Take A Chance

All Rights Reserved ©

Kindness All Around Me

Even two Mondays later when I had to drag myself back to class, I was still smiling to myself. Normally, I would slip into class and wait quietly until it started, but this time, I had my phone in my hand and Nikki’s messages pulled up.

We’d been talking all week intermittently, texting back every couple of hours. Nikki knew I had schoolwork I had to do, and she told me she tended to sleep in late since she generally did her videos at night. We couldn’t text back every few minutes, but even just knowing that she would be getting back to me at some point in the day made me smile.

I found myself looking forward to seeing Nikki again at work as I read our last few messages. I know I’m a computer geek, but if you ever need me to kick some roommate ass, I’m on it. Or I can get Ray on it. He’s an idiot, but he’s a reliable idiot.

I might have to take you up on that. I’m a little scared for my life haha. What about Dominick and Mike? They aren’t tough enough?

Mikey’s a funny guy. He’s more likely to get punched. Dom… maybe. He’s kind of scary when he’s serious about anything.

I know the feeling. My little brother’s like that. He’s also pretty scary when people are rude to me.

Then there was Nikki’s most recent response. Not your older brother then? Your little brother’s the protective one?

I typed back: My older brother has always kind of put himself first. First child and all. My little brother would never admit to it, but yeah, he is kind of protective. I got bullied here and there when I was in high school and he always got righteously angry on my behalf.

I finished sending my message, still smiling despite the entry into the sadder topic of my life in high school. The smile was wiped from my face when I heard, “Look at how beautiful you are with that smile,” in the slimy voice I’d begun to associate with Jason.

He slid into the seat in front of me, leaning forward onto my desk. I purposely leaned backwards, uncomfortable with him so close to me. I didn’t respond to his statement. He was looking at me expectantly as he raised his eyebrows.

“Aw, loosen up. Don’t girls like it when they get called beautiful?” Jason said it like it was a given, but I didn’t change my expression.

I wanted to tell him that no, girls don’t like it when creepy guys call them beautiful, cat call them, or touch them without warning, but I was too nervous to do anything. Instead, I only said, “I don’t have time to loosen up. I’m busy.” I turned away to get my books out, but Jason kept talking.

“You didn’t look so busy smiling at your phone. Boyfriend?”

“No,” I said sternly. “But my personal life isn’t your business.”

I said it more forcefully than I normally would have, the discomfort getting to me. Jason gave me a look I couldn’t decipher, but it made me feel uneasy. If we weren’t in class, with tons of other students and a professor, I would have felt scared. There was tension in the air, but I studiously ignored it as I rearranged my notes again, pretending to reread last class’s work. I clutched my phone in my hand as it vibrated again. I wanted to answer it, but I didn’t trust Jason not to grab it out of my hands or make another comment.

I was saved by Mary’s appearance to my right. “Hi, Corey,” she said cheerfully. Nate slid into the seat in front of her, immediately putting his head down on his desk as if the act of walking to class was far too much effort for him. I wondered how he functioned in his daily life. Maybe he was a night owl by nature.

Either way, I greeted Mary. “Hey, Mary,” I said back.

We had a short conversation about nothing really, but it served its purpose: Jason had turned back around and was talking to some other girl in class whose name I couldn’t remember. I let out a breath of relief, accidentally meeting Ashley’s eyes.

Her usually snooty expression was twisted into something like suspicion as she looked at me. She turned away quickly enough to continue the conversation she’d been having with one of the guys in class, but her piercing gaze unnerved me all the same.

I took a deep breath, no longer feeling comfortable. I pulled out my phone just before class started to read Nikki’s response. If you need me to get righteously angry on your behalf, I’ve been told I’m good at that. But you were bullied? That’s horrible.

It’s no big deal, I typed back, I guess I come off cold sometimes because I’m so awkward. Plus, people didn’t like it that I was always getting good grades and bringing the average up.

I clicked my phone off and turned to our professor, taking notes while trying not to nod off. I never slept well on Sunday nights, meaning Mondays were even harder than they would normally be. I had to work that day too, which thankfully gave me a great excuse to slip away from Jason before he could say something else to me after class. He was still giving me that weird expression that unnerved me, and I was aware of Ashley’s gaze on me too for some reason. Maybe she finally felt bad for not doing anything in our project.

