Contest #76 winner 🏆

153 comments

Jan 13, 2021

Fiction Contemporary LGBTQ+

I’ve made thinking about him an art form. I’ve had plenty of time to practice and perfect my craft in the years we’ve been together: I paint his profile into the swirling, maze-like shapes that draw themselves on the backs of my eyelids when I shut them tight; I compose music that sounds like the brown of his eyes, so deep and mesmerising that looking into them can feel like drowning. I’ve written odes to his lips, hymns to his hands, an elegy to the feel of him leaving the bed every morning, the loss of that sacred warmth. I think about him intentionally, when things are slow at work and I’m bored out of my mind. I think about him idly, when I’m on the bus, headed back to him. I think about him when he’s next to me, and when he’s not. I think about him when I’m in the shower and when I can’t fall asleep.

I think about him as a college junior, the first time we met, properly met. How he approached me in the refectory, the confident set of his shoulders completely at odds with the way he walked, as if he was talking himself into every step he took.

I don’t know how much of this first memory is my own recollection. Mark loves this story, loves revisiting it, loves reminiscing about how I was the first guy he’d ever asked out, how he had no clue what he was doing, how he had been scared out of his wits, how the words had just tumbled out.

I always want to tell him that I don’t remember much about our first meeting beyond the seizing in my chest and the pounding in my ears, shocked and horrified and oddly relieved that someone had somehow realised that I was gay despite all the effort I’d put into concealing it. How my brain had yelled at me to turn him down, to get offended and vehemently assert that I was straight and why would he ever think otherwise, or to chuckle and explain that I was flattered but that I wasn’t like that, to do something, anything, whatever would get him away from me the quickest, but instead what came out of my mouth was, “sure.”

I’d pondered my answer as I mechanically finished my dinner and left the dining hall, as I walked back to my dorm, as I tried to study that night. I wrote and rewrote a text, swelling and shrinking with every new draft: a paragraph long, two sentences, three paragraphs, six words. 

Sorry, but I’m not actually gay. 

I gave you my number because I’m bad at turning people down, but I don’t feel that way about you. 

Look, I gave you my contact info because I’m always down to make new friends, but I’m not interested in dating anyone right now. Just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page.

Sorry bud, I think you got the wrong number.

Then came the text: hey! it’s mark. wanna get donuts tmrw?

I had just finished proofreading an essay explaining that I wasn’t gay, that looking back I realised I’d misread his intentions, that I’d be down to get to know him as a friend but wasn’t interested in anything more, sorry.

Select all, backspace. I decided I could tell him in person the next day.



I think about the first time he told me he loved me, six months after we’d started dating, although I’d refused to call it that at the time. “You don’t have to say it back if you’re not ready,” he’d said, ever understanding, ever patient.

I didn’t say it. I wanted to tell him that he meant a lot to me, more than it felt possible to express, that every day I was glad I hadn’t turned him down, that I missed him whenever he didn’t spend the night, that I would do anything for him except say those words, that I couldn’t say those words, that it was difficult for me to admit that I was in love with a man, even though it was the truth, that I couldn’t promise him that I’d ever be able to say those words, that I was sorry I was a coward but I’d never pretended to be brave. 

I conjured up excuses, trying to determine which one would sound the least pathetic. That I didn’t like using the word ‘love’ because it was too vague for my liking. That the word felt hollow because it didn’t mean anything without the actions to show it. That I thought the word lost value if it was tossed around carelessly.

“Mm,” I said instead. 

Of course, I’ve been more verbal in my responses since then. It’s been inferred, implied, understood, assumed. He knows I love him. But I still haven’t said it. 



I think about when the addendum to his “I love you”s became, “I just wish we didn’t have to hide it.” We’d graduated by that point, started living together in a small apartment as Mark pursued his doctorate and I started working. It was getting harder to continue giving the excuse that we were ‘just roommates’ at an age that everyone assumed we’d outgrown the need for cohabitation unless it was with a lover, and our professed perpetual bachelorhood grew ever more suspicious. Mark was out to his friends and family, but I’d begged him not to be open about our relationship with acquaintances or strangers, not to make it public knowledge. 

“My family can’t know,” I’d told him. “If my dad were to find out about you…”

He’d been understanding. He never stopped being understanding, but it was only a matter of time before the frustration started to creep in. He wanted to hold hands in public, to not think twice about mentioning his boyfriend, to post pictures of us on social media, to not have to behave as if there was something wrong about us being together.

