Here, in all its unedited glory, is the very very very first iteration of The Magic Between’s first chapter. Back when AB was just starting to explore wearing “women’s clothes” and the book was more melancholy than it ultimately ended up , this is how Matthew and AB first met.
(And yes, I did pick the location based on the iconic “its just seals taylor” meme of Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.)
A.B. Cerise stuns fans on stage in form fitting women’s jumpsuit
A.B. Cerise is many things. He’s an only child, an above average pianist, a known bisexual, and most famously, a pop star. International fame is many things too: a dream come true, exhilarating and anxiety-inducing, hectic at times while boring at others, and daunting in inexplicable ways. Such level of fame also comes with many things: there’s free clothes, exuberant fans, tabloid gossip, and unshakeable hyper visibility. But today, despite being in the middle of Central Park Zoo where anyone could see, A.B. is not visible at all— not in the slightest, not to anyone but himself—and it’s the most at peace he’s been in the last twenty-four hours.
He doesn’t do this often. He can count on one hand the times he’s gone out like this; both wandering off without his bodyguard, Carson, and purposely walking around in public while invisible. Doing them both at the same time? Well…A.B.’s never had the nerve. He rarely has enough faith his invisibility will hold without faltering, let alone for the time a trek through public requires. Besides, he likes the security Carson provides him—the way his presence soothes his anxiety—so he’s never felt the need to risk it.
But today is different. Today demands special circumstances of it own. The nerves from the night before linger; they light his body up with a desperate, aching need to hide, conceal, don’t be seen and A.B. is confident in his invisibility. His body crackles in tandem with the prickling of his mind and A.B. knows his magic won’t betray him as it did last night. Not when his inner turmoil is the source of his sporadic bouts of invisibility, anyway. Not when his anxiety is at an all time high and his mind, body, and magic are all in agreement in wanting to be invisible to the world. For once, he’s a little grateful for the temperamental way his magic operates. At least this way he can hide out from the world from the comfort of his favorite place in New York City instead of locking himself away in his apartment until the feeling fades.
A.B. settles down in an unoccupied corner of the steps surrounding the sea lion tank, runs a hand over his face and sighs in frustration. He doubts he’d even be in this predicament if his excitement over playing a home show hadn’t gotten the best of him the night before. Yesterday was not only a home show, but a sold out concert at Madison Square Garden, and the last show before a three week break in tour. A.B.’s always been propelled forward by his emotions, especially his positive ones, and the excitement surrounding the moment filled him with an inexplicable surge of confidence extending far beyond performing. Last night he felt content and comfortable in his skin and was emboldened to finally wear the one thing he’d been trying, and failing, to follow through with since the tour began in April.
A solid white jumpsuit caught his eye while he and his stylistist, Anita, and her assistant, Kimbra, discussed wardrobe options for the duration of the tour. A.B.’s never shied away from his own femininity so they’ve always drawn inspiration from women’s fashion, too, when planning his looks but this jumpsuit is the first time he lingered on a piece of clothing so distinctly feminine. He and Kimbra were flipping through catalogues while Anita readied the outfits she already had in mind when he’d seen it. He couldn’t take his eyes off the way the white fabric clung to the model’s body and he instantly imagined wearing it himself. He’d lingered on it so long Anita perched herself on the armrest of his chair and startled him as she said, “That’s a beautiful little number, A.B. Do you want me to get if for you?”
His heartbeat spiked and a jolt of nerves washed over him at the thought but he couldn’t deny how much he wanted it. Anita seemed to understand, her voice gentle as she said, “Oh, I think I’ll get you something just like that and we’ll see what comes of it. No harm in having it around. You don’t have to make your mind up one way or another right now. There’s plenty of pieces you never actually wear on tour no matter how much time and effort I put into selecting them for you.”
Her last words were said with gentle, teasing affection, soothing A.B.’s nerves and warming him to the idea of ordering the jumpsuit. She had it tailored to fit him perfectly, much like everything else in his professional life, and when the garment arrived and he put it on his breath caught. He loved the way he looked, loved the way his birthmark on his left rib peaked through the slats at the side, the way the thin straps showed off his shoulder freckles, and the way the deep vee of the neckline put his chest on display. Despite how much he adored wearing the jumpsuit and how many times he put it on in the privacy of his dressing room, he couldn’t bring himself to wear it on stage. He didn’t feel confident enough to wear it on stage until yesterday.
