February 2022 Contest Winner: I See the Sun in Your Eyes
I imagine the middle of the Pacific ocean would be a peaceful hideaway. Ice cold
waves, pure blue, endless waters stretching over a million miles across the horizon. The
waves would be gentle, but unrelenting, like they’ll wash me away to the shores back to
where I came. I imagine the Moon would watch me float between the saline waves. And
the clouds would shift through the winds high above, hiding away the stars and the silver
orbs of the Moon. And then I’d float forever.
I would float and let the waves carry me somewhere. Warmth would await me deep
down, beneath the dark blue depths, but I’m fine with cold winds. Strong sea winds;
they would comfort me. But the ocean would only swallow me in its depths. Just like
that winter day.
Thick layers of frost covered the frozen lake. I put on my ice skates, and soon I was
light on the ice, gliding through the snow. Declan watched from the shores, warming his
hands every few moments.
“Why did you stop?” he called out, after my movements halted. A crack had formed
under my feet. I looked over to him, but my tongue stayed still, a series of screaming
lodged in my throat. Tears fell onto the ice. The crack grew, and then split.
And then coldness. Paralyzing cold. I floated in between the depths, the ice cold
water turning warm on my skin.
But the memory is so distant now, like it’s someone else’s. Declan helped pull me up
that day, and since then, my skates have been hiding away in the storage room.
Declan knows. He always knows. After he pulled me out of the water, he knew I
would never touch the ice again. He’s not a saint, a savior or an angel. But he pulled me
out of the water, wiped away my tears, and was there when I laid on the hospital bed. He
was there whenever the universe tried to keep him away, when things were hard and
when I would crash into his place after fights with my parents.
He has always done this for me. When he holds my hand in his, a flame sparks,
glowing with shame.
The Pacific ocean is ice cold. In my mind, I float, in between the saline waves, and in
between the depths of a burning sea within me. A sea with glistening waters, filled with
secrecy, tinted with fear. I keep Declan inside. With me.
A spark came. Crackles of light, scattering in different paths. Fireworks. I snapped
out of it and looked at my hands under the lights on my ceiling. They’re bony and cold,
and the spaces between them gaped at me, empty and hollow. Where his fingers should
We agreed to meet at the park tomorrow morning. His voice was softer than usual on
the phone, speaking words to me. I was too busy taking in the tenderness of it that I
didn’t pay attention to what he was telling me. Some words made it through: the park,
my earphones, romance book, I need a friend to read with.
It’s a park in the corner of town. No one really comes. Only us, for years. The place is
hidden away, as if it was a secret base of our own. It’s more of a garden, than a park;
lined with fences and shrubs, honeysuckles, and lush trees, with a pond in the center. We
used to go when we were still in middle school. He’d transferred schools back then, but
we still wanted to hang out. We’d sneak out after school and sprint to the park, sit on the
bench and chat away until dusk painted the sky ember.
Tomorrow came a bit too fast. I looked into the mirror, and there I was, too clean. He
probably doesn’t care, but I do. I straighten my clothes and my collars.
I pull at the hems of the shirt I borrowed from him, and tuck at the collar, breathing
it in. He handed me this shirt last week, but it still smells of his cologne, a hint of ripe
apple and citrus.
But I don’t let it take over me.
He’s already sitting on the bench when I made it to the park. A noticeable figure; tall,
lanky, with a broad back, hair reaching the back of his neck, with a gray beanie. He
memorizes my footsteps, so when he hears them, he’ll turn around. His face will turn
soft and he will offer me a smile. But when I stood behind him on the bench, he’s staring
down at his book, earphones on.
I tap his shoulder.
“Julian,” he called.
He looks up. The stars lined his eyes, and I was pulled in. Almost. I take a seat next to
him on the bench, and take the book from his hands.
“I See the Sun in Your Eyes,” he reads out the title. He glances at me to meet my
eyes. Warmth came in pinpricks from the grass under my shoes, clouding my skin,
leaving mists; I saw sunlight bouncing off his seas of hazel. He was just reading off the
title. Yet there was a hammering in my chest.
“I like the title,” I say, tracing the emboss font with my finger. He leans in and
brushes his hand against mine, uncovering a backdrop of a sunny garden.
