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and I don't wanna be lonely, so show me the way home

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The first time Matteo saw David, he was trying to catch Jonas before class started to see if he had a spare lighter to lend him because God knows where he had put the one that usually took residency on his jacket pocket. At the time, he didn’t know David was David, or that he would later become David, but he did take a double check on the boy clad head to toe in black sitting next to his best friend in Math, where Hanna usually sat.

That was about it though. A double take, some seconds trying to give a name to the face, but Matteo didn’t spare many more thoughts on the mystery boy. If the circumstances were different and he wasn’t so worried about everything - how to take care of his mum, how to make the money his dad had sent last until the end of the month, how to convince his dad to send said money first place, how to convince everyone, himself included, that he liked girls… Maybe if Matteo didn’t have all of these thoughts clouding up his mind and basically begging him to be high more often than not he would have dug deeper into who David was and what was he doing with Jonas.

As it was, however, Matteo and David exchanged a head nod while Matteo talked to Jonas, who thank God had a spare lighter on him, and he continued on with his day without much preamble. Class after class, ‘bathroom break’ during Spanish for a quick smoke to clear his head, lunch, home, rinse and repeat. Wednesday. Thursday. Frid-

Friday was… different. For one, Matteo could actually give a name to the face and learnt who David was, because he was there with Jonas, Abdi, and Carlos when Matteo got to the ping pong tables at the park they usually hung out at. He introduced himself as David with a handshake and a heads-to-toe sweep at Matteo that passed unnoticed by everyone else, and then proceeded to murder all of them at the game. From then on, David became a permanent fixture among the boys.

At first, not much changed. Now Matteo knew who David was, but that was about it: he was a new friend of Jonas - like all of Matteo’s friends came to be, if he was honest - who was into the same sociopolitical activism shit that Jonas liked to ramble about, a movie snob and someone who listened to motown and Hozier and Billie Eilish, was that it? Like Matteo, David didn’t talk much about his family life or why he had changed schools during their abitur year, but that was none of his business anyways. That is, until it was.

Like many things in his life, Matteo started to give David seconds, and thirds, and many other thoughts after he got completely and utterly cross faded at the boys’ NYE celebration at Jonas, whose parents were out of town for a family gathering. After Hanna and her friends had gone away for a girls NYE at someone’s aunt’s cabin, Abdi suggested they did the same, so there they were, celebrating the year to come with more bottles they could possibly carry or count and more weed than they should probably go through on one night.

At one point, when everything became a little too spiny, too foggy, too much, Matteo had wandered outside, sitting by the steps that led to Jonas’ patio, his back resting against the glass door, face turned to the overclouded sky, his respiration coming out as little puffs of warm air against the frigid weather. That was how David found him God knows how much later, enough for the joint he had lightened to have gone out.

“Na?” He asked, dropping by Matteo’s side, a knee brushing his’ as he turned and mirrored Matteo’s position.

“Na.”

Neither were aware of how long it passed between after these two words, which were often the extent of their conversations alone, considering the introspective nature of both their personalities.

“No notebook tonight?” Matteo asked, eyes finally on David.

“Kind of hard to draw with no light.” There was a small smirk gracing David’s lips, suggesting he was a little bit more aware of his surroundings than the other boy, who simply hummed in response, not bothered at all.

“Something tells me that didn’t hold you back before.” It was David’s turn to hum, his smirk turning softer.

“You have been here for a while now.”

“Have I?” David nodded. “Just… thinking.”

“You seem to do that a lot.”

“I know your abi is not in science, but I have some news for you.”

“Ha ha. I meant, you keep to yourself a lot.”

“So do you.” That earned Matteo a roll of eyes and raised eyebrows that asked, ‘really, are we gonna be this childish?’ He relented, “I don’t know how much you have picked up on, but my life is kind of a mess right now.”

“While I do know your abi is in science, I also have some news for you.” David replied, pointing to the joint as if that explained everything there was to know about Matteo.

“The weed helps.” At this point, that was more of a defensive response than anything else. Matteo knew weed was not the solution to his problems, but when Jonas started to use and abuse it to try and forget about his breakup with Hanna, he realized it also helped him forget about his own crush. Then, the problems at home became too much and school was getting more and more difficult with graduation on the horizon, so he never stopped, even when Jonas did.

“I know. I’m not judging.”

“I just prefer to zone out when they decide to talk about girls, and it seemed easier to do that by myself.” That was not the whole truth, but it worked well enough to give some sort of explanation, because David deserved one if he was going to be sitting next to Matteo on this fucking freezing night for much longer.

“Changing the topic usually works too.”

“It’s not like I can talk to them about boys.” David was the first one to realize the implications of what Matteo had just said and froze mid-action, about to pass the joint back to Matteo, who banged his head back into the glass when he too caught up with what he had said.

“I- that is not- don’t…” He stuttered out, grasping the joint from David’s fingers almost ferociously, taking a long drag and facing away from him.

“That is ok, you know,” a few seconds, his reactions even more delayed than normal, but Matteo turned back to him, confusion apparent in his eyes, “if you want to talk about boys… I could talk about it with you.” It was David’s turn to glance away, but only for a few seconds before Matteo nudged at his feet, offering him a small smile that said more than his words could, at that moment.

 

 

 

Matteo did. Talk about boys with David, that is. Or rather, talk about the idea of boys, because the more and more they talked and became friends outside of the collective of the boy squad, the more and more apparent it became to Matteo that the only boy he would like to talk about with David was, well, David himself. So he talked about figuring out he is gay instead, and his crush on Jonas, and how he had meddled with his and Hanna’s relationship and made them break up. David stayed silent most of the time, which was a nice change from all his other friends; it gave him time to think and process his thoughts and words more carefully. It was also nice to have someone else who seemed to simply understand the need to just… be, no façades, no pretending, no need to say things you didn’t really believe in, just for the sake of keeping a conversation going.

 

 

 

“I don’t get it.” David looked at Matteo with his eyebrows raised in a question. “Why I am supposed to have always known I was gay. I never did.”

“How did you know, then?” He humored him, passing back the joint they had lightened after settling by the window.

“When Jonas and Hanna got together. I- I had been jealous of him since Leonie, but it was Hanna that made me realize I had a crush.”

“I can only imagine how awkward those days were… Jonas and Leonie together, both you and Hannah pinning after him.”

“Maybe I should start saying that when people ask how we became friends.” David laughed, taking a drag off the joint and blowing the smoke upwards. His septum piercing shone under the new angle of his face.

The hours seemed to pass in a blur after that, bits and pieces of conversation that ranged from the latest movie David had watched to gossip Abdi had told Matteo earlier that day and comforting silences. They hadn’t planned to hang out, but fate or destiny or whatever it was up there found both of them on the same bus after school. Matteo didn’t take the bus all that often, so when he did, it was usually without a pass. David, the angel he was, saved him from being reprimanded by the agent yet again by acting like a complete fool who didn’t know where Alexanderplatz was or how bus passes worked or, in a hilarious and ridiculous moment, how months worked. They end up jumping out of the bus at the next stop and running for almost a block, even though the bus had already pulled out. In a spur of the moment decision, Matteo asked if David wanted to hang out at his place, so there they were, sitting at the kitchen table, passing a joint back and forth between them.

Sometime during the afternoon, Matteo notices a thick black leather notebook peeking out of David’s backpack and lazily points at it, prompting a “is that…” that takes David aback.

“My drawing notebook? Yeah.” Matteo perked up at that, not even needing to voice his question before David handed it out to him, an annoyed yet fond look on his face. Matteo flipped through the notebook with care, looking at each and every drawing, giving comments or little hums of approval at his favorite ones.

“This bird looks really nice,” he said, pointing at a drawing of a bird glued on top of a picture of a tree, “you have talent. That combination with the tree. I like that, when… you stick something self-made on photos.”

“It’s called a collage.” David replied, a cheeky smile gracing his lips that immediately sent both of them into a fist of laughter. Matteo soon went back to flipping through the notebook, coming across some pages glued together.

“Why can’t I look through them and why are they…”

“Those are the private ones. Actually, they are all private.” David’s hands shot up to try and take the notebook back from Matteo, but the other boy was fast and pushed it further back, a quick comeback on his tongue: “Actually, you already showed them to me, so… It doesn’t matter.”

Matteo kept looking through David’s notebook for a while longer before he became distracted with their conversation, and between topics surprisingly found himself opening up to David about his fears about the future.

“It annoys me that everyone always asks what you’re gonna do after school… How am I supposed to know that already?” he let out, fidgeting with one of the wood coasters his mom insisted they kept around, even though they never actually used them.

“I want to make movies.”

“Really?” That surprised Matteo, especially the certainty with which David said it, but it was fitting, he thought, with the whole artsy-mysterious-pretentious-guy image David put on. He was quick to add, a small smile tugging at his lips: “Nice… Do you have a favorite movie?”

“That’s a difficult question.” David hands wiggled up to wrap around his neck, as if the question was much deeper than Matteo had intended it to be, and his full reply came with a head wobble like he was trying to assure himself that that was his favorite movie indeed “I think at the moment is… ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’”

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s by Jim Jarmusch, you should watch it.”

The subject died then, and the silence stretched between them once more. Matteo was about to suggest a snack when David beat him to it, asking if he had something to eat. They went through whatever was left on the fridge together (Matteo really needed to remind his mother about groceries; either she goes, gives him money to go, or they would be eating takeout every night on) and ended up preparing a sandwich with basically all the leftovers they came across, including ketchup, mustard, pickles, cheese, some spices and whipped cream. The sandwich was so, so, so terrible that it should win a Michelin star out of spite or something. David tried to reassure him that is not that bad, but his face grew redder each second longer he tried to lie. It was fun though, and they were both laughing way too hard to finish eating their creation. That was when Matteo’s mom decided to return home, opening the door with a loud thud, tumbling inside with several shopping bags and loudly telling his son to help her, just when David was asking Matteo something about Zelda. Matteo excused himself to help her, but when he found his way back to the kitchen, neither David nor his things were to be found. Strange. He texted the other boy just to check on him, but by the time he went to bed, there was still no reply. That didn’t matter though, because Matteo couldn’t shake the feeling that that was one of the best afternoons he had had in awhile.

 

 

 

“… afternoon. Do you wanna come?” Matteo only captured half of what David had asked him, still too engrossed in his own thoughts. Why was his grandma so quiet in the phone that morning? She would usually go on for ages about anything and everything, thus why she was Matteo’s best source of news about his father since he had left him and his mom, but that morning she had simply said he was fine when he asked her about him and moved on to talk about a new recipe she had tried the other day. “Matteo?”

“ ‘m bad. What did you say?” David was looking at him intently, brows furrowed and head turned slightly to the side as he turned to rest against the lockers in between his and Matteo’s.

“Everything alright?”

“Hm, yeah, just distracted. Didn’t sleep very well.”

“They are showing Only Lovers Left Alive this afternoon. Do you wanna come with?” It was obvious that David wasn’t buying Matteo’s lie, considering how he kept an unwavering gaze on him, but he continued the conversation and soon enough Matteo had plans to go watch Only Lovers Left Alive with David that afternoon. He had watched the movie already, soon after David had told him it was his favorite movie, during one of the first afternoons they hung out together, just the two of them, but he hadn’t said anything about it yet. Nonetheless, the distraction was more than welcomed, and he always had a good time hanging out with David.

 

 

 

It was Friday early afternoon and Matteo was standing in front of his open locker, deciding what he needed to bring home with him for the weekend. School had just let out and people were out and about around him, chatting excitedly with their friends about their weekend plans. As far as he knew, none of his friends had been invited to any parties, so his plans were to just chill at home, maybe hit the park with the boys at some point.

He didn’t notice David walking past him to get to his own locker nor him opening it and going through his own stuff. He jumped slightly when he heard the door shut close though, David closing the distance between them with a few short steps.

“Na?”

“Na.”

“There must be something really interesting inside your locker.” David joked, leaning slightly forward pretending to be peeking inside. Matteo smiled in response. “What are you up to this afternoon?”

Matteo shrugged and added “I don’t know. I might play some Zelda later today. Wanna join me? We can invite all the boys and make it a party.” He suggested, growing more excited at the idea.

