School years tend to start mid-week, and this year was no exception. I was up early that Thursday, spending a little less time with Bruno and getting the stink eye from his owner as I dashed off so I wouldn't be late. I parked in my assigned spot, happy about this last first day, and headed inside. My homeroom was in building two on the third floor. Building one backed up to the parking lot, so I went in and climbed the stairs to the glass corridor that stretched between one and two. I was humming to myself and jerked my hand slightly in surprise when it felt like someone tried to grab it.
Still walking, but slower, I looked back to find Corey behind me, phone out, smiling and reaching for my hand again.
“What are you doing?” I grumbled and turned away from him.
“Noah Seaford,” he said, and I could hear the grin in his voice. “Date me?”
“Jesus Christ,” I grumbled and lengthened my stride.
“Day three, Noah! Day three,” he said behind me.
“Whatever the fuck that means,” I said under my breath, hitting the stairs and climbing up to the third floor.
Thankfully the school day was pretty mundane. New login information for the school laptops, teachers going over how to turn assignments in and how to reach them if we needed help. The whole day was a breeze, really, though I kept an eye out for Corey's stupid ass. After last bell I trotted down to the locker room and swapped into joggers and a tee shirt before heading out to stretch and join the cross-country team.
My older brother Ian was the family jockstrap, but my parents had this thing about joining. They wanted us to be part of clubs and activities and whatever. So in the fall it was cross country and in the spring it was track. Winter was anime club, but really I did these things because I was coerced. Running was okay – kept me in some kind of shape, and at least I didn't have to learn a bunch of rules about if something was a goal or a touchdown or – you know what's weird? In basketball it's a field goal if you score. I mean, officially. I mean...where's the field? Who thought of that?
So, running it was. I stretched my hamstrings, twisted at the waist and reached behind me to grab my foot and stretch my thighs, shins and the tops of my feet. I wished I could listen to music while I ran, but it wasn't allowed.
“Sorry,” a guy mumbled as he slightly jostled me while I was stretching my thigh. He grabbed my arm, and I slammed my foot back down to regain my balance.
“Whoa,” I said involuntarily.
“Sorry,” he said again, turning from me. He looked kind of familiar – tall, like six foot two or so. Blond hair – like blond blond. Not dirty blond, not sandy like Ansel. Not a strawberry blond, just the color of a field of wheat. He had on a tee shirt with the school logo and runner's shorts revealing just how damn long his legs were. He wasn't skinny, otherwise the legs would make me think of a stork, but rather he seemed normal – toned legs, wide shoulders.
I wondered where I'd seen him before. The coaches led us through some stretching, talked about breathing properly and a bunch of things I'd heard before. It was irritating me that I thought I knew this guy but couldn't put my finger on who he was. I hate that feeling of knowing you know something and it's just out of reach in your mind. Like, who does my brain think it is to keep things from me?
The group set out at a jog and I fell in, slowly working my way to a comfortable pace along a very familiar route. I thought about my car – had to bring that in Saturday morning – and then thought about having to work my shift on Friday and not being sure if I'd want Darrion there or not, and then I wondered what the hell Corey was doing.
I'm not a bad looking guy, objectively. My acne had never been a huge problem. The running kept my stomach flat, but I didn't have a six pack or anything. My hair was fine, nothing to write songs about. I wasn't overly tall, didn't have movie-star looks – although Victor said I had the warmest eyes he'd ever seen, whatever that meant.
I let my mind wander to that last summer and my time with Victor. He was from Texas, his grandparents having emigrated from Mexico. His parents had stayed in Texas, while his grandparents had moved north, because they, unbelievably, liked the snow. They claimed they moved to our town so they could experience all four seasons and they liked watching the leaves change colors.
I liked autumn as well, the various colors of the dying leaves. I'd gone home a few times and spent many evenings on my computer adding in falling leaves to some random, unfinished piece of art I'd worked on. I liked autumn colors. I liked that the leaves showed so much beauty in the act of dying. If you have to go, might as well put on a show, I guess.
By the time we'd run our circuit through local neighborhoods and gotten back to the school, I was sweating all over and very ready to stop running. I mentally cursed my parents for forcing this joiner thing on me as I worked to catch my breath, lifting my arms up to give my lungs more room for air. I made my way to my car and got my water bottle. I slurped a bit and then squirted some over my head and shook the excess from my hair. Huh. Maybe Bruno was rubbing off on me.
