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(THURSDAY, JUNE 4TH)

When Eliott turned eighteen, his dad tried to teach him how to drive. It didn’t go very well.

Eliott is an anxious person by nature, and combined with the narrow, cobbled streets of Paris, it was a doomed venture form the start. But his father, who grew up outside of the city, away from the convenience of public transportation, deemed it a necessary skill for him to have, and so he was to learn.

The concept of driving itself didn’t necessarily scare Eliott - he thinks he’d be okay if it was just him on the road, but other drivers made him nervous.

And his dad’s car. His dad’s fucking car.

By the time they managed to progress out of parking lots and onto the actual street, a previously unforeseen hindrance came into play in the form of the car’s GPS. It was the kind that came installed in the car, the panel nestled securely between the air conditioner vents and the radio dials. He always wanted to turn it off, but his dad insisted he leave it on, typing in the address of their destination everywhere they drove, because it knew best.

So he had to drive around Paris with Siri’s evil cousin telling him everything he did was wrong.

If he was trying to get anywhere, especially places he knew how to get to because he had been going there since he was a baby in diapers, every touch of the steering wheel was misguided. Every turn he made, he was supposed to turn on the street beforehand. Or sometimes he turned too soon, or not at all. Then the voice calmly advised him to make a U turn and head back in the other direction and try again, this time without missing the turn, thank you. Or he didn’t merge when he was supposed to merge, or continue on when he was supposed to continue on. It drove him absolutely fucking insane, to the point where he told his dad forget it, driving lessons were over, he was just going to walk everywhere, forever, on his own two feet, like god intended.

Being with Lucille was almost exactly like that, except about everything.

Every decision he made was questioned, every choice criticized. Every time he wanted to choose a certain path, she wanted him to go this way instead. Everything was you should or you can’t or why didn’t you. If he did something, he should go back and do it again, differently. Like he could fucking time travel.

He knows she did it out of love. But it’s so hard to be loved like that.

Being with Lucas, on the other hand. Well. That was something else.

His phone buzzes in his pocket as he’s walking home, the colors from the streetlights bouncing off the wet pavement, dark and shiny from this afternoon’s rain. His headphones are stuffed in his ears and he doesn’t know what song is playing, but he likes it.

He’s grinning before he even reads the text, Lucas’s bulging blue eyes and banana-wide smile greeting him when unlocks his phone. The selfie Lucas had set as his background provided an intentionally unflattering angle up his nose, but Eliott still thinks it’s the best thing he’s ever seen, so he hasn’t changed it.

Lucas
heads up, we’re in full crisis mode over here

Eliott’s grin stretches wider across his face.

Eliott
When are you all not in crisis mode over there?

Lucas
okay true

Eliott
Who’s we?

Lucas
the girls and mika
and me for some reason
and you when you get here
this is a gay crisis btw

Eliott
I thought you grew out of those

Lucas
:(
daphy, not me

Interesting. Very interesting.

He arrives outside Lucas’s apartment, then, so he pockets his phone instead of replying and heads up the stairs, pulling his headphones out of his ears as he opens the front door.

The girls and Mika are huddled around Daphné, who is in the middle of what looks like a very heartfelt speech accompanied by a lot of dramatic hand flaps. Emma and Imane are the only ones who hear him come in, and they both wave at him before pointing in the direction of the kitchen.

Lucas is frowning down at the counter, an array of wine glasses and mugs and cups and tumblers and flutes scattered before him, as he pours pink wine into a mug shaped like a cat.

Eliott can’t keep the glee out of his voice. “Is that rosé?”

Lucas’s looks up at him and rolls his eyes, a small smile spreading across his face. “Calm down, it’s not for me.” He sets the mug back on the counter and plugs the cork back in the bottle. “You know I would never.”

“One day you’ll cross over to the dark side,” Eliott says as he takes his jacket off and drapes it over the back of one of the chairs tucked around the kitchen table.

“I will not,” Lucas says. “You know I’m morally against rosé. It’s wrong.”

“It’s delicious .” He makes his way over to Lucas, who slings his arms around Eliott’s neck and stands on his toes to kiss him and Eliott is finally, finally home. “Hi,” he says, leaning his forehead against his boyfriend’s.

The corner of Lucas’s mouth quirks up. “Hi,” he replies, and gives him another kiss.

“So we’re having a gay crisis?” Eliott asks, and Lucas nods. “Perfect, that’s my favorite kind.”

“Daphné thinks she might like girls,” Lucas explains.

“Huh.” Eliott thinks about it for a second, then shrugs. “Is that why she broke up with Basile?”

“I think so. Honestly I didn’t understand a lot of what she was saying. I was watching TV and then all of the sudden I had five girls and Mika having emotions all over my couch, so I volunteered to get the drinks.”

“That was nice of you.”

“I’m a very nice person.” Lucas turns in Eliott’s arms and picks up the full mug. “Except I forgot what everyone else wanted so we’re just gonna deliver this one.”

Eliott laughs and they walk into the living room, where Daphné’s voice has reached a new octave. She calms down a bit when she sees the both of them enter.

“Here you go, Daphy,” Lucas says, handing her the drink. “Rosé in the kitty mug, as requested.”

“Thanks,” she sniffs. “Hi, Eliott.”

“Hi,” he says, smiling encouragingly at her. He settles down in the armchair and, since they’re short on seats, Lucas sits in his lap. Eliott wraps his arms around Lucas’s waist, and Daphné gives them a watery smile.

Emma swats at them. “Where’s my drink?”

Lucas waves her away, turning so he can loop his arms around Eliott’s neck. “I’m not your servant, Emma.”

Emma rolls her eyes and stands up. “Do you want something?” she asks Manon, touching her shoulder.

“Water, if you don’t mind,” Manon replies, squeezing her hand before Emma heads into the kitchen.

Daphné looks at Emma as she leaves, then at Manon, then back at Lucas and Eliott, and bursts into a fresh set of tears.

“I’m sorry,” she says, as Alexia wraps a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It’s just… first Alexia came out, then it was Lucas and Eliott being adorable at every turn, now Emma and Manon are together, and…” She sniffles again. “You’re all so happy, and comfortable, and I just want to feel that way too.”

“But it took us all a long time to get here,” Lucas says. “Remember when Emma used to say she only made out with girls at parties because she was drunk?”

“Manon used to say that too,” Emma says as she returns from the kitchen, her arms filled with empty glasses and a pitcher of water and the rest of the rosé. She shuffles towards the coffee table and tries to set everything down without dropping anything. “I brought enough for all of us, because someone has to be a good host.”

The glasses clatter as she sets them on the table, and some water splashes out from the pitcher. Manon shoots up and grabs the wine before it meets its demise. “You’re a menace, is what you are,” Lucas says, watching the whole thing with amusement, not even attempting to get up and help.

“Anyways,” Alexia says when Emma sits down again. “They’re right. Just because we’re comfortable now doesn’t mean we always were, Daphné. I mean, you saw what a mess Lucas was.”

“Hey,” Lucas glares. Alexia shrugs at him, and Eliott laughs into Lucas’s shoulder. “I mean, I know, but hey.”

“But what if I’m just making the whole thing up?” Daphné says, bringing the attention back to her. “What if I really don’t like girls but I just think I do because that’s somehow easier than liking guys? Or what if I just see all of you and I’m just… trying to identify with something that I’m not?”

“Daphné, having gay friends doesn’t turn you gay,” Imane says. “You’re all my friends, and I’m not gay.”

“But - ” she starts again, but she gives up. “I don’t know,” she sighs. “I just - I keep on waiting for the moment. Like, the one moment when I know for sure what I am.”

“I didn’t have a moment,” Eliott says.

Manon nods. “Me neither.”

“I don’t think the moment really exists outside of movies, Daphné,” Mika adds. “I think it’s just a lot of little moments that add up, and sometimes it’s over a short period of time, and sometimes it’s longer for other people. Like, I don’t think any of us had a moment like - that part in Clueless, where Cher realizes she wants to fuck her brother and then the fountain turns on behind her.”

“He was her ex-step-brother,” Daphné corrects, miserably.

Mika waves his hand. “Whatever. What I’m saying is that’s not a real thing that happens in real life.”

“Then how do you know?” Daphné asks. “If there isn’t one moment where everything falls into place, and it finally clicks, how do I know?”

Everyone stays quiet, looking around at each other. Thinking.

Lucas speaks up first, breaking the silence. “I think I just got tired of thinking about it,” he says. “Like, one day I went to sleep and I didn’t know, and the next day I woke up and it was like, fuck it, I’m so sick of questioning everything, I’m just going to do it. But, Daphy,” he says, sitting up a little straighter in Eliott’s arms. “You know it’s okay to not know, right? You don’t have to have everything figured out right now. Just… feel what you feel. Let yourself figure it out, because you will. But it’s okay to not know what you are. And it’s okay to think you know, and then change your mind later.”

Eliott looks up at his boyfriend, squeezes him a little bit when he finishes. Lucas squeezes him back and turns his head to catch his gaze, giving him a small smile.

They talk for a little longer before the girls migrate over to Manon’s apartment for the night, shuffling out the door slowly as Daphné gives the boys hugs.

“We’re getting good at this gay panic thing,” Mika says, patting her back. “Imane! You’re the only hold out. Are you sure you’re straight?”

Imane laughs. “Pretty sure. But I’ll let you know if that changes.”

Mika points at her. “If you leave Sofiane for a girl, he’s mine.”

They finally shut the door behind them and Mika heads off to the bathroom, claiming he’s late for meeting his friends. Lucas and Eliott stay in the living room and pick up all the glasses, taking them into the kitchen.

“You know,” Lucas says as they start emptying out everything in the sink and putting the glasses in the dishwasher. “The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.”

“Me too,” Eliott says. “I just hope she’s happy, whatever she figures out she is.”

“I think she’s gonna be okay.” Lucas turns off the sink and hip checks him. “How was your day?”

“Good,” Eliott shrugs. “Better now that I’m here.” He bites his lip. “I’m still not sure if I should tell my boss or not.”

He’s been debating whether or not he should tell his boss he’s bipolar. He thinks he should, but then he wonder if it’ll even be an issue and then he’ll have told her for nothing. Maybe he’ll be okay for a while, and she doesn’t need to know.

“What do you think?” Eliott asks.

Lucas looks thoughtful. “I think she’ll be good, if you do tell her,” he says. “And I think you’ll be relieved. But it’s personal, and I get if you don’t want to tell her, too.” He shrugs. “I don’t know. Do what feels right for you.”

When he was six, Eliott’s mom taught him how to ride a bike.

They went to the park and rode around on the grass, so if he fell off the impact would be softer than the sidewalk. The sun warmed the top of the helmet his mother had secured lovingly on top of his little head, the strap snug under his chin.

They had started out slow, his mother cheering words of encouragement in his ear as he became more confident, riding around in circles that gradually increased in size. Before he knew it he was zooming around the park, his mom running behind him, only putting her hands on his back to steady him when he asked her to.

He fell off a few times, and only got one scrape on his elbow worthy of a bandaid. His mom wiped the cut with a tissue from her purse and before smoothing the bandage over it, asking if he wanted to call it quits for the day, or keep going. It was up to him.

Eliott hopped right back on his bike, and they stayed until sunset.

Being with Lucas is exactly like that.

In the kitchen, Eliott kisses him. He can’t not. 

***

(FRIDAY, JUNE 5TH)

Lucas knows it’s coming, but it still hurts when he gets the invitation in the mail.

His dad had told him, the last time they had dinner together. For a grand total of thirty minutes. They did their normal, stilted conversation - how was school, what TV shows are you watching, have you seen any good movies lately? All the shit his dad likes to ask him while pretending that he didn’t abandon Lucas and his ill mother because he didn’t get his way.

After their empty plates were taken away and before the check arrived, that’s when he said it.

“We decided we’re going to get married.” His dad said it looking down, at the table. Like he was ashamed.

Fucking whatever.

“Okay,” Lucas said. Fine. That’s fine. He can get married and forget all about them, have a new wife who’s a better “partner” to him, or whatever bullshit he was always saying. Start a new family, start over again, get it right this time.

“I’d like for you to be at the ceremony,” his dad continued. He still wasn’t looking him in the eye.

Right. Sure.

“Okay,” Lucas repeated. He didn’t think that was likely, but he wasn’t about to start an argument in this restaurant.

“We’re not sure of the date yet, but it’ll be a few months,” he said. “I’ll let you know when we decide the day, so you can put it on your calendar.”

Lucas doesn’t have a fucking calendar.

“Okay,” Lucas said, again, and then the check came.

And now the invitation’s here.

He looks at the swoopy cursive handwriting on the envelope, addressed to Monsieur Lucas Lallemant in a neat, beautiful hand. He wonders if they hired a calligrapher for the envelopes, or if the future wife did it herself. If she’s that perfect at everything. Whatever her name is. Camille. Or Celeste. Cecile?

(He knows it’s Charlotte.)

The first tear of the envelope is satisfying, the resounding rip as he slides his fingers through the paper a little too aggressively filling the otherwise silent apartment. He pulls out two sheets of paper, printed on cardstock, smooth and firm in his grip, the gold typography elegantly and excitedly informing him of the union between his father and his future bride, the time of the nuptials, and the location of the afterparty.

The ceremony is July 10th - the day before his birthday. Great.

The second card politely invites him to please inform the happy couple of his attendance or absence by June 25th. Eliott’s birthday. Well, at least those are two dates he can remember.

He drops the two cards on the kitchen table, staring down at them, as if they’ll sprout legs and go to the wedding for him. The blank lines on the RSVP card stare back at him, and he almost snorts as he reads over his options again.

_____ accepts with pleasure
_____declines with regret

“Where’s the fucking option for declines with pleasure?” Lucas mutters to himself as he sweeps the cards back into the envelope and stalks to his room, flinging it in the general direction of his desk.

He slides his backpack off and lies down on his bed, his legs hanging over the side, shoes still on, and stares at the ceiling.

Eliott’s at work for another hour, and the only person home is Lisa, so he has no one to rant to (he supposes he could vent to Lisa, but he might as well start complaining to the potted plant next to the armchair. He’d get the same reaction). He could study, but with the way his mind is blanking out right now, he doesn’t think he’ll retain too much of anything.

It’s not like he wants his parents to get back together.

He doesn’t.

His dad is an asshole, and his mom seems to be genuinely doing better now that they’re divorced. He knows she’s still getting over it - fuck, Lucas is, too - but not having to argue with someone every day can do wonders for your mental stability.

It took his dad leaving to realize how little his dad had ever supported his mom - not just about her mental illness, but about everything. When he was younger his mom had wanted to go back to school to get a second degree, something more specialized, and his dad hadn’t thought it was a good idea. She needed to take care of Lucas. She already had a job. They didn’t have enough money.

She had done it, anyways.

His dad was always saying no to her. No, they shouldn’t move to a bigger apartment so they each had more room, this one was fine. No, he didn’t think she should look for a new job. No, he didn’t like that dress. No, he didn’t want to go see that play tonight.

He wonders how hard it was, being married to someone like that. Lucas doesn’t know how they didn’t split up sooner, honestly.

He remembers one time, late at night, right after his dad left and before Lucas moved out himself, he found a letter his mom wrote to his dad. He had gotten up to get a glass of water, his mom long gone to bed, and as he was walking back to his room he saw a legal pad open on the coffee table next to the couch. His mom was always an avid journal-writer, but Lucas didn’t remember her ever leaving any of her journals around the house, so, curious, he peeked at it.

His mother had written I want you to know I’m still in love with you in her dark, messy hand, right there on the first line.

He remembered another time, his mom told him that once, when they were dating, she caught his dad reading one of her journals. The fight that they had was huge, she told Lucas, and she was so hurt, so invaded, she probably should have broken up with him right then.

But they got married, instead. Had Lucas.

He remembered that, staring down at his mother’s heartbroken words, words he was not supposed to see. He didn’t make it past the first line before he ran back to his room.

He doesn’t know if she ever sent his dad the letter. Probably not. He thinks she was writing it just to write it, just for herself. There was a reason she didn’t leave her journals around the house.

Sitting in his room, staring at his ceiling, Lucas can still remember the yellow paper, the black ink of her pen as he made out the words in the darkness of the living room. I want you to know I’m still in love with you.

He closes his eyes.

Accepts with pleasure. Declines with regret.

He sits up, grabs his headphones, his wallet and his keys, and flies out the front door, down the steps and out the building.

