This time the phone only rang once before Cheryl answered.
"Are you SURE I shou-" I started.
"For fucks sake Andy!" Cheryl cut me off. "I know I said you could call me if you needed to but this is the eighth time in the last twenty minutes. EIGHTH! What the fuck is it this time?"
I frowned. This Cheryl was a lot different than the one that gave me a warm hug and an offer of support when she left last night- WITH the English homework that I did for her in a pretty good imitation of her sloppy ass handwriting thank you very much. Even if she didn't tell me I could call if I started freaking out again I should get at least eight calls for that alone. But I guess "call me if you start going nuts about anything" really means "don't call me more than twice" because she'd been getting more and more, um, hostile since my third call. It was kinda pissing me off, and definitely not helping me calm down.
"And I swear to god," she started again before I could answer. "if this is ANOTHER question about your hair I'm gonna run over there and shave it off then strangle you with it."
See what I mean? Hostile.
I almost hung up. I mean, I'm going on my date with Owen in less than thirty minutes and the fucking nuclear explosions -yes, plural- of nervousness THAT'S causing has already taken at least ten years off my life. I don't need death threats on top of that. But, if I hung up I'd be right back where I am, with no help and no one else to ask and I'd just end up calling back a NINTH time so, I ignored it the best I could.
"It's not about my hair." I said quickly, then bit my tongue to keep from asking if she was SURE tying it back was the way to go. She'd convinced me last night that having my hair in it's usual style probably wasn't the best way to go on a date. Actually, what she said was 'hiding behind your hair when you get nervous is seriously adorable, but it gets old, you know? I doubt Owen wants to talk to a wall of hair all day long", and then she went into a long pep talk thing where she described everything I'd be covering up using the word 'pretty' so much that I could swear my balls started to shrivel up and turn into a vagina. So, I decided to use the ribbon she gave me for gym and tie it back. It felt unnatural to be planning on going out in public with that much of my face exposed. Which explains calls four through six. But this was call eight and the hair shit was done with and I was NOT gonna go back to that when I had something else to panic over. "Are you sure I shouldn't bring something?" I asked. "I mean, you're SURE guys don't do that with other guys, right? Maybe I should, just in case. Like a cake or something?"
There was a short silence, then a very, very long exhale. "And where," she said very calmly "do you think you can get a cake at ten thirty in the morning on a Saturday?"
My heart sank. "You think I should have gotten a cake, don't you." I murmured dejectedly.
"No!" she exploded. "I don't think you should get a fucking cake! I was JOKING! Ghaa! You're driving me crazy! I've seen people on Bridezillas more reasonable than you!"
That derailed the panic train. "You...watch Bridezillas?" I asked, shocked. I think the girliest thing I've ever seen Cheryl watch was Titanic. And she only watched that to see if I cried during the end.
And before you ask, no comment.
"N-no!" she sputtered. "I don't watch it! It was just on! I mean my mom was watching it when I was making a snack and I heard it."
"Your TV room's in your basement-"
"It was really loud, ok!" she cut me off again. "Just shut up. You're the one that wants to bring a cake to your first date."
I laughed. Call me a bad person, but Cheryl being all flustered and defensive made me feel better about my own issues for some reason. "Ok, maybe the cake was a stupid idea." I felt my face heat up slightly as I thought about showing up on Owen's front step with a small, overpriced grocery store cake. In my defense, it's REALLY hard to think right when I'm this nervous. "I just....don't wanna screw this up, you know?"
She sighed, but I sensed that she was happy to latch onto the subject change. "I know. And I know how hard this is for you. But you gotta stop freaking out. Look, I'm gonna say this one last time so listen ok? Your hair is GREAT. Your clothes are GREAT. You look GREAT. You're gonna be nervous and do that cute stuttering thing and it's gonna embarrass you but YOU'LL GET OVER IT. And when you do? You're gonna have the best time you've ever had." she paused, then added. "Well, without me anyway."
I laughed again and felt a small calm settle over my heart. I HATE the way I am sometimes. I'm about to go on a date with Owen, something that I wouldn't even let myself THINK about three weeks ago because thinking about something that impossible was too painful and pointless. I should be fucking thrilled, not two seconds away from having a heart attack. I grabbed onto Cheryl's words as hard as I could and hoped that I could believe them long enough to at least get to Owen's house.
"Ok." I said quietly. "I'll try to remember that."
"Good." she said firmly. "Now, before I go is there ANYTHING else you wanna ask? Think about it because if I get another call in two minutes...." she trailed off threateningly.
Really the only question I could think of was 'what if I do something stupid and make him hate me' but that was call one and three and I was trying to stay positive so I held it in. "No. Nothing. I'm good."
She let out a breath. "Yes, you are." I could almost see the impatient, relieved look on her face. Suddenly I was so tempted to mess with her and mention my hair but I held back at the last second. I wasn't sure how serious the strangling thing was and I didn't wanna risk it. "Now go woo radio boy."
I rolled my eyes. "That's never catching on." I said firmly.
"It already has." she answered smugly. "Bye."
I sighed "Bye." I hung up.
The nervousness started to slowly come back the second I was off the phone but thankfully it was time for me to leave so I didn't sit on my bed and let it build. I stood up and straightened out my clothes and used every ounce of willpower I had not to mess with my hair again. I took a deep breath. Ok. I'm as ready as I'm gonna be. I walked to my door singing "You're the Best" in my head to try and psyche myself up. I stopped with my hand out towards the doorknob and took one last look at myself in the mirror. Shockingly enough I didn't look nervous. And that gave me some seriously needed confidence. I nodded once at my reflection, turned around and walked purposefully out of my room.
I had an Owen to woo.
"Try your best to win them all, and only time will tell." I sang softly under my breath as I walked through my house towards the living room. "When you're the one that's standing there, you'll reach the fin-"
"Hey Andrew!" my dad called from the couch. I froze and tried not to blush as I frantically tried to figure out if he heard me or not. I looked at him, wishing I had my damn hair down, but if he heard me he was doing a good job hiding it. He was just sitting there, smiling at me in his tan slacks and white polo shirt, and I felt my chest get tight. "What's up buddy?"
The tightening got stronger and suddenly my nervousness about Owen was pushed aside by a sadly familiar feeling of impending loss. "Hey dad." I said softly. "Not much." It was my stock answer that wasn't exactly true this time. "Um, actually I'm going out." I corrected quickly. The nervousness came back slightly. Did I seem weird about going out? God I hope not. The last thing I need is an interrogation about this....
