eighth

I closed the journal and threw it at the foot of my bed, annoyed. I had just finished reading about the boy’s ice cream date with Rose. No fourteen year old deserved as perfect a date as what I had just read. It wasn’t even fair, no one in the existence of forever could ever compare to that. They met at her house and walked to the ice cream shop together and talked for over three hours while they ate and well after they finished. (The boy even pulled the whole, “You’ve got something on your chin” thing and rubbed it off with his thumb.) They talked about life, more movies, and music. (Basically more of the same stuff they had at the courtyard.) He told her basically his life story and she her’s and then they went to the water park and just had a grand old time while they were there.

I thought reading about his date would really pump me up for mine, but in all honesty it kind of did the opposite. Because now I was thinking about how my first date could never measure up to this stupid boy’s. Now I found myself playing it all out in my head, worrying about every move, what I would say, what he would say, what if he like . . . wanted to hold my hand or something. I couldn’t do that. Not in public, what if I saw someone I knew.

What if he tried to kiss me?
I sighed. I had never been kissed before and here journal boy was making out behind the water slide on his first date. It was unreal.

I looked at the clock on my nightstand, Liam would be here in just over a half an hour and I hadn’t even gotten ready yet. Honestly I was trying not to think about it, another reason for my hiding behind the pages of the boy’s journal. I didn’t have to think about my own life when I was reading about his.

I stood up and walked over to the bathroom, bringing my phone with me and plugging it into the iHome in there while I hopped in the shower. I cleaned and rinsed quickly to the sound of Coldplay and decided to multitask and brush my teeth while I was in there too. I dried off  quickly, turning off my music and ran to my closet. I had a text from Harper that I decided I would answer when I got dressed.

What the hell did someone wear to a first date? I thought about what the boy in the journal might’ve worn . . . then again he was two years younger than me and he went to a water park. I wasn’t sure my swimsuit was proper attire for this situation. Liam, however, might have disagreed with me on that account.

I decided that casual was best, it was an art show at five in the afternoon, not some sort of midnight gala. Instead of putting on a graphic tank top like I usually would I pulled on a white t-shirt and a faded jean jacket over that, rolling up the sleeves halfway to my elbow. I also went with black skinny jeans and a pair of Vans hoping to God above that Liam wouldn’t show up to my house wearing a suit and tie. I think I would have died of embarrassment.

After that I sat on my bed, staring at the clock, and waited. That’s when the nerves kicked in. I had tried my best to keep myself busy all morning, got up early for once, helped my mom make breakfast, got the little girls ready for the day and read the journal. Because I knew that if I sat and stewed that I would think about nothing but the date, and by association, again, all of the things I had to be afraid about. My knees were shaking, my eyes flittering from the clock to the window, my stomach had been in a huge knot all day and I hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday at lunch. I thought I might throw up, or that my heart would break its way out of my chest because it was beating so freaking hard. Would he be here early or super late? Only five minutes to go.

I remembered then the text from Harper and decided it was a perfect opportunity to distract myself.

Harper: What are your plans today? Let’s play! 🙂

My knotted stomach fell. I hadn’t anticipated this. Harper, Danny, and I usually always hung out on Saturday nights. Last week had been the first time we hadn’t in a long time, now I would be blowing them off two weeks in a row. I looked at the clock, Liam would be here any minute now, I couldn’t just cancel on him either.

I groaned, leaning back on my bed, putting my phone against my forehead. This was all too much. Maybe I should just cancel the date, I had no idea what I was supposed to say or how I was supposed to act. I had never even been to a real art show before, only little ones that my high school put on, how did they even work? I was almost certain I was wearing the wrong attire, but honestly I thought it would be much less embarrassing showing up to an event like this in casual   attire and be wrong about it than the other way around.

My phone vibrated, making my forehead buzz as well. I pulled it away from my face far enough just to see who had texted me.

Liam: If the address you sent me is correct, I’m almost here, head outside!

I groaned, I should be excited not . . . whatever this was. Nervous, anxious, scared out of my mind. First dates were fun. At least, they were supposed to be. In my head I envisioned this perfect thing with no flops or fumbles, easy conversation, a connection. But I knew that wasn’t what I was going to get. I just knew.  I was too apprehensive for things to go any other way than badly.

I opened my messages and texted Harper, telling her that there was a bug going around my house and we almost all had it (including myself) and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to hang out today. After I sent that I went downstairs, doing my best to avoid an interception from my mom or sisters. Dana was out with friends luckily so I wouldn’t have to see her at all, but the little ones might try and get me to go play Barbies or something if they saw me.

I stopped at the door, my hand hovering over the knob, watching through the window as a familiar truck pulled up next to my curb and I felt my phone buzz in my pocket once more, If I stepped through this threshold, I thought, there would be no going back. If I walked out of this house and got in that boy’s car I would officially be accepting a part of me that I had fought against for so long. It would be final.

I took a deep breath, my shoulders rising and falling, remembering the decision I had made yesterday: I couldn’t let fear rule me. Not anymore. I grabbed the doorknob and turned it quickly pushing forward as I stepped through it out into the blaring sun.

Liam honked twice when he saw me, I couldn’t see his face through the tinted glass of his windows but I was almost one thousand percent certain he was smiling. I forced a smile, too and ran across the dead grass towards his truck. I heard it unlock as I approached and I pulled the door open.

