At what point did I stop liking going out with the lads? I had done it ever since I had been old enough. Maybe not with Leon and Percy, but it were men like them alright. Percy screamed over the music, in my ear: ‘Loosen up a bit pretty boy! You’ve been no fun since Vivian.’
Because that was the problem wasn’t it? I got overwhelmed with homesickness, aching to bury my face in Vivian’s neck again. Smell her curls and hearing her giggle. My safe space. But Vivian didn’t love me anymore. At least she thought she didn’t. It was a truth I couldn’t stand. I laughed a bit at Percy, let him smack my back. But I thought about Vivian. With her my Friday night would be filled with a spoken word event, which I hated, or an activist lecture. Which I, surprisingly, loved. I wouldn’t understand everything, but Vivian would sit next to me. And she would know exactly which part I didn’t understand. She would lean over to me (I would smell her perfume) and she would softly explain. I had never known I could take so much enjoyment out of learning. I rarely enjoyed college. But then again, my father picked my major.
Percy dared Leon to down a shot. Leon was turning slightly red and besides everything, I laughed. Percy’s laughter and mine were in sync, but then he suddenly stopped. He looked behind Leon’s shoulder.
‘Holy shit, that’s the hottest chick I’ve ever seen.’
Leon and I looked and I heard Leon whistle softly, but my heart stopped. I recognized her in an instant. She had long legs, long arms, long hair, long lashes and a very short black dress. In her right hand she twirled a wine glass, as if this was a fancy event, instead of the club. Her face was decorated with black eye make-up but it had been done more professionally then when I had known her. She laughed hard, at something the boy in front of her said, but her voice was drowned out by the music booming, booming and booming. The lights in the club flashed her in colours of blue and purple and pink. Percy laughed loud in my ear. I could smell the beer.
‘Damn dude I haven’t seen you look at a chick like that since Vivian.’
‘That’s my fucking sister.’
Leon and Percy went silent at once, but I forgot about them. I hadn’t seen her in years. Before I knew it I was beside her.
‘Morgana!’ I shouted, right over the fear that she wouldn’t recognize me. She did, just like I had recognized her. Her eyes went wide.
‘Bloody hell Arthur!’
We didn’t say anything for a few seconds. The music was deafening, but not more deafening than our silence. The boy beside Morgana looked at me curiously, but I ignored him.
‘Why the fuck are you here?’ I was angry, suddenly.
She cocked her head, as if she was amused.
‘I live here. Do you?’
I was taken back. Scratched my neck. ‘Yeah, college.’
Purple colours flashed over her face and I thought I saw her briefly smile. ‘Dad paid your tuition?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Bootlicker,’ was her response.
‘you are wrong about him.’
She sipped her wine. ‘You’re still a spineless coward I see.’
‘I should leave.’
I left, walked over to Percy and Leon who were watching in disbelief, but halfway I turned back.
‘I want to be your brother again,’ it was out before I knew it.
She grabbed her phone out of her purse and showed me her number.
‘See if you can.’
Texting was easier. We insulted each other a lot, but it was better than silence. The boy with her had been Mordred. As far as I could tell he was her only friend, but he was a real friend, so she was still doing better than me. Sometimes the texting got quiet when Morgana edged to a topic I didn’t want to think about and certainly didn’t want to text about. But it was good. I hadn’t known how much I missed her. Like when you haven’t eaten for a long time because you’re busy and then you eat and you’re like: Fuck, I was hungry. It was difficult not to talk about our disagreements though and some things from the past started gnawing inside me. She send me a selfie once, clearly in a hospital. I asked her if she was okay and she texted back:
- I check into the psych ward now and then. You can blame dad for that lmao.
- It’s cool, it’s where I met Mordred. Wanna drop by?
She acted like it was no big deal. Because it was her world. All her contacts where from therapy and such. But to me it was new and shocking and worrying. But I visited her. To my surprise everyone was normal enough. I didn’t get attacked by a naked lunatic in the hallway. It was quiet, maybe a bit too much. Morgana and I played cards in the garden with our coats on so she could smoke. She was huddled up in a black hoodie and hid behind her mask of nonchalance. An act I could not quite copy. I asked her what exactly was going on and she said: ‘Sometimes I don’t want to be alive I guess. So I come here and they give me some oxazepam and Prozac and I can chat with nurses and then I try again. And fail of course, but it’s whatever.’ She blew out smoke.
‘Do you ever act on those thoughts?’ I asked carefully.
She didn’t answer. She lived in a small apartment with a man who always seemed to be high. Some morbid thought occurred to me and I said:
‘You can live with me.’
‘Fuck you. I don’t want your pity.’
‘Shut up, I’m just easing my own guilt woman. Also, you’ll be using dad’s money without him knowing.’
She stared at me. Blew smoke out slowly.
‘Well when you put it that way.’
So that’s how my apartment came to smell like perfume and occasionally black hair dye. And how I started eating actual vegetables.
