The nurses office hadn't changed much since the last time I was there. Same sterile white walls. Same uncomfortable, plastic chairs. Same way too bright lights. Same pathetic examination table that looked almost like something you'd find in a real hospital, except for the faded smiley faces on the padding. Same smell of, for some unholy reason, peanuts.
As I sat in the uncomfortable chair staring at the white walls wishing the bright lights were dimmer while I waited to get called in to sit on the exam table, I tried for the fifteenth time to find anything that might even look like it was giving off a peanut smell, but I couldn't find anything. This was definitely one of those "journey is more important than the destination" things though, since it took my mind off the pain.
"Hey Andy." Nurse Amy popped her head through the doorway of the exam room, her ponytail bobbing every time she moved her head. "Sorry for the wait." she said apologetically. "Hop up on the table and I'll be with you in a sec."
She disappeared around the corner after she saw me stand up. Ow! I winced and rubbed my back. It really hurt, but I was actually pretty lucky. Jarred only got one punch in on my mouth before I went down and curled up so the rest of the blows landed on my back and right side. It was impossible to move without my eyes tearing up and I wasn't really looking forward to taking my shirt off in front of a mirror anytime soon, but at least the bruising would be somewhere I could cover up with clothes. I walked, slowly, into the exam room and gingerly climbed up on the table while I waited for the nurse.
Nurse Amy was the opposite of pretty much every single school nurse stereotype. Young, blonde, and cheerful, she seemed to really care about every kid who came into her office, whether you were sick or just needed an Advil. And not only could she tell who was really sick and who was just faking, but she could tell who was faking because they just wanted to skip and who was faking because they were trying to escape something. More than once I'd gone into her office with a "stomach ache" and she'd just give me a sympathetic smile and ask me if I wanted to stay for a period or two to see if I "got better" or if I thought I needed to go home, without even bothering to check me. And then there were the times when I'd be there barely a minute before she'd arch an all knowing eyebrow at me and say "Andy get back to class, there are septic tanks less full of crap than you are right now."
So yeah, I liked Nurse Amy.
Which was a good thing because I spent more time than most in the nurses office and it'd completely suck if I had to deal with someone who I couldn't stand.
"So," Nurse Amy said as she walked into the exam room and closed over the privacy curtain. There used to be a door but apparently after they met Nurse Amy a few uptight and kinda perverted mothers started getting all weird about their boys possibly being alone behind a door with her. After everything that happened with the gym teachers the school didn't even bother trying to fight them, just ripped off the door and put up a thin sheet. "Ms Vasquez says there were a few boys beating on you?"
Ms Vasquez was one of the Spanish teachers. She's the one who came down the hall and chased off Jarred and his fan club. It's almost too bad that she chased them off while she was too far away to see who they were, but if they got in trouble even without me ratting them out it'd still probably just make things worse for me anyway. She saw their jerseys though and she promised me as she walked me to the nurses office that she'd talk to Coach Williams about what happened, but I'd be less surprised if I suddenly started turning into a girl every time I fell into cold water than I'd be if he actually did something about it.
"Yeah." I said, with no particular inflection.
"And I guess I don't even have to ask if you're gonna tell anyone who they were, right?" she asked with a resigned smile.
"Nope." I said and looked away. With as screwed up as my defenses are today there was actually a chance she might be able to convince me to turn Jarred and his friends in this time. So looking in her eyes was the last thing I wanted to do.
She didn't press though. She knew by now that it was pointless so she just sighed and said, "Alright. Can you lift your shirt? I need to check the damage."
I nodded and let my hair fall in front of my face before she noticed the embarrassed blush. God I hate taking my shirt off in front of people. It gets me on two fronts, the shyness and the feeling exposed thing. Plus -and this might be a huge shock so if you have a heart condition continue at your own risk- I have really low self esteem, so exposing myself to judging eyes isn't even close to being my favorite thing. Still, I'd been here often enough to know that if I didn't do it she'd just roll her eyes and do it herself, which is SO much worse, so I pulled the sleeve off my right arm and lifted my plain gray long sleeve shirt up enough so my side and most of my back was exposed. I tried really hard to pretend I was anywhere else but the sharp stabs of pain every time she poked and prodded my tender parts made that pretty much impossible, so I just sat there and took it.
"Ok, done." she said and I pulled my shirt back down as fast as I could. "Aside from some pretty nasty bruising you're fine." She smiled. "You can go back to class, unless you're hurting anywhere else and need to go home.....?" she trailed off and raised an eyebrow.
If I was even a little bit interested in girls I'd have a crush on her right now and not Owen, seriously. She was offering me a way out of school when I needed it, again, and she barely even tried to hide it. If there was ever a more awesome person to work at a school, I'll walk through the halls naked screaming "Jarred loves the cock" at the top of my lungs.
But, even though the offer was there, I wasn't gonna take it. I only had about two more hours and those were in the detention hall so I'd be safe. And even if I was in class, I really didn't wanna have to get sent home for fighting the day after the great "You've Shamed Your Family" speech so I probably would have stayed anyway.
"No." I said. "Nothing else hurts."
She studied me just long enough for me to start to get uncomfortable, but before I started squirming she gave a small little shrug and said, "Ok, I'll write you a pass then." She opened the curtains and walked out of the room into her tiny office. I looked out and saw that we were the only ones here. Thank god. The last thing I need is some sick -or "sick"- kid staring at me right now with a "that's HIM" look in their eyes. She came back less than thirty seconds later with a pad of late passes and a pen in her hand. "What class do you have now?" she clicked the pen.
"Um, detention." I said awkwardly.
She turned around and raised both eyebrows this time. "You? Got detention?" I nodded behind my hair. "Why?"
"I-I-" Crap. What can I say? I got in a fight with Jarred because I was watching him play with himself in the shower? No way. For so many reasons. I could just say I got in a fight....but she'd never believe that I started a fight and I'd have to make something up and-
Understanding flashed in her eyes. "Ohhh, is it because of the thing in the showers?"
"Um-um-" Oh shit! She knows! She knows about Jarred and the shower and-and-and-....I think this is what a heart attack feels like. How many other people know?! The answer hit me even before I finished thinking the question. Oh god, they all know, don't they? The school nurse isn't exactly in the middle of the gossip ring so if she knows than all the teachers probably know. How am I ever gonna face them? Oh no! MR COLLINS must know too! But....he didn't say anything to me in detention or act any differently towards me so maybe he didn't.....or maybe he doesn't care? I have no idea which would be better.
A hand softly touching my arm brought me out of my thoughts with a jump. My head shot up from where I was apparently staring at the floor and I looked right into Nurse Amy's face, my hair falling back slightly from mine. "Don't worry about it." she gave me a smile and a reassuring pat on the arm. "I only know what happened because Jarred was yelling about it when he got sent here after your fight. I doubt any of the other teachers know, except Coach Williams-" her lip curled up like she bit into something rotten when she said his name "-and nobody listens to him anyway. Your secret's safe." she gave me another small pat on the arm and walked back over to the table where she'd left the pass pad.
I slumped in relief. Even though I knew by "secret" she meant "me being gay" and that should have bothered me because I didn't actually DO anything to out myself, I couldn't even care. I was just so glad that I wasn't gonna have to worry about teachers, who mostly left me alone or liked me, sort of, suddenly treating me like everyone else did. And I could deal with Nurse Amy knowing since she didn't seem to have a problem with it. I think the only thing that could have made me feel better than that would be talking to Owen again. And GOD did I wanna talk to him again! Even though it was a really Bad Idea, I couldn't think of a single thing right then that I wanted to do more.
