"Here" a short story by Chase

I want people to read a story where LGBTQ+ characters are normalized.

——-

I watched Jay stare at the Manhattan skyline for what felt like an eternity. I heard the cars and trucks down below us passing through, we’re on the promenade. The white noise of it all coming together to make a calming hum, kind of like the one I hear from my apartment. I live in the Jacob Riis Housing Projects in the Lower East Side, I’m trying to spot my building from here but it’s more uptown than I think it is. My sister Noah is probably home with her girlfriend Elly, she’s always over at our place.

“Jay, you good?” I asked.

“I’m livin’ Andy, don’t worry,” They said.

“Okay then, dramatic-ass. You were just staring for while, didn’t know if you were plotting to kill someone or something.”

Jay rubbed their hands together and said, “Bro how’d you know, I gotta move to a different state, dye my hair and change my name now.” They jumped back off the fence, laughing menacingly, and ran a few feet away and struck a dramatic pose.

“I thought you already did some of that though!”

“Oh so you got jokes now? Everyone give a round of applause to this dude right here.” Jay clapped and we both laughed. Jay continued to walk and vogue.

We walked for a bit longer, I asked, “Where do you wanna go next, my friend?”

“Hmmmm, how about Coney Island?” Jay responded.

“What are we, the Warriors?” I asked sarcastically.

“Nowhere to run nowhere to hide,” They sang. “We’re not safe until we get back to Coney, man.”

“Aii. So we out to the Island of Coney. Hopefully nobody will cross us before then.” We walked to Jay Street and caught the F.

I’m most comfortable with Jay, I think they feel the same way with me, but I’m not sure. They can be a really closed off person, which I respect, but sometimes it drives me insane. I tend to overthink everything and feel like I did something wrong or I hurt them. I just want them to express themselves more often, I’d never judge them. Whatever, I start to get irritated whenever I think about it. So anyway, we’re on our way to Coney Island.

“I love being on the train,” I said relieved.

“I know. You say that a lot homie.” Jay said.

“I just find it so calm-”

“Calming!” Jay shouted, they cut me off.

I rolled my eyes and smiled. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

They laughed. It was kinda weird hearing that. Recently, Jay hasn’t really shown any type of affection towards me. And even though that wasn’t affectionate at all, that was more than anything I’ve gotten from them in a while. I looked out the window of the train, it was dark for a few seconds, we were just pulling out of the tunnel at Church Ave, halfway there. Other than the train sighing, Jay and I sat in silence. Jay is one of the only people that I am comfortable being silent with. Although I was usually the most comfortable when I was around Jay, that uncertain feeling started creeping in, and I did not like it. I was getting more anxious.

The train screeched as we pulled into the Stillwell Ave. We stepped off the train, and Jay made their way up the stairs to the walkway that stands above the eight tracks. I kept at my own pace, staying back and watching Jay look around and do their thing. After I saw the waves of people crash through the platforms for a bit, I noticed that Jay was standing still, almost frozen, staring toward the faint Manhattan skyline, it wasn’t the first time. I saw them watching the moving trains and the traffic on the highways. Life was just going on. I got a little worried, Jay was looking for a long time. I walked closer and looked at their face. “Jay?” their eyes were a little watery.

“Hm?” they sniffled, rubbing their face. “Oh,” They noticed I was onto them. “I think something went in my eye.” They were trying to cover it up, continuing to rub their eyes. It was pretty obvious that it wasn’t something that went in their eye. But I didn’t want to question it and make them uncomfortable. I learned that Jay will tell me things when they’re ready. “I-uh, I think I should go home now, I think my mom needed me to help her with something.”

“Aight, no worries, I’m getting kinda hungry anyway, I’ll see if Noah is, too,” I responded, trying not to sound suspicious. I pulled my phone out just to check what time it was, I knew for a fact that Noah and Elly already ate something, they’re always eating.

