all these years
(a story of us)

Noah’s father had knelt down in front of him on the curb in front of the school before the morning bell had signaled that it was time for the droves of children to pour into the hallways. Both of his palms had weighed down Noah’s shoulders, his eyes kind, as he tried to syphon some of the nervous energy that was radiating from his son to himself.

“You’re going to be fine,” he began, Noah twitching beneath his hands, “It’s a new school. A brand new start. It’s not going to be like it was in Queens. You’re a smart, kind kid. Go out there and show them what you have to offer.”

The words had echoed through his thoughts as the hour hand crept agonizingly slowly around the clock face. Every class period was the same. Stand up, introduce yourself, tell us where you’re from. Each time, Noah’s gaze fixed on his intertwined fingers, avoiding the eye contact of the curious sets of eyes seated behind each desk like the plague.

A tangled mess of nerves had settled into his gut as the lunch bell sounded. Noah stayed seated at his desk until the rest of the class had filed out, taking the opportunity to slowly pack his belongings back into his worn Jansport, allowing adequate time for the rest of the class to fill the cafeteria. By the time he reached the hub of preteen social interaction, his peers had already reclaimed their seats and were excitedly boiling over with explaining the ins and outs of their summer vacations, all while fabricating some of the more minor details.

Noah took his place in the lunch line, offering up his tray when prompted by the kitchen staff, as two students talked about how fat Rachel had gotten over summer break. The money had been dug out of his pocket for the subpar meal that had been spooned onto his tray and he faced the moment he’d been dreading all day -- finding somewhere to sit.

Chewing on the inside of his cheek, his eyes scanned the sea of heads that had already found a place, searching for any empty spot that he could claim at his own. Whether or not it was true, he felt like everyone in the room was staring at him -- the weird kid from New York. Like his past had followed him here. Like he’d never shake it, no matter how far away he got.

“Hey.” The greeting over his shoulder barely registered to him as he cradled his lunch tray to his chest. “Earth to New York. You in there?” It took a solid moment for Noah to snap back to reality, turning on his heel with a brow questioningly raised and a finger pointed toward his own chest. The boy standing behind him was taller by a good couple of inches, dark hair falling over his brow with hands stuffed deeply into his front pockets.

“Who, me?” History told him to be cautious -- to remain guarded.

“Who else?” The other boy watched him curiously, Noah’s shoulders casually shrugging toward his core at the question as he bit down on his lower lip. “You want to come sit with us?” The question marinated in his mind as he tried to gauge the other boy’s intentions. There was an effortlessly cool demeanor that radiated off of him, but he didn’t seem like the type that was harboring any kind of malintent. He seemed honest. Noah wanted to trust him. Tapping his fingers against the plastic lunch tray, he dipped his chin in a nod.

“Sure.” The smile that tipped up the corner of the other boy’s lips was infectious, and Noah found himself mirroring the grin while he shifted his weight to his other foot. “I’m Noah.” The boy tipped his head in the direction of his table as Noah filled his lungs with a deep breath.

AUGUST, 2015

It was mid-August, and the humidity that rolled in off of Back Bay made being outside completely and totally intolerable. Rather than spend time struggling to breathe in air so thick it could be cut with a knife, Noah had opted to sack out in the solace of his air conditioned bedroom, chilled to a comfortable 68 degrees with his headphones pulled low over his ears. Somewhere across the country, a twelve year old with balls the size of Texas was calling his mom a whore. Rather than engage in verbal fisticuffs with a preteen he focused all of his energy on sniping him out as many times as humanly possible, camped out in his favorite spot on the map, just waiting for him to wander through his crosshairs.

Summers weren’t as fun since Teddy had taken off for the West Coast.

His phone had gone off multiple times but he’d become adept at ignoring it. It vibrated against his comforter, the continual hum proving to be so irritating that Noah had absentmindedly reached over to power it down. It was probably Tyler, phoning in to tell him about the six foot tall, brilliantly tanned Amazonian he’d bedded over the weekend, none of which was the least bit embellished. A wide grin spread across his face as his back leaned into the mattress of his twin bed, Playstation controller dangling precariously between his fingers, racking his mind for all of the obscenities that both Teddy and Tyler had taught him over the years to use as ammo against his opponent.

The dismay in the voice on the other end of the headphones wasn’t enough to drown out the sound of the knock on the door. Noah pulled the headset off of his ears, allowing it to encircle his neck, and pushed himself off of the floor. Tyler didn’t normally knock -- he was more of a barge in first, ask questions later kind of guy -- and the last person Noah was expecting to see was his mother on the other side.

