Chapter 6

By Dabeagle


Wednesday morning Corey was waiting for me at my parking spot. I steeled myself as I climbed from the car, but he didn't get closer to me.

“Hey, Noah,” he said quietly.

“Corey,” I said with a nod.

“I'm...sorry,” he said. “Uh. Just been trying to look at this from your point of view. Took me a day. I was pissed. Embarrassed. But...a friend set me right.” He looked up at me. “I wasn't really thinking about it from where you were sitting. I just...liked you a lot, and I thought...I guess I wasn't thinking that much.”

“Thanks, Corey, don't really know me. I appreciate you apologizing,'s over, okay?”

“Well, I was just...I mean, wondering if maybe we could get to know each other some time?” he asked.

I sighed. “This sounds like you apologizing in order to get your way,” I said. “And...I think I'm interested in someone else, so, no. Please leave me alone.”

His shoulders dropped a bit. “Okay.”

I said a quiet “Thank you” as I walked past him and into the school. Jesus, can't believe I told someone who is nearly a stranger that I'm interested in someone. I mean, I think I am, but I haven't even told him yet.

I was supposed to be working on my project, but I found myself going back to touch up my runner going up the hill. My style isn't always realistic; more cartoonish, really, which fits web comics. So this runner didn't really look like Walker...but I think it also kind of did. In a general way. I'm not sure he'd recognize himself in it. Hell, I'm not sure I did. Still, in my mind's eye I was drawing Walker running up a hill. The perspective was from the bottom of the hill, but from a side so you could see him a little bit in profile. I think that worked best, hiding part of the face, because you could really imagine a more detailed expression than the one I'd provide. I had some skills, but not enough.

“I didn't know you were a drawer,” she said, sounding smug as she sat next to me in the library. I glanced up at Walker's cousin, the nosy one.

“What's your name again? Calling you the nosy one is too long,” I said and looked back down at my little drawing.

“Lina. So is that Walker you’re drawing?”

“What makes you think this is him?” I asked.

“Long legs?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.

“There are more tall people in the world than just Walker,” I said with a snort.

“But he's tall.”

I looked at her. “So what's up? Here for more information?”

“No. I just saw you sitting here,” she said, pulling her school tablet out. “But if you want to share, I'm right here.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

“I'm just saying. Walker isn't here, so who else are you going to talk to?”

“I have friends.”

She snorted. “You need more than friends. You need a person.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“It's like this,” she said, settling in. “Walker had his tonsils out two years ago, and that sucked. So we sat around watching Grey's Anatomy – which is this total drama-fest. Have you watched it?”

“Uh, no.”

“Don't bother; I'll tell you what you need to know. So these two characters, they go through a lot, but they also make a lot of their own problems. Through all of it they call each other their person – like, of course I need you, you're my person. It's more than being friends – it's a responsibility to show up.” She raised her chin a bit. “So after he got better our families spent a lot of time in Maine for a summer, because our grandfather was sick, and we had to move our grandmother into a place where she could kind of still do her own thing. So we leaned on each other a lot – we are each other's person.”

I rested my chin on my hand. “That sounds weird.”

“Not really. Everyone needs people.”

“I like my dog better.”

She sighed. “Yeah. I've heard that from some people. My parents won't get a pet, so I have to settle for Walker.” She laughed, and I smiled. “So the sketch. Why is he running up the hill?”

I sighed. “This song he likes.”

“Oh, the Kate Bush thing. Yeah. I get it now.” She giggled and covered her mouth. “This is so cool. It's like watching a romcom right in front of me.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, letting out a nervous chuckle.

“Please. You guys like each other so much. It makes people melt from ten feet away.”

“Shut up,” I said, though I was smiling. “Just met the guy.”

“So...heard about the Corey thing yesterday. That must have been embarrassing AF.”

I sighed, letting the smile drop from my face. “Yeah. I don't know anyone that likes all that attention – the big displays and stuff? It's embarrassing.”

