Take your time
It happened when they were walking out of school. Isak and Sana were walking side by side until they got to the gate, and Isak was going to go one way, and Sana the other. They were laughing about their science teacher, who seriously needed to trim her nose hair, when someone ran up behind them and ripped Sana’s hijab off her head.
“Go back to fucking Islam, bitch!” they yelled, shoving her down.
Isak ran a few steps to catch him, but the guy was gone before he even saw where he went. There was no trace of him, other than the faint sound of his shoes slapping against the pavement. Isak was pissed.
He took off his jacket, taking steps carefully backwards, and held it out. “Here.” He couldn't see Sana reaching for it, but let go when he felt her take it.
“Takk,” she said. “I could have done that myself.”
“I know, but what are friends for?”
Sana huffed out a laugh. “You can turn around now.”
He did. Sana had the hood of his hoodie pulled up over her head, the string pulled slightly to cover herself well.
“Are you going to call your brother?” Isak asked. “I could walk you home or… you know.”
Sana smiled. “I'll call Elias. Takk, though, for the offer. I can take care of myself though.” She put on her superior, I know everything face.
Isak laughed and rolled his eyes. He wasn't prepared for Sana hugging him, but after a few surprised seconds he hugged her back.
“Seriously,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
He squeezed her slightly. “Anything for you.”
When she let go, she pulled out her phone to quickly dial her brother. Isak, not wanting to listen in to the conversation, pulled his own out and shot off a text to Even.
Hey, won’t be home for a bit, stayed at school to help Sana with something.
Okay. Is everything okay?
Some asshole came up behind her and ripped her hijab off. I gave her my jacket, which I actually think is yours.
Shit, is she okay?
Yeah, she’s okay. Or, at least she will be when she gets home.
Isak put his phone away when Sana hung up hers, smiling and raising her eyebrows.
“You okay?” Isak asked.
“Yeah,” Sana said, though Isak could see her hands shaking. “I just really want to get home. You know?”
Isak nodded. It wasn’t long until Sana’s brother was there, his hands clenched into fists and his expression stormy. He pulled Sana into a hug and mumbled something into her ear. Isak took stock of the other boys with him. He knew their faces, knew who they were. His nose still hurt from Elias’ fist, his friends still sported bruises from the others.
“Are you okay?” Yousef asked. All the other boys nodded, as if that was them asking, too.
Sana shrugged. Isak could see, now that she was being held by her brother, that she had tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she gave him a small smile.
Elias turned to Isak, looking like he was fighting something inside him. He was Even’s old friend, standing and staring (almost glaring) at Even’s new boyfriend. They had fought because of something stupid one of them said, they couldn’t even remember which of them said it.
“You’re name is Isak, right?” Elias asked, his eyes wide.
“Ja,” Isak said, nodding his head in agreement.”
“Were you here when it happened? Did you see who it was?”
Isak shook his head. “Nei, I didn’t see who it was.”
Elias nodded his head. “Is this your jacket?”
“Uh, ja, kind of.” He knew there might be a reaction when he told them whose it was, but he didn’t care. He was proud of Even, proud of himself. “It’s my boyfriends.”
“Does he want it back?” Mikael asked, shifting his feet. The boy wasn’t looking at Isak. “Elias brought Sana another one of her hijabs, you could…”
Isak shrugged. He looked off behind the group of boys as they all crowded around Sana, saying nice things. It was then that Isak noticed Even, stood at the other end of the school yard, staring at the boys. He looked scared, his mouth drawn tight. Isak caught his eye and smiled, tilting his head slightly to the left.
“I think I’ll go home,” Isak said, turning back to Sana. “If you’re okay?”
She nodded. “Do you want your hoody back?”
Isak shrugged again. “Just give it back tomorrow.” He waved to the boys. “See you.”