“I know I gave you a key, mom, but a little head’s up?” Before she had a chance to answer, the look that was painted across her face registered to him. It was the same mixture of shock, sadness, and regret that had been splashed across her features when she had knelt beside his bed and told him that his father had died. “Wait. What’s wrong? What happened?”

The delay between his question and May’s answer didn’t bode well for him. There were subtleties in the way that she was acting that were setting him on edge. It was the way that she wouldn’t meet his eyes for more than a few seconds at a time before dropping her gaze to the floor, the white knuckled death grasp that she had on her phone, the fact that all of the rosy pink that normally pooled in her cheeks had disappeared, leaving her pallid and sallow.

“What happened?” The question was repeated with more fervor this time as his heart began to respond to the adrenaline being released into his system. The loading menu music from the game he had been playing was still pulsing through the headphones around his neck, providing a melancholy soundtrack for the scene unfolding in front of him.

“I -- we, we tried to call you. It’s Teddy. Noah, there was an accident…” While he was sure May continued to talk, continued to fill him in on the what, where, and why associated with the truth that she had just revealed to him, he didn’t hear any of it. It was almost as if the world had faded away into a pool of white noise. There was an accident -- his mother had used those exact four words to tell him about his father, and now she was reusing them to tell him about his best friend.

Moments passed in silence before he found himself seated on the side of the bed with no recollection of how he had gotten there. May’s hand was reassuringly rubbing circles against his back as his chest heaved with ragged breaths, his fingers tangled in the damp curls at his temples. It had been years since his nervous system had betrayed him, but he found himself falling headfirst into an adrenaline soaked cascade, not unlike being thrown into the deep end of the pool before learning to swim.

“We have to go out there,” he managed, wiping the wetness from his cheeks with the back of his hand and looking at his mother with stinging, bloodshot eyes.

“Noah, we should probably let the family --” Noah shook his head, shying away from her touch, with hands falling to the mattress to use it for stabilization as he pushed himself off of the bed.

“I’m going out there, with or without you.”

If she was affronted by his verbal slap in the face, she didn’t show it. Instead, she pulled her lithe frame off of the twin bed to stand beside him, her arms encircling his despite his persistent need to get away from her. “Noah,” she began, her chin resting on his shoulder as she pulled him close, “It’s okay. We’ll go. We can go.”

The fight drained out of his body and he felt himself relax into her, his forehead dropping against her shoulder, utilizing her frame as a means of support as a new onslaught of tears threatened to spill over the bottom of his lids. Waves of guilt washed over him. For not calling more. For not visiting more. For those texts that he had meant to answer. For those texts that he had meant to send. For not letting him know exactly how much he cared about him. About how much he loved him -- even though he couldn’t ever adequately put it into words.

And when he sat next to his hospital bed later that day next to the broken, sedated shell that belonged to his best friend, truths had rushed from his lips that he hadn’t even been able to confess to himself. Noah had lowered the bedside railing, gotten close to his ear, and told him all of it.


APRIL 9, 2019

The only light in his bedroom is the blue glow of the laptop screen that illuminates his features. Noah’s been cooped up for most of the day – or, most of the semester – sequestering himself away from any and all social contact and devoting most of his time and energy to the master’s thesis that leers back at him from the other side of the screen. Despite the fact that his roommates are literally right on the other side of the door, he sticks to talking to them through briefly worded iMessages and through short, punctuated texts. His fingers are poised over the keyboard, tapping softly against the keys as though that might bring some sudden strike of inspiration, a figurative lightbulb over his head, but nothing. His brain is spent. A hand runs down the length of his face, resting on his chin, just as the soft ping of a message notification is emitted from the speakers of his keyboard.

It’s Teddy, because of course it is. They banter back and forth like they always do, a flush rising to his cheeks on more than one occasion, his heart speeding up with every beep. Because that means that somewhere in the apartment, Teddy’s focused on him. Maybe not to the extent that Noah is focused on Teddy – but it’s something.

This thing that he’s been harboring for his best friend has spanned the course of months now. Years. It’s been long enough that Noah can’t remember the last time he looked at Teddy as simply his best friend without the yearning tug in his gut telling him that he wanted more. He’s terrified to his core to tell him, because he loves what they have. Teddy is the kind of person that he can trust with every one of his deepest, darkest secrets. He’s the person that laughs at all of his stupid jokes and picks him up when life beats him down. Without him, he’s not sure he would have kept going through MIT.

