ninth

LIAM

“And then,” I said, pausing for just a hint of dramatic flair, “I kissed him.”

The moment for reaction from either Drew or Haden came and passed. Haden blinked nonchalantly, leaning back in her chair while Drew itched under his nose. The coffee shop around us continued to buzz and the earth continued to spin just as though I hadn’t told them a very long, very important story. What the hell?

I rapped the surface of the small table we were gathered at with my fingers rhythmically twice, looking around the small, buzzing, coffee shop for some sort of answer that obviously wasn’t going to be coming out of my two best friends anytime soon.

I sighed, “Oh c’mon, you must have something to say.”

I was annoyed. This was not what I had anticipated. I expected at least a smile, a smirk, some sort of acknowledgement that they were happy for me. They had been there after Corbin, they could no longer say they had never seen Liam Everett cry.They knew the hurt and the anger. They knew just about as well as I did what that whole situation had done to me. They should be glad that I was finally finally moving on from it instead of stewing and loathing just as I had all summer long.

I mean, Haden had specifically told me to go after him for fuck’s sakes. What was it she had said? “If you really like this guy—and I think you really really do—then go after him.” Where the hell did that go? Where was that support?

Drew cleared his throat, brushing his shaggy dark hair out of his face, but again, he said nothing, and I could tell that he was searching for words, both of them. Trying to think this out carefully, voice their thoughts methodically.

I stopped strumming my fingers against the table and instead slapped them flat against the table, making a ripple scatter across the surface of my black coffee, “Okay you guys have to say something because this is not what I was expecting at all and I’m kind of freaking out. At least . . . tell me what you are thinking.”

Haden opened her mouth and then hesitated closing it again before finally speaking, “I just wasn’t expecting the story to end that way? Knowing you it kinda feels unfinished.”

“What do you mean, ‘knowing me?’” I questioned, cocking an eyebrow at her.

“Well your dates usually end in some ass-play. Not lip-play,” Drew said coyly and before I could even protest Haden added “Exactly what I was thinking,” and they both nodded at each other in agreement.

“Woah woah, hey!” I exclaimed, putting my hands up in defense, “What the hell?! That is so not true!”

“It’s kinda true, Liam,” Haden stated.

“It’s really true,” Drew stated and I wanted to slug him.

“I just got out of a year long relationship,” I remarked defensively. This was ridiculous, and insulting, honestly. They were making it out to say that all I did was fuck boys on the first date like some kind of playboy. I absolutely couldn’t believe this. It was the complete opposite of where I had expected it to go.

“You got out of a year long relationship five months ago,” Haden corrected taking a sip of her frapp and brushing her silver hair behind her ear.

“Yeah and?” I countered, my voice hitching. I was pissed.

“And since then have you dated any guys seriously?” Drew asked.

“Well no, but—”

“All we are saying,” Haden interrupted before I could get too neurotic, “is that you kinda have been wishy-washy when it come to boys lately. There was that guy you met at the water park over the summer that you met and laid that night. The one when we took that road trip to California you ditched us for at Six Flags. You had sex with him, too and never talked to him again. There’s a few others but there’s no point naming them. Ever since Corbin you’ve been kind of a fuckboy.”

My mind searched for a response, a rebuttal, because pretty much my internal narrative for the last week since I had met Scott was one of me constantly convincing myself that I wasn’t some sort of man whore. That I didn’t mess around and fuck with boys and I wasn’t a player. Yet here my best friends were telling me that I was? I wanted to be mad, wanted to yell at them, but I couldn’t. Because they were right. There was those two boys over the summer. But there had also been three others that they knew of and one that they didn’t because I had known they would judge me if they found out. So I couldn’t argue with them for that. Other reasons however.

“So what was that bullshit the other day when you talked to me about ‘mutual attraction’ and ‘love versus lust’?” I snapped at Haden who blinked at me haughtily

“That was me trying to be a good friend,” she snapped back, “that was me trying to talk up a positive relationship, not one where you meet up and jump his bones and never speak again. That was me trying to psych you out of doing just that and save you from some negative behaviors that you’ve picked up since May. That was me helping you out.”

