My room was still dark when my alarm woke me up on Monday morning. Harper would be here to get me at six to pick up the car, Liam texted yesterday with the news that it was ready and I could pick it up today.

I rolled over and checked the time rather than searching around on my bed for my phone, I felt it slide under me when I rolled and saw that it was just after five-twenty. It had been a long night, when had I fallen asleep again? Three? I couldn’t remember, I looked over at the result of my labors and winced. Paintings always looked uglier the morning after you finished them. But at least it was done. The sky, the stars, the clock tower, last night in my sleep-deprived state it all looked so colorful, like it breathed with life, almost as though if you looked close enough at the buildings you could see people walking around though the windows. But now it seemed dull, lackluster even, devoid of color and absent of soul.

Throwing my legs over the side of the mattress and standing up, I moved my easel and painting away from the door to my bedroom, surprised and reminded that no one had disturbed me all day long yesterday. Not that I was complaining. I walked to the bathroom I shared with my parents and brushed my teeth really quickly, only singing happy birthday once instead of twice and ran some styling gel through my hair so it would stay in place, but not making an attempt to have it look really good. I applied a quick layer of deodorant but didn’t bother with cologne before heading back to my room.

I pulled on some skinny jeans per usual and a white tank-top with a skull wearing a headdress and the word “Yeezus” on it. I yanked on my Vans and walked back to my bed to grab my phone and began scrolling through my notifications. My pencils had shipped, I had four Twitter notifications, one Instagram, and the album I preordered was ready for download. Busy night.

I checked Twitter first and was disappointed that they were just passive aggressive tweets from Harper about Daniel. Oh, just go make out already, I thought to myself and closed the app. I deleted my email and opened Instagram scrolling through my feed, nothing too new, a couple photos of Danny and Harper hanging out without me last night after I declined their multiple invites, I had needed to be myself. I didn’t bother to like them and closed the app just as I got a text from Harper:

Here.

Harper was jamming out to one of her Korean boy bands and it was practically shaking her car. I yanked on the door handle and the foreign music enveloped me as I climbed in, laughing and smiling at her as she sang along and paid me no mind. She knew every word and I couldn’t believe this was the person I called my best friend.

“Kanye West?” Harper asked, turning down the music and eyeing my tank top as she put the car into drive. I pulled the fabric out away from me at the bottom, looking at it and then at her with a serious expression, “Yeezus is a brilliant album.”

“Your music taste makes no sense, you can’t go from listening to The 1975, to alt-J, to Kanye, it’s not cohesive.”

“Music in itself is cohesive,” I rebutted, “and you’re one to talk Miss K-Pop.”

In response she turned the music back up and started singing along even louder, “Hello hello, iboneun nareul da geolgeyo.”

I laughed even harder now and Harper pulled away from my house onto the road, singing at the top of her lungs and tapping her hands against the steering wheel. We made our way to a main road.

“Can I ask you a question?” I offered to Harper after about five minutes driving.

“Go ahead,” she replied.

I was taking a risk, she and I had never ever talked about this—actually, we had, once, and she about ripped my head off—but I was curious for more than one reason, some of them selfish, “Why don’t you just tell Daniel you like him?”

There was a pause where only music and the sound of the whirring Nissan filled the air and I was instantly regretting my choice in conversation. I opened my mouth to speak and apologize but instead Harper replied in a defensive yet, slightly scared tone, “What makes you think I like Danny?”

I took a moment before replying, trying to keep it easy and light rather than serious, because I really did want to know what the heck was going on inside her head, “Um, my Twitter feed for one.”

Harper flushed red and I knew I was in, “Those could be about anyone.”

“But they aren’t,” I said cautiously,  “right?”

Harper smiled a half-grin and looked at me, her expression sort of embarrassed, “No, they aren’t.”

I smiled at her in an ‘I win’ sort of fashion, my eyes narrowing a little, “I fucking knew it.”

Harper looked away from me quickly, her short hair bobbing in the motion, “Okay we’re done.”

“No no,” I fought, reaching out to touch her shoulder, having to keep back a small chuckle. It was just so amusing to me for some reason. She shrugged my hand off and looked out the window away from me while still maintaining fairly a good path on the road without straying at all. “I’m sorry,” I said warily, “it’s just—”

“Stupid?” Harper interrupted.

“No,” I said, drawing out the vowel.

“It is,” she retorted, “it so is.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, trying to press her, let her know that I was comfortable talking about this so she should be too. Having a crush was nothing to be ashamed of . . . or, at least that was what I was trying to convince myself of.

