East Village, Manhattan - January
“Isak.” Even smiled, then licked his lips. “Wanna go back to my place?”
It was cold outside, cold and bitter and dark. Isak was wearing his favorite Nike jacket, a scarf that didn’t match, and a reversed snapback.
“Aren’t you cold?” asked Kelly, the girl he was practically forced into going out with.
“No, I’m fine,” he replied in English, trying to hide the fact that he had a runny nose.
They were at Webster Hall, a nightclub and concert venue in East 11th Street, in the Studio downstairs for a ‘Crywolf’ concert.
Isak had no idea who Crywolf was. He just thought it sounded pompous. I hate this hipster shit.
He had only been to Webster Hall one other time for a college club night with other kids under 21 from Columbia, and he had hated it.
He hated the fact that they made him wear different color bracelets and that everybody could tell he was under 21. He hated the mainstream music blasting from all corners. And most of all he hated the girls who would just appear out of nowhere and grind against him.
“Isak, dude, are you fucking gay or what? Get on that shit,” said Markus, an obnoxious german exchange student he met during orientation a few days prior.
Yes, Markus. I am in fact very fucking gay. Fuck you very much.
Isak left before everyone that night. He took the first Q train from Union Square then switched to the 1 line in Times Square. When he got off at 125 St an eternity later, he stood in the cold until his cheeks felt like they were being slapped. He then walked home, curled up in his twin bed, and slept. Cold, lonely, and alone.
I should just go back to fucking Oslo.
When Isak announced to his friends in Oslo that he was going to Columbia University in New York City for a year, they were all slightly taken aback.
“Bro, that’s awesome. But where is this coming from?” said Jonas, who could always tell when things weren’t right.
“I saw a poster and I applied. It’s a great school, Jonas,” Isak replied.
“I know it’s a great school, what the fuck. But a year? Is your mother okay with this? And how are you going to pay for this?”
“Listen, Jonas. My mother doesn’t have to be okay with this. I barely see her. Besides, it’s a fellowship, so I’m actually getting paid to go. I’ll get monthly stipends and stuff.”
“Still, New York is expensive,” Jonas said.
“I know that. I’ll work part-time. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”
Isak figured it out. He ended up working at the school bookstore for 20 hours a week, the maximum his visa allowed. It didn’t pay much but it was okay.
Isak was okay, really. His decision to essentially flee the country and run to the other side of the globe wasn’t at all a rash one. No, this was a great learning opportunity. Isak was going to be happy, reinvent himself, and feel good in his skin.
Except, he didn’t. He had this big fantasy about how he was going to just come out, and fall in love, and feel good about who he was. But as soon as he started talking to the other exchange and visiting students during orientation, his walls started going up again.
So when Markus asked him if he had seen any hot girls around, Isak replied with ‘Yeah bro, New York girls are so fucking hot’.
Wow so much for reinventing yourself. Fuck you, Isak.
So Markus kept shoving girls in his arms and sharing his phone number with all these ‘American chicks’ who found Isak tall and dreamy. Kelly was one of them.
Isak installed Grindr during his first week in New York. After the initial shock, he became used to receiving the nastiest messages on his phone. And after a few days, he started sending some back himself. He agreed to meet up with this guy who looked like he was in his twenties at a Starbucks near Herald Square. After waiting for thirty minutes, he realized that he was in the wrong one.
When he finally recognized the guy sitting in one of the tables, his heart started beating very fast in his chest, so he fled.
Isak didn’t remember his first time. It was in Oslo during his third year in High School. He had wandered into a gay bar after ditching the boys at a party. He was so drunk, he couldn’t even say his own name. The guy was barely taller than him but his arms were strong, and he roughly shoved Isak’s face against the wall. “Stop whining,” he said into his ear.
Isak hated all of it. And when it was over, he called Eskild to pick him up.
“What the fuck, Isak? Who did this did to you?” he yelled.
Isak was an unintelligible mess, so Eskild ran a hand in his hair while he cried in the cab.
The next day, he confronted him about it because “Whoever left these bruises on you needs to be fucking quarantined.”
And when Isak told him he couldn’t remember, Eskild said “Don’t sleep with someone without knowing their last name.”
“I don’t even know his first name,” said Isak.
On the third try, Isak managed to face his Grindr date. They met at a Dig Inn around Midtown and talked for an hour. He was older, in his thirties. Not exactly handsome, but he had a warm gaze.
He won’t hurt me.
The man took him back to his apartment in the Upper East Side, squeezed his thigh during the entire Uber ride, and kissed him hungrily the moment they got to the door.
“You’re so perfect,” said the man.
