Chapter 1: tabbed
a receipt for $21.19,
left between the pages after money is slid across a counter, before the hardcover is rested inside of the fabric of a bag slung over Connor’s shoulder.
He’s seen him before. Always, always, always in a different aisle. Always with a stack of books in his arms, always with a hat pulled down over his head dusted with the snowfall from outside, always with a slight flush to his cheeks and always, always, always with his head tilted slightly to the side, reading along the titles printed on the spines.
Gavin doesn’t know his name, but he knows his face.
Soft and cute and with a little bit of a trace of a smile on his lips or his eyebrows furrowed as he reads the synopsis printed on the inside of a book’s dust jacket.
He could walk over to him. Ask if he needs any help. Pretend that he’s an employee that could assist him in finding a specific book just so he can talk to him. He’s cute, though. Far too cute to be able to spit the question out without stuttering and stumbling over it and seeming like a complete and utter fool. He already does when he checks him out.
(At the register, of course.
With money, of course.)
It’s not worth the embarrassment.
“You’re an idiot,” Tina says. “And you fucked up.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” he turns away, looking from the aisle the guy wanders down with one book tucked under his arm, the other option already shelved back in its proper place.
“You put an author’s book in the wrong section,” she sets down a stack of three books in front of him, gory covers of red and white. “He writes both young adult and adult but this kind of stuff is going to make parents lose their mind if their fourteen year old daughter picks it up. You know how much sex and violence is in this?”
“Sorry,” he says, looking away from the cover towards the guy again. He’s disappeared from the aisle, moved somewhere else that Gavin can’t keep looking towards him and spy on the books he’s buying.
“God,” she replies, leaning against the counter. “Just ask the stupid boy out.”
“I don’t think he’s stupid, personally—”
“No, you’re right. You’re the stupid one. Do you want to write it down on a piece of paper? ‘Circle yes or no if you have a crush on me’ type of thing?”
“It’s getting exhausting.”
“Hey,” Gavin leans back. “You didn’t exactly ask your girlfriend out the first time you met.”
“Exactly. So I don’t want to hear it. Hypocrite.”
“Bully,” she shoots back. “Difference is Gavin, I eventually asked her out.”
“Blatantly untrue,” he says. “She told me she asked you.”
“Shit,” she crosses her arms, biting her lip. “She told you that?”
“Was it a secret?”
“No. Look—that’s not the point. The point is that you should just ask him out so I can stop having to watch you make googly eyes at him all day.”
He leans on his hand and looks up to her, watching her face scrunch up in annoyance as he smiles.
“It’s not funny. It’s sickening. You sicken me.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“But you’re smiling. You’re mocking me.”
“I’m not smiling,” he places a hand over his mouth, trying to keep the grin at bay, trying to conjure up dark thoughts that might make it disappear. He can’t find any because they’re stuck on how annoyed Tina is right now. Every time it starts to falter it’s tugged back into place again. “And I’m not mocking you.”
“You are and you’re fucking lucky I’m leaving right now,” she says, stepping from the counter.
“Or what? You’d beat me up for smiling?”
“See,” he says, picking up the stack of books in front of him. “Who’s the bully now?”
“Still you. You started this.”
“You called me an idiot first.”
“Today, maybe. But when we first met?”
“I fucking apologized for that.”
She sighs and rolls her eyes, stepping further and further back, tilting her head with her eyebrows raised. But did you, though?
He had. A thousand times. He doesn’t know how to make her believe him.
a slip of paper with ten digits,
left at the start of chapter one with a note on the back in the hopes that it will be found before the book is placed on the shelves again.
Connor sets the book down on the counter, digging into his pocket for the receipt. He accidentally bought this book twice. Accidentally. It’s in paperback, neat letters in white raised up off the page and spelling out the title, soft blues and making up the cover of twisting vines.
Gavin is engraved on his nametag. All caps in embossed on soft bronze.
It’s unfair advantage Connor has—knowing Gavin’s name. It’s not a two-way street.
And Gavin probably doesn’t even realize why he’s here. Always at this bookstore. Browsing the shelves far longer than he needs to. Buying books he doesn’t have room for or the time to read.
“Is that all?” Gavin asks, setting the book aside to hand him back the money.
But he hesitates for a moment, glancing towards the book set aside, the piece of paper poking out from the edge. Is he going to notice? He hopes he notices. He hopes he doesn’t receive a call from a stranger later and it isn’t Gavin.
Maybe he should’ve made it more clear. Left it sticking out a little farther. Maybe choosing a dark black paper to contrast the soft beige of the book’s pages.
“I believe so,” Connor settles on, offering a small smile, trying his hardest not to glance at the book again. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t—
He’ll accept that, won’t he?
“Have a good day.”
He turns and leaves and his heart is beating violently in his chest and when he steals another glance back—Gavin is watching him. Their eyes meet for a brief second, and they both rip away at the same time, almost embarrassed. Almost.
Connor steps out into the cold air, pulling his scarf a little tighter around his throat, his gloves back up a little further, thinking about the number he left behind.
Printed neatly, carefully on the page in black ink. He’d redone it three times before he knew it would be legible. No confusing the 1 for a 7 or the 8 for a 3 or a 0. No excuse for Gavin not to call him eventually.
And he realizes what a mistake that is now. He knows Gavin has been checking him out (not at the cash register, of course) and that it could be something more. But what if that’s it? What if he’s just a pretty face and Gavin’s actually a complete dick that’s already got a boyfriend and can’t keep his eyes to himself?
Oh. He should’ve gone with the messier number. The one that he could use as an excuse to hide behind if (when) Gavin doesn’t call him. That he got it wrong and it wasn’t because he didn’t like Connor or couldn’t like Connor.
He hopes he does.
He hopes and hopes and hopes.
magazine cut outs,
dresses and hair styles and flower arrangements from bridal magazines, left in plastic sleeves to show someone’s ideal wedding.
The pages are bulky and weighed down. Filled too full of pictures and magazine clippings and ribbons tacked down with glue and tape. Swatches of fabric fanned out in a neat bow. This is one of his favorite parts of the job. Looking through scrapbooks and seeing the vision that someone might have. Listening to them ramble on and on and show him all the different things, their preferences and their second-choices.
He couldn’t love anything more than what he does. The stress kills him sometimes, but the smile on a woman’s face as she finds the perfect dress. Or the look on the groom’s face when she walks down the aisle. The love in the eyes between two people when they really, truly love each other.
He loves his job. He wouldn’t trade it for the world.
But on nights like these when he is able to rest for a little while without anyone calling him about flower arrangements and seamstress appointments or book a specific reception hall—
He can sit here and flip through the bride’s book and see all the different things that she wants. The first half full of soft pinks and yellows, color schemes light like cotton candy and decorated with silvers. The second half is blue, a quiet shade of it but paired with slightly deeper purples and accents of golds. They are two different schemes, two vastly different ideas he needs to pair together into something wonderful.
The two women are sweet. Happily dating for years and years before deciding that they should get married. They’d known each other since they were kids. Best friends after an argument about who got the next book in a series they both loved from the school library before deciding to read it out loud together in their spare time.
They started dating in high school. Uncertain and scared and breaking up in fear that their friendship would suffer if anything happened. So stuck on the fact that eventually they would end. Too terrified of losing each other.
Connor loved listening to them recount their story. Back and forth, jumping in and cutting the other one off to laugh and say, no, I kissed you first, don’t lie to the man.
It had taken them a few years before they tried to date again. In separate colleges and finding that the distance was making things harder and harder but somehow they could find a closeness to each other through playlists and books and when they met up with each other they had discovered how impossible it was to keep pretending that they could only ever be friends.
Who had proposed?
It was a point of contention between them. They both had engagement rings. They both had extravagant proposals planned out. Timed at precisely the same minute. Rings held out to each other at (nearly) the same second.
He tries to channel this when he brings together their separate halves of things they love. Finding the exact details that would be able to complete the two versions they have in one go without overly taking from one or the other. An exact half-and-half.
Connor scribbles a note on his pad of paper, hand writing lopsided and curling and difficult to read. Vastly different to the careful print he had used for his phone number. Vastly different from what he had done when writing things for work. No care in this type of writing—it needs to be done before the thought is gone.
His pen is poised over the page, ready to make a note of a flower arrangement that would look nice out of the two girls’ options available when his phone rings. It buzzes across the surface of the table beside him, fractions of a centimeter with each ring.
Connor reaches towards it, looking at the unknown number before answering, holding it to his ear, “Hello?”
“H-Hi,” a beat of silence. “It’s... Gavin. From the bookstore.”
There’s a muffled voice in the background, quiet and almost familiar sounding, but he can’t quite place it.
“Hi, Gavin from the bookstore,” he says, and he feels his lips twitch up into a smile. “How are you?”
“I-I’m good. You?”
There’s a sound of something like fabric scrapping over the receiver, a muffled, go away before a breath being exhaled, “Sorry. It’s my… my sister. She’s bugging me.”
“Oh, really?’ he asks. “How old is she?”
“She thinks she’s thirty-five, but she acts like she’s seven,” Gavin replies. “Um. Anyways… I was wondering if you’d like to meet up?”
Not go on a date just meet up.
“Time and place. I’m a very busy person.”
“Oh, okay,” he hears him sigh, and he can’t tell if Gavin understood whether or not he was joking.
And he doesn’t really know if he was, either.
He is busy. It’s why him and his last boyfriend broke up. Too much time wasted trying to make plans that he had to keep cancelling at the last minute.
He remembers crying for hours on end at the accusation that he was cheating on him or didn’t love him. Because Connor did. As much as a person can. He wishes it didn’t become invalidated because he had a job he had to do.
And suddenly he realizes how stupid this was. Giving his number to someone. A random stranger he had seen a few days a week for the last two months and developed a crush on. Didn’t he know how badly it had ended before?
“I… I’m free whenever. Do you want to pick a time and a date?”
He closes the scrapbook, setting it on the coffee table beside his empty mug and picking up the planner. Stuffed fill of sticky notes and scribbled out messages that have been white-outed over and scribbled on again.
“The twelfth is the next time I’m free,” he says, staring at the column for the day. There are a lot of notes in the margins. Things he needs to do for various people, but it is the emptiest day on his calendar that he can see before the middle of February. At least, until he is forced to rearrange it again.
And he really, really wants to go on this date with Gavin.
Meet up. Not date.
There is a quiet drawn out exhale, as if passed through fingers against a mouth trying to stifle it, “Okay. Okay. Do you drink coffee?”
“H-How late at night?” he asks. “I’m… I’m off work at eight.”
He’s nervous. It isn’t impossible to tell. Connor can hear the slight stutter in his voice, the repeated pauses for breath, to collect oneself.
“Eight is fine,” he replies.
They sit in silence for a moment, Connor smiling lightly, feeling a little cruel for getting such amusement out of Gavin’s embarrassment. He is only thankful he can recognize it as that instead of something else. He is sure, somewhere in the back of his mind, there is a little demon always waiting and ready to twist anything into something else, but it’s quiet now. Gavin has no ulterior motives, none that Connor will allow himself to think of now.
“I’ll… meet you at the bookstore then?” Gavin asks.
“On the twelfth.”
A small, nervous laugh. It’s almost amusing knowing how nervous Gavin is. It seems to balance his own out. Turns it into something he can handle instead of something that will ruin this.
Because he is nervous.
He’s nervous about where it will lead. Beginnings are so forgiving. If they end early, the pain isn’t as harmful. There aren’t as many secrets taking up the space between. It just exists. New and fragile but without the weight of pasts being told and trusting someone so deeply.
But they are something else, too. The fear that he will never be able to move past a beginning. That it will never be anything more than one date or one month. That he won’t ever find anyone he can trust, no one to help him carry the weight of history with him.
two newspaper articles,
detailing the achievements of a brother and a sister he never speaks with, tucked away and hidden in a book whose title warns him from thinking about it too much. a history of glitter and blood.
He hangs up the phone, glancing towards Tina where she sits at the counter and sips at her mug of hot chocolate. Her eyes narrow at him as she sets the cup down, like he’s done something to piss her off just by standing here.
“What’s your problem? I asked him out just like you yelled at me to do.”
“You called me your sister.”
“Yeah?” he asks. “You basically are. As close as I’ll ever get.”
Or, at least, better than what he has.
“I don’t want to be a Reed. Have you seen what a mess your family is?”
She has a point, and he isn’t going to argue that. She knows more about his family tree than anyone else. And for good reason. A lot of money was paid to keep bloodlines buried. Nobody wants to find out that an illustrious billionaire or a well-loved super model is related to low-life bookstore-employee Gavin Reed.
“You don’t have to be a Reed for you to be my sister, Tina, I could be a Chen.”
She laughs, shaking her head, “God. No. You couldn’t.”
“Chen’s are dignified.”
“Since when am I not fucking dignified?”
“Since when are you?”
“I—” he breaks off his words, realizing he doesn’t exactly have a good argument against this. And he wants one. A good comeback. Something that would make her laugh. He feels like a better person when people are laughing at his jokes—no matter how terrible or awful they may be.
But his lack of response, maybe the bewilderment on his face, is enough for her to bring a hand to her mouth and smother her laugh against her palm. He lets out a sigh, tries to hold back his own smile, tries to pretend he isn’t as amused with this as she is. But then her hand falls away and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
And he’s glad he’s making up for past mistakes. The reaffirmation that they’re friends. That she wants to be here, sharing this stupid apartment with him and working side by side in the bookstore. He isn’t making this up. She isn’t just trying to placate him.
Even though he knows she never would. She isn’t that type of a person.
But that doesn’t make the fear of it go away.
a five dollar bill,
stashed a few pages into chapter seven of a book he keeps on a shelf that has no room for it, left sideways in the stack of all the others.
He’s early. Waiting outside the store with a book in his hand and flipping through the pages slowly as the shop closes. A few hours between now and when he should sleep spent walking down to the café, sitting opposite of each other at a table with their drinks in front of him.
“Tea?” Gavin asks, and he’s returned with a nod. “I thought you said you drink coffee.”
“I do, sometimes,” he replies. “I just prefer tea.”
“It’s not a problem, Gavin,” he says, with a small smile. It looks awkward and strange and his name is tripped out of his lips like he’s unsure if he’s allowed to say it. “They have good tea here.”
“Oh,” he tries to laugh. Something small to break the silence but it comes out a little broken and a little wrong. There wasn’t a joke made. It shouldn’t elicit a laugh.
He’s too nervous for this. He’s gone too long without a proper boyfriend or even a proper crush to be able to deal with this kind of situation without anything other than wayward glances and trying to laugh away the tension.
Tina had wished him good luck before he left. Quiet and mumbled and not quite all the words he knew she wanted to say. Even after all these years, even after being best friends since middle school, they can’t always get it all out quite right. But he knew what was behind her words, hidden in her voice. She knows of all the failed boyfriends, the girlfriends that he tried out when he wanted to be something other than what he is.
“Is this a date?” he asks.
Gavin pauses for a second, lifting his gaze from the mug of coffee in front of him, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“Do you want it to be?”
And then Gavin does laugh. More authentic than before. How superbly ridiculous they’re both being, “Yes.”
“You called it a ‘meet up’ on the phone.”
“I didn’t know why you put your number in the book,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure—”
“Hey,” he says, and the hand at his cup moves, almost like he wants to reach forward and do something—hold Gavin’s hand, maybe?—but changes his mind at the last second. “I’d really like for it to be a date, too.”
“So it’s a date.”
