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When Isak is first employed at the theatre company, it’s made clear to him that he’s only there because Leif couldn’t carry the bulk of the work on his own. As far as the rest of the theatre goes, Isak a second class citizen. He’s nothing but the help, and he should be grateful for any work that he’s actually deemed worthy enough to be given.

Being help basically means that Leif, the lighting technician, gives him all the menial tasks; random boxes of things to unpack, or bulbs to change, or lights to shift around. Being help means that no one else even knows his name - he exists on the edges of the theatre. He is background noise, the only person who really cares whether he shows up or not is Leif himself .

Isak, up until this point, had been perfectly content to keep it this way. He has never had any interest in joining the ranks of the theatre elite, no interest in communicating with anyone from the theatre in any great detail at all.

Unfortunately, it seems that Isak is one of those people who never gets what he wants.

The man who has hunted Isak down is incredibly tall. He knows it, too; he’s bent almost purposefully at the neck to optimise the way he’s looking down his nose at Isak. Everything from his greasy, slicked back hair to his horrible, beady black eyes and the unnecessary grandeur of the suit he’s wearing, make it clear that he thinks he’s the best thing to happen to the theatre since Shakespeare himself.

This guy is out to make a statement.

Though, as far as Isak can gather, the statement seems to be pretty along the line the line of: Absolute Arsehole.

The guy even speaks in a way that’s visibly repulsive. Spit foams at the edges of his lips, gathering up before it flies off and tears holes in the wall around them. Isak watches him in horror, holding onto his sanity only by imagining what Sana’s reaction to the whole thing would be. The idea of her horrified face is the only thing that manages to keep Isak from punching the guy in the ear and walking away.

“Really,” The guy says. More spit flies out of his mouth. Isak focuses most of his mental energy on not engaging; instead, he imagines a protective, spit-proof shield around himself.

“You cannot. I mean it, you cannot get involved with the actors. This is a high-class performance. The actors are the best in the country, you hear me? The best in the country. You’re to stay out of their way. You’re basically invisible.”

Clearly, the mental protective shield is defective; a blob of spit hits Isak clean on the cheek. He briefly debates quitting his job, before he's forced to dismiss the idea; he couldn't ask Eskild to help him out with rent again without dying of embarrassment.

Another blob of spit lands. Isak debates quitting his job again. Surely even becoming homeless would be better than this?

Instead, Isak grits his teeth and shrugs, “Whatever, I haven’t been anywhere near the actors before now. I’m not planning to be. I’m just here to shift the lights.”

The guy stares at him for a while, before nodding once, seriously, “Good,” He says sharply. He leers at Isak, every ounce of his condescension clear in the expression. “Well, anyway, kid. Go on and finish unpacking that,” Here, he pauses, squinting at what’s in front of Isak and then leering even more. “Box of things,” He says. “Finish unpacking that box of things, and then get me some coffee, would you? It’s been a long day for me.”

With this last note, he turns sharply and walks out of the room.

Isak watches him go, speechless. For a while, he imagines that this is theX-Men, and his eyes are lasers and he can destroy this guy with one look.

Unfortunately, this is a universe where mutations aren’t real.

Isak spares a brief thought for his alternate self who can destroy people with one look, and then goes miserably back to unloading lighting gels from boxes. Why they have so many, Isak doesn’t know.

In fact, when Leif himself had opened the box he’d scratched his head. Clearly whoever’s budgeting this show is a moron.

Perhaps, Isak thinks to himself, as he places yet another Tungsten to Daylight gel into a pile. Perhaps there is an alternate universe where lighting doesn’t exist at all. Or an alternate universe where Isak never needed this shitty job in the first place.

*

“If the job is that awful, man, just quit,” Jonas says, when Isak’s finally gotten off work, staggering into Jonas’s studio flat with heavy bags under his eyes.

Isak rolls his eyes, making a beeline for the dodgy sofa Jonas has crammed in one corner of the room and collapsing face first onto it. “I can’t quit. I’ve got to pay my rent, Jonas. I already owe Eskild for covering half of mine last month,” He says, into the cushions of the sofa.

Jonas frowns, and presses his finger to his bottom lip. Isak figures that the frown probably looks more dramatic than it actually is; with Jonas, his eyebrows make all of his facial expressions tend to end up a lot more exaggerated than he wants them to.

“You know, bro, if you really need it, I could lend you some money. Just for the time being, I mean. Just enough to save you from working there, until you find a better job.”

Isak glares. “No,” He says. “We’re not doing that.”

“You hate this job.”

Isak sighs, pushing himself up so that he’s sitting up straight instead of lying down. Stressed, he runs his hand through his hair, tugging at it. “I didn’t mind it that much, until that fucking guy started on my back. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to pay my rent for me. What do you think I am? A prostitute or something? You can’t, fucking buy me like that, Jonas. Sorry, but you’re not my type anyway.”

Jonas pulls an over-exaggerated face of disgust. “As if. Sorry, bro, but you’re not my type, either. Scrawny and shit at FIFA just isn’t my thing. Get a few muscles and we’ll talk, yeah?” He wiggles his eyebrows ridiculously.

Isak pulls a face at him. “Don’t be gay, bro,” He says. Jonas pulls a face back.

“Why shouldn’t I be gay? What’s wrong with being gay?” Jonas shakes his head, looking annoyed, “God, Isak. Sometimes you say such shit.”

It’s a conversation that he and Jonas have had over and over again. Isak’s too tired to feel guilty around his best friend today, so he just focuses on breathing in and out slowly, trying not to rise to the bait yet again.

What’s wrong with being gay, Isak?

He shakes his head, sighing, “It doesn’t matter. Anyway, what do you mean, shit at FIFA? I’m amazing at FIFA,” He forces himself to smile, “I am the god of all FIFA related activities.”

Jonas, thankfully, drops it. He smirks at Isak, “Are you sure, man?”

“Was that a fucking challenge, Jonas? I hope you’re ready to be destroyed.”

“Oh, no,” Jonas deadpans. “I’m terrified.”

“I mean it, bro. You know there’s no love when it comes to FIFA, yeah? I’m going to wipe the fucking floor with you.”

“Bring it on,” Jonas grins, tossing him over the spare controller and starting up his television. “But. You know that I’m serious, Isak? If the theatre thing’s really getting you down, it can’t be hard to find another job.”

Isak sighs, looking away from Jonas’ overt concern. “This one’s fine, really. Leif is nice, and the pay is really good for a temporary thing. It’s just until I get the money for Eskild. It’s actually pretty chill.”

“You spent twenty minutes complaining about your boss yesterday, dude.” Jonas says, “Today, you ranted even more.” Isak rolls his eyes at him, but Jonas isn’t looking; his eyes are focused on the TV as they wait for FIFA to load up.

“He’s not, like, my boss. He’s not even the guy I normally work with. That’s Leif, and I told you, Jonas, Leif’s nice. This is just some random dude who’s started on my case, you know? But whatever, bro. I can handle this. I’m making money, I’ll quit at the end of summer, and all I’ve got to do is set up a few lights and move some stuff around. It’ll be fine.”

“Sure, cool,” Jonas nods. FIFA finally loads, and Jonas looks back at Isak, raising his eyebrows. “Get ready to fucking die, bro.”

*

His job at the theatre wasn’t exactly where Isak had dreamed of working when he’d finished his university degree.

In fact, Isak hadn’t really envisioned having to work anywhere. Except, as soon as he turned eighteen his dad started getting cagier about giving Isak money. He’d kept phoning Isak up, mumbling about how Isak needed to learn to, “Earn the money himself.”

After that, two subsequent months of missing the rent, and feeling increasingly awful every time he even had to look at Eskild, it became pretty clear that Isak was going to need to find work somewhere.

In the end, it had been Vilde of all people who had shoved the leaflet advertising the work for the theatre company in his hand. She’d been wearing pale pink lipstick and her most eager smile, practically bouncing on her toes with excitement.

“Here, this would be great for you, Isak! It’s so close, as well. They’d definitely take you on,” She’d said; all her teeth clearly visable as she grinned at him.

Isak knew nothing about the theatre. He also didn’t want to know anything about the theatre; he’d been planning to ignore the whole thing. Except, after Vilde walked away, Eva had grabbed his wrist and said, “Try it, yeah?”

She’d been all serious eyes and a tiny smile, looking at him in a way more sincere than she’d been since before he fucked everything up in their first year in Nissen. Isak had looked here in the eyes, crumpled like paper, and gone to try for an interview in the theatre the very next day.

Sometimes, Isak really hates his sixteen-year-old self.

It’s been years, but Isak still feels that sick, twisty feeling in his stomach when he’s with Eva alone for too long. It’s the feeling that happens when he wants to apologise again, but doesn’t quite know how. It’s the feeling that stops them from being proper friends anymore, because every time he tries to apologise, he just feels so guilty that he ends up just walking away before he's said anything.

The point is: Eva had asked, and so Isak had gotten a job as an apprentice to a lighting technician for the theatre.

Really, it’s okay. It’s manageable. Like he told Jonas; the pay is pretty good, and working with Leif has never actually been that bad.

Sure, general morale is relatively shit. Isak hadn’t really paid much attention to it; before he’d been hunted down and lectured by the guy, he’d spent the majority of his time tucked up in the eaves of the theatre. Working only with Leif meant that he hadn’t seen many other people from the production; he barely even had a concept of who the actors were.

Still, once Isak starts actually paying attention - it’s not hard to notice all the faults with the company. The main reason he never properly gets to see any actors is because the whole production is so pathetically understaffed that no one has any time to do anything but their exact job.  

The rare times that Isak has managed to catch sight of the director, she’s looked seconds away from collapsing into a mug of coffee and crying.

*

When Isak clocks in at eight thirty in the morning, the guy is standing there, arms crossed and eyebrows raised.

Technically, the guy is the assistant stage manager; Isak just refuses to acknowledge that someone who’s such a horrible suck on the world’s resources has any actual power in terms of the show. In all honesty, Isak is still half convinced that the guy is an evil, mythical creature that feeds off misery in others.

“You’re late,” He says.

“I’m not,” Isak says.

He really isn’t late. In fact, he’s actually early; he wasn’t supposed to start until ten today, but he’s been having trouble sleeping lately. Too much spins around his head in the dark. He’d tried buying sleeping pills once, but the way that Linn flinched when she saw them made him throw them out instantly.

Linn spends enough of her life looking sad and slouchy, floating about the flat with nothing much to do; Isak never wants to be an additional reason to cause her any stress.

The guy frowns, “Well,” He sounds completely unapologetic for his unnecessary lecture. Isak grits his teeth in frustration. “Regardless. We’re taking you away from working with Leif in lighting, you’re going to be working directly for Marte. Siv’s off sick.”

Siv is, as far as Isak’s been able to gather so far, is the only person in the entire building that seems to be even slightly competent. She’s the main stage manager, and spends most of her time running places at full pelt shouting orders.

There is absolutely no way Isak can fill in for Siv.

“What?” He asks.

“Marte needs someone to work with her.”

“Why can’t it be you?” Isak says, desperately, “You’re the assistant stage manager! Surely taking over for Siv is your whole job.”

The guy stares at him for a few, long, painful seconds.

“It cannot be me,” He says, taking a deep breath in and puffing out his chest. “Because I am busy trying to sort out everyone else. As you pointed out, I am the assistant stage manager, and I play a very important role in this production, and I’d thank you to remember it.”

“Sure,” Isak says, because he’s definitely already pushed his luck today, and trying anything more to reason with this guy is definitely the quickest route to getting fired. He sighs, heavily.

“Where’s Marte, then?” He asks.

The guy smiles. It’s all teeth.

*

Marte is sitting in a tiny office, stacks and stacks of paper piled around her. There’s a chipped white mug by her elbow, and her head is bent and tipped into her hands. She is breathing deeply, the slow inhale and exhale so intense that her whole body is shifting with it.

“Um,” Isak says, after standing there for far too long in uncomfortable silence.

Marte, clearly unaware of his presence until now, jumps about three feet in the air. As she does so, she elbows the mug off the table. They both watch it crash to the carpeted floor in shocked silence, neither of them moving until the mug’s contents - coffee, by the smell of it - are pouring out everywhere.  

Shit,” Marte says. “Fuck, shit. Sorry. Shit!” She looks up at him, frazzled. Her hair is sticking up on the right side of her face, where she’s clearly been running her hands through it. “Are you Isak?”

Isak holds up a hand in an awkward wave, “Uh, hey,” He mutters. He feels terrible for startling her. “Um, the assistant stage manager told me that you needed me? Because Siv’s off?”

Marte exhales, heavily. “What I really need is an assistant stage manager that doesn’t make me want to poke my eyeballs out with a plastic spoon,” She grumbles. Isak blinks.

“Um,” He says, again.

Marte starts. “Oh gosh,” She says. “I didn’t say that. Please don’t tell anyone I said that. I just. I think this show is ruining me, I’m so tired. It’s really, god. It’s very stressful.”

Isak rocks back and forward, slowly, on his feet. “I’m, uh, here to help?” He says.

“Thank you,” Marte tells him. She seems so genuine, so sincere, that Isak abruptly feels terrible for complaining about her in his head, like, all the time. As far as Isak is concerned, anyone that dislikes the assistant stage manager that intently is clearly somewhat of a rational person.

“Thank you so much,” Marte repeats, tugging a hand through her hair. “I’ve got, like, seven thousand emails to send? I’m not even supposed to be doing this. I’m the director, not the financial manager, but the financial manager is incompetent and –”

She cuts herself off, rubbing a hand over her face – “Could you please just. Could you just, wrangle the actors together? I know, I know, it’s not, like, actually your job, but Siv isn’t here and I have this to do,” She gestures at the papers in front of her, before continuing.

“I mean, you think that he would help, but god knows what that lousy prick actually does. Anyway, I normally ask Magnus to fill in on stuff like this, but-" She cuts off abruptly, looking at Isak, "Do you know Magnus?"

Isak shakes his head. Marte squints at him for a few seconds, before waving her hand in dismissal.

"No, I mean, you're, what, a lighting technician?" She doesn't even wait for Isak's not before continuing on her tirade, "Whatever. It's fine, Magnus is the set designer, and basically the assistant stage manager," At this, her face darkens again, "Because the fucker that's on the pay check is useless. But, Magnus can't help out today because he's still trying to get the last of the set made because that’s behind, and, look. They’re working on the scene between Tybalt and Mercutio, okay? The fight scene. Just, just… tell them to run it. Ella should be there for the main choreography, anyway, so just tell her that I’ll be there as soon as I can. It’s just we’re having a build rehearsal tomorrow, but it would be nice if all the positions were worked out even before that. God,” She puts her head in her hands, “This whole thing is a disaster.”

Isak looks at her for a few seconds. “You want me to tell the cast to run their scenes?”

“Just Mercutio and Tybalt. Please.”

Isak thinks about the assistant stage manager’s threats about how Isak isn’t even supposed to look at the cast. He figures that sort of warning doesn’t really apply anymore, though – technically Marte outranks him, and Isak doesn’t think that she’d fire him for doing what he was asked to do.

He stands there for a few moments, looking at Marte’s panicked face. The sheer desperation in her eyes reminds him of Vilde when she’s trying to organise too many things at once. Watching Marte now, Isak sighs internally: anyone that resembles a panicked Vilde is clearly in desperate need of assistance.

He sighs. There’s no way he can get out of this.

“Sure,” He says, after a short pause. “I’ll go do that now. It’s no problem.”

It is definitely a problem.

Still, Isak figures that in the grand scheme of thing, Marte definitely could have given im a worse job. So he slowly backs out of the room, which is starting to smell overwhelmingly of coffee and stress.

Marte, whose head is now bent over a large sheaf of paper, doesn’t even seemed to have noticed.

*

Isak walks his way round to the auditorium, dragging his hands and feet along as he goes. He doesn’t want to do this. He doesn’t want this job. He was perfectly happy working away from everyone else, never having to interact with anyone. He knows nothing about the theatre. He’s not proud of it, but even the plot of Romeo and Juliet was off his radar until he started working here.

When he gets to the door of the auditorium, he pushes it open gently, wandering in. The house lights are on, illuminating the rows of seats and the open stage, but the actual space is mainly empty. There are a couple of the principle cast members sitting on the seats near the front: Elise, the girl that’s playing Juliet is leaning with her head close to the woman who’s playing the nurse, and Tybalt is sitting a few rows back, feet up on the cushioned back of the row in front of him. He’s got a snapback pulled down over his eyes, and Isak’s sure he’s asleep.

Ella, the choreographer, is standing on the stage. She’s talking to a man, who’s presumably another one of the actors in the performance. He’s standing a couple of feet away from her, intently involved in their conversation.

Ella says something, and the other guy looks amused, shaking their head and twisting their lips, as though to hold in the laughter. Isak watches them for a while, staring wordlessly. Then, he tears his eyes away and does the quickest about-face of his life, turning around and exiting the auditorium the way he came.

He did not sign up for this.

*

Sitting in the grimy cubicle of the men’s staff toilet, Isak puts his head in his hands.

The person who had been up on stage with Ella. The guy, no, the actor.

This guy, this actor, was nothing like the horrible, acidic stage manager. This guy had been everything Isak tries not to think about. Everything he purposefully walks away from. Everything that he doesn’t want.

Everything he tries to pretend that he doesn’t want.

Because, it’s simple, really. Isak isn’t -

Isak not like that.

Isak isn’t looking for someone like that in his life. He doesn’t want tall, sophisticated people, with artfully curled hair and the most ridiculous sunglasses propped up on their head. He doesn’t want people with huge hands and long legs and –

He doesn’t want guys.

He doesn’t want someone that could hold him in between their two palms, someone that could tower over him when he’s kissing them. He especially doesn’t want that guy. He doesn’t want to be that person. That person that everyone talks about, the person who people whisper about. He doesn’t want the pride flags or the pink clothes, or the weird assumptions that people make.

He’s not like that. He’s not Eskild. He doesn’t want that.

Except for how he does. He wants it so much sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and can feel it crawling up his throat.  Wants it so much sometimes he can feel it pulsing at the back of his head, behind the bones of his wrists. Wants it so much that not wanting it isn’t even a part of him anymore.

Isak takes a deep breath in, flushes the toilet despite the fact he didn’t use it so he doesn’t look deranged in case there’s anyone outside. Then he sighs exhales slowly and pushes the door of his cubicle open.

The actor is standing by the sinks.

Isak has a brief, internal heart attack. The actor’s bent over, washing his hands; he doesn’t seem to have noticed Isak yet, and Isak thanks god for small miracles. Up close – he’s even more overwhelming; so tall and put together that Isak feels like he’s fraying, crumpling at the edges just by standing near him.

The actor still isn’t really looking at him. He’s finished washing his hands now, and he stands up. This close, Isak can see the sheer height of him even clearer, the way if he stood at full height he’d be almost a full head taller than Isak.

“I’m sorry,” The actor says, and Isak half jumps, turning to awkwardly meet his eyes. “Did you want a paper towel?”

He’s holding out a towel; it seems to be the last one from the container that normally holds them. Isak blinks in surprise; he was sure that container had been almost full when he’d first came in.

“Um,” Isak says. He reaches out and takes the towel; as he does so, their fingers brush. It’s a minimal connection, but Isak snatches his hands away quickly. It doesn’t matter how small the contact was - it’s still too much with a guy that he’s not even supposed to be talking to, never mind touching. “Thanks?”

“No problem,” The actor smiles. Isak blinks at him. He has a smile that sort of floors Isak; all open mouth and shiny eyes. It makes Isak want to press closer to him, makes him want to touch him, to shove his body against the hard planes of the actor’s chest, until there’s no space between the two of them at all.

He looks down at the floor instead.

There’s silence for a few, painful moments. Isak is frozen, and he can feel the presence of the actor, still standing there, watching him. It makes Isak bite the inside of his cheek in frustration; he’s not normally like this. Not normally so tongue tied. So nervous. So useless.

“Wow,” The actor says, after the silence has stretched so thin it's painful. He laughs slightly - more of an exhalation of air than anything else, “Good conversation, right?”

“Um,” Isak says again. The longer he stands in front of the actor, words frozen like ice, heavy on his tongue – the longer he stands silent; the more he starts wishing he’d be able to drown himself in the sinks, quietly and with dignity.

“So. You work here?” The actor asks, nodding to Isak’s awful looking polo shirt; the one they force all of the employees below a certain level to wear.

Isak pulls at the hem of it, awkwardly, and blushes. “Yeah,” He says.

“Cool,” The actor’s head tips to the side. There’s another few beats of awkward silence. Isak eyes the sinks with even more serious contemplation.

“I’m an actor,” The actor continues. “In the play that’s on at the minute, you know, Romeo and Juliet? I’m playing Mercutio, he’s the best friend.” He smiles. It shows the bright whiteness of his teeth, and Isak finds himself staring at his mouth, distracted.  

There’s another awkward pause, and Isak flushes. “Um,” He says, again. “I know? I’m Isak. I, uh. I work with Leif, normally.”

“In lighting?” The actor tilts his head slightly to the side in clear question. Isak nods, and he smiles again. “That’s cool! I tried to do lighting once, for the revue, in school? It was a disaster. I dropped one of the most expensive ones.” The actor frowns when he says this, “Everyone was so angry at me, and loads of people stopped talking to me.”

“Oh,” Isak replies, faintly.

The actor smiles again, huffing out another awkward laugh, “Yeah. It wasn’t good. So then I did all this really bad graffiti all over the walls and stuff. I almost got kicked out of school for it.”

As he speaks, he flexes his hands so that his fingers spread out, and then clenches them into a fist. It looks as though he’s remembering the weight of the things he’s describing in his hands. Isak looks at the shape of his fingers and feels weak at the knees.  

“Right,” Isak says, faintly.

The actor looks at Isak again, he’s so tall that he has to look down at Isak. His height is as distracting as his mouth.

“I’m Even, by the way. Even Bech Næsheim,” The actor, Even, says. Isak watches him, something about Even makes him feel overtly young and embarrassing. He shifts on the spot, and resists the urge to slap his hands over his face, hiding his mortification at this entire situation.

“Hey Even,” Isak mumbles. With each second passing, Isak’s discomfort grows. He feels exposed, like a raw nerve just waiting to be touched. He feels as though his bones have shrunk, his skin too big for his insides. Even makes him feel different – feel things in all the ways he’s been trying to pretend that he doesn’t. He waits a second longer, then practically trips over, “I’ve got to go,” Shouldering past Even on his way out the door.

Even looks surprised, his mouth falling open as he turns to watch Isak go. Isak hunches his shoulders down further, looking at the floor and focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. He refuses to let himself turn around and look at Even again.

*

When Isak gets back to the auditorium, people are still milling around. Ella has settled for lying flat on the stage, splayed out like a starfish. Isak walks over to it, approaching her warily. He’s aware that the other actors are watching him, and it makes him feel awkward. Too big for his skin – as though they know why Isak has been hiding in the bathrooms.

“Um,” He says. Ella cracks an eye open, and looks at him. She’s terrifying, even in this micro-movement.

“Yes?”

“Eh, sorry. Marte sent me.”

Ella groans, shoving herself up to sitting. “What did she send you for?”

“She says that Mercutio and Tybalt have to run their fight scene, the choreography. Um. She also said she’d be here soon?”

“Ugh,” Ella stands up fully. She’s shorter than Isak, but she’s still terrifying when she glares up at him. “Right, that’s great, thanks for letting me know.”

“Right,” Isak says.

“I swear,” Ella says, brushing imaginary dust off her trousers. She shakes her head, slightly, “This show is going to be the death of me. The amount of times I’ve ran that scene…”

Isak doesn’t know how to respond to this, or if he’s supposed to. He stands there for another few seconds, frozen awkwardly.

“You can leave, now,” Ella adds, but her mouth twitches slightly. She seems more amused than angry at his fumbling presences.

Isak shoots her an awkward salute, and does.

*

At lunch, Isak manages to sneak away from the ground-floor level stuff, with permission from Marte to go back up and hide with Leif in lighting. Isak never thought that he would appreciate the dusty corners of the theatre, high up in the Gods, away from everyone else. He was wrong; after even one day of the chaos on the ground floors, Isak is ready to never speak to another person again.

Leif seems to get this. He doesn’t speak much generally, and when Isak returns he just nods, and hands Isak some boxes and tells him to go, “Sort them out.”

Isak wonders if he should be concerned with how relaxing he finds menial tasks like this. The systematic nature of wrapping up wires and sorting gels. The simplicity of it all keeps his head down, and it stops him from obsessing over Even. Wondering who Even is. Thinking about Even.

Well, it stops him thinking about Even more than he already is.

Leif gruffly tells him to, “Fuck off,” at half three, his eyebrows pulled down into a massive scowl. Isak puts up a protest, but Leif herds him out the door. Isak’s technically a few inches taller than Leif, but Leif is built like he punches through walls for a living.

“It’s not the end of my shift,” Isak says, weakly. He’s already past the door.

“I don’t care, kid,” Leif says, voice not changing from his gruff tone. He doesn’t look impressed, “Go on home and get some sleep. Don’t think I don’t know you were here two hours early this morning. Get lost.”

Leif says most things gruffly, but Isak has a sneaking suspicion that he’s softer than he looks. He keeps a photo of a kid on his desk, tucked away in between all the mess and the wires. It’s never dusty. Isak would place money on Leif being the sort of guy that cries at the Toy Story films.

Not that Isak could blame him, necessarily.

“Right,” Isak says. He fumbles the wire he’d been wrapping up down onto the table. Leif raises his eyebrows, but says nothing more. “See you,” Isak says.

*

All Isak’s thinking about when he leaves the theatre is getting home and watching crap movies with Linn and Noora. Eskild too, if he’s in. There’s some cheap popcorn tucked away in Isak’s cupboard, the sort that you have to microwave first. It normally ends up half burned and inedible, because Linn always puts it in for too long - but it’s still popcorn.

The flatshare isn’t where Isak would have pictured himself living, but he loves it all the same. It’s cramped; since Noora came back unexpectedly she’s been alternating between sleeping on the sofa or sleeping in Eskild’s room when he’s on one of his many nights out. Everyone steals each other’s food, Eskild is liable to wake you up at half five in the morning having sex or coming home from having sex, Linn complains if you play music too loudly, but it’s home.

It’s home in a way that Isak’s parents house never felt like home. Comforting and weird and relaxing.

He’s thinking about what DVDs they have, and how they’re all terrible. They’re mainly Eskild and Noora’s, and as a result they’re all cheesy rom-coms. Half of them are American, and have cheesy dialogue, poorly translated subtitles, and awful over-acting in them. They’re good for when he’s tired though. Good for when he wants to crash out with his feet in Linn’s lap and just not think about anything.

It’s for this reason he doesn’t notice Even. In fact, when Even calls out, “Hey!” To him, he jumps. Spinning around and trying to see where the voice came from.

Even is standing tucked into an alcove a few metres down from the theatre’s front door. There’s a thick, blue scarf looped around his neck, and he’s wearing a heavy green coat. Behind his ear, he’s got what looks like a joint.

Overall, he looks tall and ridiculous, the sort of guy who would get splashed across the cover of Teen Vogue; he makes Isak’s head hurt to look at.

“Hey,” Isak says.

“You free now? Off work?” Even gestures to where Isak has changed out of his work polo-shirt, into his own t-shirt and hoodie. Isak nods, shoving his hands deep into his jacket pockets.

“Yeah, Leif let me off early.”

Even’s whole face lights up when he’s happy, his eyes crinkle up at the sides, every part of his body shifting to suit the emotion. It’s profoundly overwhelming. Isak finds himself averting his eyes; the whole force of Even’s smile face on is too reminiscent of trying to look into the sun.

