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gor mu

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About gor mu

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  • Age in Years
    21
  • Gender
    Not Telling
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    Ask Me
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    Everything
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    Upon a mound of bones in hell
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    Language, history, art, politics.

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  1. gor mu

    V.

    I did wonder if the content warning was warranted, sorry if it got your hopes up! Thank you for reading! Thank you! You'll have to keep reading to find out 😊
  2. gor mu

    V.

    Thank you! Despite the misguided comments and possible ignorance, I think Valentín's friends value their friendship more than any prejudice they may have. And I'm glad you like Marian 😊
  3. gor mu

    V.

    “Alright, alright, I get it,” Tomás slurred. Everyone could tell he was already ostensibly drunk. “But why did it have to be in my bathroom?” “Dude, just be grateful we didn’t use your room,” Valentín snapped back, to laughs and hollers from the group. I heard Valentín chuckle behind me as well. I pulled his arms closer around me, letting his warmth cover me whole. Sitting on the couch with him I could feel the subtle movements of his chest as he breathed in and out, and I could smell his cologne as clearly as if I’d worn it myself. Just being this close to him was bracing enough on its own, but the fact that we could be this affectionate in front of the boys added a whole different layer to it. It was nice. “But wait, Valen,” said Joaco, one of the boys. He’d been mostly quiet since Valentín and I told the group the whole story – that first kiss at the pregame, the chance encounter in the subway, the visit to the park after school. “Does this mean you’ve been into one of us before?” he asked, somewhat horrified. Nahuel slapped him playfully in the back of the head. “Who’s gonna be into you, you ugly fuck?” Valentín laughed, but didn’t say anything. I felt his thumb draw circles on my forearm, sending chills down my spine, and I let out a heavy breath as I melted in his arms. “It’s whatever, man. I’m happy for you guys,” said Nahuel, raising his glass to us. I smiled. I wasn’t expecting any less than this sort of relaxed acceptance from them, but I did wonder if Valentín had been dreading this conversation. How many restless nights had he spent up thinking of all the ways his friends of years would possibly reject him? He had so much more at stake, much more to lose if things had gone south with the boys than I ever would. Moments like these made me understand his initial hesitance, the conflict within him that made him treat me the way he did before. And it made me appreciate him even more. Tomás clasped his hands. “So who’s staying? I gotta know how many sleeping pads I gotta take out.” “Oh, right!” With all the fuss I’d forgotten how late it was. But before I could say anything, Valentín decided to speak for the both of us. “Not us. We’re heading off.” I turned to face him. “Us?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. He flashed a devilish smirk. “Well, didn’t you want to see my place?” Warm little feelings popped up inside me. “Yeah, I did.” I made sure to text my mom as we bid our goodbyes – though I did lie about where I was staying. She didn’t need to know I was spending the night with Valentín, and I knew that even in the odd case that she asked around, Nahuel would cover for us. I was about to open the Uber app when Valentín asked me if I’d ever ridden a motorcycle before. “No, never,” I said, confused. He smiled knowingly. “Then you’re gonna like this.” He ushered me outside and beamed with pride as he showed me our ride home. “It’s not mine, but I get to take it out for a ride from time to time,” he explained. I tried not to let the fear show when I spoke. “Uh, didn’t you drink?” A tight little knot was already forming in the pit of my stomach. He rolled his eyes. “Of course not. I don’t drink and drive.” He handed me a worn-out, sticker-bombed helmet and hopped on the bike. “Hang on tight and fasten your coat, it can get chilly.” I've never been a religious person, but had I been at the time, I would’ve dedicated a prayer to whatever god was willing to listen right then. The bike roared as he started up the engine, and within seconds we were gliding through the streets at what most definitely felt like over 60 miles per hour. At first I stuck to Valentín’s back as if he were a lifesaver and I was drowning at sea, whatever enjoyment I would have otherwise had from hugging him gone in the face of the impending danger of falling to the pavement at high speed. However, as we progressed in our journey through the grid-planned streets, I slowly allowed myself to look up. And I was so glad I did. I saw the city as I’d never seen it before. The wide avenues I was so used to seeing congested and bustling with life were now nearly deserted. Pristine white street lights shone with a halo-like glow in the humid spring air, creating a surreal, almost liminal aura. And the wind… The way the cold wind hit my face reminded me of that familiar winter breeze I’d grown to love ice skating in New Haven. For a brief instant, Noah’s ghost threatened to creep its way into this moment, but I swiftly pushed it aside. This wasn’t for him. This was for Valentín and me. I got to see the city morph in real-time, from the packed high-rises of Tomás’s neighborhood through muted quartiers of low-rise residential buildings and suburban-type houses. As we turned to elevated highways to shorten the trip, I got to see from above the small, stacked houses of raw brick in the villas, the sprawling slums spread out through the city, seemingly hidden away unless you’re actively looking for them. As we neared the end of our trip we were greeted by the towering housing blocks of Valentín’s turf; I immediately recognized the imposing, patched grey cement and the off-colored store signs and graffiti from when we’d dropped him off before. The vibrations of the engine remained with me even as the bike itself stopped. “Hey, um, before we go up, I need to ask something of you,” said Valentín as we walked over to the door. “What is it?” He rubbed his neck. There was a meekness unlike him in his eyes. “Just…” he winced in anticipation of his own words. “If my dad asks, for now, you’re just a friend, okay?” I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just a friend,” I said, trying to sound reassuring. “Got it.” He smiled, though the uneasiness didn’t leave his gaze. I couldn’t blame him. I was doing my best to avoid reminiscing on the way I’d handled that conversation with my dad myself. And my mom… Yeah, let’s not think about that. The elevator door still hadn’t closed when I’d been pushed against the wall. His lips felt warm against mine, a stark contrast with the cold of his hand as it slid tentatively up my lower back. I didn’t mind it. I kissed him back, letting his tongue invade my mouth, carrying the slightest hint of a minty breath with it. I let my fingers run through his hair, short and soft – the wind had already screwed up his do, anyway. We didn’t pull back even as the bell indicating we’d arrived went off after what felt like the shortest eight floors ever. The apartment door squeaked as he opened it, a screech in the dead of the night. For some reason, I felt as if I needed permission just to enter, as if this place was sacrosanct. He waved for me to come in. “Dad?” Valentín whispered, just loud enough for anyone who might’ve been awake to hear. “Are you up?” In the dim light I could barely make out a few silhouettes, of which I found nothing particularly distinctive. The smells did yield some hints of what was here: the earthy musk of cement and rubber, humidity, traces of that night’s dinner – pizza? “We’re in the clear,” he said, and I managed to see him smirk. We made it to his room in a blink. New fragrances joined the repertoire; body spray and cologne, the same I'd grown familiar with from being around him. He didn’t turn on the lights. I opened my mouth to speak, but he shut me up with another kiss. And another. The back of my legs hit his bed and before I could so much as breathe he’d pushed me down on it, the mattress creaking loudly upon my fall. No words. There was nothing to say. He threw his weight on me, and I reciprocated by pushing myself against him as well. My hand ventured up his back, raising his shirt, feeling his skin, covered by the faintest hint of baby hairs. As if on cue, he grabbed the shirt by the back of the neckline and took it off in a flash. I heard myself exhale profusely. I got to catch a glimpse of his bare chest in the lacking light that washed over through the blinds, but that was more than enough to finish fucking my brain over. I let my hands run through his back as he came down again, this time placing soft pecks on my neck. I contracted, allowing him to kneel before me, my legs resting on his thighs. We shared a long, wanton look, and for an instant I felt as if we could read each other’s minds. I took off my shirt. I rose to lock lips again, holding onto his neck, letting the skins of our torsos meet for the first time. Gaining confidence, I forced our bodies to shift and soon enough, I was on top of him. At this point we were both painfully aware of how hard we were. I allowed myself to grind on him, not minding the discomfort of my own dick, constrained by layers of clothing. We spent what felt like hours like that, our gazes fixed on each other, his hands on my hips guiding the circular movements of my body. I wished I could’ve taken a snapshot of him right then, his eyes twinkling, his mouth slightly agape, his plump lips parting slightly with each panting breath – a motion in loop that I never wanted to end. Then he reached for the zip of my jeans. He stroked me through the rough fabric, gently, seeking permission with his eyes. Record scratch. I froze. “Valen…” Do I want this? I think I should… Should I just go ahead? Where before there’d been eagerness and lust I found an opened Pandora’s box of uncertainty. Thoughts appeared where before there’d been nothing but lust and primal instinct. This is good. What's wrong with me? Just go ahead anyway. “Hey,” I heard Valentín whisper. “Lauti, talk to me.” He was sitting upright now, mere inches away from me. His hands cupped my cheeks; his brows were furrowed in concern. “I’m fine,” I croaked out, though the crack in my voice gave away the insincerity of my words. “I don’t want to do anything you’re not comfortable with,” he said. I gulped down. The tension in my shoulders eased, but the shame didn’t leave. “I’m sorry.” His hand cupped the back of my head. “There’s nothing to be sorry for.” The passion of the moment now decisively evaporated, we lay down and I let my head rest on his shoulder. The limited measures of his twin size bed wouldn’t have let us stay apart anyway, but I still much preferred that arrangement. I ran my hand through his chest, circling the tattoo on his left pectoral that I was just now paying attention to. “Fabiola,” I read the inked words aloud, squinting to see in the dark. “My mom,” he explained. I hummed. “It’s a pretty name.” He placed a soft peck on my head. “We should probably rest.” It didn’t take long before he became limp. I lay awake for a little longer, watching him sleep, thinking about just how crazy it was that of all the people in the world, in Buenos Aires, in my school, I'd been lucky enough to have stumbled across someone like him. Ω When my eyes fluttered open, it took me a hot minute to realize where I was. My throat felt dry. Sunlight passed timidly through the blinds, the only indication I had of what time it was. Valentín was still soundly asleep beside me, his lips slightly parted, his chest rising and falling in even motions. I briefly considered closing my eyes again and drifting off to sleep, but I soon realized I was in a bit of a predicament. Ah, fuck, I gotta piss. Just sitting upright in the bed took an unfathomable effort. In the daylight I could now see Valentín’s room was a mess, with dirty plates and half-filled glasses on nearly every surface and clothes pooling on different spots in the ground. I chuckled to myself. It felt fitting. The wooden floor creaked as I took my first steps. Fucking parquetry. My hand was already posed on the door handle when I heard music and voices across the door. Shit. I pondered my options, but I knew there was no way I was going to hold it in for long. I gulped down. Valentín’s words resounded in my head: ‘if my dad asks, you’re just a friend’. I took a deep breath. Two people – a tough-looking, bald, bearded man and a petite woman with long, crudely bleached hair – sat at a little dining table, chatting casually and drinking mate. Facing away from me and distracted by the Redondos song playing loudly in the background, they initially appeared not to realize I was there. “Uh, hello?” When they turned, only the man seemed surprised to see me. “Well, you’re not my son,” he said, raising an eyebrow. Even if he hadn’t just casually mentioned it, I could’ve easily recognized it was Valentín’s father. The resemblance was definitely there. “I’m Lautaro, a classmate of Valentín’s,” I said, reaching out my hand at him. He shook it, and I was somewhat taken aback by the force of his grip. “A pleasure,” he said, though he didn’t look convinced. “Are you from the neighborhood? Valen’s never mentioned you before.” It was then that the petite woman spoke for the first time. “Don’t you remember, Sergio?” she asked him, though her eyes were posed on me. There was something about her expression that I couldn’t really pinpoint. She looked… amused? “He’s the friend who’s been helping Valen out with math.” I blinked. How’d she known about that? “Pleasure to meet you,” she leaned forward to kiss my cheek. “I’m Marian.” I flashed the most sincere smile I could muster. “Uh, sorry, where’s the bathroom?” I gave myself a good look in the mirror. There were dark bags under my eyes, no doubt a product of having deviated so much from the ordinary sleeping schedule. My hair didn’t look any better. It’d grown past its acceptable length and was starting to get in my eyes. I wondered if Valentín liked it that way. I felt my phone buzz in my pocket, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t checked it since last night. I mindlessly scrolled through messages from my mom requesting status updates and a myriad of trifling social media notifications, until I came across one particular note that made my heart skip a beat. “Hey L, you there?” The simplicity of the words was definitely on brand for Noah, but that didn’t make it feel any less out of place after weeks of radio silence on his part. No, I’m not here. I rolled my eyes and put the phone back in my pocket. He’d made me wait for this long for a life signal, I had the right to reciprocate. When I went out into the living room again, Valentín’s dad was nowhere to be seen. “Sergio had to take care of something, he’ll be back soon,” said Marian, now sitting on her own. She poured water into the gourd. “Care for a sip?” I nodded and sat down beside her. I couldn’t deny it was somewhat awkward just drinking mate with this person I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to wake Valentín up and I didn’t want to leave either – I was well aware of the sermon awaiting me at home. So mate with Marian it was. “So,” she said as I handed the gourd back to her. “You’re the one who’s been keeping my number one assistant away from the workshop.” I tilted my head in confusion. “Come again?” She laughed. “I suppose Valen hasn’t told you about me. He helps out with the bikes at my garage.” “Oh.” I remembered the Instagram post. “Right.” I wondered if the bike we’d ridden the night before was hers. At a first glance she didn’t look like the type of person who’d run a motorcycle workshop, but as she poured the water again I noticed the darkened tint on her fingernails and the calluses on her hands. It still surprised me just how young she looked; she couldn’t have been older than 30. “And how are those math classes coming along?” she asked. I shifted in my seat. “Uh, that – I mean, they’re going well…” “I’m a good student,” I heard Valentín speak behind me. Startled, I turned around to see him leaning nonchalant against the wall, a dashing smile on his face. “Good morning.” “It’s noon,” Marian said, emulating his smile. He came up to us, and before I could react, he’d wrapped his arms around me and placed a soft kiss on the crown of my head. I turned to Marian with eyes wide as plates, expecting some sort of reaction. She simply raised an eyebrow, but the upward curve of her lips never faltered. Valentín plopped down on the seat beside us. “We’re cool with Marian,” he said. I nodded to myself, relieved. “Alright, then, cool.” “You’ve been slacking off,” Marian told Valentín, her tone suggesting she was both being playful and serious. “You don’t get to take the bike on the weekend if you didn’t step foot in the shop all week.” Valentín groaned and motioned towards me. “C’mon, you gotta be like that with him here?” “Of course,” she smiled over a sip of mate. “I need witnesses, don’t I?” I watched the whole exchange with a smirk. It was nice being able to tap into Valentín’s home life, even if just through a mere vignette. But before the conversation could progress any further, my ringtone went off again. A deep sigh escaped my mouth. I didn’t have to check to know who it was. “That’s my mom. I should probably get going.” Valentín’s face fell. “Oh. Yeah, you’re right.” I nudged him in the arm. “We’ll see each other at school tomorrow,” I said, pretending it didn’t bother me as much as it did. He offered to take me home, but I refused. As much as I’d loved the night city ride, I felt as though I’d already overstayed my welcome and I didn’t want any more favors for the time being. We settled on having him escort me to the bus stop. In the grey daylight the towering apartment blocks appeared even more intimidating, rising to the sky as far as the eye could see; a maze of concrete in a bleak palette of opaque tones. In my line of sight the brightest colors were the ubiquitous royal blue and gold of Valentín’s Boca shirt and the warm ochre of his skin. “Sorry I didn’t tell you about Marian,” said Valentín as we waited for the bus. He was reclined against the railings of the bus stop, his gaze absently posed on the empty street. “That’s okay, it just took me a little by surprise.” He chuckled. “Yeah, you should’ve seen your face.” I swatted his arm. “Dummy.” He relapsed into a pensive silence for a moment. “She’s like an older sister for me, you know?” he said. “She was the only one I could talk to about all of this.” I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t feel pressured to, either. He turned to me, and for the briefest instant I felt as if I’d forgotten just how beautiful he was. The reminder was very much welcome. “Do you have someone like that? I stared at him, and he stared back. Those dark eyes of him were a damn Trojan horse. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” “Oh.” He made a pause, and then a beaming smile formed on his face. He said: “Then maybe I can be that person for you.” He probably didn’t think much of that. The sentiment was sincere and it was a nice thing to say, and that was all. But the way those words made me feel; as if he’d somehow lit a candle in a place within me that had never seen light before – I’m pretty sure that will go down as one of those moments I will always vividly remember. Or, at least, I hope it does. Ω Mom’s lecture when I got home was not as severe as I’d feared, probably due to her inability to hide just how glad she was I was alive and well after ignoring her messages for over 12 hours straight. A Redondos song played in the background. I lay in my bed, staring vacantly at the ceiling, replaying the events of the past few weeks on loop. In my ears I could still feel the low buzz of the music at Tomás’s house party. I could clearly hear the rumble of a bike cruising down the streets of Caballito in the dead of the night, and the smacking of hungry lips against lips with reckless abandon. I thought about Valentín; about how I knew next to nothing about him and he was, in many ways, still a stranger. His aspirations and desires, his pet peeves, the kind of music he liked – did he even like music? And yet somehow, overnight, that walking mystery of a guy had become my closest friend. Was that even a good thing? All I knew for certain was that I could not stop thinking about Valentín, and I could not ignore the eerily familiar fluttering of butterfly wings in the pit of my stomach whenever his name popped up in my mind. I knew that feeling well; I’d felt it many times before. There were new feelings there too, and emotions I’d hardly ever allowed myself to dwell on out of fear they’d lead me down a path from which I would’ve never returned. Even though I’d held back that night at Valentín’s place, as he had me in his hands… It didn’t take long before that part of the movie was the only one I kept rewinding back to, the images playing over and over in high definition in my mind. Droplets of sweat running down his bare chest, his grip on my thighs as I rocked back and forth on top of him, the unbridled want in his dark eyes. Eventually my imagination took over, creativity filling the gaps of a counterfactual rabbithole. What would’ve been if I hadn’t chickened out. If other clothes joined our shirts on the floor, if I’d simply let him do with me what he’d done before to who knows how many girls. His chest, his arms, his hands, his face, his hard dick against my ass – in time the images lost all definition and blended together into a single blurred mess. I let out a deep sigh as I came down from the high, the music in the background slowly resurfacing as my own panting died out. I looked down at the warm white trail that now coated my shirt. Fuck. If before there’d been any parts of me that still weren’t sure I was head over heels for Valentín Gómez, now I could be certain they’d been successfully swayed.
  4. gor mu

