The next few days went by smoothly. Meaning I nearly successfully managed to ignore the girl floating around my head and finish exam week. I avoided staying on Campus unless I had a paper, and could not stand to even look at the library. Probably obnoxious of me to assume she would be roaming the library looking for me. As if she had the time, she was studying nursing after all.
On the last day of the semester, after my last paper I let David drag me to the cafeteria for lunch. He was paying. I ordered a plate of fries because I trusted nothing else on the campus cafeteria menu.
David chose a cosy booth in the otherwise crowded cafeteria and let me slide in first. We ate in near silence for about ten minutes before I felt David aggressively pinch my thigh under the table.
“What the hell-″ I started before David pinched me again, shutting me up and nodding his head towards the cafeteria entrance. I stopped chewing. It was Nita. But she wasn’t alone, she was with Mani. Their eyes scanned the cafeteria before Nita’s eyes finally met mine and she broke into a large smile. I gulped. Fuck.
“Whatever you do, don’t fucking run. Not that you can anyway” David whispered, his eyes trained on Nita and Mani. I stared at the remaining fries on my plate until they reached our table.
“Hey David! I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever!” Nita announced, sliding into the booth without hesitation. Mani stayed standing for a second too long before finally settling into the booth.
“I’ve missed you too Nita. It seems like forever ago when I was staying on campus.” David replied, Nita immediately launched into a retelling of their stories from freshman year, I had no idea her and David went so far back. I glanced at Mani and found her staring at me. I immediately looked away.
My palms were sweaty. The room seemed too stuffy. I needed to leave. I swallowed down my anxiety and tried to tune in to David and NItas conversation.
“OMG! How rude of me. David this my friend Imani, Taya you’ve already met her. Imani, this is David.” Nita announced suddenly. David smirked and I avoided Mani’s eyes at all costs.
“Nice to meet you David, please call me Mani. This one over here insists on using my government names despite how many times I tell her not to.” Mani said, chuckling warmly. I couldn’t help but look up, she was still looking at me. She smiled and slowly dragged her eyes back to David.
I don’t know how David replied, I was intently focused on my phone. Opening, closing, then reopening the phonebook to look busy. Pathetic. But still better than staring into the deep brown eyes of a certain someone at the table and becoming completely undone. I liked her. Why? I didn’t even know her. Not really.
“Taya?” David’s voice snapped me out of my reverie and I grinned sheepishly at no one in particular. I avoided meeting David’s eyes because I knew they’d have a teasing element in them. I looked at Nita instead.
“We were talking about maybe getting ice cream or something after this? You down?” She said, smiling at me and then Mani. Mani shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked at her plate. I finally glanced at David, his eyebrows were raised in question. Daring me to say no. I looked at Mani again but she would not meet my eyes. This was going to be an extremely long day.
“Yeah that sounds fun, I’m in”
When we got to the pastry shop-cum-ice cream parlor, Nita suddenly announced that she had an afternoon class she had spaced on and dashed off. Mani looked visibly unnerved after that and I felt a tug at my heart, she was probably just as anxious as I was. Our friends were clearly up to something. But then I froze.
If our friends felt the need to try to set us up did that mean Mani had talked to Nita about me? Or had David and Nita orchestrated this whole thing because they knew about my feelings? That seemed the more likely idea. Mani knew nothing about me. There was no way she liked me. I shook my head to clear my thoughts. There was no way that was what was happening.
“Well girls, and then they were three? Lets get something then sit somewhere on the upstairs terrace. The view is spectacular.” David led the way, entering the parlor as if he owned the place and strutting straight to the counter. A couple guys seated to the left of me snickered loudly and gave David nasty stares. I waited until their eyes trailed back to me to flip them off. They scoffed and flipped me off too but thankfully returned to their conversation. I hated homophobes. My anger towards such people always outweighed any social anxiety.
“Fuck those guys” Mani said. I jumped, I hadn’t noticed how close she was standing. I took a small step to the side, creating some distance and nodded my head fervently.
“Agreed. But with faces like those, I understand why they feel the need to hate on a clearly superior human being.” I finished, gesturing at David. Mani chuckled and then smiled at me. Electricity shot through my belly button and I bit back a grimace and replaced it with a smile of my own. Or at least, what I hoped was a smile.
“You’re a lot braver than I am, I hold my own of course but there’s always some part of me terrified.” she admitted, she looked down like she was ashamed and my heart ached. Without thinking, I grabbed her hand.
“You’re not weaker than I am. We may both be lesbians, I’m assuming?... but I recognise the safety that my feminine presentation allows me,situations can be more volatile for you. We don’t live in the friendliest place.” Mani stopped smiling and really stared into my eyes then. It could not have been more than a few seconds but it felt like a lifetime. Then her eyes moved to our joined hands. I dropped her hand and smiled sheepishly. My social anxiety flooded back in and my eyes immediately started looking for another distraction. What was I thinking just grabbing her hand? I had no prior permission to touch her. I hated myself.
“Ladies? Up?” David’s voice interrupted whatever small moment we had been in and I was immensely grateful. He looked briefly at both of us, then raised an eyebrow at me. I avoided his eyes and relieved him of one milkshake. Mani took the other and silently we walked out of the parlor. I don’t know how the decision was made but it seemed we were all done for the day.
“I hope you two don’t look like that because of those two meatheads in there. I am used to that and I don’t let it phase me. You shouldn’t either. They’re beneath you. All bigots are.” David announced suddenly. I smiled at him despite myself because this was exactly why I loved him. He was so brave and so unapologetically himself and it always made me that much braver.
“I see why you two are friends. Bravery runs in the family evidently” Mani joked, smiling weakly at me. I felt my cheeks warm up and thanked my lucky stars my skin was dark. David looked between the two of us, with a strange expression that Mani must have noticed because she cleared her throat and looked away from me.
“Um… Anyways, I’m gonna head out. Maybe we can do proper ice cream some other day? Taya?” I looked up, surprised. Why was she only asking me? Was it a date? Or did she feel grateful that I understood why she hadn’t said anything to those homophobes? I nodded and she looked visibly relieved. She hugged David and said a quick goodbye before coming up to me.
“Um… I don’t have your number” I started awkwardly.
Way to go Taya. Super smooth.
“That’s okay. Here, give me your phone.” I reached into my pocket and handed her my phone, ignoring how sweaty my hands were getting. She typed her number and then pressed dial, so her phone rang. She handed my phone back to me, looked at me and smiled once more before walking off in the direction of the campus. I saved her number under Mani then added a pink heart emoji after a moment’s hesitation.
“Go you Taya!” David exclaimed, jumping in front me and grabbing my shoulders in excitement. I tried to hide a smile but I couldn’t. Boy was I in trouble now.