When I got home, Noah and Elly were watching a show and laughing, yelling out lines. I could hear them through the apartment door while I made my way down the hall. I smiled and unlocked the door. They were tangled up on the couch, giggling. “Hey it’s Andy!” I saluted to them, they continued to watch TV and laugh. I walked past them and into the kitchen to heat up food. My phone buzzed, thinking it was Jay, I quickly grabbed it off of the counter, but it was stupid spam. I was confused, usually Jay lets me know when they’re home, but they didn’t text anything today. Maybe they had to pick up something for their mom on the way home. I would’ve texted them but I didn’t want to bother them, I thought it was best to give them space. So I pushed myself to get off my phone so I wouldn’t obsess over it. I joined Noah and Elly on the couch and ate my food, they could tell I was feeling off. We watched the show for a few hours. I checked my phone every once in a while, and of course like I always do, started to overthink about what could’ve been going on with Jay.

The whole weekend flew by and Jay still didn’t text or call. I was trying to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t overthink. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to school to see them.

I get to school, sit through classes I would rather not be in, deal with people I’d rather not deal with, and finally it was time to go to lunch, I shoot down the stairs to the cafeteria and I sit down at the end of our table, waiting. I keep rotating my phone on its sides and corners, bouncing my leg, I was getting antsy. I keep waiting for my phone to vibrate or make a sound, hoping it’s Jay calling or texting me saying that they got held up with a teacher or something, just anything confirming that they’re at school today. Just to know they’re okay. This continues.

They missed two days of school in a row already, this is really not like them. I’m still waiting at our table and Jay never showed. I walk back up to class every time and wait for school to be over.

Almost four days with no communication at all, wouldn’t that make any normal person worry? I started getting bad images in my mind and shutting and rubbing my eyes hard to stop them...Always thinking of the worst things, I freak myself out.

I get home and even though I’m trying to focus on homework, I’m walking back and forth in my room. I’m in agony, I can’t be patient, I grab my phone and call them. “Hello? Jay?”

“Ohh what’s up Andy? What’s crackalackin my G,” they started laughing really hard.

Huh? “What’s so funny? I haven’t seen or heard from you in mad long. What’s going on? You good?” I felt lost. There were loud sounds in the background.

“Ah yeah, man, yeah I’m fine. I’m fine, man, yeah don’t worry about me.” They kept laughing.

“Yo, Jay...are you high?”

“What-nah dude, I’m just-well-uh. Yeah, just-just a little bit.”

I’m so confused, Jay never smokes or drinks. “Why? Why are you high?” I asked, starting to get frustrated.

“Yo Andy did you see the game last night, pretty crazy, ya boy-”

“Nah shut up, quit playing and please just tell me what’s going on with you,” I demanded. I came off a bit harsher than I wanted to, but this was really bothering me.

Jay snapped, “Damn, get off me, will you? You’re not my mom. I don’t have to explain myself to you. Peace.” They hung up.

I was really irritated. I mean, I wasn’t that shitty to them. I just wanted to know how my friend was doing. But now I don’t even know what this means. I mean, what kind of shit was that? Jay never smokes or drinks. And they sure as hell never blow me off like that. Whatever, I’ll be here when they’re ready to talk. I threw my phone on the bed and I left it alone. I can’t even focus on homework anymore, forget it.

A few days go by and Jay texts me, they asked how I was doing. I texted back “meh.” They were acting normal, as if nothing had ever happened, like they never ghosted me, like they never acted weird. I want them to actually tell me what’s going on instead of playing these games. A couple of hours had gone by, I checked our conversation and saw that Jay had opened my message and didn’t respond. Aight. I shrugged it off, trying to not let it bother me, I was too stressed. But me being me, of course, I had to text them again to check in, even if it was them who left me on read. “Good night, hope you’re good.” It felt weird to even write a text like that, even though we’re good friends. It felt risky and I don’t know why. I sent it anyway because it felt right. I guess I was afraid they would think I was being annoying.

After a couple days, I got a call from Jay’s mom, Iris.

“Hello? Iris?”

She cleared her throat, “Andy, good morning. I uh, I have something to tell you. Um...” Her voice broke and she started crying. She continued talking but all I heard was ringing in my ears. It was all mumbling, I couldn’t hear clearly. I just...didn’t know what to do, think, or say. Everything just stopped but at the same time everything was spinning. I think I dropped my phone, I blacked out, too.

