Chapter 1: Shelter
Carol’s track shoes were dirty again, covered with clumps of freshly cut grass. She felt like the sight should be refreshing, after the long summer away from school.
But it was hard to feel anything other than awkward, sitting in the passenger seat of her coach’s car after no one came to pick her up after practice. It was weird enough being one of the only seniors without a car; getting a ride home from Mr. Rogg was a new low.
Not that she disliked him. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, she felt like she had to stare at her feet, or straight ahead, to avoid accidentally staring at him. He wasn’t just her track coach; he was also her French teacher. And he was from England, which meant he had that perfectly sexy accent and all the charm to go along with it. And she was in his car.
Part of her wanted to be excited for this extra time with him. But instead, her stomach was in knots. Because there was no telling what he’d see when he dropped her off.
Please act normal, she telepathically begged her parents, just this once.
Mr. Rogg waited in the driveway after she got out, of course. He was considerate like that. Damn it.
When Carol went to open the front screen door, she found she couldn’t. She tried again, jiggling the handle, but a familiar frustration had already crept up her neck, burning to the tips of her ears. She rang the doorbell. Waited. Rang the doorbell again. This couldn’t be happening, not in the first week back to school and especially not when Mr. Rogg was here.
Then her dad answered the door with a stern expression, and her heart sank.
“You were supposed to take the bus straight home after school, you know the rules about curfew,” her dad shouted from behind the locked screen door.
“I didn’t miss curfew,” Carol pleaded. “You were supposed to pick me up from track.”
“I had no idea you had track tonight.”
“I told you, track is every Thursday!”
“Don’t take that tone with me!”
“Just let me in!”
“No, you broke the rules and you know the consequences.”
“But I didn’t break the rules. I told you I had track!”
“I don’t trust you, Carol.”
“We’re done here,” he said, shutting the door. “Be home on time tomorrow!”
The porch light shut off and she heard her father’s footsteps moving away from the door. Carol gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to punch something.
“Is everything okay?” Mr. Rogg’s voice came from the driveway. He had rolled down his window, arm resting outside the car. She picked up her backpack and her gym bag and walked towards him.
“How much did you hear?” she asked.
“I could only pick up bits and pieces. I’m not sure I heard everything correctly. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just… I have to find somewhere to stay tonight.”
“Carol, I don’t understand, are you saying you can’t go inside your house?”
“Yeah, I missed curfew.”
“What? Why is no one letting you in?”
“It’s fine, it happens all the time.”
“All the time? Carol, that isn’t okay.”
“You don’t have a key you can let yourself in with?”
He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He just shook his head, looking at her house, as if someone from inside was going to come out and explain all this to him.
Finally, he asked, “Do you want me to talk to your parents?”
“No!” her knee jerk response clearly startled Mr. Rogg and she felt her face burning.
“Are you sure? I can explain the track schedule to him.”
“No, no, if someone else steps in, that’s just going to make it worse.” Carol could already hear the chewing out she’d get from her dad over that. She’d be lucky if she was allowed to stay on the track team if Mr. Rogg tried getting involved in their “family matters,” or so her dad would call it.
“Okay, if you’re sure, then I won’t interfere.” The way Mr. Rogg looked her over made her feel like a character in a depressing movie, and she looked down at her feet, ignoring how uncomfortable that made her. After a moment, he asked, “Where are you going to go?”
“I mean, I usually find someone.”
“Well, call someone and I’ll take you there.”
Carol pursed her lips together, shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and looked down at her feet again.
“Carol, do you actually have someone to call?”
What Carol normally did in this situation was head straight to Attlass, the only person she considered a real friend. She had spent countless nights at his house, and she was arguably more comfortable at his place than she was at her own. But after an odd argument earlier that week, there was no way she could reach out to him now. She reluctantly expressed that to Mr. Rogg.
“Is there someone besides Attlass you can call?” he asked. “A relative maybe?”
She just shook her head. She was glad it was getting dark so he couldn’t see how red she was turning.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”
“I… don’t know…”
He sighed, and ran a hand over his face, then put his hands on the steering wheel, fingers tapping. He looked at her, considering something.
“Come on,” he said, motioning his head towards the passenger seat of the car. “You can stay with me tonight. You’ll have to sleep on the couch but it’s better than nothing.”
“What?” She must have misheard him.
“I can’t let you have nowhere to go, Carol. I just can’t. So if you’re not uncomfortable with it, you can stay with me.”
It had taken Carol a moment to process that Mr. Rogg was asking her to come stay with him. Despite being embarrassed about the situation, her heart fluttered and her stomach did an excited flip. She hated having a crush.
Pushing aside the inconvenient butterflies, she asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the word sounded so absolute and firm coming from him, and Carol had to fight an involuntary smile because of it. She ducked her head and walked to the passenger side of his car.
Whatever Carol had imagined her first week of senior year looking like, this definitely wasn’t it.
As they drove to his place and she sat looking out the car window, her head was spinning from everything that had just happened. She was so caught up in her own discombobulated thoughts, she had barely registered that Mr. Rogg was talking to her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away from the window to him, bringing herself back into the moment. “What did you say?”
“I asked if you need to stop for anything before we get to my place.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you have clothes for tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I keep extra clothes with me just in case. They’re in my gym bag.”
“In your gym bag? Are they clean?”
“I… think so?”
“Well, we can wash your clothes when we get back to my place.”
“That’s okay, they’re probably fine.”
“It’s probably a good idea, especially if they’ve been sitting in your gym bag.”
“Are you hungry? I don’t normally eat out, but we can pick something up for dinner if you’d like.”
“We don’t have to stop anywhere, it’s fine.”
“Well, you have to eat. I can put something together at home. Do you have any food allergies?”
“You sound like a waiter.”
“Is that a bad thing? I’m trying to be accomodating.”
“Well, consider me accomodated.”
“I can’t accommodate you if you don’t answer the question.”
“Uhh… I don’t think I have any food allergies. I haven’t had anything that’s killed me yet, at least.”
“That’s good to know.”
“I mean, I could end up being allergic to whatever you make, though.”
“Yes, you could.”
“So be careful.”
“I’ll do my best not to harm you.”
“Your place is so… clean,” was all Carol could say as she was lead into Mr. Rogg’s house.
“...Thank you?” Mr. Rogg looked over his shoulder at her, puzzled yet amused. She followed him from the entryway to the kitchen. Being in a teacher’s house was such an odd experience, it at once overwhelmed and thrilled her. She felt almost like a tourist.
“I mean, it’s cleaner than my place. And so minimalistic. Do you even own anything?”
“I own things. Clearly.”
“Fine, yes, you own things. I see that. But everything’s so… I don’t know, I feel like I’m in a museum. How often do you dust? Two, three, five times a day? Do you have clutter anywhere?”
“Why are you interrogating me for keeping my home clean?”
“Well, my house only gets clean clean if we’re having company over. Or if my dad is upset. Then I have to break out my toothbrush and start scrubbing. But even then… you weren’t expecting me to come over and your house is this clean.”
“Your dad really makes you clean with a toothbrush?”
“Not just any toothbrush, my toothbrush.”
“But not recently. He’s more into curfew these days, and it’s kinda hard to clean the house if I’m not allowed in the house.”
There was a heavy silence. Carol had hoped her sarcasm would have eased the truth in her statements, but it was much too close to the incident for Mr. Rogg to let it slide, apparently.
“I’m really sorry that you have to go through that, Carol,” he said.
“No, it’s really not fine. Your parents have a responsibility to keep you safe and instead they’re turning you out with nowhere to go. You’re dependent on them and it’s wrong to do that to you.”
“Well… I’m used to it.”
“You shouldn’t be used to it. How often do they do this?”
“I don’t know, I stayed with Attlass like once a week this summer. At least.”
“They’re kicking you out at least once a week?”
“I mean, they didn’t always do that. I think when my brother went to college, they kinda focused in on me more than usual.”
“I remember your brother, I had him in French too. Didn’t he graduate a couple years ago?”
“Yeah, two years ago. And he has a couple jobs at school, so he just stays there all the time. I don’t really see him much anymore.”
“So it’s just you and your parents?”
“But you said you usually stay with Attlass, right?”
“Mmhmm, yeah… except…”
Carol sighed, finding the words. “He’s getting in trouble for having me over so much. His parents think it’s inappropriate for him to have a girl over all the time, but we’re just friends, so I don’t get it. And now we’re not really talking and he’s basically my only friend, so I’m just screwed.”
“I did notice you weren’t sitting by each other in class. I thought that was odd, considering you’re normally inseparable.”
Carol felt her face starting to flush. “You noticed that?”
“Of course I noticed. I’ve been coaching you for almost four years. I know a little more about you than I do your other classmates.”
“Yeah, I guess you would.”
“But I need you to know that even if you can’t go to Attlass, you’re not… screwed. If this happens again and you still have no one to turn to, I’m here. You shouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, so please do not think twice about calling me if you need to.”
She didn’t know how to handle this form of kindness from him—from anyone, really. She couldn’t even think of anything sarcastic to say. Heat rose from her neck to her ears and she mumbled a small, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Perhaps sensing how uncomfortable she was, Mr. Rogg then changed the subject, “So I’ll start dinner, and if you want to work on your homework in the meantime, you can set up at the kitchen table, or you can use the coffee table in the living room. Whatever works for you.”
Yon didn’t mind that Carol was one of those girls who blushed if he smiled at her. Her crush on him was clear as day—it was easy to tell with girls her age. He was well aware that students sometimes had crushes on him; it was natural and unavoidable. He didn’t think it was perverse or in any way self gratifying of him to recognize that—it just was. To pretend he didn’t notice would be naive.
Of course it wasn’t as if he did anything with that knowledge, either. He never so much as fantasized what doing anything with that knowledge would look like. He was a rational adult, healthy in body and mind, and with that came the ability to quell his base desires, which made those desires virtually harmless.
If he had those desires in the first place, that was.
If he were a different sort of man, he might have found her eagerness and her susceptibility to him almost enticing. He might also have admired her stubborn streak and her snarky sense of humor.
But he didn’t dwell on what a different type of man might be thinking about. He certainly wasn’t dwelling on it when he had offered to help her tonight.
He was glad that he had been there to help her. It was unsettling to think that her parents could just throw her out without knowing where she would end up. A girl her age could so easily find herself with an ill-intentioned person. But he had been there for her, and for that, she was lucky.
In the moment, helping her really felt like the right thing to do. He genuinely believed he had a moral obligation to help her and he was glad that he had stuck around after track to give her a ride. It bothered him that one of his favorite students was being subjected to a homelife like that for years and he had known nothing about it until now.
He just hoped that there would be no repercussions from her parents for this—for Carol’s sake and for his. If the situation was spun the wrong way, he knew he would face some kind of trouble at work. But his conscience was clear, so he decided not to worry about something that might never happen. Anyway, he couldn’t leave a student with nowhere to go, no matter what the consequences were.
For the time being, he focused on making the evening as comfortable, straightforward, and uncomplicated as he could. He gave her space and quiet to do her homework while he put together a simple dinner of mixed salad with grilled chicken. He didn’t know what she was used to eating at home, but at least he knew everything he kept in the house was healthy—it had to be better than what she was used to.
She had set her school books out on the kitchen table and she appeared surprisingly focused. If he hadn’t actually witnessed her being locked out of her house, he wouldn’t have guessed anything had gone wrong in her evening. Then again, she said she was used to it... This may very well have been a normal evening for her.
There must have been other signs he had missed or just misinterpreted during the years he had known her. She hid well behind her focus and determination—these traits made her one of his favorite athletes on his track team. And while he hadn’t had her in a class until this year, he was certain she’d bring the same level of commitment to her studies. She was a highly praised student from the other faculty members, so he expected above average performances from her across the board. Given what he had just discovered about her homelife, her ability to succeed became even more impressive to him.
But still, there must have been signs that he had missed. He felt like he could pick up on many things with his students, so he didn’t understand how he had missed something like this. He wasn’t a teacher because he had accidentally fallen into that career path, he chose to do this because he thought he could understand and guide his students better than anyone else.
Yon always felt that guiding his students was the closest thing he had to a calling—and he was good at it. He liked having an arguably respected position, even if the age group he worked with wasn’t always prone to respect. Whether or not all his students respected him, he still had the most authority in the room, and that meant something to most of them.
As a teacher, he was strict but patient, demanding excellence but understanding that it took time and effort to get there. His students responded well to that balance in him. They tried their best for him because they knew he expected it and they knew he would work with them to achieve it. He enjoyed working with the students who wanted to improve, or who needed the right push. He felt both of those things in Carol—she strove to be the best, and she was talented in whatever she put her mind to. And she was remarkable when challenged.
Carol was his best athlete because she was always responding to the ways he pushed her, always trying to prove herself to him. If she ran a sprint in record time, he knew with the right words he could get her to run it even faster next time. And over the years he knew her, he found out she was too stubborn to not prove herself. All he had to do was hint that she might not be able to do something, and he’d see her eyes instantly light up with a determination to prove that no, she could do it.
And he knew part of her willingness to push herself for him was because she was, to some degree, infatuated with him. Her crush on him motivated her to push herself even harder for him and he didn’t see the harm in using that to push her.
He just wished that, out of all the other things he had observed about her over the years, that he had picked up on her home life. But now that he knew, he would do what he could to help, to keep giving her the push she needed to overcome and succeed. He doubted anyone else was going to do that for her.
Chapter 2: Adjustments
When Carol woke up the next morning, she was disoriented. Where the fuck was she? Then she remembered: she was at Mr. Rogg’s house. She sat up fast, her stomach fluttering. The house was still quiet and the light peaking through the curtains was a grey glow. She looked at the clock on her phone: 4:37 AM. Of course she had woken up ridiculously early.
She wasn’t sure what she should do with herself this early, especially in an unfamiliar house. Especially in Mr. Rogg’s house. Apparently her disbelief at the situation had renewed itself after a night’s sleep. She couldn’t stop herself from blushing at the memory of him making dinner, eating with him at his table, helping him with the dishes—it was so simple, but too much for her crush on him to handle. She saw him in a t-shirt and sweatpants when he came down to say goodnight and make sure she had everything she needed. Why did she have to be losing her shit over that?
For a minute, she just sat on the couch, listening for any movement from him upstairs. When she couldn’t take anymore motionless waiting, she stood, tiptoeing to the kitchen for a glass of water. Nothing in his house was familiar yet, so it took her a couple tries to find the right cabinet, but she eventually found the glasses and filled one from the dispensary on the fridge. In the silence, she drank her water and stared at the fridge door. Her curiosity at the details of his private life suddenly got the better of her, and she opened his fridge.
He had the most organized fridge she had ever seen, and, somehow, it didn’t surprise her. There were healthy looking brands organized in rows on one shelf, and labeled glass containers stacked on another. She didn’t see any alcohol or junk food, which made her wonder if maybe he kept something more fun somewhere else. She peaked into his pantry and cabinets, still finding nothing incriminating. It was a little boring and even a little funny, but still it impressed the part of her that admired his discipline and structure.
Everything in his house was such a contrast to what she was used to at home. Her mom had made various attempts over the years to declutter and organize, but they never panned out for more than a week. Every drawer in her kitchen was to some degree a junk drawer, one just had more silverware than the others. The counters were scattered with bills and dishes and cereal boxes. The fridge was full of processed foods and leftover takeout in various states of decay. And while it might take her parents weeks to get around to restocking the fridge with milk or eggs, the liquor cabinet was somehow always stocked up.
Carol hated her parents’ kitchen and she didn’t feel much better about the rest of the house. Her bedroom was the only space she felt had any semblance of order, so that was where she spent most of her time at home. She couldn’t wait for the day when she had her own place and could spread that sense of order to every room. Seeing Mr. Rogg’s tidy and organized house now was like getting a glimpse into what her own future could look like.
Suddenly Carol was pulled out of her thoughts. She heard movement—perhaps footsteps, perhaps from upstairs—and she dashed in panicked silence back to the couch. She threw the blanket back over her and laid still, listening. Nothing but the odd ambient sounds of someone else’s house.
With a sigh she pulled the blanket off of her and stood up again. She eyed her gym bag, suddenly remembering that Mr. Rogg had rather insisted on her washing her clothes the night before. Her clothes hadn’t finished drying by the time she was falling asleep on the couch, so she went to get them now.
It had been strange to have him show her how to use his washing machine and even stranger to actually put her dirty clothes in it, as if her dirty clothes were some secret pieces of herself being somehow exposed to him. Which was ridiculous. Mr. Rogg hadn’t even seen her laundry; he had just pointed out which buttons to press and then walked away. Still, this whole experience was a little bizarre.
She changed into her clean clothes, feeling relieved that she had decided to shower before bed so she wouldn’t have to worry about stumbling around an unfamiliar shower while trying not to wake him up this morning.
When she was done getting dressed, she finally heard movement upstairs—not just weird house noises, actual footsteps and then the sound of the shower. Those annoying butterflies kicked up in her stomach again.
Why? She hadn’t even seen him, she just heard the shower start. Still, she fought a smile as she went back to the couch, straightening up her sleeping area. Her parents may have been shitty, but they had taught her to be a tidy and accommodating house guest, and she actually thought there might be some value to that. She especially hoped there was value in it now—she didn’t know how else to express how grateful she was to Mr. Rogg.
Yon was surprised to find Carol completely packed and ready for the day by the time he got downstairs that morning. She was sitting on the couch, all the pillows replaced and blankets folded. She smiled when she saw him.
“Good morning,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yep,” she said. “Thanks again for letting me crash.”
“Of course.” He nodded towards the folded blankets. “You didn’t have to do all that.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem.”
He wasn’t going to tell her that he was just going to put it all in the wash anyway. Instead he asked, “How long have you been up?”
“I don’t know, since, like, four thirty or something.”
“I’m an early riser.”
“And I thought I was a morning person.”
“Well, it’s not a competition, so don’t beat yourself up over it too much.”
He couldn’t help his smile at her. He still couldn’t believe how easily she played off this situation. She was incredibly resilient.
After a quick breakfast, they headed off to school. He suddenly felt a little strange that he would be pulling up to school with a student in tow, even though he knew he had nothing to worry about. All the same, he wanted to quell his anxiety.
“Not that it’s a big deal,” he said, “but it’s probably best that not everyone knows that you stayed over.”
“Oh, okay. I get that.”
“Again, not a big deal. I would just hate to see any… inaccurate rumors floating around.”
“No, no, I totally get it. I know teachers can get in trouble for a lot of things. Besides, there’s no one I’d really talk to about this anyway. I don’t like talking about home stuff at school.”
There was a pause and he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She was fidgeting with her hands and looking out the window.
“I’m sorry to ask this,” he said, “but have any authorities ever been involved with your home situation?”
“What do you mean? Like, have I ever called the cops on my parents?”
“Do you think you should get authorities involved? They might be able to help you out of this situation.”
“I don’t really want to get involved with all of that if I don’t have to. I’m going to be eighteen in April and then I can legally get out of there. And I’ll be in college next year. I really don’t want anything crazy to happen. I’ve been waiting this long and I’m almost free. I can put up with everything a little longer.”
“I understand why you feel that way, but what your parents are doing isn’t right. If you wanted to get authorities involved, no one would blame you.”
“I don’t want to get authorities involved. That’s too much. I just want to graduate and get out.”
They were pulling up to the school. He drove to his usual spot and when he parked, he looked at her.
“I’m glad I could be there for you yesterday,” he said. “And I’m still here for you if you need me. For anything.”
“Thank you.” She was blushing again. “I’m honestly really grateful.”
“It’s no trouble. Now let’s get this Friday over with.”
All Carol wanted to do at school that day was talk to Attlass about everything that had happened last night. She knew she had told Mr. Rogg that she wouldn’t say anything, but she didn’t think Attlass would have counted—he was her best friend. She had to stop herself from seeking out his locker before the first bell rang. It felt so odd to be carrying around such a significant new detail in her life with no one to talk to about it. He was the only person that knew that she had a crush on Mr. Rogg—or rather, that she thought he was attractive. She didn’t like admitting to full on crushes with anyone.
Thinking about the light teasing she would get from Attlass sunk her with melancholy. She wanted to talk to him about how funny Mr. Rogg’s organized fridge was to her too, but again, she couldn’t even do that. Suddenly she felt more isolated than ever.
That particular kind of loneliness sunk into her, and part of her decided that, if circumstances were right, she might let her argument with Attlass be forgotten.
As lunchtime rolled around and Carol was facing another day of sitting alone, she almost worked up the courage to walk towards his table. But as she left the lunch line, tray in hand, and set out for his table, she briefly made eye contact with him and he looked away. That was enough to strike her nerves, and she turned towards another table.
She had barely sat down when she looked up and saw that Attlass had followed her.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she said back. A moment passed, then she added, “So what’s up?”
“I just thought… I don’t know, we haven’t talked since Monday.”
“Well… You did tell me to come over less, so…”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Can we talk about it again?”
“Is there anything new to say? Did you parents decide to stop hating me?” she didn’t mean to come off as snarky, but she winced at her own tone.
“I never said they hated you. I just said they were upset at how often I was having a girl over. They don’t believe that nothing is happening with us.”
“Why wouldn’t they believe that?”
“I don’t know, I’m not pretending to understand them. I tried to change their minds, I really did.”
She could feel her frustration from their original argument boiling back up and she clenched her jaw against it. She hated being reminded how incredibly unwanted she was by everyone.
The silence between them roared louder than the buzz of the cafeteria, and Attlass tried to end it by asking, “Your parents haven’t kicked you out this week, have they?”
“No,” the lie came out instantly, harshly.
Attlass hesitated, then said, “That’s good.”
