Flipping over to his right side for what seemed like the tenth time that night, Cyrus let out a frustrated sigh. Pressing his face into the pillow, he squeezed his eyes shut, desperately hoping that he would fall into a deep, relaxing slumber. A minute passed. Then, another minute ticked by. Nearly half an hour later, after valiantly trying to force himself to sleep, Cyrus opened his eyes and sat up in bed, huffing in irritation.
Clearly, insomnia was winning tonight.
Truthfully, he wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t been sleeping well for the past week or so, ever since he’d gone suit-shopping with Andi. During the four hours they’d spent together, she’d asked all of those damn questions about his relationship with TJ. Andi made him think, and normally he was okay with that, but this thinking…it led to analyzing and over-analyzing everything. Every single moment he’d shared with TJ in his eight years of knowing him. Every word of endearment exchanged between the two of them. Every affectionate look, every lingering, soft touch. It was all too overwhelming to think about and process. These days, Cyrus was lucky if his mind could concentrate on anything that wasn’t related to TJ.
With four mental health professionals in his family, Cyrus was taught at an early age that humans were incredibly flawed at introspection. So, the fact that he now had to look within himself and evaluate his thoughts and feelings… it did not bode well with him. Not at all.
Yes, he was oblivious – even he could begrudgingly admit that. He was aware that he didn’t catch on to things that most people immediately understood. Despite being oblivious, he wasn’t stupid. Deep down, buried under several layers of denial and insecurity, he knew what all of this meant. A part of him had always known, at least on some level. After all, his heart didn’t beat its BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM rhythm for just anyone. Jonah had been the first, of course, but even then, those heartbeats had never been as intense as the ones that TJ evoked.
For Cyrus, the most terrifying part was coming so close to identifying a single word to encapsulate these feelings. The word, blurry and disorientating at first, became clearer and sharper with each passing day. He was almost there, and knowing the trajectory of these feelings, it wouldn’t be long before the word fully formed in his mind and escaped out of his mouth.
Throwing his arms up in defeat, Cyrus decided that if sleep couldn’t whisk him away to a land of happiness, then a warm glass of milk and some chocolate chip cookies sure would. Flicking on his beside lamp, he squinted at the brightness that suddenly flooded his vision. After his eyes adjusted to the light, he slowly rose from his bed to slip on his bathrobe over his pajamas. Quietly, he crept out his bedroom, in search of his late-night snack. He only made it a few steps before he skidded to a halt.
“Oh,” he gasped under his breath, taking in the sight that greeted him.
In the den sat TJ, back hunched over the baby grand piano. From the weak light shining from the floor lamp, Cyrus could see TJ’s fingers gliding across the keys. A soft melody drifted through the air – twisting and twirling around the space and wrapping both of them in an aura of tranquility.
For a moment, Cyrus stood motionless, breath caught in his throat, while his ears welcomed the soothing music. Of course, this wasn’t his first time witnessing TJ’s skills on the piano. He had known the depth of TJ’s talent for many years, but now, watching him move with the music, swaying gently to the tempo, as a mixture of lamp light and moonlight bathed him in an ethereal glow…he was absolutely and mind-numbingly mesmerizing.
Wracking his vocabulary riddled brain, Cyrus knew that mesmerizing was the wrong word – it was wholly inadequate to describe how beautiful TJ appeared when he was completely in his element. Then again, was there really a word in the English dictionary that could even match the beauty of the sight in front of him?
He didn’t think there was. Despite his extensive knowledge of the English language, there was not a single word that could bring him any kind of satisfaction. This was highly unusual, for Cyrus normally prided himself on his eloquence and ability to pin-point the correct words, no matter what the situation was. But, now? Apparently, words failed him.
A gentle tug at his heart called his attention away. Glancing down at his chest, the corners of his lips lifted into a small smile. Rather than experience a prickle of fear from being speechless, Cyrus could feel a strange sense of calm wash over him. Perhaps it was because he remembered the occasions when TJ reassured him that he didn’t always need to have the right words – or any words at all, for that matter. Sometimes it was okay to just be.
With that in mind, his gaze returned to TJ. In the course of a few minutes, the blond smoothly transitioned from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” to Yiruma’s “Kiss the Rain” to Beethoven’s “Für Elise.”
“As quiet as you think you’re being, I know you’re standing behind me,” TJ announced, fingers momentarily leaving the keys. He turned around in his seat, eyes roving over Cyrus’s frame.
“How did you know?” Cyrus asked, finally able to release the breath he’d been holding in this whole time.
