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The Sun Will Shine Again

Chapter Text

       Moritz felt the sweet, pollen-infused air fill his lungs as he entered the small flower shop off the corner of main street. He went into the back room and set down his bag, then put on his lime green apron.

       It was another day.

       Today, at least, was not as warm as the past week, when the humidity inside the shop had made his hair curl. He flicked on the four fans in the corners of the front room and turned on the classical Pandora station that the owner insisted upon.

       The first customer didn’t arrive for another forty-five minutes, which were filled with painstaking inspection of his math textbook in the hopes that it would make sense. It did not.

       The bell on the door softly announced their arrival.

       Moritz spoke his first words of the day: “Welcome to Marianne’s.”

       A few customers came and went in the first few hours. Sometimes they would find a bunch or two and Moritz would ring them up, careful not to crumple the soft petals. Other times they would walk out with nothing in their hands and he would return to his math, or more often just doodling in the margins of his notebook.

       Eventually his lunch hour arrived and he flipped the sign on the door to closed. Then he took his sandwich and apple slices and sat out back of the building where there was a picnic table amongst the overgrown grass.

       Marianne’s was the kind of small business that employed three people and never put  more than one on a shift. Every week, flowers were delivered from a nursery three towns over, but Moritz tried to never be there to have to sign in the flowers. He hated his signature and he preferred the shop empty. He didn’t know what he would do with himself if he was expected to work alongside other employees. At least most of the customers were adults, not kids from his school, and they only talked to him if they needed extra help.

       The afternoon passed much of the same. The soft chime of the door. The gentle whirring of the fans. The tying of ribbons around vases and of wrapping paper around bouquets.

       At two, he did his routine watering of the cuttings, which was sadly the most exciting part of his day. The older bunches got rinsed to clear the algae starting to form on their stems. Then the small potted plants were filled with spring water. Lastly, he spritzed the fresh bouquets.

       From four to five, he watched a single lazy fly bump into the windows and circle the light fixtures. Every so often, it would land on the counter and Moritz could feel its kaleidoscope eyes settling unnervingly on him. He squinted back until it flew off.

       At 5:58, a final customer hurriedly rushed in and quickly asked for a dozen roses. He left with several thank you’s and Moritz flipped the sign on the door as soon as he left. Then he hung up his apron, grabbed his bag, and drove home.

       There were three main criteria when Moritz was considering a job that Marianne’s best fit:

  1. Close to home because he was scared to drive any place more than twenty minutes away (the flower shop was only fifteen).
  2. Minimal interaction with customers (Marianne’s maxed at about thirty per day).
  3. Little opportunity to get yelled at (only one employee per shift and the customers were sometimes frantic but not usually angry).

       Thus, there was Marianne’s. A comfortable fifteen minutes from home, with springy scents, no coworkers, and full weekend shifts with the occasional weekday afternoon. The dream come true for a student with no advanced homework and no expectation of hanging out with friends.

       Every so often, he would go often to Ernst’s house and they would eat dinner cooked by his mom and sit on the bank of the creek behind his house. But it was a pretty low-maintenance friendship, and they had a couple classes together anyway. Anyone else he talked to was just at school and that accounted for maybe three people.

       His job had started in April. Now he just needed to ride out the school year and maybe find another job over the summer. Anything to get out of the house, where it felt crowded with only three people.

       That was his plan, at least. But he had never been very good at following through with his plans.

Chapter Text

       Moritz took the long way home. It was a rare occasion that he didn’t; today was not one of those days.

       In his room, he flopped onto his bed, face pressed into his pillow. As simple as his job was, it consisted of long days of standing and talking to people. He was drained, a hollowed out shell of a boy.

       His phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, examined the message.

       Melchior: Meet me at Little’s .

       That was the park across town. “Little’s Playground and Picnic Center.”

       Moritz: I just got off work .

       Moritz pressed his face into the pillow again, surrounded in its once-washed-but-not-recently scent. He had big plans tonight: To nap, maybe eat something, and then go to sleep. That was the agenda for most of his days.

       But Melchior seemed to have other plans.

       Melchior: I’ll be there in 15.

       With a sigh, he pushed himself into a sitting position. He glanced at the mirror that hung on his door. His hair was disheveled, sticking up at odd angles. Maybe from humidity, maybe from the almost-nap. It did what it wanted and he’d given up fighting it. There were blue and gray circles under his eyes that he couldn’t rub out. And that was as good as it was going to get.

       The drive over was brief. The occasional drop of rain splattered on the windshield.

       When he got to the park, Melchior was in his usual spot: under the small plastic turret that topped the highest tower. Moritz could see the blue glow from his phone illuminating his face, visible against the falling dusk.

       He climbed up. “Hey.”

       “Good, you’re here,” Melchior said, sitting up.

       Moritz sat, crossing his legs beneath him. “What’s up?”

       “There is a crisis in our midst.”

       Moritz had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Every hour there was a new crisis for Melchior. “Which is?” he asked.

       “You work too much.”

       A short laugh burst out from him. “Do I? I only worked like twenty hours last week.”

       “And yet ,” Melchior said, punctuating the syllable as he leaned back against the wall of the turret, “you’ve avoided everyone for the past couple weeks.”

       Moritz shrugged. “I’m fine.” And he was. At least, he was pretty sure he was. Sometimes it was just easier to go to work and to go home and stay there. It was safe and quiet.

       “Says the person who isn’t fine,” Melchior replied drily.

       “Really, Melchi. I’m all good.” His gaze shifted down to his hands, but he could still feel Melchior’s stare on him, unrelenting, analyzing.

       “Okay,” Melchior said finally.

       “Okay?”

       Melchior nodded. “But I’m still going to make you do more things.”