    IV.

    Certainly there are many aspects of myself in these characters (not just Lautaro) and from my own life in the plot. The story isn't exactly autobiographical though 😊
  5. gor mu

    IV.

    Thank you! I am of Argentine descent and I have lived in Argentina for some years now, though I grew up elsewhere.
  6. gor mu

    IV.

    Thank you! Cheek kissing is a very common way to greet acquaintances in Argentina, regardless of their gender (Valentín's greeting earlier in the chapter was a bit more intimate than the usual cheek kiss, though 😊). Their kiss at the end of the chapter was definitely not an acquaintance-appropriate greeting, which is why it elicited the reactions it did from the boys.
  7. gor mu

    IV.

    My teeth chattered as a gust of polar wind passed by the street, making me pull my legs closer to my chest in a futile attempt to keep warm. The concrete of the sidewalk felt hard against my ass, but it still beat standing up and facing the treacherous spring morning cold. I really shouldn’t have worn gym shorts. “What time is it now?” Tomás mumbled over a cigarette from his spot on the sidewalk. It was still a mystery to me how he managed to stay in shape while smoking half a pack a day. “8:21,” answered Nahuel, visibly irritated. The group groaned. “Serves us right for showing up on time every Friday when we know Jesus likes to keep us waiting.” Jesus was the nickname the group had given to our PE professor, whose shoulder-length hair and carefree attitude made him vaguely resemble the Messiah. His habit of being late for class wouldn’t have been so bad if our PE class wasn’t at 8 in the morning in a private sports center that didn’t open until the professor showed up, which typically meant we had to wait out in the street until his untimely arrival. My whole body shivered as another cold gust went by. Jesus the PE teacher could’ve stayed home for all I cared; I was worried about a different absentee. I’d had a hard time falling asleep that night. I kept replaying the scenes of that surreal afternoon; the chance encounter with Valentín in the subway, our conversation in the balcony, making out with him on my bed… Part of me still felt as if none of that had really happened. Would he talk to me at school or would he go back to ignoring me? What if he was just nice to me because there was no one around? I knew that was the sort of thing one was supposed to talk about beforehand, but in the heat of the moment all of those concerns disappeared. Short-term planning was hard with another guy’s tongue in my mouth. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait for too long to find out. “See, this guy’s got it right,” Tomás said as Valentín arrived, greeting the boys with a fist pump. “Hasn’t been on time all year and hasn’t had a single admonition.” “Shut up Tomi, you live three blocks away,” Valentín barked back. I stood up, expectant. He finished greeting the boys, and only then looked my way. Our eyes locked for an instant. Well, what’s it gonna be? He walked over. “Hi,” he said, his voice a barely audible whisper, his expression unreadable. “Hi,” I replied, emulating the frequency of his tone. Then he placed a hand on my shoulder, leaned into me and kissed my cheek. I let myself breath out. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the boys looking our way in confusion. By then I’d learned cheek-kissing was a commonplace and socially acceptable – if not somewhat dated – way for men to greet each other here. But for some reason, the gesture felt more intimate, more significant than the average kiss in the cheek. Or perhaps I was looking too much into it. I cleared my throat. “You’re, uh, late,” I said. Why did I feel like a giddy little girl all of a sudden? He smiled. “Maybe you’re too early.” At that point Jesus finally showed up and opened the gates to the sports center, ushering us in. As we all walked into the court, Nahuel passed by me and mouthed an exaggerated ‘what?’, to which I merely shrugged. For the rest of the class, Valentín treated me as just another one of the boys. After weeks of drifting away from the group, it was nice getting back into the fold, especially since it was on Valentín’s initiative. Perhaps the only downside was that I was now expected to keep up with them when playing soccer, which could only end badly, even if they were nice enough not to say anything about my lack of eye-hand coordination. It didn’t help at all that now that I wasn’t mentally set to dislike Valentín, I couldn’t stop noticing just how hot he was. The way his Boca Juniors kit clung to his body was enough of a distraction to make me miss the ball a couple of times. It was probably the first PE class I actually enjoyed in years. I was washing my face in the bathroom after class when I felt a pair of warm hands on my hips. Startled, I turned to meet a familiar face. “So I take it you don’t play much soccer in the US?” said Valentín, flashing a sly smile. He was drenched in sweat and his hair was messed up from all the exercise, but somehow the look suited him well. “Yeah,” I said. “That’s totally why I suck at soccer. Nothing to do with my own abilities or anything like that.” Valentín laughed. “Well, I’m glad. There was no way you could be good at everything.” I raised an eyebrow. “What am I good at?” He’d gotten closer to me, to the point we were now just inches away. My back bumped against the sink countertop. My eyes darted around to make sure we were alone. His voice was deep and husky when he spoke: “I can think of a couple of things…” I gulped down. His hands had returned to my hips. He leaned into my ear, and I got a whiff of sweat and body spray. “See you at school later.” Every last hair on the back of my neck stood up. It took me a moment to pull myself together and realize he was gone. My whole body felt like it’d just been charged with static. How had it taken him a single day to gain all that confidence? Ω The subtle noises of a grandfather clock’s ticking and yesterday’s game on TV echoed through the house. Nahuel and I sat in silence on the couch, both of us scrolling through our feeds, fatigued after that morning’s exercise and the hearty meal we served ourselves afterwards. I was about to lock my phone screen when a notification popped up. @valen_g0mez99 is now following you. I smiled to myself. I was about to tap on his profile when Romina plopped down on the couch with a pout and a frown. “They said no?” asked Nahuel. “It’s not fair!” she said. “They let you go to Córdoba on your own when you were fifteen.” Nahuel made an irritated face. “I went with Tomi and Valen. And it was a fishing trip in Mar Chiquita, not your weird feminist boot camp.” Romina shot daggers at her brother. “How can you be such an idiot?” I interjected before the conversation escalated further. “What are you talking about?” I asked, trying to sound genuinely curious. Nahuel groaned. “She’s pissed because mom and dad won’t let her go to Trelew for a feminist convention.” “It’s not a convention, idiot,” Romina said, visibly annoyed. “It’s the National Women’s Encounter, it’s gonna be huge and all my friends are gonna be there.” “Just go next year,” Nahuel said. “They won’t say no when you’re seventeen. Romina rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever. You’re such a man.” She stood up and left to her room, banging the door behind her. Nahuel and I returned to the silence from before, albeit with an extra load of awkwardness after the heated exchange. After a moment, Nahuel cleared his throat and turned to me. “So… good game today in PE.” I raised an eyebrow. “I was awful.” He snorted. “Yeah, you were.” Then he leaned forward on the couch. “How’d you get Valentín to talk to you?” The question caught me off-guard, and I found myself panicking slightly. “What do you mean?” “He couldn’t even see you just a few days ago and today he was nicer to you than he’s ever been to all of us,” he said. He sounded genuinely impressed. “Ah, well, you know…” Think fast. “I’ve just been, eh… Helping him with math homework.” Real smooth there, Lauti. “Math?” Nahuel asked. “Uh, yeah,” I said. “He’s been having a hard time with the exercise sheets and since Mr. Rizzo wants us to submit them by Monday, I figured…” He shrugged. “Well, that’s cool of you, helping him after the way he treated you.” I forced a smile. “But honestly I’m glad,” he went on to say. “He’s been all acting weird lately. It’s cool he’s at least talking to someone.” I hummed, taking mental note of Nahuel’s words, but smiling inwards. Ω La Bombonera, a picture of a glass of fernet, a couple of nondescript photos of what appeared to be a motorcycle in a dark, dirty workshop… Not a single human face. Valentín’s Instagram feed was as much a mystery as he was himself. I sighed as I put my phone away. The whole classroom was quiet; everyone, including Mr. Rizzo, the math teacher, looked bored out of their mind. I was one of the few who’d already finished their designated classwork. I looked to where Valentín was sitting, near the front of the class with the rest of the boys. We hadn’t really spoken since the brief encounter in the gym restrooms, but it didn’t feel like he was purposefully ignoring me. The clock above the blackboard stated it was only 3:30 pm. Two more hours to go. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket; a message from a number I hadn't saved. “Hang out after school?” I looked to the front. Valentín was on his phone. He didn’t look back. “Who is this?” “Who do you think?” My eyes darted from Valentín’s seat to my phone screen. After a moment, he looked back and stuck his tongue out at me. I rolled my eyes, mouthing ‘tarado’ back at him. Dummy. Was this what flirting was like? “Where do you want to go?” He took a moment to respond to that one. When he did, he sent a location: the park a few blocks from the school, where we’d gone with the boys to crack open a cold one after that first day of class. We shared another knowing look across the room that made my stomach turn into a butterfly farm. Those two hours were about to feel so much longer. Ω The park was much bigger than I remembered. We walked around for a while before we found a comfortable spot. It hadn’t rained in a few days, but somehow the grass was all covered in dew. We finally settled on a small bench by a pond. There weren’t many people around, save for a few runners. My heart beat fast as we finally sat down; we hadn’t exchanged more than a couple of words since leaving the school. “Do you, uh, do you come here often?” I asked. For some reason every time I spoke with Valentín felt like the first. He shrugged. “Sometimes, always with the boys,” he said. “It’s not really close to where I live, so…” I nodded. I knew the commute to school was around the hour mark for him. We sat in silence for a few minutes, facing forward. Slowly, but surely, our hands met on the bench, not unlike in the backseat of my mom’s car the night before. Neither of us seemed to mind the sweaty palms. As we inched closer to each other, our exposed knees touched for the first time, and I decided the tickle of his soft leg hairs against mine was a sensation I never wanted to stop feeling. Was it normal to feel all these things over just a touch? The way I could’ve written an entire manifesto to the congregation of our knees could not be within the realm of what was considered 'normal'. “Will you ever return to the US?” he asked after a while. “I don’t know,” I said. I took my time to think of the right words to answer. “Before I was sure I wanted to go back as soon as I could. But now…” He hummed thoughtfully. “What changed?” I leaned into him, allowing my head to rest on his shoulder. His arm found its way around me. I could’ve stayed like that forever. “When my mom told me she was bringing me with her to Argentina, I thought my life was over,” I said. “But… I don’t know, maybe it was good after all – starting from scratch.” He stayed quiet for a while, and then he chuckled. “You’re so extra.” I swatted his arm playfully. “Hey, don’t talk to me like that,” I said. “I’m the one helping you with your math homework.” He pinched his fingers upward, gesticulating confusion. “What homework?” I laughed. “It’s nothing. Nahuel asked me why you were talking to me today in PE and I told him I’ve been helping you with Rizzo’s exercise sheets.” “Oh,” he said. “Yeah, that was smart.” I felt his grip on my shoulder loosen, and he shifted uncomfortably on the bench. When I turned to him again, a somber look had appeared on his face. Wait, what's wrong? “I can actually help you if you want,” I said. “With math, I mean.