When I woke up from my nap in the afternoon a sense of dread washed over me. For a minute I was about to throw myself back on my bed, and call quits concerning meeting Grace and Harry at the main quad. I was starting to wonder why I accepted their offer in the first place, and a part of me was tied up in nerves as I imagined every and anything that could go wrong.
The main quad is public ground. I repeated to myself, forcing my feet to lift me up from the bed. It’s not like Harry and Grace could beat me up or shout me down with hundreds of people passing by every few seconds.
No, they wouldn’t do that.
My anxiety was calmed a bit, and I decided to get ready and leave before I could start second-guessing the meeting again. As I moved around the room and got ready, I noticed that Austin’s eyes were following me. He was sitting on his bed with a comic book in his hand. His curly dark hair didn’t seem combed, and maybe he had woken up just a while ago.
“What?” I asked, frowning a bit. He didn’t look away when I made it clear that I knew he was staring at me. Austin shook his head, letting out a small hum before covering his face with the comic in his hands. My frown only deepened at his reaction. I sighed, shaking my head before leaving my room. I jogged down the stairs, and I almost ran in the residence lobby. I wasn’t sure why I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Was I afraid maybe?
The main quad wasn’t too far off from the residence. I lived on campus, and everything was within walking distance. I tucked my hands in the pocket of my jacket, not wanting the biting cold to get to them. The winds were harsh on my face, and I had a hard time keeping my head up as I walked to the main quad. It was early in the evening, and students were still moving around. It made me feel safer, and hopefully, the quad won’t be empty when I met up with Grace and Harry.
When I got to the main quad I looked around the field, trying to spot the pair waiting for me. I walked about the field for a bit, my sneakers not really enjoying the slippery feel of the wet grass as I moved about.
“Hey!” I froze in my spot at the sound of the familiar voice. My heart was beating harder against my chest as I tried to process the fact, that yes, Harry was really calling out to me. We have never met each other face to face in real life, but I could spot that voice anywhere. When I used to be friends with Harry and the gang we would have length skype calls. Then their voices had made me happy — made me feel less alone and weird, but now hearing Harry made me contemplate pretending that I hadn’t heard him so that I could slip away and make a run back to my residence.
I guess I was wasting too much time to reply, and that’s why soon both Grace and Harry were standing by me. Grace to my left and Harry to my right.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Harry asked, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. Instead, I continued to look up ahead at the lecture building that wasn’t too far away. If they tried anything funny I could make a run for it, right?
The thoughts in my head were silly, I knew that. There were lots of people walking around, and despite it being later in the day it was still bright outside. If I just yelled loud enough I would catch some eyes. I didn’t need to be scared — I knew that but why was I so numbed from fright that I couldn’t talk?
“You heard us, didn’t you?” It was Harry’s voice again. My skin crawled when I felt a hand wrap around my shoulder. Harry? No, Grace.
“Should we find somewhere to sort this out?” her voice was soft, and I can’t believe that I felt grateful for calm tone, but I did. I nodded, and soon I was pulled by the hand and marched towards one of the benches the university put out to make the quad more student friendly. As we walked over to take a seat I got a good look at Harry and Grace. Although Grace looked unbothered, I could see that it was a façade she was putting up. Her eyes looked tired, and the smile on her face seemed forced. Harry’s expression, however, was in the middle of him looking pissed and bored.
I sat in the middle and refused to look at either of them. It was quiet for a bit until Harry cursed under his breath and Grace coughed.
“So—” she started, pausing. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, watching as she redid her ponytail. Her eyeliner was smudged, and it looked like he had been rubbing it all day.
Crying? I wondered, watching as she let out a sigh and hugged herself tight. She was wearing a long teal sweater. Her lips were in a thin line now, and she had a distant look like she was thinking deeply about something.
“How much dirt do you have?” she asked in a curt direct sentence before looking over at me. I blinked, a little taken aback by her straightforwardness. I looked away, thinking f how to reply to that. Grace was good at manipulation. If she could even hint that she had any sort of upper hand she’d drop this ‘reconciliation’ and continue with pestering me.
“Enough,” I finally said, looking back at her. She rolled her eyes, and Harry snorted beside me. I jumped a bit, almost forgetting that he was there too.
“Jesus, why are we here? You promised to help us,” he said, talking to Grace. Grace frowned a bit, shrugging her shoulders.
“I don’t know what to do,” she replied.
“Well, how about not making him feel like you have anything to be afraid of? My end of the bargain was to provide you with information. I did — now do yours.”
I realized they really were going to have a whole conversation over my head. I didn’t know what to do. Should I interrupt them? Should I just sit still and not say anything?
“—look, I’ve done what I can. She’ll get kicked out of the dance team sooner or later. That’s enough right?” I blanked out for a bit, so I didn’t catch what they said to each other for the past few seconds or so.
She? Is she talking about me? I wondered, turning to face Grace as she bickered with Harry.
“Stop.” Grace and Harry stopped talking, and for a hot minute, I didn’t even know I was the one who spoke up. I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I didn’t know what to say, and my sudden confidence fueled by anger disappeared.
“I—” I trailed. I had a lot on my mind, but I wasn’t sure if I had the courage or emotional strength to say any of it — where to start even?
