It wasn’t hard to get dirt on Grace. In fact, all I had to do was trace back our conversations. I had since changed my phone and old computer, but I still had some of my old social media profiles standing. Maybe I could even get hold of the old texts if I could get my mother to mail my old phone to me. I had considered reaching out to other people she had harassed, but I was hesitant. For one, they probably didn’t like me. I used to be Grace’s best friend. The more I thought about it, however, the more kept feeling that reaching out to them might be worth it. Facebook was still a thing, and it was as easy as searching their names up and sending out a message.
I put that idea to the side for later. Right now, my focus was on retrieving as many old messages between us as possible. I made countless bookmarks, compiling everything neatly into a folder. I needed all the information I could get. I noticed Grace deleted some stuff from her private profiles, but there wasn’t much she could do about the texts and messages she sent directly to me.
“What are you doing?” The sound of George’s voice made me jump back a bit and I almost dropped my phone. I looked over at him, mouthing an apology as I went about switching my phone off and tucking it back into my jeans pocket. I was at work, and maybe it wasn’t the best time to scroll through the hundreds of messages I had exchanged with Grace two or so years ago.
George raised a brow at my odd behavior, but he didn’t say anything about. His brown head of hair was combed back today. I didn’t like the look and had a nagging urge to reach out and ruffle his hair. He just sidestepped before walking away. I watched him leave, sighing in distress when I felt my heart beat from just watching him work.
Crush. I said in my mind as I took a deep breath. It’s just a crush. I repeated in my mind, not knowing what else to do. Who would have thought it was possible to like two people at the same time? But here I was. I still liked Advik, but with George, it was just... different. I don’t know.
I returned to work, not wanting to be caught slacking off.
For most of the week, Grace had stayed clear of me. It’s as if she could feel what I was about to do. Catching a glimpse of her nervous face was enough fuel for me to keep digging. my takedown needed to be perfect. I didn’t want to get anyone involved. All I needed was to show her what I could do, and she would back down. Grace might be crazy, but she wasn’t stupid.
I let out a sigh when I thought of Advik. He’s been asking me about what happened since that day at the party. I don’t know — I don’t want to get him involved
“You don’t trust me,” he had said with a frustrated sigh when I put my phone away when he looked over my shoulder. I didn’t deny his claim. It was true, and there was nothing I could do about it. Well, for now. I really wanted to sort things out with Advik, but I couldn’t do that with race lurking in the shadows and threatening to ruin everything.
I looked up from my desk when the sound of the store’s door opening brought me out of my thought. A confused frown made its way to my face when I saw that it was George that just walked in. Did he leave? He never left the shop even for a minute during his shift unless it was his break. My surprise grew when I noticed he looked over at me, and soon he was walking over. I thought he was mad at first, but a ghost of a smile was on his lips so that couldn’t be the case. I didn’t figure it out until he dropped a while nylon bag on top of the counter.
“You didn’t eat this afternoon,” he said, licking his lips as he rested his folded hand on the counter. “Is everything okay? You’ve been peeking at your phone all day,” he said. I looked from him to the bag of fast food then back at him. I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say so I just sighed and ran a hand through my hair awkwardly.
Stop being so nice to me. I wanted to say out loud, but of course, I couldn’t so I let out a small sigh instead. It’s not like I could explain to him that I had feelings for him and was trying to deal with that. I tried reminding myself that George wasn’t gay. Well, I don’t think he is.
“I mean, if you don’t want to tell me, it’s fine,” he said, looking away before I could say otherwise. “You should eat that, it’ll get cold.”
I looked at the bag of food, and then at him. I frowned, looking over his shoulder hoping that our manager was nowhere in sight. I mean, most of this year had been sucky for me. I didn’t need to lose my minimum wage job as well.
“Come on, no one cares. There aren’t any customers anyway,” he said, walking behind the counter so that he was standing side by side with me. I didn’t protest, and just opened the food to eat. George didn’t stray far. He sat around until I was done eating. We talked through it, and he helped the customer that came to buy a USB cord, so I didn’t have to stop eating the hamburger he had gotten me.
My face was red for the rest of the shift. I had it bad — so bad. From time to time George would have to walk over to the other end to talk to our colleagues, and during that time I’d just stare at him as he interacted with them. He was nice — nice to everyone. I had to remind myself of that. I wasn’t special. He was just this way with everyone, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to read too much into it, even for wishful thinking sake.
When my shift was over I left the store with George. We’d started getting into a pattern. He’d close the store while I waited behind, and he’d walk me to the bus station. He usually listened to me talk about my day, but today I didn’t have much to say. Most of my mind was fixated on the plan in my mind. Just a little bit more and I won’t have to deal with Grace. I thought to myself as a small relieved smile made its way to my lips. I snuggled the arms of my jacket as we walked out into the cool air. Just a little bit more information and I could walk up to Grace with confidence and ask her to stop.