Another strange silence, and then, the cherry on top of the situation, Carol spotted Minnerva approaching them.
“Hey, Attlass, are you coming back to the table?” Minnerva said, blatantly not acknowledging Carol.
“Yeah, I’ll be there in a second,” he said.
“Okay, well, we’re waiting for you so we can all go over this calculus assignment.”
“Be right there.”
Minnerva turned without so much as a word to Carol.
“I can’t believe you’re hanging out with her now,” Carol said.
“She’s not as bad as you think she is.”
“She literally told me she hates me.”
“You must have misunderstood her.”
“No, you don’t misunderstand someone saying, ‘I hate you.’ You just don’t.”
“Well… I don’t know what to say, I think you two would get along.”
“Well, we don’t, and now you’re hanging out with her instead of me.”
“I’d like to hang out with both of you.”
“That’s not happening. I’ve tried to get her to like me and she refuses. I have one more year with her and then I’m done.”
“I can’t force you to like her, but—”
“No, you can’t. And I won’t.”
Attlass sighed. “Well, if you change your mind…”
“I’m not going to.”
“Why don’t you just get back to your table? Minnerva wants to talk to you about calculus. Better not keep her waiting. Just make sure she knows that she’s not allowed to come over to your house.”
Attlass opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head, and just said, “See you in French.”
Carol said nothing back, just looked down at her lunch tray. When she looked back up, he was walking away. She blinked away the stinging in her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she opened up the milk carton on her lunch tray and resolved herself to another lunch alone.
French class came and Carol took her seat in the front row—the row that ensured her back would always be on Attlass and Minnerva. She had never been more relieved to have a teacher that didn’t enforce assigned seating in their classroom, she didn’t know what she would have done if she was forced to sit next to one of them every day. Now all she had to do was ignore everyone behind her and focus on French.
And on Mr. Rogg.
He gave her the kindest smile when she walked into class that day. Seeing him in class after having stayed at his house was a little exciting, like they now had this practically intimate factor to their formal relationship. She knew her brain was blowing it out of proportion, but she still liked feeling as if she were close to him. She tried not to stare at him too much as the bell rang and he started the lesson.
“As promised on Monday, we will be ending the week with your new French names,” Mr. Rogg announced to the class. “You’ve all had plenty of time to think about it, so don’t let me see anyone taking out their phones.”
Ugh. Carol had forgotten about picking a new name.
She didn’t exactly hate having to choose a new name for French class, but she thought it was pointless to have to change her identity for an hour each day. There wasn’t anything wrong with her real name—it wasn’t like people in France would refuse to call her Carol. But, of course, her last name put her close to the top of the attendance list, so she would have to think of something fast.
“Okay, Danvers. What are we calling you?”
Carol looked at a poster on the wall behind Mr. Rogg and said, “I’ll be Versailles.”
Mr. Rogg tilted his head and looked up from his clipboard. “That’s not an actual name.”
“But it’s French.”
“Still not a name.”
“Okay, then... Vers.”
“That’s not a name. That’s a preposition. You want your name to be Towards?”
“No, I want it to be Vers, short for Versailles.”
“That’s still not a name.”
“Well, it’s my name now.”
“But why would I pronounce it veers? It’s vair-sigh, not veer-sigh.”
“My name doesn’t follow those rules.”
He sighed and began to write on his clipboard, somewhat dejectedly, Carol imagined.
“Fine,” he said, looking up at her from his clipboard and clearly fighting a smile. “But you should know it does look a little repetitive next to your last name.”
“That’s fine.” Carol ignored the snickering she heard behind her, probably from Minnerva.
“Okay then, Vers.” He shook his head in disapproval, but the way he said her new name and the half smirk he gave her almost made her blush and suddenly he was the only person in the room. She looked down at her notebook, wishing something other than the renaming of her classmates was going on so she could at least pretend to be invested in taking notes.
She looked up again at him as he wrote down the next student’s name. His attention was diverted off of her, so she found herself staring at him, soft admiration creeping over her. He was talking, not really saying anything special, but tiny butterflies kept awakening in her stomach nonetheless. The more she focused on the planes of his face and melted at his accent, the more frustratingly attractive he became. She was beginning to imagine the way his arms looked when he was wearing a t-shirt during track, the way he had looked in his casual clothes at his house, and then he looked at her and she instantly blushed.
God, she didn’t know how she was going to handle sitting here staring at him the entire year. At least during track she was mobile, but in a classroom she was stuck at her desk, pretty much forced to just stare at him for the better part of an hour. Then she’d still have to see him for track. And now she had the exciting memory of having stayed the night at his house.
All she wanted to do was ignore her dumb crush on him, but she couldn’t stop herself from fantacising about him in the most embarrassing ways and then having her body betray her by turning red pretty much every single time he looked at her.
Despite how embarrassing all the feelings that came with having a crush were, she would take that over the rejection she felt not only from Attlass, but from her parents. The knowledge that her parents weren’t going to hesitate kicking her out, even during the school year, weighed heavy on her. She never imagined that they would do that to her in the first week of school, and yet they had. At least her crush was good for helping her ignore that.
Yon was especially grateful for the weekend this week. The first week back at school wasn’t typically a very difficult week, but everything with Carol had thrown things slightly off. He was glad to help her, but he was also glad to have a quiet weekend to get back into his normal routine. Doing his Saturday morning chores was always a calming sort of ritual to him.
Laundry was part of that routine. When the dryer’s timer signified its completion, he took out his clean clothes and brought them upstairs to sort. It was an absentminded chore, and as he folded and organized, his mind was already on his next task. But his routine was abruptly interrupted when he picked up a decidedly feminine pair of light blue underwear.
For a second he had no idea how they had ended up mixed in his laundry—he hadn’t had a woman over in months. Then he remembered that he had let Carol do her laundry when she spent the night and it hit him like a bolt from the blue: He had a student’s pair of underwear sitting on his bed.
Instinct told him that he shouldn’t look at them, let alone touch them, but he was being ridiculous. Obviously he had to do something with them. His first somewhat rational thought was that he should just give them back to her, but the logistics of him giving a student a pair of underwear seemed impossible to navigate. It wasn’t as if he had ended up with the underwear by doing anything wrong—he had been helping someone in need—but, still, it wasn’t like he could just put them in his work bag and hand them off to her after class. Maybe he could just throw them away and pretend he had never seen them, but somehow that felt like taking even more from someone who was already at a disadvantage.
He knew he was wasting too much time thinking about this. There was a simple solution and he was overthinking. He physically set the underwear aside, and tried to do the same in his mind as he finished putting away his own laundry. But that light blue sitting on the corner of his bed seemed to be staring at him as he moved about his room. Despite no one else being around, he felt a self-conscious heat rise to his face. He had to get it out of his bedroom.
He grabbed it as he headed downstairs. He went to his washing machine and, out of habit, folded the pair of underwear before setting it on top of the machine. For a moment, he looked at the innocent enough article of clothing, frustrated that Carol had forgotten it, but momentarily endeared by the memory of her sleeping on his couch. And then, like touching a fingertip to an exposed electrical socket, the thought he had been distancing himself from zapped him: Carol wearing the underwear.
He turned his back and shook his head, ready to fit back into his Saturday morning routine. He denied to himself that any kind of lewd images had sparked across his mind. It wasn’t even as if picturing someone in their underwear was inherently lewd—people, even students, wore underwear and it meant nothing. It wasn’t like he had meant to see anything or as if he had collected the guilty article of clothing on purpose. He hadn’t done anything perverse.
Again, he was overthinking.
A simple solution would surely present itself. Until then, he didn’t have to think about it. He wouldn’t think about it. It wouldn’t creep into his mind when he went about the rest of his weekend, and it wouldn’t bother him when he saw Carol at school again Monday. There was nothing to be bothered by. Everything was fine.
When Carol missed the bus after school on Monday, she should have known that her parents would react. She knew she shouldn’t have lingered after her last class to ask the teacher some more questions on the homework assignment, but she also didn’t think it would take as long as it had. By the time she had dashed to and from her locker, the buses were heading out. But still, she tried to get home as fast as she could, hoping her parents wouldn’t notice.
She found a ride with a classmate, Angela, a girl on the track team she was comfortable enough with to approach on her way to the parking lot. But of course Angela had to lose her car keys, and Carol went back into the building with her to help her look for them, and by the time they had looked through all her classrooms, they found the keys at the bottom of her backpack. Carol could have screamed, but she knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault, so she just smiled. She didn’t want anyone to know how urgent it was that she got home.
Finally, she was dropped off at her house, but it was too late. Her parents had already seen the bus come and go and Carol hadn’t been on it. Carol didn’t even know why she bothered trying to open the door, but she did. When she rang the doorbell, her dad didn’t even have the decency to come argue with her. All she got was a text notification from him reading: Curfew.
Carol looked up from her phone, gritting her teeth. She swiped away the text from her dad, opening up her contacts. Instinctually, she hesitated over Attlass’s name, then kept scrolling until her thumb stopped at Mr. Rogg. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the call button.
Two rings and then, “Hello, Carol.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s—no, it’s not. I kinda… I don’t have anywhere to go again.”
“Do you need me to come get you?”
“I don’t know, um… you know what, I can try to find someone else, if it’s gonna be completely out of your way or too weird or whatever.”
“Carol, slow down. Do you actually have someone else to call?”
“Well…” she sighed. “No.”
“I’m coming to get you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know who else to call.”
“Carol. Don’t apologize. I’m glad you called me. I’m getting ready to leave now and I’ll be there to pick you up soon. Do you need me to stay on the phone with you until I get there?”
“No, no you don’t need to. I’m gonna walk around the neighborhood though, so I might meet you at the end of the street. If that’s okay?”
“That’s fine. Do what makes you feel safe.”
Everything she was feeling caught in her throat, making it impossible for her to say anything other than a small, “Thank you.”
“I’ll call you when I’m close. See you soon.”
“Okay. See you soon.”
For the second time in less than a week, Yon turned onto Carol’s street. When she had stayed with him last week, he had been upset to find out that she was enduring this kind of treatment from her parents, but he had hoped that the incident wasn’t as common as Carol had implied it was. Hearing his phone ring today and seeing her name on the screen had filled him with an immediate sense of disbelief—she couldn’t be kicked out again this soon.
She sounded so hesitant and embarrassed to be asking for his help again, and he could almost feel the wound to her pride through the phone. It frustrated him that she had to be put in that situation, temporarily homeless and essentially begging for shelter. He couldn’t imagine what he would have done if he were her age.
He tried to be as reassuring as possible, for her sake. As long as she needed his help, he didn’t want her to feel any hesitation in asking for it. If she hadn’t been one of his favorite students, perhaps he wouldn’t have felt that way, but he would never know. All he knew for certain was that he just wanted Carol to feel safe with him.
As he drove down her street now, he quickly spotted her walking, just as she said she would be, backpack and gym bag in tow. When she recognized his car, she picked up her pace towards him and he slowed to a stop near her.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she entered the car.
“Stop apologizing,” he said.
She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped herself.
“I was about to apologize again,” she said.
“I’m glad you caught yourself.”
She stifled a laugh and, when he smiled at her, her cheeks turned rosy. It was suddenly overwhelming how endearing he found her.
He focused on the road. Mentally counting to ten, he exhaled and pushed aside any irrelevant feelings.
“Do you have everything you need for tonight?” he asked.
A silent moment, and then, “Thank you for letting me stay again, Mr. Rogg.”
“It’s no problem, Carol. I told you to reach out if you needed me. I’m just sorry that you had to reach out this soon.”
“Me too. I mean—I mean, I’m not sorry that I have to see you again, I’m just…” She sighed.
“I understand. You don’t need to explain.”
When they arrived at his house, Carol set her things in his living room, then excused herself to the bathroom. He waited to hear the door shut, then went to the laundry room.
He grabbed the pair of underwear, hurrying back to the living room with it balled in his fist. Quietly, he unzipped her gym bag and hastily shoved the underwear into it. He felt like some kind of absurd thief. But he wasn’t taking anything, he was returning something, quietly mending a potentially awkward situation. This was the best way to do it without embarrassing either of them. Still, it felt like some kind of violation. Which, again, was absurd. Nothing wrong had happened.
He had just zipped the bag back up when he heard the bathroom door open. He hurried away to the kitchen, entering it at the same time she passed by it on her way back from the bathroom. She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him.
“Why do you look suspicious?” she asked.
“I don’t know, you look like you were just being sneaky or something.”
“I don’t sneak around in my own house.”
“Could’ve fooled me. You looked pretty sneaky.”
He held his tongue against his growing annoyance. He knew he was only getting annoyed because she was right. As he looked at her, she broke into a playful grin, and that somehow eased his mind. She didn’t know she was right.
“Okay, well if you’re done being accusatory, I was thinking we should order pizza.”
“You eat pizza?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know, you’re so healthy.”
“Well, all things in moderation.”
Despite already having been locked out twice so far senior year, Carol had hoped that school being back in session would mean that her dad would lay off on kicking her out so often. But apparently kicking her out regularly was a hard habit to break. By the time the third week of school came around and she was being kicked out for the third time since school started, she had given up all hope.
Part of her still wished that she and Attlass had never fought so she could stay with him, but it was too late to go back to how things were, especially with Minnerva around. Even though she had essentially lost her best friend, she was at least glad to have found someone else to stay with.
While staying with Mr. Rogg still felt a little weird, she was so relieved that he had opened up his home to her. The more she stayed over, the less weird it felt to be there. He asked her a few more times about whether she wanted to get authorities involved or not, but she always said no, and eventually he just stopped asking. Staying with him was a solution that worked for the time being and it was so much easier than making an official, legal mess out of everything.
But it also didn’t help her crush on him. The more time she spent with him and got to know him outside of school, the more she really liked him. And she was pretty sure that he liked her too—not in the same ways she liked him, of course, but enough to keep letting her stay and to not appear sick of her yet. They actually got along really well, both in and out of school, and that couldn’t have made her happier.
Sometimes she imagined that if she was older, she could’ve just been his friend. She tried not to imagine being anything other than a friend, because, if she was honest with herself, that felt delusional. But she still couldn’t suppress the butterflies she got around him. And she really couldn’t do anything about the couple of times she had embarrassing dreams about him. Trying to get herself under control was nearly impossible the day after she had a dream—all he had to do was be in the same room as her and she was practically beet red.
Crush aside, though, she had never been more comfortable around an adult than she was around him. As staying with him became much more normal, she actually found herself a little relieved when her parents kicked her out. Not that she enjoyed being kicked out, it was just that Mr. Rogg never made her feel unwanted.
So when, on the last Thursday in September, she was kicked out and staying at his place, she was mostly content. When Friday came and she tried to go back home, but couldn’t, she was deflated but not upset that she had more time with him. Saturday and Sunday found her locked out as well, but Mr. Rogg was happy to let her continue staying at his place. She had never stayed with him for an entire weekend before, but it was surprisingly casual. She did her homework and helped him clean and they watched a movie together—he even let her pick out the movie. She almost forgot that her parents were an issue.
But then Monday came. Carol was certain she’d get let back in after school—her parents never kept her out this long. The school day came and went, and she took the bus home, trying not to think about what possible arguments might be waiting for her at home. She got off at her stop, and walked down her street.
As Carol’s house came into view, something looked off. The front lawn seemed to be full of… stuff. Were her parents having a garage sale?
She picked up her pace and then the realization came over her like someone cracking an egg on top of her head, its gooey content dripping over her, filling her both with disgust at the sensation and anger at whoever had cracked the egg.
“What the fuck.”
Those were all her things on the lawn.
She dropped her backpack next to a pile of her clothes and marched up the front door, uselessly and aggressively trying to open it. She banged her fists against the side of the screen door, making it shake in its frame. A thunder from within and the main door opened. To her shock, the screen door flung open too, hitting her. She stumbled back as her dad pushed forward, towering over her.
“What the hell is happening!” she shouted, regaining her footing.
“Grab your things and get off my property,” he said. “I already took the liberty of emptying your room, so this shouldn’t take you long.”
“Why? What did I do?”
“If you think you can stay away an entire weekend without telling us where you are, then you clearly don’t need to live under this roof anymore.”
“I was gone because you locked me out! Why wouldn’t you answer my calls?!”
“Don’t raise your voice like that!”
“You’re shouting too!”
“Just get your things and get off my property before I call the cops.”
“What? I’m not doing anything wrong, you can’t call the cops!”
“Don’t try me, young lady!” Her dad started backing into the house, but Carol shot forward before he could close the door, trying to wedge herself in.
“Mom!” she cried, fighting against her dad as he pushed the door into her. “Mom! Don’t make me go! I want to talk to you!”
“Your mom isn’t going to take your side, Carol. I swear to God I’ll call the cops if you don’t get your ass out of here!”
“Joseph,” came her mom’s voice, “Joseph, maybe we should talk about this again.”
“What else is there to talk about? We’re not putting up with this anymore—I’ve had it.”
“You really think now is the right time to have this conversation?” He shoved the door harder, but Carol braced herself.
She planted her feet more firmly and shoved with all her weight and determination. She knew her dad wasn’t as strong as he thought he was, and she pushed the door open enough to dart inside. Her dad rushed between Carol and the entranceway, blocking her from her mom.
“You can’t make me leave!” she pleaded towards her mom.
“Where is she going to go, Joseph?” her mom looked from Carol to her dad.
“Wherever she was this entire weekend, since it must be so much better than here.”
Her mom hesitated before asking, “Who were you with, Carol?”
“I was with Attlass,” the lie came out faster than Carol could control and she didn’t know why.
“Well I hope they’re ready for you to move in, because we’re done with you,” her dad said. “We don’t want you here.”
“Stop looking at your mom! She isn’t going to help you.”
“Do you want your daughter to keep disrespecting us? You can’t keep giving in to her.”
Carol practically laughed. “Since when has anyone ever given in to me?”
“Carol,” her mom said, “don’t talk like that to your father.”
“Just listen to him please.”
Despite her anger, Carol felt everything else in her weakening. “Are you serious?”
Her dad stepped forward, forcing Carol to back towards the door. She looked at her mom, who was apparently refusing to look at her, and then glared at her dad.
“Fuck you!” she spat at him, then turned around and slammed the door behind her.
She marched to her pile of clothes and books and took out her phone. With hardly a thought about her next step, she called Mr. Rogg.
“Hi, Carol, is everything—”
“They kicked me out—they kicked me out for good. My stuff is all on the lawn and they told me to leave—he said he’d call the cops if I don’t leave, they don’t want me here, I need to—”
“Carol, Carol, slow down. You’re saying your parents actually told you to move out?”
“Yes! They threw all my stuff on the lawn and they don’t want me here! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what—”
“Carol, I need you to listen to me. You need to breathe, you need to stay calm.”
“How am I supposed to be calm—they kicked me out!”
She took an exaggerated breath and looked up at the sky.
“I’m leaving school right now,” he said. “I’m going to be right there. Remember: don’t let your emotions get the better of you. You’re going to be fine. I promise.”
Everything was packed into Yon’s car—she was surprised at how few things she owned and how easy it was to fit it all into his car—and they drove away from her parents’ house. After her dad had slammed the door shut on her, no one had so much as peaked through the curtain to see what she was doing, although she had been worried about her dad coming out to cause a scene. She should have known that he wouldn’t have done anything like that or even call the cops like he had threatened to; if other people were involved, he wasn’t about to make himself look like the bad guy. That and he was also probably passed out drunk by then. So Carol was gone from her parents’ house in what felt like the blink of an eye.
Despite all her things being loaded into Yon’s car, the situation didn’t quite feel real yet. It felt like a continuation of the weekend with a stressful road bump along the way. She could feel her shoulder bruising from where her dad had been pressing the door into her, but she tried to ignore any other types of pain the incident had caused. She stared out the car window, attempting to get her thoughts together. She had been to Mr. Rogg’s house enough times to know the route he took, so when he made an unfamiliar turn, she noticed almost immediately.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“You caught on faster than I thought you would.”
“Are you taking me to a warehouse down by the docks and throwing my body in the river?”
“What? We don’t even have—no, I’m not doing that.”
“Okay, then where are we going?”
“To look into getting you a bed.”
“You can’t keep sleeping on the couch if you’re moving in.”
“...I’m moving in?”
“If your parents aren’t letting you back home and you have nowhere else to go, then yes. If you want to move in, then you’re moving in.”
“I just… I didn’t think you would want me to actually move in.”
“You’ve been staying with me pretty regularly, Carol. Besides, I can’t leave you without a home and I can at least give you that until you graduate.”
“Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”
“I… I kind’ve thought you’d be sick of me by now, let alone months from now when I graduate.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t mind having you around.”
“When you’re not being too much of a smartass, yes.”
She snorted. “Where are you even going to put another bed?”
“I have an extra bedroom upstairs I use as an office. I can put the desk in my bedroom for now. It won’t be a problem.”
“Are you sure?”
Carol had to bite her lip to stop herself from smiling. There were so many other terrible feelings ricocheting through her entire body right now, but Mr. Rogg was giving her some kind of relief. All the other people she cared about had turned her away, but now here he was offering her security, making her feel like she might actually belong somewhere. With her life as she knew it seemingly falling apart around her, his actions felt nothing short of heroic. She really couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have him.
Carol’s new bedroom was set up the same week she officially moved in with Yon, and once she saw all of her things in this new space, it started to feel real. She lived here. Not having to go back to her parents lifted a weight off of her shoulders, but she was hesitant to be too happy about it. Part of her was still worried that she’d have to go back and she kept checking her phone for any messages from them, but there was never anything.
