Christian Blake carded a hand through his white blonde hair, trying to spread the gel evenly but failing because of inexperience. He analysed the result in the mirror, sighing.
“You sure you’re gay?” asked Brendan.
Christian rolled his eyes, and carried on with his grooming. “Yes, Brendan.”
He leaned against the bathroom counter next to the sink where Christian was standing, arms crossed and look of deliberate concentration on his face. Still wearing his football uniform because he had come to the apartment straight after a game, tracking grassy dirt onto the floor. “How come I didn’t know this?”
“Why on earth would you know?” Christian responded without looking at him.
“As in, why didn’t you tell me?”
Christian refrained from snapping that he hadn’t told anyone until three days ago and settled for, “Brendan, why would I tell you?”
“You told my sister.”
Christian leaned down to wash his hands of the last of the gel. “I told Laurel because she is my best friend.”
“I’m your friend!”
Christian looked at him, doubtfully. Brendan conceded the point.
“Ok, so we aren’t close, but I’ve known you for the same amount of time.”
“So what?” Christian replied. He started to brush his teeth. The fact that he was interrogating him first thing in the effing morning was very like Brendan, who was as oblivious as a rock. He had flung open their door, marched straight past Laurel in the kitchen, so that he could launch into his grilling.
But Brendan didn’t catch the hint, unsurprisingly. “I’m just…Like, really gay?”
Christian felt himself starting to lose his patience. He breathed in and finished brushing before replying.
“Yes, Brendan. Completely, 100% gay.”
“But you took Allison Collins to our prom!”
Christian leaned on the sink and looked at him with his head tilted to the side. He really didn’t feel like explaining why coming out publicly at that stage in his life would have been painful beyond endurance. A lot like this conversation.
“Yes, I did. Because she was the only girl I knew other than your sister. I didn’t even touch her the entire night.”
“Because I’m gay Brendan!” he finally cracked. He thought he had said those words more in this stupid conversation than he had in his whole life until this point.
“So have you always been gay?”
Christian gritted his teeth. And pushed past him to the kitchen, where Laurel was sitting, and spooning cereal into her mouth while reading news on her tablet.
“Laurel.” He said, warning clear in his voice.
Laurel flicked him a bored look. “Bren, get your big nose out of it.”
“But his favourite movie is Rambo!”
“Oh God.” Christian muttered while he poured himself coffee. “It’s not.”
Laurel took another bite of cereal and swiped at her screen to turn the digital page. “Bren, don’t be so thick.”
Brendan looked mystified, hands splayed out to them both. “Why? I mean seriously, why? You could have told me. I wouldn’t have cared.”
Christian and Laurel shared a look that was equal parts annoyance and what-the-fuck.
“It’s not about whether you would have cared. It’s not about you at all.” She replied.
Brendan looked at them, a familiar look of resentment on his features. While he had been happy to leave them to their antisocial devices in high school, Laurel had said he had always been slightly jealous of their friendship. Christian figured it was because he didn’t like the fact that his sister didn’t connect with anyone besides him. Or maybe because she connected with Christian right off the bat and not with her own brother.
“There is something I’m missing here.” He said, sulkily, putting his hands back in his pockets.
“There is always something you’re missing, Bren. Probably several somethings.” She finished her breakfast and put the bowl in the sink. “I’m off to class. You coming?” she asked Christian.
“Absolutely.” He replied, gratefully grabbing the escape.
Since their flat was a fifteen minute walk from actual campus grounds, they didn’t drive. They had been at university for three months and already it felt like the easiest of rituals, their morning meander onto the grounds.
They stopped at the café on the corner, where Christian would buy Laurel bitter black coffee and for himself whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. Then they would stroll past the laundromat in the direction of their buildings, which came into view as soon as they crested the low hill, their block being at the bottom skirts of it. It wasn’t a great place for any of the houses and stacked apartments there, as it tended to keep the damp that rolled down the hill in waves during winter, but it was also the reason why it was affordable, so they didn’t complain.
