It's the coffee gig, the day after the apology party. Pedro is here, now.
He holds one flat white, one chai tea latte. The flat white is his. Extra milk, the way he likes. You're not sure about the latte.
Pedro waves at you with the hand holding the flat wave back.
"We'll talk later, Balth, yeah?"
You nod, throat dry.
You are six years old, and there are only a few constants in your life. Your parents have always been there, one plus one has always equalled two, the last step on the stairs to your room has always squeaked, and Peter Donaldson has always been your best friend.
Peter's parents are friends with your parents. He's six, too, and lives next door, and he has a TV that works better than yours and a nice smile. On weekdays, your mum walks the both of you home from school, and the two of you go up to your room and make up games together. On Saturday mornings, you and Peter sit together on his couch with a bowl of cereal, knees bumping together, and flip through channels until you find something to watch. Both of you like cartoons: Peter because they make him laugh, and you because you like to watch Peter laugh.
You are six years old, and this is the year where you are brave enough to tell Peter Donaldson that you love him almost every day because neither of you are entirely sure what you mean by that, and maybe you don't really want to know.
Microphone set-up, guitar, keyboard. The world is a blur with only Pedro Donaldson (flawed and human and even more beautiful for it) in focus. You play a few original songs, a few covers. You consider playing "An Ode" for a few dizzying seconds before deciding against it. Later, maybe, when there aren't so many people around.
You are seven years old, and tonight is your first ever sleepover. Peter's parents are off on separate business trips, so he's staying with you tonight.
It's eight o'clock already, so your dad says goodnight to you and makes you promise that you'll go to sleep soon, which you agree to without feeling too guilty. The moment your dad leaves, Peter opens his bag and, beaming with pride, pulls out a flashlight and a thin stack of comic books.
"The battery's only gonna work for an hour," he whispers earnestly, "but that's enough for us to finish all of 'em."
Peter's estimate turns out to be accurate. It hasn't been five minutes since you turned the last page of the last book when the flashlight flickers out.
Slowly, your eyes adjust. You sit up and start picking up the books strewn over the bed sheets. Peter helps you, but his hands seem to be shaking.
"D'you have a nightlight?" he asks suddenly, voice cutting through the dark.
"You scared?" The idea that something could make Peter scared is definitely something new, but not impossible.
Peter pauses before he nods. "R-rosa told me there are monsters that live under your bed. She said they have sharp teeth and claws and only come out when it's dark and they don't hurt you because she told them not to but they won't listen if she tells them not to eat me because I'm not in your family."
The story sounds like another one of Rosa's jokes, or maybe she's just angry at Peter because your parents won't let her bring her friends over for sleepovers. Whatever it is, Peter's definitely not in any danger. But he looks terrified, so instead of laughing, you reach for his hand and hold it tight.
"I'll protect you from the monsters," you vow, and it's a ridiculous promise because of course you can't do anything of the sort, but Peter believes you, and that's all that matters.
Your last song finishes. Your audience applauds, your friends cheer. You bow, smile, go outside, pack your keyboard into the trunk of your car. You hear footsteps moving closer. Pedro again, with two hands holding one cold chai tea latte. Extra milk, the way you like. He hands you the cup.
"Thanks," you say, for lack of a better word.
I'm not scared, and that's funny, you'd think I'd be scared.
Are you real?
I think I might break open.
Stay here with me. Please.
What do we do?
You turn eight years old today. Your parents asked if you wanted a party, but you said no. You don't think you know enough people to have a proper party anyway, and even if you did it'd be much too loud and there'd be too many people to focus on. So instead, it's just your family and Peter's.
The cake is brought out and the candles are lit. Peter leads all of you in "Happy Birthday," his voice off-pitch but enthusiastic. You don't know what to wish for—you're happy enough right now—but you blow the candles out anyway.
Afterwards are presents. Your parents give you a handknit sweater in a nice zigzag pattern. Jojo's bought you that football from the store down the street, the one you've been eyeing for a few weeks now (you play football at Peter's sometimes, but you always lose because you don't have a ball to practice with). Rosa hands you some of her favorites from her prized collection of travel brochures and a teddy bear to add to your own prized collection. Last is Peter, his face uncharacteristically bashful, holding a misshapen bundle of wrapping paper and tape with your name scrawled on it. Carefully, you uncover a ukulele with a small dent on the side.
Peter looks at you, expectant, as you run your fingers along the strings and give the instrument an experimental strum. You're not entirely sure, but you think it's perfectly in tune.
You look up at Peter and smile.
I don't remember ever living a life where I didn't love you
Is it going to happen now?
