I could feel my heart in my mouth, and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I peeked out the heavy red curtains that separated the backstage from the main stage. One of the competitors was doing their solo, and I was next. I took in a deep breath, watching as the girl spun around the stage, earning a round of applause from the crowd. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I blinked turning to look into my dance instructor’s eyes.
“It’ll be okay,” she said, pulling me by the shoulder until I wasn’t able to look behind the curtains anymore. “Don’t do that, you’ll make yourself nervous,” she reasoned, and I nodded, sighing. This was the first serious competition I was getting to at a tertiary level, and the nerves in my stomach were killing me. Somewhere in the crowd, George was standing with my mum, and I also knew Xander had brought not only his boyfriend but his twin cousins with him since the one that didn’t school in our university had come in to visit his brother.
A smile touched my lips when I remembered that George was out there with my mother in the crowd. They had met for the first time today, and he had given her a nervous wave before being pulled into a tight hug he hadn’t expected. My mum had just met him, but she already adored him. Much of the credit goes to me singing his praises when I called her on the weekend, but she to see for herself firsthand how considerate and kind he was when he took her around and answered any technical questions she threw at him.
“Oliver.” I blinked at the sound of my name, looking towards the direction of the voice. One of my mates in dance class was motioning for me to get on stage. “It’s your turn,” she said above the sound of the crowd clapping. I muttered an ‘oh’, checking if my shoes were tied before heading to the stage. When I walked up people clapped again, and I tried to swallow my nerves, getting into my stance before beginning my routine when the recording of the song I had practiced to started playing. I couldn’t spot anyone on the dense crowd from up on the stage. It was early in the evening, and the hall was dark since it was now officially winter — meaning, shorter days and longer nights.
As I danced the crowd stayed quiet and I began to worry. It’s alright. They’re supposed to just watch. I reminded myself, swallowing my doubts. I tried to pretend I was dancing in George’s tiny room as he made comments that made me laugh or stop dancing to give him a lot of disbelief. The side of my lips tugged into a smile, and I was finally at ease. I closed my eyes, giving the dance routine my all. despite all the doubts and fears that were running through my mind, I managed to finish my routine without making a mistake. When I made the last spin and stopped before taking a bow the crowd stood up to give me an applause. It was louder than anyone I had heard that night, and I knew from there that things had worked in my favor.
I walked off the stage, heading to the back and only being able to look around for a few seconds before my teammates came rushing to hug me. Someone lifted me, spinning me around and making everyone else laugh.
“I knew it was a good idea to give him the solo,” one of them said as I was put back on my feet and our instructor walked up to us. We all talked for a bit, sipping from the soda cans we had been given as we waited for the judges to make their decision. We couldn’t go out to the crowd yet because we had to come out to stand on stage again sooner or later. We got so lost in our discussion that we didn’t notice that winners were being called until the two girls that did a duet in our team were called out. I swallowed, watching them go up the stage for third place. We still had the solo and group performance prizes left. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t help rubbing the body of my soda can.
I nibbled on my thumb fingernail in anticipation when the announcer started calling people up for the solo performance awards. With each name called I felt a mix of dread an relief. Each name called meant I was closer to the first-place position, but it also meant that I might have lost a spot since the first person might not even be me.
“First place, Oliver Anderson.” It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulder when my name was called. I almost became deaf from the yelling of my teammates that were hopping around and screaming. In the midst of the confusion, my dance instructor gave me a push on the shoulder, edging me towards the stage. I blinked, realizing I had just been standing and doing nothing. I rushed upstage, heading over to the lady that was handing out the certificates and blue ribbons. My mum, being my mum came up the stage, climbing up and insisting to take a picture with me. I was grinning as the blood rushed through me. I had done it. I had one my first tertiary competition, and hopefully, this was one of many.
My face grew warm when I spotted George standing by the stage taking pictures. My mother pulled me closer, smothering me to her side. I caught George chuckling, and I made it a point to smack him a bit when I got down from the stage.
Overall, our university team came in second and our dance instructor was pleased. Everyone scattered, looking for their friends or family members. We had come using the university bus, but it didn’t look like anyone was planning to go back to campus on it. Well, I knew I wasn’t.
“Look at my dancer,” my mother said, nudging George’s shoulder and showing her the video of me dancing today like he hadn’t been standing next to her while she filmed it. I smiled, glad that George was entertaining her rambling. My mum was a nice plum woman in her forties. She dyed her hair different colors, so much so that I’m not even sure if the original color was chestnut brown or pitch black. Right now, her hair was a bright purple and it was styled in what everyone called the ‘I need to speak to the manager’ haircut.
As George and my mother kept talking, I lost track of everything else around me and jumped back in shock when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, finding Xander with an apologetic look on his face.
