Contest #76 winner 🏆

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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.

January 13, 2021 05:47

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171 comments

Star Dust
16:46 Mar 02, 2021

Omg! Such an emotional piece. Loved it from the start to end.

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H. Dair Brown
16:22 Feb 10, 2021

Rinnie, this one is so beautiful that I had to send it to basically everyone I know! Are you working on a book? Have you written more stories outside of the ones found here on Reedsy? Where can I read more of your work?!

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Rose Mc Coy
17:10 Jan 30, 2021

Stunning... you’re either head over heels for someone right now, or phenomenal at getting into your character’s minds and showing, not telling. I could really feel the ache of how much your protagonist loved his boyfriend—and the fear that accompanied it. Also, I’m what you’d call a “raging lesbian”—but this actually had me enjoying the picturesque descriptions of Mark, his shoulders, his lips—I found it riveting even though my natural response tends to be “Yuck, men.” 😂 Amazing job with this piece—and please know that you are loved and acce...

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Gwyn Everett
04:33 Jan 30, 2021

This was really beautiful. I loved how much was unsaid and yet there was so much happening in his mind to share. I liked how you gave a whole story in flashes, like a daydream. The end was simply lovely. Congratulations on your win :)

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Priyam Saharia
08:20 Jan 29, 2021

I read this story a couple of days ago. The warmth just lingered in my mind. Thought I should come and tell you that's how much I liked it.

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Amber Hodges
08:31 Jan 24, 2021

This is absolutely amazing! The emotion matches perfectly with the pace, the descriptions are brilliant, and the narrator is so sweet it's impossible not to wish him the world. "...swelling and shrinking with every new draft: a paragraph long, two sentences, three paragraphs, six words." This sentence floored me for a minute. "Swelling and shrinking with every new draft" forced so many emotions of dread and hope into my chest I didn't know whether to cringe or dance. I'm not a romantic, but it's hard to forget the PTSD having a crush leave...

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Marilee Ryan
22:08 Jan 22, 2021

Congrats on the win. Love the coming out story!

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I have never read something so heart-wrenching and beautiful. You truly deserved to win, and I'm so glad you did. I'm obsessed with LGBTQ+ stuff and this just made my whole day better. I love it!!

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Charlie Bowdre
14:44 Mar 09, 2021

gotdamn this is amazing.

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Mustang Patty
09:50 Mar 04, 2021

Hi, Thank you for sharing your story. It’s easy to see why you won – Congratulations! I am putting together an Anthology of Short Stories to be published in late Spring 2021. Would you be interested? The details can be found on my website: www.mustangpatty1029.com on page '2021 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology,' and you can see our latest completed project on Amazon. '2020 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology.' (It is available as a Kindle Unlimited selection.) Feel free to reach out to me: patty@mustangpatty1029.com Thank you for shar...

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Emily Chalkley
18:49 Feb 25, 2021

I love this story!! It's my favorite so far. I love LGBTQA+ stories. I don't think you'll see this comment, but if you do could you recommend some stories based on LGBTQA+ people?

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Erote Amour
17:29 Feb 24, 2021

this story is just...tear jerking, breathtaking, and absolutely poetic yet blunt. jesus that was amazing lol

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Darien Shaver
15:46 Feb 24, 2021

I really loved your story!

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John Cornish
11:53 Feb 22, 2021

Very few short stories have impacted me as much as this one has. Thank you so much for submitting it.

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Sadie 🤍
17:19 Feb 17, 2021

amazing

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Britt Platte
20:56 Feb 16, 2021

Wow this was amazing and I shivered at the ending. Wonderful piece of art you created there.

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Maya Ad Astra
01:20 Feb 11, 2021

OMG! That was the most beautiful story I've ever read. I am in awe! So wonderful how you juggled what he wanted to say with what he actually said and then the three words he says at the end. What an amazing piece!!

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Leo Reynie
14:28 Feb 10, 2021

Okay, firstly, the way you interpreted the prompt was awesome, so great job on that. I LOVVVEEE LGBTQ+ shorts. They're like my favorite. I'm bi, my parents have no idea, so here we are. XD Loved it, keep writing, deserved win!!

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01:56 Feb 07, 2021

I had the biggest smile on my face at the end. Amazing!

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S. Athena
12:12 Feb 06, 2021

I loved this so much. I've read it multiple times. Thank you.

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