"Going to Cheryl's?" he asked in that parent way where you know they know the answer but they still feel the need to ask. It's usually really annoying but this time he was actually wrong. Usually I would have enjoyed that, but right now I was panicking about telling my dad about Owen.
"Um, no, uh...." I trailed off. Say something so it doesn't look like you're ashamed! "Actually I kinda....made a new friend." I finished lamely. Great, now I sound like a six year old.
My dad's reaction didn't help much. "Really?" he asked delightedly. He smile widened until a full on grin that almost looked out of place on his usually serious face until I remembered that my dad grinning wasn't really that odd at all. I just try to block it out as much as possible. "That's great! Is it a boy or a girl? Did you meet at school? What are you gonna do today?"
I blinked at the rapid fire questions. Wow, I know I haven't exactly been swimming in popularity but this is getting just a little bit insulting. He's acting like I just told him I got engaged or something. No! Bad thought! Do. Not. Think. About. Owen. And. Blush. I started to duck my head and then pulled up when I remembered my hair was tied back. Stupid Cheryl. But...maybe holding onto how insulting it was could help me with the other thing...?
"Um, it's-he's a guy. Um, Owen. His name is Owen. And, yeah, we met at school." I lied. It was much more believable than me calling into his radio show. My parents knew all about my problems with phones. "Um, and we're just hanging out at his house I guess."
My dad's grin got even wider. "See? I told you high school would be a great place to make friends. I didn't have many friends in middle school either but I made some of the best friends I ever had in high school. It's where I met your Uncle Russel you know?" he added with a nostalgic smile.
My heart sped up. Uncle Russel wasn't, you know, a REAL uncle. He was one of those close family friends that for some reason gets a title when a kid is born. Kind of like how Cheryl's mom is Aunt Karen because she's my mom's best friend. Russel was my dad's best friend. He was also gay. Having my dad mention him out of nowhere right when I'm about to leave for my first date with a boy kind of hit closer to home than I could deal with right then. Screw what I said before, NOW I was using every ounce of willpower I had to keep my panic off my face.
"Um, yeah." I made a show of looking at the clock on the cable box. "I kinda need to get going though...." I trailed off, hoping he'd let me leave without asking anything else or, every god that ever existed forbid, offer to DRIVE me.
"Oh," he shook himself out of whatever no doubt amazing high school memory he was reliving. "Sure. Have fun." he said with a smile. I was halfway to the door when he called me back. "Hey, before you go, can you come here for a second?"
My heart skipped a beat and I fought down a sudden panic. Oh god, what now? I walked back into the living room. "Yeah?"
"So, I know I've been pretty busy with work lately and haven't had much time to spend with you." he said with an apologetic smile. "But I've got the weekend free and I was wondering if you'd wanna go golfing with me tomorrow? We used to have a lot of fun with that, remember?"
The chest tightening was back and I had to fight to keep how much that hurt off my face.
I've known for a long time that I'm gonna lose my dad when he finds out I'm gay. Continuing the 'great' Baxter family is the most important thing in his life. More than his job, mom, or even me. I've known it since I was old enough to understand what words were. When I finally figured out that Cheryl in a thong doing nothing for me wasn't just because she was like a sister and that no amount of girls in thongs was ever gonna do anything for me, the first thing I panicked about wasn't people at school finding out or getting kicked out of the house or getting AIDS in some seedy club, it was losing the relationship I had with my dad.
Because, my dad? He's awesome. He could so easily be a stuck up asshole or a workaholic who ignores his family but none of that ever touched him. For every three bad memories I have of my life there's one amazing memory of my dad. That might not seem like a fair trade, but one good dad memory is more than enough to make up for three shitty school ones. We used to spend a lot of time together before he got his last promotion. A promotion by the way which me and mom had to talk him into taking, he was gonna turn down an extra $25,000 a year because he'd have to work more and he'd be away from his family too much. Seriously who does that? We used to go fishing and golfing, he taught be how to ride a bike and play basketball (and he didn't give me any crap when I totally sucked at it), he bought me a guitar when I was 13 and wanted to be a rock star for about a month (again, never giving me crap when I sucked) and no matter how losery this makes me sound, aside from Cheryl he was my best friend.
Which is why after I figured out I was never gonna give him the continuing Baxter bloodline that he wanted so badly that I tried so hard to forget all that. I focused on the times when he WAS an asshole, I tried to remember how much time he spent at work instead of how much he hated not being around, I stopped thinking about his easy smile and funny-lame sense of humor that always made me laugh even though I should have been groaning, I tried so hard to put a distance between us so it wouldn't hurt so much when he found out and we got pushed apart forever. And all it takes is one comment for all that work to go to shit.
I didn't answer for a few seconds. I didn't trust myself not to sound like I was about to cry and that couldn't lead to anyplace good. I swallowed a few times and tried to focus on breathing, even though my chest felt like Cee Lo Green was sitting on it.
"I-" I started, then swallowed again. "Yeah." I said quietly, even though my defenses were screaming at me to say no. I couldn't. A small part of me was thinking that maybe pushing him away now was wrong. Maybe I should just grab every moment I have with him and enjoy it while it lasts. "That'd be awesome."
My dad grinned. "Great! You still remember how to play, right?" he asked with a teasing gleam in his eye.
I suddenly remembered all the times he'd clipped his ball into the badly placed parking lot right next to the first tee and laughed. "Yeah, just do the opposite of what you do right?"
He laughed and made like he was gonna throw a pillow at me. "Go! Get out of here. Have fun with your friend. And try not to spend all day worrying about how bad I'm gonna beat you tomorrow."
I smiled, and even though it hurt to joke around with him like this I tried to soak it up. "I'll try not to let it keep me up tonight." I said sarcastically.
This time he did throw the pillow at me. It missed by at least three feet, golf balls aren't the only things he can't aim, but I jumped away from it anyway. I giggled, fought the urge to flip him of like I would with Cheryl, waved instead and walked out the door.
You'd think with all the stuff about my dad being dragged up that riding to Owen's would have been a little depressing. But it wasn't. Not even a little. It didn't even take a minute after getting on my bike and riding off for the sadness and the worry about the future to be replaced by the same nervous, giddy anticipation I felt in my room.