“Because it is,” she started and then looked at me, hoping that would be enough, but she and I both knew that we had an hour and a half of driving ahead of us, she wasn’t getting out of this one, not this time. I raised my eyebrows at her sternly and she groaned loudly tightening her grip on the steering wheel as she made a quick lane change without looking, “I just. It’s just. Ever since ninth grade I’ve just known we were from different worlds and could only work as friends but nothing more.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, confused and intrigued, finding myself relating already. Danny and Harper were actually not that different.

“I dunno,” Harper started, “he’s just this conservative, clean cut, choir boy with his life all put together and a clear path for himself, and he’s so goofy and fun and adorable and here I am, brooding and dark with my cropped hair and nose ring and broken family and dismal character and we don’t just fit. He’s the boy that gets thirty tacos on Taco Tuesday and I’m the obsessive compulsive girl with an anime addiction. It just wouldn’t ever work.”

“What makes you think he’s so different from you?” I asked, “So ‘conservative’ and ‘put together?’”

“Have you met the kid?” she asked.

I laughed, “Once or twice.”

“Then you know,” she declared.

“No,” I countered, “I think you don’t know. You guys are not that different at all. Your parents are divorced, his dad died when he was eight. So as for that broken family theory you had, bull. I also don’t what what you mean by ‘clear path’ because that kid has no idea what he is going to do with his future; Danny is messy, he doesn’t care about outcome he only cares out action. He’s always getting in trouble at school, always having to hold back his tongue, if anything it’s you who knows who you are and what you want Mrs. Conservationist. You made up this weird fake version of him in your head that is totally false to justify yourself in holding back. You know him so well, you’ve known him for two years, I feel like you’re looking for reasons why you shouldn’t fit to counteract the other thousand ways that you do.”

“That’s just stupid,” Harper argued but I could tell I was breaking through her shell, “why would I do that?”

“For the simple reason none other than the fact that you do like him,” I said and Harper was silent. “It’s not rocket science.”

“What do you even know about all this?” Harper asked, trying to deflect.

“More than you think,” I whispered, having found myself relating to every word that came out of her mouth so far.

Liam was the boy with the shiny silver truck and the thousand dollars in his wallet to give away at his disposal. He was the boy who thought that everything had to be fine and okay all the time, the boy who thought it was just dandy to flirt with someone the day you met them. I was the boy with the hand-me-down Chevy and the bad attitude, with nearly no money to my name and not even the slightest idea of how to reciprocate feelings. We wouldn’t work. But yet deep inside me I was searching for reasons that we could, trying to find reasons why I would want to. As much as I was fighting myself I was also encouraging myself. Why else would I be talking to Harper now if not trying to sort out my own feelings?

“Where is this all coming from?” Harper asked and I was glad she hadn’t heard my whispered comment.

“I just woke up to like ten Twitter notifications from you all about Danny,” I explained, it wasn’t a full lie, but it wasn’t a full truth either.

“But how did you know they were about him?” she asked and I looked at her deadpan.

“I’ve been watching you two forever, I’ve always know you two have had it for each other,” I explained simply, it wasn’t a full lie, but it wasn’t a full truth either.

“Okay,” Harper said with a nod, “why do you care?”

I looked at her warmly and smiled, this was truthful,

“Because I hate seeing you upset.”    Harper blushed and looked back at the road, “I’m fine. It’s fine.”

And that was the end of the conversation.

Liam had said the owner, Rick, would be there with my car out in the lot and the keys inside ready for me to go. To his word my car was parked next to the building and there was a light on in inside, I could see the outline of a figure standing behind the desk when we pulled up.

“You can go,” I said to Harper when she parked next to my car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and slung my backpack over my shoulder as I popped the door open, “I’ll be just a few minutes behind you and we can meet at school.”

“Okay,” Harper said behind a yawn, putting her car in reverse. I closed the door behind me and Harper pulled out of the parking lot.

The figure behind the counter was gone when I approached the entrance. I walked inside and the bell rang, it wasn’t much warmer in here than it was out there, Rick must have just barely opened up the shop. I sat down in one of the chairs, putting my backpack on one next to me. I waited for a few moments in silence, the sound of a whirring computer my only companion. I thought about calling out Rick’s name but instead got my sketchbook and pencil out of my bag and began drawing. It was mindless, no real direction, just lines on a paper.

This went on for a few minutes until I heard someone clear their voice above me. I jumped and before I could look up the low voice asked, “Whatcha drawin’?”

Wait. I knew that voice.

