Take A Chance

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You're Worth It

I was nervous. There was no reason to be, but I was. I was inexplicably, terribly, horrifyingly nervous. The second I woke up, my nerves hit me like a truck. I’d been ignoring my ever-present anxiety over the prospect of coming out for the last week, but with the semester over and my sleepover at Nikki’s that night, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

At least the semester really was over, along with that stupid group project. We’d done well and everything went smoothly. I’d even managed to block Jason’s number about ten seconds after we sat back down. Relief washed over me in droves as I realized that I would never have to deal with Jason and his weird touching in such close quarters again.

I was so happy that I practically ran out of class, earning myself a little smile from Ashley. She may have been a bossy, superior type of girl, but she wasn’t a bad person. I sent her a thank you text later, smiling even though she sent me back a picture of her completely not amused expression.

She did remind me to continue to be careful of Jason though, which I took seriously. I wasn’t just uncomfortable around him now, but legitimately scared since the night Ray came to my rescue. Jason had been advancing on me and I was unable to do anything. I’d never felt more scared in my life, but thoughts of that fear were pushed to the back of my mind as I packed up a backpack with some clothing for the following day.

Jason wasn’t anywhere in my thoughts as I threw in my laptop, a book, and my wallet. Honestly, the wallet was mostly in case I needed to make a run for it after I came out to Nikki. I was sure I wouldn’t need it, but I was definitely a “better safe than sorry” type of person.

I swallowed as I adjusted my tight turtleneck and jeans, slipping into my snow boots. I didn’t bother to do my own makeup with Dana committed to it, so I stepped out into the biting wind looking as tired as always. By the time I got to the Grand, my nose was red and I was wondering if someone had replaced the tissue box in the break room yet.

Kurosawa came up to me with a confused look on his face. It wasn’t often we could get him to look like that. “Corey? You’re not on the schedule for today.”

“Oh, I know. I’m just—”

I was cut off when Dana called me excitedly, practically running up to me with a wide smile. “Oh, I’m so excited! I brought all my stuff this morning.” Upon looking at Kurosawa’s still confused expression, she explained, “Corey’s letting me do her makeup since she’d spending time with her friends later.” If I said that sentence, it would sound boring. When Dana said it, it sounded like the most exciting thing in the world.

Kurosawa gave us a skeptical look, but he didn’t seem bothered. He only nodded and told us not to disturb anyone. Dana took that as an okay and dragged me to the break room where she sat me down in a stool and asked me to sit still.

I’d gotten my makeup done only once before when I went to my aunt’s wedding years ago, and I have to say it was a relaxing experience. Dana’s usual energy calmed as she and I sat in silence and her brushes swiped over my eyes and face. She said she was only going to give me the bare minimum, since I said I didn’t want to look too dressed up, but I had to wonder what “minimum” meant to her. Whatever it meant, she gave me instructions to look here, look there, close my eyes, tilt my head, and so on. I listened easily.

Sometimes, it was nice when someone told you what to do. I was as self-sufficient and headstrong as anyone despite my shyness, but this one time, it was nice that Dana was handling everything for me. Her hands were gentle as she moved my head this way and that. Dana was being so nice with me that a thought crossed my mind: I could tell Dana that I was gay. I could ask her what she thought about the LGBTQ+ community, or how she felt about same-sex relationships. It would be easy. All I would have to do was ask…

Dana’s hands stilled before I could say anything. “And I think I’m done… Okay, you can open your eyes now.”

My heart sunk at my own inability to build up the courage to come out to her, but any sadness I felt disappeared as I looked into the mirror she held up for me. I didn’t look like myself, but I didn’t think that was a bad thing. My eyes were shaded with thin lines of black eyeliner and sweeping poofs of grey on the lids. There was some coverup on my face with slight blush, but there really wasn’t too much.

I looked like an enhanced version of myself, my dark blonde hair tumbling down my back. “Wow…” I said, surprised. My usually boring brown eyes looking striking; it was like they were larger than usual.

