Go alone my flower,
And keep my whole lovely you
Wild green stones alone my lover
And keep us on my heart.
-- Alt-J - Tessellate
James looks at them with such longing, that Grayson kind of internally cringes when he looks up and catches the heart-eyes being blasted their way.
“You guys are so relationship goals, I swear. I wish I had a soulmate,” James says wistfully, looking a little misty, and Grayson does physically cringe and move out of Ethan’s space a little.
They’d been huddled together in front of a laptop, replaying a clip they’d just shot. Grayson was precariously perched on the arm of the chair, chest pushing into Ethan’s space from the side, with his arm locked around Ethan’s neck and his face bumping against Ethan’s as he tried to catch a good angle of the screen.
At James’ comment, he sort of blushes and leans further back, rolls his eyes for extra effect. Ethan doesn’t even look up, almost oblivious if they’re not on camera or filming.
“Stop being so extra,” Grayson mutters, belatedly, and James snorts inelegantly and goes back to his phone, but not before throwing out, “You guys literally have what everyone wants, except for the no sex part. Sad!”
“Can we not, please?!” Emma yells from the bathroom, and James snickers as Grayson turns beet red and gets up from his spot at last. Ethan looks up at him with a blank kind of expression, but he doesn’t say anything and then goes back to the screen a second later.
Grayson is reminded of why they do not do too many collabs anymore, if they can help it. It’s easier when it’s just the two of them doing stupid shit together, when there isn’t an audience around them when the filming is done, analyzing and scrutinizing their every move like captivated weirdos.
It doesn’t help that Grayson is not unaware of the fact that other people consider he and Ethan to be the super weird ones, but whatever, he’s not going to waste his energy thinking about that.
Cam drops by their place during the summer and crashes with them for a couple of days since her boyfriend is with his family, on a little European trip. Grayson and Ethan like him and hope it works out. They’ve been dating for real for a year now. His name’s Tom.
She’s sipping on a pina colada and absently fixing the strap of her bathing suit top. Ethan went inside to grab the pitcher and bring it out a minute ago. He’d just rubbed tanning lotion onto Grayson’s shoulders and back and given him a brief massage before heading in. Cam had watched all of this fairly silently.
“You know, Gray…” She starts saying, tone sounding a little off and making Grayson immediately perk and tense up for no reason.
“I think you guys should, like. Move out and get your own places soon, and maybe even take some college courses at different colleges so that you guys can… be more independent. Build your own circles. Make new friends. You guys are about to turn twenty.”
Grayson frowns and sucks on his straw, adjusts how he’s lying back on the recliner, skin sticking to the plastic. “What does that even mean?”
Cam sighs and puts down her drink. “You both are the most codependent people that I know and have ever met. Like, even married couples are less codependent.” She says this straight up and direct, face serious.
Grayson recovers from his bewilderment fast enough to scoff out a, “Just stop, you’re being ridiculous,” but Cam just says, “You guys eat all your meals together, travel together, work out together, hang out together, and actually work together. That’s kind of insanely intimate.” Her eyebrows are raised now.
That last comment makes Grayson stiffen up and lean away from her, makes him tighten his jaw. “Spit it out, Cam. Just say what you actually wanna say.” Grayson is glad for his sunglasses right now because he needs that layer of protection, needs the cover.
Cam’s demeanor changes suddenly, and she looks sad and resigned. Grayson feels a little nauseous for no reason.
“Look, I love you both a lot, you know that. I want you guys to have the full experience of life instead of this exclusive version that you guys have created for yourselves, for just the two of you. You both keep saying that other people either let you down or betray you, but that’s pure BS because you guys never let anyone in close enough for that to be the case. Not really. That’s why it’s so easy for you guys to drop people and move on.”
Grayson doesn’t say anything and looks over to see if Ethan is on his way back, but he’s not.
“If you guys were best friends and not related, this would be the romcom equivalent of a perfect match up.” Cam blows out a deep breath and lies back down, grabs her drink again to take a sip. “Fuck, you get what I’m saying. Don’t play dumb.”
