I was having a lot of confusing thoughts lately.
I wasn’t ill or anything. I was fine, healthy even. Until we came to Ericson’s Boarding School, A.J. and I hadn’t been eating or drinking regularly for weeks. We finally had people taking care of us; new friends, new family. So I wasn’t bothered physically. Nothing really should be troubling me - I was just unsettled by the thoughts I’ve been having and everything that’s come from it.
They were about Louis.
I used to not think about him. The first day I met him, he felt like a stranger to me. But he was the first one I grew comfortable with, and he was the first to fully gain A.J.’s trust. I somehow felt like it was destined for us to meet him. In some weird way, we were kind of missing something before he came along. Or, at least something had existed but wasn’t very strong before.
My thoughts all started back when we had our very first dinner at the boarding school. We sat down to eat, and A.J. practically inhaled his serving before everyone else finished theirs. Before I could insist to him that he could have no more, because we really didn’t want to take advantage of these people sharing their food, Louis had given him his own serving without hesitation.
The look on my face was one I will never forget wearing.
I was so thankful. So appreciative. So...touched by the kindness someone I just met could have. That someone I barely knew gave up their food for my boy. He insisted he’d have it, and that was the moment I felt a warm swelling in my chest. Something...that hasn’t warmed for a long time.
It didn’t end there, either. Louis kept humoring the both of us, and I later remembered how he treated A.J. He let him press the keys of the piano and kept him engaged while I was gone. And, I hadn’t known at the time,(A.J. later confessed to me), but Louis had gone down and helped him back up when Marlon shoved him to the ground. He approached him from behind, and as my boy recalled, it was the first time he hadn’t responded to out of fear. He felt safe, and trusted him.
I did, too. That...was actually where these thoughts came from.
I was first bewildered at the realization that someone could do all of this for two strangers. Someone in the midst of the apocalypse willingly sharing kindness and rations to someone who they didn’t even know very well. I could firmly say that I would not have done the things Louis has done for us, but that doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of it. I’m...more than that. I’m grateful.
But not just that, either.
My thoughts turned from admiration to something else real quickly. The more I spent time with him, the more I realized I was thinking about Louis. I used to constantly think long-term for A.J. and I, making plans for the future and how we’ll search for food and water. The longer I stuck around, the less I worried about those things. I was thinking more of today now, relishing the present more than the future. Exactly what Louis enlightened me of not too long ago.
I found that enjoying my moment meant spending more time with him. I found more excuses to go with him to scavenge or set up traps(I’ve had more experience than ever with these things), and whenever I had the free time, he and I just talked. A.J. didn’t mind having the time alone for himself. Sometimes he just stuck around with Louis and me, and every time he did, Lou would find a new way to make him laugh.
I mused a lot about their interactions at night. In a way, it felt like he was a father figure to A.J. More than his actual one had been...he had never really grown up with one besides Kenny, but I got the impression he didn’t remember a lot about him. He’d been with me his whole life, and even I came to terms with being his maternal figure. He had yet to find a guy to relate to - and now I think his search had finally ended.
“I think I’m going nuts.”
I mutter to myself, shaking my head as I shield myself under a tree. I watch as A.J. plays a game of tag with Tenn and Willy. I find my eyes searching around for him before I can stop myself - and I find Louis standing off to the side with Violet, chatting about who-knows-what. Judging by the look on her face, she seems to be annoyed with their conversation. I look away from both of them before that feeling could surface in my chest again.
I really was going nuts. The last time I’ve had butterflies in my stomach looking at a guy was back when Gabe was around. And even then it was just a crush more than anything - I hadn’t thought of him as much as I thought about Louis. And I certainly didn’t spend as much time with him. I didn’t know a lot about Gabe...whereas I was starting to know more about Lou. Sure, one looked better than the other, and one had one hell of a voice too, but the other had better hair. And he was a lot taller than Gabe ever was.
Why are you comparing them so much?
That was a good question - why WAS I doing this? I knew I liked Gabe, but I was unsure of my feelings for Louis. He was starting to become a good friend...maybe even....