I also started regretting the helmet. I'd never worried about it before but I'd spent so much time obsessing about looking at good as I could for Owen it kinda sucked to ruin all that effort -and panicking- by getting helmet hair. I tried to tell myself my hair would probably look worse blowing loose in the wind but it didn't help much. This was the first time in my life that I actually wanted to look, I dunno, -hot? Attractive? Sexy?- not like I usually do and no amount of logic or sense was gonna keep me from worrying about it.
It was a bright, cool, sunny day. Perfect for riding a bike. Most people would probably take that as a good sign or something, but we all know how well me and optimism go together. If I wasn't getting rained on it probably meant that Owen suddenly got sick overnight or his mom was a serial killer or something. I rode past Cheryl's house and had the sudden urge to run inside and ask if she thought that was possible, but I didn't.
The car was gone so they weren't home.
After another two minutes of riding through semi-familiar streets I finally got to Owen's house.
I pulled into the driveway behind a ridiculously huge, bright yellow Hummer. I just stared at it for about a minute then fumbled in my pocket and pulled out the paper where I scribbled down Owen's address last night. Huh. I'm at the right place. Ooooookay. Maybe Owen's mom is a lesbian? Or has a really small dick?
Or maybe you're just stalling. Get your ass up to the door, pussy!
I took probably my eight millionth deep breath of the day and walked my bike up his driveway. The house didn't have a garage, just one of those small, sorta covered over car port thingies that was way too small for the Hummer to fit in so I leaned my bike against one wall. It looked weird, a car in the driveway and a bike in the car port and I stood there and soaked in the visual until I realized I was stalling again, took deep breath eight million and one, and walked around to the front of the house, across the concrete walkway cut into the front yard and up to the door.
Owen's house was on the street right before the street where the neighborhood started getting "bad". Like, bad in a snobby kind of way though where it wasn't even close to a ghetto but the property was smaller and a few houses had chain link fences so it scared the soccer moms. So the house wasn't exactly small or cheap the way you'd expect a single parent house to be. Or maybe I'm assuming. Owen's mom could be a dentist or something. Maybe a writer. But one like Jim Butcher or Stephen King that actually make money.
Or maybe I'm just stalling again.
Eight million and two.
I walked up the two, small steps in front of the door and rang the bell.
I almost screamed when I heard a dog let out a high pitched bark RIGHT behind the freaking door the SECOND I rang the bell. Jesus! I completely forgot Owen had a dog. I was about to do eight million and three AND four to calm down my pounding heart but then the door opened.
"Get back Atlas!" the blond woman who opened the door growled at the little mop of cream colored fur that was trying to push it's way through the space between the door and the wall. I swallowed nervously, but was glad that she wasn't facing me yet. I had a few seconds to try and look like I wasn't in the middle of gulping down air. She pushed the yapping thing back with her foot just as I got my mouth closed and finally turned her head towards me. "Hi, are you-" Our eyes locked and she cut herself off. Her mouth dropped open in a surprised little O that slowly turned into a grin that was somehow delighted and really, really smug at the same time. "Hey there Andy." Nurse Amy said warmly.
I blinked. "H-hi?" I said awkwardly. Did...did I have the wrong house? The pounding in my chest slowed down a bit as my brain tried to frantically figure out how the hell I ended up at Nurse Amy's house. It was the address on the paper I had. I checked it twice in the driveway when I was stall- um, being thorough. So did I copy it down wrong? Wouldn't THAT just be typical Andy luck.
Nurse Amy's grin softened into the smile I was used to seeing on her, but this time without the sadness or the implied 'poor Andy'. "You here for Owen?" she asked with a knowing gleam in her eye.
Suddenly a memory slammed it's way to the front of my mind -Nurse Amy hinting about setting me up with her son right after I realized she knew about me being gay- and my throat dried up.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Owen was Nurse Amy's son.
"I-I-I-" I tried to say.....words? I dunno! What the hell does someone even say to that!? On one hand it explained where the hell Owen got his supernatural niceness from but on the other hand now she KNOWS I'm here for a DATE with her SON! Even if I didn't know her from school that would be horribly awkward and embarrassing. And, dammit, Owen said his mom didn't know! He told me last night one of the times I called into his show! My whole confidence (don't you dare laugh) was built on a few very specific things. Owen liking me, Cheryl coaching me and OWEN'S MOM NOT KNOWING WE WERE GOING ON A FREAKING DATE!! How could Owen get THAT wrong?!
My panic must have been showing -REALLY!?! YOU FUCKING THINK!?!- because before I could bolt or explode or something she opened the door wider, expertly scooped up the fluffy thing that tried to make it's escape, and stepped back slightly. "Come on in." she said soothingly. "He's upstairs waiting."
That made it suddenly very real, and that was the reason I managed to dazedly take the few steps it took to walk into the house. Owen was inside. Waiting. For me. Even if he was Nurse Amy's son and even if she knew we were going on a date this was still what I'd been wanting for weeks. There was nothing that could make me run away when it was finally so close.
The door closed behind me and I fought down the sudden urge to run, despite what I just said. I really, really wished I had hair to hide behind because feeling exposed is bad enough but exposed AND trapped was pretty much my worst nightmare. Well, abstract nightmare anyway because there's this really specific one with Sharon Osbourne and a power drill-
"Owen!" Nurse Amy suddenly yelled, snapping me back to reality. "Your friend's here!" She put the poofy dog down after she yelled. It ran over to me and launched itself at my legs, sniffing and hitting me with it's paws, then ran past me to the door, saw it was closed, looked at me confusedly with it's small, black eyes, then barked once and ran back to me and started chewing on my shoes.
"Atlas stop that!" Nurse Amy scolded and toed the dog away. It jumped back in a little doggy attack crouch then started attacking her feet. She ignored it. "Just yell at him if he bothers you." she said to me. "Oh, and keep your shoes on. If he gets them he'll tear them apart and pee all over them."
I stared blankly at her, still having no freaking clue how the hell I was supposed to respond to any of this. I thought she might be joking about the shoe thing but she looked more serious that I'd seen her even when I showed up all beat up in her office so I decided to keep my shoe firmly on my feet. So, good, that's settled at least. But, what about the rest? I thought back to the day she told me about her son. 'He's pretty cute' she'd said in the same tone my mom does when she points out a 'cute' girl at the mall or something to me. God, if I hadn't freaked out would I have met Owen that much sooner? And how could Owen not know she knew he was gay?
