“Is everything OK, Siggi? You made such a fuss about not want to waste time stripping, but now that I got your dick in my mouth, you don’t seem that much into it.”
“It’s nothing. Keep sucking.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure you can’t think of anything else, then.”
‘I thought you would be sensible enough to throw your feelings for me aside when I asked for help with your best friend.’ “Leave me alone, kid.”
“Did you say something? I thought I heard you mumbling. Do you want me to do something else?”
“No, don’t stop. You’re fucking me today no matter what. I’ve waited too fucking long for this.”
“You sound grumpy. Is something worrying you?”
“I didn’t say you could stop sucking!”
Dmitri got up anyway. “Do you want to tell me what is troubling you? I don’t want our first fuck back together to be spoiled by something I have no control over.”
“The only thing troubling me is how far your mouth is from my cock!” ‘I thought that no matter how much you hated me, your feelings for Dmitri were stronger.’ “You know what? Forget the blowjob. Destroy my arsehole instead.” My body laid face-down in the mattress, trousers down to my knees and arse up in the air, ready to be broken into by a wild animal.
Instead, Dmitri found a lube sachet. He wasted our time putting on a condom and dumping the whole sachet on his cock before finally thrusting it all in at once. My cries were muffled by the bedsheets, but my attempts to impale myself on his cock should have made clear what I wanted. Dmitri was so out of practice he took too long to put all his body weight on top of me and pound my arse deep enough for his cock to come out the other end.
‘You’re childish, vindictive, and immature.’
Dmitri dug his teeth on my neck to keep his voice at a socially acceptable level. His mad thrusting stopped too soon and his body relaxed on top of me. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hold it in.” Bites turned to gentle kisses. His body rolled away, leaving mine exposed to the cold of his absence. A lazy hand played with my hair. “We should finish you off too.”
‘The one who needs to grow up is you.’ Shut up. “You’re half asleep already, you’re useless now. I’ll take care of it.”
Dmitri smiled and closed his eyes. He fell asleep without noticing I did not bother trying.
Arnar did not look up when I walked into the living room. His head was buried in a thick book on his lap and the music player blasted a horrible quality recording of a lively violin and cello duet. He only acknowledged my presence when I loomed over his shoulders to see what was so interesting about that book as to make him ignore his surroundings.
“Hi, Siggi. I didn’t see you coming. How was rehearsal?”
“The usual. What are you looking at?”
The book turned out to be an old photo album. A younger Arnar and a vaguely familiar kid with freckles all over his face and an annoyingly bright smile posed together on every picture of the page. The kid clung to Arnar’s waist in all of them. “My counselling session today was about regrets. We talked about things I should’ve done more often that I can no longer do, and playing this song is one of them.”
“I don’t recognise it.”
“You wouldn’t. I wrote it over twenty years ago with a great cellist friend of mine when I was still at university.”
“It’s not bad.” The lively duet turned into an emotional cello melody with accompanying cries from the violin. “Is it the two of you playing?”
“Yes. We recorded it in a practice room. Not the best recording I’ve done, but it’s the only one I have left.” His hand brushed the untameable mess that was the kid’s hair in the picture. “The last time I played this was seventeen years ago, when I learned of his death. I played to mourn him, and then I forced myself to forget about it so I wouldn’t have to think about how much I missed him. Now, even if want to remember, I’ll never be able to.”
The violin repeated the cello melody, embellishing the notes as the cello played a descending base line of increasing darkness. “That’s the cello guy? He’s just a kid!”
Arnar chuckled. “Those photos are from a university recital. He was two years older than me.”
“I don’t believe you.” That was too much of a baby face to be in his twenties. He had no beard to speak of, and his eyes screamed childish innocence in a way only a certain kid had been able to pull off so far.
“Hrafnkell always looked much younger than he was. He had a late puberty and he couldn’t grow a beard no matter what. We bonded over that.” Arnar scratched his chin, showing off the scruffy beard his twenty-year-old self lacked.
“You didn’t need a beard to look your age. This guy could sit in a primary school class and nobody would notice.”