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Yeah, maybe sometime.” The sun was starting to set in the horizon, its light creating a moving rainbow on the water. Valentín didn’t look impressed. “Would you, uh… I’d love to meet your place,” I suggested timidly. He turned to me. “I don’t think that’ll be possible today,” he said. “Sorry.” I felt as if I'd just been shot down from the sky. “Oh, that’s alright,” I said, trying not to sound as disappointed as I really was. “Some other time, then?” He nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.” Panic settled over me. Something had changed. Do something. I placed a hand on Valentín’s cheek, making him turn toward me again. Neither of us said anything. I tried to find the slightest hint of accord in his gaze, some sort of permission to move on. When it didn’t appear, I decided to go for it anyway. I kissed him, soft at first; tentatively. But then his body language changed, and his hand on my side gave me a cue to lean into him. As I pushed my weight onto him my tongue ventured into his mouth. He reciprocated accordingly. We remained linked for what felt like an eternity, our liplock only interrupted by brief pauses to breathe. Then he pulled away. He exhaled as if he’d just finished a marathon. “It’s getting late,” he said. “We should probably go home.” My heart sank. It was obvious something I’d said or done had upset him, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what, and it was killing me. The customary silence on the way to the bus stop was the same type of awkward void from before, when we'd just met; the type of silence you desperately want to fill with words, regardless of what they are, but somehow can’t. His bus came first. I gathered all the strength I could muster to speak again before he left. “Text me?” was all I managed to croak out. His gaze was icy when he turned. “Sure.” And just like that, he was gone. Ω I stared at the dark brown beverage on the table. It moved, ever so slightly, as wind came into the house from the balcony, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t drunk a single sip of it, and by now it was likely ice cold. Shit. I took out my phone to check the time. 3:21 pm. When had it gotten so late? Instinctively, I opened the messaging app. Maybe Valen had answered my text and the notification hadn’t popped up, or maybe my text hadn’t sent at all. Nope. It was still there, effectively sent, with no answer. “Wanna hang out later today? We can go somewhere close to your place” I wrote it early in the morning, when I'd just woken up. I'd immediately regretted sending it, but ultimately decided it was better to take a 'no' like a champ than deleting the message and leaving the blank space for him to see. I put my phone away. Had the cold coffee not been in front of me I probably would’ve fully headbutted the table. What was it with the men in my life and ghosting me? An inexplicably transcendent bond. The frantic clacking of my mom's heels made me look up. “I’m leaving now,” she said from the door, almost breathless. “Good luck,” I said, though she probably didn’t hear me. She was having a hard time in the employment area, which was sadly to be expected given her age and the years she’d spent away from the country – years of severed connections. At least I'm not the only one having a hard time. Out of nowhere, I heard my ringtone go off. My heart swelled in anticipation, but it was swiftly deflated when I saw the name on the screen. I sighed in disappointment. It was bound to happen eventually. “Hi, dad.” “Hey, Lauti.” I heard my father speak for the first time in three months. He sounded terrible. “How are you holding up?” Terribly. “I’m good.” “I’m glad, I’m glad,” he said. The voice on the other side of the line fell silent for a moment, and I started getting impatient. This was the first time I was talking live with him since our departure, and it wasn’t a call I’d been particularly looking forward to. “How are you?” I asked, more out of a desire to move on with the conversation than genuine interest. “I’m good!” he said, clearly forcing it. I heard him sigh. “I know I’ve been somewhat absent as of late… I just thought I should call you because…” he cleared his throat. “I thought you should know that I’m selling the house.” “Oh.” It made sense – a single man living in a big, empty house, filled with nothing but memories of the family he’d lost through his own doing… It still felt awful. “Yeah…” He paused for a moment. “But tell me about your things. How’s school? Have you made any friends?” My stomach turned. Something about the tone of his question reeked of condescendence. “Yeah, I’ve made some friends,” I said. I probably should’ve thought twice before saying what I said next, but the emotional rollercoaster that my life had been in the past 48 hours had effectively made away with all my inhibitions when it came to the man I considered responsible for the whole mess I was in. And so my gums flapped away. “I’m actually seeing someone,” I said, intentionally letting an edge slip into my voice. “His name is Valentín. He’s a boy.” Silence. I knew he was still there only by the faint sound of his breathing, but otherwise, there was nothing. “Eh, well,” he finally said. “I’m happy, Lauti, that’s great to hear.” The contrast between his words and the tone with which he said them was almost comical. I tried my best to ignore the way it hurt, and the way my hands were trembling so much it was getting hard keeping the phone in place. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked. “No, son, I mean… If there’s –” “I have to hang up now, dad.” “Oh,” he said. Was he happy about that? I couldn’t tell. “Let’s talk again sometime soon, then.” “Yeah. Bye, dad.” I hung up before he was even done saying goodbye. Ω I heard myself curse out loud. I had to stop myself from throwing the bow to the ground. This wasn’t even a hard piece. I’d played this part before without any trouble. I could visualize the notes on the partiture in front of me translated onto the strings, I knew what my arm was supposed to do, and still… I couldn’t do it. It was like my brain had decided to check out for the day. I sighed as I put away the cello. Maybe there was something from school I could still do? Something I could get ahead in? I flipped through my school binder. Nothing. I checked the time. 8:06 pm. I briefly considered just going to bed. What else was I supposed to do now? Staying awake would just leave me alone with my thoughts, and I didn’t have time to unpack all that. I was about to get into bed when the notification bell on my phone went off again. God, what now? I opened the message only after seeing it was from Nahuel. “Yo Lauti, want to come over to Tomi’s? Joaco bought a bottle of Absolut lmao” I rolled my eyes. “Again? Do you only get together to drink?” He sent the woozy emoji. “It’s nothing like your birthday pregame, it’s just the boys here.” Oh. I suddenly felt a rush run through me. I tried to find a not-so-obvious way to ask if Valentín would be there. “Who’s there?” “??? Everyone. Tomi, Joaco, Valen, Santi…” Bingo. “Be there in 30.” Ω Nahuel had never looked so happy to see me. “Dude, thank you for coming,” he said as he led me into Tomi’s house. “This is so dead.” I shuddered as we walked in. There were some major memories attached to this place. I was welcomed to a sorry sight. Five teenagers spread through the living room, unenthusiastically drinking from their cups as trap music played unattended in the background. The group barely paid attention to me as I arrived, except for one. The one I’d come here for. Valentín’s eyes widened when he saw me. “Hey,” I said, loud enough for it to be a general greeting, but looking straight at him. “Hey,” he said, blankly. Others followed suit. He didn’t get up to greet me, and I didn’t go to him. I tried to figure out what he was thinking just from his expression. He didn’t look angry at me, but he didn't look particularly happy to see me either. Why does everything have to be so difficult with you? Nahuel handed me a glass of what appeared to be a screwdriver with – judging by the smell – obscenely off proportions. I hadn’t found a seat when Valentín stood up. “I’m gonna have a smoke,” he announced, seemingly at no-one in particular. He didn’t meet my gaze as he passed by me to head off to the patio. Oh, no you don’t. I took a big sip from the cup, never minding the burning sensation it left in my throat. I stood up. “I’m going too,” I said. Valentín made no effort in hiding the dismay in his expression. Nahuel raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you smoke tobacco?” “Since always,” I dismissed, and then nodded towards Valentín. He was not getting rid of me that easily. We sat down on the rusty iron bench in the small patio. Drizzle was starting to fall from the sky, but luckily we were under cover. Valentín lit a cigarette beside me. “Weren’t you gonna smoke?” he asked pointedly. I gulped down. “I didn’t bring my own.” He eyed me and, for an instant, I could’ve sworn I saw a flash of mischief cross his face, as if he wanted to make a silly, flirty joke about what I’d just said. But he held back. “I texted you,” I said. “Oh,” he took a drag of the cigarette, looking away. “I didn’t see, sorry.” “Right,” I said. “So… what’s up?” He shrugged. “Just chilling with the boys. Then you showed up. Not much has happened.” The indifference of his words stung as if he’d just slapped me. I let out a heavy sigh. “Listen, if I said something – or, I don’t know, if it’s something I did, I just…” I started rambling, but not even that made him turn towards me. “I’m sorry, okay?” He looked down, silent as a grave. I was starting to get angry. “Hey!” I grabbed him by the arm. “Talk to me.” He threw the half-smoked cigarette to the ground, the light rain putting it out right away. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “We’re cool.” What? “I don’t believe you.” He rolled his eyes. “Okay. Whatever.” That was it. I’d had enough. “Man, what’s wrong with you?” I asked. “One minute you’re acting all cool, flirting with me at school, the next you’re cold and distant…” He shook me off and stood up. “Dude, stop being such a girl,” he spat. “Huh?” “You and I,” he pointed towards me, then to himself. “We’re nothing. We just made out a couple of times, that’s it.” It took me a moment to fully understood what he'd just said – the depth to which those words cut. But I could feel the unholy mixture of bewilderment, anger and sadness brewing within me. The outside of me must've told a hell of a story of what was going on inside, because Valentín didn’t leave my side despite the harshness of his words. A shaky breath escaped my lips. “What if I want us to be something?” He tutted sardonically. “Yeah, right. You can be my math tutor, right?” I frowned. “Is that what’s been bothering you? The stupid lie I told Nahuel?” He made a dejected shrug. He looked like a little kid. “I just…” he began to say, but cut himself short. “Forget it.” He opened the door to go back inside, but I grabbed his hand before he could leave. “Will you please talk to me?” He wouldn’t meet my gaze, but I could tell there was a certain sadness in his eyes. Is this all because of me? We stayed like that for a loaded moment; a standoff between two unmovable objects wherein the first one to open up about their feelings lost. This time, I won the battle. “I know you’re ashamed of me,” he mumbled. I shook my head emphatically. “What? Why would you think that?” He looked up at me. “Why else would you make up that bullshit about Rizzo's work sheets to Nahu?” he said. “And the way you acted around me at school, I just…” I placed a hand on his chest. “Valen –” “Listen,” he interrupted. “I know I’m not nearly as cool as you are. I can’t play any fancy instruments and the furthest I’ve been from Lugano was a stupid fishing trip with the boys… But you can’t play with me like this, y’know? I don’t want to have to wait until no one’s around to kiss you, Lauti.” I stared at him in stupor. Never in a million years would I have imagined that was what was going on in his mind. Ever since that first kiss I’d simply assumed the whole reason he’d kept his distance was his own aversion to being seen in public with me. Apparently, he’d thought the same about me, but with a different reasoning. I’d taken too long to answer. He made a pained face as he walked away. Fuck. “Wait, Valen!” He was already by the living room when I caught up with him. I grabbed him by the arm again, this time with enough strength to make him turn toward me. I knew the others were looking at us, but my attention was entirely posed on him. We shared a knowing look. I looked for traces of hesitation in his eyes, as I’d done before. This time, I saw none. I heard Tomás yell out a ‘what the fuck?!’ as our lips locked. At first I tried to keep it civil, knowing well we had spectators scrutinizing us. But then he placed his hand on the back of my neck and tilted my head to the side to lean into the kiss even further. I simply let him take over. The gasps from the group continued even as we finally pulled away. Our foreheads met as I caressed his cheek. “I’m not ashamed of anything,” I whispered, so as to make those words for him alone. “Okay,” he breathed out, his lips curving upwards. “I believe you.” “Well, shit,” Nahuel said from across the room. Valentín laughed meekly. I turned to face the group, unsure of what to expect. I was met with faces of shock, but no one seemed upset or angry. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “So, uh, guys,” Valentín said. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
  8. gor mu

