There was approximately a day’s worth of time that had passed before Lio Fotia realized he had nowhere to go. His gaze waded through the masses of people cleaning up the rubble from what was now being referred to as a national disaster and he felt his heart go somewhere else. To where, he didn’t know. He had nothing to fight for. The fire in his hands, in his ribcage- it was gone now.
It really shouldn’t have been the internal damnation it was. Lio had left his home a long time ago. He had seen a hole to fill, a position to become, eighteen and a half and people had fallen in line behind him, for some reason. Had done it gladly.
He had a family. He glanced over at Gueira, at Meis, who noticed he was looking and waved at him half-heartedly. They were alone. The fires were all gone, all done.
Galo had bounded over, covered in sweat, to ask him something but now was stopping mid-sentence. “Lio? You there?” He flapped his hand in front of Lio’s eyes. His voice had still been amused. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” said Lio flatly. The world was spinning without his permission. “I’m cold.”
Lio hated this job, too.
His co-workers were nice enough. The place was cozy, had nice lighting. It was certainly more comfortable than the backs of trucks he had been sleeping in for months at a time the past few years. He could still see the sunsets, rosy and different every night, roaring when they were on the horizon of a desert and uneasy when on top of a city skyline, he could-
“One caramel macchiato with almond milk. With whipped cream, actually. Do you guys have the dairy-free kind?” The woman in front of his register was baring teeth at him in a way that made him wary of impending further attempts at conversation like I love your hair or Aren’t you that guy who used to burn down private property?
Lio raised an eyebrow at her. “It says on the menu that we do.”
The woman cleared her throat. “Oh, of course! I’ll take that, then.” She swiped her card, etcetera, etcetera.
“We’ll have it out for you in a few minutes,” Lio said, leaning an arm on the counter. He refused to smile at her. He could feel his boss hovering nearby, probably watching and readying herself to confront him about making every customer feel special or whatever.
“Thanks,” she said, swallowing before continuing. “Hey, aren’t you that guy-"
“No,” said Lio, taking off his netted hat with more violence than was likely necessary. “I’m on break now, you’ll have to excuse me.” The woman stammered an apology as he walked away, his co-worker to his left sparing a glance in his direction before taking the orders of the others in line. The coffee shop was always bustling, but at this hour it was mostly younger students and couples. Lio restrained himself from grimacing at a particularly cute one sharing a cappuccino and instead shivered when the door opened at the front of the shop. It’s still summer, he thought bitterly. I’ve become weak. Years of having a constant flame at his beck and call had led to a physical shock at the contrast, and it still hadn’t let up, apparently. He had found himself shrugging on jackets in sixty degree weather, folding his arms and legs together at restaurants that were being air conditioned.
Galo had asked about it over and over until Lio had blown up on him, yelling too loudly as they were getting dim-sum one evening with the rest of his crew. He’d strolled out the door straight after because he was so embarrassed. He wasn’t the type to yell. He had felt the blush in his cheeks, a faint heat, and felt satisfied, somehow. No one had mentioned it afterward.
He could tell Galo wanted to mention it, though. That he wanted to talk about everything else, too.
Lio pushed the back door open, cursed internally but elegantly (he thought) at the breeze.
“Lio!” A singsong of a voice slammed through currents of summer air to reach him. “I got here right on time, huh!”
“Seems like it.” Lio crunched on some ice with his teeth, all the water from his plastic cup gone already. It wasn’t nice, not exactly.
Galo laughed. “That’s bad for your teeth, dude.”
“Whatever, dude,” Lio mocked amiably. Galo grinned at him. It was like drawing the blinds up after sleeping in past noon.
“How’s the job going?” Galo followed Lio towards a bench on the sidewalk, sitting down without looking. Lio brushed off some dirt and a napkin before doing the same.
“I think I’m going to quit.” Lio watched another couple pass by, internally cursing them, too.
