Mitch took his time getting the guitar out from the trunk, while also pretending to look at his phone. His heart raced a mile a minute, and he schemed about more ways that he could stall. Then again, It was just Avi, and they were friends. Nothing about this should be complicated. All Mitch had to do was slip him and retreat into the safety of Jodie’s room, and he might not completely fall apart.
He crossed the front yard and counted every step along the way. The wet earth squelched loudly beneath his feet, and oh how he wished that it’d swallow him up like quicksand. Occasionally, he glanced up to look at Avi, whose eyes never left him. The usual smile that he greeted Mitch with was absent; instead, his shoulders were slumped and his stare was solemn, unsettling Mitch even further. Though the porchlight behind him had a soft tone, casting a warm halo that outlined Avi’s body, the streetlights nearby caused a sharp contrast, creating sharp lines and inky shadows on his face that made it impossible to read, giving Mitch nothing to work with. The entire atmosphere grew denser with each passing moment, like a storm on the horizon, green and sickly and promising danger.
“Hi,” Mitch grunted when he set a foot on the old wooden steps, then momentarily paused; yet again, he was suspended between yearning to be acknowledged while simultaneously being back to not wanting to exist. But Avi didn’t respond, so Mitch brute forced his frozen limbs into functioning and took another step towards the porch, forcing the wood to groan. He needed to be away. Far, far away.
“Mitch,” Avi’s voice came from behind him, and Mitch stopped.
“Yeah?” Mitch pivoted slightly, enough to indicate that he was listening, but not so much that he could see Avi.
“Why…why was everyone there?” Avi asked, his voice brittle. “Why wasn’t it OK for me to be there, but it was fine for everyone else?”
“I didn’t invite them,” Mitch answered honestly, hoping that this was it. “Jo must’ve.”
“OK but. We’re friends, right?”
“Last I checked.”
“Then what-” Avi huffed. “Why have you been acting like you can’t stand me? Why don’t you talk to me anymore? You barely answer my texts, you look right past me when we’re in the same room…”
Mitch blinked a few times, paralyzed in his spot. He heard shifting around, pebbles crunching under shoes, then could feel Avi inches away from his back. “I told you,” he kept his tone even so that his voice didn’t crack, “I’m going through a lot right now. And I really need space.”
“It’s more than that!” Avi accused him, making Mitch’s nostrils flare in agitation. And then something inside of him snapped. His teeth gnashed and his eyes went wide enough that he felt the lids stretch far enough apart that they may tear at the corners. One hand ran down his face, while the other grasped the handle of the guitar case so hard that his nails dug into his palm.
Was this all a practical joke? Did someone put Avi up to this? Were camera operators about to pop out from the bushes and tell him that this was all for a stupid show on Netflix? While he hurried to come up with an answer that didn’t involve him disemboweling himself, Avi continued. “You’re not like this with anyone else, and it sucks that you can’t just talk to me and tell me what I did. Instead you just…ignore me? That hurts, man. What kind of friend are you? I thought you were better than this.”
Finally, Mitch spun around. He dropped the guitar case, ignoring how the strings inside of it cried with a pathetic clang. Then he spat out, “What the literal fuck do you know?” Stepping down, he got closer to Avi so that they were face to face, his hands outstretched and clutching the air in front of him as rage caused his body to quake. “Do you have a single idea what these last few months have been for me? Or this last year? I’m barely holding it together, and-” He took a deep breath, cycling through other things that he could add to this tirade and make a definitive point.
But all he focused on were the things that either weren’t allowed to have shed light on them. No one commended him for trying to do the right thing in this situation, which was to get over his feelings. The march forward had been brutal, his soles totally worn through and the skin of his feet raw and bleeding. He couldn’t very well declare his love for the condensed ball of sunshine that constantly tested him, especially right in that moment. He couldn’t break down and cry like he’d done so many times, wondering why this man had such a grip on him and why he was utterly incapable of diminishing these flames that did nothing other than consume and consume and consume, despite all of the effort. Because whenever Mitch tried to pull away, Avi wouldn’t allow for it, and it drove him insane.
