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Fog in the House of Light Bulbs (What Hurts Worse)

Chapter Text

"You got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can't hold out forever
Even walls fall down"

-The Lumineers

Philip Hamilton didn’t want to go to school that day.

Not that he wanted to go to school any day at all—he was a seventeen years old boy, after all. Not even Georges de Lafayette, the king of nerds, wanted to go to school every day.

Except for that one day in particular. Everyone wanted to go to school that day. You could tell because of the small avalanche that seemed to be taking place around the house—the oldest of his six siblings getting up by themselves for once, instead of having AJ smack them with pillows until they woke up. There were heavy, rushed footsteps, some yelling, and someone was taking a shower. The baby, William, was crying in his crib, somewhere.

Philip just wanted the sheets to swallow him.

He covered himself from head to toe, and prayed the universe pulled a Home Alone on him, and they forgot to wake him up. Maybe he could lie in bed all day, play some videogames, write something and forget about what his friends were doing at school.

But then his door was kicked open and two kids jumped into his bed, armed with one pillow each.

“Philip!” AJ called. “Wake up and get your ass off that bed!”

The other one—James, Philip assumed, maybe Angie—kept smacking him with the pillow. It actually hurt a bit.

“Philip is dead” Philip deadpanned. “Try calling later”

“You’re not dead!” Angie (right, it was Angie) said. “You’re just jealous Theodosia isn’t going to the dance with you”

And there it was.

“I mean, you can’t expect Philip to compete with whoever else Theodosia is dancing with tonight” AJ added. Because that was obviously a very necessary comment.

“Okay, okay” he complained, getting up slowly “Don’t you two have anything better to do?”

“What is better than crushing all your hopes and dreams?” AJ lamely smacked his pillow against Philip’s face one last time. Philip closed his eyes, but besides that, he remained unfazed.

“Get out of my room. Unless you wanna see me changing”

“Ugh, gross” Angie said.

“Ugh, a Philip. I know”

The two rushed outside the room, with their pillows still in hand. Despite being fifteen and thirteen already, they still acted like little kids.

He got up and put on the first clothes he could find. For a moment, he wondered if he should dress nicely for—well, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like he was going to the dance with anyone, anyways.

It was just a stupid school dance. It wasn’t even something cool like prom or homecoming or whatever. And it was at the afternoon, too. It was just uncomfortable to get dressed in the school bathrooms. He still had classes that day. He shouldn’t care. Dances were stupid anyways. And it wasn’t even the first one he had gone through without a partner. He usually had a lot more fun that he would have had with any girl, just hanging out in the parking lot with Theo and Georges, drinking and playing dumb games like truth or dare. Now, that was a good school dance. Georges would play some of his weird hipster music on his phone and they would sing it to the night, like half-drunk howling wolves. He didn’t need anything more than his two best friends.

He thought about that as he drank his coffee. He had it black. He actually hated it black, but the hot, bitter liquid running down his throat was a good distraction.

Because this dance was going to be different. And Philip didn’t like it.

He didn’t say anything on the ride to school. Angie and AJ were bickering, while Dad talked to James about his work. James was always interested in Dad’s work, even if he didn’t fully understand everything.

Once they arrived at the school building, Angie, AJ and James rushed to the door. Philip hadn’t noticed until then that the clothes they had picked were a bit more formal than his. Not exactly elegant, but, unlike himself, they weren’t wearing the same they had worn the day before.

He was going to follow them when he heard his father calling him.

“Philip!” he said from the other side of the rolled-down car window. “Remember what we talked about, okay?”

Philip’s stomach dropped. He suddenly felt expose. His eyes glanced around, scared of any prying ears and eyes. Scared of someone reading inside his mind. What if they knew? What if they could tell? His father could most definitely tell, just weeks before. Who said not everyone could?

Philip forced himself to nod.

“I won’t disappoint you” he said.

His father smiled sadly.

“It’s all going to be okay. I love you. Make me proud”

And with those words, he drove away.

Philip walked through the school doors with his head down. He wasn’t the kind of person to keep a low profile, but when he felt like every bit of eye contact meant allowing everyone to unveil his darkest secrets, he wanted nothing but to become invisible.

The building was shared by both the middle school, in the first floor, and the high school in the second one. Philip and Angie waved AJ and James as they climbed up the stairs, and Angie waved Phillip one last time as she was caught in the little sea that were her friends. Loud girls with expensive-looking clothes. Phillip looked at her one last time before going into his own classroom. He envied what she had. Simple friendship. Strong friendship. A friendship that wouldn’t be broken by the three (or four) words Phillip had been swallowing back for at least two years.

He sat at his desk. Class would start soon. He couldn’t help but notice the girls and the boys, dressed in more formal clothes than him.

“Philip!” He heard Georges’ voice before he saw him, and he couldn’t help but smile a little. Like everyone else, he had dressed with almost elegance, a white shirt and black dressing pants. He was wearing the round, golden glasses that made him look like Harry Potter. His hair, pulled into a bun. Philip felt almost ashamed of his worn out grey hoodie and his ripped jeans.

