The Hardest Words To Say, Part 1

The Hardest Words to Say

Part 1

Irene

I don’t know why Annie chose to come talk to me that day. It wasn’t like we’d ever spoken before. As far as either of us knew, we didn’t have anything in common. We didn’t have any mutual friends. We didn’t even share any of the same classes.

“What’cha reading?” she asked, approaching me one lunch time. At first, I didn’t even realise she was talking to me, but when nobody answered her, I looked up and realised she was staring right at me.

Annie had strawberry blonde hair that didn’t quite make it down to her shoulders, and a subtle smattering of freckles that you wouldn’t notice unless you looked closely at her face. That was definitely the first time I’d been so close to her.

It was also the first time I noticed she had heterochromia – she had one hazel eye and one brown. Both of them were fixated on me, an expression of guarded curiosity on her face.

“Poetry,” I told her. “For literature.”

“Any good?”

“Not particularly.”

I was trying to understand what it was she wanted to accomplish by talking to me. Maybe it was pity, because I was sitting alone? She could have thought that I was lonely, or didn’t have friends.

“I never really get poetry,” she said. “I mean, some of it is pretty, but mostly it just seems vague and unnecessarily confusing.”

“Don’t take literature, then. That’s, like, eighty percent of what we do.”

She laughed, but I wasn’t really joking. It was nice to hear her laugh, though. She had a sort of rough, strong speaking voice, but her laugh was soft and quiet. I found the contrast strangely amusing.

“Yeah, I think I’ll stick to maths. I like knowing there’s only one right answer.”

I didn’t really know what to say to that, so I laughed politely, and looked back down at my book. I wasn’t reading it, but I didn’t know where else to look.

“It’s nice here,” she said, sitting down beside me. “I like the smell of the flowers. I could do without the sound of screaming children, though.”

“We are in a school,” I pointed out. “Screaming children pretty much come with the experience. It’s kind of a package deal.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be inhumane to make the primary school kids wear those collars you put on dogs to stop them from barking, huh?”

“Just a little, but who would ever blame you?” I said, smirking a little.

“Exactly!”

“Y’know, it’s kind of weird seeing you on your own like this. What happened to your usual posse?”

She looked a little embarrassed, averting her gaze for a second before shrugging it off and laughing again.

“Oh, you know. Hanging out in the common room, talking about the usual stuff, probably.”

“You didn’t have a fight or anything, did you?” I asked, though it really wasn’t any of my business. It just seemed like the right thing to say.

“Oh, no, nothing like that. I just felt like a change of pace, and some fresh air.”

“Well, I get the fresh air, but is talking to a book nerd like me really your top choice for a change of pace?”

I didn’t mean to be self deprecating, I just really didn’t understand why she’d wanted to talk to me. There wasn’t really any reason for it.

“Sorry, if I’m bothering you, I can go sit somewhere else,” she said, sounding a little hurt.

“Ah, no, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. Just surprised, that’s all.”

“You sure? I feel kind of bad for interrupting your reading now.”

“Please, any excuse to put this crap down is a welcome one,” I told her. “Half the time I just make it up when I have to explain what it’s about anyway.”

“So do you mind if I ask why you’re on your own today? That’s pretty uncommon for you, too.”

So it wasn’t just pity, then. At least, it didn’t seem like she saw me as some kind of social reject with interpersonal difficulties.

“Boy troubles,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said, sounding surprised and, strangely, maybe a little disappointed?

“Not mine,” I explained. “Everyone else is exploring the wonderful world of dating, and to be honest, I just got sick of hearing about it.”

“You’re not interested in dating?”

“Eh, I wouldn’t say that. I’m just not that into the idea of doing it for the sake of doing it, you know?”

She laughed again, and it made me smile. When she laughed, it made me feel like I wasn’t being judged for anything, which was a welcome change.

“You sound like an old lady,” she teased.

“I was aiming for cat lady, but I’ll take it,” I said. “How about you, got any boy troubles you wanna get off your chest? Apparently I’m a really good listener.”