Isak didn’t say anything. He just took what he was there for, even if it didn’t make him feel much. The man’s gaze was warm, but he quickly became aggressive, shoving Isak’s head into the mattress, and calling him 'a twink'.
When he stepped on a toy on his way out, he realized that it was a two-bedroom apartment and that all the pictures showed a man, his wife, and a little kid.
Fucking shit. Maybe don't trust a guy who refuses to tell you his last name next time.
Isak was sitting in his room in Harlem when he got a message from Kelly.
‘Hi Isak. I have tickets to Crywolf and nobody wants to go with me :((((((( HELP‘
Kelly was a freshman at Columbia. She was nice, with brown hair, green eyes, and a warm smile. Isak couldn’t stand the way she talked, but he knew that she had a ‘crush’ on him. She constantly felt the need to remind him that he was ‘so tall’ while linking their arms together. He had ditched her multiple times, and he was feeling so lonely that he decided to join her for this damn Crywolf concert.
“Aren’t you cold?” said Kelly.
“No, I’m fine,” Isak replied.
The music was overwhelming. It wasn’t Isak’s style at all, but the bass reverberated through his chest and the lyrics were getting to his head.
“I need a miracle now
And I’m not spiritual”
It was a cozy and dark venue but you could still see people’s faces if you stared hard enough. There couldn’t have been more than 200 hundred people in the crowd. There was a bar next to the stage, and Isak desperately needed a drink just to numb the feeling of Kelly’s hand around his forearm. But the bracelet around his wrist was a reminder that he couldn’t get one.
He scanned the room for faces. Is everyone as empty as me here?
“Give me something to think about
That’s not the shit in my head”
His eyes stopped on a neon yellow headband, then went lower to look into the eyes of its beholder.
He was tall, taller than Isak probably. He was wearing a white t-shirt and holding a denim jacket over his shoulder between his thumb and index finger. His blond hair was ridiculously styled, his lips were big and full, and a cigarette was propped behind his ear.
His free hand was placed on the stomach of the girl grinding against him. And most importantly, he was staring right back.
“I know it’s chemicals that make me cling to you, cling to you”
Isak held his gaze for a moment.
“I said you’re a miracle.
He then got flustered and looked away, then back at Kelly.
“Are you okay, Isak?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah. Uhm. I’m just gonna use the bathroom for a second,” he replied.
Isak made his way to the men’s room in the back of the venue, and sighed.
What the fuck was that? Shit.
Isak washed his face, then jumped when his phone buzzed. It was Kelly. She wanted to know if he was okay.
“Ugh she’s so fucking clingy and annoying,” he muttered to himself in Norwegian.
“That’s not very nice,” someone replied in English.
Isak turned around and saw the boy from earlier, standing mere meters away from him, arms crossed, a smile on his face, looking like the sun, probably.
“Uh, what?” Isak asked in English.
“I said it’s not very nice, what you said about that lovely girl,” said the boy.
“What are you talking about?”
“I like your accent,” said the stranger instead.
“I don’t have an accent!” Isak scoffed, although he did have one.
“I never thought I’d meet a fellow Norwegian in the toilets of Webster Hall,” said the boy in Norwegian, smiling and raising his eyebrows.
“You’re Norwegian?” Isak switched the language as well.
“Yup. Oslo, born and raised,” said the boy, taking the cigarette from behind his ear. “Come outside.”
Isak stood there, confused. Come outside? Where? Why? Who are you?
For some reason beyond his own understanding, Isak followed the guy outside as he greeted the security guys and said that they were only going to smoke.
The boy then sat on the pavement and Isak sat next to him, leaving some space between them. He had no idea what he was doing.
The boy lit up the cigarette, then offered it to Isak.
“Uh, thanks but I don’t. I don’t smoke,” said Isak. “I mean I don’t smoke cigarettes but I smoke weed sometimes.”
Isak was nervous and oversharing.
“Okay,” said the boy, putting the cigarette back between his lips. “So what is a young boy like you doing here on a Saturday night?”
“I’m not young,” said Isak.
“Well, you can’t be over 20 judging from that bracelet.”
“Uh yeah. You got me there,” replied Isak, his other hand shooting up to hide the bracelet.
The stranger smiled and bumped their shoulders together. Isak was feeling things.
“So how do you know that lovely girl you left inside?” he asked.
“Oh shit, Kelly. Fuck. I don’t know. This dude set us up,” Isak replied honestly.
“Do you like her?” The guy asked while holding his gaze. His eyes were so blue.
Isak was flustered. What is this? Is he flirting with me?
“I don’t know. Do you like the girl you were grinding against?” Isak said instead.
“Hmm. Not my type,” replied the stranger.