“I’ll take that to mean you like it,” Dana said with a smile. She let me hold the mirror while she started putting away her things. “I didn’t do much, but I brought out your eyes a lot. Oh, but here,” she said, hanging me a package of wipes. “Those will help you remove it later.”

“You don’t have to,” I started, but she waved her hand to let me know it was okay.

“Consider it a gift,” she said kindly. She was smiling happily.

I offered her a smile in return. “Thank you. This looks great. Um, my friend Nikki; I hope she likes it.” I have no idea why I brought Nikki up at all, but Dana smiled gently at me.

“I’m sure she’ll love it. She’s the girl with the computer and the headphones that comes in a lot, right? The one who got you the muffin?” Dana was giving me her full attention, so I knew she noticed the hot blush that colored my cheeks.

“That’s her,” I said quietly, messing with my hair nervously.

There was a beat of silence where the only sound was Dana zipping up her makeup case. “You guys are cute together,” she said surely.

My heart stopped for a second, stuttering in my chest. Did she…? Did she know I was a lesbian? I had a feeling that she did as she gave me a warm smile before she straightened up. Changing the subject, perhaps for my benefit, she asked, “Is Nikki coming to get you?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling dazed. “She should be here soon.” I checked the time on my phone, reading Nikki’s last message: Hey, Corey! I’ll be there at one. Want to go to lunch before I take you home?

I’d typed back, Okay, come get me at the hotel then. Lunch sounds great.

It was almost one as I pulled my jacket back on and tried not to smudge up my makeup. I smiled at Dana as she walked with me to the door. “Um, Dana? Thank you.” I wish I was brave enough to tell her that I was gay. Even if I wasn’t though, Dana seemed to understand. She deserved a thanks for that, even if I couldn’t tell her what I was thanking her for.

Dana gave me a smile and a wink. “Have fun! We’re both working the holidays, so you’ve got to unwind at least a little bit before then.”

I laughed and bid her goodbye, feeling more confident than I had all week. When Nikki pulled up and I hauled myself into Ray’s car, I had even forgotten about the makeup on my face.

“Hey, Nikki,” I said happily, setting my backpack near my feet carefully.

“Hey, Corey,” she started with a smile, her voice trailing off as she got a look at my face.

I frowned, not sure what was wrong until I remembered the makeup. “O-oh, my friend did this for me. Does it look okay?”

Unlike me, Nikki wasn’t the type of person to blush, but I saw red coloring her cheeks as she looked at me. She started when I spoke. “Yes! It looks great,” she said too excitedly. Clearing her throat, she continued, “I-I mean, really. That looks… wonderful on you.”

I’d never heard Nikki sound so nervous. Somehow, knowing that I’d done that put a small smile on my face. She wasn’t pulling away from the curb though. “Um, should we get going?”

Nikki jumped a little, the blush on her face deepening. “Ah, right.” She cleared her throat, turning her attention back to the road. While she turned away, I let my eyes take her in. As usual, she was wearing dark clothing, but she had her hair braided neatly. I was starting to realize that while Nikki didn’t seem like the girly type, she had some pretty amazing skills when it came to hair and makeup.

“I never get to go out to eat,” I murmured. “We’ve been so poor over the past few years, and I’ve been saving up for school.”

“Then this will be my treat,” Nikki said happily, sounding more like herself. “Er, well it was going to be my treat anyway.”

“I couldn’t let you do that,” I said, scrunching up my eyebrows.

Nikki only shook her head, looking left and right as we left the hotel behind and turned out. “Of course you can. I’m just excited that you’re staying over tonight.” She gave me a big smile, showing her teeth. I thought it was cute.

Lunch was nice and relaxing. Somehow, Nikki made me feel special doing something so mundane and ordinary. Even when she pulled me along with her to the grocery store afterwards to grab a few things they were missing at home, I still felt like the day was somehow special. My heart felt light as we walked around, smiling and laughing. I wondered if this was what it was like to have friends as Nikki made me wait with the cart while she picked up what she called a “surprise.” She wouldn’t even let me see it as she went to pay and get a bag first.