Isak set off across the road, knowing that the boys would follow him with their eyes. He heard a small exclamation from behind him, and one of them had definitely seen Even. When he got to his boyfriend, Isak put a hand on his cheek, pulling his gaze away from Sana’s brother and his friends, and down to him. Isak kissed him gently, and he felt Even sigh against his cheek. When they broke apart, they didn’t pull away, just rested their foreheads together.
“Let’s go home?” Isak asked, reaching down to take Even’s hand.
Even smiled. “Ja, let’s go home.” And he turned away without a backwards glance.
On the walk home, Isak could feel that Even had something on his mind. He wouldn’t bring it up. Isak knew that Even wasn’t ready to tell him what had happened at Bakka, what had happened to make the boys react the way they did at the karaoke party.
“Isak,” Even started when they got onto the tram. He sat next to his boyfriend, letting Isak rest his head on his shoulder. “I should tell you something.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything if you’re not ready,” Isak replied, his voice soft, almost not even there.
Even rested his head on top of Isak’s. “I really should tell you, though. It’s something that I did and it’s affected a lot.”
“But you’re not ready.”
“What if I’m never ready?”
Isak was silent for a moment. He closed his eyes and sighed, turning his head to kiss Even’s shoulder. “Then we won’t talk about it. But I know you, you can do hard things. You’ll be able to tell me eventually.”
Even kissed Isak’s forehead.
It was a couple of weeks later when Even told him. Sana was over, wearing her yellow hijab. She and Isak were going over their chemistry notes, but had to take a break because Isak was still getting over his concussion and got a headache. Sana was laying on the couch while Isak was spread out like a starfish on the floor.
“You’ve got to let me go,” Isak said, his arm tossed over his eyes.
“What?” Sana laughed.
“You’ve got to let me go,” Isak repeated. “My head hurts so bad, I’m gonna die. You’ve got to let me go.”
Sana laughed again, shaking her head. “You’re so dramatic.”
“Well, I did start a fight with Mahdi once because he said I had a family dinner to go to,” Isak said. “I was and am dramatic, but don’t tell anyone that I admitted to it, because it will be the death of you.”
“You couldn’t kill me if you tried.”
“Oh yeah? And why’s that?”
“Because I know how to defend myself when someone is attacking me.”
Isak was quiet for a while. “Are you okay? After what happened?”
Sana sighed through her nose. “Ja, I am. Still a little shaken up, but not as bad as before. It’s never happened to me before, but I’ve heard of it happening.”
“You know you can always come here if you need help, right?”
Sana looked over at him, ready to quip that she didn’t need help, but Isak was looking at her with those wide hazel eyes and a serious face. She nodded. “I know, Isak.”
Even interrupted the moment by walking into the living room in a pair of sweatpants and a thick hoody. Isak knew that the sweatpants were actually his because they were just a little too short of Even. The hoody was Even’s, though. But Isak loved to steal it.
“Hey, baby,” Isak said. He was expecting a lot out of his boyfriend at the moment. It had been a hard week for him, and this was the first time that he’d gotten out of bed in a few days, other than to use the bathroom. Isak knew to act like nothing had happened right then (but on the inside he was jumping and yelling for joy that his boyfriend was out of bed).
“Halla,” Even mumbled, pulling the blanket from the end of the couch Sana was on and wrapping it around himself. He then laid down next to Isak and buried his face in Isak’s chest. “I’m gonna sleep here, okay?”
“Okay,” Isak agreed, reaching his hand up to stroke Even’s hair. It was a little greasy, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Isak was getting good at coaxing Even into the shower when he was in his depressive states. “You want us to be quiet?”
“Nei, keep talking.” Even shuffled around a bit, finding a comfortable spot of his head on Isak’s stomach. “I don’t mind.”
Sana smiled down at them.
Isak noticed her smile, and shot her a confused one back. “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just…” She sighed, looking down at Even. “I’m glad that he’s got someone when he’s like this.”
Isak nodded. “I keep forgetting that my bio buddy knew my boyfriend before I did, and didn’t tell me.”