I didn’t stick around to find out as I made plans with Mary to figure out some of the research on her portion and slunk out of the room. With my work uniform already in my backpack, I walked to work more quickly than usual. Whenever I took the afternoon shift, I had to rush to get to work after class.

Today was no different as I trotted awkwardly down the street, trying not to spill my books. By the time I got to the hotel, I only had a few minutes to change and store my bag.

I took one of those minutes to read Nikki’s message. You’re awkward, yes, but cold, no. People are idiots. Intelligence is attractive, especially when it’s not accompanied by arrogance. I used to get a few comments about being a computer geek, but those stopped when I did some hacking I’m not entirely proud off.

Quickly, I typed back, You give me compliments too easily. What did you do?

Storing my phone in my apron, I smoothed out my uniform and went to work cleaning tables and vacuuming hallways. I couldn’t help it if I kept searching for Nikki by the café, but she must have been working at home that day.

My distraction must have been obvious though, especially since I’d been somewhat absentminded that entire week. After I wiped the same table twice, Dana came up to me and said, “Something on your mind, Corey?”

I jumped, not expecting her presence for some reason. “No, I’m fine,” I said, although it wasn’t a lie this time.

Maybe she understood that as she smiled back. In a familiar gesture, she picked up a piece of my hair. “You know, if you ever wanted me to style your hair or do your makeup for you, I’d accept that instead of going out to a club.”

I raised my eyebrows, habitually running a hand through my hair. I rarely did anything with it, and only knew how to use eyeliner and cover up. Normally, I would have said no to Dana, but then I thought of Nikki and the night I saw her in the restaurant. She had looked beautiful with the hints of makeup. Maybe I could look a better too if I tried a little. Maybe Nikki would like it.

I stopped my thoughts right there. I might have accepted the fact that I was gay, but no one else besides me knew that, and I wouldn’t risk my new friendship with Nikki just because I might have a crush on her. It was hard not to when she was so nice to me, so alluring, and so smart too.

But this didn’t have to be for Nikki. Just by looking at Dana, I could tell she would be thrilled if I finally said yes to something.

So, without thinking, I said, “Maybe.” I tried. It was a step away from no at least.

Dana’s eyes lit up anyway. “Really? You’d let me style your hair and put on makeup?”

I laughed at her. “Maybe if you don’t go overboard, and I have a reason other than work to look good for.”

Dana put her arm around my shoulders, pulling me toward her bodily. “I can make you look great for anything.” She removed her arm, letting me wipe the table again so we didn’t look like we were slacking. “Any particular reason I’ve got a maybe this time though?”

The way she said that made me wonder if she knew about Nikki, but there was no way. I shrugged. “It just sounds better than clubbing,” I said honestly. “And… well it’ll make you happy, so that’s good.”

Dana gave me a surprised look before her face settled into a more natural smile. “Yes, but it’s only fun for me if you enjoy it,” she emphasized, pointing a finger at me.

“I rarely enjoy anything besides hanging out on my computer and eating,” I joked. It was kind of true though. Well, texting Nikki had become a recent favorite thing for me to do too.

Dana rolled her eyes. “You difficult girl, you. I’ll get you to enjoy a club one day, with makeup and everything.” She said it confidently, but I wasn’t so sure.

I only gave her a laugh, jumping slightly when I felt my phone vibrate. My hand went to my apron on instinct, but I didn’t take my phone out. Still, Dana’s eyes followed the movement.

“Oh, so that’s why you’re so distracted,” Dana said with a wry smirk. “Somebody special on the other line?”

I was suddenly reminded of the way my brothers used to tease me whenever the topic of boyfriends came up. My face flared red. That was probably answer enough, but I said, “No. Just, um… a new friend.”

“Because new friends make your face light up like that,” she said sarcastically, crossing her arms. I couldn’t decipher her expression, even as I avoided her eyes. I suddenly wondered if she could somehow know that I was a lesbian, that I was thinking about a girl and not a guy.

But there was no way Dana could have known that. She patted my shoulder. “I just hope your ‘friend’ deserves you,” she said kindly, stepping away to get back to work.

I’d known what kind of person Dana was for a while, but somehow, I was still surprised by her kindness. I shouldn’t have been. I smiled to myself as I got back to work, cleaning rooms, vacuuming, and eventually standing on a ladder in the middle of the lobby to reach all the places that needed cleaning. Kurosawa had different employees perform the ladder tasks here and there, and since I was free, it was apparently my turn.

