I'm Pretty Brave
“I heard about what happened.”
I gave Ashley a sidelong look as we walked. We didn’t have any classes this semester, but somehow, she’d found me a week after Jason attacked me. I’d skipped out on a few days of classes after what happened, with understanding emails from my professors, and was trying to get back into my usual schedule. It wasn’t easy.
“How did you…?” I asked, hunching up as Ashley walked beside me.
The girl was silent for a moment. “I spoke to the police after Jason attacked me last year.”
My eyes widened. That answer was the last thing I expected. “I didn’t know,” I said simply, sure that anything else would sound insincere.
Ashley’s eyes cut to me. “I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even press charges because I was too scared, but I kept my eyes on him.”
“That’s why you kept protecting me,” I said to her, stopping to look at her fully. Suddenly, I felt like my perception of Ashley shifted ever so slightly. She was a lot stronger than I had thought, with a lot more courage. But she was still the same Ashley, and that was a good thing because the Ashley I knew was actually pretty great.
Ashley sighed, looking tired for once. “Yeah. I could see him trying to get close to you. It was pretty clear from where I was standing that you weren’t into it. So I tried to show up as much as I could. I was scared the whole time, but well, I’ve been taking kickboxing classes since, so I felt more confident I could break his nose.” She shrugged. “Sorry that I wasn’t there when you actually needed it. Did he…?”
She didn’t ask the question, but I knew what she was getting at. I shook my head. “I stabbed him with a fork before he could get his pants off,” I said, earning me an impressed look. “It’s not your fault that you weren’t there either. I was working. I didn’t expect him to surprise me there.”
Ashley nodded. “He… he attacked me too, but we were interrupted. He still…” she shook her head, apparently unwilling to go into great detail. “He did rape multiple other girls around campus though. I’ve been in contact with all of them. Corey… if you press charges, I’ll be behind you on this.”
My eyes widened. The idea of pressing charges had been on my mind for the past week, but I was scared. Rape cases didn’t often end well for the victims, and the only evidence in mine would be the camera footage of me stabbing Jason by the back door. I did have a log of undeleted texts and emails proving that Jason had been harassing me for a while though, and witnesses like Ashley too.
I sighed. “I… maybe. I just… this is a lot, you know?”
Ashley nodded sympathetically. “I do know. You have my number. Let me know?”
“Of course,” I said to her. “I think… it might be good.”
I’d already given Nikki permission to post about what happened to her fans. She needed to tell them something about why she abandoned her stream, and the day after it happened, when I woke at her house, I reassured her that I was sure. I read her status on some social media site before she posted it, and had to admit that she did a great job with the wording:
Hey guys, so sorry about ending the stream yesterday! I know you all were looking forward to it, but I promise to make it up to you. I also know many of you have been concerned about what happened. With permission from my friend, I’ll give you the short version. She was attacked by a guy who had the intention of raping her. She was able to get away and hid until she could contact me. Just know that she is safe, and I’m okay too. Regular videos will resume in a few days; thanks for understanding!
I couldn’t believe all the positive comments Nikki got in response. There were tons of them wishing me well and telling Nikki to take as much time off as she needed to. It was comments like those that gave me the courage to think about pressing charges.
I smiled at Ashley. “I’ll text you.”
I got a smile in return. “Sure. You’re smart. Don’t let this stuff get in the way of how well you’re doing.” Ashley gave me a wave, stepping onto the pavement to get to her car.
I stood there and watched her drive away, waiting for another second before I trotted off to get back to my apartment, which I reluctantly returned to. At the very least, Shawna stopped bothering me. Whatever the RA said apparently worked, since Shawna barely looked my way now.
I didn’t care much. Honestly, I’d go live with Nikki if her house was close enough for me to walk to school. It felt too much like high school asking for a ride to school every day, even if she never minded.
Not that Nikki, Mikey, Dom, and Ray hadn’t been accommodating. They seemed more than happy to have me around and had no problem with me inserting myself into their lives. Dom had even sat with me on multiple occasions when I had a panic attack, or when my insomnia began acting up again. I’d gotten used to having warm tea in the kitchen with him at night when Nikki was still up working on her videos.
