I heave a heavy sigh. We’re out of milk, again. It’s too late to go out and get some at the shops, and anyway, I don’t want to walk by myself in the dark. Cereal will have to wait till morning. Unless… I tilt my head, considering. Do I want dry cereal? Yeah. Yeah I do.
I walk back to my room, dipping my fingers in the bowl and enjoying the clinking noise against the ceramic. Abruptly, I stop, as a not so pleasant noise drifts from Pedr - Peter’s room. Padding to the door, I place an ear against the wood. The sounds are clear now; soft, gasping sobs that leave my breath twisted inside my chest.
I debate with myself whether I should go in. But the gradual escalation from sobs to panicky dry heaves makes up my mind, and I rap quietly on the door.
There’s a choked sound, and the noises stop. “Just a minute.” Comes a heavy, controlled voice. The voice you get when you’ve temporarily sucked in all your tears and pain inside in one breath.
A deep shuddering exhale and a couple of shuffling noises later he tells me to come in.
I turn the knob and peek my head cautiously into the gloom. “Peter?” I ask, trying not to let my feelings creep into my concerned tone.
“Balth.” His tone is dead. It’s frightening. I flip on the light to see him better, and immediately wish I hadn’t.
He winces away from the brightness, his eyes bloodshot and glassy, and not just from crying. His whole room reeks of alcohol and cheap cologne. The shirt he hastily donned is inside out, and he’s clutching his jacket in his hands, trying to hide their shaking.
“Pedro.” It’s out before I can stop it. He winces again.
“What do you want?” It’s not sharp, just exhausted.
I walk to the bed and gingerly sit down on the edge. Not too close, but I want to. Everything in me is begging to reach out to him. To fix, to heal, to give anything and everything in the hope of making him whole again, even at the risk of breaking myself.
I settle for a comforting gesture. “You want some tea?”
He barks out a scornful laugh. It pierces right through the tinfoil armor I’ve wrapped around my heart. “I don’t think tea’s going to fix this.”
“You never know. Tea’s very comforting stuff.” My eyes are pleading with him. Play along, let me feel that I’m helping you.
He catches the look. Twists his hands deeper in his jacket and nods. “Yeah, okay. Tea is good.”
A little sigh of relief escapes me. He’s letting me help him.
I don’t think I’ve ever made tea so quickly in my life. My brain is on autopilot, I’m trying to think of what to say. There has to be something I can do besides hot beverages. The tea kettle whistles and I jump, thoughts scattering like waterbugs zipping away from the ripples of a skipping stone.
Twice, I burn myself pouring the hot water into a mug. Its blue. Like my eyes. The blue mug is immediately discarded in the sink and replaced by a green one.
Pedr- Peter. Peter doesn’t particularly like tea, but my favorite is peach. Perhaps he’d like that. Unbidden, a memory of the time I made him try it springs to my mind. He had laughed and said that he wasn’t surprised I loved it, then called me peaches for the rest of the day.
Almost slamming my fingers in the tea canister, I decide that a lemon tea bag would be best. I cross my arms on the counter, and rest my chin on top, staring intently at the steeping tea. Do watched tea bags never steep?
I burn myself again taking the tea bag out. Honey is my preferred sweetener over sugar, but I don’t know what Peter likes better. After three minutes of intense internal debate, I finally decide on honey.
Shuffling carefully back to his room, I carry the tea and some crackers in one hand and some aspirin in the other. He’ll want that in the morning.
He’s sitting exactly as I left him. Head bowed, shoulders hunched. I clear my throat. When he looks up, his eyes are wet again.
I set the crackers and aspirin down on his dresser. Then gently pull his jacket from his hands, replacing it with the warm mug. He hisses in discomfort as his shaking causes some of the hot liquid to splash out. Bringing it cautiously to his lips, he sips it down a little.
The silence is complete except for his occasional swallows. I sit down on the bed again, feet tucked under my legs, hands tucked under my feet.
“Thanks.” He says. It’s so quiet I think I might have imagined it.
Just as quietly, I say: “It’s no problem.”
“I’m serious, Balth. You’re always doing this kind of thing for me and you don’t have to.” He sets the tea down, and notices the crackers and the aspirin. “I really don’t deserve it.” His voice cracks.
“Everyone deserves kindness.” I believe that, absolutely.
“So you’d do this for anyone, huh?” I can feel his gaze, intent and questioning. He laughs derisively. “Of course you would.”
“Yeah. But…” I swallow. Wanting to say that this means more. That other people don’t make my blood rush and my head spin this way.
The silence stretches on. It’s practically doing yoga at this point.
He breaks it again. “God, how the fuck did we get this way?”
What way? Awkward? Uncomfortable? Heartbroken? “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Like this!” He gestures between the two of you. “So distant, and reserved.”
