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They start to chat regularly after that first call. 

Terrence has to cajole a pissed of Achilles the next day, because he never ends up calling him. He honestly thought his talk with the stranger he had been chatting up online would be quick – just an introduction, maybe a few minutes of swapping stories and commiserating over their lackluster love lives. 

Even upon discovering, with a joy and relief he tried not to showcase too much, that the stranger was no stranger at all, even after finding himself facing Wesley’s smiling face, he didn’t expect them to have that much to say to each other. Even better, they seldom discussed their respective heartbreaks. The conversation drifted to everything and nothing, and before Terrence knew it, he was yawning at their screen every three minutes, and it was much too late to call Achilles. 

He feels terrible about it when he sees the enquiring messages Achilles shot him throughout the night. They barely reconnected and he is already neglecting him again, but Achilles only pouts for a few minutes. He doesn’t seem to think it is such a big deal, and he assures Terrence that he just ended up calling another friend. No harm done. 

Terrence knows Achilles is a little annoyed by this new side of him, the one that is so cautious and apologetic. He certainly didn't use to be like that, and he knows he hasn't stricken up a proper balance yet, between being selfish, considerate, and overbearing.  

He is working on it though, and Achilles seems willing to indulge him in the meantime. Terrence is grateful for it, but he refrains from mentioning it again. He has been too sappy and heartfelt for his own good lately. 

Besides, Achilles definitely forgets about his grievance once Terrence lets it slip that he neglected him to talk to a new guy instead. 

“You met someone on Chatter? Really? And you talked all evening without anyone taking their clothes off? You’re basically married already. Tell me everything!” 

It’s a little hard to reconcile for Terrence, that Achilles is genuinely over his feelings for him, or at least over enough to want to hear him talk about another guy. He seems happy for him, and Terrence remembers his disappointed face when he mentioned not being exactly done with his feelings for Gav the last time they talked. He thought it was because Achilles was still hoping for something to happen between them, but now he thinks maybe Achilles simply hopes Terrence would finally let it go. He seems to be convinced it’s the only way Terrence could get happier with his life – more convinced than Terrence is himself. 

He doesn’t think Achilles is faking his interest in the gossip, so he ends up telling him a little about Wesley, and tangentially, about Cairo and Gav and some of the things that went down between them. He doesn't get into the details of his own mistakes – it's not a good look, and he doesn't want Achilles to think too badly of him. But it's nice to be able to share this with someone, someone that wasn't involved in it all. 

He can admit, at least to himself, that contacting Gav again so shortly after their last fallout was a bad idea. But even if Cairo didn’t believe it, and maybe Gav didn’t either, Terrence really did it as a desperate need to talk to someone, anyone. He can’t deny there was a vague hope, somewhere, that Gav could still change his mind about them, but above all, Terrence was just lonely. 

Still, looking for comfort and support with Gav wasn’t the right way to go about it. Pearl was a better option, and he was always cheered up by the bright girl every time they found the time to call.  

Pearl remained on Gav’s side though, as she should. Plus, she led a rather busy life, pandemic or not. 

Even Wesley was Cairo’s first. But Achilles is Terrence’s friend, before he met Gav and Pearl. Terrence doesn’t know if they kept in touch. It doesn’t matter – Achilles is calling him now. Talking to him. 

Willing to listen to him. 

“Is it weird?” Terrence asks. “It’s weird, isn’t it?” 

Weird enough that he stumbled upon Wesley on the app, but weirder that he struck up a conversation with his ex’s boyfriend's childhood friend who had a crush on said childhood friend.  

“I guess it’s a little weird yeah. But who cares. If the guy wants to talk to you, and you want to talk to him, then you can do just that.” 

Trust Achilles to not overthink it at all. Terrence always envied him that faculty, one he often wished he had. Instead, his special ability is to overthink absolutely everything, and plan things so far out that he doesn’t get to live in the present at all.  

He’s working on that too. He’s working on a lot of things. It’s exhausting sometimes. 

“So, tell me more. Is he hot?” 

There is no one else but them, and it’s not like Achilles will go and tell anyone else about it. So Terrence decided to indulge, just a little. 

“Hang on, I’ll show you some pictures...” 

The first obvious thing about Wesley is that he is, indeed, hot.  

Terrence noticed the very first time they met, despite the circumstances, despite the lag and the grainy screen. He has a great smile, sweet and genuine. He works out too, and it shows.  

The second obvious thing about him is that he is a giant nerd.  

He's a little shy with it at first, as if he's scared it will put Terrence off. If he's honest, it could have – Terrence has never been much into gaming or movies or that kind of thing, and he often finds those who are a little too focused on it to be interesting. But Wesley sounds so passionate and proud when he gushes about this book or that tv show, and so keen on sharing it with Terrence, as if it is of the utmost importance that Terrence be up to date with the latest developments, even if he doesn't follow it at all. Somehow Wesley manages to make it interesting and fun, like he's just a storyteller, and Terrence is starved for distraction. 

Well, he is, but there's just something about the way Wesley talks about this stuff. Terrence has seen maybe half of a Harry Potter movie, but after a few calls, he's confident he could take any nerd on a quiz about Hogwarts or whatever and come out on top. 

“I’m sorry,” Wesley says, a little self-conscious after another long-winded explanation on why the epilogue doesn’t work thematically with the rest of the books. “I keep rambling.” 

“It’s fine. I don’t mind.” 

“You don’t have to be so nice about it. We can talk about something else.” 

Terrence doesn’t know how to convince him that he really doesn’t mind, and also that he’s not sure he’s down with talking about something else. Something that would have to be more consequential surely, more personal too. 

Wesley didn’t ask about what went down with Gav and Cairo, and Terrence doesn’t know if it’s because he already got the story from them, and he’s too afraid to ask, because what if he didn’t? He really doesn’t feel like explaining, and it’s all the better if Wesley doesn’t discover that part of him. 

Would he keep talking to Terrence if he knew? He’d rather not find out. 

“I like listening to you,” he confesses out of the blue. It’s Wesley’s dumbstruck expression that tells him he sounded way too heartfelt just then. 

“I... know it can be annoying. People usually get annoyed with it after a while, but since you don’t say anything I feel a little too eager to tell you more I guess.” 

“I promise I’ll tell you if I want to talk about something else. But this is fine. I have... a lot on my mind lately. It’s nice to be able to focus on something that has nothing to do with me.” 

Wesley stares at him for a while, silent and serious, and Terrence worries he said something wrong, but the other boy smiles then, soft and happy. 

“Okay. It’s cool, if it makes you feel better. But you can also talk to me, alright? If you need to. I’ll listen.” 

Terrence can't help his own smile, though he has to look away, because it’s too much, Wesley’s earnest, open expression and the way he looks at Terrence. He might be blushing a little. How embarrassing.  

But something tightens in his chest too, at the base of his throat. The things that are bothering him, keeping him awake sometimes, he’s not sure he could share them with Wesley. He likes the one he is in the other boy’s eyes – if he were to talk about his problems, his regrets, about what he’s done, there is no way Wesley would keep looking at him like he does now, full of fondness and warmth. 

Wesley calls just as Terrence is digging his hands into the dough he is working on. He fumbles around looking for a towel before he can safely grab his phone. 

“Hi! Sorry, is this a bad time?” 

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m just...” 

Terrence turns his phone around, gesturing at the kitchen. It’s kind of a mess for now, since he’s almost done. 

“You’re baking?” 

“Ah, yeah. I like it. I’m not any master chef but...” 

“That’s great! Man, I’m so jealous.” 

“I could mail you some,” Terrence says on an impulse. He sorts through the recipes he knows that would survive the trip. That should work out. 

“Really? Don’t sweat it if it’s too much work.” 

“We’ll see. What do you like?” 

“Well...” 

He finishes his batch to the enthusiastic chatter of Wesley, who’s sweet tooth seems pretty huge. The cakes are done just in time before his parents come home, when he makes a quick escape to his room. 

“Do you do that often?” 

“Not that much, now that my parents are working from home.” 

“Why, do they hoard the kitchen?” 

Terrence doesn’t answer. He doesn’t want to get into it. It’s just... not that comfortable, to exist in his parents’ vicinity. They sort of know that he can cook and enjoy it, but he doesn’t want them to witness it, to have an opinion on the matter. 

“No. They don’t cook much.” 

He might sound a little too abrupt. Wesley shifts the discussion back to what Terrence can and can’t make, and what he ought to try. Terrence wonders if he will get to cook for the other boy someday. 

“Are you free this evening? We could watch a movie.” 

Terrence worries about sounding too eager, about being too demanding and clingy with how often he reaches out to Wesley to chat, play, or just share something he would otherwise do on his own, like eat or watch videos. Wesley is almost always on board though, and he contacts him just as much. Surely if he was annoyed by it all he would simply stop answering so readily. 

“Sorry, I can’t tonight, I’m having dinner at Cairo’s place.” 

Terrence does his best to hide his disappointment, and envy. Not that he would want to dine at Cairo’s place – not that the other boy would want him to. But to go out with a friend, and to share diner, and to see Wesley... 

“Oh, cool! Any special occasion?” 

"It's his mom's birthday. It's not like we can host a party or anything, but we don't have that many cases around here so... It's just our two families." 

“Nice.” 

There is an awkward pause as he wonders what to say next. And if he should say it. 

“How... How is Cairo doing?” 