It was a Sunday when Morgana told me her weird plan. I was reading an article on my phone about white privilege (part of my plan to win Vivian back) with my morning coffee. Morgana planted her butt on the table and put her hand between my sight and the article.
‘I’m trying to re-’
‘I want to start a LGBT dungeons and dragons group.’
I looked up and blinked lazily. ‘dungeons and dragons… as in the game?’
‘With gay people?’
‘And trans and bi, yeah.’
I was silent. Stared at her, processing the information slowly (I did not have enough caffeine).
‘But you’re not gay.’
Morgana looked at me with an expression I had never seen before. Her eyes were searching.
‘I am?’ she said. I didn’t know why she phrased it as a question.
I sputtered. ‘Oh um… That’s great? Well, I mean. I’m totally fine with that.’
But she just stared at me. And stared and stared and stared.
‘How could you have forgotten?’
I didn’t answer. An answer popped up in my mind, briefly. But I pushed it way.
Her ad in a gay magazine got a lot of attention. She soon had four people who wanted to join. And Mordred. And apparently me, I found out when she pushed an empty character sheet underneath my nose when I was trying to study.
‘Your character sheet for DnD.’
‘… but. I’m not gay?’
I think it was Morgana’s version of acknowledging me as her brother. My character ended up being a human fighter (which was the least cool thing ever, according to Morgana) and his name was Zerek. I was proud.
The first new person to enter my apartment for the first session was someone I knew. Gwen was short, with frizzly hair going to all sides and big round glasses. She had brought cupcakes and my heart dropped when I saw her treading behind Morgana. Gwen had been in Vivian’s circle.
‘Oh hi,’ she said surprised when she recognized me. My reaction was about the same but I held out my hand and introduced myself.
‘You’re Gwen right? I saw you at some lectures.’
‘Yeah you were with Vivian. I hope you don’t think this is awkward. I brought cupcakes!’ she handed the box of cupcakes at me, as if they were a peace offering. I smiled at her. She had a round face, tiny silver earrings and her eyes were big and genuine.
‘You were always nice. Maybe we can go to a lecture together sometime.’ I was trying to be friendly, but she was staring at me and I quickly said: ‘At friends I mean. I mean you’re a lesbian, obviously.’
I heard Morgana make an annoyed sound and Gwen started mumbling. ‘No, I was just processing what you said. And I’m bisexual, not a lesbian. But it’s fine. I like friends. Um. Take a cupcake.’
Morgana had crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. ‘Not all of them are gay Arthur.’
I opened my mouth to say something, but Mordred, who was standing next to her beat me to it. ‘I am the straightest person ever. I wouldn’t touch men with a ten feet pole.’
I frowned, ‘Then what are you?’
Morgana made an exasperated sound and said: ‘Oh my god.’
But Mordred just laughed and looked me straight in the eye. He leaned behind to the counter he was leaning onto and looked like he was trying to judge what I was made of. ‘I’m trans,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ I said, surprised. ‘Does that mean you’re going to be a girl?’
Mordred ignored Morgana’s frustrated noises and said: ‘Nah, been there, done that. Wasn’t for me.’
‘Ah okay, that’s cool. I mean, it’s great if you’re happier this way.’
‘I am,’ he said. ‘Very much.’
‘I support that man. Wait, does that mean you-`
Morgana made a sharp noise. ‘Oh my god you’re going to ask if he has a penis aren’t you?’
‘I… well… No? Well… Maybe? But I now realise that’s rude.’
Morgana glared at me, but I was glad to see Mordred could laugh about my stumbling.
‘Most trans people hate that question, but I don’t really mind it. I had the chest operation and I’m on hormones and I don’t feel like I need anything else to feel more man. I’m a man and that’s that.’
I nodded. ‘That’s dope.’
Mordred laughed and Morgana was shaking her head but she did smile. I liked Mordred. He was quiet, but smiled a lot. And he always wore black turtlenecks and made amazing banana bread. Everyone got seated at the round table in the middle of my apartment, but Morgana stood up again quickly, because the bell rang. The second visitor was, there’s no other way to say it, an absolutely gorgeous man. He had wavy short hair, a bit of a stubble and I could see he was fit. The snacks he brought were vegan and he shook everyone’s hand when he introduced himself as Lancelot. I realised he had come in on the exact time we had agreed on. Down to the minute.
The next person was a little later. He was more what I had expected when Morgana told me this group was going to be a LGBT group. The edges of his face were round and he wore a blouse and a tiny scarf. He introduced himself as Merlin and he said his friend Gwaine was later, because ‘he always was.’ He emptied his backpack on the table and a lot of things came out. Drawings, mini’s and notes. ‘So my character is called Brem,’ he said. ‘He’s a gnome wizard who grew up as an outcast in the village he’s from. He has tree fingers because of an accident he got in as a baby.’ He started a long story and Morgana looked interested and went through Merlin’s drawings but I rolled my eyes. ‘Nobody is going to remember this.’
Merlin looked up at me, offended.
