I showered and thought about Walker coming over as I toweled off. I wondered what we'd do besides look at the sketch I'd made. Talk, probably. Find out about each other. Ask deep, burning questions like what each other's favorite color was. Hanging out like this wasn't a date, so there was no need to dress nicely, but I did wonder what kind of message I wanted to send. If I put on shorts and a tee shirt, which was a little light for outside but fine for inside, was that too casual? Like, casual enough to say hanging out with him wasn't important?
What about jeans? Jeans were kind of restrictive – I'd prefer joggers – but that brought up the question of being too casual again. But didn't I want casual? Like comfortable? We could just be us? Yes. That made sense. I grabbed a light sweatshirt and some dark gray joggers, since I get cold. Whatever else this hanging out would be, I'd be warm and comfortable. I spent a minute on my hair and went out to eat something, even though my stomach was nervous like I was going on a date.
It wasn't a date, though. It was just hanging out. In fact, I should dial back a bit, because I think Walker is interested, but he hasn't said anything. He's just been nice and kind of flirty, but maybe he's just like that. Maybe that's just his personality. But no, Lina's weird behavior definitely pointed to Walker being interested in me.
Well, you know, if it's such a big deal to me, maybe I should just ask him.
My mom came into the kitchen with an empty bowl and headed to the sink. “Are you going somewhere?” she asked.
“Guy from cross country was going to come hang out for a bit, if that's cool,” I said.
She gave me a slightly appraising look.
“What? I have friends.”
“Well, Marc and Kendra, sure. We don't see much of them – not for a while, now.” She smiled. “It's just different.” She paused. “Makes me feel vindicated that you made a friend on the team we made you join.”
I gave her a flat look. “I'm leaving now.”
I checked my DMs for Walker's address and headed over to his apartment complex. The apartments were kind of new, but the parking lots weren't that well lit. I remembered something about when they were built that the town wouldn't let them go over two stories because of the aesthetics of the town and the area the apartments were in.
The developers hadn't been happy and ended up converting some of the apartments mid-build to town houses on one side of the complex. I figured those were more expensive, but then I dismissed them from my thoughts as I pulled up to his building. I DM'd him to let him know I was there. He messaged back to come in. I was wondering where exactly his apartment was when I saw him waving – can't miss someone over six-foot waving at you.
“C'mon, c'mon,” he said, practically hopping from one foot to the other. He was barefoot, with khaki shorts that sat above the knee – I mean, pants probably sat above his knee – and a long sleeved white tee.
“What's your rush?” I asked, grinning at him.
“How can you be so slow?” he asked, putting a hand on my shoulder and steering me through the open doorway.
“I wasn't!” I protested.
“I just have to finish eating,” he said. “I had to wait to use the shower.”
There was a screech from somewhere deeper in the apartment, high pitched and unhappy.
“My little brother,” Walker said as he sat down on a bar stool at the kitchen counter to finish his food. He patted the stool next to him, so I sat. “My dad was fighting with him about showering when I got home, and dinner wasn't quite ready,” he explained.
“No worries,” I said. “My little sister is a terror, so I know what it's like to have an annoying sib.”
“He's usually okay, but lately he thinks he's allergic to getting clean or something, so he does stuff like turning on the water and then turning it off, but then he's not wet. You know?” He stabbed at his dinner with his fork.
“Yeah, I think my older brother Ian tried stuff like that. I paid for it, of course, because my parents were wise to it by the time it was my turn to be allergic,” I said with a little smile.
“You have two sibs?” he asked, continuing to eat.
“Yeah. Ian's at college, second year, and Sandy is in 7th – annoying middle schooler,” I said with a roll of my eyes.
He grinned, swallowed and said, “Matty always acts up more for my dad. My mom works second shift at the hospital, and she takes no shit, but my dad? Little bit of a soft touch.”
A little guy – maybe eight or so – entered the room in his pajamas. “Who're you?” he asked, turning away from me and opening the fridge. Before I thought to answer a tall man with blond hair going gray entered the room.
“Matt, no drinks before bed.”
“I'm thirsty!” Matt whined.
“Shouldn't have dinked around in the shower, then,” his dad replied before smiling at me. “Hi. You're Noah?”
“Yep,” I said with a nod.
“Told my sister her nephew looked like her grandson? That was you?” he asked with a little smile.
“Dad,” Walker said with a tone of warning.
“What? Only I get to make fun of my sister,” he said with a grin.