He hopes he doesn’t sound as unsure as he feels. If Wesley notices, he doesn’t comment. 

“He’s okay. First few weeks were rough but I think he’s starting to settle in. Helps that Gavreel is supposed to visit at the end of the month. Something to look forward to, you know?” 

He doesn’t seem bitter or sad about it. Wesley insisted that his crush on Cairo was pretty harmless and light, that it would go away on its own, but Terrence couldn’t help but doubt it was that simple. He’d thought the boy was maybe saying that to protect himself, and to spare Cairo and him some awkwardness and tension. 

But now he looks sincerely happy for his friend, and Terrence feels bad. It’s been months, yet he still can’t bring himself to do the same. 

Wesley must feel the shift in his mood because his face takes on a concerned expression as he scrambles for what to say next. 

“Sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t have brought that up.” 

“What? No, it’s fine. I’m the one who asked.” 

“Yeah but, I know that you still...” 

Wesley trails off, and Terrence feels worse. 

“Still what?” he asks, vindictive, as if he doesn’t know what the other boy is trying to say. Wesley doesn’t rise to the bait though, nor sidestep the subject. 

“I know it’s still somewhat painful. So, sorry.” 

Terrence wants to deny it. He finds that he can't. It is painful still. 

Though not exactly in the way it used to be. He is still thorn over Gav, still wistful of what could have been, had he been less of an idiot, less of a coward. But he no longer imagines things going their way, nor does he really wish for it. He is jealous, he thinks, but not so much of Cairo as of what they have together with Gav. A happy, steady, challenging but loving relationship, to love someone dearly and be loved in return. 

He has come to terms with the fact that it would never be Gav for him. More or less. Not yet with the fact that he might never get that for himself, and that he can't really complain, because he probably doesn't deserve it anyway. 

“Hey, Terrence.” 

“What?” 

“Can I ask?” 

His first instinct is to say no. He grits his teeth. 

“Yeah, whatever.” 

Wesley hesitates at his chilly tone, but before he can apologize or change the subject, the boy goes on anyway. 

“You use to be together, right? With Gav?” 

“Didn’t they tell you?” 

“The gist of it. I wanted to hear it from you.” 

Wesley is always disarmingly honest and straightforward, he is imperturbable in the face of Terrence's brash or even mean-spirited rebuttals. Is Terrence that transparent to him, is he that bad at hiding his feelings?  

“We were. It didn’t end well.” 

“Why did you break up with him?” 

He knows plenty already. Terrence looks away. 

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

He expects Wesley to push, to press the matter. It would give an excuse for Terrence to lash out, to be justified in the petty resentment rising in his chest. But Wesley shrugs, hands held up as if to pacify him. 

“Alright.” 

Terrence wishes he sounded pissed off or at least disappointed. He can’t deal with the boy’s easy acceptance, with his gentle sympathy. 

“I have to go. Have fun tonight.” 

“Wait, Terrence...” 

He disconnects the call. 

I don’t need to know. I just figured you might want to talk about it.  

I don’t.  

I got that.  

No, I mean... I’m just trying to put it behind me.  

Okay. But still. I'm here if you need it.  

Thank you. Sorry for hanging up on you.  

No problem.  

Goodnight.  

Goodnight. Sweet dreams!  

His dreams are, indeed, pretty sweet, for the first time in a while. 

“Won’t your parents get mad at you?” Wesley asks between two slurps of his noodles. Terrence raised an eyebrow. 

“For what?” 

“We’re eating together pretty often lately. My mother complains every time I go out for dinner. Well, not these days but, you know.” 

Wesley’s mother is a nurse, so she’s not at home much these days, and when she is she mostly sleeps, away from the rest of the family, just in case. His father has to work from home. Wesley takes care of his little sister during the day, so he has the evening to himself while his father takes over. 

“Nah, it’s fine. They keep odd hours. They work a lot” 

“Yeah, but they’re still working from home right? It’s a nice opportunity to spend more time together.” 

Wesley sounds a bit wistful. Terrence knows it’s been one positive outcome for some people – the chance to tighten their bonds with family and friends, siblings and parents and roommates getting closer. Wesley probably wishes he could enjoy that as well. He seems pretty close to his parents, they get along well. He had the opportunity to live on his own when he started his degree, but he chose to stay at home. 

Terrence can’t relate. For him, his parents working so much was a blessing – it meant they didn’t have to interact much with each other. He can’t complain that the pandemic changed anything in that regard. He thought it would, dreaded having to make conversation and spend more time with them. But it didn’t happen. And somehow he ended up being disappointed by that. He really can’t make up his mind about anything. 

“We’re not... really close,” he says lamely, feeling bad suddenly. Wesley must think he is wasting this opportunity, one he doesn’t even get to have.  

“Why not?” 

He doesn’t know why they ended up on the subject, and he has half a mind to cut the conversation short. But Wesley said... He seemed sincere, when he said Terrence could talk to him, if he wanted to.  

“We don’t talk. I can’t talk to them. They don’t... they don’t know me at all.” 

And maybe it’s just been a long day and he is tired of keeping it all to himself, maybe it’s because Wesley seems so reliable and open, bundled up on his desk chair, face close to the camera. The light of the screen makes his eyes shine. It’s as difficult to look at him as it is to look away. 

Maybe it’s just that it’s him. 

Terrence starts to talk. 

“You asked... why it didn’t work out. With Gav.” 

Wesley nods but doesn’t say a word. It’s for the best – Terrence needs to keep the momentum before he loses his nerves. 

“I broke up with him. They told you right? I cheated on him.” 

Wesley looks uncomfortable, but he nods slowly. Terrence doesn’t know if it’s better or worse, that he already got the main points. He goes on. 

“That’s not what happened. I mean, I did. I started dating someone else while we were still together, but that’s not why I broke up with him. Or I guess it was but...” 

He huffs, frustrated with himself. It’s not that complicated really, but he can’t seem to articulate it. 

“Hey man, relax. Take your time, ok?” 

Terrence wants to snap back at the other boy. He can’t bear it at the moment, how nice Wesley is with him, how patient and indulgent like with a difficult child. He tries to rein himself in. 

“I’m fine. It's fine.” 

Wesley doesn’t look convinced, but fortunately, he doesn’t add anything. 

“I met this girl, Michelle. She’s the daughter of one of my parents’ business partners. They introduced us.” 

He was so stupid, in retrospect, not to guess his parents’ intentions. He honestly believed they just wanted him to form good connections, as they were adamant for him to take on their business.  

They still are, and it causes him more and more anxiety by the day, but that’s another issue. 

“We got along well enough, but my parents were... insistent, that we spend more time together, that I invite her out... And I didn’t get it, like a moron.” 

Wesley seems on the verge of protesting, so Terrence hurries on. 

“They started to make allusions, that she was so nice, and his father was a good man to have on our side, and... that they were worried about me being single for so long. That if I didn't find myself a girlfriend soon, people would start believing that I was..." 

He makes a vague gesture at something, he doesn’t even know what.  

“You know.” 

Wesley nods, like he does know. They have never discussed it before, love and relationship and sexuality. They have stayed clear of any subject of import, any deeper matter than their favorite bands and movies. He doesn’t know if it rests solely on him. He doesn’t have the impression that he deliberately avoided it, but he’s not sure anymore.  

“I never discussed that with them. I had an idea that they wouldn’t be thrilled about it but... The way they said it, it just... I panicked. Gav didn’t say anything, but I know he wanted to meet them. I knew his grandmother already, and it was almost a year we were together but...” 

He should have just told Gav. He should have told someone, anyone, but he didn't have anyone to confide into. Not anyone he could trust with this anyway. Among his cousins, his friends who were all from his parents' social circles or his business major at uni, none seemed like a safe choice. 

“I had never been attracted to a boy before Gav. Or if I had, I never meant to do anything about it. But he was so relentless, always there, always charming and nice, and I craved it so badly. But I terrified me too. I never told him. He was so confident, and I was too, when I was with him. I didn’t want him to know. And when I met Michelle and we clicked, I was... I was relieved. That I wasn’t... wasn’t gay after all. Not completely. That I had a way out.” 

He’s not looking at Wesley anymore. He doesn’t even know if the other boy is listening, and what kind of face he is making, what he must think of this. Terrence can’t stop anyway. It’s the first time he has put words to any of it, even to himself.  

"I loved Gav. I really did. I loved how he made me feel, loved who I got to be with him. But it wasn't... at the time, it didn't seem to be worth it. Worth getting on my parents' bad side, worth becoming the black sheep of the family. So I just... I just gave up. I took the easy way out. I chose Michelle, I convinced myself that it made sense, I was attracted to her, it could work out. I didn’t tell any of it to Gav, I just said I had met someone else. I don’t know why it seemed better to pass for an asshole than a coward.” 

Was he looking to spare Gav, or himself? Was it a better look, to have fallen for someone else, instead of being too scared to own up to his feelings and what he truly wanted for himself? 

The question is for naught. He was in the wrong, no matter how you looked at it. Gav’s grandmother was already doing poorly at the time, the boy was barely holding it together, and Terrence abandoned him anyway. 

"My parents don't know why it didn't work out with Michelle. We lasted barely four months. It's not that I didn't like her. I could have loved her I think, if the circumstances were different. But I felt so bad, and she could tell of course, she wasn't stupid. We didn't part on bad terms, but I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell anyone.” 

