“Gabriel, how old are you again?” Stefan asks me from the couch.
“Twenty-eight,” I say.
“Hm.” He goes back to work on his laptop. “Somehow, I thought you were older than me.”
I laugh. "Serious? You're the one who always says how immature I am."
"Age isn't always the determinant of maturity," he huffs.
I open up the curtains and stare outside at the Paris streets from Stefan's apartment window. I moved to France maybe four years ago with my sister. I thought the center of the fashion world would be a good place to pursue being a hairstylist, since it’s the only thing I’m good for; my grades sucked at graduation, and I never bothered with college. I also moved here ‘cause, hell, European guys are friggin’ hot.
I worked as a freelance hairstylist for the first two years, but now I’m employed as the personal hair stylist for a male model who goes by The name Tomato. The boy's starting to get some recognition for his flamboyant modelling style and distinguishing bright red hair. But more than him, I'm interested in his agent Stefan--thirty years old, with the sense of humor of a fifty-year old prude and zero patience for antics. So what if we’re opposites in personality; his seriousness is what makes him so fun to mess with. And while I may’ve moved to Paris for cute French guys, they’ve got nothing on Stef.
A little cafe outside catches my eye, breaking me from my absentmindedness.
“Yo Stef, wanna grab a bite to eat?” I glance over my shoulder at him.
“No,” he answers plainly. “You’re free to go by yourself, if you like.”
“I wanna go with you.” I pout. “Aren’t you hungry? It’s lunchtime.”
He lets out a sigh. “I’m busy, Gabriel; I’ll eat later. you should go by yourself. Frankly, I don’t even understand what you’re doing here in the first place. You practically invited yourself inside.”
“I wanted to see you,” I say with a grin, and plant myself next to him on the couch.
He rolls his eyes. "Save the romance for someone else."
"Why?" I follow up, and smirk.
"I've told you before that I'm not interested in the type of romantic relationship that you're interested in. I would advise you to find a boyfriend in someone else." He crosses his arms and tilts his head up at me, unamused.
After a moment more of silence, I conclude, "I'll just wait for you finish. Then we can go eat."
He answers with another sigh. I take it as a yes.
- - - -
"Hey, speaking of boyfriends..." I start when we reach our table.
"Wait," Stefan interrupts. He takes a seat on the opposite end of the round wire table. "Since when were we on the topic of boyfriends?"
"Earlier you said something like, 'Find yourself another boyfriend,' or whatever, which got me thinking on boyfriends." I shrug and take a look at the menu.
"Ah." He does the same as me.
"Anyway, like I was saying... Speaking of boyfriends, I don't think I've actually had a boyfriend before," I continue.
"I thought..." He pauses briefly to pull his sunglasses from his suit pocket and puts them on to shield his eyes from the brightness of being outside. "I thought you told me about a boyfriend of yours. That boy you said you were secretly dating when you were fourteen."
"Oh yeah, Dave! Totally forgot about him. ...I told you about that?"
"Eh, well... That doesn't really count, 'cause it was more of a one-sided relationship. I dunno if he even considered me his boyfriend. So he wasn’t really a boyfriend boyfriend."
“A ‘boyfriend boyfriend’,” he repeats, unimpressed with my awesome vocabulary. My words sound silly in his apathetic voice. He looks directly at me above the rim of his sunglasses and leans forward, but says nothing else; I guess he wants me to keep talking.
“Yeah. I mean, he wasn’t a real boyfriend,” I rephrase, and lean back in my chair. A waitress comes by and places glasses of water on our table.
“Well then. That’s surprising,” Stefan notes, taking a sip of water.
I blink. “Why?”
“I would have figured you to be all over the boys at your school, given your personality.”
“Oh.” I scratch my head. “You mean like that. Well, eh, I wasn’t really dating any of the guys I had sex with.”
He sighs, and breathes “Right,” in a manner that understands what I mean, but disagrees with my actions.
“I didn’t like any of the guys at my school, anyway. Not really. Well...” I hesitate and I rub my hand across my chin.
“‘Well’ what?” Stefan prys. He half-grins at me, interested in my faltering.
“Well, there might’ve been one guy I liked.” I shrug.
“And who was that?”
“Just a friend of mine. His name was Will.” I pause for a moment and try to remember him. It’s been ten years since I last talked to him. There are easy things I can remember, like the color and style of his hair and the shape of his face. But I can’t visualize his whole face clearly; it looks blurry. So I make up things, give him the kind of nose I think he had, eyes that I guess I remembered. It looks close, but I can’t convince myself that it’s exactly his appearance.
“Did anything happen between you two?” Stef's voice hits my ears.
“...Nah,” I answer. ...which isn’t a lie. Stefan doesn’t need to know anymore than that.
I remember I brought Will home after prom, and he closed his eyes like I told him to. He passed out in the car. That was all I told his mom; It was late when we got to his house, and I told her he should sleep. She told me to carry him up to his room because she couldn’t do it herself. I did, and I went home.
I saw Will at school the next week.
“Hey, Gabe,” I heard him call. Turning around, I saw him coming down the hallway to meet me. “Thanks for driving me home Saturday,” he said when he caught up to me. He wore his ordinary expression of a carefree smile.
“No prob.” I shrugged. “You needa get your license, though.”
“I have it already! I don’t have a car like you do.”