Arnar stared at the photos like his eyes were permanently glued to them. His hand brushed the cellist’s face. “I didn’t pull out these old albums just because of the song.” Arnar finally lifted his head from the album, only to show wet eyes and a tear running down his cheek. “You’re the first person I’m telling this other than the counsellor. What I’m about to say is something I spent over twenty years completely oblivious too, and now, no matter how much I want to do something about it, there isn’t anything I can do.”
Silence. Long, uncomfortable silence. Arnar should know better than to expect me to know what to do.
“Are you going to say anything?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, but… I thought you would like to know that I… I realise now that my feelings for Hrafnkell ran deeper than just friendship. He’s the only guy I’ve ever had a crush on, and maybe more…”
“You’re telling me you think you’re not straight?”
“Maybe. I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m still processing the fact that I’ve been in love with my best friend from university for all this time without noticing.”
“So I’m not the only one who sucks at feelings, then?”
Arnar laughed. “I guess not. And I’m even worse than you, because I was supposed to have no problems understanding my feelings. Come commiserate our collective obliviousness!” Arnar motioned for me to sit next to him. His arm came over my shoulder the moment I sat on the couch.
“Am I supposed to do or say something now?”
“Not if you don’t want to. Some people like to thank others for trusting them with their feelings, or try to offer words of comfort, but you don’t need to do anything. I’m happy to just have you around.”
“Good, I guess.”
Arnar’s hand squeezed me. “Sometimes being a physical presence is all we need. You’re more capable than you give yourself credit for.”
“About that…” ‘I still think of you mostly as that guy who can play so well it makes my heart melt, who can be as gentle or as daring as the music demands.’ “Gunnar said something similar.”
“Did he?” Arnar failed to hide his smile.
“Yes, and some other stuff too.”
“Other stuff that made you angry or confused?”
“Does it have to be one of the two?”
Arnar put the album aside. He turned his body to me, locking his eyes on mine in a way even I could tell he saw nothing but me, and my problems became more important than anything else going on in his life. “Do you want to tell me what Gunni said to you?”
The words had been floating in my head for days. Haunting my every waking moment. They were at the tip of my tongue, yet buried deep inside my throat. But Arnar waited like we had all the time in the world to coax them out of my uncooperative body. And he listened as I struggled to force a single sentence out. And another. And another. It never got easier. He never gave up.
“Gunni calling you childish and immature must have gotten to you. You always say that about him, so it can’t have been nice to see the tables turned.”
“Do you think he’s right?”
Arnar smiled. His hand gripped my shoulder with the same intensity as his gaze. “I think I can see where Gunni is coming from. I know you’ve been trying to hurt him on purpose, and this is something I don’t approve of. Your behaviour is not that of a well-adjusted adult.”
“I’m not a well-adjusted adult.”
“No, but you’re working on it. You’re a few years behind everyone else in your emotional development, and it shows in situations like this. I think Gunni is right, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. He’s also right about the good things he said about you.” Arnar smiled. “Actually, I’m surprised by his patience, and how much he can grasp about who you really are.”
“He doesn’t know me!”
“He doesn’t need to know you to have enough emotional maturity to understand you’re going through a hard time and that it affects your behaviour. This doesn’t make your actions more acceptable or justified, but I’m sure most people would have lost their patience with you a long time ago. I’m surprised Gunni took this long to say anything, or that it took Dmitri being involved for him to snap.”
“Is that your way of saying he’s a perfect little angel?”
“That’s my way of saying he’s more capable than his age and looks suggest. He seems to think of you in a similar way I did when we first met, and I’m sure he has the same wish to see you blossom beyond your angry façade.”
“So you trust him? You trust him with me, with your orchestra, and everything else?”
“I’ve always trusted him with the orchestra. If our colleagues decided he would be a good fit for the job, they couldn’t all be wrong.”
“And the rest…?”
“The rest is up to you. You’re the one who has to trust Gunni to help you. I can go on all I want about how he’s doing a great job so far, but if you refuse to open up to him or let him show you what he’s really capable of, nothing will come of it.”
The kid could not be all that. He was just a kid. But Arnar was never wrong. He would not sing such high praises for someone who did not deserve it.
“Siggi, do you think you can trust Gunni?”