At the time he had distanced himself from Achilles because he was scared their acquaintances would put them on his parent's radar, and he was becoming paranoid of them finding out he wasn't straight. Then Achilles confessed when Terrence and Michelle broke up, and Terrence wasn't unkind or cruel in his rejection, but it was still brutal, and Achilles stopped talking to him altogether. Gav had lost his grandmother and dealt with the aftermath on his own – Terrence couldn't find the strength to reach out to him again, to try and mend things. It was only jealousy that finally managed to spur him on, and to awful results, because he is incapable of treating anyone right even if he tried. 

“Well. You told me now.” 

Terrence can't help a little choked up laugh. Wesley smiles, looking proud of himself, and Terrence's heart hurts because why, why does it have to be like this again? Is he that desperate, that he would fall for the first person showing him a little attention? Is he unable of maintaining friendships without feelings messing things up? He fears he is going to cry very soon, so it's better to just wrap this up and hopefully move on to something else. 

“Anyway, it made it even harder to talk to my parents. It’s like I can’t think about anything else when I’m with them. And I know it’s stupid of me but I thought... Since I’m... I’m bi, I think, I figured I wouldn’t have to tell them. I would just have to fall for a girl and all would be fine. But that’s not... That’s not how it works right? I keep...” 

He snaps his mouth shut before he says too much. Wesley perks up, though again he doesn’t comment.  

“So that’s... Yeah.” 

He can’t remember what was the original question. He feels drained, vaguely nauseous, and he knows he is going to replay that conversation in his head later that night and berate himself for blabbering like this. And yet, he still doesn’t want this moment to end. 

“I’m sorry. It sucks.” 

Terrence laughs again as Wesley shrugs, a little sheepish, at the lameness of his answer. He’s not wrong though, and Terrence doesn’t need him to say anything else. It can’t be helped. 

“What about you?” he asks back, eager to shift the focus away from himself. “Did you come out to your parents, or...” 

He trails off when he realizes that for all he knows, Wesley has nothing to come out about. Sure, he admitted he had a crush on Cairo, but it was innocent enough that it could just be a one-time thing. He never mentioned a date or another crush, toward anyone. 

Wesley cuts his internal berating with an easy smile. 

“Nah, not yet. I don’t think they would be mad or anything, but they wouldn’t be that chill about it either? I don’t know, I’ve known I was gay for a while, but it never seemed worth going through that if I didn’t have someone to show off for it. I figured I’ll tell them when I want to introduce them to someone special.” 

“Makes sense.” 

“It helps that Cairo's here. His mother doesn't take any shit about this, and I think she scared my parents into opening their minds or something. So I think it’ll be alright. I’m hoping to tell them soon.” 

There is something in his voice, a sparkle in his eyes when he says that. Terrence doesn't want to look too much into it, but he ends up asking anyway. 

“Really? Why?” 

And because he is that eager, and feels inexplicably bold – Achilles would be proud – he adds, “do you have your eyes on someone?” 

He is kind of hoping for it, yet he is taken off guard, completely unprepared, when Wesley looks at him with that look, that smile, the ones he had the first time they found each other face to face through their screen, and the time they found out they were not strangers online after all, and the time Terrence told him, after a shared meal full of laughter and teasing, that it was the best he had had in a while. He looks delighted, pleased as if he had just received the best possible news, as if talking to Terrence was that much of a treat. There is a hint of shyness this time too, the barest blush maybe, and he bites his lower lips as if trying to tame down that smile a little. It doesn’t really work. 

Terrence can feel himself smile too, wide and foolish, absurdly giddy at the implication, even if Wesley didn’t say anything, not really. It’s enough though, for now. Enough to hope, enough to look forward to more. 

“I do.” 

It takes Terrence a few seconds to even remember the question. 

“Well. Tell me how it goes.” 

“You’ll be the first to know.” 

His smile is a bit cheeky now, teasing. Terrence knows he’s blushing. He hopes the quality of the video feed is not that good. 

“I should go. I have an early class tomorrow.” 

It’s a flimsy excuse at best – Wesley is well aware Terrence seldom attends any of his online classes, has berated him about it often enough. But the evening has been eventful. He needs a time-out. 

“That’s good! You need to go to class.” 

“Yes, mom.” 

Wesley laughs, and like every time, Terrence mentally congratulates himself for making it happen. A great accomplishment, in his book. 

“Talk to you tomorrow?” Wesley asks just before they hang up. Terrence nods. 

“’course. Good night.” 

“Good night. I hope you’ll dream of me.” 

Wesley disconnects the call before Terrence can find an answer. He is left smothering a too-big smile into his pillow. 

He does dream of the other boy. It is very embarrassing. 

It takes about four seconds for Terrence to notice that Wesley is not feeling too good. He is distracted, expression downcast, and he must not have slept very well giving his face. After a few minutes where it doesn’t seem the boy is going to say anything, Terrence decides it’s his turn to offer a sympathetic ear for once. 

“Hey, Wesley, are you okay? Is something bothering you?” 

“What? Ah, no, no, it’s nothing.” 

“Are you sure? You know you can tell me, if you need to.” 

“It’s fine. Don’t worry.” 

Wesley makes a poor attempt at a reassuring smile, and Terrence doesn't want to press too much, but he doesn’t feel like ignoring it either. The boy is obviously upset, and Terrence really doesn’t like that. 

“Sorry, I think I’ll worry anyway.” 

It earns him a tiny smile – victory enough, for now.  

“I don’t want to bother you with this.” 

“It bothers me more, that you think it would bother me.” 

A short laugh this time. He’s doing great. 

“You’re ridiculous.” 

“But you like me anyway.” 

Wesley’s face turns serious when he meets Terrence's gaze next. 

“Yes,” he says, voice low. “I do.” 

Terrence loses his voice for a moment, his breath too. Wesley is such a treat to the eyes, and so disarmingly earnest, Terrence doesn't know how to handle it. 

He manages to tear himself away from the trap of his charming eyes though. 

“Don’t think you can get away so easily.” 

Wesley chuckles. 

“Alright, alright.” 

"I don't... mean to force you or anything. If you don't want to..." 

“No, no, I do. Thank you.” 

He doesn’t feel like he earned any gratitude, but he keeps that thought to himself. 

“I had a fight with my mom. I told her I was thinking about switching major... she didn’t like it.” 

Wesley has talked about it before, about how bored and fed up he is with his biology major, how he only chose it to please his parents but found it harder and harder to rely on this motivation. 

“I’ve been planning to tell her for so long, but in the end it just came up. I wasn’t ready. She kept asking what I would do instead then, and it's not like I even made up my mind yet, but I was pissed off, and so I said I wanted to go into film study. Probably the worst option possible in her eyes.” 

He seems both angry and sad, a little defeated too. The urge to reach out is so strong, even just for a pat on the shoulder, a hand on his arm, or a hug, if he would be up for it. But even without the quarantine, they are hundreds of kilometers apart. Terrence wrings his hands together. 

“What did she say?” 

“That it was ridiculous, of course. That I couldn’t base my future on a passing fancy. She said I change hobby faster than the seasons, that I’d be bored with it soon. It’s not like she’s wrong...” 

From what Terrence has learned in the past few weeks, Wesley dabbled in any and everything. Be it sports or arts, he likes to try new things, but few have stuck. It's funny because it means he has some basic knowledge in a lot of fields and has something to say about every subject. Terrence doesn't think it's as bad a thing as Wesley, and his mother, seem to imply. 

“Movies aren’t anything new though, right? With all the movies you've told me about, you must have started before you could even talk.” 

Terrence tallies another laugh, as Wesley relaxes just a little on his desk chair. 

"No, yeah, of course. Even filming and taking pictures, I've always been into that. You should see some of the videos we made with Cai when we were kids. Actually no, you shouldn't. You would lose all respect for me." 

Terrence tries to picture little Wesley and Cairo running around with a shitty camera or an old phone, coming up with silly stories and bad action scenes to reenact. The image makes him chuckle. 

“See? You’re mocking me already!” 

“I can’t help picturing it. You’ll have to show me to prove it’s not so bad.” 

“Okay, okay, I’ll break out the video projector when you come to visit me." 

They both pause for a moment, taking in the implications. It has been happening a lot lately – casual hints at the future, at something more down the road. They don't acknowledge it properly, not yet, but it's enough for now, this quiet reassurance that they are heading somewhere, that they are both on board. 

“She’s not wrong, it’s not the most reasonable idea, especially with what's going on... I doubt the film industry is going to have a good time this year, and the next. And it's not like there are that many opportunities here, but I don't want to live abroad, not for now anyway. It would make sense to secure a steady job and work on my stuff in my spare time.” 

“Are you trying to convince me not to go into film studies?” Terrence teases gently, seeing Wesley getting worked up. The boy deflates, sheepish. 

“Sorry. I guess she got to me. She was saying that, with the virus and the pandemic, it should have cemented it that being a doctor is the right thing to do but... I think it was the opposite? I mean, obviously it's important and they’re all heroes in their own right but, what I got from this is that, things are so messed up and we don’t know what the future holds and I... I don’t want to waste years doing things I don’t really want to do, thinking I’ll have time later because maybe I won’t. Maybe later will be too late. I don’t want to have regrets.” 

“I... don’t know what to tell you. That's pretty much how it went for me.” 

“Yeah?” 

“My parents always talked about me joining them in their firm and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school, so I just did what they wanted. I went to business school. I figured it would be as good as anything else.” 

