The first time I met him he was standing in front of the library doors, giving his reflection in the window a pep-talk. He was wearing a bright yellow hat that clashed beautifully with his red knit scarf. The way his fists were clenching and unclenching in those threadbare blue gloves almost made me smile. Primary colors. "Big day?" I asked, hoisting my bag higher onto my shoulder. Not that I'd been in the mood for a conversation, but he was cute and I'd rather have his company than sit alone at a desk all day.
His grin was as goofy as it's ever been since and he said, "I'm getting ready to propose to my girlfriend." He didn't bother to turn and face me, choosing instead to examine the teeth of his backwards self in the window.
"How old are you? 17?" That got his attention. He angled slightly towards me, bushy eyebrows raised to crinkle his forehead. I normally wouldn't have said it, except that it was cold and my coffee was too watery, and I wasn't in the mood for people being happy. Especially when they were that good-looking and obviously not interested in me.
"I'm 21," He said, looking affronted. And I noticed then, not for the last time, that this was a sore point for him, that his slight frame and ruddy cheeks hardly screamed maturity.
"Hm. Good luck with your girl." I muttered, raising my coffee cup in salute. He smiled back, but it was puzzled, and I was a little bit sad to have taken some of the air out of his sails.
The second time I met him was twenty minutes after the first time, when he came barreling down the stairs of the library practically vibrating with heartbreak. I was going to pretend not to see him, because I was clearly not equipped to handle situations like this. Suddenly I found my thesis work unbearably interesting, and I broke through my wall of writer's block to write:
Please don't see me. Please don't look at me. Please don't notice that I noticed you.
Universe be damned, a very unhappy 21-year-old plopped himself in the seat across from me and tossed a ring box on the table.
"Erm," I struggled, "How'd it—how'd it, um, go?" The both of us winced.
He ran a hand over his face and twirled the box sadly around the table. "She um. Apparently I got the wrong idea from her somehow. You know, what with the 'I love you's and future plans and mind-blowing sex, silly me to have thought there was anything to the relationship."
"Uh, yeah. Sorry—I don't, I've never um, understood women." Or wanted to have mind-blowing sex with them, really, to be fair.
He chuckled in such a forlorn way that his shoulders didn't even move. Oh Jesus, I felt my hero-complex coming on. So when he looked at me, brown eyes wide with angst, and said, "Wanna grab a drink?" I didn't say, "It's only noon." Or, "I don't even know your name." Or, "Do they even allow you into bars looking that young?"
But instead, my hands closed my laptop and started winding up the cord. "Sure, looks like you could use one."
The third time I met him, he was drunk, or at least pretending to be, rattling off all the reasons why his now-ex-girlfriend Georgia was a bitch and had never really been worth his time. I'd just gotten back from grabbing a beer for myself to find that he'd downed enough alcohol to sink a ship, and with the way his skin clung to his bones, I knew he had to be feeling it.
In the time it took for us to find a bar that was open at noon on a Wednesday, and for me to take a piss and purchase that previously mentioned beer, he'd turned from solemn and sluggish to some quivering, blustery thing. His slender hands waved widely as he recounted for me, word-for-word, her rejection of him. With voices.
"So I kneel, right? I'd show you but I think you know what it looks like and my legs are kind of wobbly at the moment—"
"I get it." I mumbled, taking a deep sip of Blue Moon. This was going to be an expensive afternoon with all the drinks I'd have to buy to get through it.
"Yeah, ok, you get it." He slumped forward and spread his palms against the table. "So I'm there, fucking kneeling, and she lets me get through my whole spiel. The whole goddamned thing. And it's fucking finals week! I mean, the library wasn't exactly empty. Some chick was crying—clutching her heart, even. I mean, it was a good fucking speech. D'you want to hear it?"
He took a gulp of air before I could tell him that no, I most certainly did not want to hear his proposal speech, and he barreled right in. "Georgia. It's like your name is on repeat in my head, and no matter what I do throughout the day, I just keep hearing it over and over in the background. And I want to keep it that way. I know we're young, but not too young to know what it feels like when you find true love. So, marry me, because I'll never love anyone more than I love you."
I took a swig, wondering how I'd gotten myself into such a doozey of a situation. And then he asked, "So what did you think?"
I finished off my drink. "Of what?"
His mouth dropped open, "Um, duh! Of the proposal! Would you have said yes?"
"I, um, my name's not Georgia. So, no."
