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lost in lotusland

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Winter in Vancouver is green.

This has never bothered Boots before, although to be perfectly fair he's only spent winter out west with his cousin Neelam twice before, and one of those times they'd both been three years old. But this time he's nineteen, and Neelam isn't even actually there, just letting him stay at her place while she's with her boyfriend's family in Penticton.

Plus this time, Bruno's with him.

It's strange how the same patterns of life back at school reproduce themselves out here in what Boots can't help thinking of as the wild, as if Macdonald Hall is a fortress of safety for them against the rest of the world, against things like figuring out what to have for dinner or doing the laundry. People don't already know you in the wild. People don't expect you to act any one way, although sometimes you still act like that anyhow.

Bruno still sleeps in as long as he can, although without the impetus of class to get him up he slumps out of bed without his usual whirlwind of activity and will instead come park himself wherever Boots is, close enough to half put himself back to sleep from the warmth coming off of Boots' body. It's been two days and Boots has already adjusted his morning ritual to this; five years of living with Bruno has made him adaptable, flexible as a sapling. He makes eggs and toaster waffles and if he puts them in front of Bruno, his friend will eat them with increasing speed until he's his usual chipper self.

"We should go check out the campus today," Bruno suggests, drowning his last couple of words with coffee. His fingers stick to the cup for a second when he puts it down, maple fingerprints lingering, and Boots licks that same warm golden taste from his lips before murmuring, "Which one? One of them's on a mountain, you know."

"That one," Bruno declares, made reckless as sugar and caffeine gallop through his veins. Boots hesitates to agree before he realizes that visiting Simon Fraser University isn't anything that will land them in The Fish's office, or getting shot at by Miss Scrimmage, or racking up demerits and lines. Out here in the wild, Bruno's ideas are rendered milk-mild -- reasonable, even.

It's a novel idea. Boots nods acquiescence, but Bruno has already taken his agreement for granted and is shuffling away to the shower, leaving Boots to clear away the breakfast dishes. His fingerprints stick to Bruno's when he's putting that mug in the dishwasher, and Boots is surprised at the force of his own instant grimace.

---

The campus is breathtaking, clear grey skies and high fresh air, sunny and only cold enough for them to need scarves and toques with their hoodies.

"Oh yeah," Bruno keeps saying as he marches around, investigating buildings and amenities and viewpoints, "I could see us doing very well here." He makes a special point of finding the aquatic centre and Boots writhes in self-consciousness as Bruno plants himself by the pool and surveys it in satisfaction, oblivious to the pointed stares from the people using it. When Bruno turns and gives Boots a big thumbs-up, it's too much and Boots flees outside with his cheeks burning.

"What's up with you?" Bruno asks when he follows, and Boots shrugs, rapidly heading for Neelam's car. "Just the jet lag catching up, I guess," he says. Bruno doesn't pursue this line of conversation although he seems a bit baffled, and Boots is grateful for this small favour.

They get lost on the way back to Neelam's because Boots is feeling obstinate and because Bruno can't pronounce Gaglardi, and waste an hour driving around in Stanley Park after getting spectacularly off-track. By the time they get home Boots has a headache from all the shoulder- and jaw-clenching, and Bruno wordlessly puts himself to bed with a peanut butter and honey sandwich and the last bag of ketchup chips. Boots takes some ibuprofen and watches Degrassi reruns on MuchMusic; he didn't like the show the first time around, even, but watching something he dislikes suits his contrary mood and he falls asleep to it.

In the morning Boots doesn't bother making breakfast, but Bruno comes out at his usual time and when he gets himself a bowl of oatmeal crisp, he sets its twin down in front of Boots. "So," he says, and there's a slow carefulness to his voice that Boots has never heard before, "I figure Kwantlen today. Surrey campus first, then Richmond." He rustles out a thick, glossy brochure and when Boots reaches for it, there's sticky honey prints on the cover.

---

Neither campus turns out to be of much interest, but at least they can get bubble tea and dim sum in Richmond, at one of the old-fashioned places where they push carts around filled with towers of bamboo steamers. Bruno orders doubles of the things he likes and loads them with chili sauce and hot yellow mustard while Boots rinses out his bowl with jasmine tea every five minutes.

"What's up with that," Bruno finally asks after the third time, just as Boots is attempting to wrestle some particularly slippery rice noodles into his bowl. "Up with what?" Boots repeats, irritated and embarrassed, and Bruno gestures with his red-smeared chopsticks.

"The constant bowl-cleaning," he says. "If you're that fussy about it, just eat on your plate like me. That way stuff doesn't need to touch."

That grimace pops out on Boots' face before he can stop it. "I'm not fussy," he snaps. "Just because I don't want bean curd sauce soaking into the fried dumplings."

Bruno chews thoughtfully for a while, slotting flaky pork pastries into his mouth. The dark hair at his temples and forehead is damp, all the pepper he's eating and probably the steaming sticky rice and the glass of Kokanee, and Boots feels just a little bit sick. He eats some of the Chinese broccoli to settle himself, each green snap between his teeth cutting through the sesame oil and noodle tangle of feelings.