“Hey there,” a seductive voice called to me and I was looking up at Liam’s beaming face now, internally sighing with relief when I saw that he too was dressed very casually, even more so than me, opting for shorts and a comfortable looking black hoodie with the Adidas logo on it.

“Hey,” I replied, trying to feign confidence as I climbed into his car—literally climbed, it was so tall there should have been a ladder.

“You excited?” he asked, tightening his grip on the steering wheel as I closed the door behind me and started to pull my seatbelt across my chest.

“Nervous,” I said honestly, and then afraid that that could be misconstrued added, “I’ve never been to an art show like this before, I don’t have any idea what it’ll be like.”
Liam laughed, “Me either, I was kinda hoping you had, that way we would have some sort of idea of what to expect.”

I shook my head, chuckling also, trying to not let my true nerves show, I kept my eyes ahead, afraid if I looked at Liam too long that I would jump out of the car while it was still stationary. “It’ll be a first for the both of us then.”

“That’s oddly comforting,” Liam said casually and I nodded in agreement as he put his car into gear and began heading down the road. My spine tingled for a moment, there was something so oddly attractive to me about him driving a stickshift.

I patted myself on the back mentally for a moment, for a) walking out of my house, b) getting in his car, c) not jumping out of his car, and because d) thirty seconds into our conversation and there wasn’t that usual awkwardness yet. There wasn’t a weird hesitation as I climbed into his car, there wasn’t that moment of wondering whether or not we were thinking the same thing, there was just him greeting me, me saying hello back, and a casual mentioning of our current situation. Of course, I was probably speaking too soon.

“So how did you hear about this show?” I asked, “my AP art teacher usually always tells us about the big shows in town and she didn’t even mention this one.”
“Well,” Liam started, “I had been thinking about how to get your sketchbook back to you for a couple of days because you weren’t answering my texts—” he smiled because he and I both knew that he was also thinking about how he could try and ask me out one last time before finally giving up, “—so art was just on my mind a lot this week. And then on Thursday after school my mom was telling me about this art show that the hospital she works at was sponsoring and I just thought it would be a really fun idea. So I went online, printed off a flyer, and here we are.”

I nodded, still looking out at the open stretch of neighborhood before me as he turned onto the main road, “Well, it was very sweet of you to think of me.”

“It was very sweet of you to say yes.”

I blushed. He had no idea what it had taken to actually get me to a place where I was ready to say yes to his invite. I’m sure, to some sort of extent, he must’ve had an idea, what with my yelling at him when we first met, flirting with him over text, and running away from him on Monday—it was much easier to be yourself with someone who scared you when you couldn’t see them.

“I would have been crazy to say anything else,” I said sheepishly, teasing myself a little and Liam laughed. I looked around the interior of his truck, it was oddly tidy, my car was such a mess, even with Dana sharing it, the clutter was just as much mine as it was hers. I thought then about the stereotype that accompanied men who had big trucks. Liam didn’t really seem to fit into that category. He certainly wasn’t overcompensating for anything, he was super confident, I just think that he had a certain taste and money to fulfill it. I could never afford to fill up the tank of this gas guzzler once week.

“I’m not really sure where it is,” Liam said with another chuckle, “Do you have a GPS on your phone?”

“Yeah,” I said and looked up the address of the museum, plugging it into the app on my phone and then letting it direct us there. I told him to get on the freeway and head towards downtown Phoenix, he followed my instructions and we were officially on our way.

After a few moments of awkward silence when we merged into the HOV lane I looked at his stereo curiously and pressed down on the power button saying, “What are we listening to?”
“No, wait,” Liam said nervously, reaching out to stop me just as some 80’s pop began leaking out of the speakers.

“Is this,” I said curiously, listening carefully to the words, “is this Phil Collins?”

Liam nodded sheepishly, “Um, yeah actually. It’s the band Genesis, Phil Collins was the lead singer back in the seventies and eighties.”

“And this is what you listen to?” I asked surprised, hoping suddenly that it didn’t come off as judgy, I was just taken aback. I kind of had pegged Liam as an alternative rock kind of guy: Green Day, Fall Out Boy, but who was I to assume that? I was the weirdo who listened to everything under the sun.

“Yeah,” Liam said, “I listen to a lot of seventies and eighties bands. I would have to say that classic rock is like, my genre, The Beatles, AC/DC, and Aerosmith. I love Billy Joel and Elton John.”

I nodded, all stuff I didn’t listen to. So much for “everything under the sun,” not as musically cultured as I thought I was. I waited to respond so I could listen to the lyrics a little.

“It’s not bad,” I concluded thoughtfully.

“You say that like you’re surprised,” Liam laughed, making a lane change once he was able.

“It’s just not what I normally listen to is all,” I explained, finally mustering up the courage to look up at him as he gazed out onto the freeway ahead of us.

“What do you normally listen to?” he asked with genuine curiosity and my heart skipped a beat as his jaw tightened and relaxed with each word that left his mouth.

“Um, I want to say everything, but that’s not true obviously, but a very wide range. My friend Harper says that if you opened the music app on my phone that it would look like it belonged to ten different people,” I explained and Liam nodded.

“And Harper is your best friend?” he asked, “The girl who picked you up and the one you became a felon with?”