“I think, at least when it’s about Dmitri, I don’t have a choice.”
For everything else, we would have to wait and see.
The week’s guest conductor had not even left the stage after announcing our break when Dmitri came crashing into the string section. The second violins squeezed out of his way with reflexes born out of having their toes squashed too many times in the past few months. But Dmitri’s whispers in Gunnar’s ears did not last long, nor did they involve the usual melodramatic kissing and blushing.
They turned to me instead.
“Siggi, would you like to join Gunni and me for dinner tonight?”
“Like? No, I wouldn’t. But I know you’ll drag me along anyway.”
“It’s important.” Dmitri leaned towards me. His hand was clinging on to Gunnar’s, though, so the kid lost his balance with Dmitri’s movement. “I have something I need to talk to both of you about.”
“Are we doing this at home? I thought I was going back to Arnar’s today.”
“I was thinking of going to your favourite restaurant. It’ll be my treat to you both, a nice change of air.”
“My favourite restaurant?” That was not a title it deserved. “You mean the only place in town that has some chance of not killing me? Do we must go through that trouble?”
“It doesn’t feel right doing this at home. I need you both together, and I don’t know what is going to happen afterwards, so I would rather not drag you home for you to end up sleeping with Gísli or having to go back to Arnar. Also the neutral ground might… make it easier?”
“What do you want to talk about?”
Dmitri bit his lip, but didn’t say anything.
“What does he want to talk about?”
Gunnar’s eyes widened, as if he never expected I would talk to him. His answer took too long to come. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me details either.”
“And you’re going along with it anyway?”
“I trust him.” Gunnar smiled and squeezed Dmitri’s hand. His love-struck boyfriend smiled too and stood closer to him like a pathetic shadow-clown. “I’m sure Dmitri is just trying to build up his courage to say whatever he needs to tell us rather than hiding it on purpose. So I’m happy to give him the time he needs to do that. I would rather have him focused at dinner than press him now for answers he’s not ready to give.”
I should have an answer to that. The fact he understood Dmitri’s feelings better than me should not have been a surprise. It should not have made it painful to look at Dmitri’s relieved face.
“Can I count on you tonight, then? We can go there together straight from rehearsal.”
“Fine. Do as you like.” As long as I did not have to look at how well his body glued to Gunnar’s despite their height difference, or how Gunnar’s answer to Dmitri passing an arm over his shoulders was to pull him even closer by the waist.
“Great. I’ll call and make the reservation now. Thanks, Siggi, I really appreciate what you’re doing. And I’ll pay you back when the time comes.”
“You better. The last time wasn’t up to your usual standards.”
“I’ll make it up for that too.” He winked.
Gunnar shifted away, his face finally in that tomato shade that fit him so well. “I’m going to call Jó, then, and let him know he won’t need to pick me up today.”
“Good on you, kid. Don’t make your surrogate parents worry sick that their precious little darling is not where he’s meant to be.”
“That was uncalled for.” Gunnar did not look at me still as he dragged Dmitri away to their special secluded corner of kisses and cuddles, phone already in hand.
I took my phone out too. Ágústa needed to know I would not need her lift from work today either.
Dmitri’s last minute change of plans meant my cello became a fourth dinner guest instead of safely resting in Arnar’s house. It had to be strapped to the taxi’s front seat while the three humans crammed on the back. The car’s disappointing (yet expected) lack of leg room for freakishly tall humans meant the middle seat became mine by default.
Gunnar could at least have entertained me with his impression of a tomato that he did every time he invaded my personal space. Yet, even though my leg had been squeezed on top of his, and our arms touched all the way to the wrist, he did not bother to look at me even once. His eyes remained glued to the window, as if it was a screen to the most interesting movie in the universe.
Dmitri was the one who tried to get my attention instead. “It’s a nice weather outside, don’t you think?”
“It doesn’t make a difference to me. The cold makes the asthma worse, but spring brings all the pollen. I’m fucked either way.”
“True that, but at least we don’t have to wear heavy coats anymore.”
“There’s nothing nice in putting away the only thing that gives me some significant body mass.”
Dmitri’s hand patted my thigh. His attempts at useless conversation continued until we reached the restaurant and he paid the taxi driver an extra tip for being careful around my cello.
