(This is an excerpt from a short story from my NaNoWriMo project. You've already met these characters when I wrote my first snippet of them last spring. It's also probably got some mistakes, but I think it's more or less in it's final form.)
“Nolan, when are you going to tell your dad?” Ryan sat on the end of the table, kicking his legs where they hung. He watched his chucks as they swung, wondering at the wishy washy brown color they appeared. They were red, but not under the orange glow of the safe light. He’d never liked how that bulb faded the color out of everything, leaving the room a wash of yellows and browns, making the pink tips in his hair invisible.
What he liked about the room was how Nolan acted in here. He was focused and serious, but Ryan could tell he was deliriously happy. In the fumes and chemical smells of the dark room Nolan was more comfortable than anywhere else in the house. His shoulders weren’t so stiff.
“I don’t know, Ry.” The response was automatic and expressionless, but Nolan thought it was better than saying ‘never.’ He turned away from the enlarger, that strange creature of metal and glass, and dropped a thin strip of photo paper into the developer. His eyes didn’t leave the clock for 60 seconds of silence as the image developed. Six squares of an image, each darker than the next, showed edges of lips and hints of eyelashes, but not enough to know what the whole might be.
“How long?” Ryan asked as Nolan plucked out the test strip with tongs and transferred it to the stop bath.
“Looks like about 12 seconds,” he mused quietly, “But it needs more contrast, so a 3 filter I think, so that would be… 26 seconds.”
Ryan nodded and smiled, watching Nolan move on, dropping the strip into the fixer with automatic movements. He tried his best to understand photography, but it wasn’t his thing. The most important things he knew about it were that Nolan was good at it, and it made the other boy happy.
Nolan swished the strip in the water bath for a few seconds then squeegeed it with a well practiced ease before carrying it to the table. He set it down under the enlarger and then flipped the switch on the timer, using the light shining through the lens as a lamp so he could see more clearly. The clean, white light let Ryan see the red design on Nolan’s black shirt and he smiled and scooted a few inches closer. His hand moved slowly, reaching out and stroking back a handful of black hair. Nolan’s response was a soft hum and a faint smile, and he leaned his head into Ryan’s touch for a moment before pulling away. “You’re so distracting, it’s a wonder I ever get anything done,” he chided gently.
The room fell silent again as Nolan found the right filter, loaded it into the enlarger, and carefully set the focus and timer. As the enlarger clicked on Ryan smiled fondly at the negative image that shone down on the fresh 8x10 sheet of coated paper. “I’ve told my parents, you know,” he said quietly.
“You’re a braver soul than I.” Nolan spoke with a sort of understated eloquence as he turned towards the sink and trays again, and Ryan wished he could have seen his face. He simply couldn’t read Nolan on his voice alone; no one could anymore. “Besides, it’s different for you, you know.”
Ryan watched Nolan’s shoulder blades moving underneath the cotton of his shirt as the older boy moved his print in the developer, the sound of the liquid sloshing back and forth almost loud enough to echo in the quiet room. His face, the sharp angle of his nose, was silhouetted slightly as Nolan cocked his head to watch the clock. Ryan was struck, certainly not for the first time, with how handsome Nolan was. “How? How is it different?”
Silence hung in the small space again as Nolan timed himself perfectly, this time with his photo in the stop bath, then on to the fixer. Ryan would sometimes say that all of their conversations happened in increments of one minute or three minutes, with a 30 second intermission. Only when the print was sitting in the bottom of the tub of fixer did Nolan turn around to face Ryan, one hand still behind him to occasionally shake the plastic tray that held his art. “You’ve got you, your sister, your mom and dad.” Nolan answered quietly. They usually spoke in whispers here. Walls were thin. “With me, it’s just me and him, just me and Dad. It’s not the same, I can’t risk…” He shook his head, letting the conversation drop.
“Yeah but Nolan, your dad’s cool. He loves you so much, he supports you in everything else, right? I mean he built you this darkroom, for fuck’s sake.” Nolan’s eyes flashed a warning. He didn’t like swearing much. “Sorry.” Ryan looked sheepish, pausing to compose himself before going on, restating himself. “I just mean, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Your dad’ll love you no matter what.” Ryan smiled reassuringly, as if his argument was obviously the end all on the issue.
With a sigh Nolan turned his back to Ryan again and took the rectangle of paper out of the fixer and into the water bath. He didn’t turn around right away this time. “I know he’ll love me no matter what. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried that he won’t…” now he turned, his dark eyes meeting Ryan’s lighter one’s squarely. “He might not approve of us, of you, of the whole thing. Or he’d think it was his fault, like he did something wrong, didn’t raise me right. And then I’d have to…” He heisted and frowned. “It’s just me and him Ryan, that’s all. It’s not the same. Maybe it would be different if Mom hadn’t— ”
“Don’t.” Ryan cut him off. It was something he always did whenever Nolan started to talk about his mom. He didn’t like the tone his boyfriend’s voice took, or the glaze that settled over his eyes.
“Yeah, But if she’d—”
“I said don’t!.”
Silence, uncomfortable silence, filled the small room. Nolan gently swirled his fingers in the cool water before plunging them under the surface and pulling his photo out, careful to only touch the white edges. He held it precariously but firmly, laying it up against the metal backsplash and using a squeegee to meticulously scrape all the water off of it, both sides. He only just managed to hold onto it and not drop it back into the water as two thin arms snaked around his ribcage and a chin rested between his shoulder blades. “I love you, you know that, right?” Nolan asked softly.
He felt Ryan’s chin rubbing along his spine as the younger boy nodded. “It just does you no good to…”
“I know.” He walked, Ryan shuffling along behind him refusing to detach. It happened often enough that Nolan didn’t mind anymore. He carefully placed the photo down on the table, on top of a stack of paper towels, to dry completely.
“How’d it come out?”
“See for yourself,” Nolan shifted his weight and Ryan peered around him, around his shoulder.
“That’s really good, No-no. It’s beautiful.” He tilted his head, smiling up earnestly.
“Yeah, well, you would say that.” He half turned his body, Ryan fitting into his side, arms still wrapped around him. Nolan rested his chin on Ryan’s head for a moment, a bit turned off by the stiffness of his spikes, missing when his best friend’s hair had been soft, like feathers. Almost shyly he shifted again, turning his body all the way so that he pressed up against Ryan, and found his lips with his own. He kept it brief, soft, their lips brushing against each other barely causing any friction. Ryan leaned in harder, urging Nolan to give him more, but Nolan pulled away. His dark room was safe, but not that safe. Walls were still thin.
Ryan tried not to pout and took a deep breath. “Coffee? That place near my house?”
Nolan smiled, “Sounds good. I’ll drive.”
Ryan’s parents wouldn’t be home for another few hours, and his sister had volleyball on Wednesdays.