“Why are we like this huh? Why is it so hard to know what we want to do.” 

“And to go up against our parents?” 

“Hm. That too.” 

Terrence shrugs. He is not that torn over his study choices. He will come out of it with a useful degree and plenty of working opportunities, which matters even more now he’s not sure his parents will be so on board with him taking over the firm after all, once they find out about him.  

“I guess you should try showing your mom that you’re serious about it,” he says. “Come up with some numbers or a real plan, even if you don’t follow up to it after all. At the end of the day, you’re the one who will have to live with those choices. I’m sure she doesn’t want you to be unhappy.” 

Wesley nods, but he still looks down, and Terrence just needs to do something about it. 

“There is another solution you know.” 

“Which one?” 

“Just marry rich.” 

Terrence gets his reward – Welsey bursts into laughter, shaking his head in mock disapproval. 

“So you think I’m pretty enough to be a trophy husband? I’m touched.” 

Terrence refrains from telling the boy just how pretty he thinks he is, but he nods, dead serious. Wesley laughs even more. Emboldened, Terrence goes on. 

“If I take on my parents' business, I’ll make enough to take care of my spouse.” 

“Really? Now we’re talking! Though I wouldn’t want you to get into it just for me.” 

Terrence answers without thinking. 

“You’d be worth it.” 

Wesley's face softens, expression so warm and fond, Terrence can barely take it. He has never flirted in such a blatant, heartfelt way before, while also not expecting anything to come of it, not now anyway. He likes how things are going now. If they try to take it further, they will inevitably have to discuss logistics, the fact that they are so far away and that they still can't go to the grocery store without it being a health hazard, let alone another part of the country. But the pandemic also means they have a lot of time to spare. There is no rush. 

“I think I’d still rather be a strong, independent woman,” Wesley adds with a silly grin. 

“Okay, why don’t we look it up then?” 

“What?” 

“We can do that right now. There are course descriptions on uni’s websites, you could narrow it down. There are plenty of fields involved in movies, could be script writing, editing, special effects... Or you could go all in and tell your mother you want to be an actor. That should go well.” 

“Do you want me to die?” 

“Oh, I know! Stuntman. You’re athletic enough.” 

“If I tell my mother I want to be a stuntman, she will have a heart attack right there before she can see me getting hurt.” 

“I can't tell who’s the more dramatic one between the two of you.” 

“It’s an ongoing competition.” 

Wesley’s smile is genuine, he seems more relaxed already. Terrence is unorderly proud of himself.  

“But you know, that's not a bad idea. I need to be prepared if I want to win the next argument.” 

Terrence already has the search engine open on the other half of his split screen. 

“Where do we start?” 

Thank you for tonight. It really helped.  

Anytime.  

“But I know the drill by now,” Achilles says with a flourish of his right hand. “So the next time I visited the bakery I upped my make-up game, just to see how he would react. I did the full face and smeared foundation all over my favorite mask, but it was worth it! He was super into it, told me he had been curious about trying for a while, and asked if I would want to show him. Anyway, we’re going to the mall on Saturday.” 

“So it’s a date?” Terrence asks, dutiful, knowing that’s the question Achilles is waiting for, though he pretends he isn’t. Terrence longs to appreciate his absurd mimics and dramatic story-telling in person, but they still have to make do with video call for now. 

"I sure hope it is. The cafés are still closed, so hanging out at the makeup store is the next best thing. Do you know how rare it is that such a buff guy wouldn’t be repulsed by it, let alone interested?” 

“Did you even see what he looked like under his mask?” 

“Terrence! First of all, looks aren’t everything! I like him for his wits and his willingness to slip extra macarons in my orders. And second of all, of course I know. The very first day we met I told him I wouldn’t trust the macarons were as good as he said if he didn’t taste them before me.” 

Terrence doubles over laughing as Achille grins, very satisfied with himself. It is nice to see him like this, playful and smitten. Whatever happens with bakery boy, it will have done him good.  

“What about you? How are things going with that Wesley of yours?” 

Terrence loses a bit of his good humor. He can’t blame Achilles for asking – he's been complaining about how often Terrence talks about the other boy. But he’s fine not thinking too hard about it, and Achilles asking doesn’t help him do that. 

“We just hang out. We’re friends.” 

“Oh come on! Just friends? If you lived in the same area, you would have banged already.” 

“Yeah well, we don’t.” 

He sounds more bitter than he intended. Achilles softens in sympathy. 

“Is that the issue?” 

“That’s... partly?” 

“And the other part?” 

Terrence frowns, annoyed. Achilles can be relentless, and phrases like “I don’t want to talk about it” are wasted on him. Especially with Terrence, probably, because his friend keeps insisting he is too secretive and that it’s not good for him. He has made it his mission to make Terrence talk about his feelings. And, okay, Terrence can admit it’s not so bad. It’s good maybe even. But he’s still not happy about it. 

“He... doesn’t know me that well.” 

Terrence thought Wesley would ask, after they talked about his breakup with Gav, but he didn’t. He’s still unsure about what Wesley knows of what went down later, but he can’t help but think he can’t know the whole story. Because if he knew... 

"Is it about your stunt with Gav and his new boyfriend? Terrence, you have to let it go. Yes, you did something shitty. Yes, you were the asshole. And then you talked it out, you apologized, they forgave you. Pretty sure they've moved on to be cute and disgusting on their own, and you should too." 

But it’s not that simple, is it? Even if they sort of put it behind them, even if he tentatively interacts with Gav in harmless chatter now and then, the hard facts remained the same. He is the guy capable of lying over sensitive subjects to drive a rift between a stranger and the one he’s pursuing, the guy ready to hurt them both to get what he wants. He’s just that kind of person. He can’t escape it.  

“I don’t see why he would trust I won’t do it again.” 

“Well, would you?” 

“No! That was... I fucked up. I don’t know what came over me.” 

“And doesn’t he know you well enough to believe that? All the good things he knows about you don’t count, but one bad is what should define his opinion of you?” 

"Why not? Some things are inexcusable." 

“Yeah, some. It's called war crimes. As far as I know, you didn't kill anyone." 

“He may look past it in a friend. But not in someone he would consider dating. I wouldn’t date myself.” 

“Ouch. Now you’re just self-flagellating love.” 

Maybe he is. He can’t help it.  

“You know, shitty people get to date all the time.” 

“Is that supposed to be comforting?” 

“Oh come on! What I mean is, I've been cheated on before. And the guy got to be in a loving relationship anyway. And he was an asshole with me, and I wouldn't talk to him again, but he wasn't an irredeemable bastard that deserved eternal misery or something. Even if I thought so at the time.” 

“You told me you hoped his dick would rot and fall out.” 

“Yes, and then I moved on. What do I care if he’s happy or sad now?” 

“But you cut ties with him. Welsey is Cairo’s friend first and foremost.” 

"Okay, you know what, since there's no going through your thick skull, here's a novel idea. Why don't you just talk it out with the guy? Let him decide for himself. If he just wants to stay friends, or if he's still okay with more, it's up to him, not you. Please put us both out of our misery and just ask him." 

Of course that would be the sensible thing to do. It’s not like Terrence hasn’t thought about it before. 

He can't help how much it scares him. 

He doesn’t want to lose Wesley’s friendship, doesn’t want to jeopardize what they have. They’re so far away anyway, it’s not like he was hoping for anything to happen, so why take the risk?  

But it's the same thing happening with his parents – as time goes by, it's becoming the only thing he can think about. The things unsaid, pressing at his lips, begging to be voiced out. 

“I know. You’re right.” 

“I always am dear.” 

.  

He plans on broaching the subject, he does. He just has to find the right moment. But they don't hang out as much since classes have picked up for both of them, and he is unwilling to spoil what little time they have together with heavy topics of discussion. He will though, soon. 

As luck would have it, he doesn’t get the chance. 

They are in the middle of a heated game of scrabble, using increasingly improper words of the English language with increasingly questionable spelling, when someone barges into Wesley’s room.  

“Hi! Your mother let me in. What are you up to?” 

Wesley is sitting at his desk, back to the door, and so Terrence recognizes his visitor first. His hopes that Wesley has the calling app small enough on his computer screen that Terrence won’t be recognized immediately are for naught, if the quick fell of Cairo’s smile is anything to go by. 

“What the hell? What is he doing here?” 

Terrence almost wants to point out that he is not, in fact, “here”. He is far away from Bukidnon, alone in his room that he seldom leaves now that his parents are working from home. He doesn’t. He doesn’t dare say anything. 

“Hey Cairo. We’re just hanging out,” Wesley answers innocently, as if he didn’t know how little Cairo is going to like the answer. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Cairo really didn’t tell him anything, and Terrence has to assume Wesley kept their... “hanging out” to himself. 

He knows it was probably for the best, but it still hurts a little. Terrence talks about Wesley, to Achilles. A little too much, according to his friend. 

“Why? Why are hanging out with him of all people?” 

Terrence flinches at the angry tone. Wesley is caught off guard, surprised at his friend’s hostility, and it's easy to see what’s going to happen next – Wesley is going to ask why Cairo is so angry, and Cairo is going to tell him the whole story and... 

“I have to go,” Terrence says hurriedly. It doesn’t help Wesley’s confusion at all, as his eyes travel back and forth between them.  

“Wait, what? What is...” 

Terrence cuts the call short. 