But that weekend, as Carol was trying to get her room organized, she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket, and she took it out to see a caller she hadn’t expected: her brother. Her heart jumped into her throat—she didn’t know the last time he had called her and in light of what just happened with her parents, she had no idea what to expect from this phone call. Bracing herself, she answered it.
“Hey, Steve.” She started pacing almost as soon as she had greeted him.
“Hey, Carol,” he said. “So… How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?”
“Fine, fine. Busy.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“So… I thought you should know that I just got off the phone with Mom.”
A halt in her pacing. “Okay.”
“She said Dad kicked you out.”
She groaned and resumed pacing her room. “They both kicked me out.”
“Mom said she didn’t want you to leave.”
“She told me I had to listen to Dad and she let him kick me out. They both kicked me out.”
“Well… Either way, you got kicked out.”
“I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m just peachy.”
He sighed. “I know you’re not actually okay, but I just want to make sure you have somewhere to stay. Are you with Attlass?”
“Sure? What does that mean? Are you with him or not?”
For a moment she thought she might tell him the truth, but telling her brother that she was staying with his former French teacher sounded weird even in her head. She wasn’t blind to how the living arrangement would look to other people, and she didn’t want to hear anyone else’s opinion on it, not when it felt right to her. It wasn’t like it really mattered to her brother, anyway.
“Yeah…” she said. “Yeah, I’m with Attlass.”
“Okay, that’s good.”
“Come on, Carol, I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay.”
“How is that going to actually help me?”
“What am I supposed to do in this situation? I’m at school, I’m nowhere near you, and it’s not like you can just come live here with me. If I could do something more, I would, but I can’t.”
“I know… I know, I’m sorry. It’s just a lot going on.”
“I know. I’m trying to talk to Mom and Dad for you. But you know how Dad is.”
“Just hang in there. If anything, at least you’re almost eighteen. You’d be out of there soon anyway.”
“Well, it would’ve been nice if they waited until I graduated.”
“Dad might still let you go back, he’s just temperamental.”
She hesitated, then said, “I don’t think I want to go back.”
“Even if they let you?”
“They’re just going to keep doing this to me, and if it’s not this then it’s something else. I’m so tired of them, Steve. And if this is it with them, then maybe I’m fine with that. I don’t want to keep dealing with their bullshit.”
“I get that it’s hard with them right now, Carol, but they’re still our parents.”
“They’re shitty parents.”
“Still our parents.”
Her face was starting to burn at how easily he could excuse them. “I know they’re our parents, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means something.” There was a pause between them. “Just hang in there and don’t do anything stupid.”
“Don’t do anything stupid? I didn’t do anything in the first place.”
“You know what I mean, just try not to overreact to things. I know how you get. You’re more like Dad than you care to admit.”
“I don’t mean you’re exactly like him, you just get emotional sometimes.”
“Me being emotional is not the same as what he does. You should know that.”
“Okay, okay, I know. That wasn’t what I meant. I just mean that I grew up with you and I know you can sometimes be an instigator.”
“You’re saying this is my fault?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to understand all the angles.”
“All the angles? Does their angle matter?”
“It might, I don’t know.”
“Whatever. You’re starting to sound like you’re on their side.”
“I’m not on anyone’s side.”
“Well, maybe you should be.”
Steve sighed. “I have to go. Call me if you need anything.”
Carol hung up and felt her stomach twisting in knots. Of all people, her brother was the one person who should have empathized with her the most, but, for whatever reason, he refused to. She understood that there wasn’t much he could actually do for her, him being in college and all, but hearing him try to be a neutral party in this made her sink lower than she thought she could be.
But she didn’t want to feel low. She was staying with someone who didn’t make her feel unwanted or like she wasn’t worth siding with. Thinking about all the people who had disappointed her felt like a waste of time, so she tried to focus on something else. She eyed her stack of school books, grabbed it, and headed downstairs, setting herself up at the kitchen table.
She had made a pretty good dent in her homework when she heard Mr. Rogg come inside through the garage door. He came into the kitchen and she smiled at him.
“What were you doing outside for so long?” she asked.
“A bit of yard work.” He walked to the cabinets, nodding towards her stack of books. “You look busy.”
“I’m reaching a good stopping point,” she said. “I can help outside if you’re not finished.”
“Get your homework done first.”
“I think my brain might have had enough homework for now.”
He was filling up a glass of water at the fridge, and she caught herself admiring his back. She quickly looked down at her books as he turned around.
“It’s nice out today,” he said, “if you need a break, we could go take a walk at the state park. Might be nice to do that before we start getting cold weather.”
Going for a nature walk with Mr. Rogg was a fantasy that Carol hadn’t thought of until now, and the fact that it was her reality made her almost giddy.
She shook herself out of that mindset. She lived with him, for Christ’s sake.
“That sounds nice,” she said.
“Great. Well then, let’s get ready and we can head out.”
Their walk at the state park was a nice, relaxed outing that made Carol almost forget the conversation with her brother. She took out her phone a few times during the walk, still checking to see if her parents were reaching out, but she wasn’t getting any service. It didn’t really concern her too much, though—she doubted a state park was going to be a prime spot for perfect reception. Plus, she was enjoying being outside and being with Mr. Rogg.
“So have you decided on a college yet?” Mr. Rogg asked as they ambled down a wooded path, feet crunching over fallen leaves, the faint scent of pine in the air.
“Only ‘kinda’? I would’ve thought you’d have a definite plan.”
“I have definite options, but I was trying to convince my mom to take me on a visit before I really set my heart on something.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not really going to be able to convince my mom to take me anywhere now.”
A twig snapped under Carol’s feet and then the sudden sound of underbrush rustling made her jump. She caught sight of a startled rabbit bounding away through the trees.
“Jesus,” she muttered. “I wouldn’t have even seen that rabbit if it had just stayed still. I’d be after it now if I were a predator. Dumb move, rabbit.”
“Well, it clearly doesn’t know what’s good for it. But they do run fairly fast. It might stand a chance.”
“I could try to outrun it.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
“You don’t think I could?”
“I think you could try.”
“Are you challenging me?”
“No, I’m saying there’s some things you can’t outrun.”
“You don’t think I could outrun that rabbit?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Come on, I’m the best sprinter you’ve got and you know it.”
“That doesn’t mean you can outrun something that is naturally meant to outrun you.”
“Pfft whatever. Naturally schmaturally.”
“Okay, so if we see another rabbit, am I going to see you take off into the woods after it?”
“Yeah, it’ll be like the tortoise and the hare, except Carol and the hare, and the hare is still going to lose.”
“I think you’ll get lost in the woods before you beat it.”
“No, I’m going to beat it and find my way back just fine, thank you.”
“Whatever you say.”
He was shaking his head and smiling at her. A comfortable warmth expanded through her body as they kept walking. Was this how good normal teenagers got to feel every day?
“Okay, but before this rabbit interrupted,” Mr. Rogg said after a moment, “I wanted to say that if you really want to go on a college visit, I can take you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Picking a college is important, Carol. What your parents did to you shouldn’t alter your plans. I took you in because I want to help you, and this is part of that. So if you’d like to visit a college, I’ll take you.”
“What if the college was in Hawaii?”
“Then that doesn’t matter.”
“Yeah, but, if it was…”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“What am I doing?”
“You hide behind your humor when you get uncomfortable.”
She blushed. “I didn’t realize you were a psychiatrist.”
She glanced at him, making eye contact for a second before she blushed even more and focused on the path straight ahead. The observation he made about her use of humor both embarrassed and excited her—embarrassed because he was right, and excited because he paid enough attention to her to notice.
“You don’t have to hide anything from me, Carol,” he said. “If you’re uncomfortable, you can tell me. But you don’t have to be uncomfortable when I offer to help you. I know this week has been a big upheaval for you but I want what’s best for you. That’s all. I’m happy to be here for you.”
She really didn’t know what to say. What he said didn’t necessarily make her uncomfortable, but it was overwhelming. Everything Mr. Rogg was doing for her was such a contrast to what she was used to with most other people in her life. When he first started helping her, she felt a bit like a charity case, like he was only doing this out of pity. But the more one-on-one time she spent with him, the more she realized he actually cared about her. It almost felt too good to be real.
“Thank you,” she said. Then she felt his hand on her back, a firm touch that sent a bolt of heat through her body. For a moment they both stopped walking and she looked at him.
“We’re in this together now, Carol” he said, giving her a warm smile. “Or would you be more comfortable if I called you Vers?”
She rolled her eyes and he offered a smirk. Ever since he had let her botch her French name, he’d throw it at her in odd moments outside of school. It was the closest thing they had to an inside joke. She couldn’t help but laugh right now.
“Now who’s hiding behind humor?” she quipped.
“I’m not hiding anything,” he said, removing his hand from her as they kept walking.
“Sure you’re not.”
Later that evening, after Carol had finished her homework, they sat together in the living room, watching a movie. Yon let her pick out the movie, just like he had last weekend. He didn’t spend too much of his free time watching movies or television, but he didn’t mind making exceptions when Carol was over. He wasn’t sure how many exceptions he’d be making now that she lived with him, though.
Yon hadn’t lived with anyone for years, and it was a little odd to be adjusting to sharing his private life with someone else now—a teenager, no less. True, Carol had started staying with him regularly before her parents completely discarded her, but that had been more like blips to his normal routine. He didn’t mind the blips; when he told her that he didn’t mind having her around, he meant it.
But now he had taken her in, and all of the little ways she had rippled in his life had, practically overnight, become a great wave. He still didn’t necessarily mind, though. In fact, doing this for her gave him an odd sort of pride. Being the person she suddenly relied on almost gave him a new purpose; it went hand in hand with his calling to guide his students, or at least that’s how he saw it. But Carol was no longer just a student. He didn’t know exactly what she was, perhaps a ward, but she was closer than a student.
As they sat on the couch together, he was hyper-aware of her presence next to him. He sat on one end, and she curled up on the other. She couldn’t sit still throughout the movie; he kept seeing her absentmindedly run a hand through her hair, and she changed her position several times, mostly when she was laughing. She had chosen a comedy, of course, and while he may not have chosen it, it was nice to see her relaxed and enjoying herself. After one particularly full laugh, she shifted her body and stretched her legs further along the couch, her feet closer to him.
It was unexpected how heavily he felt that change in position. Her presence seemed to be vibrating and it was all he could do not to openly ignore the movie and watch her. If he even slightly stretched out his arm or repositioned his own legs, accidentally or not, he’d be touching her. He felt his hand itching to move.
And then the odd feeling clicked into focus: It was, unmistakably, attraction.
Flexing his fingers and focusing on the tv, he tried to give her more room, but he was already leaning against the armrest. She laughed again and he was standing up before he knew it.
“Do you want to pause it?” she asked, and he didn’t have to look at her to know that she was watching him as he walked away.
“Oh no, I’m just going to get some water,” he said, casually, almost off-hand. “Do you want anything?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
He went into the kitchen, the open layout of the connecting rooms still allowing her to be in his view. He turned his back to her. Closing his eyes, he took a breath. When he opened them again, he set about getting the glass of water he said he was getting up for.
He could ignore this.
As long as he ignored it, there was nothing wrong about it. He hadn’t done anything. He hadn’t moved any closer to her—he literally walked away when it had hit him. It also wasn’t as if he had thought of much beyond the mere possibility that he was attracted to her. If she had been a woman his age he was spending time with, then there wouldn’t have been any need to physically walk away. If she had been someone else entirely, that feeling of attraction would have struck differently.
But she was a seventeen-year-old student living with him out of necessity. She was almost completely dependent on him. And he hadn’t ever really thought about being attracted to her before this had all happened. He hadn’t spent nearly as much time with her before, true, but that didn’t make it okay to start feeling this way.
But he wouldn’t feel that way. He would ignore it.
He realized that he was taking longer than necessary to get a simple drink of water, so he finally filled a glass, took a sip, and walked back to the living room with it. As he sat back down, he felt even more keenly aware of her presence emanating next to him. But he focused on the movie, and, as he did that, he found the feeling of her beside him becoming once again manageable.
He could handle this. There were still a lot of adjustments that had to be gotten used to with their new living situation, and this was just a momentary part of that process. There was nothing to worry about.
The next day during lunch, Mr. Rogg suggested to Carol that she start looking into the college she wanted to visit so they could plan that soon. As she sat at the kitchen table, looking at the college website on her phone, she noticed once again that she didn’t have any signal, but it was different than when she had lost signal at the state park yesterday.
“I don’t think my phone is working,” she said to him.
“What do you mean, it isn’t working?”
“I have no service.”
“You usually have service here, don’t you?”
She nodded. “But now there’s not even any bars at all—not even empty bars. Look, it literally says ‘no service’ where the bars should be. It’s just gone.”
“It’s gone? Let me see.”
She handed her phone to him, but as she did, it struck her.
“Do you think my parents disconnected me?”
She watched him use his own phone to call hers, staring at her phone in his hand. After a few seconds, he sighed and set both phones down, pushing hers towards her.
“Your number’s not in service anymore,” he said. “I’m so sorry, Carol.”
The sinking in Carol’s stomach was familiar by now. Her parents cancelling her phone really felt like them severing their last ties to her, and reminding her that she had been under their thumb. She wouldn’t have to worry about checking her phone for messages or missed calls from them now because there wouldn’t be any. They didn’t want to have any contact with her. They didn’t even actually know where she was. No one really knew where she was. Except Mr. Rogg.
“We’ll put you on my plan for now,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think adding another line will be a big deal.”
She felt her heart jump. “But you’re already doing so much for me, I can’t ask you to—”
“You’re not asking, I’m offering.”
“I know, but—”
“I want to do this for you, Carol. And it’s imperative that we can reach each other.”
She reached for her phone and held it in front of her, staring at it, unable to look at him. She hated how needy she felt.
“I’ll pay you back someday,” she said. “For everything.”
“I don’t expect anything from you. That’s not why I’m doing this.”
“Yeah, well… I’m still going to pay you back someday.”
“You don’t owe me anything.” He reached for her forearm resting on the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. And there it was: she started blushing.
“Thanks,” she said, her body tingling. She looked at him and he smiled at her so warmly that she had to focus back on her phone.
She was so grateful that he was helping her, but the more he did for her, the more she felt strangely guilty, like she was taking too much. But he kept insisting that he wanted to help her and he wouldn’t let her apologize for needing so much help. She was amazed that someone could be so generous and so consistently kind to her.
So even though she felt bad that he was helping her with her phone now too, she was glad that it was at least him and not her parents. Mr. Rogg actually made her feel cared for, so, if she had been given a choice, she’d rather be indebted to him.
Chapter 5: Borderline
A couple weeks later, living with Carol had started to feel normal. Of course there were things that Yon had to get used to, but most of the adjustments weren’t any different than what any two people who had decided to live together would go through. Everything just took time to even out, and things evened out fairly quickly.
One of the only details that made their situation unique, and it was a pretty significant detail, was that Yon had become responsible for her in many ways, including financially. He had always worked within a budget, so he adjusted Carol’s needs into that almost as soon as they had unpacked her things. He had the means to help her, so he didn’t feel troubled by it.
The biggest expense so far was her new phone, which he didn’t have to get her; they could’ve just transferred her new number to her old device, but the one her parents had given her was so out of date that Yon feared it would be rendered useless soon anyway. And he liked knowing that he could provide her with a better life than anything she had known before, so he didn’t hesitate adding things like that to his budget.
So he found adjusting to his responsibilities to her to be mostly gratifying. But, of course, there was still the issue of the lingering attraction. It didn’t bother him as much as he initially feared it would, but he still fought to ignore it. He had a shocking dream about her once, but anytime his mind wandered back to it, he imagined he was holding a remote and changed the channel. That usually worked. But it bothered him how often he had to resist the urge to think about her that way.
It was completely wrong to think about her that way, and not just because of her age and the fact that she was his student. She now had no one else to turn to for her most basic needs—he couldn’t continue to see himself as the teacher she had a friendly relationship with. They weren’t friends. He had never really been in a position to be just her friend, but the moment she became dependent on him was the moment the dynamic of their relationship shifted. If anything, he was more of a father figure now. Trying to see her as a daughter might stop his mind from wandering to irresponsible places.
Somehow, he’d get over it, he knew. As he set about his Saturday morning chores one weekend, he wasn’t even thinking about it. He went to start his laundry as usual, but found that he didn’t have enough laundry detergent left. He wished he had remembered to pick more up when he went shopping earlier that week, but he was still getting used to how much more quickly he went through things like this with Carol. So before getting his laundry done, he decided a quick run to the store was in order.
After making a short list, Yon went upstairs to grab his wallet from his nightstand. Heading out of his room, just down the hall Carol’s bathroom door opened and she stepped out wearing only a towel. When she saw him, she did a little jump back, startled. He almost jumped too.
“Whoa, I wasn’t expecting you—you scared me,” she said, laughing. She gripped the towel where she had tucked it together underneath her arm. The towel didn’t wrap perfectly around her body, so a slit of sorts revealed the side of her thigh up to her hip. He tried not to notice, but the image was already in his head.
“I’m just running to the store now,” he said, trying to act like this wasn’t affecting him. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, continuing to tug at the towel. Her wet hair clung a bit to her neck and drops of water glistened down her chest. He forced his eyes up to hers and her face grew red.
“Okay, well…” he said, feeling uncomfortable heat rise to his own face, “text me if you think of anything.”
A moment of pause. Neither of them moved. He looked at her perhaps a little too long, noticed a drop of water running down her calf. Then he stepped forward, walking past her, looking straight ahead.
“I’ll be back soon,” he called over his shoulder.
“See you,” she said, then he heard her bedroom door close.
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts as he put his shoes on and headed to the garage. But his heart was racing. He felt a bit like an adolescent boy who had never seen a girl in any state of undress before, which was ridiculous. He was the adult in this situation. There was no reason for him to feel so stunned by seeing Carol in a towel.
He was glad he was going out. Being somewhere else and focusing on that would be a good distraction. By the time he returned, he hoped the incident would have left his mind.
That was… odd.
Carol leaned against her bedroom door for a moment, still clutching her towel together over herself, listening for Mr. Rogg to leave the house. When she heard him leave, she peaked out her window to see his car driving away.
Her stomach was in strange knots—he had practically seen her naked. Yes, she had a towel on, but that was all. And she didn’t know if she was imagining it or not, but the way he had looked at her made her feel like the towel had slipped. She swore she saw him turning red, which made her blush even more. Maybe he was just as embarrassed as she was. Even so, there was something dense in the air as he had walked past her, and it clung to her now as she got dressed, it started toying around in her gut.
She couldn’t tell if the feeling was good or not.
It was almost exciting, standing like that in front of someone she was attracted to and being looked at. Even though it wasn’t exactly the ideal situation for being looked at. She wasn’t expecting him to see her like that, so it felt a little off. But he probably hadn’t even been looking at her in any kind of sexual way. It was just an awkward moment that they had both got caught in. She couldn’t stop thinking about the way his eyes travelled over her, though.
No, it wasn’t like that. He wasn’t like that.
He would never look at her or any other student in a suggestive way. He was too good. He liked rules and order and he was honestly a little boring because of that, but she didn’t mind. Looking at her as anything other than a student would go against everything that he was. That’s why she was safe with him in the first place.
Even so, she started to get embarrassingly giddy thinking about the possibility of him seeing her as something other than a student. She started to imagine a scenario where he looked at her like that again and then he was suddenly confessing his true feelings for her. She imagined him reaching for her, pulling her close to him, kissing her and—
“Jesus Christ, Carol,” she muttered, shaking herself out of her obscene, absurd daydream. It may have all been in her head, but her cheeks were still burning. She couldn’t let her thoughts get carried away with dumb fantasies like that anymore—not now that he’d taken her in and basically saved her life.
But if she was honest with herself, she was a little disappointed that she couldn’t fantasize about that. Not just because it made the situation feel weird, but because it was impossible. She had never liked anyone as much as she liked him, and of course he had to be her teacher. She was pretty sure he was about seventeen years older than her too—that was an age gap too significant even for her crush-addled teenage brain to ignore. It didn’t matter how much she liked him, because there were so many things that stopped her foolish fantasies from becoming anything more.
If there was anything she had learned from books and movies, it was that teenage crushes never panned out, especially crushes on teachers. She wouldn’t be any different. Despite knowing that nothing would ever happen, that didn’t make her feel any less devastated. She just wished that her feelings for him would get less intense. She could ignore everything easier if she didn’t like him so much.
It was for the best that nothing could happen, though. She knew that.
She decided she must have just been imagining the way he looked at her. If she just ignored her crush, then everything would be normal. He wasn’t looking at her in a weird way and he had no idea she had a crush on him and nothing was ever going to happen. Everything was normal—well, relatively normal. There was nothing to be freaking out about.
When Yon came home from his errands, he found his mind hadn’t been eased. He saw her doing her homework at the kitchen table and he couldn’t look at her the same. He didn’t see a student bending over textbooks and notebooks, focusing on whatever she was scribbling. All he could see was her physical form—her perfect physical form.
The longer he lived with her, the harder it became to ignore this intense attraction. He might have forgotten the towel incident if he hadn’t been attracted to her. But it was all he could think about.
He kept imagining her in the towel, imagining the slit opening at her hip. He could see her blushing and he thought about how easily it always was to make her blush. He thought about how close they always were. Knowing how attracted she was to him had never been so enticing to him.
But there was nothing to be done about it. He was, for all intents and purposes, her guardian. And he wanted to remain her guardian. He wanted to protect her, to keep her sheltered from all the things that had hurt her. He wanted her to be able to find comfort in him. But he was beginning to want more than he knew he should want.
When he took her in, he hadn’t expected this to be a challenge, or at least not an increasingly significant challenge. But now there was a sharp perversion jutting into his thoughts for her.
