“You know I love you, right?”
Cyrus put down his book and looked up at TJ from where he lay on his lap. The sounds of children playing in the park floated through the air to where they were sitting under the tree. Well, TJ was sitting and Cyrus was lying down. The birds were chirping happily and the sunlight falling on TJ made his hair seem golden from his point of view.
“Oh, the many times you have told me since last week certainly didn’t make that clear.”
That response made TJ stop carding his fingers through Cyrus’ hair, settling for lightly pushing him.
“I’m serious, Underdog!”
“I know, Teej,” Cyrus said, sitting up properly. “I love you too.”
TJ’s face lit up in a soft smile, as he moved his hand down to the back of Cyrus’ neck, pulling him in for a soft kiss. Pulling apart, they just sat in silence for a while, their foreheads resting upon each other, their noses touching.
Cyrus moved away, much to TJ’s disappointment, and marked his place in his book. “How’s practice been these days?”
TJ sighed. “Fine. Everyone’s really worked up about the Finals day after. I’m trying to be encouraging, but I’m actually really worried.”
“Hey,” Cyrus said, putting his hand on TJ’s shoulder. “I’m sure you guys will win. I believe in you.”
TJ smiled back at Cyrus, worry still evident in his eyes. He covered Cyrus’ hand on his shoulder with his own, giving it a grateful squeeze. “Thank you, Cyrus.”
“Besides, I’ll be right there, cheering for you through it all!”
“Don’t know how much that would help,” TJ laughed.
“Wait, why?” Cyrus asked, concerned.
“You’re incredibly distracting!”
Cyrus pushed TJ away, feigning offence. “Oh, really? Fine, I won’t be there then!” he said, crossing his arms.
TJ just chuckled, pulling Cyrus close to him. “No, wait! I take it back. Please be there?” he asked, pouting.
Cyrus lasted all of 2 seconds with his act before he caved and smiled, snaking his arms around TJ’s neck. “Goddamn it, you can’t just put like that and expect me to be okay!”
“What can I say, Muffin? I only have one weapon in my arsenal when it comes to you,” TJ whispered, bumping their noses together, making Cyrus giggle. He pulled TJ in for another kiss.
“Okay, as fun as this is, I’m really hungry right now. What did you get?” TJ asked, pulling away to look in the basket Cyrus got with him. Basket, wow. His boyfriend was extra. And he loved it.
“Take a wild guess.”
“MUFFINS!” TJ said, practically yelling. He was so loud, some moms turned around in surprise.
He pulled out some packets from the basket, containing both chocolate chocolate chip and blueberry macadamia muffins. The latter made TJ hold them up in confusion.
“I thought you said these don’t exist?”
“Well, they do now. Thanks to my impeccable baking skills.”
“Oh god, wow. Cyrus. I knew that we have argued, but I never thought you would ever want to poison me.”
“Hey!” Cyrus said, smacking TJ on the head lightly. “I’ll have you know I am an excellent baker!”
“I’m kidding, Underdog. You could literally give me dirt and I’d eat it,” TJ said, taking a bite of the muffin. At first, he faked happiness until his expression morphed into one of genuine enjoyment.
“Whoa, Cyrus. Holy mother of- this is incredible!”
“Told you,” Cyrus said, pride thrilling through his heart. Well, pride at his baking and just love for the boy sitting next to him.
“Who knew you were a secret Rosanna Pansino?”
Cyrus shrugged, leaning back against the tree, taking another muffin offered to him by TJ.
Everything was peaceful.
A couple hours later, the two boys were lying down again, in opposite directions. Cyrus had resumed reading his book, and TJ was busy making daisy chains, even arranging some in Cyrus’ hair. They always had these comfortable silences, the ones where the two didn’t feel the need to speak. They just enjoyed the other’s presence, basking in the warmth that came.
Cyrus turned to face TJ. He was upside down to Cyrus, but somehow he still managed to take his breath away. At that proximity, he was able to count all the freckles on TJ’s face if he wanted to.
TJ reached out and stroked Cyrus’ cheek, pulling him in for a kiss. They pulled away, faces still close together. TJ whispered, “I’m so lucky to have met you.”
Cyrus opened his eyes to look at TJ. But for the first time that day, he saw TJ look hesitant.
TJ continued. “The first time I met you, that day in the cafeteria. I went there with the intent to just get Buffy to tutor me, but as soon as I saw you, something changed. Suddenly, I just wanted to help you with anything. I immediately decided that come what may, I won’t let anyone hurt you. I don’t even know why. We didn’t even know each other. But I wanted to get to know you.”
Cyrus stayed silent, curious to hear what TJ wanted to say.
“Then, when we talked at the swings for the first time, I couldn’t bother to put on my ‘mean guy’ mask around you. I just wanted to pour my heart to you. That was the first time I had felt completely free and happy in a long time. And it was thanks to you.”
Cyrus smiled fondly at the memory. He couldn’t have imagined back then what that one conversation would mean down the line.
“I didn’t want anyone to hurt you. But then, I’m the one who ended up doing that so many times.”
At this point, Cyrus tried to cut TJ off. “TJ, you didn’t-”
“But you gave me second chances, helped me change. I can’t ever thank you enough for that, Cyrus.”
For the first time since he started speaking, TJ looked Cyrus in the eyes. His eyes seemed watery as if he was going to cry any minute. Cyrus reached over, cupping his hand over TJ’s cheek. TJ leaned into the touch, almost nuzzling his hand.
“I love you so much, Cyrus. I need you to know that.”
“I love you too, TJ,” Cyrus replied, rubbing their noses together. “But why are you acting like this? You’re scaring me a bit.”
At this, TJ sat up, trying his best to avoid Cyrus’ eyes. Cyrus, too, sat up, now worried. “TJ?” he asked, concerned.
“I need to tell you something.”
Something about the way he said those words sent fear into Cyrus’ heart. He put his arms around TJ’s shoulders, holding him so that their faces were right in front of each other. “What happened?”
Oh. Cyrus’ heart plummeted, and he loosened his grip over TJ’s shoulders. Tears began to prick at his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Cyrus,” TJ whispered, his voice cracking.
“You can’t. You can’t be moving!”
“Hey,” TJ said, grabbing Cyrus’ hand, squeezing it. “It’ll be okay.”
“What if it isn’t, TJ? What if we don’t remain okay after some time?”
“We will be,” TJ said, tears now streaming down his face. “We have to be.”
He pulled Cyrus to him, their foreheads touching, their eyes closed. They savoured that moment, despair wrapping them in its icy hold.
“This isn’t the end, Cyrus. I will always love you. No matter what,” TJ said, his voice shaky but determined.
Cyrus looked TJ in the eye, tears now staining his cheeks. “And I will always love you.”
They leaned for a kiss, more desperate than before. Neither wanted to pull away, but eventually, they had to, gasping for air.
“When do you leave?” Cyrus asked, scared of the answer.
“In 4 days, after the basketball game is done.”
They didn’t have very long.
“Hey,” TJ whispered, holding up Cyrus’ chin. “We’ll be okay. You and me, we always find our way back to each other. We’ll do it again.”
Cyrus laughed weakly, holding onto TJ’s hand. “Yeah, we will.”
They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, what felt like a few seconds. In the dying light of day, TJ whispered, “Don’t forget about me, okay?”