“Hey, you sure you want to do this?” they asked, a little breathless. A smile creeped on his face as he tugged at their hair roughly to indicate his approval.
“I take that as a yes, then,” they muttered into his mouth as their lips touched fervently. A rush of adrenaline passed through their spine as they took his shirt off and ran their tongue on his warm skin. They felt him shiver under their touch as he brought his arms to rest on their shoulders, holding them tight, like his every touch had a purpose. They pulled back from running their tongue on his shoulder to nip at his collarbones. He sighed with his body and his head fell sideways, arms tightening on their neck.
“God, you have no idea how long I’ve been dreaming of this. It drove me insane sometimes. To imagine you, here, with me, like this,” he whispered in the darkness of the room. Boon smiled to themself and blew on the mark they’d just bitten on his skin. Somehow that shifted the energy in the room as Ash took control of where they were headed and placed Boon firmly on the bed, only to fall loosely on top of them. He kissed them with intent, like he wanted to drive his point across, to etch it permanently in Boon’s lips – the secret whispers only visible to them in the dark.
Ash slipped Boon’s shirt off their shoulders and kissed every inch of their skin he could land his lips on. It felt manic, rushed; as if he were afraid Boon would disappear if he stopped touching them, so he fit in as many kisses and touches he could in that moment. Not knowing what was waiting ahead of them, not knowing where they both were going, Ash only knew now. And in this moment, he had what he longed for – Boon’s arms around him. He was safe.
Safety, however, did not stay for long. As both of their hands danced around on each other’s body, lips lingering an extra few seconds after contact, eyes raking every expanse of warm, honey skin; it was then, in the midst of it all, when Ash let it slip past his tongue. “I love you.”
He almost whispered it to himself, not really wanting Boon to hear it. A secret uttered to the shadow of the moonlight snaking through the curtains. Between wet lips and tugging hands. A confession between him and the higher powers that be. Words mumbled by a man drunk in the stupor of something so surreal. It did not feel like the sound came out of his own lips; he felt it being whispered down at him from the voices beyond the ceiling. He wished for the words to fade between the sheets on which they laid.
“Wh-what did you say?” Boon jerked their mouth back from his crotch and looked at Ash with confusion etched in their visage. “No, you don’t.” They almost laughed at him, as they stood back up and inched away from him. Boon could not believe what they’d just heard. It was almost funny to them.
“Would it be so bad if I did?” The fog that numbed his senses had dispersed and Ash felt naked and vulnerable. Small. Alone. He gripped the sheet tighter in order to ground himself to this reality; this wasn’t a nightmare, but he almost wished he was asleep.
“It’d be ludicrous, Ash. You know that. We can’t be-” Boon threw the sheets off of themself and got out of bed to look for their strewn clothes. “We can’t be together! I thought sleeping together would be harmless because there weren’t any feelings involved. How could you not tell me this before?” Boon felt cheated. They found themself shaking like before, only now they were shaking out of nervous energy, and not sexual desire.
“I-” Ash wiped the back of his hand on his cheek to wipe the tears that had managed to escape his eyes. His throat was closing in on itself as he dared himself to speak. “I didn’t know you’d react like that. I haven’t done a great job at hiding my feelings for you, Boon. I thought you knew.”
“That is a huge thing to just assume, Ash. I did not know! I would’ve never done this if I knew!” Boon recoiled from the harshness of their own words just as they realised what they’d actually said. They saw the broken look that Ash wore on his face as he stood up to retrieve his pants. The silence in the room was thick. Boon simply stood, hands unmoving, limbs frozen as they saw Ash dress himself up, biting back tears that spilled nonetheless.
Just as he was finished, Ash held his face high up, almost defiantly and looked Boon right in the eye, as he said, “I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I’m sorry for assuming you knew what I felt for you. But I am not sorry for being in love with you.” He laughed wetly, tears choking him up. “Loving you is like breathing. It is inevitable, I never stood a chance. So, I can’t apologise for that.” He looked at Boon with a forlorn expression masked behind a simple smile. Boon couldn’t muster up the courage to smile back at him. They just looked and looked as he slipped past the door, out of their house. Out of their life. Never once turning to look back at them.
