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.”
The walk home, requested by Latossar
The walk home took a little longer than it usually did, but that was because Even ept picking flowers and putting them in Isak’s hair. He picked flowers to give to Sana too, and she but them in the rim of her hijab, smiling as they formed a crown.
“It’s going to take forever to get all of these out of my hair,” Isak said, lifting a hand to gently touch them. They were deeply tangled in his curls, but Even was smiling about it, so he was happy.
“At least only have to take them out of my hijab, they’re not stuck in my hair,” Sana smirked. “I don’t have that worry.”
“I always wondered what your hair looked like,” Isak said. “Like, is it curly, is it straight. Is it black, red, indigo.”
“Indigo?” Sana laughed. “My hair is normal, Isak. I don’t hide it away because I’m ashamed of it, it’s part of my religion.”
“I know,” Isak assured. “But I always just wondered. I don’t want to see it, because I know that would be, like, bad in Islam and stuff, but I’m a curious being.”
Even trotted to catch up with them, and stopped Isak to put another flower in his hair. He handed another to Sana, who slipped it beneath the folds of her head scarf.
“What are we talking about?” Even asked.
“Isak is curious about my hair,” Sana said, rolling her eyes. “But he knows it’s against my wishes to take it off, so he’s okay with speculation.”
“I just kind of always thought it would look like Elias’ hair but longer, you know?” Even said.
“Oh my God, back when he had long hair?” Sana laughed. “That was so bad!”
“It always looked like he had tried to style it but failed,” Even mused. “But he’s a boy. I’m sure you could style your hair a lot better.”
They stopped at a crosswalk for a moment, waiting for the cars to go passed. Isak looked over at Sana with a curious look in his eyes. Sana looked back, hoping he would just ask her the question that was obviously on his mind. Sometimes, though, some people didn’t want to ask in fear of being impolite, but it looked like Isak didn’t have that problem.
“Why do some Muslims wear a hijab but others don’t?” Isak asked.
“It’s just preference,” Sana answered. “Like, some Christians wear the cross around their necks, some don’t. Some Jewish people wear a kippah, some don’t. It’s all about what you want. My mamma takes her hijab off the moment she gets home, unless we have guests. I keep mine on until I go to bed, just in case I end up going out again. It’s just what people want to do.”
“Oh,” Isak said. “I thought it was, like, how religious you were. Like, first it was nothing but you still pray, then the hijab, then so on. I’m guessing that’s wrong.”
“Ja, but you asked about it, instead of just thinking one way and leaving it at that.” Sana bumped her fist against his arm. “You’re getting educated.”
“The cars have stopped,” Even said. He took Isak and Sana’s hands and they all made their way across the road.
“Why did you take my hand?” Sana asked as they continued towards Sana’s house.
“Because we all need someone to hold hands with when we’re crossing the road, and seeing as I have two hands, I thought that I could hold yours, too.”
Isak laughed a little. “He does this a lot, it’s okay. Jonas got a fright the first time it happened, too.”
Sana smiled. “Well, thank you, I guess.”
They came to a halt outside of Sana’s apartment block, looking up at the window that was in her living room. They could hear loud music playing, which meant that Elias and his friends were there, dancing and laughing. Even’s hold on Isak’s hand got tighter, but he smiled at Sana nonetheless.
“Have a good night, Sana,” he said.
“If you ever want to just come and chill, you’re always welcome at ours,” Isak added on.
Sana smiled and hugged them, which surprised both of them, but they liked it, too. When she pulled away, she noticed that Even’s eyes had drifted up to the window again, and she turned to see her brother and his friends looking out at them. Mikael was staring at Even, who smiled slightly, and turned back to Sana.
“We’ll see you at school tomorrow, yeah?”
“Ja,” she answered. “I’ll see you at school.”
Isak plucked one of the flowers out of his hair and handed it to her. “I hope you know that we’re always here for you. No matter what you think is going on. We’re here.”
Sana smiled, taking the flower. “Takk, Isak.”
He smiled and nodded.
Even glanced up at the window again and waved to them. They waved back slightly, and Even took Isak’s hand again and they started to walk back. Sana stood there for a second, watching them go. It must be nice to have someone to go home with.
inspired by bumblebee33292. Sana and the boy squad.
“That I’m going to get a 4?”
“That you are alone.”