“I guess…” Gavin trails off, breathing in a shaking breath as if it will help steady him. It’s not. Nothing is going to steady him. He feels like he’s going to float right out of his body and through the ceiling and he doesn’t know if that is a good or a bad emotion to have right now. “I should probably…”
“I don’t know your name.”
“Oh,” he leans back against his chair. “Oh. It’s—I’m sorry. My name is Connor.”
“Connor,” Gavin repeats slowly, like he’s testing it out.
“I didn’t think about it before,” he—Connor—says. “I should’ve put it on the paper. But you wouldn’t have been able to make the connection then, either, would you have?”
“No,” he says. But that is the problem with having a customer that seems to pay exclusively in cash like a criminal on the run.
Their conversation shifts. Drifting off into something else. Trading favorites across the space between them. Foods and colors and drinks. Nothing so deeply personal that it would be hard to say out loud, but they are things that make up little factors that matter between them. In three weeks if (when, he hopes) Gavin is asked what Connor’s favorite tea is, he wants to be able to say earl gray, with sugar and cream. He doesn’t want to have to guess. He doesn’t want to have to be wrong.
And their conversation doesn’t catch a lull. It keeps going. Slipping further and further into more and more distant topics. There’s a time when Connor gets up and heads to the counter to order another drink, when he takes the bill he gets back from the barista and holds it for a second, folding it carefully before pocketing it in his jeans instead of placing it back in the wallet.
A strange boy.
But he is cute and kind and funny and Gavin hasn’t had such an easy time talking with someone in years.
a paper fox,
folded up from a flyer sitting in a pile on the edge of the counter, mindlessly creased and drawn on and left sitting on the corner.
“Hi,” Connor says, biting his bottom lip, trying to keep the smile from spreading across his face. The two of them have gone on a fair amount of dates. Enough that stopping in at the bookstore sometimes feels like he’s cheating his way into an extra one.
But it’s the rare free time he has. Not quite an hour for the two of them to go out for coffee, not quite enough for them to do anything but smile back and forth at each other across aisles and counter tops.
Not that it would matter if it was. Gavin still has a job. He’s still working during those few free hours Connor can grab.
But he takes it when he can get it and he spends it here, at the bookstore, wandering through the bookshelves. Most of them are old, used, second hand. Little notes left on pages inside of bent and cracked spines. There’s a section of brand new books, ones that have just been released and set on a display near the entrance of the store. He likes to wander past it, looking across the covers and picking them up, turning them over.
New books are lovely. Fresh and pristine. Mint condition. No tears in the covers or smudges on the pages. Something to turn into his own. The physical book’s story his own making. From creation to his home to wherever he takes it in between.
But old books are different. There are histories within their pages. The question of how the corner of a cover might have been ripped off. Of what the note on the inside detailing it’s significance as a present means when it ends up here, being sold. If it was lost or if it was shoved away with bad memories.
And they make the best hiding places, too. Finding old versions that are clothbound and dusty and cost maybe too much. He buys them the most often, knowing that he’ll never read their contents because he has a newer edition sitting on one of his shelves at home, but also knowing that he can hide a five dollar bill or a receipt inside of it.
Or, an origami fox. One that he saw Gavin folding when he first came in, unseen. Careful and precise creases before taking a pen from the cup at the register and drawing (writing?) something on it.
While Connor waits for it to be rung up, he picks up the fox, turning it over in his hands, surveying the face that Gavin had drawn on it. Happy. As happy as a piece of paper can be.
“It’s cute,” Connor says, not wanting to set it down.
“You can have it, if you like,” Gavin replies. “I can make more.”
Yes, Connor thinks, there are an awful lot of these neon-orange fliers sitting on the countertop. He takes one of those two, with a quiet thank you before slipping the fox and the flier into the pages of his new book, already home to a new piece of his life.
a (smaller) book,
less than fifty pages long, soft cover and bending the pages out of place as it’s left there for far longer than it should be.
Connor shows up after work on most days they get together. Mornings are usually spent with Gavin sleeping late and Connor calling caterers and venues to fix last minute details or reserve spaces the proper size. Mornings have and will always be out of the question.
But nights are where they have found each other. Dark skies and soft snow and books. He likes it. Walking with Gavin at night time, glancing up at the cloudy sky and the bright moon. He likes the sound of snow under his feet and the slight bump of their arms together. He constantly has an urge to reach out and grab his hand, but he can’t quite bring himself to.
They’ve been going on dates, but that doesn’t make them boyfriends. They haven’t kissed yet, besides for quick chaste ones that they both seem nervous to have. They’ve lingered a little bit more and more each time, but never quite enough. Not the right amount to satisfy the feeling in his chest.
“You should come inside,” Gavin says. “It’s fucking cold out there.”
“It’s always cold.”
“Today’s different. Coldest of the season, right?”
Not technically true. It was colder last week, but it is hard to ignore the look on Gavin’s face, shuddering from the breeze of the outside wrapping its way into the warmth of the inside of the bookstore. Half of the lights are already off. It’s technically closed. After eight. But Gavin is the last one here. He’d said that in his text. That he’d be working a little bit later because he’d be by himself. That he still had time, that it was still okay.
And Connor doesn’t want to waste what little time he has with Gavin.
And he always wanted to be in a bookstore after hours, too.
It’s like a secret. Stepping into the semi-darkness. Almost like breaking the law. Wandering down aisles as Gavin is off doing his task. Free roam over the shelves without anyone looking at him. He can crouch down and look without feeling like he’s taking up too much space. He can check out one section that is always, always crowded with groups of people that he’s avoided because there isn’t enough room for another person.
And there isn’t a time restraint. He can find his way towards others that he hasn’t looked at before because it never interested him. Tiny novellas and short stories bound by themselves. He runs his fingers across them, squinting in the dim light to read the tiny font.
He turns quickly, leaning back against the shelf as if he’s been caught stealing, “H-Hi. Are you ready to go?”
“Not yet, there’s one more thing I have to do.”
“Oh—” he cuts himself off as Gavin takes a step forward. “Do you—Am I in your way?”
“No,” Gavin takes another step forward and Connor flattens the rest of the way against the book shelf. He knows what Gavin is going to do and yet when the hand reaches up and brushes against his cheek, he freezes up.
He wants this. He does. He wishes his body would react the way he’d like it to. To melt into his touch, to be like putty in his hands, but he is too nervous. He knows this is a kiss different from the ones before, even prior to Gavin’s final step forward, to the other hand on his waist, tugging him a little bit away from the bookcase.
“Is this alright?” Gavin asks.
Yes. Of course. Of course it’s alright. Of course it’s what he wants. But he hasn’t been kissed like this since his last boyfriend, and even then, they had been broken for a long time in the end.
He hasn’t even been kissed yet and he’s already making assumptions.
But when he nods, when Gavin hesitates for a second before leaning forward and meeting their lips together, he knows he’s in trouble. But he can’t think about that right now. Connor has to shove it from his mind as far as he can, think instead about how thankful he is that this shelf is so weighed down with so many books, stuck against a wall so it doesn’t collapse underneath his weight.
Gavin is the one to pull away. Connor isn’t quite sure if he can handle it. He hasn’t kissed someone in so long he could allow it go on forever. He’s not even sure if he does it properly anymore. He’s struggling to breathe as Gavin’s hand moves and threads with his own.
“Is—” he pauses, needs to collect himself. He knows he’s blushing. How old is he and he’s blushing like a teenager? “Is that all you needed?”
A gentle, reassuring squeeze of their hands at their sides.
freed from the inside of a cookie, reading out simply good things are coming your way, hidden beside a receipt, a five-dollar bill, and a neon-orange fox.
It’s the first time they’ve eaten together. Two months into their relationship and they have done little else but get coffee and tea and sit across from one another in the café. Which he doesn’t mind. Gavin quite likes the intimacy of the place. It’s secluded and by itself and not crowded by others. No brand name offering anything special inside of its doors. Just a simple café.
But it became more than that fairly quickly. He can’t walk by the place now without thinking of Connor. He finds that that happens a lot. More than he would like it to, sometimes. Past a bridal shop or a jewelry store and thinking of Connor’s work. Past the tea in the grocery store or even just his own fucking workplace.
He can’t think about books without thinking about Connor. He follows closely after. The tilted head, the furrowed brow, the careful turning of pages.
And tonight they sit across from each other, breaking open their fortune cookies and not reading them aloud because Gavin has suspicions about knowing other people’s fortunes. Like how the first one his hand touches is his, meant for him alone. It doesn’t have to make sense, but the thought of putting some type of luck with them makes the fortune he receives more important. Like it actually matters than what it is: randomly selected from a list and printed.
But somehow it still ended up here, in his hands.
That has to be involved with luck somehow, doesn’t it?
plucked from a bouquet and pressed between the pages of a book to be kept safe.
He keeps a flower from all of the weddings he plans, if there are any. Not all of the grooms and brides opt for them, and sometimes they go with fake ones in the end. Sometimes, when they aren’t any, he finds something else. The books in his home are filled from cover to cover with flowers and random objects. Things he finds that reminds him of the places he’s been and the people he’s met. The urge always strikes him randomly. Something in the back of his head needling at him to take an object and protect it.
The receipt and the fortune and the book at the store.
He’d come back for the last one the next day, moving quickly over to the section, picking out one carefully. Slim enough that it would fit between the pages of a book. Binti. A pretty cover. Splashes of orange, futuristic font. The promise of an adventure.
And today a daisy, taken from the bouquet left on a table, forgotten and alone in the commotion of everything else. He could feel everything in his body draining, leaving nothing but emptiness and a daisy in his hand, rested inside of the book in his bag as he leaves the church behind, walking over to his car.
Connor drives—not paying attention to anything. Not to where he’s going or what song is playing, just the strange hollowness inside of his chest. It’s ruling out everything, leaving behind nothing but the strange desire to see him.
He’s only known Gavin a few months and yet he’s parked outside of the bookstore and stepping inside, looking around for where he stands by one of the shelves, fixing the incorrect order of the books they’ve been set back in as.
“Hey,” he says, standing beside him. He shouldn’t do this. Not when Gavin’s at work. He already feels rotten for trying to take away his time.
But he just needs to see him. Hear his voice for a few minutes.
“Connor—” he turns and reaches out to him, grasping his hand for a moment before letting it go. He’s at work, and Connor shouldn’t be here.
He probably should have stopped coming to the bookstore all together after they got together. If they are together. They kiss and they hold hands and they see each other and call them dates but he’s yet to refer to Gavin as a boyfriend or voice that want out loud.
He’s too scared of being told no.
“Are you free after work?” Connor asks.
“Yeah, everything alright?”
“Perfect,” he lies. “I should’ve texted instead. I’m sorry. I just—”
“It’s okay,” Gavin smiles. Soft and genuine and filled with concern. He can tell how much Connor is lying right now. How false this all is. “I have a break in an hour, do you want to hang out then?”
“No, don’t,” Connor shakes his head. “I’ll see you after work.”
“Are you sure?”
And then Gavin gives him a look, a deepening of the worry already there. A silent repeat of the question. Are you absolutely sure?
“Don’t worry,” he says, but it comes out a little bit of a broken whisper because Gavin is worried and it’s been a long time since anyone’s ever worried about him. “I’m okay. I promise.”
“Tonight,” he says, and he wants to kiss Gavin as if it to prove it but he can’t. He’s already crossed a line by coming to his work near tears. It was different when he was here as a customer, or even under the guise of a customer. He regrets this decision so much right now he doesn’t know how to make it up to Gavin. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“If you’re sure.”
Gavin finds his hand again, this time holding it onto it for a little longer, squeezing it a little tighter. Too long. Not long enough.
In a few hours, Connor will be at his place again. They’ll order in food and sit on opposite sides of the couch and Connor can spill about how upset he is every time one of the weddings he plans doesn’t end up happening in the end. A runaway bride who’s found out a terrible secret. A man leaving for another person. Betrayals and heart aches found out at the worst possible second. Or, the final realization of not being able to go through with something. That maybe they didn’t love each other and up until that point it was okay to pretend but they couldn’t manage it anymore.
And it creeps up on him, sometimes. Couples that seem like they are genuinely in love but discover that they aren’t meant to be together. When he sees two people that look at each other with an adoration that turns quickly into something else—
That is always the worst. That is always his biggest fear.
But tonight Gavin will comfort him. Tiny reassurances and distractions and that maybe this one didn’t work out, but the next one likely will.
And he will only think of how they might not work out.
But Gavin will kiss him to make up for their inability to do so in the store and he will remember all the ways they do work together. If Connor’s running late to the café and Gavin has already ordered his tea for him, holding it out with a small smile. Or when Gavin saves a copy of a book he knows Connor’s been looking for. Even in times like these, when Gavin knows that a distraction can be better than thinking too in-depth about the idea of marriage and how inconsequential it can really be sometimes.
It’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t mean anything.
But it’s also a symbol of a unification between two people.
He wonders if there is anything he does that Gavin thinks of with the same kind of admiration. If when Connor waits for him outside of the bookstore with a tea in one hand and a coffee in the other if it brings the same kind of joy to him. If when they walk down the street and Connor reaches out to him and holds his hand to shield him from the cold because Gavin seems to always refuse to where gloves, if it’s the same. If the little things add up to Gavin the same way the little things add up to Connor.
found on the ground outside of the apartments and left in a pocket for hours before it finally made its way hidden in the bookcase in chapter sixty-one of carry on.
It’s the first night Gavin sleeps over. They fall asleep on the couch with his head resting against Connor’s shoulder and a movie playing on the television screen a few yards away. When Connor notices his snoring, he feels himself smile, recognizing his own sleepiness. He drags his hands through his hair lightly, gentle touches against his shoulder before he closes his eyes, too.
And he falls asleep thinking about how nice this is. Warm and comforting and how he wants it to happen more often. Just the two of them. No obligations.
It’s only been a few months and he is already sad that winter is coming to a close. There might be flowers blooming and the buzz of spring soon, but he doesn’t want to lose this. They could run off together. To Alaska or Iceland or Antarctica. Somewhere they can be around the snow a little more than they are now. Underneath piles of blankets with scarves wrapped around them and gloves on their hands and using each other to keep warm in the late night.
It sounds to good to be true.
But it’s just a fantasy, and he’s allowed to have those, isn’t he?
an eight of hearts card,
left by a teenager when they sold the book, used once as a bookmark before needing to make room on their shelves and never taken out of the space between the pages.
He hasn’t felt this for a long time. This—
Lightness. As if he’s floating in air. As if he’s laying on a cloud and being carried along. As if nothing matters anymore because he is untouchable, unstoppable.
He is happy. For the first time in a long time. His heart is full and it feels like it is too large for his chest. Like it has been growing more and more and there is almost an ache to how it feels. The dissatisfaction of being able to do anything with the building feelings in his chest. Too much and not enough all at once. There is no outlet for it.
Connor isn’t here. He can’t hold his hand and squeeze it. He can’t rest his head against his shoulder. He can’t get rid of his urge to do something that would help ease the wanting in his chest.
But still. He likes how it feels. He likes how he can catch himself smiling even when his thoughts are supposed to be on the catalogue of books in front of him or alphabetizing something because they have wandered beyond his control.
How absolutely cute he is. How adorable he is. How much his existence just makes him want to cry from how grateful he is that Connor has found his way in his life.
Just because he was looking for one little thing.
And he found Gavin.
And somehow he likes Gavin.
His chest hurts from how far apart they are right now. The need to be right beside Connor is more powerful than his need to function properly and do the task at hand. He keeps stopping and staring blankly at the spines of the books and thinking about how Connor could be standing beside him right now, plucking one off the shelf and deciding it’s the one he wants to buy today.