“I’m bored of it.” Lio turned to truly look at him. “It’s unfulfilling.”
Galo thought about this for a few seconds before nodding solemnly. “If it’s not something you feel with every fiber of your being, then why do it? I get it.”
“A burning passion,” agreed Lio, mouth twitching.
Galo pointed at him, delighted. “Exactly!” Lio let himself laugh with him.
Galo told him about his day with the same level of enthusiasm. When he asked Lio to join Burning Rescue again, Lio shook his head as kindly as he could.
“I appreciate the offer, Galo Thymos. I do.” He felt himself retreating inward. “But I don’t think so.”
“Everyone thinks you’re a hero,” Galo said seriously, trying to meet his eyes.
Lio wouldn’t do it.
Okay, so he had quit six jobs and had been fired from two. It wasn’t a big deal.
(Except that it was.)
(Except that every job had been all right, for entry-level minimum wage sort-of-deals, and that he had been able to lay low at every one of them, been able to be grateful he wasn’t in jail or something worse, at least. Galo told him, often, that he could get any job he wanted, that he was smart enough, but Lio insisted that he wanted to work from the ground up, that he wanted to make his own path. Whatever that meant.)
(Except that Meis and Gueira had found jobs, at a library and daycare respectively, and were living happily in an apartment together with a black and white cat and motivation to do something more and be happy, happy, they were happy. Lio got the picture, okay.)
(Except that Galo and Aina and the rest of them were starting to give him these worried looks now, because it had been many months and he seemed very sad, was all. He seemed lost, they said, and Lio would have to say, no, no, I’m just trying to figure it out, the thing I want.)
(Except that the only thing Lio wanted was Galo, and that it was too much for him, that wanting.)
During that first week, Lio had stayed at Galo’s apartment, had slept on his bed because Galo had insisted. Galo had blown up an inflatable mattress to sleep on that made an upsetting amount of noise when he shifted on it, letting Lio know whenever he moved in his sleep. Lio had been able to smell Galo on his sheets, his pillow case. He drools, he realized, watching him breathe late at night. He found it endearing. Endearing!
Galo’s apartment had been disgusting. It was obviously only wiped down every month or two and only had furniture that seemed to have come with the apartment. When you opened the fridge, something in the back of it smelled so disgusting that you had an exactly six second window of time to find the food you wanted inside before it got too overwhelming. There was only hot water at two or three in the afternoon or eleven at night. There were no laundry machines in the building, which Galo used as an excuse for wearing the same clothing twice, or not wearing anything at all.
Lio had hated it because he had loved being there so much.
He was, he thought, a person meant for companionship. He wasn’t a people pleaser, obviously, but he didn’t like being alone for long periods of time. He liked knowing others were present around him. He liked coming home and settling in to someone else. Being the leader of the Mad Burnish was only good from time to time because he had them. He loved them. And now they had lives to go back to, or to create. Gueira and Meis had pleaded for him to move in with them. Lio had refused, upset at himself for doing so and for wanting someone else. Oh, he had thought, frustrated. I’m in love.
He cleaned his apartment often. His furniture was nice. He obviously wasn’t making a ton of money but the government had compensated the Burnish to be comfortable enough for a while (although Lio had muttered things about how they were buying their way out of responsibility for their actions a little too much, lately). His fridge was full of food he had missed the taste of when he was on the run, burgers and tofu and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Chocolate ice cream and fresh strawberries. His bathroom was covered in blue tiles that the realtor had really emphasized when he had gone apartment-hunting, although hunting was a strong word, given that he had looked at exactly one before he had felt too tired with the whole thing. There were laundry machines in his building, and he bought clothes online, he had them delivered, frills and belts and high fashion streetwear he found through blog posts.
Lio didn’t hate it because he didn’t find himself in love with it at all.
He had tried restaurants, had tried working for charity. Had tried accounting (he had left after one day, had hated the lack of windows on his floor). Had tried doing nothing and hated that the most.