I looked up slowly to see the large figure of Liam crouching over me and my sketchbook, hands on his knees, his face only a half a foot away from my own. The room suddenly became very very warm as his chocolate brown eyes leered at me and I pulled my face away from his so they weren’t so close. Liam followed my actions, standing up straight and putting both of his hands in his pockets.

“Um,” I said nervously, gulping, “nothing really. Just organized mess, I guess.”

“I like it,” Liam smiled, his eyes crinkling just as I knew them to. I fought back a blush and closed my sketchbook, placing it on the seat behind me as I stood up, my knees threatening to buckle.

Liam grabbed my shoulder, helping me steady myself and my whole body seemed to shift into another dimension at his touch. One where gravity was replaced by electricity and your feet never touched the ground.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, my head feeling extremely light. This was absolutely the last thing I had expected to happen this morning. Liam moved his hand off my shoulder and my feet landed on the floor again, my world shifting back into sync.

“I’m here to get your car back to you, of course,” Liam explained with yet another one of his warm smiles that made my heart skip a beat. I took a deep breath and watched as he walked away from me behind the desk. I walked along side him as he headed towards the end with the computer where he sat down and began typing.

“I thought you said Rick would be here,” I stated, not that I was complaining, not even in the slightest. I would have just liked to mentally prepare myself for seeing Liam again. Our last encounter hadn’t been ideal, and though we had been texting it was all just easy and friendly.


 “Are you disappointed to see me?” Liam batted his eyelashes at me playfully from his perch in front of the computer, looking back at the screen before he could see me blush a deep red.

“No,” I said weakly, watching as Liam typed, “I was just really looking forward to seeing Rick again is all.”

He chuckled and I watched one of the tendons in his neck jump, it sent chills down my spine. Liam was one of the most attractive men I had ever seen, I noticed now he was chewing gum loosely in the left side of his mouth, using only his molars to smack down on it, even that tiny action was so hot to me somehow. It was all almost irritating, no one should be this beautiful.

“Well I’m sorry I’m not what you were hoping for,” Liam smiled, clicking down hard on the mouse, a few seconds later I heard the sound of a printer running. Little did this boy know.

Liam stood and walked over to the printer, holding out his hand so the paper would feed right into it. He let out a tiny yawn I could tell he was trying to suppress and said, “Rick couldn’t make it, but this isn’t my first rodeo, I just need to have you sign a few things and then you can have your keys and be on your way.”

I nodded, “Okay sounds good.”

The conversation was spaced, a few moments in between each of our responses, the words hanging in the air after we said them. I thought about how much this contradicted the way we spoke over text, replying to each other almost immediately when we could.

“So you had a good weekend then?” Liam asked as he stapled the papers together that had just printed.

“You would know, I did talk to you basically the whole time,” I laughed nervously as he walked towards where I stood and leaned across from me. He gripped the edge of the countertop on his side and I could see the veins in his arms popping out ever so slightly as he strained the muscles in his hands and wrists.

I looked away from his arms and tried to focus on his face. This was probably worse because looking at his lips drive me absolutely mad. Two days ago I had wanted to punch this boy in the face, now I wanted to close the distance between us and kiss him. What a difference.

“Give or take,” Liam smirked. Throughout the whole weekend, while I was painting, and while I was avoiding my friends a constant unsaved number continued it’s pursuit of my attention in the form of Liam. I was sad to say that I gave in to the temptation of entertaining him more times than I would like to admit. As he asked about what my plans were, what I was doing, what kind of things I liked to paint, the music I listened to. He was very curious and I hesitantly fed him the information he requested text after reluctant text.

“So the grand total is $406.28,” Liam said, not looking down at the paper, I could have sworn he was leaning towards me more and more as the seconds passed by. I tried not to think about that.

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a familiar envelope containing two infamous five-hundred dollar bills. I slapped it on the counter and grinned at Liam mischievously before saying, “Keep the change.”

Liam guffawed, throwing his whole torso back with the laugh. It was deep and loud, but bounced lightly somehow. Not an obnoxious laugh, but an honest and true chortle that he put his whole body into. It fit him well. I rolled my eyes at him and he put the envelope in his own back pocket, I assumed he would switch it out for the correct change later. Liam sighed, the laughter dying down and grabbed a pen from a jar. He began filling out a few empty portions of the paperwork before him, signing his name, marking an X next to where I would need to sign mine and so on.

This felt . . . awkward somehow. Forced? I wasn’t sure. Something was off here but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was just me; me and my good friends paranoia and social anxiety.