You laughed when I played you "An Ode," but I didn't mind as much as I thought I would. I'm glad I made you laugh.
I think I worshipped you far too much.
How long have you felt like this for me?
I'm still a little upset over Hero's birthday, but it's okay. We're okay.
How are you?
You are nine years old and in the middle of a piano lesson with Ms. Kuang when a girl about your age (you've seen her around school a few times; she seems nice) tiptoes into the room. Without making a sound, she removes a box of markers and a sheet of paper from the table behind Ms. Kuang, eyes on your teacher the entire time.
Ms. Kuang clears her throat. The girl freezes.
"Ursula, aren't you going to say hello?" the woman asks.
"Oh!" she cries, face bright red. She looks over at you for a split second before turning her gaze to the ground. "Um… Hi…?"
"Balthazar, this is my niece, Ursula Kuang. Ursula, this is my student, Balthazar Jones."
You smile at Ursula and give her a little wave. She smiles back, hands fidgeting, and continues to back away.
"Ursula, why don't you stay here, where I can keep an eye on you?" your teacher asks. You can tell it's not really a question.
After the lesson ends and the next student shuffles into the room, you sit down next to Ursula and wait for your mum to pick you up. She ignores you. You usually like silence, but right now it feels a little strange. You rack your mind for something to say.
"Hey, what're you drawing?" you finally ask.
She shows you a picture of two girls, one of which appears to be her.
"It's really good! But, who's that?" You point to the other girl.
Ursula looks down at her hands. "My best friend, Hero."
"Oh, I have a best friend too! His name is Peter and he lives in the house next to me."
The two of you talk some more after that, about art and Hero and music and Peter. When the doorbell rings, you wave goodbye to your (maybe) new friend with a promise to talk again later.
And a few more words:
You're my best friend.
I love you.
You are ten years old when Rosa comes out as bisexual over dinner. She glares at all of you the entire time, arms crossed. It almost seems like she's daring someone to say something she doesn't like. In short, she looks terrified.
Jojo is the first to react, quickly hugging Rosa and telling her that she's glad Rosa's figured things out. You're next, giving her a thumbs-up and a quick grin from across the table before peering anxiously at your parents. They look surprised, but nothing much to worry about. You're glad.
After a long pause, your dad finally speaks, words precise and careful. "Well…I can't say I expected this..." He coughs. "But we support you and love you very much."
Your mum chimes in with a "seconded!" and Rosa gives all of you a watery smile.
"C'mon!" Jojo cries, gesturing at you. "Join the hug!"
When you tell your family that you're demiromantic asexual (and very much into boys) a month later, you're not scared at all.
"No problem," he replies.
You open the car door. Two bodies, two hearts enter. You turn the key and press down on the gas pedal. The two of you are heading home, though you're not sure whose (yours or Pedro's?).
You are eleven years old and every person in Year 6 is required to take ballroom dancing lessons Fridays before lunch.
Today is the first day, so Mr. Montague has the boys and girls line up in order from shortest to tallest in order to match dance partners.
"Heteronormative," Pet- sorry, Pedro whispers into your ear before he slides into the spot behind you in line. Your skin prickles, but not unpleasantly. Jojo must have taught him that word.
Mr. Montague looks over the lines with a critical eye before turning to you. "Balthazar, there's more boys than girls here, so why don't you just dance with Pedro for now?"
You nod, half relieved, half something else entirely. Someone behind you snickers, but you ignore it.
Your class enters the gym. Mr. Montague and another Year 6 teacher demonstrate the fox trot to you. Pedro spends the entire lesson imitating the way Mr. Montague's head bobs back and forth while he dances. You try not to giggle, but it doesn't work.
"Alright kids, your turn!"
It takes you less than three minutes to figure out that you and Pedro are both really bad dancers.
"Why don't we change the rhythm up a little?" asks Mr. Montague.
I'm a musician, I should be able to this, you think, and immediately bump into Pedro.
"Let's try it a little faster!"
Pedro takes a step forward and plants his foot directly into your shoe.
"Spin your partner around!"
Pedro yanks your arm over his head and you turn once before tripping on a shoelace (you're not sure whose) and nearly falling over.
After an hour of accidents, sore toes, and people staring, you and Pedro head off to the lunch line together, still laughing. It's the most fun you've had in ages.
Pedro makes the decision for you. Into your house and into your room. Two bodies, two hearts sit down on the bed.
"Hey," he says, for lack of a better word.
"Hey," you reply.