Nurse Amy finished writing up the pass and turned back to me with a mischievous gleam in her eye that made her look ten years younger and was so out of place on any school employee that it actually managed to make me forget about Owen for a few seconds. "You know," she said, almost offhandedly. "I have a son about your age." I cocked my head, slightly confused. That was....kinda out of nowhere. A small, knowing smile formed on her lips. "He's pretty cute."
My eyes widened and I think I forgot how to breathe. Was she...? Oh fuck was she trying to....set me up with her SON?! I choked down all the air I could -that's how breathing works, right?!- and jumped off the exam table. Which hurt. Ow. "I-um-um-I-don't-uh-" I didn't know what to say, I didn't even know what I was TRYING to say. This was like being in the Twilight Zone-no, this was like if the Twilight Zone had a Twilight Zone and THAT Twilight Zone had an Outer Limits and I was OUTSIDE the Outer Limits.
Nurse Amy quickly moved in front of the doorway before I could bolt out. "Ok! Ok!" she said, raising her hands in a 'calm down' gesture. "I'm sorry." she smiled reassuringly. "Forget I said anything." she held out the pass to me. "Here, don't forget this."
I took the pass without letting my eyes look anywhere near her face and ran out the door the second she moved out of the way.
Remember that tiny little bit of 'better than expected' I was feeling before? Yeah, that's completely gone.
The whole way back to detention I was filled with so many conflicting feelings and thoughts, not to mention running through the halls didn't exactly do my bruised body any favors, that the only thing they could possibly add up to is "Andy's gonna have a stroke before he's 21". I didn't even bother to be thankful that it was the middle of class so there was no one in the halls to harass me, even though if I'd thought about it running into somebody right now would be pretty damn expected with the way today was going. And just because today hadn't kicked me in the face enough, when I got back Mr Collins said that since I had a pass he wasn't gonna give me an extra day of detention for staying out during lunch. So I don't even get an extra day of safety as a reward for all the shit that's happened!
Time had been passing either really slow or really fast all day so it was kinda surprising that the last two hours of the day FELT like two hours. I got the last of my work done and when the bell rang I had all my stuff packed up and ready to go so I was the first one out the door. I guess it's kinda sad that after having almost all day to think about it my entire plan for avoiding getting the crap beat out of me -again- didn't get any further than "get out of detention before anyone in there with you has a chance to do anything", but whatever. I never said I was good at making plans.
I was in full stealth mode walking through the halls. Hair in front of my face, slightly hunched, walking quickly, avoiding everyone. I even added 'not taking sharp corners' to the list, which I probably should have done years ago. Running into people is probably the best way to get noticed, aside from shouting or getting naked or killing someone I guess. It was all automatic though. Which was good because two hours in detention didn't help me with even one of the annoyingly nagging thoughts running through my head. Nurse Amy and Cheryl and Jarred and Simon and Coach Williams and my dad and next week when I didn't have detention all spun around in my head as I walked, but they all orbited around Owen.
God I can't even think about him without fighting to keep a stupid smile off my face! What the hell is so special about a voice on the radio anyway? Yeah, it was easily the sexiest voice ever, not just the sexiest voice I'd ever heard but literally the sexiest voice EVER, but so what? I'd seen hot guys before. I'd heard sexy voices before. I'd had fantasies and jerked off and thought about what having sex would be like, so this isn't some late puberty, sexual awakening thing. So what the hell WAS it about Owen? Yeah, he was nice but- well, yeah, he's nice. And that's it isn't it? He was nice to me when he didn't need to be and my life is so sad that something so small is enough to make me go all swoony. Except it wasn't small. Not for me. For me it was pretty fucking huge and it made me let someone in just a little bit for the first time since.....well, since I started keeping people out. He drew me in with his voice and snared me with his niceness.
"-after school with Brian. He's sooo cute, don't you-"
"-kissed his sister?! Dude that's so gay!-"
"-wouldn't shut up about 'Team Edward' and 'Team Jacob' so I said, 'bitch, your ass is on Team Dumped!' and she-"
"-build your company around a guy who doesn't know the difference between an armbar and a hammerlock. Way to go Vince-"
It was right then, when I realized that I was taking the long way to my locker through halls I almost never go through because I was hoping that I'd hear that voice and be able to catch a glimpse of the boy who owned it, that I gave up.
I can't fight myself and Cheryl and the memory of the way I felt after talking to Owen. I'm just not that strong. So I'm officially done fighting it. This stupid crush isn't going away and, you know what? After the day I've had, I DESERVE to feel the way I did last night. I DESERVE to talk to Owen and soak up that niceness, even if that's all it'll ever be.
After deciding that, I actually started to feel better. All my other problems were still there, but they weren't spinning anymore. They didn't have anything to spin around. Owen was taken out of my 'problem' category and put into a different one, a new one, one so new I didn't even have a name for it yet. But he fit there. He fit there like it had been made for him.
I didn't notice my smile, or the way my walk stopped being so slouched and defeated and started having just the tiniest bit of pep to it, or the way my hair fell back just a little from my face. I walked through the halls to my locker on autopilot, listening for Owen in the voices around me. I didn't hear him, but as I emptied my overflowing bag into my locker I thought that was probably a good thing. For the first time I was feeling kinda in control when I thought of Owen and I knew if I saw him I'd be the same stuttering, gooey, sappy mess that I was last night. So, yeah, over the phone is probably the better idea. Which is something I NEVER thought I'd say.
It took me a second to realize that the tiny giggle I heard came from me, but when I did I immediately upgraded it to a laugh and then gig-laughed again. Wow, did that happy sound come from me? Yes. Yes it did. I was gonna talk to Owen. Again. How could a few little things like getting my ass kicked and having everyone hate me make me feel bad when I had that to look forward to?
The afternoon bus driver was way nicer than the morning one and kept the comments to a minimum with threats of detention -if I was the kind of person that believed in positive omens I sure as hell would have taken that as one- so I had the entire ride back to plan for my second call to Owen.
This was gonna be different than last time. There wasn't gonna be any awkwardness or hesitation or accidental blurting out my embarrassing musical tastes. I was gonna be as entertaining and funny and witty and cool as I could possibly be. And if a tiny voice in the back of my head was saying that entertaining, cool, funny, witty people didn't need to write down entire conversation possibilities in a notebook so he'd be ready with the proper entertaining, cool, funny and/or witty response to anything that might come up, well, I locked that away in a vault with Jarred and Simon and Amanda and all the other things I wasn't gonna let myself think about tonight. Tonight was about Owen and I'll be fucking damned that if after an entire day of trying not to think about him I'll let any of today's horribleness keep me from thinking about him when I actually want to.
The bus takes the same route to drop us off as it does to pick us up so I was one of the last people to leave. It gave me plenty of time to start planning out my call. By the time the bus pulled up to the stop by my house I had a bunch of basic conversation possibilities and at least three responses to each plus a two page list of acceptable songs to request. Yeah, I got lucky with the whole Taylor/Avril thing but if there's one thing I know about my luck it's that on the incredibly rare occasions when it's actually good, it never lasts too long. I wanted Owen to like me, not laugh at me for knowing the words to every Sugarland song. So I'm just gonna assume that Owen picked the songs he played based on his own tastes and fill my list with 90's rock and some mid to late late 2000's pop. I thought about throwing in an Avril song but that was too obvious. I wanted him to want to talk to me because we had things in common, not think I'm some kind of weird stalker.....
Oh god, AM I a stalker?
Nope. Shoving that in the vault too.