“Hey” he greeted him, a second or so later than he should have, maybe. “Dressing to impress?”

Philip cringed a bit at his own choice of words, but Georges simply shrugged.

“I have no one to impress”

He looked a bit tense. Philip knew him well enough.

“If you had no one to impress, you’d dress like a normal person”

Georges cracked a chuckle as he sat down on his desk, next to his.

“Well, it’s a dance”

“Whose idea was it to make this… This stupid dance, anyways? Seriously”

Georges shrugged again.

“It’s fun. We always have fun at dances”

There’s no ‘We’, Philip thought. Not anymore.

“We have fun running away from dances” he retorted, trying to keep his tone casual and playful. He poked Georges on the chest, on his formal dressing shirt. “Which I guess is not happening this time”

Georges chuckled and gently smacked his hand away.

“I can’t believe it. You’re jealous”

Philip’s breath hitched. He felt the heat rise to his face, ears and neck.

“I’m not jealous”

It wasn’t fun anymore. This was getting out of hand.

“Okay, maybe jealous isn’t the word” Georges said. “But just because Theo and I are going together this time, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone”

You don’t get it. You don’t get it you don’t get it you don’t get it—

I don’t want to go with anyone else, he almost said. There’s no one else I would rather go with but—

“You know I’m not into anyone” Philip said with a forced smile. “I’m just starting to miss being with you two”

“Oh, come on!” Georges gently nudged at him. “We see each other every day”

“Yeah, I see you every day. But lately—”

He stopped. He suddenly felt stupid. His friends were happy. And all he could think about was how butt hurt he was to be a third wheel when he was in a place he wasn’t supposed to be in.

But Georges, oh, Georges. He could read him like an open book. And it never made Philip feel naked or exposed before. It made him feel understood, like two countermelodies perfectly timed with each other.

Right now, it terrified him.

“Hey” Georges hesitantly touched his shoulder. He was tense again. He had never been tense around Philip before. “I’m—I’m sorry if I’ve been ignoring you. I really didn’t notice” And now he was making him feel guilty for doing what every normal person did. Fuck. “Know what?” he asked, is face lighting up. “Let’s have a sleepover at my house. Tonight, after the dance. Just the two of us. No Theo. We can watch movies and talk about girls and all”

The sound of that pulled a smile out of Philip. He had been worried the decade old tradition of sleepovers at the Lafayette house would die after Georges and Theo started dating. So it was nice to hear it would still be celebrated.

“Sure!” He said, without a second thought. “I’d love to”

He only realized a second later the risk that would mean. His father would probably not allow it. And if that wasn’t the case, it would still be a fucking torture to sleep in the same room as Georges.

He didn’t get to decide to change his mind. In that exact moment, Theo walked into the room.

Oh, Theo. She was wearing a dress, and that was impressive in itself, because even though he had known Theo for most of his life, Philip had never seen her in a dress. It was knee-length, salmon colored beauty. She had even tied her hair in a ponytail. Philip was starting to wonder if he should tie his hair, too.

“Hi” She said. She leaned down to kiss Georges on the lips. Philip looked away.

It was clear she was uncomfortable. She had never liked dresses. Or so Philip guessed, since he had never seen her wearing one.

“Hello to you too, best friend” Philip said with a playful smirk.

“God, you really are jealous” Theo laughed as she wrapped her arms around him, letting him rest his head on her shoulder. She smelled nice, and from up close he could tell her hair was a bit damp, probably from a shower. He hadn’t even showered the night before.

“I’m not jealous” Philip insisted.

“Shh… Shh…” Theo patted his hair. “Don’t be jealous”

“I’m not jealous!” he insisted. The playfulness of the situation was starting to crumble. He pulled away from her embrace. “I mean it. I’m not jealous. I don’t know where you got the idea that I was jealous”

Theo and Georges exchanged a look.

“Sure, Pip”

“Whatever you say”

Philip had never been good at lying. Or at keeping secrets, for any matter. He might not be such an over sharer as his father, but he was open and honest, especially with those closest to him.

But, much like his father, this one was a secret that he would take to the grave. He would let it rot inside of him, like an old fruit inside his chest, the viscous remains hanging from his ribs. And when the time came, he would choke on it, he would let it infect his organs and the marrow of his bones and he would have it eat away his flesh, like death bugs. He would be buried six feet under the dirt and sick and so would the secret. And maybe, just maybe, he could live a decent life. A normal life.

He owed it to his father. Yeah, he owed it to his father.

The dance was boring, as expected.

After class, all the students would gather at the school gym (it was barely even decorated, but there was a table with drinks, and that was nice), the music would start to play and before he knew they were slow-dancing.

This would normally be the point when Philip, Theo and Georges would sneak out, grab a few cans of beer and sit in the hood of someone’s car in the parking lot. If he was lucky enough, he would convince Georges to let him sit on his lap.

Not today, it seemed.

His grip tightened around the empty red plastic cup. Just soda. It was a school dance. But he was sure that if he asked the right people, he would have no problem getting a real beer. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone, though. He wanted to be left alone.

