He remembers hearing the front door shut, and him getting out of bed. He’s not tired yet, it’s an hour before bedtime, but Mamma was getting stressed so she put him to bed. But now she’s left and Isak can get up and do whatever he wants.
He moves towards his train set, making choo-choo noises as he pushes the carriages around on the floor.
Thinking back on it now, he wonders who the fuck would leave a five year old alone during the night.
But then again, who hits that five year old?
He finds her in bed, duvet pulled up so only her head peaks out. She’s staring at the ceiling.
There’s no reply and Isak doesn’t know what to do. He can’t read her, he never could, and he just doesn’t know, okay?
He makes himself a cup of tea, and as he’s pouring the water he decides to make one for his mom as well. Maybe she’ll like it. Although he makes sure to pour it into an old mug instead of her favourite one. Just in case. He shouldn’t push it.
He’s slow to make his way through the house. He’s only carrying her cup. His hand is shaking as he slowly pushes her bedroom door open. It’s dark – the curtains are drawn and he can barely see her lying in bed, her eyes fixed onto the ceiling.
He’s slow to put the cup down on the bedside table so he won’t make any noise or startle her with a sudden movement. Or, he thought he was slow, maybe he wasn’t though, because the second after he’s put it down and is about to leave, she turns her head and looks at him. His heart skips a beat because maybe she’ll react to him being there, and-
She screams and launches herself at him instead. Not really the reaction he had wanted, Isak can’t help but think as her nails pierce his skin.
The mug goes flying and Isak goes to school that day with a sore, red mark from the scolding hot water and scratches on the side of his face. His papa forgets to pick him up and he knows he can’t let Jonas see, so he ends up having to walk back home.
“Want to come around mine today?”
Jonas always asks the question casually, but Isak thinks there’s panic in the subtext. Or he might just be imagining it. He thinks he is, because Jonas is more oblivious than Harry freaking Potter.
“I’ll even ask mamma to make that pasta dish you really like,” Jonas continues, puffing Isak with his elbow to make sure he has his attention. Except that side isn’t good today and Isak winces before he can control himself. Jonas’ brows furrow in confusion. “What, don’t you like it anymore?”
Isak hurries to disagree (he fucking loves that dish, okay). “I just, can’t. Not today. Mamma...” He doesn’t have to continue. Jonas knows of her being ‘stressed’, having witnessed one of her episodes back when they were nine years old. Isak couldn’t tell him that it was nowhere near a bad episode, but was actually quite tame.
Jonas nods, looking at Isak a bit longer. Isak can feel his heart beat a little faster, and he tells himself it’s from fear of Jonas seeing the marks on the back of his neck even though he’s wearing a scarf.
“Are you okay?” Jonas asks and Isak’s heart is in his throat.
He shrugs. “Bra.”
“The angels are close now,” she keeps muttering, pushing the sofa around the room. Isak’s standing in the doorway and he can’t keep his eyes off of her.
The room’s a mess. Everything’s a mess. The meticulously cut newspaper clippings are strewn all over the place, a few of them have been hung on the washing-line even though they’re completely dry. The dining table’s been pushed over, the TV balancing (barely) on its side.
He never knows what her reaction will be, especially not when she’s in a mood like this. Her eyes are wild and feverish when she looks directly at him, and Isak thinks for a second she won’t recognize him.
“Isak?” She says, not moving from the couch. “Isak, darling, do you mind bringing me my pillow? It’s on my bed. The big fluffy one, with the fur,” she describes, not blinking and not looking away.
Isak doesn’t really want to leave her alone and he doesn’t know what he should reply (papa always says he stresses her and should be more careful with her), and so he decides to just nod before he turns around, heading towards the bedroom.
He comes back to her climbing out the window. From the second floor.
“Nei!” Isak screams, throwing himself at her, grabbing onto her, trying to pull her back in. “Mamma, please!”
He’s shouting please and for her to come back inside, but she’s screaming at him that she will miss the angels, he’s the devil, he’s the devil, he’s the devil-
She manages to smash his head into a doorframe, making his vision swim.
He barely manages to hold onto her leg before she’s trying to get out the window again.
He doesn’t remember much after that. The evening has been reduced to flashes. Him crying. Mamma screaming. Papa coming home, carrying her further into the house, them going into a room.
Isak’s left curled up against the sofa, hiding his face in his knees, feeling as if he’s about to throw up from the dizziness.
“Fy faen, Isak, stop hogging the ball!” Jonas shouts, leaning forward with the controller, going as far as twisting it in the air as if the player will run faster because of that.
Isak’s laughing, really laughing, not just a small, breathy huff of a laugh, but a full-on belly-shaking laugh, and it feels good.
“You mean this ball?” Isak asks innocently, running in circles around Jonas’ player, preventing him from grabbing said football.