I got into my car and frowned, spotting a piece of paper under my windshield wiper. I leaned out and snagged the paper, unfolding it. Jesus Christ. Suddenly I felt like I was in third grade. The note said 'Date me?' and had two boxes, one marked yes and the other marked no. The 'yes' box was pretty large and the 'no' box was pretty dang small. I glanced around but didn't see Corey anywhere, and with a growl I crumpled the paper.
I went home and had dinner, showered and spent the last of that first day messing around on my phone. I tried not to be irritated with Corey, but I was going to have to do something about this sooner or later.
Friday was more of the same, except Corey was filming me at my car, asking me if I got his note and saying, “Date me?”
“Corey. Stop,” I said, unamused.
“Day four!” he said, disturbingly perky and undeterred.
“What the hell does that even mean?” I asked. Well, demanded.
Corey just smiled at me – fucking winked – and walked away.
Winking has to be the dumbest physical thing a person does – ever. It even looks weird in anime, and it's always exaggerated – like, don't miss the wink! See how they wink? It means something when they wink – don't miss it? What genetic defective decided a wink was something sexy instead of what it really looks like – you've got something in your eye.
I sailed through my day and went to my afternoon practice. For some reason I thought about Victor again. We'd met when he came into my store before I'd transferred to the coffee counter. He needed a new charging cable for his phone – his had developed that break down by the end that was so common, and his phone had died while he was driving to his grandparents’. I asked him where he was going and gave him easy directions, since I happened to know the road he was looking for.
He'd told me the card reader wasn't reading and asked if I could swipe it behind the counter, which I had. Then he walked out, only to come back and ask me for another copy of his receipt. I'd printed it and handed it over, but he asked for a pen while taking it. Then he wrote down his number and handed it to me with a grin.
“Just in case I'm right,” he'd said.
The last bell rang, bringing me back to the present, and I headed down to practice. Mr. Tall and Blond was there again, which reminded me that I should know him, and I was mildly annoyed I'd forgotten all about trying to remember where I knew him from – and that it still escaped me. It wasn't like it was important, but it was still annoying.
As we started running I kept my eyes on him. Tanned arms contrasted with a white tee, and the shirt was long enough that it covered his running shorts enough to make you wonder if he had anything on under that shirt at all. I tried to think about his stand-out features and where I could have seen them, besides randomly in the hallway. His blond hair was sort of unique just because there were so many varieties of blond.
The white-blond is pretty rare where I live; people with 'dirty' blond hair seem much more common. This guy had a dark yellow that made me think of autumn leaves – oak leaves, turning bright colors before falling. So...unique hair that tickled something in my memory, but nothing clicked. The only other unique thing about the guy was his freaking legs. He must have a huge advantage over other runners from the long stride, and I wondered if he also ran track in the spring. Was that where I knew him from? I didn't remember anyone that damn tall from last year.
By the end of our run I hadn't made any progress, but I was also kind of over it. When I got home my mom called out to me to hurry up and shower since dinner was nearly ready. I got cleaned up and joined my family at the table. My sister was being a brat, because she hadn't wanted to take off her dance stuff when she got home and my mom had made her. My mom was telling her to eat, and my sister just crossed her arms and shook her head.
“Oh, Noah, I forgot – how did you make out with your tire the other day? Ansel take care of you?” my dad asked.
I bobbed my head, swallowing. “He said he was going to call you – my tires are shot.”
He shook his head. “It's one of those things that wear out periodically. Should probably have him check the brakes while it's there.”
“I have to bring it tomorrow morning. Kind of surprised he works Saturdays.”
“Well, he used to work over at the shop off Germantown Road, and he's taken care of our cars the last few years. There was some crap that went on down there. He decided to open his own shop, and we followed him. Being such a new place, he's probably working seven days a week.” Dad shook his head. “It's really hard to find honest people, but he's a good one.”
I played some video games while texting on and off with Kendra. Later I lay in bed and glanced through some of the texts Victor had sent over the summer. It was nice having a summer fling. Was sort of sad it was over, but I could still look at it and it felt sweet – unlike looking at Marc's hoe ass. Somehow I ended up looking at the cross country team's ’gram, and I scanned through the images looking for the guy whose name was eluding me.