“Hm… I was planning on checking some buildings today.” Matteo regarded David unsure of what he meant: check out some buildings? The other boy was scratching the back of his neck, considering Matteo for a moment. “Do you want to come with me?” His doubt must have showed clearly on his face then, because David was quick to amend: “I like exploring abandoned buildings for fun. I had planned to check some today.”

Ah. He never pegged David as the type to break the law, but who was him to judge.

“Sure.” Matteo shrugged again, and David laughed at him. He closed his locker without actually taking anything out of it, hoping whatever was in his backpack would do it, and followed David out of the school toward the bus station.

“It is kind of far?” David mentioned, as they leaned against the rail at the stop.

“Zelda can wait.” They smiled at each other and waited in silence for the bus to come. When they boarded, David cheekily asked if Matteo had a ticket this time, who simply shoved him by the shoulder, failing to hide the smile that tugged on his lips.

They rode the bus for close to an hour before hopping off somewhere Matteo didn’t recognize, but David didn’t hesitate before heading off and leading them to wherever they were going. As they walked, he explained to Matteo the place they would be exploring, an old sanatorium used to isolate tuberculosis patients in the early 1900s, but that has been abandoned since WW2, when Aktion T4 had all the patients involuntarily euthanized.

It didn’t take long for them to get there, and David found a way into the building with practiced ease. Once they are inside, Matteo was awestruck… there was some sort of unspoken beauty about the place, with the sunlight making its way through tapped windows and the silence that surrounded everything. The architecture was also memorable, ample rooms and hallways lined with windows, arched ceilings and balconies overseeing different spaces. Close to sunset, they stopped at a long hallway with windows on both sides, creating an otherworldly sensation that completely encompassed Matteo. David took some pictures of that hallway with his phone, mentioning he would be using it for inspiration for drawings and collages, and Matteo was pretty sure he also pocketed a fallen window handle. They found what Matteo supposed to be the atrium last, a large room with high ceilings and arched entryways, marked with graffiti and discarded objects other people had left there. At that point, the sun was low on the horizon and there was barely any light coming through the windows anymore, so they decided it is better if they started to head back. David pulled out a flashlight from his backpack, because of course he would be prepared like that, and lit their way. They barely talked on the way back, sitting next to each other on the bus and sharing David’s earbuds. Matteo didn’t know most of the songs that played, but he liked them nonetheless.

“Thank you.” He muttered when the bus started to weave his way through familiar roads. Matteo knew his stop would come first, and part of him didn’t want the day to end, to leave David behind, but it was not like he could invite him over with his mom surely at home. He hoped David would understand the meaning behind his words, and it seemed he did, as he smiled and nodded, eyes cast down.

Matteo simply returned the earbuds to him when his stop was coming next, hopping off and waving to David through the closing doors. He received a wave back, and that, on top of their entire afternoon together, was enough to keep a smile on his face for the remainder of the night.

 

 

 

David told Matteo Sara had a crush on him on a Tuesday. Sara tried to kiss Matteo at a party that very Friday. If you asked Matteo, it was all Hanna’s fault, honestly. For one, she was the one that invited them to the party at Mia’s flatshare. Second, it was because she was talking to guy Sam when he and Jonas arrived that he was left alone on the dance floor while Jonas cooled off outside. He had tried to go after Jonas, but after a cold dismiss and a string of swears, Matteo opted to wait for the rest of the guys inside, where there was warmth and alcohol.

As it was, Matteo could be found standing close to one of the living room walls, sipping on something someone had poured into his cup in the kitchen, seemingly amused at his mostly drunk friends antics at the dance floor. He didn’t notice as Sara swarmed up to him, hair up in a ponytail and cheeks flushed red. Her voice dragged a little as she mused “Nice party, uh?”

Matteo’s reply came quick, not really relying on what David had just told him earlier that week. “Yeah. You seem to be enjoying yourself.” He smirked at her, raising his cup in a mock salute she eagerly responded to.

“I’m definitely am, especially now that I’m talking to you.” She would have been much more suave if she hadn’t wobbled a little at the end, the suggestive raise of her eyebrows becoming slightly distressed before Matteo reached out to stabilize her. His hands on her seemed to be all incentive she needed, as the next thing he knew was that there were warm lips being pressed to his own and his personal space became nonexistent. Maybe this was her intention after all.

Matteo froze for a second before responding to Sara’s kiss the next and then freaking out, pushing her away without much care and stumbling away, down the hallway and into one of the first open, unoccupied rooms he found. Once safely inside, he all but threw himself into a sitting position by the window, resting his head between his knees as his hands searched for the joint he had stacked on one of his pockets earlier.

That was how David found him later that night, smoking by the window in a stranger’s room, trying his best to block out the noises from the party still on full swing just outside the door. David silently sat by him, a quick brush of his hand against his arm to indicate he was there – physically, emotionally.

“Sara tried to kiss me.”

“I heard.”

Matteo was not in the mood to talk, and David seemed to pick that up instantly. They stayed mostly in silence, glancing forward, each on their own world until David nudged Matteo with his elbow, passing him one of his earphones with a teasing smile on his mouth.

“I don’t know if you know him.”

David kept watching him as he pressed play and the first chords of a song Matteo might have heard before, but couldn’t picture when or where, much less what song it was and who sang it, started playing. It took one look from Matteo back at David for them to start a staring contest, but every few seconds one or the other would drop their glances to their phones or to the lake, not quite comfortable with being caught by the other, trying to communicate what words couldn’t say and what would become too obvious if eye contact was kept for too long.

My lover's got humor / She's the giggle at a funeral / Knows everybody's disapproval / I should've worshiped her sooner / If the Heavens ever did speak / She is the last true mouthpiece / Every Sunday's getting more bleak / A fresh poison each week / "We were born sick", you heard them say it

 

 

 

Matteo finally met Laura, David’s sister, one night when he couldn’t handle staying at home for a minute longer, the air too constricting and the silence too loud between his mum’s and his spiraling thoughts. It was a Saturday night and Jonas was out with Carlos and Abdi at someone’s cousin’s friend’s party somewhere he wasn’t quite sure where, or he might have actually shown up there and drank himself out of his stupor – or more into it, depending on who you ask.

David met him by the doors of a building behind the train tracks, with Christmas lights adorning the adjacent walls. One look at him and he simply gestured him inside, guiding him up to the third floor and through a graffitied half-opened door, from which you could hear French music blasting inside.

“That’s Laura, my sister. She has a peculiar music taste.” David explained, smiling sheepishly at him and holding the door open as he crossed the doorway. “Make yourself at home.” He moved his hands and laced then behind his neck, a move that Matteo had come to associate with an anxious David. He hadn’t considered before then that he might be intruding or that there were reasons why the other boy kept his home life so private.

“Will she mind?” He asked, tugging at the end of his sweater – his own anxiety tick.

“What, you? Nah, she is chill.” David continued to walk into the apartment and led Matteo into what he assumed was his room.

“And your parents?” “It’s just Laura and I.” Matteo wasn’t sure if he meant then or always, but he didn’t have the energy to pry or think it further. “This is my room, you can just drop your things here. Laura’s is across the hallway. The couch pulls out so you can sleep there if you need longer than just a few hours.”

Matteo blinked, a little too overwhelmed and beginning to regret his decision. It wasn’t fair of him to intrude on David like this, so last minute and out of nowhere, leaving both unsure on how to act.

“I- I won’t stay long. I just needed to breathe a little.” David just looked at him from where he was sitting, and seemed to have been sitting for a while now, a table overflowing with papers and more papers, some full of sketches, others with just a few lines dotted here and there, some completely blank, and others crumpled up and tossed into a corner. “Really.” Matteo felt the need to add, quietly and unsurely as he sat at the edge of the bed, on the side closest to David.

“It is ok. We can just chill, and, if you want to, we can talk about whatever it is.” Matteo nodded, making himself more comfortable on the bed and plugging his headphones on. David silently went back to his sketching, an hour or so passing by between where neither of them said anything at all.

“It’s my parents.” Matteo muttered out of nowhere. David didn’t turn from his drawing, but stilled to listen. “My mom is mentally ill. It started to get worse a few years back, but this past year was the worst I remember since… ever. My dad couldn’t take it anymore and left us in May, moved back to fucking Italy. I just came home from school to find all of his things gone and my mother crying in the corner of our kitchen, a bunch of broken dishes around her. I didn’t know what to do, I called Jonas desperate. He came over, called my aunt. She stayed with my mom for two weeks until she was slightly better, and I stayed with Jonas all that time. Mom has never been the same. She is quieter, more drawn back. She had lost her job some time earlier in the year, and Jonas basically threatened my dad into sending us money for rent and to live, I guess. My aunt helps when she can. A few days ago my dad called, to tell us about how he met someone and they are starting a new family. It’s all bullshit, if you ask me. I think he has been with her for a long time now, behind our backs. I don’t give a fuck but my mom-“ he drew in a shaky breath, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes from where they were perched into his knees. From this new position, his next words came out muffled, but David suspected that was also because he had started crying. “My mom hasn’t really left her room ever since. I have been doing my best, feeding her, keeping her company, but I couldn’t take the silence of the house anymore. It was so damn deafening. My aunt is with her now.”

Matteo hadn’t registered when David had moved from the desk to his side on the bed, but he felt the strong hand that rested on his back, rubbing small circles at the ape of his neck. This was the most the other boy had ever seen Matteo say at once, so he had tried his best not to interrupt or express anything other than how much he cared about him.

After a few minutes, Matteo felt even more drained, tears still rolling slowly down his face, and fell back into David without thinking much. The other boy, however, didn’t pull back, he simply wound his arms fully around Matteo, holding him close. They stayed in that position until Laura knocked softly on the door, informing them she had made dinner in case they wanted to eat. David quietly replied to her, but didn’t dare to make the first move and disturb Matteo, who had finally calmed down.

“What did she make?” The question came so low that David wasn’t sure if he had actually heard it or if it was just his imagination, but then Matteo shifted a little so he could look at him, a teeny tiny smile on his lips. The relief came instantly to David, who exhaled a breath turned laugh midway – of course it was food that would cheer Matteo up.

“I don’t know, but Laura is a good cook. Wanna go check it out?”

The night was lighter after that. Laura had made a rice and chicken dish that was indeed pretty good, not quite like what Matteo usually ate. She received him with a warm smile, asking if she could serve him as he and David took a seat at the table. There was still some music playing in the kitchen, but not as loud as before, and definitely not French anymore. Matteo tunes out of the conversation, trying to decipher what language the song currently playing was in, and didn’t realize that Laura had asked him a question until David lightly kicked him from under the table, head dipped towards his sister.

"Sorry. What did you say?”

“David says you’re Italian. Fancy teaching me a dish some day?” At her invitation, Matteo blossomed a full smile, the first of the night (of the week, probably), eagerly nodding, and soon enough him and Laura were fully engaged in a conversation about cooking.

They moved on to watch a movie after dinner, a Schreiber tradition whenever the two siblings could be found home on a Friday night. They watched a movie Matteo didn’t quite catch the name of, something foreign, the type of indie cult movie that David loves. He enjoyed it too, but he did spend much of it distracted by the discussions that David and Laura were having about it. The movie was not that long, and before he knows Laura was turning their couch into a makeshift bed for Matteo to spend the night.

The next day, he was awakened by the sound of the coffee machine running and the strong smell of coffee that followed immediately after. He groggily made his way into the kitchen after a quick run to the bathroom and found Laura there, shuffling around pots and pans and ingredients for what looked like French toast. She greeted him with a soft good morning and the same comforting smile from the night before, a smile that brought a little bit of welcomed ease into Matteo’s heart and mind.

 

 

 

It was Laura who suggested he finds a new place for himself. He had taken to hanging out at David’s more often after that first time, and Laura often joined them at whatever they were doing when she was home. That day, they were playing board games in the living room when she abruptly asked Matteo why he didn’t look for a flatshare or something of sorts.

