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a quiet kind of love

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i. early mornings

Carefully descending the last flight of stairs of his apartment complex, Sascha can’t help but smile fondly at the sight that greets him. A bleary-eyed Isi leaning against the entryway, two thermoses of coffee encased in her hands, gaze angled toward the dark Berlin skyline.

He shivers slightly at the biting chill that has settled in the hallway, but the sight of Isi waiting for him makes Sascha feel warm inside as he steps into the cold January air.

“Good morning habibi,” Sascha greets, standing on his toes to place a quick kiss on Isi’s lips, which she eagerly returns. “Morning” she responds dazedly, pulling away. He can taste the minty flavour of Isi’s toothpaste lingering in their mouth.

“You really don’t have to do this you know” Sascha says, gratefully accepting the coffee from her hand. The sweetness of cream and sugar emanates from the container, so he knows it’s his. “I know how much you like your beauty sleep.” Sascha says, a half-amused gleam in his eye, referring to Isi’s newfound habit of escorting him to work in the mornings, even though it involved her waking up earlier than usual.

“But I want to,” Isi insists in that sickly sweet tone of hers, squeezing his hand reassuringly. “Plus, I won’t get to see you until way later."  

Sascha suppresses his amusement at the sheer strangeness of it all. A few shorts weeks ago, he could never have imagined that Isi would go out of their way to wake up early to walk him to work. A pipe dream you’d call it.

Sascha was always the one to do the heavy lifting in their relationship. It was always: Isi is bored, I’ll bring over my Nintendo Switch, she’s hungover, don’t worry I know the just the thing to make you feel better. It had always been like this, albeit not always this extreme. There was always this hint of…imbalance in their friendship from the start.

Isi was the outgoing one, easily distracted and Sascha was their calm, patient best friend. That meant that while Sascha had no other friends to whom he was this close, Isi always did and so there was more emotional investment in the relationship from Sascha’s side than Isi, until now. Their recent change in relationship status had prompted Isi to be the “clingy one” and Sascha was part amused and part flattered by the newfound attention.

When he’d returned from his dad’s this past weekend, Isi had practically knocked him to the floor while greeting him, something which had earned them judgemental stares from their neighbours.

Sascha takes Isi’s hand in his as they walk in pace into the courtyard of their apartment complex. “It is quite nice to be with you like this, just the two of us…very romantic don’t you think” Sascha laments, wiggling his eyebrows in that mockingly suggestive way.

Isi smacks his shoulder gently, “don’t make fun I’m serious,” she huffs. “It’s so annoying to see everyone kissing their significant others at school knowing I have to wait 7 long hours to see you.” Sascha smiles affectionately at Isi’s dramatics. “Don’t worry…I’ll make it up to you after school I promise,” he says, fixing Isi with a heated glance.

“You always do” Isi purses her lips, grinning. It takes everything in his will not to push Isi into the wall and kiss her senseless right then and there but instead he settles for tightly squeezing his hand. We have all the time in the world, Sascha reminds himself as they continue hand in hand through the streets of Berlin, faint glimmers of sunlight appearing on the horizon.

ii. dinner at the Inci’s

For as long as he can remember, Sascha had been a welcome guest at the Incis' dinner table, something for which he was forever grateful especially with his parents’ divorce and lack of siblings. Dinner at Isi’s exuded joy and comfort, whether it was the animated sounds of Isi and Umut bickering or Isi’s parents exchanging words in Turkish. Everything about it felt like home and Isi’s family always felt like a second family to him.

With how new everything was, they had subtly avoided bringing up the subject of their relationship with their parents yet, hoping to enjoy the bliss of dating without prying eyes or excessive questioning, no matter how well-meaning. It had been going well so far, they had made it into February without arousing too much suspicion.

It was an evening like any other and Sascha and Isi were lying on her bed, watching an episode of We Are Who We Are, or at least they had been. Somehow Isi had ended up on top of him, their knees bracketing his legs. The show’s audio drowned out by the thudding of his own heart.

“I missed you,” Isi whispered and then bent down to put their lips to his, angling his chin towards her own. No matter how many times they had kissed before, Sascha continuously felt at a loss for words when Isi wrapped her hands around his neck and pressed her lips to his. A faint groan was all Sascha could muster in response.

Propping himself up against the wall so that Isi could sit on his legs, Sascha deepened the kiss, placing his hand on of Isi’s back to steady himself, he edged his tongue into Isi mouth, “Fucking hell,” Isi mumbled, grabbing Sascha by the shirt.

Just before Isi could request Sascha to take his shirt off, Umut, clutching his Nintendo Switch opens her room door, “hey Sasch- oh shit” Umut immediately shields his eyes and bangs the door shut.

“Fuck,” “Oh my god” Isi and Sascha exclaim in tandem and jump apart, but it’s too late. 

“We just traumatized the poor kid.”

Smoothing down her shirt and hair, Isi opens the door and calls out desperately “Umut, Umut, come back here.”

Sascha groans, hiding his face in one of Isi’s pillows. Of course, this would happen to them. He hears their voices echoing in the living room.

“What the fuck…you know what actually I don’t even want to know” Umut exclaims, stalking off to his room and slamming the door shut.

“Umut please just let me explain,” Isi pleads. Nothing.

Eventually, Isi re-enters the room, collapsing on to the bed. He groans, covering his face with her hands, “this was not the way I was planning on telling my parents, now that Umut knows he’s going to tell my mom and it’s going to make dinner so fucking awkward.”

“I can leave and let you talk to them alone if you want.”

“No,” Isi shook his head, “my mom already reminded me to tell you that you’re staying for dinner, she’ll be disappointed if you don’t.”

“But I don’t want to make things difficult” Sascha countered, reaching out to squeeze her hand.