He used to do this when he still lived at home, when his parents were fighting. He got to a point where he couldn’t stand to listen to them yell any more, so he started just leaving. He’d walk around the streets of Paris, sometimes going to the park to do his homework, other times going to eat, other times just wandering around until he felt that enough time had passed that they would have stopped fighting by then and he could return.

He doesn't have a particular plan, now, so he lets his feet take him where they take him. He puts his headphones in and starts blasting the first band his finger touches, and he takes a right, and left, and another left.

He lets the music drown out his thoughts, and he carefully watches the people passing him by, trying to think about their lives instead of his. He wonders how many people he looks at are divorced, or have divorced parents, or grew up with an example of a healthy, functional relationship.

He walks for ten minutes before he realizes he’s walking towards the building where Eliott works.

He stops on the corner, a few buildings down from the front door, and he can see the sign hanging off the front of the building. Leblanc & Comtois Legal Services. Eliott’s right there, but.

Lucas sighs, and pulls his phone out of his pocket to check the time. Eliott gets off in thirty minutes. He’s not that desperate.

He ducks in to the bakery he stopped in front of, orders two croissants and sits on one of the tables outside on the sidewalk, facing away from Eliott’s building. He’s not going to sit and watch the door, waiting for the first sign of Eliott’s messy brown hair to pop out from inside, no matter how much he wants to, because he is not that desperate.

He takes out his phone, though, a sends off a quick text to Eliott, asking him to call once he gets off work, because he is a little desperate.

The thing is, when Lucas was growing up, his dad was his favorite.

For all that Lucas thinks he’s a huge asshole now, his father is, he has to admit, an incredibly social, outgoing, funny person. His dad may have never done shit for his mother, but he did support Lucas, when he was young. He coached Lucas’s football team when he was five. He took Lucas on camping trips when he went through his short-lived outdoorsy phase. Lucas was a good student, and his dad always congratulated him on his grades. He encouraged Lucas when he showed interest in drums, and guitar, and piano.

His dad was great, when Lucas was a kid. And he thinks that’s what makes his silence, now, so deafening.

His phone starts vibrating on the table, and when he puts it up to his ear, he hears Eliott’s voice, and it’s like he can breathe again.

“I think the lady next to you just picked her nose.”

“What?” Lucas asks, glancing over at the woman at the next table, who is trying to discreetly wipe her finger on her jeans, before he whips his head around. “Where are you?”

“Look to your left.”

Lucas turns.

“Your other left.”

Lucas rotates in his chair, but he still can’t see him. “This is my right,” he says, and then he has hands covering his eyes.

“Maybe you’re not looking hard enough,” Eliott murmurs into his ear, and Lucas smiles.

He sets his phone back down on the table as Eliott lowers his hands, resting them on Lucas’s shoulders, and he tilts his head back as Eliott leans over him, giving him an upside-down kiss.

“Found you,” Lucas says against his mouth, and Eliott grins, kissing him again.

He ruffles Lucas’s hair as he pulls away and plops into the seat next to him. “What are you doing here?”

Lucas shrugs. “I can’t walk my guy home from work?”

Lucas doesn’t want to tell him, yet, that he got the invitation for the wedding, wants to enjoy Eliott’s company before dredging up all his family shit for at least five more minutes.

Eliott squints over at him before stealing the remaining croissant on Lucas’s plate, shoving the entire thing into his mouth in one go.

“You came all this way just to see little old me?” he says, chewing with his mouth open, spraying crumbs everywhere.

Lucas rolls his eyes at him, a smile playing at his lips, like it always does, when Eliott does something particularly stupid and endearing. He brings a thumb to Eliott’s lip and brushes away a stray crumb.

“Yeah,” Lucas says, and he couldn’t keep the affection out of his voice even if he wanted to.

Eliott swallows and grins over at him, meeting his eyes, and he grabs Lucas’s hand, lacing their fingers and resting them on top of his thigh.

In the next minute, they’ll get up, push in their chairs and walk home, and Lucas will tell him about his dad’s wedding. Eliott will ask him if he’s okay, if he wants to go. Lucas will say he doesn’t know, and Eliott will tell him that he’ll go with him, if he decides to go, but if he doesn’t want to, that’s okay too.

But in this minute, they sit there, Eliott’s hand warm in his, and he doesn’t think about anything else. 

***

(MONDAY, JUNE 8TH)

They learned an important lesson, a few months into their relationship: your boyfriend is not your therapist.

Eliott knew this going in. Of course he did. He loved Lucille, once, after all.

He’s not so sure Lucas knew, though. He thinks Lucas was the kind of person who thought happy people in love never tried to kill themselves.

He doesn’t know if Lucas still thinks this. Lucas had asked him, once, if Eliott ever thought about suicide. Eliott responded honestly, and said yes, he did, and Lucas started crying.

“But you’re happy, aren’t you?” Lucas asked, as Eliott tried to calm him down. “You’re happy?”

Yes, he reassured, of course. He’s so in love with Lucas that he feels it overflowing from his body, seeping out of his pores and dripping on everything he touches.

He really does try to explain it to him, that he doesn’t want to kill himself, it’s just that sometimes, he wishes that he could, just, somehow… become nonexistent. Not to die, but to have never been here in the first place.

But trying to explain to someone who’s never been suicidal the difference between what it feels like to casually want to cease existing and actively wanting to harm yourself is like trying to describe the difference between orange and red to someone who’s been blind their entire life. He was just saying words, and Lucas didn’t stop crying.

Eliott keeps his mouth shut, about certain things, after that. Lucas wants Eliott to talk to him and he does , but there are certain things Lucas doesn’t need to know, like if he lies awake at night and has visions of himself getting hit by a bus on the way to work the next morning, or if he goes into the bathroom during his lunch break and stares blankly at the wall for thirty minutes because he can’t listen to anyone talk anymore.

It’s not Lucas’s job to help Eliott navigate the road to mental stability. It’s not. Lucas is his boyfriend, not his therapist.

Eliott really needs to start going to therapy. Wants to start going to therapy.

He’s been thinking about it for months, now. Not because he’s been feeling bad, or unstable - he’s been feeling good, actually, lately, and he thinks that’s why he’s thinking about it. He’s taking his medication regularly. He’s feeling good. He wants to keep feeling good. He wants to keep making progress, wants the line on the graph in his head to keep curving up, towards the sky.

He wants to do it. It’s just the problem of actually doing it.

Every time he tries, he makes it as far as googling the locations of some nearby practicing therapists before he starts thinking about making the phone call, and then describing to whoever picks up - a secretary? The therapist themself? Who picks up phones in these places? - then actually going to the place, sitting in the waiting room - will there be other people waiting in there? How big is the practice? How many people work there? If there isn’t a front desk, how will anyone know he’s there? - then actually getting into the room with this person, this stranger, telling them all his issues, and then what if he and this person don’t mesh together well? What if they don’t work? What if he has to start over and over and over again until he finds someone he likes, who he thinks he could actually talk to, someone who could actually help him? What if he never finds that person?

And then he shuts his computer.

So, that’s where he’s at, progress-wise.

He wakes up on a Monday with Lucas pressed against his back, spooning him and snoring into his ear.

He didn’t hear Lucas get into bed last night, so it must have been late. Eliott reaches blindly over to where his phone is buzzing on Lucas’s desk and jabs the screen with his thumb to silence his alarm. Normally, Eliott needs at least four alarms and an hour of time spent lying in the dark, falling asleep in between hits of the snooze button before he can even think about setting his feet on the ground. Lucas is just as bad at waking up as he is - when Lucas has class in the morning and Eliott has work and they have to wake up at the same time, they have about six alarms going off between the two of them. Mika and Lisa are not their greatest fans in the morning.

But Lucas isn’t going to class this morning - hasn’t been for the past couple of weeks, bailing with the rest of the school in favor of studying for the bac. Alexia, Arthur and Imane have been over at Lucas’s apartment as much as Eliott has been, recently, the four of them setting up in the living room and staying up to go over notes and quiz each other into the early hours of the morning. Eliott’s been trying to be as quiet and helpful as possible - he was in their position a year ago (well, and the year before that, too, but he wasn’t exactly doing much studying), so he understands.

With the intent of letting Lucas get as much sleep as possible, Eliott turns off all his alarms and wills himself to wake up fully, opening his eyes wide so he’s not pulled under the blanket of sleep again.

He stares out into the dark and focuses on the feeling of Lucas’s arms around him as his eyes adjust, his presence against Eliott’s back as familiar as the warmth of his favorite sweater straight out of the dryer.

When he finally has enough energy to begin climbing out of bed, he allows himself a few more seconds of enjoying the feel of lying against Lucas before he slowly extracts himself from his embrace and drags his limbs out from under the covers and into the real world.

He tiptoes out of the room and heads towards the kitchen. As he passes the living room he sees Imane and Alexia, squished together on the couch, and Arthur, lying atop a pile of cushions on the floor next to them, all three of their bodies rising and falling with the steady breathing of sleep. The sun is just now trickling through the curtains, and Eliott hopes they get at least another hour or two of rest before the light wakes them and they have to start using their brains again.

Mika’s already in the kitchen, a cup of coffee steaming before him on the table next to an open book and a highlighter.

He pokes his head out of his book and gives Eliott a sleepy smile when he shuffles in the room and towards the coffee maker. “I thought the reason I graduated high school was so I could get away from high schoolers?”

“You’re the one who let Lucas live here,” Eliott yawns, grabbing a mug.

“Manon made me,” he says, highlighting a random sentence, not even looking at the book.

“You love him.”

“He smells.”

“I like how he smells.”

“You smell too.”

Eliott rolls his eyes, a grin on his face. “Pretty soon they’ll take the bac and then you’ll have no high schoolers in your apartment ever again.”

“Unless he fails!” Mike says, gesturing wildly with his highlighter, almost knocking his coffee off the table. “He’s stupid enough to fail! I swear, Eliott, you’ve been sucking his brain cells out through his - ”

“I can hear you,” Lucas’s grumpy voice cuts off Mika as he rounds the corner and enters the kitchen.

“It wasn’t me! It was him,” Mika points at Eliott before he buries his nose in his book, hiding.

“It was not,” Lucas says, glaring, as he walks over and glomps onto Eliott. “Eliott loves me.”

Eliott wraps the arm not holding his coffee around Lucas and he buries his face into Eliott’s neck. His hair is sticking up like a pineapple, tickling Eliott’s chin, and Eliott presses a kiss to the top of his head and breathes in.

“What are you doing awake?”

“I heard your alarm,” Lucas snuffles, clinging to him. “And then you left.”

“You need to sleep.”

“Come back to bed and I will.”

“I have to go to work.”

“You don’t have to start getting ready for another hour,” Lucas whines. He lifts his head and peeks up at Eliott, his blue eyes wide. “Please?”

Eliott brings his hand up to Lucas’s face, cupping his cheek and wiping the corner of his eyes with his thumb. “You have gunk in your eyes, the puppy dog thing isn’t really working.”

“You two are disgusting,” Mika says, glaring at them over the top of his book. “Can I do my reading that I was supposed to do over the weekend in peace?”

“Fine,” Eliott says, and he clutches his coffee close to his chest as he looks back down at Lucas. “But I’m bringing this.”

Lucas stays clinging to him as they shuffle out the kitchen and back to the bedroom, so it takes them longer than it should for them to both climb back in bed. Eliott scoots his pillow up so he can sit up a bit and avoid falling back asleep, and Lucas slings his arm around his waist and buries his face in Eliott’s chest.

His breathing evens out within minutes, and Eliott sits there, drinking his coffee, the porcelain mug warm in his hands, as he strokes Lucas’s hair, watching him sleep, until he has to get up again.

By the time he’s walking to work the sun is up, low enough to hide behind all the buildings lining the streets but bright enough to color the sky light blue, the clouds new and fresh like foamy water right on the shoreline of the beach.

Eliott arrives at the same time his boss is unlocking the front door and they step inside together, turning on the lights and starting up the computers as they chat about the weekend. He likes Renée - she’s been friends with his parents for as long as he can remember, and she hired him when he graduated a year ago and decided to not go to university right away. She runs a small legal firm with only one other lawyer, and they were looking for someone to help out around the office, so Eliott answers the phone and checks the company email and occasionally takes notes during meetings with clients. It’s pretty mindless, but the pay is decent, and Renée is a good boss, so it’s good for now.

Louise, the other lawyer, eventually comes in, and her and Renée settle in their offices while Eliott sorts through their inbox. It’s mostly people confirming their appointments, so he updates the shared calendar as he goes, adding or deleting meetings when necessary.

He’s in the middle of reading an email about someone looking for representation over a property dispute when the phone rings, the shrill tone slicing through the silence in the office. He lets it ring a few more times and takes a breath - he hates talking on the phone - before answering.

A man with a gruff voice starts talking before Eliott can barely get out his greeting. “I sent an email to you a week ago and I haven’t gotten a response, I wanted to know if your firm is that backed up or if you’re that unorganized that I should look for a lawyer elsewhere?”

Eliott blinks at the computer screen in front of him, processing the words. He can feel his heartbeat already starting to pick up, an immediate reaction to the man’s annoyed tone. God, he fucking hates talking on the phone.

“Uhm,” he fumbles. “I’m sorry about that. If you tell me your name I can check and see what the problem is?”

The man huffs a sigh, like Eliott is the dumbest person in the world, and, fuck, maybe he is. He says his name and Eliott types it in the search bar with shaky hands, frowning at the screen when it pulls up no results from the inbox.

“It’s not showing that we’ve received any emails from you,” he says. He spells out their email address to the man, just to confirm. “You’re sure you sent it to that address? Maybe you spelled it wrong?”

“I’m not an idiot,” the man says. “I know I sent it to you. Did you check the spam folder?”

Eliott clicks on the junk folder and there it is, the third email from the top. “Oh. Here it is. I’m so sorry about that, again, I can forward this right away - ”

“Don’t bother,” the man interrupts. “I’m going to look elsewhere.” The dial tone echoes in his ear.

He really, really fucking hates talking on the phone.

He sets the receiver back down on the cradle with a click.

It’s not a big deal, he tells himself.

It’s not even the worst phone call he’s ever gotten since he’s been there. The man wasn’t even that rude - he was a dick, but at least he didn’t yell, or raise his voice. The man was probably dealing with something time-sensitive, and had lost his patience waiting for an answer. It’s not a big deal.

But this firm is small, and Eliott knows for a fact they need as many clients as they can take, and he just cost them one. Because he’s not competent enough to check the junk folder as often as he needs to.

He chews his thumb nail, contemplating on whether or not he should tell Renée or Louise what just happened, but decides against it.

He shakes his head, trying to forget it, clear the interaction from his brain like an etch a sketch. He continues on with his emails, but he feels thoroughly chastised as he works through the rest, a tight feeling in his chest as he tries to be as thorough as possible.

When he’s done he has a bit of down time, so he thinks back to his morning, trying to return to his good mood. He pictures Lucas’s wild bed head as he clung to Eliott in the kitchen, whining until he came back to bed, Mika rolling his eyes as them in the corner.

Something Mika said suddenly sticks out in his brain like a rusty nail. Unless he fails! He’s stupid enough to fail!

Eliott shakes his head again. Fuck. Mika didn’t mean anything by it. He doesn’t think Mika even knows Eliott had to repeat his last year of high school.

You’re not stupid, he tells himself. You aren’t a failure.

He firmly steers his thoughts away, back to work.

Later he has to sit in on a meeting with Louise and three other people - a couple getting divorced, one of whom is Louise’s client, plus the husband and his own lawyer.

It doesn’t go very well.

“I told you I’m staying in the apartment,” the woman says. “You’re the one leaving, so I get the apartment.”

“Then I’m not paying for half of Lina’s expenses,” the man shoots back.

“She’s your daughter.”

“Who you won’t let me see.”

“She doesn’t want to see you! She’s sixteen, I can’t force her to see you! She can decide for herself!”

Eliott sits in the back of his room, hiding behind his notepad the entire time, scribbling down notes of whatever he thinks is actually relevant and not just petty arguments.

Listening to them argue is jarring. His mind keeps wandering back to Lucas - Eliott’s own parents had their fair share of arguments, of course, but he knows Lucas’s parents used to scream at each other constantly before their divorce, to the point where Lucas himself will start crying at the mere hint of conflict now. Eliott didn’t understand it at first, thought Lucas was just an easy crier, but now he knows that it’s the result of his parents’ divorce, of watching your family fall apart in front of you and there being nothing you can do to stop it.

Watching these two argue with each other as their marriage dissolves, refereed by their two lawyers, Eliott gets it even more, now.