“I can always tell when you’re around me. It’s just a feeling, I guess.” TJ shrugged, his lips falling into a partial frown, while his eyebrows knit together. “Did my music wake you up?”
“No, I didn’t even notice it until I left my room. The walls are thick enough that the sound doesn’t really travel through them. Anyway, the reason why I came out here in the first place was to grab a snack. I couldn’t sleep, so I thought milk and cookies would help.”
Chuckling, TJ shook his head in disbelief. “You’re always complaining about how unhealthy my eating habits are, and here you are sneaking out to satisfy your sugar craving at –" He paused to glance at the clock hanging in the kitchen. Without his glasses on, he had to squint to read the numbers. After a second, he uttered, “3:30 in the morning.”
“This is an emergency,” Cyrus defended, a sparkle of mischief gleaming in his eyes. He fought to keep a stoic face, though he knew it was a lost cause. Chewing on his bottom lip, he attempted to conceal the smile that was steadily working its way across his mouth. “I’m allowed to indulge in unhealthy food when it’s absolutely vital. If I don’t get some sugar in me quickly, I might just expire.”
“Oh?” TJ smirked. “Well, we wouldn’t want that. No dying in this apartment, Cy. That’s way too much paperwork for me to fill out. Plus, I’d have to hide the body, and I’m not exactly the best at subtlety.”
“That’s an understatement,” Cyrus laughed, walking over to TJ and sliding next to him on the bench. Since they’d always been comfortable being physical close, Cyrus moved so that their sides were pressed together. He couldn’t explain it, but whenever they touched in some manner, he immediately felt at ease.
“Hey, watch it,” TJ teased, bumping his shoulder against Cyrus’s. “You don’t have to agree with me, you know.”
“Oh, but I do,” Cyrus whispered, tilting his head toward the instrument. “Couldn’t sleep either, huh?”
TJ shook his head, raising a hand to rub at his eyes. “To be honest, I haven’t been sleeping much lately. There’s too much on my mind.”
Shifting slightly, Cyrus’s eyes skimmed over TJ’s face. He noticed light, purple shadows sweeping underneath those green irises. Hesitantly, his fingers reached out to trace the area.
Before he made contact with TJ’s skin, he murmured, “Is this okay?”
“Yeah,” TJ replied hoarsely. He leaned forward, eyes falling closed.
With careful, gentle fingers, Cyrus brushed the skin underneath TJ’s eyes, over his cheekbones, and down toward his chin. He could feel TJ tremble beneath his touch, but he continued his soft movements. He found it comforting, and judging from the involuntary whimper deep in TJ’s throat, the blond agreed.
When Cyrus finished, TJ’s eyes fluttered open to reveal a dazed look, full of so much warmth and affection that Cyrus could hardly breathe. Somehow, the verdant hue of TJ’s eyes seemed brighter now – almost glowing. As they gazed at each other with open, vulnerable expressions, Cyrus wished for a way to bottle this moment so that he could keep it forever.
The spell was broken a second later when TJ mumbled, “Thank you.”
Cyrus smiled softly. “Any time. Physical touch is sometimes more powerful than we realize. As reassuring as words are, at times, it’s better to have a physical reminder that things will be okay, even when our nerves are frayed and we’re awash in anxiety, insecurity, and pure exhaustion.”
Blinking at him in awe, TJ wondered, “Why are you so good with words?”
“I think it comes from critically studying the English language and spending hours pouring over every piece of classic literature I can get my hands on. Over time, I’ve built an understanding of words and how they flow. There’s a security in words – a comfort,” Cyrus explained. “But, lately, I’ve been struggling with words. No matter how much I try, I cannot find the right words to express what I’m thinking or feeling. It’s…frustrating, to say the least.”
“Well, you know what Hans Christian Andersen said, don’t you?”
Cyrus grinned, his insides sparking with a competitive flare. Secretly, he loved when people tested his knowledge of quotes; throughout the years, he had stored many of them in his memory. Whenever an opportunity presented itself to reveal a quote, he’d jump at it.
With an arched brow, he drawled, “‘Where words fail, music speaks.’ That is the correct quote, is it not?”
“You’ve got it!” TJ congratulated, his lips stretching into a wide grin – teeth and all. A moment passed before he admitted, “I think Hans Christian Andersen’s point is valid. I’ve never been particularly good at expressing myself with words. That’s why I’m glad my music speaks for me.”
“Well, then, show me some music.” Cyrus gestured to the piano. “Unless, you want to talk about what’s bothering you and keeping you up this late.”