It wasn't something that Sana usually said, and he knew that. Isak knew she wasn't like this all the time. So why was she now? Did it have something to do with the girls and the Russ bus? Did it have something to do with what she had told them the literal day before about Vilde? What was going on?
“Sana!” Isak called as she rushed out of the classroom. He rushed after her, grabbing hold of her arm. “Sana, look at me.”
“What, Isak?” She had turned to face him with her signature pursed lips and raised eyebrow. “What do you want?”
“I don't know what's going on in your life, but I know that you're going through some stuff,” Isak said. “You are upset and angry, and I can see that, and you have the right to be angry. You have the right to be furious! But you don’t have the right to act like an asshole to somebody because of it. You have no right to take out your feelings on other people, that just makes you as bad as the people you're angry at. It pushes people away, and while you might want that right now, pushing people away means there will be no one there for you when you need someone.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Sana asked with a sigh.
“Because you will lose the people who care about you, Sanasol.” Isak sighed and rubbed his unbruised eye. “You know that we care about you, you know that Even and I are here for you. But if you push us away, that’s your fault, not ours.” He looked her in the eyes again. “Sana, I care about you, I really do. But I've made a pact with myself to not put up with other people's bullshit anymore, that’s why I got punched in the face. So if you're going to keep being an ass to the people around you, then you will be alone. But right now? You’re not alone, you’ve never been alone.”
“Vilde and Noora and -”
“Then they can go fuck themselves!” Isak exclaimed. “If you think that the girls aren't being good friends, ditch them! Hang out with me and my friends, you’ll just have to put up with Magnus’ idiotic questions about everything.” He smiled slightly. “But hey, at least he’s asking questions, right?”
Sana didn't smile, but the corner of her mouth twitched a little. “Isak, everyone is alone.”
He did something she didn't expect. Isak wrapped his arms around her shoulders and held her tightly to his chest. “Sana,” he whispered. “You are not alone.”
She felt her eyes sting and knew she was going to cry. “I am, Isak. I’m too Muslim for the girls, I’m too Norwegian for my family, I have no one who understand what’s going on.”
“Then tell us,” Isak implored, pulling away but keeping his hands on her shoulders. “Tell us how you feel, and tell us what you're going through. You helped me figure shit out, helped me be comfortable with myself. I may not know what you're going through, but I can try to help. I try to help Even every time that I can, and I have no clue what I'm doing, but I must be doing something right.”
Sana nodded. “I’ll think about it. I have to get to class now, Isak.”
He let her go, but decided to keep an eye on her.
The next day, the girl squad were waiting for Sana near the school gate. They had to talk to her, she wasn’t replying to any of their messages, she wasn’t answering their calls. It was like she had fallen off the side of the earth. There was no sign of her.
Until she came to the school. Then she was alive and breathing and they could talk to her.
“Sana!” Chris exclaimed when she saw their friend. “How you doing?”
Sana just raised an eyebrow. “What do you want?”
“We just want to talk to you!” Eva said. “About the bus! Why are you dropping out?”
“You really don’t know?” Sana asked, looking to Vilde.
Vilde looked away.
“Why don’t you ask her? The original bus boss. The actual boss, at least that’s what she’s been telling the Pepsi Max girls.” She smirked a little. “Isn’t that right, Vilde? Haven’t you been telling them all about me? How my brother called me a slave, how I’m not the bus boss, how horrible I am?”
“Vilde wouldn’t do that,” Noora protested.
“Then why isn’t she defending herself?” Sana asked. “I’m done with the russ stuff. They were going to kick me out anyway, apparently I’m not being a good representative of my faith. I took things into my own hands. I’m not doing russ stuff with you, I’m probably not doing it at all.”
“Who would you do it with?” Vilde asked, piping up for the first time. “Who?”
“Someone who isn’t embarrassed by me.” Sana glared at Vilde. “Someone who doesn’t think I’m being forced to wear my hijab, someone who doesn’t look away when my alarm goes off to pray. Someone who respects my choices, who doesn’t go behind my back.”
“Sana,” Chris started. “You can’t leave us, you’re the only thing that keeps the group together.”
“Really?” Sana snorted. “You seem to be doing just fine without me.”
And she walked away. And she didn’t exactly feel better, but she didn’t feel any worse. She felt like she had gotten something off her chest, but she also knew she had probably ended some good friendships. Maybe it was worth it, maybe it wasn’t. She’d have to wait and see.
