“Dad, can I talk to you?” His father barely looks up from his newspaper and grunts to indicate ‘yes’. Stevie sits opposite him at the kitchen table and plays with the left over milk in his cereal. This would be a lot easier if his father was actually looking at him. “If you want money for something, you’re going to need to wait” his dad says distractedly as he reaches for his mug of tea “That’s not it. This is… important” he says sombrely His father folds the newspaper and places it beside him, “What have you done?” He sounds bored It hurts that his father automatically assumes that he’s done something – even though its true. Is it so hard to believe that not every move he makes is a mistake? Stevie steadies himself and takes a deep breath – just rip the plaster off, he thinks – “I got Alex pregnant” His father sits there and simply blinks at him for a few seconds. Stevie is reminded of a similar scenario that happened in this very room not that long ago, “You did what?!” He feels himself shrinking in his seat and decides that its best to keep his mouth shut. “For god’s sake Stevie, how in the world could you be so stupid ? After all that I’ve done for you so that you could go and have a proper future. You go and cock it all up. Well done, lad” Heat rises to Stevie’s cheeks and he’s a mixture of embarrassed and guilty and angry – how dare he stand there and judge him? He doesn’t have a fucking clue. His father scrapes his chair back and begins to pace along the width of the kitchen before pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers and breathing slowly, “She’s going to have the baby?” “Yes,” Stevie whispers “And you two have decided to keep the baby?” “Yes,” even softer now “Right” he nods, “You two are going to need to find a flat. I’m sure there’ll be a place on the estate that’s free at the moment. You need to get a job. Maybe Alex can find one once the baby is born? I don’t know about school-” “Dad!” Stevie says, shocked at the direction their conversation has taken, “I can’t…” he trails off “What?” he places both palms on the table and stares Stevie directly in the eye, “Did you have another plan, son?” No words come. “I thought so. You’re going to do the right thing, Stevie. No shirking responsibilities, no sitting on your ass – enough of that has been going on. When things like this happen, you need to step up and be an adult. Don’t run away. Be an adult ” Stevie thinks of waking up one morning to find that his mother had left, gone, vanished, run away. “Yes, dad” * Stevie sits on a bench by the river at dusk, hands tucked into his jacket pockets – the air beginning to grow cooler as they day draws to a close. “Hey,” he smiles at the familiar voice and allows a pleasurable chill to run down his spine as Xabi sits down beside him, “Why’d you want to meet here? We could have had pizza in my room” “Its nice out, though” Stevie responds genially “Its cold!” Xabi whines before looking around to check for people. Confirming that the area is deserted, he snuggles up to Stevie and places a soft kiss on his jaw Stevie strokes his arm up and down the Spaniard’s back before letting out a deep sigh – now or never – “Xabi, Alex is going to have the baby” Xabi sits up with a jolt, “What?” “She couldn’t go through with it” he explains, “She went to a surgery to have the procedure done but she panicked and phoned me, asked me to come and get her. We talked about it for a long time and then I took her home. And then we talked about it the day after that and… she’s keeping it” Xabi stares at him in shock, “Wow” “Are you ok?” Stevie asks nervously “Yeah… yeah. Its just that after you said Alex was going to- you know. I stopped thinking about it. I started pretending that it wasn’t real, that none of it had actually happened. But now it is” and there’s nothing I can do about it he doesn’t add “I’m so sorry” Stevie says, desperate not to hurt him Xabi shakes his head, “What happens now?” “My dad wants me to get a job. He’s found a flat for me and Alex to stay in on the estate – its really grotty but he says he’ll pay someone to put on a lick of paint. Its all just happening so fast,” he buries his hand in his hands, “I need a fucking cigarette” Xabi feels tears prick the back of his eyes and he has the distinct feeling that his world is crumbling right before him, “This is going to sound like such a selfish question but… what happens to us ? To you and me?” Stevie lifts his head up to see Xabi watching him with a shaky smile and he thinks he’s going to be sick, “I don’t