Mikey continued checking on my bruises, and Ray updated me on the situation. Nikki stayed with me whenever I needed her, doing a full video about what happened a few days later. I’d gone over the script with her, and with my approval, she posted it.
I was impressed by her, and I told her as much that evening in her kitchen.
Nikki had blushed, smiling. “Not really. You’re pretty impressive yourself. School and work and with grades like yours? You’re the type of person people should look up to rather than a hermit like me.”
“I’m not so sure,” I said shyly, watching as Nikki stirred some pasta on the stove.
Mikey nodded from his place at the table, surrounded by school books. “I think you’re both pretty impressive. Nikki’s fans think so.” He didn’t look up from his books until Nikki gave him a light smack on the back of his head.
I frowned, prompting Nikki to explain. “I promise I’ve only said ‘my friend’ when I talk about you, and it hasn’t even been that much, but people have been joking that we’re dating.” She winced, like she was worried about how I would take it. “That and asking if you’ll show up in one of our live shows with Ray, Mikey, Dom, and me.”
It didn’t bother me at all that people thought Nikki and I might be dating, mostly because I kind of wished we were, but too much had happened to me in the past week. I needed time to reacclimate before being brave and telling Nikki how much she’d come to mean to me.
But there was something I could do for Nikki. “I’ll do a live show with you.”
Nikki almost knocked over the pot she was stirring with how quickly she turned around. Her eyes were wide, her black hair swishing in its ponytail. “Corey, you don’t have to do that for me—”
“I want to,” I said, interrupting her with a smile. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to unwind. I think it’ll be fun.” Nikki still looked cautious, so I said, “How about we do a smaller video then? The one where you show our faces, but it’s prerecorded. You can go over it then before you post it.”
Nikki looked at me with narrowed eyes, but finally nodded. “Alright… but fair warning that people are just plain weird.”
Before we settled on a night to record, I ended up back at work again. I thought something might be different after what happened, but no one treated me any differently. Dana let me know that we could talk whenever I wanted, if I wanted to, and Marcus joked that he would handle the trash from now on.
It was Kurosawa who surprised me. As he led me to whatever task he had in mind for me, he said, “I’m glad you’re doing well, Corey. I’m very sorry I was unable to assist.”
“That’s okay, sir,” I said. “Really, you’ve done enough.” It was a tiring to have everyone always apologizing to me for something that wasn’t their fault.
He nodded, accepting my answer. Kurosawa turned to me abruptly, forcing me to stop. “You’re a strong woman, Corey. Immensely so. To tell you the truth, you remind me a lot of my own daughter.”
“You have a daughter, sir?” I asked, wondering how I didn’t know this.
Kurosawa gave me a sad smile. “I used to. She was very ill. Passed about a decade ago.” He held up a hand, anticipating my condolences. “All is as well as it can be now. My employees here feel like my family, and I consider you all as such. That is why I would also like you to know that if anyone should say anything derogatory to you concerning your sexuality, that you should come to me immediately.”
The secret about me being a lesbian wasn’t a secret anymore. It had somehow gotten spread around pretty quickly, but I was surprised that I didn’t mind as much as I thought it might. It was even freeing not having to hide who I was anymore.
I smiled at Kurosawa. “Thank you, sir. I was scared to tell anyone for a long time. I’m glad there was no reason for me to be afraid.” It almost seemed silly that I was so scared to come out and be who I was with so many people who accepted me. I knew everyone wouldn’t, with Jason as evidence of that, but it was nice to know I had a few allies.
Apparently, I had more than a few allies in the fans of Nikki’s videos. They all knew Nikki was gay, as she was very open about it on her channel, and were more than excited for the video we posted with just the two of us playing games. I watched it back a few days later, smiling all the while.
“Hey guys!” Nikki said happily, looking out at the camera. She was sitting at her desk, her room in the background. “Today is a very special video, because I’ve gotten my friend that you’ve all been weirdly asking about to join in.”
I wheeled in on another desk chair, waving shyly.