He had an interview for a job tomorrow morning. He settled into bed, turning off the fan bitterly because he knew, objectively, that it was hot in the disgusting way that Augusts often became and because it was another reminder that he was trying to find comfort in the heat in some sort of fucked-up subconscious way that would make Aina or her sister kindly recommend him to get therapy if he voiced it aloud.
He listened to the cars. He heard people, presumably drunk, yelling on the street. He listened to the cars and pretended the sound was the ocean, and then the wind on desert sand, and then the breathing of another person.
The person in front of him scratched their head of curly hair. They raised an eyebrow at him. Lio didn’t like how much their expression reminded him of himself.
“We checked your background. You’ve been through eight jobs in five months.” It wasn’t a question.
“It’s true,” Lio said, aiming for a cooler tone, “but it’s mostly because I’ve been searching for something I’m passionate about, not because of a bad working performance.”
The interviewer studied him, amused. “Sure. And your passion is here, at this flower shop?”
“I don’t know,” replied Lio truthfully. “I just have a good feeling.” He had found this job on Google.
He looked at the interviewer’s name-tag. Ulises. Even in this back room, they were surrounded by flowers wrapped in labels and plastic. The fluorescent lighting made the petals catch your eye, a reminder of the city, always around them. The sun wasn’t touching their leaves here.
Ulises tapped their pen on the table, smiling almost warily. “A good feeling.” The bangs of their red hair fell in their face and they blew them out of the way again. “Well, Lio Fotia, I’m going to tell you how I’m feeling, okay? You seem like the kind of person who cares a lot about feelings.” They watched Lio bristle. “I mean that in the best way possible! The best way. I know you were the leader of Mad Burnish, which is impressive no matter what you think of it all. I know about your role in all of that, blah blah blah. But your recommendations from other businesses were iffy. And you seem to lack motivation. This isn’t just any flower shop. People study botany and stuff to get higher level positions here.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Lio honestly. He was annoyed, for some reason.
Ulises burst into laughter. “See! I like you. I’m going to hire you.” Lio stared at them. “You seem like an interesting person and this place gets so boring sometimes. Don’t let that deter you, though, I see your expression. Flowers are thrilling! I’m going to teach you the different types of bouquets! Heart-pounding stuff, newbie.”
“Heart-pounding, huh,” said Lio, watching a fly crawl over a chrysanthemum. He realized he was smiling.
“Well, boss, at least you don’t seem as depressed about this one.” Meis elbowed Gueira pointedly. “I’m just saying!”
“Thanks,” said Lio sharply, sipping his iced tea. Meis smiled at him and he shot him a glare. “How are your own jobs?”
“Great, actually. A kid threw up all over me yesterday. I love it.” Gueira crossed his legs under the table, nervous at the prospect of vulnerable feelings, Lio thought. The three of them were too alike.
“He does love it,” Meis assured him. “The library is good. The kids at the college are nice. I don’t know why I refer to them as kids. We’re like the same age.”
“You like the school?” Lio set his glass down, ice cubes clinking.
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about getting a degree or something.”
“Meis!” Lio yelped. “You should!”
“Woah there,” laughed Meis. “I mean, if you say I should, I should, right?”
“You can do anything you want,” Lio said crossly, sitting back down.
Meis looked thoughtful. “I do want to.”
Gueira pretended to gag. “School. Education. Boring.”
“You work at a school,” said Lio, unamused. Gueira shook a finger at him.
“Have you been hanging out with Galo?” Meis pushed around the last bits of a piece of cake on his plate, lifting the fork up to his mouth. They were in a cafe. It was nicer than the one Lio used to work in. The chairs were comfier.
Lio opened his mouth and closed it again. Two girls next to them were giggling at something on a phone, holding each other’s hands. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Lio said hotly.
“Ooh, he’s prickly! Hates talking about his crush.” Gueira gave Meis a conspiratorial look only to get another elbow in his side. “Stop that, ow.”