“Please, do I look like the type? I’m not exactly beating them off with a stick,” she said, then grimaced.

“Regretting your choice of words?”

“Just a little,” she said.

“Seriously though, you’re like, super pretty. I’m not sure I can trust you not to bring boy troubles into the mix here.”

She blushed a little, even as she rolled her eyes.

“I promise, I will never talk to you about boys,” she said. “But I expect you to promise me the same thing.”

“Consider it a deal,” I said, offering my hand to her. Smiling, her face still a little red, she took it.

“So, are you planning on breaking away from the pack again any time soon?” she asked.

“I dunno, I’m gonna find it pretty hard to tear myself away from all the relationship talk,” I said sarcastically. “But I guess if you were looking for company, I might be able to help you out. At great personal cost to me, you understand.”

It occurred to me after I’d said it that she might have just been asking a general question, and not suggesting we spend more time together. In which case, my answer made me look like a total twat.

“My, aren’t you generous?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Well, if you’ll excuse my selfishness, can I request your company again tomorrow?”

I breathed a mental sigh of relief, realising that I actually would have been disappointed if she didn’t want to come talk to me again. Which was weird, because the conversation hadn’t been anything particularly memorable.

“Same time and place?”

“Maybe just a little earlier? You know, if you don’t mind eating together,” she said, sounding a little nervous.

“Sounds perfect,” I told her, just as the bell for the next class began to ring.

Annie

For the second day in a row, I lied to my friends about having something important to do at lunch, and disappeared in search of Irene. A reassured smiled settled unconsciously on my lips when I saw her sitting in the same place, book in one hand, sandwich in the other.

She had the most intoxicating dark brown eyes, the kind that look like they never miss a single thing that you do. It was those eyes that had inspired me to talk to her in the first place, the way they seemed to eat up the words on the pages in front of her.

“Hello again,” she greeted me, closing her book and resting it beside her.

“Hey,” I said, sitting down next to the book. “I see you started without me.”

She turned a little red, something her dark skin only made even cuter. It was the first time I’d seen her blush.

“I wasn’t sure you were coming,” she said.

“I’ll try not to take that as an insult.”

She looked down at her feet, still red. Had she really not expected me to actually show up again today? Wasn’t I the one who suggested it?

“Um, I brought an extra cupcake,” she said, fishing around in a paper bag. She pulled out a professionally decorated red cupcake, and offered it to me.

“Damn, that looks amazing. You sure you wanna give that to me?” She nodded mutely. “Heh, your loss. Thanks.”

I took the cupcake, and put it down beside me so I could eat it after my lunch. Her eyes followed it down to the bench, then came back up to look at my face. She looked kind of… eager? Determined? Maybe nervous?

Wait, did she want me to eat the cupcake now? I was definitely getting that impression. Not that it takes much convincing to get me to dig into something sweet. I picked it up again, and took a bite.

“Oh my god, that is amazing,” I told her, my mouth still half full of cupcake. “Where did you get this? I’m gonna go order a dozen of them.”

“I made them,” she said, looking thoroughly pleased with herself. I turned the cupcake around in my hand. There was no way a high school girl made that.

“You didn’t. It’s too good.”

“I really like baking,” she said softly. “I find it relaxing.”

“You seriously made this?” I asked. She nodded seriously. “Can I, like, adopt you or something? I need this in my life every day.”

“I always make more than I can eat. If you’d like, I’d be happy to bring extra for you whenever I have any.”

Was she serious? She was, wasn’t she? I felt like I’d just won the lottery.

“You would be my favourite person ever if you did that,” I told her. “But, I’d definitely need to do something for you, too.”

“Something for me? Like what?”

Nothing. I had nothing. What could I possibly offer this girl?

“I dunno. Let me buy you lunch on the weekend?” It was literally the only thing I could think of.

“Wow, you really like sweet stuff, huh?”

Actually, I just want to spend more time with you. Yeah, like I could say that to her. Way too embarrassing.