Just little simple things.
He just wants to be by Connor. He just wants to see his stupid face and kiss it until they’re sick and tired of each other only to find out that might never come around.
There is always, always, always a tightness in his throat these days. His jaw is always clenched, he is always holding onto his features as much as possible, because he is constantly on the verge of tears. No one has ever made him so happy. It has been so long since he was happy. He knows the tears are good and he knows it is good to cry because he’s happy but he can’t cry in public and he can’t cry around other people so he is stuck in a constant loop of holding it back.
He is such a hopeless fool.
a photograph of an old café,
stuck in the picture frames for a historical themed wedding, kept because there are always going to be things that need to remind him of the weddings he once helped create.
It is terrifying—
How fast he is falling in love with him. It is such a slippery slope. He can barely hold on. Gavin will do one silly thing and his first thought it instantly I love you but he doesn’t even know if he loves Gavin yet. He doesn’t know if it’s too soon.
He’s terrified that it might be too soon. He’s terrified of how easily attached he can get to things and people. He is terrified that Gavin means more to him than he will ever mean to Gavin. He is terrified that one of these days he might slip up and say those words out loud only to see Gavin give him a questioning look because it isn’t returned.
He has been abandoned time after time in his life. His father left him. His mother left him. His boyfriends and his girlfriends have always left him.
He is terrified of how easily attached he can get to things and people.
It’s why he never lets go. It’s why he never is the one to break off a relationship even when he knows it’s not working. It’s why he has books he hates cluttering up precious space. It’s why there are things he made as a child sitting on the shelf by his window and the terrible mug he made in middle school holding his pencils and pens.
It’s why there is a second copy of a book that he accidentally bought the first day he met Gavin resting on his bedside table.
And he is terrified of Gavin leaving him.
Everyone always leaves him.
And he doesn’t even know if he loves him. He just knows he could. He just knows he will.
He knows that if they stay together for much longer those feelings are going to form together and he will be stuck with this feeling in his chest that he finds it impossible to describe because there aren’t enough words and he doesn’t even know if there are even correct words in any of the many, many human languages to describe this—
Connor doesn’t know if he loves Gavin.
But he could.
And he will.
Whole-heartedly. Unashamedly. Soul-consumingly.
Chapter 2: italics
"I've been thinking about what you said, about whether your past makes you what you are. That's all our memories are, right? The pieces of yesterdays that make us who we are today? Instead of letting your yesterdays bring you down, maybe you can concentrate on building some happier memories for today. And that way you'll have them for tomorrow?'"
LifeL1k3 - Jay Kristoff
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
a ripped corner of a dust jacket,
sitting between pages 256 and 257 of illuminae.
Connor is asleep on the bed in his room where Gavin left him. They spend most of their nights laying beside each other, talking and never shutting up. Gavin doesn’t know how to shut up sometimes. He loves Connor’s voice and for some reason he can never seem to keep himself quiet long enough for Connor to ramble as much as he does.
And tonight he can’t sleep. Connor’s eyes fell closed somewhere in his story about how he started to work at the bookstore. He didn’t quite get to the story about how he met Tina, which he thinks is for the best, probably. Their past should be left between the two of them.
He leaves the bed after spending an hour of looking at the ceiling, of trying to close his eyes, of trying to make out the details in Connor’s face that seem to grow blurred and monstrous with the lack of light playing tricks on him.
Gavin makes his way to the living room, turning on a lamp on the desk to keep the room dim and not so jarring. Not enough light to spill between the cracks of Connor’s door either and wake him up. He trails his fingers across the bookshelves. Crammed full with seemingly no organization method. A few of them have bookmarks poking out, some of them with things stuck between the pages.
He reaches forward and grabs one. A pretty spine with a prettier cover of a hand held out, an apple sitting carefully on her palm. He opens the book at random and it flops open to a yellow flower pressed between the pages. He doesn’t know the name of it. He doesn’t really know flowers well enough at all. But Connor must. There are some books lining the top of the shelves. Nonfiction surrounding animals and plants and weddings, even if the majority of his shelves are dominated by fiction.
He places the book back where it was, picking another and another. Finding little things that have been hidden inside. Receipts and money and scraps of paper. Things that likely aren’t being used as bookmarks, either. Chains from necklaces that look like the clasp has been broken. A piece of metal shaped like a dog with long legs. A ribbon that may have been from a Christmas present. Orange and black strips from streamers that have been stapled together and sit inside of a book with a monstrous face on the cover.
Little things that Connor has kept over the years. Safe between the covers of books with titles that will remind him of the past.
He wonders if the trinkets and objects littering the front of the shelves are from memories, too. A pinecone sits in front of books that seemed to be grouped by color. A ceramic wolf missing one of its legs. A stuffed fox that looks like it has been owned for years and loved for years.
And he realizes there is so much about Connor he doesn’t know.
And there is so much he does, but the empty gap between is unfilled and Gavin will likely never know everything about him. They don’t divulge every last secret they have to one another. It’s impossible. They could spend years talking and still forget about something or continually keep something they don’t want to say hidden.
He doesn’t want Connor to know how absolutely terrible he used to be. He doesn’t want Connor to know that every day he tries his best to make up for past wrongs. He doesn’t want Connor to know that sometimes it is very, very difficult not to snap and let his anger get the best of him.
This version of him is better. Maybe not good but better.
a paper ferret,
carefully crafted again and again until it was made perfectly, stuck in a book about books, because where else would he hide things that gavin made?
It’s sitting on the coffee table when he wakes up. Connor is carefully not to destroy it when is flattened down to fit between the pages of a book. There are other things hidden in the pages here. This isn’t the first addition. He is just careful, choosing proper things to set inside. Picking the proper book for these things, too. The cover is made of little yellow blocks making up the silhouettes of books on shelves. It glows in the dark if he leaves it out in the light long enough, if he squints and looks at the spine in the middle of the night. He thinks that is something he likes more about the book. That it reflects Gavin in this way. About a bookstore, about late nights, even a little bit about love.
And mostly, more importantly than anything, it is a little bit of light in the darkness.
He replaces the book on the shelf, moving his fingers along the spines, jumping from book to book and recounting all the little things kept inside of them. Money and notes, origami and flowers and—
An infinite amount of memories that can’t be flattened out or put into proper words. Only trusted to his own head.
a postcard from canada,
sent from connor’s best friend after she moved and hidden in a book with a tree made of fire on the cover.
“Do you ever get tired of everything?” he asks.
His thoughts have been winding around this. Circling again and again and he says the words before he can think them through. The connotations behind them. Everything. Connor would be included in that everything, wouldn’t he?
But sometimes he has days where he is exhausted of having to function like a normal adult. Getting out of bed and going to work and dealing with customers. He loves his job. He loves Tina. He might love Connor. It is just days like these when he feels weak and tired and like no amount of coffee in the world could help him feel like he is awake.
“Yes,” Connor says quietly.
His eyes are closed, but he feels Connor’s fingers move across the line of his jaw. Cold to the touch like he’s been outside for a while. It’s almost spring but it still feels like the remnants of winter are sticking around, and he is glad for that. Painfully happy that he can still hold onto the little bit of magic that existed when they first met.
“Do you want to run away?”
Gavin opens his eyes and smile, “Why Canada?”
“Not too far,” he replies with a shrug. “We can always change our mind if we don’t like it.”
A non-committal fantasy.
“Canada is too realistic,” he says, and catches Connor’s fingers in his own, holding onto them tight and pulling him into his lap. “You’ve gotta think bigger.”
“Iceland? Do you speak Icelandic?”
“If it’s a fantasy, I don’t have to know the language.”
“Fair enough,” his voice is quieter, lost a little bit as he leans forward to kiss him. He always wants to kiss Connor. It’s like a virus in his head. He sees him and all he wants to do is grab his stupid face and kiss him until Connor’s annoyed with him. “You know it’s cold in Iceland, right?”
Colder than here, at least. Closer to the type of weather he prefers. Not the sweltering summers that Detroit suffers through, but perhaps not the frigid winters either.
“I’ll keep you warm,” he says, and returns Gavin’s kiss. Short. Quick. “If you keep me warm.”
“Of course I will.”
stapled to a thick piece of scrapbook paper decorated with stickers and pictures.
Connor runs his fingers over the pastels. Pink and purple and blue. His thoughts are frazzled. He can’t quite keep focused on the task at hand. Writing down notes and information in a scribble he’ll hardly be able to read. All he can think of is that paper ferret. One little origami animal haunting him. He taps his pen against the edge of the notebook, trying his best to focus on the color scheme.
He sets the pen down, picks up the phone and scrolls through his contacts. There aren’t many—Chloe is the only name before Gavin’s. She is probably one of the few he would put before Gavin, too.
Connor hesitates over the call button. A long wait.
They don’t get to spend much time together. Separate lives with separate jobs with separate hours. Their free time doesn’t always line up and even when it does it doesn’t mean they get to spend it with each other. There is a balance between this.
He worries that he is failing to achieve it.
How late is it? Nearly two in the morning? Exhausted and tired and only half done with his work because he is thinking instead how nice it would be if Gavin was sitting beside him. Even in the quiet. He could work with Gavin just sitting there beside him. The presence of his existence would help dull some of the desire to do all these other things.
Instead he could concentrate on his work. But his thoughts wander. Walking through bookstores and holding hands and leaving kisses and whispers and secrets between the two of them.
He sets the phone down—thinks that maybe they are too new for things like this. Day dreams and hopeful wishes. As much as he cares for Gavin, he knows what an absolute mistake this is.
He loves his job. He wouldn’t quit it for the world. He has lost two boyfriends and two girlfriends in the process of it. He will eventually lose Gavin, too. Everyone always leaves him.
An inhale, held in as if it will help dispel the foggy thoughts.
A pen to the paper, ready to write out something that will make sense of the scrapbook in his lap.
A ring of the phone beside him, Gavin’s name lighting up the screen.
He reaches for it, answering it quickly and holding it to his ear. Connor’s voice is strange when he speaks, something weird in the tone of it that he doesn’t understand. A little bit too happy and a little bit pained, “Hey.”
“Hi. I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“No,” Connor replies, setting his things aside, curling up into himself on the couch. He is far too capable of giving Gavin his full attention, but it has been so very long since he has been able to have this. All of his emotions were trapped down and it feels like someone broke the cage open and let them free.
He is too happy and he is too skeptical. He wants this to last. He knows it won’t.
“Oh. Good. I…” there’s a small sigh on the other end. “I missed you. I just wanted to… hear your voice, I guess.”
I missed you. I missed you. I missed you.
Those three little words will stick with him forever.
Someone misses him. Someone misses him enough to want to speak to him late at night instead of doing the normal thing a human should do and sleep.
“Would you like me to read something to you?”
“Wh… Maybe. Could you?”
“Yes,” he reaches across the table, grasps a book with white and yellow and blue on the cover. Silhouettes of faces looking towards one another with large text spelling out a title in an almost handwritten manner. “It might be confusing.”
“Words don’t matter,” he replies. “Just… your voice.”
Connor nods, even though Gavin can’t see him do it. And he smiles, big enough for it to hurt his face almost instantly.
“Okay. Are you ready?”
“No, wait. Give me a second.”
There is a shuffle. Things being moved away. At some point the phone slips and clatters against the floor and Connor can hear Gavin swearing as he picks it back up again, muttering apologies that barely make it over the sound of movement.
“Okay,” Gavin says quietly. “Go ahead.”
He flips the book open to where he was,
rests a finger against the first word,
“I was happy. I loved him. And he was always more good than bad. He’s still more good than bad, I think. It just goes to show how much of both a person can hold…”
for 20% off one item at ben’s bookstore. it was tucked between random pages and it stayed there and it will likely never leave. he kept it there the entire time he read the book, only moving it to read those few lines. a reminder of a cute employee at a quaint bookstore.
“Gavin?” he asks quietly. He’s read four chapters and stopped getting questions after the second. “Are you asleep?”
The other side of the phone is silent. If he listens as closely as he can manage, he thinks he can hear the faint sound of snoring or breathing. It is late. It wasn’t very many pages—the chapters are short. Not even twenty-five. But it’s nearing four in the morning.
“Okay,” he says more to himself than Gavin. He closes the book, rests his hand on the cover, feeling the raised letters of the pages. “Good night, then.”
“I love you.”
a sheet of stickers,
cartoon cat faces and flowers that he will never be able to use because the commitment of a sticker seems like too much, and they are much safer hidden in a book titled paper valentine then stuck to the front of a journal or a folder.
“You didn’t have to come,” Connor says, looking towards where Gavin has tilted his head with a vaguely disgusted expression on his face. The wall of bright pinks clustered together full of stickers targeted towards the summer or spring. Princesses and flowers and animated movies littering the space, too. As many cutely drawn animals as one can imagine with pastel pinks on the backgrounds.
“I did,” he says, reaching forward to one of the packages and struggling to pull it off the hook. Too short to reach the top row. “It’s my day off. Of course I’m gonna spend it with you.”
“At a stationary store?”
“You’ve got errands to run and I’ve got time to fill,” he yanks the stickers, stumbles backwards a little bit as they slide off the hook. “Look at these. Cute, right?”
Connor steps towards him, away from the blues and reaching for the package to look over at them, “Yes. Very.”
“Maybe you should get them.”
“I don’t know if I have a purpose for Hello Kitty stickers,” he says, but they’re in his hands and when he looks up from them to Gavin’s face, he has this expression with this soft, stupid smile.
And he remembers the way Gavin leaned up and stretched to grab them. Nearly knocking everything else down just to grab them.
“Everyone has a use for Hello Kitty stickers,” Gavin says, turning towards the racks again. “And you like flowers, yeah?”
“So, they’re perfect.”
“Maybe,” he drops the stickers in the basket so he can reach outward and grab Gavin’s shoulder, tugging him back towards him. He stumbles a little bit into Connor’s arms and he leans down, catching his lips with his.
They kiss longer than he expected. Gavin reaches up and holds him in place, doesn’t let him end it as quick as he was going to. Not that he cares. Not that he minds.
Kissing Gavin in the middle of stationary store is perfectly acceptable, even if he is technically working right now. It makes up for the times he showed up to the bookstore, knowing Gavin’s eyes were on him while he browsed through the shelves.
He pulls back, and Connor instantly misses the feeling of his hand on his waist, the other on the back of his head, holding on a little bit to his hair. He hasn’t moved very far away, just let go and stayed leaning too close to him. Close enough that Connor is ready to kiss him back. One step forward, one tilt of his head upwards—
That is all it would take.
Except when Gavin looks up at him, his face is a little red and his teeth are closed over his bottom lip and it seems like there are a thousand thoughts running through his head right now.
“I…” he pauses and smiles, tiny and small and it disappears as he takes a step backward. “I love you, too, you know?”
“I was awake,” he says, taking another step backwards. “I heard you.”
“You heard me?”
His face feels hot and flushed and he brings up his free hand to hide his mouth as if he can keep Gavin from seeing it, but by the smile on his face and the way he turns around and walks away with an almost skip in his stupid step—
It is hopeless.
Connor is hopeless.
a picture of gavin,
taken with a polaroid camera. one of many others that are either tacked onto a bulletin board or stuck in a magnetic frame on the fridge. this one he keeps hidden in the middle of chapter seventeen.