Theo and Georges were dancing, of course.

He didn’t want to look at them. He really didn’t. But he couldn’t tear his eyes away from his friends. They looked happy. They pecked at each other’s lips from time to time. They were pressed close together, like two perfect puzzle pieces made for each other and only for each other.

He closed his eyes, forced his neck to look down, and started walking. Where, it didn’t matter. He stayed close to the walls, avoiding the center. Becoming invisible.

“I love you. Make me proud”

He would. Yeah, he would, Dad. He can make you proud. He can do this.

The one in charge of the music was a latina girl with a short curly hair, coordinating the audio from a sound board on a corner of the room. She was probably the only one around, besides Philip himself, who was dressed in more casual clothes (a gray tank top and jean shorts, a black backpack). He decided the sound board would be more interesting than his two best friends of all life, so he strode towards the board and the girl.

“Hey” He said.

“Hey” the girl replied, her eyes glued to her phone.

“What is this?” Philip pointed at the sound board. He knew what it was. He just wanted to annoy someone.

“Your mama” The girl said.

“My mama can play music a lot better than this” he played with the dials, switches, whatever they were, hoping it would make a change on the music (make it louder? Add reverberation? He wasn’t sure what he was expecting to happen). The girl chuckled.

“I’m doing everything from my phone, dumbass” she explained. “That thing is not even plugged in”

Philip followed the wires with his eyes, and saw that, in fact, nothing was plugged.

“Oh” he said. “Why do you have a sound board if you’re not using it?”

“I thought it looked cool”

“So you asked for an expensive piece of audio equipment because it looked cool?”

“I wanted to take photos for Instagram” she explained. “Take one for me?” she handed him her phone.

Philip shrugged.

“Sure”

She got in position, pretending to be doing something with the board at all, and Philip snapped a picture.

“Here” he handed it back. “If you’re doing everything from your phone, why aren’t you dancing?” He asked.

“I don’t know. Why aren’t you dancing?”

“School dances are shit. I don’t know why everyone likes them that much”

“Because it’s their chance to bang someone. How many people do you think are banging in the bathrooms right now?”

“I don’t know” he shrugged. “Six? Eight?”

She snorted.

“As if we had bathrooms that big. But I’d go for ten at least”

Philip’s hand went back to play with the board’s buttons.

“And you don’t want to bang anyone?” He asked. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but she didn’t seem to mind the inappropriate talk.

“Nah” she said. “I don’t want to do people. They get attached. Too stressful”

Philip chuckled.

“Yeah, same”

Her eyes widened, and she looked at him in the eye for the first time.

“Philip Hamilton, a virgin?”

Like an anchor dropping, it suddenly brought Philip back to earth, to the awareness that he existed in the real world and that people knew him and had opinions on him.

He shrugged. He was known for having made out with half the girls in the school. It wasn’t a big deal by now. He had never stopped to think people would talk about whether or not he was a virgin.

“Uh, I guess so”

“Man, you just got me thirty bucks” she dialed a number and said to the person on the other side of the line. “Liv? Yeah, yeah, you won’t believe what just happened”

Philip ignored the rest of whatever she said. His eyes slowly returned to Georges and Theo, dancing in the middle of the gym. He could recognize Queen’s “Love Of My Life” playing in the speakers. He wondered if the girl had done it on purpose. If the entire school, his best friends, his father, were all working together to make his life miserable. If the universe was laughing its ass off, playing with the chemicals in his brain, making it sick, driving him insane to satisfy a sadistic desire, a fetish with another fetish.

“You will remember
When this is blown over
Everything's all by the way
When I grow older
I will be there at your side to remind you
How I still love you (I still love you)”

Fuck you, universe. Fuck you, school dance. Fuck you, music girl, fuck you, Love Of My Life.

“Oh, hurry back, hurry back
Don't take it away from me
Because you don't know what it means to me”

“Hey” he called the girl. She looked up from her phone.

“Yeah?”

“Wanna go somewhere?”

Five minutes later, they were making out in the bathroom.

They didn’t even bother to get inside a stall, or check if anyone else was around. She pushed him against the wall and placed her wet mouth on his.

He explored her body with his hands, strange and alien. He had never hugged that girl. He had never cried on her shoulder, and she had never cried on his. They had never watched movies together. But she was hot, and he didn’t love her, so it was okay.

Her lips felt like a wet frog eating his mouth. Her hands were strangers, invaders, when they went under his shirt, took his hoodie away.

“Wait, wait” she said, pulling away. She took her backpack off, opened it, and took two beer cans out of it. She handed one to Philip, she drank the other one herself. Philip forced the bitter liquid down his throat and he hated himself when it made him think of something else, late, dark nights alone with his head and his hand. He felt gross. He pushed the thought to the back of his brain, let it to rot, but didn’t stop drinking.