Gwen quickly said, ‘Oh I will.’
And Morgana said, ‘Just ignore him, he’s just the token straight.’
But Merlin kept looking at me and suddenly smirked through his challenging eyes: ‘So, what’s your character’s story?’
‘Dead parents and-’
‘I wasn’t finished.’
‘Does he want revenge?’
I was quiet. Merlin’s smirk grew and Morgana looked at our interaction with a glimmer in her eyes.
Merlin took a place at the table and Morgana went to show Gwen something in the kitchen. I sighed and said, ‘You all are going to bully me through all these sessions aren’t you?’
Mordred laughed, but Merlin said, ‘you made fun of me first.’
‘You barge in here, just random rambling a long story about a gnome twink-’
‘What makes you say he’s a twink?’
I grabbed one of his drawings and pointed at the gnome.
Merlin stammered. ‘He just likes shiny things!’
‘He’s a twink.’ I held up my hands when I saw Merlin wanting to protest. ‘But it’s fine. We accept him. Some of my best friends are gnome twinks.’
Merlin laughed, loudly. ‘Fuck you,’ he said. But it didn’t have heat in it. ‘Just wait until this gnome twink beats..’ -he glanced at my character sheet- ‘Zerek’s ass.’
‘Zerek can take on that glittermonster one-handed.’
Mordred frowned. ‘I don’t think you’re supposed to fight each other.’
I nodded at Mordred and then back at Merlin. ‘Yeah, but Zerek’s parents were killed by a gnome. And now he’s racist against gnomes.’
Merlin laughed, seemingly despite himself. ‘You’re making this up.’
‘I’m writing it down right now.’
Maybe dungeons and dragons wasn’t so boring as I had expected. The last person to join the group was Gwaine. He told Morgana she looked ravishing in her plaid skirt and threw his arms around Merlin’s stomach from behind. Merlin started laughing. ‘You have no time for dramatics. You’re late.’
Gwen cooed. ‘Are you two together?’
Gwaine said ‘yes,’ at the same time Merlin said ‘no.’ Ouch.
Gwaine clarified, ‘we’re fucking.’
We started playing and to my surprise, I got into it pretty quickly. Our sessions soon went from bi-weekly to weekly. I projected my own competitive streak unto Zerek, who just wanted to prove he was better than Brem the gnome wizard. Merlin went with it and Brem started challenging Zerek. When Brem started a sentence with: ‘I bet you’re too afraid to..,’ well than it was a guarantee Zerek was going to do it. One memorable session was the time Merlin said. ‘I bet you’re too afraid to fight this monster with one arm.’ And Zerek put his hand behind his back and I had to roll with disadvantage on all my attack roles. Merlin lost it with laughter when I lost to one goblin after that. Merlin and I could have been the annoying people who kept derailing the campaign, but we were also playing with Gwaine. Gwaine was a half-elf bard named Jonathan who thought our campaign was called ‘the Jonathan show.’ Every scene had to be filled with Jonathans dramatic monologuing and he tried to seduce every creature they walked into. He had quickly impregnated some kind of dog-thing. Merlin and Gwen thought it was hilarious, and Morgana allowed most of it, but I thought Gwaine (and Jonathan) was a bit of a tosser. His blouses were always open halfway, sometimes he was tipsy and everything had to be a big show. Luckily Mordred seemed to share my opinion. We often shared an exasperated look when Jonathan went of to rescue some “fair maiden.” Mordred played a rogue draw. His name was Ishmael and he had been a criminal, but wanted to change. Mordred was a surprisingly good role-player. He even nailed the creepy smooth voice. Lancelot was less so. He was basically just himself. He was a cleric and was constantly healing and uplifting everybody. Lancelot was arguably one of the most amazing people to every exist and that’s why he pissed me off a bit. He was vegan, he didn’t drink, he meditated daily, his major was law because he wanted to work pro-bono, and when he discovered we both liked working out he asked me to the gym. I thought I wasn’t entirely in the group, because I was straight and cis and just there for Morgana, but if that was true Lancelot didn’t notice it or didn’t mind. I was delighted to discover I could lift more than Lancelot, but this joy evaporated when Lancelot confessed he mostly did only Kung-Fu and karate. We kept training together, but we didn’t say a lot during it, so I didn’t really know if I could count him in as a new friend. Gwen was amazing. I adored Gwen. She was smart and a hella cute halfling druid. With keeping up with my classes, playing football, supporting Morgana, working out and playing DnD I was losing sight of my plan. When I had started this semester I had only one wish: Get Vivian back. This involved going to lectures and befriending smart professors and going to museums and if I saw her there I would just nod at her. But I noticed I couldn’t do it on my own. So when Morgana said I had to get over myself and meet-up with the other players outside off sessions I texted Gwen:
- Do you want to go to this new art exhibition at Central Museum?
- I’d love to!!
I didn’t have a big connection with art and it turned out neither had Gwen. We talked about politics on the bench in front of a big confusing painting. There were naked women and thorns involved. She told me politics was her major.