“Look,” I started, taking in a deep breath. “All this is petty, what do any of you gain from this?” I asked, turning to face Grace, then Harry. “Is there anything at all you gain apart from making me miserable? If that’s the case I’m already miserable on my own, you don’t have to fuel the flames.”
“Grace, I won’t like you even if I was a girl,” I blurted, and a frown took form on her face as her lips cracked and her gaze went sour. I swallowed down my fear. I had to keep going. I had to make things clear. “I didn’t like you then, and I don’t like you now. Stop fetishizing about when I was your lackey. That shit isn’t healthy, and if that’s the only time you think I’m palatable maybe find someone else to harass.”
“Harry, I don’t hate you guys. I just didn’t want to be part of the mess that was happening on Tumblr,” I said, turning my gaze to Harry. “If you hate me for it, it’s fine, but stop projecting your fears on me. I don’t hate you all. I don’t think I’m better than you guys, and I don’t have any ill intentions towards you guys. I didn’t know how to leave, so I acted like acted like a coward and just deactivated my account,” I added, watching as Harry’s frown deepened. I licked my lips, trying to deal with their sudden dryness. I was saying all this, but all I wanted to do was leave them behind and run back to my room. It was taking everything in me to force the words out. I knew things wouldn’t end here, but I had to explain myself.
No one said anything, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable, so I got up from the bench before tucking my hands in my jacket pockets and turning to face them. They were both still sitting on the bench with static looks. I couldn’t read their expressions, and maybe that was a good thing. Unfavorable things about me were probably being said in their heads.
I looked over at Grace. “Leave Advik out of this. He doesn’t know what’s happening, he doesn’t deserve any of this,” I said. A part of me was worried, partly because Grace might still go after him, and partly because I felt that Advik would do something to expose her out of frustration. He’s been asking to help me for a while, and I’ve been saying no. Knowing Advik, he might butt in any way.
I shook my head before running my hand through my hair as I took a step back. He won’t do anything stupid. I tried to calm myself. My eyes locked with Harrys when I looked back. He glared, but I held the gaze, not wanting to back down. I noticed he was a lot more buff — or maybe I never really saw him properly on those pics online. His brown her was full, and he was sporting an undercut.
“I’m not afraid to make a report,” I started. That’s a lie. I couldn’t even drag myself to the counselor’s office because I felt sucky for receiving pity and looking weak, but they didn’t know that. “This school handles targeted harassment all the time.” I don’t know that. I was just shitting bricks from my ass to scare them both.
“I also have enough dirt on you to retaliate if I want to,” I said, aiming that at Grace. “You too, if you care about being in university that is,” I said, looking over at Harry. It wouldn’t take much to prove that he harassed people online on routine. I still had his username. “You can incriminate me, I don’t have that account anymore, remember?” I continued, and I heartbeat only relaxed when I noticed Harry’s expression change a bit.
He composed himself almost immediately, but I had seen it, even if it was briefly. He was worried. I could use that against him.
The two of them just sat on the bench — their expressions remaining unchanged. I looked away from them, turning my gaze to the path leading out of the main quad and back into the pavement.
“Well,” I started, stepping back. “I’m leaving,” I said before turning and speed walking out of the main quad. When I was a good distance away I broke into a run. I didn’t care that the people I ran past gave me a confused or horrified gaze. I didn’t care that I looked like a fool when I ran into the residence lobby and ran up the stairs after getting frustrated that the elevators won’t open. All the fear I’d been hiding through my encounter with those two was pouring out of me now. When I got to my floor I made a beeline for my room’s door. I struggled with the key and lock because my hands were shaking, but when I finally got it to click open a relieved sigh crept out of me and I pushed the door open before heading in.
“You’re back.” The sound of Austin’s voice made me look over to him. He was sitting at his desk now, and his keyboard piano was on it. Maybe he wanted to practice.
“Yeah,” I answered in a breathy tone. Running for miles would do that to you. Austin hummed before he looked away from me to pace his piano. I took that as an indication that the conversation was over, so I kicked off my shoes and walked over to my bed.
I looked up at the sound of Austin’s voice. I was sitting on my bed now with sweat pooling at my hairline and my heart beating like crazy.
“Go to the counselor,” Austin said in a firm tone. I felt the color leave my face at his order. Was I that conflicted that my troubles were written plainly on my face?
“Look, I don’t know why you’ve been postponing it, but it looks like things are getting out of hand, don’t you think?” he said and I nodded after a while of thinking. I looked down at my socks, not wanting to look at him as he scolded me like a child.
“Go meet her as soon as possible, okay?” he said, and I just nodded. The room went dead silent after that. I just stared at my feet as Austin hummed and flipped pages of the note he had on his lap.
“Oh, by the way, Advik was looking for you,” Austin said before turning on his chair to look at me. Time had passed, so it was later in the evening and a lot darker. “You know, sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s okay,” Austin said giving me a small smile. I raised a brow at him before frowning and adjusting my sitting position on my bed.
“What?” I asked, cocking my head at him.
He grinned, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m just saying,” he said before looking away from me again. I sucked on my lip, trying to figure out what he meant by that.
Sometimes things just don’t work out? I repeated in my mind before shaking my head. I shouldn’t think too much about it.