“Well this is me telling you to fuck off,” I barked.

“Hey!” Drew hissed, “We’re only saying this cause we care!”

“Sounds more like a judgement to me,” I retorted.

“It’s not,” Haden tried to persuade.

“Then what is it?!” I yelled for real this time and the other residents of the coffee shop went silent, all turning to look at me and my friends, even the barista looked over, the expression on her face telling me that I needed to chill out or she would have to do something to make that happen. I forced an apologetic smile to the ther customers and curled back into myself. “Sorry.”

“No,” Haden said, shaking her head now, “we’re being unfair, We’re just worried.”

“Worried about what though?” I asked, cupping the coffee mug in both of my hands to calm me down. This was just going a hundred places I never expected and I needed to ground myself, sort and even out my feelings.

“We saw you after Corbin,” Drew said melancholily, “that douche really hurt you. More than any human being deserves to be hurt, you tried to tell him, tried to show him, but . . .”

He didn’t finish, he didn’t need to. We all knew what had happened in May. It was five months ago, sure, but honestly some days it still ached like it was this morning.

“Sometimes,” Haden picked up where Drew left off, “sometimes it kinda feels like you’re trying to hurt other boys in the same way that he hurt you? You’re very charming Liam. Very handsome. Boys fall in love with you in fives minutes, I think you know that. And maybe what you don’t know is what it is like to be looked at by you, to be kissed by you, and then to have it suddenly ripped away. All in less than twenty-four hours.”

“And sure,” Drew began before I could respond so I turned to look at him, “maybe that’s not true at all. Even then, all of these hook-ups, it kind of looks like you’re trying to fill a hole. But you’ve been hurt, badly, so any sort of permanent fix is scarier than a temporary one. But honestly that’s just going to do more harm than it’s worth.”

“But we didn’t even hook up,” I argued sincerely, my voice desperate for understanding.

“That’s not the point,” Haden insisted.

“But it is,” I countered, turning the coffee cup in my hand around and around as I spoke, “you literally just said that the issue was I hook up with boys too much, I’m trying to hurt them, or fill in a hole, or whatever. Honestly though, that’s just what rebounding is, but that’s not the point. You guys are getting after me for something that I didn’t even do.”

The air was still for a moment, the low hum of the coffee shop filling the gap in between us momentarily as the two people before me tried to think up another reason that they could jump down my throat. They had a point, that was for sure, but it wasn’t relevant in this particular situation. Haden thought that by talking to me about mutual attraction and not jumping the gun that it would dissuade me from going after Scott, obviously she didn’t know me as well as she thought she did. I could see the gears in her head turning even now.

“You can’t blame us for being cautious,” Drew finally piped up.

“I can blame you for jumping to conclusions,” I argued, rolling my eyes.

“You really can’t though,” Haden said, her voice ringing with a hint of disdain, “after what, five boys?—we have every right to be concerned. Every right to assume that this is just going to happen again and again. And as such we have every right to be worried. You’re our best friend. It’s our job. It’s not condescending, it’s caring.”

I put the mug down gently, trying to remain calm, “Then you really need to evaluate what ‘caring’ means to you guys, because honestly I just feel attacked.”

“You only feel attacked because you know it’s true!” Drew remarked.

“I never said it wasn’t!” and I had to force myself to not shout again. I looked down at my hand as me and my friends fell into silence one last time. I took a deep breath after a few moments of quiet introspective thought and then spoke again, my response lengthy, “I know that I have had an issue with messing around recently. God, I know it more than you do—why do you think you know me better than me? Sure, I acted like I was fine, but who wants to admit that they’re floundering? I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem, I wasn’t still aching, I wasn’t using those boys, I was just having fun. But no matter how hard I tried the walls kept on crumbling down and on the other side of each wall, no matter where I looked, there was Corbin, standing there with his pickaxe doing all he could to help destroy me . . . but then I met Scott and it was just different.”