To his credit, he’s never pestered me about coming out to my family, even though I know he’s not convinced they’ll take it as badly as I think they will. And maybe he’s right. So every trip home, I compose a little speech. Sometimes it’s blunt: “I’m gay. Yes, I’m sure. No, it’s not a phase.” Sometimes I ease into things: I’ll tell them about my partner, using gender-neutral vocabulary the entire time, get all my relatives buttered up and eager to meet them, and then I’ll drop Mark’s name, unquestionably, unequivocally male. Sometimes it’s sly: I’ll slip the word ‘boyfriend’ casually into conversation, blink and you’ll miss it, no fanfare. Sometimes it’s provocative: I’ll get my dad to make one of his many asides on the gays and then ask him how he feels about the fact that there’s one sitting right next to him. 

But then I’ll arrive at the door and my dad will open it and he’ll look so much older than the last time I saw him, his hair thinner and his cough louder and his hands shakier. And I’ll think, why ruin this holiday season for everyone, and I’ll say “Hi dad” rather than “I’m gay” and answer “no” when someone asks if I’m seeing anyone and feign interest in whoever’s friend’s daughter they propose to set me up with. And then I’ll escape into thoughts of him for the rest of the evening, drawing his dimples into my mashed potatoes with the tine of my fork.



I think about him now, laying beside me with one arm flung over my chest and his head nestled in the crook of my shoulder, as if he can’t bear to stop touching me for one moment even though we fought earlier. I try to remember what we fought about, but all I can think about is him, the way his hair glows copper in the sunlight, the way his head tilts back when he laughs, the way his fingers look when they’re threaded with mine, the way he moves about the kitchen when he cooks, the way he frowns when he’s trying to concentrate, the way the words fall so easily out of his mouth, the way he gives his love so freely. 

He stirs, eyes fluttering and hand rising from my chest to rub at them. His head lifts slightly to check the time on the clock. 5:57 am. The soft glow of dawn is just starting to filter through the gauzy curtains, painting the room a soft, sleepy blue.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he mumbles, voice husky and concerned. 

“No.” 

He props himself up on his elbow, brow creasing, his hand brushing the hair off my forehead, lowering to stroke my cheek. I don’t think he even realises he’s doing it. It’s simply reflex at this point.

“Are you okay?”

Yes, I want to tell him. He’s next to me so of course I'm alright. He always makes everything alright. He makes me feel whole, makes me feel worthy, makes me feel like I could climb into the sky and give him the sun. He feels like family, like home, like safety, like love, like all that I’ll ever need.

No, I want to tell him. To feel this happy, day in and day out, is dizzying. I can’t stop thinking, wondering, worrying about if it might end, when it might end, how it might end. How I’m terrified that someday he’ll realise that he deserves someone so much better than me, someone who can give him everything he wants, everything he deserves. How my heart is so full that sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of him and will feel like I can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t do anything except look at him, think about him, wonder how I would go on without him after all this time.

I wish he could crack my skull open like an egg and look inside, to see all my thoughts and emotions so that he could know them without me having to say them, bumbling and awkward and inadequate, most of the words lost in my throat. That he could read all the poems and odes and ballads and sonnets and symphonies I’ve written to him that I’ll never be able to transcribe with something so crude and untuned as my mouth. 

I want to tell him all of this. There are a thousand words on the tip of my tongue, but only three come out.

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

153 comments

Scout Tahoe
17:37 Jan 22, 2021

I absolutely love LGBTQ+ short stories and this was incredible. Fit the prompt wonderfully and written extraordinarily. Congratulations!

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:45 Jan 24, 2021

Thank you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tyler W
03:21 Jan 23, 2021

I love LGBTQA+ short stories as well! LOL just wrote one for a contest

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Shea Redmond
17:28 Jan 22, 2021

Well damn. I didn't expect to be so riveted this early on a Friday morning, but here I am and here your story is. You captured something that isn't tangible here, that space of 'I Love You' but if I say it out loud it changes things even if we already know that the love is true. I'm cis- hetero woman, but I remember the first time my husband told me he loved me and I became a deer in headlights....because what? Huh? How? What do I do now? I want to know more about this couple, so much more. Congratulations on your win, this was very poeti...

Reply

Show 0 replies
R. A.
05:09 Jan 23, 2021

This was SO BEAUTIFUL. So breathtaking. I swear it turned me inside out, and the ending made me gasp out loud. What an utterly wonderful story. Congratulations.

