“Oh? Which one?” I asked as we walked down the porch steps.
“Well, on Tuesdays they play old kung fu movies at Cameron Theater. This week they’re playing King Boxer.”
“You go watch old kung fu movies?”
“Yeah. I used to watch them with my grandpa before he passed away. Then, I just kept going.” He shifted around in his shoes and did his I’m uncomfortable so I’m fiddling with my fingers thing. “If you hate the idea of going to the movie, we can do something else, like go get ice cream or something. I just thought…”
I smiled and gently shook my head, rubbing my left hand up and down my right arm. “I think this is perfect.”
He smiled back.
“More of that, Grey,” I said with a grin as I used his words.
We walked to the theater, and he ordered popcorn and candy. I couldn’t really eat any of that due to my braces, but it was fine. I had enough butterflies in my stomach to keep me full.
His favorite candy was red licorice, and he said he’d learned to love it from his grandpa.
The butterflies in my stomach didn’t fade as we sat in the theater. If anything, they just grew in size. I swore his arm moved closer to mine, and mine inched closer to his throughout the movie. My heart stopped beating completely as his pinky brushed against mine.
When the nerves became too much, I placed my hands in my lap and tried my best not to overthink the small touch. I kicked myself for moving my hand, though, because what if I had left it? Would he have linked our pinkies together? Would we have held hands? Would he have felt my pulse racing throughout my body?
Every time Greyson laughed at the movie, I laughed, too, because he had the kind of laugh that made you think you’d just met the happiest person alive. The movie was great, but the best part was watching how much Greyson enjoyed it. His eyes stayed wide on the screen, and he’d toss his head back at the parts that tickled him while stuffing handfuls of popcorn into his mouth.
It was wild to me that I had thought I knew who the popular boy in the hallways was whenever we saw each other at school, but clearly I was wrong. There was more to Greyson than his basketball skills, and his Nike shoes, and his good looks.
He had a personality that wasn’t seen at school, from his love of his cat to his love of kung fu movies, from the way he missed his grandpa to the way his eyes sometimes looked so lonely.
I felt silly for having judged him before really knowing anything about him.
Everything I learned was making my crush grow more and more. Greyson had so many layers to him, and each time he revealed one, I felt like I was being let in on a big secret.
“Did you like it?” he asked me, sounding uncertain.
“It was amazing! I’ve never seen a kung fu movie before.”
He sighed, relieved as he rested a hand on his chest. “Good. I was really worried. Most girls think it’s weird that I watch them, but I love it.”
“I love that you love it.”
“So, now what? Do you want to go get some food or something?”
“I could always eat,” I agreed.
We headed to an ice cream parlor, where I found something else we both had in common: vanilla ice cream with chocolate fudge. We weren’t shy about stuffing our faces, either. As we ate, I couldn’t help but wonder about something, though.
“What made you want to hang out with me?” I blurted out, feeling my face heat up a bit after the words left my lips.
He held his spoon filled with ice cream midair and cocked an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?”
“It just seemed a little random, that’s all.”
“Oh.” He ate the bite he’d scooped up and then spoke with his mouth full. “You didn’t seem impressed with me at the party.”
“And that made you want to hang out with me?”
“Because most girls act like everything I do and say is magic when really I say a lot of stupid things. I would say a good ninety percent of what I say is just bullshit.”
“I’d round it up to a hundred,” I joked.
He snickered. “See? Things like that. Other girls would never say that. It’s like they like this guy they made up in their head, and they have no clue who I actually am. You didn’t care about me at all.”
“You want to hang out with me because I don’t care about you?”
I chuckled. “That seems messed up.”
“Maybe, but it’s true. Plus...with your mom being sick…” His words trailed off and I felt a strange tug in my gut.
“I don’t want you to hang out with me because you feel bad for me,” I told him. I didn’t need his pity.