The man and the woman eventually escalate into screaming at each other, and Louise and the other lawyer try to calm them both down, but it essentially does nothing. Eliott can’t even imagine building your entire life with someone only for it to crumble into nothingness in your very hands, not even wanting to build it back up but to just sweep everything in the trash and start over again because maybe that’s the better option. He tries to imagine him and Lucas, in their mid-forties, screaming at each other in a windowless meeting room in a tiny law firm office because they can’t stand being together anymore. Lucas pulling at his greying hair, his face contorted with rage, the lines around his mouth worn from frowning and not smiling, telling Eliott that he does not want to be with him, he can keep the apartment and the furniture and their record collection and the print they got of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Le Lit when they went to the Musée d'Orsay that Lucas accidentally tore on the bus ride home but they still framed anyways and -

The man storms out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

Louise waves at him as the woman and the other lawyer stay behind, discussing what to do next, signaling to Eliott that he can go back into the other room. He collects his notebook and pen and shuffles out of the room and back to the front desk, dazed.

Renée is up there. “That sounded fun.”

Eliott shakes his head again and paints on a smile that comes across as more of a grimace.

He tries to get back to work after the other lawyer and the woman leave, but it’s almost lunch time, and he doesn’t have much to do - he tries to organize some files, writes some labels on sticky notes so he can better see the contents of the filing cabinet, but he gives up after five minutes and ends up scrolling mindlessly on the computer.

His thoughts wander back to Lucas, as they usually do. He wonders if Lucas and the others have started studying again or if they went to meet up with the rest of the girls and Yann so they could all study together. He knows Lucas is stressed about his upcoming exams, way more than Eliott ever was about the bac himself. While Eliott’s confident Lucas is going to get an amazing score, he is worried about him - Lucas tends to get insomnia when he’s stressed, and Eliott can’t remember the last time they went to sleep at the same time.

Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Lucas works hard. Eliott didn’t exactly strain himself when studying for his exams. His scores were nothing to write home about, but they were fine. At least he actually took his exams this time.

Unless he fails, Mika’s voice echoes in his head again. He’s stupid enough to fail.

Eliott closes his eyes.

You didn’t fail, he thinks. And Lucas is going to be okay. He’ll be done with exams in a few weeks. He’ll be okay.

And after Lucas aces the bac they’ll have a nice summer together and that will be that. Except Lucas might get a job, too, but that’s fine. But then Lucas will definitely start university in the fall, because he’s way too smart to take a year off, and then he’ll be in classes learning and getting a degree and Eliott will still be losing emails in the spam folder and getting yelled at by people on the phone and getting left behind.

Even if Eliott does decide to go to university next year, what the fuck is he going to do? Get a degree in art? He might as well just start trying to build a portfolio himself and not waste his time. Then he’ll be - what? What the fuck is he going to do? Lucas will go off and do something amazing and Eliott will be twenty-five or thirty-one or thirty-seven still trying to figure himself out and then Lucas will get tired of putting up with him and then Eliott will have no one or worse Lucas will stay with him out of pity and they’ll grow to resent each other so much that they end up screaming at each other at their divorce lawyer’s office because you’re stupid enough to fail and -

Or they won’t split up but they won’t be happy, either, and they’ll end up being just two people so bored with each other that they don’t even talk anymore, and if they have kids or they don’t have kids it won’t even matter because everything is the same either way, you live for a while and you do some shit and then you’re another body in the ground so why even bother doing anything because you’re stupid enough to fail and -

Or they won’t even make it another year because Eliott will finally go insane and kill himself or Lucas will get in a car accident and put on life support before slowly fading away in an unadorned hospital bed or they’ll just break up because these things happen and they’ve both said a lot of things but neither have them have promised anything besides minute by minute and maybe in this minute Lucas will decide he doesn’t want to be with him anymore in any of the following minutes and that will be it and you’re stupid enough to fail and -

His rolly chair teeters as he stands up and rushes to the bathroom, trying not to slam the door as his hands shake.

He sits on the toilet and he can feel his heart pounding, his blood rushing through the artery in his neck, his skin moving with the force of his heart pumping and he can’t - he can’t -

He puts his head in his hands, and closes his eyes, and counts to sixty, and breathes.

He counts to sixty again.

And again.

And again.

And again. And then a few more times.

He stares at the back of his eyelids until he feels okay again.

You aren’t a failure, he thinks to himself, the first coherent thought he’s had since entering the bathroom.

You aren’t a failure, he repeats to himself. You graduated, you have a job, you have a boyfriend who loves you, you have friends. You’re okay.

He counts to sixty a few more times, just because.

When he feels somewhat normal again he stands up, walks over to the sink and turns on the faucet. As he leans over and splashes some water on his face something falls out of his jacket pocket. He dries his hands before bending down to pick it up.

It’s a lined scrap of paper, torn out of a page of a notebook and folded twice. He opens it up.

It’s a drawing of a hedgehog, a heart above its nose, and a speech bubble that says I love you. It’s cute, even in Lucas’s unpracticed hand.

Eliott looks down at the drawing and feels a smile stretch across his face, slow and small and shaky, but it’s there.

He unlocks the bathroom door and makes his way back over to his desk, where he left his phone. He examines the drawing for a minute longer before he opens up the camera and takes a picture of it, sending it to Lucas.

Eliott
hedgehog
Why does this rat have a native american headdress on??

It doesn’t take long for Lucas to respond.

Lucas
:(

Eliott
I’m just kidding. It’s beautiful. I’m contacting the louvre right now

Lucas
:)
you thought you were the only artist in this relationship huh
i drew that last night at about 1 in the morning when i was supposed to be studying, i’m just proud that it didnt look like a tumbleweed with legs

Eliott
Aren’t you supposed to be studying right now?

Lucas
never too busy to talk to my boyfriend

Eliott
❤️❤️❤️
Thanks for the drawing, I love you too
So much
Good luck studying

Lucas
i’ll see you later ❤️

He sends a few more hearts before pocketing his phone, looking back at Lucas’s drawing.

He tapes it to the bottom of his computer monitor, and it gets him through the rest of the day.

It’s a weird thing. To be terrified of dying and terrified of living at the same time. To be so indifferent to your own suicidal thoughts and to be petrified of no longer having any thoughts at all the next second. To be so unwilling to start living your life because you know the moment that you do, you’re one minute closer to dying because this is it. Like maybe if you procrastinate doing anything and just hide inside all day you can live forever because that doesn’t really count. If you never start living then you never start dying.

He’s never going to be as young as he is, right now, in this second, ever again. And that terrifies him.

Maybe he’ll figure it out soon. How to not be scared. He wants to try. For Lucas, and for himself.

 ***

 (THURSDAY, JUNE 11)

"Okay, Lucas,” Manon says, flipping the page of her study book. “How did the Industrial Revolution contribute to the rise of consumerism and the middle class?”

“How many times do I have to tell you, Manon,” Lucas says, face down on the floor, “that I cannot fucking read.”

Emma snorts. “You’ve made it really far in school for someone who’s illiterate.”

“Thanks.” The floor is starting to hurt his face where it’s smushed against the wood. “It’s been really hard.”

“Anyone else want to answer?” Manon asks the room.

“Me,” Yann says, immediately, shooting his hand up, and his answer eventually turns into a rant against capitalism. When he starts talking about how happiness has come to be defined by acquiring material wealth and possessions Lucas tunes him out - he’s heard this one before.

Manon had suggested studying history that night at her place, and he, Imane, Yann, Emma and Daphné were gathered in her cramped living room, books and notes strewn about around them. Lucas had spent the majority of his time studying for his science exams, but he supposed one night for history couldn’t hurt. His first exam - philosophy - is on Monday, and he still has to cram for that and math over the weekend.

Manon continues on reading out questions from her study guide over the next hour before they decide to take a break for dinner. Lucas offers up the two frozen pizzas they have in the freezer in the coloc since none of them want to pay for anything, and he finally peels himself off the floor, stumbling towards Manon’s front door.

“I’ll help you!” Daphné says brightly, and Lucas sends her a smile as they cross the hall over to his apartment.

“How are you doing, Daphy?” Lucas asks her as they make their way to the kitchen, waving hello to Lisa on the couch. They’ve seen each other constantly over the past week as they all studied together, but he hasn’t really had a chance to talk to Daphné one-on-one, really ask her how she is.

“Oh, I’m okay,” she says. “Just trying to, you know, focus on the bac.”

“Yeah,” Lucas says, opening the freezer. “We’re almost there. We’ll be done soon.”

Daphné lets out a chuckle. “Unless I fail.”

Lucas sticks his hand in the freezer, past the bag of fries and around the tub of chocolate ice cream. “What are you talking about? You’re smart, Daphné, you’re not going to fail.”

Daphné’s quiet for a minute and Lucas pats around the freezer, trying to feel out the pizzas he knows are in there by touch alone. Jesus, they needed to empty out the fridge more often. He’s pretty sure that bag of frozen peas has been there since he moved in. Who the hell bought frozen peas in the first place? Probably Manon.

“Thanks, Lucas,” she says. “I’ve just, you know, had a lot to think about, with - you know. I’m worried that I’m not focused enough.”

Lucas accidentally knocks the bag of fries to the floor. “Fuck,” he says, and Daphné leans down to pick it up. “Thanks.” He puts it back on a lower shelf, and finally spies the corner of one of the pizza boxes way in the back and he reaches towards it. “Anyways. You’re going to do great. We all are. We’ve been studying our asses off.”

They have, especially this week. Aside from crawling into bed after Eliott’s already fallen asleep and giving him a kiss before he goes to work, Lucas has barely had time to spend with his boyfriend. And Eliott understands, of course he does, it’s not like he’s giving Lucas the cold shoulder because Eliott can’t be his number one priority at the moment. But Lucas misses him, misses having the luxury of time to sit in front of the TV, tucked into Eliott’s side, and switch his brain off, or to walk to the hamburger place they like down the street when nothing they have in the kitchen sounds good, stealing fries from each other’s plates just because.

He knows he’s being ridiculous. It’s been a few weeks of studying, and a few days of intense, non-stop studying, and then he’ll be done with the bac in two weeks. After that, he’s free to be the biggest Eliott-hog in the world.

He finally wrestles one of the pizzas out of the freezer and hands it to Daphné before starting on the next one. “How is the whole…” he waves his hand around vaguely, “gay thing going?”

Daphné snorts. “It’s, uhm…”

The corner of the pizza box is frozen to the shelf and he whacks around, trying to dislodge it. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s…” she trails off again. “I think I’m gay.”

Lucas finally jerks the pizza free and holds it over his head in victory. “Finally!” he cheers, turning around and shutting the fridge. Daphné is staring at him. “I mean, that’s great, Daphné. I’m happy for you.”

She chews her lip, her lip gloss smearing across her teeth. “I don’t know, though. I don’t know if I’m… a lesbian.” She clenches her jaw. “It feels like… like I’m not ready to be a lesbian, but I’m ready to admit I’m gay? Does that make sense? Just… the word lesbian seems like… too much, right now.”

Lucas has no idea what navigating coming out as a lesbian is like - he had to deal with internalized homophobia, but internalized lesbophobia is a whole nother thing. Being a guy and figuring out that you like guys and only guys is completely different than being a girl and figuring out you like girls and only girls. They live in the same universe, but they’re in different solar systems, orbiting around entirely different stars.

So he keeps his mouth shut, offering only what he can - encouragement. “That’s okay,” he says. “Labels are complicated. You identify with what you feel comfortable with right now.”

Daphné smiles at him, strawberry red stains all over her front teeth. “Thanks, Lucas.”

“You’re welcome,” he says. “You have lipstick on your teeth, by the way.”

“Fuck.” She brings her finger up to her mouth and scrubs at her teeth. “Can I use your bathroom?”

She takes off down the hall before he can answer, and as he hears the bathroom door open he feels his phone in his pocket vibrate.

Eliott
Hey, mom wanted me home for dinner so I think I’m gonna stay here tonight
I know you’re studying but if you want a break for an hour or two she wanted you to know you’re invited as well ❤️

Lucas looks down at the frozen pizzas on the counter.

Lucas
depends, can you offer me something better than freezer-burnt pizzas made in manon’s crappy oven?

Eliott
Actually we were gonna eat some wet cardboard I found floating on the seine earlier

Lucas
oh delicious
what time are you eating

Eliott
Idk
Whenever we feel like setting the table

Lucas
perfect
we were about to take a dinner break, let me tell the guys i’m going then i’ll head towards the bus

Eliott
If you’d rather stay and hang out with them it’s fine, don’t feel like you have to come if you need to study

Lucas
you’re joking right
i’ve spent way too much time with these idiots today
and i miss your dumb face

Eliott sends him a selfie, then, his face half smushed into a pillow, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he feigns sleep.

Eliott
This face?

Lucas grins down at his phone, trying to control his heart eyes.

Lucas
thanks for my new background beautiful

Eliott
Fuck

“I’ve been standing here watching you grin down at your phone like a lunatic for over a minute, Lucas,” Daphné says from the doorway. Lucas glances up from setting the picture as his phone background and shrugs.

“Wait till you get a girlfriend, then you’ll see,” he says, and grabs the pizza boxes off the counter.

They drop the pizza at Manon’s and Lucas tells everyone he’s going to have dinner at Eliott’s, to which they respond with only minimal jeering.

“I’m sick of looking at you all, I’ll be back in two hours,” he says, and turns on the oven so they don’t have to get up. “Feel free to move on from history before I get back.”

“I’m gonna save all the questions about Colbertism just for you, Lucas!” Imane calls from the couch, and without turning around Lucas flips her off as he leaves.

He grabs his wallet from his room before heading to the bus stop, sticking his headphones in his ears, grateful to be turning off his brain for the first time all day. When the bus arrives after a few minutes he hops on and sends Eliott a text, letting him know he’s on his way, sliding into a seat next to the window.

The bus is fairly empty, only a few straggling commuters and a couple with a toddler sitting up front. He gets the row to himself so he props his feet up in the seat next to him and leans against the window, his eyes half-closed as he stares lazily out at the streets.

It’s late, the last remnants of sunlight coloring the sky a dark, hazy orange, the time of day where drivers aren’t sure whether or not they should turn on their headlights yet. Today was one of the first days in a while that it hadn’t rained, and the pavement is dry and light grey instead of dark and wet like it has been the past few nights. The sidewalks are flush with people walking to dinner, T-shirts and shorts and skirts adorning their bodies as they enjoy the cool evening air.

Lucas hears a sudden shriek from the front of the bus, and he pauses his music, popping one of his headphones out of his ear. He looks around and realizes the noise came from the toddler up front. She’s sitting nestled in between her parents, and it looks like her father is tickling her, his big hands gently scritching under her chin as she wiggles around, laughing. The mother is gazing down at them, a smile on her face.

The bus makes a turn and the dad stops tickling his daughter, moving his hands up to her tiny shoulders, steadying her as the bus lurches around. He lifts his head up and says something to his wife, and after a second Lucas realizes they’re speaking in English, with an accent that colors their words into something he can barely understand - Scottish, he thinks.

Tourists, probably. They have the look, donned in walking shoes and comfortable clothes, a backpack on the floor next to them with what looks like a museum guide sticking out of the side pocket. He keeps listening to them as they plan their destinations for the next day, and as the parents talk, their daughter stands up so she can peek out the bus window, her eyes wide and curious. The mother wraps her hands around her small waist so she doesn’t fall, all without pausing her conversation, her instinct to protect her daughter as natural as breathing.

Lucas watches them. He’s decent at English, better at reading and writing than he is at speaking, but their conversation is flying right over his head, their thick Scottish brogue making every other word unintelligible.

The daughter sits back down, this time on her mother’s lap. The father reaches over and takes her tiny foot in between two fingers, wiggling it around for no reason other than the fact that it’s there.

Lucas feels something sink, inside himself, as he watches them. Even though he was born here, and they’re the tourists, he feels like the foreigner.

He tries to picture him and his parents in this family’s spot, a decade ago. Lucas, a small, towheaded kid, riding the bus with his parents as they head home, his father tickling him, his mother keeping him steady and upright as the bus tilts around street corners.

He can’t picture it.

He wonders if it’s because he was too small to remember the three of them when they were like that, a real family, or it it’s because they were never like that at all.

It wasn’t bad all the time. He remembers. He remembers watching movies with his parents in the living room, his mom and dad lying on the couch together while Lucas curled up in the squishy armchair. Eating dinner at the dinner table, talking about their days, his mom begging him to chew with his mouth closed, please, Lucas, god, that’s gross.

