Tom was not normally one to dwell on specifics, but when his mother reminded him that he’d promised he would join her on this cruise, he got just the tiniest bit defensive. Because while, yes, he’d technically promised her he’d join her, it wasn’t necessarily without any coercion or guilt-tripping, both of which his mom was absolutely famous for. Because what his mom hadn’t told him was that this cruise would be two weeks long and that her best friend Suzy and her incredibly annoying son Jaz would be joining them.
“Honey, you have to give Jaz a chance,” Tom’s mom was saying in what he perceived to be an overly accusatory tone. “I don’t even understand why you don’t like him.”
She knew exactly why Tom didn’t like him. “You know exactly why I don’t like Jaz”, he replied, in a similarly accusatory tone. Tom threw a half folded t-shirt at her, and she picked it up and sighed.
Jaz had always been a little too much for him, admittedly. Because, while Tom was somewhat outgoing and did occasionally like to go on parties, or hang out with friends, or get a little drunk, Jaz did all of those things constantly and never stopped talking about them, ever. We get it, dude, you’re so good with the guys that there isn’t a single one you haven’t seen naked yet.
There was, Tom had to admit to himself, a little jealously hidden in that criticism of Jaz. Because occasionally Tom asked himself why he hasn’t had sex yet—as any 20-something guy would, or so he thought. The only difference being that, according to what he heard from his friends—and Jaz—, usually people actually wanted to have sex, and enjoyed the idea of doing so.
Not Tom. Admittedly, he never quite understood what all the fuss was about. He felt kind of ashamed about it, too, in a way. He didn’t really enjoy talking to his friends about sex, either. They’d all go on and on about how amazing it was, and how much they’d been looking forward to their first time. Meanwhile, Tom would always feel like there was something wrong with him for not being interested in pursuing that.
Maybe that contributed to his hatred of Jaz.
Or maybe Jaz was just really annoying.
Tom had his own cabin adjacent to his mom’s one. A few days had passed on the ship and, despite his expectations, Tom was actually enjoying himself. Jaz’s cabin was just down the hall from his, and occasionally they’d cross paths, but they wouldn’t speak much. Tom didn’t really want to, and it seemed like Jaz probably knew that he didn’t want to.
One evening, after the four of them had eaten dinner together and their moms had stayed to grab drinks at the bar, Tom was stopped by Jaz in the hallway unexpectedly.
“Hey, dude, I wanna talk to you,” he said after tapping him from the shoulder from behind. He sounded out of breath. Was he running after Tom? Kinda creepy.
Tom immediately felt himself pulling a face. “What? Why?”, he demanded.
“Well,” Jaz began while scratching the back of his head. He was just standing there now, looking… confused? Guilty? Worried? Tom couldn’t tell.
“I feel like you don’t like me, Tom,” he said, before looking up again and meeting eyes with him. “And I want to know why.”
Tom froze. Oh God, this was it. This was the type of situation that he really didn’t know how to deal with.
“What?”, he said after a couple seconds of deliberating whether to tell the truth. Apparently, his brain had accidentally decided not to tell the truth. Great. “I like you! Why wouldn’t I?”, he said.
Tom had averted his gaze, but now turned to meet eyes with Jaz again. Jaz looked sad. “You sure?”, he asked. His eyes narrowed before he continued, “It’s not because I’m trans, is it? Because my mom always gave me the impression that you’d be totally cool with that.”
Jaz was…? He– what? Tom just stood there and said nothing for a good ten seconds or so. Jaz closed his eyes and sighed.
“Wait, what?”, Tom finally asked.
“Wait,” Jaz began again. “You didn’t know?”
Tom was embarrassed now. He felt his face heat up and Jaz could probably observe it turning bright red like a goddamn tomato.
“Oh my God, you’re the first person in the world that didn’t immediately realize. Are you serious?”
“I– I’m sorry,” Tom heard himself say.
“Dude! Sorry for what? I’m passing, I’m fucking passing and I didn’t even realize. This is amazing!”, Jaz exclaimed, and immediately pulled Tom in for a hug.
Tom felt some of his worries ease away, sure that Jaz had forgotten about the whole Tom hates me and doesn’t want to tell me why situation. Tom reciprocated the hug, and they just stood there in the hallway for a minute, hugging like a couple of idiots.
But Tom felt vulnerable now. And, to him, vulnerable meant honest.
“Actually,” Tom began after Jaz finally pulled away. “I used to think you were kind of… annoying?” Tom ended with a rising tone, as if to inquire whether Jaz understood what he meant. Instead, Jaz frowned. Oh, no.
“I– don’t get me wrong, I think you’re really cool, and– this is not about you being trans at all, but I just– you always talk so much about the–”, he stammered. He was making a fucking fool out of himself.