“No, it’s not that. I mean, I do feel bad, but I don’t know how to explain it.” He raked his fingers over his forehead. “I guess, I just mean, when my grandpa was sick, it was all I could think about, and I remember wishing I had someone to take my mind off of him being sick for just a little while. I wanted to do that for you. I wanted to give you something else to think about, and I didn’t want you to feel alone.”
I wasn’t certain that this boy was real.
Even in my novels the heroes weren’t that sweet.
I bit my bottom lip as I ate my ice cream. “Oh.”
That was all I could say, because my emotions were choking me.
“Which brings me to our next topic.” He linked his fingers together and stretched out his arms before placing them on the table. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Oh? What is it?”
"We have to keep seeing one another, at least once a week to keep you from going insane.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to drive yourself crazy worrying about your mom seven days a week. Trust me, I know. I have lived that life.”
“I’m fine,” I argued.
He cocked an eyebrow. “How often do you do internet searches on cancer?”
One, two, skip a few…
“Only a couple of times,” I lied.
He smiled. “Every day, huh? I bet it leaves you feeling worse, too. Therefore, once a week, you have to take your mind off cancer. That’s why my grandpa had me go with him to the movies on Tuesdays—to clear my head. It helped a lot.”
“You want me to go to the movies every Tuesday with you?”
“Nah, we’ll do different things. The main point is to get you to stop overthinking sad things at least for a few hours. After that you can return to your sad internet searches,” he semi-joked.
I narrowed my eyes. “Only once a week?”
“Yup, I just need three or four hours of your time. It’s a win-win deal for both of us.”
“How is it a win-win deal for you? I mean, I get why it is for me, I get a break from reality, but you don’t really get anything from it.”
“I get to hang out with you, which means I don’t have to be so lonely.”
I laughed. “You’re always surrounded by people. I doubt you even know what loneliness feels like.”
His brows lowered and he brushed his thumb against his nose. His stare moved to his almost empty bowl of ice cream. “You ever stand in a crowded space and feel like no one knows a single thing about you?” he asked. “Everyone talks about you in a way that feels so phony. Everything they know about you is random lies they made up in their own heads, but they don’t really know you. They just know the fictional character they created. That’s what loneliness is—living in world where no one really sees you.”
He just described my entire high school experience.
“Well, maybe you do know what it feels like,” I said.
“So, what do you say? Are you in?” he asked, clasping his hands together.
“Yes,” I quickly replied, and I didn’t care how fast the word flew out of my mouth, didn’t care how eager I sounded. “Yeah, I’m in.”
I liked it.
“All right. I’ll come up with a list of things we can do! I think it will be a lot of fun.” He truly appeared excited, which made me excited, too.
We finished our ice cream, and then he walked me home. I was glad Greyson had a chatty personality, because there were so many times I ran out of things to say. He was great at keeping the conversation going strong.
“Thanks for coming today, Ellie. I had a really great time,” he told me, shifting around in his Nikes.
“Yeah, I did, too.”
“How about we meet up next Wednesday?”
“It’s a date,” I said, then I felt my cheeks heat up. “I mean, not like a date-date, but like, you know…just two people hanging out...I didn’t mean like—”
“It’s a date.” Greyson smirked, smooth as ever. “I’ll talk to you later. Also stay off the internet, will you?”
He turned to walk away, but I called after him.
“Yeah?” he questioned.
“I just wanted you to know I see you, you know, the you that the rest of the world doesn’t see.”
He scrunched up his nose and rubbed the back of his neck. “Good, because I see you, too.”
I’d spent so much time hiding in the shadows. I’d avoided people, because it felt safe being invisible. If I was invisible, people couldn’t judge me. If I was invisible, people couldn’t laugh in my face. I always thought that was the right choice—to stay hidden.
That afternoon my thoughts slowly shifted in a new direction, because Greyson took the time to look my way.
Who knew being seen could feel so good?
Mom and Dad were fighting again. It was late into the night and I had nowhere to escape to, so I locked myself in my bedroom and put my headphones on, turning up my music real high. It was almost impossible to drown them out, but I tried my best to do it.