What It Takes

Levi likes Johnathan. A lot. He thinks he’s cute and funny and endlessly interesting. Johnathan thinks that maybe he might like Levi too, but he has a hard time believing that Levi likes him back, despite all the hints. Slowly, Levi begins to realize that if he wants to show Johnathan how he really feels, it'll require a much bolder move than his easy, soft spoken nature usually allows.

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4. Chapter Four: You Don't Know How It Feels

 

    It was with some apprehension that Levi knocked on Johnathan’s door the next night, for he was a little early. Yesterday, it had been about eight o’clock when Levi dropped by, but tonight it was closer to seven. Levi considered waiting a while, working on something else until the clock ticked over to the right hour, but his room suddenly seemed to lonely and quiet and Cyrus and Hayden were watching a movie downstairs. Of course, Levi could’ve joined them for that, but lately being around Cyrus and Hayden only served to make Levi feel worse about his own situation. He could sympathize with Johnathan in that regard.

    As it turned out, Levi shouldn’t have worried. Johnathan called, “Come in,” almost immediately after the knock, and Levi obeyed. Johnathan’s room was a little messier than the night before, but there was an empty spot cleared next to him on the bed. Levi couldn’t stop the little thrill in his chest that told him the spot was for him. 

    Johnathan didn’t look up from where he was frowning at his computer until Levi climbed onto the bed, jostling it a bit. Even then, he only glanced up for a moment before saying, “One sec.”

    There was a long stretch of silence where Levi opened his notebook and stared at some of the meaningless numbers for a minute. He glanced over at the words on Johnathan’s screen; it seemed to be some kind of essay with a bunch of complicated terms and language. Eventually, Johnathan closed his laptop with a sigh. 

    “Sorry,” he said. 

    “It’s alright,” Levi replied. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

    Johnathan shook his head. “No, I’ve got another couple days to work on that essay, and I could really use a break, anyway. So, Calculus?”

    “Calculus,” Levi agreed. They both looked at his notebook in silence for a minute.

    “Well,” Johnathan said at last. “Let’s get at it.”

    For the next few hours, Johnathan alternated between setting a list of problems for Levi to do, checking the ones he had done, and working on his essay while Levi tried to figure them out for himself first. It was hell. Not because of Johnathan, of course, but because math was just… hell. Levi rubbed his eyes and glanced at the time. It was nearing ten. How had it gotten so late? 

    Johnathan, too, seemed to be feeling the effects of the relatively late hour, which wasn’t surprising given the lack of sleep he seemed to be getting. At one point, Levi yawned, and Johnathan couldn’t help but mirror with a yawn of his own. They shared a look. 

    “Call it a night?” Levi suggested. 

    “Yeah, definitely. I’m tired of staring at this,” Johnathan said, shutting his computer with a click and placing it on the floor. Levi did the same with his books. As Johnathan gathered up his remaining papers and notebooks, Levi moved to leave. “Oh, you’re leaving?”

    Levi paused. “Um… I thought you were tired?”

    “Tired of working,” Johnathan said with a shrug. “I realize I was kind of a jerk when you asked about hanging out yesterday, but if you want to now, that’d be ok. But, by all means, if you want to go, go.”

    “No, no,” Levi said a little too quickly. “I just thought you wanted me to.” There was a brief, awkward silence. “I think I heard Cyrus and Hayden go upstairs a little while ago; you want to go watch something? I can make popcorn.”

    “Sure,” Johnathan agreed. They headed downstairs, Johnathan leaving his room for the first time in far too many hours. Levi headed for the kitchen while Johnathan turned on the TV. As he watched the bag of popcorn revolve around and around in the microwave, Levi allowed himself a little smile. Things were going well. Johnathan seemed to be doing a little better; he was still closed off, but at least a little more willing to have company than before.

    When Levi came back into the living room, Johnathan was flipping through potential movies on the TV. “What do you want to watch?” he asked, turning his head as Levi entered. 

    With a shrug, Levi replied, “Whatever. What are you in the mood for?”

    “Something that doesn’t require a lot of brain cells.”