I got off the bus alone. Simon had one of his stupid football games so he didn't ride the bus home with me and I took a few seconds to hope that they lost the game and Jarred accidentally got the football shoved up his ass during a tackle. Football's the one with tackles, right?..... Whatever.
It was Tuesday, which meant my mom had coaching after school and I had to let myself in. Which was good. I was really on a roll with my Owen plan and I didn't wanna have to risk my mom thinking I'd had enough of the "avoid Andy so he thinks about what he did" treatment and mess up my train of thought by talking to me. I went right up to my room, tossed my mostly empty backpack on the floor by my bed and sat down at my desk to finish my list. I talked to Owen last night a little after 6 and his show ended at 7 so I figured I'd turn the radio on at around 4 just in case his show was longer than an hour. By the time my dad got home at 3:30 and came up to tell me that I was still grounded from the dinner table tonight I had a pretty decent list of things to say written down. I was actually getting really excited. This was the first social situation in my whole LIFE that I'd EVER been prepared for, maybe I could finally let some of the personality I have around Cheryl and my family shine through for somebody else. Maybe I can actually make a friend.
But you don't wanna just be friends with him, do you Andy?
No! Don't even think about that. Just, focus on making a friend with the only person other than Cheryl that might actually give you a chance. Don't ruin that by wanting more than you can get. Just put all those thoughts in the vault and forget about them.
Damn vault was suddenly very, very full.
Luckily, I didn't need to worry about vault spillage for too long. A ringing cell phone and Cheryl's name on the caller ID was a pretty good distraction, and I jumped at it.
"Hey Cheryl." I said.
"You didn't call me." she said sharply.
"You said 'after school', not 'right after-"
"And what the hell am I hearing about Jarred sending you to the nurses office?" she continued like I hadn't even spoken. "Is that true? When did it happen?" she paused for a second. "And WHAT happened?"
"It wasn't just Jarred." I said wearily and tried to get comfortable in my chair. Might as well get settled in for a long conversation that I don't want. Dammit, this is why I hate how gossipy high school is! Nothing stays secret. Not that I wasn't gonna tell Cheryl about it when I called -if I remembered because, yeah, fine, I forgot, sue me- but there's a big difference between the "Oh poor Andy" I would have gotten if I told her and the "I'm gonna tear the world apart because that's how I deal with being scared and you fucking know that so I'm gonna kill you first for not telling me" that I was getting now. "Simon and Kyle and a few other football losers helped and I only got a few bruises, so it wasn't that bad."
Cheryl growled into the phone. "Dammit Andy! Why do you always act like stuff like this isn't a big deal?"
Oh joy. Old argument 21. I love this one....
"Because it's NOT." I said firmly.
"You are so full of shit." she snapped.
I sighed, more than a little annoyed that my excitement about talking to Owen was getting dimmed by this crap. I'm so not in the mood for arguing right now. "Ok, yeah, I am. It sucks and I hate being everyone's punching bag but you know what I hate even more?" I didn't even pause for an answer. "I hate having you ALWAYS bringing it up. I'm happy for the first time today and I really don't wanna bring all that crap home by constantly talking about it, ok?"
"Well then DO something about it!" she yelled.
"Like what?" I yelled back. "Tell on them? Because that NEVER makes it worse. Fight back? Because I'm just SO buff and strong, right?. What can I do, Cheryl, that I haven't tried like a million times that's never worked? If you have some brilliant idea, please, tell me!"
"You can let me kick Jarred's ass like I should have done a long time ago!"
Aaaaand old argument 21 somehow remixes into old argument 34.
"Because that won't make him just wanna kick my ass even more, right?" The sarcasm was so thick you could cut it with a knife. "You'd have better luck trying to make him fall in love with you and use the girlfriend card to get him to leave me alone."
"How'll we know if you never let me try-" she paused. "Did you just say I should DATE Jarred?!"
"No!" I yelled. "I just-"
"Because that's seriously the GROSSEST thing anyone's ever said to me. I mean, ew." I could almost see the shudder. "That's worse than dating YOU."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh no, my heart, it's all broken now." I deadpanned.
She burst out with a short, loud laugh that made me wince and pull the phone away from my ear. "You know what I mean, dork." she said and just like that, our fight was over. That's one of the best and most infuriating things about Cheryl, how she can just start and end these things out of nowhere.
"Yeah I know." I said, happy to have it all over with so quickly.
She sighed. "You know I just worry about you, right?"
"I know." I smiled. "You're probably the only person who does and I love you for it. Just, you can't fix everything for me, you know?"
"I know and that's what gets me so pissed off." she said. "And it's all your fault too you know. You're just too damn cute and hurt and sometimes all I wanna do is grab you and protect you and keep anyone from hurting you."
I rolled my eyes again, but my smile widened. I'm a huge sucker for affection sometimes. But still.... "You DO realize I'm not a puppy, right?"
"Shut up." she laughed. "I'm trying to be serious here, sort of." Her voice got softer. "I've never known anyone that needed a hero more than you Andy, and I know you're just gonna do the whole 'guy thing' where you say you can do anything on your own, but if it can't be me than you really need to find one."
Owen's -imagined- face popped into my mind and I shook that thought off violently. I wanted Owen to be a FRIEND -ok more than that but I'm settling for friend dammit!-, not come swooping in to save me from the world. I'd gone most of my life without waiting for someone to come and make everything magically all better and I'm sure as hell not gonna start now. "Cheryl-" I started to protest but she cut me off almost before I got all of her name out.
"Anyway!" she said brightly, like we hadn't been just talking about something serious. "Have you thought about calling your radio boy back? Because you said you would.... Although if you can't even remember to call me I doubt you remembered to do that either." she added snarkily.
Ok. I can smell a subject change when I'm slapped across the face with it. Maybe she was feeling a bit awkward about how that conversation was going too. Or maybe she was not so subtly trying to hint about who her imaginary 'hero' should be. Either way, talking about this was more likely to get me back to the happy place I was in before so I'm kinda glad she brought it up.
"Actually," I said, drawing out the word teasingly. "That's kinda why I forgot to call you."
"Ha! So you did forget." she said smugly. I fought the urge to growl. She can never resist the urge to gloat about being right. I wonder if that's a girl thing or a Cheryl thing? "But I guess thinking about your boooooooyfriend is a good enough excuse." she teased.
"He's not-!" I blushed horribly and then I did growl, at myself for acting like a stupid schoolgirl and at Cheryl for just having to be a bitch about this. "I hate you sometimes." I grumbled.
"Wow, two minutes ago you loved me now you hate me? Maybe I better call up your boy and tell him how fickle you are."
"No!" I yelled, suddenly very, very horrified. It would be JUST like Cheryl to call up Owen's show and tell him exactly how I feel -or how she thinks I feel- about him to 'help' me. I think I'd literally die of humiliation if that happened. "You can't call him!" She started to say something but I cut her off. "Seriously! You have to promise me Cheryl. You're never gonna call him. Promise me!"
"Okok!" she said. "I promise. God! I was just joking!"
Joking? Yeah, just what I need today. More fucking joking. "What the hell happened about wanting to 'protect' me and all that?" I asked, annoyed. Mostly at myself for even asking. I guess I was still a little bit too vulnerable after today to brush off Cheryl's teasing the way I usually do.
"That was from other people, not me." she said easily and I was glad she wasn't gonna make a big thing out of me being upset enough to snap at her. "Besides, we used to get our diapers changed together on the same changing table. That pretty much means we aren't allowed to get mad at anything we say to each other, right?"
