In reality, it doesn't take either of us long to dry ourselves or change, but the time drawls on so slowly; it seems as though every second is another word in the script of my future; every minute is another page closer to the ending I cannot change.
By the time I am ready to crawl beneath my duvet, a well of nausea has opened in my gut, and it's only when Chester crawls into the bed that I allow myself to breathe.
People tell me that sleeping next to my best friend is strange, unnatural. But sometimes it's the little things that hold you together - and if sleeping beside Chester makes both of us feel safe, then what is the world to tell us we should change? My parents tried, of course, but I made them understand that they could take whatever they wanted from me - my time, my efforts, my freedom - but they could not take Chester, and they could not take our little habits. They weren't happy, but sometimes you have to settle for content.
"Thank you," Chester mumbles. His arm is warm against mine, and I fight to suppress the violent throbbing of my heart.
"Of course," I say.
"Not just for that," Chester adds. "You're always here. Your parents would've thrown my into the streets if not for you."
"That's not true," I say. "Your parents died getting that enchanted blade for my father."
"Your parents aren't the grateful sort of people, Roland. They only let me stay because you threatened to run away if they'd decided to kick me out." He grins, and his sapphire eyes are laughing. "You were always a spoiled kid, Roland."
I let the same smile pirouette across to my own lips, tugging them into a grin. "Yeah. I guess."
"Can I come with you tomorrow?" he asks.
Tomorrow, I will accompany my father and uncle on a political journey to a distant city under our command. It terrifies me - the sort of fear that drags out all of your hope and joy and laughter, leaving you empty and bitter and afraid.. Right now, Chester if the only one who could ever hope to help me.
"Of course," I say. "I'll ask-"
My door swings open and my uncle strides in. "Happy birthday, Ro-"
His eyes land upon the two of us, curled together in my bed, and we plunge into a deafening silence - the kind that fills your ears with so much nothingness that is all just overwhelms you.
"It's not what you think," I choke out eventually. "I'm not... We're not..."
My uncle calls my father's name, and the word tears through the night and pierces me with fear.
"What the hell?" my uncle hisses, and his glare sears into me, scorching the words from my tongue before I can even say them.
He takes another step, and treads horror into my chest. He wouldn't hurt us, wouldn't do anything.
His eyes snap to Chester. "What did you do to my nephew to turn him into a monster?"
"I didn't do anything!" Chester gushes.
"I will kill you," my uncle hisses, and there is no room for logic as I push myself from the bed and scramble to stand between them.
"Please," I breathe, because I don't want to have to choose from the two. I don't want to show them that, between my family and the boy I love, I would choose Chester every time.
"What's going on?" My father's voice, and I could sob from gratitude.
"Your son has a boy warming his bed," my uncle hisses.
There is a moment that hangs in the air around us, so heavy with tension that it cannot be moved for what seems like so long, too long. And then my father's chuckle shatters it into a thousand pieces that do not fall upon the ground but into me, digging deeper into the wounds of terror that tear across my chest.
"No, no, it's a childhood habit - they sleep next to each other. If it were anything more than that, I'd have kicked them both out long ago."
My uncle sends a final glare before prowling from the room. For a moment, my father lingers.
"I'm tired," I say. "Let me sleep. Please."
He nods and leaves the room, and in a moment Chester is beside me, and I'm not breathing, I can't breathe, how do I breathe-
"Roland," Chester whispers, and as my legs collapse beneath me he pulls me against him and we sink to the floor.
"Roland!" he hisses again. "Calm down. You're okay. It was all a mistake, and you're safe, Roland, you're okay. It was a misunderstanding."
I don't want to look up at him.
"What if I am?" I choke, and it's like the air is bleeding from my lungs and my chest is being crushed. "What if I... What if I don't love girls, and instead, I... He's right, isn't he? I'm a monster."
"You're telling me you love boys, and not girls?" The way he says it so bluntly sends bludgeons of terror into every wall I've ever built - and I realise it's because Chester built them with me.
"You've been sleeping next to a monster," I whisper.
"No," Chester says. "I've been sleeping next to my best friend. And I will tonight, and probably many other nights again."
"You're lying." I try to use the words to shield me from the crushing blow Chester is about to deliver, but they tumble from my lips as weak and quiet.
"Roland, look at me." I don't, and he grips my shoulder. "Roland. Have I ever lied to you?"
And I look up at him, slowly and carefully, and his lips are twitched into the kind of smile that embraces you and keeps you warm and safe and home.
"No," I realise. "You haven't."
Chester grins, and from some deep well within my chest explodes a thousand emotions that run through my veins and chase one another, bringing laughter to my tongue and filling me so completely that all I can do is reach out to Chester and hold him tight and whisper '"Thank you," time and time again.
Chester doesn't hate me, and I am okay.
"Do you... Is there a particular boy?" he asks.
"No," I lie, because even though the joy has hounded the fear from my body, everything I say must still be dipped in caution.
We stay like this for a while, and by the time he speaks again, my heart is still singing its relief against my ribs, every syllable another pulse of gratitude. I will always have Chester, and nothing can stand between us.
"Can I ask you about something?" he says eventually, and I nod.
"While my parents were hunting down the enchanted weapons, they came across this garden of beanstalks. And they said they found these beans, and planting one will make a beanstalk grow - and then you can climb it and there's gold at the top." His words are coated with fire - the kind that inspires you and draws you close. The kind that is wild and beautiful and dangerous. The kind that can burn us both.
"We already have gold," I say, and I feel some of the previous joy ebbing away. "And it's probably dangerous - nothing comes without a price."
"Exactly. It'll prove to your parents that I'm worthy of being your friend, and maybe they'll give you more freedom." This terrifies me, this festering ambition, seemingly impulsive but undoubtedly worn with constant thought.
"How long have you been waiting to ask me this?"
I dread the answer.
"A few months. Maybe longer." There is an excited gleam in his eyes, but predatory, too. Why have I never seen this look before? This chilling desire to find something, this dangerous lust for gold and adventure.
"It's not worth it," I say. "What if it endangers the whole city? You can't do this, Chester, please. We'll find another way to show everybody what you're capable of, and..." I bite my lip before pulling the words up from a pit of raw emotion that dwells somewhere within my heart. "And we both agreed, remember? That it didn't matter what everybody else thought of us. That as long as we had each other, we'd be okay."
For a long moment, Chester fixes me with those fierce eyes, and the warmth of my best friend has faded. And then the burning glare dissolves into a weary gaze. "I just thought... Never mind."
"Chester," I start, but he shakes his head.
"I shouldn't have said anything."
Silently, I cannot help but agree.
It has been over a month since I turned sixteen, and I am falling apart. Chester is acting as though we are distant, speaking to me with a formal respect that has never stood between us. His confidence has always held me together, and after his step back, I am crumbling.
I keep wondering if I should have said yes, when he asked me about the beanstalk. The question keeps skipping through my mind, crashing into my every confidence and throwing turmoil into my thoughts.
I want him back. More than anything, I want him back.
I am in the gardens when the ground trembles beneath my feet, and for a terrifying moment I think we are under attack.
And then I see it, in the distance, rising from the ground like a black spear against the canvass of sunlight that paints the sky. At first I am engulfed within confusion's blissful claws, and then I realise that the object is writhing, and then I realise that Chester set out early this morning and refused to tell me why.
He has planted the beans. Chester is throwing himself into danger, and through my idiocy I did not realise.
His name emerges from my throat as a rasp, captured by the chilling wind. I have to help him.
Chester is in danger, and I am going to help him.