“You know it’s their job to not break their passenger’s belongings, right?”
“Yeah, but I’m feeling generous today. I was nervous at rehearsal, but I’m more optimistic about what we’ll do now.”
Gunnar finally decided to speak, though he avoided me by clinging on to Dmitri’s other side as soon as he was free from the backseat confinement. “What changed your mood?”
“I think being around the two of you together without you ripping each other apart makes me happy. You’re the two most important people in my life, so I hate to see you hurting each other.” He looked at each of us, as if he was not blaming someone in particular.
Our usual waitress spotted me as soon as we walked in. “Hey, guys, welcome back! The chefs have been told Siggi was coming, so we cleaned off a section of the kitchen to make your food safe from cross-contamination. Are you going to have your usual or would you rather try something different?”
“I have a concert to play this week, so I would rather not risk any accidents.”
“Sure. Please get settled, and I’ll come back for the rest of your orders in a bit.”
The waitress smiled at us and left. Gunnar kept staring in her general direction until Dmitri nudged him to sit next to him (and in front of me) at the four-seat table. Dmitri chose to sit on my left side, while I accommodated the cello on my right, in the corner, safe from clumsy costumers.
“Is it always like this when you go out to eat?” Gunnar asked before he picked up his menu.
“Yes. Every other place I’ve been to didn’t believe me when I listed all my food allergies and either refused to sterilise their kitchen or didn’t let me order simplified versions of their menu to avoid the things that could kill me or make me explode in their toilet. Or both.”
Gunnar stared at me until Dmitri caressed his cheek. The kid leaned into his touch like a well-trained puppy. “It must be really hard for you to eat out.”
“Well-done. Did you reach that conclusion all by yourself? Your observation skills are exceptional.”
“Please, Siggi, you don’t need to be rude to him.”
“It’s ok. I knew what I was getting into.” Gunnar shrugged. He refused to look at me.
“The aloof act doesn’t suit you. You’re too much of a cute, sweet kid to pull it off.”
“Are you saying this because you would rather see me cry when your words hurt?”
Dmitri let out an overly-dramatic sigh and put his hands on each of our shoulders. “Guys, please, can we keep it civil? I didn’t bring you here so you could spend the whole evening bickering.”
“You apologised even though it wasn’t your fault?”
Gunnar turned to me. Something about his expression changed, but I would give up my cello before I figured out what it meant. “I could have chosen my words better so they wouldn’t sound like I was digging at you. I’m trying my best to not let you get to me, but you make it difficult sometimes.”
“I can’t help it. Your presence brings out the worst in me.”
“Enough!” Dmitri squeezed my shoulder. This feeble attempt at reassurance did not mask the anger seeping into his tone, though. “Maybe we should look at our menus for a while. The waitress will be back soon and Gunni doesn’t know the food here.”
The words forming at the tip of my tongue stayed there. Gunnar followed his boyfriend’s lead and turned his attention to the little leather-covered book that housed the bazillion food options anyone with normal functioning intestines and immune systems could enjoy. Even touching that cover would give me enough hives to make it impossible to play cello for a week, so I had to watch the kid ask his boyfriend for advice on what to fill his stomach with instead.
“You should avoid anything with peanut. Siggi can get a reaction just from breathing around them, so we’re safer if there isn’t a plate with peanut particles floating right in front of him.”
“Ok, I’ll look out for that. Anything else?”
They turned to me at the same time. Their looks of surprise were easy to identify because my face had the same expression.
“What did you…?”
“I get it. This is important to you. I have to be a better friend. It’s just… It’s hard.”
“I know. And I appreciate that you’re trying.” Dmitri tapped my shoulder.
Gunnar looked away, as if he made a point of staying out of it, though his smile was too obvious to miss.
“What made you think of apologising?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you forbidding your boyfriend from passively killing me. I need to get my shit together if whatever you brought us here for is so important.”
“Thanks, Siggi. It makes me really happy to hear you say this.” Dmitri’s smile showed all his teeth. Gunnar turned to us too, though he avoided looking straight at me. “I’m going to make this as quick as I can, so you guys don’t have to be together for too long. Let’s just order food and we can start.”