“Yeah that’s her,” I laughed and then paused for a moment, deciding to finally voice a question I had asked myself after one of his texts the Sunday that I drove to Red Rock, “How did you know she picked me up on Saturday? You were inside.”
Liam’s brown eyes flashed towards me for just a moment and then were back on the road, I thought I saw him blush for a fraction of a second before he cleared his throat and puffed out his chest a little, “I um, I watched you.”

“Oh,” I said timidly and it was my turn to blush.

I looked away from Liam now, out onto the road, trying to recollect myself.

I wasn’t sure why stuff like that kept surprising me: every time I caught myself under his watchful gaze, every time he seemed to look at me hungrily, the moments when I thought he was about to kiss me, the half-seconds I thought I caught him blushing. The boy asked me out on a date for hell’s sakes. He obviously thought of me in more than just a friendly way—but a way, nevertheless, that I wasn’t used to.

It was, however, much easier than I had anticipated, reading the boy’s journal entry had really psyched me out. I had expected to get in the car, open my mouth, and have absolutely no words escape my lips. I was such a pessimist, I had no idea how Harper and Danny stood to be around me sometimes. But since the moment I got in the car there hadn’t really been a lull in conversation, which was weird because sometimes I felt like I was awful at talking to people.

I looked down at my phone, “Oh, um, hey get off at the next exit.”

Liam laughed, “If I can make it.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t really paying attention,” I said and the car made a lurch to the right as he merged over two lanes in one swift move. Driving a car this big would absolutely terrify me. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t have complete control over my little sedan, I wasn’t sure how I could ever feel confident helming something this big.

“That’s okay,” Liam said, looking over his shoulder and quickly shifting over one more lane just in time to make it to the exit. He sighed and the car began to slow as we approached the traffic heading towards the off-ramp.

“After this you make a left on Central Avenue and it’s a block and a half or so down, just left of Lynwood, on the corner,” I explained, examining my phone as Liam turned left off the freeway, under the overpass onto the street that I had instructed.  I turned off the app then so that it would stop using what limited data I shared with my family and put my phone away.

“Are you excited?” Liam asked.

“Yeah,” I said with a nod, “I’ve never heard of Gäel Boutroux before so I’m anxious to see his work.”

Liam snorted out a laugh, “So that’s how you pronounce his name? I’ve been calling him Gale Bootrucks.”

“No no, Gay-el Boo-troo, he’s French.” I said with a soft accent, chuckling at him myself.

Liam laughed some more, that same haughty and full laugh I had heard at Rick’s and I smiled at him.

“There it is!” I said pointing, the sign coming into view.
Liam hung a left and pulled into the parking lot of the Phoenix Art Museum then, which was surprisingly packed, it took us a few minutes to find a parking spot big enough to fit his massive truck. Liam got out of the car first, and I pulled down the visor to check my teeth and hair in the mirror make sure there was no gunk in between them and that everything was in place. I went to reach for the door handle but it wasn’t there, I looked up surprised to see  Liam was holding my door open for me.

“Oh,” I said timorously and Liam held out his hand for me. My heart stopped in my chest as I reached out and took it in mine as I got out, Liam was easily able to hold all of my weight with just one hand, making my descent from his ten story truck much more smooth than my climb in. “Thank you.”

When I was out Liam shut the door behind me and it locked on its own, but he didn’t let go of my hand, in fact, he turned his palm in mine so that they were facing each other and started to lace his fingers in between my own. My head became very light and my whole body seemed to shudder for a moment until I pulled my hand away from his and shoved it into my pocket to grab my phone and check the time.

“We still have about fifteen minutes,” I said, my voice shaking, trying to act like the little fit I had thrown as totally casual, “I wonder if there is a line.”

I took a few steps ahead of Liam to peer around the corner of the large building. Sure enough, there was a small line just outside the main entrance. Two banners on either side of the door announced the guest of honor’s exhibit and a picture of a dark skinned man in his thirties that had a polished shaved head smiled back at us.

I stayed ahead of Liam as we walked towards the line, making sure not to look back at him so he couldn’t see the guilt of fear on my face. He had tried to hold my hand. A boy had tried to hold my hand. What if someone saw us? Someone I knew. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts of all things negative and nervous. He tried to hold my hand, it was fine. It wasn’t the end of the world, I needed to take a chill pill.

I slowed down a little so that I was instep with Liam, walking side by side, we were almost to the end of the line now, “I’m sorry.”

I looked up at him and he looked down at me, smiling, “It’s okay, I understand. Too fast?”
I nodded, “Just a little.”

“That’s perfectly fine,” he said nudging my shoulder playfully with his own. The boy was a fucking saint.

We waited in line patiently, for about ten minutes or so because they opened just a few minutes ahead of schedule. In the meantime we sat in silence, I was looking around at the building that I had driven past a hundred times on my way downtown but never actually entered, trying to think about anything but the boy standing next to me. I looked at the trees and thought about how close he was without actually touching me. I looked at the stone exterior and large glass windows and thought about how he had tried to hold my hand—how I hadn’t let him. I looked at the people around us, mostly adults, two other teenagers I didn’t know. All strangers, people I would probably never see again. I looked up at Liam, his strong jaw that was freckled with stubble, his deep set eyes and his warm smile as he too looked around us patiently.

He didn’t want to be at this stupid art show. I knew that more than he did. He was here because he thought it was something I would enjoy. Liam was observant, Liam was caring, Liam wasn’t trying to move to fast or hurt me in any way. Liam liked me, he was trying to impress me. and that’s what scared me the most.

