The sound of a car horning made me push the curtain a bit so that I could look down at the road from one of the top apartments in the high-rise building. Nothing special was going on downstairs. There was just an impatient driver that didn’t seem to like the fact that there was a traffic jam clogging the small street. It was incredibly noisy, and if you opened the windows for just a bit you’d get choked with smoke. So there really wasn’t an option between the stuffy room and the toxic air from outside. I drew the curtain close, smiling as I leaned away and turned into the room.
None of that mattered, though. Because I wouldn’t want to be somewhere else.
I was at George’s place. It was a tiny one-room apartment with a small living room that was also the kitchen. He had been embarrassed about bringing me over the first time, but I’ve watched him ease up over time. This was my fourth time here, and I was sitting on his bed, swinging my legs as I looked down at the floor that was covered in a worn-out blue carpet. His bed was a bunk bed with just the top bunk, and underneath it was a closet rammed next to a small desk and chair. George was in the kitchen warming up something for us to eat.
I kept swinging my legs, staring down at my socks as I tried to rehearse what I had in mind — put some of what Austin had shown me into practice.
“Hey, you’ll fall over.” I looked up at the sound of George’s voice. He was at the door, pushing it open just enough to slip in with the two bowls he had balanced in his hand. “Sorry, I only have instant noodles,” he muttered, walking into the room before moving over to me. I sat up properly on his bed, shuffling to the side and out of the ladder’s way. George handed the bowls to me before climbing up. The bed squeaked a bit, but despite that, it held both of us fine.
We ate in silence for a while — which is odd, we usually talk a lot, but I guess overthinking what I wanted to do had me oddly quiet, so most of George’s questions and attempts to start a conversation fell on deaf ears or were engaged with short answers, making the conversation die before it even started.
“Ollie,” he called, making me blink before looking up from my bowl that only had noodle water left in it. “Do you want to be here?” he asked. He looked worried, and the way he looked from me to his room made my heart sink.
“I do,” I answered, biting down on my bottom lip. “It’s just that I’ve been thinking about something, sorry,” I mumbled as my face grew warm. Gosh, I was doing so well looking normal as I thought about things for the past few hours, why was I turning beet red now?
“Are you okay?” George asked, frowning a bit as he shuffled closer to me. I looked away, trying to hide my face from him, but he just bent forward and looked at me.
“Stop it,” I whined before laughing. If I moved any more I’d send the bowl of noodle water in my hands flying down.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine George, I’m fine,” I mumbled, looking up and giving him a wide smile. He didn’t look convinced, but he leaned away from me and went back to picking at the last bits of noodle in his bowl. He took my bowl from me when he was done eating, and just like that he left the room again. I flopped back on the bed, groaning as I thought about how awkward I made things. I was such a worrywart.
I was so absorbed in my mind that I didn’t notice when George came into the room and climbed back into bed. A gasp only left my lips when I felt his hands snake around my waist. He chuckled, resting his head on my shoulder as he hugged me.
“You’re staying over tonight, right?”
“What?” I mean, I planned to, but I never told George that. George only smiled at me before pecking my cheek.
“I saw your night bag,” he explained, making my face grow warm. Sure, I had awkwardly hidden it under the jacket I was carrying around, and I expected to get caught, but it still made me feel a little embarrassed. Another gasp left my lips when George kissed my cheek again, and then my shoulder blade. I probably looked like a tomato now. I was probably as inanimate as one too since I was frozen in place. Where did all the confidence I’d gotten before I came over gone to?
“What’s on your mind?” George asked, still pressing against me and kissing down my neck. I felt hot, my whole body was warmed up like someone had put me in a sauna.
“When are we going to have sex?” George seemed to go into shock since he let go of me and stopped kissing me. He didn’t say anything in reply, so I was starting to get worried. I turned to face him, not being able to meet his eyes because of my absurd question. I took a hold of his hand, giving it a squeeze as I tried to find the right set of words to say.
“I mean, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of being naked, so—” I paused, looking into George’s eyes as I licked my lips. His face was a deep red now, and so was his neck, hand — any part of his body that was currently visible. “I was wondering if we could just do it with clothes on?”
“If you don’t want to have sex with me—”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.” I shook my head, cuddling into his chest as I reached around him to hug him tight. “I want to, it’s just that I’m a little nervous,” I mumbled. I could hear George’s heartbeat because my ear was pressed against his chest. It was fast, and it made me nervous for his reply.
“Oh, it’s just, I never thought—”
“You never thought of having sex with me?”
“No, I did. It’s just... fuck, I forgot what I wanted to say. Damn it, Ollie,” George groaned, covering his face, and I chuckled. He let go of his face, and I could feel his deep brown eyes on my lips as a grin formed on his face.
“What I wanted to say was—” he paused, reaching out to rub my lip with the base of his thumb, before using his whole hand to push back my bangs. “I’ll go at whatever pace you want. I can wait, or speed things up — anyhow you want it, okay?” he said, and I nodded, watching his smile widen before he leaned in to kiss me.