I only wished I wasn’t so squeamish with heights. I always got the irrational urge to jump off as I pointedly avoided looking down. It looked too much like the ground was coming up to meet me.

I almost fell off the ladder when someone said loudly, “Corey!”

I grabbed onto a rung, my foot slipping. My knee hit another rung as I held on for dear life, my hands suddenly shaking and my body unresponsive thanks to the panic. If I needed more proof that I was useless in high-pressure situations, I had it. Quickly, I righted myself, getting my feet back underneath me when I looked down.

There was a sheepish Mikey standing there with a worried Nikki looking up at me with her arms out slightly, like she was preparing to catch me. As soon as she saw I was okay, she whacked Mikey in the arm hard enough that it had to hurt. “You idiot! She could have fallen off.”

“I didn’t think she’d jump like that!” he said worriedly.

I might have been mad if I hadn’t heard enough about Mikey to know that he genuinely didn’t mean any harm. Carefully, I picked my way down the ladder, my arms still shaking. When I got close enough, I felt Nikki’s hands on my hips, grounding me until I could get my feet on the carpet.

I was too full of adrenaline to flush, but I was hyperaware of the warmth of her fingers holding me tightly. My heart leapt in my chest as I tried not to show how much her careful touch was affecting me. I wasn’t used to people touching me casually without being creepy about it. It felt better than I would have thought.

My feet hit the ground and Nikki released me. “What are you guys doing here?” I asked, leaning on the ladder to combat the shaking in my muscles.

“Sorry,” Nikki apologized with a cute pout. “We were working in the restaurant and saw you on our way out. Mikey insisted we come over.” She gave him a look that might have been angry if not for the slight blush of embarrassment that adorned her cheeks.

Mikey laughed sheepishly to himself. “Sorry about that, Corey. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to ask if you might want to come over for dinner at our place some time.”

Nikki had told me before that she lived with Dominick, Mikey, and Ray in a house where they split the rent. It was a huge place with four bedrooms and three baths, but I couldn’t blame Nikki for getting annoyed at some of their antics. Growing up with two brothers, that was something I could understand.

I blinked at them. “Dinner? At your place?”

“Only if you want to,” Nikki amended quickly. “I… um, I thought it would be nice, if you relaxed with us.” She was tapping her fingers on her thigh, like I’d seen her do on tables before.

Going new places and doing new things made me nervous, but this was Nikki. And free food, which considering my diet, would be nice. Throwing my usual caution to the wind, I said, “I can do that, I think. But I need a ride… and, er, maybe a weekend or Friday would work best? I have to check with Kurosawa about my days…”

“Thanksgiving is coming up,” Mikey said in a way that was too deliberate to be casual. He rocked back on his heels. “Are you going anywhere for the holiday, Corey?”

“No,” I said. I hadn’t done anything for Thanksgiving in years with all of my family living in other states. “I never do.”

“Then come over,” Mikey said, elbowing Nikki, who shot him a look. “We always do a dinner just the four of us on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving since Ray always spends it with family.”

“We’d love to have you,” Nikki added, smiling softly. “If Kurosawa doesn’t mind.”

“I should probably look more like I’m working to get him in a good mood,” I said jokingly. It almost made me nervous to ask for days off, since I never asked. I might need to go to Dana to ask her how she did it. “But… that seems fun. If you don’t mind.”

Nikki’s face lit up. “Of course not. It’ll be nice to finally have a girl there who isn’t one of these dorks’ dumb one-night stands.”

“That was once,” Mikey said sternly, making Nikki roll her eyes.

I smiled at them, moving to collect the ladder when I felt a twinge in my ankle and a burning on my arm. I winced when I saw that I’d scratched up my arm grabbing onto the ladder, and probably bruised my leg somewhere.

“Are you okay?” Nikki said in concern, stepping over to take a look at my arm. Her hands were surprisingly warm on mine. She frowned. “You scratched yourself up. How’s your leg look?”

I lifted the leg of my slacks, noticing some bruising already on my knee. I probably just twisted my ankle. Noticing Nikki’s look, I reassured her, “I bruise really easily. This is nothing.”