"He thinks I don't know." Nurse Amy quietly -and creepily- answered my unasked question. "But, a mother always knows. Especially when her son lets her use his computer and forgets to close a few tabs down." she laughed softly. "I've been dropping hints for months, trying to let him know he didn't have to hide it without actually saying anything but..." she trailed off and shook her head. "Teenage boys can be dense." she gave me a teasing smile and looked like she was about to say something else when I heard a door close from somewhere else in the house and she stopped. The teasing look went away and her next words were serious. "Andy, you don't need to worry about this. Even if you're just friends-" she never changed her tone but still somehow managed to make it very clear that she didn't believe that for a second "-I'm happy you two got to know each other. And if you're more, well, I don't think I could have picked someone better for my son." She gave me another smile, then stepped back, puff ball dog attacking her feet the all the way. I heard heavy footfalls coming down some nearby stairs and by the time they reached the bottom she didn't look even a bit like we'd just talked about anything more important than not getting my shoes peed on.
I didn't even have time to start processing what she said and what it could mean before a breathless, excited, slightly nervous and very familiar voice blew away every thought in my head like they were smoke. "Hi Andy."
I turned towards the voice and there was Owen, less than five feet away from me wearing black cargo pants and a gray t shirt under an open black short sleeve button down, giving me a dazed smile like he couldn't believe I was there. I knew the feeling. And it was a really good thing Nurse Amy knew about us because the matching smile I had would have given us away pretty fast. "Hi." I whispered hoarsely. I swallowed nervously and tried again. "Hi." I said louder.
"Hi." he said, and then the hottest thing I'd ever seen happened. He blushed. Not embarrassingly everywhere the way I do, just two little red spots high up on his cheeks, but it was SO freaking sexy. "Um," he glanced away nervously for a second them seemed to force himself to look back at me. "Wanna come upstairs?"
Now it was my turn to blush. I know he didn't mean it the way it sounded but it was just so cliché porno dialogue that I couldn't help thinking of, um, the thing people usually do in porno. And what Cheryl said last night about 'putting out' coming back wasn't exactly helping. "Um, ok." I managed to get out.
Owen smiled and turned around but he didn't even get one step before Nurse Amy.....his mom.....Mrs-what's his last name anyway?....shit I have no idea how to think of her now. Whatever. That woman cleared her throat meaningfully and stopped him in his tracks.
He spun around with a sheepish little smirk on his face. "Oh. Sorry. Mom this is Andy, Andy that's my mom. We're going upstairs. Get ready to drive us to the mall in a little bit ok?"
…..fuck it, I'm just calling her Nurse Amy.
Nurse Amy laughed and gave a little mock salute at the same time as she pushed the dog away with her foot again. It yapped but everyone ignored it. "Yes sir!" she rolled her eyes.
Owen ignored the sarcasm and started walking away again. After a seconds hesitation I followed him. We walked out of the entryway and through a short hall before going up a set of wooden stairs. I learned something about myself following Owen up the stairs: I'm too socially awkward to leer. Owen's ass was right in front of my face the whole way up and with as promiscuous and sex hungry teenagers AND gay people are supposed to be I should have been desperately trying to force myself not to bite it or something, but all I could think about was how I was about to be alone with Owen in his ROOM and I couldn't think of ANYTHING to say.
When we got to his room he closed the door and my nervousness started edging up into full on panic. Holy shit. I was ALONE in a BEDROOM with a BOY I LIKED! What the hell am I supposed to do now? And Nurse Amy knows about us. Why is she letting him take me up here behind a closed door? Isn't that something parents usually don't like? Or is that only for boys and girls? And then I accidentally glanced at the bed and that just freaked me out more so I tried to distract myself by looking around Owen's room.
And it actually worked.
My room's always been my sanctuary. My place to feel safe and lock away the world. Easily the most important place in my life. But even with how important it is, it's still a lot like my clothes. Aside from one poster of a picture of a bunch of galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope that I got at the Smithsonian on a trip to Washington DC with my parents a few years ago and a participation trophy from the one season of Little League soccer I played when I was five, my walls and desk were pretty much bare of anything that didn't need to be there. Like I said before, least expressive teenager ever. But Owen's room was the exact opposite.
I couldn't even tell what color his walls were, that's how many posters he had up. And they were all of wildly different things. There were posters for bands and movies and TV shows and video games and a few that I thought might be anime but could have just been video games too. I didn't recognize half of the ones that weren't band posters, even some of the ones with names printed across them. Wherever there wasn't a mass of posters, there was shelves. Shelves with books. Shelves with comics. DVD shelves. Video game shelves. There was even a small shelf on top of one of the other shelves with CD's on it. CD'S! Who the hell listens to CD's anymore? Not Owen apparently because a closer look showed that there were all still wrapped up. Was he collecting them?
His desk was planted across the room from where I was standing, filled with papers and books and sitting proudly with a half foot of clean space surrounding it was an expensive looking laptop. Next to the desk sharing the same wall was a set of metal shelves that doubled as an entertainment center holding a medium sized HDTV and about a dozen video game systems. Wires stuck out of all of them and ran up and through the metal like some kind of rubber covered ivy or tentacles trying to strangle the shelves. The TV was on and there was a game paused, some slim guy with really weird clothes was swinging a way too large sword at some kind of eyeball monster thing with spikes surrounding it.
It was chaotic. And wonderful. And I learned more about Owen from a few seconds of staring wide eyed at the collection of stuff everywhere than I did in more than three weeks of talking to him.
"Um," Owen's voice startled me out of my daze. I turned around, my face only slightly heating up at kinda maybe forgetting he was there for a minute, just in time to see him swallow and lick his lips nervously. "Heh." he said after a second of not quite awkward silence and scratched the back of his ash blond head. "I'm not being as smooth as I was in my head."
I giggled nervously. I guess he wasn't lying about the shyness thing. It was kinda nice to see that someone as amazing as Owen could be just as shy and weird as me but it would have been nice if at least ONE of us could get a conversation going. It was gonna have to be him. All I could do was stand there like a retard and either freak out about how stupid and awkward I'm being or stare at Owen and think about how attractive he is.
"Um," Owen started again, then paused, and seemed like he was trying to think of a way to finish. "So, nice day huh?" he winced the second it was out of his mouth. "Wow. That was really lame." he let out a short, self deprecating laugh. I couldn't hold back a shudder. His laughs were even sexier in person. So was his voice. I'm not gonna get past today without turning into a puddle of swoon. I just know it.
