Dakota intercepted me on my way out of work. I tried to keep my face blank, but felt my face begin to flush, remembering the last comment he’d made to me before showtime. A comment I had shamelessly agreed with. When he sat next to me with his usual greeting, I felt like I’d been seated next to an active Tesla coil.
The ride to the parking lot was a blur. Dakota showed me more pictures of his cat, I whipped out pictures my brother had sent me of my cat back home, and in between pictures, we flirted with each other. When we got off the bus, I stuck by his side, sucked into a conversation about the show and a few of the performers, when I realized I’d been going the wrong direction. I had parked my car on the opposite side of the lot, in the back, since (for some ungodly reason) the lot had been full when I’d come to work that morning.
“Oh. Shit.” I turned toward where my car was parked, curling my lip in distaste. “I’m parked on that side. I forgot.”
“I’m right over here,” Dakota said, pointing. “Do you need a ride?”
“That’s okay, I can walk,” I said, turning to go. “I could use the exercise anyway. I’m parked all the way in the back.”
He rolled his eyes at me. “Come on. You’re getting a ride.”
I thought, briefly, about refusing, but to be honest, my feet hurt, the rest of me ached, and I didn’t really feel like hauling myself half a mile to get to my car. “Thank you.”
“Just to warn you my car smells like cat pee.”
“Oh no,” I said, grinning. “Someone didn’t enjoy his trip to the vet, I assume?”
“Yeah, we were almost home when he just…” Dakota made a hand motion and a sound effect that gave me a clear picture of the cat straight up spraying his car.
“Aww,” I said, laughing. “Poor cat. Where’s home?”
Dakota pointed. “Ten minutes that way.”
“Oh, so you’re close,” I said. “I’m at college housing.”
“That’s not too far, is it?” Dakota glanced back in the direction of campus. “Like a half an hour away?”
“Approximately.” He stopped at a sleek black sports car, which honked at us. “Damn. Nice car.”
I slid into the passenger seat, overwhelmed by how clean his car was. It was completely empty, void of the clutter I always had in my car– a product of once living out of said car, and then never unlearning the habit of having everything in my car at the ready. It still vaguely smelled of cat pee, but the smell wasn’t overwhelming.
“Where are you parked, princess?”
My brain straight up stalled. I blinked at him for the few seconds it took my brain to register that he had, in fact, been speaking to me, and then looked out the window and pointed. “On that side, in the back corner.”
“As far away as possible?” He teased, backing out of his parking spot.
“It wasn’t exactly my choice,” I pouted. “The lot was full when I got here.”
We both fell silent as he drove. The feeling of sitting next to a Tesla coil intensified. In a romantic comedy, he’d have leaned over and kissed me. I had to physically stop myself from laughing at that thought, but the amused smile probably still showed.
“That’s me,” I said, pointing to my little black car. Several spaces had opened up around it. “Thanks for bringing me over.”
I hadn’t even started my car when he drove off.
It took me nearly half the usual amount of time to get home, I was driving so fast. I raced up the stairs to the apartment, struggling to jam my keys into the lock and turn them.
Slamming open the door to the apartment, I saw Kimmy turn from the fridge, no panic on her face, just an expression of vague concern. “Piper!” She said back, way too calmly.
My anxiety radiated off of me as I all but slammed the door and ran to the bartop counter. “Help me. I got his number.”
“Great!” Kimmy reached into the fridge and pulled out a tub of leftovers. “Whose number did you get?”
“Dakota’s,” I said, hoisting myself onto a tall barstool.
“The one who treats you like a five year old with a crush?”
“That’s the one.” I watched her pour the leftovers– turned out to be soup I’d made a few days before– into a pot and turn on the stove. “I got his number. Help me.”
“I fail to see how getting the number of a guy you’re interested in constitutes needing help.”
She was right, and I knew she was right, but the little monster of anxiety currently banging pans together in my chest thought otherwise. “Well… I have to talk to him.”
Kimmy took that in stride, returning to the fridge and pulling out a bag of carrots. “Have you texted him yet?”
“Just hey it’s Piper so he’d have my number.” She set a bowl of carrots in front of me, so I grabbed one and started munching on it. “I’m hopeless. I can’t even talk to the guy. People randomly accuse me of flirting and I can’t talk to one guy. What the hell is that about?”
In Kimmy’s defence, she wasn’t outright laughing at me, but I could tell she was struggling to keep it that way. “So ask him how his day was. He does the show after Brigadoon too, right?”
“Not today. He gave me a ride to my car.”
“Oh?” She dragged out the syllable, giving me a suggestive eye wiggle and a smirk.
“Mind out of the gutter, missy.” I snagged another carrot. “All he did was drive me and make fun of how far back I was parked.”
“Five year old with a crush,” Kimmy teased, and stirred the soup as it began to bubble. I stuck my tongue out at her.
Before I could launch into my copious levels of anxiety, my phone went off on its own. Like a middle school girl, I yelped, snatching up my phone and showing it to Kimmy. “He texted me first!”
“What did he say?” She didn’t even turn from the stove, calm as the eye of a storm. I should have hated her for that, but I could never hate her, and at the moment I was too caught up in my own blind panic.
“The usual. He called me Doofus.”
“A declaration of love.”
“Your sarcasm has no effect on me,” I informed her dryly.
“Text him back and have fun,” Kimmy advised. “But eat soup, too.” With that, she set a bowl in front of me and handed me a spoon.
“Thank you, love.”
Kimmy smiled at me, much like a cat, and then came to sit beside me while we ate.
Nerd. It seemed weird to leave it at that. How are you?