The audacity to suggest that he’s a bad friend. Fuck that. A bad friend wouldn’t have invested all of the hours and effort that Mitch has to put aside their feelings. A good friend recognizes when they can’t get what they want, and though that doesn’t impact the love itself, it means to drop the pursuit.
He didn’t even talk about it, didn’t burden anyone else, just carried it inside all of the time and pretended that nothing was wrong and pretended that it wasn’t killing him. Only to be told that he’s being hurtful. To be called a bad friend. That he isn’t good enough. For what? A guy that he isn’t dating? A guy that he’ll never have a chance with? Toby may give him a lot of grief, but at least Mitch got his dick sucked for putting up with him.
So instead, he flipped the script. “But y’know, while I’m trying to put my life back together after everything -and I do mean everything– fell apart, it’s very cool that my so-called friend can’t respect that I need some goddamn breathing room.” Bingo. Avi’s face dropped and he sharply inhaled, all jagged and stuttered. Caught off guard by this reaction, the edges of Mitch’s voice dulled ever-so-slightly, but still had teeth. “I can’t live up to your impossible standards, Avi, whatever they are. Not now, not as a friend. If you have needs, then you should get in touch with your girlfriend.”
That last line made its way out of his mouth before he had the opportunity to run it through a filter. What he said dawned on him much too late, all of the terrible implications that he carelessly tossed into the open like that. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instance, Avi’s face shifted, but Mitch caught it. He saw the way that Avi straightened up momentarily, head rock backwards ever so slightly, his nose scrunched then his brows lifted in surprise. Though Mitch couldn’t transcribe what it meant, the signal was obvious enough: he crossed a line by dragging into this Charlie, and he didn’t even have the balls to use her name.
He never had that specific look tossed his way, but he’s had similar looks directed at him in the past. Naturally, his brain went into overdrive to remember each instance that it happened so that he could find a match. Louis did it a few years back at the bar, after Mitch drunkenly propositioned him. Hell, Nate also did something similar not too far back, right around Mitch’s birthday, just after Calvin cheated on him. Further and further it went, until his blood went cold and a memory resurfaced that he’d rather have stayed in storage.
It’s a humid July night, and Mitch is 15 years old. He’ll be a Sophmore in September, and he’s hanging out with Dylan St. Germain, who will be entering college as a Freshman. Dylan is the younger brother of Mitch’s English tutor, and they’ve been friends for the last three years. In that time, Dylan has introduced Mitch to what are now all of his favorite bands, and even taught him how to play the guitar. Sometimes Mitch gets distracted during lessons, like when Dylan touches his arm or repositions his hands on the frets or ruffles his hair after he nails a particularly difficult transition.
They’re hanging out on Dylan’s back deck, sitting together on a wicker sofa and drinking from old Smirnoff Ice bottles that they found in the garage fridge. Dylan’s parents are away for the weekend, and all of his recently graduated friends came over earlier and are now passed out on various surfaces of the house. But the two of them are still awake, and after Dylan gripes about the mess, Mitch promises that he’ll help him clean up in the morning.
He hopes the morning never comes, but he knows that inevitably it will.
Dylan throws his head back and lets out an overtired laugh (the kind that can only exist after 2am) and says “I’m gonna miss you, y’know?”. And Mitch’s 15 year old heart -the one that’s been surgically repaired and that he has to take medication for- hammers hard enough that he’s sure it’ll wake up everyone inside. He tries not to openly stare at Dylan, which he’s done before in the past and has been lightly teased about, but right now he’s buzzed and not fully in control of his facilities.
Lolling his head against the back of the sofa, Dylan then stares back at him with a playful grin and dimples on full display, and Mitch is sure that he’s going to die. There’s so much he wants to say, because “I’ll miss you, too” doesn’t seem adequate to sum up his very intense and very confusing emotions. He struggles to force something out of his throat, anything to convey the depths of his feelings, but before he’s able to, Dylan lets out a little ‘heh’, then leans in and kisses him.
