#14 Tell me all your crap
Khiêm arrives at the coffeeshop half an hour later. He waves at me and grabs both of us a cup of coffee before sitting across from me at the table by the window where I’ve been for almost an hour now.
“You look like shit,” he says cheerfully, handing me a mug. “Drink up, sunshine.”
I roll my eyes, glad to feel a little more normal because of his teasing. “Thanks.”
“Talk to me,” he orders, sipping his drink. “You woke me up with your pathetic phone call, so this better be good.”
“I woke you up?” I ask, feeling stupid now. “Oh, sorry.”
“I was up all night trying to beat the boss in this new level, streaming it and talking to other gamers. Lost track of time.” He yawns. “My hours aren’t exactly nine to five.”
“I shouldn’t have called you out of the blue,” I say, looking down at my coffee. What was I thinking, calling my brother’s best friend for no other reason than feeling lonely and not having anyone else to go to?
“I put my number in your phone for a reason,” he says, the sincerity in his voice making me look up at his face. His eyes are soft, his expression kind. “I figured you might need someone to talk to eventually, and sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t really know instead of your friends or family.” He smiles when he sees on my face that he’s right. “I’ve been there. Or rather, my sister Phuong has been there. She got kicked out of her apartment when she couldn’t pay the rent, years ago, before she got with her boyfriend, and she needed a place to stay for a few days to gather the courage to face her family. She didn’t even tell me at first. Marcus was actually the one to talk to her, let her stay in his spare room, and he helped her fix her resumé and everything, which landed her the job she has to this day. I vowed that if I could one day repay the favor and take care of one of his siblings, I would.”
“That’s really sweet, but I’m not a charity case,” I say, sounding harsher than I mean to. “Sorry, I mean… I appreciate this, but I don’t need you to take care of me.”
“Then talk,” he orders, leaning back in his chair while he sips his coffee. “If someone to talk to is all you need, let me do that for you. Even if you weren’t Marcus’ sister, I’d be here.”
“Why?” I ask, surprised at that statement.
“Because I’m curious about you,” he admits, shrugging with a sheepish smile. “I had fun those few times we hung out with the gang. You’re funny. But when you get all up in your head and start to drink, you turn into this whole other person. Someone I honestly don’t like very much.”
“Neither do I,” I agree right away, surprised at how easily he seems to see through all my bullshit and cut down to my core. It’s a little scary, to be honest.
“If there is one person you should always like, it’s yourself,” Khiêm says. “Not to sound all therapeutic and shit, but the person you spend the most time with every single day is… well… you. Not liking yourself is exhausting.”
“It is,” I agree, and even though I promised myself, I start crying.
Khiêm’s eyes go wide. “Oh shit,” he mutters. “Fuck me, why do I always make girls cry?”
I laugh through my tears. “Sorry, I’m such a mess. I lost my job this morning.”
“Oh God, that’s horrible,” he says, reaching over to pat my hand awkwardly. “Sorry, I’m not good with crying women.”
“Don’t you have three sisters?” I ask, sniffling as I wipe my eyes with my sleeve.
“They don’t cry,” Khiêm says, rolling his eyes. “If anything, I’m the emotional one in the family. I’m the black sheep in more ways than one.”
“Guess you’re in good company then, since I’m definitely the black sheep of the Davis clan in every single way.”
We stare at each other for a moment, and then we both smile at how stupid and sad and sweet this moment is, all rolled into one.
“Tell me about all your crap,” Khiêm says. “I’ll tell you about some of mine if you want, to level the playing field, okay? I’ll even start… my dad calls me once a week to ask me if I’ve gotten a real job yet.”
“My mom keeps telling me I need to go to college.”
“My mom thinks I dress like a hobo.”
“I’m going crazy at my parents’ place, where I feel judged no matter what I do.”
“My father hates every single part of my job, from my streaming platform to the novels I narrate, and from my online store to my podcasts.”
“The only thing I’ve ever loved doing is designing and making clothes, but that’s not something I can pursue.”
Khiêm’s face lights up. “Why not? That sounds like a great career. Did you make the outfit you’re wearing right now?”
I look down at myself. I’m in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, nothing fancy. “The jeans are from a dollar store, but I did make the shirt myself.”
He leans closer to inspect it. “It looks great. Did you design the logo as well?”
I nod. “I like creating logos for my clothes, makes it look like I bought them in a store that doesn’t even exist. It’s fun.”
Khiêm looks at me speculatively. “Okay, this might sound crazy, but I have a proposition for you. You’re going crazy at home, correct?”
“Yeah…” I say, not sure where he’s going with this.
“And you don’t have a job, so you can’t move out.”
“Way to kick a girl when she’s down,” I mutter.
“I may be crazy talented, but I’m not good with drawing and designing and all that shit, and I could use someone to help me with selling my merch online, making logos for my different podcasts and websites and shit…”
“I can do that.” I perk up, feeling useful. It feels good. “Dshawn used to be in IT and Marcus is a marketing consultant, so I picked up some tips and tricks along the way. Design is my thing. Always has been.”
“Great.” Khiêm flashes me a grin. “Then it’s settled. You’ll move in with me.”
I can’t help it, I start laughing. “Oh my God. You can’t be serious.”