He feels guilty sometimes when he asks for days off, especially when Tina takes his shift and he ends up in the park with Connor and not sick in bed. But he’s learned Connor’s schedule as best as he can. They spent hours one night inputting it into an online calendar that he can look at and know when their free time would line up. Most often, it’s not enough to do anything about. An hour here or there when Gavin is working at the bookstore. That is always when Connor comes in and tortures him. Like a little tease. Wandering around and he’s unable to do anything about it but just watch him.
It’s better than when they’re apart, though. Seeing him and only being able to keep his sentences short and his questions work related is better than not seeing or talking to him at all.
But sometimes he sees Connor reaching up for a book or leaning down to check the shelves or just turning his head to the side to read the spines and he can’t help but think of how lucky he is. That he has this boy in his life. That he is his.
And he misses the winter. The snow is melting too fast. He likes the sound that it made when he walked on it. He likes the way the light dusting of snow looks on everything. Vehicles and streetlights and even on the clothing of people. Soft and delicate.
He liked being bundled up in his coat or wrapping a scarf around his neck. He liked seeing Connor wear that beanie that he always had the urge to reach forward and tug down over his eyes. He had done it once, caught Connor’s hands before he could fix it, surprised him with a kiss. One of the few that genuinely left Connor shocked.
Gavin a little, too. He didn’t know he was going to do it until he had. And it was so early on in their relationship that neither of them expected the other.
And now the snow is melting and he is losing all these things that they started out as. In the snow and the cold when he had an excuse to stand next Connor and lean against him. When even that far in the beginning they were comfortable with being close by each other under the guise that it might be for warmth instead of want.
“Gavin? Are you alright?”
He reaches for the camera resting on the ground between them. Half of the film is gone. Taken of the trees and the plants and the flowers. Branches starting to regrow their leaves set against a bright blue sky. Dogs have walked by and their owners have stopped for Connor to reach out and pet and question the names and the breeds like it’s an interrogation and this is information he absolutely must have. Even pictures of him. When he wasn’t looking and when he was. They sit in a small box with the lid closed, hidden from view.
“I was just thinking.”
He tilts his head, as if the thoughts will rearrange themselves into an order in which they’ll make sense. But they don’t. They never do. They are always fumbled and wrong no matter how much he tries. All he wants is for the ability to put this into words and it seems they always fail him when he needs them most. He can make such clear sense of things until he opens his mouth to speak.
“You,” he settles on, because that one is always, always, always true.
“Oh,” Connor smiles. “Good or bad?”
“There’s no part of me that you hate?”
“Not a single bit.”
“What about dislike even just a little bit?”
“So, I’m perfect?”
Gavin laughs and leans forward, leaving a kiss against Connor’s cheek, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“No. But you are close.”
“Close,” Connor repeats, quietly, softly. “I can live with that.”
He raises the camera, distancing himself a little bit, “Smile, alright?”
Connor nods and he smiles and it isn’t even a fake smile some people put on for the camera. It is a genuine, stupid smile that Gavin fell in love with. He takes the picture, waits for the camera to spit it out and he watches it develop as Connor takes the camera from his hands. He hears the sound of it as it takes another photo, and Gavin is well aware it is of him.
Memories. Captured on film. Trustworthy in some way. Undeniable proof of a moment.
He hasn’t taken pictures of his life in years. He hasn’t had pictures of himself taken in years. They didn’t seem important. He always thought he could remember everything, but now time is passing him by so quickly and he doesn’t remember anything. He knows what Tina looks like when she’s happy and he knows what it’s like to see people open presents and be genuinely overjoyed with what they’ve been given or how much he would have enjoyed that one Halloween three years ago—
But he doesn’t have pictures of those times, and his memory is failing him. Could he place what costume he wore into work? No. Could he remember what he got Tina for her birthday last year? No. He doesn’t remember these things. He doesn’t have a photo album to look through. He doesn’t have anything to remind him of his life.
It feels like it’s passing him by. It feels like it has slowly become uneventful and boring and he doesn’t know why. It isn’t true. He knows that. He’s been happy, even if it has been a generic happiness and never something he’d label as a good year or a good month. Not until recently.
But this picture in his hands of Connor looking back at him, the ones of the nature and the animals in the box beside him—
He thinks he understands why Connor doesn’t get rid of things. He thinks he gets why when he looks through the shelves he sees things poking above the tops of books. Saving reminders of the past so he can have them in the future. When the moment is gone, he will have something to tell him it happened.
Gavin tucks the picture in his wallet, right beside a credit card he cancelled a year ago and never shredded like he should have. He has this urge to keep it, like the article about his siblings stuck in that book about fairies he’ll never read.
“Do I get details? Or just this vague response?”
Gavin looks over to him with a small smile, “Just that I love you, and I’m never going to let you go.”
He shakes his head, and he pockets his wallet again, prying the camera from Connor’s hands and pulling him into a kiss again. Longer than the one before, but careful. As if this kiss has to prove his words. He hopes it does. He hopes every time he kisses Connor he knows how much Gavin loves him.
an empty pasta box,
folded down and left in a book with a pastel rainbow on the cover.
He hates it. It is probably the worst thing about their relationship and it’s probably the only thing he hates about Gavin at all.
“Hey,” Gavin says, turning to face him. “You’re not allowed in here.”
“I can’t even watch?”
“No. Go sit on the couch like a good boy.”
Connor wrinkles his nose, as if this is the worst thing he could ever be called, “I’m not a dog, Gavin.”
“No, but you are petty cute though.” Connor takes a step forward, but Gavin turns back with the spatula in his hand like a sword, “Get. Go. Shoo.”
He sighs and turns around, leaving the kitchen and it’s smell of garlic and onions. He sits down on the couch, scrunching his eyebrows together and trying to put his focus on work instead of the fact Gavin is in the kitchen and Gavin can cook and Gavin is cooking for him.
Connor cannot cook. When he lived with Chloe, he tried his best to learn. He was good at following directions, but something always turned out messed up in the end. It was never as good as he wanted it to be. She was always better at it. Picking which spices to add, how much extra she could risk from the ingredient list without overpowering something. He could never learn that. It was always too salty or left a gritty taste in his mouth.
And Gavin can cook.
Which annoys him. He was alright with ordering food in. Saving menus or chopsticks or fortunes in the bookcase behind him. He could wander through and pluck one of the few books about food and look through it and recall the times Gavin sat across from him on the floor of his apartment eating pizza and laughing at something absurd.
And now he’s been sentenced to the living room. Not even able to peek into the kitchen and watch Gavin at work and learn his ways.
Which is probably for the best. The image in his head of Gavin cooking is cute enough that he would probably set the kitchen on fire with how much he’d want to kiss him instead of actually being able to eat dinner. The whole place could burn down around them and he wouldn’t care.
Connor doesn’t even know what he’s making. All he saw in the bags was a box of pasta, a bag of spinach, a plastic container of cherry tomatoes.
His phone beeps and he looks from the notebook which has only a poorly drawn doodle of Gavin’s face wearing an overexaggerated angry expression to the phone’s screen. A text from Gavin. When he opens it, skeptical.
Heart emojis. A lot of them. Rainbowed three times over.
He rolls his eyes and sets his phone down, but he’s smiling and looking towards the kitchen as if he could see through walls.
He loves him so much.
a pressed hydrangea,
picked up off the floor where it fell after the bouquet was thrown into the arms of—
They say each other’s name tentatively, as if they’ve never met before. Which is the truth, but not really either. When Connor visits Gavin, a rarity based on the fact he doesn’t live alone, they keep to themselves. He prefers it. But he still likes Tina. Of what little interactions they’ve had, she has always been nice and she has always been funny.
But he didn’t expect to see her here, and she had somehow managed to slip by unnoticed until now.
“I’m not getting married,” Tina says suddenly, her grip on the bouquet turning awkward. “I just… I didn’t think I’d catch it.”
“I have a girlfriend,” she turns, like she’s searching for her in the crowd. “She’s not here. It’s—we haven’t been dating that long. And she’s out of town. I… I’m sorry.”
She seems so flustered. It’s weird.
“Gavin’s… How is Gavin?” she says, moving the bouquet to hide behind her back. “I mean. He’s good. I know. I live with him. How are you?”
They stand in the space awkwardly, like they have caught the other naked or heard something they shouldn’t have.
“I won’t tell Gavin about you catching the bouquet,” he says, looking from her face to the flowers. Some of them have fallen off, broken free from their stems because of the way they were crushed in her hands when they were caught. “You don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not. I don’t.”
“Are you sure?”
Tina shakes her head, “I got a ring from my father. It was his mom’s and they all think that two years means marriage and proposal time. But I’m not… ready for that.”
“You don’t have to be,” he says. “People can wait ten before they propose.”
“Yeah? What if I’m never ready?”
“Then don’t get married.”
“And if she wants to?”
He doesn’t really know what to say. There are so many things that can make or break relationships. There are so many different thoughts on whether or not marriage is serious. He has always been in the middle. He has always understood the repercussions of moving beyond what someone is ready to handle or wants to have. He has always understood what it means to someone—more than just a piece of paper and more than just a word.
“I don’t…” he trails off, because he thinks he needs to say something but he can’t find the words. “Talk to her about it. You should ask her. Understand each other’s feelings.”
She nods, and she is likely thinking what he is thinking.
Talking to someone about these types of things is always what they should do. Get it out in the open instead of ignore it. But it is always easier said than done.
She gives him a weak smile, “Sorry. Weddings freak me out. They’re so…”
“I know,” he says, because he does. There is something similar with every single wedding he has ever planned. A connection between the grandest and the smallest. Something similar even in the ones that end in disaster and the ones that end with a look of love shared between two people that he has always craved.
“I’m not dissing your work, am I?”
“No,” he says with a laugh. “Not at all.”
“Good,” she breathes out. “And…”
“Don’t tell Gavin?”
She nods, “I don’t want him having any more black mail material on me than he’s already got.”
“Of course not.”
tickets to the fair,
pocketed and saved and left in the inside of a book with a ferris wheel on the cover.
He’s taking less and less clients lately. It’s probably a bad move, but it gives him more time for moments like these. Using those few hours that Gavin has before he has to go to work and spending them at coffee shops or walking along the street together or just pulling him into his apartment and wasting too much time kissing him.
But he doesn’t think that kissing Gavin is much of a waste of time at all. He’s very good at it, and it helps ease away some of his thoughts about the fact that eventually, someday, this will end.
And on the days that Gavin doesn’t have work at all they can go on dates. Real ones, even if he loves spending nights inside of an apartment with him. It’s different to be out in the middle of the fair—holding hands and pulling Gavin along to the next booth or the next ride.
He doesn’t need all this. He doesn’t need the loud sound of music or the crowd or the fleeting time they are alone on the Ferris wheel to be happy. But it is an exceptional thing to be able to see Gavin’s face when he throws his arms in the air and smiles and laughs because he has finally won the prize he’s been trying to get for the last ten minutes. A little stuffed alien. Neon blue with a floppy neck pressed into Connor’s hands. Surprisingly soft. He knows it will sit on his shelf for years and years and years until eventually it is pulled down, placed in a box with all the things hidden on his shelf he can’t bear to happen across any more. Sealed shut tight, pushed away. But kept underneath his bed or in his closet so he can relive all the times the two of them were good.
When he steps forward and tilts Gavin’s chin up so he can kiss him, the alien squashed in his hand tight.
He’s never going to let go. He loves him far too much.
And Connor will absolutely fight like hell to make sure he doesn’t lose him.
sloom - of monsters and men
callow - novo amor
Chapter 3: dog-eared
written in messy handwriting and hidden in the middle of chapter five.
Gavin leaves and it is just a simple, regular thing. Routine. Off to work after spending a night at Connor’s place.
Connor had already been awake for a while, flipping through books, making phone calls, getting ready to leave to run some errands. He already had a note written out, explaining where he’d go if Gavin didn't wake before he left. But he found, for some reason, he didn’t want to leave it to words on a page.
He had hidden it inside of a book. The Leftovers. Things he had that he couldn’t quite get rid of. A little reminder that there was something more. He knows what else is in that book—a receipt for a restaurant where he had gone on the first and only date with a man in his building before he decided he couldn’t risk heartbreak again. (Not until Gavin came along had he changed his mind on that.) An extra button and thread in a little plastic bag from a sweater he bought for his girlfriend. Left behind and stuck inside of the book as he realized he was clinging onto the remnants of a dying relationship, how hopeless this all was. (And not until Gavin came along did he change his mind on that, too.)
Connor pauses with the note in his hand, turning to look towards the door that Gavin had walked out of a few minutes before. A kiss to his cheek, a hand on his waist, a tired look in his eyes.
A wanting to stay, too.
But he couldn’t ask Gavin that. He couldn’t ask him to skip work. Not even jokingly. It’s far too tempting.
But it made him realize he couldn’t put this leftover note in this leftover book.
Gavin isn’t like the others. He has to believe that. He has to trust that. Putting a note in a book full of items that signified a relationship ending could curse them.
Connor holds it tight instead. Looking along the spines of the books. Trying to find a place where he could keep it. Something. Anything. A title or a cover that needs to jump out of him. Remind him to stay. Remind him to fight.
Once We Were. No.
This is Where it Ends. No.
A Great and Terrible Beauty. No.
He doesn’t know why these are the only titles jumping out at him. Why of all the novels and series on his shelf he can only think of these. How tragic and terrible they are. How they are crushing one another. The inevitability of their relationship’s demise is hanging over his head.
One day, they will break up.
And it will probably be soon.
If he looks closely, he can see how they are hanging on by a thread. Too many work hours and not enough time together. So much of it spent laying side by side in a bed at night and not even talking anymore because the day has exhausted them.
He loves his job. He loves his job. He loves his job.
He will never sacrifice it for someone he loves.
He wants to.
But he knows it wouldn’t fix anything.
The problem still remains:
People always leave him. He has always been abandoned. Again and again and again. Eventually, Gavin will be in that list, too. He will watch him withdraw more and more. He will watch him try his best to pretend that they’re okay until he can’t even fake it anymore. They will be left with nothing but memories concealed between the pages of books.
Connor will wander these shelves. He’ll open one up at random. He will find something that reminds him of Gavin. A passage about coffee or cats that will slice clean through him. Reopen that wound that he had assumed was closed.
If Chloe were here, she would tell him to stop. She’d be able to pull him back from the edge. Remind him to have a little faith. That Gavin loves him as much as he loves Gavin. That his job at the bookstore might provide him with plenty of pretty customers but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be unfaithful like another boyfriend he’s had. That the time between them might not destroy the pair like it had done before. Have a little faith.
It's a lot to put on another person. The fear. The not knowing. The note in his hand crumples slightly as he reaches for a book— Down Among the Sticks and Bones. He places it in at random, shoving the book back on the shelf with the rest of the series before turning away, his heart thundering in his chest as he fumbles for his phone, staring at the screen, watching the minutes tick by.
One by one he convinces himself not to dial Gavin’s number. No need to worry him with emotions that are out of control.
One by one he convinces himself not to dial Chloe’s number. No need to bother her with fears of how quickly his relationship might end.
One by one—
He convinces himself to internalize it. Redirect it back into his head. Let the thoughts swim there uncontrolled and untamed. But it is better than bothering others.
a hello kitty magnet,
left in the pages of a novel with just a simple dagger silhouette on the cover, deep red with cracked fragments around it, holding it together.
Gavin leans against the desk, looking around the empty bookstore. It’s late, no customers wandering through the shelves. Too late for people to walk in and too early for them to close up shop. He wishes Connor would come through those doors though, help him pass the time.
