Wednesday, 27th March 2013
It wasn’t so much a downward spiral I was in as plummeting down an endless black abyss.
My work, my living situation, my love life, my life in general.
I was currently at work. It was late, people were drunk, the bar was busy. And I was behind it, ready to not give a fuck at all anymore, as I mixed various drinks for everyone crowded around the counter.
My cousin Jo worked opposite me, at the other end of the bar.
It was thanks to him I’d got a job here in the first place. I’d been grateful—at first.
Now I hated the place. Hated the people. I wanted to be on the other side of the bar, be one of those getting smashed-out-of-their-minds drunk. I wanted to mingle, wanted to go on the pull.
I didn’t want to be the sober one serving drinks.
When we switched places, and it was my turn to be in the back and out gathering empty glasses, I snuck a shot of Vodka with me. I emptied it in one swallow and it burned down my throat.
Pushing through the throng of people to gather empty glasses made my skin crawl. Everyone was chatting over the music, all were drunk or on their way, everyone laughed and were happy.
I’m not happy.
I’m so far from happy I don’t even know what happy’s like.
The night dragged on.
I snuck some more shots. Then the clock said two, the bar didn’t serve any more drinks. We started cleaning it as we waited for two thirty—that was when people had to leave.
Once the bar was empty, we cleaned the rest of the room. Jo and I put all the chairs up on the table so they wouldn’t be in the way for those who washed the floor in the morning.
‘You okay, Ben?’ Jo asked as we worked.
So far from fine.
‘You’ve seemed a little down lately, is all.’ He regarded me for a couple of seconds before he turned away.
I hoped that was it. I didn’t want him, or anyone else, to pry into my business. My business was my own—I didn’t want anyone to dig into it.
It was the last of it, thankfully. Jo didn’t say anything else, besides good night when we closed the place and went our separate ways.
I headed home, all but dragging my feet.
The house was dark, as it should be.
Thomas was asleep, excited to drive five hours in the morning to go spend Easter with his boyfriend. His bag was already in the hall, ready to go.
Maria was also asleep. I had no idea if that weirdo of a boyfriend of hers were still around or not. He probably was.
And that was it.
Kristina had moved out, Andreas was in the army. Except he had Easter off—and Alex had headed off to Oppdal to meet him and the rest of their group of friends.
I was all alone in the basement.
I should like it. I didn’t have to hear Andreas and Alex have sex anymore—because they were bloody loud.
But I hated it.
I wish Andreas can come home now. And bring Alex with him.
Except when Andreas came home from the army, they wouldn’t stay long. They’d move down to the capital, or wherever Andreas got into the Police Academy. Then they’d be even further away than they were now.
Maria would leave too, for school. I knew she’d applied to a lot of them, the closest three hours away by boat or even longer by bus or car.
Then it would just be me.
And my uncle, but he had his boyfriend now. Who would probably move in once summer came around and school let out.
They were all shacked up.
Kristina was with Jo—cousins and dating. It was weird, but none of my business. Andreas was with Alex. Maria and that quiet bloke of hers. Thomas and Leo… then there was me.
A major fuck-up.
I had no idea what to do with my life.
What did I want?
Certainly not to stand behind a bar every fucking night. I wanted a place of my own, but that was expensive. I wanted someone to share with. But the person I was in love with lived nine hours away—and he had no interest in me.
He was also my best friend.
Thomas had a shelf full of alcohol in the living room. As he hardly ever drank, the bottles had been there a while, piling up. I peered at them in the dark room, trying to decide which one to get.
Bacardi Razz or Bacardi Apple?
Razz would be too sweet for my mood.
Apple it is then.
I snagged it, uncorked it, and took a swig directly from the bottle. It burned. But it was a good kind of burn.
Back down in my room, I collapsed on my bed without so much as turning the lights on. I almost tripped over my strewn clothes on the way but made it there safely.
I took another swig of the rum.
