Trigger Warning: This story contains references to domestic violence, self harm, and sexual content.
Harry was asleep in Eli’s bed. His cheek was squished against his fist and he was drooling a little from the corner of his mouth. He’d slept this way since he was a toddler. I tucked a piece of hair behind his ear, revealing a temple ringed with beetroot red where our dad had struck him. It had taken me an hour to settle him down once I’d driven us here, to Eli’s, where we were safe.
I pulled the blanket tight to cover his shoulders and crept out of the room, closing the door gently behind me. I rested my head against the timber. It was… quiet.
Eli was waiting down the corridor in the living room, watching a sitcom on TV. He sensed my approach.
‘He’s okay?’ Eli asked, peering over his sofa to face me.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Asleep.’
I leaned against the wall and nodded. My head hurt. Harry’s pained wails played on loop in my mind, filling the otherwise empty noise.
Eli turned off the TV and pocketed his wallet.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘We,’ he said as he retrieved a flask from the fridge, ‘are going for a drive.’
‘What about Harry?’
‘Mum can watch him. We have a ten-year-old here too, remember?’
Eli grabbed his keys from the coffee table and jingled them at me. ‘Let’s go.’
I spent the drive listening to music and staring out the window, watching the world blur by without actually seeing anything at all. My shoulder ached more with every metre we drove further away from Harry. When my dad had moved to strike him a second time, I’d tried to catch his hand. Instead, it had collided with my shoulder. Better me than Harry. I’d screamed at my dad to stop until my lungs and throat burned, then I’d scooped Harry into my arms and ran away.
‘Noah.’ Eli’s voice cut into my thoughts. ‘We’re here.’
I pulled myself into the present and took in my surroundings for the first time since leaving Harry. ‘Mt Coot-Tha.’
‘You’ve been here before?’ Eli turned off the car engine.
‘Yeah. Once, but I was really little. Never at night-time though.’
‘You’ll love it, come on.’
Eli stepped out of the car, and I soon followed. The car park was full. Red and green P plates displayed on most cars, and a couple of them on the far edges of the parking lot rocked, steam collecting on the windows. I grimaced.
‘Desperate times…’ said Eli as he wrapped an arm around me and led me towards the lookout. His touch was soft but secure. Comforting.
We walked up a cobblestone ramp, passing a quaint restaurant and bar. Its exterior walls were white with brown trimmings and the roofs were made of orange brick. It was the centrepiece of the lookout, raised above the rest. But being eleven PM, it was closed. Dark.
Eli and I weaved through outdoor seats and umbrellas when something cool and hard tapped my arm. Eli’s flask. I accepted it gratefully and took a swig. As I sealed the cap, we reached the main lookout.
There were no street lights or lamps here, only the glow of the city below.
I moved to the edge of the mountain, clutching the safety rail and leaning forward. Eli joined me a moment later.
‘It’s beautiful,’ I whispered.
An ocean of city lights twinkled like man-made stars. Yellow and orange and green and red. The wind bit at my bare arms but I didn’t care. I could breathe again.
Time passed as we stood there, taking turns sipping from the flask, hypnotised by the view of the world moving in slow motion.
The stillness was broken by high-pitched screeching.
I jerked my head towards the sound, fists clenched—ready for danger. But it was just a group of squealing girls in beautiful dresses and makeup. They swayed and leaned and giggled all over each other.
Eli rested an arm on my shoulder to soothe me.
I faced the night sky again, heart still pounding. My problems had found me even out here.
‘He promised,’ I said.
Eli moved so our elbows touched. ‘Who promised?’
‘My dad. He promised he’d never do it again.’
Eli dropped his head. ‘I know.’ And he did know.
‘It was supposed to end with me,’ I paused to take the flask from Eli’s hand. ‘Harry’s just a kid.’ The vodka warmed my throat.
‘Noah.’ Eli waited for me to look at him. ‘So were you.’
Tears sprang to my eyes. I tried to blink them away.
‘Let’s sit,’ said Eli.
I nodded and let him lead me to a quiet corner of the lookout, a round platform above the mountain’s road. We sat, legs dangling off the edge between the safety rails. I rested my head on Eli’s shoulder, throat burning as I held back sobs.
