#22 Exchanging gifts
Bee and Marcus get back together, just like I thought they would. I’m not the only one who wishes they hadn’t – Khiêm hates her guts – but it’s not our decision. Marcus seems happy to have her back. They come over for dinner and I cook for all four of us. Beatrice is perfectly nice to me and Khiêm, and she’s sickeningly sweet to Marcus, but I’m not falling for any of it. I’d never be nasty to my brother’s girlfriend, but if they ever do break up for good…. She’s going to get a piece of my mind, that’s for sure. Marcus is the best older brother a girl could wish for, and he deserves better than someone who is scared to commit to him. Someone who sleeps with other people when she tosses him aside, only to reel him back after.
Dad’s birthday is later that week, and I take Khiêm with me to the party. In true Davis fashion, every family member, neighbor and friend is invited. The backyard is filled with kids running around and adults eating cake and sipping their drinks. Khiêm fits in easily, chatting to my family like this isn’t the first time he’s over at my parents’ house.
Shaughna pulls me aside after a while, leaning against the shed as she perches Luke on her hip. “I like your boyfriend,” she tells me, rocking her toddler so he’ll stop fussing. “Khiêm, right? He seems like a sweetheart.”
For the millionth time the past month, I praise my lucky stars for my skin being too dark for others to see me blush. “He’s not my boyfriend. Just my roommate. And Marcus’ best friend.”
“Uh-huh,” Shaughna says, not looking convinced. “Sure. Then why are you staring at him all damn day?”
“I’m not,” I bite back, crossing my arms over my chest.
She chuckles. “Sure. I remember those says all too well. Resisting Dshawn is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole damn life, and I’ve been through some fuck-up shit, so that’s saying something.”
I frown at her words. I know that she’s been abused by her ex, so that is obviously the fucked-up shit she’s referring to, but I can’t figure out why she’d ever try to resist my half-brother. “I don’t think I know what you’re talking about.”
“You know Caroline, right?” she asks, smiling to herself.
“Jagger’s new boss. Yeah, I think I met her a few times at a birthday party at your place.” Caroline is one of Shaugna’s and Dshawn’s best friends. But then I remember something else I know about her – many years ago, when I was a little girl, I met her for the first time. When Dshawn brought her home and introduced her as his new girlfriend. “Oh shit,” I mutter, looking at Shaughna with different eyes. “You got with your best friend’s ex-boyfriend.”
“Exactly.” She nods in Khiêms direction. “Not all that different from being hot for your brother’s best friend, if I had to guess. Totally of limits, a really bad idea, but tempting all the same.”
“It’s not like that,” I insist, still not sure what is going on between me and Khiêm. I can’t imagine kissing him or anything, not at all, but I do get flustered around him, and I feel this magnetic pull to him when he’s across the yard, like I’m always aware of where he is. It’s weird. I’ve never felt that with anyone before.
“Nia,” Shaughna says, shifting Luke onto her other hip. “I won’t tell Dshawn or Marcus. Just be straight with me. There is something going on here, isn’t there?”
“Maybe,” I admit, looking at Khiêm, who is laughing with Aliyah about something while Pierre scowls at them. “I don’t know. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, to be honest.”
“You’re 22, you’ll figure it out,” Shaughna says, putting an arm around my shoulders. “You’ve got time aplenty. When I was your age, I was nothing like the woman you know today. I was a complete and total mess, to be honest. It took me meeting Dshawn to truly find myself and start believing in love. Your brother is something special.”
“Really?” I ask, finding Dshawn’s familiar big frame across the yard. He’s changing Maisy’s diaper in the middle of the yard while rapping a song. Fucking weirdo.
“The only two people I love more than him are Luke and Maisy, and he’s the one who created them with me,” Shaughna says, sighing happily. “Sometimes, I want to hit him in his stupid gorgeous face for leaving his shit all over the house, or for putting an empty milk carton back in the fridge like a Neanderthal, but then he smiles at me, that ridiculously cute smile that he knows I can’t resist, and I remember why I got with him in the first place. He makes me feel like being myself is enough. More than enough. He makes me feel…”
“Real,” I finish when she doesn’t go on, my attention back on Khiêm now. “That’s how he makes me feel.”
“That’s a pretty good place to start,” Shaughna says, squeezing my shoulder. “Call it friendship, call it attraction, call it whatever the fuck you want. All I know is that I’ve known you since your tenth birthday party, and I’ve never seen you look at someone the way you look at him. Whatever it is, hold onto it, honey.”
She’s right. Which is exactly why nothing can ever happen. I’m not even sure if I want it to, but even if I did, I need to stay strong. His friendship means everything to me. He saved me from myself, and he is the one person keeping me sane these days. I can’t lose that.
For the first time since we met, Khiêm looks upset. He’s been yelling in Vietnamese for fifteen minutes now, pacing the living room with his phone pressed to his ear. I have no idea what he’s saying, but it’s obvious he’s angry at someone. Probably his dad, going by what he’s told me about his relationship with his family.
