-The Uncomfortable Silence (that Gabe has to Break)
“I thought you were rooming in Morgan Hall?” Gabe’s mom, Lucille, asks the second Gabe pulls the car in front of the house he’s rooming in with Auggie.
“I decided I liked Cameron House better,” Gabe responds, trying to convince himself that it’s really the reason.
“Did Lincoln also change his room?”
Gabe sighs. He figures he should have at least mentioned that he and Lincoln broke up last night.
He tries his hardest to keep his voice level and emotionless as he responds, “Probably not, but I don’t care. We broke up last night.”
Gabe hears the sigh of relief from his mother but tries not to pay attention to it. She hadn’t liked Lincoln either. Gabe begins to wonder if anyone he knew had actually liked Lincoln.
“This house is beautiful, Gabey,” Lucille changes the subject.
Gabe takes the time to actually look at the house. Auggie had made good on his promise last night. Gabe hadn’t even finished packing before he received an email confirming his change of housing. Cameron House was located on the lower end of campus, near the majority of the classes Gabe was taking but away from the dining hall and gymnasium. It was a two story stone house that looked to be at least half a century old. There was a large front porch with a balcony located right above. Gabe wondered who the lucky soul was that would get the room attached to the balcony. He figured it wouldn’t be him. Not with the way his luck had been running as of late.
Gabe doesn’t respond to his mother’s statement. He gets out of his vehicle, pops the trunk, and grabs his two suitcases. He’d see if Auggie was already moved in before he tried to wrestle with anything else. Lucille grabs a large box and follows Gabe to the front door, which is being held by a blond haired guy.
“Need help with anything?” the guy asks as Gabe passes him.
“You wouldn’t happen to know if August Humphrey has moved in yet, would you?”
“August?” the boy repeats. “Yeah, he’s up the stairs on the right. You his roommate?”
“I prefer Gabe.”
The guy laughs.
“Just as August prefers Auggie?”
“I’m Ezra Summerland,” the guy tells Gabe.
Gabe sets one of the suitcases down and offers his hand to Ezra, figuring it’s what he should do in this situation. Ezra doesn’t hesitate to return it. Gabe takes a few seconds to look Ezra over. He’s taller than Gabe and built like an athlete; Gabe wonders what sport he plays. His blond hair is cut short around his head, and his brown eyes are friendly.
After a few seconds, the handshake ends.
“I’m downstairs in that room,” Ezra says, pointing to a door across the room. “Looks like Zane and I got the short straw. Benji and H are upstairs across from you. They’ve not moved in yet, though.”
Gabe nods his head, wondering if Ezra is the RA of the house. He doesn’t ask. Instead, he picks up his suitcase and thanks Ezra. He locates the stairs and heaves his suitcases up it with his mother at his heels. When he reaches the landing, the door on his right is wide open. Gabe can see the telltale signs of Auggie’s presence.
“Gabe!” Auggie exclaims.
Gabe walks into the room. Boxes are strewn haphazardly around the room. Some of them are completely unpacked and sitting empty, while others are anywhere from half-unpacked to not even opened. The bed on the right hand side is made with Auggie’s favorite blue and gray bed clothes. The dresser beside of it has the top and bottom drawers opened, but there’s nothing in them yet. The desk that’s pushed up against the window is piled high with books and papers that Auggie apparently just dropped onto it. The closet door is wide open, revealing a rather ample amount of space that Gabe is sure will soon become a black hole that Auggie will lose anything and everything in.
The left hand side of the room is bare, but Gabe knows it will soon become as chaotic as the right hand side.
“It’s about time you got here,” Auggie says. “I was afraid you hadn’t gotten the email.”
I didn’t want to have to save you from Lincoln.
“I got it,” Gabe replies as he sits his suitcase down on the floor.
Lucille places the box she had been carrying on top of Gabe’s desk and opens it. She pulls out Gabe’s red bedclothes and proceeds to make his bed; Gabe knows this will probably be the only time his bed is made the entire year. He appreciates her efforts.
“Hello, Mrs. Warren. It’s lovely to see you again,” Auggie greets Gabe’s mom.
“It’s nice to see you again, too, August,” Lucille responds as she wrestles the fitted sheet onto the bed. “Did your mother already leave?”
“She stayed long enough to make my bed,” Auggie confirms. “She and Dad are over with my sister in Fraley Hall moving her in now.”
“Her first year?” Lucille asks.
“I’m sure she’ll love it,” Lucille says as she smoothes out the comforter of Gabe’s bed, satisfied with the state of the newly-made bed.