‘I just really want to change things for people like my dad. He works all day for just a little bit of money. When my uncle rarely works and is loaded. And of course I’m a black woman, which automatically means you have to be at least a bit political.’
Her face was pointed to the painting, but her mind was far away. With her passion. She was glowing.
I asked, ‘You want to be president?’
She laughed, ‘Well, ideally, yes. But I think that might be a bit unrealistic.’
‘I think you could do it.’
‘Why thank you.’
‘I’m actually kinda jealous. I’ve always been a bit jealous off people changing the world. I’m doing economics.’
‘You can do great things with economics.’
I shrugged. ‘I’m going to take over my father’s business. It’s going to make me very rich, but it won’t make people happy.’
‘Will it make you happy?’
I shrugged. We discussed politics. I remembered a lot of terms from things Vivian had explained to me. She and Gwen were both left, but Gwen more so, bordering on seriously communist. Which might sound a bit ridiculous, but when she started talking about it, she became a different person. She spoke eloquently and confidently, but never elitist. She invited me to a debate at school. Merlin was going to be there too. So naturally me and Merlin already started arguing about the topic in the car.
‘I just think the toilets have to explicitly say gender-neutral,’ Merlin said. ‘An active statement for trans and non-binary rights.’
I disagreed. ‘The main focus should be the gender-neutral toilets in the first place. If they can get through easier when they just say ‘toilet,’ why label them at all?’
‘Because we actively want to challenge people on their ideas of gender.’
Gwen said, ‘you guys are going to remember you are on the same sight during the debate right? You both want gender-neutral toilets.’
We nodded like obedient children, but her comment hadn’t been necessary. We worked together flawlessly. With me giving the arguments and Merlin showing the statistics. It reminded me of Zerek and Brem. Always arguing, always challenging each other, but in the end always working together at the real enemies. I high-fived him afterwards.
‘Nice work, twink.’
‘Shut up, jock.’
Morgana got bad again. Sometimes she shut me out for hours, just playing loud music in her room and only getting out to eat. When I asked her how she was she just hummed. In the end she sat in front of me, her eyes red from crying. ‘I’m going back into the ward. I can’t stay alive otherwise.’
‘Don’t you think… Don’t you think you’re a bit addicted to going there?’
‘Maybe,’ she said. But she went anyway. When I visited her she seemed unresponsive, sometimes responding minutes later. As if she couldn’t really hear me. It was getting colder and Christmas was coming. The dungeons and dragons session got cancelled. Morgana said she was sick. She had only told Merlin and Mordred what was really going on. I was lonely. I went out with the guys from my football team, but I was feeling empty again. I knew we didn’t have a real connection. Before, it was Vivian I missed. But now I realised I also wanted to see our DnD group, but I felt too insecure about our friendship to text them. I started obsessing over food again. It’s something I do when things in life get real bad. I weigh everything I eat and I think about calories constantly. I can’t stop thinking about calories, even in class, and I start flunking tests. I struggled with it a bit in high school, but a counsellor helped me to manage it, at least. It went almost away when I went to college and I didn’t have to live with dad. But with Morgana in my house old memories came back. Morgana laughed when I weighed everything, calling me a health freak, not knowing how much it lived in my mind. And now she was gone, and it got even worse. I missed her and worried about her. One day when I visited her a nurse were there, and I had to sit through an agonizing conversation about self-harm, and how relapses happen, even though Morgana had made amazing progress since the last time she was there. I didn’t know if I was made for this. I wanted to be her brother, but I wasn’t prepared for what that meant for myself and about my family. When I went home after that particular conversation I just wanted to eat and eat and eat. People say when you diet, you deprive yourself of what you need, leading to binge eating. I didn’t want to binge eat. I opened a bottle of Jack Daniels and started to drink instead. Laying on my couch. I didn’t want to cry (my father taught me crying made you weak), but the alcohol only made my pain sharper. Before I knew it the tears came. I wanted to talk to somebody. But Morgana had enough with her own pain. My football friends wouldn’t know what to say, maybe even hang up. And Gwen was too sweet for stuff like this, she might pity me. Before I knew it, I had called Merlin.
‘Hey… okay so this is stupid, but I’m drunk and crying and everything is shit. Everything is shit, most of all my father, but I love and respect him so much. Do you get what I mean?’
A short silence. Then, ‘Do you want me to come over?’
Before I knew it Merlin was sitting next to me on the couch, eating pizza. I squinted at him. ‘Are you judging me?’
‘Not really, to be honest, I have a lot of these moments. Mostly with Netflix and boxes of ice-cream, but alcohol sometimes too.’ He hesitated for a moment, then added. ‘Or sex with Gwaine.’
‘Grosss,’ I slurred. But I also laughed. ‘What do you see in him anyway?’
‘He’s kind and funny and he worships me.’
‘Fair enough.’ I take another large bite of pizza. ‘You in love with him?’
