Upon entering my newly designed classroom at the studio, I was attacked by arms around my neck, chest, waist, and even legs.
“Hey there, guys,” I laughed, barely managing to keep my balance as I became a Christmas tree of kids.
“We missed you!” several voices cheered. I somehow managed to get them off of me and looked down at the five teenagers, ranging from fourteen at the youngest to seventeen at the oldest, and the oddball nine year old.
“What happened to your face?” aforementioned nine year old, Nina, asked from her position around my leg.
“Just a little accident over the weekend. Anyway, I missed you guys too, how’ve you all been?” I asked, setting my bags on my desk and then bending down to move Nina from around my leg to into my arms.
We spent the first ten or so minutes getting organized, tuning guitars as they told me about their past two weeks. All but two of the six went to different schools so most of their recaps were different in relation to their school lives. While elementary school was great, I did not miss high school.
“So, have you all been practicing?” I asked. There were a few mumbles and noncommittal noises which gave me the answer I was expecting. With an over exaggerated sigh, I shook my head, “Alrighty then. Today’s going to be a review day. We’ll start off with everyone’s favorite, chord progressions!”
I grinned wickedly at the resounding groaning and moaning. It was for moments like these that I lived to be a teacher.
“See you next week, Lesley!” Brendan, the second youngest of my Monday class, said to accompany his hug.
“See you, kiddo,” I replied, ruffling his hair before he ran to his car and waiting mother. I waved, receiving a wave back from both Brendan and his mother at the driver’s seat before they pulled out and drove off.
I turned around and joined Kristen, the oldest of my Monday kids, at the couches in the reception. She was playing with her phone, tossing it back and forth between her hands.
“Traffic?” I asked her.
She sighed, “No, my sister forgot she was supposed to pick me up.”
“Rosie?” I asked, remembering that Kristen had complained about several of her siblings. Well, a lot of the kids complained about their siblings so keeping track was a bit of a challenge.
Kristen nodded, “Yup. But on the bright side, my mom owes me thirty bucks.”
I had to laugh at that which resulted in Kristen cracking up too.
When we sobered, Kristen was staring at my face expectantly.
“What?” I asked her.
“You gonna tell me what happened to your face? You look like you were clobbered, teach. None of the younger guys are here and I’m dying to know.”
“It was nothing but an accident,” I insisted. There was really no need to tell one of my students that I got in a fight. Some of their parents were already slightly suspicious of me from how I looked and dressed, and the amount of brushing off and downplaying I had to do when the other kids got picked up was tiring.
“I’m almost eighteen,” Kristen whined. “And my parents love you anyway. They never stop singing your praises of being a forward thinking, intuitive whatever.”
I sighed, knowing that Kristen was not going to let this rest, “I got into a little fight on Saturday night. And no, it was not some stupid display of meat-headed masculinity. I was at a bar with Yvette and intervened when someone I knew was going to get hurt by a pair of homophobic ass—er, jerks. That’s all.”
She rolled her eyes and my horrible attempt of averting from a ‘swear word’ but continued to press, “Sure it was just ‘someone’ and not someone special?”
I frowned, “What are you trying to imply?”
Kristen groaned and threw her hands up in exasperation, “You’ve been glancing at your phone practically every minute today like some obsessive stalker waiting for a one night stand to call back.”
I blinked several times before my frown deepened as I tried to think back to my actions. So I may have checked my phone more than I usually did this morning and yesterday evening, and I had felt it like a hot iron in my pocket when I was doing something else. But. Well, okay, so I didn’t have a reasonable excuse.
I finally answered a highly impatient Kristen, “He is just a guy I met under unfortunate circumstances, and I’ve been a bit worried about him since that night since he hasn’t called me to let him know how he is. Does that satisfy your curiosity?”
“Not a bit,” she replied without hesitation.
“Well that’s all you’re getting from me,” I returned, before carrying on to divert the conversation. “So, have you thought about switching to the advanced class on Saturdays?”
Kristen shrugged, “My parents are okay with it and timing’s not an issue.”
“But…?” I prodded gently.
“I just…” she squirmed in her seat and picked at the fabric of the sofa between her knees, “I mean, I’m fine in the kids’ class. And I don’t think I’ll be able to catch up or be on par with the people in that class.”