He was sort of like an itch. I could get over it for a while, but later I was going to go back, because the not knowing when I thought I should know was eating at me. I thought I saw his hair color on someone from last year, but man – if that was him, the change was way more than a glow up.
In the morning I was up early, and my mom followed me over to drop off my car. Once back home I made up some breakfast for Bruno and went to sit with him for a little bit. Bruno inhaled his breakfast and then did his wiggle butt routine while I scratched his ears. Eventually he settled in beside me and closed his eyes. I pulled out my phone and used the pen and a sketch app to work on a little drawing of Bruno sleeping. I added in his doghouse, putting a crooked name tag over the door. Even though it was still a month or so off, I added a few drifting leaves, warm yellow, from Bruno's oak.
My dad dropped me off at work for my shift, and Darrion greeted me with a wide smile. “Your stalker has been here twice today.”
“My stalk – Jesus, you mean Corey?”
“He the one who brought flowers last week?”
“Yes,” I grumbled. “Guy won't take no for an answer.”
“Do you mind if I ask a personal question? I mean, obviously you don't have to answer. I just don't want to piss you off by asking.”
I chuckled. “I'm not that interesting, but...okay.”
“Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
“Well I...” I paused. “Not really. Just hookups. I mean, a nice fling over the summer. And the summer before that.”
“You into studying or something? No dick during the school year?” he asked with a grin.
I rolled my eyes and shrugged. “Not intentionally. Now I guess I'll see what I find in college.”
We had a flurry of customers and got busy filling orders, not really able to talk much. Kind of funny, now that I think about it. Marc and I started up just as a school year was ending, and we sexed our way until the end of August. Then he left my neck twisted with how fast he moved on to Kendra. I guess I'd been pretty pissed for part of that school year, so maybe there had been dating options and I'd missed them. Then this past summer had been Victor. He'd shown up right as school ended, and it wasn't long before we were pretty well known to each other.
But with his grandparents moving into their condo and the summer ending, Victor was gone. I missed the physical stuff, no question, but I also missed the hanging out. We didn't talk much, but some people you can do that with – just be still and it's cool. I even drew a few frames of a comic with him as inspiration for a character; problem was I had no imagination. I had no idea what a guy like Victor – or his avatar – would be doing besides hanging out with me.
Darrion brought me back to the present. “I hope you don't think guys change in college.”
I snorted. “No. Like I said, it's just worked out that way.”
“Boyfriends are strange,” he said, while we filled the cup racks and cleaned up from our rush. “My first one was in seventh grade, and he was one jealous motherfucker. If he saw me talking to people, he was all up in my shit. Then when I was in high school I met this college guy, and he was just weird. He'd act all stuck up in public and then try to grope the shit out of me in his car – and he wasn't a good groper, you know?”
I laughed. “There's good gropers?”
“Hell, yes,” he said with a grin. “Sometimes a good grope is just what you need!”
I laughed again.
Darrion pushed my shoulder down hard, and I grunted as I dropped to the ground, off balance. “The fuck?”
“Are you back again?” Darrion asked, holding a finger to me, and I stopped trying to get back up.
“I didn't see his car, but I thought he usually works Saturdays.” Shit. Corey.
“As much as I'd like to see his fine,” Darrion paused, “fine ass at work.” I punched his hip and he shifted slightly, humor in his tone. “You're right – car trouble. Tires, I think he said.”
“Oh. Is he coming in later?”
“I hope so! Bitch left me by myself,” Darrion leaned forward on the counter. “Are you...alone?”
Corey chuckled. “I'm after Noah, if that's not obvious.”
“Oh, it is. But you being after him means you haven't caught him yet, so, you know, fair game,” Darrion said, flirting outrageously. I put my hand over my mouth to stifle a laugh as I backed up against the counter.
“Nah,” Corey said. “Noah didn't see me coming, but I'm going to get him.”
“You know...that doesn't sound what you'd call...healthy,” Darrion said.
“No, no,” Corey said. “It's not normal, no, but he's got to have time to adjust. He didn't know I was gay, so I kind of sprung it on him. But he's going to come around.”
“Oh, honey,” Darrion said, his tone unconvinced.
“Well. Maybe he'll be in tomorrow,” Corey said. “Later.”