Everything in the world changed, everything seemed to be ending. The only friend I have killed themselves, and I didn’t know until it was too late. I didn’t get to do anything that could’ve stopped them, I don’t even remember the last time I said “I love you” to Jay. Holy shit, is it my fault? I was the one who gave them a hard time for not speaking to me, but I was also the one who cared so much and stuck by their side. I don’t know. I was the one who respected everything about them. I’ve been there for Jay. I don’t know. I thought I showed them that I’m here for them, well wait, now it’s "was”. Shit, it’s was now, everything is past tense now. It’s too late for anything now. Now is just terrible. A world without Jay. A world where everything reminds me of them. Oh fuck, for the rest of my life I’m going to be saying cringey shit like, “Oh, one of my old friends loved those,” and “Damn, my friend would’ve liked this,” And everybody is going look at me with pity, this is so stupid. I don’t even know what to think. I’m yelling at myself. I’m getting really angry and I don’t know why. I’m being so selfish right now. I should just be thinking about Jay and what happened. I should’ve stayed on the phone with Iris and consoled her. I shouldn't have been so mad at Jay. I need to get out of here. I just need to get out of here.

I’m gonna be alone without them.

Teary eyes, blasting music, blurs of subway stations, neighborhoods, and people flash by, somehow I make it to Coney Island. I sluggishly step off the train, hesitant. I walk to the middle of the platform and I don’t know which way to turn; if I turn left, I go up to the walkway where Jay and I stood, where I saw them cry, where I didn’t hug them or ask what was wrong. If I go the other way, I face the world, I face the water, the sand where we used to sit, those memories. Looking at the beach makes me want Jay around even more. I should have done something sooner, I should have asked what was wrong a long time ago, when I first noticed they were acting different.

But that’s ripped away from me, nothing feels the same. It’s only been a few hours after I found out and I am already extremely emotionally drained and exhausted. This place that I used to escape to is filled with the emptiness I feel now. My stomach feels like it’s been torn out. I have not stopped crying since Iris called me. I feel so lost. I’m gonna be alone without them.

I’m in my room now, sitting on the floor against my bed, tossing a crumpled up piece of paper up and down. I’m trying to focus on something other than crying, but the tears keep rolling down my face. My head hurts from the congestion and the sobbing. I throw the paper ball at the other end of my room where it meets used tissues. I hold my head in my hands. Tears run down my hands to my wrists where scars are, and past them, down to my elbows. Maybe if only I texted Jay before they...well.

I hear Noah and Elly cooking, they have the TV on as background noise, they’re both talking about how their day went. They started speaking softer, and their conversation was probably about me because I got a text from Noah saying, “We know what you’re going through is really hard and we’re here whenever you need us. We’ll leave some food for you on the counter. Come have it whenever you’re ready. We understand that you’ll need time and maybe some space as well. Whatever you need, I can make it possible. We’ll be on the couch watching TV. Love you.” It comforts me, but I still can’t stop crying.

The sound of Iris’ voice on the phone keeps echoing in my mind. When she started to cry, the static and ringing of silence, again. It pounds in my head. I grab a piece of paper and a pen. I start scribbling away at the page, almost ripping through it. Tears stain the blue lines and make them bleed. The thoughts haven’t stopped. The page is torn and it looks insane. My cries got louder, Noah came in and pushed the papers away, sits next to me and hugs me while my limbs go weak, I collapse into her arms. She speaks, strokes my hair, and breathes slowly. I start to mimic her breath to calm myself down, taking me back to the thing we used to do when we were younger when things got rough, the tactic we used for both of us to calm down. It felt like I was in her arms for hours, I probably was.