Jonas swears again and Isak ignores the butterflies in his stomach. He won’t ruin the one good thing in his life.
They’re at Isak’s this time and mamma hasn’t said a peep. Jonas helped him put her to bed around an hour ago. They know she’s not sleeping, though, so they’re not afraid of being noisy. Or, well, Isak was, at first, but Jonas is so good at making him forget where he is and what his life is. He always was. When they were younger, Isak thought having Jonas around would stop mamma, because she never acted stressed when they had company.
Having him over every day, though, was too much.
Jonas still comes around. He helps Isak with mamma, now, because papa flipped and left (left Isak here, blamed Isak for her being like that, Isak hates him) but nowadays it’s not as often. Instead they opt going over to Jonas’. It’s cluttered and his sister’s a bit scary and stand-offish, but it’s feels warm and Isak has always felt welcome.
“Is it because you like boys?”
Eva’s words are on repeat in his head as he ducks. He hides underneath the dining table, can’t help but think back when he was five and did it as well, thought mamma wouldn’t find him there. He can see himself when he squeezes his eyes shut. A curly haired mop of a shaking boy. Now he can’t think of any other word than ‘gay’ to describe that boy. Hears the word on repeat. “Is it because you like boys?”
Mamma finds him.
The lights are flashing, but Isak doesn’t know if it’s the lights in the club or the lights behind his eyes. His world is wobbly and he’s so, fucking, drunk.
Not drunk enough to forget Mamma screaming “cocksucker” at him, though.
“Is it because you like boys?”
“I’m rooming with the gay guy?”
“All the songs you like are gay.”
He takes another shot. It burns and he feels sick, his stomach is churning.
Well, everyone seems to be right about me anyway, he’d thought when he’d come across the bar filled with sweaty men. May as well prove them right.
“How come we never go to yours anymore?” Jonas asks before stuffing his face with his sandwich.
Isak is fidgeting with his water bottle; pushing it around, twisting the cap, untwisting the cap, he leaves the paper alone so he can recycle it. He’s got no food he can eat to avoid answering. Hasn’t been able to bring any the last couple of days he’s come to school.
Isak doesn’t know what to say, so he shrugs, looks around the cafeteria. It’s sunny today and he can see everyone from where they are sitting. He tries to spot anyone Jonas would find interesting to talk about, but he comes up blank. Where’s Eva when you need her? – Jonas can still bitch about for an hour straight (even though he knows they’re better off like this).
“How’s your mom?” Jonas asks, casually, as if asking about the weather.
He can’t tell him. He can’t tell him he hasn’t seen her for a week (cocksucker) and he can’t tell Jonas that he now lives in a basement. A cold, absolutely freezing, leaking basement, where he sleeps with a spare duvet and pillow, constantly afraid of the landlord or Noora finding him. He has a bag with clothes he cycles through.
“Wanna come to mine?” Jonas takes another bite. Isak knows Jonas thinks his mom is bad again, and that’s why he’s not saying anything. He’s not ready to let him know what things have come to now.
Isak never actually gets around telling Jonas. They spend the entire summer at the skate park or playing FIFA at Jonas’.
It’s not as if he’s lying, he just, hasn’t told him. He doesn’t know how to. Hey, nice goal, by the way I haven’t lived at home for months now, do you want cheese toasties?
He hasn’t been home nearly a month by now, but the clothes he’s wearing are gross and he’d like a few things, just a few bits and pieces, so he gets on his old tram and goes home.
He’s so nervous about going home that he almost doesn’t notice the disgusted looks the other passengers send him when they smell him. He lives in a basement. Maybe they’d have something to say about their hygiene if the only way to clean themselves was using the school’s bathroom.
He still feels self-conscious about it and gives up his seat to stand by the doors, quickly walking out when they open.
He feels sick walking through these streets again. He hasn’t been here so long (cocksucker) and he feels like all the neighbours are looking out their windows at him, talking about him, about mamma.
Isak knows she’s not home, won’t be for another hour at least. She likes to go to the park at this time of day. She always says the sunlight makes her feel closer to God, and Isak never said anything because at least she wasn’t close to him.
That’s why his stomach turns to ice when he sees the door is unlocked.
Isak doesn’t know if his mother just forgot to unlock it or if she’s still home, but he’s come so far and he really needs another set of clothing and a few things for school, so he continues.
He pushes the door as gently as he can; avoiding the one step he knows creaks, before quietly shutting the door. He considers calling out, just in case she is home so he’ll be prepared, but he also doesn’t want to alert her of his presence, so he remains quiet and tiptoes to his room.
Get the things, just grab them. You don’t need much, just grab them.
He feels on edge as he walks back out of his room and starts the journey back to the front door, when suddenly-
“What are you doing here?”