“You guys used to listen to me,” muttered Lio.
The two of them spoke in unison. “No, we didn’t.”
“No,” Lio said, voice betraying conviviality, “you didn’t.”
His co-workers were great and Lio was trying hard not to get too excited.
He knew he should let himself be excited, of course, he knew it, deep down. It was harder to be wise in a life like this than in the life he had fighting against the government.
The work, additionally, was great, and the flowers were great, and Lio himself was great. He still didn’t know half as much about flowers as Ulises did but he enjoyed talking to customers, and once in a while when someone asked for a photo or something else as inappropriate he did it anyway without protest just because he was in a good mood. They let him wear frilly white button-downs and avant-garde belts and pants with patterns hand-stitched near the seams because there wasn’t a uniform. The store itself was less a shop and more like a greenhouse, expansive and full of light and he could see the sun all the time if he wanted to. And he wanted to.
Galo came to see him all the time and he sometimes brought pizza with him. He was so loud in every way possible, poetic and otherwise, that people’s heads turned when he came in. Lio would set down his pen or his bundle of roses and say I’m taking my break now, much to the entertainment of his co-workers, and would all but skip over to him to hear about drama between Lucia and Aina or something as mildly interesting. Galo would touch him on the shoulder more often, would bump into him more, as though a lack of personal space was a sign of real trust for him. Lio let him do it. He chastised him, sure, but he let him.
“Are you two dating?” Neena, another associate, had her hand wrapped around a sandwich. Her voice was curious as she saw Lio wave at Galo, who tripped over a potted palm and made the bell on the door almost screech as it shut.
Lio looked at her, feeling flustered until his cheeks heated up and he resigned himself to feeling happy about it. “Not officially yet.” He studied his nails theatrically. “I’m working on it.”
Neena laughed at him. “Doesn’t seem like a lot to work on, there. You’re much happier than when I first met you.” She bit into her sandwich. “You got this, bro.”
Much happier? Lio rang up a bouquet of lilies and some small white flowers he was always forgetting the name of.
“Lio!” says Ulises. “I need you to cover for the delivery girl. She said she’s throwing up but I don’t believe her. There was this huge concert last night and I saw her account- anyway. It’s easy-peasy, let me show you how to use the system.”
Later that day, Lio’s heart skipped when he was given a delivery in Galo’s building. It’s not for Galo, but it’s the last one of the day, so he figured he could stop by his apartment and surprise him. It seems fitting, in a way, because he has avoided going into Galo’s apartment more than a few times since that first week.
That week, he thought, mouth dry.
This is what had happened: pizza, video games, laughing, getting drunk on Galo’s birthday. The eighth night. There had been a party and everything.
This is what Lio had been afraid of: Galo’s hand on his, Galo’s voice at night instead of his breathing. His confession of caring for Lio. Lio didn’t know what it meant. He had been drunk. He may have misheard.
He was aware of how cliche it all was. Galo was very blatant with his affection, even when he wasn’t speaking, as rare as that was. Lio just… hadn’t known if his own feelings were worth pursuing. He was afraid, deep down, that he wanted Galo in the way he found himself wishing he were in a jacuzzi all the time or in the vicinity of a thick sweater to put in. That is, wanting it because it reminded him of something else, because it was there. He thought Galo deserved better than that.
But these days, with the light slanting onto Galo’s cheekbones, with the bus rides after dark, he felt like he knew himself a bit more.
Lio was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t see Galo in the elevator with him. For a moment, he thought he had hallucinated him - after all, Galo was the going-up-the-stairs-type - but he was there, obviously, because he was wiping his brow with the end of his shirt and when he saw Lio he yelled with such joy that Lio nearly jumped out of the elevator again.
“Fancy meeting you here,” said Lio, half wary and half something else. Galo bounced toward him, seeming like he wanted to embrace him but deciding against it, not without some visible hesitation at the decision. Lio watched him appraisingly.