Judging from the stubborn glint in his best friend’s eyes, TJ was about to decline the offer. Normally, Cyrus wouldn’t have let it go this easily. He often had to push and prod TJ to discuss his innermost thoughts and feelings, but he knew now was not the time. When TJ responded, Cyrus wasn’t the least bit surprised by his answer.
TJ shook his head. “I’d rather not.”
Waving his hand at the instrument, Cyrus simply instructed, “Then, play away.”
“What would you like to hear?” TJ asked, fingers poised over the keys.
“A piece that holds a special place in your heart.”
“Okay,” TJ sighed, drawing in a breath and then exhaling slowly. When he was ready, he pressed down on the keys.
What came next…Cyrus was not prepared for. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he had anticipated an uplifting piece, one that would allow his spirts to soar upward, high above the clouds. Even though there was an air of lightness to the piece, the more profound part was its bittersweet notes, which grounded Cyrus to the Earth, reminding him of life’s complexities and difficulties. For some reason, beyond his level of understanding, Cyrus could feel his eyes glisten with tears, while his lips curved into a smile. It was certainly an odd mix of emotions, but he welcomed it, nonetheless.
As Cyrus watched TJ perform this piece and pour his entire soul into it, something strange stirred inside of Cyrus’s chest. His heart’s traditional BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM rhythm slowed its powerful pace. Instead, it fell into a steady measure – one that was comfortable, safe, reassuring.
Silently taking in the music and observing TJ’s hand movements as his fingers danced over the keys, Cyrus realized that for the rest of his days, he wanted to be the person who remained beside TJ, listening to his music, hearing him speak, supporting him through his successes and his challenges, teasing and bantering with him, getting lost in the green of his eyes, brushing his fingertips over his skin, breathing in his citrus scent, whispering words of affection, and most of all, simply loving him.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Cyrus could identify the word that had been trapped in his mind. It was the only word that he could encapsulate his feelings for TJ.
It was almost as if a freight train had slammed full-force into him – its impact knocking the wind out of him. Without a shadow of a doubt, Cyrus knew that he was irretrievably and hopelessly in love with Theodore Jamison Kippen.
With the weight of his epiphany resting on him, Cyrus internally cringed, bracing himself for a rush of bone-crushing anxiety. He was ready for his heart to drop to his stomach, his hands to shake uncontrollably, and his body to break out in a cold-sweat.
Instead, unaltered serenity washed over him in gentle waves. While he’d been at peace many times before, this feeling, in this very moment, was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Somehow, this epiphany brought on much more relief than Cyrus could have ever hoped for. If this had been any other situation in which he’d had a life-changing epiphany, he would have fidgeted, babbled, overthought, and then bolted as soon as possible. Rather than do any of those things, he calmly exhaled and remained still, focused solely on TJ and the melody drifting between them.
“What do you think?” TJ asked quietly, a few seconds later, as he finished the last few notes of the piece.
“That was incredible,” Cyrus gasped, reaching up to wipe at dampness around the edges of his eyes. “What’s the piece called? Who composed it? And what’s the significance of it?”
Releasing a shaky breath, TJ choked out, “Ludovico Einaudi composed the piece and he titled it, ‘I Giorni.’ It was my father’s favorite. That’s why…I keep it close to me.”
“Oh, TJ,” Cyrus sighed, turning to face his best friend, gathering his hands in his and weaving their fingers together.
Despite TJ’s obvious attempt to conceal his emotions, Cyrus could see how difficult this was for him. The blond very rarely mentioned his father; Cyrus could count on one hand the number of times his father came up in conversation – during the day he’d come out to Cyrus, the evening they visited his father’s grave together, and then a couple of occasions after that. Cyrus had accepted long ago that this would always be a sore spot for TJ. That was why he never pushed TJ to discuss anything that involved his father. It was something his best friend had to bring up on his own terms.
“It’s okay,” TJ whispered, forcing his voice to remain steady, even though there was a slight tremor to it. “I wanted to share this with you. I’ve never played it for anyone other than my mother. Until I met you, I didn’t think anyone deserved to hear it. Playing this piece…it puts me in a vulnerable position, and normally I hate that because it’s scary. But, with you, it’s not quite so scary. Does that make any sense?”
“It does.” Cyrus squeezed TJ’s hands to reassure him. “Thank you for sharing this with me. It means more to me than I can say.”
With a watery smile, TJ murmured. “You’re welcome.”