Isak freezes because-
She’s standing there. Right in the doorway, her long black coat washing out her frame, leaving her big and intimidating.
“Uh-“ he doesn’t know what to say. Is she asking him why he came back? What does she-
“School isn’t over yet. Are you cutting school?” She’s moving towards him alarmingly fast.
“No, no, no,” Isak hurries to say, steps backwards and hits his back against one of the dining chairs.
“You only just left for school,” she continues, “there’s no reason for you to be back home already.”
Isak doesn’t quite remember how he got out with only a stinging cheek, but he only becomes aware of himself when he’s two streets past the tram stop he needed to be at. He doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh.
She hadn’t even noticed he was gone.
“We can’t go to mine, it’s a mess right now and mom would kill me if I let anyone see,” Mahdi says, leaning back into the chair, distractedly picking at the crumbs of his lunch.
Magnus shakes his head. “Mom’s not well right now,” he says and Jonas says to tell her to feel better soon.
“My place is trashed right now. My sister had a huge fight with her boyfriend. They threw a lot of stuff around, so it’s all a mess and everyone’s pissed,” Jonas says.
Magnus sighs about how unfair it is they don’t have a place to hang after school.
“Wait,” Mahdi says, straightens up in his seat and looks directly at Isak. “We’ve never been to yours. Don’t you think you should be pulling your own weight if you want to hang out with us?”
He says it jokingly, of course. They’d never kick Isak out for not supplying with a house.
Isak can see Jonas panicking, ready to save Isak from having to explain anything, but Isak beats him to it.
“Yeah, sure, sounds fun.”
Isak thinks Jonas probably could’ve snapped his neck at the speed his head turns to stare at him in shock. Isak makes sure not to show any outwards signs of his reaction of Jonas’ reaction, but his heart is beating faster than a racing horse.
Mahdi is grinning and Magnus high-fives him. Isak forces a laugh back.
Jonas Noah Vasquez
What’s going on?
Why did you agree?
Chill. It’s fine.
They meet up 15:15 in front of the school before making their way to the tram.
They’re fooling around at the station, Mahdi and Magnus making a fool of themselves. Jonas is too busy glancing at Isak every five seconds, and Isak is starting to sweat a little from it.
Especially when the tram that would’ve taken him back home last year arrives before the one they need to take. Isak barely manages to take a hold of Jonas before he enters the carriage.
Jonas looks at him in surprise. “Aren’t we taking this one?”
“Nah,” Isak says, letting go of Jonas’ jacket in favour of stuffing his hands into his pockets.
Jonas continues to look at him before murmuring, “what the hell are you playing at?”
Isak shrugs. “I’m not playing at anything. Just chill, alright?”
Jonas looks sceptical and suspicious and Isak can feel the guilt form in the pit of his stomach. He should’ve warned him. He should’ve told him, why didn’t he just-
The tram’s arriving.
“Fucking hell, Isak, whose apartment is this?” Jonas grabs his arm and pulls him back from the front door.
Magnus and Mahdi are staring at them, and Isak feels himself flushing and sweating.
“What are you on about?” Isak mumbles and tears his arm out of Jonas’ grab, before opening the front door, holding it open for the rest of the guys.
He can’t bear to meet Jonas’ worried gaze, so instead he keeps his eyes and mind focused on what he’s doing, almost as if following a list: Move the key to the hole, twist it to the right to unlock the front door, and then push it open. Hold the door open for the guys. Don’t notice Jonas. Don’t notice that Magnus and Mahdi are glancing nervously between him and Jonas before following him inside.
He has to look at Jonas now, though, because he is not moving.
Isak sighs and rests his head against the open door, eyes closing as if in literal pain. “Dude,” he breathes, “could you just-“
“Could I just what?” Jonas is at least being quiet about it, “what the hell is going on?”
Isak tries to just shrug if off, but Jonas obviously isn’t willing to let him do that.
“We’re going back to mine. Wasn’t that what we planned?” Isak tries to sound angry, but he thinks he sounds more scared than anything. All he can hear is himself frantically begging Jonas don’t say anything, please, please, please, don’t bring attention to that things aren’t the way you thought they were, just please, Jonas, please.
And maybe they really are telepathic, because Jonas gives him a very long, hard stare and then takes a step forward, over the threshold and into the building.
Isak feels like his whole body just shrank two sizes from the breath he exhales. He doesn’t dare look at Magnus or Mahdi, but he can feel their eyes on him.
“It’s just up the stairs,” Isak says, trying to distract the boys. Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t say anything.
They don’t, but Isak still feels on edge, because everyone can tell that something is wrong and the silence is tense.
Isak goes to open the door, but Jonas grabs onto his wrist before it reaches the doorknob.