“That’s cool, man! I’m off now, too. They finished running through all the scenes with me in them.” He’s moving backwards and forwards on his feet, as though he’s filled with restless energy. Everything about Even seems to be constantly in motion. Isak watches him silently and can imagine him playing Mercutio perfectly, can imagine the Queen Mab speech melting in his mouth.

Though, Isak’s not exactly the authority on casting.

Noora had been the one that bought the DVD, just after Isak had gotten hired. She’d brandished it above her head proudly and said, “I thought you could use this, for reference, you know?” Isak hadn’t really wanted to take it, but it had been one of the first times that she’d smiled properly at him since coming back from London, so he’d just rolled his eyes and lifted it off her.

He’d watched it a few days later, when he was bored one night. He’d cried at the end, though he hadn’t told Noora that. Instead he’d shoved it under his bed and told her that it was too girly for him, too cheesy and romantic. Noora had just rolled her eyes at him and passed him a cup of coffee.

In retrospect, most of his conversations with Noora tend to involve her rolling her eyes at him.

“What are you up to, then?” Even asks, bouncing forward onto his toes and then dropping down again. “Now that you’re free?”

“Uh,” Isak says, “I was going to go home. Watch some TV with my flatmates.”

“Oh really?” Even leans forwards into Isak’s space. He’s so tall. It’s so overwhelming. “What TV?”

“I don’t know,” Isak shrugs. “Whatever DVDs are lying around. My flatmates like rom-coms, cheesy stuff. You know?”

“Ah,” Even smiles. “What do you like?”

Isak shrugs again, looking away from Even’s face. “I dunno. I’m, uh, not really that into films? I’m good to just watch whatever my flatmates are watching, really.”

Even nods at this, the edges of his mouth twist up; that intensely happy expression settling onto his face once more. He looks gorgeous, almost untouchable. Isak is wary about standing too close to him, in case he gets burned.

“Do you want to know a secret?” Even asks.

Isak blinks at him.

“Sure?” He says. He winces at the way his voice tapers off into a question; high-pitched and unsure. He must sound like how Magnus used to, around Vilde: completely moronic. It doesn’t seem to bother Even, though, his smile goes to full wattage again, bright and shining against the dull backdrop of the theatre.

“Great!” He says, clapping his hands together, “Follow me!”

Then he starts striding away. Isak watches him go for a couple of seconds, bewildered, before following after him.

*

They ride the bus back to Even’s flat. Even stands the entire journey, hanging onto the handles on the ceiling. He tucked the joint into his pocket before they got on, and every so often he puts his hand back in there, as though he’s checking it’s alright.

“How come you started working with lights, then?” Even asks him. Isak’s sitting down, so he has to crane his neck even more than previous times to look up at Even.

“Money,” Isak says. “Needed to pay the rent, and my, uh, my friend, Vilde. She’s the one that told me about it. She did the revue and stuff in school. You know, she’s into all that stuff.”

“And you’re not?”

“Nah,” Isak tells him. “I kind of hate that kind of thing. Still do.”

As soon as he says it, he feels terrible, snapping his head up to look at Even in horror. Even is an actor. Even works with the theatre for a living, and probably for less money than Isak’s currently making an hour. Even probably loves all that stuff.

In fact, Even definitely loves all that stuff, and here’s Isak, sitting on the bus in front of this guy - a guy who just so happens to look like he walked straight out a fantasy - telling him that he hates what he does for a living.

Isak opens his mouth wordlessly. He feels shaky, and stupid, and motion sick.

“I mean –” He starts.

Even lets go of one of the handles and waves a hand at him, dismissing whatever excuses Isak has before they even start.

“It’s cool,” He says, laughing at the panicked look on Isak’s face. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not offended that you don’t respect my career.”

Isak’s feels uncomfortably hot, and he shifts awkwardly in the seat of the bus. “I didn’t mean it like that,” He mutters, pressing his face into his hands, mortified. Maybe if he presses the palms of his hands hard enough into his eyeballs, they’ll fall into his head, and then he’ll never have to look at Even’s ridiculous face again.

“Seriously, it’s okay, man. Really. I get it. You want to know what my secret is?”

Isak slowly peels his hands away, blinking in the onslaught of light. Even’s still standing; his arms being raised above his head to hold onto the handles has pulled a tiny stretch of his shirt up, right in Isak’s line of vision. Isak looks up at Even’s face quickly, feeling his face go hot again.

“I thought your secret was to do with going back to your house?” He asks, suspicious.

Even shrugs. “Nah,” He says, his smile seems effortlessly big. It’s still shiny and gorgeous and far too close. Isak wants to touch it. Isak wants to touch him. “I just wanted an excuse to hang out with you.”

“What?”

“What, what? I’m intrigued by you. The lighting technician who hates the theatre? It’s very exciting, I’m excited by you.”

Isak scratches the back of his neck, awkwardly. Anything to break the intense eye-contact that Even’s holding with him; he feels flustered and young. “I’m not exciting,” He says, cutting through the awkward pause that’s descended upon their conversation.

Even tips his head to the side, as though processing this. “That’s stupid,” He says, eventually. The bus stops, and he looks around, as though finally realising where he is. “Huh, that was quicker than I thought it would be,” He says, glancing back at Isak and smiling. “That’s stupid, and this is my stop. Guess time really does fly when you’re having fun. C’mon.”

Isak follows him off the bus, stumbling slightly in his effort to keep up with Even’s long strides. “You know; you can’t keep hinting at this secret of yours. You still haven’t told me what it is, yet.”

Even looks at him out of the corner of his eyes, mouth twitching. “I haven’t,” He acknowledges. “Though, maybe I don’t want to tell you, now. Maybe I’m regretting ever bringing it up,” He scratches his head. “I mean, it’s a really boring secret.”

“You kidnapped me back to your house,” Isak reminds him. “You have to tell me it, now.”

Even laughs, loudly. It’s the sort of laugh that makes the person who’s laughing fling their head back, and Isak watches the curvature of Even’s throat eagerly. He feels as though he’s just come out of the desert, after searching for water for months. “You’re right,” Even says, “You’re right.”

He reaches an arm out. It’s his left, the one closest to Isak, and he slings it over Isak’s shoulder easily, pulling Isak into him. It’s an easy gesture, one that Isak does countless times a week with Jonas, with Mahdi, sometimes even with Magnus. It shouldn’t be a big deal when Even does it. It shouldn’t.

It is.

He elbows Even, gently, below his ribs. Shoving away from him, he pulls his jacket tighter around himself and frowns. “Oi! No grabbing at me until you confess.”

Even raises his eyebrows. “Alright,” He says. “You got me. My secret is that I hate the theatre, too.”

Isak stares at him. They’re stopped, in the middle of the street. Were there anyone walking past, they’d probably look strange, ten feet away from each other with their hands shoved in their jacket pockets. Both of them are stationary, now, just standing there, looking at each other.

"Why do you do it, if you hate it?" Isak asks.

Even slouches against the lamp post beside him, as though none of this bothers him at all.

“Just because I hate it, doesn't mean I'm not really good at it. Because I am, good, I mean. Good enough that it was the only thing I really could do."

Isak blinks, confused. "I don't see how you could hate doing something that you're that good at," He says.

Even chews his lip, looking off into the distance, thoughtfully. "I don’t like the fact that there’s no room to mess up, you skip a line, you forget your cue, there’s no hiding it, you know? I don’t like the pressure of that. Plus, it’s so hot under the lights. They’re so bright, as well. You’re in front of all these people, but you can’t even see them. You know that they’re there, though. The theatre is all big stages and rooms full of people doing nothing but judging you just for existing in this space, trying to be someone else for a while. The whole thing just makes me feel, I don’t know. Alone.”

Even’s walking, again, but his pace has noticeably slowed. He’s walking so that Isak can keep up with him easily, their steps syncing up together. Everything falling into time around the even rhythm of Even’s words.

“Alone?” Isak asks. “Jesus Christ. How does being in front of all those people make you feel alone?”

Even shrugs, the easy motion at odds with the dark look hovering in the corners of his expression. “I don’t know,” He says, quietly, “Sometimes I think everyone’s alone.”

Isak stares at him, surprised. Even looks back at him seriously, saying nothing, before shrugging once more and powering on ahead. His long legs mean that Isak has to stumble to catch up, bumping his shoulder against Even’s arm.

He’s not quite sure why he does it, except that it’s supposed to be some form of support. A silent reminder that in this moment, right now, Even isn’t alone.

Even glances at him from the corner of his eyes, and bumps his shoulder back against Isak’s.

They walk in a comfortable silence the rest of the way to Even’s flat.

*

Even lives on the second floor of a small block, in number twenty-one. The door to the flat is painted a deep burgundy, and there’s a mat outside it that reads welcome in black, looping letters. It seems too feminine for Even, somehow.

Even wiggles the key in the lock before shoving the door open. It sticks, slightly, and he grins over his shoulder at Isak as he finally gets it to swing open.

“I don’t think anyone will be in,” He directs to Isak, then he looks down the hall, pulling off various layers as he does so. “Sonja?” He calls. “You there?”

There’s no answer, and Even grins pumping his fist into the air. It makes him look about twelve, and Isak pulls a face at him when he turns back to see Isak’s reaction.

“Who’s Sonja?” Isak asks.

Even runs a hand through his hair. “She’s my ex-girlfriend.”

“You live with your ex?”

“She wasn’t my ex at the time,” Even sighs.

Isak takes a moment to process, unsure if he heard that right, “What?”

Even smirks at the high pitched way Isak’s voice comes out, and bumps him gently with his elbow. “I know,” He says, rolling his eyes. As he speaks, he takes the joint from behind his ear and starts walking down the hall. “It was a stupid idea. We moved in together and it was like, I don’t know. I guess I used to think I could never break up with Sonja, because we’d been together so long, and I loved her so much once, you know?”

He shrugs here, glancing behind him to check that Isak’s still following him. “Anyway, we moved in together and then broke up in, like, two months. We were just yelling at each other all the time,” He holds his arms out in a ‘what can you do’ gesture. “Like I said, it was a stupid idea in the first place,” He sighs, running a hand through his hair, “Still. At least there’s two bedrooms.”

“It’s a nice place,” Isak says, even though they’re still only in the hallway, and there’s nothing very exciting about it. The walls are a plain white, and there’s a couple of nondescript art prints hanging up. Even snorts, shrugging his shoulders and walking on.

“It was mainly Sonja’s decision, at the time. I didn’t really think about it, you know? Whatever was gonna make her happy, I figured.”

“Right,” Isak nods. He tries to pretend as though he gets what it would be like to be in a serious enough relationship with someone to move in with them, even though he has no idea at all. He looks down at his hands, twisting his fingers together and focusing on the patterns that they make.

Sonja.

The ex-girlfriend.

Right.

Even has led them into a room that can only be his; there’s drawings and photographs taped to the wall, shelves filled with nothing but DVDs, and an acoustic guitar with no strings in the corner of the room. On the floor is a mattress, with the sheets unmade.

Isak looks away from it, swallowing. It feels oddly personal, to look at Even’s bed and think about him sleeping there. Think about him tangled in the bedsheets, head resting on the pillow. It’s pointless, now. Even had a girlfriend. Even had Sonja, his ex-girlfriend. A girlfriend who was serious enough that they planned to move in together. Even if they’re broken up now, it’s clear that Even wouldn’t want Isak, who’s all bony knees and messy hair and so undeniably male.

Trying to look at anything other than the bed on the floor, Isak focuses his attention to the drawings taped all over the walls.

They vary a lot. Some are pen scribbles on notepaper, rough cartoons and bubble writing. Others are bigger, done with different pens and stuck more carefully. They’re all mainly of people; caught in various different positions, and various different places, with speech bubbles coming out of their head and stupid puns and catchphrases written in neat, block letters.

“Did you draw these?”

Even flushes, slightly. It’s endearing; the first time that he’s managed to look like anything other than untouchable. “Why?” He asks, “Do you like them?”

Isak smiles. “They’re great! You’re really talented.”

Even’s hands twitch at his sides, before pulling the joint from behind his ear. Isak blinks at it; he’d almost forgotten that it was there. “Thank you,” Even says. He sounds distracted, almost flustered. He pulls a lighter out of the pocket of his jeans, wanders over to the deep windowsill and sits down. Isak wants to tangle their legs together and never leave this room.

“You smoke, yeah?”

“Yeah,” He says, nodding. He walks across Even’s bedroom and plants himself down on the windowsill opposite Even. “I smoke.”

“Cool,” Even lights the joint. The cherry glows red in the dimming light of Even’s bedroom. “So, Isak,” Even says, around an exhale. Isak watches the tendrils of smoke float up and disperse slowly into the air, before looking back to meet Even’s eyes. He looks intense, framed against the fading light from outside. “What music do you listen to?”

“Is this an important question?” Isak says, Even’s mouth tips sideways in quiet amusement, and he curls his body forwards. His socked feet knock against Isak’s own, and when he passes the joint their fingers brush. It is a heady, heavy feeling. Isak takes a drag from the joint to ground himself, orient himself back in his own skin.

“It depends what you answer,” Even says. His small smile grows into a full blown beam, eyes crinkling up.

“I like hip-hop, rap, you know? N.W.A, stuff like that.” He takes another couple of inhales, savouring the cloying drag of the smoke in the back of his throat, the way it makes his limbs feel loose and heavy. “You know, the kind of music that you listen to really loud, so no one sits beside you on the bus.”

Even laughs, and reaches for the joint. The weed is hitting Isak properly now, making his eyes heavy. It settles time a little around them; as though Even’s bedroom, with its drawings and its mattress and the boy in front of him exists in its own sphere. The whole world contained inside one room.

“Just N.W.A?”

Isak frowns. “No, I like, I dunno. Nate Dogg, Public Enemy. You know,” He shrugs, “A lot of stuff. All that kind of hip hop, rap; the sort of things you listen to when you want to feel cool and tough.”

Even nods, tilting his head back so it’s against the wall behind him. It’s starting to get darker, the lines of Even blurring in Isak’s sight. He looks more like a dream, dissolving into the room around him. Turning into a tendril of smoke.

“Do you like Nas?” Even asks.

There’s a beat.

“Um,” Isak says. “Sure?”

Even’s eyes sparkle. He looks amused, smoke billowing around him as though he’s a character from a TV show, from a film. The mysterious actor, tall and handsome, who invites random lighting guys back to his room. “Do you not know who Nas is?”

The panic and hesitation on Isak’s face must be clear, because Even shakes his head. “I can’t believe you don’t know Nas! His album, Illmatic?”

Isak shakes his head, wordlessly. “Sorry,” He says, “Guess I missed that one.”

“Shameful,” Even says, shaking his head. He doesn’t actually look that annoyed, though, amusement sparking in his eyes. “Solange Knowles loves Nas, you know.”

“Why would I care about that?” Isak asks, wrinkling his nose.

Even’s mouth falls open in a melodramatic imitation of shock. “Why would you care about that?” He says, gasping and putting a hand to his heart. “Have you really not heard A Seat at the Table? It was one of the best R'n'B albums that came out in 2016, man, and there was a lot of good music that came out then. I mean, all credit to Beyoncé, but Solange is a musical genius as well.”

Isak flushes, embarrassed. “Guess I missed that one, too. You’ll have to show me them, sometime.”

Even nods, flicking the ash of the joint into the mug he’s been using as an ashtray. “Next time,” He says. “Next time, I’ll have a playlist for you. All the great RnB and rap music that you’ve missed.” He tilts his head against the window, smiling at Isak.

“Sounds good,” Isak says, he curls his mouth up almost involuntarily, smiling back at Even. He reaches for the joint. It’s nearly at the end, now, and he pulls a face against his will as he inhales; the thick feeling of the smoke almost overpowering. “Ew,” He mutters, flicking the roach and the miniscule amount of the joint left into Even’s mug.

“I could roll another one?” Even says easily. He seems happy, content to stay sitting here. As he asks, he stretches his legs out slightly, so they catch against Isak’s, the heat from his skin pressing into Isak’s own. Isak watches him silently, and tries to imagine fitting that well inside his own body.

Even seems to take his silence as disagreement, as quickly as he pushed his legs out, he pulls them back in, curling himself up small. “Or do you have to be somewhere?” He asks, and it’s the first time that Isak has heard him sound anything less than sure.

Isak, for the first time since leaving the theatre, pulls out his phone. Generally, he avoids looking at it too much. There are normally several long paragraphs from his mum, bible scriptures that he tries to pretend he hasn’t seen.

Today, though, there aren’t any. Instead, there’s one text from Vilde, “Me and Eva are throwing a party the weekend after next! Clear your schedule xxx”, one from Jonas, “did you get Vilde’s text about the party? I swear, bro…”, and several from Eskild.

Eskild: Where are you?
Eskild: Thought we were having a flat movie night?!
Eskild: I can’t believe you’re ditching us, Isak…
Eskild: Jonas says you’re not with him. Where are you?
Eskild: Text me to let me know you’re not dead
Eskild: Isak, are you dead somewhere?
Eskild: Answer your guru!
Eskild: Isak…

Isak snorts out a laugh at the texts, shaking his head. “Fucking Eskild,” He mutters, tapping out a reply: Am fine. Sorry, went back to someone from the theatre’s house. See you later.

“Eskild?”

Isak looks up at Even, who’s watching him openly, unabashed. His eyes are so blue that Isak has to look straight back down at his phone. He feels caught out, embarrassed, even though Even is the one who’s staring at him. “Yeah,” He says, “Eskild. He’s, um. He’s my flatmate. Um, a couple years ago, when I was still in school. Some stuff was happening with my family, and I got really drunk at a club one night, right?”

“Right,” Even says, nodding seriously. He’s watching Isak carefully as he speaks.

“Right, um. Well, I got really drunk, and I didn’t want to go home, because of, um, my family. So I called Eskild and he, well, um. He was the one that gave me somewhere to stay.”

Isak bites his lip. He doesn’t know why he’s telling Even this stuff, why he can’t get his brain to shut off. The joint made him feel loose-limbed, his eyelids heavy, and he wants to make a joke, say something stupid just to break the tension, except nothing about how he ended up living with Eskild is funny at all.

“He sounds like a good guy,” Is all Even says. Isak shrugs.

“He is. Sometimes it’s a bit like having a babysitter, though,” Isak says, sighing.

“I know what that’s like,” Even replies. He’s still looking at Isak, his gaze a gentle weight. He looks oddly serious, now, the playfulness from earlier stripped away.

“How come?” Isak asks, curious.

Even opens his mouth, clearly about to reply, when there is the sound of the front door banging open. Even winces at the noise, shoulders hunching in.

“Even?” A female voice calls. “You in?”

‘Sonja’, Even mouths to Isak. He draws his knees up to his chest, tips his forehead down onto them. It looks almost as if he’s hiding; a child who doesn’t want his mother to pick him up from his friend’s house. Isak kicks his foot out, nudging him with his toes, and Even looks up at him again.

“I’m in my room, Sonja!” He calls, and smiles at Isak, except it seems to sit wrong on his face, somehow. As though he doesn’t really want to smile - like it’s not meeting his eyes.

There’s more sound from the hallway, and then the door is pushed open. Sonja doesn’t knock, Isak notices. He wonders if he should find that strange, even Eskild knocks, and his boundaries are far looser than Isak’s own. Judging by the begrudging acceptance of Even’s expression, though, this is common practice.

“Hey,” Sonja says. She’s pretty, objectively. Her hair is blonde, short, and slicked behind her ears. She’s wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans. She’s also frowning, severely. “Have you been smoking?”

“What does it matter?” Even asks, “We’re not dating anymore, Sonja. Do you get a right to ask me that?” He flashes her a smile, but it reminds Isak of the smile that the assistant stage manager gave him. It’s the sort of smile that’s all teeth, no substance.

Isak gets the feeling this is a fight he doesn’t want to be a part of.

Sonja flinches back from it. Her hands are digging into the frame of the door, knuckles going white with the force of it, and she looks uncomfortable, out of place in amongst Even’s things. Isak tries to imagine that they dated, once. Tries to imagine that they bought this house to live in together, as a couple.

It doesn’t work. The distance between them seems to large, too unbreakable.

“Right,” She says, and she shakes her head, slowly. “We’re not dating anymore, Even.” Her eyes flick to Isak, and she looks him up and down, slowly. It’s not judgemental, not rude, but Isak feels gangly and out of place anyway. He shifts, uncomfortable, and meets her stare full on. She doesn’t smile at him, but she does incline her head at him slightly; the faintest of nods, “Hey.”

Isak nods back, “Hey.”

“I’m Sonja,” Sonja says, gesturing at herself. This time, she does smile. It’s quick, gone almost as soon as it came, but it seems genuine. Isak almost feels bad for the way Even’s face has gone hard and closed off. For the way that the air in the room seems to have been sucked out with her presence.

“Isak.”

“Isak works at the theatre,” Even cuts in. “He’s a lighting technician.”

“Oh,” Sonja looks at Isak again. “Have you seen Even act, then?”

“Er,” Isak shifts on the windowsill. “No, not yet. I don’t really get to be out on the floor much, you know? I’m normally,” He waves a hand, vaguely at the ceiling, “Tucked away somewhere. Doing all the boring stuff.”

“Don’t lie,” Even says. “What you do is way more exciting than what I do.”

“Sure,” Isak says, rolling his eyes.

Sonja’s still looking between the two of them. She hasn’t made it past the doorway, hands still gripping the wood around the edges, as though she doesn’t know if she’s allowed to cross through. As though Even’s room is a sea she never learned how to swim.

“I was going to make food, for dinner?” She says it quietly, her voice going higher at the end in a question. “Are you staying, Isak?”

“Um,” Isak widens his eyes at Even, a silent question.

“Isak’s actually gotta get back, soon,” Even answers for him. He doesn’t look at Sonja when he speaks, keeping his eyes focused on Isak. “Think he’s doing something with his flatmates, yeah?”

Never let it be said that Isak can’t see when he’s outstayed his welcome. “Yeah,” He nods. Pushing himself to stand. “I’ll see you around, Even.”

Even’s smile is a sweet contrast to the angry way he addressed Sonja. “See you around, Isak,” He says, waving a little flutter of his fingers. “Gotta keep those lights working for me.”

He tries to wink, but it looks more like a blink than anything else. Against his better judgement, Isak finds it endearing. Like his flush, Even’s awkward inability to wink makes him touchable. Makes him more real, more attainable.

Except obviously he’s not.

As he brushes past Sonja on his way out the door, he tries his best to ignore the heavy weight of her eyes following his every move. Hunching his shoulders, he pulls on his shoes and slips out of the apartment. The sooner he stops thinking about the whole thing, the better.  

*

The second he gets home he is accosted by Eskild.

“Where were you?” He asks. He’s using the one inch of height he has over Isak to stare down at him, arms crossed as Isak takes off his coat and shoes. Isak rolls his eyes, gently shoving Eskild out of his way in the corridor, and going to slump down on one of the sofas.

“Relax, Eskild. It was one of the actors, from Romeo and Juliet, you know?”

Eskild raises his eyebrows. “Ah yes, Isak, because you’ve talked so enthusiastically about the people you work with before.”

Isak shrugs, trying to slide past Eskild to the kitchen. He’s hungry, Sonja’s talk of dinner made him realise how long it’s been since he’s properly eaten, and the last traces of weed in his system aren’t helping. Unfortunately, Eskild has never been cooperative at the best of times.

He effectively cuts in front of Isak, blocking his access.

“Jesus Christ, Eskild!” Isak says, flinging his hands out and scowling. Eskild doesn’t react to his outburst, other than to tut a couple of times, shaking his head slowly. It’s a move that makes Isak feel particularly childish. He grits his teeth at Eskild, who just shoots him a sunny smile.

“Now, Isak. There’s no need to be so grumpy with me. I just wanna know what you’ve been up to when we were all so worried about you.”

“I’m an adult, Eskild. I think I can look after myself.”

Eskild’s answer is to ruffle his hair and raise his eyebrows expectantly. “I know you’re an adult, now! Baby Isak, all grown up and off in the real world. Doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you, though.”

Isak looks up at the ceiling in exasperation. Considering his options, he really only has the one choice: to talk to Eskild. Sure, technically he could try to dodge around Eskild and make a run for it to the kitchen again, but it’s not worth it; Eskild would block him. Even if he did get around him, it’s not like their flat is sprawling, or like Isak has ever been any good at hiding.

Eventually, Isak sighs, meeting Eskild’s gaze head on. “Alright. What do you want to know?”

Eskild claps his hands together, bouncing back along the hall and finally letting Isak into the kitchen. Isak heads straight for the cupboard and pulls out a box of pasta, tipping it into a saucepan. Eskild shoots him a look as he does it; it’s technically Noora’s pasta that he’s using, and he knows that she’s going to scream at him for taking it later. Right now, though, he can’t bring it in himself to care. He’s starving, stomach growling loudly.  

Behind him, he can hear Eskild settling himself down. Isak braces himself for the interrogation.

“So, you were hanging out with an actor Isak, huh?” Looking around at Eskild, Isak sees that he’s folded himself over the counter, chin resting on his two hands. Isak turns back to his pasta.

“It’s really not a big deal.”

Isak hunches his shoulders, curving his body away from Eskild. It’s a lie. It’s maybe the biggest lie he’s ever told, and that’s counting all the times he told Jonas he was okay, or he thought a girl was hot, or all the times he’s shoved Eskild’s caring, concerned eyes off him and snapped that he’s not lying, he really doesn’t give a shit about who fucks who.

It’s a lie, because Even is a big deal. He’s tall and composed and funny, and talking to him made Isak feel possibility. Chance. Hope. Talking to Even made Isak feel like he could shake out of his own skin, and into the skin of someone else. A new Isak. An Isak that could hold hands with the person he liked, the person he wanted in the middle of Oslo. In the middle of New York City.

Behind him, Eskild sighs. “Why’s it not a big deal? Is he some rubbish part, like, extra number three or something? Isak, you know he’s not really a proper actor then, right? I mean, I was on prime-time NRK once, and you don’t see me go around claiming to be an actor.”

Isak snorts. “You were in the background of a news broadcast walking out of a kebab shop, of course that doesn’t make you a proper actor.”

“Details,” Eskild says, waving a hand dismissively. “We’re not talking about me; we’re talking about you and your ‘actor’ friend.”

Isak doesn’t need to be looking at Eskild to hear the air-quotes around actor.

The water for the pasta starts bubbling over, and Isak curses, moving it off the hob and putting it on the counter. He needs to strain the pasta, but the sink is on the other side of the kitchen, and he refuses to turn around and face Eskild. Instead, he speaks to him with his back turned. It’s rude, sure, but Eskild’s already seen him at more than his worse, so this won’t do much to change that. “He’s not an extra,” Isak tells him. “He’s playing Mercutio.”

Eskild whistles, low and impressed. “Well, well, well Isak! You’re rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Is he handsome?”

Isak winces at Eskild’s tone. Turning around slowly, he leans back against the counter and shakes his head. “No way, Eskild. You’re not sleeping with any of my co-workers. Please don’t.”

“I mean. He’s not really your co-worker is he? You’re so low down the ladder you’re practically working for him.”

Thanks, Eskild. I’m so glad I have my Guru to emotionally validate me.”

Eskild shoots him a grin, Isak’s sarcasm rolling off him easily. “So, is he handsome?”

“He’s straight,” Isak says, trying to keep the bitterness he feels when he thinks about it off his tongue. It’s not Even’s fault that he’s such a perfect representation of everything Isak wants but can’t have. Everything Isak wants but doesn’t know how to have.

Eskild slumps low onto the counter, frowning. “Disappointing,” He says. “How do you know?”

“He has an ex-girlfriend.”

Ex,” Eskild says, perking up again. It’s disorienting to watch. Sometimes, being friends with Eskild is like being friends with a Disney character.