know” Xabi takes Stevie’s hand and says, “Do you remember what you told me when you thought Alex wasn’t going to have the baby? I remember everything you said, all the things you wanted for your child. If you have to make a choice-” “I cant make a choice, Xabi” Stevie is embarrassed by the way his voice cracks and wavers Xabi smiles through the tears that threaten to blind him, it feels. “I know. So let me make it for you” he presses his lips to Stevie’s ever so softly and feels the other boy gasp against them, “Bye Stevie” He gets up and slowly begins to walk away, ignoring the cries of his name that follow. You’re doing the right thing, you’re doing the right thing, you’re doing the right thing, he repeats to himself. Once he can no longer hear Stevie calling for him, he breaks into a run till he reaches his room. He tries to shove his key into the lock but his hands are trembling so badly. Frustrated, he slams his hand against the door. “Dammit!” he yells, as he slowly begins to unravel. * A week later and Xabi sits in the courtyard of school, copying notes while there’s some sunshine available. He has loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves, his jumper is tossed to a side and there are papers and files scattered in front of him. He stops everything that he’s doing when he notices Stevie walking towards him from inside the building. His immediate instinct is to run, to leave everything lying on the table and just get as far away as possible. But then his notes would probably get blown away by the wind. He sighs in frustration. “Hi,” Stevie says tentatively as he stands in front of the table, biting his lower lip Xabi feels claustrophobic, there’s not enough air, he can’t breathe, “Hi” All of a sudden Stevie moves quickly and he’s sitting opposite Xabi, “The way we left things- the way we ended things… How can that be it?” he asks urgently “Stevie, there are people” Xabi whispers and motions to everyone milling around them “I don’t care,” Stevie says, voice hushed “You’re having a child,” he replies softly, “I’m not going to stand in the way of that. You’re doing the right thing, raising this baby with Alex and accepting responsibility. I’m so proud of you, Stevie” he falters then, “And if that means that I don’t get to be a part of your life anymore, then so be it” Stevie aches just listening to him, though he knows that he’s right, “We cant even be friends?” “It hurts. Sitting across from you now hurts. Seeing you in a classroom looking bored out of your mind hurts. Watching you stuff books into your bag in front of your locker hurts. The thought of you hurts. I couldn’t be around you all the time like before – wanting you and not being able to have you” he looks down and fiddles with his pen, “I cant” Stevie watches him for a few more moments, suggests saying that maybe they should grit their teeth and bear it because how was he just supposed to stop? Stop caring, stop calling, stop knocking on his door in the middle of the night, stop waking up in bed together, how? But he sees how much Xabi is hurting and thinks better of it. “I guess I’ll see you around then” he says, getting up “Yeah,” Xabi’s heart breaks, “See you” APRIL Life moves on with frightening speed and alacrity. One minute Stevie is falling in love for the first time, the next – he’s having a baby with his childhood friend. He goes through the motions like he’s an actor being paid – none of it feels real or tangible and he’s sure that one moment he will wake up – Xabi wrapped around him – and realise it was all a dream Dallas -style. But that never happens. His father gives them the keys to a flat that is not too far from where Stevie grew up – the same dull skies and concrete walls. There are a few pieces of furniture but for the most part, the place is empty. “What are you doing?!” Stevie cries when he spots Alex carrying a box. He grabs it from her and places it on the floor, “No heavy lifting – doctor’s orders!” he threatens exaggeratedly and she laughs before wrapping an arm around his waist “You ok?” she asks him gently “Yeah, why?” She shrugs, “You’re just quiet. And I know you like to do the broody, macho thing but this is more so than usual” He places a kiss on the top of her head and gives her a squeeze, “I’m just tired. Once all this bloody moving is done, I’ll be fine” “Sure?” He nods firmly, “Now, will you go and lie down while I do the rest of this please?” “Fine, fine!” she reluctantly agrees before going to find some respite in the room that they now call their own Stevie