That was her subtle way of reminding me how close we were and probably also an apology for not taking it easy on me after everything she knew I went through today. "Yeah, I'm just really glad I can't remember that." And that was my subtle way of accepting her apology and moving on. If only everything could be that easy.
"So, you're really gonna call him?" she asked after a few seconds of mostly comfortable silence.
"Yep." I said and for once I didn't have to fake the confidence in my voice. "I've got a whole notebook filled with things to say and everything." I said proudly.
"A notebook?" she asked skeptically.
"Yep." I answered.
"Filled with things to say?"
"Yep....what is there a problem with that?" I asked, worried now. I mean, I thought it'd be easy. He'd say something and I'd find it in the notebook and pick one of my responses. Nothing complicated, right? Maybe she thought it'd take too long to find the right response?
She sighed. "Andy....you don't need a notebook filled with things to say. Seriously, just be yourself." Oh. THAT'S what she meant. "You're never gonna attract him if you just read him your notes."
"I'm not trying to attract him!" I yelled, wincing at how incredibly defensive that sounded. "I'm just-I just want him to be a friend, that's all. And being myself hasn't exactly made me Mr Popularity."
She snorted, and even though she didn't mention it, I knew at least part of that snort was for my 'just wanna be friends' remark. "Slinking through the halls and hiding behind your hair isn't being yourself. I'm the only one who ever gets to see the real you and, trust me, if more people took the time you'd have a lot more friends."
Even though she was just saying something I thought myself more than a few dozen times, I still felt the need to argue. "I doubt-"
"And," she cut me off. Again. Seriously that was starting to get just a bit annoying. "From what you told me radio boy didn't seem to have any problems with you being yourself last night."
I flushed again, but this time it was because of how embarrassed I was thinking about how lame I'd been last night. "Stuttering and being all awkward isn't exactly being myself." I grumbled.
"Oh Andy," she said almost pityingly, like she was about to reveal some great, horrible truth. "Yes, it is. You've just never had anyone to be stuttery and awkward around before."
"That's not me." I said firmly. Cheryl of all people should know that I'm the last person to get all swoony over somebody. "You know exactly how not me that is."
"Well it is now." she said bluntly. "So suck it up, be yourself and go woo your boy."
I groaned. "I'm NOT trying to woo him! And, seriously, woo? Who the hell says that?"
"We do." she said and I could tell by her tone that the word was gonna be coming up a lot more in the future, more if I protested, so I just sighed and went with it. "And you are so trying to woo him. You spent at least an hour writing down things to say to make him like you and I'm willing to bet that lunch money you don't owe me that most of them make you look charming or smooth, right?"
I didn't even bother trying to figure out how she could bet me something I don't owe her and instead focused on the other thing. There was no way I was trying to be charming or smooth. Just funny and entertaining so he'll wanna be friends. "No, I just wrote...." I trailed off as my eyes wandered over to my desk and caught a few of the things I'd written. They widened in horror as what I wrote actually sunk in.
Oh. My. God. A lot of these WERE charming and smooth! And some were even borderline FLIRTING! Jesus! Did I seriously write down "I could listen to you for hours"?! What the hell is wrong with me!?
"I'm gonna guess that chokey, groany thing you're doing means I was right?" she sounded too damn amused.
"I-" I croaked. "I gotta go! I gotta fix this before his show comes on!" I looked at the clock. Shit! It was already after 4! "I gotta go." I said again.
"Seriously, just be yourself."
"Oh my god these are horrible!" I was completely ignoring her. "I need to fix this."
Cheryl was silent for a second, then she sighed. "Alright, go fix your little notes. But this isn't gonna end well and I don't wanna see you lose any chance you have with the first guy you-"
"Alright, awesome! Thanks! Bye!" I barely even heard what she was saying, only that it was probably safe to hang up without her calling right back. I was too busy going through my notebook, crossing out the worst of it and trying desperately to fill in the suddenly very blank response options even as I was hanging up. I took the notebook over to my bed and turned on the radio to check if Owen was on, but it was just some kid I didn't know giving background info on a song by someone named Alecia Moore, but he obviously had no idea what the hell he was talking about because when he was done he just played some Pink song. Not that I really cared, I only paid enough attention to listen for Owen's voice as I furiously tried to fix my notebook.
I was only interrupted once by my mom coming home and asking me if I wanted baked or mashed potatoes with the steak they were cooking and asking what happened to my lip. I told her I walked into the bathroom door and she seemed to buy it easily enough, which if I wasn't too busy trying to shoo her away so I could finish up I might have gotten a bit offended at.
It was almost 5:30 by the time I was done and I let the pen fall out of my aching hand with a relieved sigh. There. Crisis avoided. God I don't even wanna think about what would have happened if I read some of that crap to him. How the hell did I ever think "I bet your eyes are amazing" was a good way to respond to "You're still the only person who called in"? There was none of that crap now though, it was all clean, almost sterile, and it's a good thing I wasn't actually trying to....woo him because I don't think there was a single charming or personality filled anything written down.
I leaned back on the pillows I had propped up on my headboard and tried to relax. Since he wasn't already on I figured Owen started at 6 so that gave me -I looked at the clock- about forty minutes to calm down and prepare myself for the call. I needed the calm. Last time I was way too nervous and spur-of-the-momenty. I needed to be calm and collected so I could just read the notes and hopefully not make a total ass out of myself again.
It only took me thirty nine minutes to realize forty minutes wasn't gonna be enough.
I was so nervous and scared and as it got closer and closer to 6:00 my heart started beating faster and faster. Was I really gonna do this? COULD I even do it? My phone phobia thing didn't just magically go away, in fact I still have no IDEA how I was able to even call him up last night. And wouldn't that just be the cruelest thing ever, to finally admit that I want to talk to him, to actually look FORWARD to it, and then not be able to force myself to pick up the stupid phone and dial the number.
God, Cheryl was right. I really am broken.
And then, right when I was about three seconds from cold sweats and needing an empty bucket nearby 'just in case', right when I wished I could PUNCH myself for not being able to just pick up a phone and dial a number like normal people, I heard the voice I'd been waiting for all day.
"It's six o'clock once again so welcome back to the all request hour on WJHS, brought to you by Mike's Auto Parts. For all your Auto Parts needs, come to Mike's Auto Parts." He sounded amused and I could just picture the sexy smile and the eye roll he was probably giving over that lame 'ad'. "If you wanna call in and request a song just dial-" he gave the number "-and tell me what you wanna hear. The first song tonight is a request from Amy and it's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen."
I sighed, tried to ignore the goofy smile I could feel forming on my lips, and sank back into my pillows, totally relaxed. The song started to play and even though it was one of my favorites, I didn't even try to pay attention. God! It felt so good to hear his voice again. It was like, I'd had an itch that I'd been trying to scratch all day and I'd FINALLY been able to reach it and get some relief. Hearing him was so soothing, a hot shower that washed all the dirt of the day away, and I was enjoying it so much I even forgot to yell at myself for being so stupidly sappy.
Andy, you are SO fucked.
But you know what? Right now, I don't really care. For the first time since I woke up today I wasn't actually worried about anything, and if the price I had to pay for that was being a total loser over a boy I've never even seen, well, it was a small one. Honestly I didn't even think I needed to call him up. I could just sit here and listen to him between songs and I'd probably be smiling all night. In fact, that's actually REALLY tempting. Hell, I'm already kinda dealing with being a hopeless pile of sap, maybe I can just jump into the deep end of the crazy pool and go right to having a fake, imaginary relationship with Owen in my head. It would be SO much easier than actually trying to be friends with him and maybe, if I could hear him on the radio for an hour each day, it'll be enough.