He’s been thinking about that a lot lately. Just passing time with Connor. Holding him close and doing little else. He just wants to kiss him. Smother him until Connor is annoyed with him and has to push him away with that laugh of his filling the gap they leave behind.
And maybe he wants a little more, too.
“Yeah?” he says, blinking, pulling away from the counter.
Tina narrows her eyes at him, tilting her head slightly, “What’s up with you?”
“Tired,” he lies, but he is, just a little bit. Trying to maximize his time he gets to spend with Connor, staying up far later than he should to message or call or just relish in the silence of being able to lay beside him in the bed.
He knows she doesn't believe him, but she lets it go. No need to push, he presumes. Tina knows how stubborn he can be. And left alone, Gavin returns to his daydreaming, picking up his phone and stringing together a lengthy text of emojis hoping that the hearts and the kisses and the dog and books and little things he associates with Connor will be enough to convey his love without words.
Gavin is interrupted. A text ringing in, popping up with three small words that make him feel sick.
Dinner next week?
a ripped photograph from an old magazine,
carefully hidden away so as not to be stumbled upon.
“I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” he says, watching Connor carefully. “Okay?”
“If you want to stop, we can stop.”
“If you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, you tell me, alright?”
Gavin reaches forward, takes Connor’s face in his hands and kisses him softly. His hands drift down, catching Connor’s fingers and holding on tight.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
They both smile, leaning in a little closer. Gavin kisses him cautiously, as though he is terrified of messing this up. As if they haven’t kissed a hundred times. As if their kisses haven’t been imperfect before. Teeth hitting one another, bites on lips that are a little too hard, mouths swallowing laughs as they cut off the end of a joke.
He loves him. He loves him. He loves him.
a toll road receipt,
left inside retribution rails just before the second chapter.
It is terrifying, this experience. Standing beside Connor, holding onto his hand this tightly, reassuring him again and again that they have a secret safe word, a thousand excuses built up, even Tina lined up to call in exactly an hour to help them escape if they get trapped here.
The anxiety stays, existing at the very top of his chest, like it’s always ready to surface in a quick rush of words or breath that will knock him out fast. Gavin thought maybe it would disappear or get crushed down under the need to act, but it doesn’t. It lingers, staying, existing, tormenting .
Elijah looks back at him, the door half-opened, his head tilted slightly to the side. “I thought you wouldn’t come.”
He didn’t think so either. When he’d first told Connor that Eli had texted, asked him to come over for dinner, he didn’t want to go. But he saw the look on Connor’s face—something strangely hidden beneath the surface there, something that Tina has, too. Except she’s more vocal on the matter—Gavin needing to get over himself and repair the relationship with his brother.
He won’t forget that.
“This is Connor,” Gavin says, his voice more blank and lifeless than he thought it would be. “Connor, Eli...jah.”
“El, sometimes,” Eli says, offering it up to him like something special. "Eli, mostly."
Gavin shakes his head, ready to kick him. Maybe even if Eli didn’t piss him off so much he’d still have that urge. Just to reach out and push him. Maybe if they weren’t raised the way they were, he would actually do it and it would be one of those semi-playful acts of violence that siblings have. But instead he suffocates it, holds onto Connor’s hand a little tighter.
If this ends up being a night of Elijah hitting on his boyfriend he will kick him between the legs and he won't feel even a little bit of guilt.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Connor replies, taking his hand, shaking it. “Gavin’s…”
“Told you all about me?”
Connor laughs, a little awkward and broken. He can’t even lie about it because it’s that unbelievable.
“I made dinner already. It’ll just be a little bit. Come in. Make yourself at home.”
Gavin wants to scoff, to be cruel, to lash out, but he doesn’t do that, either. Maybe it’s the fear of Elijah’s presence. Elijah Kamski with his big fancy home, all of his money. He looks tired but he looks better than Gavin does. Better than he used to. Living a life like this is easy, like it was meant for him, like he was born to it.
Gavin thinks about his shitty apartment and its cramped spaces. He thinks about the scar on his face and the personality lying beneath it all and when he looks at Connor, it hurts.
It feels like a slap in the face.
It feels like this is all a mistake.
He doesn’t deserve someone like Connor. Connor, who is talented and wonderful and kind. Connor who is beautiful and perfect. He doesn’t want to reduce their relationships down to the aesthetics but he thinks about it too often, too. That he isn’t worthy of him based on the bare minimum of his appearance. When he thinks about them together, he is happy and in love but when he thinks about the inevitability of their break up—his relationships never last longer than a few months—he will look back knowing that there was no possible way they could’ve been together forever. That even just looking at the two, people would know how little they fit together.
And when he looks at someone like Eli, someone with money, someone with an appearance that hasn’t been destroyed by a life of abuse and anger and resentment—
He knows that’s the type of person Connor should be with.
Someone less damaged.
He lets go of Connor’s hand when he follows Eli in. Uses the excuse of taking off his jacket to part ways. Doesn’t let Connor take his hand again, instead stuffing them in his pockets.
This was a terrible, terrible mistake.
a straw wrapper,
from a fast-food joint on their way back home when they decided on needing milkshakes for the lengthy return trip, the paper sleeve tied neatly into a knot.
“I get why you don’t talk to him,” Connor says quietly. The dinner had gone by strange and awkward. Never silent, never a gap in their conversation, but the topics felt—
Wrong. Forced in some way. Not quite what he would expect two brothers to talk about. Not about their pasts and barely about Gavin ending up with him. Except, at one point, when Connor had leaned against the wall between the dining room and the kitchen and heard Elijah ask Gavin do you love him? and he had responded instantly with yes, more than anything and for a moment all he could do was smile.
And then Elijah had continued and asked—
Do you really think it’ll last?
He hadn’t heard Gavin’s response. The visit was cut short after that. Gavin appearing around the corner, asking Connor if it was okay that they leave.
“He’s an asshole,” Gavin says now. “We don’t have to go back.”
“I don’t—” Gavin sighs, stopping at a light, his eyes drifting to where his hands rest on the steering wheel. “I don’t take many people to meet him.”
Of course not. Connor could tell. He could tell, even, by how little Gavin had mentioned him prior to the visit. That it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss. That it wasn’t something that happened normally. That Gavin might not have even talked directly to his brother in years. For a brief moment, when he was told who Gavin’s brother was, he thought the secrecy was because of fame or money. He thought it was because of the wealth that Gavin never told him about. And after—after seeing the way he had to gear himself up, the way he kept trying to tell Connor they didn’t have to go, that they could leave, that it wasn’t important—it made sense.
He was always going to be the one far more nervous about this visit than him. It was never about the money. It was just about their fractured relationship.
Connor doesn’t really think it’s his place to comment on it. About telling Gavin to try and fix it, to talk to him. He doesn’t know the details, and without knowing the details, it feels wrong and out of place to suggest a thing like that.
So he doesn’t make a joke about how Connor might be more important to Gavin than other people he dated if he got to meet the illustrious Elijah Kamski. He knew that before, that this was different. They were different.
Instead he takes Gavin’s hand in his, holds it for a moment, tracing a small circle with his thumb on the back of his hand.
“We don’t have to go back,” Connor echoes. “Unless you want to.”
Gavin nods, “Okay.”
“Gavin?” he is answered with silence, the hand pulling from his as the light turns green and it returns to where it rests on the wheel. “I love you, you know that?”
“I know,” Gavin replies, quiet, eyes stuck on the road, not looking back.
poorly drawn pictures,
in the margins of a book with glossy pages that smudge the ink and turns most of them into black blobs.
Gavin is leaning against him, quiet, letting Connor read from the pages. For a long time, it’s like this. Connor reading out loud the details of some type of murder case that the main character appears to be investigating. He fades off when Gavin pulls a pen from his pocket during a particularly dull moment, doodling a little star in the upper right corner. Connor pauses, his sentences trailing off, letting Gavin draw more and more until the margins of the pages are filled with cats and dogs and what he thinks is supposed to be him, but is just a stick figure with squiggles for hair and a book in his hand.
“Having fun?” Connor asks, interrupting him when he turns the page to continue a jagged line of what he assumes are mountains along the bottom of the page.
“Your book sucks.”
Connor smiles, “Not enjoying it?”
“Don’t really like mysteries. Especially not ones with annoying journalists that spend twenty pages talking about stupid shit.” Gavin pauses, the line of mountains stopping abruptly halfway across the bottom of the page. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be doing this, should I?”
“It’s just a book.”
Gavin sets the pen down. “No, I mean—you're not mad I’m talking trash about it?”
“No,” Connor smiles. He turns, pressing a kiss against his cheek, pulling him a little closer. It is probably the most awkward way they could’ve done this, but Gavin likes to lay against him like this. He likes to lean close and let his eyes slip closed and fall asleep to the sound of Connor reading out loud. “Are you alright?”
This is one of the few times he hasn’t drifted off and Connor doesn’t attribute it to the vaguely early hours. Ever since their visit to see his brother a week ago, he’s been strange. Angry. No patience for things. Getting frustrated and then coming to Connor’s side, holding onto him so tight that Connor doesn’t know what to do.
He thinks it was a mistake. Going to see Elijah.
Gavin sits up, setting the book aside, the pen rolling off where it was rested, clattering against the floor as Gavin turns to face him.
“Can I tell you something?”
He nods, immediately.
“I don’t hate my brother, but I hate how he makes me feel,” Gavin says quietly. “You know, don’t you? What he said in the kitchen? I saw you standing right outside the doorway.”
“Yes,” he replies, matching Gavin’s volume. A tiny whisper. Things they’re scared to say but they have to. “You didn’t answer.”
“I didn’t know how to.” He doesn’t know how to take it. If it’s a good or a bad thing. “I love you. But it’s…”
“It’s a little fast to be making decisions about a future?”
“Yeah,” Gavin says quietly. “It’s not what he asked. It’s not—He didn’t… He didn’t ask me if we’d get married or anything he just…”
“I do, though. I want it to last, Connor.”
He nods, reaching out to hold his face, to lean forward, resting his forehead against Gavin’s. He understands the fear. He understands it all too well. He isn’t somebody that people can love for very long. Connor isn’t somebody that people want to ever be with for forever. It’s just that he’s nice, and he’s busy. It’s easy to keep relationships going for the long-term. It’s easy to have girlfriends and boyfriends be with him for years before breaking up with him because it doesn’t feel like an immediate desire to end it. There’s no threat. He’s barely around and when he is he tries his best to be good for them. It doesn’t make him somebody that people drop fast. They just fall out of love. They just stop wanting him for this and then they always wait too long to admit it.
“Is it too soon to say that I don’t want to lose you?” Gavin asks.
He thinks, immediately, yes. Yes, it is, because it’s only been two months. Yes, because it has already felt too soon to tell each other they love each other. Yes, because even if they had seen each other in passing and had small conversations at the bookstore, they’ve only been in each other’s lives for a short period of time.
But then, Connor thinks, selfishly, about how he doesn’t want to lose Gavin. He thinks about how impossible the thought of keeping him is. How easy people seem to slip away from him. Like there is a clock stuck in the back of his head, telling him that with how fast they have gravitated towards each other and fell in love, it will only mean the end will come just as quickly. And he thinks about that, too. How impossible it would be to have Gavin in his life if anything happened. If they broke up, if they fell apart—
He would never be able to see Gavin again. It would be too painful. Connor can't fake being his friend.
“No,” he says, finally, leaning forward to kiss him, pulling him close, speaking in broken sentences when their lips separate again. “It’s not. You’re not going to lose me. You have me.”
“For how long?”
“As long as you want me,” Connor whispers, but it hurts, too. It hurts to think about how eventually Gavin will probably not want him anymore and he will have no choice but to cut him out of his life completely. And he already misses him. Suffering from that loss when it doesn't appear to be any time soon.
“What if I want you for forever?”
He laughs a little, half trying to break up the feeling of tears building up in his throat, “Then you’ll have me forever.”
an origami sunflower,
left inside of a book with a soft blue background and a bright pink owl on the cover.
“How did you get into origami?” Connor asks. He’s been watching Gavin carefully fold the paper for ten minutes now, turning the placemat at the booth into something else, something he can give Connor and let him take home to hide away with all of his other belongings stuff between the pages of the books on his shelf.
“Boredom,” he answers. “Mostly picked up on the easy stuff. Kept making the same things again and again because it was all I remembered. Like little paper boxes and shit? And then I wanted to make other things.”
“You ever make a thousand cranes and make a wish?”
“No,” Gavin says with a laugh. “But I’ll do it eventually.”
“Oh,” Connor leans forward on his hand. “You saving it for something special?”
“Yes,” he replies, pushing the flower across the table towards him. The words and the print make it look less like a sunflower than it should, but he’s never spent money on proper supplies. He’s always made it work. Cutting paper to size or coloring in the yellows or pinks or blues at the end with cheap markers.
“Is it a secret?” he asks.
“Of course. You think I’m going to tell you and jeopardize my wish?”
“No. You’re right.”
He smiles because Connor is smiling and Connor is contagious in that way. His happiness always making him happy. His presence always calming his nerves.
God, Gavin loves him.
He loves him more than he should.
He loves him enough that he might just save those stupid thousand cranes and the wish just for Connor.
a candy wrapper,
carefully hidden away to make sure it doesn’t get tossed, left in a book titled beneath the sugar sky.
“Okay. Here’s another one.”
Connor feels a piece of candy press against his lips and he opens them far enough to let it rest on his tongue, chewing it slowly. The blindfold part of this experiment was unnecessary, he thinks. He can be trusted to keep his eyes closed.
“It’s one of the Puchao isn’t it?” he asks, feeling the strange little circles in the candy.
“Yeah. The game isn’t to guess what type of candy it is though, Con—”
“I know. I’m trying to remember what packages you got.”
“By using my own memory?”
A hand moves across his stomach, resting on his side, a gentle press against his skin. It makes his brain go fuzzy for a moment, reminded of how close they are. Gavin sitting in his lap, a bag of candy on the couch beside them.
“You have to go off the flavors—”
“Right. Good. How about… this one?”
It takes him a second, but he knows what Gavin is going to do by the way he shifts his weight. His lips on Connor’s. The taste of coffee on his tongue. There is something about the way that he moves, about the blindfold covering his eyes, that makes him accidentally let out a small noise, his hands going to the back of Gavin’s shirt, holding onto it tight.
They haven’t had sex. Something always stops them. An unspoken rule between them. A boundary neither of them are willing to push at. In truth, Connor is too scared. Not that Gavin will push him away, not that it won’t be good—just that his use in Gavin’s life will be filled. Another boy to fill up a slot in his long list of others.
He isn’t stupid. He knows that Gavin hasn’t had very many long-term relationships. If a few months can even be considered long-term. They’ve said they loved each other, but they haven’t even known each other for half a year. The possibility of Gavin slipping out of his life just as quickly as he made his way in is terrifying.
“Connor?” he says, voice quiet, the two of them so close he can almost feel Gavin’s lips forming the words. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” he says, a little breathless, a little lost. “Yeah, I just—”
He is almost thankful for the blindfold. An excuse not to be looking at Gavin’s face right now. His hand moves from Gavin’s shirt to his belt, his fingers finding it after searching for far too long. Tugging at the leather a little bit.
“I… I want… this.”
“You want my belt?”
“Shut up,” he says, but he is grateful that Gavin says it like that, because it snaps the tension he’s created for himself in two, a laugh slipping out of his lips. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. But are you sure?” Gavin asks. “I mean… I don’t know if you can handle me.”
“Alright, on second thought, I would like your belt. Maybe I can strangle you with it.”
“I’m not into that kind of stuff, Con.”
