Mich eyed me for a second then his gaze went past me. He had a faraway look on his face. Silence engulfed us as I watched him. I wanted to reach out to him, but the fear of him flinching at my touch prevented me. Unsure of what to do, I did nothing.
Perhaps it would be better if I keep my story to myself. I never wanted to tell him in the first place. I’d been keeping it inside all these years. Look what you did to Mich. He hadn’t heard the whole story and yet I somehow hurt him. Apologize and forget about the whole thing, that’s what I should do.
“Mich, I’m sorry.”
He stirred and regarded me with disbelief. “What are you sorry for? You didn’t do anything wrong.” The kindness in his eyes assured me. “I just... I mean, I thought that this was... That this is as new to you... as it is... to me... It just felt better knowing that we’re going through the same thing. Like we’re in this together. When you mentioned that guy, I guess... I guess I felt a bit betrayed with some jealousy mixed in.”
“If you say sorry again, I’ll get mad for real. As I told you, it’s not your fault. I just can’t help how I feel, Coop.” The frown on his face, the confusion behind it, made me want to explain.
“I guess the last thing you want is to hear the whole story.” His aloofness confirmed my suspicion. “I never told this to Vern. I can’t make any assurance that I won’t hurt you when I tell you everything. But perhaps there’s something I can do, if you’ll hear me.”
He nodded his head once.
“When I was young, I hated going to the doctor to have my shots. There’s just something about them that freaked me out. Naturally, I resisted any of my parents’ attempts of convincing me to go to the clinic. Dad had to literally carry me to the car and into the clinic while I wailed at the top of my lungs.” The beginning of a smile appeared on Mich’s lips.
“One day, Mom asked me why I didn’t like having my shots. I told her, described to her how much it hurts when the doctor punctured my skin with those sharp needles. Thinking this would be my chance for her to finally see what torture she and Dad put me through, I told her that the pain lingered for a week.” Talking about her made me realize how much I missed her. Mom...
“I remember her hugging me tight. Mom said that the next time I went to the doctor, she’d come with me, holding my hand. I needed the shots, she said, so since she couldn’t take away the pain, she’d just have to share it with me. I was told to squeeze her hand as hard as I could so she'd feel the pain I felt. Thinking that it was fair, I agreed. That day at the clinic, Mom was with me. I did what I was told, I squeezed her hand as hard as I could. I saw her face, Mich, glimpsed the change in her face when I dug my nails into her skin because I squeezed too hard. Yet she smiled at me afterwards. That was the last time they had to force me to go to the doctor.”
Mich looked at me with a confused expression. Understanding dawned at him when I offered my hand. “No, Coop. I refuse.”
“I’m offering you my hand because I want you to know that we’re in this together.”
He hesitated for a moment then took my hand.
A sigh escaped my lips. Here goes nothing. “The guy’s name was Luke. He was the most popular guy in high school. I guess it helped that he was darn good-looking.” Mich’s grip tightened. “You can squeeze as hard as you want whenever you feel like it, I won’t mind.”
He studied our clasped hands then shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“You probably know the type. I bet there are many Lukes all over the world. People who were born lucky, who seem to have everything. The Luke that I know always had other people with him. He was part of a group yet he stood out. It was like he was always the center of attention. One day, he noticed me.”
Mich let go of my hand so I gripped it with both of mine. “Don’t let go. Please.”
We stared at each other. I wanted him to understand, needed him to hear me out. Now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. I’ve been keeping this for too long.
Mich leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “For you.”
“I owned these rather cool jeans which my parents gave me as a birthday present months ago. For no apparent reason, I wore them at school. Before that, they just hung in my closet. Luke he... he noticed. We were in the men’s room and he talked to me. We even laughed a bit. Then he told me I was cool. That I should sit with them at lunch. It was like a dream, popular kids were suddenly talking to me. I felt like I was popular myself. I was ‘in’. Luke, he,” gave me special attention, “made me a regular part of the group.”
“Luke seemed to like having me around.” Squeeze. “He would pick me up from home then bring me to school and back. He walked me to my classes. We hanged out.” Tighter. “We were friends yet there was something more.” I bit my lower lip as Mich’s grip became unbearable. Is this is how much I’m hurting you?
I needed to suck it up. “Kids at school started to wonder whether something was going on between us. They didn’t ask me directly, mostly I think because Luke had the respect of the whole student body. But their eyes burned with unvoiced questions. As far as I was concerned, Luke and I didn’t do anything wrong. We never acknowledged what we had or didn’t have, didn’t talk about it either.”