I should’ve got something to mix it with.
But I couldn’t face going back upstairs to retrieve soda. It was better to simply lay on my back and stare up into the darkness. Everything was dark around me, all the time. There wasn’t a single bright spot in my life.
Alone, miserable, no idea what to do with my life.
The only thing I enjoyed was sex. And lately, there was only one way to get that around here. But I’d been avoiding Tarjei, too.
It didn’t do me a world of good though. It only left me in an even fouler mood, because now I couldn’t even get a shag.
‘Fuck this.’ I sat up, took a long sip of the rum, and stood up again.
I’m going to see him. Have sex with him.
It was the only thing that would make me feel better.
But I brought the rum with me.
I held the doorbell in and eventually heard motion on the other side of the door. Then I stepped back to wait, not so patiently.
The door cracked open and Tarjei glared blearily out.
‘What the hell?’
‘Hey.’ I shoved past him into the flat.
‘Ben?’ He turned around to look at me.
The flat was dark, so the only light was the one from outside. Tarjei’s auburn hair stood up on one side and was ruffled on the other.
He rubbed sleepily at his eyes.
‘It’s the middle of the bloody night.’
‘It’s getting close to morning, actually.’ About four thirty or so, if I should be sort-of-exact.
‘Even worse.’ He closed and locked the door, so he wasn’t about to throw me out.
He never does.
Tarjei was always up for a shag. He never said no to me. Not ever. Here was someone I could always count on.
He headed into the bedroom without a word.
I chucked my shoes off and followed, taking a long swallow from my rum. I’d kept it mostly hidden inside my jacket on the walk over, in case the police drove by and saw me. I was not up for getting a ticket for carrying alcohol around in public.
‘Get in bed, Ben.’ Tarjei pointed at the other side of the bed. ‘You’re drunk.’
‘So?’ What did that matter? ‘I’m here. I’m willing. I want to fuck.’
‘I don’t. I’m knackered. Get in the bed. And sleep.’ Tarjei rubbed his hands over his face, yawned widely, then fell back into bed. He pulled his duvet up to his shoulders and curled up with his back to me.
‘The hell?’ I took another quick swig from the bottle. ‘You’re fucking boring.’
‘We can fuck in the morning,’ he promised in a murmur.
I frowned down at the dark lump he made on the bed. When he didn’t budge, I sighed dramatically and deposited the Bacardi on the bedside table. Then I shucked out of my jeans, socks, and shirt—I was still in my work shirt, as I hadn’t bothered to change—and slipped under the chilly covers.
I glared at Tarjei in the dark.
‘I’m having your arse tomorrow morning.’ No way was I offering up mine when he was being such an uptight dick.
‘Fine,’ was the only mumbled answer I got.
‘You’re such a wanker.’ I turned around so I lay with my back to his back. After another sample of rum, I curled up, waiting for the sheets to get warm around me.
I didn’t remember them warming up, because I fell asleep. There was just something about Tarjei’s bed that always made me sleep like a rock.
I woke up warm and comfortable.
I stretched, groaned, and inched my eyes open. The room was full of light now, from the window on the opposed wall. The curtains were drawn, so the sun shone straight onto the bed.
‘Fucking hell.’ I wanted to bury into the sheets, but as I turned my head I found Tarjei leaning in the doorway, watching me silently. ‘What?’
‘What the hell kind of stunt was that last night?’ He came into the room, to loom over me on the bed. ‘You can’t just show up in the middle of the night expecting sex. And reeking of alcohol.’
‘I do not reek.’ I hadn’t had that much to drink.
‘You do.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘Go take a shower. You can borrow some of my clothes, even if they’ll be a bit big for you.’
‘Since when did you get so fucking uptight, huh?’ Now I remembered why I’d avoided Tarjei lately. He’d been acting weird for a while now.
I threw my feet over the edge of the bed and made to stand— then instantly regretted it as my stomach roiled.
