Dakota 4

I hadn’t seen Dakota yet today, and it wasn’t his day off. I was sitting in Taco Bell with the crew this time (Rick was generous enough to drive us), staring at my phone, wondering whether to talk to him or not. It was Val’s day off, so I didn’t have her to cheer me on.

If I talked to him would I seem desperate? Needy? It wasn’t like I wanted his undivided attention. I just wanted to check up on him. Make sure he was okay. Call him a nerd.

Biting my lip, I listened with half an ear to today’s team The quiet one with the mermaid hair– Aimee, I think her name was? I hadn’t really spoken to her very often– and the kid who took this job for granted and then some, Kiki, plus the other usuals, all bouncing the conversation like a hackey sack back and forth to each other. I never really paid attention, and I liked being a little apart from them, just observing. Ruby was on her phone as usual, Heather’s calm brown eyes took in everything, Rick fidgeted with his spork (since Taco Bell had taken to giving those instead of real forks or spoons). It was nice, being able to say a few words and have contributed, but not needing to devote my entire consciousness to small talk.

“Whatever happened to that guy you were dating?”

I’d been sipping on my Dr. Pepper when Heather asked her question, and I immediately choked. “Who, Jay?” I cringed at the memory. A two month train wreck, stealing the joy out of my first two months on the Brigadoon team. A pregnancy scare, a shitty breakup, and now a simpering puppy who always wanted my attention. “It didn’t work out.”

“Sorry to hear,” Heather started, but was immediately cut off by Mindy.

“He spent the entire day after they broke up staring at her from across Pizza Hut and texting her asking her why she looked so sad, and every time he did, she burst out laughing.”

I threw up my hands. “What? It was funny. I wasn’t even sad; I’ve never felt more relieved in my life.”

“I don’t blame you,” Heather decided. “He seemed really…”

“Annoying?”

Heather nodded at Mindy’s suggestion. “I was going to say needy but annoying works too.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, agreeing wholeheartedly.

The conversation veered away again, and I went back to staring at my phone. What did it matter if I messaged Dakota two days in a row? I was young (enough), healthy (finally), and single (also finally), so what did it matter who I texted, flirted with, showed interest in? To be honest, Dakota probably wouldn’t even respond. Or, hell, we’d have a flirting session and then he’d go back to being an ass, as he usually did.

I opened messenger.

So what is it that I’m oblivious to?

A continuation of the unfinished conversation from the day before. Nothing super flirtatious, or annoying, or whatever. Just a casual conversation.

We were packing up from lunch to head back to the theatre when I got a response.

IDK. I’m at the er.

I frowned, concern surging through me.

What happened? Are you okay?

Nothing until we were setting up for the show. The worry had curled into my belly like a worm, eating at me, making my lunch roll in my stomach– actually, it was Taco Bell, it would probably have done that either way. I was tightening a girl’s corset when my phone went off, and jumped, accidentally pulling too hard. “I’m so sorry!” I said when the girl– shit, what was her name?– yelped. “I forgot I had my phone on me. I’m sorry.”

“No biggie,” the girl said, “I’ve done that. At least it’s tight enough!”

I laughed, relieved by her quick forgiveness. She was by far my favorite performer I worked with, with a quick wit, a keen eye, and a particular pickiness that made her choose the same costume every day, since it was “the best, and the most comfortable.” She was taller than me, willowy, and had a face that reminded me strongly of Jessica Rabbit– sultry blue eyes and plump lips, high cheekbones.

Liza! That was her name. Of course. I knew that. Obviously.

Once I’d sent her on her way, I whipped out my phone, staring down at Dakota’s response.

My wrist hurts. It’s not bad, but the doc says I should lay off using it for a couple of days.

Frowning, I considered my options. Usually someone hurting themselves would be incentive for my “Mom Friend” side to come out, but he didn’t seem like the type who would accept that part of me with open arms. I’d been called overbearing enough, honestly.

On the other hand, the first thing that ran through my head upon reading my wrist hurts was a bad masturbation joke, so I could go with that… or would that be too forward?

Jesus, anxiety was a right bitch.

