VI. The Forced Date
I stared at the clock, willing it to move faster. I was in the final period of the day and all I wanted was to go home and work on a story that I could give Mr. Hill since I didn’t have work again until tomorrow and I had no homework to do, which was extremely rare.
I continued sketching in my notebook, vaguely listening to the teacher as she droned on about the subject. It wasn’t like I really needed to pay attention. History had been my best subject ever since middle school and it didn’t take much focus to know that most wars could’ve been avoided or that America among other countries had a bad tendency to oppress minorities and immigrants. The very thought made my insides crawl. Beating someone down because they don’t fit your definition of perfect or civilized, yet you could beat, enslave, and cheat them but you’d still be considered a model citizen?
I glanced at the clock once more. Only three more minutes left, but I couldn’t make a move to pack up or the teacher will keep me three minutes extra. I sighed and continued sketching, satisfied with its somewhat mediocre appearance.
It seemed like forever and a day until I heard the sound of my beloved bell. I quickly shoved all my papers and books into my bag, not caring if they tore or folded. I needed to escape. I couldn’t handle it. “Hey, Noah,” a gentle feminine voice called as I felt a soft tap on my shoulder just as my car came into my view. Oh, I knew it was too good to be true. Nevertheless, I slowly turned and was greeted by the smiling face of Ellie, the captain of the school’s girl soccer team.
I smiled. “Hey, El,” I greeted as I slung my arm over her small shoulders. We’d known each other since we were in fifth grade and even though we’ve known each other for what feels like forever, she never once made a move on me which I was eternally grateful for. Even though she wasn’t one of my best friends, she’d definitely been there for important moments in my life.
“So, I know a million people have already asked you this and I’m sorry, but Anthony and his brother want to know if you’re going to be at the party on Sunday. He’s found a wicked abandoned house and Candice has some amazing decoration ideas. It’s going to be awesome. Glow in the dark body paint,” she said as we crossed the street before her eyes quickly scanned the scene, “bottomless booze, and I know you’ve always been a sucker for a good keg stand."
“Ah, you know me too well,” I laughed, causing her to laugh as well as we made it to my car. “Tell Anthony to stay on his toes. I’m a mystery man. If I come, I come. If I don’t, your loss.”
“Oh whatever, Bruno!” she laughed as she gently pushed me off, causing me to laugh as my body lightly came into with my car door. “Okay, I’ll see you later and you better come through!” she called over her shoulder as she made her way back to the school to undoubtedly get ready for practice.
“No promises!” I responded in a sing-song voice as I slide into my car, seeing her stealthy flip me off in my rearview mirror.
Oh Ellie, oh Ellie.
I drove home, threw a quick “hey” at Nona before I hurried into my room where I quickly stripped down to my boxers. I write better when I’m 95% naked. I hopped on my computer and quickly opened my document before I started writing, my creative juices picking up where they left off. After about forty-five minutes, the final words were put on paper.
I was finally h-
I smiled at the cliffhanger. I’d written about a girl who was slowly succumbing to death due to an illness and preparing herself to face Death, the cliffhanger representing how in life everything suddenly ends mid-breath. Mid-smile. Mid-thought. All without warning or care for those it hurts in the process.
Not wanting to become too emo or philosophical, I made sure my document was saved before I shut my laptop. We still had two good days in class to finish the project so I could have Mr. Hill look over it and give me suggestions and constructive criticism. I placed my computer on my nightstand before I stretched out and closed my eyes, relaxing and letting the sleep that had been lingering in the back of my head to take over until I was swallowed by a peaceful darkness.
His delicate hands moved across my bare back before they found their place around my waist, his beautiful eyes staring into mine. “Why do you fight me?” he softly questioned as he brought one hand up to my cheek before gently caressing it like I was fragile china likely to break at any moment.
I don’t know, I mean to say, but instead, it comes out as, “Because I’m scared."
“There’s no need to be scared, Noah,” he said, a soft smile gracing his features, that look in his eye that made my insides turn to mush and rendered my knees useless. “I’ll always be right here,” he whispered as he placed a gentle kiss on the side of my neck, causing a shiver to run down my spine, “and here.” He slightly bent down and kissed my bare chest right over my heart. “And here,” he softly said as he straightened out, his eyes focused on my lips as he closed the space between us. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the slice of heaven I knew he was about to give me.
“Noah!” an aged female voice sharply called, causing me to shoot upright in my bed, pulling me out of my dream. My chest heavily rose and fell as my eyes focused and saw my Nona standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and eyebrow raised. I couldn’t tell if I was upset or happy that she cut off my dream of me and Madison.
“Hey, Nona,” I groaned as I stretched out my arms and yawned. “What’s up?"
“Well, I just wanted to let you know that Mrs. Grant, Gracie’s grandmother, just called and wanted to know if you and Gracie could get together at six-thirty because she thinks you can help her and I agree. You can help her with her lack of confidence and she can help you with your grades. I think it’s perfect.” Great, a forced date with a girl when I still couldn’t get Madison out of my head.