I don’t have an answer.
He drags a hand through his messy hair. “How did I get this way?”
I can’t answer that either.
“It was just supposed to be a rebound, Balth. One stupid one night stand. And then it turned into a string of one night stands.” He’s not looking at me anymore, just mumbling down at his hands.
“I feel so empty. I’m just trying to fill it. I’m just trying to feel less lonely. Ever since we left Messina, I feel like I’ve lost myself. After what happened with Hero and then what happened with us, I feel like everyone hasn’t really forgiven me.” His raised voice is shaking as hard as his hands. “I feel like there was this great expectation, all this fucking pressure for me to be Pedro, all round great guy, the perfect Prince of Messina High, but I irrevocably fucked up.” He turns to me, eyes sharp with pain. “That’s why I changed it. Because I don’t deserve it anymore. I don’t think I ever did.”
I’m gaping at him, I’m sure. So much makes sense now. Pedro had always held himself to higher standard. Feeling like he’s not meeting that standard, like he’s let everyone down… I should have seen it. Should have known that the incident with Hero, and the mess between us was going to affect how he saw himself. I should have made sure he knew I had forgiven him.
“Peter, when we said you were an all round great guy, it was because you’re a good person. Someone kind, someone who cares.” I touch his shoulder to get him to look at me. I need him to understand. Need him to believe me. “No one is expecting you to be perfect, except maybe you. Not being perfect is okay, making mistakes is okay, being lost is okay.”
His eyes are locked on mine, desperately drinking in every word of comfort. “We all were really upset about the way you acted towards Hero, but you, you’re my… you’re our friend. Of course we forgive you. Of course I forgive you.” His breath hitches in his throat, the composure he had forced was beginning to crack. “You may not think you deserve that name, that title, but I do. I wish you could see you like I do. I wish you could see, Pedro.” A broken sob compressed into a shaky breath shudders through him.
“Balth, I, I,” He chokes on another sob, the tears running freely now.
Nimble and calloused fingers press against his chin and chest. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, Pedro.”
He presses his soft, wet cheek against my hand. My heart decides its new career is being an acrobat. My lungs decide to understudy.
“Pedro.” That’s not my voice. Where did that mouse come from?
He lifts his head and, oh sweet personal space, there are his lips. His lips are so pink and full and right ther- I move with him before I can think anymore. His tongue is sharp with alcohol, tangy with lemon and so sweet with honey. I moan, I don’t want to taste anything else ever again. His wide palms are on my waist, or maybe they’re in my hair. I feel drunk. No, if this is what drunk felt like I’d be an alcoholic. He presses his teeth into my bottom lip, and the nerves down my back seem to flatline. He’s pressing kisses to my neck and moaning my name. I could write music non-stop for the rest of my life and never find a sound as beautiful as that.
As his hands slip under my shirt, the cold air shocks a shot of reality through my brain. This isn’t right. Not like this - he’s sucking hickeys on my adam’s apple and I want him to do that everywhere, but no, I can’t, not like this. I pull away from him so fast I fall to the floor in a tangle.
I lie panting and shaking, tears springing to my eyes because everything feels so jarringly wrong without him now. I want to give in and go back to his arms because how can I go on normally after knowing how that feels, with him.
“Balthazar.” He whispers my name, and this time it's not a prayer, it's a plea.
I stagger to my feet. Perhaps the drunk analogy was more correct than I thought. Or maybe drugs. Coming down from Pedro was hard. “I can’t. Pedro, I’m sorry. I just…” I begin backing towards the door. “I can’t. Not this way.”
The fear that lances through his eyes shreds the tinfoil armor of my heart completely. He’s standing, approaching me slowly, his eyes desperate, talking quickly. “Balth. I’m sorry. Listen, Okay? Just don’t go. Stay, please. Stay with me. Nothing has to happen.” He finds my hand and threads his fingers through mine. “I promise. Nothing has to happen. Just… don’t leave me.” I can feel his pulse banging through the back of his palm like a trip hammer. “I don’t want to be alone tonight. Please.”
I look into his pleading brown eyes. I’ve written at least twenty songs about those eyes.
I tighten my fingers over his and nod.
His intense expression relaxes along with his taut posture. Still holding onto to my hand, he guides me back to the bed.
When he lies down next to me he makes sure a good distance is in-between. I smile softly. I should have known not to be worried. It’s Pedro. I scoot back a little and reach behind to find his arm. As I drape it over myself, he sighs, finally in contentment.
His fingers are dragging through my hair gently as I drift off to sleep. Perhaps he wasn’t completely “healed” but I had helped. And that gave me hope. Hope for Pedro, hope for Pedro and me.
“I told you tea is pretty comforting stuff.” I mumble sleepily.
His light puff of laughter warms me, and chases the darkness from my dreams until the dawn.