As if on cue, the waitress materialised by our table. Gunnar ordered the most ridiculously spicy food in the menu, Dmitri ordered coq au vin (because why would he eat anything other than a homophone of male genitalia doused in alcohol), and I asked for tap water for the sake of ordering something. The waitress confirmed one last time that I would be eating plain steak and potatoes, and finally left us to our business.
“I want to start this with an apology as well. I should have believed you when you tried to warn me about my behaviour. The fact that I couldn’t – that I can’t see when I’m getting too deep into Gunni’s life is what I’m most scared of. And the last few days just proved why. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, Siggi. I’m sorry I hurt you, that I didn’t see you suffering, and that I wasn’t there when you needed me. I’m sorry I was too clingy, Gunni. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable and didn’t make you feel safe enough to talk to me about this. I’m sorry if you thought I would be hurt. And I’m sorry if there’s anything else I’m forgetting about my horrible behaviour.”
“No, I don’t think you are.” Gunnar did the shoulder squeeze thing to Dmitri. I should have been a good friend and done the same. But my hand would not move. Gunnar made it look so easy. So simple. “Thank you for apologising, though in a way it wasn’t your fault.” Dmitri leaned into his touch too.
“It was his fault in that he promised to listen to my warning, but he ignored me when I tried to say something. He should’ve known better.”
Gunnar scowled, but Dmitri smiled at him.
“He’s right, Gunni. That’s exactly why I needed to apologise.” Dmitri put our hands on his, keeping a firm grip even when my first instinct was to move away. “I want to do better from now on. I spent the last few days thinking about my talk with Gunni. Now that I’ve experienced what it is like to not realise I’m doing something wrong, I want to trust your judgement above my own. I need you to tell me when things are going wrong, and call me out if I’m ignoring you again. But in order to do that, we’ll have to work together.”
Gunnar and I looked at each other at the same time. Dmitri obviously knew what my answer to this would be, but his grip on my hand tightened just as I was about to tell him where to shove his teamwork.
Gunnar had no trouble speaking, though. “What kind of cooperation do you have in mind?”
“We have to discuss our relationship. We need to set some rules, some boundaries, so that Siggi doesn’t feel like I’m ignoring him and you don’t worry that my life revolves around you.”
“What you’re saying is that we should treat this as a poly relationship.”
Gunnar’s jaw fell. He could not take his eyes away from me. “A poly relationship? As in… the three of us…”
“Exactly. Your dear boyfriend wants us to become a triad, or a ‘v’ at least, with him in the middle and the two of us as his lovers.”
Gunnar’s neon tomato face was definitely worth the hassle of eating out.
“You don’t like this idea?” Dmitri’s hand that had been on mine decided to caress the kid’s cheeks instead. Gunnar leaned into the touch as per usual, but his flaming red face and amusing stare never turned away from me.
“No, it’s… it’s ok, I think. I’m just…”
“You just can’t believe your boyfriend is actually making you get in a relationship with me? Like you planned all along when this shit started?” Laughing on his face was much better than I anticipated. “Please, I’m sure he just made all your wet dreams come true.”
Dmitri opened his mouth to speak, but Gunnar beat him to it. “I think we’ve moved on from that plan for a while now. Dmitri didn’t think he would fall in love with me then, and I didn’t think I would figure out so much about myself as I did in the past few months. I was just taken by surprise now. And I do still like you, sort of, so the idea of being in a relationship with you, even if through Dmitri, is something I would like to look forward to. But it depends on how you’re going to take it.”
Two sets of eyes stared at me.
“We haven’t even made it official and you’re already ganging up on me. If that’s how it’s going to be, then I –”
“It’s not how it’s going to be. The whole point is that you and Gunni can gang up on me when I screw up.” Dmitri’s smile proceeded to kill all the words rising in my throat. “I know it’s a lot to ask when you’ve just proved how hard it is for you to even have a civil conversation, but we need to be able to do this. We experienced how horrible things can get when I’m out of control. I love you both, even if in different ways, and I don’t want to lose either of our relationships. They’re the most precious things I have in my life. So I’m going to fight for them with all I have. And it would mean the world to me if you did the same.”