You are twelve years old and it is summer and Pedro Donaldson, all around great guy, and Ursula Kuang are no longer your only friends. There's Beatrice and Hero Duke now, and also Meg Winter. It's a little new, having all these people around, and you're talking to Pedro a bit less too (you feel like you need to divide your time evenly between all of your friends to make it fair), but overall, it's nice.
You and your five friends are currently crowded into Pedro's room, because it's one of the only places in his house where the AC is functioning properly. Even so, it's hot.
Pedro and Bea are engaged in a debate about some movie the six of you watched last week ("She could've made another decision! Not everyone had to die!" "Of course, but character-wise it makes sense!"), and Meg and Hero are crowded around Ursula's new camera as she fiddles with the settings. You pluck idly at the strings of your guitar and hum softly. You need to figure out how to fit the words of a new song in.
You know you're taking a risk, bringing this song here, but you almost want Pedro to see it. If he asks, you can always just show him, you suppose. It's possible to write a song about love without actually having any of those feelings for, say, your best friend, right? Right?
As if summoned by your thoughts, Pedro jumps up onto the bed next to you. "Hey Balth, whatcha working on?"
Bad idea. You quickly cover the sheet music with your arm.
"Nothing important." You're painfully aware that the words on the page your arm can't cover are enough for Pedro to get a general idea of the lyrics.
He looks down at the sheet (your heartbeat suddenly feels too loud) and nudges your arm. "C'mon, show me the rest!"
You swallow and shake your head. "Maybe when I'm finished."
"At least tell me what it's about!"
Should I…? You look up at Pedro with his bright smile and even brighter eyes, and suddenly it's far too much. No. So you grin, wiggle your eyebrows in the most absurd manner you can think up, and try not to let your eyes linger on his face. "One day you'll know."
"Aww, you're no fun."
You never show him the song, and he never asks again. Sometimes you wonder if he still remembers.
The two of you have so many things desperately unspoken. So many things both of you should say right now. Years and years of things you should say right now.
So, you say them.
You are thirteen years old. Pedro has a mullet and Benedick Hobbes claiming him as his "newest, bestest friend," and you've got a crew cut and your first ever boyfriend. Though you're pretty sure the fact that your hair is awful has nothing to do with the fact that you're dating Tony and more to do with you and Pedro losing that bet to Ben two weeks ago. You still wish you hadn't taken it, but Pedro had asked you to back him up. What were you supposed to do?
Anyway, back to your actual boyfriend.
Tony's wonderful. He's a little taller than you, thin, with an afro (he always jokes about how he has enough hair for the both of you) and dark brown eyes that crinkle up at the corners whenever the two of you talk. He likes holding your hand, and you like holding his hand too, even if your fingers never really seem to intertwine perfectly. And you love him. Really, you do.
It's not really the way it is with Pedro. Your feelings for Tony are like sparks, or fireworks. With Pedro it's… steadier. Like a heartbeat, underlying everything.
Sometimes you wonder if you're being entirely fair to Tony. It seems wrong for you to be dating him when you know how you feel about "Mullet Boy" (as Rosa's inevitably dubbed him). But then Ursula will remind you that love isn't something that you spoon out in numerical amounts, and that it's okay to have feelings for multiple people, and the really important thing is for both of you to be happy. And you're happy enough, you suppose, much happier than most people, and so is Tony. So it's okay. Everything's okay.
Besides, your family and friends declare the two of you a perfect couple, and Pedro is probably the world's biggest Balony shipper (Ben came up with the name; he thinks it's clever). So it's all okay.
"I call dibs on flower girl!" Pedro cries with glee the first time he sees Tony kiss you on the cheek. Tony laughs (he has a nice laugh), and you swallow down any feelings of guilt that rise up at the sound.
"Sorry, Hero's already reserved that position," you reply, and wonder when you'd started wearing so many masks.
"I've been in love with you for twelve years." You don't drop the words, like a burden you've been waiting to rid yourself of. You release them carefully and let them fly. Like balloons.
Surprise, disbelief, joy blossom on Pedro's face. He hesitates before speaking. "I-I… think I've loved you for a really long time, too. Not twelve years, maybe, but… I don't know. All I know is that I didn't realize it until I'd already ruined so many things."
A thrill runs across your fingertips. You swallow, try to speak. He loves you. "It's okay. We're here now, aren't we?"
"Yeah, we are." He gives you a soft smile, full of wonder. "We are."
You are fourteen years old and if Bea and Ben don't hurry the fuck up and date already you're going to throw something. You've half a mind to lock them up in a room together until they admit their feelings for each other. Though you're pretty sure that in this hypothetical situation, they'd purposely not get together just to piss you off.
You try to rope Pedro into your nonexistent matchmaking plan, but it doesn't really work. Probably because of his not-so-secret crush on Bea.