Singing included.

“Ex-girlfriend that he lives with,” Isak emphasises. Eskild’s eyes bug wide in shock.

Good. It’s not just Isak that thinks that’s weird, then.

“He lives with her?”

“Yeah. I dunno, apparently they moved in together and then broke up,” Isak finally walks over to strain the pasta, tipping the water out. “It’s weird, right? That they still live together, I mean.” Isak looks down at his food; he debates putting the pasta into a bowl, but figures that it’s too much effort. Instead, he pours the water out, grabs some ready-made sauce from his own cupboard, and stirs it in.

Eskild makes a noise of disgust. “Honestly, Isak, it takes two minutes to get a bowl. How lazy are you?”

Isak pulls a face at Eskild. He pushes himself up onto the counter, balancing the pot on his knees. As soon as he’s comfortably settled, he takes a huge mouthful of the pasta, chewing loudly and with an open mouth so that Eskild is forced to look at the entire contents of his meal as Isak breaks it down. “Quicker this way,” He says. Still around a mouthful of food.

“You’re disgusting,” Eskild tells him.

Isak cheerfully gives him the finger, shoving more food into his mouth with his free hand. “You never answered my question. It’s weird that he lives with his ex-girlfriend, right?”

“Maybe it works for them. I mean, I don’t know many couples that have managed to stay friends after they broke up, but that’s not to say it isn’t possible,” Eskild shrugs. “Or maybe they just couldn’t afford to move somewhere else. He is an actor. It’s probably not the best paying job you could get.”

“I don’t think you can really insult people’s careers Eskild. What is it you do, again?”

Eskild sniffs. “I pay my rent on time, Isak. That’s what I do.”

“Right, okay,” Isak crosses his eyes at Eskild, the only face he can pull when he’s still trying to devour his pasta.

“I’m just saying, Isak. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

“Says you,” Isak laughs. Eskild doesn’t seem phased, wandering around the counter and stealing a piece of pasta out of the pot, despite Isak’s best attempts to pull it out of his reach. “Eskild.”

“Yes, Isak?” Eskild asks, putting the pasta into his mouth and winking. Isak rolls his eyes at him, kicking his feet out from the counter and catching Eskild’s hip. It’s not a hard kick, but Eskild still leaps back, pulling a horrified face and grabbing at his hip as though Isak’s shot him.

Ow! I express interest in your life, and this is how you repay me? Low, Isak. That’s low. I can’t believe this!”

“Stop bugging me, then,” Isak says.

“I’m not bugging you. I already told you, I’m expressing interest in your life! I’m trying to be a good Guru. And I’m living vicariously through your fancy, sophisticated actor friends,” He smirks. “Who may or may not be attractive, seeing as you never actually told me the answer to that.”

“I mean, I know you’re, like, technically an old man now, but really,” Isak deadpans. “You don’t have to ‘live vicariously’ through me. I’m sure there’s some guy out there who’ll still want to sleep with you. I mean, he might be recently divorced, kind of desperate and sad, but he’s out there.” Isak leans forward from the cupboards he’s leaning against and pats Eskild on the shoulder.  

“You used to be so nice,” Eskild says, mournfully.

“Did I?” Isak asks, “Maybe my niceness started to wither with your hairline.”

Eskild’s mouth falls open in mock horror. “Unbelievable,” He says, throwing up his hands and backing away from Isak. “You bring him into the home, you give him advice when he needs it, you ignore that one time he throws up on the floor –”

“That was Magnus!”

“- Fine, okay. So you say. I mean, you ignore the one time his 'friend’ throws up on the floor, and this is the kind of cheek you get for it.”

“It’s a hard world out there, Eskild,” Isak laughs.

“Hm,” Eskild says, turning away. He gives Isak the finger over his shoulder as he goes, though, and Isak doesn’t need to see his face to know that he’s smiling. If Eskild ever gets properly offended, he makes it clear. “Speak to you later, Isak.”

“See you, Easy E.”

Eskild’s laugh trails down the hall, and Isak can hear the snick of his door shutting when he is finally left alone.   

*

Isak gets a text from Sana early on Saturday morning. Blearily, he kicks himself out of his pile of ten blankets and grasps for the phone. It’s Isak’s only day off, and his plan is to sleep until two pm and then watch Netflix.

Sana: Hey.

Isak blinks at it for a while, wondering if she meant to text the ‘hey’ to someone else.

Really, it’s not as though Sana isn’t a good friend. She is, but in an absent sort of way. Sitting next to her in biology during second year had given them both a begrudging respect of each other.

So now, whenever they all inevitably end up at parties together, Isak will spend some of his time hunkered in a corner somewhere with Sana, debating whatever comes to mind first.

Once, at one of Mahdi’s parties, when Isak had drank a concerning amount of beer, Isak had decided to start telling her about how she was the coolest person that he knew, even cooler than Jonas, probably. He’d then staggered out of his chair, grabbed every person he could, and passed the message on.

Sana had been delighted with the whole thing. Every single time he’s seen her since, she’s brought it up. The thing is, though, Isak hasn’t seen her that much since. He’s definitely not seen her on her own, or made any plans with her.

The point being: Sana doesn’t usually text him.

He’s still staring at the phone screen in bleary, early morning confusion, when it vibrates again.

Sana: You know you have read receipts on, right? Stop freaking out about the fact that I texted you.
Sana: I mean, I know it must be a big deal, having the coolest person you know text you like this, but I think you can deal, right? Or did I severely overestimate you?

Isak blinks a couple more times, rubbing some of the sleep out of his eyes before hastily typing a reply.

Isak: No one could over estimate me? Im the best. Ever. Definitely cooler than you
Isak: and I was asleep until you texted. calm down about reply times!
Sana: I can’t believe you’d lie to yourself like this. We all heard you say it, Isak.
Sana: It’s 10. Why were you sleeping?
Isak: What is it you want from me? U are definitely only texting bc you need something from me. Don’t judge my sleeping habits! 10 is early. I haven’t had a day off in ages

The three dots appear. Isak watches Sana type with trepidation; the longer it takes her to finish the text, the more suspicious he gets. Finally, his phone buzzes.

Sana: Vilde’s ill and I really need an extra pair of hands over here. You’d get paid? Eva said to ask you.
Sana: Would really mean a lot.

Isak stares at the text wordlessly for a while.

After Nissen, Vilde and Sana had pooled together all their savings to open a tiny café in Grünerløkka. It’s called Kos, and Isak imagines the interior is the sort of thing that would happen if someone let the Disney princesses decorate a building.

Isak had jokingly told Sana that he loved her sense of interior design, once. Only once, because she'd given him one of her most disapproving stares and told him not to discredit Vilde’s work.  

Kos is now the soft of hipster establishments that sixteen-year-old girls frequent in order to get the perfect Instagram picture of a cup of coffee. The sort of place that nervous couples go on first dates. The sort of place that tourists wander into and exclaim over, elbowing each other for such a good find.  

It is, also, the sort of place that teenage guys have started awkwardly wandering into, though Isak thinks that has more to do with the fact that Eva tends to work there between university lectures than anything else.

Isak’s helped out a couple of times in the café; definitely more in the beginning, back when Vilde still looked like she would pass out from stress, and they needed everyone they could get because no one had any idea what they were doing. It’s been fine for ages, though. He hasn’t needed to deal with the pale pink walls since before he got his job working in the theatre.

Isak: I thought you had a girl that worked on the weekends? Emma, something… the one who tried to ask me out.
Sana: Emma Larzen. She took today off, and Eva’s looking after Vilde. There’s a reason I’m texting you.
Isak: Stress
Sana: Please. You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to.

Isak sighs, heavily. He takes a moment to lie in bed, looking up at the ceiling and thinking wistfully of how relaxing the day could have been. Then he kicks off the covers and staggers to standing.

Isak: ok. Will be there as soon as I can.
Isak: you owe me so much for this!

*

Isak is still half asleep when he gets to Kos. Pushing the door open, he stops in surprise at the amount of people there sitting down and eating. Every single one of the spindly, pastel tables is filled. A stressed looking Sana is standing behind the counter. The second she sees Isak, she looks so relieved that he almost feels bad about not running the whole way here.

“Isak!” She says. There’s no one queuing up, but she still looks like she’s about to keel over when she lets him join her behind the counter. One of the wings of her eyeliner is slightly smudged, and latte foam seems to be on the cuff of her sleeve.

Isak makes a note of them, takes one look at Sana’s face, and decides that he’ll take the information to his grave.

“Thanks so much for doing this, today,” She’s saying, now. “You can take orders and money and stuff, okay? Talk to customers when they come in.”

He blinks at her. “What are you going to do?”

She shoots him an unimpressed glare. “I’ll make the coffee. You can’t work the machine, can you?”

“I can,” Isak says, around a yawn. He’s still half asleep; it’s a miracle he even managed to get dressed before he staggered through the door, and Sana is going to owe him for life for doing this. “Eva showed me how when you guys first opened, but I’m fine with working the cash register if that’s what you’d prefer. I mean, has it just been you on your own all day? It’s so busy!”

“Yes,” Sana says, flatly. “So you can see why I texted.”

Isak nods, trying to look apologetic. “I came as fast as I could.”

“It’s fine,” Sana says. “Thanks for doing this.”

“Well, you do owe me one now. Couldn’t miss out on an opportunity for leverage.”  

She rolls her eyes, “Oh? How’s that, then? I mean, you are getting paid for this.”

“Yeah, but you also dragged me out of bed on my day off. You know what I’m owed, though, Sana. Something close to ten percent, I think.”

He laughs as he says it, acknowledging the uncomfortable start to their friendship. Sana, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to deem him worthy of a proper response. Instead, she levels him with a glare, before turning away from him and starting to clean the espresso machine with vigour.

Isak would bet money that it’s only to hide her own smile.

*

Sana gives Isak a break after a couple of hours; shooing him to the back, she tells him that he can have a free cup of coffee and one of the sandwiches before he has to start working again.

Isak rolls his eyes at her, claiming that a free sandwich on his day off still doesn’t make them even, but takes the opportunity gratefully. Even now at twelve-thirty, after focusing his attention on the stream of people visiting Kos, he can still feel the last remnants of sleep clinging to him. He sits in the tiny office in the back, savouring the hot drink.

When he walks back into the café, it’s cleared out a bit. Those who were in for a late breakfast or early lunch have gone, though it’s still not empty. The quiet lull of conversation is relaxing, blending nicely with the strange indie music that Sana’s playing over the shops speakers.

“I’m going to take my break now,” Sana says. “You’ll notice I waited until it was almost empty for you. I mean, you say that Eva taught you how to use the coffee machines, and I guess you’re passable at this, but, you know, I can’t be too careful.” She smiles, so that he knows she’s messing with him. Isak pulls a face at her.

Passable? I am the best fucking barista you have ever seen. I make you and Vilde look like fools. Honestly, the only reason that Kos didn’t have to close down today is because of me.”

“Yeah, yeah,” She says. She’s not really looking at him, instead focused on something over his shoulder. Isak hears the chime of the bell above the door, and figures that it’s a new customer. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes, try not to kill any of our regulars.”

Isak gives her the finger. She raises her eyebrows at him, mouth falling open in an imitation of shock and one hand resting on her chest, before she turns and walks away. She does the finger back at him over her shoulder, and Isak laughs. shaking his head in amusement.

Turning back to face the latest customer, Isak’s heart drops into his stomach, then jumps back up to his chest and starts hammering triple time.

“Wow,” Even says. His hands are in the pockets of his green coat, and he rocks back onto the toes of his feet. “You really are everywhere.”

Isak splutters incoherently, running a hand through his hair. “I’m everywhere? Sorry, are you not the one that sought me out? I was here first!”

Even laughs, “I think you’ll find that I’m a regular here.”

Isak remembers Sana warning him not to kill any of the regulars before she’d walked away, but he’d assumed she meant general people. Anyone else in Oslo. The rest of the world.

In no scenario had he pictured turning around and finding Even standing there, smiling. Casually ruining Isak’s life.

“So do you work here as well?” Even asks. “It’s weird that I’ve not seen you in here before.” His head tilts to the left, and his eyes are open and curious.

“I know Sana and Vilde,” Isak says, looking down at the counter in front of him. “They own the place? I’m helping Sana out today, because Vilde’s sick.”

“Ah,” Even says. He nods, smiling. He’s still bouncing slightly on the toes of his feet, and it’s distracting to watch. It makes Isak feel tongue-tied and overwhelmed, as though he’s trying to keep up with someone who’s already too far ahead.

“So, um, what do you want?” Isak asks. He stumbles over the words, awkward and unsure.

Even’s smile doesn’t fade. “Just a plain coffee,” He says, “Black, no sugar.”

“Coming right up.”

“You know,” Even starts. Isak can’t see him anymore, after turning his back to start making the coffee. He doesn’t need to see Even to hear the amused note in his voice, though. He doesn’t need to see Even to note the casual way he lilts the you know into the beginning of a question.

“I know, what?”

“Well, it’s just. Getting served by a barista this cute was always a dream of mine. It happens so often in the movies, I always wanted it to happen to me in real life. And now it is!”

Isak jerks in surprise at Even’s words, and his hand slips on the coffee cup he’s moving. It clatters against the counter. It’s soft enough that the rest of the café continues on; Even’s gaze is still weighed and heavy on his back, though, and Isak knows that he heard.

“Um,” He stutters out, shutting his eyes and taking an embarrassed breath in. He knows, without seeing his own face reflected back to him in the shine of the coffee machine’s metal that he’s gone red.

“It’s okay,” Even says, still to Isak’s back. “I’m used to people feeling overwhelmed by me.”

Isak laughs a little. It’s an awkward snorting sound, and he ducks his head as soon as it’s happened, self-conscious. Focusing on making Even’s drink, he finishes and turns around slowly. His eyes meet Even’s, and Even hands over one of Kos’s pink loyalty cards easily.

“Don’t tell me how much I owe you,” He says, passing over the correct amount of kroner as well,  “I’m here all the time. I know how ridiculously overpriced Sana and Vilde have set the menu.” His mouth goes kind of crooked at this, gently teasing. Isak stamps the card and passes it back to him, trying not to fumble too awkwardly.

“I was told I’m not supposed to talk to the actors,” Isak says, as he slides the mug over to Even.

Even’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “What?”

“Yeah. The, um, the assistant stage manager guy. He gave me this big lecture on the fact I’m only lighting so I’m not, like, worthy to look upon the ground you walk, or something,” Isak shrugs. “There was a lot of spit.”

Even laughs outright at that, head flinging back. “He does spit an awful lot, doesn’t he? It’s terrible. He’s like a movie villain, but a really terrible, cheesy one. Very Austin Powers, almost. Did he really say that you’re not supposed to speak to me?”

Isak nods. “Yeah, it was like, a whole thing. Only then, um, Marte told me to go and speak to Ella about you and the guy that plays Tybalt running a scene, so I guess that he was kind of overruled.”

Even nods, “Good,” He says. “Marte has the right idea, anyway. You’re too pretty to be hidden away up in lighting.”

“Um.”

Even doesn’t seem phased by Isak’s complete inability to verbalise anything. Instead, he smiles, effortless and collected as always. “Seeing as we’ve already broken the rules, though, I guess it’s safe to ask you what time you get off?” He asks the question so casually, leaning against the counter and picking up his small mug of coffee.  

“Um,” Isak says again, feeling unsteady. “I don’t know, really? Whenever Sana doesn’t need me. Which is, um, probably closing time, I guess.”

“That’s chill,” Even says. “I’m not doing anything today, so, do you want to hang out afterwards?”

“Sure?” Isak says. Even’s eyes crinkle up happily. He reaches across the counter between them and slaps Isak on the shoulder.

Isak feels the weight of his hand down to his bones.

*

When Sana comes out of the back room, she nods at Even, who’s sitting at one of the little tables towards the back. He grins widely at her in response, and her mouth quirks up. She lifts her hand, flicking him a little wave. It’s familiar, in a way that Sana isn’t with people normally. It figures that she wasn’t joking about Even being a regular at Kos. It figures that Even loves hipster coffee shops like this.

It figures that now Even’s a presence in Isak’s life, he isn’t going to be able to shake him. Now that he knows there are guys like Even out there he’s not going to be able to avoid them: no way that he’ll be able to escape the swooping feeling in his stomach. There’s no way he’ll be able to escape the clammy feeling in his hands, the flush in his cheeks. The way that he loses all semblance of calm.

Sana walks up beside him. “So, you didn’t scare off Even.”

It’s a statement, not a question. Isak looks at her out of the side of his eye, frowning. He can see that she’s trying not to laugh at him. “You have so little faith in me,” He says. “How long has he been coming in here?”

Sana shrugs, “Pretty much since we opened the café. He’s friends with my brother, Elias. They went to Bakka together.”

“Oh,” Isak blinks. He wonders if Even ever came in back when he used to help out regularly, and then dismisses the thought: there’s no way that he wouldn’t notice someone like Even. His presence is so loud, so obvious in the room, that he takes up all of Isak’s attention even sitting fifteen feet away. Isak feels like he’s hyper aware of every movement Even makes.

“Yeah,” Sana’s piling dirty mugs into a tray, and loading them into the dishwasher. “He was the one that left those leaflets about the theatre here, actually,” She looks over at Isak and smiles; the particular Sana brand of smile that normally means I’m about to tell you information that’s going to floor you. “I guess you owe Even your current job, huh? Vilde never would have known about it if it wasn’t for him.”

Isak wets his lips. “Huh,” He says, with as little inflection as possible.

Sana just rolls her eyes, “Are you coming to Vilde and Eva’s party, next Saturday?” She asks, “We’re not even going to be opening Kos on Sunday because of it. Vilde’s really gone all out on this one.”

Isak nods, Sana nods back. They go the next forty minutes in silence; it’s probably the most oddly comfortable friendship of his life.

*

Even stays in Kos until the closing time. He stays at the same table he sat down in the beginning, after Isak gave him his drink. Though Isak shoots him frequent glances, he seems to spend the whole time bent almost in half over his phone. He types with his two pointer fingers, painfully slow, and with his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

Isak betrays himself by being endeared to this, instead of concerned.

Swallowing against the dryness in his throat, he turns back to Sana. She’s watching him with a hopelessly knowing look on her face. Not for the first time, Isak finds himself wishing that she wasn’t so perceptive.

“I can do the rest of this, if you want,” She says. “You can go on with Even,” At this, she raises her voice slightly, and Even pulls his head up from his phone.

“We’re leaving?” He asks.

“I hope so,” Sana says. “I wasn’t planning to leave you two here overnight.”

“Ah, but think of the fun we could have!”

Sana doesn’t look impressed. “That’s exactly why you’re not staying,” She says, making shooing motions at the two of them. “Go on, I said I can pack up on my own.”

Isak pulls a face at her, untying the apron from his back and hanging it up. “See if I help you again,” He grumbles.

Even laughs. As he does so, his head falls back and the long line of his neck is visible. Isak traces the outline of his Adam’s apple with his eyes, far too aware that Sana is still standing beside him. Far too aware that he’s being far too obvious.

Even shifts, so that now he’s leaning elegantly over the counter between him and Isak. His wrists hang over the edges, and he looks between the two of them, amused. “How was Isak, really, then?”

Sana smirks. “He was,” She trails off, seemingly searching for the right word. Isak watches her, unimpressed. “- Acceptable. He was acceptable at this, I guess. We managed to scrape by,” She sighs, purposefully dramatic, and moves one of the clips that holds her hijab in place, eyes looking off into the distance. “I guess it could have been worse.”

“Wow. I single handedly saved your business, Sana. Don’t forget that.”

Even’s cheeks dimple, his eyes still flicking between the two of them. “Sounds like you did okay, Isak,” He says, letting his face go serious. “I guess I can let you live.”

Isak pulls a face. “What? You’re both ganging up on me?”

Even nods, reaching an arm across the counter and pulling Sana towards him. She goes, if somewhat begrudgingly, and Isak watches with mild fascination as she lets Even wrap an arm around her shoulder. Sana rarely tolerates people in her personal space – Isak has seen few people other than the girls manage to successfully breach it - so to see her so willingly lean into Even now is surprising.

“It’s not our fault,” Even says, “You’re very easy to gang up on.”

Isak doesn’t know what to say back to that. He just stands there, gaping wordlessly in offense. Even says nothing, but his eyebrows raise and he looks amused again, smile gentle on his face. Isak deflates.

Sana gently untangles herself from Even, but she’s smiling, too. “Anyway, you can both leave now. I can manage to lock this place up on my own.”

“Bye, Sana,” Even waves at her, a ripple of his fingers, from his pinkie finger inwards, “Give my love to your mother. Oh, and say hey to Yousef, won’t you?”

Sana nods, though Isak barely catches it. He’s too caught up in Even’s movements. Watching them make him feel stupid, ridiculous; he can’t believe that Even can make something that’s as simple as waving attractive. He can’t believe he’s letting himself admit that he finds it attractive. Even doesn’t seem to notice Isak’s distress, instead turning to Isak and tilting his head to the side. “You coming?” He asks.

Isak swallows. “Yeah,” He says, “Bye, Sana.”

“Bye,” Sana says.

*

Even seems excited when they leave Kos. He’s bouncing on his feet again, shoulder’s moving slightly under the oversized denim jacket he has on; it’s a movement so small Isak doesn’t think that he would notice it were he not so aware of Even’s very presence, heavy and visceral beside him.

“What’s the plan, then?” Isak asks, he allows himself to tilt closer to Even as they start walking, their arms and elbows knocking together as they move. Even looks between them and smiles, pressing even closer again – so the contact is less random. It makes Isak’s breath catch.

“I don’t really have one,” Even replies, shrugging, “Sometimes it’s fun not to have a plan, no?”

Isak narrows his eyes. “You mean you waited in Kos for hours and you don’t even have a plan?”

“Do you need a plan?” Even asks, looking down at Isak. “Are you the sort of person that needs a plan? Do you get stressed without a plan?” He looks amused, his tongue poking into the corner of his mouth.

“I don’t need a plan; I just think it’s better if you have a plan.”

Even grins, throwing his arm around Isak’s shoulders and pulling Isak in closer to his body. Isak stumbles against him, unsure whether he should accept the contact as it comes, or push away for fear that he’ll look too obvious. Even doesn’t seem bothered; he huffs out a quiet laugh, before letting Isak go just as easily.

“So you want me to have a plan?” He asks. Isak tries not to pout.

“I don’t see what’s wrong with having an idea in mind. There’s nothing wrong with being organised.”

“Of course there isn’t,” Even says, placating. “And don’t worry, Isak. For you, I have the best plan ever.”

Isak squints at him suspiciously. “Did you just come up with it? Because, if you did, that’s not so much a plan as it is an idea and –”

“Do you want to hear what we’re doing or not?” Even says, his mouth is still curled in clear amusement. Isak huffs, looking away from Even. Adjusting his snapback awkwardly, he looks back up.

“Alright, what are we doing?”

Even’s grin is wide and dangerous. “Do you want to go swimming?”

What?”

*

Even has a bike chained up down a little side street, a couple of minutes’ walk away from Kos. He stops at it, gesturing to the shiny silver of the body. It’s unremarkable, as far as bikes go, but Even looks proud. “I bought this one recently,” he says, “You can ride on the back, if you want. Or the front, though there’s not a basket, and you’re a lot prettier than ET.”

Isak looks at him, wordlessly. Clearly the expression on his face doesn’t look that happy at Even’s suggestion – because Even falters, and begins to backtrack. “Sorry, didn’t mean to assume! Maybe you’re weird about touching. We can just walk while I push it, if that’s better.”

Isak can’t quite work out a logical way to tell him that it’s not touching anyone that makes him feel panicked. It’s just Even; the idea of being forced to stay that consistently close to him makes his whole ribcage like it’s tightening up, pressing close against his heart. Even stands there, looking at him wordlessly. He doesn’t push for an answer – endlessly patient with Isak.

“Um,” Isak says, eventually. “No, it’s fine. I can ride on the back.”

“Cool,” Even smiles. He ducks down onto his haunches and unlocks the bike, wheeling it away from the wall before slinging his leg over so that he’s sitting down on the saddle. He looks up at Isak; the look on his face an uncontained sort of happy.

“Don’t forget to grab on! I don’t have helmets, so we’re breaking loads of health and safety rules today.”

“You’re such a rebel,” Isak shoots back. Even laughs.

“That’s me,” He says, “Young, free, dashing and rebellious. I’m the sort of guy your mum told you to stay away from,” He turns to look over his shoulder at Isak, still smiling.

“You seem it,” Isak says, “Really wild, uncontained.”

“Everyone likes a bit of danger. A bit of wild, uncontained bad boy. You know, a Romeo,” He winks terribly at this, and Isak laughs despite himself.

“Oh, so that’s what we’re looking for?” Isak asks.

“That’s what everyone’s looking for. The bad boy who’ll sweep you off your feet,” He laughs, careless and seemingly without concern.

Isak swallows dryly, praying that the embarrassment coursing through him at Even’s question isn’t quite as obvious as it feels. “Why?” He asks, “Do you want a bad boy in your life, Even?”

Even’s smile doesn’t fade so much as it grows softer, the crinkles beside his eyes fading a little as he watches Isak. He’s still sitting on the bike, neck twisted around so that he can look Isak full on. “I want something like that,” He says.

“Right,” Isak replies. He approaches the bike slowly. He’s torn - stuck between feeling ridiculous at his own hesitation, and running away from Even and everything he represents, everything he could come to be.

He shakes his head at himself, and hesitantly, he sits down on the luggage rack hooked to the back of the bike.

He’s trying not to look at the curve of Even’s spine. Trying not to look at the way his shirt clings to his skin as he leans forward, the bumps of his vertebrae clearly visible. He’s trying not to think about how if he put his hand to them, Even’s skin would be warm.

He’s trying, but he’s failing.

“So, Isak,” Even says, “Do you want to go swimming?”

Even has finally turned around, now, so he’s no longer looking at Isak. As he speaks, he places his feet on the pedals, pushing them around to begin a wobbly cycle. Isak clutches the bike-rack, awkwardly holding himself so that he’s not leaning against Even as the bike starts to slowly pick up speed.

“You were serious about that?” Isak asks.

As they move, Isak sees the shift of Even’s shoulders in a shrug. “Yeah? Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Um, because we don’t have any stuff to go swimming in?”

Even laughs, the sound of it carrying back to Isak as they continue to cycle, “What does that matter?”

“I’m not going swimming in my clothes,” Isak cries.

“Who says you’ll be wearing them?” Even shoots back. Isak chokes on nothing, clenching his hands so tight onto the metal of the bike rack that the skin across his knuckles goes white.

Even ,” he says, “I’m also not going swimming naked.”

Even sighs, loud and over the top, “Fine. I guess I can find us something else to do.”

He takes a sharp right round a corner, and Isak’s body tilts along with the frame of the bike. Without thinking about it, he lifts one hand from the bike rack and instead clutches it to the bone of  Even’s hip, gripping him tight and using Even’s body to hold himself steady. Even doesn’t flinch at Isak’s touch, instead, he lets his body sway into it gently, so that he’s pressing against Isak’s hand.

Slowly, carefully, Isak moves his arm so that it’s looped fully around Even’s waist. Isak grits his teeth against the wave of panic that’s rising up from such a simple action - his heart pounding double time as he moves forwards so he’s leaning his front fully against Even’s back.

Even doesn’t respond verbally, but his shoulders visibly sink a little lower, tipping himself so that he’s pressed against Isak more securely. He takes another sharp turn, and Isak grits his teeth against it.

“Where are we going?” He says muffled into Even’s back. Even laughs, his body moving against Isak’s as he does so.

“Not swimming,” Is the reply. Isak uses the hands he has wrapped around Even to poke him in the stomach, hard.