“Like, I get complicated family dynamics. I mean, look at us. I just- I sort of overheard you talking earlier and you said it yourself that your aunt is moving in, so your mom won’t be alone, and you need to focus on your abi and figuring out what you’ll be doing next year, and maybe it will be easier for you to do so outside of your house.” Matteo didn’t say anything for a few minutes, and Laura was starting to think she had overstepped, but David could see Matteo was simply pondering over the suggestion and shot a reassuring glance at his sister.

“I- I guess.” Matteo sounded slightly taken aback, brows furrowed in and lower lip caught in between his teeth, as if he had never thought about that being an option for him. As he processed Laura’s suggestion, however, the more it made sense. After the episode triggered by the news of his father’s new family, Matteo’s mom took a turn for the worse and her aunt was spending more and more time at their house, to the point she had talked to Matteo’s dad about letting go of her own place once her lease was up at the end of the month to permanently move in with her sister. If anything, this was the definition of too much, and one thing was for sure: Matteo could hardly focus on anything at the house, be it studying for his abi or just chilling or catching a good night of sleep. It was an odd thought though. Family and tradition was something so deeply inherited into Matteo’s childhood, into his mind, that moving out at 17 and leaving his mother… he wasn’t sure.

 

 

 

It took a week or so before Matteo made up his mind. He thought about it over and over again, and every time he came to the conclusion that Laura was right: he needed a home where he could relax and let go, not one where he was constantly playing parent to his own mother, where her problems dove him further into his own. It didn’t sound quite right, but it’s not like he would be leaving her to the wolves. She had her sister, who at the moment was much more qualified to take care of Matteo’s mom than he was.

There was a very distressed phone call between his dad and him after he decided and figured out he needed to tell him, if he expected to receive any help and rent money. Matteo was surprised by the fact his dad even picked up the call, seeing he had taken to ignoring his son whenever he called at ‘inconvenient times’ (which was most of the times he called). Swears and screams were exchanged and the call ended with Matteo suddenly too exhausted and hanging up while his dad was mid-sentence. Matteo then spent three days at Jonas because he couldn’t stand seeing all the memories from how his life used to be (how his life was supposed to be, still) while all of this was going on and before he knew it, he was even more set on his idea than before. He texted his dad a straightforward, slightly pleading ‘please’ and got a deposit on his bank account with a message attached asking if that amount is enough for rent and his other expenses and, if so, to expect the same the following month. There was also a reminder not to move too far out and to please continue visiting his mother, as if his father actually cared for her wellbeing. Either way, finding a flatshare within reasonable distance and his budget proved to be harder than anticipated. Matteo’s aunt moves in with them, he tells his mom that he will be moving out, she cries, he cries, but promises he will visit and that yes, mom, yes, Auntie Linda, he could take care of himself, it is not like he hasn’t been doing that for months on end now (he doesn’t voice that last part), but he was still living at his childhood home. His dad started bugging him when he learned he hadn’t moved out already, as if it was that easy to find an apartment in Berlin. Seemingly, the man had thought Matteo already had everything figured out since – in his words – his son didn’t need to ask for permission for anything anymore, making his own plans as if being 17 made him all knowledgeable. Matteo had simply rolled his eyes at that and muted a quick goodbye on the phone.

Sam turned 18 and invited all the boys to her birthday. They all had finally started to hang out together again, the tense air between Jonas and Hanna slowly fading away. Matteo was not much in the mood for a party, but he goes, figured out it wouldn't be half as bad as their usual birthday shenanigans as it was at a hookah bar, and he was right, to an extent. In the beginning of the night, him and the boys stuck to themselves, they got a table right next to the girls and spent a while just smoking and engaging in meaningless conversation. As the night moved on, however, people started to mingle more and broke up into different groups, and that was how Matteo found himself sat on the couch towards the back with Sara by his side.

Apparently, him running away after she kissed him at the last party they were both at did not faze her at all (or maybe she was too drunk to even remember, but that is another story). So there she was, by his side, making meaningless conversation that is almost entirely one sided, shifting closer and closer to him until there wasn’t an inch of space between them, and then she tried to kiss him again, but this time Matteo went with it, because he was tired and his mind was a whirlwind and he needed a distraction and this was… nice? It was. Somewhat. He went with it because it was easier than the alternative, of rejecting her again and having to be gentle about it this time because he had nowhere to run off to.

They kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed and Matteo was pretty sure his lips were going to become numb at some point. There wasn’t much passion behind it, but there wasn’t much thinking behind it either, and Sara was clearly enjoying herself while Matteo didn’t mind it, so when they finally broke apart, when Leonie came over begging for them to head home, Sara left a small peck on Matteo’s lips before she got up and he dumbly stared after her, a “I’ll text you” that makes he feel uneasy because this was not what he had planned when he kissed her back.

Shit.

Matteo laid back into the couch with a huff, staring at the ceiling and failing to notice David, who had spent much of the night watching him from the corner.

 

 

 

Matteo mentioned it to Hanna too, that he was looking for a place. They were trying to rekindle their friendship, one step at a time, so they were out for coffee one afternoon, and she was in the middle of telling him some story about something she and Sam had gotten themselves into a party when Matteo just blurted out that he is trying to find a flat. At first, Hanna was confused, asking him why he and his mom were looking into moving and if his dad was sending enough money for rent and stuff – apparently Jonas had kept her in the loop more than Matteo thought.

“No, just me. I want to move out.” Hanna considered him for a moment before changing the subject altogether, for which Matteo was very grateful. He didn’t expect her to touch on the topic again any time soon, but not even a week had passed when he received a text from her, telling him to look for a text from Mia later that day.

 

 

 

Matteo moved into the WG on a Friday after school, a week after Mia had texted him saying that she and her roommates had to move out of their current flat with no notice and could only find a new flat with four rooms instead of the three they needed, so they were looking for another person to share with them. He didn’t even thought about it before agreeing. Mia seems to be one of the most open-minded and down to earth friends that Hanna has, and he could only imagine she would live with likewise people.

All the boys helped him and between the five of them, they only needed two trips back and forth between the house and the flat before everything is moved. Unpacking went even quicker with the added help of Hans, Linn, Mia, and Alex, who Matteo had honestly forgotten he would be seeing more of because of Mia. Overall, it was a pretty uneventful affair, and they finished the night sharing pizzas and beers in the living room.

The next day they threw a party. If there was anything Matteo learnt on the past 24 hours at his new home, it was that Hans would take any excuse to go partying and or to throw a party. He said it would be a small housewarming party just for friends, but either one of them has too many friends (namely Hans, seeing his and Mia’s friends group overlap and Linn doesn’t seem all that sociable) or things definitely got out of hand. Matteo didn’t mind it though. The music was good, there was alcohol, all of his friends were there, having fun and enjoying the night. He danced some, he talked some, he even hosted a little when some guys from school that he actually liked arrived. At one point, Matteo started to feel tired and decided to go looking for Jonas and the rest of the guys, who he had lost sight of a good twenty minutes ago. He pushed through the crowd from where he was sitting down in one of their chairs, but before he managed to get far, there were hands grabbing him from the wrist and pushing him to dance. Sara.

He half-heartedly entertained her a little, even let her kiss him, messy and short kisses that were barely there before he slipped away saying he needed to pee. Jonas, David, Carlos, Abdi were in the bathroom, sitting in the bathtub and sharing a bowl. Matteo catches the little bag of week that was being thrown around, sniffing and pocketing it before forcing his way in between Jonas and Carlos. It took a minute for him to fully situate himself, but when he did, he exchanged a look with David that was both amused and annoyed. As he usually did when the topic was girls and sex, he mostly zoned out, until Carlos decided to include him in the conversation, wanting to know if he and Sara had fucked already.

“You bet.” Matteo’s reply came easily to him, noncommittal and cautious. He had learnt to give just enough information to get everyone off his back, without revealing too much either.

They decided to go back outside, after Carlos realized Kiki had texted him several times, but Matteo stayed behind to finish their bowl. David let everyone else file out before turning to Matteo.

“Na?” He nodded. It was harder to sustain the façade when it was just David around. He was ok… he just needed a few more minutes to breath and he would be able to go back to having fun and wasting the night away. “I will be outside if you need me.” Matteo nodded again, and was finally left alone. He was quick to lock the door and fully rest his body against it. Breath in, breath out. Rinse and repeat.

The moment he stepped out of the bathroom, some girls banging on the door to be let in, he knew he should have stayed there. There were policemen at the door, Linn was pushing him to go talk to them, and Carlos was pointing at him as if he didn’t know he had Abdi’s weed. He spinned around, catching sight of Amira’s backpack and that was it, before he knew he was hiding the weed inside and pointing to Photoshop Markus as the renter. He hoped he was 18 already.

The police left with just a warning, meaning the party was back on with full force mere minutes after they were gone. Only when he saw Amira leaving after them he realized: he truly fucked it up.

 

 

 

Unintentionally, Matteo leads Sara on and becomes her boyfriend. He didn’t mean for it to happen, he had kept the nonchalant personality he kept up around most people, but apparently that was not the smartest decision, because Sara was persistent and bold and so sure of herself that she made Matteo certain of whatever she was on about - in this case, them being a couple. She was also nice, and this might’ve been the worst part of it all, since Matteo couldn’t bring himself to hurt her, even if for his own wellbeing. He had simply agreed to hang out with her, so she came over to the WG one afternoon and they were chilling in bed when she just started talking about prom dresses and going to the abi ball together and what does that mean for them? He played along and threw the question back at her and in a matter of minutes they were boyfriend and girlfriend. At least he managed to steer her away from a full-on make out session by suggesting a movie.

The morning after he agreed to become Sara’s boyfriend, he sees David by their lockers, struggling to fit his gym bag inside his locker. It should be obvious that the bag is slightly too big, but David didn’t give up, smashing it left and right until it was squished inside, the door closing with a loud bang immediately thereafter.

“What did that bag do you, uh?”

David jumped, clearly not having seem Matteo approaching. He didn’t reply, changing the subject altogether, “Leonie says you and Sara are together now.”

“Not what I wanted.” Matteo mumbled. He really didn’t think it through. It was supposed to be just a few make out sessions at parties and evasive comments to the boys to get them out of his back.

“That is not right, Matteo.” David sounded angry, he thought. “Not to her, or to yourself.” There seemed to be something else left unsaid there too, but Matteo couldn’t figure out what it is. David took a deep breath in and he unintentionally copied him. “Just.... figure it out, do something about it before it is too late.”

David brushed past him, ignoring Matteo’s feeble attempt at some sort of explanation. He knew, ok, he knew he was just making everything worse for everyone, but he didn’t think he had it in him to end things with Sara and… and be gay in a way that was not just a concept that exists within his mind and was rarely voiced.

Matteo slid down the lockers until he was slouched on the floor. Standing took too much energy.

 

 

 

“I’m sorry about earlier.”

Matteo was pulled out of his thoughts by David, who seemed to be headed in the direction of the abi prank meeting room, where he himself was supposed to, thanks to the bag of weed he hid in Amira’s bag. The deal was for him and the boys to help her and the rest of the girls out in exchange for the weed back. David came to a stop in front of Matteo, one hand wrapped around his bag shoulder strap, the other scratching the back of his neck. He just shook his head, it was nothing he didn’t deserve or needed to hear, and extended the joint he was smoking toward David, a clear invitation.

“I thought we were supposed to be at the meeting.” He said as he dropped his bag to the floor, resting his back against the wall next to Matteo and taking the joint.

“They are doing some kind of trust circle thing. You know, with hand holding… Unless you feel like doing something like this.” David couldn’t help but glance at Matteo’s hand, limp at his sides.

“Nope.”

“I thought so... Can I ask you a question?” Matteo started. He had learnt more about David ever since they became closer after New Years, but everytime the topic would get remotely close to him moving to their school, he would shut down, and Matteo wanted to know. He wanted to know everything about David. The other boy agreed with a small nod, so he continued: “Isn’t it kind of weird that you moved here so close to the abi?”

“Not really.” A beat of silence. “I had to move.”

“I see. Why?”

David considered his words carefully, “I killed someone and had to go into hiding.” It almost sounded like a joke, but don’t they say that there is some truth behind every joke? Something behind his eyes showed that that might be just so.

