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Coming of Age Fiction LGBTQ+

This story contains sensitive content

CW: internalized homophobia, substance use, mental health issues


Didn't end up being fragments so much as vignettes, but I've been wanting to submit something for months and need to get into the habit of doing it. So here's this. It's a start, I guess. Also, it's not finished, as you can probably tell by how disjointed the first two sections are from the last. I ran out of time before I could fill in the gaps. But again, I needed a start.


I. Head Over Heels


On a summer Saturday morning, Matt wakes up in his twin-sized bed next to James and feels like a criminal. He catches himself looking at him for just a little too long. This has proven to be a near-impossible habit to break.

James sleeps over often; he isn’t eager to be back at his place these days. This is normal for them. The normalness of it doesn’t make Matt any less ashamed, though. Mikey always says that nothing is really that weird unless you make it weird. Matt disagrees. It’s different for guys like him.

           Matt and James have never really been like other best friends. At least, not like how the other boys they knew were with each other. There’s always been something more, substantial just enough to be picked up on by those around them but just subtle enough to be shrugged off. An open secret. Plausibly deniable.

           James rolls over to the other side and slowly sits up, arching his back and lifting his shoulders. He’s wearing one of Matt’s T-shirts; he ran out of clean clothes yesterday, and Matt’s mother wasn’t about to let any child under her roof go about in dirty laundry. (She’s always had a strange neurosis around laundry and cleaning in general.) It’s a little too small on him, pinching in around his muscled arms and tracing along the contours of his chest. Nevertheless, Matt thinks that it looks much better on James than it does on himself.

           “G’morning,” James yawns. He rubs his eyes and looks up at Matt. “What are you looking at, weirdo?” He smiles good-naturedly. Matt knows that James doesn’t mean anything by it, but that doesn’t make him any less ashamed.


II. Nowhere Near


While Mikey and Evan are out messing around at the arcade, Matt and James share drinks in the hotel room they rented under their parents' names. Mikey left them a bottle of vodka he'd managed to snag from his older brother. They laugh and talk about nothing in particular between passing the bottle back and forth. They're talking about their hilariously awful eighth grade semi-formal dance when it occurs to Matt that they've never been drunk together before; Matt was the first and only designated driver of the group. He thinks he's starting to get why people are so crazy about this stuff.

“Dude,” James says, suddenly serious.

“What?” Matt asks, still giggling.

“You know you have like, really cool hair, right?”

Heat rises in Matt’s cheeks. “What?” He says again, dumbly.

“Yeah, man.” His hazel eyes are saucerlike now, glinting with buzzed wonder. He reaches out and pulls gently on one of the red-brown curls that falls over Matt’s face. He looks straight at Matt, and it is everything Matt has ever dreamed of and also the most terrifying thing he has ever faced. Matt is stunned, motionless. Incredulous, terrified, and euphoric all at once. Their faces are so dangerously close to each other. He slowly, cautiously leans in to close the gap. Once and for all, maybe. Hopefully.

James jerks away. “Oh my god,” he says. “I’m so sorry. That was so fucking weird.”

“It’s—”

“I, um. I really don’t mind.”

Matt looks at him for a moment, wishing desperately for him to say something. James shakes his head. “We can’t, Matt. You know we can’t.” He sounds like he might cry. "I'm sorry."

It's too little too late, Matt thinks. He gets up without speaking, every muscle in his face tightened to keep in a rising sob. The last thing he sees before he slams the door is the reflection of James with his head in his hands in the mirror. He punches his father's number into his scratched-up flip phone.

"Dad? I'm in Atlantic City. I know I shouldn't be asking this, but can you come and bring me home, please?"


III. If It Makes You Happy



Matt is getting bad again.

           He won’t tell James this, but James definitely knows, and worse, James definitely knows that Matt knows and isn’t telling him. To be fair, it isn’t like Matt goes to much effort to hide it. He doesn’t have it in him to get out of bed, let alone put up a façade. 

           James doesn’t take it well. Matt gathers this even through the thick haze of depression. He’s starting to smell whiskey on his breath again when he kisses him goodnight. Matt considers saying something about this, but he knows he’ll choke on his words and make everything worse somehow. He knows how hard James is trying and hates himself for being so goddamn difficult.

            One midmorning, when Matt hasn’t left his room in days, James gently nudges him awake. “Hey,” he says softly. “I, uh, made you breakfast.”

           “Why?” Matt blurts, and he immediately wants to slam his head into a wall. Leave it to him to have that kind of initial reaction. Nothing he says ever seems to come out right. James looks hurt, like a kicked puppy. “Shit, sorry. I just---I just woke up and I have no idea what I’m talking about.” Matt shakes his head quickly, as if to shake himself awake. “Can we start over?” He smiles as earnestly as he can muster. He hates that he can feel that it’s crooked.

           James laughs a little. “Yeah, okay. I’m not making more French toast, though.”

           Matt feigns distress at this. “Oh, no, my extremely generous boyfriend made me breakfast in bed but it’s going to be lukewarm instead of not-as-lukewarm! How will I ever even begin to cope with such a letdown?”

           “Shut up, dork.” James grins and shakes his head. Matt hopes this means he knows that he’s grateful for him.

February 25, 2023 04:57

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2 comments

21:03 Feb 26, 2023

This was a great read, nice job

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21:03 Feb 26, 2023

This was a great read, nice job

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