“Sana!” a voice called.
She looked up and saw Isak stood with his friends, an arm wrapped around Even’s waist. She smiled at him and walked over, feeling something light in her chest. Isak held out his arm and she stepped into his embrace.
“I saw what you just did,” he told her. “I’m proud of you.”
She smiled into his shirt. “Takk, Isak.”
He squeezed her tightly for a moment, then let go of her arm and leaned against Even again. She stayed, letting the mindless chatter of the boys wash over her. It felt nice to be part of a group, but she did kind of miss her female friends.
“Hey, Sana?” Magnus asked. “Can I ask you a question?”
The boys groaned, but she smiled a little and nodded.
“When you’re at home, and you take a shower and stuff, do you take off your hijab?”
“What?” Mahdi exclaimed. “Of course she does, stupid.”
“I just wanted to know!” Magnus raised his hands in surrender. “I heard that some people keep it on all the time.”
“I take my hijab off to shower,” Sana said with a laugh. “Anything else?”
Magnus nodded. “Does your dad wear one of those turban things?”
Sana shook her head. “That’s a different religion.”
“It is?” Magnus looked amazed. “I didn’t know that. Okay, what about food? Have you ever been tempted to eat something that wasn’t, like, kosher?”
“Kosher is jewish,” Jonas sighed.
“Oh.” Magnus frowned. “What’s the word that Muslims use?”
“Halāl,” Even told him.
“Okay, so have you ever been tempted to eat something that wasn’t halāl?”
Sana nodded. “Mostly when I was younger, and I was seeing all the kids at school eat things that I wasn’t, but I’m good now. All the food I eat is tasty and really good, so I don’t care anymore.”
“When it comes to sex-”
“Magnus, I think that’s enough,” Isak laughed. “Give the girl a break.”
But Sana smiled. “It’s okay. He’s asking questions about my religion, not just assuming stuff. I like that.”
Magnus held out a hand, pointing to her and looking around at the other boys. “See? She likes my questions! She likes my curiosity!”
“We never said we didn’t like it,” Even reassured him. “It can just get a little intrusive sometimes.”
“Like when?” Magnus voice had broken slightly on the last word.
“Like when you asked me what it felt like to be eaten out,” Isak supplied.
“Or when you asked what it felt like to be black,” Mahdi added.
“Or when you asked what it was like to be the kid of immigrant parents,” Jonas said.
“You once asked me what it felt like to be bipolar and gay at the same time,” Even said. “And I didn’t know how to answer that, because they have nothing to do with each other.”
Sana laughed. The boys all looked at her, and Jonas started to laugh too, which got the rest of them going.
The bell rang for the start of the school day.
“We’d better go in,” Even sighed.
“Ja.” Isak kissed his cheek. “It’ll be okay.” He turned and looked at Sana. “You want to come and study at my house after school?”
She smiled. “Sure. I just have to go home for a few minutes, I promised Elias I’d drop in to see if my relatives need anything.”
Isak nodded, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “You want us to come with?”
She shrugged. “It might be quicker if we all went to mine first and then yours, but it’s up to you.”
“We’ll come with you,” Even said, smiling over at her as they walked into the school. “It’ll be nice to get some more fresh air.”
“If you stuff my hair with flowers again you won’t be getting sex for a week,” Isak threatened. There was no heat behind his threat though, so Even know he was only joking.
“Ja, ja, whatever.”
Chapter 4: Strawberry Cake
There is a mention of bulimia in the chapter, but it is brief.
Isak and Even were sat on their bed, wrapped in each other’s arms when Isak’s phone buzzed, signalling a text.
“Please don’t be my mother,” Isak mumbled into Even’s chest. He check it and smiled, his eyes going kind of soft and gooey before he typed out a reply and put his phone back down on the bed. “It wasn’t my mother.”
“Who was it?”
“Lea, my sister.” He sighed slightly. “It’s her birthday tomorrow, and she was asking for a cake.”
“You make your sister’s birthday cakes?”
“Well, our mamma doesn’t.”
Even nodded, wrapping his arms around Isak again, pulling him close. “We really should be doing homework or something, but I’m too warm here with you to think of that.”
Isak nodded, his nose slightly smushed against Even’s chest. “Me too. I love you, you know.”