Auggie doesn’t respond. Lucille says something about retrieving more boxes from Gabe’s car and leaves the room.
“How do you like the house?” Auggie asks.
Gabe looks around and shrugs.
“I know it’s not got half the luxuries Morgan Hall has, but…”
You won’t have to see Lincoln on a daily basis.
Gabe knows Auggie is gauging his reaction so Gabe musters up the biggest smile he can manage. It’s not that big, though, and Auggie sees right through it.
“Gabe,” Auggie’s voice is raw, “I know I’m not going to say this much, but I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
I’m just saying this to sound polite; I don’t actually mean it.
Auggie nods and turns back to his boxes.
“Need any help carrying the rest of your junk in?”
“Junk?” Gabe repeats. “I don’t have any junk. I have stuff.”
Auggie can’t prevent the smile from appearing on his face or the rush of elation that courses through his body. This is the Gabe Auggie likes—the Gabe before Lincoln.
“Semantics,” Auggie shrugs it off as he used to do. “Do you want help or not?”
“Nah, I got it.”
Auggie nods. Gabe leaves the room. It takes only a few trips for him and his mom to carry everything up. Soon enough, Gabe is permitting his mother to kiss him, who reminds to expect his dad’s call whenever his dad’s flight lands. Gabe’s aunt stops by at the time she said she would. Gabe watches his aunt and mom drive off before he returns inside.
Ezra and a nameless roommate that Gabe will eventually meet are clattering around in the kitchen. Gabe assumes they’re trying to get all the dishes and appliances situated. He thinks about helping them but decides against it when he remembers he’s yet to finish unpacking his own room.
He climbs the stairs quickly and doesn’t even chance a glance at the room across from his own. He assumes the two occupants have moved in by now; he’s pretty sure he almost ran into one of them on the stairs earlier. When he enters his room, Auggie is putting the last of his clothes into his dresser.
“Have you met any of the other guys?” Auggie asks as Gabe opens his second to last box.
“I met Ezra earlier,” Gabe responds. “Have you?”
“I’ve known Ezra since the beginning of sophomore year,” Auggie says. “He was in my cellular biology class.”
“His roomie’s Zane, but I don’t know him.”
“What about the two guys across from us?”
“I don’t know them either,” Auggie admits, “but we’ve got a housing meeting in half an hour. I’m sure we’ll meet them then.”
Gabe doesn’t respond. He doesn’t know how to. He just folds his now empty box and places it in the corner with the rest of the cardboard he and Auggie need to recycle. He reaches for the last box, being thankful that it just contains an assortment of his favorite movies and novels.
“Have you talked to Kyra?” Auggie asks after a little while of comfortable silence.
Gabe shakes his head.
“She moved in this morning to the house across the street. There are only four in there, so she’s got her own room on the ground floor for now. She’s pretty excited about it.”
Gabe makes a noise in the back of his throat to tell Auggie that he is listening. Auggie lets the silence fall over them again. Auggie’s never been a man of many words, something that Gabe has a feeling he will appreciate even more than usual over the school year.
“Round up in five!” the distinguished voice of Ezra travels up the stairs.
Auggie and Gabe spend the next few minutes shuffling around their discarded boxes to make a pathway to the door. By the time Ezra calls for everyone again, Auggie and Gabe are able to exit their room.
Gabe leads the way down the stairs. The other four boys have already gathered and are sitting on random pieces of furniture. There’s Ezra in an armchair, a brunette with a tattoo on his wrist sitting in another armchair, a redhead with a laptop sitting on the floor by Ezra’s feet, and… Henry lounging across the couch.
Gabe misses the next step. Auggie doesn’t realize it in time to catch him. Gabe tumbles down the last half of the flight and lands in a heap at the bottom. Everyone rushes to Gabe’s side. Gabe wishes the floor would swallow him whole.
It doesn’t. Instead, Auggie helps him to his feet. Everyone asks him if he’s OK. He shrugs them off. He can’t keep his eyes off Henry. Henry can’t keep his eyes off Gabe.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Gabe?” Ezra asks again as he and Auggie help him sit on the couch—not that Gabe actually needed the help.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Gabe assures him, vaguely noting that Henry has reclaimed his seat… right beside of him.
The other three sit back down where they had been sitting earlier. Auggie sits on the windowsill facing everyone else. They all wait patiently for the meeting to start. It takes Ezra a little while to realize he should be speaking.
He clears his throat.
