Turning 18 means a lot of things.
To Wilhelm, it meant blowing out yet another candle on top of sugar-riddled white cakes with frosting a touch too sweet for Wilhelm’s own taste, and a room of family members with grins drawn on their face as their Wilhelm is now ready for adulthood.
To Wilhelm, turning 18 was leaving the house, going on your own, being expected to hold your own in dorms or apartments, making your own money, being met with a responsibility that had been taken care of for you your entire life. To Wilhelm, it meant uncertainty and anxiety that could only be eased in the dead of night when you pretended you were someone else, when you shut your eyes and plunged into darkness and met with a dreamland that promised you forever. Promised you a future of your own.
To others turning 18 might mean something else.
A lot of people see it as an exciting turning point. You’re finally out of your parents' stuffy house and you are allowed to be you, to go into the world and welcome it with open arms and say I’m ready! I’ve been preparing all this time, let’s do this! It means independence, boldness, a sense of accomplishment. Turning 18 means you grew up in a world, in an environment that has mostly catered to you. Or an environment you catered to. You were raised with people who taught you good from bad, words you could and couldn’t say, things you could and couldn’t do. You were taught rules your entire life and turning 18 was your way to say I accept.
Wilhelm accepts the university he goes to, the things he learns, the people he associates with, the people who are supposed to put butterflies in the pits of his stomach. He accepts it all. He has always accepted the truth that had been presented to him, thrust in front of him on a silver platter and all. Showing him the secrets to the universe and how he was supposed to live in it.
Wilhelm had always accepted that this summer, the summer after 18 but before independence, was going to be like any summer. He was just an adult now. He could drive if he pleased, go to different parts of the city, hold hands with girls that would plant seeds that eventually blossomed into love in the very depths of his stomach, taking ahold of his entire being with their ugly vines and strong roots.
He always accepted it.
He accepts it with thunderous applause. He accepts birthday parties that are loud and obnoxious, blaring in your ears with noise horns and confetti that makes you cringe. Birthday parties that celebrate adulthood are always supposed to be like this. You’re supposed to bask in them. You’re supposed to crave them. You’re supposed to love them in all their glory.
Instead, he sits on his porch, the night of his birthday, and looks in the stars.
He sees a family up there, a colony of stars that gravitated towards each other to sometimes show pictures to the beings that resided on earth. He sees pictures that morph into movies, showing something else. He looks at the stars and sees pictures fade into movies of his future. Him with a wife on his arm and a baby on his hip—another thing he had accepted—moving into his new two-story house with a white picket fence and a dog running around the yard. He thinks the feeling should be more natural, he should feel it in the depths of his fingers, at the tips of his toes, setting his body ablaze. He thinks this should be an Oscar-nominated film, a beautiful film that promises prosperity and happiness no matter what.
“Whatcha looking at?” A voice calls out. The voice startles Wilhelm, making him break the show that lays amongst the stars.
“Excuse me?” Wilhelm says.
The voice belongs to a body, figures. It belongs to a short brunette who stands in front of him, a blue t-shirt that has a logo on the breast, clad in denim jeans that pool by his sneakers. The boy has his hands stuck in his pockets, but he’s moving slightly so Wilhelm thinks he’s probably playing with the fabric lining of his pockets. Wilhelm had always been taught that hands in your pockets meant you were nervous.
“You looked like you were lost in space, I was just curious if there was anything good to look at.” He says. His voice is soft but sure of himself. Wilhelm thinks there might be a hidden intent behind his words, thinly veiled by the Swedish language he was raised with.
“Sorry, I just zone out sometimes, I guess.” Wilhelm shrugs.
The boy laughs slightly and shakes his head, “No, don’t apologize, that’s stupid. I’m the one bothering you.”
“You’re not bothering me.” Wilhelm doesn’t know why he cuts the boy off so quickly. Maybe because his entire family is partying inside, without him, getting drunk off wine that was discounted at the store, because it’s been a half-an-hour and they hadn’t even noticed his disappearance. Because he can hear their laughter and still see the bright lights shine through the windows.
“I’m not?” The boy raises his eyebrow, like he barely believes Wilhelm.
“Well, not like I was exactly curing cancer before you came around.”
The boy laughs at this again. “My name’s Simon, I just moved here.” He says.
Wilhelm nods, “Wilhelm.” He says.
The boy raises his eyebrow again and tilts his head, “Wilhelm.” He says it like he’s testing it out, he’s getting a taste of the mash of consonants and vowels on the tip of his tongue, trying it out like a bland cup of coffee. Wilhelm nods at this.
“I’m going to call you Wille.” Simon declares.
Wilhelm doesn’t say anything. But Simon looks more than pleased, wearing a smile on his face like that facial expression was made for him, barely red cheeks and pink lips and all.
“Well, I can’t exactly stop you, I guess,” Wilhelm says.
Simon laughs, “Nope!” And then, “Can I sit?”
Wilhelm shrugs, “Would you care if I said no?” Simon shrugs, “Depends if I thought you meant it.”
“Do you think I would mean it?”
Simon takes a moment to process the words, takes his hands out of his pockets, and puts his right hand to his chin, like he’s genuinely thinking, he’s going through all the steps that geniuses go through when they solve another math equation, another formula that advances society one more step.
“No.” He decides.
Simon sits down next to him.
August is incredibly muggy, Wilhelm notes.