“You can just kind of fuck off with all of that bullshit, honestly,” Grayson says, voice hard and stuck in a weird monotone and Cam just flips him off.
“I didn’t think I would need to have this convo with you guys since I was hoping you’d both have serious relationships by now and slightly more different priorities, but that hasn’t happened,” Cam adds, voice deep and hushed, like she’s still not saying everything that she wants to say. Grayson actually doesn’t want to hear anymore.
“Sorry for letting you down,” Grayson bites out, then follows it up with, “Have you talked to Ethan about any of this?”
“No,” she says, around a small chuckle, and finishes off her drink. “He’d get all dramatic and ruin my vacay and I’d have to kill him for it.”
Grayson snorts unintentionally and then gets startled when the outdoor speakers sound to life with music and Ethan comes out with the pitcher and his new red douchebro sunglasses on his face.
“Let me top you off, princess,” he tells Cam and pours her more pina, and even though Cam laughs and thanks him and Ethan’s sporting a small smile of his own, Grayson can tell that he heard everything by the way he’s moving and the deeper lines in his face.
His stomach swoops low with nerves inexplicably and Grayson focuses his attention on the shivering blue of the pool water. At the oleander growing near the pergola, looking bright and pink and beautiful, opening up and spilling out with a firework of petals.
Ethan told him it’s a poisonous plant and they might have to get rid of it, last week. Grayson tries to remember that important detail, each time it catches his attention when he’s in the backyard, but he finds that he doesn’t mind.
They drop Cam off at the airport two days later and Grayson braces himself to have the conversation with Ethan about what Cam had said and get his take on it. He’s nervous about it in a way that doesn’t make sense. He can’t stop bouncing his leg up and down when they’re on their way home.
He knows that he would have felt different about it if this was last year and she’d talked to him then. Things were messier and he was more anxious and desperate to get away from Ethan then and get his own space, felt more claustrophobic doing their twin thing all the time. Like a circus monkey. Their relationship was also not the best and things were fraying and they were both walking on a tightrope and kind of failing miserably at it.
Ethan clears his throat for a second and then says with some exasperation, “Spit it out before you drive me nuts, Gray,” and Grayson lets out a relieved sigh and turns in his seat to angle himself towards Ethan, to better look at him. Ethan is trying to look chill but is totally failing, eyebrows slightly furrowed and biting at the inside of his cheek.
Grayson lets out a sigh and crosses his arms, eyes him speculatively. “Ok, so. You obviously heard. How much of it?”
Ethan loudly inhales a breath and admits, “Enough.”
“And?” Grayson asks, not into Ethan dragging it out.
The light turns red and Ethan comes to a stop and leans back in his seat, taps his fingers on the steering wheel for a few seconds. “Look, I think she’s got a point,” Ethan starts and casts a quick look to Grayson, who frowns without meaning to, “and if this was last year, then I’d totally be like, ‘Fuck yeah, let’s go. Let’s up our adult-ing game to the next level.’” He stops there and starts driving when the light turns green, looking contemplative and still tapping away at the steering wheel.
“What about now?” Grayson presses, realizing sort of distantly that he’s holding his breath a little and that his fingers are kind of flexing around his cellphone too hard.
Ethan places a hand on top of Grayson’s knee in silent reassurance for a moment and then says with some embarrassment and hesitation, “This year has been the shittiest year of my life and the best year of my life, man. You’re the best part about it, mostly.” And Ethan immediately cringes when Grayson happily coos out, “Aww, E-tee-wee-tee, I feel the same way, bro,” and gets semi-dragged by Grayson across the divider until he can plant a wet, smacking kiss on Ethan’s cheek.
“Ew!” Ethan yells and leans away, looking fake grumpy and put out about it as he wipes his cheek, small smile on his face. “Gross, dude. Give a guy a warning next time.”
The energy settles calm and easy around them after that. Grayson says sort of wondrously, sort of just talking out loud, “I just don’t think they get it, dude. What we have. What it’s like.”
“True,” Ethan agrees, head bopping a bit to the music playing in the background.