“What are you doing here?” Galo adjusted his duffel bag on his shoulder, shifting around the small space, leaving the idea of breathing room in the dust because that’s who he was.
Lio explained his delivery situation, yawning. “I’m so tired.”
“Oh, me too,” replied Galo quickly. “You can come over after, if you want. I don’t know if you have to go back or anything but, like, I have leftover takeout.”
“Fine dining,” observed Lio. “I’d love to.”
The elevator made a noise. It didn’t usually make noises.
“It’d be funny if we got stuck in here,” said Galo.
“No, Galo, it wouldn’t really,” said Lio, rolling his eyes, and of course the elevator stopped working, then, and Lio wasn’t a fan of that at all.
They stared at each other in silence for a moment.
“That’s what people call manifestation,” said Galo, laughing a little and pounding the help button.
“You read too many lifestyle blogs.” Lio slumped onto the ground. The light on the help box flashed on. Help was on the way, read the label. “You’re a firefighter, right?” Galo spluttered and Lio snorted at him. “You know I’m joking, stupid. How long do these sorts of calls usually take to get to? How long are we going to be in here? My delivery’s most likely going to be late.”
“We could die in here and that’s what you’re worried about!” Galo gave him an appalled expression.
Lio was not impressed by it. “This probably happens often. There are a lot of elevators in this city.” Dust motes fell down in the ray of light from the ceiling like snow.
“So logical, so smart. It’ll be hours, days, before we get out of here! Weeks! What if the call box is broken or something, Lio? We’ll starve in here. We’ll have to eat your flowers for sustenance.”
“Your comedy needs work,” replied Lio, casually pulling out some gum from his bag. “Do you want some?”
Galo puffed out some air. “Fine, yeah, I want some gum. Oh, it’s cinnamon! You bought these because they’re my favorite, I know it.”
Lio openly laughed at him. “They were on sale.”
Galo made some more remarks he thought were funny before he settled down into talking about his day as usual, chewing his gum like a horse. Lio watched it happen fondly. Firefighting was much slower now that the Burnish weren’t a thing. It was mostly grease fires in college dorms and the like, these days. Lio enjoyed the rise and fall of his voice, the way he yelled when it was wholly unnecessary. The way he got excited about the smallest of things. Lio got excited about big things. He would cultivate a specific passion inside of himself until it consumed him. Galo got passionate about big things in the way that he got passionate about anything.
Lio closed his eyes, content.
“Why,” Galo was saying indignantly, and Lio opened his eyes and found that he still couldn’t see anything. The light had turned off.
Lio groaned, running a hand over his face. He could barely make out Galo’s form in the dark next to him. He had reached out with his fingers before he even realized he was doing it, trying to start a flame. He slammed his palm on the floor, repulsed by it. He shivered and got even more unhappy. Galo asked him a question and he didn’t respond, not listening.
“Are you okay?” Galo tried to feel for Lio’s shoulder. Lio swatted at him, annoyed. “I didn’t know you were scared of the dark.”
“I’m not,” Lio snarled. “I was just surprised.”
“Okay,” said Galo slowly, like he was crazy. Lio was not crazy. He placed his hand on Lio’s shoulder again. Galo was the insane one.
Lio shivered again. “You’re cold,” said Galo, shock apparent in his voice.
“No,” said Lio, voice small. “It’s the middle of summer. I twitched.”
“I’ve learned a lot about you, Lio. You only lie when other people know you are,” said Galo.
“Fuck you,” Lio said, pushing his hand away again. Galo seemed hurt.
Lio heard the sound of a zipper. “What are you doing?” He didn’t know what to think.
