Two teenage boys are swept up in the early throes of an unexpected adolescent romance.

This is a free-hand creative writing exercise. I don’t often find South Asian men represented in these kinds of stories so I wanted to incorporate such a character here. This is an incomplete work: stay tuned for updates.

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?

“Kaleb. Kaleb!

It took some time before the dark mess of curls acknowledged its name being called. Turning his head ever so slightly, Kaleb shifted his gaze to focus steadily on Shahin, who immediately stiffened.

“What.”

There was no lilt at the end of his response. It was a classic Kaleb move: passive, deliberate, nearly mechanical. And yet, the deep purr of his voice had the effect of slow-churned butter: hot and heavy, able to stir things low in the pit of your stomach. It wasn’t quite lustful so much as it was unnerving, but the impact was nonetheless the same.

Shahin was caught off-guard the moment that unfamiliar feeling hit him: he likened meeting Kaleb’s eyes to the feeling of being sucker-punched in the gut, only to smile and ask for more. It was flustering to say the least; a feeling that both sickened and excited him.

The timing couldn’t have been better, or worse depending on how you looked at it. Shahid had just ended a brief stint of a relationship with his now ex-girlfriend, a tumultuous affair that was chaotic from day one.

It wasn’t that seduction itself was foreign. Shahin was good-looking, confident, and a notorious serial dater. The relationship he’d recently exited was already a thing of the past, and he was already imagining the next person he would engage in a whirlwind romance.

What he hadn’t foreseen was that the next time he would feel that familiar swooping sensation deep in his belly, it would be from drowning in the gaze of another male.

He knew what bisexual meant. But Shahin had always believed that was a label reserved solely for women, a concept he’d rarely spent any time thinking about except to occasionally fantasize over girl-on-girl action. Now he found himself grappling with it nearly every waking moment.

When he first approached Kaleb to hang out after school, it hadn’t occurred to him that this overture was a manner of courting. He had glimpsed Kaleb’s lanky frame sprawled across the staircase leading down to the school courtyard. He was surprised to find a new face among the throngs of students, many of whom had grown up together in their small town.

It turned out the thin, curly-haired boy with his signature navy-and-gray bomber jacket was a transfer student from Georgia.

He spoke with a slight twang in his voice, much to the fascination of the student body at their suburban New York high school. He was tall, with dark skin and dark hazel eyes framed in lashes so thick it made the girls in his class seethe with envy. His ethnicity was ambiguous, and he refused to divulge any information on the matter.

In other words — he was extremely attractive.

That first day, Shahin approached Kaleb cautiously.

He extended his hand in a fist bump. “Hey man, haven’t seen you around?” He made it a question, prompting Kaleb to reply.

“Oh yeah, it’s actually only my second day of school. My folks moved up here from down South over the summer, so here I am,” he responded cheerfully, though Shahin noted a slight twinge of bitterness in his voice. “I’m Kaleb.”

“I’m Shahin. We’re kinda late for homeroom. Who do you have?” he asked.

Kaleb shrugged. “They gave me a syllabus yesterday but I forgot it at home. So I’m just…kickin’ it.”

Though he was a popular guy at school and an athlete to boot, Shahin took his education very seriously. He was aiming for a seat at Cal Tech, the pinnacle of his long-time dream to move out to the West Coast and out of their town.

It wasn’t as though he’d had a bad life. In fact, his parents were quite affluent, and despite being one of only a handful of minorities in town, his family was well-liked by all. His mother was a middle school science teacher who all his peers had taken class with, and Dad had pulled everyone’s teeth at some point or another, being the only dentist within a 20-mile radius.

Still, there was something about the monotony of living in what he considered a bubble of a town that made him yearn for more.

Despite being late to first period, Shahin was eyeing Kaleb with great interest. “I’ll take you to the main office,” he offered. “We can find out who you have.”

Kaleb smiled and shook his head. “That’s alright. I’ll figure it out eventually. I kinda want to keep exploring the grounds.” He lifted himself effortlessly off the steps, and Shahin suddenly found himself gazing upwards to meet Kaleb’s dark gaze.

“It was nice to meet you, Shahin. I’ll see you around.” Kaleb flashed him a grin, and Shahin felt his stomach lurch as he watched the boy’s thin frame ambling away from the school.

The next time Shahin saw Kaleb was over a week later. The mysterious new kid was the talk of the town, but catching sight of him was rare. That’s why he was stunned to walk into AP Physics one day — one of the most challenging classes the school had to offer — to find see Kaleb lounging in a seat by the windows. He was sporting an orange backwards cap, with his long legs splayed out so far ahead of him that they rested beneath the seat before him.

Shahin’s seat.

He made his way towards his desk, conscious of Kaleb’s eyes on him.

“Hey.” That was all he said.

Shahin inclined his head. “Hey,” he managed. He didn’t know what else to say. What was wrong with him?

He took his seat, and began pulling a notebook and pencil out of his backpack. Bending over, Shahin felt something cool grazing the nape of his neck. He straightened up to find Kaleb blowing air at the back of his head, only pausing to grin in response.

That strange feeling from the other day returned to the pit of his stomach, this time raising goosebumps up his forearms and neck.

“Stop that,” he heard himself say aloud. It came out brusque, almost rude, unlike him.

Kaleb didn’t flinch; instead, his grin grew wider and he settled back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest as he kept Shahin in his line of vision.

Shahin caught sight of a lone eyelash that had fallen upon Kaleb’s freckled cheek; it made him uncomfortable to realize that he’d noticed such a tiny detail.

He slowly turned to face the whiteboard, watching Mr. Cohen scribble the day’s lesson with in black dry-erase marker. Unable to absorb a single word that was said.