He laughs, letting Gavin silence him with another kiss as he turns him against the couch, the blindfold tossed aside, words filter through the same we can stop if you want, just tell me, just let me know before those words are lost to other things quieted between the two of them.
a condom wrapper,
stuck inside of chapter twenty-two of sourdough.
“You going to save that? Put it in one of your books?”
Connor hides it in his hand, his face flushing red with embarrassment. “You’re teasing me.”
“No,” Gavin says, with a sly smile. “I would never.”
He turns over in the bed to move closer to him, to feel the way their bodies fit beside each other without the layers of clothes and blankets between them. Gavin’s skin is hot, like he’s overheated, but he always feels warmer than anyone else, like he’s on the verge of a fever. Connor reaches out, tracing the shape of Gavin’s shoulder, moving further and further down to his hand and threading their fingers together.
“I like to save things,” he says quietly. “They remind me… that I was happy, once. That there was something good that came from a day or a week.”
“And if the memories turn sour?”
Connor thinks of the boxes underneath his bed. The times he meticulously went through all of his books to take away the reminders of past relationships so he didn’t stumble upon a ghost in a few months and refresh the pain again. There are even a few novels tucked away, ones that reminded him too much of past lovers.
He wonders what he would do if Gavin left. How many books he’d have to hide away that he associates too heavily with him. If the night spent reading the chapter of Carry On to him would make the book tainted by it now. If Connor would be unable to look at the spine of Illuminae without feeling a new round of pain. It is shocking to him, sometimes, that he still has moments where he sees something that reminds him of an ex and he realizes how much he misses the relationship. Maybe not the person, but the time they spent together. Or maybe he never truly falls out of love no matter how unhealthy or old the relationship might be.
Connor doesn’t want to miss this, with Gavin, though, but he is afraid that he's clinging too tightly.
“Something good still came out of it,” he whispers. “I have to be thankful for that.”
He thinks Gavin might tease him, now, and he wishes he would. He wishes he’d make a dirty joke about how the sex was good enough to keep a reminder around, but he doesn’t. He just wants the tension to break with a laugh like before instead of the tender touch of Gavin pulling him closer to his body and holding him close, leaving kisses against the parts of his face that he can reach like this.
“I love you, Connor.”
He squeezes his eyes shut, gripping onto his skin, nails digging in. “I love you, too.”
half a five dollar bill,
ripped down the middle, the other half missing, kept inside of a book with a cover where a girl’s face seems to be only half-there.
He’s leaning over the counter, scribbling notes on a pad of paper. A list of things Gavin can think of that the two of them can do together. Things that might result in something Connor can keep hidden away. He wants to make Connor happy. He wants to have dates that Connor will look back on with a fondness that doesn’t dissipate.
They are both busy people. They have been working around their schedules as best they can. He’d never ask Connor to change his job or alter his work, but he knows it will be difficult getting to do some of these things. Movies might be easy, restaurants and walks in the park doable, but—
Camping trips? Going to the beach? A road trip, three hundred miles away from the city of Detroit?
It will be difficult. Maybe impossible. But Gavin wants these things. He wants to make room for them. He wants to be with Connor. He wants to wander the mountains and the forests and find flowers and leaves that Connor can press into Sawkill Girls or Night Film or whatever the fuck he’s been reading lately.
He wants to be memorable in Connor’s life. He wants to be something that isn’t temporary. He wants Connor to love him and he wants the space between them not to feel so catastrophically large that it destroys them. He wants a future, even if it’s too soon to be thinking about these things.
Gavin wants it, and he hasn’t been able to admit that for such a long time it feels important, and he can’t ignore the desire to have a life beyond just meaningless sex with strangers and relationships that can’t stand on solid ground for more than two months.
He asks Tina for help, and she teases him relentlessly, but she steals his notebook and with her looping scrawl adds a few more things to his list and he gets giddy with the excitement of continuing this. Planning for the future. Looking forward to something. Knowing he can go to his apartment and kiss Connor and hold him and laugh and smile and—
He’s happy. He’s so exceptionally happy he thinks he might cry.
Is this what love does to someone? Makes them stupid? Makes them blind to some of the things they used to hate about themselves?
Gavin’s okay with that. He hasn’t felt it in so long he has to be okay with it and savor every single moment of it.
an index card,
plain with just a smiley face on it in bright pink ink.
Connor stares at the shelves, messy and cluttered. It’s the first time in a while that he’s had spare time in his day. Most often it’s spent with Gavin that he doesn’t get much alone time for himself, but Gavin is still at work, and the shelves sit against a wall with their colorful spines and their secrets hidden inside.
He doesn’t know where everything is. He doesn’t know where all the books belong on the shelves. Sometimes, he can think of a title and know exactly where it is. Berlin Syndrome— top left shelf. The Passage— middle right. Even Beautiful Broken Girls he knows lies on the bottom of the left shelf, sitting on top of the books so neatly standing in a row. But most often, he has no idea where anything is. And sometimes there is a little bit of fun in seeking out a specific book, going from shelf to shelf, but mostly, he knows they should be organized. There should be another shelf, so he can have space to properly display all of them. They should be alphabetized or organized by genre but instead they are thrown wherever they can fit.
But as he stares at the shelf, Connor is reminded that he doesn’t remember where anything that he’s hidden is. Which one has a receipt for the first time he went to Ben’s Bookstore? Which one has the business card of the lady that tried to hire him, who he politely declined less than a minute into the conversation, but took the card anyway?
Connor has no idea.
But he knows most of the things he associates with Gavin are all lined up inside of books sitting on the same row. Crammed together, things sticking out of the tops.
He had a boyfriend, once, who grew so furious with him about saving things that once he came home and his books were all tossed to the floor. The contents that had been hidden away inside thrown aside. Some of it in trash, some of it still left safe where it was tucked away, unseen. But he thinks about those memories that he lost. Connor knows they’re just things. He knows it’s just objects and trash and nonsense, but he can’t help but think about how easy it is to forget a day when it’s over and how easy it is to remember the minute details when he holds something like an empty cardboard box that once helped fettucini in it or the receipt for a shopping trip taken at midnight and he had wandered the aisles laughing with his significant other about stupid things.
There’s a ripped corner of a dust jacket, hidden in one of those books. He can’t remember which one anymore. It’s his one bad memory he went out of his way to save. Ripped off a book when he had pried it from his boyfriend’s hands and the cover tore down the middle and he had cried as he picked up his things and tried to explain why it mattered to him. Why all of this matters to him.
And he had failed because it’s difficult to convince someone who doesn’t care about the little things as to why they might be important to him. Connor doesn’t know why he’s scared of forgetting things, but it’s all he could say. How terrified he was that his life would pass him by without a single reminder of anything that happened to him.
He didn’t grow up with photo albums fill of pictures when he was a child. He doesn’t have any trinkets or antiques or family heirlooms passed down for generations. Connor just has himself. He doesn’t want to feel so alone in his life that he has nothing to remind him of the fact he lived , he existed , he was here . He was important, in some way. He affected others in some way.
Connor wants more. He wants things to keep with his life. He doesn’t always have the memory to fall back on, but he can have the fortune cookie and the wrappers and the pieces of garbage that everyone else wouldn’t think twice about.
But to him, they matter. They mean something.
They remind him that he isn’t just a useless waste of space, even if that’s how people view the belongings on his shelves. They comfort him on days like this, when he is feeling carved out and empty and there is no one to reassure him or hold onto him and tell him he’s loved, that he isn’t alone.
Connor’s hand reaches out, pulling a book from one of the shelves, flipping through it slowly. Letting the words and the text comfort him even if he doesn’t read the contents. The story inside, the characters and their lives and their worlds and their relationships—
They reassure him again and again that he isn’t alone. Not now. They can fill the void that grows inside of him like a neverending abyss he can’t pull back on.
Tomorrow he’ll call Gavin up. They’ll have the same free time. They can go to the store and he’ll save the receipt and he’ll save the things that will remind him of the time spent with him in the cereal aisle or the frozen department. He will feel less alone. Connor promises himself that. He promises himself that he won’t always feel this way. That it’s just a day that will pass by. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow won’t be so empty and meaningless.
Chapter 4: dust-jacket
a bee crafted from cheap origami paper,
squiggly black pen making up the stripes, bright happy eyes, soft pink blush on the cheeks.
He finds them around his apartment all the time when he’s least expecting them. Even when Gavin isn’t here. They miss each other sometimes. Weeks can go by without the two of them seeing one another except when they’re getting ready for bed, both too tired to do anything other than sleep. And even then it isn’t entirely true. Connor stays up late, sitting in the living room, writing away in his planner, sending emails and making lists of things to do. Sometimes he doesn’t even get the choice of whether or not they have sex before they go to sleep. It is usually made for him, with the work left for him to do and Gavin already snoring by the time he does half of it.
It’s upsetting, in a way that feels like he is missing something or doing it wrong. If they had more time together, maybe it would be better. But he’s okay with the late nights when he can lay down in the bed and Gavin will automatically roll into his arms or wrap them around Connor when he curls up against Gavin’s chest. There is something comforting in someone waiting for him. And Gavin is here often. He teased at first like it was his way of getting away from Tina, but then he started to become serious, telling Connor that he wants to steal as many moments with him as possible.
Connor should ask him to move in. He wants to. He wants Gavin to be here always. He wants the cat-shaped mugs taking up space in his cupboard, and he wants the bookshelf to be expanded by Gavin’s small collection. He wants the movies and games to fill up the entertainment system and he always wants to wake to the smell of coffee.
But he will live for now with finding a little origami bee sitting inside of the silverware drawer next to the spoons, waiting for him. He is okay with finding little mice and cats and flowers littered around the house, like they are hiding in these places just for him. And he thinks they are. A shared secret that neither of them will talk about. The vast army of animals hidden away behind plants or inside of books.
a letter from an ex,
tucked inside of we were liars.
Connor finds it on accident. It happens sometimes, when he’s trying to find quotes in books or just rereading old favorites. He never hides anything in a new or unread book unless he has no other place, but even then, most of the books on his shelves carry secrets from his past. Things he’s forgotten. It’s part of the point, to remind him when he least expects it, or when he’s completely forgotten that something has happened. But this just hurts . It feels like a new wound that has been carved clean through him. Words that once made him so happy now make him feel like he wants to cry, and he wants to put it back. He puts everything back or he packs it away in boxes. He doesn’t throw things away. He has too much of an attachment to them. They’re his history, and discarding a letter or a receipt or a postcard is discarding part of who he is and part of his life until now.
Connor knows it’s stupid. Connor has known his entire life how stupid this is. He is a hoarder with mementos of his past littered across a bookshelf, keeping them no matter how much they hurt when they’re found. They’re supposed to remind him of happier times. They are always supposed to remind him of happier times. But this one just hurts. This one just feels like pain again and again. He doesn’t miss the relationship. He felt rotten during their relationship. The boy made him happy but if he thought about himself for too long he would think of all the terrible things. How little he matched up. How imperfect he was. How horrible everything was. How he never felt, not even once, that he was good enough.
This letter was one of the only times that he had words written about him that made him second guess it, and that didn’t last long. He was not good enough in the end. Their love amounted to a year of his life and a letter. One of the few things left behind.
Connor should keep it. He should box it away with all the other hurtful memories, because there is no point in pretending he had a perfect life. These kinds of things are the parts that round him out. But he doesn’t want this . He doesn’t want lies and he doesn’t want reminders that every time he’s with someone he jumps ahead to the part where he thinks about apartments and homes and love and engagements. He hates it. He hates how incapable he is of living in the moment and being able to appreciate what he has.
He sits down by the trash, tearing off a small corner, testing the waters of how it feels to destroy this, and it feels nice. It feels like he is letting something go despite how desperately he wants to cling onto it, and soon he is sitting with the shredded remains of a letter, dumping them into the trash where he will never find them again.
He glances up, brushing away a few stray tears that have managed to make it past his carefully guarded expression, “You’re up?”
“Yeah, I’m going in early today,” Gavin says. “Are you okay?”
He wants to lie. He wants to protect Gavin from this. He doesn’t want to do that to him. He doesn’t want to be a fire, and he knows he will be. One bad thing said and the whole forest is catching. He doesn’t want to burn Gavin down. He doesn’t want to leave behind a skeleton because he sucked him dry with all his pain and burnt him to a crisp so that nothing was left behind but memories of Connor crying on the kitchen floor. But he doesn’t want to lie.
“Good things turn bad with time, you know?” he tries to laugh, to take the edge off of it, but Gavin is sitting beside him, nodding, taking his hand. “I can’t preserve anything no matter how hard I try.”
Everything just turns horrible and awful. He can only think of the bad once the moment is over. He can only remember the fights. He can only remember the nights where he cried himself to sleep. He can only remember the times when he can pinpoint the moments that the relationship was ending. But he always stuck it out. Even when he thought he should end it, too. He stuck it out hoping that somehow it would reverse and go back to the moments they were smiling and laughing and happy.
And it feels wrong and terrible to be thinking this with Gavin beside him, but he can’t help it. He can’t help but wonder if this is going to be one of those moments in five years when he is thinking of all his past lovers.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” he says quietly. “Can we do something today? When you get off work?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
a two-dollar bill,
the first time he’s ever seen one in his life. crisp and new, like it’s never been properly touched.
“Do you want this?” Gavin asks.
They’re walking through the park, early enough that the sun hasn’t set, early enough for it still be full of people. But not crowded. Not in the annoying way it was when they came out here for their third picnic. Connor likes them. He likes to be out here. Gavin doesn’t really know why, but he doesn’t care, either. All he needs to know is that Connor likes picnics, and he likes taking pictures of the same things every time. Including Gavin, including the two of them. Maybe it’s because they always turn out blurry. He’s doing it all for a chance to get a clear photograph. Maybe he’s just doing it because every time he is laughing and smiling and he doesn’t care if the picture is blurry or out of focus, that isn’t the point of it.
“You’re giving me money?”
“Yeah,” he says, handing him the two dollars. “That way in twenty years when we’re all poor and down on our luck we can look through your books and have hope.”
“A two-dollar hope.”
“More than two dollars,” Gavin says quietly. “I know how much money you hide there. Half your paycheck is in those books.”
Connor smiles, taking the two dollars from him, “They’re important.”
“Okay?” Connor asks. “You think it’s silly.”
“No. I don’t. I mean,” he shrugs. “I don’t really get it. It isn’t just one or two things, it’s a ton of shit. It’s like… no matter what book I pull, there’s going to be something there. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s like finding pieces of you when you’re gone.”
“You stay at my place too much when I’m not home.”
“No—” he laughs. “Okay, maybe, but that’s not the point. I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s sweet.”
“You tease me about it though.”
“Yeah,” Gavin says softly. “You want me to stop?”
Connor’s face goes serious, starring down at the two dollars as they come to a stop at the crosswalk to head back to one of their places. They haven’t decided yet. They live in the same direction. But Gavin isn’t thinking about that now. He is thinking about the look on Connor’s face and his question that he now already knows the answer to. And he should’ve seen it sooner.
“Yes,” Connor says quietly. “It’s—”
“You don’t have to give me a reason, Con,” he says, leaning up and placing a kiss against his lips. “I’m sorry.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
There is very little reason to thank him. But he doesn’t say anything else. He didn’t mean to upset him. He never meant to upset him. Gavin takes his hand in his, holding it tight, leading them home to Gavin’s place. He wants to hold him for a little while. He wants to sprawl out on his bed and feel the warmth of Connor’s skin against his, the curliness of his hair against his neck. He just wants to hold onto him for a little while without the pressure of talking or being.
a dried bag of tea,
leaving stains despite the precautions he took when he left it in a book titled juniper lemon’s happiness index.
