Another week later...
It was a week ago that Percy had visited Marie. Marie was pretty much back to normal, or rather her version of normal, she found she had more energy and will to do things. She still wasn’t completely back and wouldn’t be for a little while yet. But she was finding that the acting she did for others was getting easier. She always started small by doing things like opening the curtains and windows to air out her room. Or make an effort in her appearance, but she did this for her benefit and no one else’s. Going out on short walks or running small errands to make herself feel useful. Sometimes she would cook for everyone as a way to say thank you. The biggest task she found was cleaning her room, there was three weeks worth of washing on her floor as well as glasses that she could probably donate to the universities biology lab. But this was all part of the process, she would wash her clothes and hang them in her wardrobe, clear up loose bits of paper from the floor, hoover, dust, wash and change her bedsheets. While she was cleaning her room it also felt like she was cleaning her mind, her thoughts and emotions were becoming clearer and stronger. After she was finished her room felt brighter and cleaner, but she also felt lighter, there were traces of what had happened like her medication bottles but to Marie it felt like she was putting it behind her. She knew and accepted that she was going to struggle and fall sometimes but she wasn’t going to dwell on it. It was still too soon for her to go back to the cafe and be around so many people. But that didn’t stop Percy visiting her ever day to drop of a hot chocolate and cake.
In fact Percy was staring to spend more time at Marie’s house than his own. Marie was right in thinking that inviting him for dinner would solidify his place in the group. Everyone readily accepted him and everyone had something in common with him. Percy now sat with them on campus or went with them to the library, it was as though he had always been there and Marie was glad to see him starting to relax around them and be himself.
Marie knew she was getting better because she was excited. She was excited because Percy was coming round today after his shift to finish reading her book, they had all evening to discuss it. It was Marie who suggested that he finish her book as she wanted to make up for worrying him, even though Percy was adamant that she had nothing to make up for. But Percy was the one who suggested that he read it there because she would be in a safe space. Marie was ready for any feedback Percy had to give and was excited to get writing again, because even if he didn’t like the ending she was going to continue with it anyway. Byron was also interested in what Percy thought of his artwork and was staring to annoy Marie with the frequency he reminded her to ask him. Marie was sat in her room working on some changes in the first chapter that Percy had suggested earlier, she didn’t realise the time because before she knew it she heard the sound of the front door opening.
Damn it, she thought, she wanted to wait in the living room to be sure Oscar didn’t answer the door. While Oscar liked Percy he could be a bit overprotective of Marie and she was sure he wouldn’t approve of Marie and Percy being her room alone. Even though Oscar knew nothing would happen. Oscar meant no harm but like Marie he had grown up an only child to a single parent, so he saw all his friends as his family and had a soft spot for Marie as a sister that needed his protection. It definitely helped when she had to walk home late at night as his height and general intimidating aura kept the creeps away. But there wasn’t time for that now, Marie had to get down there and save Percy from the hundred questions he was inevitably getting from Oscar.
Percy had arrived early to visit Marie as he had been looking forward to it all day, he really wanted to finish her book but he also liked spending time at her house, it had such a relaxed atmosphere. Everyone was friendly and they weren’t constantly watching to see if he tripped like they did at home. He had often spent all evening at the house talking with everyone and he was disappointed when it was time to leave. He didn’t like to admit it but Oscar’s cooking was better than his mums.