He remembers how his parents started drifting further and further away from each other on the couch when they watched TV, until eventually his dad was the one sitting in the armchair. He remembers how the number of times they ate dinner at the table dwindled down until it became just a holiday meal thing, or when they had guests over. He remembers, after they split up, how, when they spoke to Lucas, his dad stopped saying “Mom" and started saying “your mom,” and his mom stopped saying "Dad" and started saying “your dad.”

Looking at the parents on the bus talk to their daughter and she babbles happily, old enough to speak in sentences but young enough that they don’t quite make sense all the time, he wonders if he could ever have that. If he’s destined to try to achieve that and fail, to get married and have kids only for it to fall apart just like his own parents, if he inherited that from them, just like our mortality is coded into our own DNA, inescapable.

He doesn’t even know if he wants to get married, or have kids. He thinks if any family he has is destined to fall apart, then there’s no point in trying.

Why should he try when the possibility of failure is that feasible?

The family hasn’t gotten off the bus by the time he reaches his stop, and he spares them one last glance as he steps down to the sidewalk. The daughter has her face pressed against the window again, her button nose smudging the glass, the parents chatting as she looks out at the world.

The bus doors swing closed behind him, and he turns and starts walking as it rumbles away.

When he gets to Eliott’s apartment building he presses the intercom, and a moment later the front door buzzes with the sound of the locks opening, letting him inside.

He climbs up the old stairs, the wood creaking under his shoes as he makes his way to Eliott’s front door.

Eliott’s mom opens the door after he knocks, her smile bright and wide, exactly like her son’s.

“You made it!” she greets, kissing him on his cheeks as she invites him inside. “How’s the studying going?”

Lucas shrugs. “It’s okay, I guess,” he says. “I’m exhausted from it all. Happy to get away for an hour or two, you know?”

“We’re glad you’re here,” she smiles. “I think Eliott fell asleep in his room, so we can eat whenever he wakes up.”

“Well, I’m starving, so I’m gonna go wake his ass up.”

Eliott’s mom laughs, gesturing him down the hall to Eliott’s room, and leaves Lucas to it.

He sticks his head in the living room as he passes by, waving to Eliott’s dad, who’s sitting on the sofa with the TV on, the volume low. Eliott’s dad waves back, and he continues on to Eliott’s room.

He cracks the door open and slips inside, shutting it silently behind him. Eliott’s room is dark, the last vestiges of sunlight streaming through the small opening in his curtains. His desk lamp is the only light on in his room, and it casts everything in a warm, golden yellow.

Eliott is a lump in the center of his bed, curled on his side under a blanket, his back facing the door. Lucas can see his hand extended out towards his phone, lying next to him, and he wonders if Eliott nodded off after he sent Lucas that picture.

Lucas takes off his shoes and walks over to the bed. He lifts the edge of the blanket and slips under, sliding up right behind Eliott, wrapping his arms around him and pressing his chest to Eliott’s back.

Eliott snuffles a bit but remains asleep, his chest rising and falling as he breathes. When they started dating, Lucas initially thought Eliott took so many naps because he was depressed, but he quickly learned that Eliott was just a nap person. He took a nap almost every day, sometimes twice a day on the weekends.

Lucas doesn’t know how he does it. Whenever he tries to nap, he wakes up disoriented, covered in sweat, having no idea what year it is.

“You have to practice,” Eliott told him, once, when he took a nap and complained after waking up that he felt worse than before.

“How do you practice napping?” Lucas asked, rolling his eyes. “It’s just sleeping?”

“You just have to do it a lot,” Eliott responded. “Eventually your body will get used to it and you won’t feel like you’re dying when you wake up.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“You’re just mad because I’m better at it than you.”

Lucas rolled his eyes again. “Next time I catch you napping I’m going to sit on your head.”

“You say that like I wouldn’t like it,” he said, and Lucas laughed.

He doesn’t sit on Eliott’s head, now. Instead, he presses his face against the back of Eliott’s neck, his nose on the skin right above his shirt collar, and breathes in.

Eliott always smells good. Like when you go on vacation, and you open your suitcase when you get to your hotel, and all your clothes smell like home. A scent you didn’t even realize you missed until you’re smelling it again, the synapses firing in your brain, connecting you to every memory from the times you felt like you belonged.

Lying there with Eliott in his arms, Eliott occupying every one of his senses, Lucas understands who he is, who they are, who he wants to be.

He lies there for a few more minutes, content to just exist, and Eliott eventually stirs against him.

“Lucas?” he asks, his voice bleary.

“No, it’s the Zodiac killer,” Lucas says, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck.

“Oh,” Eliott says, patting Lucas’s arm around his waist. “Is that why you’re watching me sleep? Stalker.”

“Just waiting until inspiration strikes for how to murder you.”

Eliott laughs, rubbing his eyes, and he turns around in Lucas’s arms so he can face him. He brings a hand up to Lucas’s cheek, stroking with soft fingers. “You’re younger than I thought you would be, Zodiac.”

“That’s what they all say.” Eliott’s still half-asleep, a line from a crease on his pillowcase on his cheek, blinking every other second as he tries to wake up. He yawns and slides down the bed so he can bury his face in Lucas’s chest, wrapping his own arms around Lucas.

“Your mom said we can eat when you’re up.”

“Hmmm,” Eliott mumbles. “‘m up.”

Lucas pokes his side. “Uh huh.”

“I am.”

“Sure you are.”

“Any second now.”

“Take your time.”

Eliott falls silent, and Lucas moves his hand up to Eliott’s head, combing his fingers through Eliott’s hair, even messier than usual because of his nap. Lucas thinks Eliott might have fallen back asleep, but then Eliott sighs again and squeezes Lucas closer before letting him go and sitting up.

“Okay,” he says, rubbing his eyes again as Lucas sits up next to him. “Dinner time.”

Dinner with the Demaurys is always a casual affair - Eliott’s mom is a good cook, and she usually just spreads out all the food she’s made in the kitchen like a buffet so people can eat whatever and whenever they want. Sometimes they eat at the table, sometimes they’re sprawled out in the living room, plates in their laps as they chat about their days or watch something on TV, and sometimes they all eat separately. Lucas has eaten more than a few meals in Eliott’s room, the two of them doing their own thing as Eliott’s parents do their own thing, too.

Lucas likes it, likes how laid-back it is. There’s no pressure to talk if you don’t want to, and there’s no rules for how to be a family. They just are.

They eat at the table, tonight, music from the radio on the counter in the kitchen floating through the air as they talk, accompanied by the occasional tinkling of glass and silverware against the porcelain plates.

“Your first exam is Monday, right?” Eliott’s dad asks, leaning back in his chair as he takes a sip of wine.

Lucas nods, swallowing before speaking. “Philosophy,” he grimaces.

“Maybe Eliott can help you study.”

“Eugh,” Eliott groans next to him. “Everything I learned about philosophy flew out of my brain the minute I walked out of that exam.”

“Hmm,” Eliott’s dad hums, tapping his finger against his chin, exaggerating his pondering. “I’m suddenly reminded of a certain someone who told his son not to be an L student if he didn’t want to take that much philosophy…”

Eliott’s mom rolls her eyes. “An I-told-you-so, really? Now?”

His dad puts his hands up, defensive. “I’m just saying!”

“Anyways,” Eliott interjects before his mom can reply, her mouth open with a retort. “Lucas doesn’t need my help studying. He knows everything, he’s a genius,” he says, smiling over at Lucas.

They have a good relationship, but Lucas knows things aren’t always great between Eliott and his father, especially when it came to school. His dad took Eliott’s diagnosis hard, freaking out because he didn’t know how to help his bipolar son, how to be a good parent to him. He decided that the best course of action was to set stricter rules for Eliott, impose more regulations - no TV past this hour, you must get your homework done if you want to do this, you can’t go out on weekdays, eat healthy, don’t drink, definitely no drugs. He wanted Eliott to get regulated, figuring that if he had a steady routine he would be okay.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work, and Eliott hated it. He lashed out every chance he got, broke the impossible standards his father set for him every chance he got just to say fuck you.

Eliott’s mom had a totally different style. She knew her son didn’t need restrictions, that trying to regulate everything about his life would do the opposite of keeping him in control. His father had eventually figured it out, realizing that Eliott’s mom’s approach was the parenting style that was best for Eliott.

Lucas is amazed that Eliott’s dad came to that realization, honestly. Every time his parents had arguments over how best to handle Lucas, how best to be a parent to him, they could never agree on anything. They would just end up doing completely separate things, pulling Lucas in different directions, until he eventually stopped listening to them altogether.

He wonders what it would be like, if his parents were like Eliott’s parents - if his mom and dad could have agreed on how to raise Lucas. If he and Eliott would go have dinners with his own parents, sometimes.

He doesn’t know how Eliott’s mom and dad did it. They seem to be still in love, or, at least, they act the way middle-aged people who have been married for a few decades and still like each other act.

He wonders if they’ve ever thought about splitting up, if they ever regretted getting married and having a kid. And, if they did, what kept them together. Maybe it was the thought of everything being a waste of time, if they split up.

Lucas looks at Eliott sitting next to him, his smile warm and genuine.

“Well,” Lucas says. “According to Socrates, the only thing that I know is that I know nothing, so you’re wrong about that.”

“See?” Eliott says to his parents. “Genius.”

***

(MONDAY, JUNE 15)

Lucas is frazzled.

The thing about frazzled Lucas, though, is that it’s a lot like complaining Lucas.

“I don’t want to do this,” Lucas groans, face down on the bed.

Eliott finishes tying his shoes and before turning to look at his boyfriend. “It’ll be okay,” he says, reaching over to pat Lucas’s back.

“No it won’t,” Lucas whines, burying his face further in the pillow.

“Just think, next Thursday you’ll be done.”

Lucas turns his head so half of his face is visible, one eye peeking over at Eliott. “And it’s your birthday,” he says. Lucas shifts so he’s laying on his side, facing Eliott where he’s sitting on the edge of the bed. “Anything in particular you want?”

“Nothing,” Eliott says, shaking his head.

“Nothing?”

“Nope.”

Lucas groans again, faceplanting back on his pillow. “I swear, you are the hardest person to buy presents for. This is gonna end up like me making you an ugly hand-painted coffee mug for Christmas all over again.”

“I love that mug,” Eliott grins. “When I’m home I drink out of it every morning.”

Lucas’s shoulders shake with laughter and he turns to look back at Eliott. “You’re so lame,” he says, fondly.

“You’re the one who hand-painted hearts all over it,” Eliott shoots back. “No, but really, I don’t need anything. I just want to spend time with you, celebrate you acing the bac. That’s what I want.”

“I won’t even have my results back,” Lucas says.

“So? I still know you’re gonna ace it.”

Lucas moves his leg, tapping Eliott’s thigh with his toes. “You’re sweet,” he says. “I’m still gonna get you something, though. You don’t turn twenty every day.”

Two entire decades - that’s how old Eliott’s going to be. It feels too old and not old enough, somehow. Like he’s spent too little time in this life to be twenty already, but also like he’s felt too many things to be only twenty.

“If you want to,” Eliott shrugs. He’s never really been much of a birthday person - he likes celebrating his friends’ and family’s birthdays, but he doesn’t really care too much about his own. He really does just want to spend time with his boyfriend, revel in the fact that Lucas doesn’t have to devote all his attention to studying and tests anymore and can focus on more important things, like Eliott.

“Oh, speaking of next Thursday,” Lucas says. He bites his lip. “I’m supposed to RSVP to my dad by then.”

“Have you decided, yet?” Eliott asks.

Lucas lifts his shoulder, shrugging. “I don’t know,” he says. “I… I really don’t want to go. But I feel like I should.”

“I’ll go with you, if you do decide to go,” Eliott says, and Lucas looks grateful, even though Eliott’s already told him he would go with him. “But it’s okay if you don’t want to go, too.”

Lucas picks at a loose string on his covers. “I’ll think about it some more and let you know.” He checks the time on his phone and groans, sitting up. “Alright. Time to get this over with.”

He throws on sweatpants and a hoodie as Eliott reassures him that he’s going to do great, which Lucas waves away with a “yeah, yeah,” but Eliott can tell he appreciates the words, a small smile on his lips. Eliott gives him a kiss for good luck and then two more just because, and then Lucas is out the door.

Eliott spent the past few days at his parents’ house, not wanting to disturb Lucas’s studying in the final crunch, but Lucas decided to call it quits around noon yesterday. He had texted Eliott, then, saying “if i dont know this shit now then i’ll never know it so im done, pls come over and fuck my brains out so i have less anxiety.” And with a polite request like that, how could Eliott say no?

And then they got off again this morning, because Lucas woke up before his first alarm and Eliott was already awake anyways. And then they got off again in the shower, because they both had the energy, and why not.

Eliott leaves for work shortly after Lucas heads to his exam. It rained last night, and though the streets are mostly dry by now, the remnants still remain - the trees look greener, and there are worms scattered about the sidewalk, and Eliott looks at his feet as he walks, his head down, trying not to squish any of them.

He’s carefully sidestepping a tiny snail on a crosswalk, not paying attention to his other surroundings, when a blur of silver whizzes right past him, the gust from the movement ruffling his hair. The driver flips him off, yelling something mostly unintelligible, but Eliott manages to pick up “get out of the fucking way!” as he speeds away on his scooter. Eliott stares after him, rolling his eyes before he continues walking.

As he steps back on the sidewalk and out of the street he feels his stomach sinking, the image man’s face, distorted with rage as he yelled, stuck in his mind. Yes, Eliott should have been looking where he was walking, but he’s the pedestrian, and he has the right of way, and here’s this guy, almost running over Eliott, and he’s the one who gets mad.

Stupid.

Eliott shakes his head. It doesn’t matter, he thinks, trying to forget it.

The man’s face stays in his mind, though. His teeth bared as he whipped around Eliott, his angry voice hitting Eliott like a slap in the face.

The encounter was less than four seconds total, it means nothing, in the grand scheme of things. But by the time Eliott makes it to work, his brain has stretched the whole thing out into five minutes, complete with the man getting off his scooter to yell at him in his face, every passerby stopping to stare at how much of an idiot Eliott is.

He walks through the front door and a breeze slams it shut behind him, the bang echoing throughout the entire office. Renée and Louise are already there, standing around the coffee machine, a box of pastries open on the table near them.

“Eliott!” Renée greets as he walks over to his desk and sets his stuff down. “We have news! Come over here and eat something!”

He walks over to them, apprehension already building inside of him. “Good news or bad news?” he asks, grabbing something drenched in chocolate.

Great news,” Louise says. “We’re moving offices!”

Eliott blinks. “Why?”

“We’re expanding!” Renée explains. “We’ve been doing so well lately - partly because of you! - that we have enough money to keep growing! We’re thinking about seeing if we can get some more partners, turn this into a real law firm.”

He plasters a smile on his face. “That’s great,” he says. “Do we know where the new office is going to be?”

“It’s just a few blocks from here,” Renée says. “We just found out they accepted our offer this morning. We were thinking about going by and checking it out again this afternoon, if you want to come with us. But we won’t be moving for another few weeks.”

“Okay,” Eliott says. His bosses continue chatting excitedly about their new prospects, showering each other and Eliott in compliments about how all their hard work has paid off.

Eliott stands there and eats, stuffing the pastry in his mouth before grabbing another.

They talk until their first client of the day comes in, and Eliott makes his way through two more pastries and a croissant before he gets to go sit as his desk.

He is happy, really. He is. Renée and Louise are good, hard-working people, and they deserve success.

He hates change.

It’s why he stayed with Lucille for so long, even though he didn’t really want to be with her anymore. It’s why he didn’t take the bac the first time around. It’s why he hasn’t started university.

And it seems like no matter how settled he gets, change always finds him. And the harder he digs his heels in the ground, the harder it yanks him forward, so hard that he falls flat on his face.

Lucille almost ruining his and Lucas’s relationship before it started because he was too scared to let her go. Letting things get so bad at school that he had to transfer. Thinking he wouldn’t have to tell Lucas that he’s bipolar and ending the first real week of their relationship naked in the back of a police car.

It’s like he’s walking and then he accidentally steps on wet concrete and he stays still for so long that it dries around his feet, and then someone rips him up and throws him into a river and he drowns.

He wonders what’s going to weigh him down, this time.

He’s turning twenty. His job is moving, the office expanding, and possibly his responsibilities with it. Lucas is graduating.

Maybe he’ll end up weighing Lucas down, instead. Maybe Lucas will fly away and Eliott will grab onto his ankles and pull until he comes crashing back to the ground, because Eliott is too scared to spread his wings and try for himself.