I liked how George kissed me. It was usually one, two or three pecks, a tight press with a bit of lip followed by an open-mouth snug that had my toes curling and my heart beating faster. I gasped a little into the kiss, letting my hands find his face as his hands crawled under my shirt and touched the skin of my stomach. I kept my eyes shut tight, letting his breath fan my face as his kiss warmed me up.
We didn’t do any of the things I had in mind. We just talked, kissed and snuggled until it was time to call it a day and sleep. I guess I realized I was just paranoid about not ‘putting out’ on time, and we didn’t have to rush things. We’ll cross that line when we cross it.
It was late at night when I felt my phone buzzing beside me on George’s bed. I kept my eyes close, frowning in my sleep as the phone kept buzzing. It would stop for a bit, then start vibrating all over again. Eventually, I opened my eyes in the dark and reached under the blankets to find it. It somehow migrated there from under the pillow I was sharing with George. I sat up on the bed and pressed the power button which lit up the phone screen and allowed me to check who was calling me.
An unknown number.
“Damn it,” I cursed under my breath, wondering who in the world was calling me in the middle of the night. The phone stopped buzzing again, and it was then I noticed the string of messages the person had sent me before then at eleven PM. It was past twelve now.
Message from: Unknown.
You have to help me. Harry’s trying to frame me for the stuff that went on in the school forum.
SUN, 10:59 PM.
Message from: Unknown.
I swear I didn’t do it. Harry did, but if you don’t help me no one will believe me. I mean, he’s trans it’s not like they would believe me if I told them he’s actually the one who posted inflammatory stuff on the forums.
SUN, 11:00 PM.
Message from: Unknown.
Hey. Are you awake?
SUN, 11:11 PM.
Message from: Unknown.
Read my messages.
SUN, 11:12 PM.
Message from: Unknown.
SUN, 11:12 PM.
It was then it occurred to me that I had never saved Grace’s number. My mind was a fog right now. I was tired, and I was a bit slow to read through everything. When I eventually started typing into the reply box my phone started buzzing again and the screen lit up with the Unknown number again.
I heard George groan beside me, and soon I felt a hand lightly touching my waist. Is that my alarm? Is it morning yet?” he asked in a slurred voice.
“No, it’s my phone, sorry,” I muttered, and George went quiet again. I could hear his light breathing. He was asleep again, but his hand was still touching my waist. I smiled at that before looking down at my phone that had gone silent again. With a deep sigh, I pressed the missed call to call Grace.
It rang for a few seconds before Grace picked up.
“Hello?” she said as I switched off the speaker and pressed the phone to my ear. “Hello, is that you? Olivia?”
“Oh, fuck off.”
“If you can’t respect me I don’t think I can help you,” I said, making it clear to her. The end of her line went quiet and after a while, she muttered a small ‘fine.’
“What’s this about Harry?” I asked, scooting towards the bed ladder and climbing down. I made my way through the room by feeling around for things I could bump into. I made it to the door, letting me walk out into the small living room/kitchen before turning on the lights. The deep orange light from the fluorescent bulbs flooded the room, and I was able to make it to the sofa without any problems.
“He’s trying to get me suspended,” Grace said. “You know, that stuff in the forum? I didn’t write it, he did. If he reports this, they’ll believe him.” My face drained of color as I thought about it. It was true, they’d believe him. Even when I saw the messages I had thought it was Grace, my mind didn’t even think to Harry.
“He’s angry because he and his friends couldn’t get back as they wanted, so they’ve turned their attention to me. I’m fucking dead, man—”
“What am I supposed to do about that?” I know I must have sounded mean, but it was a genuine question. How was I supposed to prove that she hadn’t been the one doing it? Plus, she’d already done suspension worthy stuff. Would it really matter if this was what got her suspended?
“Don’t be like that.” Her voice was cracked and heavy as if she was trying not to cry. “For old times’ sake,” she mumbled, and I kept quiet. “We used to be close, so close...” she trailed in a shaky voice. There was a sob, and soon she was crying. Sock made me quiet, and I just sat there, listening to her cry on the phone.
“I should have forgotten about you, but I couldn’t, okay?” she said through her sobs. “I had a plan you see. It was supposed to go so smoothly — everything’s gone to shit,” she said with a hiccup.
“Help me, you don’t want to be stuck with Harry just here, do you?” she asked as I nibbled on the nail of my thumb finger.
There were so many reasons why I shouldn’t help, and so many reasons why I should.
“You’re a good person, remember? You’re not a piece of shit like me, so don’t be shitty,” Grace said from the other end making my eyes go wide before I relaxed. She was right. I wasn’t a shitty person, and maybe I shouldn’t brush this off as Karma by letting her deal with it alone.
“I’ll help you,” I said in a low tone, making the other line go quiet for a bit.
“Really?” Grace asked from the other end. Her voice was small, hopeful yet full of doubt.
“Yeah,” I muttered, nodding, not for her but for myself. I was going to help her. With my answer, Grace broke down in tears again. They weren’t angry tears or scared tears. They were ones of relief. I recognized them They were much like the ones she’d shed right after her mum told her she wasn’t any less for being lesbian when she had caught the two of us kissing.