“That’s not an answer.”

“Maybe it’s a surprise.”

“Wow, you love surprises, don’t you?”

“Yep,” Even says, popping the ‘p’ obnoxiously. Isak pokes him again, and Even flinches away from it, the bike swerving a little as he does. “Ow! You know, you’re not supposed to argue with the designated driver?”

“I don’t see anyone driving anywhere,” Isak says, tightening his arms around Even, “Besides, I go down, I take you down with me.”

“Very Thelma and Louise.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Isak says.

Even snorts, turning his head so that Isak can see the slope of his nose, the furrow of his brow. He sounds disappointed when he asks, “Thelma and Louise? You haven’t heard of Thelma and Louise?”

“No.”

“It’s a film? An American road trip film? It came out in 1991, and it was directed by Ridley Scott. So, you know, it’s really famous. Because Ridley Scott is an amazing man.”

“I don’t know who he is, either.”

Wow,” Even says, “You’re really testing me, bro. Ridley Scott? You really don’t know who he is?”

“No! I wouldn’t lie about that, Even. I have no idea who Ridley Scott is.”

“You’re hurting me right now. I’m hurt, physically. My soul is shrivelling,” Even says, “You haven’t heard of the man that directed Alien? Blade Runner? Gladiator? The Martian?”

Isak shrugs against Even’s back, “No. Sorry, man. I told you I wasn’t that into films. I’ve only seen Blade Runner, and that was because my friend Magnus likes it.”

Even brakes suddenly, and Isak is smashed into his back with the momentum, his feet slipping from their precarious perch and dragging along the pavement. “Okay,” Even says; seemingly unbothered by Isak’s ungainly landing, twisting the upper half of his body around so that he can look Isak fully in the eye, “Change of plan.”

“I don’t think you can really change the plan if you never had one in the first place,” Isak comments, and Even narrows his eyes playfully at him.

“Just get back on the bike,” Even says.

Isak pulls a face at him, but complies anyway, sliding back onto the luggage rack once more. This time, he wraps his arms around Even straight away, letting himself drop his head into the space between Even’s shoulder blades. Even doesn’t exactly smell nice - more like sweat and weed than anything else - but he’s still solid under Isak’s arms. Still a stable enough weight to lean on.

Isak doesn’t really pay attention to the rest of the journey. He’s too caught up in Even, too entranced with the simplicity of having a boy in his arms.

The whole thing, every moment of this bike ride, is making his heart pound hard in his chest. Each beat of it reverberating through his ribcage so deeply he wonders if Even himself can feel it. Isak feels lightheaded with excitement, with the possibility of the whole thing.

Isak Valtersen doesn’t want boys, but Isak Valtersen just might want Even Bech Næsheim.

When Even breaks the bike this time, they’re outside the block of flats that Isak recognises as Even’s own. “What are we doing here, then?” He asks; Even smiles, bending down to lock his bike up against the small rack outside the building.

“We’re having a movie night. Last time I told you about music, this time I’m telling you about films. Besides, Sonja’s spending the weekend visiting her parents, so she won’t come back to interrupt us this time.”

“Ah, I see,” Isak rolls his eyes; he’s trying to ignore the way his heart has started pounding at the idea Even would consider Sonja an interruption between the two of them. “So this is your great plan, then? To turn the rest of the world into the kind of hipster that you are?”

Even laughs, standing up from the ground beside his bike and brushing the dirt from the pavement off his ridiculously skinny jeans, “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend!” He says, in English, “I’m educating you on the important things in life.”

Isak blinks, “What was that first bit?”

Even grins, sharp and quick, “It was Shakespeare. I am a professionally trained actor, you know?”

“I didn’t,” Isak replies, “Do you know what I do know, though?”

“What?”

“You are such a hipster,” Isak says. Even just grins, bumping his shoulder against Isak’s fondly as they both press their way into Even’s flat.

*

“Okay,” Even says, looking through the shelves in his room. “We could start with Ridley Scott, or we could start with the best director of all time.”

“Who’s that, then?”

Even turns back around, brandishing the DVD copy of that Noora had gotten him a while back, “Baz Luhrmann,” He says, victoriously.

“I’ve actually seen that one,” Isak says, perched awkwardly on the bed.

Even blinks at him, looking down at the DVD in his hand in surprise, “You haven’t seen Alien, but you’ve seen this?”

“Yeah,” Isak runs a hand through his hair, embarrassed, “My flatmate, uh, Noora, she got it for me when I got the job. She said that I should know what I was working for.”

“Sounds like your flatmate has good ideas,” Even smiles.

“It’s been known to happen,” Isak says, “Really, I’m the brains of the flat, though.”

“Oh really?” Even says, “Well, did the brain of the flat like the treasure of Baz Luhrmann’s great collection then?” He waves the DVD in front of Isak as if to further his point.

Isak averts his eyes, praying that his face won’t give away: I cried alone in my room while watching it.

“It was alright,” He says, sniffing. Even smirks.

“Did you cry?” He asks, Isak pulls a face at him.

No, I didn’t cry,” He says, defensively. Even’s smile grows wider - as though the more Isak defends it the more he’s giving himself away.

“It’s okay, Isak, Baz Luhrmann creates beautiful love stories. You’re supposed to cry at them.”

“They both died,” Isak says.

Even shakes his head, still smiling, “The real beauty is in the tragedy though, is it not?”

Isak squints at Even, disbelievingly. “Sure,” He says, “Whatever you say.”

Even laughs, turning back to the shelf of DVDs and rooting through it again. When he turns back around, he’s holding Moulin Rouge in his hand. “Isak,” Even says, throwing both arms out wide and grinning disconcertingly over at him, “If you liked Romeo and Juliet, you will love this.”

Isak looks at him suspiciously.

*

Two hours later, Isak and Even are enclosed in a circle of duvets and blankets. Isak’s head is basically leaning on Even’s shoulder; though there’s a pillow and a blanket, as well, so Isak’s not sure it really counts.

Even is openly crying. He’s got a hardback book on his lap, and he’s been trying to roll a joint for the past quarter of an hour, except he keeps looking up at his laptop is propped on a desk chair, and sniffing audibly. At one point Isak heard him mutter, “I’m so sorry Christian,” under his breath.

Isak would laugh at him, except that he’s wiped his eyes not so subtly a few times on the duvet wrapped around him, and he doesn’t think that Even would let it slide.

The credits start to roll at the same time Even finally finishes rolling the joint, “Aha!” He says, holding it up, so close to Isak’s face that he has to go cross-eyed to look at it properly. “What did you think of the movie, then?”

“It was even more depressing that Romeo and Juliet,” Isak says, grumpily. He knows that he’s still a little red around the eyes, but Even is too, so he figures that it’s okay.

Even laughs, “I know,” He says, “Though I think that half of that is because everyone knows the ending of Romeo and Juliet, whereas with Moulin Rouge it’s more of a surprise.”

“That doesn’t work though,” Isak frowns, “Because Christian’s first line in the movie is about how the woman he loves is dead.”

“Oh,” Even scratches at his chin, looking thoughtful, “That’s true. I don’t know,” He smiles again, sticking the joint in his mouth and fishing around the blanket pile for a lighter. “Maybe it’s the magic of Baz Luhrmann,” He says, finding a purple clipper under a pillow and slowly lighting up.

“Maybe,” Isak says, reaching out and taking the joint off Even. As he does so, their fingers brush. Isak doesn’t pull away instantly; he lets his hand rest there for a second longer than is normal. He can feel his heart beating, the rhythm of it so heavy it’s present even in his wrists, but the look that Even shoots him is loaded, his eyebrows drawn, his mouth pursed.

Isak takes a toke of the joint, breathing in deeply and following the way Even’s eyes  carefully track the movement of his hand, the shape of his lips.

The whole moment feels suspended in time, in space. Isak feels shaky, wrong-footed. He feels as though Even’s bedroom was jettisoned out of Oslo, out of Norway, and now they’re both alone, just floating in the air.

Isak feels like they’re the only two people for thousands and thousands of miles.

For the first time, Isak is faced with the possibility that kissing a boy might become a very real reality. He is faced with the fact that this is the point of no return. This is the last he can ever deny this thing he’s always known about himself.

All that’s left in this universe is him and Even, and Isak Valtersen is about to kiss a boy.

Even is quiet beside him, real and alive and so filled with possibility that Isak feels like he’s overflowing with it all. He exhales. The smoke from his breath out pools between them both. The room feels as though it is contained within a film, or a photograph, hazy and unreal.

Except, then Even is leaning forwards, and then -

Then they’re kissing.

Even’s mouth is warm, and wet, and Isak feels like he’s melting into it. He’s kissed people before - at parties, in games of truth or dare, spin the bottle - but none of those kisses have ever felt like his. He feels like his head is on fire, like the rest of him has gone cold.

With one hand, Even gently takes the - still lit - joint off Isak, putting it out and setting it in an ashtray lying beside them. With his other hand, he tangles it into Isak’s hair, tugging him closer. Isak goes eagerly; he feels desperate and giddy. He feels as though he never wants to stop, like his body could survive off kissing Even alone.

Even leans back slowly into the bed, pulling Isak with him so that they’re both lying flat, facing each other. Even’s hand is still in Isak’s hair, pressed between Isak’s head and the bed itself, using his grip to move Isak softly to wherever Even wants him. His other hand has moved again; now it’s pressed to Isak’s waist, under the material of the shirt, resting directly on Isak’s skin.

It’s not anything other than kissing - just lips and tongues and Even’s hand, right there, on his waist - but Isak still feels like he’s going to shake right out of his skin.

“Have you ever done this before?” Even asks, softly, Isak flushes.

“No,” He says, stuttering, “Well, uh. Eskild, my flatmate? The um, the club that he picked me up from, when I didn’t want to go home? That was a gay bar. But, uh, I didn’t really, like. I didn’t accept this part of myself for a long time, so even when I was there, I was too scared to go through with it. So, um, I’ve kissed girls before, but you’re the first guy.”

Even’s face is soft, and he bites his bottom lip, looking over Isak’s face carefully. “I’m glad,” He says, bending down and kissing Isak on the mouth again, “I’m glad that you trust me enough for this, Isak,” Another kiss. “Thank you.”

Isak just shuts his eyes, leaning into each one of the kisses. This whole thing feels monumental; he feels outside of his own body, he feels as though every single atom in the universe has lined up perfectly, just for him to have this moment right here.

*

Of course, Isak isn’t the kind of person who gets to stay within perfect moments.

Just as Even’s hand moves slightly higher on his waist, slowly sliding up over his ribs: they’re interrupted by the sound of a phone going off, loud and obnoxious.

Even pulls away my from Isak, wrinkling his nose in a way that really makes Isak want to kiss him again.

“Is that your phone?” He asks, and Isak nods, frowning.

“I think so,” He fully untangles himself from the circle of Even’s arms, trying not to miss the warmth of it. His phone is still going off, stuck in the tangle of begging at the foot of the bed. Isak roots it out, squinting at the display name to see exactly who it is that’s hell bent on ruining his life.

Incoming Phone Call: Dad

Isak blinks. He’s aware of Even shifting, moving so that he’s sitting up as well. His arm comes up to wrap around Isak’s waist, fingers idly shaping vague patterns on the bone of Isak’s hip. He looks down at the phone display as well, and huffs.

“Of course it’s a parent,” He says, snorting and pressing a kiss to Isak’s cheek. Isak flushes at the attention, squirming as his phone finally rings off. “It’s like they know, isn’t it? They know just how to ruin things,” Even goes on, still leaning close enough that the shape of his words leave trails on Isak’s skin.

“Do your parents live in Oslo?” He asks, after a few moments of silence.

Isak nods, “Yeah, they’ve both lived here forever. Dad was born here, but mum moved up to go to school; they met at the University of Oslo.”

“Mm,” Even says, smiling against Isak’s face, “My parents live here too. I have to pop in, see them at least once a month. Mum worries, otherwise.”

“Oh,” Isak says, shortly. He doesn’t really know what else to say to that. Even must sense it, because he pulls his face away, looking at Isak curiously.

“Do you not see your parents much, then?”

“Erm, well,” Isak chews on his bottom lip, averting his gaze from Even’s, and focusing on the opposite wall - where Even has some sloppily pinned up drawings of a girl in a hijab. “It’s like. Um. Well, I haven’t really seen my parents since I was seventeen, when I moved in with Eskild and Noora and Linn.”

His voice is shaking, slightly. He hates talking about this stuff - struggles even with Jonas, who was there for all of it and knows not to ask the pushy questions. Even’s hand is still tracing gentle movements onto his hip, though, and it’s easier to say this all when he as something to focus on.

“That’s strange,” Even says, bending forwards and pressing a kiss to the material of Isak’s t-shirt - right over the curve of his shoulder. “Did something happen with them, or?”

“Um, yeah, well,” He bites his lip for a couple more seconds, before shutting his eyes and taking a deep breath in. He figures, he owes Even this explanation - Even, who is his first kiss who meant something. Even, who is still sitting beside him, so patiently waiting. “It’s like, um. It’s like, my mother is crazy.”

Abruptly, Even’s fingers freeze on Isak’s hips.

Isak swallows past the lump in his throat - trying not to choke on it all. Part of him knew this would happen; no one wants to be with someone that’s carrying around as much emotional baggage as Isak. No one wants to meet the parents with the threat that Isak’s mum poses.

“In what way?” Even asks, and his voice is quieter than it was a moment ago; he sounds more distant.

“Um. She’s very confused, all the time. She, er, she talks a lot about God, and sin, and how we’re all going to hell if we don’t live our lives a certain way. She gets stressed a lot, too, and then panics and yells. It’s. Um. It’s hard to be around her, sometimes,” He can feel Even tensing up beside him, hear the way his own voice is cracking. This is awful - this is nothing like how he would have imagined it, had he let himself imagine it.

Still, it’s like Even said: parents always know how to ruin things.

“So you moved out?” Even asks. Isak nods again.

“Yeah,” He says, swallowing in an attempt to reintroduce saliva to his mouth. “Yeah,” He repeats, “I just. Um, I just figured that my life is better without mentally ill people around me.”

There’s silence for a few moments, heavy and oppressive in the warmth of Even’s room. Even still has his arm around Isak’s waist, but it’s a dead weight - he’s no longer tracing patterns on Isak’s skin.

“I’m sorry,” Isak says, and Even looks at him, surprised.

“Sorry for what?” He asks, he laughs softly; an exhale that’s barely there. “Sorry for what?” He says, again, “You didn’t say anything that wasn’t probably true.”

He leans forward again, pressing his lips once, twice, three times to Isak’s. They’re quick, open mouthed kisses - as though Even can’t quite bring himself to pull away. It makes Isak’s eyes slip shut, and he leans into the weight of Even without even realising that he’s doing it.

Even separates them by pushing, gently at Isak’s shoulders.

“You should probably go,” He says, counteracting his own point by pressing another quick kiss to the bone above Isak’s eyebrow. “You have to be at work tomorrow, don’t you?”

Isak nods, feeling a little dazed at all the attention Even’s given him. “Yeah,” He says, “Got an early start. We’re in the final stretch so I’m going to be setting lights with Leif, and stuff.”

Even smiles, “You’re so important for the theatre, Isak,” He puts a hand on his chest, faking a swoon, “Honestly, you’re so manly. All that heavy lifting.” Isak rolls his eyes, averting his gaze so that Even can’t see the smile that’s slowly spreading across Isak’s face.

“Whatever,” Isak says, “Not all of us can be big, fancy, hotshot actors like you. Sorry we’re not all perfect.”

“This is true,” Even says, pursing his lips together. For a second, he looks sort of sad - his eyes focused on something behind Isak; he shakes it off, though, looking back to Isak and smiling once more, “Big, fancy hotshot actors like me need some time alone to prepare before a show, though.”

“Was that your subtle way of kicking me out?” Isak asks, Even nods, looking apologetic.

“Sorry,” He murmurs, pressing yet another kiss to Isak’s cheek.

“It’s okay,” Isak says, fighting to keep a straight face, “I guess you’ve made it up to me. I’ll forgive you.”

“Mm,” Even’s face looks serious again - the same, almost sad expression from before back again - his eyes roam Isak’s face, taking him in silently for a few seconds. The whole thing feels almost as though he’s committing the features of Isak’s face to memory. “I hope you do forgive me,” He says, but before Isak can ask what he means, he kisses Isak again, slow and lingering.

Something about it feels almost sad, like Even doesn’t think he’ll get the chance to, again. Isak wants to ask - but Even’s hands are in his hair, and his tongue is slowly sliding along Isak’s bottom lip, and then it’s very hard to think of anything at all.

*

When Isak gets home, Noora, Linn and Eskild are all in the living room. A re-run of FRIENDS is on the TV, and Noora has her head in Linn’s lap.

Linn looks like she’s about to fall asleep. She’s wearing her usual tracksuit bottoms and hoodie combination, an she tilts her chin gently at Isak in acknowledgement.

“You’re back kind of late,” Noora says, “Were you with Sana all this time?”

“No,” Isak says, surprised that Sana didn’t text Noora and fill her in on all of the interactions between him and Even, “I met up with someone from the theatre.”

At this, Eskild’s head finally snaps away from the TV, and he looks at Isak appraisingly, “Oh,” He says, tone of voice all too knowing, “You met up with someone from the theatre, did you?”

Clearly, Eskild hasn’t filled Noora and Linn in on the significance of this; Linn looks bored, while Noora looks between the two of them in confusion. “Are you finally making friends with people at the theatre, Isak? That’s cool, you could do with getting out of here a bit more.”

Isak’s mouth works for a while. “I have friends,” He says, indignantly, “I hang out with Jonas, Magnus and Mahdi all the time!”

Noora wrinkles her nose, “Yes, but you hang out with them here all the time. I think it’s good you’re meeting new people.”

“Yes, Isak,” Eskild says, still in the same annoying tone from before, “I think it’s really good.”

Linn sighs, “Can you think it’s really good somewhere else, Eskild? I want to watch the show.”

Eskild looks at her with wide eyes, “You’ve seen this episode about five times already, Linn. You know what happens.”

Linn just looks at Eskild, unblinking and uncaring, “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to watch it,” She says.

“Fine,” Eskild sighs, heaving himself up from the sofa and looking down at both Linn and Noora with a sort of disappointed frustration, “Isak and I will go into his room and talk about it in there.”

“We will?” Isak asks. Eskild glares at him, and Isak sighs, “We will,” He says. “See you, girls.”

“Bye, Isak, Eskild,” Noora says, waving a little. Linn just turns back to the screen; Eskild pulls a face at her.

Eskild then takes it upon himself to frog-march Isak into his own bedroom, hands shoving at the space between Isak’s shoulder blades as he herds them down the hallway. The second they’re in the room, Eskild pivots, splays himself across Isak’s bed and says,

“Tell me everything.”

“That implies there’s something to tell,” Isak hedges. He knows, like he always does, that he’s going to give in soon. The feeling of Even’s kisses are still lingering on his mouth - and the secret of them feels so big it’s as though it’s fizzing right out of him.

Regardless, there’s a part of Isak that wants to make Eskild work for it; as though he only gets to know the full extent of the reality of Even when he’s earned it.

Eskild doesn’t seem phased at Isak’s defensive answer, though. Instead, he pushes himself up onto his elbows - so he’s still lying on his back but he can look Isak clear in the eye. Isak stays hovering beside the bed, not calm enough to sit down yet.

“Of course there’s something to tell, Isak,” Eskild says. He’s got his usual smirk on his face, but his voice is kind.

“What makes you so sure?” Isak asks, letting his shoulders relax and walking forward to slump beside Eskild on his bed. Eskild pulls a face up at Isak.

“Well, you wouldn’t be being so cagey about it if there wasn’t something to tell, would you? Come on, tell me, tell your Guru everything.”

Isak chews on his lip for a while, lying back so that he’s looking up at the ceiling; it’s easier when he’s not looking Eskild in the eyes.

“Um,” He says, drumming his fingers on the mattress. He can feel the weight of Eskild’s gaze on him, but to his credit - he doesn’t push Isak into speaking. Isak shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath in. “Um, I kissed Even.”

Eskild sits up, his face appearing over Isak’s in delighted enthusiasm, “Isak, that’s great!” He says, smiling wide; everything about him is so over-the-top sincere that Isak is quite overwhelmed by the whole thing.

“It’s not, like. We’re not, um, a thing or anything. I don’t really know what’s going on with him yet, but. Um. I really like him.”

“Hey,” Eskild says, face still hovering above Isak’s on the bed, “Hey, you don’t have to do everything all at once, yeah? I’m proud of you, Baby Jesus. Kissing a boy is a big thing, telling someone about it is even bigger.”

Isak flushes, averting his eyes from where Eskild is still looking uncharacteristically sincere.

“It’s not a big deal.”

Eskild laughs, the bed shifting with his weight as he moves away from Isak, “Sure it’s not, Baby Jesus. Doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you.”

Isak doesn’t react. This whole day has been so emotionally charged that he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Even now he’s told Eskild, he can still feel the kiss, the weight of it, pouring out of him in waves. He’s so overflowing with the whole thing he wouldn’t be surprised if he never sleeps again.

“I’m going to make dinner,” Eskild says, eventually, pushing himself to standing. Isak slowly sits up so he can watch Eskild pad softly through the room, stopping and turning when he gets to the doorway, “I can stick on some extra for you if you want, Isak?”

“No, I’m alright,” Isak says. There’s a pause, the two of them silent in the room, then Isak coughs out, “Thanks, though.”

If he means it for more than the offer of food, then only Eskild has to know.  Eskild doesn’t say anything - he just smiles gently, and pulls Isak’s door shut as he leaves.

*

For the first time since getting the job, Isak wakes up on Monday excited to go into work. The possibility of getting to see Even again is almost too much to bear. He feels like he’s drunk, the way that thinking about Even is enough to bring a smile to his face. The whole situation is so ridiculous it feels like something out of a movie, or a TV show. None of it feels like it could actually happen to Isak himself.

He wants to speak to Even about it. He wants to text Even all the stupid shit that’s going on in his life since the last time they saw each other. He realised last night - when he got a text from Vilde about her party on Saturday, and he’d dived for his phone convinced that it was Even - that he doesn’t actually have Even’s phone number yet.

He’d then spent an agonising amount of time trying to find him on social media, but he hadn’t been successful: Even didn’t seem to have anything, no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram. Nothing.

The only thing that Isak had been able to find - other than some headshots and a small bibliography about Even from a previous theatre production - was an old video, filmed by a guy that Isak had seen briefly before at some of Sana’s parties; one of her brother’s friends. It had been stupid and out of focus, and Isak had watched it an embarrassing amount of times.

Isak doesn’t get to see Even when he first arrives, though. The second that he clocks in, he’s shooed by the assistant stage manager back up into the eaves for lighting. Apparently Siv is back, subsequently dropping Isak’s relevance amongst the staff back down to zero.

He tries to catch a glimpse of Even the whole walk up to the control booth, but he doesn’t seem to be about. Elise, Juliet’s actress, is standing talking to the guy that’s playing Romeo, but Even’s isn’t anywhere in sight. He searches again when he’s on his break, but Even still remains illusive. Eventually, he gets so desperate that he walks up to Elise.

“Hi,” He says, standing an awkward distance away from her, praying that the assistant stage manager isn’t going to materialise out of nowhere . She looks up, smiling brightly.

“Hey,” She says, “You’re up working with Leif, right? What’s up?”

“Nothing, really,” He says, shrugging, “I was just wondering if you’d seen Even about today?”

She frowns, “No. I mean, they were running the Queen Mab speech today, and he’s had a couple of scenes with Eskil,” She points over her shoulder, at where Romeo’s actor is slouched in a corner, “But he keeps slipping out in between. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. I can let him know you’re looking for him, though?”

“Oh,” Isak says, heart plummeting to his stomach at the thought, “No, don’t do that. It’s really not a big deal. Thanks anyway.”

Leif takes one look at him when he gets back, and raises his eyebrows. He doesn’t say anything; but he lets Isak get away with doing barely any work for the rest of the day. It’s sweet of him, and it should make Isak feel better, but all it really does is confirm that his disappointment is so obvious it’s visible from space.

Even Eskild, when he gets home at the end of the day, declines from pushing for details. Isak had entered the flat and gone straight to his room, collapsing face down in the bed and refusing to move.

“Tomorrow’s a brand new day, Isak. Trust your Guru. You’ll see him then and you two can talk it all out,” Eskild says, putting a plate of food down beside Isak’s elbow, “C’mon, Baby Jesus. It’ll be alright.”

*

Eskild is wrong, though - because Isak doesn’t see Even again until Thursday evening, when he’s leaving work.

He hasn’t been sleeping well since Sunday night - the stress of not knowing what the fuck is going on with Even, compounded with the stress that’s echoing through the theatre walls. It’s getting ever closer to opening night, and Isak passed Marte in the corridor today, looking so panicked that he wouldn’t be surprised if she just collapsed with it all.

Lighting is relatively on top of things, but Isak spent the entire day in the crawl space between the ceiling and the lighting rigs, and he feels tired and claustrophobic. He’s never been so grateful to walk through a car park in his life.

Isak has his music in - Nas, Illmatic - turned up full, and he’s thinking about the game of FIFA that Jonas says he’s got queued up and ready to go, so he almost doesn’t notice Even standing on the other side of the tarmac.

Almost.

Even looks good. He’s layered up, a beanie, hoodie, scarf and coat obscuring most of his face, but his eyes are clear, and he’s looking right at Isak.

Isak’s crossing the car park before he can even consciously debate it, pulling out his earphones and leaving them hanging around his neck. He stops when he’s about a metre or so away from where Even’s still frozen, his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

“Hi,” Even says, moving his head so that he can push the scarf that was previously covering his mouth to down, under his jaw. His lips are chapped and dry; Isak wonders if it’s blatantly obvious that he’s thinking about kissing him.

“Hi,” Isak says back. He swallows, shoves his own hands into his jacket, “Where’ve you been? I, um, haven’t seen you in a week.”

Even shrugs, averting his gaze from Isak’s, “I’ve been, um, busy, you know? Marte’s had us all in ridiculous hours, and I think Ella’s about ready to kill us all. Opening night is in less than a month.”

“I don’t have your number,” Isak says, licking his lips uncomfortably, “I was going to text you, but I don’t have your number, and you don’t have, like, Facebook or anything.”

“No,” Even says, “I haven’t since I was in Bakka. I figured I didn’t really need social media. I, um, had enough going on without it.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry,” Even licks his own lips, his eyes darting around the car park, “I, uh, probably wouldn’t have replied, anyway.” Even’s fists clench and unclench awkwardly at his sides. This is it; this is the most uncomfortable conversation of Isak’s pathetically uncomfortable life.

“Right, well, I’ll see you around, Even,” Isak says. He goes to shoulder past Even, but Even stops him - reaching out and putting a hand on Isak’s shoulder.

“Isak,” He says; his eyes are big and wide. Isak wants to look away from them, but he can’t, “I’m sorry.”

“Right,” Isak says, “Okay, sure.”

This time, when he shoves away, Even lets him go.

*

On Saturday, Magnus, Jonas and Mahdi show up at Isak’s flat to pre-drink before they go to the party at Vilde’s house.

“I don’t see why you had to come here?” Isak asks, grumpily opening his can of beer. Jonas rolls his eyes at Isak’s attitude, pulling a face to Magnus and Mahdi; who just look amused.

“It’s because we love you, bro,” He says, leaning over in his seat and slinging his arm over Isak’s shoulders. He squeezes, and Isak allows himself to slump into his best friend - if somewhat moodily.

“Seriously, though? Mahdi, you don’t even have flatmates. I don’t see why we couldn’t chill at yours?”