Perhaps it had always been there, threatening to cut through the veil between decent morality and darker, unacknowledged longings. Since he had started getting closer to Carol, he kept finding himself near the veil, grazing against the sharp edges that were waiting behind it, but he always stepped away. He tried not to search for these sharp objects, but when Carol moved in, it was as if a warm gust of wind kept causing the veil to float upwards.
For the first time, he was getting a glimpse of what might be behind the veil, and those sharp, deadly objects started to look softer, more inviting as he got closer. After all, it wasn’t just some ominous, mysterious objects that he was trying to stay away from, it was Carol—Carol in all the ways he wasn’t supposed to want her. He feared that if he got much closer to her, if he stayed too long near that forbidden veil, he would tear it down.
If he tore it down, that would be an action. To take action was to irrevocably involve Carol. To involve Carol was to lose complete control of the situation. Unless he could control her.
But that was obscene. He couldn’t do that to her. She deserved better than that from him.
And yet, despite trying his best to ignore it, his thoughts kept drifting back to the way the water had glistened on her chest.
It wasn't long before they were setting out for a college visit, which meant driving out of state and making a weekend road trip out of it. Right now, they were heading towards Carol’s top choice: the prestigious Asgard University.
Mr. Rogg had taken off work on Friday and called into school for Carol, pretending to be her dad. He had been hesitant to lie like that at first, but then justified it as being necessary to not add an unexcused absence to her records. Once he put on his rather impressive American accent, he had been completely believable as a parent. Carol had to step out of the room when he made the phone call because she kept laughing. But once she had been excused from school, everything was set and planned without a hitch.
Carol was more excited than she let on about the college visit. She had been looking forward to going away to school almost as long as she could remember, and now all she had to do was get accepted into a school, get through senior year, and she was free. As she sat in the now-familiar passenger seat of Mr. Rogg’s car, heading towards a possible new future, her mind whirred through every possible detail of the visit.
When they were reaching the tail end of the road trip, she asked, “So what do I say when the advisor or whoever asks who I’m here with?”
“They’re probably not going to ask.”
“But what if they do?”
“Then tell them the truth: your teacher took you here. Or your coach, either way is fine.”
“That won’t sound weird?”
“No, I don’t think it’s unheard of.”
She nodded, another thought brewing. “Okay, but also…”
“I don’t know, what are you to me now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if someone were to actually somehow know about our living situation and they asked how we were, I don’t know… related? That’s not the right word… but, if someone asked why I was living with you, what would I say?”
“Is someone asking you this?”
“No, this is hypothetical. I don’t talk to anyone.”
“Ah, well… I think you’d say I was your guardian.”
“Just ‘guardian’ is okay?”
“Yes, I think that sounds accurate to the situation.”
“Why is that funny?” he was trying to sound stern, but he was smiling.
“I’m just imagining introducing you, like, ‘This is my guardian Mr. Rogg, he’s also my French teacher and my track coach.’”
“I still don’t see how that’s funny.”
“Really? You don’t see how that’s funny, Mr. Rogg? We really need to work on your sense of humor, Mr. Rogg.”
“Ah, I see what you’re trying to say.”
“Do you, Mr. Rogg?”
He sighed. “What’s wrong with calling me Mr. Rogg? I don’t see how that’s a problem.”
“It doesn’t feel too formal to you?”
“Okay, well if you’re fine with it…” She watched him tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he mulled something over.
“Does it bother you to call me that?” he asked.
“I mean… I guess not…” She shrugged. “I don’t really know what else I’d call you anyway. Could I just call you Rogg?”
“I don’t like it.”
“Fine. What about Mr. Yon?”
“Yeah, it is.”
He sighed. “Fine. When we’re not at school, you can call me Yon. But always Mr. Rogg at school.”
“So never Mr. Yon?”
He gave her a look, then refocused on the road. She laughed.
“You’re incorrigible,” he said.
“Incorrigible? What are you, a Jane Austen character?”
“Alright. I’m revoking first name privileges now.”
“Aw come on! We were finally making progress in our relationship, Yon.”
Even though she had said it sarcastically, there was something electric about calling him by his first name. It almost felt wrong, teachers weren’t supposed to be addressed by their first names. But, like they just established, he was more than her teacher. He wasn’t just Mr. Rogg anymore. He was Yon. The electric feeling that came with his name shot tiny sparks all the way to her fingertips. And she thought she saw something different in the way he smiled at her when she said it. But she was probably imagining things again.
“I didn’t realize we weren’t making progress in our relationship,” he said, teasing. “I thought you moving in was fairly significant for the time being.”
“Yeah, well now we’re on a first name basis. I call that progress.”
“You’re not wrong, I suppose.”
“Of course I’m not.”
When they finally reached the hotel, Carol discovered that Mr. Rogg—no wait, Yon—had reserved separate rooms just down the hall from each other. Staying in her own hotel room was the most grown up Carol had ever felt and as she fell asleep that night, she couldn’t have been happier.
She woke up early the next morning to get ready for her college tour. Maybe it was because of how excited she was, but she felt like she should try to look more presentable than normal. She didn’t own a lot of makeup, but she had brought what she did have and put in her best effort to apply it after her shower that morning. She was actually pleasantly surprised at how well her makeup turned out. Then she put on what she thought was the cutest outfit she owned—a simple short, red dress she had worn maybe twice, with a denim jacket—and she left her hair down instead of pulling it back like she usually did. Looking herself over in the mirror, she felt really confident about her appearance.
When she met Yon for breakfast, he looked at her in a way that reminded her of that awkward towel incident she had been trying to forget. She tried again not to think about that.
“You look really put together today,” he observed.
“Is that a compliment?”
“Yes, you look very nice. Very grown up.”
“Thanks. You look very grown up too.” What the fuck was wrong with her?
He gave her a look and laughed. God, she wished she could control how much she was blushing.
After breakfast, Yon walked her to the tour group and asked her to text when it was finished. When the tour commenced, everything seemed to happen in a flash. There was so much new information to take in as her group was guided around the campus. The school’s architecture was a breathtaking mix of old-fashioned buildings that made her feel like she could’ve been in a European town and others that were strikingly modern but no less beautiful. The landscaping was equally striking, with various trees and flowers lining the walkways—Carol didn’t realize that a school could be this stunning.
As she took in everything around her, she started to picture herself getting to be here every day. And even more exciting than the idea of getting used to this scenery was the idea that she might actually find new friends who would explore with her.
Almost as soon as her tour had started, Carol had ended up walking side by side with another girl in the tour group. They spent the entire time pointing out details about the campus to each other, or giving each other weird looks when the tour guide was a little overly enthusiastic. It was so nice to be sharing this experience with someone her own age, even if she didn’t really know the person. Maybe this was a sign that she really might be able to start over and find people that she actually clicked with when she went to college.
As the tour drew to an end, she was bursting with hope. Her group reached their stopping point and the crowd began to dissipate. The girl she had been walking with during the tour said a quick goodbye as she spotted her mom, and Carol watched as her mom smiled and put an arm around her. An unexpected pang struck Carol’s gut as she watched them walk away. She had almost forgotten how different her life was from most of the kids on the tour with her. And she was also probably never going to get to see this person she had bonded with ever again—she didn’t even know her name.
Carol turned away from the sight of the girl walking away with her mother, but now even seeing other people her age walking around campus in groups or pairs made that pang in her gut expand.
She shook her head and texted Yon. When he met up with her, she had pushed aside the unwanted feelings and was all smiles as she went over the tour with him. Even though the tour had been a fairly long event, he had suggested that they explore some of the campus on their own. They looked around the track area and some of the dorms and lecture halls that hadn’t been part of the tour. He seemed to think that the tour would only show the nicest areas, and that the other buildings might give them a more realistic view of the place. He wanted to make sure that she saw everything she needed in order to make the best possible decision for her future.
As she walked around the rest of the campus with Yon, she felt especially relieved to have him. When he was with her, she could more easily ignore the growing ache inside her. Even though she didn’t have supportive family or even friends to be with her, she had him. And that meant something.
Since the tour had been an all day process and they were so far away from home, they were staying on one more night at the hotel before leaving in the morning. After having a thorough look around campus, they drove a bit around the surrounding town and found a place for dinner. Carol was surprised at how exhausted she was after dinner, so they went back to the hotel.
She got ready for bed in her lonely hotel room, but as she winded down, all of her emotions suddenly refused to be ignored. Everything she had lost over the past weeks had been creeping up, hungrily stalking her, and, once the moment was right, they pounced. She tried to keep herself composed, but once she had tucked herself in and shut off the lights, the weight of her grief pressing against her became unbearable.
She cried into her pillow, willing herself not to the entire time. When she had finally stopped, though, she couldn’t lie still. She was squirming underneath the heavy, insistent sadness, and she sat up in her bed, throwing off her covers. Her racing mind took her to the only thing that had brought her any peace lately, and she found herself standing up, shoving her room key into her sweatshirt pocket and heading for the door. She walked down the hall until she found the right room number, then knocked. The door opened to a confused Yon.
“Carol? Is something wrong?”
“No...” She was all too aware that her eyes must have been red from crying.
“It sounds like something’s wrong.”
She shrugged. “I’m just… feeling…”
Her eyes stung and her jaw quivered as she shrugged again. He motioned for her to step in and she did. The tv was on—the news, unsurprisingly—at a low volume and he picked up the remote from the bed to turn it off. Sitting at the edge of the bed, he focused his attention on her.
“Tell me what’s going on, Carol.”
“It’s just… I wish I could tell Attlass about everything and I wish my parents didn’t hate me and I wish my brother cared about me and I just… I don’t know.” She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “I feel stupid, because I know I should be so happy right now but I’m upset about them. It’s so stupid.”
“It’s not stupid, Carol,” he said. “You’re taking very important life steps right now and it makes sense that you’d be thinking about the people you’d normally do something like this with.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t even talked to Attlass in forever. I don’t know why I care about telling him.”
“He was your best friend. Even if he did hurt you, it’s natural to miss the relationship you used to have with him.”
“I mean, I know… I know that… I just…” She wiped at her eyes again. “Everyone’s left me.”
Yon stood and placed his hands on her shoulders. She couldn’t look at him, her eyes were filling with tears again and it was embarrassing. If he hadn’t been touching her, she would’ve turned away from him. Instead, she balled her hands into her sweatshirt sleeves and held them to her face.
“Carol, you’ve been through so much,” Yon said, “and I know you feel like you’re all alone, but you will always have me. And you’ll be starting college soon and you’re going to make so many new friends.”
She sniffled and held her sleeve over her nose.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Carol,” he said. “Trust me.”
She nodded, but she could feel more tears threatening her. Then he pulled her in close to him and she really started to lose it. She couldn’t stop crying. Being comforted by him relieved a persistent aching in her chest—all of her captive grief finally found a channel to escape from. He embraced her and her vulnerability rushed out of her.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, the flow of tears calming, leaving her cheeks damp and her eyes tired. “I got your shirt wet.”
“Don’t apologize, Carol. I’m here for you. It’s okay.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Then she finally wrapped her arms around him, silently holding him and being held. It was a little strange being held by someone like this. Her instincts made her want to run away and hide after crying like that in front of him, but it also felt good to be held so firmly by someone, so she kept holding onto him too. She had really never felt this level of comfort and support from anyone and it filled her tired body with hope.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said.
“You know I care about you more than anyone, right?” His voice was soft and the way he stroked her hair was even softer. She looked up at him, somewhat sheepishly.
“You’re incredibly important to me, Carol.”
They stood looking at each other and she felt seen in a way she had never felt seen before. She didn’t know exactly what it was in his look that made her feel this way, but it sent a tingling sensation through her core.
“You’re important to me too,” she said. “You’re the best person I’ve ever known.”
“That’s an overstatement, I’m sure”
“No it’s… it’s not. I…” She wanted to say I love you, but she was too scared. Despite her crush on him, she didn’t mean it in a romantic way—her intentions in saying it were much more innocent than that—and even though the comfort he gave had opened her up to him in a way she didn’t entirely understand, she couldn’t say it to him. But she felt it. She was so eager to feel love for someone, any kind of love.
“I’m so glad I have you,” was what she ended up saying.
He touched her cheek and she felt the tingling sensation ignite her body—it took off from her stomach all the way down to her toes and back up into her brain. She was still being held by him, and the longer they stood like that, the more his touch on her began to feel somehow different. She began to think that she should let go of him, but he wasn’t letting go of her. She didn’t really want him to let go.
The quietness in the room hummed and grew around them in a way that emphasized what little space there was between them. More than anything she could feel how close they were and how happy she was to be this close to him. He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. He leaned in slightly towards her, and paused, silent and hesitant. He parted his lips, as if he were going to speak, and she found herself holding her breath.
“You constantly amaze me,” he finally said, his voice low and intimate. She could feel the heat of his breath on her face. Her heart fluttered and her knees got weak.
Then he did something that she truly hadn’t expected: he kissed her.
The kiss was just as gentle as the way he was holding her, but it still shocked her. She let it happen, though. She wanted it to happen. She felt herself trembling with how badly she wanted it to be happening.
When the kiss ended, she kept her eyes shut. The room was spinning.
She heard him ask, “Are you okay?”
“Mmhmm.” She opened her eyes and bit her lip to contain her smile. He looked concerned, but then a smile of his own tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“You’re remarkable,” he said.
All her nerves were on edge and she instantly quipped back, “You’re remarkable.”
She blushed at how stupid she had just sounded, but he just chuckled. She felt the vibration of his laugh against her chest and it dizzied her. She was still floored by the kiss.
“Can I… can you...” Her cheeks were burning. “Can you do that again? Kiss me, I mean… Can we do it again?”
He tilted his head, smiling. Then he tucked a finger under her chin and kissed her again.
Carol was pretty sure she blacked out from how fast her blood was pumping through her body. She couldn’t believe he had kissed her and that he was now kissing her again in what was arguably the best kiss she had ever had. This wasn’t anything like the awkward, fumbling attempts that boys her age had made on her at school dances or unchaperoned house parties. This was in a completely different realm of kissing. He was so good at it.
She felt as if every fiber in her body had been lit up—flashing neon signs whizzed through her veins and underneath her eyelids, all spelling his name. Whatever she had been feeling before didn’t matter, because now she was so bright and alive with the feeling of him wanting her like this.
He ended the kiss and she felt her entire being pull towards him. She wanted him to keep kissing her, but he was loosening his hold on her.
“You should go get some rest,” he said. “You’ve had a long day.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep,” she said.
“You need to try. We have an early start tomorrow.”
Just his fingertips were touching her waist now. He took a step back and she let go of him. The way he looked at her made her chest swell with indescribable joy and she had to look down before she exploded with adoration. Her head was spinning with a million different things, and she didn’t know what she should be doing, so she just focused on doing what he told her.
“Well, then… um… goodnight?” she said. She glanced up at him again, then ducked her head back down and headed for the door.
“Carol…” he said and she turned to him. “I’m glad you came to talk to me tonight. I’m always here for you.”
In a swift, impulsive motion, she flew back towards him, stood on her tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and pulled back away from him. She smiled over her shoulder as she opened the door, and left his room.
Yon stood staring at the door after she left, hands on his hips and his entire body burning. It was surreal how calmly he had ushered her out of his room, as if someone else had stepped in for him. He ran his hands over his face and paced to the window, then to the bathroom. He flicked on the bathroom light and ran the sink. Once the water got as cold as it could, he rinsed his face. As he patted his face dry with a towel, he saw that his hands were shaking. He closed his eyes, counted to ten. Opening his eyes, he met his gaze in the mirror above the sink and promptly turned away, switching off the light.
He hadn’t meant to kiss her.
He shouldn’t have asked her to step inside his room. But he didn’t see what difference letting her into his hotel room should make—they already lived together. If that hadn’t been the case, it would have been inappropriate to let her in. Regardless of their living situation though, what he had just done was inappropriate. The fact that she lived with him only made it worse.
He had been fighting against his persistent attraction to her and he had been managing it. But she had looked so mature today—he didn’t think he had ever seen her in a dress or with her hair and makeup done so intentionally. If he hadn’t known her and he had seen her today, he would have thought she was older and he wouldn’t have felt bad about finding her attractive.
As it were, he still didn’t think there was anything wrong with being attracted to her, as long as he didn’t act on it. But now he had acted on it. He had done the one thing that he absolutely knew he should never do. If she had come to him with her sadness on a day when he hadn’t found her so attractive, maybe he would have been able to resist. But he had gotten lost somewhere between his desire to comfort her and his desire for her.
And now she was out there with the most damning information anyone had ever had on him. She had that on him and he had no idea what she was going to do with it. He should have talked to her before he let her leave, but he hadn’t been thinking straight. He didn’t believe she would actually tell anyone—she wasn’t one to overshare. Even so, he shouldn’t have let her leave that easily. He hadn’t wanted to upset her anymore by showing his own growing anxiety, though.
He was so used to seeing her fight off her emotions with sarcasm and a tough-as-nails demeanor, and it had been unsettling to see her so clearly devastated in front of him. He had wanted to reassure her the way she wanted, to let her know that she was safe and cared for by him. But he had been so affected by her vulnerability, so caught up in the moment of holding her that he had taken the moment to comfort her in a way that might have been fine if she had been a woman his age.
But she wasn’t a woman his age. She was seventeen and he was in charge of her welfare and he had kissed her. It didn’t matter that she had wanted him to kiss her too. It didn’t matter that her entire demeanor had changed once they kissed, that she had been so happy to be kissed.
He really wished he had told her to keep this between them before she had left his room, but going back to tell her now felt like it would be too much, like he would be letting on to how anxious this made him. It wasn’t as if she were doing anything other than going to bed now anyway, and he knew that she didn’t really talk to anyone but him these days. He could wait until tomorrow.
Once they were driving back home, he would have a serious discussion with her about what had happened between them. He had to make sure she understood how important it was to keep this just between them. And it couldn’t happen again. It absolutely could never happen again—he had to be clear as day when it came to making this point. If just this one kiss could be handled and forgotten, then perhaps no harm had really been done.
Even as he reasoned this to himself, he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking.
He should not have kissed her.
Carol had practically floated back to her room as the high pulsed through her entire body. She went into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror, happy to see herself smiling. Then she shut her eyes and suppressed a wave of giddiness as she replayed the kiss in her mind.
In her wildest dreams she never imagined that he would kiss her, even if she had daydreamed about it—no, especially because she had daydreamed about it. Her crush on him had been an excruciating secret and it felt so far out of the realm of possibility that even her daydreams left her feeling ridiculous.
Now he had actually kissed her and she was tempted to pinch herself just to make sure this was real. But she could still feel her lips tingling and taste the subtle, lingering flavor of him. This was real. Another wave of giddiness flooded her and she buried her smiling face in her hands.
Somewhere underneath the giddiness, though, there was a hint of something else. She knew what had happened hadn’t been completely right. She knew he shouldn’t have kissed her, but she was having a hard time seeing past the immediate bliss. Something that had felt so good and made her so happy couldn’t really be a bad thing, right?
Even if part of her realized the trouble he could get in for this, or if she thought about all the times she had heard of adults taking advantage of girls her age, she somehow felt apart from the warning signs. What was happening to her right now was different. Yon made her comfortable around him, she never felt like he was doing anything to be weird or inappropriate. She felt entirely genuine with him, and she assumed he felt the same with her.
He had her best intentions at heart—warning signs couldn’t apply to people who cared like that.
Chapter 7: Complication
Carol was honestly a little nervous about leaving her hotel room that morning. Her giddiness from the night before hit her again as soon as she woke up, and she didn’t know what to do with it. At first, she thought the memory might just have been another dream, but no, last night had actually happened. He hugged her and held her and told her how much he cared about her and then he kissed her. And then they kissed again. And now… she had no idea what she was supposed to do.
Obviously she wasn’t just going to run out of her hotel room and start confessing her love to him. She knew she had to play it cool. He was so much more mature than her and she wanted him to see her as mature too. But he must have seen her as at least somewhat mature if he had kissed her, right? She wondered how long he had seen her like that—had she been right about the way he was looking at her in the towel? And yesterday when she had dressed up nicely? She was dying to know what he really felt.
But just as she hadn’t expected him to kiss her last night, she didn’t know what to expect when she saw him this morning.
Turned out he was acting like nothing had happened. When they met in the hall and went to the lobby together, he said nothing about last night. She hadn’t really thought he would say anything about it in front of anyone, but she thought maybe there would be something different in the way he looked at her. But there was no difference that she could pick up on, except that maybe he seemed particularly calm and polite this morning. It wasn’t like he was ever rude though, so she didn’t count that. The biggest difference she felt was in herself. Her head was practically pounding with the memory of the kiss.
They put their bags in the car and began their journey back home as if they’d had a normal weekend. Sitting so close to him in the car felt electric and she couldn’t focus on anything happening around her other than they were close and he had kissed her and they weren’t talking about it. But then Yon turned down the radio—wait, they were listening to the radio?—and she knew this was it.
“Carol,” Yon said, “we need to talk.”
The feeling of him holding her and kissing her flooded her senses and she willed her blood not to rush to her face. But that was futile; she was already burning.
Still, she tried to act cool, and said, “Sure, what do you want to talk about?”
“What happened in the hotel room…” he sighed. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
She felt a sharp, unexpected jab in her gut, but she steeled herself and nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
“I’m sorry if I… confused you at all. It was out of line.”
“No, you didn’t confuse me. I mean… wait, what do you mean by ‘confused’?”
“I don’t want you to think that we can be anything other than… what we are.”