I don’t remember the rest of that night. I just know it was really tough to get through. I guess I actually don’t remember the rest of that month, either. However, my relationship with Noah is better now, it feels like I have her around again. But it really sucks that it took a shitty thing to happen for us to get close. I wish something else would have happened instead, so I would still have Jay. Things just kinda happen, there is no reason behind it, and what we can do is learn from them. When someone that you care about kills themselves, you have no idea how to feel about anything. People never really forget those people, even though that’s everyone’s fear, to be forgotten. It’s an interesting thing. I felt extremely lost, for a really, really long time. Even though I was lost, having Noah and Elly around helped a lot. We sorta created an environment where we communicate more about anything. From the smallest to biggest situation, someone should be there for you. Everybody needs somebody to be there for them. You just gotta tell them, ‘I’m always here.’

-fin





"If Only" a short story by Rebakkah Ruffin

Stella was certain about a lot of things, her death being one of them. It was strange to say the least, knowing exactly how and when you were going to die. For some reason, the cold isolation of knowing this wasn’t the reason Stella felt so alone.  Stella was faced with a decision. A decision that, whether she liked it or not would leave her in a state of turmoil or the one that she loved. Astrid was her name. She looked over to see her lover on the other side of the bed, her peaceful sleep taunting Stella, almost like it was laughing at her. Stella turned over and stared at the clock. The numbers illuminating the dark room. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until the 12:00am appeared on the clock and a defeated sigh escaped her lips.  The black mark on her skin saying ‘12 hours’ pulsed. It glowed. It burned.

She knew this would happen.  

She knew this was coming.

There was a small part of Stella that wished time would slow down. That she could do everything over again. But that wouldn’t be fair now would it? Stella ran her fingers through her hair, tears threatening to escape. She didn't let them. Instead, she whispered to Astrid that she loved her. A delicate kiss placed on her cheek before she slipped out of the bed where death awaited her.

***

A few Hours Later

Saying that Stella leaving her girlfriend without saying goodbye was crappy would be the understatement of the year. The girl moved quietly in the silence refusing to let herself take anything of sentimental value. She couldn’t grow attached. Attached meant that she would want to stay behind. Staying behind meant that Astrid would be put into danger.  Stella didn’t put much in her bag, all of her contents consisted of some snacks and her communicator. She paced around for a few seconds, hoping that she could just snap herself out of this. As if it was a horrific dream, a cruel joke that somebody could be playing on her. But that would be foolish. Foolish is what got her into this mess in the first place.

“Hey.” A voice said, startling Stella.

“Astrid,” Stella scrambled and pushed the bag behind her. She stood, creating an awkward pose as she tried to hide the bag. “I didn’t realize you were up.”

“Yeah, I was going to make breakfast,” Astrid gazed over to see what Stella was hiding. Stella quickly shuffled to block her view, which only made the girl more suspicious. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, of course why wouldn’t it be?” Stella said a little too quickly.

“What are you hiding?”

“Nothing.”

“Stella…”

“It’s nothing!”

But Astrid didn’t buy it. She instead walked closer and tried to grab the bag. Stella tried to stop her but to no avail as Astrid was able to snag the bag causing Stella to almost lose her balance.

“What the hell is this?” Astrid held up the bag, she shook it as her hands trembled. “What the hell is this?”

“I-I’m.”

“Are you seriously leaving? You were just going to run off, not even a goodbye?”

“I can’t. I wanted to-. It-” Stella said softly.

“Wow,” Astrid scoffed. “Nothing to say.”

Stella couldn’t. The words were stuck in her throat. She begged herself to say a sentence, a word, a phrase, something. The words didn’t dare to leave her mouth. She was stuck so she raised her hands to her head , completely forgetting about the cursed number that laid on her skin.

“What is that?”

Stella refused to answer. Instead she held out her arm. Astrid walked closer, horrified as to what was happening.

“How long have you known?”

“A while.”

“Define a while.”

“A year. Possibly longer, I don’t know I’ve lost track.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Astrid said, tears forming in her eyes.

“You think this was easy for me?”

“You should have told me.”

“I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror and tell myself I was dying. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Get real, Stella, you weren’t going to tell me at all. You were going to let me worry, wondering where the hell my girlfriend was just for me to get a call telling me to come pick up your corpse!”

“You don’t understand.”