“I’m done apologizing for it and explaining it to them. They’ll never get it,” Grayson finishes, and the realization of how absolutely true that is suddenly sinks into him deep, like an anchor finding home at sea. Ethan squeezes his shoulder briefly in acknowledgement and Grayson rests his cheek on Ethan’s hand for a warm beat, until he pulls it away.
They hit their street and Grayson looks off at the breathtaking view of the city spreading around them like a canvas drenched with striking sunset hues. It never fails to catch his attention and mesmerize him, like a moth to a flame.
Things between he and E have never been better, and this year they’ve developed a more mature, more loving understanding in their relationship that they didn’t have before. All their arguments and squabbling is more than staged now, more for show.
They’ve grown up and have settled their differences and their petty arguments with the knowledge that tomorrow is never promised, and as Ethan said, back in early February, while they were both miserably huddled together in bed at night because they couldn’t sleep, “We’ve just got to, like, live fiercely and love fiercely everyday, dude. No more playing around.”
Grayson wants to get that tattooed on him somewhere, but wants it to be someplace special. He’s thinking about his collarbones or the back of his shoulders, but hasn’t decided yet. It’s been his mantra this year, too: live fiercely and love fiercely. So far it’s been serving him well.
1 Month Later
In the craziest twist of Grayon’s very short life thus far, a little less than a month after Cam’s talk with him, Ethan gets himself a for real girlfriend. One afternoon, they’re hanging out and just chilling with Bryant and his cousin and her best friend. The friend’s name is Sarah.
Sarah’s from Oregon, transferred to finish off her degree in Cali. She’s almost two years older than them. Her parents live in Oregon and have a couple of acres of land, with horses on it and apple orchards. She misses the freedom of the open space and land and visits them often.
She’s also studying at UC San Diego to become a marine biologist, is super smart, cool and funny, and pretty. She shoots hoops and plays volleyball during her free time. She wants to learn how to skateboard and is sweet on Ethan in a way that is entirely mind boggling to Grayson.
Most surprising of all, Ethan reciprocates and looks like a deer in headlights each time Grayson catches his eyes. He looks like he’s thinking ‘Can you believe my luck?’ and Grayson gives him a thumbs up on the downlow and gives them space to chat by themselves.
Grayson laughs and jokes with Bryant and tries not to be too obvious in how he’s checking out how Ethan is doing with Sarah, and when they exchange numbers as they’re leaving, Grayson feels the rumblings of a shift take place in the core foundations of his relationship with Ethan, as his insides kind of get tight and coiled at the pleased, small smile Ethan sports on their drive home.
“Jesus, Gray, she’s fucking amazing, man,” Ethan says, sounding pretty stunned.
Grayson agrees readily with a, “Yeah, totally, bro. She seemed pretty into you,” and they leave it at that.
Almost two weeks after their first meeting, Ethan and Sarah start dating sort of long distance, and they take turns visiting each other every weekend, since the drive is long and sucks and she’s got classes.
Grayson makes the first visit down with Ethan, and after that, Ethan wants to go by himself, which Grayson was telling himself he was super ready for, and then he finds himself to be a giant, ginormous liar. A huge one. A big one, even.
His body goes molten hot inside but his skin feels like someone dropped a bucket of ice water onto him. He does everything he can that night, after Ethan leaves, to distract himself. Including hitting up his on-and-off girl and switching it back to on kind of desperately. It doesn’t work.
Grayson has nothing against Sarah, and really likes her, but he can’t help feeling a little guarded around her. A little uneased. It’s not her fault that Grayson’s a little fucked up over not being Ethan’s number one anymore, but he can’t help being a little cagey, a little off. A little - or a lot - hurt. How fucked up is that?
It’s October and summer has officially come to a close, but since this is SoCal, it’s still seventy-six degrees outside. It’ll cool down next week, the forecast says.
Sarah is spending the weekend with them, as she visits Ethan. They’re outside by the pool chilling, while Ethan teaches her how to skateboard.