“Do you actually use the natural gas in your car?” Liam asked, picking up the small stack of paper and turning it around so it was facing me, he offered me the pen and pointed out the three places where I would need to sign as well.

“Um, sometimes,” I lied. I only used the natural gas, it was one of the reasons we had the car, it was a big money saver.

“Ugh,” Liam groaned, making a face, “that stuff smells like ass, I don’t know how people stand it.”

“You get used to it,” I lied again. It was disgusting.

“Gives me a headache,” Liam countered and I nodded, signing my name one last time and flipping the papers back around so they were facing him again. He took the papers from me and opened a drawer where he filed them. He opened another, smaller drawer, and pulled out my keys, a red tag with some random numbers on it tied to the silver loop.

“Here you are,” he said and I held my hand out. He dropped the keys into my palm and I closed my fingers around them.

“Thank you so much,” I said.

“That’s ironic,” Liam laughed.

“What is?” I asked.

“That you are thanking me.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m the reason you’re even here in the first place,” he blushed.

“Oh,” I mused, “oh yeah, I had forgotten.”

I honestly had, all of it: the money, the car, none of it mattered anymore. Liam had really started to prove he wasn’t the douche that his actions had lead me to believe. It felt like it had all happened weeks ago, not four days. I put the keys in my pocket and looked up at Liam who had an apologetic expression tainting his usually happy face.

“Listen,” he began and I held a hand up.

“It’s fine,” I stated.

There was a moment when it looked like Liam wanted to to counter with an argument, insist he explain how sorry he was for everything that had happened since Friday and the days following—He didn’t need to be sorry, and I knew that if I tried to apologize to him then he would argue the same—Then that moment passed and his expression softened into it’s usual half-smile that always was rested on his face.

“Okay,” Liam nodded and so did I.

We fell into a silence then, it wasn’t awkward so to speak (I wasn’t sure how the slight awkward air between us could become even stronger at this point) but I found myself desperately needing to know what he was thinking.

“I gotta get going to school,” I said, breaking the stillness.

“Oh,” Liam said, his hands scrambling for something on the desk that wasn’t really there, “Yeah of course, I should be locking up and heading there, too.”

I had forgotten Liam went to the same school as me. That was a huge detail I had skipped over in the past couple of days. I had kind of thought I wouldn’t ever see him again, assumed that soon the texts would die down and then the memory of what happened would dissolve into just that, a memory. But with him going to the same school as me, that changed things. Didn’t it? Did I want it to? Did he?

I smiled, warmth spreading through my chest down to my toes. I wasn’t sure what was so different from a few days ago or even yesterday where an interaction such as this would have made steam shoot out of my ears and send me running in the opposite direction because now I found myself wanting him to talk to me this way: like we were friends. Something changed.

“See you around sometime,” I said simply. It was empty—which was good—no real promise, no real commitment, it couldn’t hurt me. I started to turn around to grab my bag and sketchbook off the chairs behind me.

“I was actually gonna ask you about that,” Liam said and I only had time to grab my backpack before I turned back to face him, halfway between the door and the desk.

“Huh?” I asked, confused.

“If . . .” Liam faltered for a moment, and in that moment I saw a hesitation and nervousness that didn’t look like it belonged on his face. I didn’t even know him and I could tell that these were foreign feelings that Liam wasn’t accustomed to. Feelings he didn’t even really understand yet. He could take a few lessons from me about those two particular subjects.

“If,” Liam continued, trying again, “I was ever going to see you again.”

I smiled. He wanted it to. Whatever this was, whatever Liam was doing right now, whether it be an extending offer of friendship, or something more, or even just him being polite, it was welcome.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” I smiled, “I mean, it’s a big school but I’m sure we’ll bump into each other here and there.”

Liam’s expression changed again, but I couldn’t put my tongue on exactly how it was he was looking at me just now. “No, I mean like, outside of school—” I took a step back. No. “—on a date.”

My mind went blank. Completely barren. I blinked once, twice, three times. Trying to bring forth any sort of thought. But nothing came. I could have sworn I screamed but no sound exited my mouth, my lips seemed closed off just as much as my head was.

You learn in psychology—and in life really—about a phenomenon called the fight or flight response. It’s something that occurs in the brain when fear is simulated, where the person experiencing fear has to make a choice between staying and fighting against the situation that scares them or decides to flee. Right now I was faced with one of my literal biggest fears. I think it scared me most because it was all something I didn’t fully understand. Unfamiliarity was terrifying, and that was what I was confronted with now.