Who’s gonna pick on me now lol? Also I could make several inappropriate comments. Why does your wrist hurt?

That was enough, right? It established that I was chill, aloof, not super invested in him, but also genuinely interested.

Make them.

Oh, man, I thought to myself, he didn’t know what he was asking for. He sent another message before I could tell him that.

I fell during the cabaret yesterday.

The cabaret was essentially a show between Brigadoon and Cinderella, with mainly singing numbers, a few dance numbers (Dakota’s forte), a comedy skit, two monologues, and an overall theme that somehow worked as a plot. I’d seen it enough times that I could probably fill in if Steph, who’d organized and directed the entire thing, ever asked me to.

I’d been at that show actually, not to see him, but to see one of my roommate’s friends fill in a hole in the show with a song– and jesus lord could that girl dance! Her solo to Alex Boye’s cover of Disney’s Let It Go had moved me almost to tears. I hadn’t seen him fall, but since the final number was an ensemble dance to the Jellicle Ball (Steph’s traditional finale number), I supposed it would have been easy to miss.

Oh no! I;m so sorry. Also, had I not known you’d hurt your wrist at Cabaret, I’d have asked if you were lonely last night.

I was distracted by the show before I could check his response, but it gave me reason to pay more attention to the ensemble. They were on and off, gracefully sliding from one scene to the next in a flurry of business that most shows sorely lacked. It gave the show a particular realism that I’d rarely seen in theatre.

Once breakdown was over and we were left to sort and distribute costumes, accessories, and shoes to their respective cleaners/areas, I slid into the bathroom and hid in a stall to check my phone.

….I mean I had my cat…

Oops, he didn’t get that one. I grinned.

Masturbation joke. Your wrist hurt? Long night?

You could have worded it better.

Accurate, I realized belatedly, and decided to change the subject.

That’s accurate. On the bright side, no one dropped a light on your head or anything drastic/fatal like that.

True.

Enough chit chat, I decided, and went back to work. The girls were already arm deep in kilts, tunics, petticoats, corsets, and boots. I sighed and snapped on rubber gloves, adding my hands to the mix. I grabbed an empty bin and started throwing boots into it, wondering idly which ones Dakota had worn. I knew he wore a size twelve, as he’d asked me once if there were any new boots in his size he could wear. Steph liked to keep up with demand, considering she did the show every five years as a tradition, but she wasn’t perfect, and her minions who kept up stock were only human, so sometimes new just wasn’t in the budget or available– and sometimes they just plain forgot.

Not like I was going to check the sizes to figure out which boots were his or anything. He couldn’t be the only guy wearing a size twelve, either; with essentially three casts that alternated shows and days (Steph was nothing if not efficient when she cast her shows), and about two dozen guys total who wore those boots, it was highly improbable that he’d be the only size twelve.

Shit, I was obsessing. I froze with a boot in my hand, horror shooting through my chest. I hadn’t been fixated on someone in this way, who wasn’t a celebrity (and man my celebrity crushes ran DEEP), since high school. Something I didn’t really want to remember doing, because it bypassed cute crush or weird quirk and went directly into creepy as hell.

I hadn’t known why back then. I was a kid. But in my early twenties– i.e. about two years ago– I’d been finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. A late diagnosis that wiped my other diagnoses out completely– the ADHD, bipolar disorder, crippling anxiety and depression, suddenly all condensed into one diagnosis that made sense. Finally, answers. And in those years since I’d found out, I’d been doing better, relearning my social skills to be better, more “normal.”

If I hadn’t grown up thinking I was just a freak, maybe I’d have learned passable social skills earlier, but no, Mommy Dearest had decided that my symptoms weren’t bad enough to get anything done about them. She’d never even told me she knew until I’d brought it up to her. Rude.

I’d been doing so well, so well, and now here I was, fixating on someone real, who I not only could talk to and interact with, but actively had to on a regular basis.

Not again, I thought to myself, dropping the boot into the bin as though it was burning me. I wouldn’t do this again.

Yet, on the bus, I couldn’t stop myself from reading back over the conversation, and then I had a sudden revelation. Which, naturally, came out over message to Dakota.