“You mean like… you’re my teacher and my coach and I live with you and you’re not…” Carol couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘boyfriend,’ it sounded embarrassing and childish and not exactly what she meant, but she couldn’t think of another word. She knew that kissing him didn’t make him her boyfriend, but it did make him something other than all the things he already was to her. She just didn’t know what that was. And she didn’t know how to verbalize that to him.
He glanced at her. “I can never be anything other than your teacher and your guardian. What happened was impulsive and it was a mistake.”
“Yeah, a mistake…” She didn’t know why the word ‘mistake’ hurt so much or why it caused a lump in her throat, but she swallowed it down.
“And I think it goes without saying that what happened was private. You can’t tell anyone else about it.”
“And I want things to just go back to how they were.”
“It’s not like I really expected anything to change…”
“I know, but all the same. Let’s just forget about what happened and move on.”
She looked at his hands gripping the steering wheel, fingers tapping.
“Why can’t you say what happened?” she asked.
“You keep saying ‘what happened’ but you’re not saying what happened. You kissed me.”
He hesitated, then said, “Yes, that is what happened.”
“You’re still not saying it.”
He sighed. “I kissed you. But I shouldn’t have.”
“Then why did you?”
There was a weighted pause. She stared at him, waiting for him to just glance at her again, but he didn’t.
Without looking at her, he finally said, “I don’t know why.”
The ambiguity of his answer sunk into the pit of her stomach like a stone and she felt her shoulders pull down with it. She pursed her lips together and nodded her head.
“Carol…” he said with a sigh. “You need to know, when I told you how much I care about you, that wasn’t a lie. I do care about you. More than anyone. Which is why we need to forget about this.”
She stared ahead at the road, biting down hard onto her lower lip to keep herself from saying anything stupid. She knew he had told her at the beginning of the conversation that he hadn’t meant to confuse her, but she was suddenly more confused than ever. He said that he cared about her, and she believed that he did. But he had kissed her and said that he didn’t know why and that it was a mistake. And he had called her remarkable when he kissed her. Was that a mistake too? Had he changed his mind about that? If he was changing his mind about her now, then did that mean he was going to end up leaving her like everyone else had?
“Carol,” he said, and she looked at him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s just…” she sighed. “I don’t get it.”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you not know?”
“How can you say you just don’t know why you kissed me?”
“It’s complicated, Carol, I don’t know how to explain it. If you were older—”
“It’s because I’m not older? If I were older would you know?”
“That’s not what I mean. But if you were older, things would—”
He sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Is there anything you do know?!”
“Do you want to know how I feel about any of this?”
He gave her a look. She didn’t wait for him to decide to say something else.
“When you kissed me last night, I felt… I was so happy and I didn’t think I could ever be that happy, but I was and it was because of you. And now you’re telling me that it’s all just a mistake, and I know rationally there’s tons of reasons why it was a mistake, but it felt so right and… and I know that sounds cheesey or cliche or whatever, but it’s true.”
“I know it felt right in the moment, and I’m not trying to make you unhappy by telling you it was a mistake, but… you have to trust me.”
“I do trust you, but I also… I also…”
She felt like she was fighting a losing battle against him, but she didn’t want to lose. She didn’t want to lose that feeling of closeness she had in the hotel room with him and she didn’t want to lose how wanted she felt. She yearned so deeply to hold onto that moment. She couldn’t face losing that when everything else felt like it was crumbling around her.
“Do you want me?” her voice cracked. “Or am I just someone you got stuck with?”
“There’s so much more to it than want, Carol.”
His tone had felt so pitiable, like they were in school and he was being patient with her while she took forever to learn the most basic lesson. But of course that’s how he would treat her. She was so naive to think he would ever see her as anything but a dumb kid, because that’s what she was. Even if he had kissed her, he knew it was a mistake because she would always be a kid to him. If she were older, she might have a chance. But she was seventeen and he was her teacher and that made her nothing but a liability to him. All of the thoughts and feelings that came with the force of that realization twisted her stomach into a knot.
Pressing her lips firmly together, she turned from him, facing the passenger window. She felt like she was going to start crying from how incredibly confused and idiotic this situation made her feel, and she didn’t want him to see her lose it again, not when they were stuck in this car together. They were speeding fast down the highway, but she had nowhere to go.
That car ride was excruciating. After the argument, they drove in a tense silence, Carol putting on her sunglasses and her earphones and staring out the window. He was pretty sure she had fallen asleep after a while, but the air was still thick with their exchange.
Yon knew the conversation was going to be difficult, but he hadn’t been prepared for exactly how difficult it would be. Part of him wished he had waited until there was less time left in the car ride to start the discussion, but even if he had, they were in for an awkward few hours in close quarters. And there would be no escaping that tension once they got home.
He had fucked up.
He had really fucked up.
Never in his life had he made a mistake like this. He followed the rules, he enjoyed following the rules—they were there for a reason. And he saw himself as a good person; he took in Carol because he was a good person and it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have predicted that she would be so alluring to him. He never would have guessed that he’d be so disastrously drawn to her.
He had to stop thinking like that.
He was panicking when there was no reason to think of this situation as a disaster yet. He had kissed her, but that was all. He did the right thing by having this conversation with her. She was upset right now, but she would get over it. Next to everything else she had experienced lately, this wasn’t going to compare. Still, he hated that he was giving her another reason to be stressed, especially when she was already so fragile.
But maybe it would end up being a good thing that they kissed yesterday, so it was out of his system and hers—if she stopped having a crush on him, then she wouldn’t be so upset that he told her they couldn’t be anything more. She would get over this. Heartbreak was a normal hallmark of teenagehood.
He was having trouble convincing himself that everything would be okay, but he didn’t know how else to try easing his mind right now. He had no idea what he was doing. That scared him more than almost anything. He considered making her move out, to avoid anything else happening, but she had nowhere else to go and he couldn’t leave her homeless. At this point, he felt obligated to stay in this living situation. But there was no routine or structure for living in this situation—there had only been one rule and he had broken it. Everything was now uncharted and uncertain.
Deep down, what bothered him the most was a small voice in his head telling him that he would do it again. Because now that he had experienced it, there was no denying how much he liked it.
This was why he didn’t keep junk food or alcohol or anything like that in his house. If the tempting thing was there, it was so much easier to give in and indulge, and then over indulge. Carol wasn’t the same as the contents of his pantry, he knew that, but she had become a temptation, one that he had just given in to. The fact that she wasn’t going anywhere only meant that it would be that much easier to give in again.
But he could handle this. He would find a way to handle this. He had to.
As soon as the car pulled into the garage, Carol grabbed her things and went up to her room. She couldn’t bear to keep being this close to Yon when she felt like such an idiot. And she was actually upset with him for not giving her any absolute answers. She didn’t even have sarcasm to arm herself with right now.
In her room, she unpacked from the trip and hoped that maybe she would calm down a bit after that. But her head was spinning even more. She sat down at the edge of her bed, trying to collect herself, but she barely had time to think when a knock came on her door.
“Carol, can we talk again?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s open.”
He opened her door and she stared at the floor in front of her.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
He walked towards her, a little hesitant, then sat next to her. She kept her eyes cast away from him, but his presence beside her radiated and burnt into her.
“Carol,” he said, “you can’t let this change anything.”
She felt scorched with each word he spoke and she clenched her jaw against the sensation. She didn’t feel like she had done anything to change anything. Her lips stayed tightly sealed, though; she was scared if she said anything, it would be the wrong thing.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said, something about his tone immediately lessening the uncomfortable heat she imagined he was burning her with. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He was looking at her and she shot her gaze away.
“You’re an incredible young woman,” he said, continuing to quell the scorching in her mind, “and someday, you’re going to find someone that will make you forget all about this.”
She opened her mouth, but shut it, hesitant. Then her hushed voice slipped out of her, “I don’t want to forget this.”
She glanced up at him, and the look he gave her was steady and calm, and he said, “It’s better if we both forget this.”
“But you’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
He sighed, and he looked like he was going to speak, but he hesitated. He was facing her but he wasn’t really looking at her—he was focused on whatever he was trying to say and his expression was at once soft and hard. Suddenly he seemed almost fragile to her. Carol felt herself drawn to the way he was withdrawing inward to himself. She wanted to be pulled into him.
Her chest ached in ways that her head couldn’t find the words for, but her arms understood and she reached for him, pulled him towards her. Pushing aside uncertainty, she kissed him because that was the only way her body knew how to plead her case with him, to bring them back to that moment in the hotel when he wasn’t trying to forget.
Despite all his talk about mistakes and forgetting, he seemed especially eager to go back on his word. His hands were on her waist and he kept kissing her. It felt almost the same as it had the first time they kissed—soft, gentle, comforting. But as the kiss went on and her heartbeat quickened, as he pulled her closer, she felt the gentleness fall off a sharp ledge.
He began to touch and kiss her with an urgency that made Carol’s head spin. But she still liked the way his mouth felt on hers, the way his tongue felt in her mouth, the way he tasted like nothing she had tasted before. He ran his hands up her back and moved his mouth to her neck and an involuntary moan escaped her. The sound made her pause out of sheer self consciousness, but he didn’t seem to notice—or rather, he did notice but it just made him pull her closer. He pulled her closer and closer and the immediacy of his touch made her forget to be self conscious.
And then, as suddenly as this had started, he took his hands off of her.
“No, this has to stop.” He pushed her away, standing up from the bed. “This isn’t what I wanted to happen. This isn’t going to happen.”
Carol stared at him, open mouthed, bewildered. She felt a little dizzy as she watched him turn his back on her, running his hands over his hair.
“Did I do something wrong, I don’t understand—”
“Of course you don’t understand, you’re seventeen, for Christ’s sake!”
The unexpected harshness in his tone practically slapped her. For a split second she was back in her parents’ house, raised voices tearing into her, her own voice coarse in her throat, sounding bigger than she felt. She clenched her fists and brought herself back to where she was now. In this house, in this room, the raised voices didn’t fit. She was dumbfounded.
Yon looked at her from over his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he said, then left her room. She heard his quick, heavy steps hurrying down the hall.
“What the fuck,” she muttered to herself. She didn’t know if she should go after him or not. She had no idea what she was supposed to do or how she should feel. Making out with him had been starting to get pretty good but then he pushed her away, immediately snatching away whatever joy she felt. And he had never been angry like that at her. She was even more confused than before.
She put a hand to her neck, groaned, and wiped away the lingering moistness left from his mouth. She sat up straight and scooched herself to the edge of her bed, planting her feet on the floor, then leaned slightly forward, trying to listen for him. Just silence.
Her confusion at his behavior suddenly flared into anger and she stood, marching into the hallway. She hadn’t heard him go downstairs so she went towards his room, ready for confrontation.
What was wrong with him?
Yon could barely get his thoughts together as he hurried from Carol’s room. He had meant to have a calm, rational conversation with her about the situation, but then she had kissed him and he just let it happen. His irrational want for her was so overpowering, so incredibly vexing. He knew himself better than this—he was always in control of himself, so why was he suddenly so impulsive?
His head was swimming and his heart was pounding. He went into his bedroom, taking deep breaths as he tried to count to ten and collect himself. His breathing was barely under control by the time Carol barged into the room.
“What was that?” she demanded, her expression hard, her hands balled into fists at her side. Her neck had barely noticeable pink splotches from where he had been kissing her, and he looked up to the ceiling before focusing on her eyes.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Okay and are you sorry for kissing me again too?”
His mind briefly came to his own defense, insisting that she had kissed him that time, but he rejected that thought—it really didn’t matter who started it at this point. He sighed.
“Yes, Carol,” he said, “I’m sorry for that too. I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
“You shouldn’t have pushed me away like that. I don’t get what I did wrong or why you got so upset at me. You’re the one who kissed me at the hotel in the first place!”
“I know, I know, I—” he cut himself off, not sure what exactly he was trying to say. There were too many incoherent thoughts begging for attention, too many mixed feelings and sensations picking at him as he looked at her. He wished he could tell her to put her hair down, he couldn’t stop glancing at her neck and now he couldn’t even tell if he was imagining the splotches or not. But she was unmistakably turning a brighter shade of red as she stood glaring at him.
It then occurred to him that, above everything else, he had to keep her calm. If this situation was going to be kept quiet and manageable, she could not be angry with him. He had to keep her calm and rational.
“Carol,” he finally said, speaking slowly, choosing each word carefully, “I am clearly… attracted to you. But that doesn’t mean I should have kissed you. Ever since you started living with me, I became responsible for you in many ways. But it was irresponsible of me to let this happen. If you were older, then yes, things would be different. But you’re seventeen and I’m your teacher and there are very real consequences for something like this happening, and I know you understand that. This situation is very unique and we can’t let it get out of hand. We can’t lose control, even in private. Even if we want to.”
He couldn’t tell exactly how his speech was affecting Carol, but he did note that her fists relaxed and her glare softened as she seemed to contemplate his words.
“I want you to keep living here,” he continued, “which means we have to be careful. If anyone found out about this, you’d have to go back with your parents and I don’t want to see that happen. You know I care about you, Carol, so you need to listen to me. You need to trust me. I only want what’s best for you.”
Chapter 8: Avoidance
For the rest of that weekend, Carol felt so strange. Sometimes the strangeness was good, sometimes it wasn’t, but she tried to focus on the good. She couldn’t believe that Yon had not only kissed her, but actually full-on admitted to wanting to be with her. He was attracted to her.
This was so fucking amazing.
None of her crushes on anyone had ever been this intense, let alone reciprocated. She couldn’t believe that he actually wanted to be with her. Did being wanted feel this great for everyone that had a significant other?
But then it would sneak up on her, the things that didn’t make her feel so great. Yon wasn’t actually her significant other. He was definitely significant to her, but they weren’t anything like that. They couldn’t be anything like that. What he had said to her after making out on her bed kept repeating itself over and over again in her mind: if anyone found out about them, she’d have nowhere to live.
She really wanted to be with Yon, but she didn’t want anything bad to happen because they were together. She had seen news stories before about teachers being arrested for taking advantage of their students. She didn’t think Yon was taking advantage of her or that he was anything like those teachers in the news, but that didn’t change the fact that this was illegal. Still, she thought that as long as they didn’t tell anyone, everything would be fine.
She really wished she were older. If she were older, they could be together with no problems. And she knew she couldn’t control when she was born, but she still felt like somehow this obstacle was her fault. There would be no risk in this situation if it wasn’t for her age. They wouldn’t even be in this situation if it hadn’t been for her needing a place to stay.
He’d probably have no struggles at all if she hadn’t been living with him. If her parents hadn’t kicked her out, or if she had more friends, she wouldn’t have needed to stay with him and they never would have gone on a college visit and he never would have kissed her. So yeah, it felt great that he wanted to be with her, but it sucked that basically everything wrong in the situation was because of her.
She knew she could keep this a secret, but she could still understand why he was so nervous about being with her. She didn’t want him to think that she was going to put him at risk, so she planned on doing everything he told her, proving herself to him. He told her to trust him, and she did. Of course she did.
Yon and Carol had their morning commute down to an art. When her overnight stays at his place had started to become regular, Yon had realized that he probably shouldn’t be seen with her in his car that often, just to avoid any potential uncomfortable accusations. Now that something actually had happened between them, he was relieved that they already had a routine to keep eyes off of them.
If they were early enough, they might risk getting out together in the staff parking lot behind the school. Otherwise, Yon would pull over just around the corner and let her out. So far he didn’t think anyone had noticed, but he was beginning to think that they should stick to the drop-off to play it safe.
The ride to school the Monday after their eventful weekend was tense, which wasn’t much different from the tail end of the weekend. Still, Yon could feel the weight of both their nerves in the silence between them.
“Just remember that nothing’s changed,” he said.
“Nothing except you sticking your tongue in my mouth.”
A sudden heat crept up his neck. “Carol, let’s not—we can’t joke about this right now. Please. I’m being serious. You have to watch what you’re saying around me.”
“But it’s just us.”
“But you can’t slip like that anywhere else.”
“I know, I know. I’m not going to say anything.”
Despite her sarcastic remarks, he could still hear the subtle anxious inflections in her tone. He didn’t think her anxiety would be noticeable to anyone but him, but he was still concerned that in a few moments he would have to willingly let her out in the world carrying this secret, and all he could do was hope that she really wouldn’t say anything.
As they reached the drop-off point, he forced himself to loosen his unusually tight grip on the steering wheel. In his head he counted to ten and let out a deep breath. He had to stay calm. She had to see him as calm and collected and acting like he had a grasp on all of this.
“I’ll see you in French,” he said as he slowed the car to a stop.
“See you later,” she said, giving him an embarrassed sort of smile that endeared him more than it should have.
He continued on to the parking lot, watching her in his rearview mirror as long as he could. She had her backpack slung over one shoulder and her hands were tucked into the pocket of her black track hoodie with “Hala Warriors” written in teal text across the chest. She looked just like any other teenager heading to school.
Of all the people he could be drawn to, it had to be her.
He tried to keep himself calm as he parked his car in his usual spot, but he was still on edge. Hiding the fact that a student lived with him was one thing; he knew he was doing the right thing in the long run, so it didn’t plague his conscience. But after this weekend… There wasn’t really any gray area to work with if anyone found out.
He felt his nerves tingling through the tips of his fingers as he entered the teacher’s lounge, casually greeting a few of his coworkers as he put his lunch in the fridge. He didn’t usually enjoy small talk with his coworkers, but today especially he was trying his best not to come off as too approachable. Although if he came off as too tense, that might draw more attention to him. He’d just have to get out of the room as quick as possible before—
“How was your long weekend, Yon?” one of his coworkers, Linda, a middle-aged English teacher, caught him just as he was turning from the fridge.
“Oh, it was nice.” He had to remind himself that no one actually knew what he had been out for, nor did most people care.
“It was so nice out this weekend, I hope you were able to enjoy it. Probably some of the last good weather we’ll get for a while,” Linda continued, easing Yon’s nerves with her banality. He was able to easily redirect the conversation by asking about her grandson, to which she immediately took out her phone and showed him a handful of pictures, unable to resist the opportunity. Yon’s personal life was all but forgotten.
As he made his way to his classroom, he began to realize how easy it might be to keep the whole incident with Carol a secret. No one even knew that she had been staying with him for this long, so why would anyone find out now that things had become more complicated? The only people that knew the gravity of the situation were himself and Carol. He knew he could keep the secret, and he knew that Carol was already adept at keeping the finer details of her life private. Everything might actually be alright.
Right now, Carol had no one significant in her life but him, and as long as that remained true, no one was going to find out. His coworkers weren’t going to notice, they were just going to keep assuming that everything was normal, because why wouldn’t they? No one was going to care enough to investigate a situation that there were no signs of.
The relief he felt was so good, so much better than the leaden shame on his shoulders. It would be easy to mistake that relief as justification for his actions, as an excuse to be more lenient with himself.
But he wasn’t going to do that. No matter how seemingly secure their situation might be right now, all it would take was one mishap and life as he knew it would be over. There was no room to go easy on himself yet.
Going to school on Monday was bizarre. Carol remembered the first time she had stayed at Yon’s house and how she had been dying to talk to Attlass about it, but as staying with Yon became regular, the desire to tell someone else quieted, for the most part. It still felt a little weird that she was living with him and no one else knew. But it used to feel more like something interesting she shared with Yon, and she liked having that secret, close relationship with him.
But now the secret had completely changed and she could tell how nervous Yon was about anyone finding out, so she was nervous too. It was all she could think about.
As French class approached that day and she made her way towards Yon’s classroom amidst the sea of her peers, she became paranoid that, somehow, everyone knew. Even before she had set foot in his classroom today, she felt like she had a huge neon arrow floating above her head, pointing down at her and declaring: I made out with the teacher.
Of course, she knew she was being ridiculous and no one could read her mind, but that didn’t stop her from feeling like she might misstep at any moment.
Walking into Yon’s classroom, she focused harder than she needed to on acting like she was just walking in there the same way she always did. She went to her desk and sat down and told herself that no one was able to tell that anything had happened. But even telling herself that made her entire body heat up.
She glanced at Yon as she got her supplies for class organized on her desk, but he didn’t acknowledge her as he normally would.
“Bienvenue à la classe,” he said once the bell had rung. “Now, to get it out of everyone’s system, let’s take the first few minutes of class to write five sentences about what you did over your weekend.”
Seriously? He chose that assignment today? What the fuck was she supposed to write about?
Carol stared at him, waiting for him to look at her, but he wouldn’t. She saw him turn the slightest shade of red, though, so she imagined he could feel her desperate gaze. Some of the students behind her giggled and whispered amongst themselves, and Yon started to walk through the aisles of desks.
“Just keep it appropriate please,” he said in the direction of the giggling students, but his fingers tapped her desk as he walked by.
She clenched her jaw against her persistent anxiety and bent over her notebook. She quickly came up with the five most innocent, generic sentences about her weekend she could think of. When she looked up from her assignment and glanced around, she realized she had finished much sooner than any of her classmates.
Yon had walked back up to his desk, and she watched him. She just wanted him to look at her, to give her some kind of acknowledgement that he was maybe feeling as awkward as she was but that it was okay because they had each other. But he wasn’t looking at her, even when she tapped her pen annoyingly loud on her desk, he wouldn’t look at her—he glanced in her direction, but not at her.
Annoyance bubbled underneath her anxiety, and she stared back down at her assignment. He couldn’t be not looking at her on purpose, she had to be imagining it. There was no reason for her to start feeling upset about this.
“Le temps est écoulé,” he announced, making her look up. He still wouldn’t look at her.
He paced through the rows of desks again, collecting the sentences from everyone. She handed her paper to him just the same as all the other students.