“Stress with your parents.” Matteo blindly guessed. He had gathered enough to know that David and Laura seemed to have a strangled relationship with their parents.

“Yes. That’s why they are dead now.” David managed to deliver this completely straight faced, yet Matteo couldn’t help but laugh. They were past any resemblance of seriousness now.

“You have an eyelash there.” David pointed out, his hand not holding the joint shooting up. Matteo’s immediately went to his cheek. He captured the eyelash with his finger and asked: “Am I allowed to make a wish now?”

“No idea.”

“I thought… one is allowed to make a wish now.” He didn’t know why he insisted, but he was slightly thrown off by David. There was something different between them right then, he usually felt completely at ease with him, their conversations flowing naturally, and he didn’t know whether it had anything to do with their disagreement from earlier or if it was something else, but it felt weird… forced.

“It is just an eyelash.”

“Ok.”

Maybe his discomfort became clear, because David leaned in a little bit closer and entertained him: “What would have been your wish though?”

“Don’t know. Go on holiday or something.”

“Mm, I know this feeling.”

“And where do you want to go?”

“You have to know. It was your eyelash.” If Matteo could at least consider the possibility of it being the case, he might have noticed that it almost sounded like David was flirting with him, but as it was, he simply shrugged, the smile on his face revealing his delight at the conversation.

“I don't know. I would say... just get into a car and drive away.” Both boys shifted to face forward, each imagining their own getaways.

“Yeah. And then directly to Detroit.” Matteo laughed. He could’ve figured that one out.

“Best music city ever, I heard.” They shared a knowing smile like that was some sort of inside joke, which was not that far off, and David let out the smoke from his last drag. Matteo knew he should have stopped staring by now, but David managed to look almost heavenly under the harsh lights of the hallway, hair sort of disheveled, eyes shining, gummy smile and blushed cheeks.

“Hey, na. Don’t feel like abi prank?” Matteo closed his eyes for a second before turning to face Sara, who was coming from behind them. She gave him a peck, making herself comfortable next to him, and greeted David. “May I?”

David passed her the joint he was holding, moving from his position against the wall and shooting Matteo a look that clear remitted back to their talk that morning.

“I have to go. See you.” Matteo bite his lips, following David with his eyes as he picked up his bag and left from where Sara came, and then quickly glanced down to his feet as to not get caught staring by the girl.

“It is David, who Leonie has a crush on. I didn’t know you guys were this close” She whispered conspiratorially, and it took him a minute to remember what that was even about… The day before, when they were hanging out. She had been texting incessantly with someone and curiosity got the best out of Matteo, who had asked who and what she was texting about. It turned out that Leonie was nurturing a crush and they had been conspiring about how to make it happen. As if, Matteo thought, not being able to contain an eye roll.

He took a drag from the joint, pushing his head back against the wall. The thought bothered him.

“Are you sure it is not someone else?”

“Hmm, nope. David from Advanced PE. That’s him.” She smiled at him, tugging at his hand and pushing them both off the wall. Soon enough they were back to the room where the abi prank meeting was still going on, but at least they were past the trust exercises.

 

 

 

It became increasingly difficult to play the distant act with Sara and pretend he was not in a real relationship with her. He tried, he left her on read or took his time when he does reply, made up obligations and errands to run after school so he didn’t have to hang out with her alone, but there was only as much as he could do before she calls him out on it. This whole act occupied his mind so much that he completely forgot about motto week, and everyone gave him the time of his life for not dressing up. So what? David didn’t dress up either, he noticed, but no one bothered him. Maybe he should’ve pretended he is a cool, mysterious dude too instead of whatever his persona is. Stoner? Yeah, too late for that now.

If Sara all up on him during the weekend was not enough, his mom had also sent several text messages quoting Bible verses, meaning she was not doing so well. He considered visiting, but ended up not going. The effort felt too much, way more than he thought he could handle. Moreover, he tried to study over the weekend for his exams, trying being the operative word. He could barely keep on task for more than ten, fifteen minutes at a time before his mind started drifting or he started bouncing too hard to the point he had to get up to let loose, or Hans or Linn or Mia came knocking to ask for favors and opinions, company, or to tell him there was food ready for everyone. Who was him to refuse free food?

The rest of the week went much like the weekend that preceded it. In a moment of complete despair, fed by Sara’s insistence, David’s constant, silent judgment of how he hadn’t ended things with her yet (quite the contrary, actually), and his own indecisiveness, he googled how to sleep with a girl when you don’t like. None of the results are of any help, not that he expected anything but, he. was. lost. He was tired, so damn tired of everything in his life that he almost wished that he could walk out of the school doors and disappear into thin air. He didn’t know what to do with himself or Sara or his mom or his friends, so he would go through his days mechanically, with the flow, even agreeing to host yet another party on Friday, despite Sara’s protests from where she was standing by his side when Kiki had asked, or the guys mockery at what he would be missing after so many not so subtle insinuations from her as well. At one point during that conversation he had zoned out so deep into his thoughts that he imagined David twirling midwalk as he passed by them on his way down the stairs. David, who had been spending less time with them, probably because of Matteo and his unresolveness in life.

When Friday came, Matteo was more than ready for a party. He let Hanna make him a hat out of glow-in-the-dark sticks and let Sam paint two streaks with fluorescent dye on each of his cheeks. Abdi made a hilarious and failed attempt at hitting on Sam, and kept longing after her from the corner, and he hung out a bit with Hanna, who seemed downright mad that Jonas was making out with someone from a younger grade on the dance floor, before Laura found him in the crowd. They talked for a bit, she hadn’t been to the WG yet, but then he was being pulled to dance by Hans, who had just made his grand entrance with some of his friends minutes prior. Matteo is enjoying himself, having hadn’t to deal with Sara, who was too busy getting herself plastered, but like many good things, his enjoyment was short lived. One of Hans’ friends, Andi, he thought, the one he met on Grindr, got too close to him and suddenly sirens were going off on his brain.

Abort. What if people found out. You were enjoying yourself too much. You were supposed to be with your girlfriend. Where was your girlfriend by the way? It shouldn’t bother you that Jonas was probably leaving with that girl. It shouldn’t bother you that David hadn’t come talk to you yet. You were supposed- Matteo pushed Andi away, flabbergasted and bewildered, moving backwards until he crashed into someone - Jonas, he noticed too late - and into the hallway, then quickly into his own room. He paced around, his thoughts too many and too loud, until he was throwing a birdie into the wall and pulling at his own hair. He rolled a joint perfunctory, almost carelessly, but that didn’t help like it usually did; he could still feel his legs shaking and his thoughts were becoming more and more confusing, swirling around his mind and intertwining themselves, leaving his breathless. He felt his head was about to explore, that his whole body would explode into nothingness if he didn’t find a better distraction soon, so he got up from where he found himself in the chair, unnoticing, and reached for the headphones by the bed, turning the music loud enough to silence the party. Matteo kept pressing against his headphone-covered ears as he went back to pacing around the room before finally collapsing back against his chair, legs propped up on the table and arms hugging a pillow, face burrowed in. He expected David to come check on him at some point, but he didn’t, unless he was at the door with Jonas when he came to get him to go to wherever it is everyone was going next, trying to lure him out with drunk screams about naked girls waiting outside. He relented, eventually, telling the others he had fallen asleep. He wished he had. Leonie also texted to tell him that Sara wasn’t feeling well and she was taking her home, a hint that it should have been him doing so.

After God knows how long, the apartment fell quiet. Matteo felt somewhat calmer and decided to fetch himself some food, if there was any left on his shelf. Maybe he could steal some from Hans and replace it in the morning before anyone noticed. When he stepped into the living room, however, he heard the clink of beer bottles being emptied out. Maybe Linn had stayed in?

No. Matteo found David in the kitchen, clad in a white shirt with a dinosaur wearing briefs so unlike his usual clothes. He liked it.

David stopped emptying out the bottle he is holding when he sensed Matteo by the door. “Na? Everything ok?” He asked, looking the other boy up head to toe.

“Aren’t you with the others?”

“Nah, I felt like cleaning up.”

Matteo fully entered the kitchen then, grabbing a few more bottles that sat half-drank at the table and stood next to David by the sink to help him. As he emptied the bottles out, he kept glancing between the sink and David, looking away whenever he came too close to getting caught. Was David planning on checking on him later, if he hadn’t left the room? Or was he just going to clean up some and leave without talking? Matteo didn’t keep wondering for long though, as David stated the unimaginable.

“You look good today.”

Matteo considered it for a moment, trying to figure out David’s hope in telling him that. He moved to face away from the sink. “Everything is fucking me up at the moment.”

David absorbed the information with a pensive frown, and turned to face the same direction as him, moving closer as he did so. He didn’t remove his attention from Matteo for a moment, not even as tears started to gather around his eyes and he had to press his lips tightly together to try and keep them from flowing out. When he looked back at David, he was accosted by a sudden urge, and couldn’t help the small smile that pushed at his lips nor the urge to lean in closer. David caught on his intentions immediately, locking eyes with him and leaning in closer himself. Matteo’s eyes fluttered down, setting on David’s lips for a second before they were back up, and the other boy involuntarily copied his movement in what then became a game: eyes up, keeping contact, eyes down, focusing on each other’s lips, lean in closer, and closer, and closer. Matteo felt David’s nose brush his, making him lightheaded, his heart beating so fast on his chest that he wouldn’t be surprised if he went into cardiac arrest. He was pretty sure he had stopped moving, but David didn’t, and he leaned in further, and further, and Matteo could feel the feather light touch of another pair of lips on his and then-

Bang! The door was thrust open and Mia barged in, followed close behind by Alex, both of them screaming, hands moving around exaggeratedly. Alex stopped at the kitchen door, snapping at them. David retreated backs, hands locking behind his back. Whatever had been going on between them just then was over, and Matteo shook his head because he couldn’t believe it. He had almost kissed a cute boy. He had almost kissed one of his best friends. He had almost kissed... David. He didn’t know if he should be glad they were interrupted or mad at Mia and Alex. He rubbed his face, trying to hide himself with his hands. Everything truly was fucking him up at the moment.

 

 

 

He met up with David at a park he had never been on a Wednesday after school, following the coordinates sent to him by text. The past few days have been busy for him and all of his friends, and they hadn’t hung out much outside of school, so he was glad when he got David’s text asking for them to meet. The only positive thing to have come out from everyone being so busy was that he didn't have to try too hard to avoid Sara, it just naturally happened that they couldn’t see each other all week. The fact that he wasn’t really replying to her texts either, well… that was another problem to be dealt with on a later date.

Matteo walked slowly as he made his way through the park, kicking lone rocks he spotted on his way, and when he caught David leaning on the wall that faced the river by the park, he fastened his pace, coming close to him before spurting out: “Don’t be scared!”

The other boy jumped out slightly at Matteo’s half-hearted but successful attempt, laughing it off as he turned to face him.

“Na.”

“Na. So... what exactly is here?” Matteo asked, making himself more comfortable against the edge.

“Uh… I’m here.” He didn’t know whether to take that as a joke or not, head tilting to the side as he let out a huff and studies David. The two boys stared at each other for a few seconds too long, neither breaking the façade and letting the other know what this meetup of theirs really meant after that almost kiss in Matteo’s kitchen. Matteo wanted so badly for it to be a date, but he didn’t know how to voice his wish. He believed, or at least hoped, that David also wanted the same thing, but didn’t dare to ask also, in case that was not true. David hadn’t mentioned anything about the almost kiss the few times they had seen each other since, regardless of how brief those encounters were, and Matteo didn’t want to be the first one to bring it up.

“Hm, shall we go for a walk?” David spoke first, moving away from the wall they were leaning against. Matteo easily agreed, and from there on they spend the afternoon enjoying each other’s presence and distracting themselves from the pressure of the upcoming abi exams, laying under the sun at a patch along the lake where it was shining particularly bright, climbing up one of those little wood houses for kids and sharing a joint and a pack of snacks on the rooftop, pretend playing ping-pong without balls or rackets, sword fighting using fallen tree branches as their swords. Hours later they ended up sitting at a little amphitheater that faced the river, talking about how it was going for Matteo at the WG and the new project Laura was working on for one of her classes. It felt nice, so nice that Matteo didn’t want it to end, so he invited David over, only slightly heartbroken when he said he couldn’t, but still too giddy about the whole afternoon to think there might have been a reason behind it.