    III.

    Thank you!
  9. gor mu

    II.

    Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe it's not? 🤔 Thank you for commenting!
  10. gor mu

    III.

    Thank you! Thank you so much! I'm glad you find my writing so thorougly enjoyable. I hope you keep reading and keep finding yourself in these characters just as much as I am 🤗
  11. gor mu

    III.

    Valentín went back to ignoring me the Monday after that. He no longer glared at me at class or pushed me down the stairs on the way out of school, but somehow the cold shoulder felt even worse than that. Luckily for me, whatever infatuation I’d once harbored for Tomás dissipated like smoke after what I saw at the party, and now I knew better than developing impossible expectations and idolizing another guy who was never going to pay any attention to me. But it was still hard. Valentín had been my first kiss. He’d initiated it. And now he was acting like I didn’t exist. Things weren’t any better with Noah. We still talked, from time to time. He gave me updates on how things were going with his senior year. He’d sometimes remind me of releases from musicians we both liked. But that was it. We went from being best friends to being… I’m not sure what, exactly. A part of me wondered if it would’ve been better to simply agree not to talk anymore. To pretend we were dead to each other, and keep our friendship frozen in time, like a relic from a bygone time in our lives. I started thinking the problem was me. I was the common denominator: while everyone else at school, including the few openly gay kids, appeared to be having perfectly active social and love lives, I was stuck on following roads that only led to dead ends and disappointment. Those days it was my routine that saved me from completely unraveling. I doubled my weekly cello lessons, practicing more than I’d ever done before, taking harder and harder pieces. I buried myself in schoolwork and quickly became top of my class, to the bewilderment of everyone around me. Since Argentine universities don’t take high school grades into consideration when you’re applying, senior year of high school is mostly seen as the last chance to make the most of one’s teenage freedom before settling down in college. But not me! I suppose my non-existent love life wasn’t the only field in which I was screwing myself over by going against the norm. Ω The wooden floor creaked with each step I took. The whole room smelled of artificial lavender and bleach, as if it'd just undergone a profound clean-up, and the radiant white of the naked walls suggested they’d been recently given a make-over, too. A couple of dead plants adorned the balcony, from which I had a complete view of… another building across the street. “So, what do you think?” my mom asked. “It's… pretty.” She pursed her lips. “You don’t sound convinced.” I sighed. “It’s nothing like home.” She pulled me in for a hug that I did not lean into. “I know,” she said. “But in time, it will be home.” Ω “Atención, por favor, Metrovías informa…” I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, and heard myself sigh in annoyance. The LED screen had already announced delays in the arrival time for the next train twice. I still wasn’t used to depending on the city’s collapse-prone public transportation system. I finally gave up and set the cello case on the floor, my shoulders thanking me as the weight lifted off them. Just seconds later, though, the familiar noise of the train arriving at the station forced me to put the case back on. Fucking rush hour. I pushed my way into the train, trying not to hit anyone in the face with my cello in the process. Naturally, the train was filled to the brim and there weren’t any seats available. I mentally prepared myself to carry the case on my back while standing up for another half an hour. After spending a good three or four minutes just trying to figure out how not to be in the way, I recognized a familiar face sitting across the car. Valentín took a moment to notice I was looking his way. He was staring blankly at the ground, legs akimbo, with a sad, empty look about him. I briefly wondered if I should say ‘hi’ from afar or simply ignore him. Other than the exceptionality of meeting someone from school out on the street, there was nothing about this situation that indicated he was interested in talking to me any more than he was when we were at school. Before I could make up my mind, though, he looked up and saw me. After holding each other’s gazes for a second, he gestured a small upward nod in what was probably the first time he acknowledged my existence since the party at Tomás’s. I nodded back. Perhaps that was as much as I was going to get. But then, just as I was turning my head away, I noticed him waving to me. I slid through the thicket of commuters over to where he was seated, apologizing to the few people I hit with the case on the way. He stood up before I reached him. “Sit.” In any other situation, I would’ve at least refused once out of politeness, but my shoulders were starting to get sore and the cello felt heavier by the second. I sat with the case between my legs and Valentín standing in front of me. “Thanks.” Should I say something else? Why was I being so goddamn awkward? “Where are you getting down?” I finally asked. He looked down at me. For some reason, the hateful, angry look I’d become accustomed to was gone from his eyes. He just looked disoriented, not unlike that time at the party, those few instants before we kissed. “Uh, just… The last station.” “Okay,” I said. “What about you?” I looked up. “Acoyte.” He nodded, and something about his expression gave me the feeling that he'd wanted to say something else, but had stopped himself. I decided not to push it. We fell into an excruciating silence that lasted for the remainder of the ride, which luckily wasn’t long. When it was time for me to get down, I thanked him again and bid my goodbye, but he simply stood there, watching me in silence. Well, that was weird. The chime indicating the doors were closing had already gone off when I heard him stumble out of the train behind me. “Wait!” he called. I looked back, somewhat startled. “Are you… free now?” I blinked. “I guess… yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking embarrassed. “Can we talk?” The train had already left the station, and most people had already walked away, leaving us alone in the platform. “Just for a little,” he added, and then, as if to sweeten the deal: “I’ve got some weed here with me.” My heartbeat increased. In my mind I’d already said yes ten times over. “My place is just ‘round the corner.” For the first time since I’d met him, I got to see a flash of happiness cross his face. Ω The walk to my place was spent in complete silence. Not that the cacophony of city noises would’ve let us have a smooth conversation, anyway. A couple of times we exchanged glances that neither of us could hold for more than a few seconds. We were in the elevator when Valentín broke the tacit truce. “I didn’t know you played,” he said, nodding towards the cello case on my back. His voice was a barely audible whisper. “Oh. I’ve been playing since I was a kid.” He hummed. Whatever he was thinking was unreadable just by his expression. No one was home when we arrived. Part of me had been expecting my mom to be there, as I still wasn’t sure how to feel about being home alone with Valentín. “Uh, you can leave your things wherever.” I put the cello down and went to wash my hands in the bathroom. Just as I was finishing, I caught my reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath. This is happening. When I went back to the living room, Valentín was still where I’d left him, blankly eyeing the boxes of assorted stuff that my dad had just recently sent from home. “We moved in a few days ago.” He nodded. “It’s a nice place,” he said. I forced a smile. “Should I, eh… Is mate okay?” He shook his head. “Just water is fine.” “Sure.” Since we still didn’t have any sofa or anything that resembled that, we sat at the table. It felt strangely formal. We remained in awkward silence for a few moments as he stared down at his glass of water. “So…” I began to say, but I wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. I wasn’t sure there was anything to say. “Sorry,” he said. He still wouldn’t look up at me. “I know this is weird.” “No, no, it’s okay,” I lied. “What exactly did you want to talk about?” He shrugged. “I don’t know, to be honest.” “Okay,” I said. What was I supposed to do now? Then I remembered the kiss at the party. I cleared my throat. “You said you had some weed with you?” Ω We moved to the balcony. I didn’t know when my mom was coming back and I didn’t want the weed stench to impregnate the whole place. The sun was already going down. Valentín took a while to get the joint to light up. When it did, he took a long drag and passed it over. “That’s better,” he exhaled. It took some effort not to cough my lungs out. I’d never gotten fully used to smoking, and this wasn’t exactly top-quality stuff. “Do you smoke often?” I asked. He shrugged. “Whenever I can. Not often.” It wasn’t a big joint, so it didn’t take long before it was reduced to a roach. “It’s nice, having a balcony,” Valentín spoke after a while. His voice was deep and raspy now. “I suppose it is,” I said, absent-mindedly. He gave me a funny look. “You never say things like you mean them.” “I don’t?” I asked. “I hadn’t noticed.” He laughed. It was a subtle chuckle, but it was probably the first time I’d heard him laugh at all. It was nice. Silence again. Then, a somber look appeared on his face. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “Why did I do what?” He looked down. “Kissing me.” “I don’t know,” I said. “You asked.” He made an annoyed face. “But why did you say yes?” I shrugged. “I was high and drunk. It felt like a good idea.” “And now?” “Now what?” “Does it still feel like a good idea?” We held each other’s gazes. The sun was nearly gone, what remained of it hidden beneath rows of high-rise buildings across the street, receding rays reflecting off repeating sets of windows. In the dim light his skin shone like molten gold. I could feel my heart trying to jump out of my chest. “I… I’m high now, too.” He laughed again, and this time, I joined in. “This is so weird.” I chuckled. “Why?” “I’m here,” he said. “In your home.” “Well, do you have somewhere else to be?” “Yeah, kind of.” A sad look appeared on his face, and I decided I never wanted to see it again. “Oh. That’s too bad.” The corner of his lips curved upwards just slightly. “What, you actually like me being here?” “Yeah,” I said. “I guess. I think so.” He shook his head, but the smile didn’t leave his face. “There you go again. You don’t sound like you mean it.” I frowned. “I like you being here.” Then, out of nowhere, words came out of my mouth as if someone else had placed them there: “I like you.” Both our eyes widened as the realization of what I’d just said hit us. “I mean, you know! Like, as a person –” The smile on his face turned into a wide, cocky grin. “Oh, yeah, I totally get what you mean,” he jokingly said. I could feel my face turning red. Right then, however, my embarrassment was interrupted by the sound of rattling keys and the opening of the apartment door. “Shit, my mom.” I hurried to throw the ash down the balcony and make sure there wasn’t any residual malodor. Valentín, for his part, stood up straight and remained frozen in place. “I’m home,” my mom announced as she left her things in the kitchen. Then she noticed the wide-eyed boy by the balcony door. She gave us both a once-over. “Who’s your friend?” I cleared my throat and prayed our eyes weren’t too bloodshot. “Hey, mom, this is Valen…” I said, trying to look casual. “From school.” “Yeah, I was just about to leave,” Valentín said, looking meek. My heart dropped a little. She eyed me pointedly and raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” she asked, flashing Valentín a gentle smile. “Wouldn’t you like to stay for dinner?” He opened his mouth to speak, but I was quicker. “Yeah! That’d be great!” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder. Luckily my mom was the kind of person one simply couldn’t say no to. Ω Over dinner my mom took it upon herself to carry the conversation all on her own, asking all the questions while Valentín limited himself to short answers, to the point it started feeling more like an interrogation than anything else. I learned he lived in Lugano, a neighborhood to the South, just within city limits. He went to our school since his dad, a mason, usually did work for the school and had secured a deal with the administration to let his son attend whilst paying a reduced fee. “What about your mother?” my mom asked at one point “Mom!” I reprimanded, somewhat embarrassed. “That’s okay,” Valentín said. “She passed away when I was little. It’s just me and my dad at home.” I felt like disappearing from the face of the Earth. My mom apologized profusely, which Valentín was pretty gallant about. The questionnaire ended after that, though luckily so did dinner. “Let me know when you have to head home and I’ll take you,” she said, most likely still embarrassed from the inopportune question earlier. He initially refused, but my mom’s perseverance prevailed in the end. He thanked her. We moved to my room. As he walked in for the first time, I couldn’t help but feeling somewhat self-conscious. He kept staring at everything with intent, as if looking for something. To be fair, there wasn’t much to look at anyway. We sat down on the bed. “I’m sorry about my mom,” I said. “She can be a little too much sometimes.” “It’s fine. She’s nice.” We fell silent for a moment. “Listen, about what I said earlier –” “Don’t mention it,” he cut me short. “We were…” “High?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said with a slight smile. Neither of us dared look up at each other. I was beginning to think we could only talk normally through the intervention of some sort of narcotic. “I don’t know how to feel about you,” he finally said. “This is still… weird for me. I’ve never been into a guy before.” He's into me. “This is new to me, too.” He rubbed his neck and gave me a sheepish look. “It's nice, though.” I smiled. “It is.” I knew I was playing with fire. I'd already let myself go without thinking rationally about things, and I'd gotten myself hurt. Whatever this was was shaping up to be good enough for me to know I wanted more of it. But I needed to make sure it was more than just a fluke. “After the pregame at Tomás’s… I wasn’t sure you even remembered what happened.” Valentín fidgeted with his fingers. His voice was shaky when he spoke. “Man, how could I forget?” I swallowed hard. Focus. “Then… why did you ignore me at school?” He groaned in annoyance. “I was confused, okay? I didn't know what to make of that kiss,” he said. “And I didn't even know if you wanted me around. I was an asshole to you all that time…” “You were,” I said. “But I do want you around.” He smiled. Earnestly, and with relief. My heart fluttered. It was strange seeing him so vulnerable. Earlier, when I’d said I liked him, I knew I’d spoken out of impulse, but now… Now I wasn’t so sure it'd just been an impulse. He placed a hand on my knee. Without realizing it we’d somehow inched closer to each other. He leaned in. This time it was different. Having come down from the high, and in the quiet of my room, I could feel the warmth of his lips as they met mine. I could hear the subtle noises, the shuffling of the bedsheets as we moved even closer to each other. It was soft and slow, even as the thoughts in my head and the blood in my veins ran at a hundred per hour. His hand traveled up to my thigh, then picking up the hem of my shirt. My whole body tensed up. I pulled back. “Wait,” I breathed out, gently putting his arm away. Ordering my thoughts rationally was probably the hardest thing I’d ever done, but both my brain and my body were getting tied up in contradiction. “I've never done this before.” His eyes widened. “Oh. No, no, that’s fine. I –” he stammered. “We don’t have to do anything right now.” I breathed out in relief. “Yeah, let’s just… take it slow,” I said. He smiled. “Slow works for me.” We didn’t extend past that for the rest of the evening, but that was fine by me. It was a lot to take in on its own. When it was time for Valentín to go home, I insisted on going with him, despite his and my mom’s initial opposition. I wanted to be near him as much as I could. The ride over to his place was spent in silence. But it wasn’t that awkward, loaded silence I’d grown to expect with him. We didn’t speak because we knew there wasn’t much left to say. The city lights at night barely concealed the touch of our fingers in the back seat of the car, our hearts racing as we split our attention between each other and making sure my mom’s eyes were on the road. Just a few hours ago the thought of sharing that kind of intimacy with anyone, let alone Valentín, would’ve never crossed my mind. But now, I didn’t want to entertain the thought of living without that rush of dopamine that flooded me with each passing second our skins met, even if it was just the tip of our fingers. I’d spent so many years of my life imagining what this would feel like with Noah. Somehow, this was so much better than anything I'd ever imagined. “Let me know where to turn, Valentín,” said my mom from the driver’s seat as we crossed a set of train tracks. For the first time since we got in the car, I took a look outside the window and noticed the change in urban topography. Around us rose menacing grey concrete blocks as far as the eye could see. His neck snapped, as if startled that he’d been addressed. “Just drop me off by the avenue,” Valentín said. “I can walk from there.” My mom turned to him with a befuddled look on her face. “Don’t be silly, it’s way too late to be walking around like that.” We ventured further into the labyrinthine streets, lined by tram tracks and a few leafless trees. The worn out walls and columns were embellished by careless graffiti and murals seemingly paying tribute to young neighbors who’d recently passed. It was like a whole different city. “You can stop by that corner, Mrs. Corina,” he said. I noticed the discomfort in my mother’s eyes through the rear-view mirror as the car stopped moving. “Talk tomorrow at school?” I asked as Valentín opened the door. He smiled reassuringly. “Yeah, talk tomorrow.” Once we’d pulled away and began our ride home, my mom hummed thoughtfully. “Nice kid.” I blinked. “Yeah, I guess.” She fell silent for a moment. “Make sure to text him and ask him if he got home alright, okay?” “What do you mean?” I asked. She pursed her lips. “Just do it, alright?” I shrugged. “Alright.” Ω A great deal of those high-impact moments in my early life that went on to become deeply entrenched into my long-term memory have to do with Noah. He was, after all, one of the relevant aspects of my life all through my most important formative years. One such moment was Coral Jones’s birthday party during freshman year of high school. Coral wasn’t very popular, but she was one of the prettier girls in class. Some of the girls called her ‘Coral Reef’, which I thought was pretty funny. We must’ve crossed just a couple of words in our three years of going to the same school. But we did share one thing in common, at least for the duration of ninth grade: she had a massive crush on Noah. It was pretty obvious. She would always make puppy eyes at him in the hallways and giggle with her friends when he was around. But Noah, oblivious as he was, remained blissfully ignorant of Coral’s infatuation. No matter how many times she asked to see his notes from the past class or pretended to have forgotten her pen and asked Noah for his, he simply would not realize. “You know she’s totally into you,” I casually mentioned one day after class, having witnessed yet another of her tragic attempts at getting Noah to notice her. “She’s just forgetful,” he’d dismissed. Forgetful. The sad charade lasted until the last month of freshman year, when Coral armed herself in courage and invited him to her birthday party. To her consternation, Noah agreed to go, but only on the condition that I could go along with him. Naturally, I didn’t think twice about saying yes. Wherever Noah went, I followed. The event itself wasn’t so terrible. Coral’s friends were genuinely nice to me, even though none of them knew for sure why I was there. Even Coral made sure I was having a good time, when she wasn’t busy fawning over Noah. At one point during the party, when Coral’s friends and I were enthralled in a particularly entertaining karaoke sing-off, Noah and the birthday girl disappeared. It must’ve been no more than fifteen minutes, and none of the girls seemed to notice. But I did. Noah was the first to show up. He looked as if he’d just seen a ghost, his face dead serious even as one of the girls butchered Taylor Swift’s Blank Space beyond recognition. Coral resurfaced just a few minutes later, her eyes red and puffy and full of heartbreak. It didn’t take long to connect the dots. We didn’t stay for too long after that. Noah was clearly not welcome anymore, and I was only there because of him, so we bid our goodbyes and headed off to Noah’s place. That night, as we recounted the day’s events, Noah and I made a pledge. If one of us ever became romantically involved with someone in any way, shape or form, the other would be the first one to know. “And that’s a promise,” he’d said. “A promise,” I repeated. And so the pledge was sealed. Some three years after that fateful birthday party and a good five thousand miles south of the town where it happened, I lay in bed staring at my phone screen, waiting for fourteen year-old Coral Jones’s courage to come to my aid. The conversation with Noah had died a few days ago and I’d been putting off starting it again. I hadn’t had anything to say until now. But so much had happened in the preceding hours. So many things had changed. Before it’d been easy brushing it all off. Valentín and I had kissed, but it hadn’t meant anything. We’d been shitfaced at a party. Things like that happened. But now… Valentín and I had a thing. I wasn’t sure what kind of thing, but it was definitely a thing. So the pledge applied. My fingers hovered over the keyboard. Was this all really just about a stupid promise we’d made when we were fifteen, or was there something else? What if I just wanted to make Noah jealous? The thought made me feel like the worst person alive. No. There was no way I was just using Valentín. What I’d felt for him earlier had definitely been real. Then what was holding me back? I hadn’t been man enough to tell him how I felt about him when I had the chance. Now, at least, I could tell him how I felt about Valentín. Our friendship warranted me being honest at least some of the time. And now, more than ever, I really needed a friend to talk about things. I breathed in. Then out. “Hey. Can we talk?” I stared attentively at the screen as the message went from ‘sent’ to ‘delivered’. Then, suddenly… ‘Read: 11:56 PM’. My heart rate spiked as the familiar three moving dots indicating the person on the other side of the conversation was typing appeared. This was happening. Shit. How am I even going to start this conversation? But then the dots disappeared. I blinked. Seriously? I waited a minute, then two. Five minutes. Ten. When staring directly at the screen waiting for anything to happen got tiresome, I limited myself to checking every few minutes. Half an hour passed, then an hour. Nothing. I suddenly felt like Coral Jones. Alright, Noah. Fuck you too.
  12. gor mu

    II.

    It makes me happy to hear that, since conveying what that whole experience is like and especially painting a faithful picture of what life is like in Argentina were one of my biggest ambitions going into this. Thank you so much!
  13. gor mu

    II.