'Buuuuut,' a sing-song voice in my head that sounded way too much like Cheryl suddenly cut into my thoughts 'if you call him up you get to hear him say your name agaaaaaaain.'
And that was more than enough to have me reaching for my phone.
Wow I'm sad.
I actually had the first two numbers dialed before I realized what I was doing and forced myself to stop. Ok Andy, see, this is exactly what we don't wanna do. This is why we spent all that time writing in the notebook. You can't just go off half cocked and act like a shy seven year old meeting a Jonas brother. Oh, and speaking of half cocked, ouch. I adjusted the erection that I hadn't even realized was trying to Incredible Hulk it's way out of my pants and took a few deep breaths.
Ok. Ok. Good. Now, get the notebook.
I pulled it into my lap.
Open it up.
Another deep breath.
I took four.
Find your center.
…..what the hell does that mean?
Dude, you're talking to yourself, so you should probably know that.
I shook my head, clearing it of....me. Ok, yeah, I think I'm ready. Or as ready as I can possibly be. I had my notebook, my phone and I was as calm as I could possibly get.
I dialed the number, only absently noticing that I had no problem at all doing it.
"Hey Andy!" It hadn't even rang twice before Owen answered the phone and-wait, he said my name? He KNEW it was me?! I-....
That's not in my notebook.
There were FIVE different possible greetings that I had written down but NONE of them even hinted at him just coming right out with my name. I mean, 'hey' was there but there's a huge difference between 'hey' and 'hey Andy'. Using my name made it so much more personal, so I couldn't just give a generic response back, right? Plus....didn't he sound happy when he said it? Great, that's a whole NEW set of problems! He was being friendly, which means I need to be friendly too but I TOOK FRIENDLY OUT OF THE NOTEBOOK! I couldn't even pick from another response column because everything was just so damn sterile and neutral! Not even five SECONDS in and the notebook is useless. This was a horrible idea! What the fuck was I thinking?! A notebook with things to say? Really Andy? God! No wonder you don't have friends! And how the hell did he know it was me anyway?!
Ok, I'm panicking.
No fucking shit I'm panicking! This was even worse than yesterday! At least yesterday I had an out. I wasn't 'hey Andy', I was 'hi thanks for calling wanna make a request', I could have just hung up without saying anything and that would have been it. But now, now he knew who I was, he knew I was calling, and he'd know exactly who was hanging up on him. So I can't do that. Which means I'm gonna have to say something. So.....SAY SOMETHING IDIOT!
But what do I say?! I need to be friendly back but I can't be too friendly because I'm dangerously close to gushing like a girl already so.....yeah that didn't help at all! Friendly but not too friendly? What does that even mean?! Ok, ok, you did this last night Andy, you got BY this part last night. Yeah, it's different now, but we can deal with it. Grow your balls back and say hello.
"Hel-" No! Too formal! Say 'hi' it sounds more casual! "-i. Hi." Say his name but DO NOT SIGH! "Hi Owen." And just enough of the panic faded for me to follow that up with "H-how did you know it was me?"
"We have caller ID." he said, that wonderful melodic voice raising and falling and turning a simple sentence into something that was almost beautiful. Oh hell, did I really just think that? I'm so glad Cheryl can't read my thoughts or I'd never live this down- wait, caller ID?
"I'm not listed though." It was one of the things I drove my parents crazy about when they got me my phone. Most kids would probably obsess over getting 4G or a touchpad that doesn't completely suck, but the only thing I cared about was making sure my number wasn't listed and that I was on all of those lists that keep telemarketers from calling you. In an age where kids can be driven to suicide because of people harassing them on Facebook the last thing I needed was for it to be easy for anyone at my school to find my cell number and, holy crap did I just get out a full sentence without stuttering THIS soon in the conversation? Damn Andy, when did you get super powers?
"I know." he laughed and, god, I actually shivered at the sound. "It shows up as 'unknown' but I recognized your number."
He said it so casually, like it was no big deal at all, but I couldn't stop the huge grin that practically split my face in two. He recognized my number. OWEN recognized my number. AND he remembered my name. He remembered ME! And he seemed HAPPY that I called back.
My notebook sure as hell didn't have anything like THAT in it.
It was so hard not to immediately jump to conclusions about what that meant. The little Cheryl voice in my head was screaming and cackling and telling me that I was fucking IN, but I ignored it. I didn't wanna get my hopes up and then force myself to shove them back down again. I didn't wanna yell at myself that I only wanted to be friends because that's all we'd ever be, and even then I'd be lucky. I just wanted to.....savor it. Just for a bit. Because nothing else that happens tonight is gonna be as good as this. Guaranteed.
"Cool." I said happily, then winced. And THAT'S why I wanted to savor it. To get me through things like that. Jesus could I have possibly sounded more like a 12 year old girl talking to her first crush?
But, even though someone else -hell anyone else really-, would have made fun of me or at least called me out on it Owen didn't say anything. Either he was ignoring it or he was completely oblivious to the tone. I hoped for the obliviousness one but I wouldn't really mind all that much if he was just ignoring it. Just another example of how damn nice he is.
"Hang on," he said. "I gotta play another song." he paused for a second. "Don't hang up, kay?"
Just like last time he was worried about me bolting the second he -figuratively- turned his back and just like last time it made me feel good. The Cheryl voice REALLY wanted to read way too much into that but I kicked in it's nuts -yeah I know. Girl voice. Nuts. But, hell, I wouldn't really be surprised if the REAL Cheryl had a pair hanging off her somewhere so it's not that insane- and got it to shut up so I could enjoy listening to him talk over the radio.
"Next up is a request from Jason, it's 'Smile' by Uncle Kracker." The song started to play and I heard a click. "You still there?" he asked over the phone.
"Yeah I'm here." I answered, but thankfully stopped before I could add the 'there's nowhere else I'd rather be' that wanted to come out. That would have just been too -what? Sad? Sappy? Lame? Desperate?- much.
"Cool." he said and was it my imagination or did he seem a little quieter than before? "You know, I'm really glad you called back."
I blinked, then frowned. That....he couldn't have actually just said that, could he? Maybe I really am crazy. Maybe I actually did go through with the whole 'relationship in my head' thing and I'm gonna snap back to reality and find myself strapped to a bed in some hospital drugged up to my ass. Because if he really did say that then that means....it means.....that you're still the only person that called into the show, dumbass. God Andy! You need to start looking at what he says like a normal person would instead of through the filter of this crush you have on him. Now, pretend you're normal RIGHT NOW and say something that a sane person would say. "I g-guess I'm still the only person that called in?" I'd complain about the stutter coming back, but I'm just glad that I managed to keep disappointment out of my voice.
"No, actually a few people called in after you got off yesterday." I was so shocked that I forgot to get all flustered at Owen saying 'you got off'. Then why is he- "You're just more interesting to talk to. Everyone else just said what they wanted me to play and hung up." Again with saying something so casually that makes me smile. "Plus, you've got much better taste in music." he said with a tiny teasing lilt to his voice. But not like 'making fun of Andy' teasing, more like 'we've got a secret that I'm hinting at' teasing. Guess we can add 'makes my heart beat faster' to that smile thing.
Do not sigh. Do not sigh. Do not sigh. "Ohhhh." Ok, technically not a sigh if I say something else, so, "What did everyone else request?"
Wow Andy, that was a good question that actually fit the conversation. Who are you and what have you done with me?