It’s right on the mouth, something that Mitch has spent these last three years fantasizing about, when he should have been thinking about girls but all he can think about is Dylan. He’s never been kissed before, and he doesn’t know why it’s happening or what he did to deserve it, but he wonders if Dylan can read his mind. Thing is, Mitch also doesn’t know anything about kissing other than what he’s seen in movies and on TV, so he makes a rookie mistake and opens his mouth to get some tongue action, and that prompts Dylan to pull away.
And he’s got this look on his face. It’s something that Mitch has never seen in his life, but he’s a little drunk and trying to process what it could mean. It goes by in a flash, not quite disgust or anger, but definitely surprise. Something that communicates “no” or “that’s too far”, then turns to a sympathetic smile. Dylan ruffles his hair affectionately like he’s done so many times in the past, then readjusts and sits up straight. The look haunts Mitch for years, that split second which lasted a lifetime. Later, he figures out that it means: “No, I’m not like that, I’m not like you. Sorry if I ever led you to believe that I am.”
Being 15 years old was something that Mitch would rather never experience again, but there he was, almost 30 and still somehow a confused teenager on a friend’s porch. And Avi wasn’t Dylan, but at that moment he may as well be. The faces and the expressions didn’t match up perfectly, but maybe these things varied from person to person. All that Mitch knew is that he hadn’t asked to be dragged into situations that were beyond his control, but they kept happening. He’d be fine with loving someone from a distance without any chance of reciprocation, but why did they have to kiss or touch him, and send him into these terrible tailspins that he couldn’t escape from? Why did they have to give him the faintest glimmer of hope, only to snuff it out so cruelly?
Mitch didn’t want to be 15 anymore. He whipped back around to retreat indoors so that an end could be put to this, grabbing his guitar case along the way. But before he reached the door, Avi meekly asked, “Why did you pick that song?”
“Be more specific, I played a few songs,” Mitch deadpanned, trying to come across as indifferent, though he knew exactly what Avi was referring to. They were no longer facing each other, but he heard the way that Avi swallowed.
“My theme song. Why?” Were there ever a good moment for the earth to open up and consume him, it was then. He wondered when those rides into space would be available for the average person, and what the cost would be for the option to get launched directly into the sun. “If you didn’t want me there.”
“Which one’s your theme?” Mitch lied, his hands shaking with such force that he almost dropped the case for a second time. The temptation to look at Avi was overwhelming, but if he did, he’d be caught, tried, and executed. He knew the song. He watched plenty of Avi’s matches before they were roommates, and countless more of them he moved in. He’d wanted to ask him why he used ‘crushcrushcrush‘ specifically, but never found the courage to do so. It was a stupid song, and an even stupider move to perform it. Maybe he finally wanted to get caught, tired of carrying this weight.
And then, amongst the turbulence and the gale winds and the warning sirens, a moment of clarity shone through: why not finally confess and get it out of his system, instead of letting this eat him alive? What was the worst case scenario, that Avi not want to be under the same roof as some junkie faggot that fell in love with him? His mouth hung open, and the words were ready to spring away from the tip of his tongue, ready to go scorched earth.
But then Avi sighed, and responded with a defeated, “Nevermind. Sorry. I’m sorry, Mitch.”
Mitch stood there dazed. There was something meant to fit in that gap, perhaps further accusations or more biting words. Instead, he couldn’t help but feel as if a punch had been pulled, and now the puzzle remained incomplete. He’d rather that Avi hit him or try to get a final word in rather than contend with the disappointment brought on by Avi’s solemn resignation. Maybe he assessed that Mitch couldn’t handle being dragged any further across the pavement, or that he was so pitiful that it wasn’t worth finishing a fight with him. Why not just deliver the killing blow?
“OK,” Mitch numbly uttered. Aside from the hum from the nearby telephone wires, the silence that overtook them was deafening, and it made Mitch’s skull throb. His skin went clammy, and he wanted to vomit. “Well. Goodnight,” he said, desperate to crawl into bed and never leave it.
“Night,” Avi replied, strangled and barely above a whisper. It took everything for Mitch to not turn around; instead he pushed past the front door and went inside, leaving Avi behind on the porch.