and needed someone to tell and needed that someone not to judge.

“Hello, Tristan.” she greeted me kindly that day as I tentatively stepped inside her room. She looked expectantly, perhaps assuming that Ragine and Andrei would follow.

“Hello, auntie.” I replied, standing awkwardly by the doorway. I’ve never been alone with her before.

Aunt Rena was sitting idly on her bed. I might have interrupted her daily staring-blankly-into-nothing session… but still, she smiled. “Andrei and Ragine are not here, sweetheart.” Even when talking, she still sounded like she was singing.

“I know. Um. I wanted to… say… hi.”

“Oh. Well, hello.” Aunt Rena was a nice lady – I repeat. She nodded and then pat the space beside her on the bed. I took that as a sign and eagerly sat with her. “And?”

“I… um… don’t know who to tell. I… I thought you’ll… be nice… about it. And, um… okay. I feel weird.”

She didn’t answer that, and simply urged me to continue by laying a gentle hand on my head.

I frowned then. “So, ummm, I was with An a few days ago? And… err, we were playin’ with these old stuff my cousin Nora left at the house ’cause mom told us to sort ’em out and, and we found some costumes and wigs and… things. T’was fun. We dressed up a bit and then… then An tried this princess dress thing with the ribbons and fluff and t’was too big, really, and I told him to try on the wig ’cause his hair’s short and… um. He looked… pretty.”

Aunt Rena looked at me. “An is a pretty boy. He takes after his mom, and you’ve seen Andy, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, I know that. The other boys at school always tell him that he looks like a girl. ‘Cause he’s so small, and pretty-looking. They get mean sometimes, but An’s got a good right hook and he kicks butt.” She laughed, then let me continue. “So… so I kinda sorta expected ‘im to look pretty. So when he dressed up, I told him it looks nice on him, and he said ‘really? you mean it?’ and he looked really happy ’bout it, so I said ‘yeah, like a real princess’, though the dress is really too big. And that.”

“And you feel… weird?”

“Yeah, ’cause it’s been like a week and it’s weird ’cause I’m still thinkin’ that An’s pretty. And not in the mean way, y’know, like those boys at school? I just…  It’s weird, he looked like he really liked that I said it looked nice. Like, when the others tease him ’bout lookin’ like a girl, he gets angry but I said he looks like a princess and he’s really happy. It’s weird.”

So yeah I used ‘weird’ a lot when I couldn’t find a word for something.

Aunt Rena had hummed, a tune I wouldn’t remember now but I knew was soothing to me at the time. “Well, I think he didn’t get angry because it was you. You weren’t making fun of him then, right?”

“N-No, ‘course not! An can’t help havin’ that face like, um, like Aunt Andy. He’s, like, born like that.”

“What if An tells you that he wants to be a girl?”

I stopped. “Huh? A girl? But he’s-… not. Like, like he’s gay?”

“Not exactly. Like he feels that he’s a girl and now he wants you to see him as a girl too, because you said it, he can’t help it if he’s born like that.”

“But An doesn’t want to be a girl.”

“How do you know?”

I stopped again, considering. “Huh? ‘Cause-… ’cause it’s An. An’s… a boy. An would tell me. Right?”

“I’m not sure.” she had said, always still humming. “If he tells you, what would you think?”

“I… I dunno. It’s… I don’t know? But… but not like An doesn’t look like a girl already. Did he like the dress and hair, that’s why he’s happy I didn’t laugh at him?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay, maybe An wants to be a girl. Is he gay?”

“Will it matter?”

I thought about that for a while, then somewhere in my train of thought I got distracted and might have surprised Aunt Rena when I grabbed her arm and asked, “Am I gay ’cause I thought An’s pretty? I keep thinkin’ I liked how he… how he looked like. Like, his face? I like his face better than Gine’s or the other girls and I keep thinkin’ he’ll look like really really pretty with longer hair, like a girl, but An, and-“

She simply smiled at me and pat my head. “Do you mean it that he’s pretty?”

“Well, y-yeah, ’cause, well, I can’t say that he’s ugly ’cause he isn’t, but-… the other kids at school would make fun of me-“

“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with you, sweetheart. You’re honest and sweet, and you should always be.” she said, then stroked my unruly hair reassuringly. “Let’s not put labels on everything. Maybe it was such a new thing to see An dressed like that, so you kept thinking about it. But maybe it’s because you like An. Nothing wrong with either of that. Give it time. Maybe An wants to be a girl, maybe he simply found it fun to dress up. Give him time, too.”

“Will people hate me if I’m gay?”

At the time, I knew they were people being discriminated against because of that. I wasn’t against them, either. My mom was liberal, she always talked about equal rights and tolerance – and made sure I understood it growing up. But I was also a kid, feeling weird around my best friend, and my mom was a politician who barely had time to spare for her only son, and I… Well. I felt alone and scared.

And then Aunt Rena took a deep breath and leaned down to press her forehead against mine.

“I don’t know about people, but I know that I won’t.” she said, voice even softer than normal. “Always remember that, okay, Tristan?”

I nodded then, worried and tentative but feeling relieved as well.

Ten year-old me must’ve calmed down right after that, reassured – comforted – that whatever it was I was going through, I already have one person on my side.

You’d think it won’t be enough for a kid – but it was more than enough for me. I couldn’t have known, back then, how much those words would help not just me, but also my best friend.

“You’re so young.” I remembered Aunt Rena whispering, with a smile on her face that looked both sad and sweet. “You have so much of yourself to discover. So much more of you to learn to love.”

She had kissed my forehead, and then asked me if I want to hear a new song.

Thinking about it, I think we all gave Aunt Rena less credit than she deserved, at the time. Just because she was strange and different. I wished I was there for her when she passed away, but they didn’t let a twelve-year old in. I was left standing outside the attic room, holding An’s hand. Ragine was the one beside her deathbed, and even though she had no voice, we heard her sobbing as Aunt Rena sang her last song.


When I was thirteen, I told my best friend that he looked pretty.

An looked taken aback when I said that, asking me, “Really?”

I said, “Yeah. Really.”

His fingers lingered on the tips of his hair, which he refused to cut for months. By then, they reached past his shoulders. He looked hesitant. “Do you mean ‘pretty’ like you mean ‘girly’?”

“I… don’t think that’s a bad thing?”

He seemed to think hard on it for a while before he said, “No. It’s not.”

Then after a few seconds, he said, “Thanks.”


When I was fourteen, I told my best friend that he looked gorgeous – but that was after I nearly died from almost choking on soda.

