Raf looked down at their phone. They had been messaging Noah every now and then. He seemed like a sweet person, and Raf was more than happy to keep exchanging useless facts but then Noah asked to meet up. As much as Raf liked Noah, they had to admit that the main reason for this was because when they were thinking about him, they weren’t thinking about Jenna. It wasn’t fair to Noah to meet up – it might give them the wrong message. But Raf couldn’t bring themself to say no. So, Raf didn’t say anything. That wasn’t fair either but Raf didn’t know what else to do. So much for acting like an adult, huh.
Iris walked through the front door and leaned against it with a thud. “Hey.”
Raf pocketed their phone, “Hey.”
“Why are you sitting on the stairs?”
“Just thinking about things.” Raf noticed Iris spoke with a very clipped tone, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” She wasn’t meeting their eyes. “Just thinking about things.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Iris shook her head. Her eyebrows knitted together and her mouth pulled into a thin line. Raf knew not to push it. “I could use your advice on something…”
Iris perked up a little. Raf explained the situation with Noah leaving no detail out, “How do I tell Noah that I’d love to become friends but I’m just not ready for anything else?”
Iris thought for a moment, carefully considering every possible action. “I don’t think you should.” She finally said. Raf looked at her with a confused expression. Of all the possible things, he didn’t think Iris would condone their childish behaviour. “I think you really need to look at why you don’t think about Jenna when talking to Noah. She’s been the topic of most of your conversations since I’ve known you and the only thing you’ve spoken about since she dumped you. But now, all of a sudden, you’re talking about someone else and not obsessing over a girl who does not care about you.” Iris’s voice was steadily rising, her fists clenched and her back straightening. Raf had never seen her like this. “Noah is interested, good-looking and here, in Bath. He’s not going anywhere, the two of you have a shot. There’s no question of what you should do next, you should give Noah a shot.”
“But… shouldn’t I work on myself first?” Raf asked. Noah was nice and attractive, the perfect choice but they couldn’t see a way to have a healthy relationship so soon.
Apparently, Iris didn’t feel the same way. “Are you kidding me?” she yelled. “Are you actually being serious? Because from where I’m standing, you’ve had weeks to learn how to be single and it hasn’t worked. All you’ve done is lie in bed and mope. So forgive me if I think you should try being in a relationship again because as far as I’m aware you need someone to lean on to get through this. And lucky you! You have the option to do that! You can jump into a relationship without a time limit or distance. You don’t have to watch your relationship die through a phone screen or spend a fortune on plane tickets just to see the other person. Why aren’t you jumping for joy?”
By the end of her speech, Iris was shouting to the ceiling. Raf didn’t know what to say. Luckily, Iris stepped in again, “I’m sorry. I’m guessing you realise that wasn’t really about you just then.”
Raf nodded, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
Iris looked like she was fighting tooth and nail to hold back tears, “Maybe later?”
“I really do think you should give things a shot – a proper shot – with Noah.”
“Okay.” Raf still wasn’t convinced. They liked Noah, they really did, but any relationship would be marred by Jenna and the question of if this was all in aid of forgetting her. But none of that mattered right now. Iris was clearly dealing with something. She had been there for Raf so many times, they wanted to be there for her too. They just didn’t know how, so they offered the one thing they were sure she would want right now, “Can I give you a hug?”
Iris nodded as she started to cry. Raf jumped off of the stairs and engulfed Iris, holding her as tightly as humanly possible. Iris wept into Raf’s shoulder. She was shaking so much, Raf thought she might shake into a thousand pieces. It made Raf hold her tighter, as though if she did break apart, they would be able to hold her together.
Raf handed over their ticket to be checked before entering the Snow Ball. They’d been looking forward to the event for weeks but now it was here, Raf just wanted to crawl back into bed. They wanted lie under the covers and figure out what to say to Noah once and for all. But it was difficult to find the words when Raf wasn’t sure what they wanted Noah to know. How do you tell someone you can’t be around them if that’s not really what you want? Raf was generally good at putting sentences together, but right now, the alphabet just seemed like a scrambled mess of lines that made about as much sense as quantum theory.