stands surrounded by boxes of clothes and pictures and old football magazines. He begins unpacking one box labelled ‘KITCHEN’ – there are a whole lot more left to go. He thinks of old plans – Europe, a flat in London, a whole other life with a whole other person. He sighs. And the world spins madly on . - 5 months later - SEPTEMBER Xabi is walking to his room from the park and its raining so heavily he’s sure he can make out hailstones. He watches as a figure some distance from him struggles with his umbrella that has been seemingly destroyed by the weirdly torrential weather. He watches as the umbrella is thrown away angrily and the figure begins to stomp off even as the storm increases in fervour. His breath catches in his throat when he realises that its Stevie – even through the rain, he can make out the line of his shoulders and the way he holds himself, hunched over. “Stevie!” he calls out as loudly as possible, “Stevie!” The other boy turns toward him and Xabi points at the sturdy umbrella above his head before motioning for Stevie to join him beneath it. He watches him hesitate for a few seconds before running his way Xabi doesn’t say anything except, “It’ll take you some time to walk back home” Stevie nods and they run all the way back to Xabi’s room, both soaking wet and shivering. They haven’t spoken or seen each other in months. Stevie had been busy with the flat – moving in and making sure it was liveable. He had then gone on a job hunt, sorting through wanted ads in the post office and the back pages of newspapers with a red marker and phone pad. Alex’ pregnancy had been coming along well though she often had cravings that found Stevie shopping for pickles and vanilla ice cream in the middle of the night. He would stay up with her watching old movies and drinking camomile tea when her cramps got too bad. They weren’t in love but they had always genuinely liked each other and that made it easier when Alex occasionally brushed her lips against his or Stevie held her to him when they slept in the same bed at night. Xabi, on the other hand, had been busy with exams and assignments and coursework and extension classes. They had kept his mind occupied while he applied for universities and went on interviews. In the summer he had gone on a tour of the South of England with a group of people from his Business class – too long tense, it had been nice to relax with people he liked, get really drunk, throw up after going on a rollercoaster, sing karaoke music badly, be a teenager. They had both been busy. They stand outside Xabi’s door awkwardly. Stevie drips water onto the floor and Xabi says, “Maybe you should come inside. At least till it stops raining?” Stevie nods, “Thanks” He steps inside and is hit by a wave of memories – the way they used to share vodka while sitting at the foot of the bed, sex in the shower of Xabi’s en-suite bathroom, lying tangled in the sheets early in the morning. He swallows thickly and tries to concentrate on remembering how to breathe “How have you been?” Xabi asks, because the silence is louder than any sound either of them could make at this point “I’ve been ok. You?” “Yeah, I’m fine. Is Alex ok? The baby?” “Yeah, they’re both fine. She’s due in a few weeks actually” “Wow” “Yeah” “It feels like just yesterday-” “I know” And suddenly they’re both crossing the distance between them and they’re in each others arms, kissing aggressively as though they’d never been parted, as though they hadn’t seen each other in years “We should st-” Xabi starts breathlessly but he’s silenced by Stevie’s mouth on his again. He tangles his fingers through the older boy’s wet hair and moans. He’s missed this so much . He fumbles with the edge of Stevie’s jumper before pulling it off and tossing it aside. He kisses every inch of naked skin available and Stevie clings to him, thrusting forward and whimpering before pushing Xabi backwards onto the bed. Xabi props himself up on his elbows and goes near delirious at the look of pure wanton lust in Stevie’s eyes. Then his jeans are being slid off his legs and he’s lifting his arms up so Stevie can take off his shirt; it lands with a plop in the growing wet pile. They’re both naked and Stevie straddles Xabi but is surprised when he’s pushed back down and Xabi runs a hand down his body from his neck to his thigh. He kisses him, “Mine” he whispers possessively and Stevie shivers before saying hoarsely, “Yes, yours” They relearn each others bodies – familiar crevices, old spots that still remain sensitive to the