“Why is this Scott kid different, then?” Haden asked and something in her voice made me think that my spiel had finally broke through her hard shell of disbelief in me. “Why shouldn’t we assume that this is just you trying to convince yourself you don’t have a problem? Convince us you don’t have a problem?”

I licked my lips thoughtfully and looked at Drew who was eyeing me curiously and then at Haden who seemed like she was trying to look through me, see the answer inside of me.

“Because,” I started, my voice faltering a little because honestly I wasn’t really sure I understood why Scott was different yet either, he just was, “all of the hook-ups, they haven’t been me trying to hurt other people, or me trying to fill a hole, like you guys have so eloquently put. They’ve been me trying to feel something. Period. Cause after Corbin, after he hurt me all I felt was pain, and slowly that faded into a dull numbness that just wouldn’t go away. So I couldn’t feel anything anymore, at least not anything lasting. At least not anything worth while. But with him—with Scott—I do. I feel again.”

The last note of my words seemed to hang suspended in mid-air as Drew and Haden tried to drink it all in, understand me. Haden’s eyes were still searching me, while Drew’s were at his lap, his lips pursed. Someone left the coffee shop then and the chime of the bell at the door shook through me to my core. I hadn’t fully understood why Scott was different until I had just explained it, honestly I hadn’t even thought about it. Something about him had just felt right from the moment he started yelling at me.

“Well damn,” Drew said, shaking his head in disbelief.

“What?” I asked.

“I actually believe you,” he clarified.

“Oh,” I said surprised, and it felt like a tightness in my chest was slowly starting to relax. I glanced at Haden then, trying to look hopeful, but not desperate. I wanted to know what she was thinking now too. Our eyes locked and her face looked very similar to how mine felt: distressed.

“I . . .” she trailed off, her lip quivering, “I want to.”

My chest tightened back up again and I slumped down in my chair. I bit my bottom lip thoughtfully, sat back up, collecting myself, and stood, pulling my wallet out of my back pocket. Fucking ridiculous.

“Where are you going?” Haden almost cried.

“I’m going to see Scott,” I said, not looking at her as I yanked a five dollar bill out of my wallet and tossed it on the small round table. “He and I planned to meet this afternoon.”

“Really?” she yelped and Drew put a hand on her shoulder trying to calm her down, but she wasn’t listening. “You’re really just going to ignore us. After everything we’ve said you’re going to walk out and you’re still gonna see him.”

I turned around without replying, having every intention of leaving without a single word, but then I stopped as a comeback came into my mind.

I flipped back around on my heel, and looking Haden straight in the eyes said, “Why would I take your opinion seriously now after you fully admitted that you lied to me about how you felt the other day? Why should I ever trust you again?”

We could both be dramatic when we wanted to.

She didn’t say anything, neither did I. I gave Drew and apologetic smile that he returned and walked out of the coffee shop knowing full well that there were a couple customers who were probably glad of it after my outburst. I didn’t care, they could think what they wanted but I had every right to blow up the way that I did. Fucking betrayal, that’s what it was. How dare she tell me to go for it and then turn around and say all that bullshit? But then, how could I expect anything more from a self-proclaimed drama queen?

My phone was buzzing by the time I got to my truck and I knew that Haden was calling me to try and get me to come back inside and talk this out. I didn’t have time for any more of her though. If she really wanted me to come back inside she would chase after me. Calling was her way of saying that she did her part to even things out. Me not answering was my way of telling her to go to hell.

I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road, rubbing my temple with my fingers and trying to focus on what really mattered. Scott. The thought of him caused an uprising in me, the likes of which I hadn’t felt since . . . I tried not to think about that. Last night when he got out of my car it all felt oddly metaphorical. He was saying things like, “I’ll text you” and “I had a great time” but still as time inched forward to the moment he would climb out of my truck I couldn’t help but think that if I didn’t do something more, didn’t kiss him, that there wouldn’t be a next time. I had an overwhelming feeling that by stepping out of my car, he was also stepping out of my life.

Now, with everything that Drew and Haden had said (as much as I hated it) I knew why I had felt that way. I knew even clearer why it had taken me much much too long to get out of my car and chase after him instead of kissing him right then and there as he said goodbye. He had finally stepped out of his comfort zone and decided to be brave. It was time for me to step out of mine and be vulnerable. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. It’s a lot easier to act confident rather than be.