I waited for his response as Kimmy caught me up about her day, the drama of work, the chaos of school.
Good, good. Playing Overwatch.
Sounds fun 🙂
I realized, with saddening clarity, that I was downright awful at conversations. Not only that, but my anxiety was being fed by my overwhelming crush on him. Which, I admitted, he deserved to know about.
To be clear, I have the biggest crush on you. Just. So you know.
There, I’d told him. Now all I had to do was wait for the inevitable judgement. God, he was going to think I was ridiculous. That, or he already knew, and I was just telling him old news.
Oh man, I realized as I began to wash dishes, nearly ten minutes later. This was downright awful. I could never show my face to him again. I’d willingly just handed him information he could use against me.
“I told him about my crush on him.”
Kimmy looked up from her own phone at my statement, a proud smile on her face. “Good for you being brave! I’m proud of you.”
I blinked at her, holding the soapy pot in my hands. “But what if he laughs at me? What if I freak him out and it pushes him away? What if–”
His text broke me out of the downward spiral of anxiety.
“He answered you,” said Kimmy, flatly. She’d gone back to scrolling through Facebook on her phone.
Haha really? Okay.
That… had actually gone better than expected.
“What did he say?” Kimmy asked, leaning forward on her arms and grinning at me. I just showed her my phone, and she rolled her eyes. “Talkative, this one.”
“I know, a complete chatterbox.” My phone buzzed again.
Why the interest in me?
Oh. Well, that had to be coming I supposed. But how to answer? Honestly, I didn’t really know. He was funny, he was quirky, charming, a flirt, attractive…
I find you attractive, I think you’re funny, I like talking with you.
Hopefully that was enough. Hopefully it wasn’t too weird.
A few minutes clicked by, Kimmy and I just watching some show she was into on Netflix, and my anxiety began to pour out through my hands and into a text message. I couldn’t seem to stop it.
Honestly I’m surprised you haven’t caught onto that now, I’m not exactly subtle.
His response was near immediate.
Well, I’m autistic, so I don’t really notice that kind of stuff.
I felt like everything around me had slowed to a crawl, as though time itself had suspended to let me process what I had just read. When I had learned about my own autism, it had been jokingly taking a test created for parents of potentially autistic children, with the intention of proving to Emma– also autistic– that I wasn’t on the spectrum. The score I’d gotten had been solidly over that supposed line: out of a possible total of thirty one, I’d gotten twenty-six. The minimum score, according to that website, had been fifteen. My therapist had calmly, quietly confirmed my findings, telling me that she’d already known, but thought that I had been diagnosed already. Mom had been quick to agree, in her usual “yeah I knew I just didn’t do anything about it” manner.
Excitement shot through me. I had tons of friends who were on the spectrum; I connected easily with them, loved finding similarities between us. Still, the monster of anxiety sliced through. Voices from people who had heard my excited diagnosis and cut it down filled my head. Memories of criticism, being told I was “technically self diagnosed,” that I “didn’t look autistic,” that I was too social, too “normal”–
I clammed up. Dakota didn’t need to know. It was a recent enough diagnosis anyway; I’d already learned how to pass as socially adept. I still hadn’t really gotten used to the diagnosis myself. I rarely told people, usually reserving it for people who were close to me.
“He’s like me,” I said aloud, not realizing it.
I looked at Kimmy as though I’d completely forgotten she was there. “Ah– autistic. He’s autistic. LIke me.”
“Ah.” She nodded her understanding. “I suppose that explains some of his behaviour?”
“I guess so,” I said. “Honestly I’m shit at deciphering what’s ‘normal’ behaviour and what isn’t. His doesn’t scream autistic like some other people I know, but I can see it if I think back and look for it.”
“Would it explain his teasing and flirting with you?”
I shrugged. “I keep getting told I flirt more than I actually speak, so we could be similar in that way. I don’t really tease people if I don’t know them pretty well, like you. I can tease you and not worry that you’ll misinterpret my meaning.”
Kimmy patted my arm. “You take everything so literally. It’s a wonder you haven’t already boned this guy.”
Frowning, I just stared at her. “I mean, the constant switch between teasing me and flirting with me doesn’t exactly read as an invitation to suck his dick.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
I hadn’t honestly thought about it. “I guess. He’s really attractive, Kimmy. He can dance. He can sing.” Thinking back, I winced. “I definitely asked him if he sings. He’s in a fucking musical. My god, I’m stupid.”
“Hey hey,” Kimmy said, tugging on my sleeve. “He’s a dancer, half of those guys onstage who dance are lip syncing and you know it. It was a valid question.”
“You have a point. Anyway, I don’t know. I’d love to have nasty rebound sex with him. Maybe that would be enough? I’d like to be his friend, spend time being a friend, and yeah, maybe bone him into the ground.”
“Do you want a relationship with him?”
“Damn it, why do you have to ask the hard questions?” I sulked as I thought about it. She had a damn good point. “I… I don’t know. I don’t want any romantic feelings for him to spawn from whatever void Jay left.”
“I think we can both agree that there’s not much of a void in your heart so much as a lack of regular sex.” Kimmy smirked at me, and I burst out giggling.
“Accurate. I didn’t love him, not really. I feel badly. But Dakota doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment, he’s not a sex toy, he has feelings of his own, and I don’t want to just use him and then realize I don’t have any feelings and then move on.”
“You need to keep that in mind if anything moves forward,” she warned me. I nodded. “Go ahead, talk to him some, get to know him, find out where he stands if you can. Good luck.” She wrapped me up in a hug, and I took her advice.