The clacking of typewriter keys was the only sound that filled Jake’s lamp lit bedroom. Ellie was perched nicely on the corner of his bed, watching her master and waiting patiently for him to show her attention, but Jake’s focus was intent on the printed words forming in front of him.
For nearly two years, he had been writing what he considered to be a very long love letter. Pages upon pages had piled up, each one of them a time capsule, containing in their fine print an outdated version of Jake.
Lately, he felt like he had been writing a new story, for a new audience—or perhaps simply a broader one. This shift in the plot had probably been foreshadowed, maybe from the very first moment Levine had forced his way into Jake’s lonely heart.
He finally leaned back in his chair away from the typewriter, stretching his arms out in front of him. His eyes wandered to the calendar on the wall beside him, focusing in on the red ink that circled September fifth. He and Levine would both be starting school at Columbia in three days’ time; a new chapter for each of them, no matter who the audience turned out to be.
Ellie meowed up at him to catch his attention, and was at last rewarded with warm arms that scooped her up.
Love increases, Jake thought, recalling the words Jean had once said to him. He smiled to himself as he stroked Ellie’s ears, listening to her purr contently.
“You’re wearing that?”
Jake stood in Levine’s doorway, dressed to the nine in an emerald green waistcoat, complete with matching cufflinks and lapel pins. “What, you think this is too much?”
Levine was merely in a t-shirt and leather pants. His crossed his arms. “What kind of party do you think this is? I don’t think college students usually wear silk satin.”
“So I’ll make an impression.” Jake shrugged. He fought a smile as Levine stared at him, his expression betraying how hard he was thinking.
“You think I should wear something nicer?”
“That’s up to you.”
Levine sighed exaggeratedly and turned to reenter his apartment. “Well if you’re wearing that, you don’t leave me much choice.”
Jake followed him in. “You want to match me? Aw, babe, that’s so sweet.” He dodged Levine’s fist as it swung over his head.
He took a seat on the couch while Levine grumbled something and went into his bedroom to change. When he appeared again, he was shirtless, holding a blouse up in front of him. “What about this?”
Jake was hardly paying attention to the garment in Levine’s hands. The skin of his chest and shoulders was so smooth and evenly toned—Jake fought not to let his mind wander too far. “That’s good. You should keep the leather pants, though. They suit you.”
The blush that rose to Levine’s cheeks was addicting. Jake got up to follow him back to his room as he shrugged the shirt on and tucked it in. A black bowtie lay atop the dresser, and Jake picked it up, snaking the smooth silk between his fingers. “Were you going to wear this?”
“I was thinking about it,” Levine answered him without turning to face him, “but maybe it’s too much.”
Jake stepped up right behind him and slid the bowtie around Levine’s neck. He didn’t miss the way Levine leaned back into his arms, and he took his time carefully tying the bow in front of him. “I think it completes the look,” he said softly, his breath carrying over Levine’s ear.
Levine practically jumped from Jake’s arms, the blush from his cheeks creeping all the way down his neck. “Okay, that’s good enough, let’s just get going.”
Jake smirked and innocently placed his hands in his pockets. “You lead the way, then.”
It seemed the more he flirted with Levine, the more he craved. He’d thought he was perfectly happy the way things were, but lately that wasn’t the case. He wanted to touch Levine, hold him, maybe even kiss him—and lying beneath this longing was the fear that he would lose his chance to do so if he waited.
He knew Levine’s complex about his masculinity was bound to get in the way if he pushed too far, though. For every step he took forward, he took another half step back. And that was why, as their feet crunched over the leaves on the pavement, two sets of hands remained locked away in their pockets, instead of entwined with one another’s.
The party was only a block away from the school, at the house of another anthropology student Jake had met on his first day of class. He was trying to branch out and meet other people—not to distance himself from Levine, but to have a bit more variance in his life. He loved coexisting with Levine, but he sometimes felt himself trying to become Levine instead. He often worried that their relationship would turn into what he had had with Roy.
