"Of all the animals, the boy is the most unimaginable."
There was a boy in my house. I didn’t know what to do with this information. It took me several minutes to process the situation as it stood - time during which Sebastian sat staring at me in concern from across the table. He coughed. I tried to say something. “So-“
“Are you-“ he started at the same time. We both stopped.
I sighed. “Listen, we need to have some ground rules,” I told him. “No asking if I’m okay, it’s already getting annoying.”
Sebastian blinked, his eyes seeming different when they were behind glass. Brighter, maybe. Closer. “I was just going to say… are you going to make those brownies? ‘Cause if you’re not, I will.”
My face flooded with heat, and I looked down. “Uh, yeah, um… Yeah.” There I sat, the epitome of eloquence.
He was still looking at me, I realized after another few seconds. As I went to tell him off again, his gaze shifted to the box of brownie mix between us. Right. For a few minutes, I bustled around the kitchen feeling like a middle-aged housewife as I pulled measuring cups and spatulas from their respective places. After I lined a pan with parchment paper, I turned to reach for the box of mix and yelped.
“You’re like a fucking silent ninja,” I muttered to Sebastian, who was standing behind me. I hadn’t heard him move. “Make more noise next time.”
“Sorry,” he said, offering the box of mix. “I just thought I should be helping.” Warily, I accepted the box. “If not,” he continued, leaning back against the island, “this is going to be one very awkward brownie-making session.”
Isn’t it already? I thought. “Yeah,” I agreed aloud. “Want to grab me the oil? Second cupboard by the door.”
While he was occupied with this task, I breathed. I breathed and breathed, but air didn’t seem to be getting to my brain. My hand gripped the edge of the counter, and I closed my eyes, just for a second, but it was enough.
“Hana?” Sebastian asked, his footsteps nearing.
I straightened, and read the question in his eyes. Are you okay? “Thanks,” I said, taking it from him without further comment. I followed the recipe in silence. He seemed to anticipate what I needed, finding the utensils and handing them to me as needed. It was companionable silence, and still wildly uncomfortable. When the batter was in the oven, we sat at the island, perched on the stools, silent.
Sebastian looked at me. I looked at him. “Is this the part of the social interaction where we have to actually interact?”
His lips twitched almost imperceptibly. “Yeah, I think it is.”
“Super,” I muttered under my breath. That time, he definitely smirked.
“So, tell me about yourself,” Sebastian said, leaning his chin on his fist in a picture of mock attentiveness.
I had to resist rolling my eyes. “I’m not doing this right now.”
“I’ll try again later, then,” Sebastian joked. Or at least I thought he was joking. Perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part. “Do you at least want to tell me why you look like… that and have a sudden burning desire for brownies?”
“It was just a long night, okay?”
A long night during which I absolutely did not stay up until four AM scrolling through Anita’s tumblr page.
When I glanced back at Sebastian, his face was more serious and thoughtful than I expected. Just a minute ago he had been teasing, but when he spoke, he sounded sincere. “Yeah, I feel you.”
“Is that why you’re here too?” I asked, regretting the words as soon as I spoke them. Prolonging conversations about feelings was not something I was interested in.
Sebastian gave a half shrug. “Maybe. Maybe I’m just here because I’m curious as to why you rang my doorbell with no apparent purpose.”
I looked away. I was curious about that too.
“So,” I began, changing the subject, “how come I never saw you around school? I mean, besides the cheerleader stunt.”
“It wasn’t a stunt, it was a statement,” Sebastian defended.
“Uh huh,” I replied, smirking. “Whatever you say.”
Sebastian cracked a smile but didn’t argue. “Anyway, it was probably because you’re smart, and I’m… not. So even if there were classes with mixed grades, I don’t think ours ever overlapped. And I saw you around a lot, so it must be you who didn’t notice me.”
“Yeah, I’m not very observant sometimes,” I admitted, running my hand through my fine hair, feeling it catch in a knot. Brushes were made for a reason, or so I was told. “Sorry,” I offered.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Sebastian told me. “I never really gave you a reason to know me.” He paused. “I remember seeing you around, though. You always seemed so popular and like… one of those smiley, happy girls, you know?”