An looked at me incredulously, blushing, part surprised and part embarrassed. “T-Tris-… Tris! Are you makin’ fun of me?!”

As soon as I was safe from dying via carbonated beverage, I quickly said, “No! No no no no, An, I mean it! You look great!”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.” I said again, trying not to look too… awkward… or anything, trying to keep a straight face on as I looked at An up and down.

His hair had fallen down to his waist by then. He had refused to cut it, despite his dad’s displeasure and his mom’s teasing.

A dark blue denim dress was hugging his form.

“I don’t look weird?”

He had asked me to come over that afternoon, tellin’ me he had something to ask me, and then I found him lookin’ like that (like, you know, stunning) and he asked me what I thought about it.

I didn’t ask him why he was dressing up like that. It wasn’t important.

He was asking me how that outfit looked on him so I simply gave an answer.

“No, you don’t look weird.”

“Tris, I’m dressed up like a girl.” he said.

I blinked. “So?”

“I’m… not one.”

“You are if you say so. And like, did you hear what that girl from the senior class was shouting about the other day? She was all like ‘CLOTHES HAVE NO GENDER’ and… well, she looked really scary angry, but she also… like, she had a point. Mom’s always fightin’ for that sort of stuff too. So. I dunno, you should wear what you like.”

He looked at me blankly, and I shrugged, drinking soda again, now that I’ve gotten my composure back.

“…You really think so?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s just… I like clothes.”

“I know, you just. Like. Drag me shopping with you every week.”

“I like dresses. They- They’re so fun.”

“They look fun.” I said, conceding, although I took one look at the complicated laces at the side of what he was wearing and thought I didn’t know shit about how dresses work.

“Your mom talks to you about this stuff. Does that make me a girl?”

“I mean… not… unless you think so? There’s… I don’t remember how she said it. Like, with colors and stuff. She said it’s not bi-. .. Bisexual? No. No wait, that’s different. It’s not, like, binary? I think?”

“Oh. The spectrum thing. I saw that somewhere.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s a spectrum, she said. I don’t totally get it, but like, she said it was all… valid, and stuff.”

“I don’t wanna be a girl, though.” An said, pulling at his dress. “Well. I’m… not sure…”

“Then just be whatever you wanna be, no big.”

Again – “You really think that’s fine?” – but this time, before I could answer, he asked, “I want to wear this to school. You think people will… think I’m a freak or hate me or something? Shit, who am I kidding-“

At that point, I decided to say the words that saved me from hating or shaming myself all those years ago. “I don’t know about people, but I know that I won’t.”

Back then, Aunt Rena told me to ‘Always remember that, okay, Tristan?’

And I did. I hope I made her proud.

“Okay, then… so… Um.” An started, finally smiling excitedly. He grabbed my hand. “Come with me, I wanna surprise Gine.”

“Oh, boy. She’ll scream.”

She didn’t, but dang did she almost drop the porcelain doll she was trying to dress up.


When I was sixteen, I told my best friend that it should be illegal to mix that impossibly short miniskirt with his perfect pair of legs.

But who was I tryin’ to kid? An always did what he wanted and looked great doing it.

At the time he just looked at me with a smug smile, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

I looked up at him blankly. “Wha-… What was that for?”

“For always being nice to me. You’re so cool, you know that?” was all he said, and then he asked me if I would please help him unbuckle his strappy heels because he was quickly regretting putting them on at all.

I agreed, I hated those shoes. They were confusing and impractical.

As I worked on the buckles, I heard him say, “Hey, Tris?”

“Yeah?”

“I just decided. I’m not a boy.”

I looked up, raised an eyebrow to ask, “So… Girl?”

An looked unsure, frowning. “Not a girl, either. I think.”

I nodded. That was new, but we can work with that. “Okay. You’re still An, though?”

A smile. “Yeah. I’m still me.” Then, “Can you use ‘them’ for me?”

“Use what?”

Them. The pronoun. Them and they. Because I’m not he or she, and… and I don’t know, I just… It feels right. I’ve been looking it up, and it’s a thing, apparently. But it’s fine if you don’t wanna-”

I grinned as I stopped struggling with the petulant shoe buckle and perched my chin on his- their knee, instead. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay. I’ll use that from now on. No big.” I said, shrugging, and I gave An a look that hopefully told them that I understood. Maybe not fully, but enough. “So. Hello? I guess.”

“Hello.” An whispered, a bit choked up.

I took that as my cue and went back to unbuckling An’s confusing, impractical shoes.


When I was seventeen, I told my best friend that they were pretty, and this time they didn’t answer that with a question.

Instead An said, “I know.” with a heartbreaker smile as they wrapped my sheets around their them while I lay on the bed beside them that night.

“Good.” I replied, smiling back when they stroked my hair. “You should.”

“Hey,” An started to say, then cut themself off and thought for a while. I kept quiet. Then, they said, “You… um, you like me, right?”

I looked at them, raising an eyebrow. “What kind of question- I mean? I won’t have sex with you if-“

“No, I just… we-… uh. I mean, this is not pity sex, right?”

Then I understood.

Because that night was our first time with each other, mere days after I broke up with my first girlfriend. Well, first actual girlfriend, I think. First girlfriend to last more than a month, to be exact.

I tried to joke around to avoid the topic. “For you or for me?” I asked with a small chuckle.

“For both of us. God, Tris – I’m not joking.” they snapped, withdrawing the gentle hand from my head. “I know I make out and sleep around with-… well, a lot of people, ’cause… I dunno, ’cause I think it’s fun and it feels good, maybe? But you-… I like you. I-… well…”

I gulped slowly, then looked at An, hugging their knees, looking all small and vulnerable.

Looking so closed.

It felt wrong.

“An?”

They mumbled, “Forget it.”

“No. An. Hey, look at me.” I sat up that time, peering closer and then pulling their arms from their knees, trying to get them to open up again. “What d’you wanna tell me? I’m listening.”

An sighed, letting me take their hands but not allowing me to take them in my arms just yet. An was so small, it would be so easy… but I didn’t want to force them. They looked away tentatively, then said, “Look, we kiss a lot, right?”

“Yeah. More than average. I mean. For friends. But you kiss a lot of people anyway so-”

“So there.” A snort. “So I know right now you probably think it’s just me being clingy and just messing around like with everyone else for fun. You’re game like that. ‘Cause you’ve known me for ages and I kiss everyone anyway and yeah… it’s, whatever. Sure. But now there’s this and… I didn’t really think before doing it but… but isn’t this just something like, perfect timing? I’m up for cheap fun and you’re sad, so why not? Like-

“Hey, hey, stop. It’s not like that-“

“It’s totally like that! You don’t even like guys. You have so many girlfriends-“

“I date a lot of girls. That’s different-“

“How about me? Is it because I look like a-“

“I like girls. And you. Doesn’t matter, it’s just… you. That’s all.”