He rubbed my back. ‘Breathe.’
I did, it was a shaky breath. I closed my eyes and tried again. A little steadier.
‘You can cry, you know.’
‘I know,’ I sighed. ‘I just don’t want to.’
Eli scoffed and shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips. It made his right dimple visible.
‘What?’ I asked him.
‘You sound exactly like her. Sofia.’
It was my turn to smile now. Sofia. My girlfriend, or ex, or best friend, or something. We’d had a bad fight. What about, well, I wasn’t entirely sure. Everything? We loved each other, of course, but it was how we expressed that love that was the problem. Or maybe it was our insecurities. Or both. We were on a break. Whether that was temporary or permanent was still up in the air. Love was easy but loving was difficult, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be.
‘Did she…did you talk to her?’ I asked.
Eli grabbed the flask from me. ‘Yeah.’
‘Right after, actually.’
Right after the fight. I watched as Eli sipped his drink. We’d fought about him too. I’d get jealous about the way Sofia would look at Eli, the way she’d smile at him, the way she sometimes confided in him instead of me. Of course, she went straight to him after our fight.
Eli screwed the flask lid back on and shook his head. ‘Honestly? No. She cried. It broke my heart.’
‘Oh.’ I picked at my cuticles. Knowing that she cried tore my heart open even more. I loved Sofia; I would never want to hurt her.
‘I don’t blame you, by the way. And I’m not ‘picking sides’ either. I know it’s just the situation.’
‘I know.’ I patted Eli on the back. His white tee clung to him, his skin showing ever so slightly through the thin fabric.
‘The thing is…she wasn’t just upset about what happened between you guys. It was like that was just a catalyst for everything else. All these truths just came pouring out of her. Did you…did you know?’
I didn’t like to think about it but yes, I did know. Whenever Sofia felt like she failed, or if she ever felt stupid, she would hit herself. She’d smack her head over and over and couldn’t stop until her body would crumple to the floor, unable to bear anymore. I only knew because I’d caught her in the middle of an attack when I’d driven over to surprise her. I’d grasped her wrists and pulled her to the ground with me. She’d folded into my lap, palms pressed to her eyes as tears poured from them.
‘I found out a few weeks ago.’
Eli shook his head. ‘I had no idea. I hate that I had no idea.’
‘She’s good at hiding it. She thinks because she doesn’t have an abusive dad like us, or because she has money and we don’t, that she doesn’t have any problems or struggles or whatever.’
‘No healthy, happy person hurts themselves though.’
‘That’s what I said.’
‘Seeing her like that, listening to the way she talks about herself, it made me so mad. I just wish she could see what I see. What we see. She’s so hard on herself.’
I grinned. The first in a long time.
‘What? Why are you smiling?’
‘It’s funny,’ I began, taking the flask and drinking from it. ‘Sofia and I say the same thing about you.’ Eli thought he was stupid, but he was the most intelligent person I’d ever met. He was just never given the right opportunities, never nurtured.
Sofia nurtures him.
But then…Eli protects me, and I support Sofia. The three of us balanced each other out. We were like Yin and Yang split into three.
Eli stared up at the sky. ‘It’s different with her though.’
Eli swung his legs, looking at something to the left, his face hidden from my view. ‘The breeze is so nice up here.’
There was something strange about his tone. It’s different with her. And now he was avoiding the topic.
‘Eli.’ I placed a hand on his thigh. It was muscular beneath his jeans. ‘Have you…have you ever had feelings for Sofia?’
‘That’s a dumb question,’ he replied, still facing away from me.
‘Because it’s dumb.’
‘Look at me then.’
‘Drop it,’ Eli snapped, finally turning back to me. I thought I’d heard some panic in his voice, but it was much clearer in his eyes. Panic, and longing.
‘You have,’ I whispered. ‘You do. You have feelings for her.’
‘Stop it, Noah.’
‘You stop lying.’
‘I’m not, I just—it doesn’t matter.’ Eli stood up, ruffled his hair.
I stood too. ‘Doesn’t matter?’
‘I don’t know why we’re discussing this,’ Eli paced. ‘Please just stop.’