Connor lays down on Gavin’s bed, holding the two dollars above him, like he is testing to see if it’s real with the light from above, like he’s seen the clerks at shops do with fifties and hundreds. He isn’t really. He’s just looking at it. He’s thinking too much, too deeply. He thinks it must be the first thing Gavin has ever given him specifically to put in his books. Not in the same essence that Gavin made the origami creatures or handed him receipts when Connor asked for them, but given to Connor because he thought he might want to save it. Giving it to him like a gift.
It’s strange, but in a good way. He doesn’t know how to describe it.
And now Gavin is in his kitchen, making tea with Tina. He can hear them laughing, and he smiles softly to himself, thinking about how lucky he is right now. Lucky to have a boy like Gavin think of things like buying tea for him when he stays over. Lucky that Gavin has a roommate like Tina who knows how to make tea, since Gavin has done a poor job at it every time he’s tried. He doesn’t even know how it’s possible. Maybe in the same way that Connor can’t make coffee. Their paths just don’t quite work that way. And Connor is lucky to have someone that hands him things that he might want to save. It has even gotten to the point where it’s not something Gavin has to be asked for. He just hands these things over to Connor without saying anything. After a good date, when Gavin slips him the tickets from the movie theater or that flower they saw the other day, plucked from its place, dropped into Connor’s hands and pressed in a book that he was carrying because he is always carrying a book with him, despite how little time he has to read during his day.
He will tell Gavin someday why he does it. Not just for the memories, but for all the other reasons, too.
For the day his mother came home crying because her own mother forgot who she was. For the day he crashed his bike and couldn’t remember the last year of his life. For the days people in his life have died and left him behind with nothing but memories and keepsakes from their life. All these reasons weighing down on him, telling him he needs to pass something on to someone else. It doesn’t have to be family. It doesn’t even have to be Gavin. He just wants something to prove he was alive. He just wants something to prove he lived and he wasn’t just existing.
So he presses the two-dollar bill against his heart, letting all of these thoughts and feelings flow from him to it. All of his love for a boy like Gavin, who is opening the door and setting tea down on the nightstand, leaning over Connor to kiss him in the way that Gavin always kisses him. Half like it’s the last and half like it’s impatiently waiting for the next time, but always, always full of love.
the string from a hoodie,
not tucked away in a book, but placed inside of a wooden box that sits on the shelf beside them.
It fell out in the wash. It was barely hanging on. He doesn’t really know what happened to it, just that it is separate from the hoodie, and Tina offered to fix it for him since he whined about it for ten minutes straight, laying on the couch and complaining about how the hoodie was ruined. Then she called him a baby. Then she hit him with a pillow. And a second pillow. And a third to drive her point home. It’s a fucking hoodie, Gavin, get a hold of yourself.
So he does. He lets his overdramatic and childish act go and he takes his laundry to his room, abandoning her with a last look of his tongue sticking out at her before he closes the door behind him, setting his things on the bed. It isn’t that big of a deal. He wasn’t genuinely upset. It’s an easy fix. It’s also something easy he can annoy Tina about for at least a good five minutes, but he pushed it, like a true sibling would. He loves her to death. He loves annoying her even more than that, though.
Gavin sits on his bed, toying with the hoodie string, thinking about the times that Connor has messed with it. The times that they are laying on the couch together and Connor wraps it around his finger or tugs on it to get Gavin to come closer to kiss him. Or the times when he takes both ends and he tightens the hood so much that Gavin can’t see. And he gets it. For a split second, he feels the same thing that he thinks Connor feels when he saves things. The desire to preserve the memory. The need to keep that thing alive. All of the times Gavin smiled or laughed when Connor led him from the front door to the couch and would kiss him instead of pay attention to the movie they rented. He thinks of the times when Connor stole his hoodie and would sit cross-legged on the floor, his head tilted to the side and reading from his massive binders the brides always bring him and he would play with the strings absentmindedly. Tightening one side and then loosening it back up only to tighten the other.
So Gavin saves it. He wraps it up tight, tucking it away in a box that holds nothing else but a few spare buttons that come in little plastic packages on clothes and he goes to his room to call Connor. Just to hear his voice. Just to cement this good feeling in his chest and not let it go for another twenty minutes.
an expired library card,
from when he was seven years old and checked out an impossible amount of books that he could never read in time.
“Do you remember,” Gavin says quietly, tracing the shape of his face. The early morning dawning on their rare mutual day off. Connor hasn’t seen him in a while, and he doesn’t mind the way Gavin’s hands are always on him. Holding his waist, drawing a line down his chest, following the slope of his nose. Connor does it, too. Like he is trying to prove Gavin exists beside him. Trying to place him in the usual empty space. “When I told you that you weren’t perfect?”
“But close to it.”
“Yeah. I was wrong.”
“I’m far from perfect?”
Gavin smiles softly, “No. You are perfect. Down to the core.”
“Idiot,” he whispers.
“I told you that you weren’t because I didn’t know if you were someone that was going to tell me you weren’t and I was going to have to prove it, and we were in public so I couldn’t exactly prove it to you.”
“Why? Throwing me down and having sex would prove it?”
“No,” Gavin laughs. “No. I just didn’t want them to know or they’d steal you from me.”
“No one is going to steal me from you, Gav. They’re going to steal you from me .”
“You think so? Well,” he sighs. “Maybe I should start looking then.”
“Idiot,” Connor repeats, and he pulls Gavin’s hand away from his face, from the spot where it was running along the edge of his jaw, pulling him down and kissing him.
One of the perfect things about him. His stupid sense of humor. His stupid lips. His stupid way he smells like books and coffee and holds onto Connor like he is afraid he will run away. There is a security he feels with Gavin that he hasn’t felt in a long time. His worry of them falling apart or breaking up is disappearing by the second, and sometimes that is just as worrying as when it was there, residing in the back of his mind forever.
“Hey,” Gavin says, pulling away. “I have to tell you something. It’s important.”
“I love you.”
He smiles, and he feels this pain in his heart. A sharp thing that doesn’t feel bad but hurts in a way that makes him feel too full and too happy, “I love you, too.”
a photograph of the two of them,
left inside of a short book simply titled elevation.
It’s going to be blurry. Connor knows that. But he takes it anyway. He takes it because he is laughing. He takes it because he is smiling. He’s taking it because Gavin is laughing and smiling too, and he knows that it is likely going to be too dark to make out their faces properly, but he’s okay with that. It isn’t about the picture turning out perfectly of Gavin’s warms wrapped around his waist, and Connor doesn’t care if he can make out Gavin’s expression, chin pressed against his shoulder, leaning in close. It is about this moment. Not the precise words, not the thing they were joking about, just that they’re happy.
And it does turn out blurry. It does turn out too dark.
But Connor loves it anyway.
a seaweed bookmark,
cut in the shape of it as it flows underneath invisible water, tucked into a book for safekeeping, never to really be used for its intended purpose.
They wander through the aquarium together, Gavin’s hand holding tightly onto his. Whenever they stop, he rests his chin against Connor’s shoulder and kisses him. Not always in the same spot, but usually along the edge of his cheek, bordering on his jaw. He likes that spot best. It’s the one he can reach without standing on tip-toes, and he will only stand on tip-toes in public when he wants to properly kiss Connor, and he doesn’t do that while they’re in the aquarium.
It’s not for the fact that it’s crowded. It’s relatively dead today. A few strangers pass by every few minutes, but they don’t linger long. Connor thinks it’s because Gavin is trying to let him have this. He talks about fish a lot, apparently. He didn’t even know. But when they’re watching movies now, Gavin will ask him what ones are in the tanks at the family’s house, or which ones are swimming under the water at the edge of the beach when the camera does the mysterious shots of swimmer’s legs going out into the deep, dark waters. And Connor always knows. Just knowledge that was left inside of him from his childhood.
He liked to read his entire life. He liked to flip through books about cats and dogs and fish and anything he could get his hands on. He liked knowing the names of them beyond just cat, dog, fish. He liked to be able to say bobcat and grayhound and bluewater bass.
Gavin brought him here as a surprise, and he knows Gavin finds it boring. The beauty of the lights reflecting through the water and the fish swimming around in their tanks was lost after about twenty minutes, and now he is being quiet and reserved, letting Connor take his time to look at the jellyfish and the sharks, which he hates both of. They’re at the edge of the tunnel leading to the other half of the aquarium, the glass walls and ceiling around them exposing them to the shark-infested waters. Gavin has his face pressed against Connor’s neck like they’re watching a horror movie.
“Except this is real,” Gavin says. “The glass could break and we would die.”
“The glass won’t break,” Connor whispers. “And do you know who’s standing right here?”
“Yes. I’ll protect you.”
“I heard you get cussed-out by a bride yesterday and you cried for ten minutes.”
“That was a bride,” he says carefully. “Not a shark. It’s different.”
“So you can take a shark, not a bride?”
Gavin smiles and he finally stands on his tip-toes and kisses Connor the way that he wants to be kissed right now. The area around them devoid of all people, so Connor can return it with the right amount of affection and love back. Always hoping that when the words sound awkward in the moment, he can showcase them with his actions of kissing Gavin or holding his hand or placing his own on Gavin’s waist and his back to keep him from falling, to keep him close.
“Ready?” Connor whispers, pulling away just enough to speak.
“Can I close my eyes?”
“Yes, you can close your eyes.”
“And you’ll lead me the way?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You won’t pretend that we’re out of the tunnel and then tell me I can look?” Gavin asks. “Just to traumatize me for a laugh?”
“No. Come on,” he says, taking Gavin’s hands again, pulling him toward the glass tunnel. “Let’s go.”
So they do. Gavin with his eyes closed, the hood of his jacket pulled up, too big for him — big enough that it can flop over and cover his face almost entirely. And Connor leads him along, not walking as slow as he likes, but not walking as fast as Gavin probably wishes he would.
The sharks swim around with no care for the people in the tunnel at all. They never do. But it’s a gorgeous sight to see, when there’s no fear tainting it. Creatures existing around them. Creatures he doesn’t get to see normally. Creatures framed as villains in movies and monsters of the real world. And when they finally reach the other side, Connor pauses and pulls the hood of Gavin’s sweatshirt down, tipping his chin up.
“It’s all safe now.”
Gavin opens his eyes, glancing back to the tunnel, “We survived.”
“Yes. We did.”
He smiles his stupid, stupid smile and he leans up to kiss Connor. Quick, chaste, and he takes Connor’s hand and leads him over to the next part of the aquarium. Excited that they’ve read the part with the skeletons of old aquatic creatures of the past. Predator X and Megalodon mouths. Things so big that they somehow scare Connor from their vastness, the same way Killer Whales terrify him, but they don’t scare Gavin. This strange split between them something new and strange to Connor. But he likes the wonder on Gavin’s face as he reads out facts about them and he takes over the job of leaning against Gavin, of pressing kisses to the side of his head while he takes in the sight of fake bones and displays.
smudged ink, left in a book sitting by the window propped open and the pages drying in the light of the sun.
They’ve gone out to eat. Plastic menus folded up and set aside, glasses of water pushed to the middle of the table.
It’s an old diner, themed heavily on it—black and white square tiles. Booths that are dark oak and bright blue, like the sky. But not today. It’s raining heavily today. It’s raining too heavily for them to get to the restaurant they were going to head to. They came in here for shelter from the rain, soaking wet and laughing and taking one of the free booths, too hungry to care that they had made a reservation at their restaurant three months ago, that they had gotten dressed up in their nicest clothes. That it was going to be something special for no other reason than sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere in fancy clothes and eat fancy food.
But Connor likes this, too. Ordering too-cheesy pasta and strawberry milkshakes and being able to talk with the sound of old romantic music playing out of the jukebox that begs the place to have somewhere for them to dance at. But they will when they get home. Connor will make sure of it. He isn’t much of a dancer, but he likes to dance with Gavin, and he knows Gavin loves to dance.
Sometimes, Connor tries to identify what love is, in the little things. The kind of metaphors he has read in poems. He thinks that’s one of them. Love is dancing with someone even if he doesn’t like it. Love is liking to dance with someone regardless of his personal feelings. He can’t phrase it properly, and it is a bit frustrating, and it’s a bit frustrating to watch Gavin smile like that, his head craned down as he writes something on a napkin, passing it across the table toward him like a secret.
Move in with me?
Chapter 5: Indexed
a receipt for $25.59,
from a diner where they had dinner at an hour ago, but already tucked away to be remembered for forever inside of They Both Die at the End.
There aren’t enough reminders. There will never be enough reminders. He is gathering them in his hands every time he goes somewhere, especially with Gavin. Things he doesn’t want to forget, things he can already feel slipping through his fingertips. There are nights when he knows he doesn’t have enough. When Gavin isn’t here and he sits in front of his shelf and feels the tears build up inside of him until they spill over. He’s going to forget something. He is going to lose something. Eventually.
He turns away from the shelf, the book carefully set back where it belongs, the receipt tucked inside of it.
“You want an answer.”
“Yeah,” Gavin says with a nod. “But no rush.”
There’s a reason to rush everything . There’s a reason not to let time pass by until they can’t even remember why they love each other.
a letter left on the counter top,
written in Gavin’s handwriting. a repetition of I love you I love you I love you split between a dozen paragraphs, though even the words that don’t explicitly say it contain it.
“I love you,” Connor says, coming toward him, holding him close. “I love you. I promise I love you.”
“I just can’t. It’s too soon.”
It is. Gavin was stupid for asking. He hadn’t really thought it through. He was just thinking of how little he sees Connor sometimes. How half the time when he’s here, Connor is working and Gavin is just watching him work, which isn’t even bad—he loves watching Connor work. He loves him. He wrote the question on a napkin for Connor to keep inside of his books. He wanted it to be something that was worthy of hiding away.
Will you move in with me?
“Is this going to ruin us?” Connor whispers. “Because I don’t want to lose you.”
He looks so worried. So genuinely terrified of the words he’s saying.
“Of course not,” Gavin says, taking his hands, leaning up to kiss him. “You think this would ruin us? We’d be pretty weak if it did. It was a question, not a demand.”
“Are you sure?”
“You’re not mad at me?”
“God, no,” Gavin laughs, pressing a kiss against his cheek. “No. I’m not mad.”
“Not even upset?”
“No. A little disappointed and embarrassed, but not upset. I love you, you’d think I’d pressure you into this?” Gavin asks. “It’s okay. I promise.”
“Do you want to stay over, then?”
Gavin nods, lets Connor lead him back to the bedroom, the small smile on his face. Gavin knows that smile, and he’ll steal as many kisses as he wants from Connor, but he isn’t going to have sex with him because Connor feels badly about rejecting his offer to move in together.
Instead he wraps Connor’s arm around his waist, curls up close to him and whispers that he loves him. As many times as it takes for Connor to believe it. This doesn’t change anything. Not really. He has more of a bruised ego for being rejected for something than he should. It’s just the kind of question people don’t ask and expect a no. But he’s fine with the no. He cares more about Connor’s wellbeing and taking this relationship slow than he cares about feeling embarrassed.
When Connor falls asleep, he leaves his bed, putting it into words, writing in the dark, knowing his handwriting is messier than usual, folding up the letter and setting it aside. He needs Connor to know. He needs Connor to have a written reassurance.
Everything is going to be okay.
Nothing is going to break them.