Lucas is brilliant, no matter how many times he scoffs when Eliott tells him so. He has so much passion in him, Eliott has no doubt he’ll end up doing something amazing - environmental science, maybe, is what he’s been talking about lately, because the world is melting, Eliott, and I need to do something about it, because I can’t swim.

He’ll find a university program he loves and he’ll excel at it, Eliott has no doubt. But what about Eliott? Is he just going to stick to being Renèe and Louise’s assistant for the rest of his life because he’s too scared to try anything else, for fear of falling on his face again?

No, he thinks, firmly.

He can find something he loves, too. He can go back to school, do something that makes him happy.

What makes him happy?

Lucas, his mind immediately supplies, but that won’t work. He doesn’t think anyone will pay him to have a career for being a Lucas expert.

And, even if he could… it’s not healthy to center his entire life around his boyfriend. He needs something else.

He needs help, too.

He realizes he’s been staring at his computer screen for an hour. His eyes drift down to Lucas’s drawing, still taped to the bottom of his monitor.

He grabs it and stuffs it in his pocket.

When Renée and Louise get out of their meeting with their client, he asks if he can take a sick day and go home, because he’s not feeling well. It’s not technically a lie.

As he’s walking home he passes the spot where the guy on the scooter almost crashed into him earlier, and he replays it in his mind, again. He can hear him yelling get out of the fucking way!, see his lips wrapping around each syllable as his face gets smaller and smaller as he speeds away.

No, Eliott thinks, again, and starts walking faster.

He doesn’t take the bus, even though his parents’ apartment is far away, and by the time he makes it home he’s practically running. He’s out of breath when he shuts the door behind him, both his parents gone for work for the day, and he can feel his heart hammering in his chest.

He sprints to his room and opens his laptop with shaky hands, but he’s excited.

He can do this. He can.

He opens up the browser and he realizes what he’s typing after he hits enter, his mind not working as fast as his hands.

His eyes skate across the words on the screen, and he’s not comprehending anything, too caught up in this rush, his veins moving under his skin.

Get out of the fucking way!

He shakes his head. He can do this.

He can fix this.

He’s looked at two dozen websites before he realizes it, clicking around, only reading two words on a page before hitting the back button, no, no, no, wrong, not what he wants, why is this so fucking hard to find?

He books an appointment on the first website he sees for a therapist specializing in bipolar disorder that has an online scheduling option.

Get out of the fucking way!

He shakes his head again, and then he opens up five new tabs, and starts researching university programs.

He can do this. 

***

(FRIDAY, JUNE 19TH)

Lucas is going to die. Lucas is going to die, and it’s all Isaac Newton’s fault. Fuck him for inventing calculus, fuck him and his ugly hair.

“I’m going to die,” he says, face first into his math textbook.

“Probably, yeah,” Imane says next to him. Lucas turns his head so he can glare at her, and she smirks. “I’m giving you motivation.”

“You’re being mean to me,” Lucas says.

“Spite is the best motivator.” She reaches over to ruffle his hair, and Lucas sits back up, batting her away. “Prove me wrong.”

Lucas rolls his eyes and goes back to looking over his notes. They’re sitting against the wall in the courtyard, surrounded by their classmates, waiting for the door to their test room to swing open so they can shuffle inside and get destroyed by math.

His eyes glaze over as he starts reading about parabolas again and he groans, shutting his notes. He looks over at Imane next to him again, who is unfairly unperturbed. Lucas sighs.

“So what are you doing this weekend?” Imane asks.

“Eliott’s birthday is in a week, so I should probably work on getting him something. You?”

Imane shrugs. “Besides studying? My dad is in charge of these youth football clinics at the Mosque, he asked Sofiane and I to help out, so that, I guess.”

“Sounds fun,” Lucas says. “I thought Sofiane wasn’t Muslim?”

“He’s not, but he likes football, and he gets to hang out with my dad and me, so.” She shrugs again. “The three of us always have fun.”

“That’s nice,” Lucas says, and tries not to frown.

He tries to picture he and Eliott and his own father all hanging out together, enjoying being around each other, getting along, and he might as well be imagining himself becoming the emperor of the moon.

He thinks about the RSVP note, sitting on his desk, tucked neatly in its envelope, unsent.

It really is unfair, he thinks, that Imane can have this fantastic relationship with her father, and Eliott’s dad can reorganize his entire approach to parenting, and Lucas gets thirty minute dinners with stilted conversation about movies and TV shows, if he’s lucky.

He’s been waiting so long for their relationship to get better, he’s starting to wonder if it ever will.

Accepts with pleasure. Declines with regret.

Maybe he has to be the one to reach out, in order for them to heal.

Another way his father is forcing him to be an adult, before he needs to be, he thinks. The parent is the one who should make the effort. His father is the reason for Lucas’s entire existence, but Lucas is the one who has to try to fix their relationship, even though it’s not his fault. It’s all on him.

Accepts with pleasure. Declines with regret.

The door opens, and their exam proctor ushers them inside, and Lucas shoves it out of his mind, for the time being.

When they get out, hours later, Sofiane is outside the school gates, waiting for Imane to walk her home. He greets them both with his easy smile, and the three of them chat for a minute about the exam before he and Imane walk off in the direction of her house. Probably to have a lovely meal, with her lovely parents, and everyone will have a lovely time.

Lucas shakes his head, trying to dispel the bitterness from his thoughts. He knows how hard a time Imane had last year, and she deserves to be in the place she is now. She was in conflict with her parents, her brother, her friends, Sofiane, almost everyone, and he’s glad she’s doing well again, now, really.

He’s just seen how her family is, how much they love each other. He wishes he had that, too.

Maybe he can.

When he gets home, he checks the line next to accepts with pleasure and writes in that he’ll have a plus one in the spot for number of guests. He seals the envelope, dropping it in the outgoing mailbox before he can second guess it.

Back in his room, he pulls out his phone.

Lucas
i decided to go to my dad’s wedding, if you still want to go with me

Eliott responds a minute later.

Eliott
Of course. I’ll be there.  

***

(TUESDAY, JUNE 23RD)

The words haven’t left his mind all week.

What makes him happy?

He keeps coming back to art.

He’s been drawing for as long as he can remember - his mom still has a box of his childhood art, the family portrait he drew for her for her thirty-fifth birthday framed and hanging on the wall in the kitchen, Eliott’s crude signature in the bottom right corner. When he was little he used to draw as many bars on his Es as he could, never content to stick to just three, making the letter look like a wide-tooth comb.

He didn’t get serious about art until he was a teenager, and drawing became more than just something he did for fun. He always drew as an outlet, a way to express himself, but he started drawing to figure out his place in the world, how he exists in relation to the parts of society he likes, how he was unknowingly shaped by the parts he doesn’t like.

The truth is, he’s never happier than he is when he’s drawing.

He grabs on to the thought, clinging to it like sap on a tree.

He calls in sick to work, again, and spends the day looking at art programs. He schedules campus tours and interviews and looks at applications, starts writing essays and organizing his portfolio and sorting out which teachers he could put down as references. He’s so glued to his computer that he almost forgets to take his meds - wait, did he take them? He can’t remember. He thinks he did.

He calls in sick the next day, too.

He’s going to do this.

He visits Beaux-Arts and Les Ateliers and has an interview at Paris 1. He visits Boulle and Paris 7 and leaves halfway through the tour and goes to Duperré. He visits Estienne and Condé and misses his tour at ENSAAMA so he wanders around by himself instead before heading to Visart.

He looks at other places, too. He thinks. Does he? He doesn’t really remember them.

He looks at his phone while he’s taking the metro home and realizes it’s two days before his birthday, and he’s running out of time.

Maybe he can apply to all of them. 

***

(WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24TH)

One more.

One. More.

His last exam is tomorrow, and when he’s done he gets to celebrate his boyfriend’s birthday. He just has to survive physics first.

Of course the exam he’s most worried about is the one he has to take last.

Lucas looks up from his notes with bleary eyes and realizes that the sun set sometime between now and the last time he glanced out the window. He’s in sweats and a hoodie, his notes and textbooks scattered around him on his bed - a few days ago he gave up on forcing himself to study at his desk, desperate for the comfort of lying down in bed, even if it meant he kept accidentally falling asleep as he read.

He reaches a good stopping point in his notes and decides to take a break, tossing his notebook to the other side of his bed, and it slides off his covers and flops onto the floor. Lucas groans, stretching his arms over his head and craning his neck until his joints pop. He unfurls his legs from their crisscross position and extends them down the bed, his feet landing on his textbook, the glossy pages crinkling under the curves of his heels as he flexes his stiff muscles.

He’s half nervous about the exam tomorrow and half exhausted from burnout, his mind like a car running on fumes, surviving off of the last trickle of gas in the tank, unwilling to pull over and fill up before he reaches his destination even though there’s a gas station on every corner.

He rolls off the bed and gets up to get a glass of water, swiping his phone off his desk and scrolling through his notifications as he wanders into the kitchen. Mika isn’t home, and Lisa’s in her room - the apartment is dark and quiet, none of the lights turned on since the time the sun set except for the tiny sliver of light emitting from under Lisa’s door.

He has a few messages from the group chat with the boys that he doesn’t bother reading, sending a few random zombie emojis and closing out of their conversation, figuring that will get his point across no matter what they were talking about. He has another message from Imane about a physics worksheet they reviewed last week, which he responds to before looking at his last unread message.

It’s from his dad.

Dad
I got your rsvp in the mail - I’m so glad you’re coming. Do you have time for dinner this weekend?

Lucas chews on his lip, his thumbs hovering over the keyboard.

He thinks about the pictures Sofiane posted on instagram this weekend, Imane and her father laughing together as they attempted to teach some kids how to dribble the ball up and down the field. He thinks about Eliott’s father, sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of wine in his hand as he kindly asks Lucas how his studies are going, how Eliott’s day at work was.

If he wants that, Lucas has to be the one to reach out first. He knows his dad won’t do it. It’s unfair, but it’s up to him.

Lucas
yes. sunday would be good

He gets his glass of water and shuffles back into his room, walking around the bed so he can pick up his notebook from where it’s splayed out on the floor. As he scoops it up a small piece of papers falls out, and he picks it up, smoothing out the folds as he looks at it.

It the drawing he gave Eliott a few weeks ago, the poorly-drawn hedgehog saying I love you, but Eliott’s expanded it. He drew a frame around his drawing, and there’s a tiny hedgehog and a raccoon standing behind a velvet rope, gazing up at the picture like it’s the Mona Lisa.

He notices something written on the back, the black ink bleeding through the thin paper, and he flips it over to see Eliott’s message, written in his careful hand.

You can do anything, Lucas.

A grin stretches across his face, and he shakes his head, fond.

He’s barely seen Eliott at all this week, too drained from school to do anything social, and Lucas misses him like a limb. Eliott did bring him dinner on Monday, quizzing Lucas as they ate pizza in bed. He must have slipped the drawing in Lucas’s notes then.

He settles back down on his bed in his nest of physics notes, laying the drawing flat on his blanket so he can take a picture. 

Lucas
hedgehog and raccoon
you really are the biggest sap in the world
i love you

After he sends the message to Eliott his phone vibrates with a reply from his dad.

Dad
Sunday would be great. 20h? Where do you want to eat?

Lucas feels something like hope floating in his chest, and he sends his dad the name of a restaurant down the street.

An hour later, all the words are blurring together on the page, and he’s squinting, trying to read his own messy scrawl. He’s just about to give up when his phone vibrates again.

Eliott
I love you too
And I mean it. You can do anything
❤️

The next day, Lucas brings the drawing with him to his exam.

***

(THURSDAY, JUNE 25TH)

It’s Eliott’s birthday, he has the best boyfriend in the world, and literally nothing bad can happen to him today.

He’s not going to work - why should he? Going to work on your birthday should be illegal. He thinks about calling Renée but then his parents stick a candle into a stack of pancakes and start singing happy birthday to him - blearily, because they’re both half asleep and still nursing their first mugs of coffee, but he appreciates the effort. He forgets to call in after that, because, well, it’s his birthday! They don’t seriously expect him to work on his birthday, right? No call is necessary, right?

He gets a facetime from Lucas when he’s halfway through his pancakes and Lucas sings happy birthday, as well, and then Mika and Manon and Lisa all join in and pretty soon they’re all screaming instead of singing and Eliott really has the best boyfriend in the world, huh? Lucas is so sweet, and so kind, and so beautiful, and so thoughtful and sincere and generous and Eliott is really going to marry him one day, he is. He tells Lucas as much when the song finishes and he can hear Mika and Manon aww in the background and Lucas’s smile is brighter than the rising sun.

They make plans for Eliott to go over to Lucas’s apartment that evening and Eliott wishes him luck on his last exam - Lucas is a genius, he’s so good at physics, he’s going to do so great and he’ll get into any university he wants. Lucas looks at him like he’s grown a second head but he’s laughing, too, and he waves the drawing Eliott slipped into his notes a few days ago, saying it’s his good-luck charm for the test. They say their goodbyes and Eliott tells Lucas he loves him a few more times before the screen goes black.

His parents leave for work and wish him a good day at his own job and - what? They think Eliott’s going to work? He doesn’t bother to correct them before they’re rushing out the door, his mom yelling over her shoulder that they’ll give him his present later.

Alone with the day ahead of him, he decides to do something nice for Lucas, to celebrate his last exam - he runs back into his room and grabs his sketchbook and his pens and his pencils and his markers and his brushes and his erasers and sets up in the living room, near the piano where Lucas first played for him and Eliott started falling. He draws a hedgehog and a raccoon and doesn’t like it, then he draws a realistic portrait of the two of them but doesn’t like that either, then he draws another hedgehog and raccoon which he still doesn’t like but it’s better than the first one. He goes through the pages like a paper shredder, one after the other, the minute he draws a line he doesn’t like he scraps it and throws it on the ground with the others and soon he has a whole discarded pile and then he looks off the page and realizes hours have passed - when did that happen?

He sets his sketchbook aside - he’ll finish that later. His veins are thrumming with energy so he decides to go for a run - it’s nice outside and he wants to feel the sun on his face, the wind in his hair as he sprints around Paris. He puts on some old basketball shorts and his running shoes and flies out the door and down the stairs and bursts onto the sidewalk and takes off.

He puts one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, and he’s blocks away from his apartment before he realizes he forgot his headphones - whatever, he doesn’t need music anyways - and he forgot to lock the front door behind him - no one’s gonna rob them though, it’s fine, but did he shut the door behind him? Did he leave it open? Good thing they don’t have any pets.

He’s been running for he doesn’t know how long before his lungs start to burn, and he slows down, glancing at his surroundings and he doesn’t even know what street he’s on - he glances at the nearest street sign - how far did he run? He looks around and sees a nice looking liquor store - wouldn’t that be a nice gift for Lucas - it would - he goes inside.

He’s browsing the top shelf of the Merlot section when he remembers he doesn’t have his wallet, and even if he did he couldn’t afford anything in here - he looks around and the cashier has his back turned, so he slips a bottle inside his shirt and runs out the door before anyone can see, and he keeps running and running and running until he gets back home.

The front door is cracked open - whoops - good thing his parents aren’t home yet, or they’d kill him. He slips inside and checks the clock on the wall - it’s already time for him to head to Lucas’s? That was fast. He changes out of his running clothes and - should he take a shower? No - no time - he puts on some jeans and looks for his wallet and grabs the wine and heads out the door.

He makes it to Lucas’s apartment before Lucas returns home - Lisa answers the door and Eliott breezes in right past her, Lisa rolling her eyes as she shuts the door behind him. He thinks she’s saying something - is she saying something? - but then the front door opens again - there he is!

He rushes forward and scoops Lucas up in a hug, squeezing his beautiful, amazing boyfriend as tight as his arms will go - and Lucas is chuckling, telling him to ease down, and then he starts talking about the test - it was awful, Eliott, seriously, but I think I did okay - Eliott?

Eliott walks off in the middle of Lucas’s sentence and goes to get the wine he set on the table - he got wine, Lucas! Lucas raises his eyebrows - I thought I the one who was supposed to get you something today? - and Eliott scoffs, because there’s never a wrong time to get Lucas something nice.

Lucas starts talking again - or does he? - and Eliott starts listing off all the great things he did today - he made so many drawings, and he went for a fantastic run, the best run ever, really, Lucas, and then he got the wine - it was great. Lucas is frowning at him, now - why is he frowning? And he says something about Eliott not going to work, why didn’t he go to work? Then Lucas looks at the wine - and how did you afford this? Eliott scoffs - five finger discount, Lucas, duh, and then Lucas is frowning some more, and, oh, Eliott hates that, he only ever wants smiles from Lucas.