"You didn't listen to the rest of the show?" Again, so casual, maybe even the slightest bit teasing, but this time it didn't make me fluttery or grinny, it just made me worry that he might not understand how.....um, ok fine, obsessed I was over him. And yeah I know, total contradiction from everything I said before, but, he's Owen. He makes me weird. Plus that Cheryl voice was getting a lot harder to ignore after the 'you're interesting to talk to' line.
"No!" I shouted, winced, and lowered my voice. "I just-" What? Wasn't paying attention to the music because I was too busy daydreaming about your voice? Yeah that'll go over really well. 'You never know until you try', the Cheryl voice piped up. Quiet you. "-don't really remember EVERY song that you played." Hm, decent save.
Owen laughed again and I shivered again. Three or four thousand more times and maybe I'll build up a tolerance-oh, he's talking. Time to listen now Andy. "You must have a really bad memory then, I STILL can't get the 'lyrics'-" My god that voice was even sexy when it was injecting more musically elitist snobbery into a word than any three M.I.A. loving hipsters could pull off. "-to those Justin Beiber 'songs'-" Wow, who knew condescension could be so hot? "-out of my head. Blehck!"
I laughed. I mean, really laughed. Not a nervous laugh or a swoony giggle but a totally carefree, joyful laugh. It felt amazing. What the hell was it about horrible days that make it so surprising that you can still laugh? It was met with silence though, and I started to worry that maybe I did something wrong. Did he-oh god did he think I was laughing AT him? I let a few more seconds pass, hoping he'd say something, before I said anything. Thankfully I had just enough self control to keep from blurting out the frantic, crazy person apology that I wanted to. "W-what's wrong?"
"Um," he sounded....startled? "Nothing. Sorry, got distracted for a sec." Ok, odd but he didn't seem at all mad or insulted so I'm just gonna not question it and be glad. "So," and just like that he was back to normal. All smooth haziness and seductive lilting. "What do you wanna hear tonight?"
Another stupid girly sigh. But, come on did you HEAR how he asked me? He didn't just ask me to request a song he asked me what I wanted to hear. Like he WANTED to play something for me, like we were alone somewhere together and he wanted to make me happy-ok, I've officially disgusted myself. Does everyone get this, this, horribly pathetic when they get a crush? If so then why the hell do people look for this whatever-the-hell-it-is in the first place?
Because it feels really, really good. That's why.
It feels so good to just have that tiny little possibility that if all that lovey mushy stuff was real that I might have a shot at it. And I so very much wished it was real. I wanted Owen to be that for me in the worst way. It wasn't logical and it didn't make any sense and I HATED how just hearing his voice makes me act like everything I've ever laughed at but, dammit, I still wanted. I wanted Owen to make me smile, I wanted him to make me laugh, I wanted him to look at me the way I tried to pretend I didn't imagine him looking at me in my thoughts, I wanted him to talk to me in that voice for hours and hours until his throat was too dry to say anything and -god damn you Cheryl for even putting this in my head- I wanted him to protect me from the world.
"'Holding Out For a Hero' by Bonnie Tyler." Do I ever have to say that wasn't on my 'approved' list? Seriously, damn you Cheryl. That's twice now you've screwed up my filter and I swear to god if he laughs at me-
"See?" Owen said, like he'd just proven a point. "Told you you had good taste."
-Cheryl, I might actually kiss you.
I did the grinny, swoony, fluttery, melty thing again and just fucking SOAKED that one up. "Glad you think so." Understatement of the fucking year.
I must have somehow kept my voice even enough that he didn't hear how totally and completely happy he'd just made me because he just laughed again. And, even though it should go without saying by now, I shivered. I was glad he took what I said as a joke, even if the tiny Cheryl voice was growling that this could have been our first 'moment'. Somehow between last night and now I gained the superpower of being able to get a compliment from Owen without it completely killing my ability to form a sentence, but I wasn't anywhere near ready for him to even get a hint about how I felt about him. Hell, I could barely figure out how I felt about him. Being ready to tell him would probably take five years and more therapy than I even wanna think about.
But I could definitely enjoy the hell out of making him laugh.
"I gotta clear the line." he said. I thought I might have heard regret again but, no, don't even start down that road Andy. Even IF he didn't wanna get off the call with you it's only because you're more interesting than a couple of Justin Beiber fans. It doesn't mean he's madly in like with you or anything like that. You're the one with the crush here, not him. And please try and keep the lost-puppyness out of your voice, remember you don't want him to know. For now.
You know what the scariest thing about that last thought is? I have no idea if that 'for now' was the Cheryl voice or not.
"Alright." I said softly. It was a good soft. Just a tiniest bit reluctant to leave but without any of the whine that so very badly wanted to come out. I'm actually getting pretty good at this 'talking to Owen' thing.
"Call back again soon, ok?" Oh happy, happy sigh. That I'm holding in.
"I will." I promised.
"Cool." I wonder if he grins when his voice gets all upbeat like that? Or maybe he's too cool for grinning and it's just a smirk or a half-oh, it's my turn to talk again, isn't it?
"Bye." I said, and wanted to slap myself for ending the call even though there was literally nothing else I could have said that wouldn't have screamed 'I'm just stalling so I can keep hearing you talk to me'.
"See ya." he said casually. A second later I heard the click, dropped my phone and lunged at the radio. I turned it up as loud as it would go, then winced and turned it down a bit when I remembered just how freaking loud it could get. I didn't wanna miss a second of his dedication.
"Our next song is a classic requested by Andy, 'Holding Out For a Hero' by Bonnie Tyler."
Is it possible to smile and frown at the same time? I loved hearing him say my name, I'm in serious danger of getting addicted to it actually, but I was still a bit disappointed. His dedication seemed more personal last night. It fit the mood and made me feel great and it was just....perfect. Tonight it seemed more like every other dedication I'd heard him give. Part of me wanted so badly to be disappointed and to grab onto that disappointment with both hands and use it as proof that he really didn't care about me. That all he was doing was being nice so I'd keep calling back, that he probably did that with everybody that called in to keep them calling back because, hey you can't have a good request show if no one requests anything can you? That part wanted to reinforce the walls and use this as an example of why you don't even think about letting someone in.
But, for the first time ever, an even bigger part of me wanted to just....ignore it. Yeah, what he said yesterday was a lot better, but that doesn't mean the conversation we had tonight never happened. I have defenses for very good reasons but part of those defenses is recognizing when someones fucking with me and when they aren't. There was never a second in either conversation with Owen where I thought he was anything less than totally honest. And, yeah, arguments can be made that I'm not really good at the whole 'thinking' thing when I'm talking to him but after so many years of, well, being me I don't really need to think about it anymore. It's instinct. And my instinct says Owen isn't a douchebag. So, I'm just gonna do what I did last night and enjoy how he made me feel without over analyzing it. Except this time I'm not gonna write it off as a one time thing.
I'm gonna look forward to doing it again tomorrow.
I laid back on my bed and locked my fingers behind my head. I smiled to myself as I listened to the song.
Maybe Cheryl was onto something. It might be nice to have my own personal hero. Someone to just be there for me and stand between me and everyone that takes so much pleasure in hurting me. I could never let Cheryl do that. I have very little pride but I'm not gonna just throw away the bit I do have and hide behind a girl my whole life. Even if that girl could probably put Chuck Norris in the hospital. But maybe if I had another guy to hide behind it might not be that bad. It would be nice to feel protected and not have to worry about feeling like even more of a wuss than I normally do.
Or maybe I'm just getting too wrapped up in the song and my giddiness from talking to Owen.