She grabs Ethan’s skateboard again, after another fumble. Dark hair in a tight ponytail and in shorts, t-shirt, and converse sneakers, and Grayson retreats further into himself when Ethan pulls her to him gently to laugh something quiet into her neck. As he shows her how to do a turn again, his eyes creased at the corners because of his wide smile, his hair wild and sweaty and his tank top sticking to his chest kind of obscenely.
She doesn’t seem to mind, with the way she’s staring, but she ordinarily gives Ethan shit and doesn’t let him get away with any fuckboy attitude, which Grayson totally respects.
There’s some of her stuff scattered all over the house now, too. Her melon lotion and pink razor in Ethan’s shower, with an extra toothbrush. Leftovers of her favorite snacks in the kitchen. Coconut water in the fridge. Her Spongebob coffee mug. Presence of her has sprouted like vines and greedily spread out in all directions in Grayson’s life, and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Even their mom really likes her, which is like another nail in the coffin.
Ethan says offhandedly on Sunday night, after she’s gone back, “This is random, but she kind of reminds me of you,” and Grayson feels sick, like someone just kicked him in the stomach.
Ethan doesn’t notice how he freezes for a second before he goes back to washing the dishes in the sink robotically. He tunes out whatever else Ethan says for the next minute, mind stuck on looping back to that comment, and just focusing on his hands in the water, suds slipping and popping between his knuckles, and when he does tune back in at last, Ethan is still fucking talking about Sarah.
“Wow, she must have a bombass pussy since you won’t shut up about her, E,” he says with more heat than he means to, it slips out really. But he immediately cringes as soon as the words leave his mouth.
Ethan must be shocked too - Grayson can’t chance looking at him - because it takes him a second to angrily snap out, “Shut the fuck up, Grayson, and grow the fuck up,” before he storms out of the kitchen and Grayson leans into the sink on his elbows, eyes clenched shut tight, trying not to off himself by just dunking his head in the sink water until he loses his breath.
Before falling asleep that night, Grayson finally comes to terms with the fact that he is a horrible, terrible, no good person. He thought Ethan and Sarah would have broken up by now. Ethan never had game with girls. It should have followed the usual trajectory. In a sick way, that thought, that knowledge, has always been comforting to him. His head is a scary place.
The past few years, Grayson was also always harboring the illusion that he would find the right girl first, settle down first, get married first, have a kid first, and be the one to pave the path for Ethan to follow during that phase of their lives.
Watching Ethan get loved up and pull ahead of him, put him behind, makes Grayson now realize why he was so adamant about the plan unfolding in that particular way.
Because it’s fucking painful being the one that Ethan is pulling away from. It’s like Ethan is steadily drawing a never ending jagged line through him and the wound is turning nasty and infected and Grayson does not know how to heal it. He’s fucking jealous, and upset, and angry, and furious at himself for being all of those things. Secretly, he’s furious at Ethan for hijacking his dreams a little, but he tries not to show it.
He books a flight to Savannah to stay with Cam for a few days and shoots Ethan a ‘sorry about being a dick, love you bro x. Gonna go see Cam to clear my head, be back in 3 days’ text before sleeping that night. They won’t be shooting anything new until the day after he returns, so everything should be okay.
Ethan must’ve read his text last night because he’s awake early the next morning to see Grayson off. He looks hurt and confused and upset, and Grayson just thinks, ditto.
“Why don’t you want me to come with?” Ethan asks in the car, and Grayson sighs and says, “My head is kind of messed up and I think some time away to get myself figured out is the best for the both of us.” He covers Ethan’s hand with his own and squeezes. “I don’t want to act like a douche, you don’t deserve that. I’m happy you’re happy.”
Ethan snorts and pulls his hand away. “Interesting way of showing it, that’s for sure. You know she doesn’t have cooties, right? She’s not poisonous?”
“I know that,” Grayson groans out, burying himself in his sweater and pulling the hoodie up to cover his face more. “It’s like, you’ve got your own thing going on now, and I’m not a part of it-”
“You are! I include you in everything we do!” Ethan cuts in.