“Hey, I’m a girl who knows what she likes. So, do we have a deal?” I offered out my hand to her, just as she’d done to me.

“Okay,” she said, taking my hand. Once again, I was jealous of how soft her skin was.

“So, shall we start this weekend?”

“I have work until one on Sunday,” she said. “How about after that?”

“Oh, you have a job? What do you do?”

It shouldn’t have surprised me to hear that she had a job. She did seem like the quiet, reliable sort. Even still, I hadn’t been expecting it.

“I sell tea,” she said.

“I can totally picture that!” I told her. “Okay, so I’ll meet you after work on Sunday, and I’ll buy you lunch.”

“And I’ll keep bringing you stuff that I bake.”

We smiled at each other, her expression just as eager as I felt. I had a good feeling about everything, and I was very much looking forward to getting to know her better.

Irene

Sunday couldn’t come fast enough, as far as I was concerned. It was strange; I hardly knew Annie, and I generally wasn’t particularly desperate for friendship, but I couldn’t get her out of my head.

Finally, Sunday came, and the whole way through my shift I was practically buzzing with excitement. I kept checking the clock every few minutes, constantly disappointed that more time hadn’t passed.

“Excuse me, miss,” a voice behind me said. “Can I get your help with something?”

I turned around to find Annie standing behind me, a coy smile on her face, hands clasped innocently behind her back. I could feel my cheeks flushing just by looking at her.

She was wearing a pair of the shortest shorts I’d ever seen, a tight novelty t-shirt, long striped socks and a pair of flats with a bow and skull on them. It was also my first time seeing her wearing makeup, and she looked like a model.

“Wow,” I blurted out, before I could bite my lip to shut myself up.

“Is it weird?” she asked, though how someone could feel insecure when they looked like that was beyond me.

“No, you look amazing,” I said. “I feel kind of plain, actually.”

“No way, you look super cute in your work clothes,” she said, turning a little red as she did. “Sorry that I came a little early. I wanted to see what you were like at work.”

“As you can see, very boring. Oh crap, here comes my manager. Don’t look him in the eye, or he will hit on you.”

Not that I had any reason to care if somebody hit on her, other than the awkwardness of it being my boss. I really, really didn’t want him to, though. I felt unusually protective, and I didn’t really understand why.

“Trying to keep him for yourself, are you?” she asked, teasing me.

“Never in a million years,” I said, accidentally raising my voice a little.

“Never in a million years what?” my manager asked, suddenly beside us. He had a creepy way of moving without making any sound.

“Nothing,” I mumbled.

“Whatever, I don’t care,” he said. “Who’s your cute friend?”

“None of your-“

“Annie,” she said, cutting me off. “And I am very interested in tea. Do you have any recommendations?”

I stood there glowering at him as he led her off, talking out his ass about his favourite blends. I knew for a fact he didn’t even drink tea. Not that it mattered, she was clearly just using that as an excuse to flirt with him.

He wasn’t even that attractive. Actually, looking at him now, he seemed kind of gross, even more so than usual. When he spoke to her, he kept staring at her chest, or her ass when she turned around. What the hell was wrong with him?

Why would she want to go off with him? Actually, more importantly, why did I care? It wasn’t any of my business who she flirted with or what she did with her time between now and the end of my shift. If she was still with him then, I would have a reason to be annoyed.

I already was annoyed, though. More than that, I felt hurt, and a little upset, even though I kept telling myself it really didn’t matter. Why did it bother me so much?

The minute my shift ended I stormed out the back of the store, hung up my apron, clocked out, grabbed my bag and then stopped. Obviously, I couldn’t just storm back out there in a bad mood. That wasn’t fair to Annie.

I took a few minutes to check my reflection in the bathroom mirror, rearranging my hair and adjusting my shirt. I splashed a little water on my wrists, and feeling a little calmer, went back out into the store.

Out of nowhere, Annie materialised, grabbing my arm, practically dragging me out of the store. We sped away around the corner, only stopping when I pulled my arm out of her grip and planting my feet.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“Sorry,” she said, glancing behind us. “I seriously couldn’t stand that guy. How can you work with him?”