I smiled slowly. “Working retail, sometimes...you say the quiet part out loud.”
“I'd imagine sometimes it's irresistible – Matt!”
“It's not a drink!” Matt protested, holding a green freeze pop in his hand.
“If you pee green in your bed tonight, Mom's going to have your ass,” Walker said with a grin and shoveled the last of his food in his mouth.
Their dad pointed at Matt. “What your brother said.” He turned back toward me while Walker slid off the stool and went to put his bowl in the sink.
“Dad, cool if I go to Noah's? Going to look at his drawings,” Walker asked.
“Is that anything like going back his room to see his etchings?” his dad asked with an amused tone.
Walker stared at him for a second, and I was sus that something was being implied.
“What's an etching?” Walker asked.
“What's an etching? Or what does that phrase mean?”
Walker shook his head. “You're being sus, Dad. Okay if I go out?”
His dad chuckled. “Be home by ten, asleep by ten-thirty.”
“Sweet,” Walker said. He motioned with his head. “Come on, I need to get socks.”
I slid off the stool and followed him down the hall. The hall ended in four doors – one open to the bathroom, one closed, one partially open with a pair of underwear stuck under the door and then the one Walker pushed open. Walker’s room was small, but I guess that was the nature of apartments. There wasn't much in the room – single bed, small desk and a slim door that was probably a small closet.
He opened the closet, which had some hanging stuff on top and shelves below. He pulled a pair of socks from a plastic basket and half closed the door before sitting on his bed to pull the socks on. “So running is what you do for sports? Not a sports guy?”
“I don't mind it sometimes, but there's a lot of toxic assholery that goes with sports ball a lot of times.”
“I hear that,” he said with a nod and stood up. “My shoes are by the door. Next time you come over, kick your shoes off there, okay?”
“Next time?” I asked, unable to keep a smug smile from my face.
He looked at me blankly. “Yeah. You have to bring me home.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Asshole.”
He grinned widely, and I trailed behind him to the front door, where he dropped to the floor and yanked his shoes on. “Be back, Dad. Love you,” Walker said as he opened the door.
“Night, Mr. Kay. Um, barely know you so...like you?” I asked, trying to be funny.
“Hah. I got my eye on you, Mr. Etchings,” he said, winking.
“Okay, that's just weird,” I told Walker after the door was closed. He just laughed. We climbed into my car, and I drove us back to my house while Walker played with the radio. I'd normally have streamed through my phone, but it amused me to see what he found on the radio. He'd tune in a station and look at me, then move on without my input. It was kind of cute.
We walked into my house through the back porch, and Bruno came scurrying from the living room, barking as he did. I tried to meet him, but he swerved around me and went right to sniffing Walker. Walker toed off his shoes and knelt down, but Bruno skipped away and was suddenly interested in me again.
“Who are you?” Walker asked.
“That's Bruno,” I said, deciding to take my shoes off as well.
“Are you Bruno? Are you?” Walker asked him in an excited baby tone people only use with animals and small children. Bruno wagged and bounced toward Walker and then back again, wagging and whining.
I got us drinks, which proved to be a tactical mistake as my mother breezed into the kitchen.
“Hi,” she said with a smile.
“Hello,” Walker said with a little wave.
“Wow,” my mom said, coming to a stop.
“I know. I'm freakishly tall for my age,” he said with a grin and a nod.
She chuckled. “I saw your shadow getting out of the car and I thought, 'What in the world? I thought Noah was bringing home a friend from school!'”
We shared smiles and the kind of polite laughter that can easily be the step before things get awkward.
“So what are you guys up to?” my mom asked, getting her own drink and extending her nosiness.
“Noah drew me. I'm here to critique his work,” Walker said with a sneaky grin.
“Oh?” my mother asked, looking to me.
“No, no. He thinks it's him, but he'll see – it's not,” I said, feeling my face get warm.
“Uh huh. Well, I'll let you guys get to that mystery,” she said, finally leaving me with Walker.
“C'mon,” I said and led him deeper into the house and to my room.
“Wow. You got some space here,” Walker said as I nudged the door halfway closed.
“Yeah. My parents put some extra rooms on the house when they were thinking of selling, but then my sister was born. I'm good with it – I like my space,” I told him.
He was standing in the middle of my room just looking around, and I felt fidgety. What did he think of what he saw? What should I say or do?
Walker smiled. “I like it too. So. Where's my drawing?”
