I found myself thinking about him as I tried to sleep that night. I tried to recall the way he smiled at me, to decipher the hidden meaning behind his words. Assuming there really was a hidden meaning. After all that schoolwork I should be exhausted, but instead I've got a tight knot in the pit of my stomach.
Why do I care so much? He's just another guy. I groan, smacking my forehead with the palm of my hand.
"Dude, shut up. I don't know what your problem is, but we have a test in the morning and I need to sleep." I flinched and apologized to my grumpy roommate. Mentally sighing, I bury my face into my pillow and will myself into a fitful slumber, dreaming of ravens and a stormy gray sea.
The next morning, I can barely keep my eyes open. Reluctantly I dress and trudge to the cafeteria, smoothing my hair over my eyes to hide the looks of others.
"Hey, Damien, wait!" My heart rate sped up, reacting just to his voice. A hand claps down on my shoulder and I cringed, unused to contact from others that didn't involve hurting me.
"Hi. Um… Austin, isn't it?" What am I saying? Of course that's his name. I was thinking about him all night.
"Yeah, it is." He smiled brilliantly. "So I was thinking maybe we could sit together. Since you're the first one to talk to me, and all." I was taken aback, and tugged at my shirt out of habit.
"Uh, sure. If you want." There was something odd about him, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
"Great! So where do you sit?" I pointed toward an empty corner, the farthest you could get from the other students without actually leaving the room.
"Right over there."
"Wow. Loner?" I looked down and nodded, feeling embarrassed for whatever reason. He's going to change his mind…
"Hey, don't sweat it, man. I've been there." He smiled again, and I somehow doubt that this boy had ever been anything but popular. His charisma even managed to pierce my armor. I smiled half-heartedly, walking over and sitting down in my usual spot. He sits across from me and laces his fingers under his chin, staring directly into my eyes. Startled by his intensity, I look away.
"So… what made you come here?" Weak question, but maybe it will relieve some of the tension. His gaze didn't waver while he answered me.
"Family stuff. Parents decided they needed a break." This caught my interest.
"Really? I'm sorry."
"I'm not. So what about you? How long have you been here?" I wrinkled my nose.
"Two years. My parents hate me, so they sent me here."
"Oh, I doubt that." He tried to be polite. I suddenly realize that I've been making direct eye contact with him this whole time. Feeling uncomfortable, I stare at the vending machine beside him resolutely.
"It's true. Don't worry about it. I've been the problem child since before I can remember. Big brother did it first, did it better. I just took the backseat."
"Oh? What's his name?" I was looking into his eyes again, unable to help myself.
"Bruce. Straight A student, captain of the football team, always volunteering at the church. Not to mention he has a way with women that I'll never understand." Austin made a face. It was brief and subtle, but I caught it. "What?"
"Oh. It's just… Most guys I know who are like that are complete dumbasses."
"Don't I know it. Although I wouldn't mind learning some of those tricks he uses on the chicks." Now his distaste was more obvious. He also looked slightly disappointed.
"They're women, not 'chicks'." He opened his mouth to say more, then seemed to bite his tongue.
"Oh, sorry. Yeah, I guess you're right." Suddenly an idea occurred to me. His strangeness… he couldn't be… gay?