And then you try Rosa, but she just puts on her Psychiatrist Voice and tells you that your Beatrice/Benedick obsession stems from your own not-so-secret crush on "Mullet Boy" and your need to see other people in happy relationships. She's probably right.
Beatrice goes back to Wellington at the end of the summer, leaving behind an obliviously heartsick Ben, and you sigh.
Ursula and Hero talk to you a lot more than Pedro now. He's got Ben. Of course, he still calls you his best friend, and you still know him better than anyone in the world. You're not as close as before though. And that's okay. You're happy enough, and so is he.
Besides, hanging out at Hero's place is great. You learn to bake and make flower crowns, and you help Hero hone her ukulele skills while Ursula watches and occasionally snaps a picture. And then there's Hero's mums, who are always welcoming and kind, and willing to lend an ear whenever you're upset. Not that you're upset often.
You break up with Tony, eventually. Not because of the Pedro thing (in fact, you're pretty sure he likes Pedro too), but because he and his family move to Wellington. His mum's company is relocating her, and neither of you can really keep up a long-distance relationship. You try to call him a few times, but eventually it all stops.
Your friends are all there for you after the breakup. Hero and Ursula offer you cookies and sympathy. Pedro listens to you talk and occasionally pats your shoulder. Ben and Meg insult Tony for an impossibly long time until you tell them to please stop, it's not his fault and he's done nothing to deserve being called so many inventive names.
You don't tell anyone that the first thing you felt when you read Tony's last email was relief.
Hours and hours of talking pass. You wouldn't be surprised if you never stopped.
You wouldn't mind never stopping.
You are fifteen years old and at Pedro's house, the first time since John arrived from the UK. There's a tenseness in the air that you try to ignore. It will pass eventually, and everyone seems okay.
John is pushed into Pedro's room by their father, with a suggestion to "spend more time with some boys your age." Pedro barely acknowledges him.
John is lanky and dark-haired and barely talks. He reads a book in the corner of the room as you and Pedro watch an episode of Flight of the Conchords on his bed. John doesn't pay much attention to reading. His eyes flicker between the words and Pedro. It seems like he's just using the book for something to hold on to, something to make himself look less lost.
"Hey..." you say, head turning to him, "do you maybe wanna watch with us?"
You are greeted with silence.
"You don't have to if you don't want to."
"... Okay," John says finally with a shrug, and sits down next to you. You offer him the bowl of popcorn, and he takes a handful. It's all a bit awkward, but you don't mind.
The episode plays on. John laughs at a joke you didn't get. You do too, just so it's less quiet.
The Donaldson brothers seem to be doing okay, and if they're okay, you should be too.
The two of you keep talking.
"Twelve years, though… Why didn't you say anything?"
You shrug. "I guess I was just waiting for a moment where everything made sense and it was all perfect and sorted out and clear and there weren't any risks to take. You know? And, besides, I never really thought you'd like me back."
He nods and takes your hand.
"It fits," he says, looking down at your perfectly intertwined fingers. You don't know if he's talking about what you've just said or your hand in his. Both, maybe.
You are sixteen years old and writing songs nonstop. All of them about Pedro, of course. Who else?
You are completely ridiculous. Not because you're in love with Pedro Donaldson (how can you not be?), and not because of your constant songwriting (it makes you feel productive, at least). It's because you play all of these songs (yes, all of them) in front of a ridiculous amount of people. And these people include Pedro Donaldson.
You're not sure why you do it. There's no logic to it, after all. There are only four possible outcomes to it: One, he doesn't understand who you're singing about and life moves on. Two, he suspects and things become awkward between the two of you. Three, he suspects, but his behavior towards you remains the same. You don't want to think about the fourth possibility (him suspecting and actually liking you back) because it's impossible. Just because he's bisexual doesn't mean he likes you, just boys in general, and anyway, he's still got a crush on Beatrice and you've never known him to like more than one person at a time. Whatever you're doing, it could risk your friendship with Pedro, and you don't ever want that to happen.
You talk to Jojo and Ursula and Hero and Hero's mums and John (yes, even John) about Pedro sometimes. They probably feel bad for you. Everyone seems to be, all of the time, and you don't really know why. You're happy enough, you think, and so is he.
The only one who doesn't act like you're in need of a shitload of pity is Rosa, who listens to all of your songs with a smirk on her face. That's probably why you talk to her the most about Pedro. Yeah, she makes fun of you, but you like it that way. And you still know, despite the laughter, that she cares about you a lot.