He surprised me (again) when he kissed me back. He had surprised me a lot last night. Taking my hand outside the Phoenix Art Museum, opening up to me at dinner, talking about his fears. None of it really seemed like the boy I had met almost just over a ago. The boy who didn’t reply to my texts and ran away when I asked him out. But none of that made him any different from that boy either. He was still the boy who gave me butterflies, the boy who made my heart stop when he looked at me with those deep brown eyes, the boy who infuriated me with his dodginess and walls.

My stomach turned uncomfortably as I thought about him and focused on the road. After he kissed me, sending my entire body into another plane of existence with his touch, he withdrew into his home and I stood there unabridged, not wanting to leave the moment where he made me feel so whole as I held him. After that he texted me, just as he had promised, but much sooner than I had anticipated. I wasn’t even halfway home yet.

Scott: So….what does all of this mean exactly?

And for once, I wasn’t sure I had an answer. Which was weird because I was usually the type of guy who always had an answer to things. I prided myself in knowing who I was and what I wanted. But now, I couldn’t help but be unsure. Everything about what Scott and I were at this point was completely unprecedented when you looked at my history.

So we agreed to meet, sooner rather than later at a place of Scott’s choosing—a record shop over on Maple and 400 South where he liked to sometimes draw on Sunday afternoons while his friend Harper flirted with the cashier. I wasn’t really sure if she would be there, I assumed it would be just us by the way he spoke. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which was scarier. This, again, was unprecedented. Boys didn’t scare me, I scared other boys. Scott threw everything all out of whack, it drove me mad in the best of ways.

I pulled into the parking lot of Holy Cow! Records and immediately caught sight of Scott’s little white Chevy parked next to the tiny building that seemed to be hiding behind an unbelievable amount brown and green shrubbery, almost like it was growing on the sides of it. His car was the only other car in the lot other than a small two door Hyundai so I parked a few spaces away from him and took a few deep breaths when I turned my car off. Nervousness was an unfamiliar emotion to me, just another thing that Scott brought along with his unconventional storm.

I smiled at the thought of him inside as I got out of my truck and locked it behind me. Would he be in the back against the wall sketching, off somewhere else listening to a record, or in one of the aisles thumbing through a stack? Whatever the answer was, my stomach wasn’t nearly ready for the explosion of butterflies that was coming my way when I caught sight of his brown eyes as he looked up at me from behind extraordinarily long and dark eyelashes.

I stopped just outside the store, pausing to look at my reflection in the tinted windows as I fixed my hair and made sure my teeth were clean of any black poppyseeds that might have gotten caught in them from the muffin I had eaten when I first sat down and told Drew and Haden about Scott.

“All good,” I said to myself as I took a deep breath and stepped inside, a bell ringing above my head as I entered.

I saw him immediately, he was the only other one in the store besides the gangly long haired cashier. He was walking along the back wall, looking up at a section of records that were labeled “Indie” and I smiled as I remembered what he told me about his music taste. He really did seem to be the kind of guy who listened to almost everything.

I took a deep breath and tried to shake my nerves off my shoulders as I stood up straight and headed back to where Scott stood holding a record case in his hands, reading the tracklist off the back. His hair was messy today, not its usual clean do. I had never even imagined what it might look like laying down on his head instead of standing up. It jutted out in every direction hanging loosely off the sides.

“Hey,” I mustered in a voice that was supposed to be seductive but probably came across as a low gurgle. I put my hand on the small of his back and he arched into it in surprise, turning to look at me at my touch.

“Hi,” he piped up, his eyes wide as he took me in.

For a moment I hesitated, my mouth parting ever so slightly as I started to lean down but then stopped just a fraction of a second before I started. Part of me wanted to kiss him, another part of me wondered if that was allowed at this point. Neither of us really even knew what “this” was. That’s what the whole point of us meeting up and talking was, after all. To figure out whatever we were.