I stop my thoughts before they go any further. It was enough that they bothered me so much at night. He actually appeared in one of my dreams because of how much I’d been thinking of him. I furrow my eyes and clench my fists, coming to my feet and approaching the two figures before I could even think about what I’m doing.
“Louis,” My voice comes out more demanding than I intended. “I need to talk to you.”
He notices my stern look and jumps, but the next moment he regains his composure and dramatically leans down in front of Violet. “It seems my princess desires my presence! I’ll have to continue this talk later, Vi.”
“Thank God.” She rolls her eyes and gives me a thankful look. “You take him. He won’t shut up about cantaloupes.”
He turns to point at her back. “-I would rather DIE to a bunch of walkers than eat another one of those god-damned-OOF!"
I drag him by the arm back to the tree I was resting under. He allows me to guide him before finally getting his balance back, all before I roughly take him to the side. I make sure we’re far away from the others so no one can eavesdrop, but not out of A.J.’s sight. I mentally try to piece together how this conversation is going to go.
“Princess?” Is the first thing I say, raising an eyebrow and crossing my arms.
“Well, you call me your ‘Prince Charming’, so that should make you my princess, right?” He waits for my response but he doesn’t get one. “Should I call you ‘Cinderella’, then?”
I’m tempted to flirt back, but I have to resist the urge. That was weird enough. I decide to be direct and learn forward. “Why are you so nice to A.J.?”
He’s taken back by the question(he was probably expecting something else. Doofus), but answers it regardless. “Oh, uh, he’s a nice kid.”
“There’s got to be more than that.”
“He reminds me of me when I was his age.” Louis grinned. “A troublemaker, but at heart, a good kid.”
“I can’t argue with that.” I relax myself.
My eyes come across him and I forget about my surroundings. I start to count the freckles on his face and admire his jawline...something I normally didn’t care about in people. My eyes just started to come to his collarbone when I notice he’s looking at me, then I briefly look away. My cheeks warm and I start to feel goosebumps crawl up my arms. Here comes that tingly, warm sensation again....
“You seem surprised,” He brings up after a moment. “You act like no one else has been good with A.J. before.”
“That’s because they haven’t.” I pause. “Or, at least he doesn’t let them be...his father wasn’t around and he hasn’t had anyone besides me to look up to.”
“What exactly happened to his dad?” He notices me tense. “If you want to tell me, that is...”
I go silent wondering if I should. It really wasn’t any of his business; it wasn’t anybody’s. I swore not to tell anyone on Rebecca’s behalf, but it’s been so wrong keeping it from A.J. as it is...maybe someone else should know. Just to ease it from my mind. As big-mouthed as Lou was, I trusted him keeping these things to himself.
“We’re not exactly sure who his father is.” I admitted. “He’s named after Alvin because that’s who his mother was with. But this man named Carver...” I shudder mentioning his name. “Let’s just say he was NOT a good person. He, uh, had an...‘encounter’ with A.J.’s mom, and she got pregnant shortly after-”
“-So they assumed it was his, but because she was with Alvin, they named the baby after him and it’s been known as theirs since?”
He noticed my surprised look and shakes his head. “It’s easy to piece together. I, uh... I can’t imagine how that must be. A.J. must not know, huh?”
“No. I was thinking of telling him when he got older, but I don’t know if I should mention it at all.” I glance over to his figure playing with the others. “Alvin was a better man than Carver could ever be. I think it’s better off having it this way.”
He looks me over with a frown. “A lot of fucked up things has happened to you both, huh?” I weakly nod. “Makes sense he wouldn’t let anyone in after all that time. Well, anyone besides you."
“And that’s what makes me really confused.” I confess. “He let you in so easily compared to others who have tried to get close to him. He likes you. And we haven’t known you as long.”
“What can I say? I’ve got natural charm. The kids love me.”
I can tell Louis is just being Louis, but he isn’t wrong. I don’t know a single kid here that doesn’t like him. It’s almost as if he’s had experience with children...he knew the right things to say and do around them. I’ve known people who didn’t know how to do that. It was hard getting A.J. to actually act like a kid for me, sometimes - yet he did it without thinking.
“....Either I have something on my face or you’re staring at me a lot, Clem.”
