The coolness of the night air wasn’t helping with his insomnia.
It was chilling. Made goosebumps prickle against his skin. If anything, it shocked him awake, rather than making him drowsy.
He needed one of those hot, sticky summer nights where the air was sluggish and lethargic.
He rubbed at his eyes. They were stinging and bloodshot.
Every fibre and muscle within him wanted to collapse and take him to the blissful realm of sleep.
But his mind was buzzing with energy. Too much. Too many thoughts running through his head.
Banged against his temples. Threatened to be let out.
He stumbled. Almost letting the ache consume him.
Blue had stashed away whatever cigarettes Olive had managed to sneak into the house. Taken all the alcohol and poured it down the drain.
It wasn’t fair. Blue didn’t get to do that to him. Take away the only thing that comforted him in the cacophony of the world.
Olive massaged his temples. No. That wasn’t fair on Blue. He was just trying to help. Because he was always trying to help.
At what time was he going to stop helping?
Because he had finally had enough.
Of Olive’s incompetence, his lack of control, the string in his mind that pulled tighter and tighter until it snapped.
And they fought. All the time.
Because the string kept snapping.
And dear god! He just needed to sleep.
Olive traced his finger over his skin in circles around the goosebumps. Spiralled outwards like ripples in a pond.
It was meant to be calming, but his nails hurt him. Left their red marks to remind him that nothing was ever in his control.
He should apologise to Blue.
It was ten days until New Year, and the worst thing that could happen was for the old year to end with Blue leaving his life.
Olive made his way back inside, tip-toeing because the floorboards had a tendency of creaking. Blue was asleep on his side of the bed.
Facing away from Olive.
The moonlight was streaming through the half-closed blinds, patterning across the blanket. Blue’s hair was spread across the pillow – it had been blue, like his name, when they first met and buzzed on the sides.
These days, he kept it their natural shade of curl-entangled mahogany. It fell just above his collarbone. His brows and lashes were the same colour. Rich, but fine.
His cheekbones were sharp, made his features hawk-like, but his eyes softened the severity. Two lulling sheets of sea glass whose colouring shuffled depending on the light.
They used to hold each other when they slept.
Olive would lie with his head on Blue’s chest. Listening to the pulse of his heart.
The wolf tattoo on Blue’s neck had its eyes open. Watching him.
Olive wanted to cry because he hadn’t done that in a long time. He wanted to feel Blue’s warm skin pressed against his.
Because it was something real.
“Olive.” Great. Blue was awake. “Where were you?”
Do not start a fight. Do not start a fight. “On the balcony,” Olive replied.
“It’s two am.” Blue’s lips were pulled tight. He used to call me baby.
“I needed some air.” The words clawed in his throat like razors. Olive swallowed them. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh.” Blue’s expression softened. He moved off the bed, standing before Olive with a tentative hand on his cheek. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Because…” I figured you were still mad about our fight. Because I’ve forgotten what we were even fighting about. “You looked peaceful.” Blue ran his thumb along the bags under Olive’s eyes. The sagging skin. He was going to get premature wrinkles. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
He was retreating back to his safe word again. The old childhood habit that never left him. He was sorry in the sadness of rainy afternoons. He was sorry in the happiness of blooming fields. He was going to be sorry at the end of the world.
“Come here,” Blue climbed back onto the bed, arms outstretched.
Reaching for Olive with his inked skin.
Olive stared at his pillow that begged to be laid on. As his limbs begged to be relieved of the pressure of his body.
“I…” Olive craved for this in the way of unseen desires. To fall into Blue’s arms like the few-hours-old angry words between them didn’t exist.
That they weren’t reverberating against his skull.
A broken record.
Blue’s eyebrows slanted down. He knew what Olive was going to say. “You’re exhausted, baby.”
He called me baby.
He took Olive’s hand. Fingers pressing to the lines on his palm.
He only have it a slight tug.
Olive collapsed onto the bed. Boneless.
Blue’s arms wrapped around him. A protective cocoon. He was a caterpillar taken into Blue’s embrace, which held the ability to turn any caterpillar into a butterfly.
“I’m not mad at you, Olive.” His forehead was pressed against Blue’s neck. Pulse beating at his forehead.
“Because I could never stay mad at you. I just wish you would let me help, instead of pushing me away.” Blue’s voice was so gentle. A lullaby from his dreams. “You know I love you, right?”
It seemed that they hadn’t said ‘I love you’ to each other for an eternity.
“I love you too.”
“You’ve been so quiet recently.” Blue sipped his coffee. He liked to add milk and sugar.
Olive drank it straight. Let the bitterness seep into his tongue. Alert his taste buds.
“That’s because whenever we talk, we end up fighting.”
Because I’m always picking fights. So wasn’t it better to just stay silent?