Ahead was uncertainty—a boy, who I didn’t even know, who was cute and nice and interesting and all around infuriating, stood before me, offering me something I wasn’t sure I could take. Something I didn’t even know how to.

Behind was safety—a world where I couldn’t be hurt if I just hid who I was and no one knew me, or saw me, and I was just invisible and okay: if I just acted like everything was okay even if I was dying inside. Or, at least that’s what I told myself I believed, because in reality everything around me was uncertain. It always had been, I was just starting to realize it.

Yes, I would have loved to get to know Liam as friends. But this? This was a whole other level I wasn’t ready for. Who was he to present such an option? Who was he to assume that I would even want to take it, that I was gay? I should be insulted, I could easily be insulted. It was what I did when he hit my car. It was what was easy.

Right now, however, I just wanted to run. This was too much. It was way too much. I didn’t even say anything after he spoke. My breath caught in my throat, I turned around, backpack slung over my shoulder, and instead of facing my fears, I chose flight.

LIAM

Stupid. Absolutely stupid. I slammed my fist on the counter in front of me and leaned forward, pressing my hips into the edge of it angrily. What had happened? Where was my head just now? Where was the boy who was smooth and talked himself up and got dates without even the bat of an eye? Where was the boy who was confident and strong and didn’t stutter around other cute boys? Wherever that boy was, he certainly wasn’t present in today’s ugly attempt of allure.

I bit down on my lip and let out a grunt, pressing off against the edge of the counter and walking over to the door to the garage so I could shut the power to the shop down and head out.

I’ve lost my game, I thought as I switched off the breaker, all of the lights turning off except for the few emergency ones in the garage and lobby, I’ve lost my game.

I walked back into the lobby and grabbed my bag from behind the counter, massaging my thumb into the corner of my bottom lip indignantly.

He didn’t even say anything. He just . . . left.

I kicked the side of the counter angrily as I rounded it towards the front door, pulling down on the straps over my shoulders. I spent my whole damn weekend thinking about that stupid boy, and then he pulled this bullshit? I was never the kind to get obsessed or upset over a boy. I was Liam Everett, notorious for not caring and praised for just being. Living worry-free was what I knew how to do, it was practically my calling. I don’t wanna say, hakuna matata . . . but honestly? Hakuna matata.

Part of me wanted to blame the break-up. Another part of me wanted to blame Scott himself for being so damn . . . I stopped the thought. Reminding myself that I had agreed I wasn’t in the business of objectifying boys anymore. That was what had gotten me in the current relationship mess I was in in the first place. I hated how piggish I tended to be, not necessarily whorish, I’d never cheat, and I didn’t—even if Corbin wouldn’t hear me out about that particular subject—I just I liked boys. I really liked boys, it was no secret. And Scott? Oh man.

I smiled to myself, thinking I would figure this out, and shook an invisible weight off my shoulders as I noticed something resting on the chair closest to the door leading out of the shop. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands, the name of some sort of artist company staring back at me. It was a sketchbook, the one Scott had been drawing in when he got here earlier. I flipped it open to a page somewhere in the middle and took in a sharp breath when a beautiful portrait of a girl with short black hair was revealed to me.

She was drawn from the shoulders up, a profile sketch, the girl slightly looking down at something not in the picture. It seemed to be a candid shot, like the girl in the piece didn’t know she was being drawn, I couldn’t know for sure though obviously, but I felt like I had seen this girl somewhere before. I thought long and hard for a moment, trying to remember if that was the case. I had! Or at least I thought I had, I wasn’t able to see the girl who had picked Scott up Saturday morning very clearly, but I was pretty sure this had been her.

I still couldn’t believe I had watched him from the window after I went in. Watched him as he waited for the girl to come and pick him up. That was borderline stalker level. I shook my head in disbelief of my own actions over the past few days that were so completely out of character and closed the sketchbook in my hand. I pulled out my phone and went to Scott’s messages, I had already saved his number.

I typed out a message telling him that he left his sketchbook behind and then suddenly stopped before I hit send. This was a douche move, a total douche move, but I think I figured out how I was going to get Scott to actually talk to me. I deleted the entire message and typed out a new one: Are you really just gonna walk out and not say anything? Especially after the last couple of days? You aren’t going to get away from me that easily.

I hit send.

*     *     *

“Hey, yo Liam!” A voice hollered over the low buzz of cafeteria activity and I looked up from my phone, checking to see if Scott had replied to see my best friend, Drew Hale, raising a fist at me from a few yards away, trying to push through a mass of other teenagers that separated us.