“Come on Corey, you’ve got to say hi or something,” Nikki prompted teasingly.
“Um, hello? It’s weird talking to a camera,” I admitted, much to Nikki’s amusement.
She took over with a smile. “Okay, now that you know this is Corey, let’s get going. Today we’ll be playing a few classics. Mario Party and Kirby Air Ride.”
“Mostly because I have a suitable chance of winning those,” I put in smartly, making Nikki laugh as she turned on the game.
We had pretty good chemistry on screen, laughing and smiling together and joking around. I wasn’t too competitive in anything other than school, so I just laughed it off every time I lost. My lacking competitive nature meant that Nikki was taking it easy too, but it was fun to win against her.
“I think I win,” I said, laughing at her pouty expression.
“No fair,” she whined, but I could tell she was joking.
At that point in the video, Nikki got up to check on something downstairs, which she would have edited out, only I asked her not to. When she was gone, I looked right into the camera and tried not to mess up what I wanted to say.
“Nikki’s really good at her channel, huh?” I said as I pushed a lock of my blonde hair behind my ear. “I really wanted to do one of her videos with her for fun, but also because Nikki’s been so great to me. She really saved me, so if I can help her out here, well,” I shrugged, still smiling.
I looked to see if Nikki was coming back yet before turning my gaze back to the camera. “Don’t delete this part, okay Nikki?”
She didn’t delete it, but I did get a tight hug when she watched the video back to edit it. I got quite a few comments asking if we were together after that video. They ranged from “Oh my god, Nikki and Corey are absolutely adorable” to “Are we sure they aren’t together already?”
Nikki didn’t say anything about the comments, but I found that I was ready to at least bring them up. Maybe I was misreading things or maybe I had a stupid crush, but Nikki meant something to me. She meant something to me now after all she’d done, and had meant something to me even before Jason tried to rape me. He didn’t get to stop me from being brave. He didn’t get to prevent me from being with someone like Nikki. It had been a few months since what happened with Jason, and I was ready to ask Nikki the question that had been on my mind for a while.
I was scared, but I wasn’t backing down now. We were having dinner with Dom, Mikey, and Ray, laughing happily. It was almost Spring Break, so I had a little more time to relax.
“I still think it’s hilarious,” Ray was saying, “all of your fans absolutely love Corey. She’s done one video and they want her around in your next livestream.”
“They like you guys too,” Nikki protested.
Dom hummed. “Yes, but they like Corey because they ship you guys.”
Nikki rolled her eyes, but even I could see the blush forming on her face. “We’re not even dating.”
“Can we be?”
Everyone looked to me when I said that, the room going silent. Nikki was looking at me in surprise, her mouth opened slightly. I held her gaze seriously, wanting her to know that I wasn’t joking, even if my heart was threatening to leap out of my chest in anxiety.
“Holy shit, Corey’s a badass,” Ray said, his eyebrows raised.
Nikki just kept looking at me. “Um you… you really want to? Not just because of my channel or these three?” She vaguely waved to Ray, Dom, and Mikey, who were apparently all content to watch us.
I didn’t pay any attention to them and nodded. “If you’ll forgive my inexperience,” I said with a little smile. I leaned forward, wondering how I was supposed to tell her that I wanted her to kiss me. That was what couples did, right?
Nikki caught the hint. With a nod from me, she leaned forward to kiss me, one of her hands caressing my cheek. I felt like I could have set myself on fire from the intensity of that short kiss. I’d never kissed anyone before, not really. Some weirdo had grabbed me in high school and kissed me, but I had about as much experience as a twelve-year-old.
But this felt comfortable. This felt right. Like always, Nikki made me feel safe and confident. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, Nikki was there to guide me. I hoped I could do the same for her too.
We only broke apart on account of the little cheers from the three boys, which Nikki scoffed good-naturedly at. “Don’t embarrass her. Or she’ll never kiss me again,” Nikki protested.
I smiled slightly, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek. “I don’t know, I’m pretty brave,” I said with a smile.
Nikki looked at me with a fond look in her eyes. “Yes, you are.”