       “Melchi--”

       “You can’t spend your whole life huddled away in that dark room of yours,” Melchior said with a grin. Moritz let him pull him to his feet, ignoring the soft warmth in the center of his stomach. He watched as Melchior stepped onto the rickety bridge that stretched between the two turrets, into what had quickly become a downpour of rain. And then he could hear the exuberant laughter that streamed off Melchior, matching pace with the rain.

       He’s crazy , was all he could think.

       “Come on, Moritz!” Melchior was holding his hands out to the sides, palms upward, as if praying to the gods of rain.

       But Moritz stayed tucked away under the turret. There was a part of him that was tempted to step into the rain, feel its coolness slide down his face, to dance on the bridge under the fall of night. But just as much of him longed to be back in his bed, warm and safe and ready to sleep.

       “That’s okay,” he said. “I’m good with watching.”

       “No,” Melchior said, “you’re not.” He crossed the bridge and pulled Moritz from under the turret, into the pouring rain. Moritz first felt the rain that slid between their palms. And then there were the drops flowing from his hair onto his forehead, into his eyes. He could feel the cold seeping into his shoes already.

       But he found himself laughing. There wasn’t a reason, he couldn’t have explained it if he tried. But it was there, warm and bright, bubbling up and out of his chest.

       And there was Melchior, standing across from him, laughing too, his eyes brighter than anything. And there was his hand, seemingly forgotten as it still held onto Moritz’s for the moment. Moritz only hoped the rain could conceal the heat that crept into his cheeks.

       But they were both so happy then, what did it matter? Their matching grins could conceal anything, he was sure.

       The stars were hiding, having retreated behind the charcoal clouds. Their replacement, the yellow street lamps that formed a square around the park, were trying their very best. They flashed soft shadows across Melchior’s face, highlighting all the little points that one didn’t notice in the daylight. The tip of his nose, the curve of his eyebrow, the round edge of his chin. All dripping with rain.

       Our rain , Moritz wanted to think. And for the first time in a long time, he didn’t push away the thought. Maybe it was the night, maybe he was overly tired. Or maybe he was just tired of waiting for the right time, or for the thought to dissipate. So instead of pushing it away, he pushed the thought forward.

       “Melchior?” he said, the word somehow coming out as a whisper.

       Melchior locked eyes with him. No response, but he was there. Present.

       Moritz found the words tumbling from his mouth, an ineloquent soup. “What would you say--- Do you--- What if I---?”

       But he forced himself to stop. He took in a gulp of air, filled with moisture, like breaking the surface of a pool.

       Instead of speaking, he placed a hand on Melchior’s cheek, slippery with rain. Then he closed the gap between their mouths. And there was only warmth and light, and a spark that bounced in his chest, pressing on his lungs in the most luxurious way.

       Then, the most remarkable thing happened: He was met without resistance. Melchior only pressed his face closer to Moritz’s. Their breaths intertwined, and their hands found each other.

       It seemed like the shortest eternity before Melchior pulled back just enough to lean his forehead against Moritz’s, a few inches below his. “Will you come back to us?” he asked, loud enough for only them to hear.

       Moritz nodded. He wanted to try. He wanted to say yes, even if he had to take a raincheck later.

       But then again, look what had happened in the rain that night.

Chapter Text

       He wanted to wake up happy, filled with light and thoughts of the previous night. Instead, he woke up in a tangle of sheets and sweat.

       He stared at the ceiling and pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes, attempting to decipher what was real and what had been a dream.

       He had been at school --- but no, school had gotten out last week. So it was only in the dream that he was afraid, that his head was aching and swarming with pestering thoughts. That had not happened recently. He’d gotten better, he’d found someone who helped him to unscramble his brain.

       And yet it felt so present, so real. Something that certainly could and likely had happened. Trapped in a classroom, locked in fear.

       But no . Things were better. They had to be, for his sake. Just a dream.

 

       He had a four hour shift at work. While he did his best to greet the customers and occupy his mind, sometimes the dreamt fear flickered in the back of his mind. A remnant of a virtual memory that felt a little too real.

       And some days were like that, he supposed. He just had to push through.

       So when Melchior texted him halfway through his shift, asking if he wanted to go to the river with a few friends, he accepted. His mind flitted with hope, a welcome distraction, as he watered the plants and cut bouquet ribbon.

       Melchior and Moritz had stayed in the rain for awhile the night before, until Moritz knew he should get home before curfew.

       They went slowly to their cars. He told himself to bite his tongue, but when Melchior opened his car door, Moritz blurted out, “Was this only a tonight thing?”

       Melchior shook his head, his damp hair clinging to his forehead. “Huh?”

       “Like” --- Moritz swallowed hard --- “are you going to pretend this never happened?”

       Melchior’s face, dim in the street lights’ glow revealed nothing. But he took a step closer to Moritz, making his breath hitch in his chest. “It did happen,” Melchior said. “But it’s up to you if you want it to happen again.”

       Moritz could only look into Melchior’s stare for a moment before he kissed him again, slow. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for a definitive yes, but that was where the ache in his chest pulled him.

       So when he pulled into the city parking lot a half mile from the river and saw Melchior’s car already parked there, the ache rose up once more. He couldn’t decide whether to push it down or to relish in it.

       He knew the riverfront was where a lot of his and Melchior’s friends met up, but he had only gone a couple times. It was still a little startling when the trees alongside the trail suddenly cleared and there was a fast paced river, surrounded by gray stones and shallow channels. It was only four, and the sun still beat persistently down from its perch in the sky.

       He first noticed Melchior; also between him and the water were Anna, Otto, Ernst, and Wendla. Moritz pushed down the lurch of nerves in his stomach and carefully made his way across the uneven stones.

       “Moritz!” Wendla saw him first. She wrapped him in a hug, her usual everbright smile on her face. There was some part of him that wondered if she was exaggerating, going out of her way to make him feel comfortable. But even if that was the case, he did feel welcome.