Between open mouthed kisses, a couple more cans of beer and more touching, he had taken her tank top off, revealing a black bra, and her hands started wandering under his yellow shirt. He pressed kisses to her neck, closing his eyes. If he tried hard enough, he could pretend it was someone else. Or better yet, pretend Someone Else didn’t exist.

Because that would be for the better, right? If they had never met. If he had never… If They hadn’t… Maybe he wouldn’t feel this way about them. Maybe he could leave them alone, let them be happy on their own. They would be so much better without him. Without him being a fucking creep, thinking about them the way he did. Some sick pervert he was. Maybe he should just kill himself, do the world a fucking favor.

He hadn’t realized he was crying until he let his heavy head fall on the girl’s shoulder with a ragged sob.

“Philip?” The girl asked, clearly worried. “Fuck, man, are you okay?”

He held back the next sob.

“Yeah, yeah. Just—” his voice cracked. Why did it have to crack? “I’m sorry”

Her eyes were so full of concern. She took a step back, gave him some space. He let himself slide down to the floor, his back pressed against the wall, and pulled his knees to his chest. The girl put on her shirt back on.

“Hey, um...”

“I’m sorry”

“Dude, it’s fine. I’m not gonna pressure you to fuck or anything”

Philip wasn’t crying. His eyes were looking at his knees, but staring at the nothing. His brain, blurry and numb. His heart felt like sharp black strings were strangling it. Smothering.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. The girl was trying to comfort him.

“Do you want me to find your friends or…”

He shook his head furiously.

“I don’t want to bother them”

“Dude, if one of my friends got like this, I would be happy to be bothered to help her”

He understood, despite her strange way of phrasing it. He would give anything and everything for Georges and Theo. And if he needed to suffer in silence for them, then so be it.

“Do you…” she cleared her throat. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Fuck it. It might be the alcohol, or the idea that he might just kill himself in half an hour. He just didn’t care.

“I miss them” he said. When she didn’t say anything, he took it as a permission to keep going. “Theo and… Georges. Since they started going out I just… Nothing’s the same anymore”

“Oh, man, I get you” she said. She sat down next to him, not quite touching him. Giving him some space. “Yeah, call me daddy’s girl, but whenever my dad starts fucking someone new, all he cares about is his new boyfriend and I guess I get left out” she chuckled. “I mean, they never last, because he knows I’m more important, of course, but you know…”

He suddenly didn’t want to be with this girl anymore. He didn’t want to be around that kind. But with the ounce of self control he had left, he swallowed back his disgust at the mention of her father’s boyfriends. She was putting up with his bullshit, after all.

“Hey” she reached out to touch his shoulder, but changed her mind and let her hand fall on her lap. “It’s no secret you’re crushing hard on Theodosia. I mean, who wouldn’t?” she absently kicked an empty bear can. “And I know it sucks to be a third wheel. Being a third wheel is the story of my life, man. My own fucking dad and our pet turtle third-wheel me”

He sniffled. He didn’t dare to look up.

She didn’t know. Of course she didn’t know. But if she got to look him in the eye, she might read him, she might go “Oh, I understand now”, and he didn’t want that. He didn’t want someone of her kind, specially, to know. Because just loosing his grip a bit would mean falling back into the black hole and his father would hate him forever and—

And now he was crying again.

“Oh, fuck” the girl scrambled to her feet. She took a few nervous steps towards the door, then back to Philip, bouncing just a bit in her place. “Wait here”

She raced outside, leaving Philip alone again. Alone, in a bathroom, at a party. Best night ever. And the only other lonely soul who would give him any company had left. Because he couldn’t do a fucking thing right. She had been nice. She had been fucking nice and the best thought he could come up with was how grossed out he was by her gay dad.

Maybe he should really just kill himself.

He glanced at the dirty mirror. Would mirrors be too hard to break?

The door burst open and Angie walked in, followed by the music girl.

“Oh my god, Philip!” She kneeled in front of him, and gently grabbed his wrist. He hadn’t even realize he had started pulling at his hair, like when he did when he got nervous or stressed or scared. He refused to look at her. He knew he probably smelled like alcohol and filth. Dad would be so embarrassed. “Come on, we gotta get you home”

She wrapped one arm around his waist and threw his arm around her shoulder. He didn’t really need that much help to walk, but he appreciated the gesture. He suddenly wanted to hug her. Hug his little sister so tight and pretend they were back at home, their mom reading bedtime stories to them. Life was easier back then.

She let him go in the moment she realized he could stand on his own two feet without trouble.

“What happened?” Angie asked.

The girt shrugged.

“We were making out, then he started crying” she rocked on the heels of her feet. “Do you think calling his friends—you know, Theo and Georges—”

“No” Philip said. He barely recognized his own voice. He shook his head. “Please, don’t call them. I don’t want to bother them”

Angie looked at the girl, then at her brother.

“Let’s just go home, okay?”

The three of them walked out of the bathroom, Angie keeping a hand on his shoulder at all times. As the siblings headed to the exit, the girl went back to her sound board.

“Hey!” Philip called her over the music. Because fuck it. He kinda owed it to her. “What’s your name?!”