“You’re just saying that. You probably just let me do whatever because you are sad and I’m horny anyway so-“

This time I was the one to snap. “I like you! Okay, is that what you wanna hear? There, I said it. You really can’t believe that maybe I did this ’cause I actually wanted to? I always call you on your bullshit, An. So believe me, when you cross a line, you’ll know. I’m half of… this.”

An frowned and looked at me. They bit their lip. “But… We’ve never- You never- It’s just-… ’cause you’re sad. Right? It’s obvious, you’ve been down the whole week, I know-“

“I’m not. Well, a bit. Actually, I’m more confused than sad, at this point.”

An was quiet. I was, too, because I really didn’t know how to continue. Until An groaned. “Shit. You’re not even gay.”

“It’s not about that. Also, I don’t know how exactly that’s supposed to work, technically. I mean between you and me. Is that still gay? I don’t know. Shit gets more confusing when you try to sort ’em into neat boxes-“

“I know.”

I sighed, out of patience. Because I was seventeen and confused but not sorry. “I like you. I don’t know if it’s ‘like’ like, but you’re my best friend and I did this with you because… whatever, because it’s safe, and you know I love you.”

“Yes, I know, you put up with me.”

Because I love you.”

An took a deep breath before finally saying, “I hear that a lot.”

I could believe that. Because I know. I was usually there. At school, An was beautiful and charming and talented, the right blend of Righteous to fend off bullies, and Social Butterfly to be adored and relatable. An was a breaker of hearts but also the life of the party. An wore their reputation like a crown, owned whatever was thrown at them so it became theirs rather than her opposition’s. An liked people and attention.

People and attention liked An back.

An usually knew how to deal with it. But there were rare times they don’t.

“You don’t have to say it back.” I said.

“I love you too.” he said back. “You should know that. I’ll always say it back if it’s you, I think. Is that weird?”

“It’s not.” I shook my head. “Maybe because I already know.”

“So… why are you confused?”

“I’m confused about being confused, too.” I groaned. “‘Cause I’ve been dating these girls, right? And they’re wonderful and they kiss great and… and it’s all fun but after all those stuff I don’t feel any different, like… I dunno, I just can’t make myself feel like you guys do. Like… like those butterflies and blushes and giggling you do. I don’t… I dunno, I haven’t had that yet, okay? So… so yeah, breakin’ up with someone’s sad, but… I’m sad because it’s like… I just couldn’t feel… more. About ’em. But I’m not like sad because they left me, because I understand. They’re looking for something I can’t give.”

“That’s bullshit. You’re the sweetest fucking creature I know, maybe you just need more time-“

“I can’t make them wait everytime.” I said with a shrug. “Not even sure if I want to bother, ’cause I’ve just… got this feelin’ that it’s not really my thing. But I think they’re wonderful, I swear. And I think you are wonderful too. Okay?”

An looked at me like they don’t know if they should believe me or not, then slowly withdrew their hands from mine. “I don’t get you. I think.”

“I don’t get you, usually you’re all game about this stuff, why are you interrogatin’ me now?”

“‘Cause it’s you, stupid!” they snapped, glaring at me uncertainly. “You’re my best friend! And I don’t want to mess things up! I don’t want to fuck up and make you think I… I used you. ‘Cause I mess around a lot, and… and sometimes it’s just for fun, ’cause it’s nice and feels good and it’s hot, but you-“

“-had fun. Like you. Look, An. I know you won’t do that to me.”

They still looked hesitant. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. If you did that, maybe I’ll just punch you back to your senses or somethin’.” – that bit made them chuckle. “So yeah. Are we good?”

They smiled a bit, then nodded. “We’re good.” They leaned over and kissed me, and An finally let me take them into my arms as we fell back on the bed.

I jokingly said, “We should do this more often.” and An slapped my shoulder half-heartedly.

“What does this make us, anyway?”

“Hell if I know. Friends?”

“Yeah, that’ll do.”


When I was eighteen, my best friend told me that they had found “the keeper”. Plot twist: it wasn’t me.

That was around the time that I left home because I couldn’t bear the emptiness of it, after some stupid argument with my mom. It was also right after when An and Gine’s dad died, and with Aunt Andy gone like the wind, An and Gine had decided they’d also had enough of their soulless mansion. Ragine was nineteen, legal, had guardianship of her sibling and enough inheritance to get both her and An through college and well beyond. But they often liked the simpler things, those two. They didn’t stake any claim to their dad’s company. They… up and left. 

And anyway, it was an open secret that their dad didn’t think a mute daughter was worth his time, and the second child wasn’t really his to begin with.

An and Gine moved out of the mansion, rented themselves one little flat.Started over, fresh.

I slept on their couch.

We had no plans, all three of us. Ragine didn’t want to do college and instead started assisting her artsy university professor boyfriend in this classes, and part-timed in the local library.

An and I were on our last year of high school. And we really had no idea what to do after that. I was good at math, maybe I’d take some math. An could be a model but maybe they’d like to hold on to their music.

And then one afternoon, Andrei dropped the bomb.

“What do you think of him?”

“Who?”

“Chase.”

I looked at An then, standing gingerly by the lockers, waiting for me to take out my books. An wasn’t used to asking these sorta stuff.

“Chase? He’s… fine, I guess? Why’re you asking me?”

“I like him.”

I laughed. “Yeah, he’s got that boy-next-door look. You like those types.”

“No, Tris. Like… I like him.”

Well, that was new.

“Huh.”

“…yeah.” They trailed off softly. “What do you think?”

I like Chase. Chase was my friend too. He lived in the same building as An and Gine, got along spectacularly with everyone, and I saw how An could fall for his blond-haired blue-eyed kind-hearted boy-next-door charm. He was a good guy. Was a ray of sunshine, really.

I made a show of thinking hard on it, then finally faking a sob. “I can’t believe you’re replacing me, An.”

They hit me on the head with their thickest notebook, then did their best not to laugh. 

.

My mom and I were the only family each other really had. It didn’t take too long for us to make up, for me to go back to our house. But as caring as she was, she had also always been distant. We loved each other something fierce, but I had been accustomed to the space we always had between us.

For a while after I came back, she tended to tip-toe around me. It made the usually stilted conversations… well… more stilted and this time, awkward.

“My party’s having this gala next weekend… Saturday, afternoon.”