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:58 Jan 24, 2021

Wow, that is high praise! Thank you so much for your comment, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
David G.
21:39 Jan 22, 2021

Everything's already been said in the comments, so I'll refrain. The last line is absolutely perfect. Congratulations.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Irene Rebello
18:32 Jan 22, 2021

This is stunning!! You deserved the win

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:47 Jan 24, 2021

Thank you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lara Rose
17:25 Jan 22, 2021

Congrats on your win!! This story was beautifully written and you 100% deserved it. Despite another comment or suggesting more conflict, I thought the omitting of actual events was just perfect for the prompt. The way you wrote it made me feel as if I was in the characters mind, with doubts around every corner. And for a story, it read like poetry. Bravo and Happy Writing :)

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:46 Jan 24, 2021

Thank you so much!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Frances ☂︎
17:08 Jan 22, 2021

Congratulations!

Reply

Show 0 replies

This was a new kind of amazing, like all the words that should be said more often were placed delicately into an array of messy love and distant hopes. You don't seem to be very attached to people here, (and I don't even know if you read these comments or not) but I want to say that it's like you took everything that I can't do and put it into light. All the things that we're scared to do show up in our own writing, only to appear again in someone else's. I guess... Astounding

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:44 Jan 24, 2021

Hi Ethan, I've definitely been reading (and re-reading!) all these comments, and this one really made my day. I am so glad that you felt a connection to my story, and thank you so much for your comment!

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Vanessa Waltz
18:54 Jan 22, 2021

Wow. Unbelievably beautiful writing, and such a great interpretation of the prompt. This is one of those stories that I know I will come back to and read many times. Congratulations on a well-deserved win!

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:48 Jan 24, 2021

Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Cookie Carla🍪
18:19 Jan 22, 2021

Amazing story!! I loved the way you portrayed the main character and led him through his struggles. This is really a piece of artwork that should be put in a museum or something. Congratulations!!!!

Reply

Chloe Wiseman
18:36 Jan 22, 2021

I agree! Very poetic!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rinnie Leigh
22:51 Jan 24, 2021

Aww, you flatter me! Thanks for your comment!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Echo Sundar
18:01 Jan 22, 2021

Wow. This story is so so beautiful. It was an amazing use of a prompt. Such a sweet story, it warms your heart. Definitely a deserved read. There needs to be more stories like this one.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Echo Sundar
18:01 Jan 22, 2021

Wow. This story is so so beautiful. It was an amazing use of a prompt. Such a sweet story, it warms your heart. Definitely a deserved read. There needs to be more stories like this one.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tom .
17:57 Jan 22, 2021

This had such wonderful flow. Above everything it was how it told it's story that worked. I shortlisted on this prompt for the first time so I was doubly curious to see what won. It is a worthy winner.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ash Jarvis
17:51 Jan 22, 2021

Congratulations—this story is wonderful! Your lyrical language takes a simple story and makes it beautiful and evocative, making me really sympathize with the narrator and all of his self doubt and second guessing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Toni Baxter
17:37 Jan 22, 2021

Congratulations! This is a beautifully written piece. I love how perfectly you captured the protag's inner workings. Very eloquent. Even though they don't feel like it themselves! A very well deserved win.

Reply

Salma Jarir
20:25 Jan 23, 2021

Inforrentlly true !

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
11:41 Jan 29, 2021

Jesus Christ! Okay so, I don't read. I'll be honest. I'll open a book and if the first line doesn't grab me at my throat, you know that - when you try not to cry and your throat actually hurts, kind of cry a.k.a the ugly cry? - I simply toss the book aside. (It's disgraceful, I know, don't judge.) But my eyes fell onto your first sentence. Just that very first sentence written. That first line alone, Rinnie, could very well have been the only words you may have chosen to write and I, the unreader, would have still found your story absolutely...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Korra Shere
19:19 Jan 23, 2021

WOW. Your writing style is fantastic, and the story flows (and ends!) in an incredible way. You're extremely talented. I can see why you won, and I 100% agree that you deserve to win. Great job! Looking forward to reading other stories of yours!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amy jayne Conley
12:44 Jan 23, 2021

THIS HAD ME IN PIECES!!! That ending! That bloody ending!!! :D I'm sat here weeping like a fool. A sincerely perfect love story, depicting the sincerely imperfect way love affects us all differently. Honestly, I'm shook, and I'm going to carry the warmth this story's given me for weeks, I swear <3 Thank you, Rinnie!

Reply

Amy jayne Conley
12:46 Jan 23, 2021

Also, at first when I read the first paragraph (although not fully), I thought 'imagine if this turns out to be a huge PSYCHE and it's really about a beautiful doggo... god it was even better than it being about a doggo!

Reply

Rinnie Leigh
22:50 Jan 24, 2021

Haha, that would have been quite the twist! Thank you so much for your comments, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Penelope Rose
17:41 Jan 22, 2021

Congrats on the win!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tia Jackson
17:32 Jan 22, 2021

Omssss this is amazing!!! Congrats

Reply

Show 0 replies