“I do know. I love you, too.”
“Can we just sleep? I feel like sleep is good right now.”
Even chuckled. “Okay. Let’s take a nap then.”
They had only just started to fall asleep when they heard the buzzer sound through the small flat. Isak groaned and buried his face deeper into Even’s shirt. He waited for a few minutes, waiting to hear if it would go off again, before letting himself relax once more into the warm embrace of his boyfriend and their bed. It was so unbelievably soft right then, like it knew he was being pulled from sleep. He snuggled closer to Even and deeper under the blankets, letting out a soft breath before settling in to try to get to sleep again.
The buzzer rang again.
“They’ll go away if we don’t get the door,” Even mumbled, shifting so he was on his side, holding Isak close to him. “Just ignore it.”
Isak nodded his head, but then whoever was at the door was repeatedly pressing the button, making it impossible to ignore. Grumbling, he pulled himself out of the bed and to to door, where he pressed the intercom button.
“Who is it?” he asked, sounding just as tired as he felt. Getting pulled out of the brink of sleep did that to him. It made him even more tired than he had been when he decided to nap.
“Jonas and the boys,” came Jonas’ voice, grainy through the intercom. “Can we come up? Magnus is really upset.”
Isak frowned. “Ja, just knock when you get to the door.”
He pressed the small button on the control panel to let them into the flat building. He knew it took them about three minutes to get to the floor they were on, so he had just enough time to pull some sweatpants on before there was a knock a the door. Opening it, he saw Jonas and Mahdi, but not Magnus.
“I thought you said Magnus was upset?” Isak asked. “Where is he?”
Jonas looked around and sighed, walking back to the stairs before pulling Magnus to the door. His eyes were red and puffy, and he had snot glistening at the end of his nose. He sniffled and rubbed his sleeve over his face, looking at the floor. Isak felt his heart twist.
“Come in,” he said, stepping back from the door.
The boys filed into the small flat. Even had made the bed again and was sitting at the head, frowning as the boys came to sit with him. Isak crawled up next to him, his attention being drawn to his phone as it started to vibrate repeatedly.
“What’s going on?” Even asked.
Magnus held out his phone to him, and he read what was on the screen.
“That’s not…” Even frowned again. “Well, we can’t… know for sure what is going on.” To be completely honest, his chest had grown slightly tighter when he had read the name on the text messages.
“She asked for nudes from another guy,” Magnus sobbed, shaking his head. “How can we not know what’s actually going on?”
“It wasn’t real,” Isak mumbled, glancing up at him. “It was for a video that the guy made, I can show it to you.”
Magnus shook his head.
“We don’t even know if this is real stuff about or from Vilde,” Jonas said, crossing his legs under him. “That throwing up one doesn’t even sound like her.”
Magnus shook his head. “She’s got a strange relationship with food. She, uh… She told me once that she used to do that.”
“Throw up?” Mahdi asked. “Everyone throws up.”
“Nei,” Magnus sighed. “I mean, ja, everyone throws up, but nei, she didn’t tell me that she used to throw up just like everyone else. She told me she used to make herself throw up to not gain weight.”
“Oh.” Jonas nodded a little. “And you knew that, so why did it bother you?”
“I know that she has a thing with food,” Magnus said, looking down at his phone, at the awful things on the instagram. “And I know she flirts with people, but I really think she cheated on me.”
Jonas patted his shoulder. “We don’t know that, buddy. It could be fake, it could be those girls trying to hurt her.”
“But…” Magnus sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know. It just feels like this time something actually happened. I know that she sometimes makes out with Eva and sometimes she flirts with other boys, and that never bothered me, because I knew she didn’t mean it.” He dropped his head into his hands, the heels of his palms digging into his eyes to stem the flow of tears. “It fucking sucks.”
Mahdi wrapped an arm around Magnus’ shoulders, rubbing his arm.
“I don’t think she would cheat on you,” Even said, reaching over and taking Magnus’ hand. “We can all see how much she likes you, every time she sees you she lights up like a christmas tree.”
Even nudged Isak in the ribs, not too softly, and frowned at his boyfriend, who was scowling down at his phone.
“What’s wrong?” Even mumbled to him.
“Nothing,” Isak said quickly, tossing his phone down onto the bed. He looked up at the boys with their arms around Magnus, and his face softened. “She didn’t cheat on you, Sana said that Vilde and Elias talked a couple times at a party but nothing happened between them.”
