Take A Chance

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Call If You Need It

I decided to tell Nikki that I was gay when I went to sleep over before the holidays, giving me a few weeks to prepare myself. And what a tenuous two weeks they were, filled with the end of the group project, work, and calls from my family to confirm my plans to come home.

The group project was by far the most trying task. Jason’s eyes seemed to follow me even more if that was possible, making me shiver uncomfortably. I almost felt like he was undressing me with his gaze, making me glad I had an excuse to wear sweaters that hid my curves. Not that it got him to leave me alone, but it was something.

We were meeting again to hammer out the final parts of the project for next week, during the day this time on Ashley’s request. Over lunch, we put the project together and got the entire presentation finished. Everyone would only have to finalize their parts of the essay on their own time before I printed it to hand in.

As soon as we were finished, I packed away my stuff quickly, partly to avoid Jason, and partly because I’d have to run if I wanted to make it to work on time.

Mary, who’d been spacey around me lately, asked, “Are you heading out already?”

“I have to work,” I told her politely.

“Oh, where do you work?” It was an average question, something that any ordinary person would ask out of curiosity. But my hands stilled for a moment. Mary had asked, but I was aware of Jason still sitting there. I didn’t want him to know where I worked. It was bad enough that he had my cell phone number.

In an effort to answer Mary while keeping the details to a minimum, I said, “At a hotel. I do the grunt work,” I joked, trying to plaster on a smile.

“Oh, that’s awesome,” Mary said kindly, her face lighting up. “Which one? Maybe I’ve stayed there.”

I bit my lip nervously. “Um, I mean they’re pretty expensive,” I said, but I could tell she was waiting for an answer. I relented. “Hotel Grand.” I didn’t give her the address, and it was a large chain, so hopefully I could avoid Jason knowing too much. From the glint in his eye, I assumed that wasn’t the case.

Mary clapped her hands excitedly. “That is a nice place. They have restaurants and everything.”

I nodded. “I guess I’ve gotten used to it. But I’ve got to go.” I practically ran away, unwilling to stay there any longer. I only realized someone had followed me when I heard footsteps, but it thankfully wasn’t Jason.

Ashley stood there, walking quickly to keep pace with me. “I’ll drive you,” she said easily, twirling her keys in her hand.

“You don’t have to,” I said meekly.

Her eyes with the perfectly winged eyeliner cut to me. “You were fidgeting. You’ll be late, right?”

I didn’t ask her why she was so observant, only nodding. We walked to her car, a small silver thing, in silence. As soon as I gave her the address, we were off. I didn’t know if Ashley expected me to talk, but I assumed not since she turned on the radio to a low volume.

I frowned and took my phone out. Nikki’s message shown on the screen. I am not kidding you; the pie went right in his face while he was on duty. Ray came home that day smirking and asking for hugs while the rest of us ran to avoid him.

I’m a little surprised he didn’t ask someone to lick it off his face. I got pelted with chocolate milk once. It was mortifying: I was in middle school and wearing a white shirt.

I clicked my phone closed, clutching it in my hand. Ashley drove me the rest of the way in silence as I continued to answer messages from Nikki.

Oh god, that sounds horrible. The worst that happened to me was when I got slammed into a locker and accused of hacking (and it wasn’t actually me that time).

Were you okay? What did you hack? I just had people sneering at me for being smart.

A memory popped into my mind of this time a girl accused me of dating my best friend, who was also a girl. I recalled how rude she’d been to me; how much disdain was in her voice. I hadn’t known I was gay then, but I vehemently denied it. I frowned to myself, suddenly filled with self-hatred for how I’d acted then.

Before Nikki could message back, I asked, Do you ever remember things you’ve done and regret them?

A second later, her message came in. I was okay. A little bruised. I’m small, so I slipped away. I actually hacked some grades for a price. Completely unethical, yes, but well, okay I only did it for a progress report. I changed it back after; that kid was a moron. I chuckled at her first message, reading the next one that came in.