I took a deep breath, shoved aside all my stupid fears and insecurities, and reached to take Liam’s hand in my own.

*     *     *

“Born in 1978 in Kaysersburg, France, Gäel Boutroux was twenty-three years old when he dropped out of college in Paris and moved to London to pursue a career in art. At the time, it was a very risky move, but it paid off when he was discovered in a little art show by renowned collector and art lover Jacques Girardot, who also happened to be an employee at the Louvre. He was visiting London with family when he just happened to walk into the little show that Boutroux was presenting at. Over the next fourteen years Boutroux career skyrocketed, he’s been showcased at over two-hundred museums, been the keynote speaker and both Harvard and Princeton graduation ceremonies, and pieces of his art currently hang in some of the most prestigious museums around the world. It is my pleasure to welcome to you today . . .”
“Gale Bootrucks,” Liam whispered under his breath as the lady announced his entrance and everyone clapped. I laughed and Liam took his hand away from mine so we could applaud along with everyone else in attendance.

The dark skinned man came on and Liam took my hand again, making my heart flutter. He talked about what it was like growing up in Kaysersburg. Why moving to London was such a risky move when all the art was happening in Paris and how hard that transition was. He talked about poverty and rising above it and how sometimes he couldn’t even pay rent because buying paints was so much more important to him. His accent was thick and hard to understand at times, but I was able to get the overall gist of what he was trying to say. Honestly, I was kind of cliché. The same success story you hear a hundred times, not super inspiring, I just wanted to see his art.

Merci,” Gäel said, blowing a kiss out to us with a nod and walked off stage, the same woman who introduced him came up and said there would be a meet-and-greet for those who had paid for the extra bundle with their ticket and that we were free to go ahead and browse the exhibit. Everyone clapped again except Liam and I and I looked up at him.

“You had to pay for these tickets?” I asked.

Liam smiled, looking around us, deciding where to head first, he squeezed my hand lightly and said, “I don’t know what she is talking about.”

I wasn’t sure my head had stopped spinning at all since the second I grabbed Liam’s hands. It had been a struggle to even focus on the presenter and Gäel because my mind was completely tangled up in his long fingers.

The crowd dispersed and I noticed something that I hadn’t even thought of in the good forty-five minutes that we had already been inside the building. The man to our left wore a short-sleeved white button up with slacks and a tie. The woman next to him was in a dress. There was a man a few feet away wearing a full-on tux, same with another man all the way across the room. Everyone was in formal attire. Everyone, that was, except for Liam and I.

“Oh my god,” I gasped, clapping my hand over my mouth as Liam escorted me towards the closest painting.

“What?” Liam asked, looking down at me.

“They’re all wearing suits and dresses,” I hissed, my hand still over my mouth.

“Yeah,” Liam said coolly, looking up at the painting before us, “I’ve been trying not to think about it.”

“You didn’t say anything?!” I exclaimed, elbowing him in the side.

“Hey hey, neither did you,” Liam countered.

“I didn’t even notice,” I shook my head in disbelief, looking around me, trying to find just one other person who was in casual attire. There was no one.

“Someone’s got their head in the clouds,” Liam said, tugging on my hand so that I would turn my attention to the painting.

“Yeah,” I blushed, “something like that.”

“What do you think of this one?” Liam asked and I finally took the time to look at the painting we were standing in front of.

“What do you?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Liam said, “I don’t look at much art.”

I smiled, that was the exactly the answer I had been expecting.

“See the way he used color here?” I said thoughtfully, pointing to the area of the woman’s face where shadow met light, “The blue. When you see skin you don’t normally think of blue. But it’s there, deep inside, between the reds and yellows and pinks—hidden in the the shadows. But he has brought it out of hiding, you see? He’s playing with it. I think it’s brilliant.”

I stopped speaking and when Liam didn’t say anything I looked up at him, he was doing the same already, a goofy but pleasant looking smile on his face.

“You really enjoy this stuff, huh?” he asked.

I blushed a little, “Yeah. I guess. Is that weird?”

Liam shook his head, “Not at all. It’s . . . cute.”
I looked away, my cheeks flushing hot. I began walking him away from the painting towards another one, pulling him with me.

“Well then” I said, “what do you like? Other than fixing cars and harassing people?”

“I like to wrestle,” Liam said without missing a beat.

I stopped and turned to look at him, my quizzical expression meeting his confident one.

“Wrestle?” I asked, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Liam nodded, a full smile on his face, “I’m on the team at school. I’ve won the state championship in my weight class two years in a row, going for a third this spring.”

I shook my head in disbelief, he just kept on surprising me: taking me to an art show, classic rock, wrestling. I couldn’t help but wonder what else this boy held up his sleeve.

“I don’t know why that surprises me.” I said.

“Cause you don’t know me yet,” Liam countered.

“Yet?” I asked, like he was implying something.

“We both know where this is going,” Liam said confidently and I smirked at him, taking my hand out of his.

“Do we?” I asked, turning around and walking towards another painting. Liam, of course, wasn’t far behind.

