I looked at the newspaper that was dropped on the table I sat at. My face was on it again, but this time it was referring to the fact that I was in the hospital. People were assuming a new body was about to show up because I got into another fight.
I didn’t doubt a new body was waiting to be found.
Phillip sat in the chair across from me, pointing to the headline. “What happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe me. Nobody believes me.”
“Werewolf attack?” He tilted his head.
“It was... My brother was there.” I swallowed. “He’s probably the reason I’m still alive. He still doesn’t believe the wolf he fought was a werewolf. Why would a wolf break into our cabin to attack me in my sleep? Animals don’t do that. People do.” I folded my arms on the table, leaning forward. “Animals only attack out of defense. People will attack innocent people.”
Phillip swallowed, unsure of what to say now.
I sat back again. “Don’t believe me. Even the cops believe me, which surprises me. They believe me about the werewolves and I’m going to find out more about them and confirm my theory as to why they’re after me.”
He looked at the newspaper. “So,” he changed the subject. “You’re brother saved you?”
“He did. I was pissed at first but what can I say? He’s spent most of his time here forgetting I exist. I had a right to be mad that he suddenly cared.”
“Why doesn’t he care?”
“He’s weird. I don’t know. Because I’m judged. If he forgets I exist, he doesn’t have to defend me and get hated for it.” I shrugged.
He shook his head. “That doesn’t seem right. I’m sure he cares about you.”
I coughed. “Now he does.”
Phillip looked back at the deli counter and turned to me again. “I’ll defend you if it comes to it.”
“You don’t even believe me about the werewolves. How do you expect to defend me?”
“I don’t have to agree to defend your right to be treated humanely. You matter no matter what.” He smiled.
I laughed. “Defending someone you don’t agree with? Wow, what a concept.”
He nodded, leaning forward. “It exists. It’s rare but it exists.”
I tilted my head at him, studying his eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses. “Rare... I guess people like you must be rare then.” I rested my cheek on my hand.
“I wouldn’t say I’m rare at all.” He chuckled.
“No, I think you are. How many other men here would be my friend? How many believe I didn’t kill those people? How many would defend me despite thinking I’m crazy? Not many. Not in this town. You are special, Philly. You’re amazing. The wife you marry will be one lucky woman.”
He laughed a bit nervously. “Right.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Husband? I know you said you couldn’t get girls in high school but I don’t know.” I shrugged.
“It’s not that I’m gay. It’s that I’m not too sure if the girl I like would like me back. I told you I’m not good with that kind of thing.”
“Why is that?”
He took a deep breath, inhaling and then exhaling. “She’s really amazing but definitely out of my league. I’m not her type. You can’t say she’s lucky if she wouldn’t feel the same way I do.”
“You’re a nice guy. Any girl who turns you down is a load of bullshit. You’re better than most guys here. Is she some really pretty girl who’s rich and really popular?”
“No, just the opposite, actually. That’s just it. I’m a nice guy. Nice guys finish last.”
I frowned. “What makes you believe that?”
Phillip leaned forward some more and looked at me, shaking his head. “Everything. I’m in my mid-twenties. I’ve never had a girlfriend. Nice guys finish last.”
I shifted my gaze towards the table. Silence kept its hold on me. How did I respond to that? The guy had never experienced that before.
“Wait, Philly...” I brought my gaze back to him and he waited for my question. “Are you a virgin?”
His cheeks flushed red and I lifted both eyebrows in surprise. I just stared at him, processing this. How did he stay a virgin?
“You’re... You’ve never been with a girl sexually.”
I smiled a bit. “That’s actually kind of sweet. Not too many virgin men around anymore. I’ve had sex but kudos to you.” I patted his hand.
He laughed a bit. “Sweet? That’s not the usual reaction I get from women.”
“If someone is making fun of you for your choices, fuck them. Not literally, but you know what I mean. I’ll hunt them down and confront them myself. You make your own choices and I’m impressed.” I smiled some more.
“I make my own choices? I’m shocked to find out that kind of news,” he joked, laughing.
I finally rested both my cheeks in my hands. “It’s okay to be different. You don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to. It’s your body.”
“I mean, I’m sure sex is great. I’ve never exactly had a chance to do it but I would rather get to know a girl and build our relationship on an emotional level before we seal it with that physical bond. Sex isn’t required during dating and I’d rather focus on that last when I know she’s perfect for me in every other aspect. I don’t wanna judge her on her moves in bed. Is that wrong?”
I shook my head. “No. It’s nice. I am really interested in what you’re saying. I like seeing another perspective.”