    There was a special kind of sadness about Buenos Aires. It was something in the overcrowded streets, in the aged grey buildings, and even in the people – melancholy appeared to be part of the city’s own idiosyncrasy. Even as I’d visited almost every year after moving to Connecticut, the Buenos Aires I remembered best was the one from my early childhood, the city with wide avenues that painted itself in lilac every spring as the Jacarandá trees bloomed. We arrived at midnight on the coldest night in June, smack in the middle of winter. The repentine inversion of seasons in the span of 12 hours from New England to the Southern Cone seemed fitting for what was essentially a complete 180 degree turn in the trajectory of my life. The first thing I did when I finally managed to get the airport’s WiFi to work on my phone was letting Noah know we’d landed in one piece. He was probably asleep by then, though, and when I woke up at noon the next day, he still hadn’t replied. He’d never been the one to religiously check his notifications, and since we saw each other all the time at school and spent so much time together anyway, we’d never really gotten used to communicating by text. By the end of the first week we’d only exchanged a couple of words. I supposed I’d better get used to that. Ω The food on my plate had gone cold a good half an hour ago. My mom, my uncle and my grandparents had migrated to the kitchen to talk about divorce stuff, leaving me and my cousins on our own in the dining room. It’d been a good three years since the last time I’d seen anyone from my mother’s side of the family, and the times I'd seen them I could've counted with the fingers of a hand. Truth be told, I'd never really gotten to know them very well. My grandparents were Korean migrants, of the first families to arrive in Argentina during the 60’s. My mom had always had a complicated relationship with them; they’d had plans for her life that she’d never felt like following, and when she decided to marry the man she loved and make her life in America, my uncle had to take care of the family business on his own. Of course, now she had to rely on them again, and the years of keeping her distance were bound to manifest themselves somehow. And I knew all of that baggage was hers alone, but the estrangement between them meant that my relationship with that side of my family – especially my two cousins, Nahuel and Romina, who were about my age – was practically non-existent. Which was making things incredibly awkward for me at that very moment. “So…” Nahuel said, breaking the uninterrupted silence that had befallen the room since the end of dinner. “You’ll be going to our school, then?” Romina’s disinterested gaze didn’t leave her phone screen. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, just the remainder of the year. I suppose that means we’ll be sharing class,” I said, forcing a smile. I heard Romina chuckle, and Nahuel’s own smile didn’t reach his eyes. No one spoke after that. God. The following were going to be some difficult months. Ω “Why don’t you state your name for the class?” The whole class’s eyes were on me. My mouth felt dry. I suddenly felt like I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, or any language at all for that matter. “I’m Lautaro Saez Li. I’m seventeen.” Luckily, the principal did the rest of the introduction. I was Nahuel’s cousin, I came from the US, I was going to be there for the remainder of the year. All the basics. I gathered the strength to walk across the room and sit on the nearest empty seat. Nahuel was on the other side, too busy talking to his friends to spare a glance my way. Asshole. I hadn’t finished getting everything out of my backpack when I heard a booming voice call for me from across the room. “Hey, you, Nahuel’s cousin!” It was one of the kids in his group, a broad-shouldered guy with mossy green eyes and a wide smile on his face. “C’mon, sit over here,” he said. He waved towards an empty seat next to his. I tried to ignore my cousin’s overt annoyance as I resettled beside them. It was then that I noticed the cast on the green-eyed boy’s arm. “What happened to you?” I ventured, suddenly less uncomfortable. Something about his demeanor made me feel at least a little welcome. “He’s an idiot, that’s what happened,” said another one of the boys, prompting some laughter from the group. The green-eyed boy laughed, too. “Welcome to the school,” he said, extending his free hand. “I’m Tomás.” Ω Tomás convinced Nahuel and the others to let me hang out with them after school. ‘Let’s be nice to the new kid’, he’d said. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to take that. We went to a quiet park a few blocks from the school, and we all pitched in to buy beers at a store nearby. Despite most of us being underage at the time, it seemed teenagers drinking out in public at 5 in the afternoon didn’t raise any concerns from passersby. The mild winter breeze was also no deterrent. I decided to simply go with the flow and take it as the norm in this turf. “So, you’re half Argentine, half Korean, and were raised in the US?” Tomás asked over a drag of his cigarette. “That’s insane.” I shrugged, trying not to let the attention get to my head. The mosaic that was my background had made me accustomed to feeling like an outsider from childhood, but being a foreigner had never been too much of a big deal for me back in New Haven. “And do you –” “I already told you, man,” Nahuel interrupted his friend, rolling his eyes. “Neither of us speak Korean. We just look the part.” “Alright then, jeez, sorry.” Tomás laughed, and dimples formed on his cheeks. I felt butterflies in the pit of my gut as I was suddenly reminded of Noah, and how his smile would never fail to become contagious. The two of them looked nothing alike. Tomás’ skin was a tan-olive shade, his hair cut short and meticulously combed back, and despite being a good few inches shorter than Noah, his athletic frame gave him an imposing appearance. They were easily antithetical. And yet, I still couldn’t help but feel that familiar warmth in his presence. “So why are you here, anyway?” brusquely asked another of the boys, to whom I’d been earlier introduced as Valentín. It took me a moment to realize I was being addressed, and by the time I noticed the group had already erupted in reprimand. “Dude, seriously?” “I’m just saying!” Valentín defended himself. “Sounds to me like you had things figured out over there…” I tried not to get the obvious contempt in his voice get to me. “It was just a family thing,” I said simply. Valentín didn’t bother with a reply, though the nasty look on his face remained. What is his deal? “Pay him no mind,” said Tomás with a smirk. “He’s just jealous cause now all the girls at school are gonna be all over you.” Laughter. And just like that, in an instant, the butterflies in my stomach turned into a knot, and all I could do was hope that my face wouldn’t give away any indication of what was going on inside. Oh. Right. Luckily for me, right at that point another member of the group showed up proudly announcing he’d brought more beer, and I swiftly stopped being the focus of the conversation for the rest of the evening. Still, that uneasy feeling took a while to fully go away. Ω The few weeks that passed between our arrival and my getting into school went by in a blur. The paperwork, looking for a new apartment for my mom and I, the inevitable culture shocks, the never-ending novelties I’d find in everything – I felt like I’d blinked and two months had gone by without me realizing it. “I feel like I’m still not really here,” I told my mom one day after class. We were drinking mate by the window of my grandparents’ old house, watching the rain pour down on the empty streets. “That’s because you’re not,” she said. “Your body is physically here, but your mind is still 5000 miles up north.” I snorted. “Well, do you happen to know when my mind will be showing up?” She smiled. It was a rare sight those days, albeit a welcome one. “I couldn’t tell you. But don’t stay up waiting.” At that point, keeping my guard up against her was already starting to get tiresome. I had to see her start over from scratch, rebuilding her life in her home country after over ten years, having to essentially concede defeat to her parents as, in some way, she’d proven them right in failing to achieve lasting happiness with the life she’d chosen for herself. I still didn’t fully understand why they’d done what they’d done, and why I’d had to be a part of it. I hadn’t forgiven them. But I was slowly learning that they, too, were just as flawed and prone to mistakes as anyone else. And that made accepting the new reality just a bit easier. Ω It’d been a whole week since Noah had last answered a text. The first two days had been okay. By then I was used to a little delay in our communication, the impersonal medium hindering the possibility of a worthwhile exchange. Then by the fourth day I started getting worried I might’ve said something wrong. Had I somehow been too explicit in my affection? Had I given away my feelings and was he now too weirded out to even reply with a dry ‘ok’? By the end of the week I was fully worrying something might’ve happened to him, though texting with some of our common friends I wasn’t able to reach any conclusions. His social media was inactive, though that wasn’t necessarily meaningful when it came to Noah. Maybe he’d gone on vacation somewhere and forgot to anyone beforehand. Maybe his phone had broken down and he was temporarily incommunicated. Or maybe he was just not that interested in talking to me anymore. I suppose I don’t have to say which hypothesis I was favoring at the time. Meanwhile I was starting to settle in at school. I was no longer spending that much time with Nahuel’s friends; I could realize when I was being invited to tag along out of pity, and though my self-respect and dignity were by all means not unquestionable, I still preferred to mostly stick to my own. Tomás still talked to me from time to time, when he wasn’t around the rest of the pack – which was, admittedly, not that often. He was probably the only one who consistently tried to strike a conversation with me, which didn’t always work. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to let loose and be casual with him. I mostly let him ask questions and limited myself to giving straight-to-the-point, dry answers. It was excruciating. It could’ve been that I was sort of afraid to speak in general. Even though Spanish was my mother tongue and I’d spoken it interchangeably at home my whole life, I was completely unfamiliar with the way kids my age actually spoke it, and at times I was fully missing out on entire conversations. There was undoubtedly a fear of coming across as stupid for saying the wrong thing. It could’ve also been that he was one of the most attractive guys I’d ever met, and I kept catching myself staring at him from across the classroom whenever he was looking the other way. There was something about the way he handled himself, just projecting confidence with every word he said and every move he made… It was nice having someone like that pay attention to me. While not everyone at school was as ready to socialize with me as Tomás was, most kids had by then grown used to me being there, and didn’t mind talking to me from time to time – especially at English class, when everyone suddenly seemed to want to sit next to me. Even Nahuel appeared to be making amends with my presence. And then there was Valentín. I couldn't help but feel Valentín was actively ignoring me most of the time, and when he wasn't, I would sometimes catch him giving me dirty looks from across the hall or during class. He’d snicker if I used a word wrong in a sentence when participating in class, or he’d simply stand up and leave whenever I approached the group. There was nothing I could do if he just didn’t like me – after all, not everyone was bound to. But it still would’ve been nice knowing what it was about me that made him hate me so much. And I came closer to finding out one day after class. We were all jammed up at the school’s entrance waiting for the doors to open so we could finally go home. “Hey, Lauti,” Tomás greeted me with a pat in the back. He’d taken to calling me by my nickname pretty much right away. “Nahu told me it’s your birthday this Saturday.” “Eh, yeah, that’s right!” In the midst of getting up to date