The next two hours consisted of me walking around and looking at the art with Liam following in tow. I was enthralled and Liam, much to my surprise, actually didn’t seem too terribly bored. He asked lots of questions, what I thought of this, what I thought of that, how did he get this to look that way, and why did he choose these colors there? I wasn’t sure if he was genuinely interested or just liked to see how nerdily excited I got over art. Either way, I was glad he stayed involved.

And there had been times when I was looking at a painting, deep in thought, where I would turn and catch him staring at me and it would make my stomach turn wildly. He would act like he wasn’t but I knew, and he knew I knew. But honestly, I didn’t mind.

“So, I was thinking,” Liam said suddenly behind me as I eyed a particularly beautiful painting of a bridge over some rushing water. His breath was hot on my neck and it sent shivers down my spine, completely pulling my focus away from the painting. “This thing is over in like, what, twenty minutes? And as much as I’ve enjoyed silently walking around watching you oogle over some French dude’s finger-paintings, I was wondering if you’d like a bite to eat.”

I turned around to find Liam was very close to me, mere inches away, “Like, at a restaraunt?”

“No no,” Liam chuckled, “I was thinking something more private. Both of my parents are working tonight so I thought we could do something at my house.”

Liam’s house? The thought terrified me even more than a restaurant did. The date had gone really well so far and honestly my reasons for thinking that was because it hadn’t really felt like a date. Sure, I had held his hand nearly the whole afternoon (even when that gross elderly couple gave us a crusty look,) and flirting here and there had been fun, and then there was the staring, of course. But second we left this place, went to the confines of his home, I had no idea of knowing what would happen after that. What that would feel like. What he might want to do.

But did I really want this to slip out from under me? Did I really want to have something that was as easy as tonight had been and let it slide out of my fingers without even trying to hold onto it?

“Yeah, sure,” I said after a moment of thought, mustering up some courage.

Liam’s warm face lit up and I was pretty sure that he hadn’t anticipated me saying yes. That made two of us.

“Okay,” he said, “okay great.”

“Are we gonna order pizza or something?” I asked curiously.

Liam smirked at me, “Are you kidding? I’m going to make dinner.”

I laughed, my mind immediately thinking of a hundred ways that this could go terribly, terribly wrong and we made our way through the rest of the exhibit, his hand in mine the whole time. When we went outside it was starting to get dark, the sky a deep orange on the horizon that was mixed with reds and violets and yellows.

We got in his car (Liam opened the door for me) and headed out into the twilight. Before the drive seemed to go by very quickly, we got on the freeway and we got off, the whole night had seemed to go very very fast now that I was thinking about it. Now however, time seemed to creep by as Liam drove us to his home. The clock on the dash didn’t seem to even want to change as nerves got the best of me and silence crept upon us, replacing the light and easy conversation that we had going while at the exhibit.

I looked outside as the oranges in the sky faded into darkness and the freeway flew past us. There was a knot in my stomach I didn’t know how to be rid of.

Alone at Liam’s house. Alone. At Liam’s house.

I took a deep breath, I was fine, this was fine, He pulled onto the freeway and I looked at him, Liam was just as silent as I was, I wondered if he was nervous too. Wondered if he was curious about what I was thinking, what I was anticipating, what I expected. It would make me feel a whole lot better, that’s for sure, to know that I wasn’t the only one whose brain was completely frantic right now.

He pulled onto the freeway, shifting into a lower gear so he could speed up and I reached out, placing my hand over the top of his on the gear shift just as he shifted back up again. Liam’s index finger twitched as my hand met his and I looked up at him nervously, trying to gauge if this was okay or not. He didn’t look at me, but I think I saw him smirk as he lifted his thumb up and wrapped it around my pinky next to it. I smiled warmly and looked back out on the road. It was okay. I was okay, I could go to his house and be totally fine.

It seemed, I thought to myself, that the resistance that lived in me was slowly morphing into mere worry. And that was a good thing.

Liam lived further away than I did, closer to the high school, but not by much. We got off the freeway and entered a neighborhood where we twisted and turned through winding streets for a few minutes. We rounded the corner and were headed down a private lane with trees and a brick wall on either side of us. The lane ended just as soon as it began and we exited into a large clearing that was fenced off. I couldn’t see anything until we made a sharp left turn at the end of the lane and the base of the largest house I had ever seen in my life was illuminated in Liam’s headlights.

“Oh my god,” I whispered, immediately terrified by the fact that the house was so big that I couldn’t see it all at the same time. I never even got the chance to try and see all of it because Liam turned again around the side of the house and pressed on the garage door opener on his viser. a five car garage stood before us, but none of the doors opened. Liam turned one more time around those and smaller building came into view. The term small, of course, being relative because while it was smaller than Liam’s main house, it was just about the same size as mine.

“I know,” Liam said, pulling into the one car garage that was attached to the mini mansion, “It’s kind of a lot. I should have warned you.”

“I don’t think you could have,” I said honestly shaking my head, eyes wide, “I literally thought my jaw became unhinged it dropped so hard.”

Liam laughed too, putting the truck in park and closing the garage behind us. The inside was a blinding white, on my side of the garage there was a long wooden desk with tools scattered across it, “It’s not that big.”

I shot him a look my eyes wide and said, “You’re house could eat my house for breakfast and still have room for a second course.”

Liam laughed loudly at my comment and got out of the car. I started to open my door but then watched as instead of heading inside the house he rounded the hood of the car and was headed to my side to open it for me again. He did and helped me down just like before, keeping my hand in his as we walked towards the door on the side of the garage that lead inside the home.