touch. Tasting, kissing, sucking until they’re both writhing on the bed and panting restlessly. Stevie slips inside Xabi when they can no longer bear it and the sensation is so powerful, so meaningful, he comes almost immediately – Xabi close behind him. Trembling, they lie in each others arms – just like the first time. “I love you. I cant stop” Stevie says as he strokes the roof of Xabi’s mouth with his tongue “I love you ” Xabi replies, awed that this is happening again when he was so sure that it never, ever would But then there is a distinct noise that begins to grow louder and louder – Stevie’s phone. He groans in frustration and reluctantly pries himself from Xabi’s warm arms. He turns back to face him and says, “I’m just going to turn it off” Xabi smiles at him but then stops when he sees the frown on Stevie’s face. “What’s wrong?” he asks “It’s Alex. Is it ok… do you mind if I answer it?” Stevie asks nervously Xabi feels tendrils of jealousy curl in the pit of his stomach but he shakes his head as Stevie presses a button and lifts the phone to his ear. “…What?! How is that possible? Fuck, fuck, fuck – I’m coming” “What happened?” asks Xabi as he sits up, worried “Alex just went into labour” Stevie says as he begins to search for his clothes that are strewn across the floor “I thought you said she was due in a few weeks?!” “Its premature… Oh, fuck” Stevie is frantic as he pulls on his socks and Xabi notices that his hands are shaking “Stevie, you need to calm down” he says as he too puts his clothes on. “I’m coming with you but you’re not going to be of help to anyone if you keep panicking like this” “Xabi, I can’t do this. I can’t be a dad. I’m not ready and I’m going to be so horrible at it. Children! God, what the fuck were Alex and I thinking?” he wrings his hands Xabi laces his hands through Stevie’s, “Sssh. Calm down. You are going to be fine. And you’re going to be a good father. I have so much faith in you, Stevie. No one has to get it right immediately and you wont but the thing is, in time you will. If anyone can, its you. That baby – boy or girl – is going to grow up so, so lucky because it’ll have you in it’s life.” He repeats it again but slower this time, “You’re going to be fine . Ok?” Stevie breathes in and out, “Ok” “Well, lets go then” * Xabi stands in front of the nursery with a sense of calm settling over his bones. He can clearly mark out one cot where a baby lies without crying, wrapped in a pink blanket, hands fisted and curled towards mouth. The tag in front is neatly labelled with ‘LILY-ELLA GERRARD’ She is almost perfect , he thinks - her porcelain skin with only a slight red tinge and the strands of pale blonde hair on her head. He thinks about how she is part-Stevie and part-Alex. A constant reminder that at one point the two of them were joined together. He does not think about Stevie’s confusion that night. He does not think about the three bottles of Bacardi Alex had downed beforehand. He can not begin to imagine the hard concrete of the bathroom stall floor with the blaring noise of the club just a minute away. He looks at Lily and he remembers his first time with Nagore. He remembers wanting so badly for it to be special and memorable and perfect. Because he wanted someone to write poetry for – someone who made him want to write poetry. And maybe, maybe, this was the way to get there. He had read books and self-help guides and watched endless movies. So when his friend Mikel had to house-sit his uncle’s villa by the lake, it was suggested that a bunch of them go. He arranged with Mikel for the others to spend one day on a walk and Xabi bought candles which he lit and potpourri which he scattered aimlessly. He snuck his mother’s best linen out and found a box of Swiss chocolate and a bottle of expensive wine. He had kissed Nagore slowly outside the room because they had both been ready and he could see the happiness in her eyes. And when they lay on the bed, they weren’t two people in love but they were two people who loved each other and Xabi failed to see how anything that was NOT beautiful could be borne from something like that. The thought of that night and the thought of Alex and Stevie feeling those things – feeling them for each other with Lily as proof, as actual legitimate evidence – hurts so suddenly and with such acute sharpness, he gasps. He hears footsteps behind him and then a hand is placed on his shoulder, “God, she’s gorgeous isn’t she?” Stevie murmurs. And Xabi nods because how can he not? “She kind of looks like