As class went on, her anxiety was barely relieved. When he asked the class questions and she raised her hand, he never called on her. He’d usually call on her at least once, and she always felt like she participated in class slightly more than her peers. But Yon just continued to act like she wasn’t there. Was this what being careful around each other was going to look like from now on?
She didn’t want to let this bother her. She didn’t want to look immature.
When the school day was finally over and they were driving home and he asked her how her day was, she told him it had been fine.
“Just fine?” he asked.
“Yep,” she said, trying not to think about each time he ignored her raising her hand.
“Are you sure?” he pressed.
“You seem upset.”
“I’m not upset.”
“Okay, well, if you are, you know you can tell me.”
“Okay, well, there’s nothing to tell.” Even she was taken back by how clearly annoyed she sounded.
“Are you sure something didn’t happen today? You need to be honest with me.”
It was out of her mouth before she could stop it, “Nothing happened, you just wouldn’t look at me in class, which is the opposite of something happening. It was something not happening.”
“What? You’re upset that I didn’t look at you in class?”
“I felt like you were ignoring me.”
“I have an entire class to pay attention to, I can’t look at you the entire time.”
“I know, but… I felt… I felt really weird the whole day and then I got to your class and you barely looked at me.”
“Why did you feel weird?”
“I don’t know… I felt weird that you’re a teacher and… everything.”
“As long as you don’t tell anyone, there’s nothing to feel weird about.”
“But it just feels like everyone knows.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“No, I’m not an idiot.”
“I didn’t say you were. And if you didn’t tell anyone, then you don’t need to be worried about anything. Nothing’s changed.”
“Nothing except when you ask me to write down five sentences about what I did over the weekend, all I can think about is you kissing me. But I have to pretend like nothing happened and I know why I have to pretend that nothing happened, but you wouldn’t even look at me.”
“Carol, you’re overthinking. You’re letting your emotions get the better of you. I’m not trying to ignore you.”
“I know, I know… but you wouldn’t call on me either.”
“I called on you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
He sighed. “If I didn’t call on you, it’s not on purpose. I have to call on everyone.”
“Yeah, but you’re calling on literally everyone except me.”
“I’m giving everyone a chance to participate, Carol. I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m doing my job.”
“So it has nothing to do with this weekend?”
“Why would it?”
“I don’t know… that’s the only thing that’s changed.”
“You’re overthinking it.”
She pursed her lips and focused her attention out the passenger window.
She heard Yon sigh. “I can’t be seen to be playing favorites with you, Carol.”
“So you have to suddenly start ignoring me? You don’t think that looks just as weird?”
“I don’t think anyone else has noticed.”
“Okay, then if no one has noticed, why can’t you call on me like you used to?”
“I’m trying to be more conscious of it now.”
“So you were playing favorites with me before?”
“I think I was a little, yes.”
For a second, her heart seemed to thud straight into her throat and she was actually speechless. He had just admitted to playing favorites with her in front of everyone. The moment of flattery was overcome by her continued frustration.
“But…” she said, pushing down the butterflies that had just fluttered in her stomach. “But if it was okay before then why—”
“Because there’s a bigger risk now. I know you understand that.”
“Just because you call on me in class doesn’t mean that everyone is going to think that you kissed me. Other teachers call on me and I haven’t made out with any of them. You’re the one overthinking this.”
“I’m being cautious, Carol. I’m not trying to upset you by doing any of this. It’s for your own good. Trust me.”
“But if you’re trying to keep things like normal, why do you have to start acting differently around me in front of everyone? That’s the opposite of normal.”
“Well, I probably should’ve done this sooner, then.”
“But no one suspected anything before! You’re making things weird now.”
“Carol, please just trust me.”
She fought back a groan and stared out the car window, biting her lip and trying to stay calm. He wasn’t making any sense to her. But she didn’t want to argue, especially not with him.
“The most important thing is that you didn’t tell anyone,” Yon said after a quiet moment had passed. “As long as no one knows, everything else is going to be fine. You’re paranoid about things that don’t matter.”
“I still care about you. You don’t need to worry about that.”
She sighed, feeling childish and stupid for having actually told him why she was upset. She hadn’t wanted him to know that she had been so bothered by it, and yet here she was spilling all of her anxiety the second he pressed her, and now she just looked paranoid and dumb.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Why are you sorry?”
“For being so paranoid.”
“Don’t apologize. Just trust me a little more. Everything’s going to be fine.”
The rest of the week at school played out pretty similarly. Even after their conversation, Yon was still as good as ignoring her both in class and at practice. He told her not to overthink it, but that still didn’t do much to ease Carol’s anxiety. He was even slightly more distant at home—he opted out of watching tv with her when she asked, which she tried not to worry about because he did have to grade papers most days, but still it felt weird to her.
Yon kept saying that nothing had changed, but that was obviously a lie. Even the fact that he said he wanted to be with her felt like a lie. Why would he bother kissing her at all if he was just going to start acting like he didn’t want anything to do with her anymore?
She thought she had finally found someone who wanted her around and who actually cared about her, and right as the best thing possible had happened, he suddenly didn’t want her anymore. Yes, she knew they weren’t supposed to be together because of their age difference, but she was almost eighteen so it wasn’t that weird.
She felt like an idiot for thinking that he might really want to be with her—of course someone as mature and put together as him wouldn’t want to date a high schooler. He was probably regretting ever letting her stay with him since he never would have been tempted to kiss her otherwise. If he was regretting that then she might once again have nowhere to stay. She couldn’t handle rejection from another person, especially not him. If this was how everything was going to be, she wished that she could go back in time and not go to his hotel room.
But it was too late for that—they couldn’t un-kiss. She just didn’t know how to move forward in a normal way. She didn’t want to keep looking too emotional by telling him she was still upset. She was dying to ask him if he still wanted to be with her, but she didn’t want him to think she wasn’t aware of how much trouble he could get in. She had no idea what she was supposed to be doing. So she just followed his lead and she kept quiet.
Yon was trying to keep as much distance as he could between himself and Carol, which was an unsurprisingly difficult task. He knew that he had let them get too close already and it had clearly developed into something inappropriate, but it was hard to see Carol in pain over this change.
She had been right that he was trying not to pay too much attention to her in class, and it stung a little that she had been so instantly hurt by that. Maybe deciding to do that hadn’t been the right decision, but he had to at least attempt to not play favorites with her anymore.
He was trying to withdraw from her, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when she started to withdraw from him. She got quiet and she didn’t joke so much around him. He hadn’t meant to completely alter their relationship dynamic like that. And even though he knew that keeping his distance from her was for the best in the long run, he couldn’t help but feel guilty for being just another person in her life to cause her pain.
Two weeks after their college visit, Yon was starting to feel like he couldn’t bear the guilt at having hurt her anymore. He had to do something to put some kind of normalcy back into her life—into both their lives.
So on Friday after school, as they drove home, he asked, “Do you want to watch a movie tonight?”
He thought for a moment that maybe she hadn’t heard him, but then she said, “You actually want to watch something with me?”
He sighed. “I know things have been a little tense at home lately, but I don’t want that to become normal for us.”
“Just because we can’t… be more than friends, that doesn’t mean we should be acting like strangers. So let’s just start over tonight. We can watch a movie together just like we used to.”
She was quiet.
“You can pick out the movie,” he said. “And we can order food—whatever you want.”
She hesitated, then said, “Whatever I want?”
“Yes. Anything you want.”
“What if I wanted pizza and Chinese food and nachos?”
“As your coach, I’d be a little concerned.”
“Yeah, but you said anything I want.”
He could hear a playful lilt in her voice that hadn’t been there in a while, and he found himself smiling.
“Okay, if that’s what you really want tonight.”
“You’re seriously going to order all that food?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Okay, but I actually just want pizza. I don’t want all of that.”
“Well, my wallet is certainly glad to hear that.”
She laughed and he was surprised at how instantly the sound relieved the guilt he had been feeling. It was so good to see her smiling again. Just that simple, reaffirming action from her made the barriers he had been building between them start to crumble. He was starting to have a hard time warding off the feeling that he had missed their growing closeness.
He couldn’t forget how happy she had been when he kissed her in the hotel room. And he knew everything about what he had done was wrong, but at the same time, it had made her happy. This uncomfortable tension between them hadn’t existed until he started pushing her away, all in an attempt to make their lives easier. Clearly, it hadn’t simplified anything.
Maybe giving in wouldn’t be so bad if it really did make her happy. She had undergone so much emotional turmoil with her homelife already, it couldn’t be right to keep adding to her stress like this, to make her homelife with him just another nightmare. If they were careful and their private life together continued to be hidden, then giving in might even be better.
A twinge in his gut told him that this reasoning wouldn’t actually pan out like he was telling himself it would. But the way Carol’s smile warmed him made it easy to forget anything other than the memory of holding her against him. He wanted to taste the smile on her mouth. Half heartedly, he shooed that thought away.
It was becoming clear that he wouldn’t have the willpower to shut her out again. But, right now, in this moment, he was alarmingly okay with that.
Carol had felt a little weird at first when Yon suggested a movie night, but then things did actually start to feel like they had before and she couldn’t have been more relieved. When they got home, they ordered pizza and she changed into her comfy clothes and picked out a movie. After two weeks of awkwardness, she was excited to be having this chill evening with him.
When they were finally ready to watch the movie, she settled herself onto the couch, instinctually curling up her legs closer to her body so there would be room for him to sit next to her. As he came into the living room, he looked at her for a moment, hesitating. Then he just shook his head slightly and sat down next to her.
The movie started and she could feel the limited space between them vibrating, but she pretended that she felt nothing. His arm draped over the back of the couch; it would have draped over her if she sat up and leaned the right way, but she tried not to think about that. As the time they spent sitting next to each other expanded, her posture relaxed, her legs uncurled away from her, and her feet were almost touching his thigh. But she barely noticed, at least not right away.
Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw his arm moving down to his side. His fingers were close to her ankle. She focused straight ahead on the tv and then felt him touch her. She thought it was an accident, but he held his touch there on her ankle. She stared intently at the tv. His hand moved slightly up her leg, then back down, then up, down, back and forth in a mindless motion. Her heart was pounding.
She could feel her hands starting to shake as his touch persisted. She knew that he shouldn’t be touching her like this. But she wanted him to keep touching her like this. And after the way he had seemed to be pushing her away lately, she was eager to accept any and all attention he was willing to give her.
But she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. She wanted to be mature about this, to handle this like an adult. She told herself not to overthink this. Maybe he didn’t even mean anything by what he was doing. But his hand was idly tracing further up her leg and she felt herself shiver.
She glanced at him and he was looking at the tv. She extended her leg, pressing her foot against his thigh. His hand was still on her leg and she felt her heart beating in her throat. She sat up and he looked at her.
Willing herself to say something clever or sassy or maybe even flirty, she opened her mouth, but nothing was coming into her brain. Then the words came out of her, “You’re touching me.”
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked.
She shook her head.
If Carol had thought her heart was beating fast before either of them had spoken, it was now proving how foolish she had been a minute ago. Every inch of her body felt electric with adrenaline—even her fingertips were buzzing. The movie was still playing but she couldn’t hear it. Both his hands were on her leg now.
She scooted her entire body closer to him, draping both her legs over his lap and his hands glided up her thighs. She touched one of his hands and he then turned his palm upward, taking her hand in his.
“Are you shaking?” he said, gripping her hand in both of his. She was glad he at least hadn’t commented on how sweaty her palm was.
“I think I just had too much sugar tonight,” she said. “We shouldn’t have had soda with the pizza.”
“That was your choice.”
“Well, what can I say, I’m an idiot.” She laughed, but her hands were still shaking and he held her tighter.
Then he leaned towards her and instinctively she found herself leaning towards him too. He pushed her hair behind her ear, and then touched her chin with his thumb and forefinger, tilting her face towards his.
“Do you want me to kiss you?” he asked.
Of course I want you to kiss me! she screamed in her head. But all she got herself to do was nod, tilting her face up as he leaned closer. And then he kissed her.
It was as if she had forgotten how good he was at this. God, she liked kissing him so much. So much that she started… laughing?
“What’s so funny?” he asked, smiling at her as a fit of giggles overtook her. “Was it really that bad?”
“Oh my god, no!” she said. Internally, she begged herself to stop giggling. “It’s—it’s just that… you’re so good at kissing and I… I… Thank you.”
“Oh god, I’m so fucking awkward!” She buried her face in her hands.
“Carol…” Yon’s voice broke into a laugh as he said her name and she peaked through her fingers at him. “Don’t be embarrassed, you’re not awkward. You’re endearing and… very adorable.”
“It’s a compliment.”
“It feels weird that you’re calling me adorable.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know… not adorable.”
“Well, I only meant you’re very attractive.”
“Aw, that’s adorable that you think that.” She laughed.
“I get it, I won’t call you adorable again.” He leaned in closer to her. “I think you’re beautiful, Carol.”
“Well, I think you’re beautiful too—I mean, in, like, a masculine way. I think you’re hot…” She huffed. “I think you’re a very attractive man.”
He smiled at her and she melted. Then he kissed her again. She liked the feeling of his lips against hers, the gentle way his hands found her waist and pulled her to him. He kissed her deeper and suddenly he was leaning her back and then he was basically on top of her. After the strange last two weeks with him, she definitely hadn’t expected to be making out with him right now, but she didn’t want it to stop. She wrapped her arms around him, feeling like she couldn’t get close enough to him.
Everything that was happening felt so intense and great. She was so caught up in the feeling of his mouth on hers and his body pressed to hers and how excited she was to be doing this with him again. After all of her doubts about him recently, he still wanted to be with her. He still wanted to fucking be with her! She felt like she was going to fucking lose it.
But then he stopped.
“We shouldn’t do this,” he said.
She was quiet for a second. She really didn’t want this moment to stop. Hoping to change his mind, she kissed him again. For a minute, it seemed to be working, but then he stopped once again.
“I’m sorry, Carol, we can’t do this.” He sighed and then sat up. He seemed calmer than the last time they had made out and he pushed her away, but she still felt the same wave of confusion overcoming her. What exactly was she supposed to do about this?
She settled on saying, “I’m not going to tell anyone.”
“I know you’re not. This isn’t being careful, though.”
“But if we don’t tell anyone, then won’t we be okay?”
“It’s not that simple, Carol. We talked about this. I want to be with you but… there are consequences for something like this happening.”
“I know, but… but what are we supposed to do?”
“We just have to be more careful.”
She stared at the tv for a second, watching the credits roll—she hadn’t even realized she missed that much of the movie until now. But missing the movie wasn’t what caused the sinking in her chest.
“So are you just going to start ignoring me again?” she asked.
“The last time you said we had to be more careful, you started ignoring me. Are you just going to keep doing that now?”
“I was never ignoring you, Carol.”
“Well then I don’t know what to call these last couple weeks.”
He sighed. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought I was doing what was best.”
“I know, but…”
“It felt like you really didn’t want me around anymore.”
“That’s not true.”
“Well, it felt like it.”
“You really think I don’t want you around?”
“When you’re ignoring me, yeah.”
“I already told you I wasn’t ignoring you.”
“Fine, you weren’t ignoring me. But if whatever you were doing is what being careful looks like, I don’t want to do that again.”
He seemed to be considering her. “There has to be boundaries between us, Carol. We can’t keep letting this happen. You’re seventeen.”
She felt her cheeks burning. “I’ll be eighteen in April. That’s not that far away.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“But you can’t just ignore me until April! If you start doing that again, then I don’t have anyone to talk to and you might as well have just let me sleep outside my parents’ house until they decided to let me back in, because that would be better than having you act like you don’t want me around anymore. If you want me to leave, then just tell me.”
“Carol, I never said I wanted you to leave. I want you here—I want you here more than I should.”
“What does that even mean?”
He was considering her again, perhaps more intently than before. Then finally, he said, “Have you ever had a boyfriend, Carol?”
“Have you ever had a serious relationship with anyone?”
“No, but… but why does that matter?”
“I can’t be your first…” He let out a deep sigh and ran a hand over his hair. “Your first relationship, I mean. I can’t be that.”
She understood exactly what he meant. Secretly, she had worried that this would be a problem. If she could see herself now, she knew she’d be red all over.
After trying to process her embarrassment for a moment, she forced herself to say, “You don’t want to be with me because I’ve never… because I’ve never had sex?”
“I can’t pretend it wouldn’t be a big deal for you.”
“How do you know it would be a big deal?”
“I was your age once. I know what it’s like.”
“But if you care about me, aren’t you, like… the best person for me to… be with?” God, she was pretty sure her face was turning an all new, never-before-seen shade of red.
“If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t have stopped us.”
“So I can’t be with you because you care about me? How does that make any sense?”
“Just trust me, Carol.”
“I want to trust you, but—but, I don’t know, I do trust you, but…” She groaned. “I like you a lot and obviously you like me, otherwise we wouldn’t have just made out, so why does it matter if I’ve had sex or not? We don’t even have to have sex if you don’t want to, you don’t have to be the first person I have sex with—that’s fine. But I also kinda—I mean, I would like you to be that person.”
Was it possible to throw up from embarrassment at not being able to shut up? Carol thought she might. She wasn’t even sure she could see straight right now, she was so fucking humiliated at telling Yon she wanted to have sex with him. Even though that’s basically what the entire conversation had been about.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I don’t know why I just said all of that.”
“Don’t apologize,” he said.
She thought she was starting to see straight again and she recognized something in the way he was looking at her. But she wasn’t sure what exactly it was. After a second, though, it clicked: It was the same way he looked at her when she was in the towel, then again when she had dressed up for the college tour. It made her feel oddly exposed, the way his gaze clung to places it probably shouldn’t. But that meant that he was thinking about her—no, fantasizing about her. It was just like when she felt like she was ogling him in class. He really did want her, even right now when he was trying to act all noble and stuff.
That gave her an idea.
Fighting through her burning embarrassment, she stood up. Then, taking a breath, she stood in front of him and—oh god, oh god, was she really doing this?—she straddled his lap.
“Carol,” he said, “what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” She wished she fucking knew. She placed her hands on his chest, and part of her was waiting for him to push her away. But he wasn’t pushing her away yet. That was something.
For a moment, she just stared at him, trying to catch her breath. She just wanted to look confident, like someone he could see as mature. She leaned a little closer to him and when he tilted his face towards hers, she did feel a little boost of confidence.
She kissed him and once again found that he was eager to forget everything he said about being careful. Was it really this easy to change his mind?
“We don’t have to do anything serious until I’m eighteen,” she said against his cheek. She hoped she sounded certain and firm, but she felt a bit like she was pleading for him to please just keep liking her. Then, her smaller voice added, “I don’t want you to ignore me.”
His lips found hers, in a kiss that felt almost like an apology, then he said, “I’m not going to ignore you.”
“Yes, I promise.”
She couldn’t believe this was working. After having been so scared that he might have lost interest in her, all she had to do was sit in his lap and kiss him and then he was telling her exactly what she wanted to hear. It felt so good to have him reassuring her and wanting her like this. Whatever she had to do to prove that she was mature enough for him, she’d do it. She didn’t want to face losing this.
Chapter 9: Influence
A few evenings each week, Yon would go to a gym while Carol stayed home alone. That wasn’t the only time she stayed home without him—she didn’t really go out anywhere with him—but she looked forward to that guaranteed alone time. Yon’s house was starting to feel less like a stranger’s place and more like her house too.
When Yon went to the gym tonight, though, Carol didn’t know what to do with her alone time. With no homework and no tv to hold her interest, she was feeling a bit bored. Even scrolling through apps on her phone was disappointing. Attlass posted pictures of a study group on Instagram and of course Minnerva was there. Carol hated opening social media only to see exactly how left out she was.
Feeling slightly defeated, she headed upstairs, thinking she might just get ready for bed early, but as she reached the top of the stairs, she saw Yon’s open bedroom door and a burning curiosity tingled through her. She’d gone into his room a couple times, but otherwise she’d just stand outside his door if she needed him while he was in there, talking to him while he put away his laundry or just in passing to ask if he was ready to go to school. There was usually no reason for her to go into his room.
There was some unspoken rule about his room being off limits. But pretty much everything about their relationship now seemed to fall under an “off limits” category.
Just as she had been overcome with curiosity in his kitchen the first night she stayed over, she was also curious about the details of his bedroom. She just wanted to step in, maybe just peek into the master bathroom to see how much nicer it was than hers. She didn’t want to dig through his things, just get a glance. It wasn’t as if he would even be able to tell that she had gone in.
Before she knew it, she was stepping into his room, feeling both underwhelmed and exhilarated. She flipped the light switch on in his bathroom, only to discover that it wasn’t much different from hers. She peeked into his closet and his dresser drawers, even though she knew she shouldn’t, but now that she was actually in here, she was made up of nothing but curiosity. Being in this intimate, forbidden space sent shivers of giddiness over her.
When she tried looking in his nightstand drawer, she accidentally pulled it a little too hard and the entire drawer fell out.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” she muttered, trying to slide the drawer back in its place.
As she made sure the drawer’s contents didn’t look too discombobulated, something caught her eyes and she suppressed an uncomfortable laugh. In the back of the drawer, in a place she might not have noticed if she hadn’t accidentally forced the whole thing out, were a couple condoms.
She supposed that shouldn’t actually be surprising or funny to her, but as someone who didn’t have an actual sex life, evidence of someone else’s sex life was pretty surreal. And this wasn’t just anyone’s sex life, this was Yon’s sex life. He had actual sex in this room. He kept condoms next to his bed because he was, at one time or another, fully expecting to use them.
She had figured he was experienced, but somehow seeing this proof made her relationship with him feel a lot more daunting. He had real sexual experience and she didn’t think she had ever even touched a condom until right now.