“Drew!” I called in response, putting my phone away and forcing back an eyeroll. The straightest boy in the school best friends with the gayest. Or at least, the only out gay kid that I knew of. I couldn’t be sure about Scott, he seemed like the type who would stay in the closet until after high school. Maybe even college, it would explain his reaction earlier this morning.

“Where were you all weekend?” Drew asked, shaking his honey blond hair out of his eyes and holding out his aforementioned fist so I could bump it against my own.

I did, our knuckles brushing lightly and said, “Working.”

Drew looked confused, his eyebrow cocking as he sat down and pulled a sack lunch out of his backpack, “You don’t work on Sundays or Saturdays, dude.”

“Rick had some overflow of work,” I lied, “he needed some extra help and I needed the extra cash.”

Wow. Bad lie. Horrible lie.

“Both,” Drew paused in confusion, “of your parents are doctors, bro.”

I shook my head, “They cut me off again. I went a little overboard a few weekends ago.”

“Ah,” Drew sighed and dug into his turkey sandwich, “sucks man.”

I nodded, glad that was the end of it. Drew didn’t need to know that I went in on Saturday simply hoping that a boy would call in about his car that had been hit (by me.) He also didn’t need to know that I stayed in on Sunday all day while the shop was closed replacing his bumper, as well as changing the oil, rotating the tires, and fixing little things that I could here and there under the radar. No one needed to know that.

Haden sat down then across from me as I looked at my phone once more, hooking a strand of her silver hair behind her ear and said, “Corbin asked about you again, Liam.”

“Oh did he?” I asked, taking a bite of my stale pizza. I could really go for some Arby’s right now, I thought.

“Yeah,” she replied, “Like four times in physics. I told him he needed to talk to you about you. I’m no carrier pigeon.”

“He does try and talk to me about me,” I countered, looking at her dark blue eyes.

“Why don’t you respond?”

“Why should I?” I asked, “He was the one who broke up with me for cheating even though I told him I didn’t. Wasn’t my fault when he chose to believe Dillon over me.”

“Dillon is such a prick,” Drew scoffed.

“He’s nothing,” I replied and that was the end of that.

“So where were you this weekend?” Haden asked, “We all texted you to hang out like twenty times.”

 I gave her the same bullshit I gave Drew and a few more friends began to gather.

There was Drew—my other half—the grossly straight lacrosse player. Haden the volleyball girl with a huge attitude and knack for drama. Brennan and Levi, the twins, both did concert choir. Eve, the loudest of us all, she ran cross-country. Then there was me, the gay wrestler, the sort of leader of the pack. There used to be Dillon and Corbin, too. Until Dillon stabbed nearly everyone’s back at one time or another and Corbin bowed out as an after effect. We didn’t take any drama here, there were even times I had seriously considered kicking Haden out of the group, but she was too much of a momma figure to let go of, we needed that.

“What happened to the rear bumper of your truck?” Eve hollered loudly so she would be heard over the other hundreds of students chattering around us. It wasn’t necessary, her voice was so loud on its own. She looked at me, her green eyes curious for an answer. She would be the person to notice something like that, not drama hungry like Haden, but nosey and overly curious.

“Huh?” I asked, looking up from my food.

“Your bumper,” Eve said again, scratching her skinny elbow, “I noticed it when I parked today. You were like one of the first cars in the parking lot this morning.”

“Yeah, I was kinda early,” I replied, trying to evade her question, casually checking my phone once more. Nope. Should I send another message?

“Talk about out of character,” Drew snickered before emitting a loud snoring sound. Both he and Levi laughed on either side of me and I shoved them both in the sides with my elbows so they would quit it.

“Yeah,” Eve said, kinda annoyed I hadn’t given her what she wanted, ran her hand through her dark hair and said, “but what happened? Did someone hit you?”

“I hit someone else,” I said simply and Haden gasped loudly. Oh, the drama.

“Bet your pops was happy about that,” Brennan said behind a sip of his protein shake—health nut.

“You really think I told him yet?” I countered, “Besides, I can cover the damages on my own for a steal, I work at a body shop.”

“I still don’t understand that,” Levi said, shaking his blond head, “You’re like a billionaire.”

I laughed, “Ha! Joke.”

“Fine. Millionaire,” he corrected, holding up a finger.

“My parents might be,” I said, emphasizing the ‘might’ because it really was none of their business. “Just because my dad sews up hearts and my mom fixes children doesn’t mean I have full access to that pot o’ gold they got stashed at the end of their medical rainbow.”