Magnus looked up at him, his eyes red. “But how does she know? She doesn’t know everything about her brother.”
Isak shook his head. “Elias said that she was nice but she was too young for him, and she is Sana’s friend. It would be weird.”
“But she’s not too young!” Magnus protested. “Even’s the same age as Elias, and you’re the same age as Vilde, and it isn’t a problem between you two! Even’s almost twenty!”
“Ja, and I’m eighteen.” Isak scooted forward and put his hand on Magnus’ shoulder. “Magnus, Vilde didn’t cheat on you. She wouldn’t cheat on you.”
Magnus shook his head. “Even if she hasn’t, she probably will.”
All the boys frowned.
“Why do you think that?” Mahdi asked.
Magnus shrugged and mumbled something too low for them to hear.
“You’ve got to speak up, buddy,” Even said, squeezing his hand. “What did you say?”
Magnus sighed and rubbed his eyes again, forcing Even to let go. “I said that she could find so many people better than me. That’s why. Not because she’s awful or anything, but because I’m average.”
“Nei,” Isak said, moving closer to wrap his arms around his friend’s shoulders. “You can’t think like that. You’re a great guy, a wonderful friend, and a good person.” He moved back and brought his hand down to Magnus’ chin, making him look up at him. “You understand that, right? We all think that you’re a good person.”
Magnus smiled weakly. “Takk, Isak.”
Jonas nodded. “We wouldn’t be hanging out with you if we didn’t think you were great.”
Magnus smiled again. “I thought you guys kept me around because I make a fool out of myself so much.”
Mahdi shook his head. He wrapped his arms around Magnus again, squeezing him lightly. “You’re one of us, which means that you’re cool. We’re friends. Best friends.”
Magnus nodded and smiled, but he was crying again. “Takk, you guys.”
They all scooted forward some more to wrap their arms around him, which lead to all of them falling over onto the mattress in a pool of laughter and boy. They stayed like that, all of them resting on some part of another, and they just talked for the next hour. They talked about nothing, and everything, from school to girls to capitalism.
“Did you guys see that new girl in year three?” Mahdi asked. “Fy faen, she’s hot.”
“Ja, I saw her,” Jonas said, nodding. “She is very attractive, but she so smart, too. She shamed my teacher with her knowledge of literary tropes.” He smiled. “She’s got such a nice smile.”
Magnus shook his head, looking at his phone screen again. “She’s pretty, but she seems stuck up to me.”
“But she’s so nice!” Mahdi protested.
“And she’s so smart,” Jonas sighed.
“Well,” Isak said. “She’s not a guy so I don’t care.”
The boys laughed.
“Do you remember when we used to sit at lunch and point out girls to see if any of us had hooked up with them?” Mahdi asked with a laugh. “And Isak, you had hooked up with so many of them!”
“I didn’t do much with them.” Isak shook his head. “I just kissed them.”
“Didn’t you get a blow job from that third year at that party once?” Magnus asked.
Isak scoffed. “Real specific, Mags.”
“No, no, that girl with the blue stripes in her hair?” Jonas asked.
“Ja!” Magnus laughed. “The one with the huge glasses that she didn’t even need.”
“Oh, her,” Isak said. He shook his head. “She tried but I said that I was too drunk. And she said she didn’t care, that she would still do it, but I said that I wouldn’t be able to get it up because I had too much to drink.”
“Dude, that would have been so good though!” Mahdi said, shaking his head. “She was so ready to blow you, and you just said no! What is wrong with you?”
Isak propped himself up on his elbow. “You just asked me why I, a gay teenage boy, didn’t want a blow job from a girl, while we are laying in the bed that I share with my very male boyfriend?” He rolled his eyes. “I can’t think of a reason I wouldn’t have accepted the blow job, thank you for pointing out that there is something wrong with me.”
Jonas and Magnus laughed while Mahdi spluttered before giving in and laughing with the rest of them.
“My boy is so popular,” Even mumbled, smiling and propping himself up on his elbows to lean over and kiss Isak. Magnus, who just happened to be in between them, groaned and wiggled around so he was more in between Mahdi and Jonas. Even and Isak broke apart with a pop, grinning at each other. “My baby boy.” Even rubbed his nose against Isak’s before laying down and resting his head on Mahdi’s thigh again.