Merlin was silent for a while. ‘I don’t know. I could be, I think. He’s a great person.’
‘So you’re not In love with him.’
He didn’t say anything.
I added. ‘Life’s so fucked. ‘Cause he’s in love with you, so one day you’re going to break his heart. And my father verbally abused Morgana cause she was gay. And I repressed that because I was too weak. And now I have some sort of mild eating disorder I think. God, I love pizza. I should just eat pizza forever and get fat and unhealthy and die. I hate Christmas.’
Merlin looked at me so intensely that I had to look away. He said, ‘you’re not weak. You’re brave for dealing with trauma the way you could. And therapy really does help a lot and you should eat pizza, but you shouldn’t die. I’m going to hug you now.’
So he did and he was warm and smelled like pizza and cheap deodorant.
I said, ‘I can’t believe the first person I tell my life’s problems to is Brem the gnome twink.’
He laughed in my ear. I pulled out a mattress and we had a sleepover. He told me about his father. Who had bipolar disorder, the reason Morgana had trusted Merlin with the information about her mental health. Merlin turned out to be a master storyteller and I couldn’t help but laugh when Merlin told the story of his father buying a plane (without being able to fly) and when Merlin found him talking to a tree during a psychosis.
‘Oh my god,’ I said. ‘I’m going to hell for laughing at this.’
‘It’s okay,’ Merlin said. ‘He’s in perfect mental health now and actually gives lectures about it. He makes these parts sound even funnier than I do.’
I was sobering up and Merlin asked me about Vivian.
‘She was so smart and beautiful, Merlin,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what do without her. I’ve got to win her back. She’s perfect.’
‘Why did she leave you?’
‘Because she’s better than me.’
He snorted, ‘But Arthur! Everyone is.’
I threw a pillow in his face and he laughed and asked me to answer seriously. I told her she had ended it, because her friends were all smart and ambitious and I was too simple.
‘That sounds kind of shitty.’
‘The only shitty thing she’s ever done.’
He went to sit upright and held up three fingers. ‘Okay, name three bad things about her.’
I went to sit upright too and mimicked his pose with the three fingers. ‘Now you really are Brem the gnome with only three fingers.’
He laughed loud and hard and it made me feel joyful.
‘Shut up and answer the question you insufferable hetero.’
‘What did you just call me?’ I couldn’t stop laughing.
‘Answer. The. Question.’
‘Because, I know you want to get back together, but you have to prepare yourself for the chance that might not happen.’ I frowned at him. He laughed and spoke Brem’s immortal words:
‘I bet you’re too afraid to say what’s wrong with your ex.’
I thought long and hard. Maybe too long, because Merlin’s face got serious and it looked like he wanted to say something, when I said: ‘She treated me like a child I guess. And she was the kinder gardener and had to teach me how life worked. I liked how she challenged me to learn new things, but she was always right, there was no room for me to challenge her. I guess she made me feel not worthy enough for her.’
He nodded silently and there was a heavy silence till I asked, ‘and why aren’t you breaking things off with Gwaine?’
Merlin looked taken aback. ‘It’s fun. I’m having great times with him.’
‘But you must have noticed he’s in love with you. He worships the very ground you walk on. You’re breaking his bloody heart Merlin. That’s shitty.’
Merlin bit his lip. ‘I’ve always been very clear about my intentions.’
‘Feelings can’t be helped.’
He just stared at me. ‘I guess not.’
First Christmas Day was at a party from my father’s work, with champagne and smiling and pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Second Christmas Day me and Merlin and Merlin’s mother Hunith stood at the reception of the psych ward. Merlin was holding a small singing Christmas tree and the nurse on duty glared at her when she lead us to the living room where Morgana was painting an older woman’s nails black. Morgana looked up distraught.
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘We were going to ask your personal mentor if you could come with us to celebrate Christmas.’
Morgana just stared at us.
‘And otherwise we bring you this hideous Christmas tree to brighten your day,’ Merlin said, and he planted the tree in front of Morgana. It’s ugly rendition of jingle bells was the only sound breaking through the awkward silence.
‘Okay,’ said Morgana. We went to Merlin’s small house where he celebrated Christmas with his mother, father, uncle and his best friend Will. It started a bit awkward but then Will told Morgana: ‘Damn you’re really hot.’
And she said, without changing her expression: ‘I know.’
And we laughed and she started to unloosen.
Merlin got Morgana a hat with her favourite band’s name on it and she told him she was really thankful, to his parents as well. Merlin grinned and I wanted to hug them both, but I didn’t. I had bought Morgana a novel about a lesbian witch and she gave me an approving smile. Merlin gave me book about politics and there was a little note in it: I bet you’re too afraid to switch to a major you actually like. I couldn’t believe he had noticed. Yes, I hadn’t been subtle in asking Gwen all kinds of questions about politics and her classes and complaining about mine, but I hadn’t told anyone I was thinking of switching. I looked at Merlin, but he seemed to be in deep conversation with his uncle. Morgana was looking at me though and she asked me, ‘want to take a walk outside?’