I rolled my eyes and pulled out my tablet. “You'll see. Lina was just seeing things,” I said, even though I knew full well I'd had him in mind the whole time.
“I like the idea of someone wanting to draw me. I mean, it's flattering, but also cool that someone sees something unique enough in you that it inspires them to create art. I can't draw, but,” he smiled at me, “I like the idea of being inspiration.”
I chuckled as I pulled the sketch up. “Lina was right about you,” I said under my breath.
“Here it is,” I said, turning the sketch toward him. “That's what Lina saw.”
He accepted the tablet and sat down on my bed. A shiver ran through my chest, and I sat beside him, then shifted over so I was leaning up against my padded headboard.
“Now, see,” he said slowly, glancing toward me and back to the tablet, “this is me. This is me running up a hill, and I bet this is because of the song! When we were listening to Kate Bush!”
“Please,” I said with a smile and roll of my eyes before pulling out my phone and setting some random music to stream.
“See, the real problem here is that this isn't done.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Well, look,” he said, shifting over to lay beside me, the tablet between us. “So here's me with the long legs, running up that hill.”
I just chuckled, giving up the fight about this being him. “Okay,” I agreed. “Here you are, running up a hill.”
“Yep, being all inspirational,” he said in a tone of agreement, and I blushed and rolled my eyes. “But here's the thing. Art speaks, right? So what does this say? That I have long legs and I climb hills?”
“I was thinking,” I said slowly, kind of embarrassed, “about the song. Like you thought. And I was thinking kind of like a panel in a comic – just showing you running up that hill.”
“Which is cool,” he said with a little smile. “But if it's a comic style thing, what's the next panel? What am I running to?”
“I don't know. Running up the hill to make a deal with god?” I quipped.
“I can tell you, the song lyrics make zero sense to me,” he said with a grin. “But my point is, this seems like the first frame. What's waiting for me on that hill?”
I looked at the tablet and then at him. “I don't know. Isn't there something people say about climbing things just because they're there?”
“Uh huh,” he said, looking at me. “But I wouldn't just run up a hill for nothing. I was thinking...what if the next panel was, like, someone I was running to?”
I looked down at the tablet. “You mean like someone you see as you get closer to the top?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Like you could make them a stick figure on the hill, and the second frame is getting to that person.”
I tilted my head, took the tablet from him and popped the stylus out. With a couple of strokes I added in a small figure on the hill, giving it the perspective of the hill being taller than it appeared before the figure was inserted.
“That what you were thinking?” I asked.
“Exactly,” he said. “How long have you been drawing?”
“It's not drawing, really,” I said. “I'm not really good. I just sketch stuff, fool around with it.” I swallowed. “I kind of wanted to develop a style so I could write my own web comic, but...I'm not really good at coming up with stories.”
“Well, I like your drawing,” he said quietly. “And I think you should draw the second panel – me getting closer to the person on the hill.”
“Yeah?” I asked softly. I looked up at him, the stupid question I was nervous to ask – who was the person on the hill?
He nodded and the corner of his mouth twitched like he wanted to smile. “You know it's you I'm running to, right?”
Heat flashed in my chest. “Well, I didn't want to-”
“You should, because it's you. I mean, being fair, you should know it's you.” He hesitated. “I like you.”
A tingling feeling ran up my back, and I shivered and glanced at him. “You don't really know-”
“I like what I know,” he said, cutting me off. “I'm not like Corey. I'm not assuming you're mine because I want that. I'm not going to be all flashy about it. I'm just sayin' that I like you. I want to know more, and I think I'm going to like you more. I'm hoping I'm reading this right and you like me back, a little.”
I let out a shuddering laugh. “I..yeah. I like you.”
“Yes,” he said in a soft cheer, holding his fists in the air. “Now you have to tell me the important things about you.”
I smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”
“Do you like to cuddle? See, I think you would, because you're small, and small people get cold easy.”
“Really? You're going to use my height to make assumptions?”
He pulled at my sleeve. “Sweatshirt.” He pulled at my joggers. “Sweatpants. Stuff you wear if you get cold.”
“It's fall. You can see your breath outside,” I said, trying to be reasonable.
“See, I don't get cold like smaller people do,” he said, as if I'd never spoken. “I like shorts even in the winter, although I will wear a sweatshirt sometimes. Like, if there's a blizzard.”
“That's because you're twice the size of a regular person.”
“Three people, if you're the 'regular' person,” he said with a snicker, and I shoved him, which only made him laugh.