‘Come on!’ Tarjei grabbed my shoulders and escorted me into the bathroom. He pushed on my shoulders next, and I willingly fell to my knees in front of the toilet.
This isn’t what I want to be on my knees in front of.
But my stomach roiled again and next thing I knew the contents of it came back up.
Fuck, I hate throwing up.
I almost choked on it.
Tarjei was behind me, alternating between stroking and thumping my back.
‘Get it all up, Ben. You’ll feel better after.’
I didn’t drink that much last night.
Or maybe I had. I’d drunk rum straight from the bottle. Not bothered to go to the fridge to find something to mix it out with.
I clutched at the toilet as I continued to retch, using it as my fucking lifeline.
‘There you go.’ Tarjei’s hand was a warm, welcome touch right now. Usually, I hated it when he pretended to care like he’d done a lot lately—hence why I’d been ignoring and avoiding him.
But right now it felt good. Like I wasn’t all alone. Like someone actually did care.
I sat for a long while in front of the toilet, long after I finished retching. My stomach was still funny, but it was empty. I needed it to settle before I dared move away.
‘Here.’ Tarjei thrust a glass of Coke at me. ‘It’ll help with the nausea.’
I took a tentative sip, not at all sure I should be drinking anything in case it came back up again.
It didn’t come back up—so I slowly finished the glass. When I handed it back to Tarjei, who’d been standing there watching me the entire time, I finally managed to stagger to my feet.
My toothbrush was where it always was, because yes, I had my own toothbrush at Tarjei’s place. I’d used to stay over so much I’d had to have one on my own. It was the only thing of mine that stayed permanently in his flat though.
‘Are you up for a shower?’
Not really, but I must stink even worse now after all the vomiting.
‘I’ll go make breakfast then.’ He left me alone in the bathroom, closing the door after him.
Normally I would’ve suggested he join me in the shower, but I wasn’t in any shape to fool around right now. So I washed quietly—carefully, so I didn’t upset my stomach again—and then wrapped a towel around my waist.
My clothes were strewn on his bedroom floor.
A folded pair of joggers and a T-shirt lay on his bed.
I grabbed my own underwear, but otherwise dressed in what he’d laid out for me.
Then I padded barefoot into the living room and over to the kitchen area. He had an open-floor plan, with a table separating kitchen and living room. I plunked down on a chair at the table and put my head in my hands.
The smells of an omelette cooking nauseated me all over again.
‘Here.’ He sat a box of crackers down in front of me. ‘Better for your stomach.’
I glanced over at the omelette in the frying pan. He only had one plate out, though, so he hadn’t planned on giving me any anyway.
‘Thanks.’ I took one of the salty crackers and nibbled on it.
‘Were you at work last night?’ He turned the oven off, put the omelette on the plate, and came over to sit across from me.
‘Didn’t you get enough of drunk people there?’ He stared at me intently. ‘Why’d you start drinking afterwards?’
I shrugged, avoiding his gaze.
‘Haven’t seen you around for a while. You started going somewhere else?’ Tarjei always used to be out partying. I always looked for him, because he mostly frequented the bar where I worked.
‘No. I started not going at all.’ He focused on his omelette now, cutting it up into pieces. ‘I want more out of life than to get drunk and party every night.’
I narrowed my eyes.
‘What, so you want the white-picket fence and two and a half kids?’
‘I want neither of those, but I do want a calm, quiet life. Preferably with someone.’
My eyebrows climbed up my forehead.
‘You want a boyfriend? Going exclusive?’ That didn’t sound good for me. Tarjei was the one I went to for steady sex. Everything else had dried up in this town. There didn’t seem to be anyone gay—or even bi or bi-curious—left.
‘Anything wrong with wanting that?’ He pushed the omelette around on his plate, not looking up at me at all.
