Trigger warning: Descriptions of depression, suicidal thoughts, mentions of self-harm.
People asked him sometimes whether he got anxious around cars. Or whether he hated cats.
Olive always found those question strange.
He owned a car. It was small and red and dusty. His dad had gifted it to him on his eighteenth birthday. And he owned a cat. She was white and furry and bad-tempered. She was adopted into his family when he was ten.
Well, the family that consisted of Olive and his mum.
His dad lived in the city with his brother, Laurence.
His parents divorced when he was five.
Olive didn’t have many friends growing up. He was shy and afraid to approach people. Nobody really noticed him; he blended into the shadows, retreating into his own space, put a bubble around himself.
His first friend was a girl named Destry. She had wild red hair, electric blue eyes and splashes of freckles across her cheeks.
In their kindergarten playground, there had been a small patch of wild flowers beside the slide. Olive went there because it was quiet, and the teachers couldn’t see that he wasn’t playing with the other kids.
Destry entered his life slowly. It wasn’t easy to break the bubble. But Destry did, eventually. They found a mutual interest in fairies. They would run all around the playground trying to catch one.
It was the bliss of childhood.
The ability to believe in something so magical and pure. Laughing without the weight of what felt like the entire world on your shoulders.
Olive always thought those days would last forever.
Destry eventually moved away to a wealthy suburb and attended a private school. They promised each other they would still be best friends and meet up on weekends.
Destry was fun and outgoing and popular. And Olive was quiet… awkward, everything Destry wasn’t.
They had come to a mutual agreement that they were to retire from their professions as fairy observers. So, that didn’t leave them with much to talk about.
“What happened to us?” Destry asked one day.
They were sitting on her pristinely mowed lawn.
“What do you mean?”
“We used to never be able to shut up around each other. Now, I just don’t know what to say.”
They were ten.
It was a rainy afternoon, and they were facing the main road flooded with afternoon traffic.
“Maybe it’s because we’re getting older,” Olive said.
“I want us to keep being friends though,” Destry said. “You’re different from the people at school. I can talk about anything with you.”
Olive was sad that day.
Maybe it was because his mum introduced him to her new boyfriend, Darren. She had been happy.
But Olive was sad.
Because his mum left early in the morning and came back with Darren after Olive had already locked himself in his room. They would always be laughing. And Olive wondered whether she even knew he existed.
Then suddenly, something furry dropped onto Olive’s lap. It was a fluffy, squirming…
“It’s a munchkin cat,” Destry said. “Her name is Munch. We just got her yesterday.”
Olive smiled down at Munch. It seemed that Destry knew just what he needed.
A car horn sounded on the road.
And everything after that happened so quickly.
Munch jumped off Olive’s lap and made a start for the sound. Destry called after her, but Munch’s curiosity kept her from listening to her owner.
Destry chased her.
Munch leapt off the pavement, running onto the road.
Destry ran after her.
But that was when the car came swerving around the corner.
All Olive remembered was the moment where the entire world fell quiet. And then a barrage of sound came, a cacophony of horns beeping and pedestrians screaming.
He scrambled over to the road, but the wailing driver was blocking his view of Destry’s broken body.
It was probably better that he didn’t see it.
The paramedics had wrapped Olive up in a blanket and offered him comforting words. But nothing could erase the way his heart had clenched when he saw Destry’s parents crying beside their daughter.
Olive saw them again at the funeral.
They told his mum they would be moving to the city where the apartment didn’t allow pets. They handed Munch to Olive at the end of the services.
And Olive wondered whether they truly blamed the cat… or themselves.
Destry would forever be a hole in his heart, and Olive didn’t know whether he could bear having another friend.
Nevertheless, life or fate or the universe, whatever you wanted to call it, was determined to have it another way.
And he came in the form of a tall, blond haired, blue eyed ballet dancer named Orlando Everhart-Blanc.
Their first encounter had been at the dog park in which Orlando’s large, drooling bulldog decided Olive was worthy target to pounce on.
He came to the dog park sometimes, even though he owned a cat.
He found that he liked to observe people. Their mannerisms and conversations fascinated him.
Anyway, the afternoon in question was the last day of the summer holidays.
The heat had finally decided to dwindle. Everything was breezy until the aforementioned bulldog knocked him to the ground.
“Finley!” a voice called, footsteps made their way over. The bulldog was pried off of Olive, however it had already left streaks of slobber down his shirt. “I am so, so sorry.” The boy offered Olive his hand. “It’s a new neighbourhood, Finley’s just excited to meet all the people. That was his way of saying hello.”
Olive looked at Finley who had his head cocked to the side, tongue sticking out, happily panting. He got up, prepared to walk away.
“I’m Orlando,” the boy said, smiling. “You can call me Orly.” He had dimples, his cheeks were sun-tanned, and the smile lit up his entire face.
