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Sophia Ash, Boston College

February 2022

The year was 1984 and London was in turmoil, an epidemic was the height of every conversation and the streets were becoming violent in protest. Young men and women had taken to the streets in hope to gain support against the disease which was killing their friends, and loved ones. Hospitals were silent in fear and grief, and in one solitary room, laid a boy in a creased gown, staring at the white ceiling; Olly motionlessly remained, recumbent weakening by the hour, lymphoma eating away at his lungs as he clawed for every gasp of air. He had no visitors, his parents refused to come from their hometown, his friends weren’t allowed in the room, the only person who ever entered and left was the friend who posed as the brother; Ash.

With another contraction of his lungs, Olly was sent into a coughing fit once more, blood tinting the side of his lips with a murderous crimson which Ash would never forget. His hand came quickly to rest on Olly’s back, rubbing soothing circles into the thin skin stretched over a prominent spine. The warmth on Olly’s back was over too quickly and the twenty-year-old was out cold, his eyes rolling to the back of his head and hitting the paper-like pillow, leaving Ash delicately stroking the brunette hair away from the other’s face. He was scared, they both were. Neither of them were blind to what was happening to other gay boys across the world, they were dying - painfully, lonely and confused; AIDS - that’s what they called it, Advanced Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Ash had no idea what it meant, he just knew it was stealing the life of the man he loved.

As each day came and fell into nightfall, Olly’s face grew paler, visually showing Ash how Olly’s life force was draining away. Whenever the boy managed to wake, his voice was thick and hoarse, as though he’d been smoking for the last eighty years. Olly’s eyes no longer filled the room with light and love, his hands no longer remained sturdy in Ash’s own. His spirits seemed to incinerate with each passing second; as though his entire life was nothing more than the paper cup which sat beside him, the cup which could be thrown away when the day came. Olly was just a shell of the boy he once was when he arrived in London.

“I love you” Ash had whispered one night, laying beside the boy a divide between them to prevent him from becoming infected. Tears brimmed both their eyes and a solitary drop drifted down the skull-like contours of Olly’s sunken cheek.

“About time, isn’t it?” He joked, a flicker of who he once was resurfacing for a second before vanishing into a fit of melancholia.

“I should have told you sooner” Ash whispered in a defeated voice as the boy recovered again, using his dying energy to smile.

“No… this is perfect…” Olly hesitated, “I love you too” they could only share a smile, but it was all they needed in the moment, for a split second there was no AIDS, no prejudice, no hatred and no death it was just them and their love.