Everyone had welcomed him into their group as soon as they met him, Percy had friends outside the group but he had never felt as understood as he did when he was with everyone here. Percy remembered the first time he stayed and was formally introduced to everyone, he remarked that they didn’t seem like friends but more like a family. Marie made sure that he spoke to everyone and found something in common with them, which wasn’t hard as he knew some of them already. Kami was friends with Asha so they had spoken a couple of times but in getting to know her better Percy found that she was just as imaginative as Marie. Kami spoke about big ideas with a kind of simplistic beauty and her passion for art was infectious. When he complimented her artwork she hugged him, a trait she shared with Marie, and a comforting warmth radiated from her. Percy noticed that they were all tactile with each other, they hugged each other and touched to emphasise points, it was nice to see people being so comfortable around each other. He knew if he did that with any of his other friends he would be mocked but with them it was normal, a way to show affection. Blake was the least tactile, he could see why he was the least popular of the group, he had a clear private school air and was the most elitist out of them. Blake spoke the least, apart from Marie but that was to be expected, but everything he said has meaning and significance. Blake mostly drank and listened. But they discussed their English class and books they had read, Percy learned that Blakes parents owned a publishing company that Blake was going to take over after he graduated. Well at least he’s passionate Percy thought. Oscar had relaxed around Percy and dropped the intimidating air, and with that Oscar seemed to be the mother figure of the group, making sure everyone had enough to eat and got along, he checked in on Marie but not in an invasive way. Apart from Marie he had the most in common with Oscar, apart from their differing ideas on travel, they had read many of the same books and liked the same films. They both had similar ideas and views on the world. Byron was possibly the nicest person Percy had ever met, constantly making sure that Percy had someone to talk to and if he didn’t Byron would talk to him. Byron asked about Percy and his interests and his opinions and seemed to genuinely take them on board, he seemed really touched when Percy mentioned he liked the artwork he did for Marie’s book. Georgiana was by far the most open of the group, they spoke with everyone with an enthusiasm that Percy was jealous of. They weren’t shy, the group seemed to have that effect on people and they openly talked about their interests and passions. Everyone had their role in the group; Oscar was the mother figure, he looked after everyone, Kamila acted as the life of the group making everyone feel comfortable and free to share their ideas, Byron was the best friend to everyone, he never picked favourites (apart from Marie obviously) in debates and acted as a mediator, Blake added a sense of realism often playing devil’s advocate and making sure everyone stayed grounded, Georgiana was by far the most romantic of the group and the self appointed match maker, no one dated unless they knew about it and had researched them first, and by talking to everyone they had a pretty good track record and had even offered to set Percy up (which he politely declined). While Blake brought everyone back down to earth Georgiana reminded everyone to look for the beauty in everything. But Marie was the clear leader of the group, if she spoke they all listened, she kept everyone in line but also made sure everyone had a voice and was having fun. Percy wasn’t sure what his role was, but he knew he had one, they all made sure he knew he was a part of the group, the family.
And he was here again outside the house ready to be welcomed in and treated as a member of the family, Kami had been sure to tell him he can stop by any time and stay as long as he liked. He was still too awkward to turn up unannounced but he was invited every time they all went round or when they all went out. It was Oscar who opened the door for Percy, it was clear he didn’t know he had been invited over but he didn’t mind, he wasn’t nearly as intimidating as last time there was a doorway between them.
“No gift basked this time Percy, I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to mine.” Oscar said smiling, this was now a common greeting for Oscar to give to Percy and he knew it wasn’t going away any time soon.
“No not this time Oscar. Marie invited me over...” Percy trailed off not sure whether to mention why she had.
“You know your welcome here anytime, you don’t have to be invited. But come on in out the cold.” Oscar replied, ushering Percy in.
This is definitely different to last time Percy thought. As he went in the house Marie was coming down the stairs, when she saw him she hugged him tight.
“Percy! Hopefully Oscar’s been playing nice.” Marie said giving Oscar a disapproving look.
“I always do.” Oscar replied.
Marie took Percy’s hand and guided him to the stairs, when Oscar saw this he went into what everyone referred to as ‘overprotective best friend mode’. He exhaled heavily causing Marie to stop and turn around.
“Where do you two think your going?” Oscar said, his friendly air gone.
Percy felt embarrassed, he didn’t realise Marie was taking him to her room when he suggested he read the last of her book here. Did Oscar really not trust him with Marie? Percy knew that Marie was dating Byron. Did Oscar not trust Marie with him? But Marie on the other side only seemed slightly annoyed by Oscar’s comment.