She used to always wonder if he was actually dating anyone or not. Sometimes the girls at track would try to ask him if he had a girlfriend, but he never gave them any answers, insisting it was inappropriate to talk to them about that. But when she started staying with him, it became pretty clear that he wasn’t in a relationship with anyone, at least not right now. In her mind, these condoms seemed to imply that he did have an active dating life before her.
And now she was part of his “dating life,” and, larger obstacles aside, she wasn’t really sure what that was supposed to look like. They got to make out, but that was about as far as she knew what to expect.
She thought, or at least she hoped, eventually they’d have sex, but she had no idea how to tell if she was ready or not. Would she feel ready when she turned eighteen? What would feeling ready actually feel like? Was he counting down the days for her birthday right now? Or would they wait even longer? But what if he got tired of waiting?
A couple months ago, she thought her biggest concern with Yon would be hiding her crush on him, but that had changed practically overnight. Nothing about this situation was something she had any idea how to navigate. What was she supposed to Google? How to date your high school track coach/teacher who you also secretly live with? That was ridiculous.
As she stood looking at the condoms in his nightstand, she thought she heard the garage door opening, so she hastily shoved everything back into place and scurried out of his room. Popping into her own room, she tried to force herself to relax so she wouldn’t look suspicious when he saw her.
There was no way he was going to be able to tell that she had lightly snooped around his room, she told herself. He wouldn’t be able to tell that she was starting to have concerns about his much more historied sex life. She didn’t know exactly how adults were supposed to handle their sex lives, but she was pretty sure that they didn’t start having a mini crisis over finding someone’s condoms. She just had to play it cool and keep pretending that she knew what she was doing.
Carol wanted to make her final decision about college before Thanksgiving break, but it was proving to be a hard choice. She had got accepted into both of her top choices—the out of state Asgard University, and the in state Stark University. She had initially planned on enrolling at Asgard University if she could, but when she got her acceptance letter, Yon seemed to have differing thoughts on it.
“I just don’t think going to school out of state will be the wisest choice for you in the long run,” he said one night during dinner.
“But Asgard University has always been my top choice, and after visiting it, I just thought that of course I’d go there if I got accepted.”
“Going to school out of state is going to be so much more expensive. You don’t want to carry that kind of debt around with you.”
“But I’m going to have debt either way.”
“You also don’t have any family to help with your expenses though.”
“I know, but they wouldn’t have really helped me anyway.”
Yon sighed. “Why was Asgard always your top choice?”
“It has everything I want, I’ve told you that like a hundred times.”
“Yes, but was one of those things you wanted perhaps distance from your family?”
“I mean… I guess—I mean, I don’t know.”
“My point is that you’re already living away from your parents. Putting more miles between you and them right now isn’t going to matter.”
“But that’s not the only reason I wanted to go there.”
“I think you got a little emotionally attached to the idea of that distance, though.”
“I’m not emotionally attached to it.”
“Okay, then if you’re not emotionally attached to it, I think you need to seriously consider going to Stark University instead. You could do a lot worse than Stark.”
He laid out a lot of reasons that actually made sense to her, despite her growing disappointment at realizing how impractical going to school out of state would be. The reasons were mostly financial, but that wasn’t all.
“If anything were to happen, it’d be nice to have less distance between us.”
“You’re saying that you want to be closer to me?”
“I’m saying that I want to be able to help you if you need it, and it’s harder to do that when you’re farther away.”
“Okay, but how often am I really going to be in that kind of emergency situation?”
“Hopefully not ever. But if you wanted to come back here for any reason, like holidays or long weekends, it’d be so much easier.”
She hated how much sense he was making to her and that she could feel herself giving in to his reasoning. And right now, his opinion mattered to her more than anyone else’s. If he was convincing her that going to school out of state was a bad idea, then she’d listen to him, even above her own reasoning. After all, he just seemed to know so much more about everything than her.
Once Carol had officially decided to enroll at Stark University, part of her was relieved to have a clear course of action for her future. But another part of her was still disappointed at not getting to go to the school she had envisioned herself in. She trusted Yon’s advice though, so she tried not to linger over her disappointment.
One night as she helped clear the table and do the dishes after dinner, that disappointment still felt heavy in the air around her.
“Do any of your friends ever ask you to do anything?” Yon asked as he started loading the dishwasher. Lately, he seemed a little desperate to keep awkward silences away from them, so he just kept asking her random questions about her life that he already knew the answers to.
Carol handed him a dirty plate to load and sighed. “What other friends?”
“Was Attlass really your only friend?”
“Yep.” She held herself back from asking why he thought she’d be staying here if she had had any other friends—even she could tell that would’ve come across harsher than she meant it.
“Not even the girls on the track team?” he pressed.
“I only really do track related things with them. Those were, like… my only social events. Social events not with Attlass, anyway.”
“What did you do with Attlass?”
“Mostly me and him just hung out, but more people like him than me, so sometimes he’d get invited to things and I’d go with him.”
“Invited to things like what?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just a couple parties.”
“What kind of parties?”
She found herself fighting an embarrassed smile as she passed him the last dish to be loaded. “The kind I could get in trouble for.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I hope you weren’t drinking.”
“Don’t worry, I’m a boring teenager.”
“You’re not boring, Carol.”
“Yeah, well, tell that to all the people who don’t want to hang out with me.”
Yon pressed a few buttons on the dishwasher and then the whirring sounds of the machine started. He leaned against the counter, looking at her. “There’s a lot more people out there than your classmates at Hala High.”
“I know, but it doesn’t feel that way right now.”
“When you go to college, you’ll meet more people and you’ll realize how big the world is. You’ll find the people you belong with.”
“Well, I kinda…” She started blushing at what she wanted to say, and shook her head. “I don’t know, nevermind.”
“I don’t know, I feel kinda like I belong here…” Oh god, her stomach was somersaulting, but she couldn’t stop herself from finishing the thought now, “Like I belong here with you…”
He hesitated just long enough to make her insides feel even more chaotic, then he said, “I’m glad you feel that way, Carol.”
Ugh. His tone rubbed her in a weird way, like maybe she had made him uncomfortable by being honest.
“It’s stupid,” she said. “I just mean that you’ve been real great to me and I like you a lot and I know things are real complicated with us, but I’m still really glad to be here and—”
“Carol, slow down. You don’t have to explain yourself. I understand. I’m glad you’re here too.”
“You’re the only person that’s glad to have me around. You must have really bad taste.”
“Or maybe it’s everyone else who does. Don’t deride yourself like that.”
“I wasn’t deriding myself. I was deriding you and your bad taste.”
“Ah, my mistake.”
“Yeah, it was.”
He gave her a look, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head. His eyes lingered over her and she still wasn’t used to how giddy that made her feel, so she had to look down at her feet.
“I’m going to watch tv,” she said. “Do you want to watch with me?”
He just stood looking at her for a moment, so she ducked her head and started to turn away.
“Carol,” he said, and she turned back around, maybe a little too eagerly. He motioned with his head and said, “Come here.”
“Just… come here.”
She stepped closer to him, and then he reached for her, taking hold of her waist and pulling her to him. She felt like she could swoon.
“I think you belong here too,” he said.
Okay, maybe now she actually was swooning. Was swooning when your whole body felt weak but you also felt incredibly alive, except maybe your legs weren’t as alive as your heart? Because that’s what she felt like and it seemed like swooning.
But then he kissed her and she didn’t give a fuck what swooning was or wasn’t.
“I like you so much,” she said, feeling a little silly after she spoke.
“I know,” he said. “I like you too.”
And he kept kissing her. The kissing heated up and she was eager to go along with it. She was a little worried he was going to push her away at any moment, though.
But he wasn’t pushing her away. The thought that they could keep going was both exciting and terrifying. But she wasn’t exactly sure why she was afraid. Maybe it was because she knew there were condoms upstairs in his nightstand or maybe because she still had homework she needed to get done. Whatever the reason, she let him keep kissing her and touching her, running his hands down her back. He briefly touched her butt and she laughed a little.
“He touched the butt,” she said, suppressing another laugh.
“You know, he touched the butt.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You know, Finding Nemo. He touches the boat and they call it a butt.” Boy, this conversation certainly didn’t feel sexy.
“Ah. Sorry for not catching your reference to an animated fish.”
She groaned. “It was funny in my head.”
“Maybe keep it there next time.”
Awkward references were quickly forgotten, because he kissed her again and then was directing them away from the kitchen. People making out in movies always seemed to move around so gracefully, but she felt super clumsy as they moved away, like she was going to trip at any second.
“Where are we going?” she asked, trying not to laugh.
“Do you want to go to the couch?”
Oh god, oh god, the couch? He was intentionally suggesting they move to the couch to keep making out? He wasn’t saying they should stop? Her heart was in her throat and she nodded and they stumbled to the couch.
Her head was spinning as they kept going—he kept telling her how to do things, and she didn’t mind because he actually knew what he was doing and everything he suggested made making out even better.
When she climbed onto his lap, she had no idea how long they had been doing this. Her stomach was doing somersaults all over the place as he ran his hands down to her waist. She moved her mouth to his neck, and she thought he was liking it—he sounded like he was liking it, so she kept doing it.
“Carol,” he said, moving his head a little, “that’s enough.”
She paused. “You want to stop?”
“Just stop kissing my neck for now.”
“You don’t like it?”
“No, it’s just…” he sighed.
Suddenly, she thought she understood. “You don’t want a hickey!”
“No, I don’t.”
She laughed. “Have you ever had to hide one at school?”
“No, and I’m trying not to start doing that now.”
“Okay, well what if I get one?”
“You’re not going to.”
“You sound so sure of yourself.”
“I’d like to think I know what I’m doing.”
“And I don’t?”
They both knew the answer to that question, and almost instantly a self-conscious heat rose to her face. He avoided actually saying anything by kissing her, and she followed his lead, letting him kiss her the way he wanted to. He pulled her closer to him, pressing his hands firmly against her back as he repositioned them, laying her down on the couch. Her heart skipped a beat, or maybe two, she couldn’t tell. He was fully on top of her and it felt really good and he was… standing up?
“It’s late,” he said.
She reeled a bit from the sudden stop, and she felt a slight shift in the air when he stepped back from her now. As she sat up, she straightened her shirt; it had ridden up past her belly button—for some reason that made her feel a little weird when he looked at her. She felt like he was assessing her.
“What?” she said, self-conscious.
“Nothing,” he said, turning away from her, “It’s just really late. We lost track of time.”
“Yeah, time and a few other things.”
He didn’t acknowledge her sarcastic comment and that felt worse than the times he had physically pushed her away from him. Maybe she had said the wrong thing. Or maybe it was just really late. She glanced at the clock by the tv. Fuck, it was definitely later than she thought it would be.
“Shit,” she muttered.
“No, I still need to finish my homework.”
“You still have homework? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I don’t know…”
He sighed. “What subjects do you have?”
“Just calculus and, well… your class.”
“Okay, well, do your calculus and…” He sighed. “Don’t worry about French tonight. I know you do all your other work, so just turn in what you have during class tomorrow and I’ll let it pass this once.”
“Yes, but this isn’t going to become a regular thing.”
“I mean, if all I have to do to pass your class is let you touch my boobs, I wouldn’t mind.”
“Carol…” he scolded, trailing off and blushing.
It was like he didn’t want to be reminded that he touched her boobs or French kissed her or whatever unless he was actively doing it. She wasn’t always sure if she found his discomfort more funny or weird, but tonight, it was leaning towards more weird. It just felt like they really were doing something wrong.
Yon stayed up a little later to help Carol finish her calculus homework so that she could still get to bed at a decent hour. He felt guilty for distracting her like he was also some kind of hormonal adolescent.
It was just so difficult to resist someone that was so, to put it bluntly, easy. He knew more than anyone how badly she wanted affection, and, when paired with her schoolgirl crush on him, of course she would be eager to do anything with him. At times, he could step far enough away from the situation to see that he might be taking advantage of her.
But Carol just seemed so much more mature than all of her peers. Maybe it just seemed this way because he was closer to her than he had ever been to anyone else her age. And she had been forced to hurdle through life experiences that most people, her age or otherwise, would never have to endure. Those experiences, while tragic, gave her an almost adult perspective on life. Sometimes he even thought that she had handled her tumultuous experiences with a maturity that would rival most adults.
He still knew that Carol’s maturity didn’t actually make her an adult, though—she was very much a teenager. The fact remained that Yon was the only adult in this situation and he was still giving in to his attraction as if he didn’t know any better.
But the more he gave in, the more his attraction to her evolved. It wasn’t just physical anymore—maybe it never had been just that. But he was starting to enjoy the feeling that Carol belonged here, with him.
He hadn’t thought about that sense of belonging until she had brought it up. Whether or not he fully admitted it to himself, he had never felt so protective.
It was up to him and him alone to take care of her, to be responsible for her. He had to look out for her best interests and basic needs. While he knew he couldn’t just sit there and pretend that feeling her up on the couch was something he was doing for her best interests, she also never objected. If she had any objections, of course he’d stop.
Being with her added a whole new kind of stress to his life, but the experience of being with her was so unlike his other experiences with women. Part of this was because she really wasn’t his equal—she looked to him for everything and her pure adoration for him had always been so clear. He couldn’t resist someone who saw him like that and who needed him so much.
The reality of their relationship was that he was currently more significant to her than anyone else in almost every area of her life. He liked that feeling. He hadn’t expected to feel that way, but he was savoring it more than anything else.
When he had convinced her to change her mind about which university to attend, he had been offering her advice he’d give to any of his students. He really didn’t think she needed to spend the extra money just to go to a school that had been her escape fantasy for so long. But he had also been surprised at how easy it was to convince her to change her mind—she really did value his opinion more than anything. He liked being that significant to her.
And he was beginning to loathe the idea of someone else taking that place. Not that he really had any competition right now, but perhaps that was also part of her appeal to him.
Chapter 10: Isolation
As the days grew colder in November, official track team meetups for the fall semester were coming to an end, and the team had their last meet a week before Thanksgiving. It was bittersweet for Carol, knowing that this was the last time she’d do cross country in the fall during high school. But she knew she still had more to look forward to as far as track was concerned.
“Hey, Carol,” her teammate Angela said, coming up to her as their last cross country meet ended. “We’re going to keep doing unofficial meetups during the winter off-season again this year. You in?”
“Oh yeah, I’m in. I just have to, uh… double check with my parents.”
“Okay, cool. It’ll be the same schedule as last year. I can give you rides again if you need me to.”
“Thanks, I’ll let you know.”
“Cool. I’ll see you around, then.”
Carol watched Angela walk away and smiled. Meeting with some of her track team over the winter off-season was always something she looked forward to—she enjoyed regular track, but there was something special about training with just the other girls. When Carol still lived with her parents, she had been beyond grateful to have this reason to spend more time away from home, and she found herself still looking forward to it.
Even though she liked Yon as a coach, it would still be nice to meet up without his supervision. The entire atmosphere changed when it was just the girls—it was more chill. She jumped at any opportunity to socialize with her peers outside of school.
She didn’t think Yon would have a problem with her doing this, so she brought it up during dinner that night.
“Since cross country is over and we don’t start track and field until after winter break, some of the team meets up to train by ourselves.”
“Yes, you girls mention it every year.”
“Yeah, so I said I would be able to go again this year, I just had to check with my parents. So… this is me checking with my… adult.”
He gave her a look then sighed.
“You already told them you were planning on going?”
His tone struck Carol in an odd way, as if she should brace herself for disappointment.
“Yeah, I go every year…”
“How are you going to get there?”
“Angela said she could give me a ride if I needed one.”
“Give you a ride here? To my house?”
She knew he was making a valid point, but she wasn’t quite ready to abandon the idea of her informal winter track meet ups.
“I mean, couldn’t you just give me a ride then? I’m training for track—for your team.”
“Yes, and you live with me. I can just keep training you.”
“But… I do this every year.”
“You didn’t live with me every year before this.”
“Yeah, but it’s kinda nice training with the girls.”
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea. You can’t get a ride from someone else to come here, and we don’t need anyone asking why I’m coming to pick you up from something that isn’t sponsored by the school.”
“I could get dropped off somewhere else and—”
“I know it’s a tradition for you to do this, but you’ll probably get better training if you just train with me. It’ll be a good chance to get some more one-on-one time.”
“I thought me living here was enough one-on-one time. And also when you shove your tongue down my throat, that seems pretty one-on-one.”
He sighed, trying to act like he wasn’t blushing right now. “We’ll put in extra focus on your training to make it worth it, I promise.”
“How? Are we going to do a Rocky montage together?”
“I don’t think we have any steps that are quite as impressive as that around here.”
“If you want, we can… look into getting you a gym membership for the winter.”
“At your gym?”
“I thought you didn’t want me to go there with you.”
“Well… we can figure out the details.”
“Really? You’re not joking?”
“Why would I be joking?”
“I don’t know.”
“This’ll be good, Carol. You’ll be in better shape than all of them when track starts again.”
“It’s for the best. Trust me.”
She sighed, defeated. She couldn’t argue with his logic—getting rides to his house would be risky, not to mention awkward.
Still, she fought not to show how disappointed she was. After all, he was now offering to let her go to his gym. It wouldn’t be the same as hanging out with her teammates, but she didn’t want to appear ungrateful, not after everything he had done for her. And it was almost like they were a real couple, getting gym memberships together and stuff. This could be a good thing.
“You said your gym has a pool, right?” she said, trying to sound unphased by her disappointment.
“Yes, it does.”
“Will I be able to use it?”
“If you want to.”
After a moment of pause, he said, “I didn’t know you liked swimming.”
She shrugged. “It kinda makes me feel like I’m flying.”
He smiled. “You’re a very interesting girl, Carol Danvers.”
“So are you, Yon Rogg.” She paused. “I mean, you’re not an interesting girl. You’re an interesting man. I mean, I’m sure you’d be interesting if you were a girl, too.”
He rolled his eyes at her, still smiling. She liked when she could make him smile like that; sometimes she pretended she was the only person who could do that. For a brief moment, she imagined that he might try to lean closer and kiss her now, but he didn’t. He just looked back at his dinner plate. She sighed.
The disappointment at not being able to train with her teammates still stung. She was a little worried about telling them she couldn’t go this year—it was always embarrassing to tell people that her parents wouldn’t allow her to do something. Her parents hadn’t told her she couldn’t do this, true, but that’s what she’d have to tell everyone.
For a second, she caught herself thinking that if she still lived with her parents, she’d be able to go, and quickly shoved that thought out of her mind. Her parents kicked her out because they didn’t want her anymore. But, then, maybe if she had lived with Attlass she’d be able to go…
A little flustered, she shoved that thought away too. She shouldn’t be thinking about what she would be doing living with the people that didn’t want her around. Yon wanted her around and he had done so much more for her than anyone else. She didn’t want to be ungrateful.
Even though he wasn’t going to let her train with her teammates this winter, he was still providing her with everything she needed and more. She barely felt like she had any right to be disappointed about this one thing. She’d have to find a way to get over it.
Yon knew he shouldn’t have told Carol he would get her a gym membership, but he could tell she was much more upset than she let on about missing out on meeting with her teammates. He didn’t want to be the source of her disappointment, not after everything she had been put through this year, so the gym felt like a sort of compromise. Letting her use his gym might not even be that bad if they walked in and out of the building separately.
He briefly wondered if he would have been more willing to let her join her teammates if they hadn’t started their… affair? He wasn’t sure exactly what to call what they were doing. “Affair” felt like the most accurate term, but it also felt entirely wrong. Perhaps that feeling was appropriate, since what they were doing was wrong.
The lines were beginning to blur between his physical relationship with her and his more parental responsibilities to her. He couldn’t see himself as a father figure anymore, he hadn’t been able to do that for a while, but he still held all those same responsibilities.
Sometimes he wondered about her actual parents. Would they care about where their daughter was living if they knew what was happening? Would they want her back? Would Carol be better off with him or with them?
He tried not to let himself contemplate the answers to those questions for too long. He still thought that living with him had to be better than living with her parents. Carol had to endure years of blatant neglect and abuse from them. He had given her an environment to live in that was leagues better than where she had come from, and he really did care for her. Just because he was acting on his physical attraction to her didn’t mean that he had just stopped caring for her.
If—and to him this felt like a big if—they were still involved when she got older, maybe then their relationship dynamic would find a way to even out and become something resembling normalcy. But, for the time being, it would be impossible for him to relinquish any of his responsibilities. And that included making her keep a safe distance from situations that might threaten their living arrangement.
She probably wasn’t even going to miss spending time with teammates that she didn’t consider friends anyway, but he would make it up to her. He already promised the gym membership, but if she still seemed upset, then he might consider buying her some new workout clothes as well. It couldn’t hurt.
The rest of the fall semester went on in a strange, dragging blur for Carol. Without track, there wasn’t much to look forward to. She went to school, went back home, did her homework, and did it all again. Even Thanksgiving passed by in an odd, unceremonious blip that catapulted her into the forced cheeriness of the Christmas season.
As promised, however, Yon put extra focus into her training. He kept her on the same schedule she had gotten used to with cross country, only now she felt much more supervised. Normally she’d go jogging on her own time around the neighborhood, but now he timed her. And he’d oversee her stretches and her work out before each run, just like he would during the season, except now it was just them. He praised her when she was doing something right, but he was also quick to point out when she wasn’t meeting his standards. She was constantly pushing herself, maybe even more than she would during actual track.
And, true to his word, he did get her a gym membership. They’d go a few times a week, but they wouldn’t actually walk in and out of the gym together. But he still planned out for her ahead of time what she should be doing while at the gym. When she was done doing the routine he had planned for her, she’d spend the last half hour of her gym time swimming. She loved the sensation of floating and gliding through the water—it was the freest she felt every week and maybe the only thing she actually looked forward to.