We did. It was cold and we were huddled up in jackets, but our lives weren’t movies so it didn’t snow. She apologized me for the last conversation with me and her nurse. She said her nurse was enthusiastic to hear that she had me in her life now and had forced her to talk about the hard stuff.
‘Did I push you away with that?’ she asked. Brutally. Honestly.
‘For a bit,’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I can be the best support. But as you can see I talked about it with Merlin. That helped.’ I said nothing for a moment and then added, ‘I guess we all need someone.’
Morgana had tears in her eyes and it was freaking me out a bit.
She said, ‘you’re already the best support I could wish for. You are here. And that’s more than anyone else in this family has done for me.’ She sniffed and dabbed her tear away with her sleeve. ‘Damn I hate sappy stuff.’ She heaved her chest and said, ‘And I didn’t want to talk to you because I feel guilty. I thought you were the lucky child, but father affected you too. You’re doing the wrong major and you’ve forgotten important things and your eating habits are super weird.’
She sniffed and giggled. ‘You need therapy.’
‘Look at yourself,’ I said and we both laughed.
I savoured every second of our belated Christmas session. Morgana was doing really well and brought presents for everyone. Merlin was showing off the mini I had ordered to be made for him for Christmas. I gave Gwen earrings and Lancelot gave her a card that made her blush. Merlin and Gwaine weren’t sleeping together anymore. Gwaine was visibly sad, but they were doing the friend-thing exceptionally well. Morgana came with the idea to go out for new year. I was elated to hear everyone was in. Maybe we were more important to each other than I had suspected. New years eve was crazy. We went out, and Lancelot, Gwen and Mordred didn’t drink, but we all had fun anyway and made sure everyone was doing okay. After twelve ‘o clock we spend all our time in a karaoke bar. Morgana and Gwaine went first, choosing don’t you want me. Their singing was surprisingly good, but their slutty dancing should have been made illegal. It was very satisfying to see that Lancelot absolutely sucked at something and that something was singing. He and Gwen completely butchered thinking out loud. Gwaine asked if I was going to sing and I said no, but then Merlin said:
‘I bet you’re too afraid to..,’ and I guess there I was, on the stage. The song was don’t leave me this way (chosen by Gwen, when Merlin and I couldn’t agree on a song) and Merlin started with the first couplet with a scarily high voice. I looked at the others and Morgana and Gwaine whooped and I thought, fuck it, I might as well go all the way. So I threw my all in the refrain and walked into Merlin’s personal space. I didn’t expect the pleasant adrenaline rush that came with that. And how satisfying it would be to see Merlin’s eyes glimmering up at me. He moved back in my personal space and I did a step backwards and we both grinned. Then I saw Morgana pulling out her phone and I shouted at her: ‘Morgana if you’re going to film this, I’m going to kill you!’
She had gotten most of it on tape.
We spend a short time in a gay bar, which scared me a bit, but we had fun. There was a tall blonde girl with short hair flirting with Morgana and leaving her a blushing mess and it terrified me, because Morgana was scary and dominant and I had expected her to go for sweet girls to balance it out. But this girl was even scarier. Gwaine described it best when he nodded and said, ‘Their children will dominate the world.’
It was around 04.00 when we were all either tipsy (Merlin, me), drunk (Gwaine, Morgana) or just tired (Lancelot, Gwen, Mordred), but Gwaine insisted on doing one more song.
‘Oh come on guys,’ he said. ‘Give me this.’
Mordred was the only one who answered: ‘I’d rather die.’
But a short girl with curls like a poodle suddenly appeared behind Gwaine and shouted, ‘oh then sing with me please!’
They acted like excited puppies on energy drink and the song they choose was Witch Doctor. It was something I wanted to erase from my mind forever. He got her number after that and waved with his phone like he had won a price. We crashed at my place and soon everyone was sleeping, but I woke up around 06.30 from a noise. I walked into the kitchen and dropped down on a chair. Gwen was making herself warm milk. ‘Sorry,’ she whispered. ‘I couldn’t sleep. Woke up from Gwaine puking earlier.’
‘It’s fine,’ I whispered back. She sat next to me and it was raining outside and everything felt good.
‘Hey,’ I suddenly asked. ‘When you’re bisexual… does your attraction to men and women feel the same?’
She thought about that for a second and then said slowly, ‘I’ve once thought I was pansexual but a friend of mine described the difference as: when you’re pansexual your attraction to all genders feels the same. When you’re bisexual it feels different and you can have a preference. To me, when I see women, I think they’re amazing and I want to impress them. But with men I feel excited and want to share really long hugs with them. I don’t know, I can’t really explain. It just feels really different.’ She thought about that a moment. Then asked, ‘why?’