Jake’s heart was a bit of a mess.
They were, by far, the two best dressed individuals at the party. Pedro, the anthropology student, clapped Jake on the back as he invited him into his parents’ temporarily vacated home, now teeming with college students. He and Levine were sort of shuffled between people, many of whom laughed and asked what they were all dressed up for. With his shades on, Alex held his head high beside Jake, and with their confidence backing them, they quickly turned from the laughing stocks to the idols of the party.
That was, until they got separated.
About thirty minutes after they had arrived, Jake noticed that Levine was no longer at his side. He glanced around for him, but got caught by a group of girls asking about his major. He was bound to run into Levine again, there was no sense in starting an urgent search for him—but part of Jake’s gut sank, feeling that a piece of him was missing. Everyone had told them they looked good together, dressed up like a matching set. Like a couple. Jake ate up both the attention and the implication, but now as he carried on conversation with the other students around him, his mind was elsewhere, wondering where Levine had gotten to.
It felt like an eternity before he felt a hand gently grasp his sleeve. Levine had lost his shades, and now stood tantalizingly close, just a bit behind Jake, with his chin hovering over his shoulder.
The anxious grip on his gut released as Levine’s grip tightened on his sleeve like a lifeline.
“Where have you been?” Jake asked him, almost leaning back into his warmth. Levine dropped his forehead onto his shoulder, sort of nuzzling into him.
“Just talking to some girls,” he answered, his voice coming across quiet and forlorn. He wobbled on his feet, leaning against Jake’s back for support.
“Are you drunk?”
“No!” Levine lifted his head to look Jake in the eye, but his blush betrayed him. “…Only a little.”
“Let’s find somewhere to sit down.” He snaked his arm around Levine’s waist to ensure he wouldn’t lose him again in the crowd. “What happened to your shades?”
“Mary took them. Or maybe her name was Renee. I don’t remember.”
“Why did she take them?”
Levine frowned deeply. “She said I was prettier without them.”
Jake held a hand over his mouth to keep himself from snickering. “Well, she’s not wrong.” He found a nice, open wall in a less crowded, carpeted hallway for the both of them to sit against.
“I’m not gay,” Levine stated as he settled down next to Jake, their shoulders pressed up against one another. Jake pointedly didn’t look at him.
“Really, I’m not! Everyone thinks I must be, because of my face, but I love women.”
“Sure. So do I.”
Levine seemed to become distracted playing with one lapel pin on Jake’s vest.
“Who got you drunk, anyway?”
“No one. I went and took a couple shots after Sherry asked me how long we’d been together.”
Ouch. “You hate the idea that much?”
Either Levine was being mindful of Jake’s feelings, or he simply couldn’t formulate an answer. Jake let the silence hang between them until Levine’s hand dropped from his vest. When Jake lifted his head to look at him, he caught an expression on his friend’s face so tender, so loving that he felt his heart leap into his throat.
“What’re you looking at me like that for?!”
“You’re my best friend, Jake. I would do anything for you. I love you.” His wide, gorgeous eyes were so sincere, and so close to Jake’s own. Had he leaned in another inch, Jake could have kissed him.
“You know, this might be why people think you’re gay.”
“I’m not! I just like being close to you. You’re warm, Jake, I like your hands, and your arms…”
Levine’s hand trailed down his arm, and his fingers curled gently around his wrist. His head fell onto Jake’s shoulder, and his breath tickled his neck as he promptly fell asleep.
Jake let out the long exhale he hadn’t known he’d been holding in. He leaned his head back against the wall and looked out at the people drinking and laughing within his line of sight. The boombox in the other room was playing the Thompson Twins, and the muffled lyrics made their way to Jake’s ears.
I won’t let that love escape me once again, I’m gonna get that love—and make it mine!