Wilhelm sits in his backyard and is acutely aware of the beads of sweat that trickle down the back of his neck because the weather is unbearable and Wilhelm should probably be inside instead. He should be sitting in his air-conditioned room that blows cold air into his face, leaving a cold flush in its wake. He should be on his phone with mindless scrolling as the minutes fade into each other and another day is ticked until Wilhelm eventually leaves, looking behind at his past and waving au revoir.
He knows that the phone that he left charging in his bedroom is probably full of unread messages from a girl. A girl who he sometimes holds hands with, sometimes kisses, sometimes walks around town with her on his shoulder, her pressing soft kisses into his shoulder, and offering pretty giggles that are supposed to light a fire in his belly, setting him on fire and letting love and affection take over his body.
Maybe that’s why he can stand the heat. He can sit in this shitty lawn chair, heat beating at his skin, pulling it apart, and threatening him in stupid ways. That’s why he lays his head against the chair, brown hair getting caught on the plastic that lines the chair. That’s why he doesn’t mind that the book he has left open against his chest is just heating him up more, cooking him in the desperate August sun.
He looks to his right, to his neighbor. He knows Simon just moved into that house, previously occupied by an old lady with her mean tabby cats that sometimes scratched at Wilhelm’s garbage bins and threatened him with hisses that felt all too real. Wilhelm doesn’t really know what happened to her, maybe time passed or maybe her children picked her up because she truly did seem a little too old to just be in that house all alone with evil tabby cats.
He’s known Simon for a total of three days.
Day one: Simon shows up at his porch and asks him about the sky, about the stars. Wilhelm barely answers.
Day two: Simon knocks on his door and serves him with home-baked cookies that his mother had made for them as an apology for being so rude the night before.
Day three: Simon sat on his own porch, reading some book that Wilhelm couldn’t make out. He looked peaceful, sitting on a rocking chair in the sweltering August heat beating at his skin like the sun does today. He looked so nice, Wilhelm didn’t see a need to bother him.
Day four: Today.
Today is a bland day, Wilhelm thinks. He sits in a lawn chair and reads words on paper that are supposed to paint images in his head and plant feelings in his heart. He is supposed to enjoy the blazing sun that blesses him with a heat that he can feel in his core, a stark contrast to the ugly cold that Sweden brings during most of the year.
Simon sits in his backyard, scrolling on his phone, underneath a tree.
He looks nice, Wilhelm thinks.
He looks all too peaceful in comparison. Messy brown hair and pink lips that he always tugs on with ivory teeth. He looks too engrossed on his phone, staring at probably videos or pictures that social media provides. He looks like a calm in a raging storm, something that constantly thunders in Wilhelm’s own life.
Wilhelm feels a pull in his stomach.
Maybe he should go inside, he thinks. Because he knows his phone will have notifications that read about something going on with other 18-year-olds that are anticipating the freedom that September is supposed to bring. He doesn’t think he cares yet. He doesn’t care about plush red lips that whisper words into his ears, desperate to solicit a pull from him, a desire that is supposed to engulf even the strongest of Men.
He sits in his chair and stares at Simon. He doesn’t know why.
Simon sits under a shaded tree and is probably scrolling through his Instagram feed. Wilhelm imagines it’s full of people from his old town, people with filters and posing in ways that flatter them specifically. Wilhelm doesn’t care, of course. He doesn’t use social media all that much but he’s never seen it as some all-sucking, time-consuming project. Even though he knows far too many people do. He’s just never had a general interest in trying to please the public in something as stupid as frames of a life that they will never live or understand.
Maybe Simon feels left out, Wilhelm thinks. Maybe he sees his friends smiling and laughing, enjoying their lives when he’s gone, while he’s in a town where he knows no one but the boy who exchanged tight smiles on a porch while looking up at the sky. Maybe Simon feels pangs in his stomach, a drum in his heart that pounds away and rips and pulls at his very existence, something that shatters him from inside.
Wilhelm doesn’t know why he cares.
He wonders what kind of life Simon lived before. Was it full of red lipstick being pushed against his cheek? Full of alcohol and weed that suffocated the entire room? Was it full of books when he was locked in his own bedroom, preferring four walls to girls on his arm and jocks yelling at him to take another shot?
He wonders what the pull inside his stomach is.
He decides it's his phone.
He was right, by the way. He turns on his phone to countless notifications, from people he thinks he considers friends and a girl he thinks he considers a girlfriend.
They’re mostly texts, informing him of a party that is going to be epic and wonderful and everything an 18-year-old who leaves in a few weeks should desire. He knows he should go, probably, he should tell his parents he’s staying at a friend's house and he should walk into a house he has never been to and take shot after shot, pushing his lips against a girl he has known for a decent amount of time, and eventually go to bed with her. He knows he should do all of these things.
yeah, i’ll come.
It’s way too late in the night, Wilhelm knows.
He still steps out of his house, locking the door behind him and stuffing his keys deep into his pockets of beige corduroy pants. The house isn’t too far from his own, and he never learned how to drive so he knows he has a decent walk ahead. Maybe he should have gone earlier, because it wasn’t like his parents were going to stop him.
He thinks maybe they should. Fall a little into the strict parenting stereotype and demand he turns on his location and text him hourly updates. He wonders if his parents are starting to lose their faith in him day by day that they can’t find it in themselves to care anymore or if he’s just built this perfect wall around himself that they can’t feel bothered to knock into.
They used to somehow care when he was younger, maybe even a little too much, maybe giving the stereotype a little run for its money. But instead he sat in his bed of a lonely household and wondered if his parents still cared.