No one ever said anything about it though, they all knew going on stage wearing it would be a huge step for him. It didn’t matter that he’d been infusing his wardrobe with more and more feminine touches for years now—going on stage in front of thousands of people in an unmistakably woman’s jumpsuit was a big deal for him. They knew this. So when he’d stepped out of his dressing room wearing it, not even fidgeting with the slits at his sides or the delicate straps at his shoulders they had all beamed at him— Leslie even cried she’d been so happy for him.
Their smiles had made him feel warm and accepted and he’d been confident walking out on stage but when the lights went up and the crowd started cheering, he’d disappeared. Only for an instant but there’s no way the crowd didn’t notice and even now, hours later, he was rattled just thinking about the reaction to his blip from view.
People had been speculating for years now about what his power was and no matter how tacky or rude it was to ask — propriety never stopped people from speculating about people in the public eye. A.B.’s so shaken by the idea people will know, that they’ll look at him and see invisibility without him ever divulging it to them that he’d forgotten to be nervous about what people thought of his jumpsuit. He wanted people to see him in it though. He wanted to share that part of himself with the world and after the initial batch of nerves had subsided and he’d gotten into the groove of the concert he’d been comfortable and elated to be on stage like that —to have people seeing him like he’d wanted to seen for so long now.
But the invisibility? People knowing about that? No. The very thought of people finding out makes a wave of nausea so strong wash over him he has to focus on his breathing as to not vomit on the steps in front of the sea lion exhibit right here and now. For the first time, A.B. is grateful for the fact that his invisibility is hard to tamp down when he’s experiencing negative emotions—he can sit here at the zoo and not worry about being seen. His emotions won’t allow it. He’s too wound tight in the fear of something as intimate as his power being Displayed to the public by accident that he knows no one will be seeing him anytime soon. It’ll take much more than the peaceful atmosphere of his favorite place in New York City to calm his nerves enough to become visible again.
He’s so caught up in the anxiety whirring around his mind that it takes him far longer than usual to notice the tell tale feeling of being watched. It’s not until he stands at the end of the sea lion feeding in an attempt to avoid being bumped by the dispersing crowd that he feels it. He looks up and his heart stutters as he catches someone out of the corner of his eyes staring right at him. He checks his hand and it’s definitely still a transparent purple like it always is when he’s invisible but when he straightens up again, turning to get a good look at the person who’s watching him, he locks eyes with the guy and he smiles, shy and a little awkward like he knows he’s been caught. He doesn’t avert his eyes though. He just keeps looking, eyes narrowed, lip caught between his teeth. He looks curious and A.B. can’t look away, rooted to the spot under the gaze of this stranger.
He ducks his head and starts speaking to the girl next to him and A.B. knows he should use this time to retreat but he’s afraid the moment he moves he’ll walk right to him. There’s a piercing sensation in his chest, like something’s hooked his heart and is tugging him forward, compelling him to seek out this guy’s company. A.B.’s vision blurs with the force of it, he swallows thickly and forces himself not to move forward, completely giving up on the idea of retreating while the guy isn’t looking. He blinks and his vision clears, revealing the guy walking toward him, the girl he was with moments before no longer visible. A.B. still can’t move away and the urge to close the distance between them, to meet him in the middle so he’s not doing all the work, only grows the closer he gets. A.B. doesn’t understand what’s gotten into him but as the guy gets closer the pain in his chest grows to a white hot searing sensation and it’s taking everything in A.B. not to reach out for him. He’s two steps away from him and as he stops in front of him the pain in A.B.’s heart fades, replaced with a warm, pleasant sensation of right and it’d be alarming if A.B.’s brain wasn’t currently distracted by: strong jaw, sharp cheekbones, freckles fanning out from nose to cheeks. This guy is stunningly handsome and, for some reason, A.B.’s more nervous about that than he is over him being able to see A.B. and he knows, without a doubt, this guy can see him.
He’s looking at him, eyes roaming his body and A.B. can feel himself blush, can see the moment the guy realizes it too by the way his mouth hitches into a soft smile as his eyes trace the coloring on his cheeks. A.B. wonders for a moment what he looks like to this guy since he’s still clearly invisible to everyone else but then he’s fishing his phone out of his pocket and the curiosity is replaced by a cold sort of disappointment A.B. really shouldn’t be feeling.