with schoolwork, resuming cello lessons with my new instructor, and worrying over Noah dropping off the face of the Earth, I’d somehow forgotten about the proximity of my own 18th birthday. “Congrats, man, eighteen!” said Tomás, a wide smile on his face. “So listen. With the guys we were planning on going out at night, hit the club, maybe pregame at my place. That sort of thing. Want to come?” “Uhh, yeah!” I blurted out, almost as a reflex. I’d never even been near a club, and the idea was quite frankly terrifying, but by then I’d learned most teenagers in Argentina were avid clubgoers by the time they were sixteen, and I didn’t want to look like a complete loser in front of Tomás and the rest. Plus it was my 18th birthday. “Sweet, I’ll text you the address then,” he said, and promptly returned to the group. I made a mental note to worry about the party thing later – I had plenty on my plate already. The next instant, however, I heard Valentín shouting behind me. “What the fuck, man, why did you have to invite him?!” Just as the ensuing fight among the boys began, the doors were opened and people started pouring out of the building, so I took my cue to scurry through the crowd. That was a discussion I had no intention of bearing witness to. But when I was walking down the stairs on my way out, something hit my shoulder, making me lose my balance and trip. “Yanqui de mierda,” Valentín hissed as he walked past me. “Hey, watch it!” Nahuel barked back as he came to my aid, though the offender was already halfway across the street and didn’t bother looking back. “You okay?” “Yeah,” I said, straightening my jacket. I was lucky I hadn't fallen flat on my face. “But God, what’s his deal with me, anyway?” “Hell if I know,” said Nahuel, scratching his head. “Don’t worry about him, though. Come to Tomi’s party, it’ll be fun.” I shrugged. “I’ll think about it.” If things were going to be like that, I didn’t feel like having to deal with Valentín’s mood all night. Nahuel raised an eyebrow and smirked. “What, like you have anything better to do?” “As a matter of fact, I do,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I was thinking of going skating after cello practice.” “Skating?” “Yeah, on ice,” I explained. “There’s a rink down in Flores.” Nahuel laughed. “Fucking hell, Valen’s right. Sos un yanqui cheto de mierda.” You’re a posh fucking yank. I laughed along. After all, it was kinda true. And I liked being able to joke around with Nahuel, even if it was at the expense of getting low-key bullied. Still, it would've been nice to have someone I trusted to talk to about all the things I was going through. It would've been nice to have Noah. Ω I breathed in, and the cold air filled my lungs. How long had it been since I’d last hit the ice? Easily over a year. The rink was closing in an hour, and it was nearly empty save for a couple of little girls clearly taking their first strides on the ice. I hadn’t managed to convince anyone at home to come with me – I’d been placing my bets on Romina, but she ultimately decided it wasn't worth the subway ride – so I was just on my own that day. But that was okay. I was used to skating alone. Though it had always been something I shared with Noah, his time on the ice was mostly spent at hockey practice, so he rarely had time to just hang out with me at the rink. And I didn't want to join the team – sports had never been my thing. So we simply stuck to our own. It had always been more of a hobby for me than anything. But this time felt different. Everything that was supposed to happen was happening: the familiar breeze on my face as I wandered aimlessly in circles, letting my thoughts drift away, and the soothing sound of the skates gliding through the slippery surface and the echo of the hollow arena. Yet for some reason, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was not clicking. I left the ice after just a half an hour or so. I was packing my things when I heard the notification bell on my phone go off, and my heart skipped a beat as I saw Noah’s name pop up for the first time in days. I took a deep breath, my whole body lighting up in expectation. “Hey L, happy birthday! Love you man, take care!” I stared at the message on the screen for a good minute. That's it? After a whole week of nothing, was that really it? I wasn't sure if I wanted to ask him what was up with him or just tell him to fuck off. In the end, I did neither. “Thanks bro! Love you too.” If there'd been any doubt in my mind that those words hadn't meant anything to him back then, I was sure they didn’t mean anything now. Ω I stared absently at the clock on the wall. 7:12, 7:13, 7:14… I was physically and mentally exhausted. I couldn’t stop thinking about Noah’s stupid little message. Who did he think he was? Going AWOL for a whole week and not even bothering to explain himself. On my own birthday, at that. Stupid little ‘love you man’. I’d waited for him to say something else. The whole ride back home I kept checking my phone, ignoring the scores of birthday messages from people I obviously didn’t care as much about. But there was nothing. Radio silence. Stupid Noah. There was a knock on the door. “Everything okay, Lauti?” I forced my best smile and nodded. “All good, mom. I’m just tired.” She sat beside me on the bed. “Being a grown up will do that to you.” This time my smile was genuine. “Nahuel called me to complain that you’re not answering his texts. He really wants you to rsvp.” She raised an eyebrow. “Where did you say you were going?” “Uhh, just a friend from school’s house. But I don’t know if I want to go, to be honest.” “Right, you’re tired,” she sighed as she stood back up. “If you change your mind, remember to text me the address.” “Will do.” “And Lautaro,” she made a knowing face. “Answer your father’s birthday message, will you?” I rolled my eyes. “Fine.” Even after getting divorced, they were still bound together by their shared passion for being a pain in my ass. Ω “Are you seriously telling me you’ve never had fernet con coca?” Tomás asked in pretend outrage. “I’m gonna need you to give me back your Argentine passport, Lauti.” “Well, where was I supposed to find something like that in Connecticut?!” I asked, imitating his tone. I had to raise my voice to hear myself over the music. “That’s all in the past now,” interjected Nahuel, handing me a glass of the dark-scented spirit. It reeked of cough syrup. “This is a formative moment for you, your first fernandito!” I took a tentative sip, which was more than enough to decide I did not like the drink at all. Bitter, herbal and exceedingly strong. Luckily, the boys found the obvious disgust on my face hilarious. I’d considered skipping the party up until the last minute, but ultimately I decided to try not to let the Noah thing get to me. At least not on my birthday. And the prospect of spending the night near Tomás was a pretty strong incentive, too. “Happy birthday, Lauti!” Tomás said over a side hug. In his proximity I could smell his cologne. “Thanks for inviting me.” “Don’t mention it,” he laughed, squeezing my shoulder. “I want to see you dance cumbia tonight!” “I’m not making any promises.” And the night was off to a good start. The boys were treating me as one of their own. Valentín, for his part, appeared to have set his animosity aside and mostly ignored me, which was the best I could’ve expected from him. And for the most part my birthday wasn’t being held as a big deal, which allowed me to simply sit back and observe the others in their natural environment. Against my own best judgement I eventually got used to the taste of fernet, and no matter how much I drank, somehow the glass on my hand kept getting refilled. I wasn’t a stranger to partying, but the style of party cultivated down here was unlike anything I’d experienced back home, and eventually I found I was getting really drunk really fast. But things started really going south when someone passed me the blunt. My view got hazy, and the loud music was starting to deconstruct into a mere repetition of the same primal beat, resounding through my entire body. I’d always been a lightweight, anyway. At one point, I realized more people were showing up. I recognized a few from school, and there were others I’d never seen before – though in the state I was in, it could’ve been either way. I sat down and wiped the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. By then the cup was gone from my hand, though it was probably for the best. What time was it? If this was merely supposed to be the pregame, I didn’t think I was going to make it to the club. I looked around. Nahuel and a girl I vaguely recognized from school were grinding to the beat of the music. I mentally gave him props. Where was Tomás? Tomás, Tomás… I tried to remember what he was wearing. Green shirt, green shirt… And there he was, making out with some girl against the wall. Every ounce of alcohol I had ingested over the course of the night suddenly turned on itself. Right. Of course. I could’ve laughed. What had I honestly thought? That he was somehow going to be into me? Had I really been so daft as to mistake his friendliness for something else, or had I simply fooled myself into thinking I could’ve enjoyed my time with him safe from ulterior variables? What a natural talent I had for setting myself up for disappointment. Lautaro Saez Li, olympic champion of acting a naïve fool. I stumbled over to the bathroom, somehow managing not to trip and fall in the process. My head hurt like hell. I stared at the reflection in the mirror. My hair was a sweaty mess, and my eyes were alarmingly bloodshot. I looked like a different person. Why do I have to be like this? I don’t know how long I stood there, looking at myself. I wasn’t moving but I was getting dizzy nonetheless. Then the bathroom door opened with a loud noise, and I promptly snapped out of the trance. Valentín’s dark eyes met mine in the mirror. Instinctively, I mumbled a barely audible ‘sorry’ and headed for the door, but he stood firmly planted in the way. He looked just as out of it as me, if not more. His disheveled hair and ochre skin were visibly covered in sweat. But the contempt on his face was somehow still there. Was just what he looked like? “Uh, can you move –” “You think you’re hot shit, don’t you?” he asked, a grave rasp in his voice. He was only a few inches taller than me, but at that moment I felt like he was completely towering over me. “Man, just– I gotta go,” I tried to brush past him, but he grabbed me by the shoulder and held me back. “You’re…” he hissed, but he was either too drunk or too high to follow that train of thought. We held each other’s gazes for an instant. Then he closed the door again, with both of us inside. A shaky breath escaped his lips. “Kiss me.” Had I been in full possession of my faculties, I would’ve probably thought about the implications of what happened next. The fact that in my eighteen years of life I’d never kissed anyone before. The fact it was Valentín, of all people. But there were too many unnatural chemical reactions going on in my brain, and it had already been a weird enough day. Fuck it. Our lips crashed unceremoniously, his teeth brushing against mine and our tongues intertwining with no preamble. His breath reeked of fernet, vodka and weed, and his shirt was so sweat-soaked he could’ve easily just come out of a pool – though that didn’t stop me from holding onto his waist as he pushed his whole weight on me against the wall. We pulled back to catch a breath. I tried in vain to decipher the look on his face, on his unfocused eyes, his gaping mouth. The echoes of our panting in the small tiled room were barely drowned by the cumbia still booming on the other side of the door. Is this really happening? For a split second, he inched closer again, as if to pick up where we’d left off, but a knock on the door made us both jump and bolt away from each other. We exchanged a wide-eyed look. The next instant he’d opened the door and fled. I stood frozen in place against the wall. The girl who’d knocked was so shit-faced she didn’t even notice I was there. I took my cue to leave as she threw up on the toilet. My hands were shaking. The party outside showed no sign of having slowed down. I looked around, but Valentín was nowhere to be seen. My knees were weak. I sat on the first surface I found. Holy shit. That really just happened. I didn't make it to the club that night.
  14. gor mu