I raised an eyebrow, but Nikki kept it hidden with her until we got into the car. “It’s a surprise for the three at home too,” she explained.

“I’m good at keeping secrets,” I said with a smile.

“I’m sure you are,” Nikki reasoned. “But call me crazy for wanting to surprise you too.”

As it turned out, Nikki had bought what she called an “Annual Christmas Treat.” Apparently, there was something of a competition with her, Dom, Ray, and Mikey. The goal was for each of them to buy the most cliché Christmas desert they could find before they all went home for the holidays. They’d vote on the best one without voting for themselves. The person who got the most votes earned one favor from each of the other three.

In my opinion, everyone was a winner with all the delicious-looking treats in the house now. Nikki’s red and green cookies shaped like Christmas decorations certainly looked good as she placed them on the table that night. “I think I win,” she challenged.

“Hell no, I’ve got this,” Mikey said, racing up the stairs to get to his room.

Dom looked at the cookies Nikki brought. “Might be hard to beat those…” He still went to the kitchen though, grabbing some store-bought cupcakes with snowflakes all over them. Mikey returned with cereal treats shaped like Christmas trees. I laughed beneath my hand when I heard Nikki curse and pout. Dom just groaned as Ray came back with whoopie pies in multiple colors and fillings.

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Ray, these look more like pride pies than Christmas ones,” she said with a laugh as he set them down.

He shrugged, smiling. “They still look fucking awesome,” he supplied, setting them down.

I swallowed at the reminder of what I was planning to do that night, but I pushed it down for the formal process of voting. “Um, does the taste count?” I asked.

“Usually no,” Nikki said with a frown. “Since we’re lazy half the time and buy from the store.”

“But then this is hard…” I said, looking at my options.

“That’s the point,” Dom said wisely. After a moment of deliberation, he opened his cupcakes and said, “But I’m eating one of mine because I’ve clearly lost this one.”

I laughed at the blue frosting on the underside of his nose when he took a bite. Ray took mercy on him and handed him a napkin. Mikey ended up winning, but Nikki got a close second. Ray got third for breaking the Christmas theme, while Dom graciously accepted fourth place. Everyone said he had “low effort,” which he agreed with. Nikki told me that he had won once when he went all out, but Dom wasn’t the type to put more than the minimal effort into anything other than his music.

By the time Nikki invited me up to her room so that I could relax for the night, we were both smiling. “I think if taste was an element, you might have won,” I told her, setting my backpack down near her bed. It wasn’t made, but the rest of her room wasn’t nearly as messy as it could have been.

“Mikey’s Christmas trees were definitely worse than my cookies, but I’ll admit that Ray’s pride pies were really good,” she said, quickly pulling the covers over her bed like that would make it look less messy. “Uh, sorry about all this. I totally forgot that I didn’t clean up this morning, and I was up most of the night trying to get a few videos pre-recorded so I wouldn’t need to do one while you were here.”

Nikki adjusted her shirt and quickly put away a few gaming systems, scooped up a few stray pieces of clothing, and tried to make the bed look nicer. I stood around awkwardly, but said, “It’s okay, Nikki. I wouldn’t have minded if you wanted to do one of your videos tonight though. I don’t want you to overwork yourself for me.”

She gave me a smile that melted my heart. “Well since you’re staying in my room tonight, I didn’t want you to have to listen to me talk to myself for three hours.” Just the thought of her being so considerate to me made my heart beat faster.

It made it hard for me to say, “You don’t have to give up your room” as Nikki shook her head and responded, “You said you don’t sleep well in new places, right? I figure you’ll at least have an easier time in a bed rather than on a couch.”

I could have kissed her. I couldn’t believe that she remembered something so small, something I’d told her in one of our usual messages. I couldn’t believe that she was being so nice to me when members of my own family barely remembered by birthday. My heart was beating too quickly, so quickly that I had to sit down on the edge of her bed, trying to regain my faculties.