    Levi smiled, sitting down a respectable distance from Johnathan and putting the bowl of popcorn between them. He could have gotten two bowls, of course, but, well… Levi didn’t mind sharing. Johnathan passed on a few more movie titles before snickering. “Heh. Chopping Mall. Looks like a solid B horror movie.”

    “Perfect,” Levi agreed. Johnathan hit play, then settled back into the couch. 

    It took less than five minutes, in Levi’s estimation, before they both completely lost it. They hadn’t even gotten through the title sequence before they’d degraded into a mess of laughter and gasps for air. 

    “Oh my god,” Johnathan managed. “Why is that old lady watching those two make out next to a potted plant?” 

    Levi could only shake his head, his reply eclipsed by the current scene on the TV. “Are those strippers?” he demanded before bursting into fresh laughter. 

    “‘Take the kids’?” Johnathan read off the sash of one of the bikini-clad girls. “‘Have a ball’? Oh my god,” he gasped, wiping away the tears of laughter leaking from his eyes. “Damn, though. What kind of mall is this and where can I find one?” he asked as the girls boarded an escalator. 

    That comment unintentionally sobered Levi. He still faked a smile and a laugh when the situation called for it, but he couldn’t focus on the hilarity of the movie when his mind was hung up on the hopelessness of his infatuation with the person next to him. Johnathan would never be into someone like Levi. That was just it. They would be friends - they already were, it seemed - but nothing more. 

    Judging by Johnathan’s track record, he always went for the beautiful people. There was Hayden, of course, who, by any standards, would be considered very attractive, and Brenna, while clingy to the extreme, was quite beautiful. Levi also vaguely remembered seeing a photo sometime last year of Johnathan and a boy who could be an Indian prince or male model at the very least. It was simple: Johnathan liked attractive people. And, while Levi had a decent sense of self-esteem, he knew that he was average. Not attractive, not unattractive. And Levi couldn’t help but think that, combined with so many other factors, that made him not good enough for Johnathan. 

    Jarring Levi out of his thoughts was Johnathan’s sharp laugh before he mimicked the obese man in the movie, saying, “Waitress, more butter,” in the most monotone voice he could manage. Levi smiled, still too distracted to find it as funny as he might have otherwise, but Johnathan didn’t seem to notice. “Could you imagine being cast for that role? ‘Hey, yeah, we want you to play this rude, fat guy with only one line - “Waitress, more butter.”’ That would suck,” Johnathan said, snickering. 

    Levi nodded, but it was clear that his heart wasn’t in it. Johnathan gave him a questioning look, so Levi laughed at the next mildly amusing thing to come across the screen. This seemed to satisfy Johnathan that everything was okay, and they went back to watching the movie in peace, breaking only to laugh or make fun of something.

    Every now and then, Levi would reach for a handful of popcorn just for something to occupy himself, and once Johnathan moved at the same time, their hands touching briefly. Levi jerked his hand away as if he’d been burned, and muttered, “Sorry.” Johnathan barely glanced his way before taking a handful. Levi let his hands rest in his lap, his cheeks burning. He’d lost his appetite.

    It was about half way through the movie when Levi failed for the fourth time to laugh at something appropriately funny that Johnathan paused the movie and looked over in concern. “Is everything okay?”

    No. “Yes.” In attempt to cover the awkwardness and shift attention off himself, Levi asked, “Is, uh, everything okay with you?” As Johnathan’s brows furrowed, Levi immediately scolded himself for somehow managing to make things more awkward. 

    “Yeah? Why?” Johnathan asked, confused and suspicious.

    “Just, you know, making conversation,” Levi replied in his best attempt at being flippant. His heart pounding, he reached over and plucked the remote off the table and pressed play. 

    The movie played for another fifteen minutes or so, but neither of them were paying attention. The room seemed to buzz with tension, and Levi was wishing with desperate fervor that there was a convenient brick wall he could hit his head off of. Eventually, Johnathan paused the movie again. 

    “Not to bring this back up-“

    Which is exactly what you’re doing.

    “-But have I done something that made you think I’m not alright?” Johnathan demanded, his tone half hostile and half defensive. 

    “No,” Levi answered too quickly. “Just, uh…”

    “Just what?”

