“Don’t you remember back before we had to wear these?” Katie pulls at the mask that’s not being worn correctly anyway. She’s got it nestled on her chin. She’ll pull it up if she sees a manager, but not until then. She’s not talking to me. No one does. That doesn’t stop me hearing what they’re saying. I can hear it all.
“Not really.” Denise responds forlornly. “It seems like this virus has always been a part of our lives.”
“For real. But I know you’re not being serious that you don’t remember.”
I didn’t go to high school, but I imagine it’s kind of like working at a fast-food restaurant. I work with a lot of teenagers and OMG you wouldn’t believe the drama. I even checked the nerd falls for the popular guy trope. The popular guy in question isn’t a teenager, although a lot of my coworkers are, but he fits in with them just as well as with the other adults. Everyone, and I do mean, everyone, at my job likes Brad. I hear all the teen girls giggling amongst themselves about how cute he is. All the guys get on well with him. I’m the nerd because no one really likes me. I’m awkward and clumsy and… well… I just don’t fit in. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to high school. I comfort myself by assuming that they’re all just homophobic bigots, but I haven’t come out at work yet, so I know, realistically, that’s not why they dislike me.
Today there’s a rumor going around that Jennifer is pregnant and “oh my god, isn’t she such a slut.” And “what do you think she’s going to do?” and “well, obviously abortion is off the table what with the Rowe v. Wade decision” and “it’s about time” and then the drama starts because there are two sides to that debate and they both work with me. I tune it out. Or, I try to tune it out. It doesn’t affect me. Not that I don’t care. I obviously have female friends and family that it does affect. Not my roommate, she’s not into guys. Well, I suppose it would affect her if she were raped. I don’t want to think about that. Okay. I’m sorry I said it doesn’t affect me. I just don’t feel like getting involved in the drama.
When Jennifer comes in there are whispers and giggles and I know what the whispers are saying and I feel bad for Jennifer because I don’t know if she’s pregnant or not, but it’s kind of her business isn’t it? Jennifer is seventeen. She is pretty, I guess. I don’t really know what counts as pretty. She’s got a round face which is fairly symmetrical. I’ve heard some of the guys up here call her hot. I never joined in because, well they won’t figure it out because I didn’t creep on some 17-year-old girl, will they? They’ll just think… ah, he isn’t into kids. Good.
Brad comes in and the whispering and giggling intensifies, but now it’s directed at him. My heart skips a beat when he smiles at me. He’s straight, I remind myself. He’s straight and he’s just being friendly. He smiles at everyone. I’m not even on his radar. Brad and I usually work opposite shifts, so him being here means it’s almost time for me to leave. I finish up my duties and clock out.
I ride a bicycle to and from work. Saves on gas and I don’t live too far away. When I get home, the house is quiet. My roommate Fabiola must be still at work. She’s a nurse. I don’t see her much because her shifts are so long, and she likes to party when she’s off work. I guess she didn’t party during the height of the pandemic, but I wasn’t her roommate back then. I was still living with Mom. I know. You’re thinking stereotypical gay momma’s boy. But it isn’t like that. It’s not like I stayed living with her after I got out of school or anything. I just hit a rough patch when the pandemic hit. I lost my job. Had to move back home. My mom was glad to have me. Said she’d have been worried sick if I hadn’t been there. I finally moved out when I had enough saved and found a roommate.
I settle into the couch for some down time. Work is exhausting. I think about Brad for a moment and then shove him out of my mind. There’s no use going down that road. Fabiola says she’s had crushes on straight girls before. She gets it, but not all the way because there aren’t a lot of straight girls who would beat another girl up for hitting on them. Not that Brad would do that. I’m sure he wouldn’t. I’m sure he would just give me a pitying look and say: “Sorry, dude. I don’t swing that way.” Not about to test out my theory though. For a moment I let myself fantasize that Brad is secretly bi-sexual and that he’s just really good at hiding the attraction, but he’s secretly always been into me as well. I gulp. Probably best not to do that. Dangerous.
Maybe what I need is to hit up the local gay bar and find myself a date. Not sure I’d be any good at picking up guys though. I haven’t really tried. I’ve dated before, but they all hit on me first. I guess I could go and just see what happens. If guys hit on me, then cool. If not, well at least I got out of the house. But I don’t get up off the couch. Instead, I end up binging the latest season of Grey’s Anatomy until Fabiola gets home.
“Watching Grey’s without me?” she chides. “You must be looking for an ass-whooping.” But it’s good-natured. I know she won’t really try to whoop my ass. Probably succeed if she tried. It’s not like she’s huge, but she’s strong enough. She works out those muscles helping patients up and down, I guess. She works at a nursing home. Lot of her patients can’t get around without help. Me, on the other hand, I’m scrawny. Again, you’re thinking stereotypical. I just don’t really have much time or motivation to work out. I guess my legs are strong enough. That’s because I bike to and from work every day.
“How was work?”
“Got vomited on, and another patient grabbed hold of my hair and wouldn’t let go. You?”
“Jennifer might be pregnant. All the kids were gossiping about it.”
“Really? Is Jennifer that tasty little…”
“Then I won’t touch. But that is the one?”
“And how’s Brad?”
I bite my lip. I wish she hadn’t asked that. I’d just succeeded in putting him out of my mind with that binge session. “He’s fine.”
“Still crushing that hard?”
“Wish I could stop.”
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I remember this, having all sorts of feeling for people who didn’t know I existed. Or just not getting up the nerve to ever talk to them when they were friends. Life is a minefield of social interactions.
The narrator's stuck in a rough spot, pining after someone he can't have. That sounds like a recurring theme in his life. He didn't want to move back home, but also didn't have much choice. This job isn't his first pick, but it's the job that's available. Very much a story of learning to accept what you have. It comes at a cost though, "I just don’t really have much time or motivation to work out." Despite that, despite the social isolation (or maybe he doesn't really want to fraternize with the high schoolers) he seems to have a generally...
Amazing analysis as usual. Thank you for reading.
Yes, crushing on someone is difficult gay or not. I cannot speak to when someone gay crushes on a straight person, but I can imagine it is somehow worse in some ways. I liked the story and I did get the high school vibe in the reading. Thanks, LF6
Thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed it.