I laughed lightly, and looked at the ground. “Will, uh... sorry about... uh...” I stalled and tried again. “Are you... okay with what happened Saturday?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah I’m alright. You don’t need to worry about Ali and me.”
...He forgot some certain details.
"So what're you gonna do now?" I continued.
"About what?" he asked.
"About Ali. You still like her don't you?"
He just shrugged.
"She's nice, Will. I think she'll understand if you talk to her about it." I gave him a reassuring smile.
"About what?" he repeated.
I chuckled at his obliviousness. "About why you broke up with her," I elaborated. I paused a moment in my speech, and tried to better phrase my thoughts. "Uh, what I'm trying to get at is... What I mean is, if you like someone, you shouldn't just give up on them just like that."
Will stared through confused eyes. "But it's just high school," he countered.
And he made so much sense that I backed off.
But really, what a senseless statement.
School went on as usual for the next month. The last time I remember seeing Will was on graduation. The principle screwed up Will’s name.
I smiled to myself. Those dumbasses. Just give him his effing diploma.
They did. Mine as well. They gave me my highly undecorated, and beautifully wrapped, standard diploma. And there was the reward: 14 years of my life spent in a classroom to get a piece of pretty paper.
I don’t remember what I did during the rest of the ceremony. I only remember that at one point I was sitting outside in my cap and gown, when Will found me.
“Hey, you,” he said from behind.
“Huh?” I turned to him. “Oh, hey Will.” He stood over me, his gown blowing a bit to reveal blue jeans and sneakers, mismatching the rest of his graduation garb.
“What’re you doing?” He walked over and sat next to me on the curb. “Everyone else is still inside.”
I shrugged. “I ‘unno.”
I was staring at the pavement, but I could see out of the corner of my eye he was still staring at me. He wrapped his hands together and sighed. “Gabe?”
“Huh,” I grunted without looking up.
“You’re not going to college, right?” he asked.
I nodded. “And you’re going out of state for college, right?”
“We’ll still see each other this summer though, right?” I suggested, but I knew it wasn’t true even when I asked it.
Will shook his head. It came as no surprise. “No, my grandparents want me to move in with them since they live near the university,” he mumbled. “I’m leaving in two weeks.”
Two weeks. “So I guess...” I started.
Two weeks. Two frickin’ weeks. Hell, I couldn’t get shit done in two months. This is it Gabe, I thought. This it it. There’s nothing left to do, now. He’s already gone. Not that... it’s not like it really matters. Not like I had anything I wanted to do.
Maybe the thought of people leaving and getting older was getting to me. I think I zoned out for a good 3 minutes.
“...So you guess...?” Will tried to get me to continue.
“...So I guess this is the last time for us to be friends, huh?”
He stretched out his arms behind him onto the sidewalk, and leaned back. “...I guess. But I’ll come around for the holidays and stuff, maybe...”
“Maybe.” But maybe I’d be moving out, too. I slowly got back up and stepped onto the sidewalk. “Anyways, let’s get back inside. Our families are in there.” I extended my hand to help him up. He accepted it, and I hoisted him up onto the sidewalk.
“It’s been nice knowing you, Mr. Ebersbacher,” I affirmed, and smirked.
He smiled back, and with my hand conveniently already in his, he gave me a firm handshake. “Nice knowing you, Gabe.”
Gripping tighter on his hand, I caught him off guard and pulled him in for a hug. It was just a hug. A friendly, warm hug. No big deal. He didn’t reject it--gave me a pat on the back--but after 5 more seconds he got a little suspicious.
“Gabe, dude--” He pushed me off so I held him at arms length, frowned, and looked up.
And I looked at him with the biggest smile on my face, because I was proud of him. He was gonna get somewhere.
My smile must’ve made him relax a bit, because his concerned expression slowly switched to a sheepish grin. He shrugged my hands off his shoulders, and started walking in the direction of the school.
“We’ve gotta go, Gabe.”
You did, Will. I never really had to leave.
“That’s unfortunate,” Stefan says, making me flick my head back to his eye level. Must’ve been spacing out for a bit. He continues, “...for you, I suppose. Not that it really concerns me.”
I shrug. “It’s cool,” I say, and hang my head. The wire table has a repetitive pattern of diamonds interlocking and crossing each other. There’s bumps on the wire; it looks like it might’ve been a rusty metal before, but it’s been painted over in a shiny new black.
“...He’s married now, my mom told me,” I muttered after a moment more of pointlessly studying the table.
“Oh, so it was that sort of predicament.” Stefan folds his arms across his chest. “That’s difficult.”
“Nah, I mean... I knew it was gonna happen eventually.” I shrug again. “And it’s good that it happened. I’m happy for him.”
“A good guy like him deserves a good family.” I continue, and smirk in return. “And obviously I couldn’t give that to him. But I really...”
Stefan’s still smiling. He’s smiling and looking kind of weird at me over the rim of his sunglasses. I can see his hazel-green eyes for a change, which always hide behind the lenses; they look like they’re grinning with him.
But that’s not the smile of understanding or of sympathy or of affection. That’s not even the smile of a doting parent looking at his kids with amusement. Lip curled up, chin tilted down, grinning eyes staring me down--That’s the smile of a cat. That’s the smile of a proud, college-educated man with esteemed class.
“Gabriel,” he speaks quietly to keep from laughing. “I never knew you to be such a grossly sentimental man.”