Mahdi shrugs, seemingly unbothered, “My flat is a sad, sad little room, bro. Besides, yours is way closers to Vilde’s.”

“Yeah,” Magnus nods, “And anyway, your flatmates are cool as fuck!”

“Where are they, actually?” Jonas asks, looking around the suspiciously empty kitchen. Normally Eskild would have crashed their party by now, with Linn, too, if he was successful in dragging her out of her bedroom.

“I think Eskild and Noora went on to help Vilde set up everything for the party,” Isak says, rolling his eyes yet again, “And, Magnus, my flatmates aren’t cool at all. Eskild cried at an episode of The Simpsons last night.”

“Bro,” Magnus says, face unusually serious, “Don’t laugh at other’s pain. The Simpsons probably has some sad episodes. I mean, it’s written by the same guy who did the episode of Futurama with the fucking dog? I swear, man, my mum had to come over and give me a hug after I watched that shit. It’s sad as fuck.”

“Oh my god, same,” Mahdi says, “I was dating this girl a while back, and she, like, made me watch that with her? I swear I cried more than her, man.”

Isak tries not to stiffen at Mahdi’s mention of seeing a girl. He knows it’s ridiculous; Mahdi meant nothing by it. It wasn’t even explicit, no-where near the sort of explicit remarks that Isak normally has to go along with; but since Even kissed him, he’s felt like a raw nerve, exposed and obvious.

Jonas - arm still slung around Isak’s shoulder - catches his discomfort. He shoots a look at Isak out of the corner of his eye, concern obvious on his face. He doesn’t say anything, though, and Isak is so grateful for it that he could cry.

“What time do we have to leave at?” Magnus asks.

“I don’t know?” Jonas says, glancing at his watch, “We don’t want to be too early, do we? They’ll rope us into helping with the decorations or something.”

“I just don’t want to let Vilde down, you know? I want her to think we’re cool.”

“Man,” Mahdi says, shaking his head sadly, “You have to get over your thing for Vilde. It honestly nothing but embarrassing at this point, bro.”

Magnus gives him the finger, “Fuck off, Mahdi. Just because you’ve never had a girl more than two weeks.”

Mahdi laughs, enthusiastically enough that his head is flung back with ihe force of his own amusement, “Magnus, man,” He starts; when he can finally string words together again, “Neither have you. You’re just also pathetically hung up on someone at the same time.”

“Alright, guys,” Jonas says, removing his arm from around Isak’s shoulders and holdings his hands up as though he’s asking for peace, “Chill out, yeah? We’re gonna drink a few beers, we’re going to go to Vilde’s, and it’s gonna be a good night, right?”

“Sure,” Mahdi says, shrugging and smiling easily.

Magnus laughs, “Of course, bro.”

They all look at Isak. He shifts uncomfortably, not answering. The silence hanging awkwardly in the air for a few moments too long, and slowly, all of their expressions turn to those of concern.

“Isak?” Mahdi says, his eyebrows furrowing into a deep frown.  

Isak sighs, “Yeah,” He says, “I guess it’ll be a good night.”

*

The music is pounding when they get to the street that Vilde lives on. There are enough people there that they’re spilling out the door, standing around in the garden.

Vilde herself is standing in the doorway, huddled close to Noora. She smiles at them when she sees them coming up the path, holding out her arms to pull Isak into an overtly enthusiastic hug.

Isak,” She says, “I’m so glad you could come! Hey Jonas, Mahdi, Magnus!”

“Uh, hey, Vilde,” Isak says, extracting himself from the circle of Vilde’s arms. She smiles at him, and he smiles back without thinking about it.

“Most people are already inside,” Vilde says, “Or in the garden. Mostly inside, though. Sana’s invited her brother and his friends, so they’re all hanging out in the kitchen. I guess  it’s because they’re Muslim, so they don’t drink? Although they all seemed really nice, have you met them, Isak?”

Isak shakes his head, though he feels his heart thump with painful hope in his chest. He remembers Sana saying that she’s known Even for years - that Even was good friends with her brother. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to assume that if Sana’s brother is here, then Even is too.

He ignores the rest of what Vilde is about to say, muttering something about how he needs a drink as he starts to make his way to where he knows Vilde and Eva’s kitchen is.

“Maybe I just want to hang out with you,” He hears Magnus say from somewhere behind him, and he rolls his eyes, still focused on making his way to the kitchen.

The house is even busier on the inside than he expected it to be. He makes his way down the narrow corridor, uncomfortably shouldering past a girl he vaguely remembers from back in Nissen.

The door to the kitchen is ajar, the light from it shining bright against the dimly lit exterior of the hall. Inside, Isak can hear the sounds of laughter - several people whose voices that Isak can’t place, all talking over each other at once.

He’s about to push the door open fully, when it opens from the other side. A guy that Isak doesn’t recognise comes out. He has buzzed hair and a green hoodie on, hands shoved in the pockets. He starts in surprise when he sees Isak.

“Sorry, bro,” He says, “You wouldn’t happen to know where the bathroom is, would you?”

“I think it’s down that way,” Isak says, pointing vaguely down the hall where a queue seems to be forming the whole way down the stairs. Isak would bet money that it’s for the bathroom.

“Shit,” He says, “I really need to go. How much do you reckon Sana would kill me if I pissed in her friend’s garden?” Isak opens his mouth to reply, but he waves it away, “Don’t answer that. I know how much she’d kill me, and the wrath of my baby sister isn’t worth it. See you, bro.”

He darts off down the hall, leaving Isak with a clear view of the inside of the kitchen. Inside, there’s a few people sitting around. The guy that was in the video with Even from Bakka is there; Mikael, Isak thinks he was called, although his hair is longer now, tied into a ponytail, and his mustache has been shaved off. Mikael is sitting directly opposite the door, so he’s one of the only ones that actually notices Isak come in. He nods in hello, but Isak barely sees him.

Isak is far too focused on where Even is sitting with Sonja in the corner of the room.

They’re both on one of the kitchen counters, pressed completely together, thigh to thigh. Even has his head resting on Sonja’s shoulder, and she has her arm wrapped around his neck, hand tangled in the looser curls of his hair. The whole scene is comfortable, and familiar, and Isak’s head is pounding.

Even looks up and sees him, and his eyes widen, but it’s too little too late. Isak is already backing out of the room, mumbling embarrassed apologies as he does so. He crashes into someone in the hall on his way out, and he barely sees them as he turns to run out of the house.

He feels so stupid. The weight of his own delusions about him and Even feel like they’re going to consume him. Of course Even doesn’t want to be with Isak. Of course Even was avoiding him. Even has Sonja and a flat, and a stage. Even has everything that he could ever want - and Isak is nothing but a child for thinking that they could be otherwise.

His hands are shaking. He needs to get out of this fucking party.

*

At the front door, Mahdi, Magnus and Jonas are still standing talking to Vilde. Eva’s joined them as well, now; she’s hovering behind Vilde’s back, smiling at them all.

Isak feels the weight of their concern as he tries to barrel past them; his hope that they wouldn’t notice the tears that are now falling freely down his face was ridiculous.

“Hey, bro, what’s up with you?” Mahdi asks, reaching out for him, “You’ve been being weird all night, man.” Isak knows, rationally, that Mahdi is just worried about him - but Isak feels embarrassed and stupid. The situation with Even is too much to explain, and he just wants to go home.

He doesn’t want his friends looking at him the way they are.

Isak reacts without thinking, shoving at Mahdi. Mahdi stumbles, falling back against the wall of Vilde, Magnus and Eva. Jonas is standing just to the right of them, and he looks at Isak, eyes wide in shock.

“What the fuck, bro?” Mahdi says, pushing up to full height again and crowding forwards into Isak’s space. He looks furious now, but hurt, too. Isak tries to ignore it; Mahdi can’t possibly imagine the ways in which Isak’s world are falling apart right now.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Isak?” Mahdi snaps, “Why’d you just push me?”

Isak stares for a second, swallows down nothing. He doesn’t know what to say. He still feels like he’s thrumming; the blood in his veins is boiling, his embarrassment fading so that all that’s left is every part of him poised and ready for a fight.

Isak doesn’t know what to do in this situation - he’s never felt like this before in his life - but Even’s face when they spoke in the carpark keeps going through his head. The easy way that Even and Sonja still occupied each other’s space is a neon flashing light in his mind.

It makes him want to destroy something.

He steps forward again, raising his hand as he does so. Vilde gasps in the background, her hands flying to her mouth in clear shock as she sways backwards into Magnus. Eva is saying something, but it’s not loud enough for Isak to make out against the pounding of his own head.

He’s just about to bring his fist down; everyone staring at him as though he’s brand new. As though they’ve never seen him before in their lives. He makes another miniscule movement, Mahdi’s eyebrows raising in panic, when Jonas steps in between the two of them before Isak can go any further, grabbing Isak’s raised hand.

“Come on, Isak,” He says, calmly, unflappable and dependable as ever. He pulls Isak’s hand down and wraps his arms around Isak’s body, tight. “I think you and I need to head home.”

Isak thinks about kicking out against Jonas - but the comforting weight of him pulling Isak away curbs a lot of the anger. He slumps into it, finally letting the sadness take over, the tears falling properly now.

The last thing he sees as Jonas gently steers him away is Eva’s sad, knowing expression. It makes the bile rise in his throat.

*

Isak wakes up the next day buried under what feels like every blanket and duvet from Jonas’ whole flat. Groggily, he digs his way out of his bedding cave, looking at where Jonas is curled up on his terrible sofa. He’s asleep on his back, snoring loudly, with his mouth open in an unattractive gape.

For the first time in his life, Isak wonders how he ever used to find Jonas attractive.

Isak is sitting on the edge of the bed, debating the merits of sneaking out and never talking to his best friend again, when Jonas snorts himself awake, blinking and turning to where Isak is staring at him. He feels like a deer caught in headlights.

“Are you leaving?” Jonas asks. He doesn’t sound upset or surprised, more disappointed than anything else. It makes Isak feel so terrible that he thinks he might pass out.

“I thought about it,” He says, because he’s long since given up trying to lie to Jonas. Not properly. Not about things like this.

Jonas nods, sitting up, slowly. He bends forwards, resting his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. All that’s left is the two of them, facing each other.

“And?” Jonas asks.

Isak swallows, looking away from the sincerity that’s clear on Jonas’ face, “And, um. I’m not going to. You deserve an explanation.”

Jonas smiles, then, the expression clearing his face like the sun emerging from behind a rain cloud. “Yeah I fucking do,” He says, “What the fuck was that last night, man? You know Mahdi was only looking out for you, right?”

Isak looks down at his hands, twisting his fingers into the material one of the ratty blankets that Jonas has had since he was six. “Yeah, I know,” He says, eventually.

Jonas is still watching him, “It’s not about, like, your mum, is it? I know you haven’t spoken to her in ages, but,” He trails off awkwardly.

“I have spoken to her. Well, sort of. I mean, she still texts me, sometimes,” Isak says, Jonas frowns.

“I didn’t know that.”

Isak shrugs, brushing it off, “It’s not, like, anything important. Just, you know, bible stuff. Verses from the Old Testament, about revenge, or how we all need to repent for our sins. You know, stuff like that.” He chances a glance up at Jonas, but he doesn’t look angry - he’s just sitting there, looking at Isak from his shitty, shitty sofa. The only thing he looks is worried; worried about Isak, worried about Isak’s mum texting him some stuff from the bible.

Jonas is a better friend than he’s ever deserved.

“Is that why you were so freaked out yesterday? Because she texted you?”

Isak swallows, looking back down at the blanket, “No. No, uh, one of those hasn’t upset me in a long time.”

“So what was up, man? Because you have Mahdi basically ready to stage an intervention. I think Magnus is getting his mum to like, bake you a get better soon cake. Hell, even Eva and Sana have been texting me, and Sana never texts anyone. Everyone’s worried about you, Isak. They just want you to be okay, man.”

“It’s, um, it’s about this person I like,” Isak finally says. The words feel like nails scraping up his throat - but once they’re out there, he can feel some of the weight start to lift.

Jonas blinks, clearly surprised, “You didn’t tell me about the fact that there was someone in your life, man.”

Isak laughs, a broken, hollow sound, “There’s not,” He says, “I just thought there was.”

“Did she, like, cheat on you or something?”

Isak swallows again. The silence stretches on for a painfully long time; whenever Isak chances a look at him, Jonas is still watching him, his expression carefully neutral.

“It’s, um,” More silence. “It’s not a girl,” Isak says. The words feel like nails, scratching their way up his throat - but the second that they’re out Isak feels so relieved, so freed from his own stupid hang ups that he almost wants to cry again. It’s out, now. He’s finally told someone who wasn’t Eskild; he feels so light-headed with the whole thing that he almost misses Jonas’ careful expression, the way the silence stretches for a couple of beats too long.

Almost.

“Okay,” Jonas says, eventually, “You like a guy. Is that why you freaked out at everyone last night? Mahdi’s feeling really confused. Did you just realise and get stressed, or?”

“No,” Isak says, “I’ve known, um. I’ve known that about myself for a while now.”

Jonas looks hurt then; he reaches across from the sofa over to Isak, putting his hand down heavily on Isak’s knee. Isak looks at him, his heart is thumping heavily in his chest. He’s so panicked now that the fight or flight instinct is starting to kick in, and Isak always was moreflight than fight.

“Isak, it’s chill, man. It’s chill, okay? So, what’s up with this guy? Tell me.”

Isak sways a little on the bed, trying to re-align himself with the fact that this is Jonas, his best friend, and he knows that Isak likes boys, and he’s not running away yet. He thinks his heart might pound out of his chest with all the feelings he’s having.

“He, um, he was a guy that works at the theatre with me. And, we were hanging out a lot, we kind of had a thing. I mean, um, he kissed me,” Isak’s voice cracks slightly, and he clamps his mouth shut, trying to curb his breathing before it gets too panicked or out of control. Jonas says nothing, just watches, waiting patiently for Isak to continue.

“So, yeah. We had a thing, but it’s really weird, because he lives with his ex-girlfriend, and, um, he was at Vilde’s party last night, and I saw the two of them hugging and like, holding hands and stuff. So. I think they’re back together.”

Jonas whistles lowly, “Shit, Isak,” He says. Isak shuts his eyes, waiting for Jonas to punch him, or tell him to get out, or anything.

Instead, Isak feels the shifting of the mattress as Jonas moves to sit beside him. He opens his eyes, and looks at Jonas - at his best friend, at the one person who was there for him through every shitty, terrible day of Isak’s life. The one person who made those shitty, terrible days better.

“Bro,” Jonas says, slinging his arm over Isak’s shoulders again and tugging him in close, “You know that you being into guys changes nothing, right? You talking to me about a guy you like is no different than us listening to Magnus talk about how he still likes Vilde, or Mahdi talk about some girl who’s not texted him back. You’re still my best bro. You know that, right?”

Isak feels seconds away from crying. He feels exposed. He feels like he’s been cracked open and painted inside. He feels like his chest is see-through, and the irregular beating of his heart is on full display for the entire world.

He also feels like he can breathe for the first time in months.

He takes a deep breath in; gulping in the air like he was drowning and this is him finally breaking the surface. He is so, so thankful that Jonas doesn’t call him out on how shaky his voice sounds when he finally speaks, “I know now,” he says.

Jonas smiles, the sides of his eyes crinkling up. It’s like the first sight of sunlight after a storm, “Cool, bro,” He says, “And, one thing is certain.”

Isak blinks, “What?”

“Whatever guy has got you feeling like this, me and him are going to have a word.”

*

Going back to work the next week is conflicting.

On one hand, Isak’s been feeling so much better since he told Jonas about the situation with Even. It’s as though a huge weight has been lifted off his chest, one that he didn’t even know was there. He’s lighter than he’s been in years.

Lighter than he’s been since he left his family home and moved in with Eskild.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance that he’s going to have to face Even again.

Isak feels tired, almost exhausted when he thinks about Even; trying to figure out the situation between the two of them makes his head hurt with confusion.

He knows, theoretically, that kissing someone doesn’t mean that you’re together. He knows that kissing Even didn’t mean they were together. A kiss isn’t a relationship, it isn’t even necessarily a promise of one. A kiss might not even be important, in the grand scheme of things.

Except, the kiss with Even had felt important.

The kiss with Even was important.

It had been Isak’s first kiss with someone where he actually wanted them, where he actually felt that there could have been something between the two of them.

It was, in all of the most important ways, Isak’s first kiss all together. To him, it had felt like the beginning of something. It had felt like it could have been a relationship, and thinking about how he doesn’t really have any of those things at all makes Isak’s head hurt and his hands shake.

He spends all of the morning helping Leif test the lighting rigs that are already set up in the main auditorium, feeling jumpy and paranoid every time he looks towards the stage. The whole experience is making him so tense that his jaw is aching, sore from being clenched too tight.

The full cast are in for rehearsal today, and time and time again, Isak finds his eyes drawn, almost against his will, to wherever Even is standing. He’s unable to resist, forced to stare at Even, watch him. It’s as though Even moves on his own internal light

Leif eventually gives him an hour for lunch. It’s a weird time; Isak’s hours don’t correlate with many of the other people working in the theatre, which leaves Isak eating a sandwich alone on a bench outside, facing the theatre’s car park. It’s boring; Isak’s position and the awful presence of the assistant stage manager means that he doesn’t really know anyone else - except Even - who’s working on the show.

In all of the excitement, Isak had forgotten how isolating this job used to be.  

He sighs, shifting uncomfortably on the bench. He wonders if the occasional person passing by feels sorry for him. He wonders whether his own isolation is so obvious that people can take one look at him and tell instantly.

Isak looks at his phone, checking the time, and his heart sinks when he realises he’s only used up twenty minutes of his hour. Forty minutes seems far too long to continue sitting alone. He’s about to give up and go back to work early, when he hears the unmistakable sound of someone approaching. He turns, and jumps when he sees Even standing far closer than he thought.

Isak doesn’t know who he was expecting, but it certainly wasnt Even.

“Um, hey,” Even says. He’s got his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his denim jacket, and  he looks as uncomfortable as he did when they’d had the conversation in the car park last week.

Isak looks back down at his hands, turning his face away from Even. He is so tired of all these draining conversations. “Hey, Even,” He says, “What’s up?”

There’s the sound of Even moving, walking slowly around the bench until he’s sitting beside Isak. He’s close enough that if Isak spread out just a little more, their thighs would be touching. Isak looks at the miniscule space between them and tries not to read into it too much. “Um,” Even says again, “I think we need to talk.”

Isak swallows. He doesn’t really want to talk to Even. Not in the broad light of day - where Even will be able to read Isak’s face clearly, where Isak’s distress will be in stark clarity - there for the world to laugh at.

He also doesn’t want to have another week of stretched out silences, and Even’s absence felt far too keenly for the amount of time that they’ve known each other. He sighs, shuffling slightly to the side and patting the space on the bench next to him.

“I guess we do,” He says.

Even smiles at Isak as he sits down. It’s quick, just a flash of mouth and eyes - far less established than his usual smiles. It still settles Isak slightly; if Even is smiling at him then surely it all isn’t ruined.

“So,” Even says, looking at him intently, “I saw you at Vilde’s house this weekend.”

Isak’s heart drops. Even seeing him there is the last thing Isak wanted to happen. He knew it was irrational to assume that Even hadn’t heard anything; he’s sure, by now, that news of Isak’s freak out at Vilde’s has spread far and wide across Oslo.

In fact, Isak had spent most of the day at Jonas’ fielding off concerned messages from everyone he used to know; even Sara had tried to talk to him, and she hadn’t messaged him since they left Nissen and he had awkwardly broken up with her for being everything he knew he didn’t want.

“Oh,” Isak says, eventually.

Even exhales something approximating a laugh. When Isak looks at him, he’s got his face twisted away, looking out towards the theatre.

“It wasn’t what it looks like,” He says, after there’s been a lengthy pause. At this rate, forty minutes are going to pass after Isak and Even have said three sentences to each other.

“What wasn’t?” Isak asks, looking at Even in confusion.

Even sighs, shifting against the metal of the bench. He turns to look at Isak again; his eyes are open and sincere. Isak wonders if he’ll ever be able to look directly into them and not have his heart start beating double time.

“Sonja and I. You know, the two of us at Vilde’s party. It wasn’t what it looked like.”

Isak swallows, looking away from Even again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We’re not together.”

“It didn’t look that way,” Isak mutters, and Even shifts towards him. Isak looks up from where his gaze had been fixed on his jeans. Even is smiling.

“So you do know what I was talking about?” He asks. He looks a little less unsure, now, his eyes look a little clearer.

“It didn’t look like you weren’t together,” Isak repeats. Even’s smile slips once more, and he lets out a long breath.

“We’re just friends,” Even says, holding his palms out, open between them, “I’d been feeling kind of. Um, I’d been feeling kinda down, especially around that week. Sonja was just comforting me. Is that okay?”

“I guess so,” Isak says. The words feel awkward and heavy, landing between the two of them with an uncomfortable sort of force.

Even nods, slowly. He bites his lip gently, moving his jaw from side to side as though he’s thinking, “You see,” He starts, “The thing that you have to understand about Sonja, is that she’s my friend. We’ve known each other a long time, and she’s usually right when it comes to me. She knows me really well, yeah? Sometimes. Well, sometimes I feel like she knows me better that I know myself,” He turns to look at Isak, “It’s why we broke up, because, like, Sonja was in control, and sometimes I felt like I was- ” He cuts off mid-sentence, sighing and shaking his head, before starting back up again.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to explain this properly. It’s just, Sonja was in control, and, she just knew me too well, I guess,” He huffs out a humourless laugh, “You probably wouldn’t like me if you knew me as well as she does.”

“That’s stupid,” Isak says. This time, it’s Even’s turn to blink in surprise.

“What do you mean?”

“She can’t know you better than you know yourself. Even if you guys have known each other forever, she’s still a different person, not actually you. Anyway, she’s still your friend, like you said. She still likes you, even when she knows you so well.”

Even says nothing. He’s sitting there, silently on the bench, his head bowed down. The image contrasts sharply with the Even that he’s known before - the Even that sweeps in and makes dramatic statements, the Even that flies Isak away on his bike. Isak can’t bear it anymore; he reaches out, grabbing Even’s hand where it’s still placed, open and waiting in the middle of the bench, “Even, no one knows you better than you know yourself. Only you can feel what you feel.”

Even’s breath catches. He squeezes Isak’s hand, holding tightly. “Thank you,” He says, “I think I needed to hear that.”

“It’s okay,” Isak says. His throat feels dry. Holding Even’s hand had seemed instinctual at first, but now he can’t look away from the point of contact between the two of them, “I’m sorry I freaked out at the party. Even if you were back with Sonja, it’s not like you made any promises or anything. I mean, it wasn’t really my place.”

Even’s mouth twists into a frown, “That’s bullshit,” He says, “I kissed you. Of course you were going to get upset when you saw me hugging my ex and stuff. It’s not like I was very nice to you afterwards. I’m sorry I didn’t text you.”

“It’s okay,” Isak says, again.

“It’s really not,” Even looks hurt. It’s almost as though Isak brushing everything that happened off is physically hurting him. He shifts a little closer to Isak on the bench, licks his lips. When he turns, he’s meeting Isak’s eyes full on. It’s the sort of intense look that Isak doesn’t know what to do with, that he can’t quite look away from. It feels like all of the traffic is fading out, like every person in Oslo has suddenly frozen.

“I really like you, Isak,” Even says.

The world restarts.

Isak shakes his head, trying to clear it slightly. Even’s words have unleashed a heady rush of emotion. Isak feels as though he’s been sucker punched in the chest. He feels as though he’s just won the lottery.

It’s definitely not the sort of confession Isak had been expecting at the start of this conversation, and he can’t quite curb the excited smile that splits over his face. Now he knows why Jonas, Magnus and Mahdi go on about girls so much; if any of them had felt a fraction like this.  

Isak pulls their tangled hands onto his lap, cradling Even’s hand in between his two own. He looks down at them, still smiling. Even appears to be watching the whole thing him carefully; his face carefully schooled of all emotion, as though he’s scared to let himself believe anything until Isak speaks too.

Isak takes a deep breath, looks up at Even and whispers, “I really like you too.”

Even smiles slightly. It’s nothing really, just a small lift of his lips; it’s the most beautiful thing that Isak has ever seen. Isak’s heart is thundering in his chest now, so violent that it feels impossible to assume that Even can’t hear it.

Even licks his lips, mouth opening, he says, “Isak, I need to tell you something,” at the exact same time Isak says, “I told my best friend, Jonas, about you.”

They both stop and look at each other. Even’s face flickers through a series of emotions too fast for Isak to parse, before finally settling back on a smile. This time it’s wider, cockier, it has a hint of the shine that Isak associates with Even. It’s all the more devastating because of it.

“Oh? What did he say?”

Isak flushes, “Nothing much. Um, just that you were a guy, and that I liked you. You’re, um. Well, it was the first time that I told him that I, uh, that I like guys - that I like guys that way.”

Even’s smile slips, and he stares at Isak. Isak doesn’t know what to make of the expression on his face. It;s almost too intense to look at full on; Even’s eyes so clear that Isak feels as though he’s trying to look directly into the sun.

“You came out?” Even asks, his voice sounds thin and disbelieving. “For me?”  

Isak averts his eyes, rubbing the back of his neck in discomfort. He wishes that Even didn’t wear his expressions in such a weird technicolour. It makes Isak feel uneven; he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, or his legs. He doesn’t know what to do with any part of himself.

“Yeah, I mean,” Isak shrugs, not sure what exactly he’s supposed to say, “It’s just Jonas. But, yeah, I guess I did. Come out, that is,.”

Even looks around the car park quickly. It’s empty - bar the occasional car driving on the road, all the way on the other side of the car park. Quickly, he picks their joined hands up, pressing a kiss to Isak’s knuckles.

“I have to go back to rehearsal,” Even says, sounding apologetic, “But thank you, Isak,” He grins, then, the sort of wild and easy grin that he’d flashed so many times before, and pushes himself to standing. He brushes imaginary dust off his jeans and smirks at Isak, “I can’t believe that someone as hot as you would do that for someone like me.”

Isak flushes, “You’re pretty hot yourself,” He mutters back. Even laughs in delight, reaching out and thumbing Isak’s cheek quickly. His hand feels warm and dry; it takes all of Isak’s willpower not to lean into it.

Even watches him for a second. Neither of them move. There is a split second where Isak thinks that Even will lean down to actually kiss him, and his breath catches in his chest imagining it. Imagining being brave enough to kiss Even in public.

Instead, Even blinks, and then pulls out his phone to check the time. “I really do have to go,” He says again, “I’ll see you around Isak, call me!” He says, walking backwards in the direction of the theatre.

“I don’t have your number,” Isak frowns.

“Okay,” Even laughs, still walking backwards, “Then I’ll call you.” He smiles once more, before finally turning around to face the way he’s walking. He throws a careless wave over his shoulder, not looking round. Isak watches him go, feeling floored.  

He spends the last ten minutes of his lunch break in a silent daze.

*

Isak’s phone buzzes repeatedly when he’s on the tram on the way home.

It’s rush hour, so he’s squeezed in between an old woman with too many bags, and a man in a business suit. He has to perform an awkward maneuver to get his phone out of his jeans pocket; he nearly elbows the old woman in the face at one point, but it’s so worth her angry glare when he finally gets to look at the screen.

Unknown: Hey Isak, it’s Even.
Unknown: I got your number from Elias, who asked Sana. (Elias is Sana’s brother. I don’t know if you knew that, so I wanted to prove that I’m not creepy)
Unknown: I’ve been thinking about you all day. [] [] []

Isak grins, saving the contact under, ‘Even’ and quickly texting back.