“You know,” I began, “the reason I had brought it up was because I’m certain you’ll be more than fine in that class. Have a little more confidence in yourself. You love playing guitar, as far as I know anyway, and you’re talented. But if you really don’t feel comfortable with moving to the other class, that’s fine. It’s just an option that’s available if you want it.”
Kristen sat in silence, thinking over my words when her phone buzzed, signaling a text.
“Looks like your sister’s here,” I said, getting to my feet with her. As I walked her out the door, I ruffled her hair, “Think on it a little more over the week, and don’t stress. It’s a simple matter of if you want to or not. Yeah?”
Kristen nodded and flashed me a smile, “Yeah. See you next week, Lesley.” Kristen hopped into her car and I waved her and her sister off before going back into the studio. I was done for the day and keen on getting home to get some more sleep.
Sunday had been hectic. After Dan left, I had gone straight to work to finish up what I could of the four pieces I needed to give Xiao. The watercolor piece was first and didn’t take too long and then I finished up the oil painting. The sketch stumped me. I kept returning to the unfinished drawing of Dan in my sketchbook and eventually forced myself away from it to go over to Yvette’s and grab my acrylic painting. She wasn’t home so I left her a note before I left.
And then I got the call that had been hovering incessantly in the back of my mind.
My entire afternoon was spent at the police station, repeating and reiterating endlessly about what happened Saturday night. What I did, what I saw, what I heard, what I thought, who I was with, who did I know, etc. By the end of the process, I was so mentally fatigued, I haven’t a clue as to how I got home and managed to finish a drawing of some kids spray painting the wall of the building next to my apartment.
I hadn’t seen Dan though. I had called him after the police called me to tell him that they wanted to speak with him. And that was it. The conversation lasted all of a minute at most, with maybe ten seconds of him speaking. It was short and distant and I couldn’t help but worry. The need to call him and make sure he was okay was nearly overwhelming. But I gave him space. I was virtually a stranger to him. Our only meetings involved public bathrooms and him being hurt. But by god was my mind turning.
I packed my things and headed back downstairs, passing by Yvette’s room where she was teaching one of her children’s pottery classes. She caught sight of me and I waved, intending to leave it at that and go home, but Yvette had other ideas. She said made a few gestures to her class and then turned back around to slip out past the glass door to join me in the hallway.
“You’ve got a class,” I said.
She rolled her eyes, “I am well aware, merci. Just checking up on you in person since the last time I saw you was Saturday night.”
“I’m fine, Evie,” I insisted.
“What about Dan?”
I could do nothing but shrug, “I haven’t heard from him since yesterday when I called to let him know about meeting the police.”
“Why don’t you just call him again then?”
“I don’t want to smother him,” I replied, rubbing the back of my neck. “We’re pretty much strangers and he caught me in a compromising position with the man he’s in love with. If he ever finds out that Jack and I slept together, even just once, he’s going to absolutely hate me.”
Yvette sighed, “Then I’m not sure what else to tell you, Lesley. But if you are that concerned, just text him or something. Something short to show your concern but not pressuring. You’re good at that kind of stuff.”
“Hmm,” I deliberated. “I’ll figure something out. I’m gonna head home now, see you later, Evie.”
Yvette gave me a hug and kissed my cheek before heading back to her class. On the way home, I stopped by the art shop Yvette and I frequented just to say hi and check in on the new stock. I was definitely some sort of masochist. Going into an art store and leaving without buying anything was painful, yet I still did it quite frequently…
Upon reaching home, I vegged out on my couch with the TV on, an anime I wasn’t paying attention to playing in the stillness of my apartment. When even I knew I was checking my phone way too often, I stuffed it into my bedside drawer and set up a fresh canvas on one of my easels. I went to my acrylic toolbox and grabbed a handful of random colors to paint with. My middle school art teacher made us do this every once in awhile to force us into challenging ourselves since you didn’t always get colors that typically went together. Everyone prayed they got white and/or black. Now, I continued to do it when I needed to keep my mind off of some things. Namely, a particular Dan… A Dan whose full name I didn’t even know.
I shook my head and set to work painting.