“Yeah, I don’t. But you’ve made it clear that you don’t want me to.” Astrid threw the bag down, with force, the floorboard creaking in response. “Leave then.”

Stella’s lips quiffered.

“You wanted to leave so bad so go!” Astrid pointed at the door. “Don’t ever come back!”

Stella pleaded. “Astrid, I-.”

But Astrid didn’t let her finish, she instead reached into her pocket, pulled out a small box and forced it into Stella’s hand. “And take that while you’re at it.” She turned away, tears staining her face as she retreated back into her bedroom.

Stella bit her lip and blinked hardly as she heard the door slam. She slowly opened the box to see a nice ring staring back at her. Laughing at her. Stella closed it and slid it into her pocket. She grabbed the bag, her hands feeling heavy as she opened the front door.  She turned to the side, letting out a small hope that Astrid would come back. But that was foolish and foolish is what got Stella here in the first place.

***

Stella felt numb. She couldn’t go far. She could carry herself down the block to a restaurant, where she slid into the booth. The waitress poured some water into the glass but Stella paid it no mind. She sat there, watching the one hour on her arm pulse away. It burned and she winced. This was really happening. She would die at any moment.

“No Astrid today?” The waitress said setting down a basket of bread.

Stella shook her head.

“Bad fight.”

She nodded.

“It’s okay sugar, you both are young. Y’all got plenty of time, you’ll be back together hugging and kissing in no time.”

“Yeah,” Stella mumbled. “Plenty of time.”

The word stung. Stella sipped the water, her mind beginning to race as she finally let the tears stroll down her face. She sobbed to herself, hoping that in some miraculous way, everything would be able to work out.

“Hey, what’s going on over there?” Someone asked.

Stella turned around and stared out the window. Cars were swarming down the block. They seemed to be heading towards a building. Stella’s heart froze. They were stopping at Astrid’s building. A man got out and started firing down the block making people scatter. Another man could be seen running into the building.  A third guy started shooting at the restaurant, causing the people to scatter.Stella raced out of the booth, leaving everything behind, she pushed people out of the way who were trying to see the commotion. She ran, her body telling her to go back but it only caused her to run faster. She didn’t know how but she was dodging the bullets and the dead bodies that were swarming the streets. Then she felt it. Her. Astrid. She was on the ground and Stella almost lost her breath.

“Astrid!” She yelled.

The world seemed to stop.

Astrid held her hand to her stomach where a huge cut was shown. Stella leaned down.

“Hey, hey it’s okay, I’ve got you.” Stella said softly.

Astrid whimpered. “Stella.”

Stella lifted Astrid in her arms. Police and ambulances were now on the scene. A ambulance official screaming at people to help the ones who were wounded. Stella looked at Astrid, her eyes full of fear. She turned back to the ambulance. And Stella ran. She went as fast as she could, even picking up speed. She would do this right. If this was the way she went out then, so be it. She made it to the official helping the ambulance workers place Astrid on the gurney.  Before one of the workers could even get a chance to ask Stella if she was alright, another loud gun shot rang out. Stella felt something. Something pulse through her skin. She looked down to see a bright red spot slowly forming on her shirt. Another bang. Another red spot. Stella fell down, struggling to breathe, her mind seemed to stop racing.

This was it.

This was it.

Stella could feel herself floating, her soul it was coming out of her body. She could see the workers trying to get Astrid back into the vehicle. There was no point in Astrid coming to her aid. Her body was nothing but a empty vessel. Stella soared into the sky, she should have felt settled but she was only left with guit. She attempted to scream, to plead, but nothing would work. She was truly alone. Stella hugged her knees, watching the land she once knew disappear.

Meanwhile on earth, Astrid scrambled to Stella’s body. The ambulance workers trying to fight her but she didn't care. She shook Stella, pleading for her to awake. And then she felt it. The small box was still with Stella. Astrid didn’t know what to do. She just gripped the box and held the hand of her lover.

If only, life wasn’t so cruel.

If only, Stella said something to her. If only Astrid listened.

But the damage had already been done.