"Maybe I should just call you. That'd be easier." he said with another laugh.
He was joking, but suddenly that sounded like a really great idea. He was always so confident on the phone and I really needed someone else to be the confident one right now. I took out my phone and his laugh died and his eyebrows raised. "Really?" he asked.
I nodded. "Just for a bit." I said awkwardly. Oh Andy you are going to HATE yourself when you replay this a million times in your head tonight.
He looked like he was about to say something, then he just smiled, walked over to his bed and took a cell phone off his nightstand. He dialed, from memory apparently and didn't THAT just make me feel warm and liked, and within a second my phone rang.
I turned my back to him and answered it. "Hi." I said, and it was insane how much easier it was to talk this way.
"Hey." Owen said, almost all the stilted awkwardness gone from his voice. He laughed self consciously. "Told you I was shy."
I giggled. "If I didn't see it I never would have believed it."
"I swear I usually warm up to people fast." he said quickly. "It's just in the beginning that I'm all weird."
I sighed. "It'll take longer for me." I mumbled, then wished I didn't. At some point I was gonna have to tell Owen exactly how much of a loser I am, I was just hoping to put it off at least until.....three days before I die.
"You're doing fine now." I could hear the smile in his voice. I wanted to turn around and see it so badly but pretty much every single voice in my head shouted "NO!" as loud as possible and I didn't bother arguing. If I couldn't talk to him in person yet then there was NO way I was ready to actually see that smile fully turned on me.
"I usually don't." I mumbled again. God Andy, stop mumbling and speak up! "I mean," I said louder. "I'm usually even worse on the phone."
"I kinda wanted to bring this up yesterday but, you never seemed shy." he said and I couldn't hold back the disbelieving snort. "No, really! Well, maybe that first time you called. But you actually walked up to me in school! I NEVER would have been able to do that."
Ah crap, he sounded like he was impressed and, yep, right on cue there's the blushing. I'm so glad I'm not facing him. Still, even though I kinda almost explained it yesterday, I need to clear this up before he gets the wrong idea about me. "Um, well, that was....." I trailed off.
"What?" he asked.
I swallowed. "That....was because it was you." I rushed out. There. "I wouldn't have been able to force myself to talk to anyone else....."
He was silent for a few seconds. "Really?" he asked softly.
He sounded closer than before and I fought the urge to spin around -or take a step away. "Yeah." I croaked out from a suddenly dry throat. Dammit Andy! -I know! I know! I swallowed again and hopefully got my throat wet enough to sound normal. "Yeah." I said again.
"I'm glad." he said and I shivered. His voice was low and sexy and it felt like a caress on my whole body. "I'm really glad you came up to me. And...." This time I heard the soft sound of socked feet walking across the carpet. "I'm really glad you're here."
His voice, so sincere and practically overflowing with contentment, was almost right behind me. And it wasn't coming through my phone anymore. Ok Andy, this is one of those times where you need to pretend you have a set of balls. Turn around and whatever you do DON'T RUIN THIS. I took a few, rapid, deep breaths, slowly lowered my phone and turned around.
Owen was less than three feet away from me, his phone dangling forgotten from his hand. His hazel eyes, seeming bright and alive in a way they hadn't any other time I'd seen him, were staring right into mine. There was a very small smile tugging at his lips, so small that I doubt he even knew it was there. He seemed to radiate happiness from his whole body.
My breath caught. I did that. ME. I made Owen, the nicest, most amazing person I'd ever met so happy he practically freaking vibrated -just by showing up. That really should fill me up with confidence like it would have anyone else but, yeah, I'm not that lucky. At least I didn't get more nervous though like I normally would. I'll take what I can get. "M-me too." I said quietly.
The small smile got wider and his eyes got....I dunno, different. Shiny maybe. But not, like, teary shiny or sun-in-your-eyes shiny. It was different. Like it came from inside him and was just showing through his eyes instead of starting there. My heart started hammering in my chest and I couldn't look away. No one had ever looked at me like that before. And I never wanted it to end. I was so lost in his eyes that I didn't even freak out when he took a step closer to me. I just waited to see what would happen next.
He was right in front of me now and even though I was technically a little taller than him I felt like I was looking up at him. Any awkwardness from before was gone and standing in front of an Owen with fully armed and operational confidence was like the first time I heard music: different and new but in a way that you knew was going to change you, at least a little bit, for the rest of your life. He leaned towards me and I forgot how to breathe. And think. And move. All I could do was stand there like an idiot and wait for his lips to get closer and closer to-
"Hey boys!" Nurse Amy shouted from right outside Owen's door as she gave a few knocks. I was RIPPED out of whatever trance I was in and I leaped back from Owen, my heart somehow pounding even harder while probably the most horrible blush I'd ever had covered my whole freaking face. I was TERRIFIED that she'd come in and just KNOW what was about to happen and- "You ready to go yet?"
"Mom! Jesus!" Owen yelled, glaring at the -still closed and thankfully not opening- door. "I said in a little bit!"
"Well that was a little bit ago." she said like it should be obvious. "Come on, I have stuff to do today, not the least of which is getting Atlas to his appointment at the groomers because SOMEBODY -who will remain nameless because I don't want his new friend thinking he's irresponsible- can't be bothered to wash and brush his pet like he promised he would when he BEGGED me to buy him a do-"
"Alright! Alright!" Owen shouted, holding up his hands in surrender even though his mom couldn't see. "Just let me find my shoes! Fuck!"
"Language!" Nurse Amy scolded, but without any real heat. It was more like she was teasing than that she actually cared.
"Grrrr!" Owen growled and those two sexy, adorable pink spots appeared on his cheeks again. He stalked around his room until he found two shoes and violently yanked them on his feet and tied the laces. "I'm sorry." he said to me as he tied. "My mom's being extra annoying today." he finished and stood up, facing me with a sad/apologetic/rueful smile. "And she seriously has the worst timing."
Listening to Owen and Nurse Amy's 'conversation' had actually calmed me down -it was interesting to see a different side to her than the concerned and friendly yet doesn't put up with bullshit school nurse- but that comment started me freaking out a little again. God were we really about to kiss?! I think we were. I had no idea if it was a good thing we'd been interrupted or not. We haven't even started our first date yet, aren't kissed supposed to wait at LEAST until that's over? More important, what the hell is the right thing to say after an interrupted first kiss?