“I thought we were going to your house,” I commented, looking around the vast white garage as he lead us through the door, “not your guesthouse.”

“This is my house,” Liam said casually, trying to sweep it under the rug like it was no big deal. He didn’t live under the same roof as his parents, he had his own roof. Liam was a whole other level of rich that I wasn’t even sure I could comprehend.

“Oh of course,” I said as Liam stepped aside so I was leading the way down a narrow hallway, “my mistake.”

Liam closed the door behind us and instead of grabbing my hand like I thought he would I felt his hands brush against my hips as he slowly wrapped his arms around my middle. My  stomach and chest tightened, my back straightening up and my shoulders raising, Liam relaxed his arms, “Is . . . is that not okay?”
“It’s . . .” I breathed, or tried to because it was suddenly very difficult for some reason, “It’s just not what I expected.”

Liam squeezed my middle, gently, comfortingly and the knot in my stomach that had appeared when we first began our drive here loosened. This was okay. I was fine. So Liam was close . . . very close—it didn’t mean it was the end of the world.

He lead me down the narrow hallway through a mudroom where some coats and jackets hung, through one more doorway into a kitchen area that doubled with a dining room. There were french doors on the on the opposite side of the small four person table that opened into a living room. I didn’t say anything during the short walk, I was too busy ogling, this one area was bigger than the whole first floor of my house, but I tried my best not to think about that. It had never been in my nature to compare what I had to what someone else had.

Liam guided me over to the table where he let go of me so that he could pull out a chair for me to sit in, I did as was non-verbally suggested and he helped scoot it in behind me.

“It’s a beautiful place,” I finally said, looking around the kitchen/dining area. There was an island separating the table and kitchen, the floors were a dark (almost black) polished wood that contrasted the white and pure  minimalist feel of the place very nicely. It was very him. Very clean and neat, I guessed then that Liam was very particular and tidy, basically the opposite of me, I was so cluttered, my room, my life. Just one big mess.

“It wasn’t really meant to be lived in,” Liam admitted, walking over to the kitchen rolling up the sleeves of his black hoodie and heading to the sink to wash off his hands. I raised an eyebrow and he continued, “I mean, obviously it was meant to be lived in, but not by me. It’s a guesthouse, like you assumed earlier, but it’s an empty one more often than not. When we moved onto the property it was originally a barn—hence the mudroom—but my parents had no use for it so they did a complete update, inside and out. After a while it had been only used maybe once or twice by visiting relatives so I kinda just packed up and moved in all on my own. Didn’t really talk to my parents about it, did it one day after school and they didn’t have any issues with it so I’ve lived in here for about a year and a half now.”

“And you kinda just bum off your parents whenever the fridge is empty?” I joked, as Liam walked over to one of the dozens of cupboards and pulled out a blue box of something that I couldn’t really make out.

Liam laughed, “Basically, but I do a lot of my own grocery shopping too. My parents are both doctors and as such super health nuts, they aren’t the type to by Ho-Hos and Coca-Cola. I have to buy that stuff myself.”

I nodded, that made sense. But then I also thought about how Liam said he was a wrestler, so he must’ve had to stay healthy in some aspects too. Although, eating junk food and protein probably helped him stay in whatever weight class he was in so there was probably a huge amount of moderation that went into what he ate. Speaking of which: “What are we making?” I asked as Liam ran back to the first cupboard and grabbed two more of the same blue boxes as before.

I,” Liam began proudly, “am making one of my very favorite Italian delicacies. You are not doing anything but sitting there and looking cute.”

I blushed but didn’t say anything more. I watched as Liam grabbed a large pot out from one of the lower cupboards and filled it up at the sink with steaming water, probably so it would boil faster, and put that on the stove. He said Italian, so I thought maybe noodles of some sort—fettucine, ravioli? Maybe that was what the blue boxes were? I hadn’t gotten a good enough look and the island between us was raised higher than the counter space on his side so I couldn’t see.

After a few more minutes of prep, grabbing milk out of what I thought was a tall wooden pantry, but was actually a fridge, getting a strainer out, the like, he set a timer and came and sat across from me at the table. He folded his arms across the wood and leaned forward a little, “you enjoyed the art show?”

“Couldn’t tell?” I asked teasingly and Liam smiled his signature, crinkle-eye smile with a little chuckle, “No, I loved it. I think I found my new favorite artist.”
“Oh yeah?”  Liam asked, raising his thick eyebrows at me, “who is your ‘old’ favorite?”
“Oh,” I laughed, “I mean, no one can replace Van Gogh, of course, but this guy was pretty great.”

“Hey, I know him!” Liam exclaimed his eyes bright, “Starry Night!”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “that’s a good one! But my favorite is Sorrow, it’s a nude drawing of this pregnant woman. It was one of Van Gogh’s first drawings after he decided he wanted to be an artist. She’s sitting down, leaning into her folded arms, you can’t even see her face but you can just tell how sad she is, it’s amazing to me. Plus I love the human form, it’s so complex and beautiful and . . .”
I slowed my speech to a stop when I realized I was starting to ramble, but Liam hadn’t interrupted or tried to stop me, he was watching me with a keen and interested eye, soaking in every word that I had said about a drawing he had probably never even seen.