       The others said their greetings, then went back to their conversations and rock-skipping competitions.

       Melchior broke off from the group. “You made it,” he said, touching Moritz’s shoulder for a brief second, sending sparks down his whole arm.

       Moritz nodded, unsure of what exactly to say.

       They both hesitated, as if thinking of the right way to phrase the question that was on both of their lips. Then Anna came up to the both of them and grabbed a hold of their arms. “Come on --- we’re playing a game.”

       A blanket had been spread over a dry patch of rocks, just enough for them to spread out their cards. Someone was playing music, just enough to fill up the background. They too filled it with their laughs and complaints and surprise at Otto unknowingly cheating because he didn’t know all the rules.

       Moritz put himself in the moment and allowed himself to stay there, cherishing a time free from doubt. He pushed that away as he leaned back on his hands and felt a smile spread across his face.

       It was a couple hours before they all finally tired of the games. Ernst left and gave Wendla a ride home. Moritz could sense the numbers that dwindled, coupled with his rising hope that eventually it would be just him and Melchior left at the river.

       After another thirty minutes, it was. Anna had to finish someone’s shift at the store she worked at and Otto’s phone died --- it was his music, Moritz learned --- so he saw little point in staying. And they were down to two.

       As Otto walked back on the trail that led to downtown, Melchior waved Moritz over to sit on a boulder that rested above the edge of the water.

       “Not terrible?” Melchior asked with a slight teasing grin.

       Moritz mirrored the smile. “No, not terrible,” he relented.

       It was silent except for the burble of the river, coursing over stones and branches. Slowly, then all at once, Melchior pressed him arm to Moritz’s. A slight shiver passed through him at the contact.

       Moritz was tired. It was a day of both work and interaction, double his usual fill. But there was something about Melchior that wasn’t draining. Just comforting, almost, in a way that Moritz couldn’t quite explain to himself.

       He laid his head down on Melchior’s shoulder, present and stable. Wordlessly, Melchior pulled his arm from between them and wrapped it around Moritz’s shoulders.

       Moritz was warm and alive, calm and aware. He closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the peace, tired of putting up a fight.

Chapter Text

       Moritz didn’t know when it had started.

       Somewhere along the line, Melchior’s grin had began to awaken butterflies in his stomach that he couldn’t push down. Moritz would constantly catch himself stealing glances at him in their shared tech class, the urge to both talk to him and hide arising in him.

       He’d known he was gay for a couple years. In middle school, he didn’t consider it an option. He just wasn’t interested in the idea of dating or being around girls. Freshman year, though, he’d started to ponder the idea of boys --- and the wick of the candle that had lain in his stomach unlit for so many years suddenly caught flame. There was the cute boy in his bio class that helped him finish his late projects, the one in sophomore English that sat next to him and actually struck up conversation with him. So he had thought he had, for the most part, figured out what made his heart tick.

       But Melchior was different. They had been friends since third grade when Melchior had been helping the teacher with filing while Moritz had been hiding inside during recess; they had started to talk and had stuck together since then. Moritz had come out to him sophomore year, with the widely accepted response of “Huh. I guess that makes sense.” But that had been it --- until junior year.

       Suddenly, Melchior made him nervous, but good nervous. The same pedantic speeches that made him roll his eyes also pushed forward the ache in his chest. But Moritz had long known --- or at least assumed --- that Melchior was straight. He’d been flirting with girls by ranting about the greater social order for as long as anyone could remember.

       So the past few weeks had only held surprises. That he’d be bold enough to take a chance. That Melchior had reciprocated the gesture. And now that they were walking along the main street of their small town holding waffle cones, what Moritz supposed was their first real date.

       “Really, I just don’t see the necessity of ever using real leather,” Melchior ranted. “There are so many kinds made from eco-friendly and non-harmful methods that look and feel the exact same.” Melchior had gone off after he had seen a shop boasting a window display full of Authentic Leather!

       Moritz just gave a small laugh and shrugged complacently. “That’s just how it is sometimes.”

       The sun was sweet, present but not overbearing. A slight breeze slipped past him but without much chill. It was, by all accounts, a perfect day.

       Moritz looked at Melchior’s face for a moment as they walked along. “Melchior?” he asked. Their eyes met and the thought flew from Moritz’s head. “This --- this is really great,” he said instead, stumbling on the words. They both paused in their steps.

       Melchior grinned, putting up a hard fight against the sun and winning. He glanced around at the street for a moment before he bent his head slightly and pressed his lips to Moritz’s temple. Moritz closed his eyes and relished in the warmth that surrounded him.

       There was a hope that had been building in him since that night in the rain. That maybe this would be the summer that he could be happy, content. That he would find ways to occupy his time, to keep his mind in order. And with Melchior in the picture, Moritz felt torn between deliriously happy and afraid to ruin everything. Of course, his gut always assumed the latter, but he was trying to push down the feeling. Always trying. At least he was trying.

 

       They saw each other every day that week.

       Sometimes it was just Melchior stopping into Marianne’s while Moritz was on a shift. Moritz was usually too nervous to say much of anything when he was on the clock, but after his time was finished they would go pick up food. Or sometimes, after Moritz closed up the shop, they would just sit in the backroom and kiss and talk about their days.

       Other times they’d meet up with their friends, usually at the river or at someone’s house. They played a friendly-turned-deadly game of Monopoly on the river rocks which ended with Georg throwing Melchior’s game piece into a pool of water. Melchior and Moritz sat with their arms pressed together, Moritz’s feet tucked up underneath him, as they all watched Clue at Anna’s. Moritz sat in Melchior’s passenger seat even after they’d arrived at his house, replying sleepily and not wanting to leave the comfort of the soft music and perfectly regulated temperature.