I laughed outright. “You clearly didn’t know me very well.”
Everything looks worse close up.
Sebastian tilted his head, studying me. I looked down. “Clearly,” he muttered.
The silence was awkward, and I found myself playing with the ends of my hair. The moment I realized it, I stilled my hands. I hated it when girls did that, but I hated it more when I did that. Since Sebastian spoke last, I figured it was my social duty to continue the conversation. “So, do you have any siblings?” I blurted in a tone that was kind of casual and very forced.
Sebastian’s eyes jerked back from where they had drifted, with something foreign in his gaze. I immediately backtracked. “I, uh, didn’t mean to make that sound so serial-killer stalkerish, sorry. I’m not used to this small talk thing.”
“It’s alright,” Sebastian replied, a little too quickly. “I would’ve figured you’d have to do a lot of small talk in college to make friends, what with everyone being strangers and all.”
I gave a half shrug. “You probably do.” Sebastian looked at me. I sighed. “Shit, I made things awkward again, didn’t I?”
Sebastian gave a little laugh, and some of the tension eased. Still, I was dismayed to glance over and see another eighteen minutes left on the brownies. Eighteen minutes. A veritable eternity in small-talk time.
“You choose the topic this time. I’m clearly bad at this whole making friends thing,” I told him. I’d dug myself so deep that there was nowhere else to go but down. Might as well admit my failures in the social department. At least that way he’d know what he was getting into if we ever saw each other again. With the disaster this was turning into, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.
“What’s your major?” he asked.
I let out a groan before I realized that I was supposed to be pretending to be a likable, normal person capable of going with the flow of conversation. “Ugh, back on school again-“
“No, it’s-“ I stopped, shaking my head. “It’s okay. My major’s Biology.”
Sebastian nodded as if he approved. “Dissect anything fun?”
“Pig fetus was kinda cool,” I replied. “Once you got over the fact it was pretty cute.” Just speaking of it brought back the smell of formaldehyde. Mixed with the aroma of baking brownies, I kind of wanted to throw up. “What do you plan to study?” I hurried to ask.
“I don’t know yet,” Sebastian admitted. “I’m as undecided as they come.”
“That’s fair. College is a joke anyway.”
We fell into another awkward silence. It wasn’t a surprise to me; I tended to lapse into silence in situations I wasn’t comfortable with. Which was nearly all of them, very much including this one. I supposed that was one of the reasons I clung to Anita so much, but she wasn’t here now.
“Look, if you don’t want me here, I’ll leave,” Sebastian’s voice cut through my reverie. He didn’t sound annoyed, just… trying to be helpful.“I won’t be offended.”
I realized that I had been frowning at the table for an undetermined amount of time. “Uh…” I hesitated to answer him. I didn’t know what I wanted. I wanted the awkwardness to end, but I didn’t necessarily want him to leave. “No,” I said. “I just… I’m sorry. I’m really bad at the whole beginning of friendships thing.” Apparently my brain had decided it was honesty hour. “It’s been a long time since I’ve really had to do this, and this whole getting-to-know each other thing is my downfall every time.”
Sebastian looked thoughtful, his hazel eyes seeming to appraise me, but not in a critical way. It was like I was skittish animal, and he was deciding how best to approach me. “Okay,” he said after a minute.
“Okay. You don’t like the getting-to-know each other bit?” he asked, then shrugged. “We’ll skip it. We’ll go straight to the being comfortable friends part.”
I blinked at him. He looked earnest, a slight grin tugging at his lips as he peered at me from across the island. “I don’t think it works that way,” I protested.
“Sure it does,” Sebastian replied. “Now if you’ll excuse me for one second, I’m headed to the bathroom. And I, of course, know exactly where it is, being that we’ve been friends for years.” He grinned, hopping off the stool and heading out of the wrong kitchen door. I thought about correcting him, but instead I just sat there, staring after him. If there was a small smile on my face, it was okay. No one was there to see it.