Wilhelm simply laid on his bed and stared at the ceiling, thoughts swirling around his mind like a messy tornado that can barely decide if it wants to become a tornado, to come together and wreak havoc on those below. He laid and laid until time was melting like a sad candle, unpleasant feelings filled the room and it was everything Wilhelm needed to walk out of the house, to muster up the courage to be surrounded by teenagers who no longer believe they’re teenagers, to be surrounded by red cherry lips and a certain type of taunt that carried in the air.
He lets the keys jingle in his pocket as he turns around, getting ready to approach the sad excuse of pavement that tries to call itself a road that is supposed to be safe to drive on. Instead, he hears bike locks ringing in the dead of night.
He looks to the side and sees Simon, standing next to a blue bike, fumbling with an equally blue bike lock.
Simon, his neighbour that he’s known all of three days, a fourth—if today is considered. If today he walks up to Simon and talks to him, asks him about his past, his present, his future, if he asks him about his aspirations and desires and asks what he wants to do when he’s free from this wretched promise of a life that they’ve all been given. What he wants to do when he’s thrust into life all on his own, left and expected to flourish under pressure that no one has been prepared for.
Wilhelm just stands awkwardly and watches Simon fumble with the lock, constantly locking and unlocking it.
Maybe there’s a pattern Wilhelm is missing. Maybe Simon is doing some complex ritual and is going to help summon some God to come below and help them with all the treacheries that adulthood promises, for all the anxiety that swirls in the air, for all the dead feelings that reside inside of Wilhelm.
“Wille?” Simon calls out. His voice seems all too loud for even the crickets that were singing happily before Simon interrupted them.
“Simon,” Wilhelm says.
“Where are you going?” He asks, pausing his movements of playing with a bike lock. Maybe it no longer interests him.
“Going to a party,” Wilhelm says. He has no reason to lie, though he knows he’s swallowing the desire to lie. He’s always had stupid desires, a cognitive response to lying throughout his childhood, telling his mother and father white little lies so they were always a little less mad. Twisting truths into little gift boxes wrapped in silk bows, only to be unveiled by ugly truths and sad realities. Maybe a side effect of borderline helicopter parenting.
“That’s cool,” Simon says.
Wilhelm expects him to go back to his bike lock, or maybe go back inside the house and pretend he never saw Wilhelm. To pretend this was not their fourth day of knowing each other, and even though they already missed yesterday, Wilhelm doesn’t feel the need to miss another day. Especially in a row. Maybe he will skip the seventh day, he decides.
“Wanna come?” He asks before he can think too hard, before he can be reminded of alcohol on top of red lipstick kisses and a haze in the air that can only be caused by smoke from weed and other novelties. Before he can remember the girl with long nails and soft squeezes on his upper bicep.
Simon stares at Wilhelm, moves the bike lock in his hand a few times, and shrugs, “Maybe.” He says.
That’s how Wilhelm and Simon walk side-by-side to a house party that lies on a road that Wilhelm had been to a grand total of three times, walking to a house that is going to be full of teenagers clinging onto youth before it’s deemed socially unacceptable and just straight up immature. He walks with Simon to his right, the boy fidgets with his own fingers, because he left the bike lock on the bike, locking it, coincidentally. He knows he’s walking to a house that promises soft kisses that expand into linen sheets and fluffed pillows, into the next morning, anxiety only ever settling in when you walk home and remember the night in fragments if your mind is kind to you that morning.
“So, how’d you get invited to this party?” Simon asks after approximately two minutes of walking in silence.
Wilhelm shrugs, “My girlfriend.” The word feels sticky on his tongue, like syrup that is too sweet, something that overpowers everything else and kills your entire appetite.
“Oh? Girlfriend? Tell me about her!” Simon asks, far too enthused, even though Wilhelm doesn’t know why. What could Simon possibly do with the information about Wilhelm’s girlfriend? About that girl kisses him with too much fervor, too much desperation, too wet, and too much tongue that makes Wilhelm want to die. Wilhelm has always thought love, dating, kissing, all of it was too overrated. He never lets the words spill past his lips, because he knows what everyone would say, what they would call him. So, he kisses her back, trying to match the desperation, trying to keep up with stained lips and acrylic nails that trail up and down his arms.
“What do you want to know?” Wilhelm asks instead.
Simon shrugs, “I dunno, dude, she’s your girlfriend. You tell me.” He says.
Wilhelm nods, like he understands what Simon is saying. “She’s nice. We met in school, had similar classes, she likes cheerleading, I think. She likes ice cream, yeah, I’m pretty sure. Um, I dunno. Is that it? Probably.”
Simon stifles a laugh, “That’s it? Really?” He sounds unimpressed. Wilhelm frowns.
“How long have you been together?”
Wilhelm doesn’t know.
“A good amount of time.” He says instead, instead of the real answer. That he doesn’t really know how long he’s been pressing his lips against pink lipgloss and long blonde hair tickling his cheeks. Simon just grins at Wilhelm, “That’s sweet, I think.” Wilhelm just shrugs.
“If you were to become any star in the sky, which one would you want to be?” Simon asks after far too many beats of silence plaguing all around them. The question throws off Wilhelm ever-so-slightly, something that confuses him. So, he doesn’t reply, he looks down at Simon walking next to him, looking at him with sparkling brown eyes, doe-eyed and all.
“I’d want to be a part of the Auriga constellation, I think,” Simon eventually says. Wilhelm hums, but doesn’t speak. “It’s pretty, I’ve only ever seen pictures taken from other people but I like it. It’s not as common or spoken about. It has some bright stars, like Capella. You should look it up.”