“I think I’ve talked to each of you already, but I’m Ezra. I’m majoring in mathematics with a minor in business, and I swim for the team here at school. I’m also the RA of this house. I’m supposed to keep all alcohol and illicit activities out, but let’s face it: we’re all going to drink, and we’re all—hopefully—going to get some action at some point this year. I’m not stupid. All I ask is that you keep yourselves safe. If you’re wasted at three in the morning across town, call me. I will come pick you up, haul your ass back here, give you a pillow, and prop you up against the toilet for you to puke your guts out and get some sleep.”
Ezra makes it a point to meet each of their eyes.
“Now that I’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, everyone should introduce themselves and tell us three things about you.”
Ezra nods to the brunette with the tattoo.
“Why’m I always the first one you pick on, Ez?” the boy grumbles.
“You’re just special.”
The boy rolls his eyes and mutters a few words under his breath that suggests he disagrees with Ezra’s response. After a few seconds, he proceeds to heed Ezra’s request.
“The name’s Zane. I’m a senior majoring in business economics, and I play starting forward on the college’s elite soccer team.”
Ezra smiles triumphantly at Zane. Zane, in return, narrows his eyes. Ezra decides to ignore Zane for the time being and nudges the redhead with his foot. The redhead sends Ezra an annoyed glare before turning to everyone else.
“Hi, I’m Benjamin, but I prefer Benji. I’m a second-semester junior majoring in communications and journalism. I work at the local news station so I don’t recommend watching it from 4 AM to 9 AM.”
A course of laughter spread throughout the room. When it dried up, Ezra nodded to Auggie.
“I’m August, like the month, but I only answer to Auggie. I’m a junior majoring in biochem and have plans to attend medical school in a couple of years.”
A couple of the guys whistle. Auggie cocks his head to the side and smirks. Ezra nods to Henry.
“I’m Henry—or as Ezra knows me, H. I’m a senior. I’m a history major with a minor in English. I can’t cook so don’t ask me to.”
“And that is a warning, not an excuse,” Ezra says adamantly. “The last time he was allowed near a stove, he set it on fire within three minutes.”
Henry blushes a bright shade of red.
“That was your fault,” he muttered.
Ezra ignores him and nods to Gabe. Gabe clears his throat.
“I’m Gabriel, but call me Gabe. I’m a junior majoring in English and minoring in drama. Apparently stairs are my enemy.”
“We seen that one, bro,” Zane says.
Gabe wants to pretend that his face isn’t burning in embarrassment. He knows it is though, especially from the playful smirk his best friend is sending him. Gabe tries to ignore Auggie.
“So I’m going to announce now that we’re required as a house to all sit down together at least once a week. I propose Wednesday night dinners,” Ezra says. “That way we get food, and we don’t have to choke down that crap the cafe passes off as dinner. Any objections?”
Everyone shakes their heads.
“All right. Well, that’s it for this meeting. You guys can return to whatever you were doing. If you have anything that needs recycling, put it in or around the bin on the front porch. It’ll be picked up tomorrow morning.”
Zane doesn’t wait for Ezra to say anything else. He goes into the room he shares with Ezra and shuts the door. Ezra follows him a couple of seconds later. Benji says something to Henry, who shrugs him off. Benji shoots a curious look in Gabe’s direction and goes upstairs. Auggie tarries long enough to glance between Henry and Gabe a few times before he gets up from the windowsill and goes outside, saying something about visiting Kyra.
The second the door closes behind Auggie, Gabe is instantly aware of the fact that Henry is sitting only a couple of feet away from him. An almost uncomfortable silence galls over them. Gabe feels the urge to twitch, but he resists. Henry just stares at him.
“Were you even going to call me?” Gabe asks.
“Were you even going to go to the carnival with me?” Henry asks at the same time.
The room goes completely silent for a few seconds. Gabe stares at Henry. Henry stares at Gabe. Then something between them snaps. They both burst out laughing. Though his side starts splitting in pain, Gabe cannot remember a time when he laughed like this with Lincoln.
Soon enough—or maybe not at all—their laughter dries up.
“Yes, I was going to call you,” Henry says.
I’m just telling you this to be nice.
“Were you actually going to go to the carnival with me?” Henry asks, oblivious to the inner-dialogue in Gabe’s head.
Gabe doesn’t answer to begin with.
Henry places his hand on Gabe’s knee. Gabe jumps. His vision refocuses. He realizes Henry had asked him a question.
“Yes, I’ll go to the carnival with you—that is, if you still want me to go.”
Henry gives Gabe an odd look.
“Why wouldn’t I still want you to go with me?”
“You sorta asked me in the spur of the moment. You’ve had time to think about it now.”
“So? I still want to go to the carnival with you.”
“I’m looking forward to it then.”
“OK. Sounds good.”
Gabe couldn’t agree more.