I was woken up by my ringtone accompanied by the rattle of something vibrating against wood. I threw my arm out to feel for my phone but only felt my bedside lamp and the table.
Groaning, I sat up in bed and tried to remember where I had put my phone, realizing that I had never taken it out of the drawer after I had put it in there when I got home from the studio.
I fumbled around for the device and brought it to my ear, mumbling, “M’ello?”
There was silence on the other side.
“Hello?” I repeated more clearly, rubbing my eyes and yawning. “Anyone there?”
My sleep-dazed brain took a moment to recognize the soft voice. When I managed to connect a face to the voice, sleep was forgotten. “Dan? Hey, is everything alright?”
“Uh, I’m sorry to call you so late. Go back to sleep,” he replied.
“No!” I protested. “You called me for a reason, right? What’s up?”
I heard him swallow, “It’s, uh, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Sorry for disturbing you.” His voice was wobbling, there was a strain in it, as if he was just barely holding himself together.
“Dan,” I said softly as I got out of bed, “where are you right now?”
“So I can meet up with you. You wouldn’t call me for nothing.”
I paused, free hand outstretched to grab a hoodie and some sweatpants from my closet. “Downstairs? Like, at my building?”
Confused, I left my clothes and headed out of my apartment, “Stay right there, okay? I’m coming down to get you.”
“What? No, you don’t—I’ll just go back home,” he argued.
“Nu-huh, sit your fine ass right there and wait for me.” I rushed downstairs and sure enough, Dan was standing in front of my apartment building dressed in an old t-shirt, jacket, and sweatpants. I cut the call and walked up to him, waving when he caught sight of me.
“What are you doing?” he hissed, eyes going up and down my body, lingering at my navel piercing.
“Picking you up, now come on, it’s freezing out here,” I grinned, rubbing my arms. I slept in my boxers and was therefore standing outside, in the dead of the night, almost naked. He seemed about to protest but something changed his mind and he nodded. We quickly made our way back to my apartment and I sighed in relief at the warmth as I shut my door.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked, turning around to face him. He was standing awkwardly in the center of my living room, fiddling with the ends of his jacket sleeves.
“No, I’m fine. I’m sorry for intruding so late,” he replied.
Walking up to him, I slowly put my hands on his shoulders, giving him plenty of time to tell me to stop or move away, and gently took off his jacket, hanging it on the back of my couch. His fingers were cold, and, under the bright lights, I could see that his cheeks and nose were slightly flushed.
“Sure you don’t want anything to warm you up?” I asked.
He nodded and I let him go on that front.
“Take a seat then, I’m going to grab a shirt and then you can tell me whatever it is you want, okay?” I waited for him to nod again before directing him to the couch and rushing off to tug on the first shirt I could find.
Dan was sitting at the center of my couch, looking down at his hands, rubbing them together as if to get some warmth.
“You know,” I said to announce my return, “a cup of hot chocolate is both tasty and warm.”
Dan immediately moved his hands to fiddle with the hem of his shirt. He didn’t speak or move his head so I walked over and sat down on the coffee table, shifting until I was in front of him, hands resting between my knees.
“So what’s got you coming around here at…” I quickly checked my phone, “1:16 on a Tuesday morning?”
Dan didn’t speak, and with his head ducked down, I couldn’t see his face either to read any reactions.
“Dan,” I urged softly. “You can’t expect me not to ask when I haven’t heard from you since yesterday, or technically day before yesterday afternoon. I’ve barely been able to hold myself back from calling you every five minutes.”
“I…” Dan started after a moment of silence. He clenched his hands and curled in on himself. “I…I didn’t want be alone.”
“Did you have a nightmare?” I remembered an old friend who used to call me at the oddest hours because she had night terrors and couldn’t go back to sleep unless she spoke with someone.
He shook his head and I decided not to question him further.
“Well, you should still try and get some sleep. Do you have work tomorrow, er, later this morning?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, finally looking up at me.
I pursed my lips in thought before saying, “Honestly, you should call in sick. You’re not fit to work and don’t even try saying you are when you showed up in the cold in front of my apartment sounding like you were about to cry.”
“I wasn’t—” he started to protest but I shushed him.
“You are going to bed and sleeping,” I dictated, getting to my feet and pulling Dan up by his wrists.