She didn’t look convinced, and neither did Kurosawa as he appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “The injuries of my employees aren’t ‘nothing,’” he said matter-of-factly. “Corey, accompany me to my office. I have a first-aid kit there.”

“We’re so sorry, sir,” Nikki said quickly before Kurosawa could lead me away. “We didn’t mean to distract Corey, and it was all our fault.” She winced, obviously feeling guilty. Mikey assumed a similarly abashed expression.

Kurosawa might have smiled slightly at them. “Not to worry. Corey works hard, and Dana has enough personal conversations for me to overlook a few from you as well. But I would appreciate it if you two don’t cause my employees to fall off of ladders,” he said with a sidelong look to the two of them.

They shuffled awkwardly and I saw my chance. “Um, sir? Would it be okay if I take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? I can still work Thursday and Friday though.”

Kurosawa turned to the clipboard he was holding, shuffling a few papers. I held my breath, all too aware of how I was fidgeting. With a check on something with his pen, he said, “Done. But yes, you’ll be needed on Thursday and Friday. You know how busy those days are.”

I nodded. “Thank you, sir,” I said gratefully. Turning back to Nikki and Mikey, I told them, “Um, I guess I’ll be there then. Let me know when you’re coming to get me, Nikki.”

Her smile could have lit up the room. She pushed some of her dark bangs behind her ears and nodded to me. “Okay. Er, but we’ll leave you to work. Sorry again, sir, for bothering her,” she said, addressing Kurosawa.

He held up his hand to stop her. “Think nothing of it. If you’d like to make it up to her though, grab that ladder and place it in the storage closet to the left there,” he indicated it with a point. “Corey,” he said lightly, my name a command to follow him.

I waved goodbye to Nikki and Mikey as Nikki returned the gesture and Mikey smiled before going to pick up the ladder. I didn’t have to trot to keep up with Kurosawa’s quick steps this time, most likely because he was slowing down his speed on purpose to account for my ankle. He was a lot more considerable than people thought.

Kurosawa’s office was tucked away behind the front desk and in the back, wedged between a couple other work spaces. As always, I got a sense of claustrophobia when I entered. At least Kurosawa kept it clean, meticulously.

He led me over to one of the two chairs across from his desk, gesturing for me to sit. From underneath the desk, he pulled out a small medical kit.

“Let me see your arm, Corey,” he said calmly, holding out his hand.

I obliged, wincing at the cold sting of the disinfectant before a soft bandage was placed over the scratches. As he examined my leg to make sure nothing was broken, he said, “It’s nice to see you getting along with some friends, Corey.” Kurosawa leaned back up, putting his kit away calmly.

“Uh, they’re new friends I guess,” I said, feeling embarrassed that someone else had apparently noticed my solitude. I was even more surprised that Kurosawa had asked. He was observant, but he wasn’t the type of man to get involved in people’s personal lives.

Kurosawa nodded calmly, apparently accepting my answer. “How do your injuries feel?” he inquired.

I flexed my ankle. “I’ll be fine. Thank you, sir.”

He nodded again, putting the box back into its position under his desk. “Glad to hear it, Corey. Perhaps I’ll have someone else work on the ladder next time,” he said with a ghost of a smile on his face.

I frowned at him though, suddenly noticing something odd about his expression. He looked… sad, and with a jolt, I realized how little I knew about my boss despite working for him for so many years.

Without thinking, I asked, “Sir? Are you alright?”

He looked at me with visible surprise, as if he couldn’t believe I had noticed something was wrong. Kurosawa cleared his throat, an old habit I’d grown used to. “Perfectly fine, Corey. Something simply crossed my mind.” He gave me an odd look. “I’d like you to tell me if anything is wrong at any time, Corey. Or if you would ever like to request more days off. Understood?”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but warmth flooded my chest at his consideration. “Yes, sir, of course.”

“Good, then,” Kurosawa said to me. “Now, as I would like to make sure you don’t strain your ankle, work on dishwashing and wiping tables until the end of this shift.”

“Gotcha,” I said with a smile, standing up and nodding respectfully.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt like something had changed in my life. Suddenly, I could feel kindness all around me, from so many people that it was almost hard to breathe. Or maybe nothing had changed. Maybe I was just more willing to accept the kindness from the people around me. Maybe I was the one who had changed, even just a little bit.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.