“I love that stuff,” she said. “A flash mob HoCo invite? Yes, please!”

I shuddered. “You can have it.”

“Ugh. Boys have no sense of romance,” she whined.

“One person's romance is another person's embarrassment,” I replied.

She was quiet for a moment and then said, “I hate you all. My boyfriend needs some poking to do some bigger romantic things, but it sounds like...well, I won't jinx it.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What?”

She rolled her eyes. “Nothing.”

I smiled. “You can't say something like that and then not explain.”

“Yes, I can.”

I leaned back and crossed my arms. “And I thought we were friends.”

She giggled. “No, you didn't.” She smiled. “So it's all about lines, right? Walker is really good at getting close to the line without crossing it. Me? No line. Like, I'm better now, but before I'd blurt out something inappropriate and personal about me or my boyfriend to explain why he's not romantic enough.”

I chuckled and placed my forearms on the table. “And just why is he not romantic?”

She sighed. “I think culture is an excuse, okay?”

I waited.

“You grow up and live inside a box of whatever you're taught. Like, if you grow up in the south, people just want to know which church you go to, and we know it's some form of Christianity – not getting into if that's smart or not, just is for this, okay?”

I nodded.

“But if you grow up in, say, India, you're probably taught another religion. Maybe another if you're in Israel. Another if it's Saudi Arabia. When you strip things back, though, there are plenty of things where it's all about control. Like whatever they believe or teach is about control. My boyfriend comes from this culture where they do things like arrange marriages. I hate the whole idea of that – and you know, if they taught me from the start this was what I was supposed to want, maybe I'd feel differently, but I'm sure there are plenty of girls – and probably boys – who aren't happy that they have no choice. Like, the family makes the decision based on what's good for the family – groom comes from money, wife has no relatives so she can take care of groom's parents. None of those reasons has anything to do with the wife or groom being happy. With me?”

“Totally,” I nodded.

“Even worse though is some cultures think it's okay to marry a girl off when she's still a literal child. I can't imagine would be if I found out I had to go marry a guy I'd never met that was old enough to be my dad.” She was so worked up she was practically staring daggers at me, like I was about to marry her off.

“You know what I don't get?”

She paused. “What?”

“The age thing. I mean, someone older has money, maybe a house – they can set you up for life, all because they don't want to be alone. They die, eventually, and you're still young enough to do a lot with your life – and you may love that person. And they could love you.”

She tilted her nose down and glared at me. “Really?”

I raised a finger. “You have TikTok?”

She waited a beat and nodded.

“Do you get upset when an 'old' person 'creeps' on you?”

“Well, that's just gross.”

“Why? They aren't hurting you. If you're going to dance on camera with no bra and short shorts, why do you care who's looking?”

She frowned. “It's nasty.”

“But you have control, right? You're choosing to make the video.”

“You're deliberately being a dick,” she said.

I shrugged. “Maybe a little. I agree with the things you said, but I can also see where there are times that a relationship could be beneficial for both people. People don't usually get married if they think the whole thing will be a train wreck.” I paused. “Do they?”

“I don't know. But my boyfriend's mom had him when she was fourteen, because she had an arranged marriage through her culture. My boyfriend lives here, but he has some of these ideas sometimes about how women should be – but then he lies about how old his mom is to make it sound like she gave birth when she was eighteen – not because he thinks it was wrong, but because other people will give him crap. It wasn't his fault, but he shouldn't condone it.”

I held a hand up. “First, I'm going to try and pretend I don't know any of this when I meet your boyfriend. But second...what does this have to do with Walker?”

She blushed. “He's got this sixth sense about where to stop. Like, you know how some people are obnoxious, but other people know how to stop and just seem confident instead?”

“Yeah. Well, at least I know a lot of obnoxious people,” I said with a snicker.

“Yeah. He's not like that.” She frowned. “It's seriously annoying.”