“You’re hurting.” He scraped the eggs off the pan. “I can see it, Olive.”
“I don’t know.” Olive wrapped his arms around his stomach. Nausea twisted in his intestines. Writhing snakes. “I just… I don’t know.” I do know.
“Is this about your mum?” It was so hard to look into Blue’s eyes and not spill everything in his heart.
“Has she called you yet?”
It had been months. Olive knew that it might take a while for her to accept it.
But he was her son.
His parents divorced when he was young. His brother went to live with their dad.
For so long, it had only been his mum and him.
Now she was acting like Olive was gone from her life.
Olive washed the dishes after they were done with breakfast. Blue hugged him from behind, and didn’t let go for a long time.
Olive received a phone call the next day. It wasn’t his mum.
Just the library telling him that his card had expired. He hadn’t gone to the library because that was where his mum used to take him.
He went to local bookstores because they were dying.
Words used to excite him, but now they were just words.
He wrote a short story about a man who sold his heart to a stranger.
Try to find the symbolism in that.
Olive went with Blue to see his high school friends. They laughed. Drank. Had a good time.
And his phone remained silent.
It was Christmas Eve.
Blue was hungover on Christmas morning. Olive wasn’t, because he didn’t drink with them. Although he figured he probably had one too many glasses of lemonade and was riding on a sugar high, because he felt… happy.
One of Blue’s friends told Olive that she had read his story in their local literary magazine. She had red hair and said her name was Persia. And that she wrote stories too.
It was his third publication. The one about a girl who could walk on clouds.
“You kill me with your sad endings,” she said. There was a slight drawl in her speech. Maybe it was from her tongue piercing, or her still-healing lip tattoo.
“Was it sad?” He wrote that story almost a year ago. He didn’t recall any deaths. That was usually what people found sad.
“Yes, it was.” Persia drank the rest of her cocktail. “You writing anything new?”
Olive thought about the man who had sold his heart to a stranger. “No.”
“Our styles are quite different,” she said. “I like to dabble in fantasy.”
Fantasy had been his first love. But he could never write it. “I love fantasy.” His best friend, Orlando, loved fantasy too. They created a whole world together. Come to think of it, he should probably give Orlando a call.
Blue groaned, downing an entire glass of water. “Remind me to never drink again.” He squinted at the light so Olive pulled the curtain closed.
“But then I wouldn’t get to see how cute you are when you’re hungover.”
Blue threw a pillow at him and went back to sleep.
They exchanged presents later that night.
Blue got called into the tattoo parlour to cover a shift.
Orlando and his wife, Shae, were away celebrating their anniversary, so Olive spent the day alone.
He had settled on the couch to read when his phone rang.
“I’m in the emergency room.” Blue’s voice sounded sheepish.
Olive’s heart stopped then struck against his chest like a ticking bomb. “What happened?”
Blue sighed on the other end. “I tripped and then… yeah. It’s not that bad, just a sprain.”
“I’m coming.” He was already in the car.
“I just wanted to let you know. You don’t have to come.”
“Why would I not?”
“Okay, I’m near the main entrance. There’s quite a long queue.”
The emergency room hung the heavy smell of detergent out on display. The overt cleanliness. The plastic chair that had been scrubbed within an inch of its life.
Blue sat against it with his arm to his chest. The ice pack was melting. It wet his sleeves.
Olive interlaced their fingers, pressing a kiss to the rose on the back of his hand. The edge of the petals stretched to his knuckles.
At least it wasn’t his left wrist. That was Blue’s drawing hand.
He rested his head on Olive’s shoulder, brows knitted. “It hurts, doesn’t it?” Blue never leaned on Olive’s shoulder otherwise. He was a bit too tall for that.
But now he was slouched, shoulders curled in. He reminded Olive of a cat.
“At least you’re here.”
They spent the next night curled up on the couch.
Olive was reading, but his eyes were more focused on Blue. He sat with a knitted blanket over his ripped jeans, a sketchbook in his lap. The one Olive had given him for Christmas.
They had made it six days without fighting.
His right hand was wrapped in a brace, but didn’t seem to be hurting him.
He was sketching a pretty girl with flowers woven through her hair. Chin tilted, looking to a butterfly on her finger.
Blue had told Olive that whenever he didn’t know what to draw. He drew something beautiful.
“It looks beautiful.”
Blue lifted his pencil to his lips. In thought. “It could use some colour.” He paused. “Also hot chocolate.”
“You’re going to pour hot chocolate on it?”
Blue wrinkled his nose, that spark glimmering in his eyes. “No, I just had a sudden craving for hot chocolate. You want one?”
Ten minutes later, Olive was sipping at a steaming mug of hot chocolate. It warmed his insides.
Outside, it had begun to snow.
Orlando and Shae dropped by the house with Christmas presents at noon.