The girl looked up from her phone and smiled.

“Frances!” she yelled back. She gave him a thumbs up.

Philip hadn’t imagined how much the chilly night breeze would help. He almost wanted to cry when Angie closed the door behind them and all the noise inside the building was muffled and it was replaced by the sound of cars and the wind on his ears.

It was calm and peaceful. He and Angie sat down on the steps of the stairs.

“Do you want to talk about what happened?” Angie asked, a hand still on his shoulder, her thumb drawing gentle circles.

Philip shook his head.

Angie’s hand stopped for a second. Only a second.

“It’s okay” she said. “Whenever you’re ready. Or never, if you don’t want to”

She hesitantly wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and he let her hold the weight of his soul for a moment, buried his face in the crook of her neck and closed his eyes tight not to cry.

“It’s going to be okay” she whispered to her brother. “It’s okay”

His frame shook with a silent sob, but he made no sound and let no tears fall.

They stayed like that for several minutes. Philip wanted to do something, anything to stop the scene. He wanted to ask her if she had enjoyed the party, although he quickly realized she hadn’t, probably because of him. He wanted to ask her for the time, but he couldn’t find the energy to do so.

When they pulled apart, they watched the cars drive by, listened to the music of the city, the honks and the engines and the yelling somewhere, and the muffled noise from the building and the wind shaking the leaves of the trees in the sidewalk, like the motherly murmur of a river.

The night air was rejuvenating.

He was so glad for his sister, who always knew what to do. So glad that of all the people he could make out with that night, Frances had been the one. He was even glad that, despite the terrible night, he had managed not to ruin Theo and Georges’ dance.

Then Theo and Georges walked out of the gym school building, hand by hand. They were laughing, and Philip couldn’t help but smile knowing that, despite everything, they were having a nice time.

“Hey, Philip!” Theo called him. He cranked his neck to look at them better. They were both smiling. “Where were you? We’ve been looking for you”

It took a moment for Philip to realize he actually had the option to believe that.

“Just chilling with my favorite sister” he replied, nudging Angie on the side.

“Don’t let the baby hear you” she joked back. She looked at Theo and Georges. “Our mom is pregnant again”

Georges snorted.

“Again?”

Philip shrugged.

“Angie thinks this time it’s going to be a girl” He pat her head. “Let her dream”

“I have a feeling” she insisted. “I just want a sister”

“I’ll be your sister” Theo said, sitting down on the steps just above them. She started sorting her fingers through Angie’s messy curls to braid them. “And I think you’re right. It’s definitely time for another girl in the family”

“Mom wanted me to be a girl” Georges said absently. He sat down next to his girlfriend “She bought tiny pink baby dresses for me before I was born and shit”

Philip felt a gentle hand stroking his hair, almost hesitantly. Heat crept to his ears and the back of his neck and he thanked the darkness for hiding him. Georges held a curl between his thumb and index finger and softly straightened it, very careful not to pull at the roots or cause Philip any pain. His fingers ran across its length until they got the end and let it go, watching it bounce back to its original shape.

“Um… Georges?” Philip asked, trying not to let the uneasiness show in his voice. “What are you doing?”

“Oh!” Georges sounded almost startled. “Just guessed I should prove Theo I’m the superior hair stylist”

Philip snorted.

“Seriously?”

“G, I like you a lot” Angie said. “But I would never let you come any close to my hair. Ever”

Theo chuckled.

“You’re hurting his feelings”

“Yeah” he gently pulled at Philip’s hair. “Philip, your sister is hurting my feelings”

“Angie, you’re doing amazing, sweetie” he nudged his sister again.

Georges pouted.

“Rude”

Despite the offense, he started braiding Philip’s hair, imitating Theo’s every move. Philip and Angie had almost the same hair, if it wasn’t because Angie actually took care of it. Besides, her hair was of a lighter shade of brown, while his was almost black.

Philip almost felt embarrassed that Georges was touching his dirty, greasy hair. He hadn’t showered in what? Two days? He suddenly realized he must stink. Now, that was embarrassing. He would have to get a shower as soon as he got home.

Wait, was he even going home that night?

“Georges?” Philip asked. “Are we still having a sleepover tonight?”

“Of course!” He reassured him. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Philip shrugged. He didn’t really have an answer to that.

“Wait” Angie said. “You’re abandoning me?”

“You have four other brothers and a half for company”

“And a big sister” Theo added.

It was starting to irk him.

“You can’t be her sister” Philip said. “That would make you my sister and that would be… weird”

No one replied, and he could feel the color leave his face. He had gone too far. He didn’t know where, but he probably had.

“So…” Georges tugged at his braided hair a bit. “What do you think, ma chérie?”

“God, you’re such a sap” Angie said.

Theo took a look at the messy braid that was Philip’s hair.

“Not bad, for an amateur”

In that moment, a car Philip and Angie recognized well parked in the street.

Philip turned to Georges.

“I better go tell them I’m staying with you tonight”

He followed Angie to the car, quickly unmaking his braid so Dad wouldn’t see it. She hugged him one last time before getting in. When he didn’t get inside as well, his father rolled down the window.