Certainly not Connor’s willingness to admit that he isn’t ready for something yet.
an origami box,
made from an old newspaper with a story on his sister, flattened and hidden away in Catching Fire.
It’s a weird representation of his trust, but he knows he can trust Connor with it, and he leaves the box on his nightstand. Complete with a lid, containing nothing. Except, maybe, if he tries to be deep, it contains love and vulnerability. But really it’s just a box, because he didn’t know what else to make, because he knows how to do a box from memory, and he’s never fucked up making a box before.
He lays on the couch, the light from the window filtering into the room. It’s been a week since he asked Connor to move in with him, and the answer hasn’t changed. He isn’t waiting for it to. But the book with the napkin is still sitting by the window, like the question is still there, like the pages haven’t properly dried from the rain storm.
“Today’s my sister’s birthday,” he says, skipping past anything else. No good morning, babe, no how are you doing? The sentence pops out before he can stop it.
“No. Not Tina.”
Chen’s are dignified.
And he’s a Reed, through and through.
“We haven’t talked in a long time.”
“Maybe you should.”
Maybe he should.
“Come here?” Gavin says quietly, and Connor does, moving to his side, curling up against his chest on the couch. Gavin holds onto him tight, pressing a kiss against his face wherever he can. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Are you trying to distract me from the conversation?”
“You talked to your brother. Why can’t you talk to her?”
“I told her she was a talentless hack that got through the industry by sleeping with anyone and everyone. She didn’t appreciate it.”
“It’s a forgivable offense, Gavin.”
“Not really. Not for her,” he says quietly. “She told me to never speak to her again.”
Connor shifts, his face pressed against Gavin’s neck, his lips against his skin, “What if you say your sorry? It’ll count for something.”
“I don’t think she’d accept my apology.”
“You could at least try. Trying means something.”
It’s easier with Elijah, though, somehow. They all share the same anger, the kind that distracts from anything and everything. The thing that changes between them is how they handle it. Elijah’s is opposite of Gavin’s. It’s productive. Restrained. Him and his sister are both things ready to explode and destroy, even things that have nothing to do with the situation. They are the types to hold onto grudges because it’s easier than admitting a wrong doing. There is hardly any amount of forgiving that would matter.
“Call her. Tell her you're sorry. Tell her happy birthday. If she responds, she responds. If she doesn’t, at least you can move on.”
He nods, his words failing him. Connor is warm and comforting and he has words that make sense, but it’s scary to risk. Apologizing and not having the apology be accepted, being told to fuck off, being told he has to move on? He doesn’t know how to move on. He doesn’t know how to let things go. He clings onto them because he’s terrified of it. He clings on even after the people in his life have told him that there is no going back.
“I’d like her to meet you. She isn’t in the country often. But if she accepts…”
“I’d love to meet her.”
“Good,” he says quietly. “And your family? Do I ever get to meet them?”
Connor tenses, a rigid body beside his. He moves slowly, thawing one piece at a time as he sits up to look at Gavin, “No.”
“My dad is dead. My mom is…” he trails off. “She’s sick. She doesn’t remember who I am.”
“I used to visit her a lot. And I still do. Once a month… But it’s… she mistakes me for my dad a lot. It’s not…” he trails off again. Gavin’s hand squeezes his.
“It’s okay, Con.”
“No, it’s not. I wish I could be there for her but it’s…” Connor shakes his head, tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get upset about this—”
“It’s fine. Connor,” he brings a hand up, resting it against Connor’s face, brushing the stray tear away. “It’s okay to be upset.”
“I know. But… I’m a bad kid, aren’t I? Not being there when I can?”
He doesn’t know how to answer that. He doesn’t know what to say. He understands both sides. There are people there to take care of her—or Gavin assumes. She must be in a home, with nurses ready to help her. Her needs are being met. There is little else he can do for her.
“You’re not a bad person, Connor.”
“I’m sure,” he says. “I wish you told me before.”
“Why? So I could’ve scared you away?”
“So I could’ve been there for you.”
Connor smiles softly, sitting up, pulling away from him, “Call your sister, okay?”
a perfume card,
ripped from a magazine, scented with the fragrance that reminds him of Gavin.
Connor is a skilled eavesdropper. It comes with the territory of being a wedding planner. Listening closely to arguments and conversations behind closed doors. Making decisions for a wedding that are left up to him, when neither of the spouses seem ready to commit to a detail, or rearranging seating plans to keep people apart or together.
He’s very good at listening in on conversations, and he sits outside the bedroom door, legs drawn up to his chest, ear pressed against the door. Gavin’s voice is quiet on the other side, muffled. There’s a long moment of silence, words like I’m sorry said five times over, awkward and jumbled together, and then a laugh.
“I never said you were second-best,” Gavin says. “Elijah lives here. That’s the only reason he got to meet Connor first.”
More silence. Another laugh.
“Yeah, well, maybe if you didn’t live across the goddamn planet you’d meet my boyfriends when I actually had one.”
Connor smiles softly, pressing his hand against his face, trying to stop himself from being happy at the word. There is something that always makes him feel happy when Gavin talks about him. There’s a difference between spending time with Gavin and kissing him and knowing he is out in the world, telling strangers and friends and family that he’s going over to his boyfriend’s , that he’s hanging out with his boyfriend . There is something comforting in the knowledge that he is something to Gavin, and that something is said repeatedly over to others in his life.
Connor’s hand moves to his chest, resting against his heart, trying to will it to calm down.
“Five months? Jesus. At least I have time to mentally prepare myself, yeah?” he laughs again, and Connor likes that laugh, not coming from Connor, but from someone else. “I’ll see you then.”
Gavin is quiet in the room for a moment, before the door opens, his hand pocketing his phone.
“Did it go well?” Connor asks, looking up to him.
“Think you already know the answer to that,” Gavin says, nudging him with his foot. “Little spy.”
“I didn’t have any other choice.”
“No?” Gavin asks, sitting beside him. “Don’t trust me to divulge my secrets?”
“Not even close.”
Gavin takes his hand, holds it tight, presses a kiss to the back of it. “Thank you. For making me do that.”
“You would’ve done it eventually.”
“Yeah, but… I’m glad it happened now.”
“And she wants to meet me.”
“In five months. Plenty of time to prepare.”
“Still,” Connor says, leaning against him. “Your family wants to meet me.”
“They’d be stupid not to.”
a fire lily,
accidentally stolen and hidden inside of Want.
“I got these for you,” Gavin says, holding out a bouquet of flowers to him. Fire lilies, with plastic stems and plastic petals.
Connor takes him, pretending to breathe in the scent of them, “How kind of you. I’ll have to put these in a vase.”
“Should probably buy them first,” he says, reaching up to place a kiss on Connor’s cheek. “Are you done yet?”
“You gonna hurry or what?”
Connor smiles, placing the roses in the stand next to the others. He doesn’t know how Gavin managed to sneak them by. They were right beside him and he didn’t even see them disappear. “They all look too fake.”
“Maybe ‘cause they are. Why don’t you get real ones if you don’t like it?”
“Because she wanted to have the bouquet for forever. She said if they were real, they’d wilt away, and it would represent the deterioration of a relationship,” Connor says. The bride was very specific about what she wanted. Fake flowers, so that it could rest on the mantle next to the wedding photos and someday her daughter or her son could use them in their wedding.
He’s not going to judge.
But he does wonder if wilting flowers represent a dying bond, what fake flowers must represent.
Gavin’s arm wraps around his waist, a kiss pressed against his shoulder, “I want to go home.”
“I want to take this stupid shirt off,” Gavin says, pulling at the fabric of Connor’s shirt. Striped red and green. Gavin keeps telling him it’s not close enough to Christmas yet to excuse it, and even then, it wouldn’t be excused. It’s the reason why he wears it. It works better than any lingerie he could buy. Gavin can’t stop himself from ripping it off of him.
“Are you telling me to go home with you and ditch work just so we can have sex?”
“Yes. But, like, not so gross.”
Connor smiles, picking up a cluster of white flowers. An assortment of sizes for the roses. They might look okay, if he adds some greenery in it. He doesn’t know. He likes it better when brides ask for real flowers. There’s no layer of trying to make it look real, but these are too shiny, too green. There’s very little decisions he even has to make in regards to them. A florist does all the work. He can only judge on whether or not it looks good. He can’t craft it from scratch.
“Sorry,” Gavin says quietly. “I’m not trying to keep you from your job. I’m fine with it.”
“I wasn’t mad at you.”
“I know, I just… I don’t want you to think that I think that your work is bad.”
“Or that I’m bad.”
“I definitely don’t think you are.”
“Good. Okay. Good.”
“Were you actually worried?” Connor asks, turning around to face him. Gavin presses up against his chest, and Connor remembers, once upon a time, when they first got together, he barely wanted to hold hands with Connor in public.
Maybe it’s because the store is empty, the aisle they’re on even emptier. Maybe it’s how often Gavin comes with him on shopping trips like this. Maybe it’s just the time they’ve spent together.
“No. I just wanted to make sure you knew.”
“That I love you?”
“That I’m good,” he says quietly. “For you.”
“Okay. Good. Okay.”
“I can’t seem to stop talking right now, so I’m gonna go wait for you in the car, okay? Before I babble anything else stupid as fuck?”
Connor presses a kiss against his forehead before he goes, holding the flowers against his chest. He turns back to the look at the ones that Gavin had grabbed before, runs his fingers over the fake petals before he leaves, too.
There’s a kind of small happiness three hours later when he’s rearranging his things on the table and he locates the piece of the fire lily, fallen to the floor in the kitchen. He sets it on the shelf when he returns to the shower with Gavin, kissing him under the stream of water.
He thinks Gavin is good for him. When he smiles like that—
That’s enough to make him the happiest person in the world. And he can’t say that he’s ever really felt this happy before.
the last remnants of a business card,
that has an address and time for a restaurant reservation written on the back.
Connor is late. It’s something Gavin has grown used to. A few minutes here and there. Connor is never perfectly punctual, even though he tries to be, even though he always is for his clients. But for Gavin, he is often ten minutes late at most, and five minutes late at least.
Gavin says goodbye to Tina, closing up the store by himself, laying down on the couch in the reading nook with his phone in his hands, turning it over and over, checking apps and playing games in an attempt to pass the time. His eyes close, his phone laying on his stomach, buzzing only once to alert him to an email about a sale he has no interest in. He’s so tired. Exhausted from work and from people. He just wants to sleep. He doesn’t even want to eat. He just wants to lay on the couch with Connor and listen to him read.
He imagines that voice, whispering quietly, words and characters that mean nothing to him as he drifts off, further and further.
the plastic wrapped around a water bottle,
torn to shreds and left inside of a novel with a woman on the cover, her face covered with a moth.
Every Wednesday, Connor makes time for Gavin. Sometimes it’s at noon, when they can have lunch together in the backroom at the bookstore. Sometimes, it’s early in the morning, when Gavin has the day off and Connor has pushed anything important for a few hours so he can stay curled up in the bed with him or making breakfast. Sometimes, it’s late at night, when they go out to eat, and Connor’s phone is on silent. All that matters is that it’s a genuine three hours with no work whatsoever.
Most times, he can’t risk it. He can’t risk turning his phone off and ignoring important emails. He can’t risk shuffling meetings around too much. But every Wednesday he makes an effort, because he wants to spend time with Gavin. Time that won’t be affected or altered by anything else.
His phone died while he was wrapping up something with a client. A meeting that ran over past his three hour block period of no work time, but he couldn’t very well kick her out. The ten minutes turned into twenty as he scoured his place and his car for the charger cable, giving up shortly after. And the twenty quickly rolled over into thirty as he had to stop for gas, his car barely having enough to get him to the station, before it stopped at an hour, stuck behind a long line of traffic to get to the bookstore.
He rests his head against the steering wheel as he waits. Racking his brain to try and figure out how to make it up to Gavin. If he ever could. Is the dinner going to be enough? Is the reservation going to hold their places when they show up late? He’s so terrified. Ever since he told Gavin he couldn’t move in with him yet, Connor has felt like he is trying to prove something. That he has time for him. That they’re okay. That everything is going to be fine. At least until he’s ready. And when he’s ready, it won’t be a problem, because Gavin will be there. Always.
He turns onto the next street, before his heart drops. Policemen gesturing for them to keep going, can’t turn here, road’s blocked.
Behind the barriers, firetruck line the side of the road.A burnt down building with flames still clinging to the exterior walls. An ambulance pulling away, sirens blaring.
a hospital band,
kept inside of Not If I Save You First.
Gavin wakes up to arguing outside his door. Screams thrown back and forth until it finally goes quiet, the door opening and closing. Light spilling across the room for a moment before disappearing again, leaving him in the dark. His eyes only open when he hears them sit down, and he stares out at Connor watching him.
He’s his first visitor since he woke up three hours ago, people here to question him about what happened. How the store caught on fire. He doesn’t know. He was awake, waiting for Connor, then he was asleep, dreaming of Connor, and then he was awake again, screaming. For Connor.
He didn’t know what was happening at first. The sleeve of his shirt had caught on fire, burned through his skin and melted polyester there. Gavin doesn’t remember much of them trying to peel it off and tend to his wounds. The authorities offered little help in him understand what caused it. An electrical thing. A faulty outlet and a faulty appliance in the break room. Probably the coffee pot. And Ben never replaced the alarms in the smoke detectors. It was a series of bad timing and unfortunate events. And now he can’t move his left arm.
“Hi,” Connor says with a small smile. “Did I wake you?”
“No. Who were you arguing with?”
“Oh, it wasn’t me,” he says. “Um… Elijah and Tina were. They hate each other.”
“Yeah. They do. What were they arguing about?”
“You,” Connor says. “Elijah blames Tina for not being at the store. Tina blames Elijah for not being there for you at all.”
“Yeah, because either of those would’ve made a difference,” Gavin says with a laugh, but it hurts, and he has to cut it off short with a wince, his eyes squeezed shut.
But it would’ve, probably. If Tina was there, he wouldn’t have fallen asleep. They would’ve caught the fire. And if Elijah was there—
Elijah wouldn’t have been there. Fuck.
He doesn’t blame Tina, he isn’t angry with her, but he can see how to jump to that conclusion.
“How are you?”
Connor looks to the IV hanging, the button he has in his hand that’s supposed to help. It doesn’t. His right arm feels like it’s on fire still. He wants to ask Connor to come closer, to lay on the bed with him, but he knows it isn’t wise. It’ll hurt. There’s too much of him bandaged and broken.
“You scared me.”
“Won’t happen again.” Gavin says quietly, holding up his good hand, non-bandaged, only barely burned, like from the sun from beach days when he was a kid. “Promise.”
Connor leans forward, his pinkie wrapping around Gavin’s. “I’m sorry I was late.”
“Wasn’t your fault the place caught on fire, Con.”
“It’s my fault you were there, though,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing. You’re not gonna get rid of me that easily, okay? I’m not gonna die on you like that.”
“Promise?” he whispers.
Their hands haven’t let go. Their pinkies still looped together, a promise after another promise that doesn’t seem to end. He wants to cry. His arm hurts so badly, he wants to scream like it’ll help. And Connor, when he brings his chair as close as he can, when he holds Gavin’s hands and presses kisses against the back of it, makes him want to cry, too. It doesn’t really ease the pain in any substantial way, but having him here helps. Though, when he notices the tears in Connor’s eyes, he can’t really hold his own back either.
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” Connor asks.
“Just stay here, okay? Don’t leave me.”
“Of course not,” Connor says. “I’ll never leave you.”
And Gavin won’t ever leave him, either.