A comfortable silence lapsed between them for several beats. After a bit of time, both men withdrew their hands and turned back to the piano.
“Would you like to hear anything else?” TJ wondered, flexing his fingers and cracking his knuckles.
“Hmm,” Cyrus hummed, tapping his chin in thought. There were hundreds of musical pieces he wanted to listen to – it was so hard to choose. Of course, he knew that he still had many more years with TJ, so eventually, all of his requests would be fulfilled. If he really had to pick one right now, he had to go with…
“Could you please play, ‘Rewrite the Stars’?”
Rolling his eyes, TJ grumbled, “Why are you so obsessed with The Greatest Showman?”
“Because it’s fantastic!” Cyrus argued, using a finger to poke TJ’s side. “The film’s cinematography…the costumes…the love stories…the themes and the music – it’s all just too amazing,” he sighed dreamily. In the next instant, his eyes flashed with a teasing glint as he regarded TJ. “Don’t deny it – you love it, too.”
“I will admit no such thing.”
“Whatever you say, Teej. I’ve caught you red-handed before – when you think I’m not looking, you watch the movie and hum the melodies. And I know you’re more than capable of playing most, if not all, of those songs since we have the soundtrack running all of the time in this apartment.”
TJ grunted in defeat. “Fine.”
Cyrus gave him a withering look, though his lips tilted into a partial smirk. “You’re just lucky I’m not asking you to play, ‘A Time for Us.’”
“Oh, no – we are not doing that again!” TJ groaned loudly, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Do you know how long it took me to get that melody out of my head after you begged me to play it? Two weeks! Two long weeks, Cy! I curse the day that you had to watch the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet for your Shakespeare class.”
“Wow, I had no idea that you could be this dramatic at such a late hour,” Cyrus snorted.
Bumping his shoulder into Cyrus’s once more, TJ laughed, “Shut up.”
That teasing glint in Cyrus’s eyes turned challenging. “Make me.”
Raising an eyebrow, TJ drawled, “I would, but I thought you wanted to hear, ‘Rewrite the Stars.’”
“All right,” Cyrus sighed, lifting his hands in surrender. “Play away.”
For the next few minutes, Cyrus listened in silence, eyes closed, as he rested his head on TJ’s right shoulder. In his opinion, the piano version was even more romantic than the original with the lyrics. If he wasn’t already sitting down, he would have swooned at the sheer beauty of the music.
“Falling asleep on me?” TJ murmured, allowing the last note to drift in the air before concluding the piece.
“No,” Cyrus mumbled, even as he released a yawn.
In a firm voice, TJ urged, “Cy, you need to go to bed. It’s almost five in the morning.”
“Can you play one more?” Cyrus pleaded, raising his head to lazily crack one eye open.
“I will, but you have to promise to go back to your room to sleep once I’m done playing,” TJ countered.
“Okay.” Cyrus lowered his head and resumed his comfortable position. He kept his eyes open, glancing at TJ. “You pick this time.”
The blond nodded. “Don’t judge me for the song choice, all right?”
“Fine,” Cyrus answered suspiciously, eyes widening in curiosity.
It didn’t take long for Cyrus to understand. As soon as the beginning chords resonated in the small space, Cyrus could feel himself shake with laughter.
“Stop that,” TJ chided, clicking his tongue in annoyance. “You’re squirming so much that I’m going to mess up.”
“You expect me not to laugh?” Cyrus questioned, taking a deep breath to calm himself.
TJ grit through his teeth, “I expect you to enjoy this song.”
“I am, I swear!” Cyrus vowed, sitting up fully so that he was no longer leaning on TJ. “It’s just…with all the grief you’ve given me for liking Call Me By Your Name, I never would have guessed you’d play the song that’s prominently featured in that film.”
“‘Mystery of Love' is a decent song,” TJ admitted, lifting his left shoulder in a shrug. He continued to slide his fingers over the keys as he spoke. “I still don’t understand your thing for artistic, indie films, but Call Me By Your Name was okay. I like the music in it, in any case.”
“Wait, are you implying that you watched it?” Cyrus narrowed his eyes, his lips beginning to curve into a victorious smile.
TJ shrugged again, trying to appear nonchalant. “A couple of weeks ago, you were studying at the library, and I was bored at home. I was in the mood to watch a movie, so I searched through your DVD collection. At first I rejected it, but then I decided why not?”
Shaking his head fondly, Cyrus chuckled. “TJ Kippen, sometimes you surprise me.”