After class, there was a mad scramble for the door; physics was the final class of the day. Shahin was uncharacteristically quiet as he shoveled his belongings back into his bag and headed towards the door. He had nearly exited when he felt a hand clap onto his shoulder: it was Kaleb.

“Yo, Shahin. What are you doing right now? Why don’t we hang?” he asked.

Shahin stared at him for a moment.

“Uh, sure,” he said cautiously. “Want to head to the Rocks?”

Kaleb beamed. “Oh yeah, I heard that place was pretty sick. You get a good view of this place from up there, huh?”

Shahin nodded. “It’s one of my favorite smoke spots. I like to hang there when I need alone time. Should be pretty quiet around now.”

Kaleb nodded. “Dope. Let’s go. I can drive.” He slid past Shahin through the doorway, beckoning him to follow as he strode down the hallway towards the main entrance of the school.

With great trepidation mingled with a curious excitement, Shahin headed after him.

“Hey — check this out!”

Kaleb hurdled from out of the woods and straight into Shahin, sending the two of them tumbling to the ground.

Laughing, Kaleb sat up and stretched out his palm. Grumbling, Shahin swept a few dead leaves out of his hair before peering over to glimpse the dusty gold band in his hand.

“Cool, huh? I saw it at the base of a tree. Guess somebody’s marriage didn’t work out.” Kaleb rubbed the dust off the ring using a corner of his bomber jacket, then slid it onto his own finger.

The two had made their way over to the Rocks, a popular destination for the town stoners as well as anyone in search of a spectacular view. Located deep in the woods, one would have to follow a well-worn path uphill, with no markers aside from elevated trees on either side of you that indicated you were heading in the right direction.

The view came suddenly: one would be gasping for air on the final incline when the path would suddenly veer to the left. Taking the umpteenth step upwards would leave one face to face with two things: the end of the trail left hikers on the edge of a precarious hill with no safety barricades, and a sprawling view of their suburban town.

The lake, glittering off in the distance. The rows upon rows of single story homes, with well-manicured lawns and backyard pools, most hidden under a tarp for the cold season. At this time of year, the trees encircling the town bore leaves of red and gold and auburn, destined to adorn the ground in the weeks ahead.

Shahin hated growing up here, but it wasn’t something he’d ever admit to his parents or peers. But something about the monotony of the day-to-day, of the absence of sophistication and, for lack of a better world, the ease of his life, left him unsettled.

He recognized it to be a good problem to have: a first-world problem.

“Hey.” Shahin suddenly found Kaleb inches away from own face. His mouth went dry and he swallowed hard.

“Yeah?” he asked.

Without warning, Kaleb closed the distance between them and pressed his lips against Shahin’s.

Shahin jerked away. “Dude, what the fuck?”

He scrambled to his feet, heart racing. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he snapped at Kaleb, who sat back grinning, unperturbed.

Brushing dead leaves off the back of his pants, he turned and marched off through the woods and away from the sound of Kaleb’s laughter. He was flustered, confused and angry.

And yet deep down, a small, unfamiliar part of him was pleased.

Fuck.

Shahin had trouble falling asleep that night. He tossed and turned for hours, spent time scrolling aimlessly on his phone, swallowed two pills of melatonin. But nothing worked to distract him from the depths of newfound emotions swirling in the pit of his stomach, tugging him in between feelings of rage, confusion, lust and fear.

The image of Kaleb’s face drifted to the top of his mind; the more he attempted to suppress the thought, the more defined the visage became. The freckles decorating the length of his nose and edging into the distance of his cheeks, which were a deep shade of pink; a permanent blush. The blend colors that were his eyes, dancing between shades of green ringed by an amber brown that glowed brighter every time he turned his gaze on the tanned young man who had unwittingly become the object of his desires.

By the time Shahin blinked his eyes open to the blazing sunlight painting his bedroom, he had made up his mind: whatever these new feelings were, he didn’t like them one bit and would put an end to it.

This involved pretending Kaleb didn’t exist.

The task was easier said than done. Kaleb seemed to be aware of the effect that the previous afternoon was having on Shahin. To his irritation, Kaleb appeared utterly amused by his behavior.

That week, Shahin got to work. He began dating Karla, a half Jamaican, half Irish sophomore who’d had eyes for Shahin for a long time. She was quite a looker, but incredibly boring: she and Shahin had gone on several dates months ago, experiences he found terribly yawn-inducing.

It had been an early lesson for him on the value of being in a relationship with someone who offered more than looks. However, Karla was one of the most sought-after young women in the school; if anything would keep the unwanted kind of attention away from him, it was be this newfound relationship status.

Next came the attack on his appearance.

Shahin prided himself on his thick hair, which he kept long. The reddish brown hues contrasted with his brown skin, trailing over thick eyebrows in a way that shrouded him in mystery.

The following week, he appeared at school with the sides shaved off and the top standing at a mere half-inch long; otherwise known as the go-to style for most of the young men on the soccer team, who were a rather promiscuous bunch.

He marched into AP Physics staring fixedly ahead. Once he got to his seat, Kaleb took one look at him and doubled over with peals of laughter. Shahin showed no sign of noticing him, though the back of his neck burned red.

When the final bell of the day rang, Shahin quickly gathered his things and crammed them into his faded backpack. He was absorbed in thoughts about Karla and their plans that evening; more specifically, the unspoken plans that hung in the air.

He was so distracted that as he exited the doorway he bumped directly into Kaleb, who had been waiting for him outside.

He glanced down and froze when he saw Kaleb index finger and thumb were wrapped tightly around his wrist. He looked up to see Kaleb’s face once again inches away from his own.

Weeks of efforts in shoving the memory of what had happened between them away disappeared in an instant the moment he met those hazel eyes.

thriving in chaos is a double-edged sword.

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