Lucas opens his mouth again but Eliott beats him to it because he suddenly has a great idea - they should go out to dinner! Eliott will pay for the whole thing, seriously, he’ll get birthday money from his parents, it’s all on him, let’s go, Lucas. Lucas is saying something - no, Eliott, what - but Eliott’s patting down his pockets, looking for his wallet - where is his fucking wallet? He knows he brought it this time -

Someone is saying something - where the fuck is his wallet? It was right here. Where the fuck is his wallet? Where the fuck is it?

He’s frantically looking in all his pockets again - he has his phone, his keys - his phone has tons of messages, maybe he should check those - no wallet - where the fuck is his wallet? Did he drop it on the way over here? Did he forget it at home? Did he put it down on the table when he got here?

Where the fuck is it?

Someone’s screaming - he thinks it might be him - where the fuck is his wallet?

Where the fuck is it?

He hears a crash, something breaks - did he do that? Where the fuck is it?

Lucas’s blue eyes find his.

“Eliott!”

He stops. What?

There’s a knock at the front door, then - are they expecting someone?

Two men in uniform are on the other side when Lisa opens the door - why the hell are the police here? Is this about the wine? How did they find him?

One policeman is saying something to Lucas and Lisa and he gestures them out into the hall, closing the front door behind him them - what?

The other policeman remains in the room with him.

“Are you alright?”

What?

Eliott blinks, and takes a breath. “I’m fine - why are you here?”

The policeman adjusts his stance, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “One of the neighbors called about a noise complaint.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Just - try to keep it down.”

“Oh,” Eliott says. “I’m - sorry.” He swallows, and he feels a burning sensation in his eyes and he realizes he’s crying. “I’m - ” he stops, the words caught in his throat.

He realizes they’re probably asking Lucas if Eliott hit him. If he was violent, or could become violent. Or if he hurt himself.

Shame spreads through his veins, and he remains silent until the door opens again.

“We good?” the other policeman asks, to whom, Eliott doesn’t know - his partner, Lucas and Lisa, Eliott, the apartment, the entire city of Paris, the universe as a whole - who can say?

“Try to keep it down,” the policeman says, again, as they shuffle out the door.

“We will,” Lucas says, and “thank you,” and he shuts the door behind him.

The apartment is silent, and his ears are ringing.

Lucas walks over to him. “Eliott?”

Eliott swallows. “I’m - ”

Lucas moves closer to him, touches the back of his hand, gentle as a whisper. “Eliott,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” Eliott finally chokes out.

“No, no,” Lucas shakes his head. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Eliott doesn’t say anything, just looks at a spot on Lucas’s shoulder. He’s wearing a blue shirt. He looks so good in blue.

Lucas grabs his hand more firmly. “Want me to take you home?”

Eliott closes his eyes. “Yeah.”

When they get back to his apartment, his parents are there - he shuffles right past them, past the pile of his scrapped drawings, past his wallet on the kitchen table - and goes to his room, collapses onto his bed.

The low murmur of Lucas’s voice as he talks to his parents drifts into Eliott’s ears, curing up and making a home inside his mind, and he burrows under his covers. 

***

(SUNDAY, JUNE 28TH)

Lucas spends the next two days wracking his brain, trying to think of all the symptoms he missed.

The only time he saw Eliott before Thursday was Monday night, when Eliott brought him dinner and helped him study - was he hypomanic then? He seemed okay - but was he? Did Lucas just not notice?

Did Lucas really spend the last week so caught up in his own shit that he didn’t realize Eliott was acting differently?

He sighs, shaking his head to dispel the thoughts from his mind as he stares down at his phone, his last text from Eliott unanswered. It’s not your fault, he tells himself, again and again.

He’s texted Eliott a few times over the past two days, with varying degrees of success - sometimes Eliott replies with a full sentence, sometimes one word, sometimes nothing. Lucas tries not to push, to give him as much space and time as he needs.

He sends a few texts to Eliott’s mom, as well, asking how he is. He doesn’t ask for a play-by-play, because he knows Eliott would hate that, Lucas and his mom talking about him behind his back like he’s a sick pet and not a person. Eliott can’t stand it when he’s not involved in conversations about his own mental health. Eliott’s mom knows this, as well, and she keeps her responses to Lucas as unobtrusive as possible while still letting him know how Eliott is doing, and Lucas is grateful.

In the meantime, Lucas tries to go about his life as normal as possible. He and the boys go out on Saturday and celebrate finishing the bac, and they keep it relatively tame with a movie and drinks afterwards. The girls join them at the bar, later, and Lucas spends the rest of the night amused as he watches Daphné and Basile attempt to be normal around each other.

On Sunday he lazes around all day, switching between staring blankly at the TV with Lisa and googling “how to help a loved one with bipolar disorder,” scrolling through a few articles that are largely unhelpful.

At night he throws on some jeans and heads out the door to meet his dad for dinner. He’s tried to keep his expectations low for their meeting, but he admits he hasn’t done a very good job of quashing all of his hopeful thoughts over the past few days every time he thinks about dinner. His dad is happy he’s going to his wedding, and he asked Lucas to spend time with him. Maybe tonight they can actually have a real conversation, talk about trying to repair their relationship. Lucas knows they can never go back to how they once were, but maybe they can move forward, build something new.

As he walks down the street, the cool night air brushing against his skin and making the hair on his arms stand up, he thinks about all the things he wants to say to his father. How much he hurt him by leaving, his absence a tangible loss in Lucas’s life. How he made Lucas grow up too fast, ow he forced Lucas to take care of himself when he wasn’t ready. What his father could do to earn Lucas’s forgiveness, which could be obtained if his father could just be there.

He can picture it in his mind, in another universe, where a Lucas that doesn’t start crying every time he gets into an argument says what he really wants to say. He’s sitting in the restaurant, and he says to his father’s face, I don’t understand why you can’t just try to give a shit.

Lucas’s forgiveness would be easily given, at this point in time. But he knows that it won’t be for too much longer.

He reaches the restaurant a few minutes early and scans the tables through the front windows, trying to spot his father’s familiar beard and glasses. He doesn’t see him, so he sits on the bench outside the door.

He pulls out his phone to scroll through instagram while he waits for his dad to show, and he realizes he has an unread text from four minute ago. He must not have felt the vibration in his pocket as he was walking.

Dad
Something came up and I won’t be able to make it tonight. Can we reschedule for sometime this week?

Lucas reads the message, and then he reads it again.

He starts laughing.

He scrubs his hand over his eyes, a rueful snort blowing out of his nose, and he locks his phone again, putting it facedown on his lap. He doesn’t bother to reply.

He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, sliding down until his neck is resting against the back of the bench. He breathes in and out, in and out, and then he opens his eyes and looks up at the sky.

The few stars that manage to shine through the city lights are just starting to emerge, bright little pinpricks against a swath of midnight blue. He knows nothing about the stars, nothing about constellations or planets or the universe besides his imagination of his own parallel lives. But he knows they are much bigger than him, and it helps, sometimes, to be dwarfed by them.

He closes his eyes again.

He wants Eliott.

He thinks about it for a few seconds, and then decides fuck it. The worst thing Eliott can say is no, so he grabs his phone again.

Lucas
can i come over?

He’s not expecting a quick reply, if he gets one at all, but to his surprise, his phone buzzes a few moments later.

Eliott
I don’t feel like talking

Lucas
i dont either

The little typing bubble appears, then disappears, then appears again.

Eliott
Ok

He gets off the bench and heads toward the bus stop.

He keeps his mind carefully blank as the bus takes him through the city, and he makes it to Eliott’s in good time. Someone is coming out of the building as he reaches the door, so he doesn’t have to buzz the intercom, and he makes his way up the stairs.

Eliott’s dad opens the door, and he ushers Lucas inside.

“How’s he doing?” Lucas asks, voice low. The whole apartment is quiet.

“He’s okay,” Eliott’s dad says. “He ate earlier. He’ll be happy to see you.” Eliott’s dad seems to notice something, as he looks at Lucas. “Are you okay?”

Lucas tries to school his expression, but gives up after a few moments. “Yeah,” he says, then changes his mind. “No.”

Eliott’s dad waits for him to elaborate, but Lucas doesn’t feel like getting into it, not now. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Just… thank you for being a good dad to Eliott.”

He looks surprised, like he doesn’t know what to say to that. Lucas doesn’t know what to say to that, either. “I’m gonna…” Lucas says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Eliott’s room.

“Of course,” Eliott’s dad says, and Lucas leaves him there.

He cracks open Eliott’s door and slips inside. It’s even quieter in here than the rest of the apartment, and Eliott is lying in the dark on his back, staring at the ceiling. He looks over at Lucas as he comes inside, but he doesn’t say anything.

Lucas doesn’t say anything, either, just takes off his shoes and his jeans and slides into bed, keeping a careful distance away from Eliott.

He lies there, on his side, and he feels himself let go.

He’s not full on sobbing, but the tears that have been stinging his eyes since he read his dad’s text fall down his face, over his cheeks and into his mouth and onto his chin, and he can taste the salt.

He sniffs a few times, his shoulders just barely shaking, and he can see Eliott tense up in the darkness, the outline of his body going rigid.

“Lucas…” Eliott says, his voice dry and scratchy.

Lucas knows what he’s going to say. “I’m not crying about you.”

Eliott pauses, the silence in the room settling over them like a blanket.

Eventually, Eliott turns over, mirroring Lucas’s position so they’re both lying on their sides, facing each other.

“What happened?” Eliott asks, and the whisper of his words travels the distance between them carefully, trying to preserve the calm.

Lucas swallows the lump in his throat. “My dad bailed on me.”

Eliott is quiet.

Lucas’s eyes have adjusted to the dark, and he can just barely make out Eliott’s face, the point of his nose, the dimple on his chin, and Lucas realizes he knows Eliott’s face better than he knows his own. That the face he sees in reflections and in pictures isn’t what he really looks like, a mirror image or warped from a camera lens. He will never really get to see himself with his own two eyes, and Lucas suddenly has no idea what he looks like.

After a minute, Eliott shifts, and he reaches his hand out towards Lucas.

Lucas scoots across the bed, closing the distance between them, and they wrap their arms around each other, Lucas burying his face where Eliott’s shoulder meets his neck.

He breathes in.

Lucas thinks about the stars again. It’s comforting, knowing he’s made of the same stuff as they are. Knowing that he and the stars and the planets and every asteroid flying across the universe is made out of the same atoms, from the same explosion that made everything. And it’s even better knowing he’s made of the same stuff as Eliott, that the same carbon and hydrogen and oxygen that make him a person also make Eliott a person, that the matter that comprises their bodies has always existed, and one day it happened to come together to make Lucas and Eliott.

Lying there in the dark, Eliott doesn’t say anything, and neither does Lucas. They don’t say I’m sorry or your dad’s a dick or it sucks that you’re depressed or I love you.

They don’t say anything. They don’t need to. They already know.

***

(FRIDAY, JULY 3RD)

Eliott spends all week in bed.

He doesn’t feel much of anything, which, he supposes, is better than sitting around crying. He has a few suicidal thoughts, but they flit across his mind lazily, as if he was trying to decide what to have for dinner. He doesn’t seriously think about hurting himself - he hasn’t thought about that in a long time.

He wonders if he should be concerned that he’s grateful that he’s experiencing passive suicidal ideation, not active, before he brushes off that thought. He’ll deal with that later.

Some days he feels better than others. One afternoon he actually gets up to eat something, and his mom asks him if he wants to watch a movie with her later. He agrees, but when the time comes he wishes he hadn’t, and he stays in his room when his mom calls to him, telling him she’s about to push play. Later that night, after she goes to sleep, he leaves his room to get a glass of water, and next to the sink he sees the empty bowl of popcorn she set out for them to share, and he feels like an asshole.

But at least he feels something.

He doesn’t call in to work, but his mom knocked gently on his door one day, before she was about to leave for work, and asked to come in. Eliott didn’t say anything - using his voice is too much effort.

She stood near his bed, and he kept staring at the wall, curled on his side.

“Renée texted me, asking where you were,” she says. “Do you want me to talk to her?”

Eliott remained quiet, then he nodded, moving his head up and down slowly against his pillow. His mom had left without another word, and he supposed he was grateful his boss knew his parents.

Lucas came over a few times, lying in bed with him, not doing much of anything, either. Sometimes he holds Eliott, and sometimes Eliott doesn’t want to be held - that’s fine, too. Lucas is good like that. One time when Lucas comes over Eliott is lying on his side, eyes glazed over as he watched youtube videos about a lady who rescues kittens, and they end up watching her videos for hours, their minds turned off.

Eliott wants to ask Lucas more about what happened with his dad, if he still wanted to go to the wedding, but he can’t, his tongue heavy in his mouth. He hopes that Lucas knows Eliott cares, even if his fucked up brain isn’t letting him care about anything right now, and he tries to beam it telepathically into Lucas’s brain every time he’s close. I care about you. I’m here. I’m sorry I can’t do anything right now but I’m here, even if you have to come to me.

Lucas keeps coming to him, so Eliott thinks he gets the message.

The worst thing is that he can’t draw anything. That’s the thing he hates the most, every time he gets depressed - he can’t do anything, but he really can’t draw. His sketchbook is a million miles away, sitting over on his desk; his pen weighs a thousand pounds in his hand. Even if he could, even if he could put pen to paper, nothing would come out, his brain incapable of working that way right now.

He thinks about everyone who perpetuates the bullshit tortured artist idea. He thinks about everyone who romanticizes Van Gogh cutting off his ear by saying he wanted to give it to his lover and not seeing it as an act of self harm. He thinks about all the art Van Gogh made while living in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, and all the art he could have made if he had been able to receive proper treatment. If he hadn’t killed himself.

They have a framed print of Irises hanging up in the kitchen, and one day he gets up and sits at the table and looks at it, trying to picture Van Gogh, living in an asylum, painting the flowers in the garden. Creating something beautiful.

He feels a little better.

He sees his meds, sitting on the counter in their little orange bottle, and he takes his daily dose, swallows them down with a glass of water.

He decides to eat something, too, while he’s there in the kitchen. He might as well. 

***

(SUNDAY, JULY 5TH)

He gets his bac results on Friday - 15 out of 20. High honors, so he’s happy, but getting his score feels oddly anti-climactic. He’s not sure if it’s because he’s so burned out from the last month of school that he just doesn’t care anymore, or if it’s because he’s so worried about other things that a test score seems trivial in comparison.

He goes over to Eliott’s on Saturday afternoon and is pleasantly surprised to find his boyfriend feeling well enough to talk. He’s still mostly lying around, but he’s migrated to the couch, and he and Lucas watch cartoons curled up under a blanket together. That night he has another night out with the boys to celebrate being officially done with high school, and all the time in between he spends trying not to be pissed off at his father.

He doesn’t do a very good job.

It’s his fault, honestly. For expecting too much from his father, for thinking that if he was the first to reach out his father would respond in kind, would work just as hard to repair their relationship. His dad, who can’t even show up to fucking dinner. His dad, who bailed the minute shit got hard.

If he learned anything from his dad, it’s that you’d better be fucking sure, going into any kind of commitment. If something falls apart so easily, then it should have never been built in the first place.

He wonders if he’ll ever be sure with Eliott. Thinking about the future kind of violates their minute by minute policy. He knows he loves Eliott enough that he wants to be with him for a long, long time, but what if that’s not enough?

Sunday finds him lying in bed, and, unexpectedly, with a job prospect.

Yann
I talked to my boss and she wants you to come in for an interview, can you come in tomorrow?

He hadn’t even begun to think about getting a job beyond the vague idea of ‘something he should probably get soon,’ but last night Yann told him one of the servers at the restaurant where he works had quit that day, and he could ask his boss if Lucas could come in for an interview, if he was interested.

(At that point Basile interjected, saying, “Hey! I’m looking for a job too! What about me?”

Yann shoved his face away. “You’re disgusting, Baz, no one wants you to serve them their food.”)

He wasn’t really interested - being a waiter did not sound too appealing to him - but if a job is just going to fall into his lap, he supposes he’d be an idiot not to take it. The restaurant is a breakfast and lunch place, so he would have fairly normal hours and still get nights free, and he could hang out with Yann, so it doesn’t sound too terrible. Yann seemed to like working there.

Lucas
yeah i can come in tomorrow. any time really, i have nothing going on

Yann
awesome dude she says come by at 14h

Lucas
i’ll be there

He brings up his chat with Eliott as he looks at his clean clothes in his closet.