“I’m getting my jacket out of my bag, so you can wear it,” replied Galo conversationally, in that voice he had been using before that implied Lio was being stupid. Lio wanted to remind him that it was Lio’s job to act superior, not his. He pressed his mouth into a line and accepted the jacket in the least grateful way he could muster. The jacket was more plastic than warm, and while it did help a little, he found himself hoping that they would be rescued soon. They were stuck on the seventeenth floor. He felt like that number should’ve been an omen of some kind but he couldn’t think of one he had heard before.
Galo hummed to himself. It seemed he was trying to make things less awkward. Lio sighed resignedly. “Thanks.”
Lio could imagine Galo’s expression brightening even without seeing it. “Is it helping?”
“A little.” Lio picked at a loose thread on his pants.
“Come here,” Galo said.
Lio did, for some reason.
Galo wrapped his arms around him underneath the jacket. “Is this okay?”
“Always so chivalrous,” Lio mumbled into his shoulder. “It’s more than okay.” He truly was warm. Galo had a thousand stars living inside of him. He could feel his heartbeat if he wanted to, if he placed his hand on his chest right there-
He reached his fingers and did it, lightly. Galo’s breath hitched. The dark hid Lio’s cheeks, rising in temperature. He had no control over his own heat anymore.
They were silent for a minute. Lio felt the thump of Galo’s blood below his fingertips.
“I miss it,” he said at last.
“What?” said Galo softly.
“I miss being on the run.” Lio barked out a laugh. “Isn’t that fucked up?”
“I don’t think it’s fucked up.”
“Yeah? What do you think?”
Galo thought about it for a moment and Lio hung back from making a joke about it. “I think that back then, you knew what you lived for and what you wanted. And because of that, you felt fulfilled.” His voice seemed knowing.
Lio breathed into his shirt. “Yes.”
He gave it a moment before asking, “You miss it too, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Galo was looking at him. Lio could feel it. “It’s not the same. The fire in my soul is different now.” He seemed to gather his thoughts. “But that’s stupid, actually."
“Feelings aren’t,” Lio grit out, “stupid.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Galo was getting riled up. “We don’t have to be fulfilled by our jobs, by becoming heroes, by being leaders.” He grabbed Lio’s shoulders, shook him. “We get to choose what our life looks like, Lio!”
“Our life,” Lio repeated.
“Yes!” Galo voice was full of awe. “Maybe the thing I want now, it’s not just to put out fires. It’s not just saving people. It’s- it’s-“
Lio felt his fingers tighten on his skin. “Yes?” He knew where this was going but was entertained nonetheless.
Galo pressed himself against him. “Lio,” he said, suddenly quiet. “I think we should move in together.”
Lio pressed his lips to Galo’s neck, felt him shudder. “We’re cleaning out your fridge.”
Lio bought a jacket. He went to a store downtown and just did it. He bought it with money he had made at his job selling flowers. He went home and showed Galo and Galo had taken it off of him and kissed him.
“You two are so cute,” said Aina, making a pouty face to mock them. Lio was on Galo’s lap. Galo was supposed to be working.
“We are, right?” Galo said proudly, and Lio gave him a smug look.
“Ugh, they really look at each other like that.” Lucia shook her head at them. Galo beamed.
Lio blushed but refused to remove his arm from around Galo’s neck. “I love you,” Galo whispered into his ear, upsettingly genuine, and Lio slapped his arm because it really was getting too sappy. Varys was speaking animatedly to Remi in the room over; Lucia asked Aina something and they looked away from them for a moment.
“Lio,” wailed Galo. “I want to go home right now.”
“I don’t know why you’re whining about that to me,” Lio said.
“I miss you so much all day. How did I survive those first six months when we weren’t dating?”
“Who knows,” replied Lio, snorting. “I sure didn’t,” he added before he can stop himself, wanting to run out the door immediately after.
Galo looked at him and kissed him, tilted his head up with his hands, the whole thing. Lio swooned just a little. Lio showed it, just a little, just to see Galo’s eyes light up cheekily.
“You’re so hot, Lio,” Galo said, reverent. Lio laughed, satisfied for reasons he didn’t want to unpack, not now.