“But,” he stumbled as I led him to my bedroom, which was only lit by my bedside lamp, gently pushing him to my bed. I managed to get him to sit down and then I dropped to the floor to remove his shoes.
“Lesley!” Dan exclaimed and I looked up to see his face was red. “I can remove my own shoes.”
I ignored him and slipped his shoes and socks off, picking them up to put with my shoes by the front door. Looking over my shoulder, I said, “Get settled in bed and go to sleep.”
“Where’re you going to sleep?”
I pointed my thumb towards the living room, “I’ve slept on my couch plenty of times. You take the bed. And don’t even try arguing because either I’m on the couch or we’re sharing my bed.”
Dan remained silent before quietly mumbling, “If you don’t mind sharing…”
I blinked in surprise. I had given the ultimatum thinking that there was no way he would want to sleep with me.
When I didn’t reply due to my shocked state, Dan seemed to take that badly as he curled back into himself.
“Oh, um, sure. I don’t mind. I was just surprised,” I quickly explained. “You sure you don’t want anything? Clothes to sleep in, food, a drink?”
“I’m fine. And I still have your clothes from last time. I’ll get those back to you soon, by the way.”
I smiled, “Don’t stress over it. And I’ll be right back.” I quickly left his shoes next to mine and returned to see him looking around my room, not having moved an inch. “Mind scooting over so I can get in?”
Dan nodded and after a bit of shuffling around we were both tucked in bed. Since my bed was pretty big, we had a decent amount of personal space.
I turned off my lamp and bid Dan goodnight, “If you need anything at all, wake me up, okay?”
I could barely make out the shadow of Dan’s figure nod from the city lights leaking past my curtain. “Good night.”
“Mmm,” I moaned, tilting my head to give more room as kisses moved down my neck. My mind was dazed by sleep and growing pleasure as I felt a body climb on top of me, groping my skin through my shirt as they sucked on my neck.
My eyes drifted open as a lazy smile grew on my face. And then I remembered who was in my bed.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, jerking up right. My hands fumbled for the lamp and light dowsed me and a tear streaked Dan who was straddling me. “Dan? What’s wrong?”
He didn’t answer me and only pressed forward, continuing where he left off, lips on my neck and hands sliding up under my shirt, feeling my stomach, skimming past my piercing, and creeping up to my chest. I could feel wetness where his cheek touched my skin. His hands were shaking.
I grabbed Dan’s wandering hands by the wrist, pulling them out of my shirt, but my position didn’t allow me to move away without accidently injuring him in some way.
“Dan, seriously, what’s going on? Did you have a nightmare?”
“Please,” he whimpered against my neck, hands wriggling in my grasp. “I need…”
“Dan, I don’t think this is a good idea,” I started.
He stopped squirming and simply pressed his face against my shoulder, my shirt absorbing his tears.
I thought he had fallen asleep, this episode some kind of semi-conscious reaction or something, so I shifted to try and get him to lay back in the bed, but he pressed himself into me and slipped his hands free from mine to clutch at my shirt.
“Am I really not worth it?”
“Dan,” I tried to explain, but he started kissing up my neck again desperately, mumbling nonsensical phrases. “Dan!” I said more forcefully, gripping his shoulders and pulling him away from me so there was a good couple inches between us.
The fear and hurt on his face was clear and heartbreaking.
“Dan,” I repeated softly but he looked down and his hands clenched into my shirt as he hadn’t let go.
I didn’t know what to do. If I turned him away, I had no doubt that whatever emotional issues he had would become worse, but if I let him do as he thought he wished, I’d be taking advantage of him.
I slid my hands down his arms to grasp his hands, gently prying them off my shirt so I could hold his hands and rub his knuckles with my thumbs.
“Okay.” I took a calming breath before letting go of one of Dan’s hands so I could use mine to lift his face up. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with you, okay? If you need to get your mind off things, I’ll help, but we’re not having sex.”
Dan frowned in confusion, “But—”
“You just want to clear your head, right?” I interrupted.
He hesitated before nodding.
I sighed, rubbing my face before smiling as reassuringly as I could even though my mind was a tumultuous mess, “Then let me handle everything.”
A/N: Rating's going up for the next chapter. Prepare for horribly awkward writing.