Lucas
what does one wear to an interview for a position as a waiter?

Eliott
waitress

Lucas snorts, and Eliott sends him another message before he can think of a snarky reply.

Eliott
Wait
Is the person interviewing to be a waiter... you?

Lucas
yeah
yann told me someone quit at his job yesterday and asked if i wanted to interview for it
so i have an interview tomorrow

Eliott
Lucas, I say this with as much love in my heart as possible, but - you? A waiter?

Lucas
hey!!!!
i thought i could do anything??????

Eliott
You can!!!! If you want to you’ll be the best waiter to ever wait and I’ll support you until the end of time
But, once again, I ask: you, a waiter?

Lucas
my temper isnt THAT bad

Eliott
One time you got annoyed with me because you said I chew weird

Lucas
you do chew weird
fine, when i quit in two weeks you have my full permission to say i told you so

Eliott
I would never :(
I won’t even come into your restaurant and annoy you with my weird chewing, that’s how much I want you to succeed

Lucas
you take that back
your chewing may be annoying be if you dont bring your face around every once in a while i’m certain i’ll waste away

Eliott
That’s so sweet ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

As Lucas is typing out his reply - this is the longest conversation he’s had with Eliott all week, even if it’s over text, and it’s making him happy - he gets a message from his mom.

Mom
Good afternoon my dear, are you doing anything tonight? Would you like to come over for dinner? We can celebrate your scores and you can meet my new cat!

Lucas blinks at the screen. His mom has been talking about adopting a cat for ever.

Lucas
what? you finally got a cat???

Mom
I did! Adopted her yesterday

Lucas
whats her name?? what does she look like???

Mom
Virginia! And you’ll have to come over to see :)

Lucas
i will! what time should i come?

Mom
Any time really. 20h?

Lucas
20h sounds good. i’ll see you soon

He continues texting Eliott all afternoon, excitedly keeping their conversation going - Eliott sounds really good, and at one point he says he’s going back to work tomorrow, and Lucas has to stop himself from cheering. He doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, because he knows Eliott hates that, but he’s so fucking proud of him, so he settles on sending him gentle words of encouragement and a million heart emojis.

He’s in a good mood when he gets to his mom’s apartment, later. He hops off the bus, looking up from his phone so he doesn’t trip before continuing typing out his message to Eliott (they’ve moved on to debating whether when humanity leaves earth if they should move to the moon or move to Mars - Lucas is for the moon, Eliott is for Mars, because I love the moon too much, Lucas, I don’t want to ruin her).

He sends Eliott a message to let him know he’s at his mom’s, right as she opens the door. She smiles and wraps him up in a hug. He leans into it, resting his head on her shoulder. He’s missed her.

She moved apartments a few months ago, out of their old place - too many memories, and she’d wanted a clean slate, she said. He likes her new place a lot, the wood floors and the clean walls and the airy balcony, which is where they sit down for dinner.

Her cat winds around their feet as they sit before moving over to the balcony railing, flopping down so it can look at at the world, occasionally chirping when a bird flies by.

“She’s cute,” Lucas says, grinning when she starts delicately grooming her paws. She is really cute - a blue coat and small face, and she only has one eye. She had an infection and the right eye had to be removed, and the previous owner couldn’t afford the cost, which is why she was surrendered to the shelter.

“I fell in love with her the moment I saw her,” his mom says, smiling as the cat gets up to stretch, curving her little back.

“I’m glad you finally got one,” Lucas says, cutting up his food. “You’ve only wanted one forever.”

“Yes, well,” she says, waving her hand. “Your father and his ‘allergies,’ you know.”

Lucas rolls his eyes. His mom had always wanted them to get a cat, but his dad said they couldn’t, because he was allergic, even though he wasn’t. He just said that because he didn’t like cats.

“Have you, uhm,” Lucas starts. He doesn’t like talking about his dad to his mom, but he wants to ask, and he supposes she would want to know, if she doesn’t already. “Have you heard he’s getting married?”

His mom looks down at her plate, carefully cutting a piece of chicken. “Yes,” she says, after a moment. “Your aunt told me.”

“Oh,” he says.

She takes a sip of her water. “Are you going to the wedding?”

Lucas shrugs. “I don’t know. I said I would, but…” he trails off.

His mom furrows her brows. “Don’t feel like you can’t go on my account.”

Lucas shakes his head. “No, no, it’s not that - I just - ” he sighs again. “It’s stupid, but. Last week we were supposed to have dinner, and I was really looking forward to it, because I thought I might ask him if we could start, like… repairing our relationship, or something. And Eliott hasn’t been doing well lately, so I just wanted to talk to him. Like, as my dad.” He looks down at his feet. “And he cancelled on me at the last minute. He didn’t even say sorry.”

Lucas’s mom is silent. He doesn’t look up at her, not sure if he wants to see her expression. He shifts his gaze over to the cat, now curled up in a ball, fast asleep.

His mom sighs, after a minute. She puts her fork down.

“I’m sorry, Lucas,” she says.

“It’s okay,” he says. “It’s not your fault.”

“I know. I’m still sorry.” She taps her fingers idly against her water glass, and the sound accompanies the noises from the street below - the hum of cars driving past, laughter from the restaurant down the street. The music of being alive.

“That’s the thing about your father, Lucas,” she says. “He’s never there when you need him to be.”

He feels, suddenly, like crying again. He’s not sure if it’s for his mom, or for himself, or maybe for both of them - the fact that they both have to deal with this wound. The empty space where his father should be.

“How do you do it?” Lucas asks, still staring at the cat. “How can you go on, knowing you wasted twenty years of your life with him?”

She’s silent, again. He can see her looking over at him out of the corner of his eye.

“I didn’t waste twenty years with him, Lucas.”

He finally looks up, looks over at her.

“What?”

“I know it ended badly, but I don’t regret our marriage. Not for one second.”

Lucas swallows the lump in his throat. “Why?”

She gives him a small smile. “Because I had you.”

He lets the tears fall out of his eyes, then, blinking as as they roll down his cheeks. He wipes them away, sniffling, and his mom stands up and moves around the table, wrapping him up in a hug where he sits.

He rests his head on her chest, and she cards her fingers through his hair. “I mean it, Lucas. Just because something ends, doesn’t mean it was a waste of time,” she says, quietly. “Even if it dies, you can always plant the seeds and grow something new.”

He cries harder, then, and his mom wraps him up tighter, allowing him to let it all out. He calms down after a few minutes, and she kisses him on the top of his head before returning to her seat.

He wipes at his face again, and takes a sip of water. “Thank you,” he says, unsure of what else to say. “I mean - thank you.”

“Of course, Lucas,” she says, and she reaches across the table to pat his hand. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says. He doesn’t say it nearly enough.

Later, on his way home, he sends Eliott a picture of his mom’s cat. He and Eliott always send each other pictures of random animals they see on the street - dogs on walks, cats bathing in the sun, funny looking pigeons, a really fat raccoon, once.

Lucas
look at my mom’s new cat

Eliott responds after a minute.

Eliott
❤️❤️❤️❤️ I love him

Lucas
it’s a her

Eliott
What is gender anyways
What’s her name?

Lucas
virginia
after your girl

Eliott
Madame woolf??

Lucas
yup
mom said she’s been reading a lot of her ever since you mentioned her that time we had dinner

Eliott
I have to meet her soon ❤️

Lucas
mom said she wants you to come over too
whenever you want
can i walk you home after work tomorrow?

Eliott
It’s a date

The apartment is dark, when he gets home.

He brushes his teeth and changes into his pajamas, exhausted. He has his interview tomorrow, and he wants to get enough sleep.

He sends one more message before he goes to bed. It’s a week late.

Lucas
hi dad. i’m busy this week so i can’t meet for dinner. but i will see you at the wedding on friday.

He doesn’t want to go, but he said he would. And he doesn’t owe his father anything, but the one thing he hates the most is when his dad doesn’t show up when he said he would. And Lucas will be damned before he ends up like his father. 

***

(MONDAY, JULY 6TH)

He gets to work early, before Renée and Louise, but he doesn’t unlock the door and go inside yet. He’s not sure if he’d be welcome.

He’s leaning against the building when Renée walks up, coffee in her hand, looking half asleep still. She eyes him as she approaches.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi.” She gets her keys out of her bag and sticks them in the lock, twisting. “Let’s talk inside.”

She flicks on the light switch and the fluorescent overhead bulbs blink on. The office looks the same as it did when he last saw it.

She shuts the door behind him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you, and that I didn’t tell you what was happening, and that I didn’t show up, and that I didn’t tell you I’m bipolar. I just - when I have an episode, I just can’t do anything. I can’t function properly - ”

“Eliott,” she interrupts. “It’s okay.” She looks at him for a minute, like she’s trying to figure out something. “Are you okay?”

Am I? he thinks.

“Yeah,” he says, exhaling. “I’m okay. I wasn’t doing well the past week but - I’m getting there.”

“Good,” Renée says. She pauses again, and she takes a sip of her coffee. “I have depression, you know.”

He didn’t know. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says. “I had to pause law school for a year, because of it. I’ve been on antidepressants since I was twenty, but it still gets bad, sometimes.”

He doesn’t know what to say. “Oh.”

She shoots him a wry grin. “My point is I get it. I was mad when you didn’t show up the first few days, but then your mom texted me, and - I get it.” She takes another sip of her coffee. “Your health should always come before work, Eliott. I really believe that. Shit happens all the time, and the world keeps turning whether we like it or not. We have to do our best with the time we have.”

Eliott feels an immense gratitude spread throughout his body - he knew Renée was a great boss, but she is a really, really lovely person. He knows not every employer would be so understanding.

“So - I still have a job?” he asks.

She smiles at him. “You still have a job,” she confirms.

“Thank you,” he says, smiling back at her. “Really. I - thank you. That’s really nice.”

“You’re welcome, Eliott,” she says, and she steps forward to pat him on the shoulder. “We like having you around. I don’t want to see you gone.”

She gives him one last smile and then moves towards her office. He goes over to his desk and sets his stuff down, and gets to work.

Louise comes in soon after and he has a similar conversation with her, and he’s so grateful to these two women, the kindness and empathy they both possess. He buys them both lunch, as a thank you, and they declare him employee of the month, even though he’s definitely not. And he’s their only employee. He appreciates it anyway.

That afternoon, when he leaves, he spots Lucas’s floppy hair, sticking up in all directions, sitting at a table at the café down the street. He’s facing towards Eliott, so he can’t sneak up on him, but the smile on Lucas’s face when he spots him is way better than surprising him, anyway.

“Hey,” Eliott says, sitting down next to him. “How’d your interview go?”

“Good,” Lucas says. “I got the job.”

“You did?” Eliott asks, smiling, and Lucas nods. Eliott leans over and glomps Lucas, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close, pressing kisses all over his face.

“Oh my god,” Lucas laughs. “It requires no experience and I know someone who works there. It would have been more surprising if I didn’t get it.”

Eliott kisses his forehead and cheeks a few more times. “Let me be proud of you.”

Lucas squirms around in his arms and Eliott relents, letting him go, but he keeps an arm around the back of Lucas’s chair. Lucas is still smiling, gazing up at Eliott, and Eliott takes a particularly gravity-defying strand of Lucas’s hair in between his fingertips, tugging gently.

Lucas looks at him a few more moments before asking, softly, “How did your day go?”

“It was good,” Eliott says, and he means it. “Renée and Louise were really nice about the whole thing. And it’s all on the table now, so I feel really good about it.”

“Good,” Lucas says, and he reaches over and squeezes his knee. “They’re really good people.”

“They are,” Eliott agrees. Lucas leans over and gives him a kiss, quick but soft.

Eliott leans closer to him when Lucas pulls back. “Can I stay over tonight?”

Lucas reaches up and cups his jaw, stroking his cheek with his thumb. “Always.”

Later, when Lucas is in the shower, Eliott’s lying on his bed, checking his emails on his phone. He has one from an address he doesn’t recognize, but it doesn’t look like spam, so he opens it anyways.

Dear Eliott Demaury,

You are scheduled for an appointment with Dr Davide Martin on MONDAY, JULY 13TH, at 17h30. To confirm you appointment, please reply YES to this email. To cancel, reply NO.

Sincerely,

Paris Counseling and Therapy Center

Right.

He forgot he made that appointment, two weeks ago, when he was going through all his schools (which reminds him, he needs to cancel all those appointments too, fuck).

He bites his lip, his thumb hovering over the reply button, before he presses it.

He types out yes, and hits send. 

***

(FRIDAY, JULY 10TH)

It’s a nice ceremony, all things considered.

If Lucas wasn’t as petty as he is, he would even call it lovely. The church’s high vaulted ceilings cast shadows on the stained glass as the sun sets, the candles around the altar highlighting the white decorations, the bride’s ivory dress, the bouquet of multicolored flowers clutched between her manicured hands.

Lucas spends most of the ceremony scowling. Or, well, he tries, but it’s actually kind of hard to scowl when Eliott’s holding his hand.

The bride and groom use the traditional vows, thank god - he thinks he might have gagged if he had to sit through personalized declarations of their love and devotion to each other.

The priest pronounces them husband and wife, and when everyone else cheers and claps as they share their first kiss as a married couple, Lucas looks at the floor. Eliott doesn’t clap, either, keeping his hand tight in Lucas’s grip.

“That was nice,” Eliott murmurs to him, as his father and his new wife walk back down the aisle, accompanied by the continuous applause. Lucas snorts, and Eliott glances at him out of the corner of his eye, a smirk on his face.

“Shut up,” Lucas says, rolling his eyes. The last of the bridesmaids and groomsmen file out the front doors - thank god his father at least had enough sense to not ask Lucas to be in the wedding party - and everyone begins shuffling around in their seats, gathering up their things so they can head to the reception down the street.

A few of his relatives stop to talk to him, and he introduces Eliott as his boyfriend without a second thought, not even pausing to consider whether or not anyone here will have a problem with them. They chat with one of his dad’s sisters for a few minutes, and when she heads out the doors they realize they’re the last ones in the church.

Eliott picks up his jacket from where he draped it across the back of the pew and slings it over his shoulder. He grabs Lucas’s hand again, pulls him out the door.

The sun has set, by now, and it’s colder than it was before, even though it’s summer. Lucas shivers a bit when they step outside, a breeze from the cool front whirling around them, ruffling their hair. Eliott stops walking, tugging on Lucas’s hand so he stops, too. He unfurls his jacket and places it around Lucas’s shoulders.

Lucas smiles up at him as he does so, adjusting it so it’s snug around him. “It’s July, Eliott, I don’t think I’m gonna freeze to death.”

Eliott smooths his hands over his shoulders, down his arms. His brown jacket almost swallows Lucas whole, and it doesn’t really go with his shirt, but he doesn’t mind. “Weirder things have happened,” Eliott says, taking Lucas’s hand again as they continue walking.

The reception is at a restaurant down the street - Lucas’s dad has enough cash to rent out an entire restaurant, but he can’t give Lucas rent money on time, apparently - and they slip inside. Everyone is already talking, grouped up around the bar or the sitting at the tables, waiting for the newlyweds and the rest of the wedding party to arrive after they finish taking pictures.

Lucas and Eliott hang back, standing a little bit away from everyone else. Lucas doesn’t particularly feel like making small talk.

Instead, Eliott spends his time pointing at random people, trying to guess who they are based on Lucas’s description of his relatives.

“Okay, that’s definitely your aunt Michelle,” Eliott says, pointing to a woman wearing a shiny purple dress.

Lucas squints. “I don’t even know who that is,” he laughs. “I told you Michelle was chill, she’s not gonna show up looking like Studio 54.”

“Studio 54 can be chill,” Eliott says, and Lucas laughs again.

“What - oh,” he starts, but gets interrupted by the arrival of the bride and groom, the room erupting in cheers again. People flock to his dad and his wife, shouting their congratulations.

Lucas stares, detached.

Eliott lets him watch in silence, for a minute, before he points again, this time at his cousin’s five-year-old daughter, twirling around in a pink dress.

“That’s definitely your great aunt Lola.”

Lucas rolls his eyes, feels the grin once again return to his face. “Lola is seventy-one, Eliott.”

Eliott shrugs. “I thought it might be a Benjamin Button situation.”

Lucas shakes his head, fondly, and then he hears his father.

“Hi, Lucas.”

Lucas turns to look at him. “Hi, Dad.”

His father looks happy. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Uhm - yeah,” Lucas says, not very convincingly. “Me too.”