“We’re not...” Jonas starts, eyebrows furrowing, eyes focused on where his hand is touching Isak. “It’s not like,” he tries again. “We’re not, like, breaking in somewhere?”
Isak sees how Magnus’ eyes widen and Mahdi’s head snaps up to look at them, but all Isak can hear is the voice screaming I’m sorry, Jonas, please in his head. He doesn’t know how to actually say that, though, so instead he resorts to anger.
He angrily pulls his arm away from Jonas. “For fuck’s sake,” he says and then pushes the door open. “Hello?” he yells, not waiting for an answer before stepping in and taking off his shoes.
Mahdi whistles. “Nice place. How many rooms are there?”
Isak reaches up to hang his jacket. “Four, with the living room.”
“Man,” Magnus says, untying his shoes, “your parents must be loaded. Have you got lots of siblings, or what?”
Isak doesn’t know whether if he should be happy they were interrupted, or dread the fact that Eskild has just walked out of the bathroom with nothing but a towel.
“Oh, I thought I heard you come in, how was-“ Eskild freezes for a short moment when he sees the other boys, but then smiles. “Hi.”
“No,” Isak says, moving around Eskild in a wide circle.
Eskild looks affronted. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
Isak looks at him annoyed. “I mean, no. None of them are gay, anyway, so don’t hit on my friends.”
Isak knows exactly what look Eskild is sending the others; the slightly annoyed, slightly fond look, that belongs to a parent rather than a housemate, and the look is only confirmed when he hears Eskild saying, “He’s so grumpy all the time, how do you deal with it?”
He tries not to hear the boys laugh along with Eskild, and instead tries to redirect their attention. “Come on,” he says, tapping his foot impatiently, “my room’s down here.”
Thankfully, the guys all follow him. It’s not until Isak’s firmly shut his bedroom door that they start to ask him questions.
“So...” Mahdi drags out. “Who was that?”
Isak can feel a lump forming in his throat from how terrified he feels right now. There’s no reason to panic, he thinks to himself. There’s absolutely no way they know.
“Eskild,” he shrugs, bending over to turn on the TV and the PS4.
The boys are silent for a few seconds and Isak silently begs they would just drop it.
“And who’s Eskild?” Magnus asks, continuing when Isak doesn’t reply. “Is he your brother? Cousin?”
“Wait,” Jonas says, slinging his backpack onto Isak’s bed, “didn’t we meet him at William’s party last year?”
“So you live here without your parents?”
Drop it, please. Talk about something else.
“Dude, that’s so sick.”
“You’re so lucky, I’d kill to live without mine.”
Isak feels his body tense as soon as they start mentioning parents, and he sees Jonas tense as well, and suddenly he’s in a rush to just say something to get them to stop. Talking.
So, Isak nods and blindly tosses the controller to Jonas. “Yeah, he’s Noora’s old roommate.”
“Noora?” Magnus asks. “Vilde’s Noora?” Which turns the conversation to girls and especially Vilde.
Isak sits down beside Jonas and begins choosing his players. He can’t look at him even though he knows Jonas is throwing glances his way.
Jonas leans in closely once he’s made sure Magnus and Mahdi are busy talking. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I didn’t know how to.
I’m so sorry.
“I go down on girls, sure.”
“How many have you gone down on?”
Is it because you like boys?
“I don’t know. Not like, every time, but definitely more often than not.”
You’re so gay.
“Because I was thinking about doing it the last time I was with someone, but she was just so hairy? It looked like a forest, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Learn to take a joke, don’t be so gay.
“There’s nothing wrong with them having hair, man.”
“I know that, I just, got scared.”
“’Scared’? What do you mean ‘scared’?”
Magnus shrugs. “I don’t know, okay? I just, I was really nervous and it was only getting worse. I’ve never done that before, you know? Isak, do you do it?”
Isak feels himself being pulled back into reality when Magnus says his name. He’s fine. He’s in the cafeteria. They don’t know. They can’t know. “Huh?”
“Girls,” Magnus says, looking at him expectantly.
“What about them?”
Mahdi and Jonas laugh while Magnus huffs impatiently.
“Going down on them. Do you have any tips?”
Isak tries to play off his panic. “Tips? I don’t have any tips, it’s not that fucking hard.” He knows he sounds more angry and grumpy than the supporting friend he probably should be. Cocksucker is being screamed repeatedly in his head.
“So you’re good at it?”
Isak shrugs. “’Never had anyone complain.” Never had anyone who could complain about it
Jonas hits him on the shoulder and brags to Mahdi and Magnus about his best friend being a master player.
Isak tries to smile and laugh along, tries to throw back teases at Jonas.
If his own mother will scream it at him and throw boiling water on whatever bare skin she could find in order to cleanse him of his impure wants, what would three boys do to him?
All the songs you like are gay.
Learn to take a joke.
Is it because you like boys?