He doesn’t answer Welsey’s calls. He doesn’t answer his texts either, nor his messages on their various social media, nor his comments on his posts, nor anything at all. He can’t even bring himself to read them. He is panicking, and running away, and he knows it’s not the right thing to do, knows that he is fucking things up yet again, but knowing doesn’t mean he can do anything about it. 

Each time he tries to imagine how the conversation went between Welsey and Cairo, how it will go between Wesley and him, he manages to make it worse in his head. Rationally, he knows it’s bogus – Terrence might be terrible, but Welsey certainly isn’t. He wouldn’t be cruel about it, not even unkind. The version that takes up all of Terrence’s thoughts, vindictive and harsh, it doesn’t exist, it’s not who the other boy is at all. Why can’t he convince himself of it? Why does he have to be so terrified? 

He distracts himself with his coursework, showing up to more online classes in a week than he did the previous two months. He can almost tell himself it’s for the best that he finally takes the time to catch up on all his assignments. It’s a meager, empty consolation. They had plans for study sessions with Wesley, so that they could both work on not failing their year and still spend time together. 

He is, to put it simply, miserable. 

Achilles calls him a few days in, and Terrence figures it's best to answer and act normal than to dismiss the call. 

“Hi man. How are you?” 

“Don’t you “how are you” me! You know what you did!” 

“Wh-what?” 

“You managed to worry your boy enough that he stalked me on socials so that he could reach you! I see what you meant by the way, he is hot. But I’m still going to strangle you. What the hell do you think you’re doing?” 

Terrence has no answer to that, and no idea how to react. So he does what he’s been doing best these days – he presses the red button. 

It’s easier to just turn off his phone and the notifications on his computer then. 

It’s another three days of radio silence – from him anyway. From them, he doesn’t know. He stopped checking. 

He’s aware enough to admit he is not doing well, but he doesn’t know how to get out of it. He even entertained the idea, for the briefest moment, of talking to his parents. But when he went downstairs for the first time in days, they asked if he was done with his work already, and he could only grab some food and hurry back up. He is running low on snacks and he needs a shower, but getting up from his bed is too unsurmountable a task. 

And then someone knocks on his door. 

“Terrence? Your friend Gavreel is here to visit you,” his mother says from the other side, before she opens it. He would protest, except he’s frozen in place, unable to compute with what she just said. 

And sure enough, Gav steps in, worry obvious on his face despite the mask. Terrence’s mother closes the door and leaves, and it’s just the two of them in his room, and he doesn’t know what to do, at all. 

“What are you doing here?” 

His voice is shaking, it could be anger or disbelief, probably both. It doesn’t make any sense for Gav to be standing in his room right now. Terrence doesn't get it. 

“Achilles called me. His uncle is at risk for covid so he couldn’t come himself, but he was freaking out over you going MIA. He asked me to check on you.” 

“It’s only been three days,” he answers petulantly. Of course, they have gone without contact for longer than that, but they would never leave a message or a call unanswered for this long, and Terrence can imagine how much he has missed.  

“He called me on the first. But I had to wait for my results to come back. I’m getting tested every week now that I deliver food for Pearl’s dad. Oh, by the way, you haven't gone out in a while, right?” 

“I... no. Yeah. Why?” 

Gav doesn’t answer, but in three long strides he has crossed the room, and he wraps Terrence in a hug. 

It’s so unexpected, Terrence doesn’t react at all. Then, he makes a meager attempt at freeing himself, but Gav doesn’t budge at all. 

“Cairo and Wes called me too. We were worried.” 

Terrence tries to keep it together, he does. But Gav is there, he was worried, and it’s been so long, he realizes, since he even touched another human, and Gav is so warm, always was, warm and soft and taller than Terrence, so that it’s easy to hide in his embrace. 

Terrence starts to cry. 

Once he has started, it's hard to stop. He clings hard to Gav’s shoulders even if he knows he shouldn’t, he doesn’t want to cause trouble again, but surely if Gav is here, it means... 

He stops himself right then. It means nothing at all. There is nothing he has a right to expect from Gav. He shouldn’t even be here right now. 

Terrence steps back, rubbing furiously at his face as if he could still pretend he hasn’t been spilling tears and snot all over Gav’s t-shirt. 

“Sorry,” he says lamely, mortified now that he has calmed down. Gav is still smiling his joyful, unflappable smile, steady as ever. It hurts a little to look at. 

He has them sit on Terrence’s bed, he feeds him some water that Terrence sips at in awkward silence. 

“So. You and Wesley?” 

Even then, Gav manages to sound playful and light. It used to grate on Terrence's nerves, just as it did Cairo's, he suspects, that Gav never seemed to take anything seriously. It took him a while to realize that it was just the boy's way of coping, that it wasn't natural – he tried hard, all the time, to stay upbeat and cheerful, no matter the circumstances. Even growing up without parents, even when faced with the slow death of his beloved grandmother, even when comforting a crying friend and feeling like crying himself, he would smile, and joke and laugh, he would do his damn best to lighten the mood, to lift everyone's spirit. 

The issue being, no one would see through it, and no one would be there when he was the one needing comfort. Terrence hopes Cairo at least got that, but he supposes they wouldn’t have lasted as long if he didn’t. 

“It’s not like that,” Terrence tries weakly, wondering if anyone would believe that. He doesn’t even himself. 

“Really? That’s not what Wesley said to Gav.” 

Terrence looks up so fast he almost bumps their head together. Gav laughs. 

“What? What did he say?” 

“They fought a little, though it was much like petty squabbling. Cairo was mostly upset Wes didn’t say anything about it, and Wes didn’t like how he talked about you. It wasn’t such a big deal.” 

Is that a jab? Terrence knows he overreacted. It’s nice that Wesley would defend him but... 

“Didn’t they talk about what happened?” 

Doesn’t Wesley hate me now?  

“We did.” 

Gav doesn’t elaborate. Terrence wants him gone, but he also wishes he’d stay, that they’d stay like this. When Gav leaves he will be alone again, and for how long?  

“I talked with Achilles, a little. He had... things to say.” 

Terrence can imagine. Achilles is way too protective of him, too forgiving too, and he never liked Gav much. 

“Don’t listen to him.” 

“You never told me. About your parents.” 

“I know I didn’t! I know I should have, and I didn’t, I did everything wrong, and I couldn’t even own up to it, couldn’t let it go. I fucked it up twice! And now...” 

Now what? 

“Now what?” 

He glares at Gav, to no effect – the boy is immune.  

“You tell me,” he grumbles, annoyed.  

“I already told you I forgave you. Do you need my blessings too?” 

It’s ridiculous when he put it like this, but isn’t that exactly what Terrence is looking for? Achilles keeps telling him, but Achilles isn’t the one Terrence hurt the most. 

“Even if I wanted... but Wesley deserves better.” 

“Should have thought about it before you went to be all nice and handsome in his face.” 

Gav chuckles at Terrence’s offended face. 

"What, it's true! He's smitten now. You have to take responsibility." 

He wonders, should he have stayed away from the other boy, if he thought them together would be a bad idea? It’s true he was attracted to him from the start. Maybe this is on him then. 

Gav shakes his head, a little wistful. 

“Terrence, I’m joking. You can... it’s okay to go for it. If you want. You can’t just ignore Wesley forever anyway. That's not nice to him.” 

That’s a low blow. Terrence would rather be convinced his actions matter little to the boy, that he doesn’t care enough to be hurt. Kind of like what he did when he broke up with Gav. It almost feels pretentious of him, to acknowledge that his absences could really hurt Wesley.  

“I didn’t think he would care that much.” 

“That’s... what you said to me. Back then,” Gav comments, thoughtful. He stares at Terrence, serious like he rarely is, like he is trying to figure him out. Terrence squirms a little, uneasy. 

“Terrence... I was in love with you. Did you know?” 

So they are doing this, he supposes. He can't say he is thrilled, but they might as well, right? Who knows when they'll next have the chance. And Terrence is tired of dragging this around. 

“I didn’t. Or well, I guess I did know... But I couldn’t believe it. Not enough, anyway.” 

In the end he could go through with it the break-up, the whole asshole move, because deep down he had managed to convince himself that Gav wouldn’t care all that much. He would bounce back easily enough, he would easily get over it. So it wasn’t such a big deal. 

“I was though. And with good reasons. I mean... It’s not gone, what I liked about you. You didn’t deceive me or something. You were good to me. Before... the rest. I mean, I understand, that someone would fall in love with you.” 

Gav did talk to Achilles. Achilles to whom Terrence managed to convey, though he didn’t put it in so many words, that he didn’t think he was good enough a person that he could deserve anyone’s love. That he had Gav’s didn’t change a thing. Look at what he did with it. But that Gav wouldn’t withdraw it, even now, that’s... something. 

“I’m sorry. That we didn’t... That it didn’t work out.” 

Terrence shrugs, far more casually than what he’s feeling. The regrets weigh heavily on his mind, but there is no going back. The timing wasn’t right for them, they weren’t enough for each other. Gav got over it, he found Cairo, he's happy now. And Terrence... 

“We can move on.” 

When he looks at Gav, he remembers how it felt – to love him, and be loved by him, and to think of their shared future. It burnt bright, all-consuming and fierce, but it’s muted now, dulled into memories that don’t hurt that much to look at anymore.  

“Okay,” he says, and for the first time it feels like it could be true. “Okay.” 