Isak: i think going through two different people just to get my number means that you’re a little bit creepy, Even
Isak: especially when you follow it up with “I’ve been thinking about you all day”
Isak: anyway, if you had facebook, like the rest of the world, this would have been so much easier.

As soon as he’s sent off the texts, a typing bubble appears - as though Even has been staring at his phone, waiting for Isak to reply. It makes Isak’s smile grow even wider; the woman standing next to him frowns even more in response.

Even: Don’t mock my methods, Isak!
Even: Are you free tomorrow?
Isak: i might be…
Even: You should be
Isak: i’m free from 15:00. thats when i finish work.
Even: There’s a KB close to the theatre, do you know it?
Isak: yeah.
Even: Great! I’ll meet you there! I hope you’re ready for an adventure, Isak! []

Isak is so preoccupied staring at the screen in delight that he almost misses his stop. He scrambles past the people blocking his way, barely noticing them. He feels so light it’s almost as though he walks home without touching the ground at all.

*

Isak is shoving half a chocolate bar into his mouth and watching a few illegally downloaded episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Hotel Hell when Eskild smashes his door open and enters his room like it’s nothing.

“Jesus christ, Eskild!” Isak jumps about two feet in the air in shock, accidentally spitting a disgusting chunk of saliva covered chocolate out onto the keyboard of his laptop. He pauses the episode and turns to Eskild, glaring, “You could knock you know.”

Eskild just waves a hand in the air, “It’s fine,” he says, seemingly unconcerned that Isak now has a hand pressed to his heart like he’s dying. “I knew you weren’t doing anything I wouldn’t want to see.”

Isak narrows his eyes, “How?”

“Because I could hear Gordon Ramsay screaming from your laptop. At least, I hope it was Gordon Ramsay,” Eskild smirks; Isak rolls his eyes at him.

“Why are you ambushing me in my room anyway?”

“It’s an intervention,” Eskild says, “You’ve been floating around the flat looking at me like someone just kicked you in the crotch for too long.It’s been driving me crazy. We’re going to have a -” Eskild stops mid sentence, eyes snapping to Isak and looking him up and down.

Isak rubs at his mouth, praying that there’s not more chocolate on his face.

“What?” He says, shifting uncomfortably under the intensity of Eskild’s look.

“You’re not sad today,” Eskild says, “You’ve got this,” He waves a hand in Isak’s direction vaguely, “Happy aura about you.”

“An aura?”

“Yes, an aura. A happy aura. What happened today, hm, Isak? You can tell me, you know. Tell your guru.”

“Nothing happened,” Isak says. His phone buzzes at the exact same time, and he looks down at it without thinking, smiling when he sees that it’s Even again.

Eskild gasps, “I know that smile, that smile is a smitten smile! You just got a text from Even! You two are talking again, aren’t you?” He’s pointing a finger between Isak and the phone in wild and over dramatic accusation.

Isak feels his whole face grow red, “What? No. Nothing happened.”

Eskild doesn’t look convinced. Instead, he raises his eyebrows smugly and says, “Mhm.”

“Shut up,” Isak says, “Go away, Eskild. Stop being such a babysitter.”

“I’m just looking out for you,” Eskild says, “I can’t believe that you would dismiss me like this. Me? When all I’ve ever done is take care of you,” He puts the back of his hand to his forehead and swoons dramatically, as though he’s fainting, “I’m so disrespected within my own home! I should just go and live in the forest.”

Isak rolls his eyes again, “Jesus christ, Eskild. It’s no big deal, he just apologised to me for not texting and stuff, and he explained that he’s not back together with his girlfriend. So, I mean, we talked. It was nice, okay? But, I mean... Look. Just, please don’t tell Noora or Linn yet, okay? We’re still not, like, official or anything.”

Eskild smiles at Isak, “Of course I won’t tell anyone until you’re ready for me to.” He reaches out and rests his hand on Isak’s shoulder, squeezing. “I’m happy for you, though, Isak. You’re doing great, kid. Even is lucky to have you.”

He leaves after that, shutting the door far softer on his way out. Isak stares into space for a few moments, smiling at nothing, before he starts the show again.

Gordon Ramsay starts screaming at a couple for keeping a rat infested walk in fridge, and Isak’s heart feels more settled than it has since he kissed Even for the first time.

*

The next day comes far too soon. Isak sits at a table by the window in KB, nervously scrolling through Instagram on his phone, looking up every couple of seconds to see if Even has arrived yet. The palms of his hands are sticky with sweat. He’s wiping his hands off on his jeans for the fourth time in as many minutes, and trying to take a nervous sip of his too-hot coffee when Even finally appears, knocking on the window and beckoning Isak outside.

“Hey,” He says, grinning at Isak when he pushes his way out of the KB, “C’mon, let’s get away from here. I don’t want to be near work anymore. But I don’t have a plan, I know you don’t like that, so I’m warning you now.”

Isak stares, “You had so long to come up with something to do, though.”

“Sure,” Even says, still smiling. He grabs Isak’s arm, high enough that the touch implies they know each other - but there’s no real intimacy to it; anyone passing would assume they were just friends. Even doesn’t seem to notice the grateful expression on Isak’s face, or if he does, he doesn’t react to it. Instead, he focuses in front of them, pulling Isak along. “I had a night to plan, it’s true, but that’s not much time.”

“No?” Isak is walking double his usual speed just to keep in tandem with Even’s rapid pace.

“No,” Even looks down at Isak, his grin growing impossibly wider as he uses their small height difference to his advantage, “Nothing’s enough time to think of a proper plan when I want to do everything with you.”

“Oh my god,” Isak says, laughing. He pulls his arm free from Even, putting a little distance between them and shaking his head fondly. “You are actually insane.”

An expression too quick for Isak to fully comprehend flickers across Even’s face; his smiling fading in intensity for one brief moment, before it’s instantly back.

“You’re right, I am out of my mind, Isak,” Even says, “I’m absolutely out  of my mind with how hot you are.”

“Oh my god.”

Isak flushes, turning away from Even and running a hand through his hair, shaking his head. Even throws an arm around Isak’s shoulders, holding him tight enough against the warmth of Even’s body that Isak is forced to look up at him.

“I’d invite you round to mine,” Even says, loosening his grip on Isak and smiling down at him as they start to walk along together, “But Sonja’s got her friends round, so it wouldn’t be fun.”

Isak frowns, “You don’t like Sonja’s friends?”

“No, I do,” Even says, biting his bottom lip in thought, “They’re just, Sonja’s friends, not mine, you know? They think that us breaking up was entirely my fault, and I don’t really know what to say to them.”

“You said you were both fighting, when you moved in together, that’s why you broke up with each other.”

“We were. If I’m honest, we were fighting before then, too. I think we both thought that getting a flat together would magically fix everything; that we’d stop arguing. Obviously that didn’t happen.”

Even grins down at him, eyes crinkled. Isak smiles back at him; leaning a little more into the solidity of his body. He thinks about all the things he could say; about how he’s glad that Even and Sonja are no longer together if it means that he gets to be with Even instead, about how he likes it when Even smiles, about how exciting all of this is for him.

Instead he says, “If you don’t want to go back to yours, we can probably go hang at mine? I mean, we’ll have to avoid my flatmates, but I’m sure it’ll be cool.”

“Cool,” Even says. His smile doesn’t fade at all.

*

Eskild is in the kitchen when they get to the flat. Isak doesn’t need to see him to know; he’s singing along to the radio, Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off blasting obnoxiously loud. Even laughs when he hears it, “Good music taste.”

Isak rolls his eyes, mouthing ‘Eskild’ at him, and Even nods faux seriously, his mouth pursed as though he’s trying to keep from laughing out loud. He gestures towards the kitchen door, a silent question as to whether they should go in, and Isak shakes his head, herding Even towards his bedroom door. Even goes with minimal resistance, the expression of amusement not fading from his face.

They’re almost at Isak’s bedroom - Isak really starting to believe that they’re going to get there without anyone seeing him - when Linn shoves open the door to her bedroom, duvet wrapped around her.

“Hey Isak,” She says, blinking in the light of the hall, “Could you tell Eskild to turn the music down?”

“Uh,” Isak stammers, staring at her. Out of all the flatmates that Isak had been worried about seeing them, Linn had been the last.

“Hey,” Linn says, looking at Even, who waves at her, smiling. She nods, and then retreats back into her room.

Even looks at Isak, who rolls his eyes again. “That was Linn,” He says, “She spends a lot of time in her room, but her and Eskild have been best friends for ages.”

“That’s sweet,” Even says, “It’s sweet that all of you get on so well.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Isak says, flushing. “I hate all of them.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“I do,” In the kitchen, the sound of Taylor Swift changes to Hailee Steinfeld, and Isak sighs, “I’m just, um,” He swings open the door to his room open and pushes Even inside, “Look, uh, you can wait in here. Sorry about the mess, try to ignore it. I’m going to go and tell Eskild to turn the radio down.”

“No problem,” Even smirks setting himself down on Isak’s bed, and laying back a little. His arms are so long that they splay wide against the duvet, and Isak is distracted for a moment imagining himself following Even down. “I’m just gonna stay here and look through all your stuff.”

Isak blinks, coming back to the moment, where Even is watching him - an all too amused expression sitting on his face. Isak sticks his tongue out, giving Even the finger for good measure. Then, ignoring Even’s dramatic gasp, he goes to tell Eskild to tone the music down.

“Eskild,” Isak half yells as he’s pushing open the door of the kitchen. The music seems to blare as he enters, and he rubs his temple in frustration.

He starts when he sees that Eskild isn’t alone. Noora is also sitting in the kitchen; she’s perched on one of the counters, close to the kettle, and she’s smiling openly, watching Eskild in amusement as she clutches a mug of tea close to her face.

“Yes, Isak?” Eskild says, shimmying around to face Isak in the most unnecessarily dramatic way possible. His arms are moving in time to the chorus of the song, and Isak barely restrains the urge to roll his eyes at him.

“Linn says you have to turn the music down,” He says.

“Did Linn say that?” Eskild asks. He reaches for the radio, turning it down to a tolerable level, and then he turns to smile at Isak. It’s the sort of smile that displays a truly alarming amount of teeth; Isak suddenly has a bad feeling about where this is going. “You see, Linn’s been saying a lot of things, lately,” Eskild holds up his mobile between them, Facebook messenger open and visible. “You see, Isak, Linn has been messaging me, you know? Not only did Linn tell me to turn the music down, but she aso told me about your visitor.”

Isak doesn’t think he’s seen Eskild look this delighted in a long time. “Oh my god.”

“It’s Even, isn’t it?”

“Who’s Even?” Noora asks, taking a sip of her tea. Isak takes back any good thought he’s ever had about Noora, because she looks far too invested in Eskild’s answer.

“Even is Isak’s theatrefriend,” Eskild says, putting just enough emphasis on friend that the implication is that Isak and Even are anything but. Noora looks delighted.

“Really, Isak?” She asks, she shifts uncomfortably, looking at him with eyes that say she knows far too much already, “You, um, never mentioned to me that you were into guys before?”

“Woah,” Isak says, throat tensing up, “Who said that I was into guys? I’m not gay.”

Eskild and Noora both look at him. Noora looks slightly ashamed, she’s biting her lip, glancing between Isak and Eskild quickly. Eskild is just standing here, saying nothing, his eyes sad. Isak coughs, shifts on his feet and says, “Well. Maybe I’m a little gay.”

Eskild grins, “Well done, little Jesus.”

Noora puts down her tea and claps her hands, “Seriously, Isak, well done! Oh, I’m so happy for you! I hope your theatre friend is really nice.”

“Oh my god,” Isak rubs his hands over his face, trying to erase the entire conversation from his mind. He as a split second thought about how this must be what it’s like to come out to your parents, and then, horrified at himself for thinking such things - he slowly starts backing out of the kitchen, trying not to meet either Eskild or Noora in the eye.

“Yes, yes, go on Isak,” Eskild calls, “Go and talk to your friend.”

“He’s more of a friend than any of you are,” Isak calls, and then flees to safety.

*

Back in his room, Even has moved so that he’s lying completely on Isak’s bed, staring up at the ceiling. One hand is resting flat on his stomach, the other pillowed under his head.

Isak stops short when he sees him; there’s something about the sight of Even there. Something about the way Even looks when he’s completely tangled in Isak’s space, when he’s placed on Isak’s bed that feels right. Something about the way Even looks surrounded by Isak’s sheets, his duvet, that sends a pulse straight to Isak’s stomach. He wants to push Even down, climb on his lap. He wants to hold Even down with his weight and kiss him until the shape of Even never leaves his bed.

Instead, he settles for lying down beside Even, turning on his side so that he’s looking at Even’s face. Even twists so that he’s doing the same.

“Hey,” Isak says, smiling at Even.

“Hey,” Even says back. He moves forwards, pressing a kiss to Isak’s cheek, close to the corner of his mouth. His hand comes up to cradle Isak’s face, and Isak’s smile widens as Even’s thumb finds the indent of his dimple, stroking back and forth.

“All my flatmates know you’re here, now,” Isak says. Even’s hand doesn’t move off him as he speaks, but his lips quirk up slightly.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“They’re mocking me.”

Even huffs out a breath, the same soft expression still settled comfortingly on his face, “I told you before, Isak. You just make it so easy.”

“You’re mocking me right now,” Isak says, pouting. Even moves his thumb to his bottom lip, pressing down slightly.

“Sorry,” He says, voice hushed. Now that Eskild has turned the music down, it’s quieter throughout the flat. If Isak only focuses on Even, he could make himself believe that it was just the two of them once more. As though any moment that Isak spends alone with Even, the entire rest of the world just melts away, ceases to exist.

Even shifts closer again, the sweep of his eyelashes mesmerising. Slowly, so slowly, he presses in until his mouth is close enough to Isak’s that Isak can feel the movement of his lips when he speaks.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Even says.

“You better,” Isak says, and kisses him.

*

Isak wakes up alone the next morning.

The space beside him on the bed is empty. When he tentatively runs his hand over the space where Even had been, the sheets are cool, as though Even has been gone for some time.

Isak sighs, running a hand over his eyes and trying to rub away some of the bleariness still settled around him. When he’d fallen asleep last night, the sun had been starting to rise; Leif had told Isak not to bother coming in the next day, and Isak had pulled enough hours lately that he could afford a day off. Even had smiled when he’d heard this, claiming that they weren’t running through any of his scenes until late afternoon, so he could afford to stay.

When he’d fallen asleep last night, Even had still been beside him.

They’d spent the whole night curled up together, just talking, occasionally kissing. Neither of them had made to advance the conversation into anything serious, and neither of them seemed to push the situation past kissing. Regardless of that, the whole night had felt as though it held weight, as though it were important. Everything had felt as though it was shifting on its axis; like they’d finally solidified their relationship into something more. Something that actually held worth.

It doesn’t exactly look like that now.

Isak checks his phone, filled with a slightly desperate hope that Even will have texted with an explanation as to where he’d gone - but the screen is stubbornly blank. He looks on the other pillow, in case Even left him a note, instead - but it, too, is empty.

Isak groans, heaving himself out of bed and pulling on the first t-shirt and tracksuit bottom combination he gets his hands on. The light that’s streaming in through his thin curtains is bright and heavy, and he has the uncomfortable, groggy feeling of someone that’s slept far too late into the day. His stomach rumbles, and so he staggers out of his room, rubbing his face and trying to wake himself up.

The sound of conversation and shifting pots and pans floats down the corridor as he heads in the direction of the kitchen. Mentally, he braces himself for his flatmates. If Eskild is in the kitchen, then Isak knows that he’s going to be getting a lot of sympathetic pats and terrible words of encouragement. Sure, Eskild means well - but Isak really doesn’t think he can handle something like that right now; not when the sting of Even’s early departure is still so recent.

Shoving open the door to the kitchen, Isak freezes in surprise.

Standing over a frying pan on the hob is Even. As Isak watches, he carefully flips a pancake. It does a perfect arc in the air, landing neatly on its opposite side to the obvious delight of Eskild and Noora. None of them notice Isak, far too preoccupied with Even’s cooking success.

“Wow,” Eskild says, “Me and Linn tried to make pancakes a while ago. I got one stuck to the ceiling and hers stuck to the pan, so we had to scrape it off and it came away in little burnt pieces. But look at you! That’s a perfect pancake,” Eskild catches sight of Isak, then and he smiles, “Hey, Isak. Nice to see you’re finally up! It’s only two in the afternoon, you know. Some of us work.”

Even catches sight of Isak as well then, glancing up from his cooking and shooting Isak a warm look. He’s wearing one of Isak’s hoodies, and a pair of Isak’s tracksuit bottoms. He’d borrowed them last night, and the tracksuit bottoms are slightly too short, exposing the arch of his ankle.

Isak swallows against a dry throat. He’d never thought that seeing someone’s ankle bone would be a turn on for him, before.

“I work,” Isak says to Eskild, absently. He’s still staring at Even. The whole situation feels so surreal, he can hardly believe that Even is here, n his clothes, in his kitchen, making pancakes for his flatmates. The whole moment feels like it was lifted from a dream - as though it were made for some other Isak.

“He does,” Even says, still smiling, “I’ve seen him.”

“Should we go?” Noora says, then. Isak glances to her, watches as she tugs on Eskild’s sleeve.

“Why should we go?” Eskild asks, “We don’t have anything to do today. All of us are off, it’s a flat holiday!”

“Yes, and we have that, um, thing to go to,” Noora says, still tugging on Eskild’s sleeve, “Remember?” She looks at Eskild, and then between Isak and Even.

Eskild finally seems to catch on. “Oh yes! That thing, that we’re both doing.”

“What thing?” Even asks.

“Yoga,” Noora says.

“Tinder date,” Eskild says, at the same time.

There are a few moments of silence in the kitchen. Isak spends them looking heavenwards, and praying for less mortifying flatmates.

“It’s, um, a double date with a guy Eskild met on Tinder,” Noora says, eventually. “He’s a yoga instructor, and he says that he has a friend who might be good for me, so we’re both going along to meet him at the yoga studio.”

Isak and Eskild both look at her in surprise; it’s a lie that’s almost believable, considering she came up with it on the spot.

“Oh,” Even says, sounding amused, “Sounds fun.”

“I wish,” Eskild smiles, “Noora here never has fun at this sort of a thing.”

“Yes, well,” Noora says, “We’ve still got to go get ready for it, come on Eskild!” And she drags him out of the room.

*

Alone in the kitchen now, Isak turns a wide-eyed look to Even, who looks back, laughing a little, before looking back to the pan and sliding the pancake he was cooking off, and onto a plate. Then he turns the hob off, looks at Isak, and smiles so wide that his dimples appear.

“Hi,” Even says, walking over and pressing a soft kiss to Isak’s cheek, “You look hot.”

The gesture is so unexpected that Isak freezes a moment, before he manages to collect himself and mutter, “Hi,” back.

“I made you pancakes,” Even says, “Well, I was making them for Eskild and Noora, oo, Linn as well, if she wanted some, but everyone’s gone off on their Tinder yoga date, so I guess it’s just us.”

“I thought you’d gone,” Isak croaks, still watching Even with something that feels uncomfortably close to awe. He coughs, trying to clear his voice a little, “When I woke up, I mean. I thought you’d left.”

“No. I don’t need to be in work until six tonight, so I just spent the morning hanging out with your flatmates. They’re lovely, by the way.”

“They’re so embarrassing,” Isak replies, rolling his eyes, “Very interfering. Anyway, how were you up so early? Didn’t you sleep?”

Even stops for a second, touching his neck uncomfortably, before he smiles at Isak again, “Nah,” He says, then he switches to English, “I don’t sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.”

“Nas,” Isak says, laughing. Even looks delighted.

“You’ve done your homework!”

Isak flushes, “I listened to it a couple of times, yeah.”

“Did you like it?” Even asks, as he does so, he turns back to the pancake batter, spooning enough for a new pancake into the pan. He turns the radio on, as well; it’s still turned to the cheesy pop station that Eskild had been listening to last night.

Isak takes advantage of Even’s turned back to push himself up onto one of the counters, and smile dopily at Even when he’s not looking, “Yeah,” He says, “It was a really good album.”

Even turns to look at him over his shoulder, he looks pleased, “I’m glad. I want you to like the things that I like. I mean, I just want to share things with you, you know? Like, I see something, or I hear something, and it just feels really exciting, like I want to see what your face would look like if I showed you.”

“Yeah,” Isak says back, softly, “I get that.”

The Selena Gomez song that was playing on the radio - one that Isak doesn’t know the name of, but recognises because of Eva and Noora going on about at a pregame a couple of weeks ago - fades out. There’s a few seconds of silence, and then 5 Fine Frøkner by Gabrielle comes on.

Even’s mouth falls open in delight, “Oh my god, I love this song.”

Isak stares at him, “What?”

“Gabrielle? I love this song,” He walks over, turning the radio up, the music filling the small kitchen.

“Oh my god,” Isak says, watching as Even jabs his arms into the air in a way that reminds him of Jonas’ parents after they’ve had a few too many drinks.

“What?” Even says, slowly advancing towards Isak.

“You like Gabrielle? Seriously?”

Even’s brows furrow, “You don’t like Gabrielle? This song is amazing!” He moves even closer, so that he’s pressed right up against Isak’s legs where he’s sitting.

“It’s really not.”

“You don’t know art. You didn’t know who Nas was until I taught you to appreciate it.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever need to appreciate Gabrielle, Even.”

Even’s still pressed close to Isak, his weight leaning against Isak’s knees. Without even thinking about it, Isak moves his legs apart so that Even can step in between the vee of them, their chests almost touching.

“Seriously? You can’t appreciate this song?” Even says, so close that their lips are almost touching. He kisses Isak briefly, their mouths touching gently. When Even pulls back, Isak follows the path of his body subconsciously, and Even smiles sweetly, “Still not appreciating it?”

“It’s not the song that I’m appreciating, no,” Isak whispers back. The music is still blaring, but Isak can hardly hear it; he’s too busy looking at Even, too preoccupied with the shape of Even’s body, the warmth of Even standing close to him.

The pre-chorus of the song kicks in, and Even smiles at him. His smile is so wide, so bright, that Isak sometimes feels like if the sun were to fall out of the sky he could survive on the light Even gives off anyway.

“Hey, Isak?” Even says, “Du får meg til å kjøre meg opp, det e ingenting som kan kjøre meg ned.

Even hasn’t stopped moving closer as he sings, his face is still so close to Isak’s that their lips are brushing - a half kiss with every word of the song. It’s maddening, the worst kind of tease. Even doesn’t even seem to be registering Isak’s distress, too focused on mouthing along.

“You know,” Isak says, pulling back a little, “This is a hashtag.”

Even stops dancing, looking at Isak in confusion, “What is?”

“Hashtag, when you find the man of your dreams and it turns out he listens to Gabrielle.”

Even lights up, “What was that?”

“You heard me.”

“Did you just call me the man of your dreams?” Even says, darting in close and kissing Isak again before he can answer. His hands come up and tangle in Isak’s hair, his mouth is soft, and yielding and Isak can’t even bring himself to panic about his unintentional confession, because the feeling of Even’s shirt under his hands is all he needs.

“Maybe I did,” He finally says, into the space between their mouths when Even finally breaks the kiss for breath.

Even just tightens his hands in Isak’s hair and says, “Say it again.”

*

The opening night of Romeo and Juliet is looming ever closer. They’re doing full run throughs, now, with costumes and lights and Marte sitting in the wings, or the orchestra pit, and yelling at everyone who crosses her path.

Isak and Leif spend most of their time tucked up in the lighting booth, Leif sliding dimmers and fades intermittently. Isak is sent off at random moments to put a different gel over a certain light, or to climb up in the ceiling and reposition a spot.

It feels as though the stress of the production has seeped through everywhere. Isak comes home most nights and collapses on the sofa, Noora, Eskild and Linn patting him sympathetically. Jonas invites him on nights out, sometimes, but Isak feels uncomfortable with it - he still hasn’t apologised to Mahdi properly for freaking out at him after Vilde’s party.

So Isak spends most of his time in work, with his flatmates, or with Even.

Even’s been feeling the force of the extra rehearsals. He has dark circles, heavy under his eyes almost constantly, but he’s buzzing with energy whenever Isak goes near him. Looking at him sometimes feels like Isak is staring at someone on the edge of a cliff, on the top of a bridge - Even is hovering on a precipice, filled with untouchable potential.

“It probably won’t be so bad once opening night is out of the way,” Even keeps saying, bouncing on his toes and talking quickly, “I always get like this before a show. I’m just, getting into character. It’s all, you know,” He waves a hand near his head, “Mental stuff. I told you I hate the theatre, right? Well, it’s just really messing with me rght now. I’ll be fine, soon, I swear. I’m great, Isak. Don’t worry.”

His hands clench in fists at his sides, and Isak looks at them silently for a while, before he nods, taking Even’s hands in his own and biting playfully at his knuckles. Something in him thrums when he does that, his body reverberating with the joy of being able to touch, being able to hold.

Even laughs at Isak’s advances, everything about him gleeful. They stand there a while, hands tangled together, before Even wrenches himself free and twists his hands into Isak’s curls, instead.

“You know,” Even says, “You’d make an excellent Juliet.”

“What, do you think you’re my Romeo?” Isak says, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, “No thanks. I don’t really want us to sacrifice our lives for each other.”

Even just smiles, “Yeah, you’re right, forget it,” He presses a solid kiss to the middle of Isak’s forehead, “I’m definitely more a Mercutio.”

“Well, let’s hope you’re not any character that dies tragically,” Isak replies.

Even’s face goes slightly slack, “Um,” He says, “Yeah, let’s hope.”

Then Isak kisses him again, and the conversation is forgotten.

*

Jonas barges into Isak’s room on Thursday.

Even is with his mum - he’d rolled his eyes and made some comment about how she was always desperate to see him. Isak had laughed uncomfortably, and tried not to think about the several long paragraphs of Bible verse still sitting, unacknowledged in his phone.  

Isak had spent too long dwelling on it, though. Thinking about the casual way that Even had spoken about spending time with his own mother, no idea the turmoil he was putting Isak through. Isak had felt so guilty in the end, that he’d pulled open the long ignored texts from his mum.

Page after page of bible verses were there, texts and messages about the state of Isak’s soul. There was no, how are you doing? No updates about her day. Just guilt trips and judgments.

So, when Jonas shoves open his bedroom door, Isak doesn’t think he’s ever been more grateful for intervention.

“How the fuck did you get in?” He asks, staring at his best friend. Jonas frowns.

“Eskild let me in, he said you were being emo.”

“What the fuck? I’m not emo.”

“You are so emo, Isak. You’ve also been avoiding me, so I took the liberty of inviting Mahdi and Magnus over here for you. We’re going to drink beer and play FIFA and you’re going to stop looking so emo.”

Isak stares at him, “Magnus and Mahdi are here?”

“Yeah, they’re in the living room already.”

“Eskild let you all in?”

“No,” Jonas deadpans back, “He only let me in. Then I tied together all the sheets in the house, dangled them out the kitchen window and Magnus and Mahdi climbed up that so we could all have this cute little get together. Yes, he fucking let us all in.”

“I’m going to kill him.”

Jonas rolls his eyes. For a second, Isak is so shocked that someone is rolling their eyes at him, instead of the other way around, that he’s frozen.

“Come on, Isak,” Jonas says. He’s still standing in the doorway, yellow beanie pulled low over his curls. He doesn’t look like he’s going to move any time soon. Isak watches him for a moment, wondering if he could ever actually take Jonas out of his life. He’s a stable force.

“I can’t go out there,” He says, “I shoved Mahdi. I was such a dick.”