TJ grinned at that, placing a little bit of emphasis on the remainder of the notes. When he completed the song, he raised an eyebrow.
“We made a deal. Off to bed you go.” He carefully nudged Cyrus to the side, so that he could scoot away from the piano bench. Standing up, TJ arched his back in a stretch.
“You going to bed, too?” Cyrus wondered, stretching his own back and arms.
“Yeah. I’m finally getting tired.” He paused to motion to Cyrus. “I’m glad you joined me out here. It…helped.”
The words, ‘take my mind off of what’s bothering me’ hung in the air, even though they remained unspoken by TJ. Luckily, Cyrus understood. He didn’t even need to ask to know that’s what TJ had meant to say.
Stepping forward, Cyrus lined his body against TJ’s so that they were chest-to-chest. At five feet, eleven inches, he was quite a bit shorter than TJ’s six foot, four inch, frame.
Gazing up to meet TJ’s eyes, Cyrus breathed, “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
TJ swallowed, his nerves clearly visible in the way he carried himself.
“I know. I promise I will at some point. I just…can’t right now. I’m still trying to process everything myself. But, you’ll be the first to know when I’m ready.”
With a soft smile, Cyrus nodded. “I understand. You know where to find me.”
TJ’s lips twitched, as his eyes lit with recognition at the words, echoed years ago at their beloved swing-set.
“I do.” He took a step back to provide more space between them. Shifting his focus to the kitchen, he pointed out, “You know, you never did get your snack.”
Oh, yeah. Internally laughing, Cyrus realized he had completely forgotten about that.
“That’s all right. I liked listening to you instead.”
“Well, seeing as how I distracted you from your goal, I’ll make it up to you. How about I make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast?”
“I would love that.”
“Good.” TJ took a hold of Cyrus’s shoulders, steering him in the direction of his bedroom. “I’ll see you when you get up, which hopefully won’t be for a while. You need your sleep.”
“So do you,” Cyrus shot back.
“I’m going now. G’night, Cy.” TJ deposited Cyrus outside of his room before making his way to turn off the lamp in the den.
“Teej?” Cyrus called before the blond made it to too far.
In the dim lighting, with TJ’s soft eyes on him, Cyrus could almost feel the L-word slip out of his mouth. Now that he could identify what it was, he wanted to say it so badly. A million scenarios flashed through his mind of how he could declare his feelings to TJ.
Not now, his brain reasoned. Give it some time. You need to rationally approach this, not just shout it out because you want to.
“I, um…” Cyrus stuttered, feeling his face flush with embarrassment. After what felt like an hour (but was probably only a couple of seconds), Cyrus confessed, “I’m in the same boat as you. A lot has been on my mind lately, too. I really want to tell you, but I’m not ready just yet. So…yeah.”
Rather than tease him, TJ smiled warmly. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here. There’s no rush, so take your time.”
“Thanks,” Cyrus whispered, feeling his shoulders sag with relief. “Sweet dreams, Teej.”
“Sweet dreams.” With a wave, TJ turned to extinguish the lights and head to his own bedroom.
Stumbling inside of his room and promptly shutting the door, Cyrus felt himself sway lightly. He was overwhelmed, giddy, and just a bit sleep deprived. Despite his promise to go to bed, he instead found himself reaching for his laptop. Walking over to his desk, he flipped on the lamp, set the device down, and powered it up. He took a seat, tapping his fingers, while he blew out an impatient breath.
Once his laptop was up and running, he launched Google Chrome to look up the lyrics to “Mystery of Love.”
He scanned the page, examining the lyrics with a critical eye. Two lines, in particular, jumped out at him.
Like Hephaestion, who died
“That’s what I thought it said,” Cyrus muttered triumphantly. He had sworn those were the lyrics and he had been right.
Clicking on another tab, he began searching for background information on Alexander the Great. It didn’t take long for him to find at least five articles that were dedicated to Alexander’s relationship with Hephaestion. After scrolling through each one, he started to form his own opinion.
Hm, Cyrus thought, It sure seems like they were more than friends.
Something sparked inside of Cyrus then, making him flinch away from the screen. Harried thoughts circled inside of his brain: TJ loves history. This is a historical love story. If I told him that I love him using this story, would he get it?
A second later, he was hit with a determined thought:Only one way to find out.
Swallowing, Cyrus closed his laptop, silently making a decision. He had no idea when, or exactly how he would phrase it, but he was going to do this.
He was going to declare his love.
With that thought in mind, he turned off the light, crawled into bed, and finally drifted off into a deep sleep.