"I'm hungry!" I blurted out, then cringed. Whatever it is, it probably wasn't that. God how losery can one person be? No, seriously, I wanna know because I HAVE to be reaching the limit for a single day, right? Oh god, please let that be true.....
Owen was amazing though, just like always. He never even acknowledged how obviously weird I was being. He just gave me another one of those chest bursting smiles. "Me too." he walked back over to me but this time stopped before he was 'that' close. "Believe it or not I was actually kinda nervous about today so I sorta skipped breakfast." And then whatever higher power that might exist in the universe must have decided that I'd suffered enough for right now because almost on cue Owen's stomach made a gurgley, hungry noise that totally broke the tension.
We both looked at each other for a second and burst out laughing. "I guess so." I said, feeling more comfortable with Owen than I had all day.
Owen rolled his eyes slightly. "Yeah, we better get some food before I start making any more embarrassing noises." And with that he walked by me, his arm lightly brushing against mine, and opened his door. "Let's go before she starts yelling again."
I blinked. We touched. Sorta. Not like it was skin on skin or anything-but still! We touched. Our first touch. I swallowed a sigh that no doubt would have been embarrassingly dreamy and nodded. "O-ok." I tried out a smile that must not have been shaky or weird because Owen gave me an even wider one back in return.
"Come on." he said. And I followed him out of his room towards the growing sounds of yappy barking coming from downstairs.
"Thanks." Owen said to the waitress as she handed us our menu's.
"No problem hon." she said with a bright smile that seemed very out of place on someone who looked -and sounded- like she'd smoked for every single day of her forty five years of life. "Do you boys know what you want to drink?"
"I'll have a coke." Owen said easily and I had a brief second of resentment. His shyness was different than mine. Once he got over being awkward around me it seemed to just go away. He had no problem talking to the waitress and he didn't seemed at all bothered by the Saturday crowds in the mall as we walked through to get to Uno's. Me on the other hand.....
"Um," I swallowed when I realized she was looking at me now and looked down towards my unopened menu. "I-I'll have a coke. Too. Also." I mumbled.
Thankfully she heard me and didn't make this even more awkward by asking me to repeat myself. "Two cokes then. I'll get them right out for you." she rasped out with another one of those out of place smiles and walked away.
I let out a tiny sigh of relief and looked at Owen. He was looking back at me, but instead of making me nervous it settled me a bit. "Sorry." I said self consciously. "I told you I was shyer than you."
Owen chuckled. "I guess you were right. But don't worry about it." he leaned slightly across the table and lowered his voice. "I think it's cute."
I felt my face heat up and fought the urge to uselessly move my hair in front of my face. "Um." I forced myself not to look away from his face, even though some eye contact would have been better. "Ok." I finished lamely. I really hope I'm reaching that max loser level soon.
Owen just smiled and sat back on his side of the booth. "So do you know what you want?" he asked pointing at my still unopened menu.
I nodded, thankful for the subject change. "Yeah. I come here a lot and always get the same thing." Wait, does that make me sound boring? I waited for one of my voices to answer but like always when I actually wanted advice they were all silent.
"Me too." Owen said. "I mean, I don't come here a lot but I always get the same thing."
"Well, I guess we're both boring then." I didn't realize I'd said it out loud until Owen laughed. There may have been slight swooning because of it.
"Depends on what we order."
"Chicken tenders." I said.
"Yep." I said with a tiny smirk. "We're boring."
Owen laughed again and this time there was DEFINITELY some swooning. I'd made him laugh on purpose this time. How awesome was that?
The waitress came back with our drinks then and took our orders. While Owen was giving his insanely complex pizza order I looked around the restaurant. I always liked Uno's. They had those booths that had thick, high backs so you didn't feel like you were sitting on top of the people around you and instead of sticking random crap all over the walls they mostly just had old pictures from Chicago from around when the first Uno's opened up. It was probably my favorite restaurant and Owen suggesting it right after his mom dropped us off was just one more thing that proves how awesome he is. I relaxed a bit, listening to that sexy voice go through all the things he wanted on his pizza, and smiled to myself.
I even managed to get my order out with a minimum of Andy awkwardness.
"See?" Owen said teasingly. "You're getting better at that."
"Shut up." I grumbled and threw the balled up paper from the straw at him. It hit him right in the nose and I giggled at the surprised look on his face. "What?" I asked.
He shook his head and smiled. "Nothing. I just didn't expect you to throw something at me."
"Sorry." I said, suddenly self conscious. I was wishing for some conveniently placed hair to hide behind when a flying ball of paper suddenly struck me in the forehead.
"Don't be." Owen said with an impish grin.
I giggled again, feeling incredibly comfortable all of a sudden. Hopefully it stuck around this time. I picked up the paper ball and made like I was gonna throw it back at him. He ducked down behind the table with a laugh. I waited until he looked up and threw at him. It hit him in the mouth and stuck to his bottom lip and we both burst out laughing.
We tossed it back and forth at each other a few times, hiding behind napkins and covering our heads with our arms, until I accidentally hit it with my knife when he threw it at me and it went flying across the restaurant. We giggled maniacally and then grinned at each other.
I felt so....light. I'd been so worried about this date all day and now here I was at Uno's acting like a dumb kid with Owen and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Even more than when we talked on the phone, or even before at his house, we clicked. We fit. It was something I'd never felt before with anyone other than Cheryl. And I loved it.
"You know," Owen said after we'd calmed down a bit. "You look really great today. Not that you don't look great always!" he added quickly. "But you look even better today."
I blushed horribly but even through the embarrassment and the whole 'uncomfortable with compliments' thing, I was dancing around happily inside. "Th-thanks." I said and glanced away.
"Hey." Owen said softly. "Don't do that. You don't need to look away from me."
His voice, the quiet soothing way he said it, drew my eyes back to him even more than the words. He was looking right at me with a tiny, very Nurse Amy smile, his insanely expressive eyes soft and understanding but at the same time pleading with me not to be embarrassed. I forced myself to hold his gaze, even though I was worried about what my eyes might be showing him. Did he see how unused to having nice things said to me by other people I was? Could he see how hard it was for me to accept compliments as being honest? I really hoped not. I didn't want him to think I didn't believe him. Because I did. Even though there probably should have been a skeptical part of me that refused to die after years of schoolyard torture, this was Owen. Every single cell in my body knew that if he said something like that, he meant it.