“You seemed to be getting on okay,” I grumbled.

“Yeah, right. I just wanted to get him away from you. Have you not noticed the way he stares at your ass? It’s seriously gross.”

Eh? She was looking out for me? Really?

“I never really noticed,” I said softly.

“That doesn’t surprise me, actually. Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of there. He asked me for my number like five times. I needed to get away.”

“So you didn’t give him your number?” I asked.

“God no, what kind of girl do you think I am?”

“And you really weren’t trying to flirt with him?”

“Ugh, gross. Trust me, that is not how I flirt with people I’m actually interested in,” she told me. “I promise, I’m not interested in going out with your boss.”

“Or anyone else at my work?” I asked, sounding irritatingly needy.

“You have my word,” she said. “I promise not to date anybody that you work with.”

Why did that make me feel so much better? I’ve never been possessive of my friends before, and I’d hardly known her long enough to feel like that anyway.

“You’d better not,” I said, trying to play it off as a joke.

“Scout’s honour. Or, whatever. Girl guides? Anyway, what do you want for lunch?”

“That depends on how much you’re willing to spend, I guess. How much are my cupcakes worth to you?”

“The sky’s the limit,” she told me. “Well, actually the forty dollars in my wallet is the limit. But within that price range, you can have whatever you want.”

“Let’s get dumplings, then,” I suggested.

“Sounds perfect,” she agreed.

We found a nice place that wasn’t too busy, and sat down at the smallest table in the darkest corner. Neither of us said anything about it, we just sort of gravitated towards it. We chatted for a bit, ordered, then talked a bit more until the food came.

After lunch, we decided to wander around for a bit, window shopping and just generally enjoying one another’s company. It was nice for a while, but the crowds were starting to get heavier, and I get claustrophobic in large groups of people.

It got to the point where I couldn’t move without someone bumping into me, and I could feel my brain starting to close itself off. My chest felt tight, and I couldn’t escape the sensation of large objects hurtling towards me from all directions.

“You okay?” Annie asked, concerned.

“I’m not so good with crowds,” I admitted. “I’ll be okay, I just-“

Somebody’s bag knocked me right in the solar plexus, hard enough to wind me completely. My head was reeling, and I felt like I was going to explode or scream or just curl up into a ball if I didn’t get out of the sea of people soon.

I felt Annie’s hand wrap around mine, soft and warm, and immediately I felt more grounded than I had before. She walked ahead of me, pushing through the crowd and making a safe passage for me to get out by escaping into the nearest store.

Out of the current, I was able to relax a little, breathing deeply and slowly letting normal brain function return. Annie stood beside me silently, waiting for me to let her know I was okay, refusing to let go of my hand.

“Thank you,” I said, once I was feeling better. “I’m really sorry, I just-“

“Why are you sorry?”

“I don’t know. Because I freaked out? Because I…”

I trailed off, not so much because I didn’t know what to say, but because she was squeezing my hand, and smiling reassuringly at me.

“It’s fine,” she said. “Just stick close to me, and we’ll try to avoid the bigger crowds as much as possible, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Hey, maybe we should check this store out while we’re here. It looks like it’s still pretty busy out there, anyway.”

I looked around, and realised we were in a lingerie store. All of a sudden, my cheeks were burning, and I hoped my dark complexion meant she couldn’t tell that I was blushing.

“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to read her inscrutable expression.

“Why not? We’re both girls, right? Isn’t that normal?”

Had she been any other friend, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. With her, just the idea of looking at lingerie with her, let alone trying anything on, felt overwhelmingly embarrassing. Not that I didn’t want to, just that I didn’t feel… ready.

“Y-you’re right,” I said, trying to push the weird, awkward feelings away. “I guess I just don’t do this often.”

“It’ll be fine. C’mon, let’s find something cute. I don’t even know what you like!”