“So wait, I’m confused. What does this story have anything to do with what you told that woman on the train?”
Boon smiled over the rim of their beer bottle.
“It’s all about taking that leap of faith. There would’ve been numerous ways, probability wise, for how that night would’ve unfolded. I spent days and weeks and months thinking about the What Ifs and Hows. What if I didn’t let him go? Would we have ended up together? Would we have been a good couple? Would that have changed the kind of people that him and I ended up becoming? Would we still be together after all these years and yada yada yada.” They took a thoughtful sip of their drink and continued, sensing the confusion still lingering in the stranger’s eyes.
“It was when he had gone far away from me that I’d realised how much of me he took with him. I had to lose him to know how much I loved him. How arrogant I was to not have seen it coming before. He called it as inevitable as breathing; love. I just had to have the wind knocked out of my lungs and be left gasping for air to know what he meant by that.” Boon laughed sadly and stared at the stranger.
“He jumped and I wasn’t there to catch him. When I jumped, he wasn’t there to see it. We never got the timing right, but we did end up in love with each other. All I mean to say is that it is only now, in hindsight, that I can understand why Ash wasn’t sorry about falling in love with me. Why he was so unflinching about accepting the truth, the same truth that scared me. You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with, the only thing that you can choose is what you do about it. He chose to be honest, he didn’t let the fear of rejection stop him from verbalising what he felt. There’s power in that, and there is so much strength in that. In the ability to stand tall and ask. No matter what you might get in return, there’s courage in asking for what you need. Sometimes, it’s understanding, sometimes, it’s patience… and sometimes, it’s love.
“He knew that what he was asking for, I wouldn’t be able to give him. He didn’t pity himself for it, though. And that’s what he taught me. I can’t save him from the heartache that I gave him and I couldn’t save myself. When I finally let go of the sadness that I had locked in my heart, the sadness that sat there in the shape of his face, I stopped pitying myself. I think that’s what it’s all about; we fear sadness so much so that we hold ourselves back from asking for things, lest we be rejected or left alone. We thrash around in that ocean of sadness and gloom, fearing that we might drown; our thrashing tires us out and it is only then when we actually drown. If we let that wave wash over us and wait for the outcome, nine times out of ten, we float back up to the surface.
“That is why I told her that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. It gives you character. And it might end up making a good story to share with a stranger.” Boon finished and the stranger smiled, a touch of sorrow shining in the glint of their eyes.
“That is actually very insightful. I wasn’t expecting such a rousing speech at 7:30 pm on a damn Tuesday, but here we are,” the stranger said, managing to get a chuckle out of Boon. A beat passed between them, as they both took a sip from their drinks. “Do you know what he’s doing these days? Where he might be?”
“I heard from a friend that Ash got engaged last year. He probably must have married that person by now. Didn’t think of him as the marrying type. Things change, I guess. He seems happy, that’s all that matters in the end, doesn’t it?” Boon said, staring at the glass case of wine bottles behind the bar they sat at.
“And are you? Happy, I mean.”
Boon paused to think for a moment and then replied, “I’m trying to be. Haven’t gotten it all figured out yet.”
“Well, trying is all that matters. To “trying”,” the stranger said, raising his beer bottle. Boon clinked it with his own and brought the bottle to their lips. “Oh, my friends have arrived, I’ll take your leave now. It was nice meeting you, Boon. I hope you figure out what needs figuring out.” They shook hands and the stranger winked at him.
Just as he was about to turn, Boon remembered he never asked his name. Just then, the bartender slid him his card and he read the stranger’s name as he took his card back to put it in his back pocket. Prateek. Hmm.
Boon turned back to stare at the glass case, a smile lingering on their features.
Here’s to trying.