“You know Monet? He painted this. It’s amazing.”
The cover backdrop is a painting of a sunny garden with bushes and flowers. A pond
with water lilies, and an abundance of the sun. In my mind, I walk through the gardens,
picking a honeysuckle. I hold it out to him, spilling my heart out, bright red glazing the
flower, dripping off my hand. But my fingers tremble, my hand waiting to pull back. A dose of shame blankets over the crimson nectar in my hands. But he accepts, taking my
hand. His lips are warm on mine.
Except the shrubs are still brimming with honeysuckles next to me, across me, and all
around the garden. My hand is empty, and Declan is looking down at his book.
I pick out a honeysuckle. It twirls in my hand, the crown spinning, releasing light
dusts of pollen. He’s still on the bench, drowning in the pages of his book. There are a
million words I can string together, a thousand ways to tell him, and a hundred
possibilities of how he will answer me.
“Yeah,” I said. But the words stopped. I swallowed them back down, a jumble of
letters steeped in secrecy.
Instead I gaze at him. He twirls the flower and looks back at me, the sun falling on
He tucks it in between the pages at the back, and reads on. I take a deep breath. I
picture gardenias growing from my core, in the speed of sound, the roots pulling at my
skin, the petals blooming into full color. But they’re wilting.
The clouds darkened into a deep, dark gray, merging into thick lumps. A storm is
approaching; in the skies, and in the seas I keep inside. Tears sprinkled from the heights
of the horizon. In between the knives of rain, Declan’s face darkened, and we parted
And soon I laid on my bed, the rain hard outside.
I remember what mom told me when I was fourteen.
“You like Declan,” she said, with her back on me. It sounded like a question, one I
don’t have an answer to. I offered her silence.
“Well, I hope I’m wrong. You’re both boys. Things shouldn’t be that way.”
I never answered her question, if it was one; she wants to be told she’s wrong. And
that things aren’t that way, because they shouldn’t be.
Things shouldn’t be that way, but a plaintive cry from a corner deep within my mind
keeps echoing, crying, “Don’t let him go.”
Things shouldn’t be that way, but I see the sun in his eyes and the warmth of his
hands and shoulders leaves a mist whenever he’s inches away from me. His hand is warm
in the winter, when it grazes mine, and his fingers fi t in the gaps between mine.
Things shouldn’t be that way, but his hazel pools are filled with stars and his smile is
a photograph I want to put on my bedroom wall so I can look at it again and again.
He giggled, twirling the flower in his hand. He’s sitting next to me, his book in hand,
fresh laundry and tangerines wafting out from his clothes. His beanie is absent today.
The sun ran through his hair, the tips sweeping off the hood of his jacket behind his
“What’s this for?”
“You. I guess.”
“Does this mean what I think it does?”
“What do you think it means?”
He let out a low hum, poking the stigmas with his finger. He looked back at me, his
“Something, I think. Definitely something,” he said, closing his book. A flattened out
honeysuckle peeked from in between the back pages. “Isn’t this what it means?”
He cupped my face and closed our distance. His lips are tender, softer than I
I picture a million pollens floating around the garden, where there are only the two
of us, where the sun is warm on our skin and the grass is bright green. A pollen fell onto
his ash black hair.
The edges of my universe grew. I watch as his gaze softens, his lips tucking at the
“Yeah. That’s what it means,” I say, under my breath. “I like you.”
Deep within, gravity pulled an anchor to the sea floors, sending deep vibrations,
stirring up rogue waves. A heavy weight fell on top of my shoulders, dark fogs of fear.
Seconds faded away, and he’s still. He hummed, his lips curling at the corners.
“That was my line.”
“Really? How was that your line?”
He let out a sunny laugh. Fireworks crackled to the sound of his laughter, and the
shades of the clouds faded away in the presence of sunlight, all throughout the garden.
“Me too,” he said. His giggles died down. I looked at him and my lips curled up
against my will. He continued, “Maybe even longer.”
That day, he smelled of tangerines, apple pie, and citrus cologne.
Even now, he still smells the same. But nowadays the distance between us is smaller
and things are easier. The mornings are brighter and the nights are warmer. We’d sit in
the sun room, in his house, where sunlight is plenty and the words within the pages of
our books are clearer.