       When Moritz got home after seeing Melchior, he would sit on the edge of his bed and press his forehead into his hand, grinning like an idiot. Even still, there was a joyous amount of surprise and a surprising amount of joy. Some small part of him had wondered if that night in the rain, as well as the many long glances and wishes before that, had all been a fluke. That at some point the sky of his perceived reality would all come crashing down.

       But thus far, that hadn’t happened. All he’d found was that maybe he could be happy.

Chapter Text

       “Moritz?”

       “Yeah?”

       “Okay, you’re awake.”

       Moritz’s head was laying on Melchior’s shoulder, a blanket wrapped around the both of them. Dim yellow lights glowed above where they sat on the steps of Melchior’s back porch. It was late and stars were marking the sky.

       “Melchior?”

       “Uh-huh.”

       “What if I just stayed here?.”

       He was warm and content and at ease. They’d come outside to talk more after sitting and watching a movie inside. But their voices had quickly fallen away, replaced by the soft sway of leaves and the chirp of insects.

       “Is that dumb?”

       “No.” Moritz lifted his head slightly to see Melchior shaking his own. “No,” he repeated.

       Moritz wrapped his end of the blanket tighter around himself, setting his head back on its place of warmth.

       “Are you cold?” Melchior asked.

       “A little. But not bad.”

       “We can go inside.”

       “I’m okay.” A beat. “I like it out here.”

       “Yeah. Me too.” Melchior leaned his head on top of Moritz’s. They were closed, entangled, folding together seamlessly. To a bird above, they would have just been one. There was an odd comfort for Moritz to be able to lose his singularity. He’d felt like that was all he’d ever had, his entire life. Just him. But not then, not at that moment.

       “Moritz?” He turned his head to look up at Melchior, his face shadowed save for its glowing profile. “Do you want to go to a party with me?”

       He sucked in a breath. “That’s not really my thing---”

       “I know. But it’s not anything big. Anna is having a little fireworks show at her house on the Fourth, and she put out an open invitation. It would just be our friends.”

       He hesitated, but only for a moment. “Yeah. That sounds fun.” But he was already regretting the response as he pressed his face into Melchior’s shoulder once more.

 

       Moritz hated the Fourth of July.

       He’d liked it as a kid, when his grandparents would come over bearing treats and little firecrackers and sparklers. They set up folding chairs and blankets and the cousins would sprawl out on the ground as they watched their family members dash hurriedly from the lit fireworks. And it was fun.

       But in recent years, the fun had drained away. When they went over to his cousins’ house, he hid inside as long as he could. Sometimes he would get lucky and there would be a baby that stayed inside, so he could stay inside as well on the pretense that he was spending time with it.

       The fireworks were just too much. Pretty in the sky, but the loud cracks made his heart race and his breath hitch. Far away, it wasn’t too much of a problem. But nearby, he sat with every muscle in his body tensed, the whole night spent in fear. Then he’d go home and put in headphones and press his face into a pillow and tremble and hope the neighbors would stop their shows before one in the morning.

       So he’d wanted to bite his tongue when Melchior had offered. To say he was busy, or that his family wanted him home. But he knew they wouldn’t really care either way, and Melchior had seemed so excited. Another chance to be together, an opportunity for Moritz to get out there and interact. But he only held fear for the holiday and dreaded its arrival in two days.

       He had a long shift at Marianne’s on the third. He used the work as an escape from his brain for the day, from the nervous anticipation that was building up inside him. Water, calculate, wrap. Simple, mindless tasks that he put his whole mind into.

       Melchior was texting him throughout the day, though, dragging him back into reality.

       Melchior: Are you alright? You seemed nervous when you left yesterday.

       Moritz: I’m okay.

       He left it at that. There was a part of him that ached to explain, but another part of him that wanted to shut out the fear until the day arrived. Maybe he wouldn’t be so scared this year. He’d been getting better in the past few months, so maybe this holiday would change for him too. Maybe it would actually be fun, to be around everyone so happy and carefree.

       But the hopes only felt like groundless fantasies.

       Melchior: You’re still on for tomorrow right?

       Moritz: I’ll be there.

       He’d push it away, the anxiety, until it forced itself back up. He’d be excited. He’d stay inside as long as he could.

 

       Moritz drove himself to Anna’s, arriving at 8:04.

       Melchior was already there, grinning that grin of his. And there was Anna, cheerful and chatting with everyone around her. Wendla, Otto, Georg, Thea. All his friends, all people he knew and could be okay with for the night. He pushed the thought into his head as he pushed out a long breath from his lungs.

       He met Melchior on the porch.  “Hey,” he said.

       Melchior turned to face him. “You’re here. Good.” He put a hand on Moritz’s shoulder, and he relished in the lingering touch.

       The first hour or so was good. It wasn’t dark yet, so there were only some fireworks off in the distance. A group of them was sprawled out on blankets on the grass, drinking soda and eating chips and cake. Melchior and Moritz shared a blanket. He found his anxiety easing as the conversation flowed freely among them and he and Melchior shared many laughs between them. There was a smile on his face that wasn’t forced. He was okay.

       The sun was near to the horizon when Anna called out, “We’re about to start!”

       Everyone gravitated to the front yard to see the array that was set up in the street. He and Melchior sat on the grass, their knees pressed together. He twisted his hands together without thought, pressing his nails into the creases on his fingers.

       Melchior flashed a smile at him. He did his best to return it.

       The first fuse was lit. It was a small one to start off with, just a small pop and then a shower a gold sparks. He was okay. He was okay. A few more small ones. He was okay.

       His eyes were on the large red and yellow tube even before they dragged it out for everyone to watch. He found himself reaching for Melchior’s hand in the dark, latching onto it in anticipation. All too soon it was lit. It soared upward with only a soft whistle, but let off an immense crack before exploding into purple sparks. Everyone was laughing, some people clapped. He only squeezed onto Melchior’s hand tighter. He told himself to breathe, to focus on the people, on the grass beneath him.