It must have looked like something was wrong as Nikki sat next to me, gently rubbing my back. Maybe I was touch-starved, but the simple and loving gesture meant the world to me.

“You…” I started, swallowing heavily. “Um…”

“Take your time,” Nikki said softly.

Swallowing again, I blurted out, “You might not want to be so nice to me.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Why is that?”

There was a palpable pause where the only sound was the yelling from whatever Ray, Mikey, and Dom were doing downstairs. I could hear my own breathing. I didn’t know what to say.

Nikki didn’t move though, except to ask, “Do you want some help removing your makeup?”

Remembering the wipes Dana had given me, I nodded and pulled them out. Nikki took them from my hands, opening the package with nimble fingers. She folded one of the wipes, and as soon as I nodded my assent, gently swiped it over my cheeks in wide sweeping motions.

“Close your eyes,” she said softly, wiping the cool remover over my lids gently.

I couldn’t see her face with my eyes closed. In a moment of bravery, I said, “I’m gay.”

The second the words were out, I felt relief. I’d told someone. I’d done it. Then the panic set in when I felt Nikki move the wipe away from my eyes. I didn’t open my eyes, scared of what I would see. It felt safe with darkness all around me, as if keeping my eyes closed would shield me from any harm.

“Corey, can you open your eyes for me?” Nikki asked. Her voice sounded louder somehow with my eyes closed.

Since there was no way I could run out of here with my eyes closed, I blinked them open, squinting at the sudden brightness that assaulted me. Nikki sat across from me, looking at me with a warm gaze. She pushed some of my blonde hair behind my ear, a gesture I remembered from my childhood.

“So, you’re gay. But you’re still Corey. To be honest, I sort of had a feeling you weren’t exactly straight, but I didn’t want to assume,” Nikki said with a sheepish smile. “Have you told anyone else that you’re gay?” Her voice was gentle, understanding, and not at all judgmental.

“Um, no,” I stammered out. “Y-you, er, I mean I told you about my family. My dad, uh, my dad’s homophobic, and my brothers would tease me, not like a mean tease but still, and my mom would understand, but I was scared, and I don’t have too many close friends, and… and my chest hurts…” I stopped talking, placing a hand on my chest and trying to calm down.

“Deep breaths,” Nikki said, pushing me down so that I was bent in half. My head was between my knees as she got down on the floor to sit in front of me. “Come on, deep breaths, Corey. It’s okay, I promise.”

I did as she asked, immediately feeling embarrassed when my breath started to come back and the stabbing pain in my chest began to decrease. Nikki tapped my knee as she spoke, something I was beginning to recognize as a nervous habit of hers. “I’m really honored that you chose me to confide in. It’s not easy coming out; people look at you just a little differently as they reevaluate their perceptions of you. I would know. I’m gay too, Corey.”

I looked up so quickly I was surprised that I didn’t hurt my neck. She’d summarized how I was feeling perfectly. Nikki gave me a wry smile. “Is it really that surprising?”

“No,” I admitted. “But I thought I was projecting or something. And you’re so casual about it.”

Nikki shrugged. “I’ve been out for years now. That’s the real reason why I don’t get along well with my family, you know. My parents didn’t hate me, but they were displeased with the idea. There was a lot of arguing back then.” She made a face. “Uh, I was seventeen. After I moved out, things got a little better. Now they still don’t like it, but they don’t like my job even more,” she said with an amused glint in her eye. Despite that, I knew Nikki well enough to know that she wished it wasn’t so tense with her family.

I offered her a smile, understanding something else too. “Is that why it’s rough with your sister?”

Nikki nodded. “She’s got the job and the husband. I play video games for a living and won’t ever have a husband, even if I do get married.” She snorted and smiled again. “It’s probably stupid for me to find this funny, but it really is funny after a while.”

“You’ve got to laugh sometimes or you’ll cry,” I said, paraphrasing something Nikki had said to me in one of her messages.

That earned me a smile. “But Ray, Dom, and Mikey are really accepting. The three of them know I’m gay and they have no problem with it. We went to a pride parade for fun once and all three of them had way more fun with it than me. Said it was flattering to have guys hit on them.” Nikki rolled her eyes, but she was smiling.