She picked something off a rack, a red and white bra and panty set with an abundance of lace, and my brain immediately pictured it on her. Where the hell had that come from? I tried to shake off the image, but I couldn’t think about anything else.

Annie held it up towards me, caught my eye, turned bright red and immediately put it back on the rack.

“You know what? On second thought, it is weird,” she said. “Let’s go do something else.”

The two of us left the store awkwardly, not making eye contact. She didn’t seem to have any more of an idea of why she’d reacted that way than I did. If she did, she certainly wasn’t saying anything about it to me.

Thankfully, the crowds were a little lighter. Annie’s hand closed gently around mine, and the two of us wandered from store to store, avoiding the worst of the crowds and generally worked up something of an appetite.

“Whoa, it’s getting late,” I said, checking the time on my phone. “No wonder I’m hungry.”

“Oh, do you need to get home?” Annie asked, sounding disappointed.

“No, but I do need to eat,” I said. “Any chance you feel like having dinner? I can pay for myself this time,” I added.

“I am a little ravenous,” she conceded.

We walked hand in hand until we found somewhere to eat, and ended up staying there until they kicked us out because they needed to close. We made our apologies and paid our bill, then walked to our bus stops, which happened to be right beside one another.

“When did it get so late?” I asked, staring up at the night sky.

“I had no idea we’d been there for so long,” Annie said, laughing a little.

“I guess that means you were having fun,” I ventured.

“More than I’ve had in a long time,” she agreed. “Hey, why do you think we never really hung out before?”

“I guess we never really had a reason to. What made you decide to randomly come up and talk to me?”

“You know, I really don’t know,” she said. “I just felt like it.”

“Well, I’m glad you did,” I told her.

“Me too,” she agreed.

Her bus pulled up first, and after double checking the number on the front, she turned back to me to say goodbye. That was the point where both of us just sort of froze.

Completely inexplicably, my brain suddenly decided it had no idea what the appropriate course of action was. I didn’t know how to say goodbye to her. All I could do was just sort of stare at her blankly.

Normally, two friends would just hug, right? That would have been easiest, but the thought of being that physically close to her was intimidating. What else was I supposed to do, though? Everything else seemed too cold and unaffectionate. Wave goodbye? Shake hands? Stand perfectly still and just say ‘goodbye’?

It seemed like she was in the exact same position. She was just standing there, looking back at me, a sort of perplexed, anxious look on her face.

Well, one of us had to do something. So if I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, what was it that I wanted to do? Well, that was easy.

I stepped towards her, stretching out my arms. Surprised, a little embarrassed, she did the same, and somehow we met in the middle with a perfectly normal hug.

I hadn’t been this close to her before. I could smell her hair, which funnily enough, actually smelled like strawberries. I could feel her warmth through my clothes, and the soft skin of her neck against mine.

The two of us pulled away at the exact same moment, her face as red as mine felt. Our eyes met, then immediately looked away. I saw her bite her lower lip, smiling as she did, and my heart thudded in my chest.

“Um, see you tomorrow,” she said.

“Yeah. Thanks for a fun day. And the free lunch. I promise I’ll bake something sweet for you again soon.”

She dashed onto the bus, apologising to the very grumpy looking bus driver, and sat by the window. She smiled nervously at me through the window as the bus drove off, and as soon as she was out of sight, I felt my knees buckle.

What was that? That had to be the least friendly hug I’d ever experienced. I’ve never been so aware of a person’s body, or their scent, just from a hug. I never even think about that stuff. With her, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The only word I could come up with to describe it was intimate. Just thinking about it made my pulse quicken, and my cheeks flush. What on earth was wrong with me?

Maybe I was coming down with something. I certainly didn’t feel like my normal self.

My bus came a few minutes later, and not long after that, I was home. I threw off my shoes and trudged over to my room, dumping my bag before collapsing onto my bed. A few minutes later, there was a gentle knocking on my door.

“Come in,” I said, straining my neck to see who it was.

My dad stuck his head in, smiled contentedly at me, and wandered over to sit in my desk chair.