“I just moved here, my mum forced me to go outside and make some friends.” His voice was calm, but had that sense of excitement to it.
“So you’re going to talk to every stranger you meet on the street?” Olive said.
“No, only the ones my dog pounces on,” Orlando said. “Finley has good taste in friends.”
“I um, I have to go.” Here came the excuse. “My mum is probably wondering where I am.”
Olive turned and left.
“It was nice meeting you!” Orlando shouted after him.
The next morning, Orlando caught up with him on his way to school. Olive always made the walk alone, so it was certainly interesting to have someone beside him. A very talkative someone.
By the end of the day, Olive felt like he knew everything about Orlando.
He was adopted into a family with two loving mothers and twin younger sisters who were attached at the hip and finished each other’s sentences. He started ballet when he was five and wanted to be a professional performer one day.
Finley slept on his bed because he had spoiled him too much.
“What about you?” Orlando asked. “Anything interesting? Fun facts about yourself?”
“I used to play soccer,” Olive replied, because what else could he say?
“Really? I didn’t take you for the soccer type.”
Laurence was the one who played soccer. He was a whiz at it too. Olive, on the other hand, was not so physically inclined. He had gone to one training session and couldn’t even kick a ball right. It made him miserable so his mum let him quit.
He assumed Orlando would find cooler friends to hang around.
But he didn’t.
Every morning, they walked to school together. They ate together outside the library. They read together inside the library.
They became inseparable.
Teenage years saw Orlando blossoming. He already had the slender, but muscular body type. Add blond hair, chiselled jaw and the charming personality and it was crush-city.
Olive kept it quiet, but his heart certainly couldn’t. It beat too hard around Orlando. He got easily flustered when Orlando came too close.
People noticed Orlando when they walked past. And it wasn’t until Orlando was frequently absent that Olive truly realised how invisible he was. He was fine with that though, ducking his head into the crowd.
It was what he did best.
Olive was sitting in Orlando’s room, atop his navy blue sheeted bed, surrounded by vintage ballet posters, when Orlando finally broke the news.
“I got in! They… they accepted me.”
Olive had known for the past few months that Orlando was trying to get into a prestigious ballet school in the city. He was always disappearing off to interviews and whatnot.
Since the first day they met, Olive knew that was his dream.
But he felt detached in that moment.
“I’ll have to cut my hair,” Orlando said. “But what do you think?”
Olive offered his best smile. “Congratulations.”
“I’ll be moving away,” Orlando said. “But don’t worry, I’ll call whenever you want me to. We can meet up on weekends and holidays.”
Olive just nodded.
He knew what that meant.
Promises to stay in touch always started out eager. But this was a professional ballet school. Orlando could meet those of his like who truly understood him, shared the same interests.
He wouldn’t have need for Olive.
He looked at Orlando, sitting in front of his mirror so giddy and excited. The light caught across his face at a perfect angle. A strand of hair fell across his forehead and his lips looked so tender and pink.
Olive wondered what it was like to run his fingers through that hair, and feel the softness of his lips. And he remembered thinking that if he were to kiss anyone in the world, it would be Orlando.
Orlando was gone weeks later.
Surprisingly, Orlando did keep up his promise. Every week, there came a phone call. They hung out sometimes on weekends and every holiday, Olive went to Orlando’s apartment in the city and stayed with the Everhart-Blanc family.
Meanwhile, Orlando had no idea about the raging swirl of emotions within Olive. Sometimes he felt too much at the same time, and other times he could feel nothing at all.
The world kept turning, everchanging.
His mum and Darren were going to get married, they were expecting another child and Olive was just the estranged brother living in the same house.
His mum didn’t care if he came home late so he stayed out all the time.
There was a new girl at school named Shassa. She had curly black hair like telephone cords, always wore purple lipstick and fishnet tights.
She had a brother, Logan. He was tall, gaze menacing and never spoke.
The first time they interacted, they were both waiting for Shassa to finish basketball practice. Logan was smoking. Olive watched as he dropped it and crushed it under his heel. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out another.
“Want one?” he asked.
Olive took it.
Logan lit the end for him with his lighter. Olive’s eyes traced the lines of muscle on his arm and the way his lashes curled, his skin as smooth as velvet.
Olive inhaled, and choked immediately. Tears sprung to his eyes, burning down his cheeks. Logan patted his back with a light laugh.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
Shassa scolded him for it.
“You accepted a cigarette from him? He could have put poison in there.”
“You don’t trust him?” Olive said.
“You don’t know Logan like I do,” Shassa said.
“It was just a one time thing. I hated it and I won’t do it again.”
Orlando had called that night. “Hello,” Olive said, voice still raspy.
“Are you sick?” Orlando asked.
Olive coughed a few times. “Yeah. The flu,” he lied.
“I send you hugs,” Orlando said. “Get well soon.”