“Oh, my God,” Kendra said, sitting down beside me suddenly. “I need a coffee.” She paused and looked at Lina. “Who are you?”


“You say that like it should mean something,” Kendra said.

“See what I mean?” I asked Lina, and we both laughed.

“What?” Kendra asked. “Noah. Are you coming to my birthday?”

“I don't know. When is the party?” I asked, hiding that I forgot which day her birthday was.

“I'm thinking Saturday, because half of Friday is taken up by school. Not this Saturday, but next weekend. Can you get the day off?” she asked.

“I can try,” I said with a shrug.

She glanced at Lina and then back at me. “You can bring a...friend.”

I looked at Lina. “Lina? Walk the line, don't cross it.”

She opened her mouth, looked at Kendra and then back to me, then closed it without speaking.

Kendra leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand and tapping a finger against her lower lip. “Interesting.”

“Not really,” I said. The bell rang and I stood. “I'll see if I can get the evening off.”


“Can't you go any faster?” Walker teased me, out of breath from running.

“I'm not sprinting to keep up with your freakishly long legs,” I said, trying not to sound more out of breath than he was.

“Maybe you should join Cross the Yard instead of Cross Country,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.

“Or I could just trip you from behind,” I said, speeding up and making my footfalls heavier. He squawked and ran faster, looking behind at me – I was smugly looking back. We ran on with our team, sharing looks periodically. It was all very...middle school shy. Shouldn't I be over things like this? I've slept with guys before. Haven't I crossed some line where I shouldn't feel so stupid with someone I like?

We finally crossed our imaginary finish line. People were milling around, trying to catch their breath. The coach was slowly gathering people to go over running times, talking about upcoming meets and so forth. Me? I kept stealing glances at Walker – with his wheat-blond hair, parted down the middle, his wide frame and those legs that looked even longer due to his runner's shorts.

Damn he's a lot to look at.

He lifted his chin a bit, smiled just a touch – enough to let me know he knew I was looking – and walked over, breath pluming in the cool of the early evening.

“Are you working tonight?”

“Uh, no.”

“Have a lot of homework?”

“Not really, no.”

He pushed his lips together for the briefest moment. “So. What do I have to do to get you to ask me over and show me this drawing of me?”

I blinked a few times. “Lina wasn't kidding when she said she didn't know where the line was.”

He pushed his tongue at the back of this two front teeth and grinned. “Oh, she knows. I mean, maybe after she crosses the line, but she knows.”

Coach said Walker's name, and while he was listening to the coach, I turned the idea over in my head. I mean...I think we were curious about each other. Walker was confident, but he wasn't turning me off like Corey had with his preconceived notions. I think Walker knew I was curious, even a little interested, but he wasn't pushing his luck so far as to be...annoying.

I mean...that he knew I had a drawing about him was weird, and I'm not sure it's something I'd have willingly brought up, but then he doesn't seem to mind. He just wants to see, and...well...maybe I should let him.

Even if I was a little embarrassed, maybe the answer was to match his confidence one for one. I sipped water from my bottle and leaned against my car. Walker looked around, and I held a hand up. He tipped his chin at me and headed to me, his long stride eating up the space between us.

“So,” I said. “The picture is just someone running up a hill. It's black and white; I'm really not sure why Lina thought it was you.”

He put a hand on one hip. “I thought art was about imagination? What if I look at the picture and see what Lina saw? What then?”

“I're entitled to your imagination, I guess,” I said with a little smile.

He put an arm straight behind him and grabbed his wrist with his other hand. “I tried to picture what Lina was telling me, but in my seems like it's not finished.”

I frowned. “Uh, pretty sure it's finished.”

“Nu uh,” he said, turning side to side slightly. “I don't think so.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Well. I guess you'll just have to come see for yourself.”

He smiled all the way to the center of his eyes. “Can you come pick me up?”

I smiled, rolled my eyes and tried to shake off a shiver running up my back. “DM me your address.”

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