“You sure got home late,” he said calmly.

“Yeah. I was with a friend and we lost track of the time. Sorry I didn’t send a message or anything.”

“It’s okay, I wasn’t too worried,” he said.

“Should you really be saying that?” I asked dryly, and he laughed.

“Still, it is unlike you,” he said. “Which friend was it?”

“Kind of a new friend, actually,” I said, trying not to notice is obvious attempts to find out if it was a boy.

“Oh?”

“Her name is Annie,” I told him, wondering why it felt like a confession. “We go to school together, but we really only started talking a few days ago.”

“That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it? Not that I’m not glad you’re making new friends, of course. What got the two of you talking?”

“Um, she did, I guess. She asked me what I was reading or something, and we just started talking from there. We got along pretty well, so we decided to hang out today.”

When I explained it, it sounded a lot simpler than it felt in my head. Was what I’d said really all it was?

“Really,” Dad said, sounding amused.

“What? You’re trying to imply something, aren’t you?”

“Not at all,” he said, holding his hands up defensively. “Though now that you mention it…”

“Dad…”

“It just sounds like you’re describing a date,” he said, laughing.

“What do you mean?” I asked, sitting straight upright.

“I was only joking,” he said, waving his hand at me. “I was just thinking, if you’d told me the exact same story, but with a boy, I’d definitely have thought he was interested in you.”

Interested… in me? Was that what was going on?

No, there was no way. Annie was pretty and clever and popular, and I was dull and quiet and plain. Why would she be interested in someone like me?

Wait, shouldn’t the fact that we were both girls come into that somehow? Sure, if she was a boy, her actions would have seemed different, but she wasn’t, so… Did that mean it was just harmless, platonic friendship?

“Irene? Honey? You seem a little out of it. Something on your mind?”

“I… don’t know,” I said. “Sorry, I’m pretty wiped out. Can we talk tomorrow?”

“Of course we can, sweetie,” he said, patting my head gently. “I’ll be here if you need anything. You know you can talk to me about anything at all, right?”

“I know, Dad,” I said.

“Alright. Well, goodnight, honey.”

“Night, Dad.”

With that, he left, and I collapsed back onto my pillow, staring up at the ceiling. My heart was pounding and my head was reeling.

What if Annie was interested in me? What did that even mean? Would she want to date me? What would that be like? Would what we did today count as a date? What if she wanted to do more than that?

More than that… All of a sudden, my mind was full of images of her and I alone together, slowly undressing each other, kissing and touching and…

As confused as my mind might have been about that, my body was very clear about how it felt. Before I even realised it, my hand was between my thighs, my face burning even though nobody was around to see.

For the first time in my life, I masturbated thinking about another girl, and I can honestly say it was the best it had ever felt. When I was finally done, I lay back, exhausted, and realised that I was very much attracted to Annie.

Then a horrible thought washed over me. I had absolutely no reason to think that she felt the same way about me. What were the chances of her being interested in another woman, really? Putting aside her recent behaviour, because it was too easy to just project my own hopeful expectations onto them, what reason did I have to think there might be a romantic connection there?

Even if there was a chance that she felt the same way, did that mean I should say something? If I told her how I felt about her, and it turned out she was just being friendly, I would be forever branded as a lesbian by everyone we knew. I knew how high schools treated gay kids, or even just kids that someone suspected might be even a little bit gay.

In the end, I decided it was probably safer not to say anything at all. If she said something to me, I could tell her how I felt, and then there would be nothing to worry about. If she didn’t, it was probably safe to assume she didn’t feel the same way, in which case my staying silent was the best thing for me to do.

So that was that, then. I would just wait and see what she did.

Annie

As I watched Irene from the bus window, trying my best not to let the insane energy I was feeling show on my face, I felt like my heart was going to smash through my ribcage. As soon as she was out of sight, I let myself breathe normally, sinking back into my seat and grinning like an idiot without even really knowing why.

“Your girlfriend is cute,” a woman behind me said.