Once they were on campus, it was still a five minute walk before they had to split in different directions, which they usually spent chatting.
“That was painful.” He muttered into his gooseberry and banana smoothie. He wasn’t sold on the taste, but it was different and that was worth a try. Laurel had started on him in high school, making him try different things, to break from the structured grey monotony of his life.
Laurel sipped languidly at her coffee, hands tucked into her high-waisted, pleated pants. Today she wore a maroon waistcoat, complete with chain and pocket watch, and had a small top hat perched on her wine red hair, her bangs cut thick and ending severely just above her eyebrows. Laurel had a pick-and-choose philosophy about fashion, which meant she was as likely to go the whole hog like she was today, as she was to throw on an old track suit before heading out the door. From her steampunk-esque appearance today though, some might find it hard to believe she was majoring in Criminology.
“I’m sorry. I’m the one who told him.” she admitted.
Christian turned to her with round eyes. “You did? Why?”
She slanted a look at him. “Christian, you decided you were telling people, and he is people.”
Christian felt confused. “Ok, but why him?”
Laurel shrugged. “Oh, you know. He hates it when I know something he doesn’t.”
“You know a ton of things he doesn’t.” Christian snorted.
“No, I mean something important. Like a secret.”
Christian screwed his eyebrows together.
“Is that a sibling thing?” Siblings and their ways still mystified him. He was an only child. He suspected that even if he had had brothers or sisters, he would still have felt like an only child. But Laurel was as close as he would get to that, and she never made him feel that way. She told him that was precisely because they weren’t siblings.
“I think it’s a ‘Brendan’ thing. He’s really nosy. If he ever found out about Jordan and me, he would have kittens.”
Jordan was Laurel’s boyfriend for the last two and a half months, and still a secret. Laurel had trust issues Jordan had yet to overcome.
“That’s a bit rich, coming from you. You’re the nosiest person I’ve ever met.”
Laurel stuck her tongue out at him in response to that. “I’m curious is all.”
“I still don’t see why it’s such a big deal to him.” he muttered.
Laurel tipped her head back for the last of her coffee and threw the empty cup in a nearby trash can. “Because he is right. We’ve both known you for three years. And he was hurt that it was common knowledge and the only reason he didn’t know was because you decided he wasn’t worth telling.”
Christian look down into the dregs of his smoothie, feeling guilty and slightly annoyed. She was right, as usual. If he could have avoided it, he wouldn’t have told Brendan, so Laurel had obviously stepped in. But since the only people he had told were his Aunt and Laurel, and Laurel had already known for ages, it wouldn’t have been fair if Christian decided to finally be ‘out and proud’, and never give Brendan a second thought. It was courtesy really.
He felt a vague amusement at that. Telling someone you’re gay out of courtesy. Oh by the way, I like men, just so you know.
“Common knowledge is not the same as ‘not a secret anymore’.” He grumbled. “I really didn’t think he would care enough.”
He threw his own smoothie cup away in another trash can and pulled his hoodie up over his head. It was winter chilly without the actual snow, which only meant the air felt like it could shatter if you shouted hard enough. And he hated how his ears and nose always reddened in the cold. He was extremely fair, almost albino, and the white blonde of his hair made him look ghostly in certain lighting. It also meant that any kind of blood rushing anywhere on his body stood out like a beacon, and so on cold days he sort of looked like a cartoon.
Without thinking, he and Laurel mirrored each other; hands in pockets and falling into step.
“You know, Chris,” she said at length. “Just because we don’t see Brendan as a buddy, doesn’t mean he doesn’t see us that way.”
Christian turned to look at her, and found her face musing. “What do you mean?”
“I mean just that. Since we met, it’s been just us two, you and me. Brendan did his own thing. But I think he wishes he was closer. He doesn’t have anything like this.” She gestured in the air between them. “I mean, look at it. He comes over at least four times a week. Sometimes he brings food, sometimes he just crashes. But I think he just wants to be around us.”
“Around you. You’re his sister.”