Gloomily, Raf wandered around, trying to find somewhere quiet to organise their thoughts. They thought they’d found it – a nice, secluded area by the fence. Sighing, Raf leaned against the wall. Alone, finally.
“Hi?” Raf didn’t notice Noah standing there until he spoke. They shrieked and flattened themself against the wall, as though the closer they got, the less likely Noah would notice them. Realising they probably looked ridiculous, Raf dusted themself off. Noah nodded at Raf and tried to pretend he wasn’t mortified by what had just happened. Raf didn’t have the energy to pretend the situation wasn’t weird so decided to take the blunt approach, “What are you doing here?”
“I, er…” Noah scratched the back of his neck, searching for the right words to make this any less embarrassing. “I needed to talk to you.”
“So you decided to ambush me here?”
Raf was silent for a moment. “You could’ve called me.”
Noah looked at Raf for a moment before looking away and scoffing, “Yeah, because you would’ve picked up?” Raf stared at the floor, suddenly finding their shoes very interesting. Noah had them there. He sounded bitter and Raf supposed they deserved it. They had been ignoring Noah and it wasn’t fair. Now he was here, Raf knew they needed to explain.
But Noah had other ideas, “I know this is extreme, I know this makes me look desperate. I guess, in a way, I am – but not how you might think. I needed to talk to you and you were ignoring me. I figured if you were half as nice and scared of confrontation as I think you are then coming to talk to you here might make you listen. I know that’s a bit manipulative, but hey, you were mean first. And I know what I just said was childish, but what I have to say next isn’t. And you don’t need to worry about what I’m going to say, it’s not as bad as you think. So, can you give me a minute to talk to you?”
Raf nodded. Noah took a deep breath, “I wanted to say thank you. Before I met you, I thought I was only into women, because that was the only gender I had ever dated. It wasn’t like I had been hiding another side to me or repressing anything, I just never realised I could like anyone else. I’d never even thought about it. I’m still trying to figure it out if I’m honest but I don’t think gender really matters all that much to me. But I wouldn’t have started looking into any of it if I hadn’t met you. There would have been this whole part to me that I wouldn’t have known. Now I do. And it’s all because of you. So I wanted to say thank you. I don’t want anything from you, I’m not here to get you to date me. Just… thanks.”
The two stood there, taking in what was just said. After a few seconds, it started to get a little awkward. Raf spoke first, “I really thought you wanted to go on a date. That’s why I’d been avoiding you. I think you’re nice but I don’t want to date anyone right now.”
“I get it. When I texted, I think I did want to go on a date but the more I thought about… no offence, but I don’t know you, and when we talk, there are a lot of awkward silences.” Noah laughed, “I’m not sure we fit.”
“No, I’m not sure we do either. But… can I also say thank you?”
Noah looked confused, “For what?”
“I don’t know how much Aaron told you but I used to date his sister and our relationship didn’t end well. Truth be told, I’ve been an insufferable mess since it ended. Jenna has been like a phantom, haunting me. So, thank you, for exorcising her from me. I need to learn how to be a person on my own. I’m not sure I would’ve realised that it was possible if it weren’t for many people, including you.”
“You’re welcome.” Raf and Noah smiled at each other. Noah laughed and then nodded toward where Raf had come from. “Now I’m here, I suppose I should go have fun. You coming?”
Raf shook their head, “I’ve got to talk to someone.” Noah started to walk away, Raf called out after him, “You deserve someone who is with you for you, not someone who is trying to forget someone else. You deserve to be happy. I hope you figure it all out”
Noah blushed a little and smiled again, “And you deserve to be happy too. I hope you figure it out.”
Raf smiled back. For the first time in weeks, they could honestly say it was possible. They would be happy again.