I think we all have. Those are the memories that come to us at night before we go to sleep. But I’m assuming you’re talking about something pretty serious? We all do things we regret. For instance… when I was a kid, I uh, I kind of acted like an asshole to this kid who was honestly annoying, but who really wasn’t trying to be. I shouldn’t have done that. He was made fun of enough and didn’t need me being rude.

I knew Nikki wasn’t infallible, but it was still comforting to know that she’d done things she wasn’t proud of either. Taking a chance, I typed back, I can understand that. I don’t blame you; I’ve done similar things. When I was in middle school though, a mean girl gave me this nasty look and asked me if I was dating my female friend. I’m ashamed of how I denied it.

There was a longer pause between the next reply, almost long enough for Ashley to finish driving me. Guilt clawed at me again. I didn’t even know why I was asking her this. Maybe this was my way of bringing up the possibility of me being a lesbian, in the most indirect manner possible, of course. Then my phone vibrated again. Middle school is tough. You can’t blame yourself for not wanting to be bullied, or for not being able to stand up to a bully like that. Beyond that, it was none of that girl’s business if you were or weren’t dating your friend.

I would stand up to someone like that now. That doesn’t make it better, but I would.

It does make it better, Corey, because you’re different now. You’ve changed, and just the fact that you feel badly proves that.

I smiled to myself, my heart feeling lighter as I sent back one last message before work. You’ve changed too, you know. You’re now friends with the weird kid (me).

I slipped my phone into my pocket as Ashley parked, but before I could get out of the car, Ashley asked, “Corey?”

I frowned at her, feeling nervous. “Um, yes?”

“If you need to get away from Jason, I want you to call me. I mean it. I’ll come get you.” I blinked at the fire in her usually bored eyes as she faced me with one hand clenching the steering wheel. “I know he’s coming onto you and you’re not feeling it. I… understand.” She didn’t explain further, but I could tell she was being serious. I could also tell that she really did understand, making me wonder what exactly had happened between her and Jason.

“Ashley…” I said in awe.

She shook her head. “Look, I know it’s weird to talk about, but I mean it. Understand?”

“Y-yes,” I said, my mind reeling. I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but she didn’t give me the chance.

“Then you should get to work. You’ll be late,” Ashley said nonchalantly. It was a clear signal that this conversation was done.

I nodded to her even though she wasn’t looking at me. I got out of her car before watching her drive away. My mind soon abandoned thoughts of Ashley and Jason as I stepped into work, greeting Kurosawa with a kind smile. He put me to work immediately as usual, not that I minded. I was only glad that no one unexpected showed up.

My stress was probably pretty obvious though as Dana stepped up to me while I was wiping tables again. “You look exhausted,” she said to me with her plucked eyebrows raised.

I offered her a small smile. “You could say that. But um… I’m going over to a friend’s house next week,” I admitted shyly, hoping I didn’t sound too much like I was in grade school going over for a playdate.

Dana clapped her hands together happily. “Look at you spending some time with people outside of work! Can I do your makeup?”

“Um, well, I think it’s just a casual thing,” I said with a frown, moving to another table.

Dana followed me, crossing her arms. “Yeah, but it’s always fun to dress up when you go out. Maybe you and your friend could go out for dinner or something first?”

Her tone was gentle somehow, but I couldn’t figure out why. Was she… was she saying I should go on a date with Nikki? She probably didn’t know the friend I was talking about was a girl, but still, the sentiment made me smile. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I wanted to look nice for one night, or maybe I thought makeup and some heels would give me the courage I needed to tell Nikki my secret. Whatever the reason, I turned to Dana and said, “Okay. I mean, yes, if you wouldn’t mind helping me look nice, that would be great.”

You would have thought I told Dana she’d won a thousand dollars from the expression on her face. She leapt forward to hug me tightly enough that I had to tap her shoulder a few times to get her to let me go. “Sorry,” she apologized, not looking sorry at all as she held onto my shoulders. “But this is amazing! What day?”

I let her know and she nodded. “I work that morning… can you come here and I’ll do your hair and makeup in the break room?”

“Sure,” I said, already feeling overwhelmed.