“Serious as a heart attack,” He puts a hand over his heart. “I have a spare room. We can put a bed there for you and get you a closet or something. My living room and kitchen are big enough for two. You obviously can’t pay rent, so you can pay me by helping me with the logos and design stuff and managing my website, since I doubt you’ll agree to being my cute little charity project.”
“Are you serious?” I cock an eyebrow at him, my tears completely dried by now. “You barely know me, every single time we’ve been out with the gang I’ve ended up either in a fight or underneath an asshole, drunk as a skunk, and yet you invite me to live with you?”
Khiêm nods. “Yep. So… what do you say?”
I know I should say no. It’s insane to move in with someone I’ve only met… what? Three times now? I know he’s one of Marcus’ best friends, so I can trust him, and I truly feel like he’s a good guy, but to move in with him… That’s… intense. It would be amazing to get out of my parents’ place, and diving into design, even if it’s just logos and websites… It sure sounds fun.
“I promise I’m not a crazy stalker rapist or anything,” he says, misinterpreting my silence. “We can buy a lock to put on your room. Not a problem. Not that I’d ever walk in uninvited, but you don’t need to take my word for it.”
“It’s not that,” I assure him. “You’ve been nothing but nice to me. It’s just… I would be glad to help you out with the logos and stuff regardless of where I live. I can do that from my bedroom at my parents’ house.”
“Look, if you don’t want to live with me, that’s fine,” he says, and I can tell he means it. “I’m just saying… I’ve got a spare room, I think you’d be happier there, and I could use your help.”
“I get that you feel obligated to Marcus to take care of me, but you really don’t-”
“Woman,” Khiêm grunts. “Stop being so goddamn difficult. How about this… I’ll show you my spare room and the work you can do for me, and then you can decide.”
I want to tell him that he doesn’t need to do that, but I’m already excited at the prospect, to be honest. The idea of moving out, and… and to be honest… spending more time with Khiêm doesn’t sound too bad either. He’s funny, easy to talk to, and he makes me feel more grounded than I have in years. He doesn’t make me feel like a charity case at all. He looks excited about this, chatting to me about his plans for his website as he gets up and motions for me to follow him.
What the hell, right? Why not scope out his place? I’ve been in there to apologize before, but I was all teary eyed and hungover, so I didn’t see much of it, and I’ve certainly never been in any of the bedrooms.
Khiêm drove here, so I hop in and laugh when he turns on the ignition and the stereo system starts blasting Grease Lightning.
“Guilty pleasure,” he says with a shrug. “No, actually, proud pleasure. I love me some Grease.”
We sing along to the hits from the popular musical all the way to his place, and most of the stress from what happened today leaves my system. By the time he opens his front door for me, I’m buzzing with excitement.
He leads me into the living room, twirling around with his arms open. “This is my palace.” It’s basically nothing but a spacious area with a huge corner sofa, three flatscreen TVs – yes, really, three – and a dining table with four chairs. That’s it.
“Wow, I love what you’ve done with the place,” I can’t help but tease.
He grins. “Hey, this is my home. Has been for years. I was able to afford rent for a three-bedroom apartment when I was only 20 years old, so I think I’ve done quite well for myself. How old were you again? “
I stick out my tongue. “Way to cheer me up, asshole.”
He leads me back to the hallway, where four closed doors are. He opens the first one, which leads into his bedroom. A king-sized bed and a large wardrobe. Nothing more, nothing less. The next room is entirely different. It’s a studio, basically. With two cameras, a greenscreen, laptops, microphones, headsets, the works. This is where the magic happens. There are several romance novels in a neat stack in the corner, and there are also boxes with shirts and buttons, all sorts of crap, really.
“Wow, you do it all yourself, don’t you?” I ask, walking around and looking around in wonder. “This is all very professional. And cluttered.”
“That is me in a nutshell.” Khiêm winks at me. He motions me over to one of the laptops and shows me the logo for his podcast and the site with merch, and they’re both pretty shitty. I can totally help him with design.
The third door leads to the bathroom. It’s not big, but it’s clean and tidy with white and blue tiles and a bathtub that doubles as a shower, the curtain black with Star Wars characters on it.
“And this will be your room,” he announces when he shows me the last room. Inside are some boxes, an old nightstand, three broken lamps, and stacks of old romance novels he must have narrated once upon a time. “We can put this all away, and get you a bed,” Khiêm explains, opening the curtains to let in some light.
I look around, and I have to admit… it’s tempting. It’s not like he needs this room, it’s truly just storage, and I bet it would all fit in one simple closet that could easily fit in along with a wardrobe and a bed.
“I want to pay for the furniture myself,” I insist, turning to face him. “I won’t allow you to pay stuff for me. I have some savings, so I should be able to buy a bed and a closet.”
He nods. “Okay. Fair enough. I have one condition too, though.”
“Name it.” I half-expect him to say something dirty to make me laugh, but he doesn’t.
“I want you to not take some lame-ass job you don’t want,” he says, moving over to squeeze my arm. “You will help me with design stuff, and I will provide you with a place to sleep. You can stay here until you get back on your feet, but I want you to find what you love and pursue it, not become… I don’t know, a parking attendant or a waitress or whatever just because you feel like you have to pay rent.”
“But I don’t-”
“Take it or leave it,” he says in a deep voice, giving me a hard look. “Come on, Nia. Just say yes.”
I look around the room again, imagining myself living here. It’s easier than I thought it would be. “Okay,” I agree. “Yes. Let’s do it.”