“-and it’s just not the same, and I’m acting like a little bitch,” Grayson finishes, his face scrunched up like he’s sucking on something sour.
They fill the silence with random talk after that, and Ethan lets it drop. At the airport he pulls Grayson into a bone-crushing hug, and Grayson is enough of a pussy to hug back just as hard, and then softly kiss Ethan’s cheek, lips catching on more stubble than anything else, before he pulls away, small smile quirking on his lips.
“Bye, bitch,” Ethan mutters, voice low and gentle, for some reason holding onto Grayson’s forearms tightly, and Grayson pushes him away jokingly as he makes his way to his terminal.
Jesus. He feels like someone is using a spoon to carve out his insides, dismantle and displace every organ in his body. He ignores the tears that are forming and sniffs once, twice, and doesn’t look back.
Cam greets him with a raised eyebrow and a hug. In that order.
"Where's your other half?" She asks, curiously.
"He's got things to do, he's busy," Grayson tries to say nonchalantly, but she's not buying it by the way her eyes widen.
"Did you guys fight?"
Grayson makes a clicking sound and says, "Nope. I just needed a change of scenery."
"Uh-huh," Cam says, somewhat disbelievingly, and Grayson huffs out, "He's got a thing to do with Sarah and couldn't leave. Can we drop it?"
The silence that greets him at that is all-knowing and pervading and even smug, but Cam just pretends to zip her mouth shut and they blast music at the drive back to her place. She's living with Tom now, but they've got an extra bedroom set up for family.
He says hi to Tom and gives him a bro-hug, and wants to internally curse the universe again for turning him into a third wheel in all of his relationships now.
That night they go out to a gay club because it is Cam's friend's birthday and Grayson tags along, because he didn't fly hundreds of miles from home to be alone again and get left out.
He's having a really good time, and he drinks maybe more than he should, and at one point Cam grabs him by the waist to tell him that she will not hold his hair back for him if he vomits all over her bathroom at home.
Grayson just chuckles and leans into her more until she almost falls over, but he catches her before she does and they both break into giggles. Tom's nice, her friends are super nice, and the guy who's bought him two tequila shots at the bar is next level nice, too. His name is Matt.
Matt's so nice that Grayson clamps down on his mild freakout by a lot when the guy follows him to the men's restroom and then immediately goes down on him after a quick peck to Grayson's mouth for consent.
All that Grayson can do at that point is brace himself against the sink and try to hold on for the ride, because this is the best blowjob he's ever had and all of his senses are coiling down low in his belly and in his dick in zero point five seconds.
When he comes, an embarrassingly short amount of time later, his moan is punched out of him, long and low, and then he hears Matt follow him along a few seconds later, his sweaty forehead coming to rest on Grayson's thigh.
Afterwards Grayson kind of locks up and fumbles with his pants, but Matt pats him on the chest good-naturedly with a crooked smile and says, "See you around, Grayson," and leaves after washing his hands and gargling his mouth, just like that.
Grayson feels like the absolute worst when he realizes that he came in his Matt's with no warning, and then has to battle through the mixed emotions of finding it hot as he pulls himself together and joins the rest of the group.
They dance some more and then they all Uber home, and that night he gets the best night of sleep that he’s had in a couple of weeks easily. Dream free and drama free. He wakes up that morning feeling the hangover but also feeling more clear headed, which is a win in his books.
The only time that they come close to having a serious conversation while he stays with Cam is when he says, "So you were kind of right, about what you said.”
Cam puts her head onto his shoulder, Game of Thrones playing on the screen, and quietly says, "I know, it sucks. Sorry, Gray."
Grayson wraps his arm around her shoulders and feels some relief crack through the cement of emotions choking him up these days. He hasn't really been texting Ethan too much, but that kind of feels okay now, too.
Ethan picks him up from the airport and his eyes are crinkling at the corners as he grins at Grayson, as he roughly drags his head towards him across the seat for a kiss to the forehead. Grayson thinks his own smile has to be pretty goofy-looking right now too, and he shouldn't pick on Ethan for his.
"How you been, bud? How was Cam?"
