Chapter 9: The Way My Brain Stopped
Christian leads me past a number of frat boys sprawled out on the sofas in the parlour. They’re too engulfed in the universe of Fortnite to notice me.
I don’t feel settled staying in the open space of the kitchen. It’s too likely for a frat boy to stick his head in and intervene, but before my brain can wind out of control into a pit of tar where it’s unlikely to escape, a round woman (who I assume to be Mrs Morales) stops wiping clean the surfaces and acknowledges us.
Christian mumbles a few sentences to her, but it’s becoming a regular thing for me to not register what he says. Mrs Morales eventually snakes her full arms around me. I want to die.
When I don’t hug her back, Christian nudges me. “This is Tommy,” he says.
“Mrs Morales,” she faces me. “Will you be joining the fraternity? Oh, how lovely! One more irritation!”
I look at her blankly while Christian is having a good old laugh at my left.
“I’m simply jesting, Honey,” Mrs Morales goes on. “Welcome! I’m going to vacuum the crap these boys get all over the floorboards and carpets. Christian, keep an eye on the stove for me.”
When she’s gone, I raise my eyebrows. “Little bit unprofessional, the hugging and the crap, right?”
He grabs a bottle of water from the refrigerator and plops down on a chair at the kitchen island. I sit shortly after.
“Don’t shit on Mrs Morales. Her husband is a six foot five bodyguard with thirty-five years of experience boxing in the ring.”
I don’t get to reply. Dom the Dick enters and I shrivel up and die inside.
Before, I didn’t get to take in his features properly. I was busy fleeing the frat house, bat-shit worried he’d find out about me. But now, I can’t just conjure up an excuse to leave - I’ll look too suspicious, so I do nothing but take in his platinum blonde hair, his unrealistic knife edge jawline, the red edges of his blue eyes that make it clear he’s high behind the gold frame of his clear glasses.
It’s obvious he rules this place with the way he carries himself. Clear he uses his six foot plus height to intimidate people. Clear he’s a dick, period.
Though he looks like he walked out of a fucking Vogue cover, in all shameful honesty.
At first, I’m certain he hasn’t noticed me. He opens the fridge and grabs a snack, but then he starts to talk.
“So,” he faces me, “do I get a proper introduction this time?”
Christian snorts. “Oh, shove it up your ass, Dom.”
“Fucking faggot,” Dom spits.
Then the corners of his lips tilt up, followed by his mouth dropping stark open in a grin that reveals he’s just joking with Christian. I keep a straight face.
“This is Tommy,” Christian says.
“Ah, so you’re Tommy?”
Dom inches towards me, body leaning on the kitchen island. Even though he’s a good few feet away, it feels like the extensive outline of my personal space has been vacuumed into nothingness.
“Gemma has been talking non-stop about you. You must have a magical dick. It’s fucking annoying.”
He crunches down on a stick of celery. So he’s a homophobic frat boy and a health nut? Got it.
“Ah, he’s just jealous ’cause he doesn’t have a girl yet.” Christian pats my forearm. I hide my discomfort. “Classic Dominic.”
Dom only glares. The crunching of his celery stick and the crumpling of Christian’s empty water bottle become the only sounds. I didn’t even notice him get through the bottle so fast.
Then Dom leaves. I also don’t realise how I’m doing it again. The whole thumb, arm, ankle combination that visibly yells I’m losing my shit. I thought I could make it through today. You won’t. Watch me. If you stay in this frat house, you’ll get killed. Stop being dramatic. Don’t argue with me, I’ll make your day a mental hell. I’m stronger than you. No, you’re not. Yes, I am. No. Ye-
“Why do you do that?”
I know exactly what he’s asking about, and I make it my God-given mission to act like I don’t, and not to answer him. So, he goes on, face confused and eyes curious.
“You drag your nail on your thumb, then pick at the hair on your arms, then pinch your ankle. The third isn’t exactly subtle when you’re not tying your laces.”
It’s entertaining. Not him prying into my life, but how he mimics each action with his hands, and how his body moves with him. Anyone would think he’s a performing arts student.
“Are you anxious?”
I press my lips together tightly.
“Is it OCD?”
“Stop asking questions, you’re not my therapist.” Jesus.