“Oh God,” Jaz interjected. He turned bright red and averted his eyes. “You think I’m just some horny fuckboy, don’t you?”
Weirdly, Tom was happy that Jaz just said clearly what Tom had tried so hard to eloquently describe. But how to continue this hell of a conversation now was the tricky part. So he didn’t, and he just stared instead.
Jaz, out of nowhere, started to laugh. “I mean, you know… I kind of am. I don’t blame you.”
For some twisted reason, Jaz seemed to be totally fine with Tom essentially insulting his entire lifestyle just then, and so Tom decided that he absolutely had to fix this situation. Just how, he wondered.
“N– no, it’s not really that. I mean, kind of? It has to do with that. I– whenever you talk about this– whenever my friends talk about this–”, he began, and immediately wished he hadn’t. But there was no turning back now.
“It’s not about the amount of sex you have. Like, at all. It’s just that… you all seem so excited about having sex, and I’m happy that you are, but I’ve never felt that way about it. Talking about it just makes me feel kind of… weird? Like, why am I not interested in this? Why is everyone excited by the idea, and I’m not? Is there something wrong with me? I don’t–” Tom started to cry now. Tears were flowing from his stupid eyes like a stupid goddamn waterfall, and he was just standing there like a stupid fucking idiot.
And then Jaz laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder and frowned again. “Dude,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Not everyone’s interested in sex.”
Tom tried to wipe his eyes on his sweatshirt sleeve without much success. “Clearly, you haven’t talked to a human before.”
Jaz chuckled. “I’ll have you know that I’ve talked to plenty of asexual people in my life.”
“Asexual people?”, Tom asked, puzzled.
“Ah,” Jaz said and smiled. “Well. When someone identifies as asexual, they usually aren’t interested in having sex, or they’re only interested in having sex in certain situations, like with a partner they feel emotionally connected to. Well, it’s a spectrum, really. But it’s not weird or broken. At all.”
Wow. Well… that was a whole-ass revelation to Tom. He stared at Jaz, who was looking back and still smiling. “Oh my God,” Tom finally said. “I’m such an idiot.”
Jaz laughed, again, because apparently that was all he did nowadays. “Dude, it’s okay,” he said. “Not everyone knows everything.”
That was true, Tom had to admit. But how had he not known about this? Jaz made it sound like there was this entire community of people that probably felt exactly like he did, and he never cared to do any research about this? He felt like a proper idiot now.
“I guess,” he began again. “I never did any research on this because… I just felt so strange about it,” he admitted to himself and to Jaz.
Jaz nodded, and pulled him in for a hug again.
Before this, Tom had never known how thoughtful Jaz was. How caring.
Tom did not want to admit it, but that interaction had really changed things for him. He was tossing and turning in his bed, going back to grabbing his phone and looking up asexuality on the internet over and over again. He blamed himself. He couldn’t believe that it had taken him this long to find out about it. He knew that people always say that “it’s never too late to find yourself”, and that you shouldn’t blame yourself for struggling with your identity. But he blamed himself anyway, because that’s just what he did.
When it got to the morning hours and the light started creeping into his cabin, Tom pulled himself out of bed and put on the first coherent outfit he could find. Like someone from those teen movies he occasionally watched with his mom, he mulled it over in the mirror before switching to a different one. While undressing, he wondered why he was even doing this—something he didn’t recall ever doing before.
It wasn’t for Jaz. That much was clear.
It was for a totally different occasion that had nothing to do with Jaz.
The two families met up for breakfast, just like they’d done every day while on the cruise, and Jaz sat down opposite Tom and smiled. After engaging in various conversations about the previous few days, the night and the plans for the day ahead of them, their moms left to go to the bathroom. Tom was about to get up to get more orange juice, but he hesitated when he noticed that Jaz seemed to be intently staring at him.
Jaz’s light blue eyes were fixed to his, and after a few seconds, Jaz started to smile. Sitting there across from Jaz, Tom noticed for the first time how beautiful his eyes looked, and how his dark brown bangs were covering his eyebrows. He wasn’t sure if Jaz styled them or if they were naturally this curly, but he felt it’d be weird to inquire about that now. Eventually, Jaz picked up his own glass and started walking away, presumably to get more juice for himself. Too mesmerized by Jaz’s eyes, and movements, and his stupid curly bangs bouncing as he moved, he totally forgot to ask Jaz to get him a refill too, or to just tag along to the juice bar. What was going on with him?
After Jaz was out of eyeshot, Tom decided to get his act together and started focusing on his breakfast again, slowly working away at the massive pile of tasty things he’d picked up from the buffet. When Jaz came back a minute or so later, he plonked down a full glass of orange juice next to Tom’s empty one, and then placed down another one next to his own plate. Tom was confused for a moment, because social cues weren’t necessarily his strong suit, but after a moment of silence, Jaz smiled down at him and said, “Thought you might want some more juice.”