"Thank you." I said again, firmly and hopefully with at least a little of how happy and grateful his words made me.
He smiled again and this time it was pure Owen, almost a twin of the smile I got when he said hi to me at his house except with no shyness at all. He didn't say anything, and we stayed that way, looking at each other, for a few minutes. The second I started to feel nervous about the silence though Owen saw it and immediately changed the subject. I could have hugged him if he was close enough.
"So, I'm sorry about my mom." he said with a little snort. "I swear she's usually not that annoying. I don't know why she was like that with you. Especially that stuff in the car." Owen grimaced and I felt a little embarrassed for him all over again.
The car ride to the mall was....interesting. I really don't have much experience with the whole "friends interacting with parents" thing but even I picked up on how strange Owen's mom was being. When my mom drives me and Cheryl someplace she usually asks how she's been lately and how her mom's doing, stuff like that. Owen's mom......kinda pimped out her son.
It was actually really subtle at first. She started out with normal "get to know you" stuff, even though she already knew me, like asking about my grades and my favorite classes and stuff about my parents, but after I'd answer she'd turn the conversation to Owen. I started out small with stuff like "You like English? Owen got a 95 on his last essay. It was really good." and "Have you heard Owen's radio show? He's really good don't you think?" and things like that. But then it kinda devolved into stuff like "Owen got a new haircut last week. It really beings out his eyes, see?" and "That's a nice shirt Andy. Is it new? Me and Owen went shopping last week and bought the clothes he's wearing now. Isn't it a nice outfit?" and ended with the crown jewel of "You know, this is a really safe car, if you boys wanna sit closer together one of you can take your seat belt off." By the time we got to the mall I thought Owen was gonna jump into the front seat and strangle his mom and all I could do was sit there and be humiliated for him. How he didn't die of embarrassment -and figure out his mom knew about him- I'll never know.
"Yeah." I said thoughtfully, half thinking out loud. "That was kinda weird. I've never seen her like that." I paused here, trying to think of the best way to break it to Owen that his big gay secret wasn't that secret when he jumped in.
"You know my mom?" he asked, sounding sort of surprised.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I've been to the nurses office a lot." I answered offhandedly, sorta thrown off balance as the question broke into my thoughts.
Owen frowned slightly. "Are you....sick?" he asked, concerned.
"No. I just....." I blinked and trailed off as I realized what he asked and what the answer was. Any ideas for telling Owen about his mom were blown away. Crap. I fought back a wince. Oh Andy, sometimes you are so stupid. Couldn't even wait till we got our food to get into how much of a loser you are, could you? I quickly looked down at the table. "Um...."
"What is it?" Owen sounded more worried now, which, yeah, wasn't helping me relax at all. "What's wrong? Is it serious? Are you.....dying?" he choke out the last word.
My head shot up at the obvious pain in his voice. "No!" I yelled, then I did wince as a few people in the restaurant gave me weird looks. "No." I said again, quieter. "I'm not sick or anything, I'm......" I trailed off again. Dammit! How the hell do I even start this?
"What is it?" he asked again softly, but this time the worry was gone. Well, maybe not gone, but instead of worry about me is was more like worry for me. Like he knew how hard it was to talk about it even though he didn't know what "it" was.
I took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. "You remember what you told me about the first day you saw me? How I looked like someone just kicked my puppy?" He nodded but didn't speak. "Well, that was because Jarred -an asshole- and his friends -more assholes- knocked my books out of my hands and ripped up my schedule."
"What?" Owen snapped out. This time the worry really was gone and he sounded pissed. It made me smile, just a bit. "Didn't anybody say anything? Or stop him? Aren't there supposed to be teachers in the halls to keep stuff like that from happening?" he asked rapid fire, getting more and more worked up. Over me. The smile widened into a full on grin. Owen saw it, stopped, and cocked his head. "What's the smile for?"
"You." I said simply. "Getting all defensive for me over something that happened at the beginning of the year." My grin shrank to a warm, thankful smile. "No one ever gets like that over me."
"Andy..." Owen said quietly with a sad look on his face that was so Nurse Amy that even if I didn't meet her today I probably would have guessed that they were related somehow. It made me feel.....safe. Looked after. In a way that I never got before, even from Nurse Amy. But speaking of her, I kinda needed to get to the point of this story before we got too off topic and it just came up again later.
"That wasn't the first time something like that happened." I tried to sound as matter of fact as possible, but with Owen's concern and protectiveness stirring up my emotions I don't think I was too successful. "I know you saw a little bit of it when you were following me around but it's been happening since I started school pretty much and it's gotten worse over the years. This year especially....."
And just like that the whole story came pouring out. Jarred, Simon, Brandon, Kevin, years of getting made fun of, the locker, Coach Williams, everything. I didn't meant to tell him so much. I just wanted enough backstory so he'd understand how important his mom was for me at school but once I started it all came pouring out. It felt wrong to tell Owen only a half truth. I wanted him to know the whole story of me. And, yeah, maybe I wanted more of that amazing concerned protectiveness, so what?
In a surprisingly not-Andy move I actually kept eye contact with him the whole time I was talking. Something I promised myself I'd try to do more often, at least with him, because when you look at the person you're talking to instead of the floor or a wall you see all the little emotions that what you're saying causes them to feel in their face and eyes. Owen went from completely appalled to heartbreakingly sad to righteously angry and back again over and over as I told my story. And maybe this is gonna make me seem like a bad person but everything, even the sadness, made me feel good. I'd NEVER had anyone get that emotional over me. Not even Cheryl. She usually just gets pissed off whenever she sees something happening or I tell her about it, followed by pitying and regretful. Owen seemed like he was feeling EXACTLY what I was feeling at the time when I described anything that happened to me. Like it hurt him the way it hurt me.
That strange feeling in my chest grew until I thought I'd explode from it.
"Oh Andy...." he said, soft and pained after I finished. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." And then he did something amazing. He reached across the table, rested his hand on mine, and squeezed it tightly.
Everything except that hand stopped existing. I couldn't feel or see a single thing but his soft hand tightly holding mine. But not even the world disappearing could slow down my rapid fire thoughts. Oh my god, he's touching me! He's touching me! He'stouchingehe'stouchingme'he'stouchingmehe'stouchingme! That's OWENS hand and it's TOUCHING ME. No! Not just me. He's touching MY HAND. With HIS HAND. Oh my god. We're HOLDING HANDS!