       He didn’t realize he was staring at Melchior until he turned to him. “Are you okay?”

       He nodded. What could he do but nod?

       The next large firework set tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. He clenched his jaw and tried to push the feeling back, but his heart was racing. They set off two at once and he could only squeeze his eyes shut against the cacophonous sound.

       Just take a break , he told himself. So he untangled his fingers from Melchior’s and excused himself to go to the bathroom. But instead of heading inside, he found his feet leading him to his car. He sat in the driver’s seat, shielded from the world, and let himself cry. He took several gasping breaths, telling himself that he would be okay in a minute, that he could return to everyone after he had had a moment. But he knew those were lies.

       So he waited for a few minutes, then found himself texting Melchior: I’m sorry.

       And Moritz went home.

Chapter Text

       Moritz stayed in his bed much of the next morning, sometimes attempting to sleep, sometimes scrolling mindlessly on his phone. He knew he could --- and should --- get up, maybe make some tea, definitely eat something. But his body remained in place, resistant to any change. He didn’t have the heart to force it.

       His panicked thoughts and tears had subsided at some point in the night. He woke up and had tentatively searched his thoughts for remnants but he found he was mostly okay. The only remainder was a nervousness about the reactions of others --- which, while always present, had some justification this time.

       His phone had been placed on Do Not Disturb. He hadn’t wanted anything else to press on him. Only now did he switch off the setting. After a moment, a collection of notifications streamed at him: Two calls from Melchior, each with a voicemail attached. A half dozen more texts from him. A few scattered texts from other friends whom Melchior had presumably told.

       He read the voicemail transcripts but did not listen to them. He skimmed the texts but did not reply. He only opened a new message to Ernst. Thoughts bounced in his head for a couple moments, then he typed: Hey. Are you free?

       Moritz wanted with equal parts to stall and to talk to someone. He wasn’t quite sure if he could answer all of Melchior’s questions, even if unspoken. So he waited on that front and instead turned to Ernst, who had always been willing to listen and be supportive. Still stalling, but maybe with a bit of compromise.

 

       They met in Moritz’s neighborhood, walking the streets until they came to the park, infamous for its broken slide and creaking wooden playset. Moritz and Ernst sat side by side on the shadowed grass which was adjacent to a line of trees.

       On the walk there, they’d shared a few snippets of conversation, but  it was as if they were both holding their words until they’d found a place to settle in.

       And now, Ernst: “So.”

       Moritz: “Yeah.”

       A pause. Moritz pulled at the grass beneath him. “You already know what happened?”

       “Yeah.”

       “Okay.”

       One breath. Two.

       “I just don’t know why it happened.”

       That was the heart of the problem, Moritz realized. It had happened, he could move on. But there were others who expected an explanation. And his hadn’t fully formed yet.

       “Yeah, I just…” He shrugged, suddenly self-conscious, despite being the one who invited Ernst over.

       “Was it the people?” But of course there was sweetly patient Ernst.

       He shrugged. “Not really.” He bit at the inside of his cheek, a long-time habit that had left him with many sore spots. “It was mostly the fireworks, I think? In the past few years, they’ve just become too much and I get all flustered.”

       “So you went to a fireworks showing?”

       “Well, Melchior invited me. And I thought, maybe I’ll be okay this time. Maybe being around friends will help.”

       “And it didn’t.”

       "It didn’t,” Moritz echoed. “So I went home. Without telling anybody.” Ernst’s face was full of questions. “I thought I just needed a moment, you know? But then I was crying and I ended up just leaving.”

       Ernst nodded. “I get it. Did you let Melchior know why you left, later on?”

       His stomach clenched. Slowly, he shook his head. “You’re the only one.”

       “I know you’re nervous, but it’s not like he’ll be upset.”

       “We didn’t go as just friends.” The words, quickly spoken, hung in the air, unsure whether to move forward or scurry back into the shadows. Moritz twisted his hands together.

       A slow smile was creeping across Ernst’s face, his eyes lit up as they hadn’t been before. He playfully jabbed Moritz’s shoulder. “You and Melchior?” The heat in Moritz’s cheeks was enough of an answer. “How’s that working out?”

       “Well, it was alright, until I ran out on him.”

       “Right,” Ernst said, his cheery expression fading into one more sincere. “But really, Moritz --- Melchior isn’t going to be mad. He obviously cares for you. On several levels.”

       Moritz felt a smile of his own facing its way outward. After a moment, though, it dropped. “I just feel so stupid. I can’t even do one normal thing without fleeing.” He raked his hands through his hair.

       “Hey.” Ernst’s voice was cotton soft. “It’s going to be okay. You aren’t obligated to do anything, no matter who goes or who invites you.” He placed a gentle arm around his friend’s shoulder and Moritz leaned into the steady comfort. “You should see my text threads. Half of them end with Thanks, but I can’t . And that’s okay. Just do whatever makes you happy and leave out the rest.”

       Moritz drew in a long breath. “Thank you,” his said, forcing so much gratitude into the two words that they were fit to burst. He turned his head up towards Ernst’s. “Now, tell me about you.”

 

       That afternoon, Moritz sunk into his bed a little more easily. He spent a few minutes with the day’s conversation swirling through his head. Then he pulled out his phone and typed out a message.

       To Melchior: Want to watch a movie?

       It was an attempt. That’s what this summer had been all about anyway: trying. And so he was.

Chapter Text

       Moritz felt a buzz in his pocket as he was pulling himself out from under several layers of blankets. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the screen on his phone, which was indicating a call from Marianne. He let out a slow breath, then pressed the answer button.

       “Hello?”

       “Hello, this is Marianne. Moritz?”

       “Yes.”

       “I saw that you were on the schedule, but did not see you at work today.”