“Sorry,” I said, “I get kinda excited about art.”
“It’s nice,” Liam said, “you really see people when they talk what they are passionate about. Do you want to be an artist?”

“I guess if I’m being brave then yes,” I admitted, not sure if I had ever really said this outloud to anyone. “More accurately I’d like to be a illustrator. Do lots of different work all over the place, children’s books, comic books, maybe even work on an animation film—I think that would be a blast. But if I’m being realistic then I would love to teach art.”
“Why can’t you just be brave?” Liam asked and I got a feeling that he was talking about more than just my art. I ignored that however.

I shrugged, “I don’t know if I have what it takes.”

“Well, I’ve seen your art,” Liam said, starting to stand up to go and check on the boiling water, “and I think you’re fantastic. The best I’ve ever seen, honestly. I don’t hang out with very artsy kids.”

“Neither do I,” I said to myself, silently wondering what Liam’s friends were like. Instead, I said aloud, “Thank you. I should have known you would take a peek.”

“I got curious,” Liam laughed, stirring the water for a moment. He tore open the three blue boxes and dumped their contents into the pot. But he was facing away from me so I still had no idea what it was he was making. I was sticking with my pasta theory.

“I don’t blame you,” I said as Liam walked back over to me, sitting right back down just as he had before.

“Can I ask you something?” Liam asked and my stomach tightened nervously.

“Um, yeah sure,” I said and I leaned forward a little, resting my own arms against the table now.

“What took you so long?” he asked.

I think that out of context, to anyone else other than us two in this moment that the question could have seemed extremely vague, open ended, and they would have asked him to explain what he meant by that. But I knew exactly what he meant: Why had it taken so long for me to say yes to going out with him? Not only that, but why had it taken me so long to get out of my comfort zone? Why had it taken me so long to open my eyes and seem him as anything but someone who just wanted to hurt me?

I thought for a moment about how to word this, I had anticipated that he might ask me this question. I had hoped he wouldn’t of course, but it was fair, no, more than fair.

I took a deep breath and looked at Liam with a warm, honest expression, “I was terrified of you.”
Liam raised his eyebrows again, leaning back a little in his seat. “That’s . . . surprising. I thought I had been nice, albeit a little headstrong and difficult but not intimidating or scary. Did I . . . do something?”

I nodded solemnly, looking down at my hands for a moment, “You made me feel things that I had tried to run away from as long as I can remember,” I paused, and when Liam didn’t say anything I looked up and met his brown eyes with my own, “you made me like you, Liam. Really really like you. And that was petrifying.”

Liam’s expression of confusion fell into one of concern, his whole demeanor changing, “I’m sorry I caused that struggle inside of you.”

“No no no,” I shook my head, feeling pressure welling up in the corner of my eyes, I knew I was on the verge of tears. Crap. It wasn’t cool to cry on the first date, “If it wasn’t you it would have been someone else. I’ve been running for a really long time.”

“Why?” Liam asked, genuinely concerned. We were entering territory that I hadn’t even discussed with Harper or Danny. They just thought I was waiting to come out of the closet until after high school. Was this safe? Could I trust Liam? There was something in his eyes that told me I could, maybe it was because he actually asked whereas Harper and Danny assumed it was kind of a taboo, or maybe it was because he was gay also.

“Fear. Again,” I said, “my dad, Yaser, he isn’t around very much, but he’s very religious more so than the rest of my family, but he’s the head of the household so his word is law. I know if they ever figured out what I am I wouldn’t be a welcomed member of the Moore family. There’s so many little things that just add up, things that he said when I was a kid, the teachings I was told when I was younger about marriage and family and how taking a wife is essential. I didn’t used to be afraid, I actually used to be curious about the feelings inside me, but after so many years of being told something is bad you start to think that you yourself are inherently bad also.”

While I spoke Liam had gotten up to go stir whatever was in the pot, it started to smell, definitely noodles, for sure. He strained the water, added some milk and other things to the pot, stirring that again, and turned the burner on low—all the while making sure to continue looking at me, nodding in understanding now and then.

He got out two bowls and began dishing up the contents of the pot, giving us each huge servings. He put both bowls in one arm, sticking forks in each of them, and then headed over to the table, setting a bowl of steaming macaroni and cheese in front of me just as I finished my rant.  I looked at him with wide eyes, smiling and shaking my head in disbelief,

“‘Favorite Italian delicacy’?” I quoted and Liam shrugged, already taking a bite out of his serving before he had even sat down across from me.

“It’s good shit,” he said with a mouth full of noodles and I laughed, taking a bite of my own now. It was absolutely, without a doubt in the world, the best macaroni and cheese I had ever eaten in my life. Liam had turned it into an art of his own.

We ate for a few moments in silence, and I was glad he had made three boxes, I would need more of this stuff.

“I’m sorry,” Liam said suddenly and I looked up at him in the middle of raising the fork to my mouth, “Sorry that you were raised to believe that you’re ‘bad.’ That’s awful, and you aren’t. God, you aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with what you are. Sometimes I forget how lucky I was to be raised by my parents, they’re almost grossly over-accepting. I could tell them I was marrying a donkey and they’d say ‘When’s the wedding?’ It’s just kinda a slap it the face when you realize not everyone has it that way. I feel so ignorant sometimes.”

“Not ignorant,” I shook my head, finally taking a bite of my food. I noticed then that liam was finished, man, he had scarfed it down. “Not at all. Just lucky.”