I hadn’t realized I’d yet to respond until Nona said, “Well?”
“I don’t know...” I trailed, desperately searching for something to tell her, but the one time I needed it most, my lying superpower fails me. “I just don’t want her to get the wrong idea. I’m not into her that way and I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” I honestly confessed.
“You don’t know what ‘your type’ is just yet,” Nona countered causing me to inwardly groan. Why can’t she just leave me to make my own friends? “Come on, miele. You did tell me you’d make an effort. This is perfect. You’d get to know each other while you’re helping each other. I can’t think of anything better."
I opened my mouth to object once more, but the hopeful look in her eyes cause me to close it and sigh. “I’ll be ready by six-fifteen,” I grumbled as I looked at the clock relieved to see that it was only four-thirty. I’d have plenty of time to go back to sleep and get ready.
Nona smiled and nodded before she left my room, closing the door behind her. I sighed as I laid back down on my bed. This is going to be one interesting night.
I was currently in my car with Gracie nervously sitting in my passenger seat, not having said a single word since she climbed in but a lone “hi”. This was going to be a boring night.
“So, uh, where do you want to go?” I questioned, having been aimlessly driving around since I had no earthly idea where to go.
“I don’t care,” she said trying to sound nonchalant, but I could hear the nervousness in her voice. I instantly felt bad. What could I do?
“Let’s get something to eat,” I suggested. “There’s a Barnes and Noble up ahead with a small cafe inside.” She nodded with genuine excitement in her eyes and I felt the corners of my lips tug up. I remembered that she liked reading, so what better place to take her than a bookstore? “Do you mind if I turn on the radio?” I asked after a few more minutes of riding in awkward silence, and my heart instantly tightened, my mind wandering to my first sober day with Madison. I shook my head, trying to clear my mind as we hit a red light and I turned to Gracie.
“Sure, but do you mind playing alternative or rock or something? I don’t like mainstream music,” she said as she turned to look at me as well.
“Your wish is my command,” I smiled as I opened my music app and shuffled my “Play Good Music At My Funeral” playlist and the first song that played was Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz.
“Oh this is my song!” I exclaimed as the light turned green and I pressed down on the gas pedal. Gracie laughed as she turned up the volume before we both started singing, her a bit shy at first until she realized that I was practically screaming the lyrics completely off key, then she let it all out. As the songs continued playing, we sang along, drunk off our deep belly laughter until we reached the parking lot of the Barnes and Noble.
“I know my singing was amazing, but unfortunately, ladies and ladies, we have to get into the store before they close.”
“Fine,” she sighed before she laughed. “But I demand an encore on our way back.”
“Consider it done,” I smiled as I got out the car and hurried to her side and opened her door as well.
“Thank you,” she said as she put her lanyard wallet around her neck and tucked her phone that she’d been recording my epic singing skills on in her pocket before stepping out of the car. I quickly locked it before we headed inside since the weather had unexpectedly dropped. As soon as we walked in, a boy a little older than us greeted us, his eyes lingering on Gracie. But I couldn’t blame him. Even though she was wearing an oversized grey hoodie with black leggings, grey fuzzy socks, and brown Birkenstocks, she looked beautiful. Especially that way her long brown hair fell over her shoulders and framed her face in such a way that made her blue eyes stand out even more than they did against her fair blemishless face. I didn’t understand why she was so shy and insecure, she was absolutely beautiful. Just not my type. No girl is really.
“What do you want to do first?” I asked as my eyes skimmed over the display of their newest books that they had to offer.
“I want to see if I can find this book I’ve been looking for,” she said as she rose to her tiptoes to read the genres that were displayed on top of the shelves before she suddenly squealed.
“Gracie, what the-” I started, but was interrupted by her small hand wrapping around mine before she pulled me toward her desired destination. Gosh, she’s strong. “The next time you want me to come somewhere you don’t have to try to dislocate my arm, you can just ask,” I half-joked as I rubbed my shoulder once we’d reached where she wanted.
“Sorry, but I just didn’t think they’d have it here,” she smiled as she picked up a book with the title “All the King’s Horses” by an author named Troye Jordans. She smiled as she flipped the book over in her hands and greedily took in every word on the back cover. “It’s been sold out everywhere I’ve looked, and now I’ve finally found it! And it’s the final copy!”
She looked so adorable when she was excited.
Suddenly her eyebrows furrowed. “I can’t find a price tag,” she frowned before looking up at me with her big doe eyes. “I’ll be right back. I’ll ask someone who works here if they can give me the price.” And within a blank, she was gone, a smile on her lips and excitement evident in her eyes. I quietly chuckled as I shook my head. That girl and her books...