That wasn’t new. I’ve lived all my life being my mom’s special good boy for her galas. Less and less as I grew older, but I could still be counted on occasionally.

“Okay. Do you… like, need me there?”

She smiled, hopeful. “It would mean so much. I have many important friends coming, and I’d like you to meet them.”

I’ve long resigned myself to eventually disappointing my mom and telling her that I wouldn’t be following her footsteps. But, like. I wasn’t about to start another fight, so soon. So I thought perhaps this time I’d just go without any argument.

I must have taken too long to reply, because she grew worried. “You can take Andrei, if you want. He’s- Oh, wait. It’s them, now, right? That’s-… You told me that, a while back. Didn’t you?”

“Uh. Yeah.” I nodded, still awkward. “It’s… Yeah. An’s a them.”

“Well, they’re invited. How is An, by the way? Oh, and Ragine! Does she have college plans? The poor things, and we don’t even know where their mother ran off to and-”

“Gine’s still making art, and she works at the library. An’s planning on music school. Why do you want them at your party?”

She gave me a helpless shrug. “Because… you know-? It’ll be nice…?”

“Mom, I swear, if you just want to show off your golden boy son whose best friends are a nonbinary teenager and a disabled person for, like, diversity points or to cozy up to the LGBT people-”

“No!” she sounded upset, which shut me up. “Honey, no! I love An and Ragine, and we don’t do that… that diversity points thing! I just thought you’d… You’d want to start sharing these things with An, eventually. Since, you know… you’re… you’re together? Are you… um, steady, at this point-”

“…What? Mom- What?

She sighed. “I know, we haven’t talked about it. And… you never really came out to me, but then again, you didn’t have to.”

What. What was she talking about, exactly?

“-I’m actually happy that we’ve had these things so normalized in this household, and you didn’t feel the need to hide from-”

I stopped her, actually sitting in the chair across from her. “Mom. What. Are you talking about-”

“Aren’t you and Andrei together? Dating?”

I almost choked as I held back my laugh. “What made you think that?”

This time, she looked very very unimpressed. The kind of look she gave political opposition when they made a really stupid argument in a debate, or worse, a bigoted statement in a press conference. It was that bad. “Honey. Just a couple weeks ago, I cooked breakfast and had to rush adding in something for a third person because I hadn’t known that An slept over. An was wearing your clothes-”

“-An’s always worn my clothes-”

“-which gave me a very candid view of the… marks… on his- sorry, their – neck.”

I groaned, and buried my face in my hands. “Oh, God.”

An, why are you shameless?

Me, why are you blind and dead in the mornings?

Mom went on- “And I’m not against it, I already said I love An. And I know I taught you enough about safety-”

“Mom- Mom, no. We’re not-” Deep breaths, Tristan. This was just your mom. She’s cool, she’s chill. You hardly really know her, but she loves you and she’s chill. “Okay, fine, we fool around, yeah? But we’re not-… It’s not… a thing. Well, it’s a thing, but it’s a different thing. It’s- We’re not. We’re not really dating.”

Mom looked confused, then disappointed, and then disheartened. “Oh… Well, it’s casual then?”

“Yeah. Please… uh, stop talking.”

“You have no girl- boyfriend… partner, then?”

“No, mom. I’m not in a relationship right now. Let’s please end this conversation.”

A sigh. Mom was sad. It was terrible. I haven’t even told her that I was going to be an engineer and not a politician like her, and she was in misery. At the time, I remember thinking that I’ve got a tough few years ahead of me.

“Oh, well.” she shrugged. “An and Gine are still invited. You look good together, all three of you. And An’s very good with people.”

I nodded. “I’ll invite them.” Then, as an afterthought, “An might wear a dress.”

Mom laughed. “Oh, those dresses An wears? I’d wear those too if I could pull them off like that kid does.” She shook her head, now wistful. “A lot of people say An took after Andy’s trouble-making, party-girl life, but I digress. The kid has infinitely more grace and charm than that negligent mother of theirs. Tell them I think that.”

When I called An to pass along the invite, even including my mom saying dresses are okay, they instantly declined.

“I thought you loved parties?”

“Yeah, but not stuffy old people parties. Those are boring.”

“Okay, well. Mom sends her love. And she said something else, too.”

“What?”

I told them about that last comment, about how mom thought An was different than Aunt Andy. About how An was better-

And then An said fine, they were coming in a nice classy dress, to be pretty in my arm and be sweet to my mom’s stuffy old person friends.

“Huh. What changed your mind?”

“Your mom is cool and knows exactly how to validate me. Tell her I love her too.”


When I was nineteen, somehow my best friend and I thought that it would be a nice idea to commemorate my moving in to my college dorm room by making out on the bed.

Then midway, we paused because I drew away. “Wait wait wait waaaait An, you’re with Chase.”

An looked at me blankly, then blinked. “No. I’m almost with Chase.”

I blinked right back. “I thought you were serious about him. You two’re serious about each other. Or something.”

“Yes, but he’s full of mixed signals, and I care about him too much to force it and scare him off. So yeah we are going somewhere, maybe almost there, but not there yet because I’ve been might’ve been pretty vocal about wanting to date him but he hasn’t said back anything, yet. At all. We’re… ugh. Friends.” An rolled their eyes. “Technically, I’m not cheating on anyone. And we’re just kissing, you know.”

“Um, no. No we’re not.”

We both looked at my hand I had already instinctively slid under their dress, and An’s hands that had already managed to undo the three top buttons of my shirt.

“Do you want to stop now?” An asked.

“Ummmm…. no.”

They managed to say “Same here.” before I was kissing them again.

But it was a silent agreement, I kept my hand on their hips and An just ran theirs on my hair instead. To be safe.

“I’ll miss you, nerd. Good luck dealing in this hellhole-slash-university.” An said, fingers ghosting over my face as if they were trying to memorize it. “I’ve looked around and it looks boring as fuck.”

I wanted to kid around and tell them that it was high time we went to separate classes at last, but that wasn’t the right time so I just smiled and said, “Heh. Go kick ass in music school, yeah?”

An nodded. “I always kick ass.”

.

Three months in, An called me to tell me that he was finally dating Chase and they were both very happy.

“Well, I’m happy for you guys.” I told them, and I meant it.

Chase wasn’t like An’s usual conquests, who were party guys and girls, and more often than not just one or two-time flings.

So. This was different.

“I never thought I’d see you get steady with anyone, An.”

“Ouch. Are you judging me?”

“Nope, if I judge you, I judge me too.”

“Ugh. How ’bout you? How many girls so far?”

“Two, thank you very much for asking. They were really nice.”