This whole conversation you haven’t called me any names. I’m not sure if I’m pleased or concerned.

I didn’t expect a response, not really, and was strangely, pleasantly surprised when I received one.

XD you like me giving you stupid nicknames?

Well, yeah… I realized I did. He didn’t call anyone else names. In fact, he rarely referred to the interns as anything at all, he just talked to them or poked them and then moved on. The people who had been working at the theatre for a few years– or since it had opened– he referred to by name. Did he still make fun of them, poke and prod, and occasionally sneak up behind them to startle them for shits and giggles? Of course. But I realized, suddenly and with a strange sense of satisfaction, he only called me ridiculous nicknames.

Yeah. It shows you care… or something to that effect.

Haha ok.

I smiled. What a nerd.

I haven’t asked in like two weeks, how’s your kitten?

I also hadn’t seen pictures in ages, rude. I would be sure to ask him about that when he came back to work.

He’s a shit.

I thought fondly of my cat, currently with my brother while I was away at college.

My brother tells me the same thing about my cat lol. Any fun stories about Wade?

He jumped on my bad wrist a lot last night.

Oh, ow. I’m sorry.

Meh.

I didn’t know what else to say to that, so I let the conversation drop as I headed home.

My dorm was on the classy side of campus, in the Student Apartments. I handed my student ID to the security guard at the gate, all smiles and pleasantries as usual, before driving through. Eventually if I got a full time job, which I was hoping for after my internship ended, I’d get a sticker so that I could park in employee parking. Until that point, the bus was my only option– which meant parking in a big ass parking lot at the nearest bus stop. Because why would they put a bus stop at a college? That would be efficient. I pitied the people who had to walk to the grocery store and bus hop to all of their jobs or the mall or wherever it was they went, and silently thanked my stars that I had a car of my own.

Pulling into my usual spot outside the apartment building, I glanced at my phone. I should let Dakota rest, and stop bothering the poor kid. I shoved my phone into my purse and unfolded myself out of my car, then climbed the stairs to my second story apartment.

My roommate Kimmy was an actual, literal treasure, sent to me after the first roommate moved back home–and I didn’t blame Kristy, considering she’d had a miscarriage and intense complications immediately afterward. I’d have moved home, too. Kimmy, however, had stuck out with me for the month she’d been here, the most cheerful, forgiving, friendly person I’d ever lived with so far. She had classes most of the morning, worked nights directing campus traffic– her work-study arrangement with financial aid. Walking in the door I didn’t actually expect her to be home, but there she was, humming as she stirred pasta into a pot of boiling water.

She was taller than me, a little gangly, but beautifully curvy. She had a pretty face, hair that was slowly reaching toward her chin after she’d shaved it off for cancer awareness a few years before, and bright brown eyes that were always kind and welcoming. I’d never seen her cry, even when she was disappointed or sad. She had a cute, crooked smile that somehow made her even prettier. Her “pretty face,” on the other hand, was essentially her pulling her face back and grinning like a madwoman, giving her a quadruple chin and making her eyes bug out of her face– a look she reserved for people who catcalled her at work, or randomly told her how pretty she was (which always made her uncomfortable, since it usually came from a coworker or her managers).

“Kimmy!” My delight was apparent as I shut the door and ran into her arms. “You’re home! And before midnight! It’s just now dark out!”

“Yeah,” Kimmy said, squeezing me. “I get some Piper time! Yay!”

Our apartment was tiny, a one bedroom one bathroom square with a sizable common area, a small but efficient kitchen, and a little bar-esque counter. I pulled a barstool out from under that counter and sat as Kimmy explained what she was making for dinner– avocado pesto was surprisingly delicious, and didn’t taste too much like guacamole– and how her classes had gone that day. We ate at the bar despite there being a perfectly good table with chairs behind us, just chattering about our days and telling stories, which was our usual routine. I loved that we could just talk, for hours, about anything. Kimmy had, probably unknowingly headbutted her way into my heart and statused herself as one of my best friends. Once I’d done the dishes, we migrated to our shared bedroom, gossiping about her coworkers.

“So has Jay finally left you alone?”

I shrugged, sitting on the floor rather than my bed because I didn’t feel like climbing onto the raised dorm bed yet. “No, but he’s not exactly a nuisance. I still like him, he’s a good friend, and he’s done a lot for me and wants to help me out with becoming part time.”

Kimmy meticulously folded her clothes as she took them off, dropping them into her hamper. “So you’re keeping him around because he’s useful.”

I grimaced. “It sounds so mean, but yeah. Yeah, I am.”

“I mean I don’t blame you,” Kimmy assured me, carefully removing her pjs from the drawer of our shared dresser she kept them in. “Having an in into the theatre is beneficial.”

I shrugged again, then laid down on the floor, pulling out my phone to get on Facebook, or Tumblr, or whatever other social media wasn’t static and dull.

Kimmy’s routine involved her showering before bed, every night, ranging from a five minute “I just want to feel clean” rinse to a half hour long session of staring into the void until the water got cold. I listened with half an ear as the water ran, soothed by the rain-like pitter-patter of water on tile. When Kimmy came back out of the bathroom, her hair dripping, her Jack Skellington pants and a tee shirt on, she knelt down beside me. “You look like you need company.” With that, she dropped her head onto my belly and just laid there, pulling up Pokemon Go on her own phone.

I smiled. She knew that sometimes words weren’t helpful– a psychology major for good reason, she always seemed to just know— and that sometimes I just needed someone physically around when I didn’t feel like talking.

I’d been flipping back and forth between Facebook messenger and my other social media, reading over my convo with Dakota and overthinking it. I was always overthinking. He was probably annoyed with me. I was annoying, so it made sense. Or he was doing other stuff. He could have–probably would have– continued the conversation if he was interested. The ball was in my court though.

Anxiety sucked.

I flipped back to messenger, a glutton for punishment, and decided to try to be “funny” and “relatable.”

I laid down on the floor and my roommate laid down on me and went “you look like you need company.” This is my life now I can never leave.

His immediate response surprised me.

XD sounds fun.

I figured that was enough for one night, and sighed.

“Alright Eeyore, tell me what’s bothering you.”

Kimmy always knew.

I sighed again, and realized that was probably the tell tale sign that had tipped her off. I’d been sighing a lot tonight.

“So there’s this guy.”

“Of course.”

I burst out laughing. I was some sort of weird romantic, always looking for love, but after the Jay fiasco, all I really wanted was nasty rebound sex and friendship. Probably not with Dakota to be honest, but nonetheless. Dakota was apparently the one on my mind as of late.

“He’s one of our dancers in Brigadoon, the Cabaret, and I think he alternates between the other shows too. His name is Dakota.” And so I filled Kimmy in about this guy who was both a jerk and a flirt, who drove me insane, who I just couldn’t figure out. Kimmy listened patiently, acceptance on her face– she knew how I worked, apparently, or had figured it out enough to understand that sometimes I just needed to talk things over until I understood them myself. She’d told me when I was hashing it out about Jay that I tended to repeat things that bothered me, and I believed her. I’d been doing it for years, especially when I’d had a counselor, just talking in circles until I came to my own solutions and made myself a plan for moving forward rather than staying stuck in whatever emotional rut I was in.

When I’d caught Kimmy up, she had rolled onto her belly and was resting her arms on mine, her chin on her forearms. “It sounds like you just need that flirting without consequences, and he’s providing it for you..”

“Yes!” Of course. Bless Kimmy. She always knew just what to say. Maybe that made me predictable, maybe I was an open book, or maybe she was just exceptionally good at reading people and taking shots in the dark for what they were thinking, feeling, and needing. I was grateful for her either way. “I think you’re right. Thank you for understanding.”

Kimmy smiled her quirky, crooked smile. “That’s what I’m here for babes.”

“Nah, you’re more than my sounding board, you’re also a brilliant cook, a comedian, and give the best hugs ever.”

“Aww,” Kimmy smiled more brightly this time.

“And you know I’m here whenever you need to vent.”

“So it evens out,” Kimmy agreed. We both giggled, and continued talking late into the night about whatever crossed our minds.

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