    Levi felt trapped. He wished the floor would swallow him. He wished the door would burst open and one of the Protector 101 Series mall-protection robots would blast his head off with questionable laser technology. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened, and Levi was left to face Johnathan’s question alone. He had already  paused for too long to be considered normal, and to say anything other than the truth at this point would sound like a blatant lie. “Just that you’ve been spending a lot of time in your room lately. You don’t socialize as much as you used to.”

    “What, with you guys?” Johnathan asked, scowling. 

    “Well, with anyone, really…” Levi replied, hesitant. 

    Johnathan jaw clenched. “So that’s why you’ve been spending time with me? Because you feel bad? You probably know how to do all those math problems by yourself,” he accused, eyes narrowing.

    “No, that’s not-“

    Johnathan didn’t want to hear it. He stood up. “No, it’s fine. It’s fine. You won’t have to worry about me being lonely anymore, okay? I’ll go socialize if that’ll make you happy. I don’t need your pity-friendship.”

    Levi opened his mouth to say something, but whatever words he might have come up with seemed lodged in his throat. He couldn’t do anything but gape in horror as Johnathan turned on his heel and headed upstairs, slamming his bedroom door shut. Levi looked back at the paused movie with a strange sense of detachment. He felt physically sick.

 

—[]—

 

    Levi didn’t sleep that night. He left for class the next morning like a robot- No. No, like a zombie. To think of robots was to remember Chopping Mall and where that had led the night before. Johnathan was angry, not speaking to Levi or the other two, and it was all Levi’s fault. If only he’d been able to better mask his feelings, to pretend that nothing was bothering him, or to - for God’s sake - not make every conversation so awkward that it led to disastrous consequences, then maybe he wouldn’t be in this situation. 

    Scowling at the road, Levi was on autopilot as he drove to school. It was a good thing that he was very familiar with the route, for he barely considered where he was going until he had arrived. Briefly, Levi wondered how Johnathan was getting to school. 

    Throughout his photo arts lecture, Levi paid zero attention to his teacher. Instead, he wondered if perhaps it was a good thing that things had ended this way. Maybe Johnathan would just hate him now, and Levi could cut his losses and move on. After all, it wasn’t like he had much of a chance to begin with. Besides, Johnathan clearly wasn’t in a good position to have a healthy relationship anyway, with Levi or anyone else. 

    Forgetting where he was, Levi sighed heavily. A few people shot him looks, but it didn’t matter. Levi’s mind was already elsewhere.

    The rest of the day passed in a blur, and when Levi got home, he was content to go curl up in a ball in his room and not come out until he was forced. With a touch of dark humor, he acknowledged how that was exactly what he was so worried about Johnathan doing. Before he could escape to solitude, however, Levi was sidetracked by Cyrus, who was smiling wider than usual. 

    “Levi, hey!” Cyrus said as Levi stepped into the house. 

    Levi nodded to him, but didn’t speak. He didn’t feel like encouraging conversation at the moment. Being that Levi was usually rather quiet, Cyrus didn’t make anything of his silence. 

    “Hey,” Cyrus said again, twisting in his seat. “Whatever you said to Johnathan must be working. He seems to be doing better.”

    “Does he?” Levi asked without thinking, his surprise and desire to know everything he could trumping his self-induced silence. 

    “Yeah,” Cyrus replied, smiling. “He’s in the shower now; I think he’s going to actually go somewhere tonight.”

    Levi tried to keep his voice casual. “With who?”

    Cyrus shrugged. “Someone from one of his classes; I don’t remember her name-“

    “Cyrus!” Hayden said sharply from the doorway of the kitchen. His eyes were wide, as if he was trying to telepathically tell Cyrus something. “I could use your help in here.” When Cyrus gave Levi an apologetic look, Hayden added, “Now would be good,” before Cyrus could say anything else, but the damage was done.

    Levi swallowed hard. Johnathan had plans with a girl. There was only one reason Hayden wouldn’t have wanted Cyrus to bring that up. Cyrus probably hadn’t realized, but it had to be a date. Feeling his stomach plummet, Levi barely caught the sympathetic look of apology that Hayden shot him before he headed upstairs. The bathroom door opened just as Levi stepped into the hallway. Panicked, he darted into his room and shut the door hard behind him, then promptly sank to the floor with his head in his hands.

    This was all his fault.

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