Gav smiles, bright and dazzling, and all Terrence feels is relief, a weight lifted from his heart at last. He manages to smile back. 

“So, d’you wanna watch a movie or something?” Gav asks. Terrence figures he might have been lonely too, in his empty apartment, far from his busy social circle, and the boy he loves. 

“You’re not worried about Cairo’s reaction?” 

“Nah, we talked it out. Besides, he literally lives next door to Wesley, so he can’t complain. We got better at that, I think. We all need friends, yeah?” 

Terrence won’t argue with that. 

Terrence takes a moment after Gav is gone. Just to collect his thoughts, unwind a bit. He is not pushing back the moment he will have to call Wesley. He isn't. 

He calls Achilles first, as a sort of trial test. The boy is pissed enough, but relieved too, and he only grills Terrence for a few minutes before going back to talking about bakery boy like nothing happened. Terrence is grateful for it – after all, Achilles is probably the one who knows him the most, and he has to be aware of what exactly went through Terrence’s mind, and that it’s not something he can help with, for now. Terrence welcomes the distraction and the harmless drama of his friend’s love life. It’s a nice change of path. 

But the call ends with Achilles making him promise to call Wesley as soon as they’re done, and he’s back to square one – anxious and longing. 

Shit, he is ridiculous. He wants to talk to Wesley, has been dying to basically every waking moment in the past few months. He misses him.  

That is ridiculous too.  

He presses the call button. 

He doesn’t even have half a ringtone to compose himself before Welsey’s face pops up on the screen. 

“Terrence! Is that you? Are you okay?” 

“Yeah. Hm. Hi. I’m sorry for disappearing on you.” 

He expects Wesley to dismiss it, laugh it off or get angry. He doesn’t expect the few miserable sniffles that soon give way to the boy full on sobbing like child, pouting lips and scrunched up face. It is both disheartening and terribly cute, and has Terrence feeling bad both for inducing it and thinking so. 

“P-please don’t cry. I’m sorry,” he says again, a little teary-eyed himself.  

“Don't ever do that again!” 

“I won’t, I promise.” 

Mollified, Wesley’s tears subdue, though he is still pouting full force. Terrence needs to say more though. 

“I promise I won’t run away next time. I won't hide either. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.” 

Wesley huffs. 

“I think I’ll worry anyway.” 

It’s Terrence's exact words from a few months ago. He can’t help a small smile, and Wesley grins too, and maybe he hasn’t fucked this up beyond repair. Yet. 

They still have a lot to sort through though. 

“Do you want to talk?” he asks, feeling brave, for once, feeling bold. Wesley’s eyes are soft, almost tender. 

Loving. 

“I’d like you to tell me. If you want.” 

And so Terrence does. He tells him about leaving Gav and not looking back, about trying his hardest to forget about him, to no avail. He tells him about the knife to his chest when he first saw Cairo on Gav’s socials, when it dawned on him that Gav wasn’t still hung up on Terrence like Terrence was on him. How he decided it was now or never, before they were too involved, while he still had the advantage of being the one who knew Gav the longest, who had been there first. How he told himself that he wasn’t entirely to blame, that Cairo didn’t haveto believe him, that if he could seed doubts so easily, then what they had wasn’t that strong, Cairo wasn’t that deserving. 

Pearl would point out, months later, that it wasn’t his place to test their relationship, and that playing on their weaknesses and insecurities was no fair game. 

He tells him about dealing Gav with the lowest possible blow, and how it didn't occur to him that it would turn on him, that it was a stupid move from the start. He can't explain now how he ever believed it could work, but he did. 

He tells him how it dawned on him all at once, when Pearl confronted him, that he had hurt Gav again, how selfish he was. How hard it was to understand his own choices when all was said and done. How he tried to make amend. 

He tells it all, as honestly as he can, trying not to cringe and shy away from the worst bit, from how terrible it makes him look. Wesley doesn't say much, he just listens. Terrence doesn’t look at his face too much. 

It’s late when he’s done, and he’s exhausted. 

“Thank you,” Wesley eventually says. “For telling me.” 

“Yeah. I’m sorry.” 

He doesn’t even know for what. For not saying anything sooner? For all he’s done? For being that guy, for deceiving the other boy? For who he is? 

“You should go to bed. It’s late.” 

Terrence imagines he looks like shit. Anyway, he can get a dismissal when he hears it. 

“Yeah.” 

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow?” 

It’s the same question they have asked a hundred times before, yet it carries much more meaning now. Wesley sounds both doubtful and hopeful too. Does he think Terrence will say no? Or does he wonder if it’s such a good idea after all? 

“Of course, yeah. If you want to. I’ll be there. Sure.” 

Wesley smiles, a little. 

“Goodnight then.” 

“Goodnight.” 

The night is not very good, but hopefully, it will get better. 

Things are the same, except for how they are not. 

They start to study more together, long calls where neither talk much except to complain about being bored or fed-up with a particular lesson. They take breaks to chat or play games before diving in again. It makes it more bearable for sure. 

They don’t talk about it again. Terrence is fine leaving it all behind. They keep calling and talking, watching movies and playing together, just like before. 

But Wesley doesn’t flirt with him anymore.  

Terrence tells himself it’s fine. He had it coming, and it’s lucky enough that Wesley is still willing to talk, to be his friends. 

Terrence will have to be content with that, it will have to be enough. He is heartbroken over it, but it's fine, it will pass. They get to be friends, and he desperately needs more of those. Achilles keeps pestering him about making a move, but Terrence knows a lost cause when he sees one. It's fine. Everything is fine. 

Baking again? Wesley asks after Terrence sent him a picture of a fresh batch of muffins. 

Yeah. Parents are back at work.  

He wants to offer to send him some again, but he doesn’t dare. He hates that they are so cautious now, that he feels so unsure in their interactions. He doesn’t know what he is allowed to do and not do anymore. 

At least his parents can work at the firm now. Not every day, but it does give him back the house to himself a couple of days a week, and he has missed messing around the kitchen.  

Are those peanut butter muffins? You do listen to me.  

Of course he does. He’s still working on the list Wesley made for him, of all the things he wanted to try. But he didn’t tell him.  

You’re an inspiration.  

Dammit, is that too much? He’s tired. 

Gav told me Cairo would be visiting soon, he writes to change the subject, before regretting it immediately. As if bringing Cairo up was a good idea in these circumstances. He is an idiot. 

Yes! In a month or so? He’s very excited.  

Gav is too. It’s nice for them. 

Terrence had imagined that maybe it would come for Wesley and him too. That they could visit each other, that they could... He wouldn't dream of suggesting it now.  

But it’s fine. He’s fine. Everything is fine. 

And then one day when he’s out buying groceries, his mother borrows his computer. 

It’s not raining. It feels like it should be raining, to fit the drama of the situation. But it’s not. It’s a warm evening, pleasant when it comes to the weather at least. 

That’s about the only nice thing about it. 

Terrence’s phone is almost out of battery. It would never have happened a few months ago, but they have been quarantined for so long, barely leaving the house, he lost the habit of plugging it in every night. He didn’t expect to have to storm out of his house this evening. 

He fumbles with the screen. He needs to call Achilles while he still can. In other circumstances – or again, a few months back – he probably wouldn’t have. He would have dealt with this on his own and not breathe a word of it, maybe he wouldn’t have stormed out at all, just hide it out in his room pretending it didn’t happen, and then cave to his parents’ will, as he always did. 

But he promised Achilles he would make an effort to reach out. Wesley too. He doesn’t have to do that on his own. 

And he can’t sleep outside. He’s not supposed to be out even. There’s still a curfew. 

Or is there? He’s not sure anymore. There sure isn’t many people in the streets, but he’s barely a kilometer away from his house. 

He calls Achilles and doesn’t let him speak before he starts spilling out. 

“Hey, I know it’s late, I’m sorry but I... I need somewhere to go, I can’t go home right now, I...” 

“Terrence?” 

Terrence blinks the tears out of his eyes until they can focus, not on Achilles, but on Wesley’s confused face. 

“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you. I mean, it’s not...” 

Of course, of course that's the moment his phone chooses to die on him. 

Terrence shakes the device, taps on it, tries to switch it on again, as if that was going to do anything. He doesn’t know what to do. Achilles’ place is too far to go to on foot, he didn’t take his wallet, nor his charger. The nearest store where he could plug it in is pretty far too, and he promised Wesley he wouldn’t do that again, wouldn’t leave him hanging. He needs to call back, Wesley will worry, he’s probably trying to call again, and Terrence doesn’t want him to think he’s avoiding him this time, he’s not, he just doesn’t know what to do

He thinks he loses some time just standing there on the sidewalk, indecisive and lost, before he decides to take a taxi and ask Achilles to lend him money for the fare when he gets there. He starts walking toward the main road – the few people he crosses path with eye him weirdly, with something akin to disapproval, but he doesn't get why until the first taxi he hails refuses to take him. The man taps the sign on his window. 

Passengers need to wear a mask.”  

Terrence's hands fly to his face, and sure enough, he is a complete idiot and he forgot his fucking mask. 

The panic really starts to kick in then. The shop won’t let him get in, the taxi won’t take him. Achilles’ uncle is at risk, what if they can’t take him in? He could get a fine. Did he take his papers? He doesn’t want to go home. 

He might be crying again. 

“Terrence!” 

Achilles springs out of a cab, he hands Terrence a mask in a plastic bag. Terrence puts in on gratefully, regaining some measure of calm, though he must not look that well, going by the way Achilles is watching him. 