I didn’t realize I’d been giving him a fond look, and blink repeatedly to snap myself back into reality. “What?”
“I wish you’d just tell me because, y’know, Vi could’ve seen it and not say anything. Last thing she’d want to do is save me from embarrassment. I thought you cared more about me than that.”
He started messing with his hair and I shake my head, chuckling to myself. Okay, that was kind of cute. “You have nothing on your face.” I pause before glance him over. “You look fine.”
He gives a sigh of relief, but I don’t want him to be too comfortable yet. I go on my tiptoes and lean upwards to poke at the side of his cheek. “You are missing a tooth, though.”
He swats my hand away. “Tell me something I don’t know, Princess.”
“If you call me princess one more time, I’m going to kick you.”
“If you’re going to kick your Prince Charming, at least do it with your glass slipper, sweetheart.”
Ignoring how my heart leapt for that last nickname(why the hell was he so good at them?), I lightly tap the side of my boot on his leg. He pretends as if it hurt him, clutching at his knee and giving me an obviously-fake pained look. ”Ouch! If you’d have kicked me any harder, Clem, I would’ve fallen for you!”
“Oh you would’ve, now?” I raise my eyebrow. He comes back up and winks at me, giving me a coy smile.
“Nah, I already have. I probably would’ve just landed in that patch of dirt behind you.”
As I felt my chest tighten at those first few words, he leans closer to me and starts to come down. I widen my eyes and hold my breath - wondering if he was going to do what I thought he was going to do. Instead of reaching my lips, he brought up a hand and rubbed something off the side of my forehead.
“Oh, by the way, you had something here.”
I can feel the blush growing on my face as I watch him leave with my mouth agape. I gather enough courage to give him one last remark. ”Idiot!”
“Still your Prince Charming!” He called back. I could still see the wink he gave me from so far away, and he strutted off. He must feel so cocky finally catching me off guard.
Swearing him off in my head, I turn on my heel and approach A.J. He must be done playing, because he now he was resting on one of the benches and looking at something. I turn and notice he was watching Louis leave through the front gates. I try to hide the blush again and I place my hands on my hips.
“Done playing tag, kiddo?”
A.J. notices me and nods his head. “Yeah. It was fun.”
“Did anyone win?”
“Well, Willy did, but I’ll do better next time.”
“Let’s get you into a new set of clothes. You dirtied yours up.”
He looks down and notices all the mud and grass stains, and doesn’t hesitate to follow me into the building. When we enter out room, I start to go through A.J.’s clothes and picked out something new for him to wear. I’m going to have to clean these again sometime soon...
I listen as A.J. sits on the bed and watches me. I give him his clothes and he looks at it funny. I tilt my head to the side.
“What’s wrong? You like your Disco Broccoli shirt still, right?”
“Yeah, I do.” He took the pile from me slowly. “It’s just...well...” His eyes made contact with mine. “Do you love Louis?”
The breath left my throat and I looked at him in surprise. I tried to regain my composure, wondering how A.J. could’ve asked a question like that at a time like this. I attempt to laugh it off.
“What makes you say that?”
“You smile around him a lot. I haven’t seen you do that around anyone else besides me before.” He fidgets with his shirt. “And you two act more like a couple than friends...Tenn told me the difference.”
“What did Tenn tell you?”
“He told me how Violet and Minnie would have nicknames for each other and they’d sometimes touch their faces or hold each other really close. They laughed and smiled all the time. And, well, you do that a lot with Louis.”
“He’s a funny guy,” I defend.
“No, it’s different. I know you. You love him - but you just won’t admit it.”
I roll my eyes. “Change into your clothes already.”
He hops off the bed and goes towards the closet. He turns around to close the door and change real quick, but before he does, it holds it open and looks at me. I go to tell him to hurry up already, but he speaks before I could.
“Because if you do...I’m okay with that. He makes me smile, too.”
He closes the closet door after that, and I find myself staring at the floor thinking about what he’s just said. I look outside the boarded-up window and listen to the voices in the courtyard. The moment I hear Louis’, I feel my heart beat faster again and bite my lip.
That kid may know more about me than I do...