Jake woke up the next morning, awkwardly slumped over the arm of Levine’s couch. He had practically carried Levine home when the party wrapped up, but aside from his sore neck now, nothing had changed. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Levine complained of a hangover, so Jake made breakfast and brought it to him with some painkillers.
“You’re the best, Jake,” Levine mumbled.
“Yeah, you better remember that.”
Levine smiled around a mouthful of egg. “’Course I will.” A bit of yolk dripped down his chin, and Jake leaned forward to catch it with his thumb. As Levine’s gaze caught his own, he brought his thumb to his lips and licked the yolk from it.
The shade of red that came over Levine was absolutely priceless.
“What are you doing?!”
Jake shrugged. “No use wasting it,” he said smoothly. “After everything you said last night I wouldn’t think it’d bother you. After all, we’re best friends. Just guys being pals.”
Levine twisted two of his dreads together, his eyes intently focused on his fork. “Sure, but I mean, that’s… if you’re gonna do that, we may as well be kissing, right?”
Jake almost choked. He put a hand over his eyes. Lord, he couldn’t do this. “Levine. Are you being hypothetical?”
“What do you mean? Of course I am. You say things like that all the time!”
Jake dropped his hand from his eyes. “I know. But when I say them, I’m not totally joking.”
Jake stood, and set his breakfast aside, his appetite leaving him. “I’ve been writing a story. It’s not finished, but I think I want you to read the installments I’ve written so far.” He looked at Levine when he didn’t answer. “Can I bring them by later?”
Levine took a moment to find his voice again. “…Of course.”
“I’ll go and get all the pages together.” Anxiety bubbled up and threatened to do him in, but he smiled anyway. “See you later, Alex.”
Whatever Alex had been expecting, it hadn’t been four hundred and fifty three typed pages, front and back. Sure, he knew Jake had been writing for the better part of two years, but maybe he thought he would just be handed an excerpt, or the cliffnotes or something. Now he had to find the time to read an extra novel on top of his textbooks and assignments. It’s not that he didn’t want to read it right away, but damn, it was long.
Jake had seemed a bit distant when he dropped the pages off, and for a day or two, Alex worried that he wouldn’t get to see his best friend until he finished all his reading. To his relief, Jake still showed up to their shared lunch break on Monday, and behaved no differently than he ever had before.
In the beginning, it was both difficult to read and hard to put down. The messy tangle of emotion that Jake had sorted through when he first met him was explicitly written out, in more detail even than he had ever let Alex in on, even though by now he had pieced together all the events that had taken place back then. It was truly like Alex was getting a glimpse of Jake’s mind; it was extremely personal, and he couldn’t help but feel proud that he was entrusted with it.
As the story progressed, the tone lightened. It was like reminiscing with a friend, looking back on all the things they had done together. Somewhere along the way, Alex realized that he was the main focus of nearly every chapter. Their lives had intertwined, and Alex thought that if he had written a story about his own life, it would have been nearly identical to the pages he held now.
It took him nearly three weeks to read it all. By the time he caught up to the present, he could guess how it would leave off. After all, if he had to face it, his own feelings weren’t all that different.
The lateness of the hour didn’t stop him from running to Jake’s condo the moment he finished. To his dismay, he was greeted by a grumpy Roy instead.
“It’s after midnight, Levine, what gives?”
“Sorry. I need to talk to Jake.”
“I don’t think he’s come in yet, his coat’s still gone. I figured he was at your place.”
Alex’s heart sank. Not here? Then where?
“You can wait up for him here if you want, just lock the door if you go back out.”
Roy stomped back to his bedroom without waiting for an answer.
Alex stood in the doorway, contemplating going out to search the streets, but he decided that was counter-productive. Jake sometimes went on long walks like this, and there was no telling where in the city Alex might find him. He shut the door—softly—behind him, and took a seat at the little kitchen table.