“Damn, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” 

“What are you doing here? How did you know...” 

“Wesley called me. You had him all panicked, again.” 

Terrence runs his hands in his hair, still riled up and confused. 

“You have his number? I need to tell him, my phone died.” 

“Relax, he got the idea. Come on, let’s go.” 

Achilles pulls him toward the cab. 

“Your uncle will be okay with it?” 

“He’s not home for a few days, he went to visit a friend. You can stay. He won’t mind.” 

Achilles doesn’t ask anything more. “We’ll talk at home,” he says when he sees Terrence squirms, uncomfortable. 

Achilles only notices the bruise when Terrence takes off the mask in the bright light of the living room. It’s the first time he looks truly angry, but he fetches the first aid kit in silence, and it’s when he has pressed a cold compress to the aching side of Terrence’s face, when they are sitting at the kitchen table with steaming cups of tea, that he asks, though he has guessed what happened already. 

“Your parents found out, didn’t they?” 

Terrence nods, pitiful. 

“My mother took my laptop for some reason. Hers wasn’t working or something, I don’t know. Anyway, she went through some files because of course she did, and she found some old photos of me and Gav and...” 

It’s so frustrating, so ironic, that it would be what betrays him in the end, when he did make the effort to erase their traces from his socials, and not even to hide them. But he kept some of the pictures – the point was that they weren’t on display anymore, but not that he would want to delete the memories.  

“They confronted me right away, I didn’t even have the time to put the ice-cream in the freezer.” 

A petty, childish part of him hopes they forgot too and that it melted all over the kitchen counter. Achilles reaches out to takes Terrence’s hands in his. The hold is comforting. 

“I didn’t get to say much, they were going on about how this... simply couldn’t happen. That it was a phase I need to outgrow asap, and they even tried to soothe me like I needed the reassurance, because the pictures are more than a year old now so they were like, we’ll forgive you this time, since it won’t happen again, it’s okay, you know? As if... As if I needed their forgiveness.” 

As if he was just confused, mislead, as if this was just a mistake, a bump in the road that they could thankfully correct in time. The way they talked about Gav... 

"And I could have... I could have gone with it. I could have just lied and bought some time and peace, tell them it was a one-off, that it didn't mean anything. I should have maybe but..." 

He would have, had it happened sooner. Hell, even if it had happened when they were still together with Gav. He was so afraid of losing everything, of having to deal with this, on top of it all. 

But these days, he is less afraid than angry. 

It's their fault if he broke up with Gav. If he had to feel so miserable and lonely all those months, all those years. Because he couldn't help the shame, because they didn't and wouldn't know him, see him. This thing he used to blame himself for – being attracted to boys, being different from the idea they had of him – he started to realize that it wasn't on him. 

“I couldn’t. I thought about... About you, and Wesley, and Cairo and Gav. I don’t know, it felt impossible to lie again, to sweep it all under the rug. I think I wanted to make them mad. To ruin the day for them too.” 

It wasn’t fair that he would be the only one to suffer, the only one to have to deal with the consequences. He couldn’t stand his parents going to bed satisfied that they had averted that crisis, with just a new incentive to be more watchful of his moves and frequentations. 

“Anyway, I told them I was dating another boy.” 

Achilles whistles, cheeky, though his grip tightens around Terrence’s hand. 

“It’s a lie but, you know, it was about making a point. My father flipped his shit.” 

Achilles’ eyes flicker to his cheek, no doubt darkening into purple by now, no doubt set to ache in the morning. It’s not the first time his father has hit him, but it’s been years, and it was definitively the most violent one. 

“They didn’t tell me to pack my shit and get out or anything. But they said we would talk about it in the morning, that we would need to find a solution, because they wouldn’t have this “kind of thing” in their house and I... Yeah, I walked out. I guess it was a bit dramatic of me? Maybe I should have waited ‘til morning, I didn’t even take my wallet, but right then going back to my room, staying there, it just felt impossible. I didn’t really think this through, I’m sorry for imposing, but I didn’t know who else to call, I...” 

Achilles shuts him up by springing to his feet to wrap him in a hug, too strong and tight, suffocating. Terrence feels himself choking up again, tries his best to hold it together, with little success. 

“Shut up, idiot. You don’t get to apologize for that. I love you, dear. We’re friends, and I’m here for you. This sucks, what happened. I’m glad I’m here to help you through it. And I get it, okay, I do. You don’t have to act all tough. I get it. I’m sorry.” 

Terrence sinks into the embrace then, he lets it go. It’s stupid because it’s not like he didn’t know, didn’t expect it would go poorly, wasn’t aware already of his parents’ opinion on the matter. It’s not a surprise, yet it still hurts so bad, it’s still such a shock. The way his mother looked at him...  

Terrence sobs into Achilles’ shoulder. 

Achilles’ uncle tells Terrence he can stay as long as he needs to. 

It’s not a surprise – after all, he made the same offer to Achilles. It’s the reason why the boy is living with him, and not with his parents. They didn’t throw him out either, but if he stayed, it was on the condition that he would be quiet and discreet about “this”, as they said, since they couldn’t even bring themselves to say out loud that their son is gay. He was miserable, for a while, before his father’s brother stepped in.  

Terrence goes back to pack some things while his parents are gone from the house. He realizes he should have done that sooner – move out, find a space of his own, live his life. It was easier, safer to just stay and keep to himself. But he’s sick of hiding. 

He dares to call his mother only when he is safely back to Achilles' with most of his clothes, his laptop, and the few things he couldn't bear leave behind. 

“Terrence? Finally! It’s been days, where are you? Are you alright?” 

She is worried – he feels guilty. But then she didn’t try to call either. Did she consider he was the one at fault, and thus the one who should reach out first? 

Apologize first? 

“I am. I’m staying with a friend. It’s fine.” 

“Terrence, come home. We have to talk about this.” 

“About what?” 

He excepts the long pause, the heavy sigh. It still hurts. 

“I’m sure we can find a solution,” she says, diplomatic. He recognizes her business voice, the one she uses to handle a difficult client. The guilt abates. 

“I don’t have any problem mom.” 

“Terrence...” 

“Mom, I’m...” 

He hesitates to say he’s dating a boy again. It’s still a lie, no matter how much he wishes he was. He settles for another truth. 

“I’m in love with a boy. That's not going to change. I don’t wantit to change. I'm okay with it. It took me a while, and I went through this already so... Deciding to accept it, and deciding if you still... still want me as your son, even then... it's on you, not me." 

He almost manages not to choke on the words. 

“I love you.” 

He startles. He’s not sure he can recall the last time she said it to him. She sounds wistful, almost pleading. 

“I love you too, mom. But this isn’t... this isn’t about you. I’ll move to the uni’s dorm when it’s possible. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you, if you want me to. But I won’t come back.” 

He waits for a moment, for her to say something else. She hangs up.  

This is probably the worst part. In the movies, coming out is a one-time thing. They say it, the others accept it, or not, they move on. But his parents know now, and it still feels like they didn't move forward at all. How long will it take? With both of them? And then there will be the rest of the family too, his friends – some of them, anyway. It feels like a full-time job. 

He knows that’s just how things are. It’s still not fair. 

He already made a request for a dorm room on campus, but of course the procedures are suspended for now. He joked with Achilles earlier that he managed to find himself a problem worse than a global pandemic. Things are looking up on that front, at least. Cases are down, a vaccine could be here soon... 

His life will be much different at the end of it, from when it started, and it will be barely related. Life goes on, he supposes. Pandemic or not. 

He hasn’t heard much from Wesley. He called him briefly, the very next day, to apologize and update him on the situation. They have exchanged a few texts since, but it’s embarrassing to call while he stays in a guestroom with Achilles right across the hall. Wesley was already distancing himself anyway, so maybe it’s for the best. It will happen more naturally that way. It’s not like there is anything Terrence can do about it. 

He only remembers Cairo is scheduled to visit when he sees a selfie of the boy at the airport on his profile. Gav must be over the moon – he said he would visit Terrence and Achilles, but it won’t be before the week is over, surely. Terrence feels happy for him by proxy – things have to go smoothly for someone

So he’s very surprised when Achilles knocks on his door and announces he has a visitor. He’s prepared to berate Gav for worrying so much. 

He is, however, utterly unprepared to find Wesley standing at the guestroom door.  

“I’ll leave you to it,” Achilles says smoothly, grinning like a fool. Terrence barely registers him disappearing somewhere in the house. 

“Hi,” Wesley says. 

“Ah. Hi.” 

It occurs to Terrence that this is the first time they can see each other in person, not on a screen but in three dimensions, within arm’s reach. Not that it needed confirmation, but it is confirmed indeed – Terrence is very, very attracted to him. Wesley smiles, a little embarrassed, a little shy. He has to look up, as he is a few centimeters shorter. Terrence is dying. 

“I’m sorry for barging in unannounced. But I was worried, and Cairo was coming already... I decided to tag along. Hum. Surprise?” 

It’s Terrence’s cue to talk surely, to answer something, but his brain has deserted him. 

“You came to see me?” he asks, still in complete disbelief, still wondering if he has finally lost his mind and started hallucinating. 

“Yes?” Wesley says, unsure. Terrence is messing this up, but it’s just... 

“I mean, you...” 

He didn’t even think Wesley wanted to be his friend anymore.  