“You won’t,” Isi reassures him, squeezing back.

By the time dinner rolls around, Umut is carefully avoiding eye contact with them both as he sits at his usual spot beside Isi and across from his parents.

“What’s the matter dear? Did something upset you at school” Isi’s mom asks Umut, her eyebrows stitched in concern. She reaches out to rub his hand, but Umut simply shakes his head, keeping his eyes trained on the plate in front of him. Sascha and Isi exchange worried glances. Time to rip the band aid off.

Isi takes a deep breath before speaking. “Anne, Baba, I wanted to tell you something.”

“Okay anything dear” Isi’s mom replies, putting down her fork, her dad doing the same with his glass.

“Sascha and I are dating-or uh we have been since Christmas.” Sascha chews on his lower lip in nervous anticipation.

Anne exchanges a brief but wistful ‘they grow up so fast’ look with her husband before returning her gaze to Isi and Sascha,

“Oh I’m so happy for you both,” she gushes.

“I’m glad you told us. Love is a beautiful thing” Isi’s dad adds, winking at Sascha, who promptly feels a blush rising to his cheeks. 

Isi is too focused on prompting a reaction from his little brother to react to his dad's teasing. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier,” Isi says apologetically, glancing in Umut's direction.

“Don’t worry about it dear…we had our suspicions” Anne adds lightheartedly.

“Umut?” Isi prompts.

“It’s whatever I guess…I just wish you’d lock your stupid door.”

At that, Isi turns to Sascha and rolls their eyes. “Maybe you should try knocking and waiting for a response before you barge in like that.”

“You have to respect Isi’s privacy,” Isi’s dad chimes in, taking a bite of his salad. 

"With that being said" Mrs. Inci adds, directing her gaze at Sascha and Isi "remember that there are other people living here and the walls are not made of cement that's all,". There's an amused twinkle in her eye so they know she's being light-hearted but it earns her a mortified expression from her eldest child all the same.

Sascha on the other hand, almost chokes on a piece of chicken and has to cough to clear his throat, horrified at the thought of what Isi's parents have heard. Instinctively, Isi reaches out to grab Sascha's hand in a comforting  gesture, Sascha squeezes their hand back reassuringly while Isi's dad launches into a story about a man wearing the strangest hat he'd ever seen in the on his way to work.

Umut has finally stopped pretending to be deeply interested in the food on his plate and is now smiling as Mr. Inci animated hand gestures. Sascha smiles at the scene before him, breathing a sigh a relief, normalcy restored. 

iii. bed rest

“Hey na, are you feeling any better?” Isi’s voice sings through the phone. What time is it? he thinks. The last thing he remembers was getting back from work, exhaustedly climbing into his bed, not even bothering to change his clothes. The shrill tone of his cellphone ringing forcing him out of his stupor, Isi’s contact picture flashing on the screen.

“Sorry what time is it?” Sascha asks rubbing his eyes, despite his apparent nap, he feels as tired as he did when he got home.

“Almost 6…why?”

“Shit…I was asleep for so long.” His voice is hoarse, and his nose feels stuffy, and he can definitely feel the remnants of a headache aching in his skull.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound good,” Isi assesses. Her voice sounds a million miles away over the sounds of his stuffy sinuses.

“Hold on I’ll be there in a little bit” Isi informs him matter of fact-ly. Before Sascha has the chance to protest, she’s hung up the phone. Sascha groans, not his ideal way of spending a Friday night. He’d woken up that morning with a sore throat but he’d popped a lozenge and powered through his day but now his entire body felt stiff.

Sascha dozes in and out of consciousness until he hears the telltale signs of Isi unlocking his apartment door using her spare key. When he looks up, Isi is standing in the doorway of his bedroom “worse than I thought.”

Immediately, Isi begins taking items out of a bag he’d brought with him. Sascha watches her remove a Tupperware container, a thermos, ointment, a blanket.

“Did you pack up a whole cupboard there,” Sascha jokes.

“Here eat this,” Isi instructs strictly, removing the lid from the container. It's steaming.

“What is it?” Sascha smells the liquid, it smells like lentils.

“Soup silly.”

“Did you make this?”

“My mom did."

Sascha takes a sip with the spoon Isi handed him “Thanks, habibi. And tell your mom thanks, it's really good.”

“Of course. Drink this too,” Isi motions to the thermos. “Wait hold on.” A minute later, Isi returns, mug in hand and pours the liquid into it. Sascha sets down the soup, graciously accepting the mug. It smells lemony.

“Its lemon-ginger tea. It’ll soothe your throat.”

“Thanks, Is, you didn’t have to do this.”

Isi waves his hand, dismissively, “you're family habibi you know that.” She reaches out to stroke his cheek. It’s such a tender action, Sascha almost wants to cry. Instead, he reaches out to kiss the tips of Isi's fingers, murmuring an “I love you" against Isi's skin. Instinctively, a blush colours Isi cheeks at the loving sincerity of the action. 

It's not the first time they've said it to one another since they'd begun dating but somehow the worry in Isi's voice when they'd called on the phone, and the unhesitating way they'd come to attend to him when all he had was a stupid cold, convinces Sascha of Isi's feelings more than anything else. 

Isi turns to retrieves Sascha's laptop from his desk, climbing on to the mattress and settling next to him. “What are you in the mood to watch? Sickness means mandatory Netflix binge.”

“Hmm…maybe a comedy.”

"Friends it is," Isi decides. Sascha shifts so he can give Isi the blanket which he's wrapped in, which Isi silently accepts. Maybe he's still groggy but as he looks over at Isi concentratedly queuing up Netflix, he can't help but think that he's never been so happy to be sick in his life as he is right now.