“What does it look like? To my room. Don’t worry nothings going to happen. I swear Oscar you worry more than my actual Papa does.” Marie replied.
Marie didn’t wait for an answer and took Percy up the stairs, Oscar rolled his eyes and went back into the living room. Percy was very aware that Marie was still holding his hand.
“Don’t worry about Oscar, he didn’t mean anything. He just worries thats all.” Marie said to Percy as she could see he was embarrassed. “To be fair you got of easy, Oscar must like you.”
Marie hugged him again before she opened her bedroom door and invited him in. Percy had never been in Marie’s room before and while he hadn’t imagined what it would look like if he did it would look like this. She had a bed in the corner of the room under the window, one side against the wall, another upturned apple crate acted as a bedside table with one of the candles he gave her on it alongside an old style alarm clock and a photo of Marie and a man he assumed as her dad. Opposite she had a huge bookcase filled with books, both English and French versions, and next to it a desk that also acted as a vanity table. Next to the bedside table was a large oak wardrobe that was blocked by a screen lined with mirrors. On the side that faced the room the screen had photos of Marie and her friends. Percy hoped that one day he would be in one of those pictures. Above her bed Percy recognised the asexual flag she had at pride. Marie noticed that Percy had seen it.
“In pride of place as it were. I like to remind my guests whats strictly off the table.” she said to Percy.
“I’ve got a bisexual flag over my desk.” Percy replied
“You should see Kami’s one, she made it herself for pride last year, its beautiful. She’s making me a smaller flag for my desk too but its supposed to be a surprise.” Marie said as she made her way to her bed and sat down.
Percy noticed her laptop on a tray on her bed, for some reason it didn’t occur to him that there was nowhere else to sit in her room. He half expected her to have a couple of chairs somewhere. While he was looking around he didn’t see anything that could belong to Byron, he assumed that as they lived together they would share the same room. Would Byron feel comfortable with him sat next to Marie on her bed? Marie noticed Percy’s confusion.
“We can sit downstairs if it makes you more comfortable. I just thought it was more private in here, but I can kick Oscar out the living room. If its Oscar your worried about he won’t know your sat on my bed.” Marie assured him.
“It’s not that, but would Byron be alright with it.” Percy asked.
“Why shouldn’t he be?” Marie replied, confused.
“Well he’s your boyfriend. He might not like me sat so close to you, on your bed.” Percy said feeling a bit sheepish.
Marie couldn’t believe what she was hearing, she was trying desperately not to laugh but she couldn’t help herself. It was the first time she had laughed in a long time and it felt good.
“You thought I was dating Byron!” Marie said through laughter. “No dear, Byron’s my best friend. I guarantee you there are no feelings between us. I promise you he wouldn’t care. In fact he’s the person who would care the least.”
Percy felt really embarrassed now, he had been so careful not to overstep the mark of give off the wrong impression. But he was strangely relieved to learn that Marie was single after all. Marie in turn was still laughing. He didn’t mind that she was laughing though, it must mean she is feeling better. But Marie could tell that Percy was feeling embarrassed.
“Don’t worry Percy your not the first to think it and you certainly won’t be the last. Now come on I know how much you want to finish my book. And I’m looking forward to your feedback.” Marie said.
Percy felt better knowing he wouldn’t be upsetting anyone. He sat next to Marie as she brought up the document, on the page Percy had got to.
“Do you want something to drink? I should have offered you something as soon as you came in.” Marie asked.
“Coffee please.” Percy replied already absorbed in her book.
“I’ll be back in a minute, make yourself at home.” Marie said as she left the room.
Percy found that he could make himself at home here, the entire environment was relaxed and it felt like home. There was none of the usual awkwardness that was there when you visit someone else’s house. He could happily spend hours here reading.