I decided to post a taster of my novel Other People’s Butterflies today. It’s a YA contemporary with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, and the plot is a little bit Harriet the Spy and a little bit Gossip Girl. If you like this snippet, the whole book is available here in paperback and eBook form.
In this chapter, Gwen (the protagonist) is hanging out with her childhood friend Ethan, who wants to be “more than friends”. Which is kind of a stressful situation when you’re an aro-ace teenager who doesn’t know she’s aro-ace yet…
With Mum and Dad gone, me and Ethan settle down on the sofa to watch the second Captain America movie. We sit close together, but not touching, and pass the bag of Doritos back and forth, getting orange dust all over our fingers. I wonder, for the third or fourth time, why I don’t feel the slightest fluttering of desire for Chris Evans. The guy is all muscles and eyelashes, which must be a killer combination because Martine and Angie both fancy the pants off him and they usually have different types.
“If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?” says Ethan.
I chew this over. A few weeks ago, I would have picked invisibility in a heartbeat – all the better for spying. Now, I think I’d still choose it, but for slightly different reasons. It’d be good for avoiding trouble.
“I’d probably pick invisibility.”
“And sneak into the boys’ changing rooms?”
“Why would I waste a superpower on that? It’s not exactly difficult to see naked people, they’re all over the internet.”
“Yes, I’m aware.” Ethan’s voice is dry and a corner of his mouth quirks into a knowing smile. Time to get the subject back on track.
“So, what would you pick?” I ask.
“Really? I thought you’d pick flying.”
“I could shape-shift into a bird.”
“What about invisibility?”
“I could shape-shift into a table and no-one would know I was there.”
“Only manipulators pick mind control.”
I’m giggling now, feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I love the way his brain works, and I think about telling him this but decide not to, in case it sounds creepy. Too intimate, complimenting someone on their thought processes. Safer to stick with external stuff like clothes and hair.
To compensate for not being able to say the stupid shit I want to say, I cuddle up to him and rest my head on his shoulder. He’s warm, and surprisingly comfortable, and all the drama of the past few weeks fades away into insignificance. All is right with the world, until-
“Gwen, you’re kind of giving me some mixed signals here.”
“Hm?” He turns his head to look down at me but I can’t see him properly; our faces are too close together. I pull away from him. “What do you mean?”
“The last conversation we had, you basically said that you didn’t want to go out. Then you invite me over to watch a film and you’re kind of … coming on to me.”
“What the hell? How am I coming on to you?” My voices rises in irritation, but then I remember Mum and Dad upstairs and hush myself up quickly.
“By being all cuddly!”
“I haven’t done anything to you that I wouldn’t do to a female friend or my bloody parents!”
“You know it’s different when you’re with a bloke. I just wish you’d be more clear with me, like, can’t you just tell me what you want?”
Well, fuck. What do I want, exactly? “Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”
A pause. Ethan doesn’t answer the big questions flippantly, but neither does he leave them unanswered. “I want more.”
“Like, more of this? To spend more time with me? Watch more movies together and have more conversations that seem really childish but are actually kind of thought-provoking?”
“Well, yes, all of that.”
“I want that too.” My eyes are stinging, because I wish more than anything that we could leave the conversation there. “But I don’t think you really want more. I think you want different.”
Ethan says nothing for a long moment. I turn back to the TV, where there is a big fight scene going on. Slick and choreographed and brutal. My stomach aches.
“When you said the friend zone is the only zone you have,” says Ethan, “was that just an excuse so I wouldn’t feel bad, or did you mean it?”
“I meant it.”
“I don’t get it. Do your parents not want you having boyfriends yet?”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Do you maybe … do you maybe like girls? Because you know that’s totally okay, right, you know I’d understand.”
“No, I don’t like girls. And you know what, I’m starting to not like you either. Why can’t you just leave it alone?”
Oh crap. Puffer-fish mode. I’ve gone all spiky so he can’t get to me.
“Maybe I should go.”
“Yeah, maybe you should.”
He stands up slowly, then walks towards the door of the living room slowly, like he’s expecting me to stop him. I could stop him, but what then? He wants one of two things from me:
1) A girlfriend-boyfriend relationship, or
2) An explanation as to why he can’t have that.
I can’t give him either of those things, so I say nothing and let him leave.