you” Stevie chuckles, “How the fuck can you tell?” “Language! There are children here” “Woops” “And it’s the frown. Just like her father – even when she’s asleep” “I can’t believe I’m a dad” he says it slowly like its still sinking in and his mouth has trouble forming the words Xabi turns around abruptly, “Stevie, I need to tell you something. And I know that its probably not the right time but there’s never going to be a right time so I’m just going to say it, ok?” Stevie straightens up and nods, “Ok” “I’m leaving next week. I’m going back to Spain for good” Stevie feels like a trap-door has been opened beneath his feet, he’s falling and he keeps waiting to land but all he can taste is endless vertigo, “What?” “I was only supposed to be here for a year. That was always the original plan – and well, a year is now up” he sighs heavily and leans back against the wall “But-but- you..” Stevie struggles to find the words, the constricting emotion in his chest seems to also be messing with his ability to speak “We made a lot of plans that did not pan out so well” he says sadly, “I applied to that University in Spain I’ve always wanted to go to and they accepted me. Classes start soon” “Am I supposed to say that I’m happy for you?” he chokes out “It would be nice” “Well, I’m not!” he hisses so he doesn’t have to scream – they’re still in a hospital corridor after all, “You’re just going to go?” “Stevie, you spent the last five months without me. And you have that beautiful girl back there, now. I’m just… the past” Xabi says this even though it kills him, even though the realisation hurts more than Stevie will ever now Stevie feels tears well up in his eyes and he wipes them away with shame, cursing himself for being such a thirteen year old girl, “We were supposed to… god, so many things” Xabi closes his eyes and tries to dull the pain in his chest, “Hey, one day if you’re in London and I’m in London…” Stevie lets out a cross between a laugh and a sob, “I used to hate pretty much everything till I met you” Xabi smiles weakly and turns back to face the nursery, “When she grows up, don’t be one of those lame fathers who threatens every guy that looks at their daughter twice” “I don’t know how I’m going to handle tomorrow, let alone the next ten, twenty years” he says with a sigh Xabi brushes the back of Stevie’s hand with the tips of his fingers, “All in good time” * The day before Xabi’s plane is booked to leave, he visits Stevie’s flat at the estate. Its brighter than his old one, he notes. The walls have been painted yellow and Alex has hung pictures and paintings on the walls, a vase of sunflowers rest on the living room table and there’s a throw as well as large cushions scattered on the floor. “Alex is just out getting some supplies and I’m on baby duty. Do you want anything to drink?” Stevie asks as Xabi sits down “No, I’m good. Thanks” Stevie sits himself opposite Xabi and smiles though its tinged with sadness, “You’re going to be amazing” he starts, “Once you get that degree of yours and you apply for some top-flight job. I bet you’ll have to wear a suit and people will call you ‘Sir’ or you know, whatever they say in Spain. I’m happy I knew you, Xabi” Xabi’s voice is strained with emotion when he says, “I still remember the first time I saw you outside the club. I thought you looked like such an idiot. It was freezing and you had your sleeves rolled up so you were obviously trying to act like you didn’t give a shit. And the way the cigarette dangled from your mouth” Xabi rolled his eyes, “Maybe I loved you then. Right at that moment” “Do you still? Love me?” Xabi shrugs like its not even a real question, “I always will. Trite and clichéd as this is: you changed my life. I came here to escape, to learn and instead I fell in love” For a moment, a comfortable silence settles over the room and then there’s a gurgling sound. “Ah!” Stevie says and Xabi watches as he goes to the crib at the edge of the room and picks up his daughter, settling her into his arms. He hates Alex then, for having what he so desperately wants and now will never have. He knows he’ll be happy one day, eventually – and maybe it wont be with Stevie, maybe it wont be in England but someday. And maybe Stevie wont get to travel Europe or have his flat in London but as he gazes adoringly at his daughter he thinks someday , too. Stevie looks up at Xabi and his eyes have lit up – they have both grown so much in the space of this one year, “Do you want to hold her?” Xabi smiles back at him, “I’d love to” THE END.