I stayed on the floor while a customer stepped up and ordered a drink, just to be sure Corey didn't turn around and see me. After Darrion let me know it was safe I got back up and dusted myself.
“That boy wants your dick,” Darrion said as soon as the customer was gone.
I snorted. “Thanks for running interference.”
“Just out of curiosity – what is your type?”
I thought for a second. “Hell if I know. All I can really tell you is I'm not into guys that are jockstraps.”
Darrion paused and then said slowly. “Jockstraps can be kind of...sexy. If you know what I mean.”
I shook my head and laughed. “No, not the kind you wear. Some people just...take sports too seriously. I'm okay watching a game or something sometimes, but I just don't get as invested in it as some people do.”
“No, not that they're interested. Like, I have plenty of stuff I feel pretty strongly about. It's the attitude that goes with most of the jockstraps – the toxic macho bullshit attitudes is what I can't stand.” I shrugged. “They're not all like that, but my brother was a jockstrap in high school, and I saw lots of that from his buddies – and him.”
“Fair,” Darrion said with a nod. “I've met those guys – I know exactly who you mean. You're right that they're not all like that. Corey seems...nice. Obsessive, but nice.” He glanced at me. “Maybe you should give him a try?”
I exhaled. “I'm just not interested. I'm not attracted to him, and him not taking no for an answer isn't helping.”
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “That's fair, too. I wonder how long he'll chase you?”
“I hope he stops soon,” I said without much hope. Corey seemed like a lost cause.
“Well, maybe I can rebound him once he gets the message,” Darrion said with a grin. I couldn't help laughing at him, and he joined me. We ended up with an unusually steady run of customers. We had started cleaning up between making online orders when this girl who seemed familiar stepped up to the counter. Why did I think everyone looked familiar? Was I getting teenage Alzheimer's?
“What can I get for you?” I asked. She placed her phone on the counter and touched the screen to keep it awake.
“First...are you single?” she asked, looking up at me.
“Oh, honey,” Darrian said, clucking. “Talk about the wrong tree.”
“Oh! Well, that answers number...seven,” she said, tapping her screen and then looking back up at me expectantly.
I sighed. “Tell Corey I said no. N. O. I'd like it if he stopped...whatever this is.”
“Corey?” she asked with an air of confusion. She looked down at her phone and mumbled as she tapped the screen, “Number fourteen – Corey, question mark.”
Darrion stepped up beside me. “Who are you gathering intel for, honeybun?”
“He's not chicken, just unreasonable,” she said defensively.
“Who?” Darrion cooed.
“I'm going back to work,” I said with a sigh. Darrion tried to squeeze her for information, but she deflected like a pro. She left eventually. I wasn't sure if she'd actually gotten info on me or not, and I was kind of curious who she thought she was helping. I finished cleaning the coffee pots – we only kept a few active so late in the day – and turned to find Darrion leaning against the counter and studying me.
“What?” I asked.
I waited a beat and then prompted him. “About?”
“Well, you're not a bad looking guy. Not my type, but I'm trying to figure out what it is exactly that has these two boys losing their shit over you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Corey is being overboard, sure, but that's not really two guys losing their shit.”
“Well,” he said with consideration, “you might have a point. Didn't sound like that girl exactly had her boy's blessing to go gather details on you. But my point is you've got two boys kinda fighting over you. In a way.”
I started to rub one eyeball, which felt a bit twitchy.
“But whenever you break Corey's heart, let me know. I'll scoop that one up for a bit.”
I looked at him with one eye. “For a bit? Like you know it's temporary?”
He nodded. “He's a drama waiting to happen. Lot of young guys are that way – everything is a Big. Fucking. Deal.” He rolled his eyes. “Some things are important, of course, but it takes some boys a while to figure out that drama just isn't worth it – and some people just can't get by without drama.”
“Well, feel free to bag Corey now,” I grumbled.
My dad picked me up in my car and made a few noises about how much shoveling I'd be doing that winter to pay for the tires, but I knew he'd paid because the car has to be safe. My parents make me pay the insurance, registration and gas, but if a big repair comes up, they help me out. They say it’s so I understand that things cost money and so I learn to manage mine, but that they are my safety net too. I feel a little like a kid until something big like this happens, then I'm kind of relieved – and a little ashamed.
Being a complete person is kind of a moving target.