 

 

 

David comes out to Matteo on the Saturday after their ‘date’ on the park. It goes like this: Matteo went to visit his mother on Friday after school, and when he came back to the WG, he found Hans, Linn, and David in their living room, sipping from cups of tea and watching TV. His immediate reaction was that of surprise, not because he didn’t know David would be coming over, considering their newfound habit of just showing up at each other’s place to hang, but because David looked out of place, shoulders drawn in, so unlike his usual confident demeanor. He greeted them good night as he took his shoes off, and David’s eyes immediately snapped up to meet his, a look Matteo couldn’t quite decipher on them. As he moved further into the living room, Hans raised from his place on the couch to get Matteo his own cup of tea, conveniently leaving the spot next to David free.

“You ok?” He asked quietly, while Hans was still in the kitchen and Linn was clearly distracted with whatever was on TV. David nodded in response, but his stance didn’t change. Matteo kept glancing at him throughout the episode of Murder Mystery he was roped into watching with them, but David didn’t acknowledge him and kept still, eyes sharp ahead and barely moving.

About an hour after Matteo got home, Linn decided to retreat back into her room and Hans announced he had just found a date for the night and would hopefully be gone until the morning, leaving him and David by themselves.

“You ok?” Matteo repeated his question from earlier, and thankfully David didn’t pretend this time. He still didn’t answer, however, preferring to lead Matteo into his room with a nod of his head. As soon as they were inside the safety of the room, David turned to the other boy and all but crumbled into him, face tucked into his shoulder, arms circled around his waist and hands clasped tight, in a hug that left Matteo even more clueless than before, but which he reciprocated with as much feeling, arms going up around his shoulders, his own face pressed against David’s shoulder as well.

They stayed like that for far too long, Matteo’s leg starting to give out under him from supporting both of their weights.

That night, they didn’t speak, and it took Matteo a while to fall asleep under the weight of his worry. Obviously he hadn’t done anything wrong, or else David wouldn’t be there, but who did? The last time they had hung out was at the park earlier in the week, and while David had seemed a bit off towards the end, Matteo had brushed it off as tiredness from a day of studying.

 

When Matteo woke up, he was alone in bed. He took his time, yawning and stretching and snuggling in closer to the pillow one more time before he turned to his side and found David already up, standing by the window, the same ‘off’ stance of the night before, as if he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Already awake?” David looked over, but remained silent. His eyes shone with unshed tears. “Everything alright?”

“Hey, what’s up?” Normally, Matteo wouldn’t be one to initiate physical contact with David, despite being a tactile person by nature, always cuddling their other friends, but touch was his language of love and right then David looked like he desperately needed some love, so he took the risk, and hugged him from behind, leaning his head on David’s shoulder. The ‘nothing’ that David muttered came a beat too late to be genuine, especially when he untangled himself from Matteo immediately after, turning his back to him. “Do you want to talk to me?”

“I had an argument with Mr. Neuhaus.”

“What happened?” Matteo had never seem David so uncomfortable. Most days, actually, he wondered what it would be like to have the other boy’s confidence. This David, tired and worrying, was a far cry from the boy he had gotten to know over the past months, the boy who had become one of his best friends, the boy he had almost kissed at the last party they went to. This David paced around a little, starting and restarting sentences that were simply left unfinished after a word or two. He finally sat on the bed, leaving enough space by his side for Matteo to follow suit.

It took another few minutes for David to start faltering through what he so clearly needed to tell Matteo. “I’ve got something on my mobile… that I can read to you. Or… I’ll send it to you…”

“Or you can just tell me.” Matteo understood how difficult it could be to say certain things out loud, but this felt too heavy to be said in any other way, and he had no idea what it might even be about.

“Yeah, you’re right.” David took a shaky breath in, eyes filling up with tears that were quickly blinked away. “So… most boys… they are… simply boys. And girls too. Hm…” He gulped in, voice breaking before he continued, “but sometimes... it’s just different.” Matteo wasn’t sure he was following. David also seemed conflicted, eyebrows furrowed in, head shaking every so slightly, releasing yet another shaky breath as Matteo asked him ‘what?’ “I was born in the body of a girl. But I’m a boy, I… I am transgender.”

Matteo didn’t know what to do with his hands, scratching his ears, neck, arm. He didn’t know whether to look at David (he felt more comfortable when he didn’t have to maintain eye contact while speaking, especially when he had to go through difficult conversations, but was it like that for everyone?) or what to say either… The only thing he did know was that he needed to react, and soon.

“Uh. Sorry, I… I don’t know what to say.” David’s breathing finally came out less shaky. Ok. Matteo could breath a little bit easier then too.

“That’s totally ok.”

“That means… You are a…”

“No, I am not. I am a boy… I just have to try a little harder.” David immediately interrupted, his body language begging for understanding, open and honest and palpable, hands drawn closed, brushing as they hid in the sleeves of his sweater. It broke Matteo’s heart a little, that he might not be able to give David all that he was unconsciously asking. He shook his head, trying to sort his thoughts. Maybe if he knew more, he would understand it better and be able to do more?

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I didn’t want to tell anybody at school. And then… then I got to know you. I don’t know, missed the right moment. But I really like you. I don’t want… to ruin-”

There were loud voices coming from the hallway and suddenly Matteo’s door was being thrown open, Hans and another guy almost falling through it. For some reason Hans was wearing a pink wig and the other guy had a leopard onesie and hills on.

“Sorry for the disruption!” Somehow Hans sounded drunk despite it being almost 11am on a Saturday. His date added something incomprehensible.

Matteo’s head was starting to fill with too many simultaneous thoughts, the water rising too much, too fast and he was this close to drowning in his own thoughts. He needed more time to fully comprehend what David had just disclosed. He knew what transgender was, he had heard ot it, it was part of the LGBTQ+ community, but he barely understood the gay part of it all and that was h-i-m. Christ. That was not supposed to sound funny. While he might not understand it a hundred percent, he knew David, right? So he could confirm that nothing had changed, it was still David, the boy he had gotten to know over the past months, the boy who had become one of his best friends, the boy he had almost kissed at the last party they went to. Right? Right.... Right? Oh. They had almost kissed. David had revealed he liked him too. David liked him! David. liked. him! David was leaving.

“Contact me.” Matteo hadn’t noticed, but David had gotten up from the bed and gathered his belongings. “If you want.” There was some shuffling noise and the door opening and closing and Matteo was too slow. He fell face first into the bed. How could he fix this?

 

 

 

Matteo accidentally outed David to Hans (and received a well-deserved, conflicting loving scold at that), in an attempt to get more information about his community and all of its letters without making a fool of himself in front of David, or even worse, hurting David with his words that sometimes came out before his brain can fully formulate his thoughts and sometimes came out too late, messing up the pacing of the conversation and making everything too awkward. Awkward, indeed, was the week in between David showing up at Matteo’s doorstep and the day they went back to being in each other’s presence and talking and interacting without walking on eggshells. It took Matteo two days to reach out to him again, but between their conflicting exam schedules and other obligations, they couldn’t seem to find the time to meet face to face, to the point that Matteo decided to call David - and Matteo never called anyone. It was what David deserved though, after that shameful performance by Matteo, to hear him say “hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to say, but thank you for having confided in me. It’s just… there is this guy, he has dark hair, he is a bit mysterious, has some kind of sandwich fetish, and he makes me nervous, you know, because I really like him too.” The awkwardness was worth it, however, as David seemed to have become more bold and blatantly flirted with Matteo whenever he had the chance. At first, he thought he was seeing things, that it was just his hopeful brain playing into his unrequited crush, but others made him physically weak at the knees, only ever capable of responding with soft smiles and playful kicks and shoves like a 12 year old. They moved past it thought, and then the fact that David was trans was just one more thing that Matteo knews about him, like…

David was 17.

David had an older sister named Laura.

David wanted to be a filmmaker.

David loved sports.

David had beautiful broccoli-like hair that Matteo would love to tangle his fingers on.

David was the boy with whom Matteo was in love-

 

Fuck.

 

When David started to occupy Matteo’s thoughts more frequently, he was sure that it was just another closet-gay-guy-falls-in-love-with-his-best-friend-kind-of-thing, similarly to how it was with Jonas; a crush, an infatuation that would eventually go away with time. However, as the days went by and with every smile or 'Na?' that David threw his way in the school hallways, with every laugh and shove Matteo would get when they were hanging out and he would inevitably say something cheeky or downright stupid, the more Matteo realized that this was not a simple crush. He was head over heels in love with David. Of course, that meant that his immediate reaction was to become incredibly awkward around David, like the day he met him by the lockers after Kiki, Carlos and Sam had cornered him to have him agree to throw a party at the WG on Friday. What followed must have been the cringiest exchange Matteo had ever been a part of, full of fidgeting, unnecessary hand movements, avoided and aborted eye contact, and soft smiles. There was also that time when he kept holding all his books to his chest instead of placing them on his open locker as he watched David walk by.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Matteo knew that his pinning after David was completely obvious to anyone who had ever had a single doubt about whether he was actually straight or not. As it was, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the first person that was not David himself that Matteo came out to, somewhat accidentally as well, was Hans.

Like any other person who had just found out they were in love, Matteo was half-sitting, half-laying on his bed on a Tuesday after school, looking through the series of pictures he had of David on his phone, including snapshots of Instagram pictures he had saved in a moment of shame at 3am in the morning, when Hans came barging in and dropped himself right next to Matteo. Privacy, what a concept.

“Oh, David looks handsome in that picture.” It was not like Hans is wrong, – David is very handsome, in that picture and all others – but this was definitely not a conversation Matteo wanted to have with him.

“Hans.” Hans wasn’t sure if Matteo had meant it for his name to sound like a groan or a warning, but be it as it may, he simply bat his eyes back at the younger boy in a very exaggerated way, as if innocently asking ‘what?’.

“I came to ask if you wanted to take a walk with me, butterfly, but it seems you are already otherwise… occupied.”

“Hans!” This time it was definitely an exasperated calling. “I’m not- I was just-“ Matteo mumbled sentence start after sentence start without actually finishing whatever it was he was saying, until finally Hans took pity on him and sent what he hoped was a warm look his way.

“You know you don’t have to be gay to recognize that a guy is pretty, right?” The yes with which Matteo responded in a grumble surprised Hans, who looked over at him with an amused tint in his eyes, but not as much as the next sentence that came out of his mouth.

“What if I was?” Hans’ eyebrows shoot up his forehead so fast that if one could break them, he would most certainly have.

“Is there something you want to tell me, butterfly?”

Matteo hesitated, but he wanted to be able to talk to someone about David so badly, and Hans was there and he was willing. “Ya… We’re having a thing.”

“Wow.” Despite his words, Hans didn’t actually look all that surprised.

“Aren’t you shocked or something?”

“Why? I’m happy for you. I’m really happy, honestly.” Matteo beamed. He could see that, and maybe that was why his thoughts immediately jumped into warning mode; he didn’t want Hans, or anyone else for that matter, getting any ideas and making assumptions about him.

“Thank you.” Matteo really meant it, and he hoped he could convey that. Hans had been a godsend in his life. “But, you know, I’m not gay or something…” The other boy quickly agreed, but Matteo was not convinced. “Well, not like gay gay, you know what I mean?”

“What?” There was a shift in Hans’ expression that sent a dreadful feeling through Matteo, but he continued, if anything to explain himself more clearly. He didn’t mean no harm.

“Just not in a way that everybody notices right away.”

“You mean like me.”

“No, not exactly like you.” He sighed, sitting back a bit. He hadn't even noticed he had moved closer to Hans. “Well, yes, a little. You’re just… RuPaul. Only whiter, and louder.” He grimaced. Not the best comparison and he knew it. Why did he always have to fuck things up?

“RuPaul?”

“Yes. You constantly talk loudly about sucking dicks, Rihanna, and turn every small thing into a big deal.”