He bounced his leg impatiently, his eyes on the clock as the minutes dragged by. He rubbed his hands over his face in frustration, then put his head down on the table to force himself to stop watching the time. His mind went in circles, thinking about Jake’s feelings, and his own feelings, and he realized he really didn’t want to think too much until he could actually talk about them.
His eyes finally closed, and he let himself drift off to sleep, if only to pass the time faster.
Jake’s footsteps echoed in the hall around him, pulling him from his own thoughts as he dug his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. Fluorescent light greeted him. Roy had left the kitchen light on. He sighed and stepped in to turn it off—
Levine was asleep at the kitchen table.
A small smile found his lips and stuck there. He very slowly pulled out the chair across from him and sat down. Levine stirred, then quickly lifted his head.
“What are you doing here so late?”
“I finished your story.”
Jake blinked, surprise washing over him. “Oh. You finished it?”
Levine’s face fell. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”
“That’s not it. I was just trying not to think about it, to be honest.”
“Well, I finished it.”
“Good. Did you bring it back with you? That’s my only copy.”
“I—Jake, don’t you want to know what I think about it?”
Jake hesitated. His chest felt tight. “That depends on what you thought.”
“Can I clarify something, first? I just want to hear it from you.”
Jake let out a long exhale and met Levine’s eyes. “What is it?”
“You wrote that your mom told you ‘love increases.’ What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means just that. Love doesn’t have to fade away, it just keep growing. I give Dana all of it, and I give you all of it.”
Levine’s face fell into his classic blank stare. “Huh?”
“I give Dana all of it, and I give you all of it,” Jake repeated, long accustomed to saying things twice for Levine’s sake.
“But I’m not gay!” Levine insisted. “I couldn’t be, I don’t want to get AIDS!”
“Do you think I have AIDS?” Jake asked flatly.
“So since that’s not a concern, can we put this on the table?”
Levine still looked a little uncertain, but he at last gave in and nodded.
“You can take as long as you need to respond, but for the love of God, Alex, we’ve been flirting for two years, we may as well address the elephant in the room.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Jake felt his shoulders relax. “I just… didn’t want anything to happen to you before I had the chance to tell you how I feel.”
Levine’s eyes widened, and his mouth struggled to form the words before his voice caught up. “I’m not going anywhere, Jake.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“Then let me tell you how I feel, too, so neither of us have any regrets.” The blush on his cheeks turned a shade brighter as he spoke. Jake’s heart skipped a beat.
Levine’s face fell into his hands. “Actually I can’t say it, it’s too embarrassing,” he mumbled.
Jake stood from his chair, sending it scooting loudly behind him, and crouched down by Levine’s seat. He gently pried his hands away from his face and held them in his own as he leaned in and kissed him. He lingered there longer than he had planned, and Levine’s fingers entwined with his own and tightened their grip. When he did finally pull his lips away, Levine rested their foreheads together.
Jake smiled. “You don’t have to say anything,” he murmured.
Levine squeezed his eyes shut. “I love you, Jake.”
It was more than Jake had expected, and more than he could handle. He launched himself forward to put his arms around him, which toppled Levine’s chair and sent them both to the ground with a deafening crash. In a tangle of limbs, they both held their breath as they waited to see if they would be lucky enough to go unheard.
Loud stomps made their way from the other end of the condo, and Roy stepped into the light of the kitchen. “Can you both keep it down?! I have an audition tomorrow!”
They both stared up at Roy like deer caught in the headlights, Jake straddling Levine on the kitchen floor, both with arms wrapped around one another.
“Sorry,” Jake said simply. “We’ll be quieter.”
Roy muttered angry, sleepy curses under his breath as he turned back around to return to his bed once more. Levine threw a hand over his mouth, trying to hold in what would surely be noisy laughter.
Jake pressed his face into Levine’s chest, trying to muffle his own laughs. When he was finally able to contain himself and reemerged, he kissed Levine again.
“I love you, too.”