“You’re always a dick, but we put up with you because you’re slightly less bizarre than Magnus, and you’re more fun than anyone else was in Nissen. I mean, who would we talk to other than you? Julian Dahl?”

“They hate me.”

“I don’t think Julian Dahl hates you. I think he wants to fuck you, if I’m being honest.”

Isak pulls a face, “Not Julian Dahl, dickhead! Mahdi and Magnus hate me.”

“They don’t, bro,” Jonas says, rolling his eyes, “Come on. The beer will get warm if you let it sit too long.”

Isak hesitates for another split second, before finally sighing loudly and getting off the bed.

“I’m not paying you back for the beer,” He says. Jonas snorts.

“You never do, bro. You never do.”

*

Isak slumps down beside Mahdi when he gets to the living room, Mahdi doesn’t say anything about it, just looks at him quietly for a moment.

“You alright, buddy?” He asks.

“I promise not to get violent if I lose at FIFA,” Isak tells him, seriously. Mahdi grins.

“Okay,” He says, “That’s chill.”

Isak takes it to mean that they really are chill, and proceeds to queue up the game.

“I hope you’re all ready to get your asses kicked,” Magnus says, clapping his hands together once, loudly, “I am going to embarrass you all.”

Jonas shoots him a flat look, “Magnus, bro, you are so shit at FIFA.”

“I am not,” Magnus pouts, “You guys always underestimate my skills.”

“That implies that you had skills in the first place, Mags,” Isak says, clapping a commiserating hand on Magnus’ shoulder.

“You guys are all so mean to me. I am being bullied. This is bullying.”

“It’s really not bullying,” Mahdi says, “We love you really, Mags.”

“Yeah, bro,” Jonas chimes in, “You look damn good today.”

They all turn to look at Isak, who rolls his eyes, “You’re alright, Magnus. An okay guy.”

“From anyone else, that would upset me,” Magnus says, thoughtfully, “But I feel like from Isak that’s practically a declaration of love.”

“It is,” Jonas says, “I think it’s up there with the nicest thing that he’s ever said to me.”

Mahdi whistles, low, “Shit, bro, when’s the wedding?”

“I was thinking June,” Magnus says. Isak laughs.

“Sorry, dude. I don’t think we can get hitched, my partner would be pretty upset.”

There are a few seconds of silence. Isak freezes, taking in Jonas’ raised eyebrows and Mahdi’s wide eyes, before Magnus practically breaks the sound barrier as he yells, “YOU’RE SEEING SOMEONE?”

Isak winces, flinching away from the sheer volume of Magnus’ voice, “Um,” He says, choking on it. He hadn’t really considered the implications of what he was saying until it was already out there; there’s no way to snatch the words back now.

Mahdi looks to Jonas, “Did you know about this, bro?”

“I didn’t,” Jonas says, he’s watching Isak carefully, his eyebrows still raised. Isak pulls a face at him.

“It’s a relatively new thing,” He says, “The reason I freaked out at, um, Vilde’s party, was because I, um, I saw hi- I saw them with someone I thought they were dating. They weren’t, though, so, we’re, um. We’re properly together, now.”

“That’s really great, Isak,” Jonas says quietly, smiling, “I’m glad.”

“Yeah, bro. Happy for you,” Mahdi says.

Magnus is still looking at him, eyes wide with awe, “Who is it, then?” He asks.

“What?” Isak stares at him.

“Who is it that you’re dating? Is it Vilde? Is it Chris? Is it someone else? Do we know her? Is she pretty?”

Magnus’ slew of questions is so intense that it feels like the beginning of a headache. Isak looks at Jonas, feeling wild, panicked, almost. He doesn’t know how he can contain this one. He tries desperately to communicate to Jonas that he’s freaking out, but Jonas just shrugs back at him, pulling a face.

He’s probably upset that Isak didn’t update him on the Even situation.

“Um, it, um,” Isak takes a shaky breath in, Jonas gives him a terrible and unsubtle thumbs up, “It isn’t a girl, Magnus. It’s a guy, his name’s Even and he’s one of the actors in the theatre.”

“Well done, man,” Jonas says, at the same time Mahdi gets out,

“Is he hot?”

“Thanks, and yes,” Isak says, rolling his eyes. His heart is still pounding in his throat, but Mahdi just laughs, holding up his hand for a high-five, which Isak returns. He feels twenty pounds lighter, all of a sudden. To have Mahdi’s unquestioning acceptance means so much to him he can barely voice it.

All three of them turn to look at Magnus .

“Sorry,” Magnus says, running his hands through his hair, “I’m just trying to cope with the fact that Isak is suddenly gay, now. My mind has been blown. You got so many chicks, Isak!”

“Hey, he might not be gay! He could be bisexual,” Mahdi cuts in.

“I’m gay,” Isak says, quietly. Saying it out loud feels like such a weight off his chest. To have his best friends know. To have his best friends aware, and still choose to sit in the same room as him means more than he can even get his head around.

Mahdi looks at him and shrugs, seemingly oblivious to Isak’s changing worldview, “Okay, so he’s gay. Still, Magnus, it’s not a big deal?”

“It’s a very big deal! All those women that went for Isak when they should have been going for me instead! Oh my god, I could have been drowning in pussy.”

“Please never say that again,” Mahdi says, looking horrified.  

Isak scoffs, “Magnus,” He says, very slowly, “Even if I had never wanted a chick in my life, you still would have never gotten laid. If anything, I was doing those girls a service, making sure that you never talked to them.”

Mahdi and Jonas ‘oooh’ loudly, covering their mouths and laughing. Magnus flops back into the sofa grumpily in complaint, and Isak silently picks his FIFA team, smirking to himself.

It’s a pretty good night.

*

Three days before opening night, Isak is sitting in a KB, staring at an open text conversation with his mother. He has half of the text typed out, just sitting there, ready and waiting - but he can’t bring himself to click send.  He sighs, putting his phone down and looking out the window.

He jumps about three feet when he sees Even already standing on the other side, watching him with amusement.

“Hey,” He says, once he’s outside the doors of the KB, standing next to Even on the street.

“Hey,” Even says back. He pokes Isak in the cheek, right where Isak’s dimples are. Isak flushes, ducking his head and smiling.

“What’s up?” He asks, “Do you want to go back to mine? I think Eskild’s out tonight so, you know, the music will be less terrible.”

“The music was fine,” Even says, biting down on a smile, “In fact, the music was great, because I, like any person with a soul, love Gabrielle. But, no, I’m not keen on doing that.”

Isak raises his eyebrows, “What are you keen on doing, then?”

Even crowds closer against Isak; he’s vibrating with tension, or delight. Looking at Even sort of feels like you’re watching the rest of the world in lower definition, as though Even is the only thing in the world that’s solid, that’s real.

“I’m keen,” Even says, slowly, “On checking in to a fucking suite!”

Isak stares at him. Even’s still crowded into his space, all warm body and his smile so bright it could power NASA. Isak doesn’t know how to deal with him.

“Seriously?”

Even laughs, his head falling backwards with the force of it; the action exposes the long line of his throat to Isak. It’s overwhelming, an attack on all sides.

“Seriously,” Even tells him.

*

Even makes them get the tram to Grønland.

“I booked a suite with one bed,” He says. He’s holding onto the same bar that Isak is, looking at Isak intensely. The whole thing reminds Isak of the tram journey they had to Even’s apartment, the first time they properly talked, all those weeks ago, and it almost floors him

“Um,” Isak says, trying to tamp down on the embarrassment that Even’s statement implies, “Okay?”

“I’m just telling you, um, the person at the desk will probably assume. You know. About us.”

“Oh. Oh!” Isak gives up on trying to hid his embarrassment, well aware that the blush is probably prominent on his face now, “That’s,um. That’s okay, Even.”

“Really?” Even’s expression is like a wave breaking, like the first glimpse of sun through a cloudy day. His smile is wide and open mouthed - crows feet prominent and teeth shiny. It makes Isak smile just to see it.

He thinks about telling Even that he came out to his other friends, last night, but decides against it. This moment, right here, on the tram, is just for the two of them. He doesn’t want to bring Jonas, Mahdi and Magnus into it.

He doesn’t want it to be anyone but him and Even.

“Really, really,” He says, instead. Even’s face falls again.

“I’m going to have to make you watch more movies with me. I can’t believe you just quoted Shrek in the year 2019.”

“It’s a classic.”

“Goodfellas is a classic. The Breakfast Club is a classic. Moulin Rouge is a classic. Shrek is an amalgamation of Myke Myers’ ego and Dreamworks studios obsessions with fart jokes.”

Isak sniffs, “Shrek is on Netflix under critically acclaimed movies.”

Even’s mouth falls open, and he bounces forwards on his feet again; he’s dizzying to watch, “What? No it isn’t.”

“It is.”

“Well,” Even says, “Are we really going to trust a website that put the Babadook under LGBT films? I don’t think so.”

Isak laughs, “I thought you said that the Babadook was an LGBT icon?”

“He is, Isak, he is! That’s beside the point. The point of this conversation is that we can’t trust Netflix’s sorting system.”

Isak shakes his head slowly, “I can’t believe you hate Shrek. I’m thinking about reevaluating this whole thing, to be honest. Maybe I should just leave you on your own.”

Even’s smile dips slightly, “On my own?” He asks, bottom lip slipping out in a pout.

Isak bites the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile, “I’m just saying, Even. I don’t think I could be with someone that hates the critically acclaimed movie Shrek.”

Even rolls his eyes. He reaches out, poking Isak in the side right under his ribs, laughing when Isak flinches away, “I don’t hate Shrek, Isak, I’m making a point.”

“What point is that?”

“The point is, um,” Even looks around, suddenly, glancing over his shoulder and then looking back at Isak and grinning, “The point is, Isak, that this is our stop, c’mon.”

*

It turns out that Even has booked them a suite in the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Even just waves away Isak’s exclamations of shock as though they mean nothing to him.

“It’s worth it to see you smile, Isak. Gotta keep my boyfriend happy, don’t I?” He says, and Isak is floored at the implication, at the thought that this is what they are, that they’re official.

“Boyfriend?”

Even turns back, walking backwards and holding out his arms, “Is that not what we are? That’s what I want us to be. I think we’d be amazing boyfriends. I think we’d be amazing everything.”

Isak shakes his head, biting down on the smile that he knows is obvious on his face anyway, “I am amazing everything,” He says.

“You are,” Even agrees. He shoves his hands into his pockets and tilts his head sideways, smiling, “Are you an amazing boyfriend?”

Isak flushes, looking away. “I guess I could be,” He says, and Even laughs. Long, and loud, the laughter seems almost to be a different pitch to his usual laughter. It makes Isak blink slightly, before he smiles, too. Even must as happy as Isak is, to be laughing like that.  

Boyfriends.

Isak could freeze this moment, right here. Freeze it with Even standing beside him, mouth still cracked open on a smile. He feels as though he could live forever off nothing but this feeling in his chest, off nothing but the way Even had sounded when he’d said boyfriends.

Isak has never been a boyfriend before. Not really, not properly.

He thinks he could get used to it.

*

Even walks into the hotel lobby as though he trained the world to bow at his feet. As though he could do anything and it wouldn’t hurt him. As though he’s

Isak follows behind, happy just to bask in the leftover heat that Even gives off.

The woman at the reception desk seems bemused at Even’s enthusiasm, as though she doesn’t quite know how to take him. She keeps glancing back to Isak, as though he has any more insight on the unstoppable force that is Even Bech Næsheim. As though he would be able to explain to her the shifting of the elements, the movement of the natural forces that shaped Even into existence.

The whole lift ride up to their suite, Isak stands with his nose pressed to the window, looking out at the spread of buildings across Oslo. Even stands, crowded against his back, his nose pushed into the space between Isak’s jaw and neck.

Isak lets Even’s weight ground him. The way that they’re both pressed together feels intimate, familiar; there’s nothing sexual about it. It feels like the sort of hold that a couple who’d been together for years would be in. Even’s puffer coat is warm around him, and Isak’s smile feels so wide that it’s pulling at his cheeks.

Isak presses further into the window; the lift moving upwards feels like a symbol.

Everything is going to get better from here.

*

Stepping into the hotel suite with Even at his side feels like something out of a dream sequence. It feels like the sort of thing Isak would hear from one of Jonas’ friends of a friend, the kind of crazy, implausible series of events that people would whisper about at parties.

Even grins when he opens the door, throwing his arms out in a grand gesture. He takes off his coat and hat, dropping them clunkily to the floor. He moves through the room fast, opening all of the cupboards and drawers with an almost obsessive kind of intensity.

“Yes,” He keeps saying, “Yes, this will do. This will be perfect.”

“What do you mean, this will be perfect?” Isak asks, staring at the bed in front of them.

Even looks down at Isak with clear amusement, bouncing further into Isak’s space. His hands won’t stop pressing against Isak, stroking down his back, his sides, his face, before they dart away. Isak has seen Even keyed up before, but never as much as this. He’s moving so much it’s like he’s pressing himself into another dimension entirely, like he’s cracked the code to the Matrix, and he’s existing on another plane altogether.

“Why wouldn’t I be doing this?” He asks, “You wanted me to have a plan, Isak. So now I have the best fucking  plan that there’s ever been.” Even’s grinning, the smile sitting on his face like it’s half Cheshire cat; so big and wide that the rest of Even seems lost in it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Isak says, his heart is starting to pound at an irregular rhythm.

Even frowns, “I’m talking about the way the whole fucking world works, Isak! You know I think that life is,” Even stops, looking around the room as though he’s searching for the words, “Life is like a movie, and you’re the director of your own actions, okay? I’m directing this scene, right now. Isak, I’m directing the best fucking film that will ever be on screen, okay? I’m buying you out a whole fucking floor of this hotel, okay? And then it’s going to be one of those fucking epic movie romances, you know?”

He stares at Isak, eyes piercing. Isak nods, slowly; he’s agreeing for the sake of agreeing. Even doesn’t seem aware, he smiles again.

“Look, this scene is going to be one of the ones where you know it means something. I mean, the whole film is going to hinge on this epic meeting between us, because we’ve changed each other’s lives, you know? And that’s gotta show, Isak.”

Isak is still staring, this time, Even picks up on it.

“You don’t think we’ve changed each other’s lives? No, we definitely have, Isak. We’ve completely changed each other’s lives. And this scene, this scene is going to show it, because the cinematography is going to be, like, sepia tinted, and there’s going to be, like, a million fucking candles, okay? Like in Romeo and Juliet, and you’re going to be kissing me. It’s going to be insane. Everyone will watch this movie, Isak. Everyone.”

Isak stares at Even, his eyes wide. He feels frozen to the place where he’s standing, completely unable to do anything. It’s as though someone has messed with Even’s settings; the saturation has been turned way up, his intensity hyper focused, spilling out onto the floor between them.

Even doesn’t seem to notice, he’s pacing, now. Each movement exaggerated in the length of his body. Isak wants to pin him down, hold him close. Isak wants Even to stop talking.

Isak wants the world to stop spinning, the delay between the two of them to join up again. He wants to press their chests together and sync their heartbeats to each other, eradicating this strange Even, this Even who’s so lost in possibility that Isak can’t touch him anymore.

Isak doesn’t do any of that. Even keeps talking.

“Yeah, it’s going to be this, fucking. It’s going to be this epic scene, Isak. It’s going to be iconic, you know? The sort of scene that wins the movie a fucking Oscar, and, people will talk about it for years to come. People only notice the ad things, the. People only notice how crowded your head is, or how fancy the Queen Mab speech is, or whether or not I fall the right way in the fight scene with Tibalt, and they don’t notice these big things, Isak! I’m planning a fucking masterpiece, here.”

Even’s still moving, crowding Isak towards the bed. Isak goes, letting himself be pushed, but he presses his hands to either side of Even’s face, holding him steady for a second, so that he can look into Even’s eyes. It doesn’t stop Even from moving, though; the hold doesn’t stop him from twisting in Isak’s hold as though he’s ready to break free.

He’s a wild, uncontained thing; Isak feels like he’s holding fire between his open palms.

“Even?” He asks, hesitantly, “Even, what do you mean? What big things?”

This whole conversation feels like Isak is teetering on the edge of a freefall, like he’s standing on a glass floor, looking at a dead drop below him. Isak doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say, Isak doesn’t know if he should want to hold Even when he’s like this, when he’s so raw, so open. Looking at Even now is like watching a natural disaster unfold. It’s like looking at the sun head on: stupid and irrational, but desirable nonetheless.

Even freezes at Isak’s question. Isak forces himself to hold Even’s gaze, and he watches as Even licks his lips and says, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter, Isak, because you lose things in the end, anyway. You know? It’s not a good love story if it doesn’t have tragedy in it.”

Isak feels like his blood is turning to ice inside him.

“Who told you that?” He asks, quietly.

“Life. Sonja and I, Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet and Ophelia, Satine and Christian. You’re not in love unless you lose it, Isak. It’s the only way to have something forever.”

Isak kisses him. He kisses him half to see if it will still Even against him. He kisses him to see if it will hold the storm of Even’s body against him; despite the way the ground seems to be shifting under Even’s feet, despite the way Even’s mouth looks split open, the way his head seems too small and closed for his own words.

Isak kisses Even because Even is talking about losing things, and Isak has pushed through to much in the last few weeks to lose it now, to loose it so soon.

“That’s not true,” Isak whispers, into the space between his body and Even’s, “You’re not going to lose me.”

Even smiles, it seems smaller than all his previous smiles; it seems more real. It seems as though Even, just for a second, is allowed to exist within his own body once more. He presses impossibly closer, eyes soft, and whispers almost directly into Isak’s own waiting mouth.

“But I want to keep you forever.”

*

“I’m never going to sleep again,” Even says, at eleven at night.

Isak rolls over in bed, pulling Even’s pillow over his head and sighing, “I am,” He says, “I’m going to sleep for the rest of my life; you ruined me.”

Even bites his shoulder playfully, “Don’t say that, Isak,” A kiss to his spine, “Stay up,” A kiss lower again; Isak’s eyes start to slide shut without his permission, his body arching into Even’s.

“Even,” Isak says. A warning, a plea.

Even kisses lower again.

“Stay up,” He whispers, “Experience the world with me.”

*

Even wakes him up again, shifting off the bed and pulling at the covers. Isak groans.

“I hate you,” He says, half into his pillow.

“Everyone does at some point,” Even says back, “But you shouldn’t, Isak, I’m amazing. I’m brilliant. The best you’ll ever have.”

Isak can’t see his face, so he doesn’t know if there’s a smile attached to the words or not.

*

“Come back to bed,” Isak says, pushing his face into the pillow. Even is still walking around; he’s in nothing but his boxers, his hair falling out of his usual quiff. He looks rumpled, twisted sideways somehow. Isak watches him silently, trying to pinpoint what it is about Even tonight that seems so different.

He’s almost strikingly attractive like this.

Even is always attractive, but there’s a new edge to it, tonight. It’s as though the rest of the world is too real against him. Even looks as though the night can’t touch him, like he’d float away if Isak tried to pull him closer.

“I can’t,” Even says.

Isak sits up a little, rubs at his eyes, “You can’t?”

“No,” Even says, he’s still moving. The air around him seems to shift - as though he’s blurring time itself with his energy. Isak wants to pin him down, hold him warm and safe in the blankets.

Even doesn’t want to be held.

“Why can’t you come to bed?” Isak asks.

Even looks at him, his head tilted to the side. The sudden stillness feels just as uncomfortable as his constant movement from before; Isak is caught in Even’s gaze.

“I just can’t,” Even says, “I can’t sleep when there’s so much of the universe waiting out there.”

There’s silence for a few moments; Even’s words echoing around the Then he’s turning, moving so quickly that Isak can barely comprehend what he’s doing.

Even is pulling on his trousers, his thin white t-shirt, he’s running a hand through his hair and he’s muttering under his breath - but Isak can’t make out what he’s saying. The situation feels like Isak’s trying to hold onto the last grains of sand through an hourglass.

“I’m leaving,” Even says, “I’ve just, I’ve got to get out there, Isak.”

He doesn’t even have his shoes on.

Isak hears the snick of the hotel door shutting with his heart in his throat.

*

Minutes pass, maybe hours. Isak is still staring at the space where Even just stood. He doesn’t know what you’re supposed to do when this happens. He can still see Even’s coat thrown over a chair, his hat on the bedside table.

Isak feels like he can’t catch a breath. His chest is tight, heart squeezed against his ribcage and his head pounding with panic. He can’t stop looking at Even’s coat.

It’s cold enough out that you need layers, and yet Even left it all behind in his hurry to go.

It’s cold enough out that you need layers.

Even left it all behind.

Even left without his shoes on.

Isak is pulling on his own clothes and gathering up all of Even’s belongings before he can stop to think about it further.

*

In the lift on the way down, a phone starts ringing.

Isak finds himself frantically searching through his own pockets before he realises that it’s coming from Even’s coat. Isak fumbles it out, squinting at the screen.

Sonja’s name is there, accompanied with a picture of her.

In the picture, her hair is much longer than it is now, almost reaching her waist. She’s smiling, deep and wide, crinkles around her eyes betraying how happy she actually is. It’s the sort of picture that reinforces just how long Even and Sonja have known each other.

She knows me better than I know myself.

Isak hits answer on the phone, just as the lift finally gets down to the bottom floor. He tears through the lobby, ignoring the startled look from the hotel receptionist as he does so.

“Sonja?” Isak says, into the phone. He’s breathless with his panic; his voice coming out reedy and thin.

“Who is this?” Sonja says. Her voice sounds sharp, angry.

“It’s Isak. Um, I was with Even, we were in the Radisson Blu hotel. Except, um, he left there now, in the middle of the night. He’s just wearing his trousers and a thin shirt, Sonja. He’s not even wearing shoes. He’s going to fucking freeze!”

It’s hard to speak around the panicked lump in his throat. His voice keeps catching on the words, and he can hear the jarring in and out of Sonja’s breathing on the other end of the line. Clearly, she’s as calm as he is.

“Shit,” Sonja says, “Shit, shit. Shit. Do you have any idea where he went? At all?”

“No,” Isak gasps out. He turns another corner, trying to see the street in front of him through the blur of unshed tears in his eyes. He can see nothing in front of him but the smear of the cities lights; unfocused and distant.

The hotel seems like a faded memory, now; the imprint of Even next to him on the sheets is long gone, and Isak can feel desperation rising like bile in the back of his throat.

“Stay there,” Sonja says, “I’ll come find you. I should have known something like this was going on, I’m so fucking -” She cuts off, and Isak can hear the way she’s holding her breath, the way she’s so clearly trying to keep herself under control.

“Sonja,” Isak says, holding the phone so tight to his ear that the glass of the screen is starting to hurt his ear, “What’s going on? What’s happening?”

“What do you mean, what’s happening? He’s fucking manic, Isak! Shit. Shit. I don’t know why I didn’t notice.”

Isak staggers around another corner. The street in front of him is still blurry, but he focuses on placing one foot in front of the other. He’s determined to find Even; the cold is piercing, whipping against his face and blurring the tears in his eyes even more.

It takes him a while to process what it is that Sonja’s said.

“Manic? What’s that? I don’t,” He pauses, does another useless pivot to see if he can catch sight of Even, “I don’t know what you mean.”  

“I mean he’s got bipolar disorder, Isak! He’s manic. He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now. He probably doesn’t know what he’s been doing for weeks, and you just let him out into the middle of fucking Grønland with no fucking shoes on.”

Isak’s properly crying, now. The lump in his throat is so sharp, so pronounced, that it feels more like he’s swallowing against knives than against his panic.

“I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Sonja says; there’s background noise when she speaks, as though she’s moving, gathering her stuff together to leave, “He doesn’t talk about this stuff. He’s never properly talked about this stuff.”

Isak takes a jagged breath in, “He might have wanted to tell me, once.”

“Probably not,” Sonja shoots back. She sounds frantic, distracted.

Isak swallows around the lump in his throat, “No, really. He might have wanted to tell me. But… But. I told him I didn’t want to be around mentally ill people.”

He shuts his eyes as he says it, the conversation about his mother coming back to him in horrifying surround sound.

Standing in the middle of the road, breath fogging out in front of him, Isak remembers, now. He remembers the way Even had frozen, the way he’d cleared Isak out and not spoken to him for a while after that. He remembers the way Even told him that he was seeking solace with Sonja, how he felt that she knew him better than he knew himself.

“You said what?” Sonja says, and Isak chokes on his inhale.

He said that he didn’t want to be around mentally ill people, to Even, a mentally ill person.

Isak doesn’t think that it matters he only meant he didn’t want to be around his mother when she was at her worst. He doesn’t think it matters that his home experiences were difficult, hard to live through and hard to explain to people. Those are explanations, not excuses; Isak told Even that he didn’t want to be around mentally ill people, because Isak didn’t have the decency not to tar all mentally ill people with the same brush.

“Fuck,” He says, putting a hand to his forehead and taking a shaky step backwards. He feels as though his whole body is vibrating, as though he’s standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the rest of his life.

“Isak,” Sonja says. She sounds shocked; it’s clear that when he was seeking comfort from here, Even didn’t go into details about what happened. Somehow, it makes Isak feel even worse; he doesn’t deserve Even’s discretion.

“Fuck. I have to find him.”

“You should stay where you are, Isak,” Sonja says. She sounds a strange mix of angry and concerned, and Isak can hardly bear to listen to her anymore. He hangs up the phone, spinning in the middle of the street helplessly.

He chokes, running a hand through his hair. He doesn’t know what you’re supposed to do in this kind of a situation; doesn’t even know where he’s supposed to begin. He can feel his legs weakening with the panic; his vision feels like it’s swaying in and out. He can’t catch a breath, each one seeming shorter and more panicked than the last.

Isak’s got a hand on his chest, his whole body shaking. He can’t believe that he let the situation escalate to this point. He can’t believe that he couldn’t see the signs that there was something going on with Even; he couldn’t figure out that Even wasn’t a one-dimensional figure that would figure everything out for Isak.

He feels stupid, young and reckless. He feels like he was given the opportunity to hold the universe in his hands and he crumpled it up and threw it away.

Isak finds his knees giving out in the middle of the pavement. He still can’t take in a breath; it’s been years since he’s had a panic attack, but he’s still uncomfortably familiar with the feeling of each frightened gasp wheezing it’s way up his throat. He feels like the world is spinning.

A couple walking past on the street ask him if he’s okay from a few meters away. Isak presses a hand to his face and waves them on, just trying to get them to stop looking at him.

He never wanted anyone to see him like this.

At the edges of his panic, he finds himself wondering if this is what it’s like for Even - to be so locked in his own head that he can’t take full control of his own actions. He thinks about Even saying that life is like a movie, and you get to be the director and it makes his heart squeeze uncomfortably.

Even must spend so much of his life fighting for his own agency, his own choices. Even must spend so many moments trying to get other people to understand that he’s fighting every step of the way to make his own decisions; and there was Isak, careless and stupid and ready to tell Even that he’d cut Even out of his life just for being himself.

As if Isak could ever cut Even out of his life. As if Isak wasn’t gone, ruined the second that Even stood next to him and stole all the paper towels.

Isak grabs at his throat, trying not to cry out loud. He still can’t bring himself to stand, too overwhelmed with everything that’s happened this evening.

Isak stays there, in the middle of the street in Oslo, crumpled on the floor, clutching his neck and looking at his feet.  

*

He doesn’t know how long he stays there. It was late to begin with, so traffic and passersby are rare. He has no way of checking the passage of time without checking his phone, but his eyes are still too blurry with tears to even try and do that.

Eventually, his breathing falls under control. He stays there, sucking in deep, slow breaths; his grip on his clothes loosens, and his vision clears enough that he trusts himself to stand, pushing himself up shakily.