I held out my hands for an awkward hug and Scott shuffled into it so I could wrap my arms around him, he wasn’t that much shorter than me, a few inches maybe, but still I was able to bury my face in his messy dark hair, breathe him in. He smelled like drying paint and peppermint. His scent was enough to make my head grow heavy. I took one more deep breath in, squeezing him tightly while I did so, inhaling his essence before pulled away and smiled at him crookedly.

“This is, uh,” I began, wrinkling my nose a little as I took my hands away from his shoulders and shoved them in my pockets casually, “this is a cool place.”

“Um, Thanks,” Scott hesitated, scratching the back of his head and looking up at me from underneath his lashes just like I knew he would. “The oldies are over here, if you are interested,” Scott pointed with a thin finger and I followed it with my eyes and then trailed after him as he walked over to the section to our left. It was flattering that he had thought of me like that, but also sort of cunning of him to avert my attention to something he knew would catch it.

I thumbed through the selections for a moment, trying to settle into my surroundings. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one who was nervous, but then again, Scott always seemed nervous. That, however, was one of the things I liked about him most, It was cute. The way his eyes flitted back and forth, the way he bit his lip in thought before speaking and stumbled over his words. His uneasiness, his hesitancy. It was all absolutely adorable. Unnerving almost as it set me on a sort of sexual edge.

“I’m glad you asked me to meet with you,” I said, pulling up a record to get a better look at it. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band; great album.

“I kinda just felt like last night left me with a lot more questions than it did answers,” Scott said as I looked at him surreptitiously out of the corner of my eye while he gazed over his own selection of vinyl.

“I couldn’t agree more,” I replied, putting the Beatles’ album back where I found it and shuffling over to him so that my shoulder was almost touching his as I continued to look through albums too. “What kind of questions did you have?”

Scott didn’t delay this time, not like he usually did. His words came out immediately after I asked my question, his voice strong but also quiet as not to be heard by anyone but me. “What does all of this mean? And by this, I mean us. I’ve never really been in this sort of situation before so it’s all really unfamiliar and I’m trying not to be scared by it but without answers I know I’ll eventually cave. I need certainty to stay sane, and there is none of that right now. Not between us at least.”

I nodded thoughtfully as he spoke, trying to pretend that the albums I was skimming through were keeping my attention, but honestly I forgot what I looked at the second that I moved on to the next one. I licked my lips and said, “What do you want it to mean?”

I went the passive route not because it was normally what I would do, but because I couldn’t stop hearing what Drew and Haden had said to me earlier as I tried to focus on Scott’s words. It was very crowded upstairs at the moment and I felt like I needed to prove myself to . . . anyone really. Prove that I wasn’t over eager, I wasn’t going to go too far and hurt this boy, that I wasn’t all of the things they said I was.

“Like, I said,” Scott began, pulling an album out and looking at the back of it, “this is all so new to me. I have no experience with any of this, I don’t even know if what I am feeling is supposed to be what I am feeling.”

My heart got caught in my chest for a moment at his words, “What are you feeling?” I asked, voicing my exact thoughts.

“A conglomeration of a lot of things. Excited, confused, scared, eager,” Scott listed, putting the album back and turning his whole body towards me so we could talk face to face. “But mostly, I’m beside myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about you all night long.”

“Neither could I,” I said, trying to find something deeper than just color in his brown eyes, reaching out to touch his arm gently as I and then realizing what I had said flustered for moment before stuttering, “You, I mean. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Not me. I uh—”

Scott reached out and touched my hand on his arm with his free one gently, shaking me up with the brush of his fingers. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Part of me hated the lact that I lost my cool so easily around Scott. Another part of me was almost addicted to it in a way, it made me wonder what was going to happen next because around him I was no longer in control of the situations like I was so used to being. Scott came with a high that equated with hysteria.

“I knew what you meant,” Scott consoled with a half smile and I tried to shake it off, ground myself again but it was hard to think about anything else but his hand on top of mine.