“It’s not my tale to tell.” Sana rested her head back on the arm rest. “I won’t spread gossip.”
“Not like some of your friends,” Even mumbled. “Not like Vilde.”
Sana snorted. “I don’t know if she considers herself my friend anymore.”
“Why?” Isak asked. “Did something happen?”
Sana sighed again. “It was during the karaoke party a couple weeks back. I’m actually amazed nothing has been brought up yet, but I’ve been kicked off the russ bus, I’m just not supposed to know yet. Vilde told the Pepsi Max girls that she was the actual bus boss, and that Elias called me a slave, but it was because of a bet we made. He doesn’t always call me that.”
“We know,” Even said, shifting slightly on Isak to look up at her. “Elias is stupid but not that stupid.”
She smiled. “Ja… but Vilde also does little things, you know? Like she sighs or rolls her eyes or looks embarrassed when my alarm goes off when it’s time to pray. She’s asked me before if I’m being forced to wear my hijab, and that I don’t have to wear it all the time, but she doesn’t get it. It’s my choice, it’s what I want. She doesn’t even try to understand.”
“She’s a bitch,” Isak summed up.
Sana laughed, sudden and bubbly. “Nei, she’s just… insensitive, sometimes.” She smiled down at the two boys. “I didn’t know I needed to talk about that.”
Isak shrugged, still running his hand through Even’s hair. “I’m all ears right now. I can’t do any more studying or my brain might explode.”
“Well, we can’t have that.” Sana looked down at the floor for a second, then up at him again. “I am sorry for what Elias did. For what all of them did.” She fixed her eyes on Even, who locked eyes with her too. “To both of you.”
Isak’s brows furrowed, but he didn’t say anything.
“I…” Even started. He nodded at Sana, and buried his face in Isak’s stomach again. “I think I’m ready to tell you.”
Isak pulled a face of surprise. “You sure?”
“Ja.” He sighed at sat up, shuffling over so he was sitting with his back leaning on the couch. “It keeps coming up, so I think I’m ready to tell you.”
“Do you want me to go?” Sana asked, already sitting up.
“Nei.” Even shook his head, not looking at her. “I think that maybe having someone here who knows what happened will be helpful.”
“She knows?” Isak asked, incredulous. “You told Sana?”
“He didn't tell me anything. Elias and Even were friends, remember? And I have always been Elias’ little sister, so I was there for the whole thing.”
Isak nodded. “And you don’t spread gossip. You didn’t want to hurt either Even or I, so you kept it to yourself. Like a good friend.” He swallowed. “So… what happened?”
“Well, you know Mikael?” Even asked, picking at the skin around his nail on the pointer finger of his right hand, not looking at Isak.
“I… I kissed him, once.” Even expected Isak to react badly, to exclaim that he had never known, that he was upset. But Isak was quiet, so Even looked up, and found his boyfriend staring at him, one eyebrow raised as if to say ‘why aren’t you finishing the story?’
“Ja, so?” Isak asked.
“So? You… you don’t care?” It was Even’s turn to look confused.
“Nei? You know that I liked Jonas, you know that I kissed Chris P., you know that I kissed Sara and all those girls I can’t name. I know you kissed Sonja. Why should it upset me that you had a romantic past? I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even on your mind. If it happened when we were dating, I’d be pissed, but this was before me.”
Even nodded, his throat clogging with tears. He looked back down at his hands. He’d managed to pick at the skin of his cuticle so badly it had started to bleed. “He didn’t stop me from kissing him, and I think he would have kissed me back, but then the boys came in. And… he pushed me away, yelling about how it was against God, and how I was going to hell. So, I ran.” He shrugged, but he felt tears in the corners of his eyes. “I just ran.”
Isak scooted over to sit next to his boyfriend. Just next to him, not touching. If Even wanted to be touched, he would touch Isak first. That’s how it was sometimes.