He doesn’t talk into it. He only holds it up to his ear and gives A.B. an expectant look, like what he’s doing should be obvious, and it takes a long moment for things to click in A.B.’s mind, to realize what he got the phone out for.
“You can see me,” A.B. says and he can’t tamp down the warmth that blooms in his chest as the guy’s face transforms into a breathtaking smile, eyes crinkling at the edges and cheeks dimpling.
“Yeah, I can.” He bites his lip, takes a deep breath, and continues on as if he’s having to force the words out of his mouth. “I think we’re soulmates.”
A.B.’s pulse quickens and his minds whirs and then the guy’s eyes widen in shock and he lowers his phone and A.B. knows before he looks down his power has failed him once again. He checks his hand and yep he’s fully visible again and he can’t do anything about the panic rising in his throat as his eyes dart all over the place, taking in how many people are around, if anyone’s seen him, if it looks like anyone will recognize him.
“Are you alright?” The guys asks and A.B.’s vaguely aware of the concern in his tone, the way he reaches out a hand as if he’s going to touch him but thinks better of it, the furrow in his brow as his eyes sweep over A.B.’s face, but it’s all coming through a fog of disorienting panic.
The guy grimaces and looks around, sees something that make his eyes light up and then he focuses back on A.B., mouth opening slightly as he does, eyes widening in shock and then he’s raising his phone back to his face and A.B. registers the tingling sensation that washes over him as he turns invisible and he lets out a breath, relaxing minutely now that he knows it’s only this guy who can see him.
“There’s a bench over there,” he says, motioning past A.B.’s shoulder. “We should—you need to sit down. Come on.”
A.B. has no reason to follow him but as he moves the piercing in his heart flares and his mind is so fogged with panic that the instinct to follow, to keep the distance between them as small as possible wins out.
The guy sits first and A.B. follows, pleased, even through the haziness of his thoughts, when he wiggles across the space A.B. left between them and knocks their knees together.
“You need to breathe. Real deep. Yeah, like that. Not yet, hold it. Okay, now let it out. Again. In. Then out. You’ve got it, yeah.”
His voice is calm and firm and A.B. can’t help but listen. Every inhale brings the world into sharper focus, every exhale pushes the panic further away. His mind clears and then he’s intimately aware of their knees touching, the way the guy is tapping two fingers against his phone, the way his mouth is turned down in a frown and how it doesn’t suit him.
“Thanks.” The word catches around the edges and he clears his throat in an attempt to shake the emotion from his voice. “Soulmates, huh? I feel like I should at least know your name at this point, then.”
A.B. turns just in time to see the start of a smile. It’s smaller than before, but it’s good and the last edges of A.B.’s discomfort bleeds away with the sight of it. He doesn’t believe in soulmates but there’s no denying the pull he feels toward him.
“My name’s Matthew,” he says in the phone and A.B.’s about to introduce himself—not wanting to be a dick and assume Matthew knows who he is—when he asks, “So, we’re just ignoring your panic attack?”
Matthew’s nostrils flare and he levels A.B. with a look that can only be described as disapproving. It’s amusing, really, that Matthew’s looking at him like that. Like he’s concerned about A.B., like it’s any way his problem to deal with.
“My sister gets them sometimes,” Matthew says after a moment. “I do that with her. The breathing thing. Glad it could help you. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry if I triggered it with the soulmate thing. Probably should’ve led with my name, instead.”
A.B. snorts in laughter. “Probably.”
The zoo’s not very busy. The crowd from the sea lion feeding is long gone and his panic at being seen or recognized is only a phantom now. He can’t even really pinpoint why he’d been so concerned in the first place, not while he’s sitting here with Matthew. He still doesn’t want to talk about the panic attack, but he doesn’t want Matthew to leave, doesn’t want him to stop talking just yet. Instead, he says, “You can put your phone down,” and wills himself back into visibility.
Matthew lowers his phone and his smile from before is back, the one that makes his cheeks dimple. It’s so beautiful. Matthew’s so beautiful.
“I’m A.B. by the way.”
“I know,” Matthew says. “I was at your concert last night.”
“Oh.” A.B.’s eyes burn and his mood shifts, dread washing over him with a force he doesn’t understand. He has no reason to be upset Matthew was at the concert, that he’s a fan, but cold disappointment twists in the pit of his stomach and A.B. can’t make the feeling go away. He wants to ask do you tell all the pop stars they’re your soulmate or am I special? Luckily, what comes out is: “Did you have a good time?”