“You have a debi—”

I gave Drew a harsh look that said that comment was unnecessary, totally irrelevant, and unknown to most of the people sitting around us. No one needed to know about the debit card in my back pocket that had a direct link to my parent’s bank account. I didn’t boast about the money that I had, I wasn’t that type of person. Money didn’t have to matter to me but it mattered to other people. My mind drifted off to when Scott had confronted me when he dropped off his car to be fixed. His reaction to me leaving behind the thousand dollars was exactly what I tried to avoid in my own friend group.

“I think it’s admirable,” Haden piped up, “working for a living even when you don’t necessarily need to.”

“Thank you,” I said blithely in agreement and smiled at her.

Haden smiled back with a nod of her head, her long hair falling in her face and I turned back to my food, “I also just really enjoy working on cars.” I said, pulling out my phone again, still no response. I took the last bite of my pizza.

“Whose car did you hit then?” Eve said, not even missing a beat. I nearly groaned. Just when I had thought we were through with that topic. I shook my head, swallowing hard so my mouth wasn’t full of pizza crust when I spoke, “Just some kid on Friday. I don’t know who he is, it was before school ended when I go to work during seventh period. I left my name and insurance info. He hasn’t called.”

Eve dropped it then and we fell into our natural rhythm. Brennan and Levi both talking about how bomb the same girl’s ass was, Eve calling them both pigs, Drew silently whispering to me that he agreed with them, me laughing, Haden doing homework and rolling her eyes at the five of us lovingly in between bites of her salad she brought from home.

The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch and we all grabbed our things and got ready to head to our next class, the entire lunchroom roar subsiding into a low hum.

“Hey Liam, wait,” Haden touched my shoulder from across the table just as I was getting up and ready to go and I turned to see her smiling widely at me, “Can I just talk to you for a sec?”

“I have to get to trig,” I laughed nervously.

“Like you really need to attend the first ten minutes of that class, genius,” she sat down and motioned to where I was once sitting, “Just for a few minutes.”

I nodded, “Um, yeah okay.”

All of the rest of our friends had cleared out already so we could easily talk now in peace about whatever was bothering her. I sat down and put my bag next to me on the bench. My mind inadvertently thinking about the sketchbook that was still inside and the text that was never answered on my phone. Scott had a knack of doing that it seemed. He had a knack of doing a lot of things that should normally infuriate me, not drive me wild like he did.

“So,” Haden said cooly, clasping her hands together in front of her on the table, “Who’s the boy?”

Any preconceived notion about what she had planned to discuss with me for a few moments was completely thrown out the window in that instant. I had assumed we were talking about her. Not me. I thought we were risking getting caught cutting class to talk about something that actually mattered, not something she didn’t even know anything about. How had she guessed? I literally had said nothing about there being a boy I was talking to . . . if you could even call it that.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, half playing dumb, half genuinely curious. What was she talking about?

“You don’t text us back all weekend, you mysteriously pick up extra hours at work that don’t exist, and you can’t keep your damn fingers off of that stupid phone for more than two minutes at a time. There is boy.” She stated it like a fact that she was reading out of a textbook, like it was something that wasn’t just known, but known widely and accepted as truth. “Who is he?”

I faltered in my search for words, my mind scrambling, hoping that no one else was thinking the same things that she had just voiced. I didn’t need to be caught in a lie between me and my best friends, Corbin had already caused enough damage because of me, I didn’t need any more of the threads holding us together to be severed.

I took a deep breath and decided ultimately it was much better to tell the truth.

“His name is Scott, I met him Saturday, but I hit his car Friday,” I said completely deadpan, knowing that if I acted flustered or embarrassed or showed any sort of uncomfortable emotion about this at all that Haden would take to a whole other place that wasn’t necessary.

“Oh,” Haden raised her eyebrows, bring her clasped hands up to her chin, “and you like Scott?”

“I don’t even know him,” I said.

“That’s not what I asked,” Haden smiled slyly at me and I had to force back nearly the tenth eyeroll of the day. I didn’t reply, I wasn’t really sure what to say at this point. Haden had figured nearly all of it out just by sitting with me for a half an hour. It was impressive. Then again, drama was what she excelled in.

“Is he ignoring you?” Haden pressed and I furrowed my brow.

“How could you tell?”

“Because you haven’t been typing messages, just checking to see if you have any. So either I’m right and homeboy isn’t giving you the time of day, or you’re just really concerned about the time.”

I nodded, “He’s stubborn.”

Haden smiled, “That’s good for you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?!” I scoffed defensively.