“I’m staying at Georges’ tonight. I kinda forgot to text you”

The look Dad game him made his bones shake. He wasn’t angry, no. Disappointed, at most. Maybe even worried. Tired.

“Philip, we talked about this”

“I know! But—” Fuck. “This is the first time we can really hang out without Theo. I—I mean, I love Theo! But since they started dating…”

“I know, son”

“I miss my friends”

His father stared at him for a long moment, evaluating the options. The dangers.

“If it gets out of hand—”

“It won’t” Philip promised. “I swear. I’m not—I’m not like that anymore. I can do this”

His father’s eyes seemed to pierce into his soul, leave him naked and exposed, scanning for every chance of weakness and estimating if his happiness was worth the risk.

“If you feel like it’s getting hard” he said. “Call me, and I’ll pick you up. I don’t mind. I just want you to be okay”

Philip nodded. He would have hugged him, if it weren’t for the car.

“Thank you”

He ran back to where Theo and Georges were. He cheerfully waved the car goodbye when it left.

“Do you wanna get going?” Georges asked.

“Sure” Philip shrugged. He turned to Theo. “Are you coming with us?”

Sure, he wanted some time with Georges, but Theo was still his other best friend. He wanted to hang out with her, too, of course, but he knew that having both Theo and Georges in the same room wasn’t the same anymore. He was trying to be polite.

“Nah” she shook her head with a small smile. “I’ll let you have your boys night. Besides, my dad’s not as chill as yours”

Ha! Philip would have laughed to that. Ha!

“See you tomorrow, then” he was about to turn around when she wrapped her arms around his neck. He instinctively hugged her by the waist.

Now, that was real. And true. She wasn’t like Frances. She was familiar and known and comforting. It was nice to hug her, to touch her even in innocent ways. Correction: it was even better to touch her in innocent ways.

She pulled apart and hugged Georges next. She had to stand on her tiptoes. Philip was a bit surprised that they didn’t kiss each other goodbye.

She looked at both of them, and said to Georges:

“Courage, okay?”

She went back into the school building.

Philip and Georges walked all the way to Georges’ apartment, which wasn’t very far. Uncle Laf and Adrianne weren’t around (“They’re having a date” Georges explained), so they boys were free to play the music as loud as they pleased. He let Georges choose, so now the speakers were blasting some hipster crap (“It’s called ‘The Lumineers’ Philip. It’s not crap”). They cooked some spaghetti, because it was the only meal they could make without burning down the kitchen. They were still better at it than Theo. Last time she tried to cook something, she almost made the microwave explode.

“For a straight A student, your girlfriend can be quite disastrous”

“Oh, come on” Georges shifted so he could sit cross legged in the chair. “As if you’ve never put a fork in the microwave”

“Um… No? I have five siblings to yell at me before anything happens. Not everyone can be an only child, Georges” he playfully kicked his foot. “She’s lucky to have a guy who can… Um…” he gestured to the bowl of spaghetti Georges was holding. “Cook?”

“Gee, thanks”

“Dude, imagine dating a chef. Like, an honest to god chef. From like, an important restaurant”

“Imagine not depending on your girlfriend to eat”

The song ended and another one started.

“Oh, I love this one” Georges said absently.

“What is it called?”

“I think it’s ‘Walls’”

"Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked"

 “Suspicious”

“Not that wall!” Philip couldn’t help but notice his leg was bouncing. He put down the unfinished spaghetti bowl stood up and offered a hand to Philip. “Wanna dance?”

Philip almost broke into laughter. Or jumped out of the window. This was exactly what he was supposed to avoid.

He wanted to say no. He wanted to say yes. Maybe he should have said no. But it was so hard saying no to Georges, his best friend, who looked at him with big eyes through his cute round glasses and a shy, tiny smile.

He should have said no, because in the moment he let him raise him to his feet (he reached out his right hand to grab his forearm, he couldn’t touch his hand), Georges grabbed his left hand and put the other one on his shoulder. Now there was enough light to let Georges see his blush, and just knowing that Georges could see what he was doing to him only made it worse. The tingling heat in his neck, ears and face was unbearable. He wanted to become invisible, wanted to run away and never come back.

He didn’t move. He didn’t know what to do with his right hand, so Georges gently grabbed it and put it on his waist.

Philip wanted to cry. It wasn’t okay. It was bad and it was gross. But he couldn’t let go of Georges’ hand or waist. And then they started to rock and sway, like a boat softly moved by the waves, the ebb and the flow of the music and the heat.

"You got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can't hold out forever
Even walls fall down"

His feet moved in nervous patterns. He mostly let Georges lead. He didn’t dare to make eye contact with him. He felt like he was only half in his body, and the other half of him was filled with the music that moved him like a demonic possession. Georges let go of his shoulder to spin him around, and Philip gave an awkward, rigid laugh at the cute gesture.