“Do you guys want some food?” Isak asked, laying down again and finding his head now on Jonas’ stomach. “We could order some pizza or something.”
“I want a curry!” Magnus piped up. “Can we get curry?”
“Curry sounds so good!” Mahdi said.
Even smiled and sat up, stretching over to pick up his phone. “The nearest place does delivery, if you want to get stuff from there.” He stood, scratching his back and walking to the kitchen to get the take out menu. He tossed it to the pile of boys when he got back in before crawling over his friends to curl up next to Isak, who was frowning at his phone again. “You okay?”
“Ja, just…” Isak sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “My dad’s being an asshole.”
“What did he do this time?” Jonas asked, looking up from the menu.
“His parents are coming to visit,” Isak explained. “And they don’t know he left my mamma, they don’t know she’s ill, they don’t know I moved out, and they don’t know I’m gay.” He tossed his phone down on the bed again. “I wouldn’t care about all of this if he hadn’t just asked me to move back into my old room for a couple days while they’re visiting and pretend to be straight and that my mamma is not mentally ill.” He leaned against the wall. “My own father just asked me to go back into the closet.”
Even wrapped an arm around him. “That sucks. What did you tell him.”
Jonas nodded in agreement.
“Why would pretending to be straight be so bad for a couple days?” Magnus asked, looking up from the menu.
“Really?” Mahdi asked.
“It would be bad because it’s like saying that everything I went through didn’t happen, or it doesn’t matter,” Isak explained. “It means that I would be hiding part of who I am again, that I would be going back into that hole I was in.”
Magnus frowned. “We were nice to you, we never said anything homophobic, did we? Like, we weren’t part of the reason you were in the closet for so long, right?”
Isak smiled at him. “Nei, Magnus. You guys weren’t mean or anything, you just didn’t think that I would be anything else but straight, which hurts, too.” He looked down at his lap. “I liked hanging out with you guys, until you’d start talking about girls, and I be thrown back into thinking that I was different, that I wasn’t… right. That I was wrong, somehow.”
“But you’re not,” Mahdi said, and Jonas leaned over to pat Isak’s shoulder. “You’re just as normal as the rest of us, just as right.”
“I know that now.” Isak sniffled a bit. “But then… I hated it. I hated myself.”
“Jesus, and I thought being cheated on was bad,” Magnus mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
Isak looked up at him, confusion written across his face. “Why are you sorry?”
“Because you’ve been through so much, and I’ve just maybe been cheated on. Why do I have the right to complain?”
Isak shook his head. “You have every right to complain. You were hurt. Just because I’ve been hurt too, in a different way, doesn’t mean that my hurt is bigger than your hurt. We’ve been through bad stuff, the both of us.”
“And if we’re making it a competition,” Even said, “then I win. Because I’m bipolar and have had hurtful stuff happen to me.”
Isak rolled his eyes and shoved Even playfully away. “This isn’t a competition!”
The buzzer rang again. They all looked in the direction of the door.
“Who’s that?” Jonas asked.
“Maybe it’s the curry?” Mahdi suggested.
“We didn’t even order,” Even said.
“I’ll get it.” Isak extracted himself from the pile of boy on his bed and went to the intercom again. “Halla? Who is it?”
“Sana,” the little voice said. “Can you come down here?”
“I could just let you in, Sana.”
“Ja, but I’m not really alone. I need to ask you something first, and I would rather have it be face to face.”
“Uh… okay?” Isak looked over at the boys, who all shrugged. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Isak slipped on his shoes, grabbed his keys, and went down to the front lobby of the flat building. He opened the door to let Sana in when he saw the group of guys behind her.
“Ja,” Sana said. “I told Elias that Even misses the group, and then when I said that I was going to come and study with you, they all said they were coming, too. To see Even and try to be friends again.”
“If that’s okay with you,” Mikael said. “We don’t want to cause any trouble again.”
Isak flushed bright red. “Nei, nei, it’s fine. I just, uh… The boys are over, and Magnus might not want to see Elias.”
“Me?” Elias asked. “Why not?”
“Because he’s convinced that his girlfriend cheated on him with you.”
Sana frowned. “I sent him a message. And I sent you the video when it happened, why does he still think she did?”