“Were? Past tense?”

“Past tense.” I said, because one was just a drunk make out session in a party and the other one was just a cute coffee date that didn’t really work out.

“Oh, well. When you meet someone you don’t want to past-tense, introduce me to her.”

“Well, I don’t want to past-tense you, but you’re not here.”

“Stop flirting with me.”

“Ew. I never flirt with you. That’s like, so weird.”

“Yeah, you usually just go straight to fucking me.”

I gasped, for the sheet drama of it. “For shame, An! I don’t do that, I make sure to ask first!”

“Oh, yeah. You do. Goddammit. I miss your stupid face.”

“An, we’re literally on Facetime.”

There was a pout, then. “Still.” they yawned, and groaned as they rubbed at their eyes sleepily. “I got this lame ass piano recital tomorrow. It’s… it’s so lame. Music is lame.”

“You’ll ace it. You’ve been playing since you were in diapers. I know ’cause I was there. Also in diapers but whatever.”

A laugh. “Whatever. I love you.”

That made me pause, and I realized that An rarely ever said those words first, so casually. “Um. I love you too.” Then, “Have you told Chase that yet?”

“Yeah.”

“Then?”

“He gets this stupidly gorgeous sad-happy-wonderful fucking smile on his face and says it back. And I’m like, down.”

“Aw, someone’s smitten!”

“Oh my God. I regret everything about you.” An groaned, but they couldn’t hide the grin on their face. “I’m goin’ to bed. Get some sleep on you too, panda eyes.”

“I will. Night.”


When I was twenty, at university several miles away from home, my best friend sent me a message to tell me that they broke up with who we all thought was “the one”.

And when I called to ask An what happened, they won’t answer.

I resorted to messaging his sister instead, because Ragine would know. Ragine never avoided me.

How’s An?’

There was no reply.

I had Chase’s number, but it might be awkward if I ask him about his break-up with my best friend. I had the others’ numbers – Thea’s and Max’s and Owen’s and even Alicia’s, who was practically just some friend’s friend’s girlfriend – but I might as well be breaking news I had no right to break.

So I did what I felt like I had to do, really. It was term break and I finished my schoolwork early. You’d think I’d stay and hang out with the brand new friends, and maybe hook up with the hot girl who’s been eyeing me all semester, right? Good ol’ Tristan would never pass up such an opportunity.

I called quits and told all my new friends plus the hot girl that I was spending the break back home.

So that night after a trip from uni, I found myself standing outside the door of An and Gine’s apartment unit, phone in hand, typin’ out a text:

‘knock knock!’

It took An approximately five seconds not to text me, but to CALL me.

No pleasantries, he was down to the point as soon as I picked up. “Alright loser, what is it?”

I grinned as I asked back, “Why don’tcha open the door to find out?”

A pause.

A thud of something falling (or maybe being dropped) on the floor, several footsteps, and then the door burst open-

“HOLY SHIT.” An declared, looking at me with wide brown eyes, phone still pressed to their ear.

An was wearing a mini dress and heels, and very large dangling earrings. Probably about to head out somewhere and break some poor unsuspecting person’s heart.

I didn’t drop the silly grin plastered stupidly on my face as I spread my arms wide and asked, “What, no welcome-home glomp?”

Finally, An smiled back. “You wish.”

I got my welcome-home glomp, catching An as they threw their arms around my neck and gave me the best freaking kiss I’ve had for months. I returned with enthusiasm as I caught them, hugged them back and managed to lift them off the floor as them held tighter. We didn’t break apart as I kicked my bag to slide it forward, then stumbled with An inside the flat and closed the door behind us.

I don’t even really remember how we both landed on the couch, me on top of And, still while making out-… well, I never remember anyway, somehow we always just end up like that, specially if we were drunk.

Difference is, that night we weren’t drunk.

When we pulled apart for breath, I drew away, realizing that I was hovering over An in the couch. “Hey. Um. I’m back.” I said awkwardly. “Hello.”

“Hi.” An chuckled, hands tangled in my hair, then sliding them down to rest by my neck, and finally to the collar of my coat, which we both gladly slipped off. “Welcome home, Tris.” An said, leaning up shortly to give me a peck on the cheek. “What’s up?”

“I dunno, I just got here like five seconds ago and we’re already makin’ out. What’s up?

“Shut up, you like it.” An said, smug. They made themself comfortable on the couch, then noticed my luggage. “Long trip?”

I nodded, slumping down lazily on top of An, who stroked my hair. I felt like some overgrown cat acting like a blanket. “Yeah, it’s term break. Thought I’d visit. And make out with my best friend on the couch the second I step inside their flat. It’s all planned, y’see.”

“Liar. You didn’t even go to your mom first?”

“I’m tired.” I answered. “Can’t handle another hour on a ride. So let me crash here, okay? I told mom already.”

An raised an eyebrow, a suspicious smile on their pretty face. “Just crash here?”

“I dunno, anything else we can do besides this?” I asked, pretending to be innocent.

Lord knows I’m very far from innocent at the moment.

“Oh, well, there’s a lot more we can do…”

There it was, the suggestion.

“Really?”

“Like play a game, maybe? Cook dinner, clean the house, look through magazines, watch a movie…”

“…or?”

“Or maybe we can just go ahead and fuck already, since you look very eager.”

“Ah.”

Yeah, I don’t regret ditching the hot girl from uni if I was getting An that night.

“Where’s Gine?” I asked. I don’t want their sister walking in on us, thank you very much. I love Ragine to bits, she’s like my own sis, but there’s only so much I’ll allow her to see.

An shrugged, a hand fingering a stud on a piercing on my ear. “Out of town, went with Liam to some kinda hipster hiking-for-art thing because that’s what they do now. Haven’t heard from them, looks like they got no reception out there. We got the place to ourselves.”

I nodded, then slowly asked, “How ’bout Chase?”

Because that was the whole point, wasn’t it? I came to check up on An because they just broke up with Chase. It would be awkward, they were both my friends, but An was… An was also a lot more than that, to me.

“Chase doesn’t have anything to do with this.” was all An said, pulling me up to kiss me again.

They were avoiding the topic. I drew away before we could start again. “An. Do you need to talk?”

“Tris.” they cut me off, rolling her eyes. “I broke up with him, I thought I told you already? And this won’t be comfort-pity sex, it’s welcome-home-Tristan sex. Which is a lot nicer, ’cause you know I don’t do comfort-pity sex. Never. That sounds desperate.”

I looked at them.

They stared back. “You always call me out on my shit. If I cross a line, I’ll know. Do it now. You know I can take it.”