    I.

    Thank you all! I will continue 😊
  15. gor mu

    I.

    I can’t say there have been too many moments in my life that I vividly remember. At least, not with that film-like quality that those few select life-changing instances possess, engraved so neatly into the consciousness that you can actually replay them with acute detail. The night my parents told me they were getting a divorce is one of those moments. I’d just come home from cello practice, and I’d known something was wrong the moment I walked in. My dad being home at that hour was a rare enough sight on its own, but the somber looks on my parents’ faces and the thick, palpable tension in the air should’ve been enough of a warning for what was to come. The two of them sat on either side of the dining table, the remaining empty seat apparently reserved for me. I gulped down. “Lautaro, please sit. We need to talk.” The tone in my mom’s voice was unusually serious, and the use of my full name – instead of the usual Lauti or “sweetie” made all kinds of alarms sound off in my head. “What’s up?” I asked, trying and miserably failing to sound casual. My dad’s gaze was still fixed on the table. “We have some… news,” my mom said. The blank space at the end of her sentence was filled by a dark, loaded silence. “News?” My heart sank. I already knew, but a part of me still wished it wasn’t true. She was unable to look me in the eye as she answered with those fateful words. “Your father and I are getting a divorce.” Silence. I’d already known. For months now I’d pretended not to hear their fighting across the hall, the awkward, distant silences at dinner, and my mother’s red, puffy eyes whenever I came home from school. It’d been far too obvious; the warnings had all been there. And yet, the verbal confirmation, the actual word – divorce, it was the worst feeling I could’ve ever imagined. “Why?” I asked after what felt like an eternity. The question popped up entirely on its own, as if on reflex to put an end to the mortifying silence. After all, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. But still… My mom looked visibly uncomfortable. She kept spinning her wedding ring in her finger and looking up in frustration. Tears welled in her eyes. She dared not give an answer. I turned to my father, an unsettling feeling starting to burn at the base of my throat. His silence spoke more than a thousand words ever could. “Well?” I asked again, this time directly at him. “What do you have to say?” He finally deigned himself to look up at me, but his lips remained stubbornly pursed. The look on his face could’ve only been described as an unceremonious mélange of ire, shame and pity; blood vessels flared up against his stern grey eyes. Without saying a word, he stood up and left the room. “Federico!” my mom yelled. “¡No me dejes aquí sola!” Don’t leave me alone here. The plead, the crack in her voice… There was more than one meaning attached to that sentence. All of it fell on deaf ears. The two of us sat there until the sound of the front door violently closing made her jump. Tears were already streaming copiously down her face. I wanted to comfort her, to say things would be okay. But I couldn’t fool myself and I couldn’t fool her, either. So, I simply sat there with her, not sure what to do. “I’m sorry, Lauti,” she sniffled. I swallowed hard, trying to muster the strength to be there for her despite feeling like my entire world was crashing down. “It’s alright, mom…” “No, it’s not,” she said, giving me a pitiful look. “I’m sorry, Lautaro, but there’s more.” A shiver went down my spine. “What do you mean?” She shook her head, looking up, as if disappointed in herself. “We decided… your father and I…” she sighed. “I cannot stay here any longer. Not with him. I’m going back to Argentina,” she said. “Argentina?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around her words. “Yes, with your grandmother,” she said, and made a loaded pause. “And we also decided…” She bit her lip, stopping the words from coming out of her mouth. She wouldn’t stop spinning the goddamn ring. “What did you decide?” “It would be in all of our best interests if you came with me,” she said. I recoiled, blood draining from my face. “You’re taking me to Argentina?” She was no longer crying. “Once you’re done with school and out for the summer, we’re going back to Buenos Aires,” she said. “We’ll stay with your grandparents as we settle things. You’ll finish school there.” Whatever pity I’d felt for her before had completely dissipated, an immeasurable anger taking its stead. This had to be a sick joke. She couldn’t possibly be serious. “What the fuck?!” “Lautaro!” “No, what the fuck, mom? That’s in less than two months!” I said, the tone of my voice rising well past the acceptable decibel. When had I last raised my voice to her? I couldn’t recall, but I knew it hadn’t ended well that time. And it wouldn’t this time either. “I know this is a lot to take in,” she said, matter-of-factly, with that annoying therapist voice she used whenever she tried to reconcile me with any sort of unpleasant situation. “We can talk about it in the morning, when we’ve all calmed down…” “What does dad think about this?” I asked, incensed. “Why can’t I stay with him?!” My mother’s once sad expression morphed into a stone-cold façade. “Your father and I have both decided this is for the best.” “This is so fucked up,” I said. “How can you just do this?” I couldn’t understand what thought process had possibly led them to make a decision like this. I was going to leave right before my senior year. I was going to miss my last year in high school, with all my friends, with the town I’d called home for the past ten years. I was going to a country I barely remembered, leaving everything I knew and loved behind. And to top it off… Noah. I was going to leave him, too. The ring on her finger had been finally left to rest, and in my mother’s face there was nothing but the stern expression of a parent determined to discipline their child. I had superseded the limit of what she considered to be an excusable reproach. “It’s already been decided. You’ll have time to finish your school year at your own rhythm and say goodbye to all of your friends.” The words came as a sentence, written in stone. Neither my feelings nor my opinions had even been considered to factor in. Just like that, overnight, my life underwent a 180° turn and I didn’t even have a chance to speak my mind. Ω I cried a lot the days after that talk. At home things remained as usual, with everyone playing a make-believe fantasy of a happy family, even though we all knew we were in the cusp of being separated physically by a good five thousand miles and emotionally by some more. It wasn’t until much later that I learned my father had been cheating on my mom with some of his students for years. At first I didn’t tell anyone at school about the move. The thought of having that conversation made me want to die a little – the pitiful looks, the empty ‘we’ll miss you!’ before everyone forgot about me and went on with their lives. The only one I knew I wanted to tell was Noah. But telling Noah… That was a whole different issue. It wasn’t not that I didn’t want to tell him, because I did. Our friendship, long and deep as it was, undoubtedly warranted it. It was simply that I didn’t know how to tell him, how to even begin that talk. Especially because it wasn’t the only “big thing” I wanted to tell him. I spent most of those two months of my junior year silently biding my goodbyes to everyone and everything around. The cooler teachers at school, the distinctive suburban air of my neighborhood’s tranquil streets, the ugly Ikea at Long Wharf – everything I did suddenly seemed to feel like a solemn event. I also spent those days harboring an unspeakable anger for my parents, whose inner strife had changed the course of my life without my say ever weighing in. I knew I should’ve at least tried to empathize with my father, as I was soon going to be in a whole different continent than him for who knew how long. But in my eyes, even before knowing the whole truth of his actions, he was the main culprit of the vicious crime being committed against me – not least because he’d practically rejected me in refusing to house me until I finished high school. So, I tried my best not to speak with him, and his silent, introvert nature did the rest of the work for me. I don’t know where I got the motivation to give a damn about schoolwork. Prepping for my US history exam was perhaps the most pointless task to which I could’ve dedicated myself, seeing I was no longer going to live in the country after that summer. And yet I passed all my exams with exceptional scores. Those days the only comfort I had left was spending time with Noah. I’d go over to his place after school, seeking refuge from the cold war being waged at home. There was a special kind of sadness attached to those hang out sessions, knowing I was merely procrastinating, delaying the inevitable. And every day that passed I felt guiltier for not being able to bring myself to tell him. Those otherwise enjoyable afternoons of listening to music, watching films, playing video games and just basking in the warmth of his presence were marred by the nagging feeling in the back of my head that I was somehow betraying him for hiding the truth from him. But I knew he could tell something was up. We’d known each other for far too long for him not to notice. We’d been best friends since middle school. Even though we were the same age, he’d always been the older brother I never had, standing up for me against the bullies at school who made fun of my accent, introducing me to all the cool new games that I couldn’t play since my parents refused to buy any sort of console for me. There had always been a reserved seat at each other’s tables, as we spent as much time in the other’s home as we did on our own. It was a matter of time before he confronted me about it. And eventually, he did. He mentioned it one of those afternoons, nearly a week before the summer break officially began. “Are you gonna tell me what’s going on with you?” he asked. I’d just beaten him in Tekken, one of our go-to 1v1’s. But the celebratory smile mustn’t have reached my eyes, or perhaps I’d sulked around way too much that day. Or week. I looked up at him. Those sable-brown eyes could’ve burned a hole through my skull. He had a naturally intense gaze like that. Trying to look away was a futile task. “Nothing. School’s been getting to me, y’know…” No point denying something was up. He scoffed. A puff of his nose, like a noiseless laugh. Did he have to be so goddamn cute? “Bullshit. That was the fastest K.O. you’ve pulled on me in months. You should be hollering,” he said, his lips curving upward in a devilish smile. “C’mon, what’s up?” I sighed. I supposed it was as good a time as any. Do it quick, like a band-aid. I looked down at the controller, mindlessly toying with the thumbsticks, trying to organize the thoughts that ran at a 100 per hour through my head. I’d been rehearsing the speech over and over for weeks, but in that instant, the lines vacated the premises. Fuck. I finally blurted it out: “My parents are getting a divorce.” I trembled, knowing that was only the first part. The easiest part. “Oh, shit,” he said, softly. His voice was like caramel. “I’m sorry, L.” “Yeah…” I made a pause, waiting for him to add anything else. He didn’t. So, I had to continue. Like a band-aid. “My mom’s moving back to Argentina after this summer,” I said. The tremors again. I still wouldn’t meet his gaze. Was this how my parents had felt that night, when they’d told me? “And I’m going with her.” Silence, for what must’ve been just a mere couple of seconds, but felt like entire hours. “Are you for real?” he asked. I tried to decipher the cadence in his voice. Was he angry? Sad? Did he not care? Tears were threatening to burst out of my eyes any second. I looked up at him, partly to see what his reaction was, partly to stop the tears from coming out. “Lautaro, are you serious? You’re leaving?” he asked. The expression on his face was crystal clear. Concern, sadness, upset. “I… –” I couldn’t even finish the sentence without choking up. I’d been holding the secret for so long, trying my best to put up a front… “They didn’t even ask…” Next thing I knew, his arms were wrapped around me in the most awkward position, and my face was buried deep in his chest. Holding in the tears became pointless that very instant, and soon I’d left a small puddle on his shirt. “I hate them…” I found myself whispering. He tightened his grip around me. “Shut up,” he said. I could’ve sworn his voice cracked just a little. “You don’t hate them. You’re just angry.” We parted from our embrace, and I took a moment to breathe, not minding the fluids that were liberally oozing from every orifice in my face. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier,” I said. He looked down. “Since when have you known?” I shrugged. “Just a few weeks.” He shook his head, and after a long sigh, flashed his best smile – the kind of smile that would never fail to make me feel like the luckiest person alive. “Don’t sweat it,” he said. “We’re gonna make the most of this summer we’ve got left, right?” I smiled along. “Right.” I still had those weeks of summer to tell him I loved him. Ω Another one of those vivid memories that I can still replay in my head is the first time I met Noah. It’d been the winter break during sixth grade. My parents had taken me ice skating for the first time, and as expected, I was terrible at it. I fell ass-first on the ice more times than I could count, and my own mediocrity was starting to irritate me. A charming, dimple-smiled boy, about my age, noticed my predicament and took it upon himself to help me stand up straight on my skates for more than five minutes. “Hey, need any help?” Looking up at him from the spot where I’d fallen for the nth time, my first instinctual reaction was thinking he’d merely come to mock me. My parents were somewhere else across the rink, unable or uninterested in coming to my aid. “I’m good, thanks,” I’d said, but promptly fell again as I tried to stand up again. Then he laughed. A pure, honest laugh. “Doesn’t look like it.” He extended his arm and helped me stand up, and from then on guided me as I made my first full strides, never leaving my side. Even when I finally managed to move on my own, he never strayed too far, making sure my progress was lasting. I would later learn he’d played hockey since he was a little kid – though he left it before high school. When I finally found my parents, they were across the boards talking to Noah’s dad, seemingly enjoying their children’s newfound friendship. We parted ways with the promise of meeting up sometime for a playdate that never materialized. When we found each other again in middle school, it was as if we’d been long-lost brothers who’d just reunited. We became inseparable after that. And my love for him only kept growing – until it became clear, at least for me, that the love I felt wasn’t merely fraternal. Ω School was over in a blink. Prom was a drag, but I made sure to go even if it was just for the photo. Noah didn’t go, of course – he was too cool for that. ‘I’m just gonna chill at home’, he’d said. ‘But you should go’. And so, I did. In the end, I couldn’t keep my policy of secrecy for too long. After telling Noah, telling everyone else became significantly easier. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected, though I did make a gross amount of empty promises to send postcards from Patagonia. And I did get to say goodbye with a bang. The weekend after prom, Noah and a couple other friends organized a surprise party at his place, to “depart with honors”. Only my closest circle attended, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I stayed over at his place that night. We were both too wasted to go anywhere, anyway. We slept in the same bed, as we had done before when we were small enough to comfortably fit in his twin-size. Now, with considerable amounts of alcohol and other psychoactive substances in our systems, we’d tacitly decided getting the other couch out was just too much of a hassle. I stared at him as he slept. Dim moonlight washed over from the window blinds, casting a patterned glow over his terracotta skin. The slightest hint of a peach fuzz was starting to appear on his chin. His springy black coils had grown well past their usual short length into an unruly forest, draped gently over his face. My heart beat fast. His lips were so close to mine, the tip of his nose only an inch from my own… and yet there appeared to be a force field between us, as if those millimeters comprised a distance that no force of nature could trespass. A distance that physically hurt. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Just the stench of alcohol and cigarette smoke. ‘I love you’, I should’ve said. ‘I love you.’ I should’ve screamed it out loud, over and over until he and everyone in the neighborhood woke up and heard me say it with all the might my lungs could muster. I didn’t sleep at all that night. Ω I saw Noah a few times after that. I tried to enjoy every moment I got to spend with him as if it were the last – in many ways, they were. We did all the things we’d always promised we would do but never actually got around doing: we had a little jam session, him on the electric guitar (he was really into 90’s grunge) and me with the cello. It was, admittedly, a pretty lame combination, not least because we vibed with completely different genres. But it was still the most fun I’d had since the notice of divorce. The last time I saw him was the day before mom and I were due to leave for New York to fly international. We had dinner at my place, and we did our best not to let the awkwardness of my parents being there get to us. We watched the last episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, our favorite TV show of all time. There was a certain nostalgia embedded into that series that no other piece of media could convey. It felt appropriate. Right before he left, well past midnight, he rolled over the bed and dug deep into his backpack. His hand emerged with a large, wrinkly plastic bag with a big blue bow on top. “An early birthday gift,” he said simply. I smiled. “My birthday’s in three months.” “Yeah, but I figured, might as well…” I took a deep breath. We’d promised each other no tears would be shed that day. “Thanks.” He nodded his head. “Open it.” I tried to ignore his expectant gaze as I opened the gift. “Well, what do you think?” I shot him a knowing look, unable to prevent the upward curve of my lips. “You know damn well I’m not gonna use these,” I said, taking the hockey skates from the bag. “There are ice rinks in Buenos Aires, I looked it up,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes. “You’ve got no excuse.” “I guess I don’t.” My parents were already in bed when I showed him outside. We had to leave early for JFK, but I’d much preferred spending my last hours in New Haven with Noah than being well-rested during the trip. We stood for a good five minutes by the door, unable to part ways, to actually say that final goodbye. And each second that passed, that promise we’d made was getting harder to keep. “Well,” he exhaled. “Well,” I repeated. “This is it, then.” I nodded. Fuck. I was definitely going to cry. “L…” he cleared his throat. At least I wasn’t the only one choking up. “I love you, man,” he said. I swallowed hard. My throat felt like sandpaper. I reached out my hand, and he extended his. A brotherly salute, and nothing more. “I love you, too.”
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