“Because he refuses to watch the video and he thinks that he’s such an average person that it was bound to happen anyway. That it wasn’t because she’s a bad person, it’s because he’s boring.” Isak shook his head and mumbled, “Which is total bullshit, but whatever.” He sighed heavily. “And our flat is very small, so it might be a bit cramped.”
“That’s fine,” Sana said, giving him a tight smile. “As long as your friends don’t react badly to my brother and is friends, and as long as my brother and his friends don’t react badly to your friends.”
“We’ll be good, Sana,” Elias snarked.
She smiled sarcastically up at him before turning back to Isak. “So can we come up?”
Isak nodded. “Just wait outside the door for a few minutes when I tell them you guys are here.”
He lead them up the stairs and to the front door, which he unlocked and stepped into, signalling for the others to wait. The boys looked up at him, Even frowning.
“Where’s Sana?” he asked.
“She’s here, but she, uh… she brought her brother,” Isak said. “And his friends.”
Even’s face went very pale. Magnus scowled and stood, Jonas holding onto the back of his shirt.
“Why is he here?” he asked, coming as close to growling as he could. “What does he want.”
“They want to talk to Even,” Isak explained, holding up his hands to calm him down. “They just want to get back in touch.” He looked at Even. “Is that okay?”
Even make a strange combination of body movements, nodding his head and shrugging at the same time, and just looked like he was started to have a fit. “I mean, I guess.” His voice sounded tight.
Isak looked back out the door and waved the others in. Sana walked in first and passed Magnus to sit next to Even on the bed, pulling out her phone and sending off a quick text. Even glanced at her before looking up as Elias and the boys walked into the flat. They stood awkwardly near the door, cautiously eyeing Magnus.
“Magnus?” Isak asked. “Everything okay?”
“Did you hook up with my girlfriend?” Magnus burst out with, glaring at Elias. “Did you hook up with Vilde?”
“Vilde?” Elias asked. “Nei, I didn’t.”
The air was thick with tension as Magnus continued to glare at Elias searchingly, before his shoulders sagged and he let out a small relieved huff.
“I believe you.” Magnus sat back down next to Jonas, and everyone was stared at him for a second.
“Anyway,” Isak said, breaking the silence. “You guys wanted to talk to Even?”
“Ja,” Mikael said, nodding. “We just want to talk, see how you’re doing. You know?”
“You don’t hate me?” Even blurted, causing everyone to look over at him. His cheeks grew red before he looked over at Isak, who smiled encouragingly at him. “How can you not hate me for what I did?”
“What did you do?” Magnus asked.
“Nothing you need to know,” Isak interrupted. “Boys, into the kitchen, leave these guys and Even to talk.”
Magnus, Mahdi, and Jonas followed Isak into the kitchen. Before much time had passed, Sana followed them, glancing down at her phone. Isak started rummaging through his cupboards, pulling out flour and sugar, and then eggs and butter from the fridge.
“You guys are going to help me make a cake for my sister,” he said.
Back in the bedroom, Even was looking up at the group of boys, who were still standing at the foot of the bed.
“You can sit, if you want,” Even said, his voice coming out quieter than he wanted. He cleared his throat. “It’s fine if you want to stand though.”
Elias sat on the bed, which prompted the others to as well. Mikael looked up at him, opened his mouth, and looked away again.
“I’m sorry,” Even said, looking down at his hands, plucking at a loose thread of the duvet. “I’m sorry for everything that happened at Bakka.”
“We were never angry with you,” Adam told him, looking at him directly. “We were worried about you.”
“Ja,” Mutasim agreed. “‘When everything started to be weird, we were worried about you, we weren’t angry at you. And then you just dropped off the face of the planet, we thought something bad might have happened.”
“Well, you guys were almost right,” Even said with a self deprecating chuckle. “After everything that happened I just couldn’t face you guys anymore. I thought you’d hate me.”
“What do you mean by we were almost right?” Mikael asked. “We were almost right about what?”
“Me dropping off the face of the earth,” Even answered, looking around at the boys. He saw that Elias and Yousef were looking at each other slightly guiltily, as if they knew something the others didn’t. “You guys don’t know?”
“Don’t know what?” Adam asked.
“How do you guys know but not these guys?” Even asked Elias.
“I called Sonja,” Elias said, looking at the blanket he was sat on. “I made her tell me why you weren’t at school, and she started crying over the phone so she told me, and I didn’t want to tell anyone else because it wasn’t my story to tell.”