I considered. “I don’t think so. But me- What about me? Am I? Crossing a line?”

An chuckled. “Never. You’re the line.”

“What?”

This time, shrug. “You’re my safe space.”

I stopped, thinking on that, realizing that the same was true for me too. I can feel that An was really happy to see me, to have me back after months in uni. I know they did miss me, that they’ll never use me just for just comfort after a breakup… This was separate. This was our way of… being together.

This was our thing. An needs and I give. An wants and I give. And that was fine by me. I like giving. It may seem like an imbalance, but for us it was never a matter of using or being used or being of use, it was more a matter of trust and knowing and being. An wants and needs, I give, An receives, and I breathe easy because I don’t feel like I have to pretend to be anyone else.

I was just myself, not who I belong to, and I can love someone in the ways I know how.

So I said, “I missed you.”

An laughed. I missed their laugh. “So?”

My answer was to lean down and kiss my best friend.

.

An held on to me like a lifeline as we dozed off after. I looked at the ceiling, painted with flowers, stars and fairies – Ragine’s work, which I missed seeing after months away.

An didn’t wait for my question and out of the blue they said, “Chase told me he wants to break up because he doesn’t want to hurt me anymore.”

“Was he? Hurting you?” I asked, lightly tracing patterns on the bare skin of their back.

An laid their head on my chest, frowning deeply.

“No, as far as I know. He’s always been so… good.” came the answer. “That’s the only time he hurt me, I think. When he said he wants to end it.”

“And you just let him do that?”

“I love him.” – as if that was the answer. Maybe it was.

“I know.” – as if that would make things better. It wouldn’t.

“It sucks.”

We fell silent, because we both agreed on that. Things suck. Chase should’ve said more, I thought. An should’ve asked more. But maybe between two people who love each other, even asking questions or giving reasons are difficult.

Hearts are fragile things, and words are some of the sharpest weapons in the world. And well, who asks to be stabbed, and who is ever cruel enough to risk seeing someone they care about bleed?

Then An asked, “Will you ever not want me? Because I feel like Chase left because he doesn’t want me.”

This one, I didn’t answer with knives, because no I’m not risking it.

I work better with touch, and with my lips. I always have.

I tucked stray strands of brown hair behind a perfect ear and then pressed my lips against An’s temple. Then, I smiled. The way An smiled back was more than enough to tell me that they got my message.

I hate the phrase ‘friends with benefits’.

‘Cause well, isn’t knowing a wonderful person and then being able to call them your friend already enough of a benefit?

But like, the alternative to what we’re called would be… uh… ‘friends who have platonic sex’… or something. And that’s not something that exists, not really, if you ask people. Not even when it’s exactly what An and I have been for each other for the past three or so years.

“I wish I didn’t love him so much, so fast.”

I looked down at An. They were trying not to cry.

When I was twenty, my best friend told me, “I wish I was more like you.”

When I asked them, “What do you mean?” they just shrugged.

Then An said, in a whisper, “I wish I had a better grip on my fucking feelings.”

“I don’t have that either.” I said.

“Liar.”

It hurt. Just a bit. Because An meant it. And maybe because it was true.

I have a good grip on my feelings. Maybe it was just that. I wish it was just that.

I’ve made new friends at uni and someone brought once up terms like ‘aromantic-demisexual’ when I vaguely told them about my relationship history. A question of ‘was that possible?’ came about, and I wanted to say, “I’m here, aren’t I?” but I didn’t, because even I didn’t want to believe that, not really. Because I knew a lot of people that might see that as something sad, and as a rule, goofy happy-go-lucky Tristan wasn’t a sad person.


When I was twenty, it had been a long time coming, I finally felt scared rather than sad.

What An and Chase had? I’ve never had that. The closest to it had been Agatha. Fascinating, older-than-me, ten-bracelets-on-each-wrist Agatha. I liked her, I liked her so much – but back then I was just seventeen with a hero complex and she looked like a damsel and I wanted to help, but I didn’t love her, no – looking back at it now, I didn’t. I wanted to save her, and that was not the same, I think.

When I was twenty, I felt scared because I didn’t want to end up all alone.

It was silly, I know. I was still young, it was too early to tell but I worried anyway.

I remembered what Aunt Rena once told me: “You have so much of yourself to discover.”

And I was. Discovering myself. But what if I’m discovering that I’m… empty? That I might love people, but not in the usual way. That I might share in something intimate, but it was more out of trust and a need for contact than anything as intense as what other people claimed?

Aunt Rena has said that there was “so much more of you to learn to love.”

Can someone really just love themselves, alone, just like that?

I’ve promised An that I will never not want him, because godfuckingdammit An was brilliant, An was like my other half without the weird clingy complicated shit-…

We have our thing. It was a good thing. I was happy with it. But An and I were still different. An was much more… fluid.

Will An always want me too?

I wanted to ask – and I didn’t, because An never lies to me.


.

This dream isn’t feeling sweet.
We’re reeling through the midnight streets.
And I’ve never felt more alone. It feels so scary, getting old.
Lorde: “Ribs”

.


When I was twenty-one, I got stuck in an elevator with my best friend’s ex. Plot twist: I didn’t punch him.

An and I had our fair share of punching people – mostly during high school, because we were mischief-makers – but Chase-… Chase was still our friend. An had dealt with the break-up better than we all thought they would. Things between them and Chase were never the same, but they were always friendly and they held up normal conversations.

I think An coped with it better than Gine and I did. I think Gine and I even held a grudge for a while. But Chase and An were being “mature” about it so the rest of us just followed.

Besides, Chase has always been a really good guy, that perfect boy who does nothing wrong and helps everyone in the neighborhood – it was hard to hate him.

So yeah, while we waited for the elevator to start working again, we kept up small talk.

Plot: we end up talking about An anyway.

It wasn’t awkward. Just the normal stuff. Until…

“An… hasn’t gotten together with anyone, after…?”

“Nope. Though. You know An. Likes hooking up with people. But past couple o’ months they’re really diggin’ the whole music-making thing, even asks me to come home more often so I can do the percussion for the demos, so… yeah.”

“And you?”

“Me, what me?”

“You and An.”

“Me and An, what?”

Chase just looked at me with a little smile.

“We’re fine.” I said. “We’re always fine.”

“That’s… nice.” was all he said. He looked, above anything else, wistful. “It’s nice that An has you. It’s… good. What you two have.”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to answer.

But then it was out before I could weight it – I had already said, “What about what you two had?”

Good going, Tristan. Great job.

But Chase had always been honest.