What could we say after that? Gunnar fumbled with his napkin, eyes down and lips tuned to a thin line. My napkin too suddenly became the most interesting thing at the table. A lot easier to look at than the people in front of me. A distraction in that awkward silence I could not break.
Eventually, Gunnar did, though. “How do you want this relationship to work, then?”
“To be honest, I haven’t thought it through that far. I need your input anyway, because I can’t decide on something this big and important by myself.”
“What about you, Siggi? Do you have any thoughts?”
“Other than who named you our facilitator for the evening?” I raised an eyebrow, but Gunnar smiled and shrugged. Dmitri’s hand gripped mine again, another one of those physical comforting gestures they used so naturally. “I want Dmitri fucking my brains out at every opportunity. And I want you out of my way as much as possible.”
“That’s understandable.” Gunnar nodded. Dmitri grasped his hand too, though he kept his eyes on me.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m just an afterthought in your life. I don’t want you babbling about how amazing your dear boyfriend is as soon as you’re apart. I’m fucking tired of him intruding in my life because of you. If it depended on me I would rather your relationship didn’t exist at all, but I understand it’s not something I can ask. So when I’m spending time with you, I want to be with you, not your attachment.”
“I don’t remember the last time you were so eloquent about your feelings.” Dmitri reached for a hug. That ‘eloquence’ was not a surprise only to him. “I wonder if it’s because you’ve been spending so much time with Arnar nowadays. He could have that effect on you.”
“You mean because I was forced to be with Arnar so I wouldn’t have to have the kid’s presence shoved down my throat? Is that you trying to find something good about your massive screw-up?”
“No, that’s me examining a real possibility. I’ve seen it happen. Arnar always brings out the best in you in a way that nobody else manages. I’m a bit jealous of him for it, actually.”
“So you would rather keep me with Arnar while you enjoy your boyfriend?”
Dmitri dropped his head on my shoulder. It should have hurt more than it did. “It’s not like that. I just think that being around Arnar is good for you, so maybe what we should do is have me divide my time between you and Gunni, and have you divide yours between me and Arnar. And I suppose that means Gunni will divide his time between me and his cousins. We just need to find way that works out for everybody. What do you think, Gunni? How do you feel about this?”
My mouth opened before Gunnar’s. The words had been there much earlier, but I thought their urge to come out had died when Dmitri spelled out how much I meant to him in a way that should have pierced through the wall of my conscience.
It did not pierce far enough, though. At least not as far as to prevent me from screwing things up for no reason before I realised what was happening.
“Gunnar thinks you’re suffocating. That you overwhelm him with your intensity. You put a lot of pressure on him and he’s not ready to take it.”
Gunnar’s face turned from deep red to paler than mine. Dmitri broke the hug. Somehow it was easy to see he was confused and hurt as he looked between me and his boyfriend. “Did he tell you that?”
“Those were his words when he came asking me for help. I guess he wasn’t as frank with you?”
“You had no right to tell him that.” That low, threatening rumble sounded nothing like the kid, but there was no question it came out of his mouth. His fists curled at the table. He bared his teeth and his eyes locked on mine glowing with the one emotion I recognised so well I could smell its presence.
“How do you do this?” Gunnar’s words spilled out of his mouth, each hitting me with the force of a punch. “Every time I think we’re doing well and you understand how serious it is, you find a way to screw up. Is it on purpose? Do you really hate me so much it’s worth destroying your best friend’s life over it?”
The world beyond that anger disappeared. The kid looked at me, but he was no longer just the kid. His childish, innocent face became anything but. My body forgot how to breathe. How to speak. How to do anything other than stare back at him waiting for the moment he would throw the table at me, drag me from the chair by my hair and punch my face into the wall.
But the table stayed in place. The kid never touched me. Naïve, innocent Gunnar took one last look at me and ran away so fast his chair crashed on the floor. No words. No pain.
“It’s ok, Siggi. Gunni won’t hurt you.”
Dmitri’s voice came from somewhere in the nothingness. It floated in the air, never quite able to break through to this strange new world where even the kid was dangerous.
“It’s ok, Siggi.”
No, it wasn’t.