Grayson buckles himself in and says, "Good, great. It was nice. I'm glad I went."
He tells Ethan some of what they did and censors some of the other things out, because he doesn’t need to go spilling out his guts right now, not when he’s still processing things.
Things appear to go back to normal that week, for the most part, until it’s Ethan’s turn to go visit Sarah for the weekend, and Grayson is reminded of how much work he still has to do. Ethan invites him to go with him, but Grayson declines.
He’s tired of being the third wheel.
Grayson expected to wake up that morning with Ethan gone already, on the road.
What actually happens is that he gets dragged out of sleep that night by Ethan climbing into his bed and pulling up against him, his head on Grayson’s pillow. Grayson blinks his eyes sleepily open and automatically reaches out for him, puts his arm around him. Ethan smells like peanut butter.
“Is everything ok?” Grayson yawns out, voice muffled thick with sleep.
Ethan lets out a deep breath and nudges his head against his. “Trip is canceled. I’m not going to see Sarah this weekend.” The little celly that Grayson wants to do at that is squashed because Ethan looks bummed about it.
“She’s sick and miserable and doesn’t want to infect me with her ‘plague,’ as she calls it,” Ethan divulges slowly, his hand going out to pull the comforter more onto himself, his socked foot bumping into Grayson’s feet.
Grayson frowns and rubs at Ethan’s side with a loose, closed fist. “That sucks, sorry about that, bro.”
A small grin tiredly comes onto Ethan’s face and he says matter-of-factly, “No, you’re not.”
It makes Grayson blush and cringe simultaneously, but he can’t help it. “No, I’m not,” he admits with little difficulty.
The silence around them is easy for a bit, but then Ethan ruins it by carefully saying, like he’s measuring his words, “She’s graduating in May and has an internship lined up in Santa Monica. If things go well during those six months she’s interning, she’s hired full-time.” Graysons hums out a sound, to let him know he’s listening, his heart beating a little faster.
“She wants us to look for a place together, actually, once she does graduate,” Ethan semi-whispers out, voice a little hushed, and Grayson feels that hit him the same way the Titanic hit that iceberg. Ethan’s gentle delivery doesn’t help. Distantly he can feel that he’s just kind of dumbly blinking at Ethan’s silhouette and has stopped breathing, but he can’t find his own ‘on’ button to stop himself from acting like a selfish freak.
A deep chuckle reverberates out from Ethan to break that moment and he sighs out a, “Gray, hey Grayson. I said no.” He throws his arm around Grayson’s middle and knocks him onto his back, covers him up like a blanket. “I said we’d evaluate that then, but at this point, things are too new. So no.”
Grayson is embarrassed at the relief that floods through him at that, and he lets out his breath, feeling his limbs come back online suddenly. Ethan’s arm is warm around him and he leans into him greedily, his embrace, and tangles their legs together, rests his own arm over Ethan’s on his belly. He doesn’t say anything because Ethan seems to know what’s going on inside his head.
“Be honest, though, if our situations were completely reversed, you were in my shoes, you would have said yes. You would have stuck to your plan,” Ethan states, voice curious but also a little guarded. Like he knows Grayson too fucking well, maybe even better than Grayson knows himself.
Grayson thinks about it for a few seconds and softly says, “Yeah, maybe.” And suddenly and dizzyingly Grayson realizes that not only does he have an issue with sharing Ethan, but he’d rather be the one that leaves and tears that band aid off first, rather than Ethan doing it to him. Messed up, for sure, but that’s something for him to mull over in the morning.
After a few minutes, sleep tugs at him gently again, and maybe he should pull back, maybe they both should, but he doesn’t want to. He’s petting Ethan sort of absentmindedly as he feels Ethan’s breaths get deeper too, and the next thing he knows, he’s almost out.
But then Ethan’s breath ghosts across his face with something like, “I’m doing all of this because of you,” his voice tight, and it doesn’t make sense, and he wants to tell Ethan that, but he succumbs to the pull of sleep with his next breath. It feels important, though, it feels like something he should store away for later.
Grayson doesn’t remember it in the morning.