“I’m so sorry...” he trailed as his boyfriend laughed from behind him. I looked over at Maxwell, ready to tell him off for laughing at me, but I smiled instead when I noticed he was talking to Xander’s cousins — the twins. They were both in plaid trousers and grey cardigans. I wasn’t sure if they had decided to dress alike, but it made them look cool. I had never seen Wyatt before, but of course, he was a carbon copy of Caleb. The only difference was that he had glasses on and seemed to be a little more talkative than his twin.
“Are you all Oliver’s friends? I didn’t bring a lot of food...” my mother said, catching everyone’s attention.
Wyatt shook his head. “It’s okay,” he muttered. “I just tagged along. I came to visit my brother and cousin,” he explained gesturing to Xander and Caleb. “We have to leave soon anyway. We’re supposed to drive to the other side of town to meet up with our parents,” Wyatt said and Caleb just nodded. It looked like the artist twin wasn’t very fond of the crowds. Or maybe it was because his boyfriend was nowhere in sight. Xander kept mentioning how they were glued at the hip. He probably had work to do since he was a graduate student.
“Xander invited us, so we just came to see,” Caleb said, speaking up for the first time.
My mother didn’t look even half convinced, but she let them off with a smile before looking at the remaining boys. Xander stuck close to Maxwell, and George held my hand as we walked to my mother’s care. She had snacks — homemade donuts, cupcakes and more. Maxwell and Xander spoke to me and George, and I was glad George wasn’t feeling out of place since he was a lot older than us. The evening was cool, and the parking lot was already dark. Most people had left with their families leaving a few cars to dot the area. At a point Xander and Maxwell got down to go to the bathroom together, leaving George and me in the back seat alone. My mum was humming to a song she was listening to on her headset while I browsed through my Tumblr dashboard.
It’s been a while since I’ve been consistently online, but since I sorted things out with Harry the rest of the gang just disappeared out of thin air. I had a feeling it was done so that their profiles and the things they wrote up weren’t used against them. They were probably still in contact with each other — I don’t know, maybe it a small discord server where they cursed at each other, but I was glad they were off Tumblr and didn’t’ have the chance to openly bully and mock people anymore. I didn’t talk to Harry or Grace much after we sorted things out, but I saw them around campus — mostly together. I was curious about what was going on with those two, but I kept my distance, finally doing what I’ve been promising myself to do.
A small confused sigh left my lips when I felt teeth nibbling my ear. I shivered, pulling away before staring at a grinning George.
“She’s right in front,” I hissed under my breath, dodging the kiss he tried to press on my lips, making him kiss the side of my neck instead. He let out a childish whine, sighing before resting his head on my shoulder instead. I didn’t react to his complaint, I just folding my hands across my chest and looked forward. Trust me, I wanted to kiss George too, but getting caught making out with my boyfriend was not something wanted.
Maxwell and Xander came back to the car after a while, and I couldn’t help thinking they didn’t go to the bathroom to pee. Xander had that deep blush he got when he thought everyone around him knew something, and Maxwell was just grinning ear to ear like he had been given an early birthday present. I didn’t ask because I was sure I didn’t want to know and that Xander would probably burst into flames if someone implied anything with a question.
Sadly, my mum had to leave soon, and she bid us goodbye, calling George and me over before giving us kisses on the cheeks and telling us to be good. We went to stand by Maxwell and Xander, and we all waved her car off as she drove out of the parking lot.
“Does anyone want to eat?”
“We just ate,” Xander groaned, making Maxwell shrug before laughing. The redhead reached out to wrap his hand around Xander’s shoulders, startling the boy as he made them sway from side to side as he pressed kisses to Xander’s forehead.
“But I’m hungry,” he insisted. “Will you let me eat you instead?” he asked in a teasing tone. Xander looked flustered, and he started babbling. I had to look away, feeling like I was intruding in their private bubble. I looked over at George who had on a brown jacket and some faded jeans. He was scrolling through his phone, probably checking the train schedule.
“We can eat as long as we don’t miss the train at ten eleven,” he said, looking at me before turning back to my friend and his boyfriend.
“Come on, we’ll get pizza,” he said, making Maxwell pull away from Xander before throwing George a grin.
“Look at you bring the adult,” I joked as we started following him since he was on google maps to get the directions. George smiled, startling me by taking a hold of my right hand with his free left one. He gave my smaller hand a squeeze as we came to a red light.
“You did great today,” he muttered, leaning forward to give me the lightest of pecks, pulling away so fast that I wasn’t even sure the kiss had happened. My face warmed, and I was sure I looked like a tomato under the street lights. It was amazing that such a simple gesture could affect me so much. As I continued to walk with George hand in hand, the thought that there was no one else I would rather be with flooded my mind and senses.