Dana’s smile kind of made it worth it though as she went on chattering, keeping her eyes out for any customers in need of help. I smiled too, happy that I could do something that meant so much to Dana. We’d worked at the same place for years now and had never done anything outside of work. I guess we were still going to technically be at work here, but it was nice to have another friend. My head almost spun at the thought of how many friends I seemed to have now. I couldn’t imagine managing this many people on a daily basis.

By the time Kurosawa found me later, I was grabbing a few more towels for a guest who stopped me in the hallway.

“Corey,” he said kindly enough. He gestured for me to keep walking to the room I was headed to, keeping pace beside me easily. “Before you head to the restaurant tonight, I’ll need you to clean the dining hall. Marcus will be with you making up the tables before he goes back to work.”

“Yes sir,” I said, putting on a nice smile for the guest who’d asked for the towels after I knocked on his door. He accepted them easily, tipping me. Some guests had a habit of tipping for no reason, which is why we had a communal jar in our back room. If we got enough money, Kurosawa said he’d do something special for us.

I handed the top to Kurosawa for the jar instead of pocketing it myself. “How close are we to our surprise?” I asked with a small laugh.

He hummed, perhaps out of amusement. “A few dollars closer than you were before.” I wasn’t about to ask, but I was pretty sure he’d just made a joke. “Thank you for making the time to work on Christmas again this year, Corey.”

“It’s no problem, sir. Thanks for the week off until New Years,” I responded, following Kurosawa to the elevators and into the dining room. This was where Dana worked at nights serving people while the entertainment sung or played music or so on. It was a large room with nicely designed carpeting, circular tables, and the atmosphere of any fancy restaurant.

I raised my eyebrows at the familiar person speaking with Marcus as he set up tablecloths.

“Dominick,” I said, using his full name.

Dom turned to me with a lazy smile lighting up his face. “Corey,” he said kindly. “Sir,” he said, addressing Kurosawa. “Thanks for the work.”

Kurosawa nodded. “You’re good at your music. There’s no need to thank me.” Turning back to me, he said, “Corey, Marcus, set up promptly.”

“Yes sir,” we both said at the same time, receiving a curt nod before Kurosawa left the room.

Dom hummed. “He’s hard to read.”

“We’ve been trying for years, but none of us have him figured out,” Marcus said with a shrug. “But you already know Corey?”

“Dom and I are friends,” I said proudly. “I’m glad you got the job here,” I said to Dom. I had given Kurosawa his contact information, but I hadn’t heard anything else about it.

He was smiling at me, obviously happy. “It’s just here and there, but I’ll be doing bass with the band. I’m saving up to quit my other job so every little bit helps.” He shrugged. “Which means I should get back to the others. Corey, if you want a ride home later, I can drive you.”

“If we get off around the same time,” I said, not wanting to force him to wait around. I was kind of hoping he’d be around though since it had started snowing and I was freezing.

Dom nodded and smiled, going back behind the stage. I was left with Marcus to vacuum and clean up while he handled place settings and table cloths. All in all, it took us almost no time at all to get the place set up for dinner. Soon I could hear the sounds of guitars, violins, and a soft voice singing behind the stage. I smiled at the music.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in this room, but there was something amazing about seeing it come together. I was fixing up the last centerpiece when I noticed Marcus standing next to me.

“So, how did you and Dominik meet?” he asked curiously.

“Oh, uh, mutual friend,” I said, unsure of how else to describe it.

Marcus raised an eyebrow. Even after all the hard work, his vest and dress shirt were impeccable. “Multiple friends? And here I thought you were the lonely type,” he said in a joking tone, smiling at me.

“I’m definitely the lonely type,” I joked back. “To be honest, I kind of fell ass-first into this friendship thing.”

He chuckled. “That happens sometimes. I’m glad though. You seem happier.”

I looked up to Marcus as he held the door for me, easily reaching over me. I hadn’t even realized Marcus was paying attention, but I was once again confronted with the fact that more people cared about me than I thought.

I smiled at him as we walked back to the kitchen where I got to work washing dishes. My mind kept wandering as I went through the motions until I got off my shift, meeting Dom near the front desk. As we talked on the way home, I found myself smiling. This was nice, having friends.

I only hoped that nothing would change once they knew my big secret.

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