“What are you thinking about?” My head turned to look over at George when I heard his voice. I let out a nervous laugh, running a hand through my hair before looking out into the road and shaking my head. I hadn’t realized I had spaced out. We got to the bus stop soon after and we just stood there in silence not saying anything to each other. I was starting to get nervous. Often, George would leave right after, but he was just standing there with me, not saying anything.
“Oliver,” he started, making me tense up before looking over at his face. His expression was unreadable, and I wasn’t sure what to make of the words he said next. “Think about it,” he said, moving a bit so that our sides were touching. He took a hold of my arm and gave it a small squeeze. “Whatever it is, think about it really hard, okay?” he said, and I just stood there stunned.
Did he figure things out? Was I that obvious? How?
“I don’t know what it is, but I know you’re hurt, and I know you’re trying to fight things on your own. Please don’t, it’s not healthy,” he continued. His voice was starting to seem like It was shaking. I couldn’t figure out why. Was he scared for me? Did he feel nervous about prying into my business? Was he sad? His face had a mixed expression. His eyes had a worried look in them, and his brows were creased in a way that gave him a slight frown. He let out a sigh before looking me in the eye.
“You know I’m always here for you, right?” George’s words pulled a pug in my eyes. I didn’t even notice when I started crying. Maybe I was just pent up with frustration. Maybe I was just glad someone said something — maybe both.
I don’t know.
I just stood there awkward and tired, cleaning my eyes to no avail. My tears still made their tears through, and it didn’t take long for me to start audibly sobbing as well. My posture stiffened one I felt arms around me — George’s arms, but I relaxed soon after and just let myself be held. He smelt nice — comforting, and I could feel myself ease up. He hugged me for a while. I don’t know how long, but long enough to have a bus stop by and leave. Even when people got down and walked passed us he didn’t let go of me. It felt strange yet lovely.
I didn’t question it when he pressed his lips to the crown of my head when people around us had fizzled out. I didn’t question it when he brushed my cheeks with the base of his fingers before cupping them. As a matter of fact, I closed my eyes and relaxed. It felt nice. My breathing hiked, and my toes curled.
A slight shiver of confusion filled me when I felt soft lips on my mouth. It was just for a moment, but my face and chest were burning. He had kissed me on the lips, even if it had been for a minute. He kept stroking my cheeks and murmuring words to cheer me up, and all I could do was keep heaving while trying to figure out what had just happened.
“It’s alright,” he kept saying, letting me let out small sighs as he gave me back pats. I was gripping his jacket and had my face buried in the dip of his shoulder. I would say I was a bit too touchy, maybe I got into the moment and lost myself in the hug, not caring if I soiled his clothes with my tears or got too needy.
It just felt good to have someone hold me.
When I stopped crying I felt both tired and relieved. It took a while for it to dawn on me that George was holding on to me, and that I was gripping on to him like I was an extension of him. I let go, pulling away from him before giving us some distance. There was some fuzzed out noise coming from the mall in the distance, and the sound of the occasional car passing by filled the awkward silence. I hugged myself, trying to ignore how tense the situation had become. What now? Should I thank him? Should I just pretend what happened just didn’t? Those where the thoughts going through my head. Thanking him would mean having to acknowledge what just happened, and I was still dazed from that. The trial of pecks on my face that felt cool anytime the breeze hit my naked skin already worked like a subtle reminder.
After a while of just standing a few meters away from each other, George let out a sigh.
“Night,” He said in a small voice, making me look over at him. He had already started walking away, and I could only catch his figure in the distance now. He seemed to be in a hurry.
Did I do something wrong?
When he was completely out of sight I looked down at my sneakers. I was left alone in my thought, thinking about dancing, Grace, George, Advik — thinking about whether I wanted to go ahead with what I had planned or not. I sucked in my cheeks as I kicked a rock. I didn’t want to care about civility, and about being the bigger person. I was angry, and maybe I didn’t want to think too much about the consequences of airing our drama like I wanted to. It would be a toll on me, sure, but it would be a bigger toll on Grace.
I wanted to do it.
Do I? I wondered, frowning a bit as I hugged myself. I shook my head, biting down on my lip before letting out a sigh. George’s little speech left me a bit confused. My face was still cold from kisses, and I didn’t even want to start thinking about what all that meant. I mean, he hadn’t kissed me kissed me, so he might have just been comforting me.
A groan left my lips at my train of thought. “Later,” I mumbled under my breath. “I’ll think about it later.” And with that, I took a seat on the wooden bench and focused on waiting for the last bus to stop.
My thoughts could wait, and so could my feelings.