I felt a little relieved as he laughed so hard tears sprang to his eyes. "What the fuck is your name, anyway?" He gasped, rubbing his eyes with his palms.
He thrust his hand towards me, "I'm Jackson. And I'm wearing you right now." He plucked at his shirt.
My hand paused on its way towards his. "Wha—oh. Clever." I rolled my eyes and didn't meet his handshake. "And you're sure you're 21?"
"A little humor never hurt anyone."
"I usually take my humor with a bit of funny in it. Or intelligence."
"I find intelligence to be highly-overrated." He said happily, tipping his head back for another shot.
"Clearly." I said, heading off for my second (and certainly not last) beer of the afternoon.
In the next three hours, I learned that Jackson lived in an efficiency apartment on Marler St., that his childhood dog's name had been Dora, and that she had died after ingesting a twin pack of Flintstones vitamins. I learned that he was a biology major and that he'd only been out of the country once—to Canada, "on accident!" I learned that his red hair was dyed and his mother was an elementary school teacher. I learned a few more reasons why Georgia was a bitch and that if she'd have said yes, her last name would have been Hart.
I also learned that when drunk, Jackson Hart had an amazingly quick tongue. Something that added a little spice to the afternoon.
As he hurtled along in his thousand-mile-a-minute, one-sided conversation, I watched his arms flail about and his eyebrows rise and drop and his mouth (that mouth) twist hurriedly into words. It became obvious to me that I'd have cut myself off until I was alone—because I was also learning that I was a sex-crazed drunk, something I always seemed to remember at the most inconvenient times.
"And so," he said, taking a breath for the first time in what must have been fifty minutes, "have you ever proposed to a girl before?"
I shook my head, "Or a guy, either."
"Yeah, well, obviously I don't recommend—wait, what?" His eyebrows shot up again as recognition passed over his face, "Ohhh."
"Well-versed as ever." I said easily. Maybe this was finally where this conversation would end.
"It's cool, man," he said, in that obvious way straight guys had of puffing out their chest and acting manly as soon as they found out. "I've got lots of gay friends."
I leveled him with a stare, "Oh, you do?"
"Well," he fumbled, "No. But I voted for Obama and stuff. I'm all for the gays doing their gay thing."
I couldn't help but laugh. "How generous of you."
He winced, "Awe, Jeez. I didn't mean it that way—to degrade you or anything. I mean, honestly, fuck it, it's clear that I have no idea what I'm rambling on about."
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. "But yeah," He pushed on, bravely, "I could care less what you do in bed. It hasn't got that much to do with who you are, and let's face it—anyone who'd donate an afternoon to some kid who's just gotten his heart broken is a standup kind of citizen, I'd say."
"Cheers to that." I said, to let him know it was okay. I thought about telling him that I wasn't as easily offended as he might think, but his apology speeches were kind of endearing.
He smiled openly, and my fingers itched to grab him by the chin and kiss the heartache out of him. This was obviously not a healthy foundation on which to build a friendship.
We left a few hours later, him substantially more ungainly and me substantially more...friendly. Not a good mix.
He leaned on me a bit as I fumbled for my cell to call my roommate—neither of us was in any shape to drive home.
"S'this your clever way of asking for my number?" He slurred happily.
In my shock, I pressed the wrong number on speed-dial without noticing. "Honey, if you're offering, we can skip the call-back and I'll just take you home with me now."
"Oh gross, Henley, did you pocket dial me again?" I nearly dropped the phone.
"Emma? Shit, sorry. Uh, I meant to call Tim. I, uh..."
"Yeah, well, what that's a horrible pick up line by the way, what the hell kind of girl are you out with? Do you even know how to have sex? It's four o'clock in the afternoon, you pervert. Jesus. She's not a prostitute is she? Oh god, I've got plenty of friends who'd be up for a pity fuck if you need it that bad."
"Emma! Shut the hell up." And I hung up the phone.
Jackson was looking at me, a little dazed, and I had no clue what to do about any of it. "Uh, so, I'm just going to, walk home I think." I mumbled.
And then he burst into tears.
"Was that your girlfriend?" He wailed, "Are you going to propose to her?"
"Jesus! What? No. Emma's my sister, and I'm—I'm gay, Jackson. Pretty sure we've been over this."
"Oh yeah." He wept. "Why does everyone get to be happy but me?" He fell against my car, pressing his snotty face into the rear window. His sobs were so forceful, they rocked the car.
Amazing how quickly one can sober up when extremely annoyed. "Oh god." I muttered to myself, hitting the right button on my phone this time.