       Everything dropped away for a moment and all he could see was signing up to work the Fifth. But then, after last night, his mind had been so disconnected from the world that he’d completely forgotten.

       Quickly, he stood up and headed over to where a pile of (clean) clothes was leaning against the wall. “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot, I can be there in fifteen minutes, I promise this will never happen again, I---”

       “Luckily, Kira” --- that was the other person that took on shifts --- “was at home today and was able to come in.”

       “Marianne, I am so sorry that this happened. I know it’s no excuse, but I haven’t been feeling well and---”

       “It is alright. I came in around noon to check in on the new order of lilies and found the place still locked up. I just wanted to give you a call to check in, because I am sure you would never skip work without good reason. And so it seems you needed a sick day. Just make sure to call in next time, alright?”

       “Of course, yes. Again, I’m so sorry. I should have called, or better yet come in.”

       “Don’t worry yourself. Lord knows our business isn’t booming as it is. Get better soon. Will I be seeing you on Saturday?”

       “Yes, for sure.”

       “Alright. Goodbye, Moritz.”

       “Goodbye. And thank you, Marianne, really --- for understanding.”

       “It happens to the best of us. Now get some sleep.”

 

       Moritz told himself he was fine as he tidied up the house, straightening cushions and putting away dishes. But it was as if every part of his body knew he was lying. His stomach had stubbornly perfected its figure eight knot and he found himself absentmindedly biting his cheek.

       Melchior was supposed to come over at six. Moritz forced himself to turn on the TV, but his eyes never stayed on the screen for long, instead opting for watching the door intently. He’d said It’s going to be fine to himself so many times since that morning that it was now on a perpetual loop in his head, cheering him on ad nauseum.

       Then there was a knock at the door, and there was Melchior standing two feet from him, an effortless smile spread across his face. And Moritz wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around him and bury his face in his chest, but he held his arms at his sides, his feet cemented to the floor.

       “Hi,” he said.

       “Hi.”

       “Do you want anything to drink?”

       “I’m okay.”

       “Okay.”

       Melchior sat on the couch first, leaning back with his usual air of casualness. Moritz hesitated for a moment before placing himself several feet away. Already his fingers were picking at the seams of his jeans.

       There was an eternity’s worth of seconds that passed without a word. Then they both spoke at the same time. “So what movie did you---” Melchior said as Moritz blurted out “I’m sorry I ran away.”

       Melchior straightened up a little and he met Moritz’s eyes. “You’re okay.”

       “I just--- I got scared? Which I do a lot, but you know that, but I’m not good with fireworks? And so I tried to take a sec but then I couldn’t calm down and I panicked and left and I’m so sorry.” After the words had spilled out of him, he couldn’t tell if he felt lighter or only more weighed down. He stared intently at a crease in the couch’s gray fabric.

       “Moritz.” There was a soft plea in Melchior’s voice that made Moritz raise his gaze. “You still could have told me. Or we could have just not gone.” The words were not said unkindly, but only with blatant earnesty.

       Moritz threw his gaze to the side and swallowed hard. He nodded rapidly. “I know. But you just seemed so excited and I panicked--- I’m sorry---” He felt traitorous tears pushing at his eyes and did all he could to hold them in. Maybe this was a mistake.

       “Hey.” But there was Melchior’s voice, softer than anything. “Come here.” Moritz hesitated, until Melchior reached out a hand. He pulled him closer until Moritz was half on his lap, his legs tucked up to the side, their fingers interwoven.

       “Your brain fucking sucks,” Melchior said in a voice for just them to hear. “But you? Are not that. You’re kind and messy and way too cute for your own good.” Melchior brushed his thumb along Moritz’s hairline, bringing it down along his jaw. “I love you and one little thing like that isn’t going to put a stop to that.” He gave Moritz’s hand a soft squeeze.

       Moritz could hear his heart beating out a rapid tempo. He knew the problems that came from external validation --- it was fleeting and it wasn’t necessary for going on in life. And he’d tried to become better at being the one to build himself up when he toppled over. But there was something about hearing those words from someone else. To really know, and not just tell yourself, that you could and should be cared for unconditionally. And even more, love ? Just the thought sent a stupid smile to his face.

       So he squeezed Melchior’s hand back. And then he kissed him and shut up every other thought in his brain because what use were they anyway? And when they came to a pause, their foreheads supporting one another, he gave back the words. “I love you too.” A tear had slipped over his lashes and onto his cheek. He briskly wiped it off with the heel of his hand. “I’m sorry. I feel so stupid for crying, it’s not really---” He gestured vaguely with his hand.

       “Moritz, the patriarchy is a myth and gender roles are false.”

       He let out a choked laugh. “Right, of course.”

       Melchior ran his fingers through the curly, unkempt hair at the back of Moritz’s head. “I’m really glad that you kissed me at the park that night. Because I don’t know if I ever would have.”

       “Really?” Moritz met his eyes, only finding sincerity. “But you’re you .”

       Melchior smirked. “I’m me. But around you…” His smile widened for a couple slow moments before he kissed Moritz again, stealing the breath from his lungs.

       Moritz lost track of the minutes, deliriously happy. Eventually, Melchior pulled back for a moment. “Are we still watching a movie?”

       “Oh, yeah.” He let out a short laugh. “And I had one in mind if you’re okay with it.”

       He grabbed the remote and clicked through the options on the TV until he found the one he was looking for. He stole a glance at Melchior, who looked bemused.

       “Peter Pan?” Melchior asked.

       “Well, it’s kinda my go-to movie when I’m feeling down, you know?”

       Melchior laughed, but not meanly. It was as if he had been given a wonderful surprise. “That’s adorable.”

       “When I was younger, I used to think I had a crush on Wendy, but now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I just wanted to be Wendy.”

       “Of course you did.” Melchior’s grin was off the charts. “Always looking for someone to whisk you away on an adventure, weren’t you?” His arms pulled Moritz in a little closer.