"All around your island
There's a barricade
That keeps out the danger
That holds in the pain"

 It was getting easier. He could feel the tension leave his body with every wave that washed over him. He tried to imitate Georges’ gesture, spinning him around, even if it was a bit difficult with the height difference. Georges laughed—it was a honest, genuine laugh— and despite having the heart in his throat, pounding hard and dry, Philip kind of smiled, because this didn’t really need to mean anything. It was a game between two friends. Georges was probably still high on the dance of the party (if school dances could be called parties) and wanted to move a bit. Yeah, that thought could work.

"Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you carry
Part of me is gone"

Philip tried to take the lead, a bit at least. He swayed with his friend’s hand in his and turned up the speed, their feet moving with more confidence in irregular patterns, not caring where they fell as long as they moved. Their graceful, childish, cheerful dance was like the night breeze.

“Baby, you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can't hold out forever
Even walls fall down”

The song ended in a happy note and Philip was almost sad when Georges let go of him. He reminded himself that it meant nothing and he shouldn’t feel sad. He should feel relieved, maybe. And he kind of did, because it was as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders.

He was feeling a bit dizzy, from the dancing and the spinning, so he sat down on his chair again. He absently took the spaghetti bowl he had abandoned and started eating again, before it went cold.

It was still warm. How long had they been dancing? The song wasn’t that long.

Georges didn’t talk about it, maybe because he could see Philip didn’t want to talk or think about it. They finished their food, Philip did the dishes, and they put on a movie. It was IT, the new one with the Stranger Things kid. Georges had been dying to watch it but never found the chance, and Philip didn’t feel the need to tell him he had watched it three times already with his little brothers.

They sat on the couch, Georges wrapped in a blanket burrito like he always did. Philip had always found it adorable.

He barely paid attention to the movie. He checked his phone, glanced at Georges, took a photo of him for his Instagram Stories with the text “Burrito Georges”.

“Let me watch the movie in peace”

Philip chuckled. Scrolling down his classmates’ stories, he thought of Frances. Now that his brain was less blurry he realized how forever grateful he was for her.

Finding her number was easy, because she was in the class’ group chat and he recognized her from the profile picture. He sent a message and hoped he didn’t sound like a stalker.

Philip: hi

Philip: its philip

Philip: from school

She replied faster than he expected.

Frances: the 1 who was crying in the bathroom?

Philip: the one and only

Frances: are u still crying

Frances: I mean

Frances: r u ok

Philip: im fine now

Philip: having a sleepover with georges

Frances : george washinton?

Philip : i mean yeah that’s his name

Philip : sry if i sound like a stalker but i wanted to thank you for today

Frances : no problem bro

Frances : wait how did u get my number

Philip : the groupchat?

Frances : oh rigt lol

Philip : am i being a stalker

Frances : just a bit why

Philip : i wanted to pay you back for u know

Philip : the beer

Philip : and putting up with my bullshit

Frances : i mean i never turn down food but u dont have 2

Frances: bsides Im not into this dating stuff thx tho

Philip: and im not into you its not a date its a platonic coffee

Philip : my aunt has a café i get free food

Frances : oh then fuck ys

Frances : ily ur my new best friend

Frances : free food fuck yes

Frances : tomorrow?

Philip : sure

Philip : [Location]

Philip : there

Frances : see u there

Frances : fuck yes free food

Philip chuckled.

“Who are you texting?” Georges asked.

“Oh, no one” Philip said. The corner of his mouth twitched into a tiny smirk. “Just some girl”

“Just some girl, eh?” He nudged at his side. “What’s her name?

Philip shrugged. He liked to play mysterious.

“Frances, I think”

“She’s in our class, right?”

“I think so”

Georges was silent for a moment, staring at the screen. Usually, he would interrogate him about it, but today the prospect of a girl didn’t seem to excite him a lot.

Slowly, Georges let his head rest on Philip’s shoulder.

He froze. He didn’t dare to look down to see his friend. He kept his eyes glued to the screen, then to his phone as he added Frances to his contacts under the name of “music beer girl”. He could hear Georges’ breathing from that close, feel his chest raise and fall, feel the weight of his head on him. He had fallen asleep on him before, and the pressure was much more. It let his shoulder hurting. Now it was only gently resting, barely touching him, ready to pull away at the first sign of discomfort.

Philip didn’t move. He didn’t even acknowledge him.

Just kept watching the film. Yeah, watch the film.

“Philip?” Georges whispered. Only then Philip looked at him. He was biting his bottom lip and taking off his glasses. He sat up with his back straight, at arm’s length from Philip. “I have something to tell you”

Philip raised an eyebrow, but let him continue. What could be so serious he would be nervous to tell his best friend of all life?

“Spit it out”

“I—Uh—” he fiddled with his glasses. The glass was thick. Georges was practically blind without them. Philip realized with a dip of his stomach that he had taken them off for a similar reason to why he liked the darkness. It’s easier to talk when you can’t see or can’t be seen. “I’m—” he swallowed hard, glanced at Philip, then looked back down at his glasses on his lap. “I’m pansexual”

Philip blinked.

“Um… What?”