Another ping. Something about Tinder. Noah fires off what he thinks is a witty reply about a cosmetologist that he’s supposed to be seeing tonight. He’s not sure why, except that on a subconscious level, he’s hoping it makes Teddy a little jealous. The bubbles on his screen indicate that Teddy is typing a reply, and Noah doesn’t realize he’s been holding his breath.

Then Teddy makes some offbeat crack about swiping right on him. The 21st century’s version of ‘do you like me, circle yes or no’. It’s like all of the air is suddenly sucked out of the room. He’s dizzy, his hand resting on his brow for a moment as he tries to come up with some reply that doesn’t automatically give him away, because this is what they do. Their relationship has been this back and forth bromance for as long as he can remember, and he’s not sure if Teddy is intentionally throwing him a clue, or if he’s just fucking with him like he normally does.

Noah’s fingers touch the keyboard as he adjusts his back against the wall. The floodgates are open. Before he can reel it back in, he’s spilling all of his truth out to Teddy from the safety of his room, the words splashing against the screen in an array of pixelated confessions. When he’s finished, his head rests against the wall, his eyes squeezing shut as he waits for the inevitable axe to fall.

The notification sound sends a sharp chill down his spine and he needs to fight to open his eyes.

The adrenaline coursing through his veins makes it hard for him to focus on the words. feelings have always been there, never felt that way for another guy before. Noah’s hand is still resting on his brow as he offers an out. we can put it off. And then Teddy is asking him out. Offering to take him on a real date. Noah hardly realizes the involuntary grin that’s spreading across his face.

you know where to find me, teddy.

JULY 9, 2019

A low groan slips from between his lips as the light streaming through the blinds in their bedroom begins to warm his skin, his arm lazily reaching up to cover his eyes. Noah is, as he always is, hyper aware of the form lying next to him in the bed, and his first instinct is to roll to his side to bury his nose against the side of his neck. A hand draws across the skin of his chest, his fingers trekking across his shoulder to come to rest at the spot just below his ear. Teddy is used to this by now -- the fact that Noah can never truly be too close to him, and he barely stirs as Noah hitches a leg around his hip.

“Happy three months. Ninety days. 2,160 hours and... 129,600 minutes.” The calculation comes after a brief mental pause, the numbers shuffling around in his head so quickly that he’s praying Teddy doesn’t double check his math. If anyone would catch him in a mathematical misstep, it would be the understated genius lying in bed next to him. Noah uses his position to pull Teddy’s side firmly into his chest, lips finding the sensitive spot behind his ear, his palm flattening to cup his neck.

This has become their new normal. They’ve fallen asleep together in an entanglement of limbs and sheets almost every night for the last three months. Noah and Teddy have worked their way through beds and couches in three different states but he’s happiest when he’s waking up with Teddy here, in the california king that the two of them bought together, in the apartment that they’re making a home. The fact that the fall and Teddy’s return to Boston are looming on the horizon registers as a sucker punch to the gut whenever Noah gets too comfortable, but for now, Teddy is here. With him. Distractedly naked beneath the sheets.

“I was fully prepared to get up and make you breakfast today,” he mumbled, his lips still complacently attached to the side of Teddy’s neck, “But that would involve leaving the bed, and I don’t know that I’m physically capable of doing that. At least not yet.” Noah’s fingers impatiently trailed down the length of Teddy’s chest, tracing over the definition that he’d become so familiar with over the last couple of months, to stop directly over his hip bone.

“...Unless you’d rather ring in the big day with some overcooked eggs. In which case…” A soft sigh escaped his lips, actively traversing the length of his neck, as Noah deftly drew his leg across Teddy’s to straddle his waist. The fact that Teddy had brought up MIT registration had made Noah acutely aware of how much time the two of them had before he shipped back down to Boston for the fall semester. Their perfectly cultivated routine had an expiration date, and no amount of talking it out on the roof was going to prepare him for it.

Noah’s eyes searched Teddy’s as an arm rested on either side of his head, his chest pressed into his boyfriend’s in a way that allowed him to feel his heart rhythmically pulsating against his own. The ache of wanting -- needing him to be closer isn’t something he’ll ever fully get used to, but he can feel Teddy beneath him through the thin fabric of the sheets, and he knows it’s mutual. Noah’s self control is shit when it comes to Teddy, and any thought of breakfast goes out the window the second his mouth opens against his boyfriend’s.

Every time they kiss, it's like a song. There are fireworks. Electricity. It's beautifully eloquent poetry in motion. Noah allows himself to get lost in him, breathlessly and begrudgingly pulling away after a moment to rest his forehead against Teddy’s.

This is what he wants every day for the rest of his life. This is why he’s going to propose.