Nothing has EVER felt this good. Not since I accidentally discovered masturbation. Hell, this was even BETTER.
I have no idea how long I sat there in a daze just fucking enjoying the moment, but slowly the rest of the world started to fade back into existence. Owen was looking right into my eyes. He looked less hurt for me than before, but that probably had a lot to do with the big, sappy smile I could now feel on my face. But he still seemed like he was waiting for something.
And then I realized I'd just been sitting here staring at him for who the hell knows how long and he's probably waiting for you to SAY something, dork.
"Th-thanks." I said, then blushed at how stupid and generic that sounded. It wasn't nearly good enough to explain how it made me feel. Not just the hand holding, but everything. "I...." I trailed off and swallowed the stupid, shy boy lump in my throat. If there was ever a time I would have given up anything to be more confident, this was it. "It means a lot-no, it means even more than a lot. It means everything. No one ever cares, not like that, it just....." I fought back a frustrated sigh at how freaking HARD it was to explain this. "It means everything. Thank you." I finished lamely.
"I care." Owen said, quiet and serious, his eyes never leaving mine. They seemed to light up with determination and something else that I couldn't figure out but it made my heart melt and do backflips at the same time. "I've cared for a long time. I don't think I ever won't." Then I saw him wince quickly and his eyes filled with apology. "And if I had any idea how bad it really was I would have run up to you way before now and grabbed you and never let you go, no matter how shy I was. I'm so sorry I didn't. God! If I'd just KNOWN-"
I cut him off, not with my epic Cheryl skills but by turning my hand over in his and squeezing back. His eyes widened slightly in surprise and I smiled, trying not to let how wonderful Owen 'never letting me go' made me feel distract me from making him feel better about this. "It's ok." I said forcefully. "You don't have ANYTHING to be sorry for. Honestly, if you came up to me before last week I probably would have ran away. I wasn't looking for-" I faltered here. What do I say? I wasn't looking for a boyfriend? Are we boyfriends? Would that be, I dunno, presumptuous or something? I wasn't looking for a friend? Wouldn't that make whatever this is seem like less that it is? I wasn't looking for.....what? And then the answer just came easily. Owen. I wasn't looking for Owen. Whatever we are or aren't, he's the most important part of it. "-someone like you. And even if you tried to help me, I probably wouldn't have believed you. It......wouldn't have been the first time someone pretended to be nice to me just to mess with me."
Owen sighed frustratedly. "It's still not right." he said indignantly.
"I know." I said with a small shrug. "But it's my life."
"Not anymore." he said it evenly, almost without inflection at all, but his eyes blazed with promise and.....that other thing and I felt.....I can't even describe it. It was like a weight in my chest went away but it was still there, or.....something. I told you I couldn't describe it! But it was nice. And it made me smile.
Which made Owen smile.
Which made me giggle and blush. (Which made me blush even more. Stupid twelve year old girl possessing my body....)
Which made Owen squeeze my hand.
Which made me.........realize I was holding Owen's hand.
My breath caught in my throat and I snatched my hand out from under Owen's and shoved it under the table, as if that could hide what we'd been doing. Oh shit, I was holding a boys hand out in the open where ANYONE could see. What the hell is wrong with me!?
When I'd pulled my hand back I'd taken my eyes away from Owen and after a few seconds of trying to push down the rising panic and trying NOT to think about who might have looked over and seen I looked back at him. His hand was still where it was when it was holding mine and he had a confused frown on his face. His eyes flickered down to his empty hand, then back to mine. Oh no, is he insulted? Did he think I was rejecting him? No, he has to know better, right? He was worried about his mom finding out so he's not out so he wouldn't want anyone to see him holding hands with a boy. Of course. That makes sense. Perfect sense. So he knows exactly why I took my hand back. Right.
He opened his mouth to say something and I swear to every god that ever existed that if he'd asked me about it I would have told him exactly why I panicked and made it clear that it had nothing to do with him, but before he could say anything the waitress came back with our food. By the time she left I was convinced that not talking about it was the right thing to do. I mean, he already knows so there's no need to have an awkward conversation where I apologize for pulling away and HE apologizes for doing it in the first place and, honestly, I didn't want to hear him apologize for it. Even though I knew it was stupid to do I really, really liked how it felt holding his hand. I didn't want to hear apologies for our first hand hold.
"So!" I said, brightly and not at all (and by that I mean exactly) like I was trying to change a subject. "What's with all the posters?" Then I had to fight to keep from SLAPPING myself at how that sounded. "Not that I don't think they're cool or anything! I'm not one of those poster haters or something! I just.....there's a lot and....um...."
Owen laughed, thankfully saving me from having to finish that sentence. "How do you do that?"
I blinked. "Do what?"
"Make something like asking a question so adorable." he replied with a soft smile.
My heart sped up a bit but I still went with my default reaction to something like that and glanced away and mumbled, "I'm not adorable."
"Yes, you are." he said fondly and I looked back up at him. He had a warm expression on his face, but not at all like the one Cheryl has when she calls me "cute" or "adorable". He didn't look at me like I was a puppy that just fell off a chair. He looked at me like I was a person. Who just happened to be adorable. I could get used to that I guess.
I smiled shyly at him and blushed. "If you say so." I said quietly.
I half expected him to say something like "I do" and look at me some more until the conversation died an awkward, socially inept Andy death, but like a bunch of other times he seemed to have this supernatural ability to know how to keep a conversation with me going. So instead he just grinned. "So, you really wanna know about the posters?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I....kinda don't know what most of them are....but they look cool!" I added quickly.
He laughed under his breath and I wondered if I was being adorable again. Before I could do something stupid like ask though, he started talking about his posters and how he got them and why he started collecting. I probably understood half of what he said but in between all the "Liquid Snakes" and "Hitachiin Twins" and "TARDIS's" and "Harry Dresdens" we actually ended up having a pretty decent conversation, especially for one where 50% of the people involved were me. And I even got to break into his story with a giddy grin and a "Hey! I've heard of that one!" after a few movie and video game titles and even one anime title. Ranma ½ if anyone's curious. Between that, Owen's protectiveness and the always awesome Uno's food, the first part of our date was even better than I hoped it would be.
And if we never got around to talking about the hand thing, well, all the better. Right?