Wesley’s eyes widen in understanding, and he relaxes a little for some reason. 

“I really wanted to see you,” he says. 

“Ah.” 

And since this is too awkward and that Terrence is not about to find his eloquence back anytime soon it seems, he settles for another option – he steps in, slow enough that it won't come as a surprise, that Wesley can step back, if he wants. 

But Wesley is more than on board. He flings himself at Terrence, wraps strong arms around his neck. Terrence sneaks his own around his waist and behind his back, he hides in the boy’s neck, and he proceeds to freak out a little. 

He never wants to move again. 

Welsey is laughing, holding tight. Terrence does his best to burrow a little further, as if he could maybe disappear into the embrace and make it home there. After the turmoil of the last few days, the doubts and the guilt and the fear, this is nothing short of incredible. They hug, squeezing within an inch of their life. It lasts forever. It’s not nearly long enough.  

They spend the week together. Unfortunately, there is not much they can do. The bars and restaurants are still closed, the theaters too. They mostly walk around, away from the crowd, and they watch movies with Achilles in the living room. Wesley is staying at Cairo’s, and Terrence finally gets to meet the other boy. It’s awkward, and a little hostile at first. He gets that Cairo is still jealous of him, but after a few days he realizes it’s not about Gav. It’s about Wesley. 

"Sorry if I'd rather not third-wheel for you the entire time!" Wesley tells his pouting friend when the boy complains they barely saw each other all week. "We're neighbors Cairo! We hang out all the time! Go kiss your boyfriend and stop whining.” 

It’s a stupid point of pride, that Wesley spends that much time with Terrence that it would annoy Cairo, and that Wesley would own up to it so easily. They meet with Pearl too, the girl robbing them into her weird ideas and getting a few embarrassing videos out of it. They cook together, or Terrence cooks and Wesley makes a nuisance of himself and asks for a bite every five minutes. They talk a lot too, about their childhood, their parents, their plans for the future. 

But not about them. 

Which would be just as well, except Wesley keeps putting his hands everywhere, on Terrence’s back and the nape of his neck, thighs pressed together when they sit on the couch, napping on his shoulder and laps, and Terrence is so confused but he doesn’t dare ask anything. Maybe Welsey is like this with all his friends. Maybe it will stop if Terrence brings it up. 

They don’t accompany the boys back to the airport. It would be an unnecessary brush with the crowd, for an extra hour together, so they bid farewell to Cairo and Wesley at Gav’s flat. Gav and Cairo are disgustingly cute and snotty in their corner, and Terrence can’t escape Wesley’s eyes. 

“Thank you again. For coming,” he says lamely, words wholly inadequate for all the emotions he felt this week and this month and every day since they met.  

“I’m glad I did. This was... nice.” 

Wesley grimaces a little at the word, as if he doesn’t like the taste. Terrence wonders what else he meant to say.  

They hug, long and tight, Terrence doesn’t want to let go. They’re even closer when they part, faces just inches apart, eyes catching once more. Terrence can’t help but glance briefly at Welsey’s parted lips, it feels like the other boy is getting closer, but maybe he isn’t? 

Terrence wants to kiss him so badly he could cry. 

But he can’t close the distance. He needs a cue, something, he’s still not sure it would be welcome, and Welsey is leaving anyway, who knows when they can meet again, so is it such a good idea? They stay like this for a while, but in the end the moment passes. Wesley steps back. Terrence regrets already. 

“Goodbye then.” 

“Bye. Travel well, let me know when you’re home.” 

“I will.” 

The two boys get into the cab. Gav sniffles a few pitiful sobs and Terrence offers they watch a movie as a distraction. It's not a sad movie by any means, yet he cries anyway. 

“Idiot,” Achilles says when he comes back, both long-suffering and fond. 

Terrence might very well be, yeah. 

He can't stop thinking about it.  

Trying to focus on a lecture, he's thinking about. In a virtual meeting with other students for a group project, he's thinking about it. At dinner with Achilles and his uncle, he's thinking about it. It's not always at the forefront of his mind, but it's always lurking in a corner, a constant nagging. 

They should have kissed. He should have kissed the other boy. Why didn’t he? He is the stupidest man alive. Who cares if it was doomed to fail, if it meant something or not? They should have kissed anyway! The present situation would still be the exact same, except there would be a kiss in their past, instead of this missed chance. 

Some days he considers flying to Bukidnon just to kiss Wesley and be done with it. 

“Earth to Terrence! Are you okay man?” Wesley asks, shaking Terrence out of his thoughts. 

He was probably staring at his lips again. 

“Ah, sorry, sorry, just tired.” 

"I can call you back later if you want." 

“No no, it’s fine. You had something to tell me?” 

They have been trying to get a hold of each other for a week, but between classes, work, chores and friends, they couldn’t find the time. 

“Yeah, huh. Ah, did you hear from your parents?” 

Terrence raises an eyebrow, puzzled. 

“Sort of. I’m having coffee with my mom next week.” 

He doesn’t know which is better, between his father’s complete silence and his mother’s relentless tries to talk him out of “whatever it is he is doing”. But if she’s trying to wear him down, so can he. 

“Cool, cool.” 

“Is that... what you wanted to talk about?” 

Wesley scrunches his nose, like he does when he’s hesitating, but he doesn’t look about to deliver bad news, so Terrence tries not to worry. 

“No, no. Okay, you heard for Cairo?” 

“He’s coming back, right?” 

“Yeah, he’s enrolling back at uni in Manilla for the next semester.” 

Cairo’s mother settled well in Bukidnon, and so she accepted to let him go. Gav was overjoyed when he told Terrence earlier this week, that they would live in the same city once more. 

“I know. That’s cool,” Terrence says, though he doesn’t get why Wesley wants to talk about it. Maybe he’s sad to see his friend leave again? 

“He’s getting a small flat near campus.” 

“Yeah, I know.” 

“And I’ll be rooming with him.” 

Terrence trips over his words. 

Wesley is beaming, delighted, and that that’s enough for Terrence to be convinced he understood that right. Still, he asks. 

“What?” 

“I talked with my mom. At length. And she agreed to let me transfer major, but only if I went hard about it. The film study faculty here is not that great, so I applied to Manila because it’s among the best and... I got in. Both our mothers feel better knowing we’ll be together, with Cairo, so it helped. So yeah, I’m...” 

He bits his lower lip, briefly. He must be doing that on purpose. He’s after Terrence’s health for sure. 

“I’m gonna be living right next to you.” 

They stare at each other, smiling in silence, foolish and dumb, but Terrence is just so happy, there’s nothing more to say. The way Wesley is saying this, it’s because they have a chance, right? There is something. There is a future. 

“We’re flying in a month, for the start of the semester,” Wesley says. There is talking about universities reopening for the new term. Masks will still be mandatory of course, but at least they’ll be able to attend classes properly.  

And to see each other. 

“I can’t wait,” Terrence says without thinking, way too eager. Wesley only laughs, looking pleased. 

“Me neither.” 

There is a future. 

Terrence isn’t there to greet them at the airport.  

Which is fine. He didn’t say he would be, only that they would meet today, but Wes can’t help feeling a little disappointed. Gavreel came to pick them up – they will stay with him while they look for their own place. Cai and he make googly eyes at each other and it's fine. Terrence was probably busy. 

But then Gav tells them that the other boy is waiting at his place. It's weird then, that he didn't come. Wesley is starting to freak out already. Is it some kind of message? Maybe Wesley got too carried away. After all, they didn't say anything. They didn't even kiss. 

He’s been obsessing over it for weeks, but maybe he is the only one. He should have kissed Terrence last time. This way he would have known where they stood for sure. He knows he gave Terrence mixed signals. He pulled back for a while, because Cairo was still wary, within reasons, and Wesley couldn’t just ignore what went down between the three boys. He needed some time to sort his feelings out, but what if he took too long? What if Terrence moved on? 

He is there in his moping and lamenting when they reach Gav’s house. He tries to decide how he will greet the other boy, how he should act, what he should say. 

It flies out of the window when they come face to face. Wesley can't help rushing to him actually. Can’t help grabbing at his shirt and pulling him closer, and he catches himself just a few shy centimeters away from Terrence’s face, just in case, just to make sure. Terrence is wide-eyed and short-breathed, but he looks so awed too, and so damn good.  

Wesley kisses him. 

It's such a relief, after agonizing for so long that he missed his only chance. Terrence's arms come up to wrap around his shoulders and Wesley grabs the back of his shirt, pressing closer. 

When they finally part, Terrence presses their forehead together, one arm still heavy around Wesley’s shoulder, the other hand cradling his neck. Wesley’s own hands are set firmly at his waist, gripping possessively, though it doesn’t seem Terrence wants to step back. Welsey hopes their friends got out of there, but he doesn’t want to look around to find out. 

“Why weren’t you at the airport?” Wesley asks, barely above a whisper, since they are close enough to share breath. 

“You won’t laugh?” 

“Wouldn’t dare.” 

“I... wasn’t sure I wouldn’t just kiss you right there.” 

Wesley does laugh, and he hides in Terrence’s neck to avoid his disapproving frown and also to hide his own giddy expression, because it’s a little embarrassing, to be so stupidly happy, to be unable to temper down his smile in any way. He presses his lips and nose into the exposed skin, relishing in the contact, the smell, the warmth.  

“So, hey. Do you wanna, like. Go out with me?” 

Terrence kisses him again.