‘Fine, okay. I’ll stop. Will you please sit back down?’
Eli eyed me, then agreed.
We sat in silence and drank some more.
‘You know,’ I began after a swig, ‘Sofia once said that before she and I got together, you were kinda into me.’
Eli, who had been touching knees with me, pulled away. ‘I was not,’ he exclaimed.
‘Into me enough to consider sex with me.’
‘I. Am going. To kill her.’ He snatched the flask from my hand.
I chuckled. ‘I can’t believe it’s true.’
Eli drank and, as he was screwing the flask’s lid back on, licked his lower lip, flicking his lip ring. I, for a second, wondered what that would feel like on my lips—what it would feel like to kiss. His lips looked soft and plump against the thin metal hoop.
I raked a hand through my hair and shook my head. ‘Shit, the drink’s hitting me.’
Eli held up the flask in mock cheers. ‘That’s the goal.’
‘Is it hitting you?’
‘Most definitely.’ He cackled, which made me laugh, and we leaned into each other until our faces nearly touched.
The laughter settled but we didn’t move.
His hazel eyes appeared browner in this lighting, his lashes long and dark.
His lips are right there.
I cleared my throat and sat up. Eli followed suit.
What was wrong with me? I wasn’t the kind of guy to lust over someone without romantic feelings—and I loved Sofia. Eli was just a friend.
Then why is my leg tingling where we touch?
Eli watched me, amused.
‘What?’ I asked.
He shrugged, looked out at the man-made stars.
I would have pushed him for an answer, except I was too scared about what words would leave my mouth. Even worse, I was scared about what I might do. Because I wanted him. Between my father and the alcohol…it had been a long night and I wanted this. And I wanted to get something that I wanted for once.
‘Eli.’ I pulled my legs up from between the safety rails and faced him.
He clocked the tone of my voice and my change in body language. ‘Yeah?’
‘How come you never pursued me?’
It was hard to tell in the dark, but it looked like he was blushing. ‘You and Sofia mean too much to me. I would never pursue either of you guys. I wouldn’t want to screw things up.’
I was so sick and tired of being responsible. I just wanted Eli. I wanted to feel his fingers trail my stomach. I wanted to feel his lip ring on my tongue. I wanted to be wanted.
‘What if I wanted you to screw things up?’
‘Eli.’ I shifted closer to him, placing a leg over his lap. ‘Please.’
Like that, his resolve crumbled. He cupped my face and pressed his lips to mine. It was a hungry kiss, mixed with the taste of vodka. Our tongues flirted with each other, dancing with alcohol and desire. He lightly bit my bottom lip, I sucked on his. Eli pulled me on top of him, gripping my hips until I let out a low moan. I gripped his hair with one hand and his bicep with the other. I’d never been with a man before. It was different. Still sensual and intimate but firmer than with women. How could something that’s supposed to be wrong feel so right?
Wrong. This is wrong.
I broke the kiss and stared at Eli. His eyes were glazed over with lust. Our chests rose and fell together.
‘I love Sofia,’ I blurted out. It sounded ridiculous when I was still straddling his lap.
‘So do I,’ he said. ‘And you.’
I scurried to my feet. ‘What?’
Eli bit his lip. Watching me.
‘And me? How is that possible? How can you love more than one person?’
He pushed himself up off the floor and faced me, eyebrows furrowed together. ‘You do.’
I gaped at him. ‘I- I don’t-‘
‘You can love more than one best friend. Love more than one child. Why can’t you romantically love more than one person?’
‘I’m a Christian.’ It was the only argument I could muster, still buzzing with his taste. ‘It’s wrong.’
‘And by Christian terms, you’d go to hell simply for being who you are—bisexual.’
My mind searched for something that made sense. Monogamy was all I knew. Marriage. ‘The one’.
‘I love you, Noah. I love you because of your big heart. You have a lot of love to give. Embrace it.’
Yin and Yang split into three.
‘Kiss me again,’ I told him.
Author: Isabelle Marot is a creative writer with experience in acting and film. She has a special interest in becoming an author of young adult books, with a goal to tell stories, no matter the form, that transform the minds of young people and help them to become the best version of themselves.
Artist: Ella Dickson
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz