Xìngbié; part 4 (of 12): Valentine's Day

When Nathan finally stirred on Saturday, the alarm clock read 11:32. Nathan sprang to his feet. He’d slept in! He never slept in. It was a bad habit. At least, according to his father it was.

At least the movie wasn’t until 3 o’clock. Nathan still had plenty of time to prepare and still get his homework done like his father had insisted. He wasn’t opposed to Nathan spending time with his friends (at least, not after a talk with his wife), but he still wanted Nathan to focus on schoolwork first.

But first Nathan needed a shower. He slipped out of his room and darted toward the bathroom. But as he turned the corner, he ran right into his father coming the other way.

“Oof! Careful son,” his father told him.

“Oh. Sorry dad,” Nathan said, “I accidentally slept in, and I wanted to take a shower and get dressed before I started my homework.”

“Alright. But don’t push yourself too hard, Nat. You’re a growing boy and you work hard; you deserve some rest every now and again.”

His father gave him a firm pat on the shoulder before heading back to his own room, leaving Nathan more than a little confused. Normally his dad was very stern and insistent. He thought a good work ethic was a lifestyle, and didn’t like to see Nathan slacking off.

Nathan decided not to dwell on it too long, though. After all, it wasn’t wise to look a gift horse in the mouth. And just because his dad was feeling generous didn’t mean that Nathan’s workload was any smaller than usual—he didn’t have time to look at a horse’s mouth, gift-giving or otherwise.

Still, that didn’t mean that he couldn’t take advantage of the situation to enjoy a slightly longer shower than normal. It was a shame that he couldn’t stay in there forever. As he toweled himself off afterward, Nathan caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror. It dawned on him that he didn’t look exactly like he thought he did. Especially his face; there was just something unusual about it. Maybe it was just the result of getting older, or possibly just the effect of having longer hair.

Stepping back from the mirror didn’t really help. From further away, Nathan thought that he looked even less like himself. Like if someone glanced at his face they wouldn’t be able to tell who he was. And in the mirror he looked even thinner than he remembered.

No, that wasn’t right. Not thinner. He placed his hand on his waist and looked down, then back at the mirror. It was almost as if his waist had shrunk over the past few days. But that didn’t make any sense. Sure, Nathan thought that it was kind of nice to look thin, but he was beginning to feel like this wasn’t the way that he was supposed to look.

What time is it? he wondered. Without a clock in the bathroom there was no way to be sure at any given moment just how much time he’d spent in the shower. How much time did he have left to do his homework before he had to leave for the movie?

Once dry and in his room, Nathan pulled on his underwear and pants. Much to his chagrin, his pants were a little wide at the top. He had a belt in his closet, but it was a skinny leather belt, with little rhinestones arranged in flower petal shapes. It was a hand-me-down from his mother, when she finally realized that it was too small for her anymore. Nathan figured that it would probably be too small for him too, but he slid it on and pulled it as tight as it would go. Too tight, in fact; he had to loosen it so two holes were showing past the buckle.

It held his pants up, but anybody looking at Nathan would be able to tell that he was wearing a girl’s belt.

Maybe his jacket was long enough to cover it up though.

Nathan quickly slid into his shirt, but had a little bit of trouble pulling it down. It was a little tight. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that it conformed a little too closely to his body for Nathan to feel at ease.

Worse than how tight it was, though, was just how far the neckline went. People really shouldn’t be able to see his chest hair, Nathan thought. Of course, it didn’t matter, since his jacket would cover it up anyway, but this did make Nathan a little uncomfortable.

Plus he wouldn’t be able to take his jacket off now without worrying about people staring at his chest.

He turned back to the closet to look for a better shirt, but none of them looked like they’d be any better. All of his tee shirts seemed to have low-cut collars. Behind the tee shirts were a few more shirts, but they were different—thinner material, bolder colors, more elaborate design. They looked expensive. They looked… like something Nathan’s mother would wear. He reached out to touch a dark green one, but pulled his hand back at the last moment. There was no way he’d made it out of the house in one of those, let alone through the entire afternoon.

()()()()()()()

“Is that him?” Nathan’s mother asked, pointing out the car window to a boy standing near the curb outside the theater.

“Yes mom, that’s him,” Nathan replied, rubbing his bare arms with his hands. He didn’t know why his mother insisted on blasting the cold air in the car. It wasn’t even that hot outside.

“Okay dear. I’ll be waiting here after the show is over to pick you up.”

“Yes mom, I know.” Nathan undid his seatbelt and got out of the car.

“And don’t spend all that money on popcorn and candy.”

Nathan resisted the temptation to roll his eyes—his mother could be overbearing, but he wasn’t going to disrespect her—and closed the car door. As she drove away, Nathan turned his attention to Gavin, who was waving him over.

“Hey!” Nathan said, running up, “I made it!”

“Yeah, you did,” Gavin said.

But even though he was talking to Nathan, it was clear from the way that he avoided Nathan’s gaze that he wanted to say something else, something he wasn’t sure how to say. Nathan raise an eyebrow; just seeing his best friend acting odd was enough to make him a little worried, but Nathan wasn’t going to push for an answer if Gavin wasn’t comfortable.

“So… should we get in line?” Nathan asked.

“Yes,” Gavin said, “But, um, I was hoping… I mean I thought maybe I could pay for our tickets today.”

“Wait. Both of them?”

“Yeah. You know: my treat.”

“Er… thanks Gavin, but my mom gave me ticket money,” Nathan told him, already mentally scolding himself for stupidly mentioning his mother’s help like he was a needy child.

“Yes, I know,” Gavin said, “I just mean… I asked you to come. You shouldn’t… it only seems fair that I pay.”

“I… guess so,” Nathan decided, still not sure why Gavin wanted to do this. But there really wasn’t any reason to complain about getting a free ticket, so he let it pass.

At the snack line, though, when Nathan went to pay for his popcorn and drink, Gavin stopped him.

“Let me get the snacks,” he said.

“No, that’s not fair. You already paid for the tickets.”

“Please, Nat?” Gavin asked, “Just this once.”

Nathan furled his brow, but nodded. It didn’t make any sense for Gavin to act this nice to him. They were friends, but they never… actually, they’d never done anything alone together except play video games. Was this just how Gavin was? Because it was… kind of nice, actually.

The movie was good enough—they were watching whatever newest X-Men movie had just come out—but it was getting kind of hard for Nathan to pay attention with Gavin sitting right next to him. He told himself it was just how cold the theater was, but every few minutes he’d just glance over at Gavin, and a few times he caught Gavin looking back at him. Far from making Nathan uncomfortable, though, he actually kind of liked catching his best friend paying attention to him.

It felt like the movie was over before he knew it, and then they were standing outside the theater waiting for their parents to arrive. Nathan was still finishing his popcorn, occasionally stopping to brush the hair out of his eyes. He was still a little cold from the movie theater.

“It was a good movie,” Nathan said.

“Yeah, pretty good,” Gavin agreed, “Better than the one from last year.”

“I didn’t see that one,” Nathan told him, “That actress who played Rogue was pretty cute though?”

“I guess,” Gavin said, “But she doesn’t have your eyes.”

Nathan almost choked on his popcorn. Gavin rushed forward to try to help him, but Nathan waved him away.

“I’m fine,” Nathan insisted, trying to hide how much he was blushing.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“No, it wasn’t you,” Nathan said, trying to give him a convincing smile. He’d never thought he’d hear Gavin say something like that.

Gavin continued trying to stutter out an apology, but Nathan wasn’t having any of it. It wasn’t long, though, before his mother showed up, and he had to say goodbye to Gavin.

“I’ll see you Monday, then?” Gavin asked.

“Yeah,” Nathan replied, wondering why that was even a question, “I’ll see you then.”

As they drove away, Nathan’s mother asked him, “So how was the movie?”

“It was good, mom,” he told her, still thinking about Gavin, “I really enjoyed it.”

()()()()()()()

At home, Nathan took a moment to slip into the bathroom and examine himself in the mirror. More specifically, he looked at his eyes. There didn’t seem to be anything different about them, but he couldn’t get what Gavin had said out of his mind.

Just thinking about it made him blush again.

Nathan tried to put it all out of his mind and returned to his room. He pulled out his school stuff and began doing his homework. But despite his best efforts, he couldn’t prevent his thoughts from turning back to Gavin. Eventually, Nat decided that he wasn’t going to get any work done right then anyway and pushed it off to the side. For the moment he was just going to sit back and daydream.



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