“Thanks,” Tom said quietly and lowered his head again, trying to focus on the massive tower of vegetables, bread rolls and cold cuts in front of him.
Jaz was really thoughtful, he thought to himself then, and felt his face getting warmer. He was blushing. How embarrassing. This was just a meaningless gesture, right? Nothing to blush over. Nothing to obsess about. Right?
After their moms came back, Tom sat in relative silence for the rest of the meal.
After breakfast, Tom’s mom suggested going to the pool on the roof. Jaz’s mom seemed skeptical at first, but was easily swayed by her son’s suggestion of a big glass of lemonade and a deck chair.
Tom did not like the pool idea. He’d always been insecure about his looks, especially his belly and his legs, which was why he rarely ever wore shorts in the summer. Meanwhile, Jaz always rocked crop tops and cute hats, and yea, maybe Tom was a little jealous of that. Sometimes, he wished he could have the effortless confidence that Jaz seemed to have.
When they got to the pool, their moms immediately pulled off their bright summer tops and jumped into the water, but Tom hesitated, because of course he did. He stood for a minute or two and just observed the water, the little waves and ripples it created and the effects that the bright midday sun had on it. He noticed that Jaz hadn’t pulled his shirt off yet either, and that he was standing almost as awkwardly as Tom was. He’d never seen Jaz like this, he thought. Tom observed Jaz pulling his shirt up slightly, but then stopping just shy of his chest and letting go of the fabric again. It took him a few seconds, but eventually he understood why.
He understood anxiety like this. This was his thing, and for once, he felt like he knew how to talk about it.
“Hey, are you okay?”, he asked quietly as he put a hand on Jaz’s shoulder.
“Yea, I’m good. Just don’t wanna take off this shirt, you know?”, Jaz replied sheepishly and lowered his head again.
Tom asked why, even though he was almost certain that he knew why.
“Well, the…”, Jaz started, but then hesitated. He turned a bit so Tom and Jaz were facing each other straight on, and then pulled up his shirt slightly higher than he had previously, revealing two horizontal scars on his lower chest. His top surgery scars, Tom thought to himself.
“These,” Jaz said and pointed at one of them with his other hand. “They’re from my top surgery a few years ago,” he added.
“Oh,” Tom said, trying to appear somewhat surprised. “They look cute, though.”
For a second, Tom wasn’t sure if he’d just said that out loud or just thought it in his head. But when Jaz started blushing and then smirking, he knew that he’d definitely said it out loud.
“Well, I mean– not cute, but– well, not not cute– they’re like, when– they–” Tom stopped for a second and took a deep breath. Jaz was still smirking, a little wider now.
“They’re like–”, Tom tried again. “They show that you went through something and came out on top, you know?” On top? Come on, Tom.
“Well, not– on top, but like–”, he began again. But Jaz put a hand on Tom’s shoulder and laughed. “Don’t worry, I get it.”
Probably thinking about Tom’s little wisdom, Jaz ran his hand along one of the scars. Finally, he said, “You’re kind of right, you know? I shouldn’t be embarrassed about them.”
Tom breathed a sigh of relief before quietly telling him that, no, he doesn’t have to be.
“Thanks, though,” Jaz said and laughed again. “Wanna jump in together?”
At the end of the day, Jaz tapped Tom’s shoulder in the hallway again, just like he did that one night, the night Tom noticed that there was something between them. Something other than hate or ambivalence.
Tom turned around and saw Jaz, his curly hair still messy ever since the pool, beaming the same way he did after Tom had talked to him about the scars. “Today was fun,” Jaz said.
“Yea,” Tom replied. “You’re fun to spend time with,” he added without thinking about it.
For some reason, he didn’t feel like he had to take it back this time, though. Not only did he feel that it was true, he felt that Jaz had to know how Tom felt about him.
“Yea,” Jaz said quietly, before taking a step closer to Tom. He seemed kind of insecure now, the way he was at the pool. Was there something else about his surgery? About his scars?
No, this seemed like a different kind of insecurity.
“So, uh,” Jaz began, before moving in even closer. “We don’t have to do anything else, but…” He gently took Tom’s hand. “Do you maybe want to, uh, kiss?”, he asked.
Jaz asked to kiss him, right then, in the hallway, where they had their first ever honest conversation. Where Tom learned that Jaz wasn’t just some dumb idiot, but that he was funny, and caring, and complex.
Tom didn’t reply; he just drew Jaz in for the kiss instead. And then they stood there, their hands intertwined, with their eyes closed and their lips touching for the first time.
Maybe it’d been meant to be like this all along.