       He pressed play.

       And he was happy, stupidly happy. He was also scared and messy and nervous about every little thing. But for then he was happy. So that was his world for those seventy-seven minutes. Joy, peace, and a cute boy who laughed with him and kept him warm inside and out.

Chapter Text

       The summer days collapsed into a steady rhythm.

       On Mondays, Moritz would wake up on the second alarm. He would drink coffee and relax before the start of the day. He worked from nine to three, with a lunch break from twelve-thirty to one. Marianne was usually there on Monday mornings to arrange orders for the week. After work, Moritz would predictably text Melchior who would predictably respond. They spent easy afternoons together.

       “You know what I think?” Melchior asked one Monday afternoon.

       “What’s that?”

       “Maybe this summer was made for us.”

       Moritz felt himself smiling. “That’s pretty sappy.”

       “What can I say? I’m a poet.”

       And they both laughed and held it between them.

       Moritz also worked Tuesdays, providing much of the same fate, minus marianne and plus more tiredness. Melchior was usually with his family somewhere on those days, so they didn’t get together. Moritz would watch TV or sometimes doodle as he listened to a few podcasts. A nap usually found its way into the day somewhere.

       No work on Wednesdays. He and Ernst seemed to have started a running tradition of meeting at the downtown park/play field to have lunch. It was nice. To Moritz, being around Ernst was a bit of a release --- just someone who would listen and could also uphold a conversation if necessary. He wasn’t isolating himself, but it wasn’t hard to put himself out there in that way either. At night, Moritz would get ice cream with Melchior.

       Thursday morning, nine o’clock, Moritz had therapy. Usually, there weren’t too many pressing issues in those simple summer weeks, but Moritz knew it was for the best. It was more of an upkeep, a reminder to his brain to be okay and to himself on how to keep his brain okay. He worked noon to six and closed up the shop. He would text Melchior for an hour when he got home, telling himself he should do something productive but not actually getting there.

       I found my favorite flower in the shop, he texted Melchior one Thursday.

       Yeah?

       African Violets. We have these tiny ones that just sit all day in water. I love them. He sent a picture of the trays that sat on a couple of the window ledges.

       Adorable.

       They’re just so simple. They don’t have to do anything to be good, you know?

       Yeah. I get it.

       Fridays were essentially a repeat of Monday: work from nine to three, Melchior’s house in the evening. The main difference was that he would set nine alarms and still fall back asleep.

       Weekends seemed to be the only variable throughout the remaining weeks of July. Sometimes he would work Saturdays, sometimes not. Occasionally, a few friends would go to the river or downtown. A couple times he and Melchior went to the movies (if the movie wasn’t anything interesting, he tended to spend more time watching the light play across Melchior’s features than the screen).

       The schedule upheld itself for over three weeks. July rolled into August. The days weren’t quite as long, but the sun stubbornly refused to let go of even five degrees of heat.

       The rhythm collapsed into itself on a Tuesday.

       Moritz went into work as usual, daydreaming about curling up on his bed when he got home. Then, at 1:12, Melchior sent him a text: We should go somewhere.

       Moritz waited to see if there would be any follow up or explanation, but nothing came. After a couple minutes, he sent back ???

       We should go somewhere. I’ll drive. Anywhere, just you and me.

       They’d never done much exploring together outside of their own town or the neighboring ones. And Moritz was okay with that. It was like his job: Always nearby, always within reach, safe to drive to and from without much thought. Anything beyond nearby took planning and time and commitment that Moritz wasn’t sure he had.

       But he didn’t mention that. He only replied, I’m at work .

       Okay.

       What did just okay mean? Moritz glanced up from his phone to the empty shop. It wasn’t as if they were overwhelmed with business. He could leave early if he had to. But what was Melchior’s urge to leave?

       Are you okay? he sent.

       Rather talk in person. But I’m fine .

       Moritz sighed and ran a hand through his hair, sending it every direction. He knew Melchior was restless, always had been. In freshman year, he’d missed school for two weeks without telling anyone, then came back with a tan and a renewed light in his eyes. Apparently, he’d persuaded his parents to let him stay with an aunt and uncle in Tucson. Then there were the weekends away as soon as he got his license. He would drive to the nearest mountain or a city or wherever. Moritz never really knew what he did there, only that something in Melchior propelled him to get away sometimes.

       Moritz had heard about these with anxiety, unable to imagine leaving behind his house without at least a month of planning. Still. He couldn’t say that he thought the wandering was over for Melchior, that this was so unexpected.

       But there was always a trigger, something that sent Melchior running. A fight with his parents, an argument among his friends, even just boredom and disdain with school. Some small part of Moritz was scared to think that maybe he was that trigger that was pushing Melchior away. But then his more logical side answered, He wouldn’t have asked you to go with him if he wanted to get away from you.

       Could Moritz just get up and go like that, though? He didn’t know. He didn’t know. So he set aside his phone and started the afternoon watering, even if it was early.

       By the end of the first round, he’d made up his mind. He sent a text to Melchior: I’m ready whenever you are. This summer was supposed to be good. No fear, no holding back. A knot began to form in his stomach that he could only hope would unravel.

 

       “You can play whatever you want,” Melchior said, handing over the aux cord to Moritz.

       It was later that afternoon. Moritz had gone home to change and pack a bag (with probably more than what would be needed). Melchior had picked him up after fifteen minutes of uneasily staring at the driveway.

       Moritz just went to his go-to playlist that was generally safe with everyone. Not so pop to be obnoxious, not so punk to be intimidating; an easy median between the two. He waited for half a song to ask the question that he’d been holding in his chest all day: “Did something happen?”

       “Maybe I just wanted to see you.” Melchior flashed a grin at Moritz then turned his gaze back to the road.

       “But…”

       “But…” Melchior echoed.