My mere interest unravelled months after that. It was the start of spring and Merlin and I had gone rock climbing. But he sucked so halfway we just spend our time in the MacDonald’s. It was something my new therapist had dared me to do, to challenge my obsession with healthy eating. My therapist was a bit scary, but we were making progress. I ordered a burger and a salad, because fries was a step too far and Merlin ordered two happy meals, because he wanted both a boy and a girl toy. He squealed with delight when he discovered you had to put the toys together yourself, because this way he could combine the two toys, as some sort of non-binary monstrosity. I made a joke about how my rich father would have cried if he had seen me sitting in the MacDonald’s, talking about challenging gender roles. And I realised it was the first time I dared saying my father sucked out loud.
‘I’m so weak when it comes to my father,’ I had said. ‘I should just openly criticize him for the shit he pulled, finally tell him I switched my majors and wish him a nice life, but… I can’t.’
Merlin looked me dead in the eye and said to me: ‘Listen to me very closely Arthur. Morgana has every right to hate her father, just as you have every right to maintain a relationship with him. As long as you don’t condone his actions, it’s totally fine if you choose an attitude towards your father that’s best for your mental health. You’re always doing everything for everyone else whether it’s your father or your sister or even me, and I just hope you realise one day: I’m happiest when you are.’ I had nodded, slowly. I felt weird, couldn’t place the feeling. But then Merlin leaned back in his chair and I realised I had wanted him to come closer. And then it hit me.
It felt exactly like this:
The end of march was coming and so was Morgana’s birthday. We had planned a special one-shot session for it. Merlin was taking Morgana’s place as a DM and ordered everyone to make special characters for the one-shot. I made the exact opposite of Zerek, just to try it out once. A charisma-based asshole, a bit like Gwaine’s character normally was. But when I walked into our apartment after doing groceries, Merlin was already there and he and Morgana were re-arranging our entire interior.
‘Uhm, I thought we were going to play dungeons and dragons?’
Morgana’s face was positively evil: ‘Oh it’s not going to be a normal session, sweetheart.’
Merlin explained when everyone was sitting down at the round table. The session was going to be without dice. If you wanted to try something, you had to do an in real life challenge to see if you succeed. It was frustrating, but pretty fun. I managed to beat a monster by wrestling Gwaine off the couch, but I failed my stealth check by losing from Morgana at twister. Gwaine stayed alive after drinking poison, because he managed to throw back five shots, but he died later because Lancelot failed to heal him when he didn’t know the answer to some questions Merlin stole from another game. I was almost forgetting my character was charisma based, when we ran into a guard and I said: ‘I seduce her.’
‘Okay, that’s easy,’ Merlin said. ‘Can you seduce me?’
Everyone started talking past each other. Morgana laughed loudly like an evil sorceress, Gwen put her hand on her mouth like a Teletubby and Gwaine exclaimed, ‘Arthur can never do this! You should leave the seducing to me!’ at which Lancelot gently reminded him his character was dead. All the while I didn’t know what to say and Merlin was looking at me intensely.
‘You?’ I said.
Merlin grinned and said. ‘I bet you’re too afraid to seduce me.’
I can’t really explain what I was thinking, because as far as I remember my mind was completely blank. But I stood up, put my hand on his neck and I whispered in his ear with my mouth close enough that he could feel my breath:
‘Is that really how you wanted to ask me the first time? In front of everybody?’
I sat back down and everyone was silent now. As they watched how Merlin’s ears had turned red as he said in a tight voice: ‘yeah, it succeeds.’
Everyone was shouting now.
‘What did he say?’
‘Arthur, you have to tell us, this is unfair.’
‘What the fuck did he say to you?’
‘Merlin, say something.’
As I looked across the table I saw Gwen and Morgana grinning at me. Like Cheshire cats.
I had talked about my major with my dad. He had been angry and had given me a pretty convincing speech to convince me to turn it back. Before it was too late. I was at Merlin’s place, eating rice with him and Will (who was also his roommate) when I told Merlin I was probably going to switch back. Merlin told me I was ruining my entire life if I did that. Quickly we were shouting, all the while Will ate his rice as if he was watching a movie.
I shouted, ‘you don’t have a say in every aspect of my life, Merlin!’
‘Oh but apparently your father does!’
‘He’s a very successful man!’
‘But is he happy?’
‘Why does that matter to you?’
‘Because I want you to be happy!’
‘We’re not married, Merlin.’
Silence. Will said, ‘oof,’ and took another bite of rice. He stood up, revealing his very unflattering boxer shorts and he declared. ‘You know what I think? Merlin should be less concerned with what jock does, jock should be less concerned with what his daddy thinks, you two should bang and I’m going to my room to masturbate.’
He left and the silence burst open. Me an Merlin started laughing.
‘Just tell me you’ll think about it carefully, okay?’ Merlin asked.
And I said, ‘I will.’
And we did the dishes together. And we laughed about stupid things. And he smelled like soap and sweat. And suddenly I grabbed his shirt and leaned in. Then I realised things about consent and how my best friend was now very close and I how I could have ruined everything. We were still standing in close proximity. Merlin looked up at me.