"Tim. I'm at that seedy bar on Jefferson. I need you to come pick me up."
"Ok, be right there. Hey—what's that noise? You ok?"
"No, I am not okay. Just hurry up and get here."
I shoved my phone back into my pocket and stood awkwardly at Jackson's side as he kept up a dirge so impressive, even a romance novelist would be moved.
Tim pulled up with us still standing like that, and as I heaved Jackson into the backseat, he just kept looking at me like I was a two-headed giraffe. Or something.
"The hell?" He asked softly as I threw myself into the passenger's seat.
I rolled my eyes. "Long story, just, d'you know where Marler Street is? He lives in some efficiency along that road. I don't know what they're cal—"
"I can't go back there." Jackson sobbed, "There's pictures of her on my refrigerator!"
I dropped my head back onto the headrest and pinched the bridge of my nose. Had I been this way at 21?
"Fine," I mumbled, "Where else do you want to go?"
Tim looked sufficiently mind-boggled. "What did you do to him?"
"I didn't do anything to him! I don't even know him! I-we just-he..." I trailed off as Jackson's wails filled the car.
"Georgia, Georgia, Georgia, the repeat goes on." He moaned.
Tim squinted uncomfortably and shifted in his seat. "Right. So, where to, then?"
"Let's just, I don't know, take him to our place?"
"Uh, 'kay." Tim said, pulling out of the parking lot. "You sure?"
We both watched as Jackson ran his palm down the back window, sniffling quietly to himself. "Got any better ideas?"
Tim escaped to his room as soon as we got back, leaving me to deal with the sniveling kid standing in the middle of the living room looking lost as ever. That was fair, I guess, since I was the one who brought the stray home, but I couldn't help resent him a little for ditching me.
"So, you, um, like movies?" I said, trying to keep my voice at a reassuring level. I didn't want his tears to start up again now that they'd finally subsided.
"Yes." He said, plunking himself on the couch.
"Ok. Good. I, um, own some. Just—stay there, let me grab one." I hurried down the hall to my room, scanning my DVD collection. Admittedly, it was pretty sad, but I being a grad student, I had immense amounts of debt and as equally un-immense amounts of time.
Eventually I decided on a horror film since he probably wasn't too much in the mood for a romantic comedy, and I didn't know him well enough to break out the Disney classics.
He seemed happy enough at the choice, judging by his half-hearted smile and a thumbs-up. "Nice. I love that trilogy."
I blinked and shrugged. "I've never seen it."
"Then why do you own it?"
I turned away to insert the disc into the player. "My sister got it for me. It was supposed to tempt the ladies into my arms."
"She doesn't know about you?"
"Obviously not." I said curtly, and dug for the remote in the couch cushions.
Jackson unceremoniously delved his hand into the cushion break between his legs and retrieved it. "Tada!" He shouted happily. I gave him a look that I hope conveyed how unimpressed I was.
He pressed play and patted the seat beside him, like it was his fucking couch. "You're in for a treat." He said, eyes shining excitedly.
"Am I?" I couldn't help the way my voice dropped, the way my eyelids fell into challenge, the way my stomach warmed. Apparently, I was a friendly post-drunk as well.
For all his years and wisdom, Jackson didn't seem to notice the lust coming off me in waves.
The movie was horrible, and I made a mental note to kick Emma in the shin the next time I saw her. The fact that they'd even bothered to make it into a trilogy was something that would befuddle me for days. And where was the plot?
"Oh my god, that was just what I needed. Nothing beats a good two hours of heads getting lopped off, right?" Jackson said, quieter now that he was sober.
"Uh, right." I said, unconvinced. "I mean, I could have been, I don't know, getting some work done on my thesis or something, but yeah—heads getting lopped off. Much better use of my time."
He patted my knee and I almost jolted out of my skin. "Glad I could be of service."
Oh, if only you would.
"I think I'm going to go home now. I've got some demons to face." He took a deep breath and used my knee to push himself up. It practically burned me. That's how long it'd been since I'd gotten laid.
"Do you even know where you are to get home?"
"Um. No. But it can't be that hard to figure out."
Before my brain could catch up with my mouth, I was saying, "Why don't you stay for dinner, and then I'll get Tim to drive you home and me to my car?"
We both looked a little confused at the offer, but Jackson shuffled his feet and said, "Um. Sure. What's on the menu?"
And that's when my brain caught up with me. "Shit, I don't know." I tried to remember when the last time was that Tim or I had been grocery shopping. "Take-out?"