I pulled my hand out of his and rubbed my lips together for a moment before saying, “I’m kind of in the same boat honestly. None of what has happened so far is what I would call conventional, at least not with me. My definition and my experience with what is usually normal when it comes to relationships—”

“Relationship?” Scott interrupted and his eyes went dark for a moment, I could tell that my words had triggered something inside his head and I immediately felt guilty for jumping there.

“No, no,” I stuttered, trying to bring him back onto the same page as me, “obviously not that. Way too soon for that—” Scott swallowed nervously, nodding, and I wondered what was going inside his head as I continued, “—I’m just saying that that kinda feels like that’s where this is headed. That is, I mean, if you want to go there with me.”

I added the ‘with me’ because I could see a fear in his eyes that completely trumped whatever sort of nerves and uncertainty lived inside of myself. I added ‘with me’ because I could tell that this type of journey was one that he thought he had to take alone, but it wasn’t not even in the slightest. I added ‘with me’ because I wanted him to know, that if he let me in, he wouldn’t have to be alone again. At least not as long as he wanted me around. Because one date with him and honestly, I was already waist deep, I might as well just dive in completely.

Scott looked down as his feet for a moment, the ends of his lashes brushing the tops of his cheekbones because they were so long. He took a deep breath, his shoulders rising and then falling slightly before he spoke, “I just don’t know if I can run when I don’t even know how to crawl.”

I looked around the small little shop and saw that it was completely empty now, the employee must’ve gone out of a smoke break or something. I took Scott’s hand and dragged him to the far back wall, right behind one of the aisles that ran along the shop towards the front so that no one could see us. He protested for a moment in confusion but I knew he would be more comfortable if we were hidden when I did this. I pulled Scott close to me and put both of my hands on either side of his face, looking deep into his eyes as I slowly rested my forehead lightly against his. The second my skin met his the rest of the world melted away and it was just us.

This was bold, this was fast, this was risky. This was exactly what I had told myself I wouldn’t do. But I couldn’t help it.

“We don’t have to run, we don’t even have to walk. We can stay perfectly still, just stand here. Right here. I will totally be cool with that as long as you’re the one that is standing next to me,” I began, my voice slightly shaky but I tried my hardest to remain focused and calm. I really shouldn’t have been doing this. God, I had only been on one date with the boy and here I was solidifying my feelings. I always had a tendency to look without jumping and just hope I would land somewhere safe, apparently this was no exception.

“Liam,” Scott breathed and I could feel him hot on my face, I could feel his chest heaving against my own and wondered if his blood was boiling, too, “I don’t even know you.”

“My name is Liam Everett. I’m eighteen years old, son of Lucille and Lawrence Everett, I have one little sister named Ruby, I’m afraid of heights and my favorite color is blue,” I smiled slightly, remembering how well this paralleled the first time we had met when he said he didn’t even know my name.

“Knowing all of that doesn’t mean I know you,” Scott countered, quoting himself. He was thinking about it too. I blushed deeply. Had it really only been eight days since we first met? It felt like it had been weeks.

“Means you know me better than before,” I smiled slyly, curling my fingers against his skin so that the tips of them could trace the sides of his jawline. I couldn’t believe I was jumping this far, farther than I had ever jumped before. I think that part of me was again, trying to prove to myself that this wasn’t what Drew and Haden had described, it was more. Scott was more.  I wasn’t sure, however, if this was the right way to go about proving that. It was too fast. Especially for Scott.

 Scott chuckled at my words, it was light, in his head rather than his chest and it shook my own. He shifted into a thoughtful silence and took a few deep breaths, trying to collect himself in the same way that I had been trying ever since I got here. Which, again, just reminded me how insane this was.

One more deep breath and Scott spoke, “I can’t date you Liam.”

I pulled away from Scott so I could get a better look at his face, the world around us slowly falling back into place. The solemness in his eyes probably matched mine exactly. I felt my eyebrows turn down in sadness at the same time that my heart fell. I shouldn’t have been so surprised or hurt. In the short time I had been around Scott, and especially last night, I had come to learn one thing especially: fear ruled him. It surrounded him and dictated his every actions, what he said, what he thought. I couldn’t blame him, though. Not after what he told me about his family and home life.