“So are you a sports ball person?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“I like playing for fun. I'm not that competitive,” he said. “I like to run, though. I can think when I run, and people can't talk to you.”
“So. Are you a cuddler?”
I pursed my lips and thought about my experiences with Marc and Victor. “I haven't been.”
He was quiet for a moment and then asked, “So it's not out of the question?”
I shook my head without looking at him, wondering why I felt strange. Like...this wasn't a sexual situation. I wasn't going to fuck him, and I wasn't exactly feeling that kind of...tension, but I did feel something...good? Exciting? Scary?
“So...can I cuddle you and watch you draw me running up to you on that hill?” he asked.
I cleared my throat and shifted so my knees were up and I could rest the tablet against my thighs. “I've never...sketched like that.”
He rolled to his side and rested his head on my shoulder, draping an arm across my chest and tucking a knee under my own. “Can you draw? I mean, is this too much?”
I used my left hand to keep the tablet in place and started to sketch with my right. “I think I can do it,” I said softly, very quietly into a moment that felt...rare.
So I sketched a figure that should be me – joggers on, or something that could have been, and a sweatshirt. Coming up the hill was Walker, headed right toward me. The sketch didn't take that long, less than an hour to have it recognizable as what he'd asked me for, but as it happens it wasn't quite enough.
“Seems like you need a third panel,” he said quietly.
“Sure. I mean, now that I ran to you – what will we do?”
I leaned over and set my tablet on my nightstand and turned back toward him. He resumed his cuddle and I said, “Have you dated before? 'Cause you're pretty confident – like you have.”
“Have you dated before? Because you're really nervous, like you haven't,” he countered.
He grinned. “I didn't mean it in a bad way. I can't get enough of this...whatever we have going on between us.”
I looked away and picked at the knee of my joggers. “I guess I'm wondering what that is. I mean...I guess I haven't really dated. I've had summer flings, which were basically just hooking up with the same guy over and over for the summer, but we didn't...go to the movies or out to eat or anything. It was just sex.”
He grunted beside me. “I've dated a few guys and two girls – but the girls don't really count, because you know what dating is like in fifth grade,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at him briefly and chuckling lightly.
“I learned a lot dating the couple guys I did, though. I made a lot of mistakes – had one of them go on way longer than it should have, until we were kind of toxic to each other. So I kind of have an idea of what I want from someone, and I know what I'm good at and not good at – except sex. You're way ahead of me on that.”
“So...what is it you want?” I asked.
“I...want someone I can understand. I like some mystery, I like learning about a person, but I don't like drama and head games. I want someone I can spend time with being quiet and being, you know, excited – going places is just as much fun as sitting home and bingeing on a show we like. I want someone who'll just be honest with me if they aren't into me or if they just don't feel like I do.” He paused. “Like, it takes some strength to break things off without being a douche, you know? Without trying to hurt the other person so you can feel like you have a good reason to break up.”
I looked at him. “How many assholes have you dated?”
“Enough to know I avoid certain ones,” he said. “I know you're not like that. I can pick up how different you are right away. I learned a lot just watching Corey blow himself up doing all the wrong things with you.” He snuggled a bit closer, and I let him pull me tighter. “You don't seem to be into drama. You want respect. You don't like being forced into groups, but it seems like you're okay with one-on-one time. You don't seem to mind being cuddled. It's not like we know everything about each other, but...I really like what I know.”
I wiggled out of his grasp and moved down so I could turn into him and rest my head on his shoulder, and we held each other. “I do get cold easy. I don't like crowds or parties, but I can do them for a little while if I need to. Like birthdays or a holiday, but it's not my favorite thing. What I want...is more of this feeling you're giving me. Like...that we like each other and it's not...doesn't have to be stupid. I'm saying this wrong.” I took a deep breath. “This feels like more than someone just wanting to get laid. I like that.”
“Oh!” he said. “I like this song. Do you know it?”
Startled by his sudden change in direction I paid attention to the speaker. “Uh, yeah. It's old.”
“It's called Desperado, by a band called The Eagles. My dad said his dad used to love them, so we had some of their music laying around.” He pushed his face next to mine. “This song makes me think of you. Kind of by yourself, not knowing you don't have to be.”
“What?” I asked, chuckling. “You think I'm damaged or something?”
“Nope. Just nobody took the time with you. I'm going to do that.”
I chuckled and said to him, “Oh, so like the song says, I just have to come to my senses?”
“Exactly. Just admit I'm right for you, and we'll go from there.”