“I… just try to be myself.” There was a mix of confusion, anger, and hurt lacing Hans’ words, his eyes moving up and down Matteo’s face as if searching for something he didn’t know what.

“Yes, and that’s fine! But that simply isn’t me, that is just your thing.”

“My thing?”

“Yes, well… Like, hm… extroverted, out there. What comes to mind when you think about being gay.” Matteo got up. He was starting to feel agitated under Hans’ stare.

 

“Sorry you have a problem with me!” Hans’ voice sounded louder, and Matteo was afraid that he was driving further and further from the point he was trying to make. Why was it so hard to translate his thoughts into sentences?!

“I don’t! But I don’t understand why I suddenly have to go to pride wearing makeup and leggings and sing ‘We Are Family’ just because I like David.”

“Well, these people at pride, with whom you don’t want to be associated under any circumstances, they took to the streets because they were fighting for their rights! Gay people used to be discriminated against, prosecuted, and sometimes even killed. And even today there are states where this is still the case! Those people risk their lives because they can’t bear to hide. That requires courage. More courage than you can picture in that small brain of yours.” Matteo was sure he fucked up. This was not what he had meant to happen, and he couldn’t keep eye contact with Hans anymore. He cast his eyes down, but the other boy was not having any of that. He stood up from where he was still sitting in bed and only stopped when he was face to face with Matteo. “And before you muster up the courage to be who you really are, you don’t have the right to put yourself above me or others.”

“Hans, I didn’t want to…”

“Stop it. Stop it.” Hans left the room, leaving Matteo abashed. He shuffled back to bed, kicking away the pieces of clothes and random objects scattered on his way in the floor.

“Fuck.”

 

 

 

Sometimes Matteo would forget he came out to David. After a while, Matteo started to realize he never had a problem with the fact he was gay. His problem was more with the fact that he was somehow expected to announce that to the word, and he hated putting himself in the spotlight, sharing personal stories or anecdotes or any piece of information about him, partially because he himself did not know who he is that well. Between not really caring about people knowing and David acting like all Matteo told him that day on Jonas’ backyard was that his favorite color was blue, Matteo forgets he has come out before and that that was something he was supposed to do that was, supposedly, a big deal.

Just like he forgets he came out to David, he also forgets he hasn’t come out to really anyone else in his life, and everything becomes all to clear one day when they were hanging out at Carlos’ and he discovered that every single one of his friends were way too invested into his ‘relationship’ with Sara. With whom, by the way, he hadn’t talked to in over a week.

“Oi, Luigi, Kiki was saying that you completely ignored Sara at the party the other day.” Carlos exclaimed, leaning forward from where he was sitting at the couch to grab another beer.

“What?! I thought you were into her!” Abdi looked confusedly between Carlos next to him and Matteo in the other couch, and at that moment Matteo regretted kissing Sara back and leading her on more than ever before.

“Yeah! You said it yourself when the school year began, remember?” added Carlos. If looks could kill… Why would he have ever said anything like that and oh-

It had been when Matteo was still deep in his crush on Jonas and deep in denial about being gay. They had been at a party, hidden away at a cupboard he thinks, smoking and sharing a bottle of pure vodka Jonas had brought with him. Why on Earth Carlos was remembering that was a mystery, seeing half the time he could barely remember what he ate for breakfast the same day.

So he shrugged and took another sip of his beer, moving his body so he could rest his feet at the center table. Thankfully, the boys didn’t insist much on the topic, even though Matteo could feel Jonas eyes squirting at him, as if he could see straight through his nonchalant act.

“What about you, dude? You never talk about chicks with us!” Abdi asked, turning his body towards David, who was sitting on the other side of Jonas next to Matteo.

“Uh… Th-there’s no one for me right now.” David stuttered a bit through his answer, which was so uncharacteristic of him that all the boys immediately started laughing, including Matteo, who couldn’t help but stare at him a little bit more intensely. They had been dancing around the topic, pretending neither confessed their feelings for the other, but could it be that David meant him? His mind was insistent that David ought to be into someone else, someone hot, smart, and dedicated, someone cool like him. Someone better than Matteo.

Jonas winked at David “Sure thing.”

“We are going to the climate strike next Friday with the girls, right?” Matteo decided to change the topic, not sure if he would be able to keep together much longer without busting out loud to the whole world that he was in love with David. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Jonas and Carlos were quick to jump into it, talking loudly over one another about the protest. Matteo was not sure which of the girls had came up with the idea, maybe Kiki or Mia, but word got around and they had all decided to go. Quite honestly, he was actually excited to attend. He had been following the movement for a while on Instagram but never felt like the effort of planning and physically going to one of the marches with posters and everything. If he didn’t have to do any of the logistics thought? He was definitely interested in the cause and in throwing rage at old, corrupt politicians. Having fun while at it, especially with his friends, was just a consequence of everything else.

 

 

 

The topic of Sara’ crush on Matteo and his apparent reciprocal crush on her was brought back on their group chat just a few days after their hang out session at Carlos. Matteo was studying with Amira at school when his phone beeped with several text messages in a row, including more texts from his mom that he kept unopened. Apparently, Jonas and Hanna had come across David, Leonie, and Sara while they were out studying and Sara had not so subtly asked about Matteo, hinting that David never gave much useful info about him, whatever that meant. Jonas and Hanna had danced around the topic, but now his best friend wanted to know what was really going on. On a whim, Matteo locked his phone back up and turned to Amira, who was until then very concentrated in her textbook, and asked her why she was religious.

Lately, the fact he liked guys and would never be able to engage in some of his friends’ conversations was a recurring thought in his head, which probably had a lot to do with his newfound crush on David surging amidst this whole wreck of Sara being interested in him (why now? They’ve known each other for years, for God’s sake). Either way, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that coming out to the rest of his friends would not be as easy as it had been with David and Hans, either because they were blissfully ignorant to questioning themselves like that or were, you know, religious, namely Amira and his mom. He didn’t have a problem with religion, per say. Christ, he grew up singing in church choir and actually missed it on some days. What he had a problem with was anything that drove people into caring about things to an excess, no questions asked, especially things that had anything to do with, you know, uninvolved parties and their sexualities. Deep down, Matteo knew Amira would have no problem with it, but the fact that Islam as an entity did kept bugging him, and he really wanted to understand how people like Amira and his mom would subvert to ideologies so placating, black-and-white type of thing.

“Not… I don’t mean to offend you.” He added, when she just stared back at him not saying a word.

“And that is how the best sentences start.” Amira sounded tired, like she had had this conversation, or a variation thereof, many times already.

“But really, why are you religious? Don’t get me wrong. But, I don’t know, it is 2019, you’re an intelligent girl, interested in natural sciences. Isn’t one supposed to realise some kind of contradiction eventually?” Matteo tried to keep the tone lighthearted, but clearly failed as Amira squeezed her eyes at him, trying to see through his sudden interest in her personal beliefs.

“Since when are you interested in my religion?”

“I’m not. No idea, I just don't understand how someone believes in a god who decides everything, like, a is right, b is wrong, poultry is right, pork is wrong, hm… Being heterosexual is right, being homosexual is wrong. No, I just don't know.”

“Ok. What do you believe in, Matteo?”

Easy. He looked at her like this wasn't even a real question. “I believe in science. The theory of Evolution.”

“Ah, theory of Evolution. Did you have a closer look at it? Natural selection? What does it tell you about being gay?” Amira leaned in, pushing against the table to get closer to Matteo. “Your admired theory of Evolution says homosexuality is a deadend. It also says gays don’t push the world forward because they can’t have children. They should have been extinct for ages, actually. If they had died out because of evolution, why are they still existing, Matteo? Do you think one has a choice? Or maybe it’s a mental illness? What do you think, Matteo?” She was hitting too close to home for it to be comfortable. Matteo knew Amira was just defending herself, but damn it if he wasn’t letting it get to him, all the questions she was throwing at his like daggers cutting into his brain to slaughter around and make a mess of his thoughts. He needed an out, but his mind was blank, or rather, all he could see in it were flashes of ‘you shouldn’t exist’, ‘you are a deadend’, ‘maybe this is just in your mind’, ‘you could choose to like Sara’ like fucking neon billboards with sound effects.

“I don’t think about being gay the whole time! I don’t fucking care.”

“Ok. Well, if you don’t know better, then just shut up instead of criticising my religion. Just respect that I believe in something different than you do. Ok?” Her tone clearly indicated that there was no more room for discussion. Matteo slammed his notebook closed, not braving looking at her either. He should have kept quiet.

 

 

 

When Matteo came back from his failed study session with Amira, he locked himself in his room and immediately rolled up a joint.

 

It took him three days to realize he was spiraling. The days all blurred together and came and went without him noticing. He was pretty sure he had only left his room once to use the bathroom before going back to the same position on the chair, rolling joint after joint trying to suppress his racing thoughts - rent was due soon, his dad wasn’t replying to his texts, his mom was only texting him bible quotes, his friends were way too invested into this whole story with Sara, he was very clearly in love with one of his best friends, he couldn’t talk to anyone about it because the only person who knew he was gay was said best friend and Hans, whose life philosophy, well, didn’t exactly match that of Matteo, and on top of everything he was probably, very likely, doomed to fail his abi.

The thing about spiraling thoughts is that they don’t all come at once, like a tsunami hitting the shore. It would probably be more helpful if that was how it went, a massive hit that takes you by surprise but that brings with it a peaceful drought, a calm mind. Rather, these thoughts come in waves, and with each wave comes a different feeling, none more pleasant than the other. While the tide is still low, just barely brushing the shoreline, anxiety comes along. It is somewhat easy to keep it at bay then, pushing through your daily life like it is a walk on the beach that slowly builds up to a jog, then a run, then the water rises and the tide is high and suddenly you are so tired, because now you are not walking, not jogging, not running, you are trying your damn best to stay afloat as you swim and swim and swim in an ocean of thoughts that want to bring you down, down, down, down, down… The deeper down you sink, the more lonely you feel.

The feeling of loneliness is one that has been present for much of Matteo’s life, a feeling that never followed a discerning pattern and always made it so hard for him to explain, or even identify, what he was feeling. When Matteo was little, it wasn’t as much of a feeling of loneliness as it was an unsettledness in his actions – shy in one moment, outgoing in the next one. Perfectly respectful and polite when in church with his mama, throwing tantrums and being a smartass when out with his dad doing ‘man things.’ Whenever his parents were fighting yet again, it would be tummy aches or growth pains. After Matteo had grown a little and sort of figured out how to balance out his act, the loneliness would come with the anger – anger at his dad, who had started to work later day after day and would escape the house on the weekends with weak excuses for where bounds; at his mama, who was spending more and more time alone, locked inside her room, forgetting to cook lunch or water her plants; at school, where he was having a harder time concentrating and getting all of his homework and projects done; at Jonas, who was starting to become interested in girls and other people and just things that were not playing Mario cart at either of their houses. Matteo would get angry and distance himself from everyone and everything so not to explode, and that’s when full-fledged loneliness would settle in. Nowadays, it felt like constant high tides in the form of heavy shoulders and chest pains and headaches that made Matteo completely isolate himself, even when in the presence of others, hiding behind a façade of what he thought he should be.

Some days were better than others. Some days were worse than others. On that particular day, the haziness was finally clearing up and paving the way to what was one of the worst days in a long time. If his depression was like a high tide, then the haziness usual of the first days of his episodes were the fog ever present in the early morning at sea. Matteo much preferred it when it was foggy, because when the sky cleared up, he couldn’t ignore the swirl of thoughts that clouded his mind, the tiredness that drenched his bones and seemed to try to sew him into bed.

That was how the boys found him. He didn’t know who let them in, but someone did, and before he could do anything about it, Jonas, David, Carlos and Abdi were all spread around his room, staring at him as he smoked yet another joint, the smoke tray on the table filled to the brick. When it became clear he wouldn’t be the one to initiate a conversation, Carlos asked him what he had been up to the past few days.

“I just chilled. And you?” Carlos had a spa day with Kiki. Abdi and Jonas ‘checked some women out.’, whatever that meant, and David studied for the abi and went to an exhibition with Laura. They were quick to immerse themselves in a conversation about old people’s names, habits, and thermal baths that Matteo was not in the mood for. He got up to play some music, sure he would go unnoticed by his friends, when Jonas spoke out, concern clearly written on his face.