I nodded, “I understand.”

“But,” he began, hesitating again for a fraction of a second, biting his lip, “that doesn’t change how I feel. And it doesn’t even come close to changing what I want.”

“What do you want?” I asked, a little overeager,  my hands on his cheeks dropping to his shoulders.

“You,” he said simply and something inside me jumped slightly at the word, “maybe not to the magnitude that you want me. Or at least the same way that you are willing and able to be open about it. But you is what I want nevertheless, even if I can’t date you.”

The word “can’t” specifically caught my attentions. Not won’t; can’t.

“So what are you saying?” I asked, prodding a little.

“Let’s stand still,” Scott offered.

I blinked in confusion, what was he getting at?

“What do you mean?” I asked, needing a little bit more of an explanation.

“These feelings, they aren’t just something that I can ignore,” he began, “but at the same time I don’t think that they are something I can outwardly express, at least not in the way that I think you want me to. I’m not ready to be out and proud like you are. I’m not done figuring out who I am. I have to do that before I can share it with people. But like I said, these feelings, they are vibrant, and real, and I can’t just act like I am not feeling them. Especially not now, not after everything you’ve told me.”

The bell rang and I wondered silently if the cashier was back or if it was another customer. I didn’t want to risk the latter, for Scott’s sake and pulled my hands off his shoulders and put them at my sides.

I thought I knew what he was getting at, but I wasn’t sure. I needed more information. It was all in his court now, again, something that I wasn’t really used to.

“What’s your solution then?” I asked, “or rather, what’s your suggestion?”

Normally I was the type of person who would get mad (or at least annoyed) when someone didn’t just spit out what they were thinking, but I could tell Scott was processing things, just as I was. This whole situation, the last eight days, had been one long process of confusion and the need to seek understanding for both of us.

“If you want—and I understand completely why you wouldn’t—I want to try this out. Whatever ‘this’ even is, I’m not sure I know. But either way, I want to see where this goes,” he paused taking a very deep, very long, nervous breath. I knew what he was about to say, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wouldn’t be until he actually said it, “in secret.”

And there it was. Still, though, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

I took a step back just as someone rounded the aisle behind me, a customer. I was silently glad I had pulled away from Scott. If his reaction to me asking him out was to propose we do it in secret than I wasn’t sure how he would feel about someone seeing up being semi intimate. It seemed as though we had taken a few steps backwards from where we were yesterday, despite his words about how he felt towards me. Then again, maybe I was reading too much into it, maybe I was a little confused and apprehensive. The gears in my brain were turning a million miles a minute as I tried to process how I was feeling about all of this. A secret relationship? Not even that—a secret “whatever this was.”

“I . . .” I trailed off, trying to stay as quiet as I could so that the customer couldn’t hear me, but loud enough that Scott could, “I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve never even tried, being in a secret relationship, that is.”

Scott’s expression shifted, we were both a little uneasy right now, it was in the air, palpable almost. It felt like we were both reaching for a part of each other that didn’t exist, which made sense, because as Scott had said, we didn’t even know each other,

“But you have been in relationships before?” Scott asked curiously, and I thought I heard a hint of contempt in his words.

“Well obviously,” I almost snapped. I wasn’t meant to be annoyed, it was a simple question, an innocent one, but I felt like was something more underneath it than just innocent interest.

“How many?” I asked and this time I knew he was asking for more reasons than just curiosity. I could see it in his watchful expression, like he was almost trying to read me. I wasn’t really sure how that was even a relevant question at first. The number of boyfriends didn’t have to matter. What mattered was what I felt now not in the past.

I started to conjure up some sort of retort in my head until it dawned on me that maybe it was more relevant than I thought. Drew and Haden’s words came back to me now and along with them so did a small realization. Four boyfriends in three years. Sure the last one lasted almost eighteen months, but the other three? So short lived, I wasn’t sure I ever even really loved them.