“You always get the boy, Liam,” she explained.

“I do not!”

She raised her eyebrows at me again as if to say, “Oh really?” I knew she was right, but I didn’t like to think of myself that way. I wasn’t the guy who always got the boy. I wasn’t some fuckboy. I liked boys just as much Drew or Haden liked girls. I’d had less partners than either of them actually. Sometimes I felt like being gay automatically pegged me as being overly promiscuous. Which wasn’t true.

I sighed, “Fine, Fine yes, I usually get what I want. But that doesn’t make me some sort of playboy. If anything I think I’m just stubborn too. I don’t let up.”

“Seems like you’ve met your match then,” Haden smiled.

I didn’t say anything again. This felt weird. When I wanted to talk about a boy I liked with Haden I usually went to her. Not the other way around, I wasn’t even sure what I felt at this point. Just that I was obsessed. The second I saw him leaning against hood of his car across the parking lot at Rick’s I was affected by him. Not necessarily smitten, I wouldn’t go that far. But everything about him drew me in. His dark hair, dark skin, and even darker eyes. He was so lean, thin, fit but not overly muscular. He had eyelashes that went on for days and his lips were so full, I had to force myself not to kiss them right then, just to know what they would feel like underneath my own.

“Tell me about him,” Haden prodded through the silence, drawing me out of my fantasy.

“He’s infuriating,” the words came from my lips out of their own free will, I thought them and they came into fruition. It was so true, so maddening, so attractive somehow. “And I love that. I love that it’s a chase. I love that he has this guard up because then that means I might get to be the one that breaks it down, or at least, help him take it down himself.”

“What else?” Haden asked.

“He is so hot,” I said and hissed air out through my clenched teeth, shaking my head, “so hot. I feel like a total pervert around him, and I hate that—but I also like it. I that he makes me think those things. I dunno, I was so in love with Corbin, we dated for so long, I wasn’t sure I’d ever really lust after another boy before.”

“Does that make you afraid that this is all this is? That it’s not just a rebound after . . . ?” Haden asked.

“Oh absolutely!” I looked at her intently in the eyes for the first time, up until now I had been looking off to the side or down, away from her, too involved with my own thoughts, the image of Scott in my head, “That terrifies me. But also, I feel like a lot of love starts out as lust. Isn’t that the whole point of apps like Hot or Not, or Tinder? Isn’t that how love has always worked? You think someone is attractive so you pursue them and then mutual respect and connection comes afterwards?”

“Yeah,” Haden nodded, “I definitely think to a certain extent that there has to be a mutual attraction before things can ever go anywhere or even start in a relationship.”

I nodded, “Emphasis on the mutual.”

“Exactly,” Haden said, “Do you think that there is a mutual attraction there? Is he even interested? Or are you chasing after someone who doesn’t like you at all? Are you harassing him?”

I took pause. I hadn’t even thought of that. I hadn’t even considered that he might not be interested. That he might not even be gay. Had I read all the signs wrong? When we first met for instance, his body seemed to practically mirror mine in every motion, leaning away nervously when I leaned in excitedly. Touching his face and his chest much too often. He was screaming at me, but each time his voice faltered and shuddered. I thought I had been good at telling when people were attracted to me, too. Had I mistaken disinterest for nervousness?

Wow. I really was a prick.

“I don’t,” I said, my eyes worried. “I don’t know.”

Haden smiled at me warmly, reaching across the table to take my hand in hers. “Well then figure it out. If you really like this guy—and I think you really really do—then go after him. Ask him what the hell is up, talk to him. And if he says he’s not interested, he’s not nervous he just doesn’t want this, then let it go. There’s no foul in trying.”

I nodded again and withdrew my hand from hers.

“I gotta go to trig,” I said. Now I was nervous. Now I was unsure. Now I was doubting everything that had happened over the past four days. Maybe this break-up with Corbin was really messing with me. Maybe I was just rebounding hardcore after Corbin absolutely broke my heart.

I got up then before Haden could respond, the corners of my eyes starting t hurt, like something was pressing hard against the insides of them. I shut my eyes tight and shook my head, trying to fight back whatever was coming as I rounded the corner that lead out of the cafeteria and stopped, leaning against the wall just outside.

I pulled my phone out and finally sent Scott another message: Hey, Scott. This is all happening really fast, I know. It’s only been a few days. But I’m still just trying to figure this out. Please text me back? If you don’t I’ll leave you alone. I just have a few things I want to say.

I hit send again.

< RETURN TO CHAPTER FIVE | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER SEVEN >

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