The song ended and another played, then another and another. Owen talked between all of them and I couldn't help smiling every time I heard his voice. I was even getting used to that stupid, wonderful, fluttery-swoony feeling I got in my chest. Or maybe I just stopped fighting it. It was a nice feeling and not much makes me feel nice these days, so why should I? I'll just enjoy it for now and worry about what's gonna happen later on......later on.
I was content.
"This one is a request from Cheryl and it's 'The One That Got Away' by Katy Perry."
I barely even registered what he said at first. I was too busy enjoying his voice. But when the song started and I actually started listening to the lyrics I started to frown slightly. A song about an old person regretting letting the best guy they were ever with go. Requested by Cheryl. A song that was almost exactly what Cheryl was telling me earlier today when she was trying to get me to call Owen back. Requested by Cheryl. A song......requested by Cheryl.
Dear sweet Jesus. She talked to him.
She promised she wouldn't.....and then she TALKED to him.
There's a word that starts with 'P' that I'm supposed to be feeling but I don't know if it's 'panicked' or 'pissed'. She promised, she fucking PROMISED that she wouldn't call him! But what did she say to him? Did she just request the song or did she say anything about me? My heart sank. I knew Cheryl way too well to hope that she didn't say anything about me. She'd think she was doing me a favor. Just like requesting that song was supposed to make me think about what would happen if I didn't woo Owen. She was just trying to help.
Fucking meddling meddler!
Is it so hard just to leave things alone?! Ok, ok, calm down. You don't even know what she said. So....call her up and ask. But...I'll miss the rest of Owen's show. Dammit why did she have to do this!? Ok calmness, remember? I didn't wanna be calm though. I wanted to yell and throw things and cry. If she told Owen that I like him I'll never be able to talk to him again. Ever.
I started to hyperventilate as I thought about him finding out. I'm so not ready for that. Oh my god! Why couldn't she just leave it alone? Why did I EVER tell her about Owen? Shit, I'm freaking the fuck out. I need to call her. Just then Owen said something in that wonderful voice of his and I closed my eyes and smiled.
After the show. I'll call after the show.
Turns out I didn't even need to.
The second the show ended my phone started to ring. I looked at the screen and saw Cheryl's name pop up. The panic came back for a second, the tentative calm Owen's voice gave me shattered in an instant, but then I remembered that I needed to know what she said so maybe I should do that instead of scream incoherently like I was about to.
I answered. "Cheryl what the-"
"Oh. My. God. You weren't kidding about his voice, were you?" she cut me off.
I tried again. "Cher-"
"It's so sexy! I can see why you're all gushy over him."
"I mean, the way he sounds like he has a dirty secret to tell you when he-"
"CHERYL!" I yelled, cutting HER off for once. "What the HELL did you say to him?!"
"Huh?" she seemed legitimately confused.
"When you called him! What did you say? Tell me now! Right now Cheryl!"
"Did you tell him I liked him? Did you?! Oh god please tell me you didn't. Did you? Tell me you didn't. Did you? Answer me!"
"I will if you let me talk! God!" she huffed. Then didn't say anything.
"Well, talk!" I yelled frantically.
"No! I didn't tell him you liked him." she sounded slightly annoyed. "I just requested the song."
I let out a relieved sigh and felt my whole body relax as I collapsed onto the bed. "Thank god." I breathed.
"You're a mess dude, really." she said.
"I'm not a mess. I'm just.....not ready for him to know yet."
She sighed. "Andy you-wait, yet? You're not ready YET?" she sounded excited. "You mean you're gonna tell him?"
"I-" I broke off and frowned thoughtfully. IS that what I meant? I knew I wanted to talk to him again and I'm pretty sure I admitted to myself that I wasn't gonna be happy with just friendship, but did I ever actually think that I wanted him to know? My mind flashed back to that 'for now' that may or may not have been in the Cheryl voice. Maybe I did. And isn't that just terrifying? I definitely needed to think about it more. No decisions now. Just get used to talking to him before you start...doing things that can't be undone. "I dunno. But!" I cut her off before she could say anything. "If I DO then I'll do it when I'm ready. Not when you think I should."
I cut her off again. "I just....this is all really new to me. Let me figure it out on my own, ok? Please?" She wasn't here to get the puppy eyes so I put a little extra whine in my voice. I may hate being called 'cute' but I guess I'm not above using it to avoid talking about something.
Cheryl was silent for a few seconds. "Fine." she grumbled. "But if you don't I'm gonna go after him myself. His voice Andy! God! So sexy."
Even though I was relieved she was dropping it -twice in one day no less- I still barely suppressed a growl. "No, you're not. And don't you have Brandon anyway? Or did he already shoot you down for being a girl?" I asked sarcastically. I knew she was just messing with me but it still pissed me off thinking about her going after Owen. She wouldn't nearly have half the problems I would with it. She's not shy or awkward about going after what she wants. And even if she was she wouldn't get made fun of or possibly punched in the face for even hinting that she liked him. Girls are supposed to like boys after all. Great, now I get to add 'whining about how unfair the world is to gays' to all the other crap running around in my head. Fun.
"You know I'm kidding." she said in a tone that somehow made it seem like I was the jerk for responding with anything other than a laugh. I hate when people do that. "And no, Brandon didn't shoot me down. We have a date this weekend actually."
I snorted. Ok, this conversation suddenly got fun. "Does he know?" I wouldn't be surprised if Cheryl found out where he lived and just showed up at his door and demanded he take them on their 'date'.
"Of course he knows." I could just picture the eye roll. "He's picking me up on Saturday."
Ok, never mind. Not fun. Confusing. Very, very confusing. "He....what?" I blinked rapidly. "He AGREED to go on a date with you?!"
"Nope." she said cheerfully.
I pressed the palm that wasn't holding my phone against the side of my head and rubbed. Maybe that'll keep the headaches away. "So he's not going on a date with you?"
"I just told you he was." she said patiently.
"No, you just told me he DIDN'T say he was."
"No, I said he didn't agree."
"He can't take you out unless he agrees!"
"Yes he can." she said smugly.
"I rape dated him."
What. The. Fuck. "You....you RAPED him?!" I yelled, then cringed. God, if there was ever something I didn't want my parents to hear me yelling.....
"No!" she yelled back. "I rape dated him!"
"What the hell does that even mean?"
She let out an exasperated sigh. "Non consensual dating." And then before I could ask since that didn't explain ANYTHING she added, "Like date rape, but about the date not the sex. I told him he was gonna take me out on Saturday and if he didn't I'd kick his ass. So now we have a date." She sounded way too proud of that.
I had no idea what to say. "I...please tell me you aren't planning on forcing him to have sex with you." I begged.
"No!" She let out a disgusted snort. "God if I wanted to lose my virginity to a gay guy I'd have sex with you."
Ok. Ew. Very, very ew. Very, very, extremel-wait a second... "You're fucking with me, aren't you?"
Cheryl burst out laughing. "Of course I'm fucking with you!" she laughed again.
"Dammit Cheryl!" I growled and hoped it masked my relieved sigh. One of these days I'm gonna figure out how she decides when I need 'protection' and when it's ok to torture me.
"Hey, you deserved it. Maybe it'll teach you not to use your cuteness like that." she said. "All I wanna do is help you."
Ok, she is NOT making me feel bad about not wanting her to meddle in my life. "Whatever." I grumbled. "I'm just glad you weren't serious."
"Well," she said, slightly hesitantly. "I was half serious actually."
I tensed up. None of what she said was good but... "Please tell me you weren't serious about the sex with me thing." I pleased softly.
"Of course I wasn't serious about that!" she sounded a bit offended. "God! That would be like doing my brother or a nephew or something. Never in a million years. Gross!"
