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The first time he saw Claire doodling his favorite cephalopod in her composition notebook, he fell into her orbit with an ease he’d never known. Not only did she accept his oddball infatuations with the most phallic-looking members of the animal kingdom, she also shared her own, indulging him in the fanciful outfits of their high school dances and the cerulean-tinged halls of the local aquarium. The cascading glow of the undulating schools of fish reflected onto her skin, casting otherworldly shadows into the hollows of her cheeks and off the long spread of her eyelashes, but even their brilliance could not rival the glow he felt in his heart seeing her unbridled joy, knowing what they had was a love only found in fairytales. Loving Claire was like falling into a whirlpool—irresistible, inevitable, irreversible. She was his, he was hers, and no force of nature could keep them apart.

Meeting Elliot, though, was unlike — anything. Lying next to him that first night — a breath away from cheek to cheek, the soft cadence of his voice creeping around Alex like a fog — numbed him to all else. He was all-consuming, all-encompassing, but felt less like an intrusion and more like, rather, he had been there all along. It was like he was part of Alex, his soft voice and golden hair twisting and unfurling and flowing into him, filling a yawning, desperate void Alex hadn’t known he’d had, sliding into the pit at the center of his soul, settling down in the dark and untamed and saying, “this — this is mine.” Telling his deepest thoughts and desires to Elliot wasn’t daunting; how could it be, when it felt like Elliot already knew him, could know him in death, since before the beginning of time. Meeting Elliot felt like a golden thread had twisted around his heart like an insidious vine and wouldn’t let go; it felt like diving face-first into a pool of light and emerging seraphic; it felt like coming home.

It was like Elliot said — some things just fall into place.

 

Other times, though, they have to be pushed.

 

Just a few weeks later, and he was very sure he was living a nightmare. The rejection letter, he and Claire’s fight, his isolation from the one person he wanted most — he was spiraling, more than he ever had before, and turning to Dell in the hopes that hedonism could wrench him from his depression had done nothing but confuse him further. He was plenty drunk — too drunk — when the blonde girl in the sequined top had made her way over to him, had pulled him upstairs to an empty bedroom, had placed his hands on her body. He felt buzzed, he felt euphoric, he felt sickly vengeful, and he felt — nothing. No feelings of lust or desire for the scantily-clad girl underneath him. He was disgusted with himself, he was furious with his inability to — just pretend, you faggot — and he was, above all else, revolted by his blatant betrayal of his best friend — God, his best friend — oh, fuck, his best friend — Claire, who stared with wide, glassy eyes at his epic, irrefutable fuck-up. Claire, cursed out by the girl on the bed and fleeing with not even a whimper. Claire, who had left Alex with the reality of having completely, utterly, unquestionably ruined his life.

Having been run out of the house in nothing but a bedsheet and his tattered feelings, following the frog had hardly been a thought. And, after staring hard at the person reflected back at him in the tepid water, neither had been taking the plunge into the pool. Water had always been at the center of his life, the center of his wildest desires. In his alcohol-induced haze, he perceived it was only natural it would also be his end. He didn’t think coming back up was part of the plan, but as he sunk down, bubbles floating around him like thousands of effervescent fish, he suddenly — remembered — being pushed around the camp showers for being something that he wasn’t (I’m not, I’m not), the touch of Elliot’s finger to his lips, sweet and gentle and barely-there, and the aquarium, his first date with Claire, where the push-pull of silver schools of fish refracted through bright blue waters was more than poetic — was transcendental, and he had felt at once peaceful, and sharply, sharply aware of the impact this girl would have in his life.

It was like this. The ocean tugs at the fish one way, and they comply. It pushes back another way, and still the fish flow with the current, abandoned to the whims of their host, yet at once completely free. Duality, they seemed to whisper. Flow with whatever may happen.

God help him, he wanted to — wanted to do what his heart was leading him to do, to be with Claire in the way that he had always yearned for, to give her the love that she so dearly deserved. To let go of his denial and self-hatred and just — be. Most of all, he wanted to tug on the golden thread wrapped around his heart, to follow its burning glow and spool it up tenderly like Theseus returning from the Labyrinth, to follow it to its source, his source —

He wanted to go home.

As he lay soaked on the rough ground, panting and drenched in what could have been tears as much as pool water, he felt — cleansed.

A small smile settled across his face.

Later he would tell Claire, with a mix of unsure nods and trembling voice, how much he had loved her, and loved her still, but how he had to — needed to — surrender to that which had been calling him for longer than he would ever care to remember.

It was a simple matter of initiation.

Not that Claire would ever let him do it on his own time. She was good in that way — pushing things along when Alex got too swept up in the tide. He loved her dearly for this, loved her unending goodness as deeply as he did the sea.

It was just — hard. Too hard to go through with, when Elliot was staring at him with pale, hopeful eyes amidst the garish decorations of their senior prom, and all he wanted to do was dive into their bottomless depths and taste the curve of his lip and feel the tangle of his hair around desperate fingertips — it was too hard for Alex to both desire so deeply, yet fear baring himself to all his peers, to feel their unholy judgement and have it pollute the radiance of Elliot’s beatific smile.

It was why — staring at his own unworthy eyes in a dingy bathroom mirror — he was too scared to look at Elliot, to see the shame and disappointment he’d caused in him. It was only when Elliot turned and left the bathroom door slamming in his wake that Alex felt the burning tug at his heart and the yearning in his soul and knew — (he hears the ocean crashing in his ears to go go go or maybe it’s his heartbeat maybe they are one and the same maybe it’s love maybe it’s) — and he is running out of the bathroom, he is pushing through the crowd, he is grabbing Elliot by the wrist and — he is crashing his lips to Elliot’s, like two ships meeting in a storm, like a sunrise breaking over the horizon. It is revelation and redemption and — and Elliot is kissing back, and Alex is lost.

When they eventually break apart they stay swaying like masts in the breeze, entwined together like two halves of the same whole.

Later that night, they walk hand-in-hand to Elliot’s room. The poster-lined walls feel as comfortable to him as his own, and he laughs to himself when he thinks of how completely mismatched they are — himself, with his costumes and animals and delusions of grandeur, and Elliot, who smokes like he prefers it to breathing and dances with grace in packed concert venues and sings to obscure pop punk even when his audience doesn’t know the words. One would never think to call it a match made in heaven, but as Alex feels the hard planes of Elliot’s abdomen and tastes the skin of his neck, so sweet it seems like ambrosia, he thinks — it’s pretty damn close.

He thinks of what Elliot told him so long ago; how things, if they’re meant to be, will fall into place — and as he feels his own desire quicken alongside Elliot’s — as he feels Elliot’s breath on his neck accelerate as Alex bears down on him — as they undulate together as graceful as the rolling waves — as Elliot’s skin is spread out under him like a golden tapestry, slick with exertion — Alex immediately and irrevocably comes to the same conclusion. This — this — is inevitable, is absolute, is —

 

Afterwards, as they lay tangled among the bedsheets, Alex shifts his gaze upwards to peer into Elliot’s observing eyes. Though heavy-lidded, they regard Alex with the same captivating intensity that had so entranced him that first night, rushing into his every synapse and cavity and claiming them for its own. A quirking up at the corner of Elliot’s mouth, and Alex is undone, feeling his chest fill as if with tiny, effervescent bubbles, popping at the surface and bringing him, without his bidding, to a responding smile. His mouth is pliant, sure, underneath Elliot’s, and as they fall into a restful sleep with fingertips laced together, the image emerges, unbidden in his mind — the calming waves of the open ocean, roaring in his ears in a blissful cacophony, until he at last slips under.