“Dude, how are you… right now? At this moment?”

“Why?”

“Dude, you’re not staying anything.” Abdi gestured like it is obvious. Oh. So they had noticed. He shrugged, forgetting the music and sitting against his desk.

“How should I feel?”

“Maybe not good?”

“No, everything is just a bit stressful. With school and my mom.” Abdi and Jonas shared a look, while Carlos and David just kept staring at him, as if there is some sort of window that allowed them to pick through his brain and figure out everything else underlying what he was actually saying. “You also had your exams. How was German?”

“But if you want to talk about Sara, I mean, we’re here.” Abdi continued, ignoring Matteo’s question. The rest of the boys nodded in agreement, minus David, who was starting to ennerve Matteo with the fixed gaze on him and the silence. He took another drag. So they were doing this.

“Why would I like to talk about her?”

“Haven’t you seen it on Instagram? Sara posted, saying that you’re an asshole.” Jonas told him, and Matteo realized he didn’t even know where his phone was. Wherever that was, it was also probably uncharged by now. “You’re not together anymore or…?”

Matteo got up, going for his laptop again. Maybe he should see it for himself. In the background, he heard Abdi and Carlos discussing whether him and Sara had had good vibes going. He rolled his eyes. Why did everyone feel the need to be constantly analyzing his life? Why the fuck couldn’t he just be let be, no questions asked?

“Boys… What did she write?” Maybe it would be easier if he heard it from them. Like all the other questions Matteo had asked, this one also went in one ear and came out the other, considering what he heard next.

“You’re not telling us anything anymore!” Jonas exploded at him, and Matteo immediately started to feel his body shake. This was becoming too much.

“I don’t need to, do I?”

“Yes, yes, I actually think you do! I mean, I’m your best friend and you can trust the others too.” That was a low blow. He needed something equally low because if this conversation wasn’t over soon, he would explode. The thoughts wouldn’t stop coming, it was like they are on fucking autoreplay in his mind just going: his dad. His mom. Rent. The abi. Sara. He is gay. David. Dad. Mom. Rent. Abi. Sara. Gay. David. Dad mom rent abi Sara gay David. Dad mom rent abi Sara gay David they didn’t stop playing and replying and rereplying over each other with the soud louder and the definition brigher and it was too much for his mind.

“The only thing you all wanted to know was if I fucked her.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, of course! Have you ‘cathetered’ Sara? As if you were some horny dogs or something like that.”

“Dude, look at how you are talking to us.” Carlos had the nerve?! He should look at how he had been speaking to Matteo, for fuck’s sake.

“Really, Matteo?! We come here to cheer you up because you have been MIA for days and Amira says you were completely out of it yesterday when she came over to help you study. Do you even remember that she was here?” Great, David had decided to speak up. If anything, he would be the one Matteo thought would be on his side. He did have a point though, Amira had come over and he had been very out of it, but he did remember buzzing her in and… she snapping at him? Yeah, he hadn’t been able to find his books or, really, couldn’t find the energy to listen to her and focus on studying, so she had snapped at him, a very tired air about it all, and had told him to text her when he was actually in the mood to study. She even saw herself out and he ended up falling asleep right there on the couch.

“That is not- that isn’t-”

“That isn’t what? Dude, you’re not talking shit just because of Sara…” Why were Abdi and Jonas so insistent on Sara? She could say whatever she wanted about him, honestly. Whatever it was she said or was saying was probably true anyways.

“No! My only problem is that my best friends have nothing else in their heads than tits!” Matteo was met with silence and incredulous looks. “Come on. Fuck off.” He half raised one of his arms to point to the door, but it was like he neither did or said anything, as the boys just asked him if he was serious. Why would he be saying so if he wasn’t?

“Fuck off!” Same reaction.

“MAN, OUT!” The boys still didn’t move. None of them had ever seen Matteo get angry like that, to the point of screaming. “COME ON, fuck off now!!”

“It’s ok, we are leaving, but dude, you’re texting us when you’re alright again, ok?” It was Jonas who finally reacted, getting up ever so slowly as if Matteo was a feral animal they shouldn’t cross. As he, Carlos and Abdi trailed off his room, speaking quietly to each other, David lingered behind.

“You too.” Matteo didn’t have the courage to scream directly at him, but he did need to be left alone. David seemed like he wanted to say something, but after a few seconds during which they just stared at the other, daring someone to move or speak or… act, he decided against it, a sad, almost pitying expression on his face as he shook his head slightly and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Matteo took a deep breath in. He needed a break from his life. He swirled around in place, trying to decide what he wanted to do next. The joint on his hand was still lit, so he took a long drag, moving toward his chair and bending down to look under the cushion for his phone. There. It was dead, like expected, so he goes for the charger, plugging it in and pressing the button to turn it on. Nothing happened. He tried again, and again, and then one more time, but nothing happened still. Nothing. ever. fucking. happens.

He threw the phone down hard and heard a crack as it bounced on the floor, screen down. He didn’t bother checking it, and instead got up to check his laptop. There it was, Sara’s post, calling him an asshole, like Jonas had mentioned, along with a whole spill on how she wouldn’t be dragged down with all this.

He didn’t have it in him to care.

After the boys left, the haze in Matteo’s brain thickened up again, gleefully, putting him back on that stupor he had been feeling the past days. He goes back to routine he had been keeping and that his so called friends had so rudely interrupted: sleep, wake up, eat whatever he can find most easily, smoke, nap, smoke, listen to music, repeat. Not necessarily in that order. It was late that night, or maybe the next night over, Matteo tried to roll a new joint to find out that he was out of weed. Great. He texted Rentier, but got a taunting reply that ‘business hours start at 10am’, as if the guy ran an actual business instead of selling drugs to desperate teenagers. If that wasn’t enough, when he made it to his place in the morning, Rentier threw some bullshit psychology at him about people being islands and refused to let him buy the $20 he wanted, giving him $10 instead. Whatever.

Back at the WG, Matteo tried to keep his mind occupied. He slept for a few hours immediately after getting back, waking up past lunch time. He then decided to make real food just for the distraction that it would bring with it, and was surprised by Hanna ringing the intercom right as his pasta finished cooking. She surprised him again by hugging him hello at the door, despite him clearly reeking of weed and, God, he didn’t remember when he had last showered.

“Long time no see.” Hanna joked as they sat at the table in the kitchen. Matteo put the pan with the past between the two of them, offering her a fork. “Mia mentioned you haven’t left your room in days.” Again, Hanna and her surprises. Matteo would’ve assumed it was Jonas who had talked her into coming to visit him.

“Yeah, maybe.” He could be surprising too.

“I’m really sad that we don’t see each other anymore. I miss you.” She told him, face soft and her usual calm smile graced her features.

“Really?” Hanna didn’t laugh. “I understand why you… didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore.”

“Yes. In the beginning I thought you were really shitty. But then I realised that Jonas and I would’ve broken up anyway.”

“And now?” Matteo couldn’t help but ask. He probably would never fully believe she had forgiven him for what he did.

“I don’t know.” That was something Matteo can relate to, even if for entirely different reasons, but which prompted him to genuinely ask her how she was doing. “Honestly? Not so good.”

“Because of Jonas.”

“That too. Just everything. Everyone is starting with their lives and I’m stuck.” That, Matteo could relate too. It was always easy to talk to Hanna. He missed it.

“Tell me something new.” They shared a smile.

“What about you? I don’t even know what’s going on with you.” Matteo shrugged. He didn’t know either.

“I’m really just an asshole” was the response he settled on, grabbing the joint he had rolled earlier, before starting his pasta. Hanna huffed.

“Do you really think that will help?”

“No idea. Makes it more bearable.” She raised an eyebrow at him and it was his turn to huff. He put the joint off. Matteo should’ve known she would win this competition he didn’t even know they were playing. “I miss you too.” That made her beam at him, and Matteo could see why Jonas loved her so much. He did too, in his own way.

He texts David and Jonas after Hanna leaves.

 

 

 

“I’m sorry.” Those were the first words out of Matteo’s mouth when David opened the door of his apartment.

“Thank you. What are you sorry for?” David barely blinked at him as he moved to the side to let him in.

“Existing.”

“Matteo.”

“I shouldn’t have snapped at you and the boys.”

“You shouldn’t have, yeah.” They were in David’s room now, who sat on his bed, patting it so that Matteo would follow suit. “I understand why you did though. And… you are here apologizing.” He smiled at him, and it was not difficult to reciprocate.

“I’m meeting Jonas after to tell him.” There was a lot to unpack in that sentence, but David comprehended without much effort.

“I’m proud of you. Do you wanna hear advice my godmother gave me once?” Matteo nodded. “Don’t bottle things up. It is easy to think that there is still space inside your bottle to pour more stuff in, but one little change in your surroundings is enough to turn liquid into ice and burst that bottle.”

“Yeah… I fucked up, didn’t I?” It was a rhetorical question, they both knew it. Matteo took a deep breath in, then out. “Not just with you guys either. I said some stuff to Hans and Amira that I don’t know how to fix.”

“I think that will be easier than you believe.”

“I don’t know, I… I really offended them. Hans hasn’t spoken to me since.”

“Amira did though.” That was true. Matteo hadn’t realized it. “As for Hans, I’m sure he’ll come around too. You just have to meet him in the middle.”

“Look at you, so full of wisdom today.” He joked, and David shoved him, making him fall back to the bed. He stayed like that, staring at the ceiling. “I’m glad I met you.”

Matteo heard rather than saw David shuffle and fall down next to him. He didn’t look even when he sensed that David’s face was turned sideways to him.

“Me too.” His response was so softly spoken that it made Matteo need to look, a need that was gifted with softly twinkling eyes and a small, private smile. Again, it was not difficult to reciprocate. Matteo felt light for the first time in almost a week, laying down in David’s bed, hearing a soft tune playing in the background that he hadn’t noticed before; David must have been working on his art when he arrived. It made him feel better, to be there, to have the other boy with him. Matteo closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling, and then… he felt, another finger wrapping around his pinkie, movement slow but sure.

Matteo felt so light he could be floating.

 

 

 

Matteo met up with Jonas by a kebab truck that was conveniently very close to David’s apartment, where he had spent the rest of the morning laying in bed with the other boy, talking about his outbursts and how Hanna and his fucking drug dealer had made him realize he needed to take the initiative to try to get better. As the clock ticked closer to the time they had arranged to meet, the more nervous Matteo grew. He wanted to be open about everything with Jonas, he did, but it was nerverecking to think about how much he needed to expose himself and be put into the spotlight in order to do so. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but making a big deal seemed like the only way to do it.

“Hey, na?” Jonas. He greeted Matteo like nothing had happened and this was just the two of them grabbing a bite like usual. The action warmed Matteo up a bit. He paid for both of their food and they headed to the skate park to eat. The familiar spot also helped mitigate Matteo’s mind.

“You may have noticed I realized I needed to get out of the stoner-hole.” Matteo was glad Jonas started the conversation.

“But wasn’t it fun though?”

“You mean with the girls?” Not really what Matteo had meant, but he nodded.

“Yeah, sure, but… You know… I don’t know. It is fun, but do you know that feeling when you just go swimming for half an hour in the morning? Honestly, I’m completely myself, I gain so much strength.”

“You sound like Kiki.” There was no bite to it though, and they both laughed.

“Maybe she is right, you know? Dude, seriously. That’s a good feeling. When you’re really awake and sober.” Matteo got it. Him and Jonas, especially him, had been abusing weed and using it as a coping mechanism for far too long. It was something he needs to reevaluate. “Yeah and that… with the girls that also just came when I stopped smoking. And yeah, suddenly, I was eager to meet people..” Jonas looked at him when he finished his speech, like he had posed a question and was expecting an answer, and while this was something they should talk about, that was not what Matteo had came to do today.

“I wanted to tell you something.” Jonas hummed in agreement. “Recently, I’m a bit fucked up. When I didn’t reach out to you guys for example. Or when I was just pissed… It wasn’t because of Sara or something… Or, it wasn’t just because of Sara. The reason was someone else. Someone I really like. Actually someone I really, really like.”