He answered me with a straight face. “It was nice too. It’s just… me. I couldn’t do… things. It’s just that I know that I won’t be able to give An what they want- No. What they need. An needs someone they can always… An needs someone more like you.”

I didn’t get it at first.

It was long after we got out that stupid elevator that it clicked. All those times that An had told me that he and Chase never got too “far”. An used to tell me how they were going really slow, how they don’t go past making out, how Chase almost never initiated anything.

So… that was the deal, then? That was what happened?

Because. Here are the facts.

Most people need air to breathe. An needs touches, kisses, warmth.

These things could make someone feel wanted. Grounded. Real.

An likes people, thrives in contact, loves the company, and relishes in the attention. An can get these things anytime they wanted. Why not, with their pretty face and stunning talent? They were perfect like that, as if they were built to make the whole world fall for their charms.

You grow up with An and you’ll know where they’re coming from. I’d know. I know their family. I knew the people around them. I wouldn’t blame them for growing dependent on the contact, the heat – the touches and kisses and warmth.

These thing were what An often needed. I know because it’s the same for me, and for Ragine. The three of us shared that one thing in common, growing up. Absent parents, distant friends. I at least knew my mom wanted me, but she had always been so far. Gine had to bear being treated as a fragile, pretty failure from day one, always cast aside. An knew a father who didn’t recognize them as his own and a mother who was more a nasty scar than anything else, on top of all the whispers and judgement.

It was why when Ragine met Liam, an artist, sensitive, attentive, she had clung to him fast.

It was why when Andrei first kissed me, I returned it because hey, someone who wants me, someone who touches me.

It was why when people first began to want An, An wholeheartedly owned it. They wore the label ‘desirable’ like life support.

You tell An that they’re pretty, and all you’ll get is a heartbreaker smile and a look that shouts ‘I know, more than you do.’ and maybe your own heart beating faster than usual but god, does An mean it – An knows how much people can want them, and they’re fearless and ready for anything and you’ll know – you’ll know that it’ll be fun. You just know it’s gonna be a nice ride.

Hey, that was how it was for me. That’s always been how things worked for me. For a lot of people. For most people.

And now I know that for some reason, Chase saw past that, or maybe it just wasn’t what happened for him.

Chase knew what he couldn’t give… and he must have thought that the only choice was to step back.

He should’ve said so.

Shit. He really should’ve said so. Should’ve told An. They could have worked it out, dammit. An wouldn’t have held it against him. An would’ve accepted it. An would’ve-… I heard An say it, dammit – An had said “I love him” and I knew An. What An felt for Chase was something so strong that An didn’t even need sex to prove it. Didn’t Chase see that? That An could love him even though he was different?

Or did Chase maybe think that it still wouldn’t work out because of him? I hope to God he doesn’t think that. He was my friend too and I know he deserved to be loved just as much as anyone else does.

But I guess it was all useless now. An liked starting things, but An was good at endings, too. Granted, most of the time An always made sure to be the one hurting less in the end – this time though I guess they failed in that department. But An ended it, still. They let Chase go because Chase asked.

When I say that An can work with strings, it also means that they’re never afraid to cut them.

And that’s it, really. It was over. It sucked that it was over. They could’ve been happy. Stayed happy.

But it still was over – I shouldn’t even be dwelling on it.

When I was twenty-one, I got stuck in an elevator with my best friend’s ex. Plot twist: I didn’t punch him. We just talked.

After that though, when I went home to An-and-Gine’s flat, I found An eating popcorn while watching some movie and without thinking about it, I went ahead and plopped beside them, pulled them close and kissed them on the forehead.

Loudly I declared, “Hey, beautiful. I love you.”

An just looked up at me, more amused than confused, and then said, “Hey, loser. I love you too.” before throwing popcorn at my face. “What’s up?”

I shrugged, nuzzling An’s perfect neck, making them laugh. “Nothing’s up. I just saw you and thought ‘damn, I love my best friend more than bacon and chocolate combined’.”

“Uh… okay?” An looked mildly freaked out. “Is this… is this some weird new way of asking me for food, or money, or sex, or- Tris, did you crash the bike again?”

“What, I can’t just… love you unconditionally?” I whined. I was good at whining and puppy eyes.

An shook their head. “Jesus, you’re weird today. Did Thea give you weed? Because I want whatever you just had.”

Ragine was sitting on the other couch and when I looked at her, she just rolled her eyes and gestured: ‘Both of you are weird. Get a room.’


I don’t remember when it was that I actually stopped worrying, when it was that I stopped being scared…

But when I was twenty three, I remembered drawing a blank when, in someone’s party and for a game of truth-or-dare, I was asked about my first love.

I drew a blank because really, I had no name to say. For a split second I contemplated saying Agatha’s name, just to get them all off my back.

But An beat me to it when they  said, “That’s a stupid question. I’m Tris’ first and last and only.”

And they all laughed and left it at that, because everyone knew better than to argue when Andrei got territorial. Then, silly as it was, I realized that even though I drew a total blank, it ended there.

I had no name to say. Not even An’s. But it was okay.

Maybe I was going to be okay.

Years of doubt, dispelled in that one silly moment when I realized that as much as I’ve been there for An, An had been there too, and An, at the moment, for all intents and purposes, was determined to stay.


When I was twenty four, I told my best friend that they looked amazing.

An was standing in front of me in a nice white dress and stockings and boots, and they were going on a dinner date with a nice man.

Like always, they said, “I know.” and then left.

.

An came home with a frown, saying “It was fine. Just fine.” and I knew it wasn’t.

When I asked them again – “An. Seriously. What’s wrong?”

They asked back, “Am I gorgeous?”

“Drop-dead.”

“I got dumped.” An said, frown deep. “Too slutty, apparently. He’d heard about me from our wonderful friends in the party circuit.”

“Oh, wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Slutty? That’s not even a new one.”

A snort. “I know. And not even one of the good ones.”

I thought about what else to say.

I only came up with, “Don’t worry. I’ll never dump you.”

An laughed then. “I’ll never dump you, too.”

“Spend your life with me?”

“Sure. No takesie-backsies?”

“None.”

I held out a hand, fingers folded, little finger stuck out. “Pinky swear?”

An did what was proper, twined their pinky with mine and grinned. “Pinky swear.” Then they got up, straightened their dress and grabbed their boots. “Get dressed. We’re going out.”

“Where to?”

“Let’s go dancing.”

When did I say ‘no’ to An when he wants to party?

.

It was only after the dancing, when we were sitting on a park bench at like 3 AM in the morning, that An said, “I met Chase on my way home. After I got dumped. I was waiting for a cab and he was drivin’ by. Offered me a ride home.”