“Huh?” I turned back to face her. “That wasn’t my girlfriend. I mean, I don’t have a girlfriend. I’m straight.”

“Oh! Well in that case, I feel very sorry for the poor girl,” the woman said.

“What does that mean?” I demanded, feeling a little insulted.

“What, you didn’t see the way she looked at you?” the woman asked. “She’s clearly head over heels for you.”

Damn, and my heart had just started to slow down, too. Irene was ‘head over heels’ for me? Really?

“How would you know?” I asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

“Because that’s exactly how my first girlfriend and I looked at each other,” she said.

“You’re gay?”

“Oh, very much so,” she said pleasantly. Actually, she sounded almost proud. What was with this woman?

“S-so, what’s it like to date another woman?” I asked, genuinely curious. She laughed gently.

“I really don’t know how to answer that,” she said. “I’ve dated several, and they’re all different. I’ve also never dated any men, so I don’t know if it’s any different to that.”

“Right,” I said, a little disappointed.

“Are you interested in that girl?” she asked, surprising me.

“Eh? Um, no, I’m not, like… I don’t know,” I admitted. “I thought I just wanted to be her friend, but it doesn’t feel like normal friendship, so…” Wait, why was I talking to a complete stranger about this? I suppressed a laugh. Who else would I talk to about it?

“Every friendship is different,” she said. “But let me ask you this. Can you picture yourself kissing her?”

Before I could stop myself, the image of the two of us kissing materialised in my mind. I could almost feel the warmth of her breath, the softness of her lips…

“You’re very red right now,” the woman said, snapping me back to reality. “But just to be sure, now imagine yourself kissing another female friend of yours.”

I tried, but whoever I pictured, the image just sort of slipped away. I could see it easily, but there was no impact behind it.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Last test,” she said. “Picture her kissing somebody other than you.”

“No,” I told her, the words escaping my mouth before they even passed through my brain. She laughed again.

“I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got it bad,” she said.

“But I’m not gay,” I insisted.

“You don’t have to be gay to fall for a woman,” she told me. “I mean, it helps, but it’s not always that black and white for people. Oh, and this is my stop. Good luck, young stranger.”

“Uh, thanks,” I said, giving her a half-hearted wave as she stepped off the bus.

Puzzled, I stared at my reflection in the bus window. Why had I spent the last ten minutes talking to a complete stranger about being gay? Why was she so interested? Maybe there wasn’t anything good on TV or something.

Whatever her motives had been, she’d given me a lot to think about. My feelings for Irene still weren’t exactly clear, but I doubted that I’d have realised they were… abnormal without somebody saying something.

Was it really okay for me to feel that way about a friend? I mean, I know there are plenty of gay women out there, and it’s not like I thought that homosexuality was wrong or anything, but somehow, I still felt guilty about it.

Plus, I didn’t feel that way about any other girls. Just Irene. So maybe I wasn’t gay? And if I wasn’t gay, wouldn’t it be unreasonable of me to pursue a relationship with another girl? If things got serious, and I couldn’t keep up…

Not to mention, I had no way of knowing whether or not Irene was interested in me in that way. Sure, some random lady on a bus said it looked like that, but what did she know? If she wasn’t, and I asked her about it, how would that make me look?

After all, I was the one who’d approached her. Actually, I’d pretty much just barged into her life, asking her stupid questions about books and making her bake stuff for me, ambushing her at work and just generally making a fool of myself. If I told her I was attracted to her, wouldn’t it just make all of that look like an attempt to pick her up?

I really did want to be her friend, though. Yes, I wanted to be more than that, but that didn’t mean I thought going further was a good idea, and beneath it all, the most important thing was that I got to be her friend.

No, there was no way I could do anything to jeopardise that. If she was really as interested in me as the bus lady said, she would say something to me, or at least give me some kind of hint. If she didn’t, then it was probably better for me to just say nothing, and enjoy being her friend.

To be continued~

Want to read part 2? It’s only available as part of the collection. Get it here!

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