“Oh,” said Lio. “A vacation.”
“Yes!” Galo waved a brochure too close to his face. Lio blinked at him. “We’re going to the beach! I invited everyone and they said yeah, obviously. Gueira and Meis too. I hope that’s okay.”
“The beach,” parroted Lio.
“Uh huh!” Galo twirled around the room and planted himself on a red loveseat Lio had picked out with him in mind. Lio watched him fold the brochure into a paper airplane, thoughts firing rapidly.
“I’ve only been to the ocean once,” he said finally, after Galo had thrown the paper at him and hit his arm. He picked it up absentmindedly, unfolded it, folded it again.
“When?” asked Galo, always eager to hear anything about Lio’s life, and sure, maybe Lio had put on the sort of voice that led to a story.
“I was little. My parents brought me.” Lio stared at the paints on the coffee table. He had started drawing. There were pencils and eraser shavings everywhere, but Galo didn’t seem to mind the mess. Galo’s recipe books were everywhere, too; he had given up some of his gym time to learn how to cook. “I barely remember it, but. We stayed in a hotel. I think they saved up for months. We ran along the beach, it was summer.” He tried to recall the details but couldn’t reach them, they were too fuzzy, too long gone. He had mourned them long ago, though, it didn’t hurt to realize they were fading. “I picked up seashells. Anyway, I mostly just remember the water being very cold. My mom told me years later that we saw a dolphin, but I didn’t believe her.” Lio leaned back, staring at the sunset on the brochure. “It’s strange to think about now. It’s a nice memory.”
Galo seemed to understand that this was an exchange. “I’ve never been to the beach. I’ve never really left this area, actually.” He got up and sat on the couch next to Lio. “I’ve always wanted to be here.”
“We grew up too quickly,” said Lio, placing the paper on the table.
“It’s time to live like we’re twenty-one,” Galo agreed, picking Lio up with both hands and walking towards the bedroom, and Lio protested out of propriety but found the act much too attractive.
The resort they stayed in was the fanciest thing Lio had ever seen.
“You’re taking a week off?” Ulises had looked at him in surprise.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You never take vacations, that’s all. I mean, seriously, Lio, you’re a workaholic. You may have quit like thirty jobs but all the places I called said that before you did, you went at it like a madman.”
“Well, I’m taking a vacation now,” said Lio crisply.
“If Galo didn’t come during your breaks you would never take them.” Ulises scribbled something in a notebook.
Lio shook a daffodil at them. “I’m the good influence in our relationship! I want this to be clear!”
At the resort, Lio set down his things on designer carpet and looked out the window, straight into the sun.
“You’re going to hurt your eyes,” said Galo, watching him.
“Whatever, Thymos,” said Lio, whirling around to give him the finger.
Galo laughed. “You look just like Gueira when you do that!”
“He learned that from me!” Lio hissed at him, landing face down on the bed in pretend agony.
“I believe you, honey, don’t worry,” said Galo, rubbing a hand over his back, Lio preening.
“Oh, so you’re doing pet names now,” noted Aina with distaste as she walked in, clucking at them. “You guys brought bathing suits, right? We’re going to the beach right now. Everyone’s all excited.” She crossed her arms in satisfaction.
“Obviously,” said Lio as Galo said, “Wait,” and both of them turned to look at him.
A moment passed before Galo said, “I’m joking!” and snickered at their faces.
“That’s like, not even a joke,” said Aina, shaking her head at Lio. “Can’t believe you’re dating this guy.” Galo whooped out a Hey!
“Me neither,” said Lio, but he was leaning in to kiss him.
Lio felt like a little kid, running along the edges of the water hitting the sand. The ocean was anything you wanted it to be, endings and beginnings, the white crests of the waves only there for a moment. He imagined the place where the water was calm, unmoving, beautiful. Sun tiptoeing across every ripple. Miles and miles of blue. He had hated the idea of it, once. Had lain in the middle of a volcano.