Wilhelm nods, “Are you just an encyclopedia of constellations?” His voice is teasing, just like the first night. Simon flushes slightly, the red is barely noticeable under dim streetlights and the mess of stars that shine in the sky, tucked away gently out of view due to light pollution seizing in the air.
Simon laughs and nods, “Maybe. Why? Do you want to learn?” Wilhelm hums, tries to mimic the first the night when Simon put his hand up to his chin and mocked Wilhelm, pretending to think long and hard, getting lost in thoughts that swarm his mind and swim in pools of words that lie locked away, “Possibly, depends how interesting you can make it.” Simon raises his eyebrow, “Oh? I take that as a challenge, by the way, I’ll bet 50kr that one day you will stroll up to me and grovel, begging to learn about astrology and shit.”
Wilhelm laughs, grins at him, and opens his mouth to respond, “You sound like you have this entire thing planned out.” Simon nods, “Of course, Wille, why wouldn’t I?” Wilhelm shrugs.
Streetlights are beautiful, sometimes, Wilhelm thinks. He can see a few flickers in the night, threatening to burn out. He thinks the stars and the moons have it all figured out. Their place in the world, where they’re desired to be. Maybe it will always be this way. The stars looking down and frowning upon Earth. Upon rooms full of people with loose drinks and even looser lips. Words that lie and kisses that seal them. He watches as he passes houses that have their own individual story to tell. Their own words that bleed on pages and showcase moving portraits.
“I like the little dipper,” Wilhelm eventually says, when the house approaches their view, shining with cars littered around and the only house around the block that has a small thumping to it. “I think it’s nice,” Simon responds, clearly interested in the house that lies before them. “Are you going to ditch me?” Simon says, when they’re merely steps away from the party that has empty promises and beer inside of it. Wilhelm shrugs, “Would you prefer I didn’t?” Simon laughs slightly, “I don’t care, I was just wondering if we were going to walk home together.” Wilhelm shrugs, “Maybe, maybe not. If it’s hard to find me, don’t sweat it.” Simon just nods.
They walk in.
She’s really pretty, Wilhelm thinks.
He’s been to parties before, he knows. He knows the music that plays a beat too loud, the people that are always too close to you, suffocating you and filling the air with a haze that he could never see-through. He knows all of this. He’s never particularly liked it, but he doesn’t know if he cares. If he cares about the stupid people that are screaming next to him, cheering because some guy won some beer game, trying to talk to him, offering good times that might be true, Wilhelm doesn’t know.
But she’s always been pretty. She offers tantalizing gazes and a touch that burns Wilhelm, something that sets him on fire like he was a bonfire, full of different dry items and wood, being set ablaze. It hurts, when acrylic nails scratch his arm, when they are dragged against his arm in a way that should probably make him shudder, make him want to lean down and push his lips against hers, enjoying the taste of strawberry lip gloss mixed with some other makeup on his own. He should desire the feeling, he thinks he should have this feeling in his stomach take a hold and push her into some room and ravish the feeling of her skin against his own, scratching so deep his back bleeds, acrylics digging into his arm.
Instead, he notices Simon on the other side of the room, hanging around a guy that is a little taller than Simon himself, with brown hair, and a t-shirt that is too tight for him. He notices Simon is giggling, a cup in hand as he leans into the boy, leaning his cheek against the broad chest, almost like he can’t get enough of the guy.
He doesn’t know why his stomach twists.
“D’you wanna get out of here?” She asks, voice sultry as ever, whispering into his ear in a way that should make him want to run out of the house and take her in every way that had ever been described to him.
“Yeah,” He does.
He wants to run out of the house and throw up, bang his fists against the world and tell them that he’s confused. He wants to kiss her and pretend his head isn’t pounding. He wants to hold her and ignore the drums that pound against his chest, playing a wonderful symphony of despair. He wants to never see Simon again. He wants to squeeze around her waist, making her giggle as he lifts her and pretends he has never felt so sick in his entire life. He wants to pretend he never met Simon four days ago.
He kisses her again.
She responds, because of course she does, of course she enjoys kissing Wilhelm, just like he had always known. Of course she likes Wilhelm, like how she should. Of course she pushes her body closer to Wilhelm, almost caging him against the wall. She should. She should enjoy every touch and feeling of Wilhelm against her own. She should love it, desire for it, she should be willing to run through fire just to even compare to the feeling of pure human desperation. She should crave it like a drowning man craves for air.
She should not be looking at boys across the wall, pressing lips against other boys. She should not be getting sick to her stomach and deny stupid orchestras that play in chests and choreograph a certain sickness that is adjacent to something Beethoven would write. She should not have confusing thoughts swirling in her mind. She should not be questioning lips against her own, she should drink them in like an alcoholic craves the sinful taste of red wine on his tongue.
He kisses her harder.
She pulls back. “Wilhelm,” She whines, she carries out the lm and sings it like an off-tune melody that he had heard only once in a band class—where a kid got ahead of themselves and pressed a string that they shouldn’t have. “Can we leave?” She asks, desperation in her voice is as clear as day. Wilhelm stares at her, drinks in the dark, and smeared eye makeup that was once a fiery beautiful concoction of red mixed with black, giving a seductiveness that all guys would kill to see. He looks at her lips and how her makeup that was once perfectly set looks only a little off, a little smeared and the colour has since paled. He tries to drink in her beauty like a man in a desert craves for a few droplets of warm water. He tries to get drunk off of her beauty to mimic the alcoholic haze that swirls in his own mind.