‘Everyone’s shacking up.’ I sounded petulant, and I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. ‘Even Thomas has a boyfriend. Thomas, who hasn’t had anyone ever. Today he’s going off to spend Easter with Leo, just the two of them.’
‘Isn’t that good? He’s never had anyone but you kids, and now he has someone special to him. You should be happy for him.’
Tarjei’s words stung.
‘I am.’ Insofar as I could be happy about anything. ‘It’s good for him. But everyone seems to shack up with someone, and I’m left behind.’
He sighed heavily.
‘You can shack up with someone too.’
A bitter laugh left me.
‘And who would want to shack up with me?’
He looked up at me.
‘You’re a great guy, Ben.’
My eyebrows climbed upwards again.
‘You’d want that, huh? After four years of shagging with no talk about anything else?’
‘You were always clear on the fact you’re in love with Nik.’ Now he sounded bitter. ‘My fucking brother, Ben. I’ve always known you’ve only been shagging me for the past four years because you can’t have him.’
‘He’s coming home for Easter, isn’t he?’
‘Yeah.’ Tarjei looked away again. ‘As if you didn’t know that.’
‘I don’t, actually. I haven’t heard a thing from him in weeks.’ Even my best friend was abandoning me.
He swore we’d always keep in contact before he moved down to Oslo, but here we were, not having spoken for ages. He had a new life down in the capital. An education. New friends who liked the same stuff he did.
He’d probably found a boyfriend too, he just didn’t want to tell me.
I’m such a pathetic wreck.
And everyone knows it.
‘What is so special about Nik?’ Tarjei asked lightly. ‘What does he have that’s so fucking special?’
‘He’s my best friend.’
‘And? There must be more to it.’
I couldn’t answer him.
Why did I like Nik so much? Why had I been in love with him all these years? Even now when I was pretty sure he was avoiding me—because I’d sent him texts, without getting an answer—all I wanted was to see him again.
‘Why do you care so fucking much?’ I didn’t need him to care. No one cared. Why should he pretend to be any different? ‘You don’t have to butter me up for sex, you know. I’m here, I’m willing. You can have my arse if you want if yours is off the table. We don’t have to talk, have this bloody heart-to-heart. Let’s just get down and dirty. That’s what we do best.’
He sighed again, even more heavily this time.
‘I don’t want just sex, Ben.’
‘Then go find yourself some nice girl you can take out on dates and dinners and all that American bullshit. We don’t do that here, you know. People fuck. And if they continue to fuck, and end up moving in together, then they’re in a relationship. We’ve got the shagging down, but nothing else.’
‘God, you’re such a fucking twat.’ Tarjei’s fork clattered onto his plate. He pushed it away, untouched.
I pushed off the table. A bit too quick for my still queasy stomach, but the cracker I’d consumed stayed down.
‘I don’t even know who you are anymore. Where’s the guy who’d fuck everything that moved, huh? We had a thing going here. Hot sex. That was good. Whatever you’re all about now, I have no interest in it.’
I made a mock-salute, then left without another word. Too late I remembered I’d left my clothes—and also one of my work shirts—at his place. But fuck it, I wasn’t going back.
If he wanted to turn into a big sap, that was on him. He didn’t have to drag me into it. Whatever it was he wanted, it wasn’t for me. It never would be.
Who’d want someone like me anyway?
I winced as the door slammed shut after Ben. He’d slammed it so hard it rattled. I sat there with a futile hope he’d come back once he calmed down—but of course he didn’t.
That was Ben. Too obsessed with his own misery to care for anyone else.
I knew it, yet I couldn’t help but care for him. Four years I’d been with him—if having sex counted as ever being with someone. It certainly didn’t count as the way I wanted to be with him, which I’d hinted to him about just now, and he had blatantly ignored.
Or not believed me.
I threw my omelette in the rubbish, appetite gone after our encounter, and put the box of crackers in the cabinet for next time.
Because there was bound to be a next time.
I worry about him constantly.