“I did. You looked—” He stops short, tan skin flushing. “You put on a really good show.”
This is the first time Matthew’s looked nervous the entire time they’ve been together and it makes A.B.’s stomach flutter, wondering what he intended to say that made him blush. There’s still the feeling of disappointment at the pit of A.B.’s stomach but a warmth is curling through him he can’t deny is due to a fan having a good time. This is what he loves, after all. “I’m glad you had a good time.”
Matthew huffs out a laughs, ducking his head and running a hand through his hair. When he looks at A.B. again his mouth quirks up at the sides, a small smile playing at his lips. He looks embarrassed. “I actually— I know like three of your songs. So I wasn’t—I didn’t know what to expect, really.”
“Even better,” A.B. admits, the disappointment leaving as quick as it came. “That you had a good time, I mean.”
Matthew looks more relaxed now, like maybe he was worried A.B. would react poorly to him not being a fan. “I went with my roommates. They love you. My sister was properly pissed off she didn’t get tickets. Probably should have offered her mine but—” He shrugs, smile growing. “I brought her to the zoo this morning, instead.”
“And then you ditched her to come tell me we’re soulmates.”
Matthew laughs and it’s a wonderful sight. The sound bursts through him with such a force that he leans back with it, clapping his hand over his mouth, eyes scrunched up as he throws his head back. “She went to look at the penguins— they’re her favorite. I’m sure she won’t even miss me.”
A.B. raises an eyebrow and Matthew amends, “She probably will be getting suspicious soon. But—”
“You believe the legends about soulmates and opposite magics and all that?” A.B. guesses and Matthew nods.
The pierced feeling of his heart burns white hot and then bleeds out into something warm and steady and the word no gets caught in the back of his throat even though it’s the truth—or at least it was an hour ago. “I don’t know. Never had a reason to before.”
A mix of emotions flick across Matthew’s face before it settles on confusion, and he sighs. “I do. Or I did. I mean, I do but I’ve never—”
His phone vibrates and his face shifts into a guilty grimace. “Hey Maddie. Sorry, you know me, I got distracted. Where are you now? Of course you’re feeding the goats. Okay. I’ll meet you there just give me a few minutes.” Matthew hangs up his phone and frowns, rubbing a hand over his face aggressively. “I have to go. But can we maybe get coffee later? Or sometime this week?”
A.B. blinks, taken aback and Matthew bites his lip again, eyes full of a nervous desperation, stammering, “Look, I know you don’t know me and I can’t make you believe in soulmates. Hell, I’m not even—it doesn’t have to be—Maybe it’s not a romantic thing? Sure it’s not what most people think about but… I don’t know. I’ve never even been—like I’m pretty sure—”
“Give me your phone,” A.B. says and Matthew stops mid sentence.
“What?” he squawks. His eyes still have a panicked quality to them but his shoulders slump, and if A.B. had to guess, he looks relieved he was given a reason to stop talking.
“Let me give you my number.”
“Oh.” Matthew breathes out. He thumbs his phone unlocked and then hands it over.
A.B. sets his contact name as AB, and then types his number in before handing it back. “Now text me.” Matthew does and then he furrows his brow when A.B. doesn’t get a text and he can’t help but laugh, admitting, “It’s off.”
“Okay.” Matthew rubs his hands against his thighs and then stands. He looks down at A.B. and then out across the zoo. He worries his lip between his teeth and closes his eyes, taking a deep breath before letting it out excruciatingly slow. “So coffee, then?
A.B. doesn’t know why he’s so nervous now when before he was nothing but steady and confident, but the transformation pulls at A.B.’s heart and he finds himself wanting to help ease Matthew’s tension. “Yeah, I’ll see when I’m free. I’ll text you. We can talk about what all this mean.”
Matthew smiles and it’s small and nothing like before. He walks off and A.B. slips back into invisibility, pleased when Matthew looks back and his smile grows at the sight of him, sitting there visible to no one but him. It’s more radiant now, but there’s still a sad quality around his eyes and in the pull of his shoulders and A.B. doesn’t like it. He might not know about soulmates but he does know he wants to see Matthew again, wants to get the chance to see his eyes bright with laughter, head thrown back with the force of it.
He digs his phone out of his pocket and powers it on. He still doesn’t want to know what people are saying about the show last night but now he’s got a coffee date to plan and that makes turning on his phone seem worth it.