“Wilhelm,” She tries again.
Wilhelm doesn’t know why he’s not talking, why he keeps looking up to see Simon holding hands with the same brunette, why the cup he was once drinking from is entirely discarded. Why Simon looks so happy, why he has the biggest grin plastered on his own face, why he can’t stop leaning in and slotting his lips against the other boy’s, why he looks so genuinely happy. Wilhelm can't stop the orchestra in his chest, the way it feels like one huge crescendo, an epic conclusion to wow audiences but ultimately just induces a burn in his lungs, on his heartstrings. He feels like they’re playing his heart like a skilled bassist, that they’re pulling and letting go in such delicious ways that cause pain in his very soul.
“Are you even listening?” She asks, more annoyed than before. He understands patience is a ticking time bomb, he’s always known this. Has always known that it ticks slowly and every moment you go without responding, you threaten the very being of the bomb, you fumble with red and blue wires and by letting the silence drag on, you watch as seconds pass on a timer. He’s acutely aware that he’s fumbling with red and blue wires, trying to figure out the right wire to cut, the right words to say, the right course of action. It seems too much, at that moment. He feels dizzy and he doesn’t know which one is right and which one is left. All he knows is the all too obvious feel of lip gloss on his own, mixing with the spit from their harsh kisses.
“Sorry,” He mumbles. Is this the correct wire?
“Whatever,” She rolls her eyes. It isn’t.
“We can leave,” He says. Maybe this is the final red wire.
She eagerly grabs onto his hand, intertwining their fingers in a way that should remind him of beautifully threaded lace, intertwined to show a beautiful pattern, something so gorgeous it makes you cry at the prospect of it. It reminds him of ugly green vines instead.
He throws one last glance at Simon, who’s so enthralled with the brown-haired boy that he doesn’t seem to notice Wilhelm leaving. He doesn’t notice because his eyes are shut, his face looks beautifully relaxed, like he’s letting himself enjoy the entire sensation. The sensation of being pushed up against a wall and being kissed stupid, Wilhelm guesses. The sensation of harsh lips pushed together to create stars in the sky. To paint constellations and put it all together.
Not that Wilhelm knows that much about stars, that’s more of Simon’s thing.
When stars come together to paint stories in the sky, do they have a choice? Are they lit on fire and pushed into the universe? Are they told from conception about the rules that have been put in place, that they’re destined to be partnered with others for the rest of their existence, until they burn out and fall from the very depths of space? Are they explained the societal way of life, being told in words that are all too thinly veiled by deception, the language being bent at will? Are they told that this is the way it is, suck it up. What do they know about the paintings next to them? About stars with different images, in different ways than their own. What do they do when they look to their left and see an entirely different way to exist, something they had never considered before?
Linen is entirely uncomfortable, Wilhelm notes. The entire feeling of waking up was too unpleasant. The pounding in his head that has only gotten progressively worse, the nauseous feeling that had made itself resident in his stomach, the uncomfortable feeling of linen pushed against his own skin. He doesn’t know too much about the night before, all he can recall are stained lips against his own, pushing against his body in a way that set it on fire.
Maybe it’s called the walk of shame for a reason, Wilhelm thinks. Walking home on beat-up sidewalks, dark asphalt to his left, clothes too uncomfortable for his being, fabric too tight, corduroy rubbing against his legs in a way that makes him want to curl up and never touch another damn thing again. It could be worse, maybe. Maybe he could be forced to walk home in the dead of night instead of the cool morning air, maybe he could be forced to walk home as it pours down and he’s faced with water after water, drenching his entire body and forcing him into some cold-induced haze after a few days.
Instead, he feels cold buckets of—probably—shame dowse him. Crawling up his back and eating at the back of his neck, piercing into his body and forcing blood out of his flesh. He doesn’t really know why. Maybe it was the way he stared at Simon last night. The way he kissed her so sweetly and looked up at Simon doing an all too similar thing but with a boy. Something that Wilhelm had only been told that happens in the dead of night, behind bushes, shame, and cowardice covering the two boys in a blanket that would eventually be their demise. He was only told of such events happening with guilt and sin, dripping red on their ledger.
He was never religious, not really. He had gone to a few services for some holidays as a child but his parents never imposed it. He didn’t really care, he was sure there was something out there, even if he wasn’t sure what it was.
But there are rules to society. There are rules for family. There are rules that are imposed on every single soul that dared to bear their face to the world. There are some things that Wilhelm had never wanted to second guess. Satin lips with red stains were one of them. He never wanted to think about dripping sin mixed with shame, hidden from the world, hidden from every single one of his family members.
“Hey, Wille!” Simon calls, waving at Wilhelm from his own porch.
“Hi,” He offers weakly, morning voice still too evident in his tone. Because he didn’t talk to her, he just pressed his lips against her and rushed out.
“I lost you last night,” He says, pushing his hands into his pocket again.
Wilhelm nods, “Sorry.” Simon shakes his head, “Don’t apologize, I hope you had fun.” Wilhelm nods again, “Yeah, it was fine.” Simon laughs, something so delicate Wilhelm almost didn’t expect it. “That’s cool, it was nice for me, too.”
Wilhelm purses his lips, “That’s nice.” Is all he says.