He smiled at me, eyes moving past mine into the kitchen, which was trashed out with fast-food containers. "Sounds perfect."
"So," Jackson said, mouth full of French fries, "What's the story with Tim? He your boyfriend?"
I chuckled softly—it wasn't a bad assumption, just one that struck me as insane. "Oh no."
"But you want him to be?" He prodded, slurping at his soda.
"Well aren't you the busy-body?" I replied, shoving a few fries in my mouth.
"Just wondering. You know all about me, practically, and I don't even know your last name."
"Young. And no," I answered, "I don't want Tim. He's nice. But straight. And I've known him since I was 18 so it's...he's my friend."
Just being straight apparently enough to deter me these days—seeing as Jackson had the uncanny ability to make my face hot.
"Hm. So you're single then?"
"Yep." There must have been some emotion I didn't intend to show written on my face because Jackson put down his cheeseburger and said, "Hey, that's fine, I'm single too. It's not so bad."
I raised my eyebrows. "Okay," he conceded, "So it sucks ass, but I'll bet you get used to it...right?"
I shrugged. "Yeah. You do. You will. You'll be fine." Just because that wasn't true for me didn't mean it wouldn't be true for him.
"What's your favorite color?" He asked conversationally.
"What the hell kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. I haven't actively tried to make a friend since I was like, 4-years-old. I'm not the best at being...graceful."
I laughed. "Well quit trying so hard. Nobody owes anybody anything here."
He shrugged and went back to his burger. I kind of got the feeling that I'd bruised his ego a little, so I said, "Orange."
He looked me straight in the eye and smiled prettily. "Me, too."
Somehow, and it certainly couldn't have been because of my suggestion that he stay a while longer, Jackson and I ended up camped out on the couch four hours later, just having finished up the horror-movie trilogy which had luckily (as Jackson had said, anyway) been on instant Netflix.
Once we'd gotten to the middle of the second one, and I stopped looking for a plot, it wasn't as horrible as I'd previously judged it to be. Well, that was a bald-faced lie. I was probably a few IQ points dumber just from having sat through them, but at least Jackson seemed to enjoy himself.
Beside me, he stretched, revealing that pale stretch of skin at his waistband. It was cliché, I knew, but the sight went straight to my groin. I really needed to get laid. Soon. This was becoming ridiculous.
So I said, "I'll go get Tim," so abruptly that Jackson just blinked at me for a bit before nodding.
I practically ran down the hallway and threw open Tim's door. "I need you to drive me back to my car now, please."
"Um. Can you not see that I'm busy?" He gestured toward the computer screen. I half-hoped he'd be watching porn, just so I could finally know that he actually had a sexual bone in his body. But no, it was just World of Warcraft as usual. "I'm conducting a raid."
He said it as though I'd understand what the hell that meant. And quite honestly, with how much he talked about it, I should have understood. But I was a little indisposed at that moment.
"Well can you, um, hurry?"
He just scoffed and turned back to the screen. I guessed that was a 'no.'
I returned defeated to the living room, where Jackson was bent over lacing up his shoes. Oh dear god.
"Ready to go?" He said brightly, missing the blush that spread up from my collar at the sight of his jeans stretched over his ass. Jesus, I was a predator.
"Um, yeah. I mean, no. Tim—he's, um, busy he probably won't be—he's playing some dumb...WoW or something, and I—"
"Shit! I love WoW! How many characters does he have?"
"I—what? I don't," I just rolled my eyes. I pointed down the hallway, "Why don't you go ask him?" And without anymore encouragement, Jackson hurried into Tim's room and to my dismay, the door was shut quickly behind him.
I was surprised when there was a tap on my door around two in the morning. It was Tim, with Jackson over his shoulder. Before I could open my mouth, he dumped him on my bed and said, "He just conked out on my floor. Kid's a heavy sleeper."
"What the fuck am I supposed to do with him?"
Tim just shut the door in response.
I nudged him lightly, experimentally. "Jackson? Jackson? Wake up! You can sleep on the couch."
His eyelids fluttered, and I couldn't resist stroking his jaw a little—his stubble a pleasant friction on my fingertips. He 'mmm'ed a little in his sleep and leaned into the touch. I reared back like I'd been shot and my heart slammed into my ribcage.
And that's how I ended up sleeping on my own floor, while loudly-snoring sex god took up residence in my bed.
A/N: I know fuckall about WoW. So it probably won't come up again. haha.