Jonas was quiet as the took it all in. He didn’t think Matteo had ever talked about someone he has had a crush on like this. “Who is it?”

“Guess.” Maybe it would be easier that way, not saying the words out himself, having Jonas figure it out. Matteo kept studying Jonas as he spoke.

“Dude, I hate guessing.”

“Just… try.”

“Maybe, uh, Leonie.”

Matteo scoffs. “Seriously?”

“Dude, I have no idea.”

“No, it’s not Leonie.” The thought made Matteo laugh, alleviating a little bit of his tension. “I will give you a hint… It-it’s not a girl.” There. He had said it.

Jonas was pensive, “it is not me, is it?”

“No.” Jonas was laughing, despite having sounded so serious just then. “No, dude.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Dude, am I that ugly?” Jonas was still laughing, and Matteo did too, again, the tension almost completely slipping away. As silence took over, Jonas became deep in thought, and it was clear in his face when he came to a realization that made sense of so many things he observed lately. “Is it David?”

“Yeah."

“I mean, he is hot.” Matteo chuckled. Why had he been dreading this so much? This was Jonas, the same Jonas who goes to protests every other week and discusseed with teachers when they say something racist or homophobic or sexist. “What is it being you two?”

“I don’t know. We almost kissed at that neon party. Some days it is like that, really beautiful and… perfect. And suddenly, I’m confused and don’t know what to do anymore.”

“Dude, we got this.” Jonas reassured him, slapping his thigh with the back of his hand. “We got this?” He rephrased, holding his kebab out. Matteo toasted him, smiling. They got this.

“David.” Jonas repeated. Yeah, Matteo thought, David.

 

 

 

After coming out to Jonas, Matteo felt much better and went back to the WG more content, one might even dare to say more comfortable in himself. His mind was as clear it could get, almost completely clear after the hellhole the past week had been, the tide low, his thoughts circling through at normal speed, in a mostly orderly manner. It was reassuring. The improvement in his mental health reflected outside - Matteo cleaned his room, did laundry, and restocked his groceries.

Over Easter break, him and David hung out, explored more abandoned buildings, watched several movies both at their houses and in the theaters, with everyone else. Matteo started to notice a tension that hadn’t been there before. It was a good kind of tension, the kind that warmed him up from the inside and would wake up the butterflies in his stomach, the ones that made him feel floaty and giddy. He was so screwed… he was so in love.

Matteo apologized to Amira over a study break he set up, arrived early to in order to prepare everything, books and notes and any material they could need, and bought her a hot chocolate to compensate for all of his stupidness that she had had to put up with the past few months. In a shocking turn of the events, Amira apologized too, reading out loud exerpts of an article on homosexuality and the theory of Evolution and giving him homemade baklava her mother had baked. It was all achingly sweet and soul healing.

He apologized to Hans too. They talked over a roast Hans was preparing for their dinner, when he played along with Hans and called him guru and everything, and then at church too, of all places. There Matteo even found himself revealing he used to sing in church choir and opening up about his mom; maybe it was the easy banter like rhythm to the conversation that Hans had established that pushed him to it. Who knows... it felt good though. It seemed Rentier was right - people are islands and without communication they would all be desert islands.

Finally, he came out to Carlos and Abdi over a ping pong tournament at the park. He biked over late, apologized for going off at them, and offered to host them for drinks, on him, later in the week. Easy peasy. The not so easy part, the one he was still getting the hang of, happened with more stumbles and fumbles, but he did it. It helped that David and Jonas were there, exchanging amused glances at Carlos and Abdi’s confusion and general lack of knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community. They got the spirit of it though, and that was all that matters. That, and that we love someone, as Jonas had so eloquently put it. They did ask Matteo if he fancied someone, and he couldn’t help himself; his eyes snapped up to look at David, who was staring right back. They shared a shy smile that didn’t go unnoticed by Jonas, who had been stealing glances at the two of them the whole time, but he didn’t care either, and it was not like there was much to see. Things were… like they had always been between them, with a few more secrets out in the open.

It was a nice afternoon. Matteo and Jonas came last their tournament, Carlos and Abdi second, and David obviously came first, despite playing by himself, but they had long learnt that his competitiveness made up for the lack of another player. They chatted like always, as if what Matteo had just told them was no big deal, and maybe it really wasn’t. Matteo liked that idea.

 

 

 

The boys decided to throw Abdi a surprise party for his 18th birthday. Carlos told Kiki, who told the rest of girls, somehow Leonie and Sara also got involved in the planning, and Matteo and David were put into the decorating committee or whatever their role was with them. That was how the four of them, Matteo, David, Leonie and Sara, ended up at Hanna’s house while she herself was out with Sam and someone else Matteo had lost track of buying alcohol for the party. It was somewhat funny how the tables had turned. After coming out to everyone, Matteo had stopped trying to avoid Sara, but then it became apparent that she was also doing some avoiding of her own. He wanted to apologize for leading her own so that they could be friends, but she needed to be up for that as well. As it was, the tension was quite palpable in the room, with Sara hating Matteo from afar, him half-heartedly paying her attention, Leonie throwing daggers at him with her eyes, and David caught in between, trying to keep a conversation going that included everyone.

Everything exploded thirty or forty minutes after they had started, when David and Leonie went to retrieve something from the next room over and Matteo and Sara were left alone, trying to hang a ‘Happy Birthday!’ sign up on the wall.

“Come on, Matteo.”

“No, just leave it.”

“Eh, why?” Sara asked, a frown on her face. Matteo thought she was putting way too much effort into this whole thing, she wasn’t even that close to Abdi. “This will look cool.”

“Yeah, but I am not in the mood.”

“It is for your friend.” She pointed out. Yeah, yeah, as if Abdi cared.

“He is your friend too.” He retorted, channeling his inner 12 year old.

Sara stopped, dropping the sign she was still holding. “Dude, what is up with you?” She managed to sound both angry and concerned at the same time.

“Nothing.”

“But there is something! You’ve been dismissive the whole day.” She was one to talk about being dismissive...

“I have been dismissive? You have ignored me every time I tried to talk to you.” Matteo replied. It was not like he didn’t understand why she was ignoring him, but it hurt nonetheless. He actually liked her, yet he didn’t think he could her annoyed temper much longer, especially so soon after everything that had gone down with him.

“Well, forgive me if I need some time after what you did to me.” Sara rolled her eyes at him, hands flapping at her sides. She seemed to be past holding back too, but this would be good, right? Cathartic, to let everything out. It had helped Matteo with the boys, Hans and Amira.

“We just made out at some parties!” He exclaimed, but immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say. Maybe if had never agreed to labels the situation wouldn’t be so bad.

“You used me, Matteo!” He didn’t say anything back, because no matter how much he wanted to deny it, he had used her. Matteo kicked the floor under him. He wasn’t in the mood to apologize now if Sara was just going to throw everything he said back at his face and whine about it. How long would it take David and Leonie to come back? They were only supposed to go over to the next room and back, Christ.

“I shouldn’t have come today.” Sara continued, scrunching up her nose. “You don’t want me to be here.”

“What kind of bullshit are you talking about?” Matteo couldn’t care less for who came and didn’t. He was the one who didn’t want to be there.

Matteo and Sara were so focused in their argument that they didn’t notice David and Leonie had come back. Leonie was stuck at the doorway, eyeing both of them suspiciously. When Sara turned away from Matteo, a small sniffle filling the silence that had instilled, Leonie marched forward.

“What did you say to her?”

“Nothing.”

“Yeah, sure.” Leonie walked off after Sara, who had stormed away as soon as her sobs became too many to hide. Matteo threw the packet of decorations he was holding at the wall opposite him, dropping down into the chair nearby. Everything was finally getting better, so of course he would do something to fuck it up again soon. David came closer slowly, looking after the girls until he was right in front of him.

“Everything ok?”

Matteo dropped his hands from where he was holding them close to his face, letting out a huff. “No…” He glanced after the girls before regarding David. “Do you want to run away?”

“Ok.” Matteo smiled. Run away they did.

 

Matteo and David biked through the streets of Berlin like they were racing each other for a grand prize. It was fun. It was freeing. Being with David was freeing. With him, Matteo felt like he could just… be. No questions asked, the consequences for doing anything other than the norm not so dire. Matteo felt like every atom of his body was understood. There was trust too, deep, integrated trust, so when David took the lead and started turning on unknown roads, Matteo simply followed. Being with David was an adventure, and Matteo had never felt more adventurous before.

They ended up in front old, rusty gates they had to climb over to get in. David did so with ease, making fun of Matteo when he struggled through it. For revenge, he cleaned the dust of his hands on David’s jacket. They set to explore, play fighting and trying to make the other trip with shoves and kicks.

“Dude, where are we?” Matteo decided to ask. Usually, they would try to get into as many buildings as they could, but that day they had passed through several already without entering any.

“It is a surprise.” David raised his eyebrows at him playfully. It seemed like he had been there before, then. “Come.”

There was an opening on the ground they had to jump through to get inside the building David had led them to. Inside, it was dark, and they had to use their phones and a flashlight David always carried with him to light their way. If the pipes on the ceiling were of any indication, they were actually underground. They made their way through the building slowly, David filming him and the different art around them with his phone. They went up stairs and doorways, exploring as much as they could, until they found themselves at an empty pool. They stopped at the edge of the pool, looking around in awe.

Matteo whistled, hearing the sound echo back with a smile. David copied him, and they were soon laughing, climbing down inside the pool and running all the way to the other end.

“I have always wanted to come here.” David told him, when they reached the other wall and rested their backs against it. Matteo didn’t reply, still taking in the place around them. As the silence stretched between them, the atmosphere changed, and suddenly there was a charged feeling to it, a buzz that made Matteo tingle all over.

David started to walk through the lanes of the pool and Matteo easily followed him, distractedly playing with the dividers separating the two of them. David crossed over, coming really close to him in the process, rosy cheeks and a glint in his eyes that reminded him of the night of the neon party.

“Actually, we are under water at this moment.” David kept walking as he spoke, and Matteo kept following him. He made silly gestures to imitate a swimming motion that made the other boy chuckle fondly. “That means we can’t breath actually… I bet I can hold my breath longer than you.” The glint in David’s eyes became brighter, mischievous, the challenge clear in his tone. Game on. At the same time, maintaining eye contact, he and David gulped in as much air as they could and held their breaths, trying to contain their laughter. After a few seconds in which the air became even more charged, David moved in closer, one step at a time, until… until he kissed Matteo, a soft, barely there touch of the lips before he retreated back. He didn’t go far though, resting their foreheads together while they released their breaths. Matteo wasn’t sure anymore if he was breathless from the game or from the kiss.

“I won.” David announced, completely detaching himself from Matteo and laughing loudly and freely. What an asshole.

“Rematch.” Two could play a game.

“Ok.” They repeated their actions, but this time their stares were more intense, and David was the one glued on the spot while Matteo moved closer. He stepped right up to David’s space, mere inches separating their faces. There was no coming back from this… Matteo surged forward, grabbing the back of David’s neck to bring them together and-

Oh. Oh.

Matteo didn’t know kissing could feel this nice. There was love pouring from every inch of their skins, there was comfort and devotion and tenderness, an infinity of lovely, fulfilling sensations that should have been overwhelming, that would have been overwhelming if it was anyone other than David that was kissing Matteo. It was David after all, so nothing else mattered. Nothing, just the fact that they kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed and none of his previous kisses compared to this. Nothing would ever compare to this, because kissing David was… it was grounding, reassuring, refreshing, like coming up for air after fighting against the current for far too long. A breath of fresh air. A breath that they took together and would keep taking together, every time they felt breathless, that they felt like drowning. It should be ironic, Matteo thought, but there was no other place he would rather have (re)learnt how to breath other than in an empty pool. The symbolism wasn’t lost to him, and it would definitely not be lost to David either. But most importantly...

Kissing David was like coming home.

And Matteo knew he wouldn’t feel quite so lonely anymore.

Where did you go? / I should know, but it's cold / And I don't wanna be lonely / So show me the way home / I can't lose another life