He didn’t know what that meant. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He suddenly wanted to run, go back home, lock himself in his room and pretend this was a dream.

Georges chuckled sadly. His leg was bouncing.

“Pansexual” he repeated. “It means… Um… It means you’re attracted to all genders?”

The alarms went off on Philip’s head. He could barely hear anything above the sound of his own frantic heartbeat. His mouth dry, his eyes wide, he stared at Georges for maybe too long. The boy looked smaller than usual.

He should get out. Slam the door and never look back. Pretend this never happened. Pretend Georges was the same good ol’ Georges he knew, without gross fetishes or stupid Special Snowflake ideas.

But he didn’t run. He swallowed and blinked, Georges still fidgeting with his glasses, waiting for a reaction, and Philip knew him well enough to recognize the pang of fear in his eyes.

“Uh…” He muttered. “Is it like… gay?”

“Eh… Not really. Kind of?” Georges said. Philip sucked in a deep breath. Okay. He wasn’t gay. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. “It’s a bit more like bisexual, if you ask me. Kind of”

“So… You like pussy and cock”

Georges cringed at his choice of words.

“I already told you. It means I like all genders. Or that I like people regardless of gender”

“Isn’t that like liking pussy and cock?”

Georges put back on his glasses and gave him a glare Philip had never seen him give anyone.

“What’s wrong with you?” He asked. He sounded between genuinely curious and deeply heartbroken. “Do you know how hard this is? Coming out is scary. I cried when I told Theo”

Wait, what?

“You told your girlfriend you like cock?”

Georges huffed.

“Please, stop saying that. It has nothing to do with cock or pussy. I don’t even care about cock and pussy” He rubbed his face. “And yes, I told my girlfriend I… I like boys, too”

“And she… Theo didn’t care?”

“No, she didn’t care. She just hugged me and told me she loved me” He stood up and paced around the room. “I don’t know. I just… You’re my best friend” he looked at Philip in the eye. He suddenly felt small. “I trust you and I wanted you to know”

Philip was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. Despite his disgust, Georges was still Georges, and it wasn’t his fault that his brain didn’t… That things weren’t okay.

“But… It’s okay, right? There must be a—a cure or something”

“A cure?!” The near scream made Philip flinch. “Are you kidding me now!?”

“What?! I’m just trying to help!”

“I don’t need help, Philip. I’m not sick”

Yes, Philip thought. Yes, you are. This is an illness. And we’re going to make you better.

He thought it. He didn’t say it, because he knew how much it hurt.

“Okay, okay! Jeez” he looked down. This was the moment to apologize. He could explain what he meant later. “I’m sorry”

Georges’ expression softened, his body relaxing.

“It’s weird, okay? I mean, sorry, but I never met any… Pansexual, before”

“You’ve known me for years, Philip” he gestured to himself “This was always been me”

Philip didn’t really believe him, because little kids didn’t have fetishes or perverse sexual thoughts, but decided against arguing.

“Why are you telling me this?” He asked. He instantly thought of the dancing and the gentle weight of Georges’ head on his shoulder. “Are you hitting on me?”

“Wh—No!” He shook his head. “God, no. You’re my best friend. It would be weird”

Philip scrunched up his nose.

“Yeah”

“Besides, you’re definitely not my type”

“Good”

“I just wanted you to know because… because I didn’t want to hide something so important from you”

Philip swallowed.

“Oh”

“Yeah”

The rest of the night was awkward, for lack of a better word. Philip made sure not to touch Georges at any moment. He got the sleeping bag from the closet and laid it next to Georges’ bed. He would usually sleep in only his boxers, but this new knowledge made him feel uncomfortable being almost naked so close to a boy who liked boys. He even decided to postpone his shower to when he got back home.

They didn’t talk much. Philip asked him about Theodosia and Georges gave lazy, monosyllabic responses. Georges picked up his phone and started texting absently. Eventually, they told each other goodnight and closed their eyes.

Georges fell asleep quickly, but Philip didn’t.

He stared at the boy on the bed, listened to his soft breathing and appreciated how calm and innocent he looked like when he was asleep. Like a teddy bear. He didn’t know where that comparison came from, but it made sense, in a way, even if he didn’t really look like a teddy bear.

He didn’t mean to hurt him. In fact, he only meant to help him. Make him better. Fix him. He had an illness and it was gross but it was okay, because he could get better. That was what Dad told him whenever it got too hard. That it was okay, it could be fixed. He kind of expected Georges’ coming out to be a shameful confession. Maybe a cry for help, even.

But he was more than ready to defend this… fetish of his. To even claim it as a part of himself.

He didn’t know if he admired him or pitied him.

 All he knew was that, fetish or not, he still loved his friend, and he didn’t mean to hurt him.

He looked so peaceful sleeping so close to him. Half asleep, Philip reached out his hand, almost brushed his knuckle against his cheek, almost making contact with his skin. Almost.

He retreated his hand, keeping it close to his chest as waves of revulsion washed over him.

He closed his eyes tightly, trying not to cry.