“You’re meticulously authentic,” he says. I narrow my eyes. “When you do each three things, you do it exactly the way you did it before. No more than three scratches on your thumb, each precisely a centimetre in length. Three picks at your arm, three seconds between each pick - within the same measurement of space every time. Three pinches at your ankle, all in the same spot.”
My chest feels tight.
“Three scratches, three picks, three pinches...”
He tries to decode the rest of it in his head while I deal with the silence becoming unnerving.
I cough to break the quiet.
“Last time I checked, you weren’t a psychology or mathematics student.”
“It’s nice to know you’re checking me,” he winks, and that’s when the anxiety makes me need to regurgitate. He knows. Of course, he knows. Why else would he wink?
I stumble up abruptly, actually tie my laces, and go to leave.
“So soon? Would you like me to walk you?”
“No,” I answer immediately, trying to pull my shit together. “No.”
“There it is again,” he mumbles to himself, humoured, “the ‘no’s’.”
"Yes no because I can walk myself, and I’ve had more of you than I’ve had of Gemma since we started college and she’s meant to be the one after me,” I say defensively, only to realise what I’ve said. I try to cover up what I’ve implied with, “Gay jokes are my version of vines,” stupidly, foolishly thinking it will work, but I see the look on his face. He’s having a hard time trying not to burst out in laughter.
I waste no time getting out the front door. A few steps down the pathway and I hear his voice again, low and respectfully quiet.
“It’s alright, you know.”
Stopping, I stare ahead of me, gritting my teeth. He just doesn’t leave me alone. You’re a snack like Megan said. How could he? You don’t leave me alone either. You’re welcome.
“If you’re gay,” he elaborates. “It’s alright.”
I turn around to face him, alarmingly fast. “I’m not fucking gay.” I like it when you lie. You’re so bad at it. I will perform an exorcism on you. But I am you.
In the time that I’m arguing with myself, Christian dials a number on his phone. I have no freaking clue what it has to do with our unwanted conversation until I hear it.
“Hey, Gemma. I know you’ve been giving Tommy space after Friday night, but he’s all good now. Do you want me to set up a date for you two?... Oh, yeah, he’ll totally be up for it, he’s just a little up his ass. I’ll text you his number.”
My eyes widen as he ends the call. “What the hell are you doing?”
“No straight guy would pass up a date with one of the hottest girls on campus,” he smirks.
“Yeah, because looks are what matter in this day and age.”
“Uhh, yeah, they kind of are.”
“You know what I mean. You know what? Forget the coffee. Forget Gemma. Forget whatever this is,” I screw up my face, “I’m not doing this to myself.” But Gemma could be good for you. “I don’t do parties, or dating, or hanging out with people like you.”
Christian’s smirk drops. “What do you mean people like me?”
“People like you who think you know me when you don’t know me at all.”
“I know more about you than you think.”
I gulp. “What?”
“I like to watch you in class, Dumbass. You’re as readable as they come.”
That can’t be true. I take a deep breath, then the scraping my thumb action begins. Then I start to pick at my arm, and I’d love to get down to my ankle but I’d just look off my head.
I get away from him, but by a tree a little away from the frat house, he stops me. Grabs my arm. Backs me up against the tree. Intertwines his fingers with mine.
The consoling thing about that is we’re out of view of the frat house, and no person outside is within a visible distance.
I let him do this, even though I’m unknowing of what will happen next. I’m clay and he’s moulding me whatever way he wants, and I don’t understand why I can’t just move or say anything, or why in the moment I’m not so anxious.
My eyes follow his. I break out in goosebumps as he comes closer. Closer, closer, closer, until his lips are a fingernail away from mine, and I let him get even closer. I feel his breath on my face, feel his body heat radiating, smell his cologne. But just when I’m fully willing to lose all control - which fucking scares me - he turns his head away, a playful smirk on his face, in which he brings his lips to my ear.
“Are you sure?” he whispers.
“What?” I barely get it out with volume.
“Are you sure you don’t want the coffee anymore?”
That snaps me out of it and I shove him backwards. He’s straight and trying to mess with me, trying to expose me, trying to get me to admit I’m gay. I have no respect for him.
With that, I leave, never stopping until I get back to the dorm room. Thankfully, Aiden’s gone.
But there it is again, the way my brain stopped for a moment when it was just me and him.
I never answer the text from Gemma that comes through on my phone.