"Tomorrow we can hit up UBC," Bruno suggests eventually, signalling for egg tarts as the pastry cart sails by again. "Might as well finish checking out all the campuses first, then maybe we can see some stuff around the city. Not just Stanley Park." He grins, pushing two of the tiny tarts over to Boots. "Then maybe you won't be so cranky."

Boots forces himself to drain his cup of tea before answering. "I'm not cranky," he says. "Maybe I'm just tired of the same old Bruno-and-Boots dynamics out here in the wild."

"The wild?" Bruno looks bewildered, "What the hell are you--"

The inside of Boots' mouth is burning, flowery, astringent; the tea had been scalding. His words tumble out boiled semi-solid, jelly blobs hitting the table. "The same old assumptions," he continues, "like I'll just go along with whatever you decide, like nothing's gonna change even though we're leaving the Hall, like we're just obviously gonna go to the same university together. Maybe you wanna stay codependent forever, Bruno, but I'm starting to think that I don't."

Bruno stares at him across the table as Boots signals for the waiter to pack up the rest of their food and bring the bill. He doesn't say anything, so neither does Boots; Bruno puts his hands palm-down on the table and blinks like he's been knocked in the head. Boots doesn't bother to look back as they trail out of the restaurant in silence. He knows already that Bruno will have left marks on the tablecloth, custard and sugar, inescapable.

---

They leave early for UBC, getting coffee and smoked salmon bagels from the Jewish deli on Neelam's block to avoid the awkwardness of their morning breakfasts at the apartment. Despite their moods, it's a beautiful drive, all water and mountains and sparkling city, so even though they don't say much on the way at least they're never bored.

The parking lot is built into a hill and the exit comes out by a rose garden, where Bruno turns to Boots and says, "Okay, so we'll meet back here in three hours?" It's misting rain and there's already a fine dew clinging to both of them, the greenery and bowers in the garden making everything seem colder and wetter.

Boots is amazed to feel a lurch of hurt disappointment at Bruno's words, which (given the restless night he spent being frustrated and angry) makes utterly no sense and leads him to sound more curt than he intends when he says, "Fine. Whatever you want." Bruno nods and jogs up the stairs; Boots follows more slowly, and by the time he reaches the top his friend is nowhere to be seen.

He spends a dreary three hours trudging through the sprawling, hilly campus, but he's distracted and doesn't pay as much attention as he would generally prefer to. Boots can't believe this. Even when Bruno removes himself from the situation (physically, at least), he still manages to make Boots spend time thinking about him instead of taking a look at the dorms or the student union building. Instead, Boots stands outside the Choi Building for fifteen minutes, staring at the fan-shaped shadows of fallen ginkgo leaves on the sidewalk and pensively rolling the stone balls inside the mouths of the stone lions guarding the main doors.

By the time he wanders back to the Rose Garden, Boots is chilled and dejected and the sight of the mountains and water in the distance just depresses him more -- all that high snow and deep green, all that wide open blue. Too much vastness when his heart feels constricted and banded around with sick anxiety. Bruno's not there yet, but Boots expected that. He's almost glad.

They must have had a warm autumn out west here, because one of the low bushes still has some small clenched pink flowers on it, holding on when they should've been long gone. Boots chokes back a semi-crazed laugh. "A little bit on the nose," he says out loud, and to his absolute lack of surprise Bruno comes up next to him and hands him a white waxed-paper baggie.

"Their cinnamon rolls are phenomenal," he says, and Boots opens his mouth to say something back but Bruno turns and kisses him, reaching out to hold his face. Rain and green and icing and Bruno, little flowers watching that don't know when to stop holding on.

Boots pulls away after a moment and Bruno's looking him with eyes tight at the corners, breath coming fast. "I figured," he says too loudly and too quickly, "I figured the thing was, you felt things weren't changing. Or that I didn't want them to change. So ..." Bruno trails off and looks perplexed, finally spreading his hands and finishing, "... I changed them."

This idea is not milk-mild; this idea can get them into more trouble than they've ever been in before. This idea is one Boots can only see happening out here, in the green wet wild, with Bruno's cinnamon fingertips sticky on his jawline. This idea ... this idea might just do them in for good. Bruno's face is uncharacteristically pale and closed, but Boots supposes his friend is entitled to that tiny degree of self-defense when he's just made himself so incredibly vulnerable.

Boots takes a deep breath and the cold air feels like a shock going through him, chasing the softer warmer shock of that kiss. It freezes everything just smooth and glassy enough that he can get his voice working again, words skating out easy: "I dunno if we can get used to having no snow in the winter."

The most brilliant of smiles spreads across Bruno's face, but his voice is ringed with impatience when he waves an arm and says, "What's up there on the mountains behind me, Melvin?" Then he surges forward and presses his mouth to Boots' again, and when Boots feels his own arms wrap tight around Bruno to pull him in closer, he realizes with deliciously rain-clear certainty that this is exactly the change he's wanted, all this time.