“Damn lucky,” Liam agreed and a strange reverence followed and I knew Liam was contemplating what his life would be like if he was raised by different parents. I silently did the same, it was nearly impossible to imagine.

 “So how long have you known you were gay?” I asked, slicing through the silence, scooping up another fork load of macaroni.

“I’m not gay,” Liam said without a beat and I nearly dropped my fork as I looked up at him, He wasn’t looking back at me, he was toying around with his fork and bowl, a small smirk upon his full lips. I felt like I was missing something.

“What?” I asked, stunned.

Liam flashed his brown eyes up at me, a sly smile gracing his face, “I’m Liam, Just Liam. I don’t like labels. Just because I’m boys and not girls doesn’t make me any different from the rest of the world. You never hear of anyone coming out of the closet as straight, that whole concept is so indirectly homophobic, the idea that someone should have to announce their sexuality to the rest of the world. And that becomes a whole other mess when you’re talking about asexuality, pansexuality, or the likes.”

I nodded, he had a point. “So when people ask you what you are?”

“I roll my eyes at them and get annoyed because honestly who I sleep with is none of their damn business, but I get what you are saying. Yes, with my friends and stuff I refer to myself as gay, because I can’t give everyone the same long spiel that I gave you but I don’t necessarily tag myself as it, so to speak. Sexuality and who you love aren’t correlated in my head. Sexual orientation doesn’t define me, there are so many more aspects to who I am other than who I fuck.”

That was as deep as we got for the night however, the conversation melted into much lighter topics as we each dished up a second bowl of macaroni and cheese and ate our fill. What he said stuck with me the rest of the night though, even as we cleaned up and he drove me back home. I always had assumed who I was depended on who I loved. That it absolutely defined every aspect of my life, it was part of why it scared me so much. I had never even considered that there was another option to thinking that way. It gave me a lot to think about, life changing things.

“I really had a good time tonight,” I said nervously as Liam opened my door, letting me out of the car a few doors away from my house, I wasn’t sure who was home and didn’t really want to be bombarded with questions of where I had been when I walked through the door if they saw me getting out of a strange silver truck. “I’m glad I said yes.”

“That makes two of us,” Liam smiled as he helped me step down and I blushed. He took both of my hands in his and turned me to face him, he was illuminated by the pork light of the house we were in front enough,  silently hoped no one was watching this exchange from inside. Even so, I’m sure they wouldn’t have recognized me if they were.

“So,” Liam began, drawing out the vowel.

“So,” I said, my own interpretation of the word short and quick. I could tell he was nervous. He was biting his lip, looking around us, his feet shuffling underneath him. For the first time the whole night Liam was finally the nervous one. It felt good honestly.

“I want to do this again,” Liam offered quickly and a warmth began to expand in my chest, spreading throughout my entire body.

“So do I,” I said sheepishly, taking a deep breath afterwards.

Liam nodded, finally looking at me. I could have counted the shades of brown in his eyes, it made my whole body feel light and airy.

“Good,” he said, nodded, a grin of satisfaction creeping across his face, “I’m glad to hear that.”

“I’ll text you,” I said and decided to add, “I promise.”

“Okay,” Liam said, nodding and we were both just prolonging the inevitable now.

“I should head inside,” I finally spoke and Liam nodded once more, slowly drawing his hands out of mine. “Thanks again for the night. It was . . . beyond amazing.”

“I’m so glad,” Liam offered, shoving his hands in his pockets,

“Talk to you later,” I said as a turned around offering a little wave, unsure why I was having such a hard time saying goodbye for some reason. The night was over but it felt . . . unfinished somehow. It was probably just all in my head, I thought, I was probably a little anxious to walk into my home after spending the majority of a Saturday night with a boy on a date.

I was a good distance away from Liam’s truck now, halfway to my house, trying not to listen and see when get got in his car and drove away. It would mean that the night was truly over.

I was at the edge of my property when I heard footfalls behind me,  I stopped, confused, and turn around just in time to see Liam running after me. Had I forgotten something? My hands when absentmindedly to my pockets to see if my phone was there. Liam kept getting closer and showed no signs of slowing, I knew he would crash into me in a moment’s time, but the second he was mere inches away from me he stopped, grabbed my face in his hands, and pressed his lips against my own.

At first I stood there stunned, eyes wide and confused as I tried to come to terms with what was happening. Liam was kissing me. I was having my first kiss. After a few moments the cogs in my head started to turn, I realized where I was, what was going on, and I too fell into the kiss.

Liam pulled away, his hands still holding the sides of my face gently, and stared deep into my eyes, it was dark, we weren’t underneath any sort of streetlight, but still, I felt like I could see him perfectly through the dull blackness. My stomach was doing all sorts of acrobatics and my head was spinning like there was no tomorrow.

“I was going to ask permission,” Liam said, between deep breaths, “but then I thought you would say no, so I just went for it.”

I smiled warmly at the comment and said, “You thought correctly.”

“So you’re mad?” Liam asked, brushing soft circles into the side of my cheekbone.

 I thought for a moment about how I felt, the backflips in my stomach and the whizzing in my brain.

“Not in the slightest,” I said, reaching up to grab his head and pull it back towards my own so our lips met one more time.

 

< RETURN TO CHAPTER SEVEN | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER NINE >

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