He doesn’t want to think of it. Doesn’t want to think about the fact that not too long ago, Simon had used that laughter on a brunette boy in shirts that were too tight, about the fact that he pushed his lips against other boys. It makes Wilhelm’s stomach twist slightly. “I should go, I’m still hungover.” Simon nods and doesn’t say another thing.
Did he want him to? Did he want Simon to grab ahold of his arm and tug ever-so-gently, pulling him and introducing him to the solar system? Did he want to watch plush lips that—not more than twelve hours ago, were pushed against another boy’s—explained the universe and her stars in a way that would make him reel? Did he want to talk to Simon so long until their chests hurt? Did he want to pretend that his lips had touched Simon’s own?
He goes inside instead.
He walks inside and goes up to his room, not sparing even a few minutes with his parents. He doesn’t know how he’s expected to see them after last night, after what he witnessed. Maybe he would have preferred to have witnessed a murder. Maybe he did. Maybe he would rather sit in his room, back against a white comforter, staring at the ceiling as he contemplated his freedom going forward. Maybe he would be so confused by seeing bloody murder that he wouldn’t have to think about different lips against his own. Maybe that’s preferable. At least, to him, in his mind.
Maybe in some alternate universe, he spends his entire life without ever meeting Simon, he spends his entire life without ever sitting on a porch and learning about the universe through stars and constellations. Where he pulls his head out of the cloud and only focuses on those ahead of him. Like her in his bed, pulling on his t-shirts, begging him for something more. Something that he thinks he should always love to participate in. Something that he thinks he would rather die than ever experience again.
Wilhelm’s room, albeit tiny, does have a window on the left wall. A window that offers light and promise, sometimes a look into the constellations and their families, something that is supposed to offer a warmth that a heater could not provide, a sunshine that fluorescent couldn't.
He looks outside of the window and sees Simon. He looks nice, Wilhelm thinks. He plays with his bike lock, messing with it as he unlocks and locks it over a thousand times over. He looks like his head isn’t with them, his mind is swimming in pools of constellations, pouring into stars and their families. He looks like he’s away, he’s understanding something that Wilhelm never would. It is day 5, after all. Though, he hadn’t spent too much time with Simon that day, either.
He wonders where Simon is from. What he did there. Why Simon moved. Why Simon walked up to him on a porch and explained to him constellations and their friends, how they come to create pictures in the sky, how they used to project movies before humans discovered film. How they always tell stories if you look into them, they promise the world if you look enough.
He wonders what their purpose is. In families like they are. What compelled them to spend forever amongst the stars, what compelled them to join other stars and spend a lifetime with them.
Day Five: Wilhelm watches as Simon sometimes bikes, sometimes throws locks on the grass, and sometimes steps on them like they created an entire offense of daring to even exist. Wilhelm goes to the grocery store, picks up milk and cereal, and watches as Simon doesn’t. Sometimes Simon walks into stores, stares at items, and leaves. Wilhelm watches as Simon has flushed cheeks and pink lips and imagines talking to him. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t reach over and say hi to his own neighbour.
He watches as Simon sits in a bookstore and checks out with three books under his arm, sits in their cafe and buys absolutely no coffee—or tea— and reads all his books. He watches as words float from pages and to Simon himself. He wonders if Simon prefers books to constellations.
Wilhelm spends half of his day responding to texts from his girlfriend, mostly responding to her long-winded explanations of something that Wilhelm didn’t understand, words in the English language that Wilhelm barely comprehended.
Day Six: Simon likes bonfires. He sits in the backyard and sometimes sets fires in confusing places. Wilhelm could smell the smoke drift through glass panes, could feel the burning blazing on his fingertips. He could sense it all. He doesn’t know if it’s worth it to go outside, to approach Simon and ask him about the fire that burns so bright and threatens to take them all down. He doesn’t know if it’s worth it to go down and ask him about stars.
Day Seven: Love is beautiful. It blooms in hearts and takes over with thorns and vines, strangling your ribs and pulling on lungs until you can’t breathe. Love is suffocating and takes you by surprise, pulling you underwater and watches as you struggle for your last breath. Wille has always known that. He knows love comes with conditions and rules. You will receive love if…
You will deserve affection if…
You will have it all if…
Rules in society, rules in environments, all of it is conditioned. He grows up with rules and is told stories and he understands his place, his role in the entire world. Wille knows what he does when he grows up, when he finds himself, when he was told his entire life story as a plan. Turning 18 was just a part of that. It’s a small pebble in the entire dirt that lies in the world. He’s a simple star in a vast galaxy of constellations. He burns in the skies and is told to survive.
Simon reads books with eyes that have their own story. He reacts to every word he reads, he seems to read with a conviction that makes Wille’s heart start to thud.
Wille’s heart pounds helplessly. An orchestra lies behind locked ribs, playing pounding symphonies that would otherwise be beautiful, gorgeous sounds that play strings on a Bass, beautiful poundings from percussions. It should be breathtaking. Wille can feel it hurting when he thinks of Simon. Simon and soft lips, Simon and the stars, Simon and fire that burns brighter than the sun, Simon and books with delicate words and an even more delicate touch. Simon. He allows percussion to beat in his chest as he watches Simon in his own room, flipping through pages at a speed that takes a breath out of Wille’s own.
It doesn’t make sense.
Rules are put so adequately. They are positioned specifically. They are set there for peace and order and if you step out of line—you are ruining everything. You invite chaos and storms that rage for centuries. Pandora’s box was opened and underneath it, unleashed chaos. You are your own Pandora’s box. You sit with boxes and choices. You are told to never step out of line—to never open the box. And as a reward you receive peace. You receive red-stained lips and kisses that are so gentle, holding and whispering secrets to the universe. You receive white picket fences with children on your hip and wives on your arm. You receive serenity.