His dad turns his gaze towards Eliott. “And you must be Eliott,” he says, sticking out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

He hasn’t introduced Eliott to his dad, he hasn’t wanted to, not since his dad told him not to bring Eliott to mass, that one time.

Eliott doesn’t let go of Lucas’s hand, sticking out his left hand for his father to shake, instead, and his dad has to switch hands to accommodate him. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Congratulations.”

As his dad offers Eliott his thanks, his dad’s wife approaches them, then, joining their little circle next to her husband.

“It’s nice to see you, again, Lucas,” she says, smiling.

“You too, Charlotte,” he says. She seems nice, from the few times he’s met her - he has nothing against her, at least, and he bites back a good luck. “Congratulations,” he says instead.

“This is my boyfriend, Eliott,” he says to Charlotte, and they shake hands too, Eliott offering his well-wishes as well.

“I’m glad you’re both here,” his dad says, and Lucas refrains from rolling his eyes again. Someone calls for the bride and groom across the room, and they turn away, heading in that direction.

“I’ll talk to you later, Lucas!” his dad throws over his shoulder, as he and Charlotte go to talk to someone else.

“Yeah, right,” Lucas mutters, and Eliott snorts. Lucas groans, then, and turns to bury his face into Eliott’s shoulder. “This is so fucking awkward.”

Eliott presses a kiss into his hair. “It’s fine, Lucas, it’s okay.” Someone calls about dinner starting, then, and everyone starts shifting around to find their seats. “Come on, let’s go stuff our faces, that’ll make you feel better.”

It does, relatively. Dinner is good, and there’s an open bar, so he supposes it could be worse. Maybe.

Eliott goes to the bathroom once the dancing starts up, and Lucas takes a moment to pull out his phone, scrolling idly through instagram. He stops on one picture, a few posts down, that makes him smile.

“Check this out,” he says to Eliott, when he sits back down, and tilts his phone screen so Eliott can see.

It’s a picture of the girls, one that Daphné posted, all five of them with big smiles on their faces. He’s glad to see them getting along so well, even though it’s been a year since all the shit went down between them. Daphné, Alexia, Manon and Emma have all made a genuine effort to listen to Imane, to correct their behavior, to think before saying something stupid. To try, and to learn, and their friendship has never been stronger.

Eliott squints down at Daphné's caption. “Going to the women in Islam night with the girls,” he reads aloud, smiling. “Is that the thing Imane’s mom organized?”

“Yeah,” Lucas says. “She did it last year too, so they asked her to do it again.”

“That’s awesome,” Eliott says. “We’ll have to ask them about it.”

Lucas taps on the picture, liking it, and then he zooms in on Daphné. “Look at the pin she’s wearing.”

She has a small flag pinned to her collar, the pink stripes matching her shirt perfectly.

Eliott smiles, again. “I’m proud of her,” he says.

“Me too,” Lucas agrees, and he brings up his keyboard to type out a comment, telling her as such, punctuating it with a few rainbow emojis.

Eliott watches him, silently, looking at Lucas as he puts his phone away.

Eliott raises his eyebrows, brief. He nods his head towards the dancefloor and holds out his hand, an invitation. “Wanna dance?”

Lucas smiles, taking his hand.

The song playing is slow, steady like a heartbeat. Eliott leads him around the mass of bodies, away from the tables where people are eating and laughing. They stay on the outskirts, and when Eliott finds a secluded enough spot he stops, gathers Lucas up in his arms.

Lucas rests his head on Eliott’s shoulder, his nose pressed against the curve of Eliott’s neck, and waits for Eliott to start moving.

He doesn’t, and after a minute of standing there, in his boyfriend’s arms, Lucas laughs, quietly, huffing against Eliott’s neck.

“I think you’re supposed to move, when you dance, not just hug.”

He feels a chuckle rumble through Eliott’s chest, and he finally starts swaying them, slowly. “Fuck you,” Eliott says. “I’m great at dancing.”

“Oh, I know,” Lucas says. “I’ve known since the first time we hung out. I’m never gonna be able to get the image of you dancing out of my head, no matter how hard I try.”

“Good,” Eliott says. “That’s what I was going for.”

Lucas laughs. “To scar me for life?”

Lucas can’t seen him, but he can feel Eliott shake his head, curving his neck so his mouth is right by Lucas’s ear. “To ruin you for everyone else,” he says, quietly. “You’ll never be able to find someone who’s as good at dancing as I am, so you’re stuck with me.”

Lucas snorts, but he bites back his retort, burying his face closer into Eliott’s neck, and he lets his words wash over him.

They keep swaying, slowly, caught in their own world. The rest of the people dancing are loud, happy, the voices from the people sitting down bouncing off the walls, traveling up to the ceiling and filling their air, but they can’t penetrate the little bubble around Lucas and Eliott. They’ve turned, as they danced, so Lucas is facing away from the rest of the dancing crowd, away from the tables full of his relatives. It’s just him and Eliott, right now, Eliott’s arms around his waist, Eliott’s scent filling his nose, Eliott guiding them along as they music plays so Lucas doesn’t have to think about anything else.

It really hasn’t been a bad night, Lucas thinks. It could have been a lot worse, but Eliott’s here, and he’s making it bearable, even somewhat fun. Everything’s always good when Eliott’s here.

He thinks about his mom, what she said when they had dinner.

Just because something ends, doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.

The thing is, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

You’re stuck with me, Eliott said, but he wasn’t, really. Nothing bound them together except their desire to be together. Lucas woke up every day and decided to be with Eliott. Every minute he spends with Eliott is a minute he wants to spend with Eliott. Nothing keeps them together besides themselves, and nothing would force them to stay together if they decided they didn’t want to do this anymore. No force in the universe will act on their behalf.

He can’t know. He can never be sure that he and Eliott will end up together, that they’ll spend the rest of their lives together. No one can be sure, because shit happens all the time. He could get married to Eliott and have it all fall apart and then he’ll be dancing at his second wedding, just like his dad is, right now. He can try, he can try harder than he’s ever tried at anything to make sure they stay together, because that’s what he wants. Forever, with Eliott.

But if it does end, that doesn’t mean it will be meaningless.

Standing there on the dancefloor, the love of his life wrapped around him, he thinks about all the different ways he could try to say this to Eliott, to tell him that he’s in this for the long haul, to tell him he’s scared that it might end but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to try. That the mere possibility of them not being together makes him want to try harder, to hold on tighter.

He can’t form the words, can’t begin to describe to Eliott how much he means to him. That he changed Lucas’s life, and no matter what happens in the future, nothing will ever erase that.

The only thing he can do is make a promise to himself, then. He promises he’ll be there for Eliott, every single day. And if it ends - and he hopes, with everything he has, that it won’t end, that it never will - but if it does, he won’t regret one single second he spent loving Eliott.

“Eliott?” he murmurs, quietly, so he’s not sure if Eliott even hears him.

He does, he always does. “Hmm?” Eliott hums.

“I love you.”

Eliott turns his head, presses a kiss into Lucas’s temple. “I love you too.”

Lucas lifts his head up, then, his mouth seeking out Eliott’s. Their kiss is warm, soft, private - even though they’re surrounded by people, it’s just the two of them.

Later - after they’ve had two servings of cake, and some of the guests have started to leave - they’re back on the dancefloor. Eliott has his arms around Lucas’s shoulders, this time, Lucas’s hands on his waist.

It’s late, and they should leave, soon, but Lucas doesn’t want to let go of him just yet.

In the distance, faintly, he can hear the bells in the church tower chime, twelve times.

“Hey,” Eliott says, smiling softly down at him. “Happy birthday.”

Lucas snorts. “What’d you get me?”

“No way,” Eliott says, shaking his head. “It’s a surprise.”

“Alright,” he smiles. “I still have to give you your birthday present, you know.”

Eliott shrugs. “Let’s do it later, then, when we get home.”

As if on queue, Lucas yawns, and Eliott laughs as his mouth opens comically wide. “I think I’m ready to get out of here,” Lucas says.

“Let’s go, then,” Eliott says, and they leave the dancefloor.

His dad is talking to someone else as Eliott collects his jacket. They don’t say goodbye to him, or Charlotte, or anyone, slinking out unnoticed, quiet.

Eliott takes his hand, and leads him home. 

***

(MONDAY, JULY 13TH)

“What do you want to get out of therapy, Eliott?”

Dr. Davide Martin is smart, punctual, organized, and completely the opposite of what Eliott is looking for.

So far he’s talked to Eliott about lists, about structure, about taking control of his routine, mood checklists and switching medications and proactive doctor’s visits, and Eliott has shot down every single suggestion.

What do you want to get out of therapy, Eliott?

What does he want?

To stay alive? To not kill himself? To be happy? To not freak out every time something changes, to not want to stay in his room all day and avoid growing up because he’s too scared to start his life?

Instead, he says, “I don’t know.”

He’s sitting in Dr. Martin’s office, room, whatever it is - it’s full of squishy chairs, a couch, plants, a tiny fountain tinkling in the corner. The lights are low, only a few dim lamps in the room on, and he thinks it’s supposed to be relaxing, but it just makes him want to fall asleep.

Across from him, in his chair, Dr. Martin looks pinched, like he’s trying not to purse his lips.

“I find patients get more out of therapy if they come in with a clear objective.”

Eliott resists the urge to roll his eyes.

What he really wants is to talk to someone. Talk to someone on his level, not have someone talking down to him. Someone he can call by their first name, maybe, not Doctor So-And-So. And he’s realizing, with every sentence that comes out of Dr. Martin’s mouth, that he is not that person. That this isn’t going to work.

He was scared shitless about this happening, about him seeing a therapist and it not being a good fit. He thought he would want to go back into his room and hide, that one failure the first time would mean it he would never try this again. He knows himself.

But it happened, and, sitting in this squishy armchair, Dr. Martin’s pinched face across from him, Eliott isn’t scared about what’s going to happen next.

Maybe he doesn’t know himself as well as he thought. The idea is oddly freeing.

The session comes to an end, after an hour, and Dr. Martin ushers him out the door with homework. A to-do list, written on a page in Dr. Martin’s journal and torn out, for him to decide what he wants out of their sessions, evaluate his current situation and see where he wants to be in the future, how he thinks he could get there.

He knows it’s probably a good thing to think about, and with the right therapist, he might be willing to do it. But this guy?

As soon as Dr. Martin shuts the door, and Eliott’s alone in the hallway, he finds the nearest trash can and throws the list away.

He walks over to the elevator, pushes the down button. As he waits, he glances out the nearby window, looking down on the street, and does a double-take.

Lucas is there.

Eliott’s surprised to see him - Lucas had work today, training at his new job, and he was supposed to get out around the time Eliott’s session started. Lucas had asked him if he wanted him to talk to his boss, see if he could come in at a different time, so he could take Eliott to his appointment.

“No, no,” Eliott had said, even though he desperately wanted Lucas to be there. He doesn’t want to inconvenience Lucas that way. “Don’t rearrange your life for me.”

Lucas had frowned, but then he shrugged, and he let it go.

And now he’s here, leaning casually against the side of the building like he owns the place, his hands in the pockets of his romance hoodie.

Eliott feels a surge of affection course through him, and he shakes his head fondly. Lucas is still surprising him, after a year, with how thoughtful he is, how generous he is with his love. It shines through everything he does.

The elevator dings, and the doors open. Eliott takes one last look at Lucas as he steps inside, pushing the button for the lobby.

He exits out the front door, stepping into the sun, and it feels warm against his skin. He pauses for a minute and breathes in, before walking towards Lucas.

He tilts his head at Lucas as he approaches, squinting over at him, a small smile playing on his lips, like Lucas might be a mirage. Lucas notices him and shrugs, smiling back.

“Hey,” Eliott says, when he’s close enough. He stops right in front of Lucas, their toes almost touching. “What are you doing here?”

Lucas shrugs again, smiling. “I asked my boss if we could start training a little earlier, so I could have time to get here and walk you home.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” Lucas says. “I wanted to.”

Eliott meets his gaze, staring at him, fondly. Lucas smiles back, looking up at him.

“How did it go?”

Eliott inhales, holds it for a moment, exhales. “It - “ he stops, shaking his head. He’s smiling. “It sucked.”

Lucas blinks. “It sucked?”

“So bad, Lucas,” Eliott laughs. “I hated the guy so much.”

Lucas looks concerned, lifting himself off the wall and closer to Eliott. “What did he do?”

“Nothing specifically, we just - we didn’t mesh well together.” Eliott waves his hands around, ridiculous, his smile stretching across his face. “Like, he was all formal, and he wanted me to make all these schedules, and shit, start monitoring myself more, and he had these mood checklists - I hated it. You know I hate that shit.”

Lucas squints up at him. “So why are you smiling?”

Eliott laughs, again, freely. “Because I went,” he says. “I went, and I survived, and now I can do it again.”

“You - you want to make another appointment with this guy?”

“Fuck no,” Eliott says. “I mean - I can find someone else. I will find someone else. I mean, like, I was so anxious about doing this the first time, thinking I had to find the perfect therapist straight away or I wouldn’t go back. And… and I didn’t, and I’m still okay,” he says. “I survived. I can find find another therapist, make another appointment. I can do it.”

He means it. He feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, like his eyes have finally adjusted to the dark. He always thought of therapy as a last resort, as an end - the end of what, he didn’t know. The end of his freedom, the end of him pretending like he can deal with this by himself, without professional help, the end of hoping it’ll all just go away on its own.

This doesn’t feel like an ending. It feels like a beginning.

Lucas looks up at him for a moment before he steps closer to Eliott. He wraps his arms around Eliott’s neck, so they’re pressed up against each other.

Lucas searches his eyes, smiling, small and soft. “I can help you find a new therapist, if you want.”

Eliott laughs, raising an eyebrow. “You want to help me type things into google?”

Lucas nods. “I would love nothing more than to help you google.”

“Alright,” Eliott says. “You can help me google.”

Lucas always feels right, in his arms. He’s warm, and he’s solid, and his eyes are beautiful, and Eliott thinks he could get lost in this specific shade of blue.

This feels like a beginning, too.

He doesn’t want to be scared of being alive, anymore. He wants to do things, make progress with Lucas. Live minute by minute, but, maybe, sometimes, think about the future minutes, too. Because there will be future minutes.

They say nothing, for a while, looking at each other, oblivious to every passerby, the rest of the world as a whole.

“I’m really proud of you, Eliott,” Lucas says, quietly.

He tightens his arms around Lucas’s waist.

“I mean it,” Lucas continues. “There’s nothing more important to me than you being happy.”

Eliott feels tears stinging his eyes, suddenly, and he shuts them, collecting himself. He can’t believe Lucas is real, sometimes. That someone with this much kindness inside their heart exists.

“I want that, too,” Eliott says, when he opens his eyes. “I want you to be happy.”

“You make me happy,” Lucas says.

He feels a tear break loose, sliding down his cheek. Lucas brings a hand up to his face, wiping it away with his thumb.

“Lucas?”

“Yeah?”

Eliott shuts his eyes again. “I’m really scared of growing up.”

Lucas is silent, for a moment. Eliott opens his eyes, the world bright and loud around them, and Lucas is looking right at him, only him.

“I am, too,” he says, quietly, only for Eliott’s ears. “It’s okay.” He tightens his arms around Eliott, anchoring him. “We’re going to figure it out.”

Eliott can’t say anything else, can’t get words to wrestle past the lump in his throat and break free into the space between their mouths. He leans his forehead against Lucas’s, instead, hopes he can transmit all the emotions rushing through his brain into Lucas’s brain by sheer proximity alone.

The world around them will be here long after both of them are gone. It won’t matter to the universe, ultimately, if they spend their lives together, if they’re happy. But it matters to Eliott.

They stand there, holding each other, not saying anything, and Lucas understands him, and Eliott understands Lucas, too.

After a minute he lifts his head back up, so he can look at Lucas again. “I need help with one other thing.”

“Anything.”

“The store I stole that bottle of wine from…” he bites the inside of his cheek. “I want to go back and pay for it. Explain.”

Lucas nods. “Okay. I’ll go with you.”

“There’s only one problem,” Eliott says. “I don’t remember where it is.”

Lucas bites his lip, a smile threatening to break across his face. “And you don’t remember the name?”

Eliott grins. “Nope.”

“Or anything about the store?”

“Nope.”

“Any details at all?”

Eliott pauses, thinking. “Everything was really expensive?”

Lucas laughs, shaking his head, his smile bright. He steps back, out of the warm embrace of Eliott’s arms, and takes his hand, lacing their fingers together.

“It’s alright,” Lucas says. “We’ll find it together.”