He’s about to walk on, try to find some way of getting home. He thinks he’ll call Jonas, or a taxi, or something, except then there’s a car pulling up, and Sonja’s parking against the empty curb of the street, getting out and appearing in front of him.

She looks different to how she did the first time Isak saw her; her hair is less slicked down, and her face is shiny with a lack of make up. Her hands are tucked into a large blue coat, and her eyebrows are furrowed in concern.

“Isak?” She asks, her voice is gentle. After all Isak said to Even, her voice is still gentle.

It makes Isak want to cry again.

“Sonja! I was going to look for Even, I just-”

Sonja holds up her hand, cutting him off, “It’s fine, Isak, it’s okay. The police picked him up and took him to his parents. I was just looking for you.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t know about Even’s illness, or. I mean, I still don’t really know anything about bipolar disorder, I’m,” He cuts off again, he can feel the lump in his throat rising once more, threatening to take over again. He turns away, blinking rapidly in a futile attempt to take control of the tears.

“Isak,” Sonja says, again. She reaches out, placing a hand on his shoulder, “I get it. I mean, it was a terrible thing to say to him, and you shouldn’t have-”

“I know-”

But,” Sonja goes on, ignoring that Isak even spoke, “Even didn’t tell you that he was mentally ill, and you couldn’t have known that something like this would happen. I don’t know why you said what you did to him, and I can tell that you didn’t mean it.”

“I didn’t,” Isak affirms. He still feels shaky, unmoored.

“I know,” Sonja says, “You wouldn’t be this upset if you were seriously thinking of cutting Even out of your life for something that he can’t control. He didn’t choose to be bipolar, you know? All we can do is choose how we act around it.”

Isak takes another deep breath in, grounding himself. Sonja’s mouth tilts into a tiny smile that doesn’t meet her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Isak says. Sonja shrugs.

“Look, I’m not here to shout at you for things you said when you didn’t know the full story,” She shrugs a little again, a small movement of her shoulders, “I’m sure Even could tell you about all number of terrible things I said, and did, to him when we were still together. People do shit things without meaning to all the time.”

“I’m really sorry,” Isak says, again.

“I’m not the one that needs to hear that, Isak,” She says, still gentle, “Anyway, it all turned out okay, though. Even is okay, he’s safe, he’s with people that love him. So, come on,” She jerks her head back in the direction of her car, “I’ll give you a lift home.”

*

It’s a mostly silent car ride back to Isak’s flat.

Isak dumps all of Even’s clothes in the back seat of Sonja’s car, after she points out that she can return it all to him as soon as he gets home.

The ride back, Sonja plays music at a low volume; it’s a CD, some indie band that Isak would never be able to name, but Sonja seems to know all the words. She mouths along with them, despite the fact that it’s all in English.

Isak thanks her again when they pull up to the door, but she waves it away once more.

“It’s fine, Isak. Just,” She pauses, turning to look at him. Her eyes are wide and serious in the dim illumination from the streetlamps, “Just think about what you’re going to say to Even, okay? These things don’t fix themselves in one day, you know? Even’s probably going to be a little unstable for a while, now.”

“I get it,” Isak says. Sonja smiles, the same small smile from before. Then, she gets back into her car and drives away.

*

God has clearly forsaken Isak entirely. That’s the only reason he can come up with for the fact that people are still awake when he finally gets home.

Unlocking the door, his eyes still feel bleary. He knows without looking in the mirror that he’s a mess - he can still feel the dried snot on his face, and his eyes are sore with the amount of crying.

He pushes his way into the kitchen with the sole intention of getting a glass of water. As soon as he does, he’s greeted with the sight of Noora and Eva curled up on the sofa. The television is on, hooked up to Eva’s laptop. For some inexplicable reason, they seem to be watching old episodes of Dr. Phil.

Noora turns around in surprise when she hears Isak come in, and she frowns at him in concern.

“Isak?” She says, “Are you okay? I thought you were out with Even tonight? That’s what Eskild said, anyway. He’s out on a date, too, so I invited Eva over.”

Eva turns around to face Isak then, too. She looks even more concerned than Noora at the sight of him, and it makes his stomach clench in shame once more. Even, Eva, Jonas; some days it feels like everything that Isak touches crumbles in his hands.

“Are you okay?” Eva asks, she stands up from the sofa and pauses the Dr. Phil episode. Isak walks into the kitchen, trying to keep his back to her so that she can’t see the mess of his face any more than she has already.

“I’m fine,” He says. His voice cracks unconvincingly on the word and he winces. Making it to the sink, he pulls out a glass and fills it with water, hands still shaking slightly as it does so.

“Do you want me to call Eskild?” Noora asks, and Isak turns, shaking his head.

“No, no. If he’s on a date I don’t want to interrupt that.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind,” Noora says, but Isak just shakes his head again.

“It’s fine, seriously, just. It was just a difficult night.”

Eva bites her bottom lip. She’s wearing a t-shirt that Isak recognises as belonging to him, once, before Jonas stole it. Clearly, Eva stole it off Jonas after him, and it gives Isak a weird moment of dissonance to stare at it; it’s a physical reminder of how intrinsic Eva used to be to his life.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Isak?” Eva asks, “If you don’t want to interrupt Eskild, I could call Jonas, or something?”

“No, no, seriously. I don’t want to bother anyone else, I’ve already messed everything up,” His voice is going high-pitched again, his throat sore and painful to swallow around once more. Neither Eva and Noora look away from him; they’re still hovering, faces still concerned.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Isak,” Noora says, quietly, “I doubt you messed anything up. Everything has a way of working itself out.”

Beside her, Eva nods vigorously. Isak laughs, hollowly. He takes another drink from his glass just so that he has something to do with his hands.

“I basically told Even that I didn’t want him in my life.”

Eva blinks, “Even?” She asks.

“He’s, um, he’s Isak’s friend from the theatre,” Noora tells her.

Isak shakes his head, “He’s my boyfriend, or, he was my boyfriend,” He rubs a hand to his temple, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on anymore. This whole thing is such a fucking disaster, I feel like everything's falling apart.”

Isak looks over at Eva. She’s still standing there, watching him. Her face is impassive, and Isak doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that she doesn’t seem to be surprised by his confession about Even’s real relationship to him.

“These things can always be fixed, Isak,” Eva says, “I mean, look at Jonas and I. We’re still friends, even after I cheated on him.”

“You cheating on him wasn’t the main problem though, was it, Eva? It was all the shit that I fed both of you. I mean, I’m gay, Eva. It wasn’t you that I was trying to get to when I ruined your relationship.”

Even as he says it, his throat squeezes tight. Talking about his sexuality, openly acknowledging everything he did because of his painful

Eva’s mouth quirks up, “I know,” She says, softly, “But you didn’t ruin mine and Jonas’ relationship. I didn’t trust Jonas; even if I hadn’t gone to you, I would have found some other excuse to kiss Penetrator Chris at that party. Both of us were too young and too freaked out, Isak. It never would have worked at that time.”

“I’m sorry, about all that,” Isak whispers, “I never really said that. I just, I didn’t know how. I know it doesn’t really seem believable, but I swear, Eva, I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” Eva says, “I mean, I was angry for a long time, but it’s been so long now, Isak. I’m over it, Jonas is over it. I think the only one that still needs to get over it is you, you know?” She shrugs, smiling, “I learned back in first year that you have to forgive yourself first. You discovering yourself is the most important thing.”

Noora’s still standing in the kitchen, but she’s stepped back a little now. She’s letting Eva and Isak have their space. Isak feels ridiculous, standing there; Eva’s so close, but so far, wearing his fucking t-shirt. He thinks back to the days in Grefsken when they first started speaking, back when Jonas first started going out with her and he’d started to bring her around for their video game tournaments.

He remembers the white hot, burning jealousy in his throat. Remembers how at the same time, his dad started to stay out later, his mum started to fade away more and more, every day.

He remembers how he pushed Eva out of his life, even though she was better at Call Of Duty at both of them, even though she’d pay for Isak’s coffee sometimes when his dad forgot to leave him money.

“It’s so weird,” Isak says, he knows that tears are falling down his face again, but he’s been crying so much tonight that he doesn’t even bother to hide it again, “You were one of my best friends, you know? And I just, I fucked it all up, and now I’ve fucked it up with Even, too.”

“You didn’t fuck it up with me,” Eva says, “I’m still here, look.”

Isak sniffs, “You’re only here because of Noora.”

Eva punches him gently in the arm, “Okay, I’m only here because of Noora. But, you know what, Isak? If you’d talked to me before, I would have been here for you, too. You just need to talk to people,” She grins, “No man is an island, you know? Think about it, you said sorry to me, and it all turned out okay in the end. You just need to say sorry to Even, too.”

“You don’t know how bad the thing I said was.”

Eva shrugs, “And you don’t know what he’ll say until you apologise to him, do you?” She turns back to look at where Noora is still hovering awkwardly in the background, and laughs. “Sorry, Noora, I didn’t mean to leave you out, me and Isak just needed to talk about some things.”

“A lot of things,” Isak mutters, and Eva laughs again.

“A lot of things,” She agrees, reaching out and patting him on the shoulder. It’s the sort of gesture that Isak feels like he should resent for being patronising, but with Eva it just feels grounding; as though it’s further proof that everything between them is okay, now.

“C’mon, Eva, we can just watch Dr. Phil on the laptop in my room,” Noora says, “Give Isak his space.”

“Yeah, sure,” Eva says, “See you in the morning, Isak?”

“Probably,” Isak says back, “Night, guys.”

Noora smiles at him, “Good night, Isak, and good luck with Even. I’m sure that everything will work out fine. He’d be stupid to give someone like you up.”

The words make Isak blink, they’re almost an exact copy of what he said to her when she’d finally broken up with William for good. Hearing them echoed back to him now makes him smile; it’s small and doesn’t feel completely realised, but it’s a smile, nonetheless.

“Thank you,” He says.

Both of them shrug his thanks away as they disappear down the hall to Noora’s room.

*

Isak barely sleeps that night.

He drinks a lot of Noora’s tea, lying on the lumpy living room sofa staring at the TV, which is just tuned into static. He’s there for so long that he’s still lying on the sofa when Eskild gets back from his hook-up.

Not that he talks to Eskild; the way he manages to smash into every wall on the way down to his room tells Isak that it wouldn’t really be a conductive conversation, anyway.

It’s half four in the morning when his phone finally vibrates against his ribcage with a text.

Unknown: Hey, it’s Sonja. I got your number from Even’s phone, sorry. Just wanted to let you know that he’s home and he’s okay, he’d been off his meds for a while so it had messed him up a little. I’ve spoken to his parents, and we’re all going to be here for him. I think he’d like it if you were here for him, too.

Isak stares at it for a long time. He types out multiple different replies, deleting them every time. Each one makes him feel more ridiculous, and his own frustration rises every time he fails to get across what he really wants to say. Finally, he sends one off.

Isak: thanks for letting me know. i want to speak to even, but i dont want to make things worse for him? im sorry if him going off his meds is my fault, because of what i said.

Sonja’s reply is so quick that Isak knows she’s sitting up as well. He imagines the two of them in different parts of the city, both there, both just as worried about Even. It makes him feel bad again; makes him feel as though he got in the way of Even’s relationship with Sonja.

He knows, logically, that Even and Sonja broke up before Isak even appeared in Even’s life. That doesn’t really matter, though. He’s been in Sonja’s position, and seeing someone you have feelings for find someone else is never easy. Isak has Jonas and Eva to credit for that.

Sonja: It’s not your fault. I think he was stressed about a lot of things, and he’d recently been put on a new prescription. I think the side effects were getting to be a little too much, but he’s really bad at telling people about stuff like that. I actually think it would be good for him to talk to you. He talks to you more than he does most people, believe it or not.

Isak takes a while to comprehend what Sonja really means; he still doesn’t fully believe that he could be good for Even, better for Even. He can’t really get his head around the possibility that Even somehow talks to him more than he does anyone else.

That doesn’t matter, though. The possibility of it all makes him feel better than anything else has in a long time.

*

It’s Linn, of all people, that wakes him up the next morning.

She has her double duvet wrapped around her shoulders, and over her head. Her hair, where it’s visible, is hanging limp and greasy around her face. Isak stares up at her, and she stares down at him. Neither of them say anything for a beat.

“I’m making coffee,” She says, “Do you want some?”

Isak groans, rolling over on the lumpy sofa and pushing himself to sit up. He’s still wearing his jeans and hoodie from the night before, and he feels cold and uncomfortable. The thought of coffee is incredibly appealing. The thought of coffee made by Linn - who buys expensive roast beans and hoards them in her room like a dragon guards his  treasure - is the only possible thing that would make Isak consider moving off the sofa.

“Yes please,” He says, “Thanks, Linn.”

“Noora’s going to be mad that you drank all her tea.”

“I’ll buy her some more. I’ll buy you some more coffee, too. I just, I had a stressful night last night.”

Linn hums, waddling into the kitchen with her awkward duvet coat on, “I think I heard you come in. It was really late.”

“No,” Isak says, “That was Eskild. He came in after me, crashed down the hallway.”

“Oh,” Linn says back, “He won’t be up for a long time, then. That’s good. He always steals coffee when I make it.”

Isak nods, watching her walk around the room. She’s barefoot, and he wonders how she can cope with the cold kitchen floor so early in the morning.

“Linn?” He asks.

“Hm.”

“Do you, like, think I’m a bad person?”

Linn freezes, and Isak wants to take the words back the second that he’s asked them. He and Linn don’t really speak; he can count the number of times that they’ve been alone in the same room together on his two hands. Asking her is stupid, and yet she feels like the only person he can ask. The only person who could give him a subjective opinion.

“Noora likes you,” Linn says, eventually. Isak blinks.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Noora doesn’t like bad people.”

Isak rolls his eyes, “Noora dated fucking William. Noora has terrible taste when it comes to people.”

He expects Linn to argue with this, to say something in defense of William. Instead, she just hums thoughtfully again. “Okay,” She says, pouring water out of the kettle and into the cafetiere, “How about this? I wouldn’t make coffee for someone who I thought was a bad person. So, I guess you’re okay, Isak.”

She turns to look over her shoulder, through the space over the kitchen counter to where Isak’s still sitting in the living room. She smiles at him then. It’s not a wide smile, not large enough to show her teeth, but a smile from Linn - a genuine one - is a rare and coveted thing. Isak smiles back without even thinking about it.

“Whatever you’re worried about,” Linn says, facing back towards the cafetiere and staring at it intently, “Don’t be. Just, like, pick up the phone and call the asshole who made you stressed out and tell them to fuck off.”

Isak stares at the back of her head. This is the most he thinks that he’s ever heard Linn speak in one go.

“What if it’s my fault, though?”

Linn shrugs again, plunging the cafetiere down slowly, “Then call the asshole who you stressed out and apologise.”

She pours the coffee out, and then passes a mug to Isak. “I’m going back to bed,” She says, “Sort your shit out, or keep moving past it. That’s all you can do.” Isak takes a sip of his coffee as he watches her shuffle back into her room.

It’s the best tasting cup of coffee he’s had in a long time.

*

As soon as Linn has fully disappeared from view, Isak pulls out his phone to text Sonja.

Isak: would even be okay to have me come round and see him?

It takes a while for Sonja to reply. Long enough that Isak’s finished his coffee, and has started trying to crack the next level on his Zombie game.

Sonja: Yes. Not for a while, though. His parents are in our flat at the minute. I think they’re leaving at about 1400, so you could come round at 1500?
Isak: works for me. thanks, sonja.
Sonja: It’s no problem, Isak. I’ll let you in when you buzz the door.

*

Isak goes back to his room. He tries to focus on something else, anything else, but the impending visit to Even and Sonja’s flat is all he can think about.

He flicks through every episode of every TV show he has saved to his laptop. He reads a page of his book over and over again, trying to get the words to sink in. He listens to ten seconds of every song he has on his  phone.

None of it wastes enough time.

Every time Isak blinks, he can see Even’s face, he can hear his own voice saying that he didn’t have time for mentally ill people in his life.

Isak’s throat feels tight. He thinks about all the comments that he heard from people over the years. Thinks about all the times he heard someone make a casual remark about how it was wrong to be gay. All the uncomfortable looks he saw people give each other when a gay couple would walk down the street holding hands.

He thinks of the way he internalised that, the way it made him unsure of himself, push that part of his identity away.

He thinks of how he did the same thing to Even. Thinks of the way he denied Even an essential part of himself, something that’s unchangeable. Something that’s as much a part of Even as the way he smiles, the way he laughs.

He pulls out his phone and checks it for the twentieth time in as many minutes.; the screen stays stubbornly blank. Isak groans, rolling over in bed so that he’s face down into his mattress.

*

Time passes, as time is known to do.

Isak lies in bed, watching the clock on his bedside cabinet tick slowly forwards. Each second feels like agony, like it will never end.

Finally, it’s close enough to three that Isak feels justified in leaving. If he gets there a little early, so be it; he’s sure that Sonja will still let him in. He’s jittery enough, high strung enough, just desperate enough, that he imagines she’ll take one look at his face and swing the door open, no words said.

The tram seems impossibly slow, each stop taking far longer than Isak remembers it ever taking before. It’s agonising, watching the city slowly pass by, each minute taking him closer to Even. Isak chews his nails; a habit that he’d mostly given

Standing by the door, there’s two guys. Their hands are intertwined, and the smaller of the two is resting his head against the other’s shoulder. It’s a sweet tableau, but it makes Isak’s stomach turn. Just looking at them makes him feel as though the universe is mocking him, as though every mistake he’s made since meeting Even is being shoved in his face.

Look at this, the universe is saying, look at what you could have had. Look at what I tried to give you, before you ruined it all.

He averts his eyes from the couple, feeling like if he looks any longer he’ll cry. Staring out the window of the tram instead, he takes in the cool grey of the Oslo skyline. He reminds himself, yet again, that Sonja said that Even would like it if Isak came to visit him. Surely, then, Isak can’t have ruined everything? Sure, the universe, or God, or his own random series of choices, offered him Even on a platter and Isak threw it away. Second chances exist though, right? Isak deserves a second chance, surely?

Pulling out his phone, he stares at it for a while, trying to think of who he could text in the throws of his breakdown. Eventually, in a fit of desperation, he fires the same text off to as many different people that he can think.

Isak: scale of 1-10, ur opinion on second chances and whether people deserve them?

As Isak sends it off, the tram pulls up at the stop that’s closest to Even’s apartment. He gets off with shaky feet, staring at his phone waiting for someone - anyone - to get back to him.

It buzzes.

Eva: you know my opinion on second chances, isak! Everyone should get one, everyone should give one.

Isak smiles at her message despite his panic. He should have known with their history that Eva would be the first to reply to a text like that. He sends back a quick heart emoji to her, and starts the walk to Even’s on less shaky feet.

It’s as though Eva’s fast reply has set off a ripple effect amongst his friends, his phone seems to buzz again with every additional step he takes towards Even’s front door.

Eskild: People who get it right on the first try are idiots, Baby Jesus. Listen to me, I know these things. I’m a guru.
Noora: Forgiveness is essential, everyone deserves the right to show that they’ve changed.
Jonas: bro you’re on your fiftieth chance with me and i’m still your best friend. Let me know what’s up when you can. x
Mahdi: 10. Just like me.

The influx of messages from the people he loves is almost too much for Isak, right now. He stares at the phone screen, at the tiny little messages from all the people he knows, all the people who he’s let down sometimes, but who continue to support him regardless.

Linn: I thought we had this conversation? You know what I think.
Magnus: bro i would be SCREWED if not for second chances. Everything ok?
Vilde: Isak!!!! You know that we all love you and even if you have done something wrong it doesn’t matter!!!! Everyone will forgive you. Xx

He shoots off quick replies to everyone; simple reassurances that he’s okay, heart emojis, and thanks. It takes a while, so he’s almost at the foot of Even’s building, when his phone buzzes for a final time. He glances down at it, knowing who it’s from.  

Sana: You must have done something messed up if you’re texting me, Isak! But don’t worry, I’ll get it out of Noora and Eva later…
Anyway, I know you don’t believe in religion, but the Quran talks about forgiveness a lot. The way I see it, as long as you’re willing to show that you’re really sorry, and as long as you’ve learned from your mistakes and you’re actively trying to be a better person - there’s no limit on the amount of chances that someone should get. So, whatever you did, I’m sure you deserve a second chance.

Isak stands there for a few moments, just taking in each word of what Sana has said. Of course he’s sorry for what he said to Even, what he might have done to Even’s mental wellbeing, but does that mean he’s ready to put the work in to be a better person?

Isak has a long, complicated history with mental illness. The thought of speaking to his mother after all this time is still something that scares him, still something that he’s not sure he could handle. Does that mean he’s not ready to talk to Even, though?

He thinks about his conversation with Linn, this morning. He thinks about the way he feels when he hears Even’s name, when he sees Even in person.

He’d do anything to keep that in his life. Isak will be the best person in the world if that’s what it takes.

He climbs the two flights of stairs to Even’s front door.

*

Sonja answers the door, just like she said she would.

Her hair is still loose like it was when she picked Isak up the night before, but she’s taken some time to apply make up. She’s wearing jeans and an oversized jumper, which Isak suspects might actually belong to Even.

She smiles when she sees him.

“Isak, hey. It was nice of you to come.”

Isak laughs, a short, exhale of air which doesn’t really feel like a laugh at all. “I don’t think Even will feel the same way,” He says. Sonja shakes her head.

“He will, I promise. Come in, he’s in his room. He’s a little,” She stops, chews her lip, “He’s a little tired. Normally, after something like this, he crashes pretty heavily. He’s… Well, he’s depressed.”

Isak nods, “That’s okay.”

“Just, don’t expect him to talk loads, yeah?” She says, “I’ve told him that you’re coming to visit, but I’m not really sure that he believes me. If you need me, you can just call, okay?” They’re outside Even’s bedroom door, now. Sonja looks at Isak for a few seconds, and then wordlessly pushes it open.

Isak takes a deep breath, and then steps inside.

Even’s room is dark. The curtains are drawn shut, and there’s the faint smell of congealed sweat, as though the window hasn’t been open in a while. On the mattress on the floor, there’s a lump of blankets and hoodie which Isak assumes is Even.

“I told you Sonja,” Even says, “I don’t want to eat right now.” His voice sounds slow, and thick, as though he’s speaking through water. It’s jarring, in the moment; so different from the usual vibrancy that Isak has come to expect from Even speaking.

“Um,” Isak says, “I’m not Sonja, sorry. I can get her if you want, though?”

There’s silence for a painfully long time, then, the lump starts shifting, slowly. Finally, Even is lying on his other side, looking up at Isak.

Isak takes him in. Takes in his greasy hair, the crease marks from the pillow still red and sweaty on his cheek. Isak stands there, and takes in the paleness of his skin, the blue of his eyes.

Isak stands there, and knows, unequivocally knows that he’s going to find a way to make this work. To make him and Even work. Isak has had a taste of the life he wants, now. He’s not going to let it go.

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me,” Even says, his voice cracks slightly, still thick with misuse. Isak stands there, looking down at Even, and feels his heart break.

“I came to apologise,” He tells Even. He takes a few steps closer to the bed; he wants Even to be able to hear his apology clearly, even through the layers of clothing and blanket that he’s currently under. “What I said, before? What I said about my mum, how I didn’t want to be around mentally ill people -”

Even flinches at this, shuts his eyes, turns his face away. Isak stops speaking, feels a new wave of guilt wash over him.

“What I said was wrong, Even. I was wrong to say it about my mum, and I was especially wrong to say it about you. You make me feel… You make me feel so fucking good, Even. You have since the very beginning. And, like, yeah, you’re mentally ill, and that’s a big thing. It doesn’t scare me away, though. I’m right here, and I don’t think my life would be better without you in it. I really don’t.”

Even is silent for a while longer. Isak stands there, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. He’s so still, so motionless, that Isak finds himself wondering whether he’s fallen back asleep.

He’s almost steeled himself to go, when Even finally speaks again.

“It’ll be hard. To be with me, I mean. It’ll be hard.”

Isak gets down beside Even on the bed. Slowly, carefully, giving Even plenty of time to move away if he wants to, Isak lifts his hand up to run through Even’s greasy hair.

“Yeah, maybe it’ll be hard, but I think we can do it.”

“What if it gets too much for you? What if I get too much for you?” Even asks. His eyes are wide open, the pale blue bright against the dimness of his bedroom.

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy, Even. I know it won’t be, and I know that it’ll be a lot at times, but I have a plan.”

Even looks at him, saying nothing. His head moves slightly, though, as if he’s inviting Isak to continue talking, so Isak does.

“I’ll take it a day at a time,” Isak tells him, “And if that gets too much, I’ll take it an hour at a time. If that gets too much, I’ll take it a minute at a time. And then, if even that gets too much, I’ll take each second as it comes, because I came out for you Even. I spent so long, being so fucking afraid, and you taught me how to be brave. I want to keep being brave. I want to be brave with you, is that okay?”

Even swallows, lifts his hand up, places it over Isak’s.

“Okay,” He says, “I think I can do that.”

Isak smiles, laughs a little, and leans down to kiss Even on his forehead.

One second at a time. He believes they can do that.

 

*

EPILOGUE:

 

“Break a leg,” Isak says, pressing a kiss to Even’s lips, “You’ll be amazing. I mean, it’s no Romeo and Juliet, but you’ll be amazing.”

Even bounces up and down a couple of times on the balls of his feet, pre-show energy leaking everywhere.

“I’m nervous,” He says, “You said your mum was coming?”

Isak chews his lips, pushing down his own fears at the thought of an evening with Even and his mum together. Since he reached out, way back at the beginning of his relationship with Even, Isak and his mum have been talking. Getting to know each other again.

Isak had finally broken his years of silence, and told her about Even. She hadn’t reacted at all like he’d feared she would; she didn’t send him an angry paragraph of bible quotes. She called him, and quoted passages about love in her voicemail. Told him that she still wanted to be there for him.

It’s been difficult, almost impossible trying to forgive his mum for the illness that swallowed her whole, but slowly, day by day, he’s been getting there. One second at a time has been his mantra for a while.

It’s never failed him.

Last week, Isak went over to visit her and they made soup together, just like they used to. He’d watched the way her hands had chopped vegetables, so slowly, so carefully, and he’d thought about what Sana always says about forgiveness. About learning to be the better person.

He thinks, with his mum, it’s finally starting to come true.

“Yeah,” Isak says, to Even, “Mum’s coming. She’ll be sitting with me, she’s really excited to see your show.”

“I want to impress her,” Even says, “This means a lot to me.”

The show is a small one. The theatre is smaller than the one that Isak had been working in last year, when they met. The director is less well known. The writer is from Oslo, famous only in very select, very niché circles.

Even plays the lead, though.

He plays a character haunted by his past, plagued with mental illness, and he plays it well. Isak has seen the performance every night it’s been on, and it never fails to make him cry.

“Don’t worry,” Isak says, “Of course you’ll impress her.”

Even frowns, still bouncing, “How can you be so sure?”

Isak smiles, leaning into Even’s space, “Because,” He says, “I love you.”

At this, Even’s face goes soft, his eyes lighting up. He stops bouncing, and places both hands on Isak’s hips, leaning his forehead against Isak’s.

“I love you too, Isak.”

“Well then,” Isak says, mouth so close to Even’s that their lips brush as he speaks, “If she wants to stay in my good books, she’ll have to love you too. But, Even?”

Even’s eyes are shut. Here, pressed close to Isak, he looks more relaxed than he has all night. “What?”

“Don’t worry. I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t love you. And, even if somehow, impossibly, she doesn’t, we’ll take the night one second at a time, okay?”

“One second at a time,” Even whispers back.

Isak breathes out. Kisses Even.

Is happy.