And yet he still had that too, somehow.
“Wait up!” Galo was yelling. “Look at this!” He was waving his phone at Lio, maybe wanting to take a picture or show him a meme he found on the side of the Internet Lio never went on that was full of moms and guys who liked jokes about fitness.
“What?” Lio waited for him, giving himself a moment to stare at Galo’s chest.
“There’s a rock cove thing we can go to and climb up on over there according to this website.” Galo was panting. Lio eyed his phone suspiciously. “We can watch the sunset. It’ll be so romantic.” He gave a wistful sigh that was somehow loud enough to startle a seagull near them into flight.
“Okay. But I think it’s a cave, not a cove. A cove is- never mind.” Lio looked up at him. “Just us?”
“Duh-doy,” replied Galo, all teeth.
“Please stop saying that,” said Lio, arm already being pulled in Galo’s direction.
It was hot outside, hot enough that Lio felt it. As they ran on the sand, Lio let himself skip and jump, he was so delighted. Galo cheered at him, kicking water at his face and picking up seaweed to throw at him.
Lio felt it all.
They arrived at the cave, climbing over rocks, almost cutting their feet. Galo pointed out tide pools, Lio named the animals he could. Galo wanted to pick up one of the sea cucumbers and tease Lio with it, he could tell, but Lio told him to let it be, threatening to turn back if he did. A few other people were there, smiling at them; two children hopped from rock to rock, much to their mother’s dissatisfaction. At the end of the tunnel was an array of larger rocks, big enough to sit on, the waves a constant crash of noise against them.
The sun was starting to yawn into her daily routine, grazing the horizon, light piercing the water in sharp shapes. Lio and Galo settled onto the farthermost rock where you could only hear the water and the echo of laughter from the kids behind them every so often.
Galo grabbed Lio’s hand with unconcealed devotion. “This is so nice, right?”
“Yeah,” said Lio questioningly, sensing something strange in Galo’s voice. “It is,” he said slowly.
“We should watch the sunset a bit. You know, be quiet. Really enjoy it.” Galo gave him a decisive look.
“You’re the one who’s always talking,” said Lio, but he acquiesced. They sat there for a solid four minutes before Galo energetically got up, apparently full of frustration.
“I can’t take it, Lio.” Galo reached into his fanny pack, a gift from Lio that was supposed to be a nod towards streetwear but that looked like part of a thirty-year-old dad’s outfit when Galo put it on the way he did. “Get up.”
“Uh, okay,” said Lio, pushing himself off the ground. When he looked at Galo again, he was kneeling. “Oh no.”
“Lio Fotia,” Galo began, grinning, ocean spray getting in his face but not deterring him.
“Galo Thymos,” Lio replied, staring at him. Galo’s shadow was getting longer as the sun went down.
“I was going to recite a very long speech about how much I love you and how you ignite my soul in a way nothing else can and about how I’m so glad to have met you and to be with you and how you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met but,” he caught his breath, “instead I’m just going to ask it because you know all this already.”
“Go on, then,” said Lio, breathless.
“Will you marry me?” Galo snapped open a box with a ring in it.
Lio took a moment to take it in. A few people were watching them with unconcealed joy. The light reflecting off the water scattered almost musically across the rocks of the cave covered in old kelp. Galo’s cheeks and eyes were dancing in parallel time. Lio held his breath, let it out.
“Well, since this was so romantic,” said Lio, walking towards him, face bright, the sun scoffing at them, probably, reaching around them and into the cavern to give them a caress. Lio pressed his lips against Galo’s over and over. “Yes, of course, yes.” Galo went for his neck and Lio giggled, forgetting himself.
“We’re going to be the best couple ever,” said Galo, not even joking, and Lio burst into laughter.
“Yes,” he agreed, fingers running through his hair. “We’re going to be on fire.”