I stammered, ‘I was going to do something very stupid.’
He said, ‘I bet you’re too afraid to.’
So I kissed him.
‘So let me get this straight,’ Percy said from behind his pint. ‘You are obsessed with Vivian for over a year, you meet this one guy, and now you’re suddenly gay?’
Leon, who was sitting on the bar stool on the other side of me, rolled his eyes. ‘Bisexual, Percy. And I think it’s great. I have lots of pals who play for the other team.’
‘Yes, yes, I’m totally fine with it, I’ll just clench my ass-cheeks together. But I’m trying to make sense of it.’
It was an awkward conversation, and I thought it would permanently ruin my place in the football team, but my sexuality was soon forgotten. We drunk beer, talked about movies and in the end Percy even said he wanted to meet Merlin. I had been scared for nothing.
My first Pride was a group occasion. Gwaine didn’t wear a shirt, but he did wear pink boxer shorts. He had been dating the girl from the karaoke bar for a while now. Her name was Elena and she was our new token straight (Morgana joked she was going to turn Elena bisexual too, just as Merlin supposedly had turned me). Elena wore colourful platform heels to pride and fell over every step. Gwaine loved it and made a big show of catching her every time. The girl Morgana had met on new year’s eve had turned out to be a TERF, so that was over very fast. But Morgana brought a new girl along to a pride, who introduced herself as Mithian. She had a bob cut and was wearing stilettos and a tight pink dress.
Merlin and Gwen had dressed up together. They were wearing rainbow flags, dungarees and lots and lots of glitter. Lancelot was dressed casual enough, but he was waring the bisexual flag and let Gwen rub glitter all over him.
Morgana looked like a gothic drag queen. She complained about my shirt and jeans. Saying even Elena looked gayer than I did. In the end I caved and let Gwen put glitter on my arms.
It was one of the nicest days in my life. One part that made it so great was that I finally had real friends, that they even felt like family. I loved everyone in that moment, I even spent a large part of the day dancing with a shirtless Gwaine. Mithian and I talked about football. She told me she once played in her stilettos. I decided she was very nice and very scary. Halfway through Gwen held me very tightly, her curls in my face and her perfume in my nose. She tearfully told me she loved me and was happy I was so much more authentic and at ease now. It was incredibly wholesome. Morgana and I argued the entire time and I stole one of the black feathers from her outfit. As if we always had been normal brother and sister. Lancelot and I had a friendly discussion about the benefits of going vegan, which quickly got derailed by Gwen. And Lancelot agreed with her, because he thought Gwen was the best thing in the world. I bought Mordred a trans pride pin, because I found one when he wasn’t there and knew he would like it. He did very much. He even hugged me, which he had never done before.
But the best part of the day was that I could just wrap my arms around Merlin whenever I wanted to, how he put glitter on my face when I wasn’t paying attention and how I could kiss him as revenge.
And how that might be the best part of all my coming days.
The coffee shop was small and hipster, just as she liked it. Vivian was wearing a lilac dress and a beret when she sat down in front of me.
‘I’m glad you agreed to meet me here.’
‘No problem. You look great.’
‘You too… Different.’
‘I feel different.’
I ordered a coffee and she ordered mint tea.
‘What have you been doing?’
‘uh… well… A lot of things. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons.’
‘For real? Oh how nice, I’ve always wanted to play.’
‘Keeping busy. I’m doing some volunteer work at an emancipation centre now.’
‘Oh wow. That’s really great. You’re doing really great things.’
She frowned at me and said. ‘I have missed you, to be honest. I wanted to text you often, but my friends told me I shouldn’t.’ She hesitated, ‘do you think they were wrong?’
I sighed, ‘no I don’t think so. I’ve missed you a lot too. At the start mostly. But now I do think it was for the best. We couldn’t fully glow together.’
She looked down at her tea, ‘are you seeing someone?’
She smiled up at me, although it was a bit sadly. ‘How is she?’
‘Er… he actually.’
Her eyebrows rose, ‘Oh! That’s great. I didn’t know you were… bi?’
‘I didn’t know either. I mean, I’ve always looked at boys and girls differently and I have learned you should be attracted to girls, so I thought that was the reason. I’ve only recently learned that there are different types of love.’
I looked at her. I’ve had long thought she was my one true love. But now that wasn’t only Merlin, but in a way also Gwen and Morgana and all the others.
She nodded and smiled, ‘How did your father take it?’
She looked uncomfortable. ‘Wrong subject?’
‘He disowned me.’
I shrugged. ‘It’s fine. Well.. no, it isn’t. But I have a great support system now.’
We talked about her classes for a bit, her awful dates with a guy named Valiant, Morgana’s lectures about borderline personality disorder, how I met Merlin, how to play Dungeons and Dragons and we ended up discussing politics for a bit.
In the end we shook hands. She looked like she wanted to say something, but in the end she only said:
‘Bye Vivian. Thank you for everything.’
And that was that.