"Hey, Balth?" Rosa says one night. You jump. The two of you have spent the last hour in silence—she'd been on her phone; you'd been trying to analyze a conversation you'd had with Pedro earlier that day. You'd almost forgotten she was there.
Her voice is far too gentle. "Don't let Mullet Boy take over your life, okay?"
You nod once, and ignore the voice in your head telling you that he probably already has.
"Yeah. It fits."
You let go of his hand (reluctantly) so you can lean your head against his shoulder. He responds by putting his arm around you. It's warm, and safe, and nice.
Pedro presses his lips to your forehead and you smile.
You are seventeen years old and the last few weeks have been a perfect hurricane.
There was Hero coming out as pan and Claudio suddenly becoming jealous of every single person she interacted with and then the accusations and screaming and birthday parties and Robbie Borachio of all people and Meg and John and rumors and anger and hours spent in silence and not knowing what to think and Bea and Ben and relearning all the people you thought you'd known and ignoring Pedro Pedro Pedro Pedro and nothing being okay.
You could've helped. You were there when John told Ben and Pedro and Claudio that Hero was cheating. You'd tried to convince them otherwise, you really did. You'd hoped thatPedro at least, would believe you. And he did, until he saw the "proof" John and Robbie had cooked up. And then you'd tried to get Claudio to talk to Hero about it calmly instead of just leaving it to simmer and hoping it didn't explode. And when that didn't work you'd told Hero what they'd said. But all she'd done was sit there in disbelief and then resolve to bring it up the next day. At her birthday party. And by then Claudio had already gotten there first.
You'd tried to help, but it wasn't enough and, therefore, it was your fault. Honestly, you should've been thankful that none of it ended up on Facebook or YouTube or whatever, as a testament to how badly you fucked up.
It could've all been avoided. If you'd told Bea, maybe, or Ursula, or Meg or Ursula's year nines even…
Whatever. It's over now. Mostly.
Hero's not dead, and Ben and Bea are together and John's back and he's apologized to Hero and Meg and everyone else, and Claudio's apologized too for his complete and utter shittiness and Pedro, who isn't perfect and no longer occupies your every thought, is…
You actually don't know how Pedro is. But he feels bad, and he said sorry, and that's enough for you right now.
And (not that it needs saying) you still love him. And you're starting to suspect that he loves you too.
Pedro turns his head towards you, eyes suddenly serious. "So… the two of us. We're together, right? Really, properly together?"
You look at him for a few seconds before pecking him quickly on the cheek. "Yes."
He grins. "Good."
You are eighteen years old and working on a paper in your room when you hear Peter and someone else barrel into the flat, followed immediately by shouts from Ben and Freddie. These shouts are then followed by running footsteps headed in your direction. You sigh in amusement and open the door to let your flatmates in.
"Fucking hell, Balthy, can't you tell your boyfriend to bring his… friends somewhere else?" Ben cries.
You shrug. Ben looks at you pleadingly for a few more seconds before collapsing on your bed and starting to complain about uni to Freddie. You try to listen to them talk and work on the essay at the same time. It's difficult, but it works, and the three of you spend the next half-hour in relative peace.
After Gordon (you think that's his name) leaves, Peter enters your room, face still a little flushed. You grin at the sight.
"Have a good time?"
Peter (your boyfriend) covers his face with his hands. "Oh my god, Balth-"
You make your eyes as wide and innocent as possible. "It's a perfectly reasonable question!"
He shakes his head. "I love you."
Peter is always generous with his declarations of love, and you adore him for it. That, and a lot of other things.
"I kinda... love you too."
Peter raises an eyebrow and tries his best to look affronted. "Kinda?"
"Kinda... a lot, yeah."
He grins triumphantly, and you can't help but wrap him into a hug. He hugs you back, his body warm and solid.
A few seconds pass before the two of you are interrupted by Freddie.
"Dinnertime, lovebirds!" she shouts from the doorway.
Peter releases you and bows, offering you his hand. "Shall we, your highness?"
You laugh and take it. Freddie gags, loudly.
You are still learning this new Peter Pedro Donaldson, and he is still learning you, the parts of yourself that you've kept hidden from him for so long. But the two of you are getting there.
There is still so much more to say and do. But you've got time, you've got years and years of time. It can wait.
Right now, you just want to sit here, in this room where so much of your life has happened. Just sit here with this boy you love and stop thinking so much.
"I love you," you say (how many times have you said it in the last few hours? does it matter?).
Pedro's eyes are bright. "I love you too."
The two of you sit there, in your room, and for one of the first times in your life, you're not just "happy enough," or "happier than most people." You are happy, and so is he, and it is much, much more than enough.