My mind immediately shot back to a certain incident two summers ago that I could have brought up, but I pushed that thought away. No need to relive embarrassment and weirdness when I probably have a lot of that in my future to look forward to. "And....Brandon?" I asked, scared of what she'd say.
"I was serious about him."
I winced to myself. "Really? You're..." God I couldn't even say it.
"Rape dating him. Yep." she said easily.
I groaned. "God, why? He's gay!"
"Because he's hot and I wanna date him and I don't need to worry about breaking his arm because he got grabby."
If you can ask yourself if you're insane, that automatically means you're not, right? Because that almost made sense to me, and now I'm worried. But.....hm, this could be a teachable moment here, now that I think about it. Maybe if I show that I trust her to make decisions for herself she'll do the same for me. Yeah, that could definitely work. "Ok. I'm not gonna get involved. You know what you're doing." I said with as much honesty as I could.
"Yep." she said. "I do. That's why you should listen to me."
Or it could just completely backfire. I groaned. "I'm just gonna go."
Cheryl laughed. "Oh fine you big baby. Run away. But the second I see you on Monday I'm telling you how my date went."
"I wish you wouldn't."
"I bet I can get him to kiss me." she said thoughtfully, ignoring me as usual.
"Goodbye." I said forcefully.
"Wait!" she shouted.
I braced myself. "What?" I asked hesitantly.
"You buying lunch again tomorrow?"
"Cool. I'll meet you by detention and walk with you ok? That way we can talk and it won't make you late getting back again."
She was trying to be subtle, but I knew what she really meant was 'I'll walk with you to make sure Jarred and his friends don't kick your ass again'. I smiled despite myself. She makes fun of me to my face, calls me a baby, but still tries to look out for me AND tries to hide the fact because she knows I hate it. I should be annoyed, but I was secretly glad. I wasn't looking forward to darting through the halls from detention to lunch like a mouse trying to avoid a circling hawk. This way would be much easier. On my nerves if not my pride.
"Sure." I said easily. I didn't wanna let on that I knew what she was doing, even though I'm pretty sure she knew I did. She might take that as an excuse to TALK about it and that would be just a bit too much for me to take. "See you tomorrow."
"See ya Andy. Oh! One more thing?"
"Holding Out For a Hero?" she asked knowingly.
I flushed. "GoodBYE." I growled.
I hung up to the sound of her gleeful laughter.
And that's pretty much how the rest of the week went. Cheryl walked me to lunch everyday, although I couldn't tell you what we talked about, aside from a few mumbled excuses for why we were taking a different route every time. I spent the entire walk listening to the conversations around me, hoping to hear Owens voice. But I never did. I'm pretty sure she caught on to what I was doing by the end of the week. She didn't say anything and she still talked to me but instead of slapping my shoulder and asking if I was listening to her she just kept on talking with an amused little smirk on her face. She even started suggesting new routes to take.
I only saw Jarred once, from a distance and from behind, and I didn't see any of his friends except Simon. He'd started to walk over to me with his usual smirk until he saw Cheryl then he hesitated, stopped and apparently forgot that he left something in a locker because he suddenly walked over to one and started fiddling very intently with the lock. When the person who's locker it actually was came over and asked him what the hell he was doing, I couldn't hold back a laugh. At least we were too far away for him to hear.
So lunch was ok, but before and after detention was pretty bad. I may not have seen much of Jarred or his lackeys but they were never the only ones to make fun of me, just the most consistent. I tried to tune out as many of the "fag" comments as I could like I used to, but they still got to me. I dunno if it was my feelings about Owen making my walls weaker than they ever were or if it was because now the "fag" and "homo" and "cocksucker" slurs were filled with knowing smugness instead of just ridicule, but every one cut me just a little bit. Made me shrink in on myself just a little bit more. Made me hide a little bit more behind my hair. I wondered if it would be better or worse if I wasn't actually gay. I wasn't the only one watching Jarred so it wasn't fair either way, but if I was straight I wonder if I'd just laugh to myself about how stupid everyone was being or if it'd make me wanna scream even more because it wasn't true?
Guess we'll never know.
As bad as being in school could get though, my nights were the total opposite. I was still being "punished" by not being allowed to eat at the dinner table so I was pretty much left alone aside from the usual "hi, we're home, how was your day?" stuff and "here's your dinner". It was peaceful. I'd walk in my room and it was like there was a force field at the door that just zapped the crap of the day off my body. I'd turn on the radio or read a book and just relax and enjoy having solid walls between me the rest of the world.
The thing that soothed me the most though was Owen.
I called into his show everyday and everyday he seemed happy to hear from me. He even started joking that I was his "first fan" and it was a freaking miracle that my mom didn't have to clean up the pile of goo THAT comment turned me into. Of course, barely stopping myself from saying "I love the idea of being your first" turned me back into a Andy-shaped pile of embarrassment pretty fast. Despite that, and probably at least two dozen things like that, I actually did get better at talking to him. I even joked back now and then.
I never once hinted that I had any feelings though, which frustrated Cheryl. Both of them really, since the stupid Cheryl voice decided to start renting out space in my head. But I felt like I was slowly getting closer to him. We never talked for more than ten minutes at the most, but I started to learn a bit about him. He was really into music, obviously, but he liked a lot of different types. Rock, pop, country, metal, 80's, 90's, 2000's, some rap, some tencho, -or house or electronica or dubstep or whatever the hell it's called this week- and a bit of classical. Really the only things he didn't like were stuff from the 60's and 70's and Disney pop, but what he didn't like he HATED, and wasn't shy about it. Which was still really hot by the way.
I even learned a few, tiny details about his life. It's not like we ever had any deep, personal conversations but offhand comments and stuff like that add up over even a short amount of time. I knew he had a dog ("I love that song, but my dog goes nuts every time I play it"), his parents were divorced ("My dad used to hate that song but since he left mom lets me play it as loud as I want. I think that's what they call 'passive aggressive' isn't it?") and he has at least enough friends to make it plural ("I like you dude, you always pick such awesome songs. All my friends just like rock or rap, they don't have the range you do. It's really cool. You having range, not them liking rock and rap" Laugh).
I was smiling like a melty idiot all night from that one.
And then the week was over. It was a relief walking out of school on Friday, I felt like I'd survived a war or something dramatic like that. My Friday conversation with Owen was the best we'd ever had -it was the one where he said he liked me AND I made him laugh FOUR times- and I went to bed happier than I had in a really long time.
I only had the weekend between me and going back to school full time but I wasn't nearly as scared about that as I probably should have been. I didn't think about Jarred or Simon or Kyle or any of the things people had said to me. I didn't think about gym or Coach Williams or all the times during the day I'd be away from teachers and vulnerable. All I thought about was Owen. His voice, his laugh, the way he was always nice to me, how I felt about him, how I WANTED to feel about him, how I was starting to think there might not be much of a difference between those two. I might have even had a few embarrassing daydreams that may or may not have included a white picket/barbed wire/laser fence that would keep everyone away and a dog and coffee in the morning and kisses goodnight, but if I did then I'm sure as hell never gonna mention it. To anybody. So don't even ask.
I thought about how he said he liked me.
I knew he didn't mean it the way I I wanted him to, but it was enough. He LIKED me. And he SAID IT. Nothing could bring me down from how that made me feel. Yeah, everyone at school hated me and yeah, I was pretty sure there wasn't a single sports team that didn't wanna collectively kick my ass but, so what? I liked Owen and he liked me back.
In a world where that can happen, what could possibly go wrong?