Then a thought came to me that was new, completely my own. All four I had insisted that we be out together, one time it even forced one of my boyfriends out of the closet. That was, in the end, what resulted in the termination of our relationship after only a few months. Why had it been so important to me that they weren’t just with me, but that they were with me. That we be seen together, that people know about us. My insides churned at the mere thought of the amount of times I took my boyfriends to parties they didn’t want to go to just for the sake of being in public with them.

More and more I was realizing how piggish my past behavior with boys had bee.n Not just with the hook-ups but even with the ones that had mattered. Yet here I was insisting with Drew and Haden that things were different this time, that it wasn’t the same as before; while at the same time that I was completely pouncing on the boy in front of me that I hardly even knew. For the sake of what? Proving a point? But to who? If I really thought Scott was different, and I wanted him to be, desperately, why did it matter if we were together outwardly or in secret as long as we were just together. 

“That doesn’t matter,” I said,  shaking my head sincerely as a warm smile crept onto my face, Scott looked at me with a confused and slightly annoyed expression and I knew he thought I was dodging his question so I continued, “I don’t want to be defined by who, or how many people I’ve dated. I hate labels remember? And I know that sound like a copout, like I’ve got something to hide, but honestly that’s not it. Who I dated doesn’t matter, all that matters is who I want to date. Even if it’s not technically dating, even if it’s in secret. All of the rest of that are little details that don’t mean shit. Running, walking, standing still, just like I said, none of it matters as long as it’s with you.”

My heart was beating hard in my chest, vibrating into my ears, I was inching closer and closer to him as I spoke. Trying my hardest not to be charming, or sweet, or persuasive. Trying to be only one-hundred percent honest and genuine. This was how I felt, truly, as long as I was with Scott, in whatever manner he preferred, the rest would fall into place. Like I had told Haden and Drew, he was different, he made me feel something, and to me that was worth a thousand secrets.

Scott pursed his lips as he took in my words. This wasn’t where I had expected the afternoon to go, but I was surprisingly content with it.

“You wanna try this?” Scott asked, looking up at me under his eyelashes again, his expression hopeful and inquisitive.

“Don’t you?” I countered, throwing this back in his court. He was the one who had suggested this in the first place. It was up to him now, I knew that wasn’t really a position he was used to having, but it would be good for him to decide what happened here.

Scott leaned against the aisle, towards me a little bit, “I’ve been weighing the pros and cons in my head all day and last night. I hardly got any sleep. I . . . really like you Liam,” he reached out to take one of my hands in his, “and I don’t know if these feelings are fleeting, or in the moment, or coming on as fast as they are because I’ve been stuffing them down for so long. But I don’t want  to spend too much time trying to decipher them otherwise I might risk losing the momentum we have. I don’t want to live in fear anymore.”

He paused, taking a breath to gather himself, “That being said. Like I’ve mentioned, my world is very different from yours. I’m not sure it would accept us the way that yours would. SO at this point, secrecy is my only option, and I’m really okay with it if you are.”

My mind went to our worlds being different, what he said about mine being more accepting than his and I thought about Drew and Haden and how completely unaccepting they had been at the coffeeshop. But that had been more about me than it had Scott or either of them.

The record shop was still for a moment, the only sound coming from the other customer somewhere who was shuffling through some records. I took a deep breath of my own and examined Scott’s face piece by piece. His dark hair, black as midnight, his eyes as warm brown as melted chocolate, just a few shades darker than his golden skin. His lips, a rosy almond color that drove me wild to my core. His high cheekbones and angular nose, everything almost too sharp to belong to a sixteen year old boy. He was beautiful there was no doubt about it. But there was so much more underneath his face, a complexity that bordered on the line of complete mystery. It was, like I had said earlier, almost addicting, just looking at him, trying to figure out every piece of him.

One date, and I was already sure that I wasn’t ready to let this go. Not without first giving it a chance, whatever that chance might entail. It was worth it for him. Worth it to get to know him. I thought I knew who I was, thought I knew what I wanted so clearly. But nothing made sense anymore, not since Scott walked into my life. I couldn’t let him go.

“I absolutely am okay with that,” I said, hopeful, excited even, but also absolutely blindly.

< RETURN TO CHAPTER EIGHT | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER TEN >

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