Anything else is chaos. Anything else is drunk teenagers yelling at each other under strobe lights. Anything else is despair and pain and you should never tempt fate. You should never look fate—the world—in its eyes and challenge the way life is. You will never do that. Because then you invite drunk kisses of rough lips, you receive brunette boys in tight shirts pushing you up against the wall because it is not in the stars to do this. It’s not in the constellations that paint pictures to kiss boys on Saturday nights.
Constellations are put in the sky and you are supposed to abide by their rules, just like they abide by their own rules. You are set into families from fate, you are destined to burn with them. You are destined to have the exact lives that the stars desire from you. This is your destiny. Your destiny is to obey stars and constellations, the rules they tell you, the stories they provide for you.
Day seven is a temptation to the stars.
Day seven are bikes that have a bike kick that is slightly loose, always interfering with the wheels of the bike. Day seven are bikes that creak from the loose kickstand, aching its joints as it drives around in blissful oblivion. Day seven is talking to Simon about his faulty kickstand to which all he replies with is, “I know,” Day seven is asking Simon to go down to the bookstore with Wilhelm. Day seven is Wilhelm walking down pavements with Simon, not unlike three days ago.
“What book are you reading right now?” Wilhelm asks.
Simon shrugs, “Why? You wanna read it?”
Wilhelm contemplates, “I’m just making conversation.”
Simon smiles at him, “That’s fair. I’m reading This is how you lose the time war.”
“How do I read?”
“How do you lose the time war?”
They walk in steps, heels hitting the pavement and letting the noise of cars and bikes take over.
“Don’t know. I think I’ll figure it out soon.” Simon eventually says, when they’re steps away from a bookstore that promises stories to take you away from rude awakenings.
Wilhelm just nods and walks into the store.
The store is full of books that Wilhelm had not seen in ages, because reading is a bit outdated when it’s easier to spend all your time reading about chemistry formulas and math problems. It’s hard to enjoy it when all you want to do is curl in your bed and pretend the world doesn’t exist, that words on a piece of printed paper could not pierce into your brain and leave effective tiny holes all around, forcing you into a catatonic state.
Simon immediately takes a liking to the fiction shelf, which is arguably one of the largest shelves, holding book after book, promise after promise, history after history. All of it resides there on a large brown shelf that stands ahead, tall and threatening. Simon’s eyes start scanning through titles and authors, reading through books as if they had exactly what he needed or didn’t need. He seemed to know his way through the fiction, carefully plucking books out of a row, adding it to the list that grows on top of his forearm.
“Looking for anything?” Simon asks. Wilhelm shakes his head, “No, I don’t know.” He says. Simon shrugs, “I’ll read you something from one of these, maybe.” Wilhelm shrugs with him, “Sure.” He says.
He met her with books, too. He had books in his hand when she stopped him and asked for his name. He offered his name and received her name. Maybe it was picture perfect, stupid smiles adorning both of their faces, books in hand in the middle of stupid periods that once resided inside schools. They went from exchanging books to holding hands in coffee shops and kissing each other in the dark of alleys, pushing each other against red brick and brittle pavement.
It feels stupid to compare her to Simon, because it’s not even remotely the same. It feels sinful to think about her when he’s with him. Because it’s not the same and it won’t ever be.
Because he kisses her with desire and he looks at Simon with soft adoration that only exists in fleeting moments. He kisses her with passion and exchanges stories about stars with Simon. He holds her hand, perfectly settling their hands together like puzzle pieces and he takes books from Simon’s arm with roughness in a way that he wouldn’t use with her. They’re different. And Wilhelm can’t swallow the expanding grief in his lungs as he thinks about her with him.
Maybe it’s all stupid. Maybe the stars are stupid.
“Have you ever read this?” Simon asks, pointing at a book that Wilhelm doesn’t recognize in the slightest. Wilhelm shakes his head. Simon grins, “You live under a rock, I think.”
“I don’t, I just don’t read that much.” He woefully admits. Even though it was his idea to come here. It’s been seven days and it was his idea.
“But you asked to come here?”
For you. Wilhelm thinks.
“I just wanted to get out of the house.” He says.
“Silly Wille,” Simon says.
Just like stars, time burns out, as well.
Time slips through the cracks of your fingers and pulls so incredibly hard, dragging you down with it. It passes like sand in an hourglass, slipping so easily through the cracks. It’s so effortless the way hours pass that slowly transform into days until it’s been thirteen days since a bookstore and twenty-one days since the stars.
Simon and Wilhelm talk on and off. Sometimes they share hushed moments under the stars and sometimes they walk into coffee shops and loudly demand for bagels and croissants. They read books under lampshades and drink hot chocolate under 32 degrees celsius. They talk about constellations and the pictures they paint, even though both boys can barely see pictures in their minds, they pretend they do. They pretend to paint vivid portraits in their mind and they pretend they can see exactly what they want in their head, showing pictures that morph into movies that win Oscars. They pretend it all.
They sit in bedrooms and talk about university and what it brings, about independence and life and how it should all make sense because it’s been written in the stars. They go to dinners and order too much food to the point of exhaustion. They eat dinners with families and talk about their non-existent aspirations for life. Wilhelm allows Simon to slither into his life and pretend he hasn’t missed 18 years of it. He allows Simon to take up more space on his phone than his own girlfriend. He doesn’t know how it happens, how he lets the stars pass him by and tempt fate to its face. He doesn’t realize until it’s too late.