To my relief, Mich relaxed his grip. It was hard work pretending he wasn’t hurting me. “It didn’t matter, I wasn’t ready to accept that part of me then. The important thing was that Luke was with me.” I felt my hand being crushed. “Given time, something might probably develop. But we didn’t have time. I made sure of that.”
“We were having so many problems at home. Dad’s business was failing. My younger brother, Ben, had an accident. And Ellie, my younger sister, found out about Luke and I. She... I didn’t know that she had a crush on Luke.”
My hand was numb. I’m sorry, Mich. “I’d never seen Ellie so mad. She told me to stay away from Luke. She called me names, told me things I didn’t know about myself. My whole world crumbled to nothing. Dad and Mom tried to stop Ellie, but she just went on.”
I fought back tears. “I did what Ellie wanted, I avoided Luke. Not sure why, but I felt like I owed her that much. Luke was horrified. He tried to talk some sense into me, but I didn’t listen. I changed, I had to. I started dressing funny, deliberately went to school without combing my hair. I tried to be invisible at school and it worked. Luke drifted away.”
A stony-faced Mich looked back at me. “Do you like him more than... Do you still like him?”
“I don’t think I like being your second choice.” He tried to get up, but I pulled him back down. Good thing I still held his hand.
“What Luke and I had, it’s part of me. I know you don’t like it, but what would you like me to do?” He frowned. “Mich, I was bold enough to acknowledge my feelings to you. I didn’t do that with Luke. Does that mean anything to you?”
He was in deep thought. I remained silent, allowed him time to think. Out of nowhere, he brought his fist down in the sand. “Coop, I’m sorry. I’d been focusing on Luke so much that I didn’t realize what you just told me. It’s ok to cry, Coop. You’ll feel better if you do.”
“The way I see it, I have no right to cry. I wasn’t hurt, I was the one who caused others pain.” Mich shook his head.
“Share your pain with me, Coop.”
I’m not in pain. Yet my grip tightened round his hand until he winced. I always hurt people I like.
Tears came then. Mich let go of my hand to wrap his arms around me. As our embrace lingered, the sky slowly turned to gray. The flow of tears ended and with it came the realization that this was supposed to be our date. I looked forward to this, didn’t complain when Vern offered to help.
“Fuck,” I said when our embrace ended. It’s official, I messed up our first date.
“Shit, Coop, I didn’t know you curse,” he teased testily.
“I do it all the time in my head. Uncensored cursing twenty-four, seven. Profanity at its best. Or worst.” Shit, fuck. Shit, fuck. Shit, fuck. Damn.
A brief smile appeared on his face. “Glad your humor’s back. Are you ok?”
“I guess. It’s getting late.”
He studied my face. “You want me to take you home now?”
“I don’t know. I think I like this place, a lot. Sorry I had to ruin our date. I did warn you earlier, it’s bound to happen. I’m cursed.”
“Do you always blame yourself for every bad thing that happens around you?” He laughed when I opened my mouth. “No need to answer, Coop. My guess is, you do. Since you’re cursed, and you ruined our date, you can make it up to me.”
A wicked smiled played in his lips. “Dance with me.”
“What?” I looked around. “Here?”
“Yeah. Or in the water. We need to do it naked though since we both didn’t bring any spare clothes.”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. Assuming I agree, can I ask why? And how? There’s no music.”
Mich scooped up sand and let the grains flow down in between his fingers. “The reason I want to dance with you is because I think it would be fun. As for the music, don’t worry about it. I might not be a good dancer, but I can sing a bit.”
Do I let the opportunity of hearing him sing pass by?
He stood up and offered his hand to me. This is fucking stupid. Closing my eyes, I accepted it.
We went a few feet away from our picnic area where the sand was finer. Mich’s face was a few inches away from mine.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“I’m fine. Let’s get this over with.”
I felt his breath on my neck. “You’re cute when you blush.”
Mich held on to my hips while we moved from side to side. “Hold me, Coop. Lay your head on my shoulder.”
As I did what he asked, he began to sing. I let his soft, melodious voice wash over me. He sang about love. I closed my eyes and let him lead me. Our hips swayed while our bodies slowly turned.
“The truth is, I wanted to dance with you because I want to be this close to you.” He sang another love song.
Mich’s song had ended, but we continued to dance. We moved to the music of the waves and the wind.
“Coop, I know this won’t be easy, for both of us. But I want you to know that I want to see this through. I’m willing to take this journey with you if you’ll let me.”
“I guess I have no choice then. If you’re going to make a fool of yourself then I might as well join you. Let’s see this through together.” I felt the smile on my face.
I just have one question: Is this the end of this story? It feels that way to me, in a way (probably because there's no cliffhanger). What do you guys think?