I realized I was smiling too. “I only recently realized I was gay,” I explained, “I tried to convince myself I was confused, but I just… I like girls.”

“Good to know,” Nikki said with a wide smile. “Girls are pretty great, so there’s no shame in admitting that.”

We were silent for a moment, but it wasn’t tense like it had been before. “How did I give myself away?” I asked.

Nikki shrugged, standing up to sit back down next to me. “Not sure. You’re not obvious. But I do stand by everything I said: you’re normal, and it’s okay. And you being gay does not change our friendship or the fact that I want you to stay up here tonight. It doesn’t change the fact that I want you to feel comfortable talking to me about all this stuff too. I promise I’m good at secrets.”

I nodded, feeling safe in a way I hadn’t felt before. It felt good to have someone to talk to about this, even if I wasn’t great at talking to people about more other topics either. I exhaled, feeling like a thousand pounds had left my shoulders.

“I, um, I’ve never been in a relationship before, you know that, but I never told my family I was gay because, well…” I made a face. “I was worried they’d tell me I just needed to date a guy first.”

Nikki nodded, looking like she understood. “My family said something similar to me. I went out with a few guys when I was younger, but we never got much of anywhere. There was no connection on my part. When I came out, I got a lot of ‘you just haven’t found the right guy yet.’” She rolled her eyes. “But if you get any of that, I’ll be here for you.”

“You sound really… experienced?” I said, wincing at the word choice. “I just mean that you’ve gone through all of this before.”

Nikki patted my hand. “That’s why you can rely on me. I’ll be your lesbian guru,” she said with a wink, before wincing. “Actually, forget I said that. I’m embarrassed by myself.” She shook her head, but I laughed, feeling lighter. Nikki looked back up to me. “By the way, if you ever want any help with panic attacks, Mikey and Ray have medical training with that stuff. Dom used to have them a lot too.”

I figured Mikey and Ray would have training considering their jobs, but I blinked at the mention of Dom. “He did? He seems so… laid back.”

Nikki shrugged. “He puts on a good mask. That’s why he spends so much time with his music. It calms him down.”

I supposed that made sense. I wondered if talking to Dom might help. Talking to Nikki had certainly made me feel better about being gay, even if an undercurrent of panic was still thrumming through me.

Maybe Nikki knew this as she gave me a gentle smile and instructed me to close my eyes again. With gentle hands, she removed the rest of my makeup. I couldn’t help it when I asked, “So you don’t feel weird touching me or being close to me now?”

She didn’t hesitate when she answered. “Not at all. Even if I was straight, I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Mouth closed for a second.”

I did as she asked before she did a final swipe around my mouth. I opened my eyes as she stood up to throw away the used cloth. “Now, you’re staying up here then and I’ll be on the couch. I might sneak in here to grab something, so don’t be freaked out if you hear me moving. If any of the guys comes in here for some reason, you have my permission to throw something non-breakable at them. Feel free to use anything in the bathroom too, or to come downstairs and turn the TV on low if you can’t sleep. Oh!” She interrupted herself, stepping over to her desk.

A second later, she came back with a slip of paper that she handed to me. “Wifi password,” she explained. “That way you won’t have to use your data.”

It felt like a bigger step for Nikki to give me the wifi password than it did for her to let me sleep in her bed. I took the paper gratefully as Nikki flitted around grabbing something to sleep in and picking up a laptop to bring with her downstairs. She smiled at me before she left and asked, “You don’t look all that tired, so how about we meet for a movie downstairs in ten? Oh, but do you think you’ll need anything else?”

I stepped forward before I could think about it and wrapped Nikki in a tight hug, feeling awkward for all of a second before Nikki returned the gesture. “Thank you. For accepting me. For making me feel… worth it.” My heart felt full as I held onto her.

I could feel Nikki’s hand rub over my back soothingly. “You are worth it, Corey. You’re completely worth it.”

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