I knew he wasn’t doing okay, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Ben was a stubborn son of a bitch.
Four years and counting. I must be the most pathetic loser ever.
The doorbell chimed.
I jumped, hope blooming in my gut, as I skipped over to open it.
Though why should Ben ring the bell?
He’d just left by slamming the door. If he came back, couldn’t he just have walked right in? He had no trouble with that usually.
It wasn’t Ben standing on the other side of the door.
‘Nik!’ I drew my little brother into a tight hug. ‘Why’re you home already?’
‘Mum splurged for a plane ticket for me yesterday, so I wouldn’t have to spend today driving up.’ Nik beamed as he pulled back.
I looked him over. He was so very different from Ben, who dressed all in black.
Nik was vibrant. First, there was his auburn hair, freckles, and green eyes. Exactly like I had, but in all other regards, we were different. He wore make-up, currently black eyeliner—Ben also used that. He also wore skinny, pink jeans, Converse trainers, a white T-shirt that said I like cock with a drawn picture of one underneath—the animal kind, not the genital kind. He also had a pink cardigan on over the tee, as well as rainbow bracelet on his arms to complete the look.
No one was as flaming as Nik. No one could pull it off quite like Nik either. If anyone else wore Nik’s clothes, they’d look absolutely ridiculous. But not Nik, because this was part of him. This kind of style was him. Vibrant, colourful, cheerful, kind to everyone. I could definitely see why Ben had been in love with him for so long.
But thinking about Ben dimmed my mood, and I only managed a forced smile.
‘Great to see you, bro.’
He saw right through me. He came in, toed out of his trainers, and sprawled over my sofa.
‘How’re you doing?’
‘Fine.’ I sat down on the other end. ‘You?’
‘I’m okay.’ He shrugged lightly. ‘Dancing my arse off, trying to be as good at the theoretical part as the practical one. You know, same old.’ He waved his hand in the air as if his life was of no matter. ‘You sure you’re doing fine? You don’t look it.’
‘How do I look?’ I looked the same as I always looked.
‘Bit worried, to be honest. Uptight.’ He studied me intensely. Only Nik’s stare could make me squirm—and it did.
‘I’m worried about Ben,’ I admitted because Nik knew. We’d spoken a couple times about my sexual relationship with Ben, so he knew. Ben didn’t know that he knew—and he didn’t want Nik to know. So it was all secret.
Except it wasn’t, because everyone knew.
‘He said he hasn’t spoken to you in weeks.’
‘He hasn’t.’ Nik worried his lip a little.
‘Are you avoiding him on purpose?’
‘Yes.’ He sighed. ‘I’m distancing myself. He needs to get his head out of his arse and figure out what he’s got right in front of him.’
‘Nikolai.’ I dragged a hand over my face. ‘It’s only making it worse. He showed up here last night, or this morning—I have no idea what time it was, but it was late. And he was drunk. This morning when he woke up he was sick. And then he stormed out in a snit.’
‘What was he angry about?’ Nik’s delicate features took on a bit of worry now too.
‘I told him I didn’t want just sex anymore.’ And he hadn’t given a damn about it.
All he wanted was sex, everything else was trivial to him.
Way to boost your ego, dude, a voice said in my head. He doesn’t want you. He’s only interested in your dick.
‘And that made him angry?’ Nik’s plucked eyebrows rose.
‘He only wants the sex.’ I was tired of that, of going out on the pull, of one-offs, of partying and getting drunk.
I’m growing up.
I’d been an adult for years, but I hadn’t been ready to actually grow up quite yet. Now I was. And the guy I wanted had no interest in such things.
Nik leant forward, intent.
‘Then stop having sex with him. Find someone else.’
‘You make it sound so easy.’ It wasn’t easy. It was bloody damn hard.
‘You dated Yvonne way back when—’
‘And look how that turned out,’ I interrupted. ‘I cheated on her with Ben. Because when he comes knocking I literally can’t say no to him.’