       Moritz pulled at the edges of his fingernails. “Why the trip? Doesn’t your family usually do dinners on Tuesday?” He carefully studied Melchior’s face, which had let in the slightest crack in his confidence.

       “Have you ever felt uncomfortable in your own house, Moritz?”

       A hundred cold nights that had passed tensely without words, every step silent, flickered through Moritz’s mind. He nodded, then remembered that Melchior wasn’t watching him. He swallowed. “Yeah.”

       Melchior was nodding his head to the music, but his mind looked as if it were on anything but. Moritz wanted to say something, to ask more, but no words lined up in his head. He stared out the window.

       It was several moments before Melchior said anything more. “I came out to my dad.”

       Moritz jerked his head at the unexpected words. “Oh,” he said, “you did?”

       “Yeah.” The words were level, but Moritz could see Melchior’s slightly-too-tight grip on the steering wheel. He reached out a hand and laid it on one of Melchior’s. “What happened?” he asked too quietly.

       Melchior blew out a long breath. His gaze remained on a red light ahead of them. He didn’t speak until they started to move again. “I wasn’t trying to. It just kind of happened. And like---” he glanced over at Moritz--- “it’s fine, they aren’t upset. But it just felt so tight in there, I just. I had to get out for a bit.”

       Once he started to say the words, it’s as if they were easier to reach, filing out more willingly. Moritz sat and listened, his eyes never leaving the other boy’s face. “My dad asked where I had been over the weekend. I told him I was with friends, you know, and hanging out with you. He just nodded and whatever. And then, jokingly, he was like, ‘When are you going to bring home a girl?’ I just laughed. He’s said it a bunch, and it’s not like I never have. I’ve been with a few girls in the past. But I guess it’s been a little bit, and now…” His voice trailed off, his eyes seeking out Moritz’s once more.

       “But he kept asking. He was like, ‘We aren’t that embarassing, are we?’ and all that. And I just--- I don't know. Something in me was just tired of the conversation because like, it’s so stupid . That I’m expected to bring anyone home and if I do it has to be a girl and it’s just so fucking heteronormative. And I just snapped and told him I am with someone. So he went, ‘Really? Who is she?’ And I looked him right in the eyes and went ‘It’s a boy.’”

       “Oh my god,” Moritz said.

       “It wasn’t like I never wanted to tell them, you know? Just not like that. I had a plan. But after I said that he just went ‘Oh’ and avoided making eye contact. And then he said, ‘Is it anyone we know?’ I told him it was you and he just said ‘Oh’ again.”

       “Just oh?”

       “Just oh.”

       “Melchior, I’m sorry.” Moritz couldn’t imagine. He’d avoided trying to visualize his father’s response for so long that it was second nature to pretend like the conversation never needed to happen. But for it to happen on impulse? His heart leapt into his throat at the thought.

       “It’s fine. I’ll be fine. I mean, they’ll get their heads wrapped around it and it’ll be fine.” Fine , he kept saying. Just fine. “But it just--- it wasn’t what I wanted.”

       Moritz wanted to apologize again but held in the words. “Hey, pull into that parking lot,” he said instead after seeing a sign for a pharmacy to their right.

       Melchior parked. Moritz unbuckled his seat belt but neither of them opened their doors.

       He reached over and took a hold of Melchior’s right hand, intertwining their fingers and setting them together on the console. Melchior’s jaw was tight and his eyes never landed on one spot for very long. “Are you going to cry?” Moritz asked softly.

       Melchior let out a tiny laugh. “No, I don’t think so.”

       “Because you can if you need to.”

       Melchior smiled at him. “I’m okay.”

       “Are you upset?”

       A beat. “I guess? I don’t know. It’s just so stupid that it’s a thing that I have to announce at all and then I fucked it up.”

       Moritz squeezed Melchior’s hand. He didn’t know quite what to say, but knew that something needed to be said so he went with the first thing that came to his head. “Maybe some things happen for a reason. Like… We first kissed because I was acting purely on impulse. So maybe some things are okay without forethought.” As he said the words, they seemed so separate from him and anything he had ever believed. He planned. He thought. And then he overthought until he made himself sick. But it was true that whims could be good. That one in the rain certainly hadn’t turned out all bad.

       “They’ll come around,” Moritz continued. “Your parents certainly don’t seem like the type to be upset about something like this. But it was new. And I’ve met your dad and he doesn’t always seem like someone who takes change all that well. But they’ll get there .” He raised Melchior’s hand and pressed a soft kiss to his knuckles. “Yeah?”

       Melchior’s eyes seemed to search Moritz’s for an eternity, seeking out the truth. Finally, he said, “Yeah.”

       It was startling to see Melchior so vulnerable, such a stark contrast to the shields of confidence that he normally carried. A large part of Moritz felt stupidly unqualified to be the one there with him, talking him down and inevitably saying so many wrong things, and he wanted very much to hop out of the car and find the quickest way home. But he knew that Melchior had asked him to be there, so he’d have to try his best for him.

       “Okay,” Moritz said. “Where are we headed?”

       Melchior’s blank expression told him that the thought had never crossed his mind. He let out a laugh. “I don’t know. I’ve never had company before.”

       Moritz smiled and pulled out his phone. “Good thing we have our lord and savior, Google Maps.”

       Melchior tugged on his hand, pulling his attention from the screen. “Hey.” Moritz nodded. “I love you.”

       Moritz’s breath caught in his throat for just a moment before he responded, much quieter. “I love you too.”

       Melchior placed a hand on the back of Moritz’s neck and he could feel the warmth of his fingers on his skin. Then he pulled their faces together into a deep kiss that said the same words over and over and over again.

       After they had pulled apart and Moritz had grounded himself enough to glance back at his phone, he asked, “Where do you usually go?”

       Melchior’s eyes lit up. “I’ll show you.”