He smiled. “Well, in that case, then let me continue.” He folded his hands together. “People think the only intimacy between a couple is during sex. It’s not true. A couple can connect on an intimate level without having sex. I want to reach that level of intimacy first. It’s when we really connect on an emotional level. I care about our future together and I want to judge her based on our connection because the sex can be great but that doesn’t mean you are meant to be together. Hell, the sex can be terrible but if we really connect first, it won’t matter. I’ll love her too much to wanna give up. We can practice in bed and get better. It’s worth it for love.”
“Have you ever been in love?” I hummed to myself.
“I haven’t. But I think I’m beginning to fall for someone for the first time ever. It’s an interesting experience. I see her and I smile. She’s beautiful. I wish she would see me the way I see her.”
“Well, I’m sure she will come to her senses someday and see you the same way.”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
I looked at the newspaper, turning it so the words weren’t upside down anymore. I was just waiting for that body to show up.
“Why do they call you Hood?” Phillip asked.
I looked at him, swallowing. “Nobody cares enough to learn my name.”
“What is your name?”
I skimmed the newspaper article, noticing my real name wasn’t mentioned once. I crumpled up the paper in my hand. “Shani.”
“Shani. I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s a Hebrew name. It means scarlet and marvelous.” I scratched my head.
He smiled. “That’s fitting. You wear a red cloak,” he paused, pointing to my cloak. “And you are marvelous.”
“Marvelous? I’m marvelous?”
He scooted his chair around to sit next to me. “I think so.” He looked at me. “I like hearing names that aren’t as common. Shani. It sound’s beautiful. Why don’t people want to say it? It’s different from what I hear here.”
I gently tapped my fingers against the wooden table. “Because they don’t care. They see a murderer. What do people do when they see a murderer? They name them. They don’t use their real name because that would humanize them.”
He nudged his shoulder against mine. “When they do such things, they are really dehumanizing themselves rather than you.”
“That could be true.” I nodded. “I just have to try to ignore their insults and rumors. That’s the only way to survive.”
He looked at the deli counter again. “We should go somewhere.”
“Where would you want to go?” I looked at him.
“It’s summer. Why don’t we go swimming?”
I pulled my hood farther onto my head. “I am not a big swimmer.”
“Hm, how about we do something a bit more adventurous than just swimming? Let’s float the river.”
“I don’t have a tube.”
“Then we go buy one.”
I thought about it, picking at my nails. “Okay but not today. How about we go later this week? I work over the next few days. Do you work on Thursday?”
“I do but I get off in the early afternoon, around one.”
“Okay, then we go after that. We get tubes and prepare to float on Thursday. Is that a plan?”
I nodded. “It’s a plan that works for me.”
He stood up. “I’ll plan for it.”
I got up after him. “See you soon.” I left the shop and walked home, surprised at the last of attacks today.
Jason came out from the bathroom with just a towel. Guys were so confident in just a towel. I felt weird if it was my brother. I looked away from him.
“Where did you go?” he asked, shaking his hair.
“I ate a sandwich and talked to Philly. Virgin men still exist.”
My brother stopped shaking his wet hair, looking at me. “Virgin? Phillip is a virgin? This guy is older than me?”
My brother put a shirt on, laughing. “Virgin. Wow. I’m shocked. How has this guy not gotten laid?”
My head snapped to him. I glared daggers, making him uncomfortable. “Because he wants to know a woman because he gets to that step. His sex life is not for you to judge.”
He rolled his eyes. “Why? I bet you he judges our sex lives. We aren’t exactly saints when it comes to sex, Shani.”
“He doesn’t. Phillip is the most nonjudgmental person I know. He may be choosing a different route but he never once gave me any vibe that he thinks of me differently because I’ve been with a few guys.”
He went to his room, yelling, “He still judges us and I guarantee it!”
“I don’t want to make assumptions because my idiot brother is trying to influence me to do so.” I crossed my arms, watching him walk back out with some shorts on this time.
“I’m not an idiot. I’m stating facts. Most people judge people who sleep around. They do in this town.”
I shook my head. “Jason, I am not going to make fun of him. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Judging him for being a virgin is wrong and it won’t be justified just be he’s discretely judging me. What if you’re wrong and I’m right? Then I will be the bad guy for judging him when he never judged me in the first place. I’d rather not jump to conclusions and justify it with the fact that he could be doing the same. The key word is could. He could also very well not be judging me.” I wiggled my finger at him.
He rolled his eyes and walked to the kitchen, grabbing a snack. “If you say so.”
“I just did, you dimwit. I literally just said so.” I walked over and hit him upside the head.
“Excuse me,” he grumbled. He looked at me.
He hit my arm and I gasped. “Jason!” I hit him in return.
This turned into a full out hitting war between twin siblings and I was determined to win against this boy. He finally put his hands up, saying, “I surrender.”
I smirked, putting my hands back at my sides. “I win, as usual.” I grabbed his snack and started munching on it. “Goodnight, dear brother.” I walked back to my room, taking his food with me.