Until he can feel the heat of Simon’s fingertips tracing on his own hand. In the dark of night when they sit on each other’s bed and scroll through their phones and absorb every least interesting thing possible through social media and photos with captions that will always remain the same. Until he can feel vines replace his veins, shriveling up below his skin and pulling on it. Slowly, at first, until it grows thorns and prickles through delicate skin. Until he thinks about Simon more than he doesn’t.
He thinks it’s stupid for twenty-one days. He thinks that the stars are tempting him, offering him a way out of white picket fences and strawberry lip gloss. He thinks this is an entire test. The way the percussion beats in his heart whenever he sees strands of Simon’s hair flop into his vision, blocking it only ever-so-slightly. He thinks life is all one joke, that they’re asking him some god-forbidden question one last time, one last time before he’s an adult and on his own in a way that had never been allowed before. He thinks that Simon looks at him with brown doe-eyes that promise him scandal and sin in hellfire. He thinks Simon looks at him with despair and pity locked behind brown that looks so tempting. It’s all one joke locked away and hidden by words and small features.
It’s a tiny slope. From thinking too much about red lipstick and the stains it leaves on your t-shirts to constellations that tell you stories and stars that burn so bright it will hurt your eyes. Maybe Simon is a star. He’s meant to be in front of Wilhelm, burning with a beautiful glow, tempting him because he’s a star and he’s so beautiful. Even when he burns, with a touch that ignites at the surface, he pulls whatever he can and sets it on fire next to him. He thinks he fell down somewhere, that Simon was originally tucked away and somehow Wilhelm unluckily fell and was met with a glow that makes you squint.
Because stars are safer when they’re miles away. When they’re located in the sky amongst other stars, burning so bright together. When they’re in the sky and showing you pictures and patterns you are supposed to imagine in your head. They are safer when they aren’t next to you in your backyard, staring at the dark night sky and watching as stars burn next to each other, written in destiny, forever to be with each other in a way that is supposed to be beautiful.
“Do relationships scare you?” Wilhelm asks. Because ideals have a slivering panic that has made itself home under Wilhelm’s beating heart.
“Maybe,” Simon says, his arms safely situated under his head as he stares into space.
“I think they scare me,” He confesses in the darkness of night.
“I don’t know. It all confuses me.”
“I don’t know, it just does.”
“That’s okay, don’t worry. We’re 18, not 90, we don’t have to have life figured out.”
Simon breaks contact with the stars and turns to look Wilhelm in the eyes, staring too intensely in a way that makes Wilhelm want to cower away in fear.
“No, of course not. Whoever told you that was stupid.” His voice is sincere, it’s soft and it feels like the softest blanket comforting his shoulders.
“I don’t know, I thought they always taught us that at 18 we were supposed to know everything, and go into the world on our own. It’s scary. I should know everything at this point, no?”
“No,” He says.
“You don’t feel scared for the future?”
Simon laughs, not too absurdly, not like he was mocking Wilhelm, he just smiles softly and lets the laugh escape him. “Of course I am, I’m 18. I just try not to think about it. It can’t hurt me if I pretend it doesn’t exist.” Wilhelm raises his eyebrow, “So, what, you avoid it?”
Simon nods, as best as he can, “Obviously.”
“What about them?”
“Have you ever met someone you felt so strongly for you felt like you could die?”
Simon pretends to think, like it was the first night under the stars, before he opens his mouth again. “No.” He says. Then, “Have you?”
Wilhelm stares at Simon, looks at eyes that have locked up feelings and emotions Wilhelm pretends don’t exist, he looks at Simon’s lips and pretends he is okay. He pretends he can’t feel the orchestra beating away in his chest, like his heart wasn’t in the slow process of removal. He pretends it’s just two boys under the stars worrying about futures and pasts. “No,” He exhales. Simon blinks at him, “Not even your girlfriend?” Wilhelm just shakes his head, “No.”
“It’s okay, Wille, don’t stress it. You’ll find her. Wherever she is.”
Thoughts threaten. They worm their slimy little ways into his mind, planting seeds that they have full intent to sow. They plant little whispers, telling Wilhelm Are you sure? They plant disbelief and panic in his bones, slithering their slimy little grips into his soul, digging deep and planning on staying there for the rest of his life.
“You too,” Wilhelm says. Even though he knows it’s wrong, that Simon probably knows what he likes. He likes brunette boys who push him against walls in house parties full of drunk teenagers and raging strobe lights. He likes rough touches and lips that are bare of lip gloss. He enjoys the feeling of another boy’s body being pushed against his own. He knows Simon might partake in it regularly quickly, how he craves the feeling that Wilhelm detests.
“I hope he’s nice,” Simon starts, oblivious to the panic that is starting to wrack through Wilhelm’s own body, “I hope he treats me well, and holds my hand, walks around town without a care in the world. Well, maybe, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind even if he was just nice to me. That I just mean something to him. That’s all I want.”
The thoughts don’t stop slithering through bones and muscle, falling their ways through and planting stupid fucking vines in his chest, tieing bows that are meant to be beautiful, and letting it wrap so fucking tight he can’t breathe.
You mean something to me. They whisper.
“Him?” He says.
Simon turns to him, beautifully confused. “Yeah?”
Wilhelm purses his lips, “Oh,”
Water seeps through bones and feeds thoughts.
“I don’t like girls,” Simon says.