I was about to follow her when I saw a familiar array of colors and faces out the corner of my eye. I turned toward it and once my thoughts were confirmed, I walked over to it and carefully grabbed the book as if it were a precious jewel or something that could help me come to terms with everything. I’d heard so much about it from everyone; fangirls gawking over how hot they were to some of the boys making for of how “gay” it was, and in this context, gay was the right word choice. “Call Me By Your Name”, a gem for the generation. I carefully turned it over in my hands, reading the synopsis on the back even though I already knew what it was about. Curios still, I cracked open the book and within the first few pages, I was enamored, loosely relating to the young Elio with his confusing and conflicting emotions that made him yearn to do things he’d never been drawn to before. Okay, by loosely, I meant completely. I sighed as I closed it and looked on the shelf I got it from and slightly smiled when I saw it was on a bestseller clearance, making the price go from $24.99 to $14.99.
“Whatcha got?” A voice said from behind me questioned, causing me to jump and nearly say something that wouldn’t be the best thing to say in a quiet establishment.
“Gosh, Gracie you nearly gave me a heart attack,” I breathed once I registered it was her. Suddenly the palm of her hand was firmly pressed against my chest her big doe eyes gazing at my lips before they focused on mine once more. It took me a moment to realize she’d eliminated virtually all space that separated us. She bite her bottom lip as she flirtatiously looked up at me through her thick eyelashes. Oh no, this is exactly what I was afraid of.
“Yeah. I can feel it,” she whispered with a slight chuckle. “I got you pretty good didn’t I?” She asked her eyes momentarily flicking to my lips once more.
“Yeah, I guess you did,” I said as I searched through my mind for a sufficient answer to gently let her down without letting her down. “D-Did you find the price of your book?” I asked, quickly diverting the subject. Her eyes quickly lit up as her attention returned to her book. Thank God.
“Yeah! It’s only twenty dollars and he’s coming here next week for a signing and Q and A! Can you believe it?” She exclaimed, earning her a chastising shush from a nearby reader whom she glared at.
“That sounds amazing,” I said with a grin.
“What about you? I noticed you found a book,” he said, he eyes landing on the book that was in my hand. Before I could make a move to stop her, she grabbed the book out of my hand. I was kind of starting to miss the shy Gracie.
Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked over the cover of the book and read the back. “Why would you choose this book?” She questioned, a hint of confusion in her voice, or was I mixing it up with disdain?
“It’s a book my creative writing teacher recommended for me,” I easily said, and it wasn’t a complete lie. Every now and then the class would have a book talk where we’d recommend each other books, and while Mr. Hill hadn’t explicitly recommended me the book, he recommended it to everyone in the class.
“Why?” She said, pressing further still.
“Is there a problem with it?” I asked, suddenly getting defensive.
“Yeah there is,” she said. “This is a story that promotes homosexuality as if it’s natural or acceptable which it isn’t. It’s a sickness that must be vaccinated and if not in this life then surely in the next.” Each word she spoke struck me like a bullet and sliced through my heart like a poison-tipped dagger. Why did she have to think like this? Why couldn’t she just accept this? Me?
I sighed as I took the book back from her. “It’s learning material. It traps how true love feels and puts it into words, regardless of the gender, skills that I need to learn if I’m ever going to become better at my craft,” I said as I firmly tucked it under my arm. A look of perplexion filled her features as she opened her mouth to argue, but I quickly cut her off by saying, “We’ve got to hurry if we’re going to make it to the café before it closes.” Now it was my turn to grab her by the wrist and drag her to my desired destination.
We ordered before sitting at our table. The thing I liked most about this store/café is the fact that you could read while you eat, not having to pay before just in case you decide you don’t like the book. So that’s what we did- we read in silence as we both drank our hot chocolates. I could feel Gracie’s gaze burn through me every now and again, but I pretended to be too absorbed in the book, but I didn’t really need to pretend. The book had me hooked and I’d already read fifty pages by the time we’d both finished. Hopefully I could change her mind set on homosexuality because if I can’t then I’m not sure we could continue being friends, and I’d hate to lose someone over narrow-mindedness.
We bought our books with me not only paying for my own but also half of Gracie’s since she insisted on buying my hot chocolate. “That was fun,” she said as we both plopped into the car and threw our books in the back seat.
“That it was,” I agreed. “Especially when you weren’t literally trying to pull me apart limb from limb.” She rolled her eyes before she playfully punched me. “Wow Gracie. I knew you had an RBF, but I never knew you were so mean and violent,” I frowned causing her to laugh.
“Keep at it and you’ll see exactly how mean and violent I can get,” she threatened, causing me to laugh.
“No thank you. I can barely survive my Nona and the last thing I need is two mentally unstable women who have it out for me,” I joked as I shoved my key in the ignition which earned me yet another swift punch in the shoulder. I thought Gracie was a football player, why are her arms so strong?
“Shut up and drive,” she demanded.
“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” I said with a mock salute before I pulled out of our parking spot and headed down the road, screaming along with songs we didn’t know the lyrics to.