“Yeah, I’ll try.”
Orlando’s voice was like golden honey, and Olive wished he could have it all. Hearing him on the phone, imagining him lying on his bed after a long day of rehearsal, blond hair tousled.
Olive held his phone to his ear long after Orlando had hung up.
He wrote letters to Orlando and never sent them. It was like a journal, holding all of his deepest, darkest secrets.
Ever since I was young, I’ve wondered about death. Maybe it was because I was trying to make sense of what happened to Destry. My mum told me that she went to a better place, where she was happy, she was not in pain.
But then I wondered how that was different from life. If death was truly that great, why were people so scared of it. But then, if she was somewhere else, her spirit still living, wasn’t that eternity? Was that what people were afraid of? Eternity?
An endless void with no body or voice. Was that what death was?
But then I spent less time thinking about it.
Sometimes when everything just feels so heavy, I wonder what a bliss it would be to not exist at all. Would anybody really miss me? Am I really that important? And I just feel like a stain that the world needs to be wiped clean of.
And I think about death again.
Years later, he would dump all those letters into a box and bury them in the garden like a time capsule. Ten years afterwards, when he returned to his mum’s house, married and happy, he would find it again.
He would read each one of them and remember his childhood and teenage years, and it was like an awakening.
If he had let the darkness swallow him whole, who knew where he would be.
After the smoking incident, puffing on cigarettes became Olive’s way of maintaining routine in his life. He snuck onto the porch when it was dark and lit one after another aflame.
One night, Logan invited Olive to hang out without Shassa’s knowledge. They smoked for a while, and Logan remarked on how skilled Olive had become.
It was dark, the street lamps blinking on and off. Olive could feel Logan’s eyes on him.
He looked back at Logan, strangely unfrightened.
Logan’s hand came upon his cheek.
Not even the moon shone light on them when they kissed.
The smoke in their lungs rose and maybe they both would have combusted, but they kept on kissing. Logan pushed him against the wall, a piece of jagged brick dug into Olive’s back, but he didn’t care.
They broke apart, hot and gasping.
Then came Logan’s arm on his neck.
“If you tell anyone about this, I will break every single bone in your body.”
He didn’t have to say it, because Olive could already feel himself shattering from the imprint of Logan’s lips upon his.
Shassa told him they were going to be moving away a month later. And as a last trip, she wanted Olive to accompany her to a tattoo parlour.
The tattoo artist had long, blue hair tied into a bun, nose and eyebrow piercings, and a tattoo of a wolf on his neck. He had his shirt sleeves rolled back, revealing even more inked skin.
A rose on the back of his hand. A dragonfly on his forearm.
His skin almost translucent, veins clearly seen.
But he had an easy smile.
Olive watched him tattoo Shassa. His brows slightly furrowed, fingers nimble.
That was the last time he saw Shassa, but not the last time he saw the tattoo artist. Olive found himself back at the shop.
“Can I help you?” Olive looked up and found him right there. “You keep looking at the same pages.” He smiled. “You came in with that girl, Shassa. She mentioned your name, is it Oliver?”
“Olive,” he replied.
“I’m Blue,” he said. “Did you want a tattoo?”
On a whim, Olive said, “Yeah.”
“What design?” Blue asked. “I’ve tattooed many interesting things in many interesting places. I won’t judge you, as long as you pay me.” Olive didn’t have any money on him. “You can pay me on another day if you want.”
“A fairy,” Olive finally said. “Here.” He pointed to his chest, right over his heart.
“Easy,” Blue said.
The needle stung at first, but he managed to lose himself in Blue’s features. Olive found calmness in his eyes.
They drew him in deeper than anyone before.
The sun was setting when Blue lifted the needle. “You’re done.” He offered Olive a mirror, and he saw the tattoo of the fairy, wings ready to take flight.
Like magic on his skin.
That was the afternoon Olive finally decided to be brave. “Is there a chance I can see you again?”
“I can arrange for that to happen,” Blue said.
They met almost every day.
Olive told him things he had never told anyone. Blue always accepted them with calming words. He held Olive when he told him about Destry.
The only time Olive saw him angry was when he told him about Logan.
“I won’t ever let anyone do that to you again,” Blue said.
Their kiss had been soft, gentle like the lapping of waves.
But that didn’t mean Blue was perfect.
Olive came to visit him one afternoon and found him passed out on the couch, completely dead to the world, stinking of liquor.
Yet he stayed.
Rubbing Blue’s back as he threw up, and held him as he cried drunken sobs.
Beneath the tattoos, Olive saw the white lines, uniform on his arm. On Blue’s bedside table, he saw the razor blade.
He listened when Blue told him, as Blue had listened to him.
Blue was the one who got down on one knee and asked Olive to marry him. Olive said yes. Because Blue made him the happiest he could be.
When they held each other.
They became whole in their brokenness.