“I remember Elias coming home that day and asking our mother if being gay was wrong,” Sana said quietly. “How she said that while the Qu’ran said it was, she didn’t believe that. She didn’t believe that being gay was wrong, and that it was okay. He nodded, and said that he thought you were gay. My mamma said that was okay.”
Even smiled slightly. “That’s nice of her.”
“What happened next?” Isak asked. He frowned. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
Even leaned over and kissed his cheek, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “I decided to read the Qu’ran and see what it said. I didn’t like it, but I was depressed and I was freaking out, and I was really believing that I was going to hell. So I put everything on Facebook, so everyone else would know that I was going to hell, and they were too if they were gay.”
“I thought you were bi?” Isak mumbled, leaning his head on Even’s shoulder.
Even chuckled slightly. “I am, but I still like guys, so… Hell is where I was going.” He tightened his arm around Isak’s shoulders. “Nothing I could do would make me feel any better, and I got it into my mind that there was nothing I would ever be able to do to feel better. And I didn’t want to feel that awful forever.” He felt Sana’s hand on his shoulder. “I… I downed all my pills and half a bottle of vodka before my parents got home from work. I woke up a couple days later in the hospital with tubes coming out of my stomach.”
Isak wrapped his arms around Even’s stomach, tears dripping down his nose and onto Even’s shirt.
“Elias came home one day in tears,” Sana supplied. “Sonja had told them at school, told them why you weren’t there, why you had stopped going to classes. Elias prayed all day, I could hear him. Mamma had to tell him to go to sleep at one point, but even after that, I could still hear him. Neither of our parents asked him what was wrong, but I did, and he told me. He was freaking out, crying harder than I had ever seen him cry. It was scary. And I prayed for you, too.”
Even turned and smiled at her, startled to see the tears in her eyes. “Thank you.”
“I’m so sorry,” Isak mumbled.
Even looked over at him, taking his face in his hands and thumbing away the tears he found there. “No, baby, why are you sorry?”
“Because you were in so much pain.” Isak leaned forward and rested his head against Even’s. “Because you thought there was no way out, there was nothing left to do.” He wrapped his arms around Even’s shoulders. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, baby,” Even whispered into Isak’s hair.
Isak looked over to Sana, who was now sitting up on their couch. “Thank you, Sana.”
“Thank you?” she repeated. “For what?”
She smiled, but she was confused. “You don’t believe in God.”
“No,” Isak agreed, pulling away from Even. He held onto his hand tightly, not wanting to ever let go. “But for someone who is religious to pray for you, it means a lot. It means they care about you enough to tell their God.”
Sana smiled. “I do care about both of you.” She sent a sarcastic look to Isak. “Even if you are a pain in the neck.”
He shrugged. “At least I know it.”
Sana laughed. Her phone started to ring, signaling a call from her mother. She excused herself to the hallway to pick it up.
“Do… do you still lo-”
“If you ask me if I still love you, Even, you will get a worse concussion than I did.” Isak took his face in his hands, his fingers curling into the hair at the base of Even’s neck. “Of course I still love you. Of course I still want to be with you. I’m so thankful that you trust me enough to tell me. And if you ever, ever get that low again I want you to tell me. No matter what I’m doing, you tell me.” He raised his eyebrows. “Okay?”
Sana came back in. “I have to go home. Mamma wants me to help set up for our relatives coming over.”
“You want us to walk you home?” Isak asked.
Sana smiled but shook her head. “I’ll be okay.”
“Nei, I insist,” Even said, standing. “Let me go put on some better clothes, we’ll walk you home. It’s not that far, and I need the fresh air.”
Isak smiled up at him. When Even had left, Sana sat down next to Isak again, looking him in the eye and raising one perfect eyebrow.
“You okay?” she asked.
“I’m terrified.” Isak looked at her. “I’m so fucking terrified that I won’t be able to do what he needs me to do, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try my damn hardest. I love him, and there is no way I’m letting him go without a fight.”