She shook her head. “You know, for gay guy, you are remarkably obtuse.” She held up a hand at his outraged expression. “Just kidding. But what I am saying is that he obviously isn’t coming around just to catch up with me. I think he’s lonely.”
Christian let the ‘gay guy’ comment slide, knowing Laurel wasn’t actually so narrow minded as to assume that just because he was gay, he had some elevated understanding of emotional issues. But he thought about what she said, and thought about Brendan. Boisterous Brendan, who was always in a group, always laughing, or snoring too loud, and wasn’t convinced.
“If you say so.” He shrugged. It wasn’t worth pursuing. He was just glad that the great ‘coming out’ was over. Even though it hadn’t been that great. Hard to believe he had waited this long really. Except it wasn’t hard to believe at all, but even Laurel didn’t know why that was true.
They came to their junction and waved goodbye as she went off along the right hand path which led to the Science buildings on the south side of campus, and he followed the steps in front of him up into the main building which housed the enormous library. He was studying Art History, and it was to his eternal joy that his first class every Monday was in the library, which held thousands of books and smelled like paper and words and silence. The fact that the building it was housed in was the oldest of the universities rambling grounds was like the icing on the cake, because he got to sit and listen to art history lectures under crenelated archways and soaring domes. Sometimes he amused himself by imagining gargoyles hidden in the dark upper reaches of the galleries. Really, he was in his own personal heaven.
Once he found his seat, right next to a tall column decorated in accents of mother of pearl, he opened his books, determined to forget about the last three days.
The first person he had told was Laurel. Or rather, the first person who knew was Laurel.
While she was fairly antisocial, she had a fascination with people. She was incredibly astute. She watched everything. Many a homework session in their high school days had been filled with her musings and theories about the people who existed and lived around them. It was probably what had drawn them together. Watching people for hours meant silence. Christian also preferred silence, and then one day Laurel had sat next to him in his abandoned corner of the library, and they had somehow always sat beside each other from then on.
Christian wasn’t really picked on. He knew he seemed like a prime target, with his fair face, delicate build and blank expression. Bullies like this sort of person, the kind of person who looks like they don’t fight back. But apart from some vaguely derogatory comments in hallways, the bullies ignored him like everyone else. Eventually, people started to simply blank him out. This was because Christian had made it a point to be as much like the background of any given situation as possible, to be as bland as bread. In the end, he floated through his school career quiet as a ghost. Even his teachers, sometimes, would forget to read his name from the rosters. If a person plays it just right, it’s easy, to be forgotten.
But Laurel had seen him on the first day. Laurel was like him, in that she preferred the stillness and the silences, but it wasn’t because she was shy. She just didn’t like interacting with people. But for some reason, she did like him, and if it hadn’t been for her, he would never have had a friend at all.
Laurel had known, without him saying it out loud. He had tried to tell her, haltingly, one day, while they sat in her car outside a McDonald's, waiting for their delayed order to be carried out to them. Christian had been dying to say it, to someone, to her, because she was his best friend. Although he knew it wasn’t just a matter of no options. Even if they both had loads of friends, they would still have been best friends. Laurel heard the words he didn’t say and Christian wasn’t put off by her caustic personality. And as they had watched the glowing light from the restaurant spill onto the asphalt, loudly slurping their cokes from the cups (no straws) he’d felt the urge to tell her. He had been thinking about it, and he could. She wouldn’t laugh or judge, or hate him...
But she had just stopped him with a hand on his leg.
I know, Christian. She had said
How the fuck do you know? He had replied, utterly astounded.
She laughed and told him he was so obvious.
He had fretted a bit about that, worried that he really was obvious, and more people than just her had seen. But then he reminded himself that Laurel was incredibly observant, and put things together that no one else did. She had bet him that the headmistress was having an affair with the school janitor. A week later, he was forking out $50, still in shock.
So Laurel had known, and hadn’t asked why he hadn’t told anyone. She never asked question she knew he couldn’t answer. Why he couldn’t come out, why he never let her come to his house after school, why he only wore shades of grey and black. She never asked, and she made him feel like it was ok.