‘You need to learn how to.’ Nik pressed his lips together into a thin line. ‘Just as much for yourself as for him. I’m distancing myself because he needs to get over me. I love him, but never as more than a friend.’
‘So you’re not going to see him during Easter?’
Ben was certainly not going to take that well.
‘I’m not planning on it, no.’
‘That’s cruel, Nik.’
Ben cared so damn much about him. When Nik first moved to Oslo to go to school, Ben had been depressed for weeks. Now he looked forward to the holidays when Nik came home.
Sometimes I thought it was the only thing keeping him going.
‘It has to be done. He can’t be hung up on me. He needs to get hung up on you.’
‘Now that’s not ever going to happen.’ Four years in, and not once had Ben and I done anything but sex. Sex was everything on his mind and if that wasn’t on the table, he didn’t bother sticking around.
‘Distance yourself then.’
And what happens then?
If both Nik and I distance ourselves…
I didn’t even want to think about that. I couldn’t do it.
‘Tarjei.’ Nik understood. But he wasn’t happy about it. ‘I don’t want to hurt him, of course I don’t, but I have to do it.’
I should do it.
I knew that, rationally.
‘God, you’re such a sap.’
Like I don’t know that already.
Can we please change the subject?
Nik crossed his feet.
‘Mum says we’re all having dinner tonight. At a restaurant.’
‘She hadn’t decided when she dropped me off here.’
Mum always went back and forth over things like that. Not that we had many restaurants to choose from, but she still dithered until the last minute.
‘Just tell her to text me and I’ll be there.’
‘I’ll text you. You know she hates texting on her phone.’
I laughed. Mum always rang if she wanted something. She never sent a text. That was far beyond her.
‘I’m looking forward to it.’
And I did. I loved my family—in small doses. Nik had been away since winter holidays two months ago, and I hadn’t seen my parents in a couple of weeks either. Dinner with all of us would be fun.
Of course Mum decided on Steam, the restaurant where Ben worked as a bartender. It was the fanciest restaurant in town—and thus also the most expensive.
Ben wasn’t at work yet. As he only manned the bar and didn’t work as a waiter as well, he didn’t start until ten at the earliest.
Mum and Dad splurged on dinner, and we had a good time. I ordered a beer, Nik some cocktail or another since he hated beer. Dad stayed sober, as he had to drive home, while Mum had wine.
The dinner was fantastic. Dried and salted cod with mashed potatoes and bacon and asparagus. It wasn’t something I cooked on my own, but when I was at a restaurant, I treated myself.
A part of me itched to leave before Ben showed up at work—but the other part longed to stay, to see him, to talk to him.
When he did show up—because my parents weren’t known for being in a hurry when they first went out to eat—he walked with his head bowed, sullen. He seemed utterly miserable.
He didn’t notice us until he was behind the bar either. Then his gaze zeroed in on Nik, who sat with his back to him. Nik, who had no idea Ben knew he was right here—and that Nik hadn’t so much as made contact with him.
Nik didn’t so much as glance at the bar, not even when he left, like he was afraid he would see Ben there and his resolve to distance himself would get messed up.
I let my family walk out ahead of me, then I stepped up to the bar. The rush hadn’t started yet, as the dinner guests were finishing and the kitchen was closing, so I didn’t have to shove through people to get at him.
He didn’t look up, only wiped at some spilt liquid at the counter.
What the hell am I supposed to say to him?
‘I’ll leave a key under the doormat tonight.’ It was all I could come up with.
Now he glanced up, briefly, through his fringe.
That was that. The entirety of our conversation—if it could even be categorised as such.
I had no idea if it was an ‘okay, I’ll stop by’ or an ‘okay, just bugger off’.
Knowing Ben, it could be either.
Nik looked at me as I came outside, but I avoided his gaze. I got into my parents’ car without a word, as did Nik, and didn’t speak until they let me off at home.