When he hangs up, he runs a hand over his face in exasperation and throws his phone onto the couch. “Fuck!” he exclaims, sinking down onto the chair next to mine.
I close my laptop and angle my body towards him, pulling his hands away from his face. “What’s wrong?”
“Remember last weeks’ podcast, where I talked to Fred about how his parents’ example of a shitty relationship affected his sex life?”
I nod, not sure where he’s going with this. “Yeah, I remember.”
“I said something about my parents, I can’t even remember what, and now Dad is pissed as fuck.”
He looks so sad about it that I can’t help but reach out and touch his face, running my fingers over the scruff on his unshaven cheek. “You said that your parents judging you is the reason you’re not closer to your sisters, even though you’d like to be.”
“Yeah, that,” he says, closing his eyes and leaning into my touch. “I didn’t even know that Dad listened to or watched anything I put out there. He never let on that he did.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” I ask, squeezing his hand. “It means he cares.”
“Maybe,” Khiêm breathes. “Fuck. Sorry, I don’t think I can talk about this right now. I’ve never heard Dad so… I don’t even know what that emotion was. He was yelling in a way I’ve never heard before. I can’t…”
Part of me wants to push him like he sometimes pushes me, but I can tell now it not the time. Instead, I get up and tell him to stay put. I finished the three T-shirts I made for him two days ago, but I haven’t given them to him yet. Now seems like the perfect time. I want to cheer him up more than anything.
“I made you something,” I explain when I hand him the three shirts. “It’s not much, but I just… I wanted you to have clothes that fit you like a glove. With your own logos on it, of course.”
He holds up the first shirt, a smile lighting up his face right away. It’s the Blue Balls shirts, with the blue apples and the banana in the middle. “You made this yourself?”
I nod. “Your measurements aren’t the standard stuff that cheap-ass web shops sell.”
“You bought black fabric and made these for me specifically?” he asks, looking at the two other shirts. One has his catchphrase “Die motherfucker, die” on it – yeah, he gets a little foul-mouthed when he’s playing videogames – and the other has the logo I made for Raging Reviews.
“Try them on,” I urge.
I expected him to go into his bedroom or something, but het gets up and pulls his baggy shirt over his head, throwing it over the back of his chair. I stare at his chest, fighting the urge to touch him. I don’t know when I stopped thinking of him as a chubby nerd, but I can’t deny that somewhere along the way, I started thinking of him as… a man, I guess. His skin is light brown and smooth, and I wasn’t lying that time I told him I liked his chest hair. It makes him look all… fuck, I don’t even know.
Khiêm pulls the first shirt over his head, and it fits just like I imagined it would. He leaves the room to look at himself in the bathroom mirror, coming back into the living room with a huge grin on his face.
“Fuck, I look hot,” he says, only half-joking. “This is amazing, Nia.” He tries on the two other shirts, his smile widening even more. All three shirts fit perfectly, and I was right that he’d look handsome in clothes made especially for him. They’re loose-fitting the way he likes, but not as baggy and long as his other clothes.
“I’m glad you like them.” I’m smiling just as much as he is. This was the perfect moment to give him his new clothes. I turned his frown upside down, and I love that I was able to do that.
“You are…” He shakes his head as he looks down on me. “I don’t even know what you are, but it’s good. It’s really fucking good. You have no idea how…” He trails off, searching for the right words.
“You look handsome,” I say, not able to keep the words inside. “I wanted you to have clothes that fit, with you own logos on them so you can show off your accomplishments. You’re so sure of who you are, so confident in your own skin, but no one is truly that happy with themselves all the time, not even you. Sometimes I think you hide in those baggy clothes of yours, when there is truly no need for that.”
“Fuck,” he breathes, his eyes widening. “I don’t even know what to say.”
We stare at each other, and I can tell that for the first time, I managed to see him, truly see him, the way he’s been doing for me since we met. I can’t hep but feel a little proud.
“I got you something too,” Khiêm says, his eyes sparkling. “I ordered it online that night I was drunk, when I went to visit Jagger, and I was a little unsure whether I should give it to you or not. I don’t want to offend you or make you feel weird, but I think… I think it’s a gift you need.”
“Erm… okay?” I ask, not sure what to make of this. “What is it?”
He holds up his finger as a sign to give him a minute, and he rushes to his bedroom, returning with a pink box. He looks a little flustered as he hands it to me. “I promise this is not me being creepy or anything,” he says, scratching the back of his head. “That conversation we had when your friends were here, about you not… you know… erm… it sort of stuck with me.”
“What conversation?” I ask, feeling nervous now. Carefully, I lift the lid off the box, inhaling sharply when I see what’s inside.
Holy fuck. This is a completely different gift than three T-shirts.
Okay, give me your best guesses! What did Khiêm get Nia? :)
Love, your favorite goddess xoxo