Orlando had gifted Olive an illustrated edition of The Return of the King. They shared hot chocolate and mini cupcakes while chatting.
The rings glistened on both their fingers. Olive wondered for a split second what it would be like to marry Blue.
Their relationship had been rocky as of late, but they kept up their free-of-fighting streak, and Olive’s nights had been sleep-filled.
“Sorry we couldn’t meet up sooner,” Shae said. “Orly and I were both so busy rehearsing with the little ones for their performance of The Nutcracker. Brought back some memories.”
They had attended the same ballet school and danced as the leads in the annual Christmas performance. Olive remembered watching that. It was the year Orlando had taken him into the city.
“So, how has it been?” Orlando asked. His blond hair had been swept back. He kept it shorter now. But his smile was no less bright, and his eyes no less kind.
Some things didn’t change.
“Blue sprained his wrist,” Olive said.
Blue waved off their concerned gazes. “It’s nothing. Can barely feel it.”
They went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner and managed to limit the amount of alcohol they consumed.
Olive still didn’t drink any. Just to be safe.
They parted way with hugs and air kisses.
Olive’s phone rang the day before the end of the year.
Blue was working in the tattoo parlour, giving quite a peculiar tattoo to a just-turned-eighteen girl.
Olive’s finger trembled as he pressed ‘accept’. “Mama.” Blue’s head lifted at that, concern in his eyes.
“Olive, I just umm… I know I should have done this sooner.” His coming out had ended with both of them in tears. They had spilled their emotions like fountains. Now, it was time for the silent, deadlier current. “Come over tomorrow, Laurence will be there, and Darren, and Eli.”
His mum had met Darren when Olive was twelve. His younger brother, Eli, came along when he was fourteen.
“Okay,” Olive replied.
“You can bring Blue.”
“You want me to bring him?”
Those two words rung in Olive’s ears. Why would he not?
Because the disappointed look on his mum’s face would kill him. Because if she didn’t like Blue, then he would have to choose.
Between his mother or the love of his life.
Who could ever make that choice?
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Olive finally said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Olive had moved out when he was eighteen.
He hadn’t properly set foot in his mum’s house since then.
The house itself hadn’t changed. Yet, he felt like a stranger. To be perfectly honest, for most of his teenage years, he had been a stranger in his own home.
He saw his mum, Celia, through the window laying out the table. Darren was cooking in the kitchen. And Eli was watching cartoons in the living room. He couldn’t see Laurence, but he had seen his car parked out front.
They seemed perfect without him.
Blue’s hand was on his back, guiding him up the front porch. Otherwise, Olive would have turned and walked away.
Then he probably would have regretted it, but by then, it would have been too late.
He expected Celia to be awkward with him. Teeter around him like his skin was glass and his bones were brittle sticks.
But she had opened the door in a flurry of smiles. Before Olive could say anything, his mum had taken him into her embrace.
He almost choked. Smothered by her perfume.
“You must be Blue,” she said holding out her hand. “Call me Celia.”
“Thank you for having us.” Blue smiled his charming smile.
Eli leapt into Olive’s arms the moment he walked through the door. He certainly was growing, hadn’t even hit his growth spurt yet and he was already chasing up to Olive.
He had never known how to interact with kids. But Eli just liked to follow him around, and be beside him. When he was writing, Eli laid next to him, drawing scribbles on printer paper.
Their relationship had strengthened without words.
Celia pulled Olive aside after dinner. “Mama, I—”
“You don’t need explain yourself again, Olive,” Celia said. She swallowed. “After you left that day, I thought long and hard about what you said. I realised that if I do not learn to accept you, then I will lose you. That I cannot bear.”
Both their gazes drifted to Blue, who was letting Eli draw patterns on his arm. The parts of it that weren’t inked.
“I really do love him, Mama.”
“Good.” She gave his arm a squeeze then kissed him on the cheek.
When the New Year fireworks exploded across the sky, Blue and Olive were in the backyard. He held a box with gloved hands, brushing the snow off the lid.
“What’s that?” Blue asked.
“When Orly moved away, we would write each other letters. These were the letters I never sent.”
“Because I poured my deepest, darkest secrets onto these pages. Then I buried it. So, I would never have to see it again.”
Blue just wrapped his arm around Olive’s shoulders. Pulled him close until they were joint at the hip.
“I’m sure that when you read them now, you will see that you made it out the other side.”
Have I? What was the other side? How did one know?
It was different for everybody. But something, in his heart, told him that he didn’t need to think too hard about it.
Olive thought of the man who had given his heart to a stranger. Then he looked at Blue in the moment when the fireworks illuminated his face.
He had given his heart a long time ago.
And it was the best decision he had ever made.
“Happy New Year, Blue,” Olive whispered.
“Happy New Year, Olive.”