“Oh yeah, what’s your type then?” Isak teased, then held his breath.
The stranger took another drag, then turned to look into Isak’s eyes.
“You,” said the guy, very simply.
Isak’s breathing hitched. He had absolutely no idea what to say.
Okay. Okay. This is good. This is really fucking good. Say something.
“Uh well -,” Isak started.
But then Kelly came out the door.
“Isak! There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Are you okay? I was worried,” she said.
“Oh! Hey. Sorry I just. I was just talking to, Uh..”
“Hi. I’m Even,” said the stranger who now had a name in English, extending his right hand to Kelly. “We ran into each other in the bathroom and got a bit carried away, sorry. We used to go to the same school in Norway. Can you believe it?”
Isak had no idea what this guy was talking about.
“Oh my god, are you Norwegian, too?” said Kelly.
“Yes,” replied Even, with a smile.
“Holy shit, and you just met in the bathroom? That’s so amazing!” she chuckled, then seemed to remember something. “Oh shit, we should go back inside, he’s about to play my favorite song!”
Isak sat there in stupor as Even stood up and offered him a hand.
“Come on, Isak . She says it’s her favorite song,” he said.
Isak liked how he said his name the right way.
So he took his hand, ignored the drumming in his chest, and seconds later they were back inside.
“I love this song so much,” Kelly yelled over the loud music, gripping Isak’s left arm.
“Resting on your bones
Bowing to your throne”
Even was standing behind Isak. They weren’t touching but Isak’s stomach was in knots.
You. My type is you.
The crowd got crazier as the song picked up, and very soon Kelly’s hands left his arm and were thrown in the air, matching the beat.
“I’m weaker than you know
Fading just below”
When Isak felt Even’s hands on his hips, he jumped and bumped into the person in front of him.
“Sorry,” Isak said.
When Even’s hands gripped him harder and pulled him towards his chest, Isak felt his knees give out.
Shit shit this is happening.
He let Even manhandle him and melted into his touch, not worrying about Kelly seeing them as she was too busy losing her mind over the song.
“I’m rising and I’m falling
And I’m losing all control.”
He let his head fall backwards and pushed back against Even’s hips.
So when the taller boy let go of him completely, he lost his balance and almost fell.
“Shit, Isak are you okay?” said Kelly.
“Uh, yeah, just tripped on a cup or something,” said Isak.
Fuck. What a tease.
Even never touched him again. He stood next to him instead and smiled at Kelly as they sang some of the words together.
The concert was over before he knew it, and Even was looking at him with an amused smile on his face.
Fucking tease. Are you one of those straight assholes that enjoy doing this to -
“Isak, I’m going to the bathroom. Wait for me so we can go to campus together!” said Kelly, before leaving them in the dark corner where they were standing.
“Okay,” he replied.
Even was still there, looking at him, studying him.
“Uh, so it was nice bumping into you, Even,” said Isak, not looking at him. “May you bump into more Norwegians in the city.”
Even didn’t reply. He just stepped closer into his personal space.
“Isak.” Even smiled, then licked his lips. “Wanna go back to my place?”
Isak’s mind went blank.
“I said -” Even moved a hand and rested it on Isak’s waist. “Do you wanna go back to my place?”
His breath was hot against Isak's cheek, and a feeling of tightness started spreading around his chest and in his pants.
“I. Uh. I'm. I'm a guy," said Isak.
What the fuck, Isak.
"I thought so. I'm a guy, too," he said.
"I don't know, I could have been trans."
"What?" Isak's vocabulary was suddenly very limited.
"Are you transphobic, Isak?" said Even, suddenly very serious.
"Good. Good," said Even, his smile back on his face. "So, will you?"
"Will I what?"
"Go back to my place. Your friend will be back soon. We don't have much time," Even smiled then ran a warm hand against his cheek.
Isak was lost. He virtually knew nothing about this boy who was trying to lure him into bed besides the fact that he was Norwegian, hot as hell, and good with words.
He could be a serial killer. He could be like dangerous and stuff. Look how he lied to Kelly. SHIT Isak. STOP.
"Yeah. Okay," Isak said, his lips parting slightly.
"Yeah?" Even's eyes lit up, his right hand still on Isak's face.
"Yes, yes. But, but I have a question," Isak breathed.
"I'm all ears." Even's thumb was ghosting over his lower lip, and his eyes were roaming his face.
Isak looked at him long and hard, then thought about every single time he ended up walking home at the strangest hours, sore and hurt and alone.
"What's. What's your last name?" Isak finally said, his chest heaving.
Even looked at him for a few seconds, then tightened his grip on his waist.
"Bech Næsheim. Even Bech Næsheim."