“I asked her at school,” Yousef told him. “I said I knew something was going on, and she took that as you had told me, so she started talking to me about how she was so upset about what you did, and then realised that I didn’t actually know what had happened and then ran away.”
“What happened?” Mikael asked.
Even smiled softly at him, but shook his head. “I don’t really want to talk about it.” He looked over at Elias and Yousef. “I would be okay with you guys telling them later, if you want to.”
Elias nodded his head.
“But what happened at school?” Mikael asked. “Why did you drop out? What was going on?”
Even sighed, looking down at his hands again. “I went off my meds. I thought I was okay, I thought that I didn’t need them anymore, that I had gotten control over it, but I hadn’t, and then everything went to shit again.”
“Off your meds?” Adam asked. “What meds?”
“Lithium,” Even said. “Some others, too. I have bipolar disorder.”
There was a moment of silence, then Mutasim nodded.
“That makes sense,” he said.
“What?” Even asked. “How?”
“Well, that explains why you have such shit taste in movies,” Adam added on. “When you’re on your meds, you must like good movies, right?”
Even shook his head, confused. “I don’t… what are you…?”
“The chemicals in your brain are unbalanced,” Yousef supplied. “So it’s affecting your choice of movies.”
“Baz Luhrmann?” Elias asked. “Really?”
“He’s a great director!” Even exclaimed with a laugh. He knew what they were doing. They were teasing him to defuse the tension, but they weren’t being mean. “Have you seen The Get Down ?”
“Okay, yeah,” Mutasim said, nodding. “That is actually very good.”
“Yeah, but it got cancelled.” Adam shook his head. “A shame.”
“And they’re giving that suicide romanticizing shit stain of a show Thirteen Reasons Why another season when there isn’t even anymore story to tell,” Even told them, and just like that, it was like old times. All six of them, chatting and laughing like old friends.
In the kitchen, Isak smiled to himself when he heard the laughter, but then was coughing into a cloud of flour. Magnus was stood next to him, having just ripped open the bag.
“I’m so sorry, I couldn’t open it,” he said, putting the bag down on the counter top. “Isak, I’m so sorry.”
“Why aren’t we using your electric mixer?” Sana asked. “You have one.”
“That’s a mixer?” Isak asked, rubbing flour off his face. “I didn’t even know what that was.”
“We just spent twenty minutes stirring this butter and sugar together by hand when you had an electric mixer?” Jonas asked indignantly. “Let’s put this into it and speed up this whole process.”
They dumped the sugary butter into the mixer bowl and flipped it on, giving the lumpy mixture a smooth consistency after a minute. They added the eggs and flour a little at a time, watching as it all folded into itself. When the batter was ready, Isak poured it into two cake tins and started to put them into the oven before realising it wasn’t even on.
“Mahdi! I asked you to preheat the oven!” Isak groaned, putting the cake tins back onto the counter.
Mahdi shrugged, looking up from his phone. “Sorry, I forgot.”
“It was your one job!” Isak told him.
Isak set the temperature on the oven to the correct heat. “It’s going to take a while to preheat, so let’s go wait on the balcony.”
“Why can’t we join Even and Sana’s brother?” Magnus asked.
“Because they probably still want time to themselves,” Isak told him.
“You can come sit with us!” Even and Elias called in tandem.
Magnus smiled at Isak before going back into the bedroom. Isak rolled his eyes but smiled after him, joining his boyfriend at the head of the bed once again. He didn’t quite lean against Even, but he was near enough to show they were a couple. Even wrapped his arm around Isak, pulling him against his side, and planting a kiss on his cheek.
“I love you,” Even mumbled into his hair.
Isak blushed and smiled.
The doorbell buzzed again, but this time Sana stood up.
“I’ll get it,” she said, walking over to the door and letting whoever it was into the building. She waited by the door until there was a knock, and then she let the person in.
Vilde stepped in cautiously before looking around. She saw Elias and frowned, but then was enveloped in a tight hug from Magnus.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered to her.
“Sorry?” she asked. “Why… why are you sorry?”
“For not believing you.” He pulled away and kissed her.
“Well,” Even said, looking around the gathered people. “At least this story has a good ending.”
Isak looked up at him, smiling. “I love you.”