“Please tell me you took that ride.”

An rolled their eyes, snorting. “It’s a free ride and we live in the same building and it’s Chase, only the most decent guy in the world. Of course I took the ride.”

“Okay, so what happened?”

“Um, we talked a bit ‘cause we never really see him much anymore, right? Then he told me he’s… moving out.”

What. WHAT. I looked at An, gaping. “WHAT?”

“He said he’s still talking to Etta ‘bout it… actually he told me I’m the only other person in the building besides our mighty landlady who knows. He doesn’t even know how to break it to Owen.”

Aw, shit. If Chase can’t tell his best friend, it must be really hard for him.

“And I got so sad.” An sighed, leaning on me. “Because… shit, Chase’s moving out.”

I nodded. Chase is like an immaculate ball of sunshine and goodness on the building. I love that guy. Everyone loves that guy.

“And then… Stupid me, I told him just that. I said I’ll be sad when he goes.” – This time An buried their head on my arm and I had to blink. “And I told him I love him so much.”

I didn’t know how to answer that.

“He got this really sad as fuck look on his face too and he told me he loves me so much too and-… and I just wanted to cry right there, Tris. Because then he smiled that goddamn smile that made me fall in love with him way back when. Like, that’s just unfair. Him smiling his best smile!”

I breathed deeply, rubbing his back.

“I mean, we’ve moved on from each other, obviously – but I just realized. We’re so… I dunno, we had something really special and we were lucky we still got each other after it was over? How many people have that?”

“Did he tell you why he’s leaving?”

At this, An actually laughed – a small, delighted, genuinely fond laugh. “He’s getting married.”

“WHAT?”

“His boyfriend proposed a week ago and they’re planning to move to Canada in a few months. Apparently there were… job offers and stuff, Vancouver branch and… well, they can be together and start together, it’s… it’s sweet.”

“I’m gonna cry.” – because I was. 

An nodded. “I know, right? I mean, remember when he had to move in to shack up with us when his mom practically disowned him for being gay?”

“’Course I do.”

Really. After all the shit Chase went through? He freakin’ deserved this.

Then I heard An sniff. “Then you know what Chase said next? He told me he was sorry for hurting me before. And because I was already a wreck, I asked him why he did it. Because I really… really never knew. And I never should’ve asked…”

I stopped.

“’Cause he told me everything. Did you know? He said you might’ve known.”

I kept silent, but I nodded.

“I told him I would’ve been okay with it, him being ace. He should have just told me, and he said he knows that now. He said sorry he didn’t believe in me enough, he just thought there was something wrong with him back then, like he was broken or something. And I told him he’s perfect, ‘cause goddammit he is!”

An was crying now, and I raised my hand to wipe the tears. But they kept crying so I just held them, letting them let it out.

“And he said thanks… he’s sorry it took another person to let him see that. I said I’m sorry I should’ve tried harder to make him see that. We could’ve worked it out, but we didn’t. We didn’t fight for each other…”

“Hey.” I said, whispering. “Maybe you wanted to. You just didn’t know how to do it. Maybe at the time, you just thought that it’s for the best.”

I was surprised when he nodded, actually accepting my answer. “Chase said maybe it happened for a reason.”

“Chase is right.” – what the hell, he said it better than me in one sentence. “Listen to him.”

“He said he was glad to have met me and loved me and… I got even sadder. Because I finally understood him. Fully. And then he’s leaving.” An shook their head, and finally wrapped their arms around me, seeking warmth and comfort as always. “But I’m happy too. Because he’s alright now.”

We felt the same way. Damn it, Chase. I’m so goddamn happy for you.

“An?” I said again, when I thought it safe to talk. Because An finally calmed down. Probably came to terms with everything that happened that night. “I’d always fight for you. Just… y’know, tell me how? Ask me to, maybe? ‘Cause I never want that to happen to us, fall out just ‘cause we won’t tell each other something important…”

An was quiet for a while, staying still as I held them.

Then they looked up at me, brown eyes clear and honest, and said, “No.”

I blinked. “No?”

“I don’t need to tell you how. You always know how. I won’t ask you either. You fight for me before I even know I need it.”

Do I? I don’t remember. Or maybe I just don’t know when I’m doing it.

Sometimes it worked like that.

“I love you so much.” An told me. “And I’m never losing you.”

And look, maybe I don’t know how or when I fight for An… but An sure as hell knew how to fight for me, even against myself.


When I was twenty five, as we laid in bed together, looking up at the old fading drawings on the ceiling, I asked my best friend about their plans.

“I got no plans.” An said.

I looked at An, because they were upset and being a brat. “Gine’s moving in with Liam. You’ll be here by yourself.”

“Still no plans. I like this place.”

“Do you want me to move in with you?”

An didn’t answer.

“I’ll move in with you.” – then I followed that up with, “People will think I’m crazy, right?”

Then An looked at me, shrugged and said, “I don’t know about people, but I know I won’t.”

I stopped. An had always, without fail, made me stop. This time was no exception, because I remembered when I first heard those words, and when I first said them.

It made me spill. The truth, that one fear I’ve always had.

“I just don’t want us to be alone.”

“We’re not.” An said, and I believe that. “We’ll never be. I suck at these things, but I know that much.”

.

When I was twenty five, I remembered how when I was eleven, I told a crazy woman that I thought my best friend was pretty.

Back then I just needed to know that if the world turned on me, I’ll have at least one person on my side. Perhaps I never quite grew out of that.

It was only now I realized that all along I didn’t even have to worry about facing it all alone, because all along An and I have been in this shit together.

We were each half of everything we’ve ever done together.

I do think that’s enough reason not to feel alone.


.

You’re the only friend I need, sharing beds like little kids.
And laughing ’til our ribs get tough, but that will never be enough.
Lorde: “Ribs”

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.fin.

Notes:

I want to get around to writing a bit on Chase’s side sometime in the future. As someone who falls somewhere vaguely under aromantic-asexual, Tristan and Chase have two pieces of myself that made me relate the most to their characters.

But for now, I’m happy to have written Tristan’s and Andrei’s bit. Now off to the next story, where they find an unexpected third piece to their duo.

P.S. My working title for this story had been “Blank Space”. Because I wanted to write an Andrei story inspired by the Taylor Swift song. Halfway through, it became a bit more about Tristan, turning into “Sleeping with a Friend” (Neon Trees) and then further down it became more intimate and private, so it was renamed “Ribs”, because. Lorde. Then I decided I can’t keep using song titles as story titles, so I just thought I’d make the cutest line of the story the title. There we go~

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