Once he had got her the gym membership, Yon also started buying her more things, which felt weird at first, but he just said they were all early Christmas presents. At first he got her new workout clothes and running shoes to help with their new training routine. He also got her a Spotify subscription to make her runs and workouts more fun. But then he bought her a really nice new winter coat too. He said her old coat was useless, which she wasn’t so sure about, but the new coat was so nice that she didn’t mind when he suggested that they donate her old one.
He actually had her go through a lot of her old clothes and donate the ones she didn’t want, then he let her get basically an all new wardrobe. He always commented if he saw her wearing her old clothes now, so she ended up mostly wearing her new ones. She didn’t think she minded, because getting to wear new things instead of the same old t-shirts she’d been wearing for years was kinda nice.
And making out with Yon when he wasn’t in coach mode was also still kinda nice. They didn’t really do it every single day or anything like that—they were still “trying” to take things slow—but every time they did, she felt like things were getting more intense. She had kinda accidentally felt him get hard once, and for some reason that was really embarrassing. She had tried to act chill, and he was really calm about it, but making out made her more nervous now. Not because she was scared of penises or anything, she just felt really unsure about all things sexual.
She always imagined she’d be in love with the person she had her first time with and she thought she was in love with Yon, even though she hadn’t said anything to him about it, but how could she not be? If she was in love with him, then she didn’t know why the idea of going further with him made her so nervous.
Carol sat on the couch one Saturday evening after dinner. Yon didn’t have her scheduled to do any training today, and she needed a break from studying for finals, so she was flipping through the channels until she found a suitably cheesy Christmas movie. Winter break was only a week away, and even though the approaching holiday made her feel a little off this year, she was still trying to grab onto a bit of everyone else’s generic holiday cheer. Watching Christmas movies was one way she could tap into that semblance of normalcy.
Yon eventually joined her on the couch and it didn’t take long before she wasn’t watching tv anymore—warm Christmas cheer replaced by a different heated sensation. She didn’t mind the distraction, though; she was so into it that she barely noticed his hand inside her shirt. That wasn’t a new move at this point, but she still gasped when she felt his hand on her breast.
“Are you okay?” he asked, loosening his grip on her.
“Yeah… yeah… I’m fine,” she said, and then kept kissing him.
His hands slid to her back and she felt him unhooking her bra.
His mouth was on her neck and then he spoke into her ear, “Can I take your shirt off?”
That was new. She shivered and nodded, then realized that he wasn’t actually looking at her face, so she said, “Yes.”
He took the bottom edge of her shirt, started pulling it up, and she lifted her arms up over her head. She watched as he set her shirt and bra to the side. His eyes lingered over her half naked body and she wanted to cover her chest, but she didn’t. She could be brave and mature.
He looked her in the eyes and said, “You’re so beautiful.”
Then he started kissing her body and she really had no idea what she should be doing anymore. She liked how it felt and she liked that he wanted to be with her, but it started to sink in that she was actually half naked with him and he was on top of her. But he was still fully clothed. Was she supposed to ask him to take off his shirt, too? She didn’t know when to ask that. He kept kissing her and then she was pressed between him and the couch, his hands travelling down her body.
Briefly his hand went between her legs, then he moved it away, then back, then away again. The small involuntary gasp that came from her seemed to help his hand make up its mind and press resolutely between her legs. Her head was spinning, but still she found herself pushing her hips against his hand and he pushed against her with more purpose. His hand slid under the waistband of her sweatpants, still over her underwear, but she was a hundred times dizzier than she had been before.
Should she have known this was coming? Should she have shaved her legs? She hadn’t shaved this week yet. Her pants were still on, so maybe it didn’t even matter if she had shaved or not.
But what if he asked if he could take her pants off? She’d probably say yes and then—oh fuck, now his fingers were pushing aside her underwear and he was actually touching her.
“Is this okay?” he asked.
It felt good, but it was kinda overwhelming.
The longer he kept touching her, though, the less good she felt about it. She didn’t know if he was expecting her to do the same thing back to him and she was getting too embarrassed to ask. The heated, melting sensation in her abdomen started giving way to something colder.
“Carol,” he said, as if he could sense this change in her, “are you alright?”
“Yes,” she said. “I just… you’ve never… you’ve never done this to me before.”
“We don’t have to do anything, Carol.”
“But I… want to.”
He sighed, taking his hands off her and sitting up. She watched his shoulders slack as he let out another sigh, and then he shook his head and ran a hand over his hair. For a second he rested his hand on his knee, tapping his fingertips against it. Her stomach started feeling a little twisted as she watched him, as if she were waiting for him to give her some kind of lecture. And she felt really weird just sitting there with no shirt on.
Then he straightened his posture and turned to her. Her heartbeat raced as he leaned towards her again, but he was just reaching behind her for a blanket, putting it over her shoulders. Suppressing a sigh of relief, she pulled the edges of the blanket together across her chest. Despite the feeling of safety the blanket brought, she still felt exposed.
“Did I do something wrong?” she asked.
“No, of course not, Carol. It’s just… we’re not taking things slow.”
She was silent. Even though she had been scared about letting things get further with him, she was embarrassed that they stopped because of her. Not being ready just made her look like a childish idiot, and she didn’t want him to see her like that.
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” she finally said.
“I know you’re not,” he said.
“Then why can’t we—”
“You’re too young to really understand.”
Hearing those words hit her like a blow to the chest.
She tried to hold her tongue, but failed and blurted, “You know you sound really condescending right now.”
“You can’t sit there and tell me what I do or don’t understand or how I’m going to feel about something. What about what I’m feeling right now? Does that matter?”
“Not as much as you think it does.”
She hadn’t expected that answer from him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You can’t be emotional about this. Being emotional is what will turn this into a bigger problem than it is.”
“So I’m just a problem now?”
“That’s not what I said. The situation is the problem. You’re not the problem.”
“Yeah, but we wouldn’t be in this situation if I didn’t live with you, right?”
“I don’t know, Carol.”
“Well, I know. If I hadn’t agreed to move in with you then I wouldn’t be here right now and you wouldn’t have any problems.”
“I did not say that and that is not what I meant.”
“Well, I have no idea what you meant.” She shook her head. “You keep saying that we can’t do this, and then you go and do it again. I don’t know what you really want.”
He paused for a long moment. “I just want you to be happy.”
Bullshit, Carol thought, barely holding herself back from actually saying it.
Perhaps she would have said it out loud if she could actually tell if it was bullshit or not. He had done so much for her, and she was happier here with him than she had been with her parents, but as things kept getting more physical with him, everything around her was becoming more confusing—she had no way of knowing what his intentions were with her, not when he said one thing and did the opposite.
Carol stared at him now, her body burning and her head pounding. She felt increasingly embarrassed sitting there half naked in front of him, clinging to the blanket wrapped around her. She wanted to put her clothes back on but she didn’t want to do it in front of him.
“You should get dressed,” he suddenly said, as if he were reading her mind.
Then he stood up and walked towards the kitchen. She glanced at him over her shoulder. He was keeping his back to her, but she still felt weird about exposing herself again, so she picked up her shirt and bra, gripped the blanket tighter across herself, and headed up to her room.
In the privacy of her room, she realized her hands were shaking. She didn’t know exactly why, though. She felt so many things, it was like someone had unleashed the butterflies from her stomach and they were fluttering around her head, making it impossible for her to actually see anything clearly. She wasn’t even sure butterflies was the right word anymore; this felt more painful, like maybe she had struck a hornet’s nest.
But as she redressed, she suddenly noticed one thing for certain: She was noticeably wet.
She told herself not to be embarrassed, because he had been touching her on purpose and it wasn’t like he was a virgin, so he probably expected this to happen. And it wasn’t like she had never touched herself before or as if she lived under a rock and didn’t understand that this was what happened when girls were turned on. But she had never been that turned on with someone else before, at least not while being touched. And that, along with the way the entire interaction had ended, made her dizzy.
For a second she worried that she had been too turned on and that maybe he stopped because of that. But she already knew they had stopped and argued because of her hesitation, and that ate at her. She felt a little ashamed that she hadn’t been ready. And the fact that he had seen her without a shirt and had had his hand between her legs made her start feeling a whole new and unexpected kind of embarrassment—it was practically unbearable. So much for being mature.
Yon knew he had to tread carefully with Carol, and part of that was making sure that she wasn’t actually upset about anything. He couldn’t ignore how relieved she had looked when he wrapped the blanket around her, how she had clung to it—he had almost forgotten how insecure he was in his own body at her age. He had years to get comfortable with that side of himself, but she was just beginning.
Everything that was happening between them was new to her, and he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. He tried not to linger over the fact that he had seventeen years of experience over her—her entire lifetime so far.
But the fact that she was having all of her reactions for the first time with him made being with her increasingly, frustratingly irresistible. This wasn’t just another sexual experience for her—this was defining her sexual experiences.
He knew he was being selfish. But he did care for her. He really did care about her more than anyone else, just not quite romantically. Even in their physical moments, he was thinking about her, trying to make the experiences enjoyable for her. She wasn’t going to get that kind of attention from anyone her age. If she were dating some oblivious teenager right now, he doubted they would be able to handle all of her complexities or to even truly care about her like he could.
But he couldn’t let himself forget that she might be having a hard time internalizing this. However much she wanted to be with him, they both knew this situation wasn’t normal. If he was having a hard time processing this, he wasn’t sure how she would be holding up. He thought she was fine, for the most part, but he also knew how well she could hide when she wanted to.
With that on his mind, he decided he had to talk to her before either of them went to bed. He couldn’t leave her to simmer alone in her room all night after what had just happened, so he went purposefully upstairs.
Taking a breath, he knocked on her door. He realized then that he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to say, but then there came an uncertain, “Come in.”
He opened the door to see her sitting crossed legged on her bed, an open textbook sitting next to her. He was almost certain that the textbook had been opened just for show when he knocked, but he wasn’t going to bother pressing her on that.
“I just wanted to check on you,” he said.
“Well… check,” she used her pointer finger to make a checkmark in the air. “I’m still here.”
“I see that.”
“Is that all you wanted?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry about earlier.”
“I’m sorry if I said anything that hurt you.”
She scoffed, then seemed to catch herself.
“I want you to know that I’m not upset with you,” he said. “I know we argued, but I’m not upset.”
She wasn’t looking at him and a strange pang of guilt struck him.
After mulling on that pang for a second, he said, “You understand that you’re still safe here, right?”
She looked at him then. “Why wouldn’t I be safe?”
“I know you had a lot of trouble with your parents, and I don’t want you to feel that way with me.”
She was silent, her fingers fidgeting with the comforter. He could practically feel the pressure from the storm of thoughts and emotions brewing inside her. She tried to tuck her feet even further under her criss crossed legs and she ran one of her hands up to the opposite shoulder, as if she were hiding herself from him.
“I don’t want you to feel ashamed about what happened between us,” he said.
“I’m not,” she instantly came off as defensive, hinting that his instincts were right.
“I know we’re in a complicated situation,” he said, “and I know a lot of this is new for you, but you know you can talk to me about anything, right? If you’re ever uncomfortable, you can talk to me.”
“I’m not uncomfortable.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Are you uncomfortable?”
He didn’t want to keep pushing her on this, but he still said, “We do need to take things slower, though.”
She rolled her eyes. “You keep saying that, but you’re the one asking me to take off my clothes and shoving your hand down my pants. I’m just going along with it.”
“You go along pretty enthusiastically, Carol.”
Her face flushed red and she stared down at the open book next to her. Her shoulders tensed a little as she said, “Well, I never said I didn’t like it.”
“I know,” he said, “which is why we just need to try harder to take things slower in the future. And if you’re ever uncomfortable, you need to tell me.”
He smiled at her, and when she smiled back, he tried not to acknowledge the slight urge to reach for her. Carol had just pointed out the contradiction in his words versus his actions, and he wasn’t about to provide more fuel for her apparent confusion. But part of him already knew that the conviction wasn’t going to last for long.
There were only a couple days until Christmas and its approach couldn’t have felt more like a wet blanket. Carol was trying to look forward to a low-key celebration with Yon and she knew he was going to attempt to make the day special, but she still felt so disconnected from it. Despite having already spent Thanksgiving with him, celebrating Christmas with him felt even more foreign. She was pretty sure it would end up being fine and she would have a nice holiday with him, but she couldn’t stop herself from wondering what her family would be doing right now.
Her holidays with her family had been far from the picture-perfect Hallmark movies that Carol had been mindlessly watching, but her memories weren’t entirely bad. Her dad’s unpredictable personality had ruined Christmas more than once, but most years he was pretty placated. Even if he did do anything upsetting, her brother was always there to suffer with her in solidarity.
She wasn’t super close to Steve since he had gone to college, but there was a growing ache in her chest that missed him right now. She missed him and she missed feeling like her parents wanted her around and she missed having friends to text and hang out with over winter break. She wanted the comfort of everything that was familiar back. And she wanted someone to miss her too. Even her evolving relationship with Yon wasn’t relieving that ache.
The closer the holiday came, the more her chest ached. As she got ready for bed now, she gave in to that aching, taking out her phone to text her brother. She sent him a simple, “Hey” and was surprised at how quickly her phone lit up with his response.
Carol: How are you?
Steve: Alright. You?
Carol: Fine. Are you coming home for Christmas?
Steve: Yeah, I’m home right now
Carol: Oh, that’s cool
Carol: Did mom and dad say anything about me?
Steve: Not really
Carol: Do you think they want me to come home at all?
Steve: I don’t think that would be a good idea
Steve: Dad doesn’t really seem to want you here…
Carol: I thought you said they didn’t say anything about me
Steve: I didn’t want to say anything… but dad is still pretty mad
Carol: What about mom?
Steve: You know how she is
Steve: But if you came home I think you would regret it. I’m not even going to stay here long, probably leaving right after Christmas.
Carol: Can I see you?
Steve: I don’t know when
Steve: I have a lot going on. I’ll let you know.
Carol: Glad to know how important I am to you
Steve: I said I’d let you know. I’m just busy right now.
Carol: Of course you are
Steve: Seriously? You’re going to act like this right now?
Carol: I’m not acting like anything
Steve: This is why you coming home wouldn’t be a good idea. No one wants to argue with you.
Carol: Because I’m the one that starts all the arguments?
Steve: You don’t always have to act like a victim
Carol: I don’t
Steve: If you say so
Carol: Whatever. Enjoy your life as an only child.
Carol stared at the messages on her phone and felt her eyes stinging. That conversation hadn’t been at all what she intended to happen, but part of her felt like she should’ve known better. And even though she was furious at her brother, her sadness was heavier.
She squeezed her eyes shut against the forming tears, but they escaped anyway. Wiping the tears away, she put her phone face down onto her nightstand. Then there was a knock on her door.
“Come in,” she said, quickly wiping away more tears as Yon opened the door.
“I just wanted to say goodnight and—are you crying?”
“Carol… what’s wrong?”
“You can talk to me about anything.”
She sighed, eyed her phone, then looked at Yon. “I messaged my brother.”
“I asked if they wanted to see me for Christmas and he said no.”
Yon stood motionless in the doorway, his somber expression taking her in. “Did he say anything else?”
“He just said that my dad is still mad at me and I would regret it if I came back home because he thinks I’ll just start an argument. And I asked if I could see just him and he basically said no.”
Saying the words out loud made Carol feel suddenly more emotional, and she bit her lip to stop it from quivering. Yon stepped closer to her, but she couldn’t look at him.
“Not getting to see your family right now must feel incredibly painful,” he said, sitting down next to her.
“I don’t want to miss them because of some stupid holiday, though. I was fine for Thanksgiving, so this should be fine too.”
“You’ll get through it, Carol. And you’re not alone. I’m here.”
“I don’t know…” She took a deep breath “You’re here now, but…”
“No one really wants me.”
“That’s not true,” he said, softly. She flinched slightly as his fingers unexpectedly touched her cheek, wiping away a final tear with his thumb, then he traced his fingers up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I want you here, Carol.”
“No you don’t.” Her body tingled, rooted at the spot where he had touched her, but her gut was still sunk with the weight of rejection.
“I do, Carol.” He touched her again, uselessly retucking her hair behind her ear. She looked at him and he stroked her cheek.
“You’re saying that now,” she said, “but then you’re just going to change your mind and tell me that everything is a mistake. You think me being here is a mistake.”
“No, I don’t think that.”
“Yes, you do.”
“I’ve never thought you being here is a mistake. Not once. I’m glad you’re here and I want you here.”
She gazed at him, hopelessly drawn to the way he was looking at her and touching her and speaking to her.
“I lo—” she sighed. “You’re better than anyone I know. I really never… I’ve never liked someone the way I like you.”
“I like you too, Carol.”
“No, you don’t understand…”
“No one’s ever treated me like you do and I… I don’t know… I just, I don’t want you to leave me too.”
“I’m not going to.” Again with the useless tucking of hair behind her ear, but this time he kept his hand at the back of her head. She leaned towards him.
“Can you… will you touch me right now?” she asked.
“Carol…” He leaned towards her, but then drew back, sighing. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“You’ve never hurt me, though. You’re the only person I trust.”
“Carol…” He stroked her cheek. “If you only knew how badly I want to give you what you want, but—”
“I know we’re supposed to take things slow, but I just… I like you so much and I wish I was someone else so I could be with you.”
“You don’t have to be someone else, Carol. You’re the most… you’re everything anyone could ever want.”
“So can you just hold me for a bit or just kiss me? That’s all I want.”
“I don’t know if that’s what’s best right now…”
She fought against the lump in her throat. “Do you actually want me?”
“Carol,” he brought his other hand up and cupped her face, “I do want you. You can’t even imagine how much I want you.”
She could feel her heart beating as she held his gaze. He seemed almost sad and it took her breath away how beautiful the emotion was on him. When he parted his lips, her body started to shake. She realized she was holding her breath, and when she opened her mouth to breathe, he suddenly pulled her towards him and kissed her, not allowing her to breathe but still filling her with momentary relief.
His hands moved to her waist and pulled her towards him and she sighed at the feeling of his body against hers. She was filled with a dizzying reassurance of his want for her—she didn’t want to lose that feeling.
Picking up the momentum of their contact, she guided his hands underneath her shirt and unhooked her own bra.
“Carol,” he spoke against her mouth. “We can’t do this again. Not right now.”
“Please,” she said. “I want to do this.”
She kept kissing him and pressing his hands harder against her chest, as if doing so would keep him from abandoning her. There was a moment of hesitation from him, but then his hands wandered over her body of their own free will. It didn’t take long for her to be swept up in his urgency.
“Do you know how much I want you?” he said to her, laying her back. She let him take her shirt off, and she closed her eyes and shivered as his mouth traveled down her body. His breath was warm against her skin as he said, “You’re so beautiful.”
Despite her eagerness to be with him, a persistent anxiety beat within her. She didn’t understand why the hornets were back in her stomach as his mouth reached her hips. He pulled her pajama pants down, taking them off and dropping them to the floor. Her breathing faltered then quickened at the sight of him taking his own shirt off. Seeing him like this was a turn on, but she was so nervous.
“Are you okay?” his voice was soft and his hands were on her thighs and she pretended not to care that she was naked.
“Never better,” her voice was breathless and she couldn’t tell if it was from the rush his touch filled her with or if it was anxiety latching onto her vocal chords.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he spoke so reassuringly and gently, she couldn’t imagine herself saying no to that voice.
“Yes, yes I’m sure.”
He kissed her inner thigh and her heart thudded in her chest and he asked, “Is this okay?”
She thought he was going down on her—why else would his face be right there? He was basically staring at the most private part of her body, which wasn’t exactly bikini ready right now, but it clearly wasn’t phasing him. She kinda thought they would just stick to some standard penis and vagina action for the first time, but he actually knew what he was doing, so maybe this would be fine. Whatever they were going to do, though, she was intimidated by how much she didn’t know.
“Yes, that’s okay,” she finally said.
Please just be mature about this, she begged herself.
But then she started laughing and couldn’t stop. She didn’t know if it was because she was so fucking nervous or because what he was doing actually kinda tickled a lot or if just the concept of his head actually being between her legs was insane. Either way, she had to take a moment to calm herself down.
“Are you alright?” he asked as she started laughing again.
“Uh-huh, yeah I’m fine.”
“I don’t have to keep doing this if you don’t want me to.”
“No, no, it’s fine. It just tickles.”
“You’re sure that’s all?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep going or… yeah, whatever, just don’t stop.”
“Okay, then just try to breathe,” he said against her thigh, taking her hand and giving it a reaffirming squeeze. “Just breathe and relax.”
She focused on her breathing and soon her giggle fit seemed to subside. But fuck, she was still nervous. But she couldn’t tell him. If she told him she was scared then she would just seem immature and he would look at her like she was a kid and she would feel like an idiot. That couldn’t happen.
She didn’t want him to leave her feeling frustrated and incomplete and alone. She didn’t want to have another conversation with him about how they shouldn’t be doing this, only to find themselves once again doing exactly what they weren’t supposed to be doing. She just wanted to have finally done this with him, and since he wasn’t stopping them right now, she wasn’t going to ruin it.
“Do you like this?” he kept asking, or at least some variation of that.
All she could get herself to say back was, “Mmhmm.”
But in her head, she kept repeating like a mantra: This is exactly what I wanted to happen, calm down. This is okay.
Eventually the mantra was silenced as the feeling of him outweighed her incomprehensible anxiety and she was able to momentarily lose herself to all the physical sensations.
He brought himself up to her and kissed her. Which was weird. His mouth was just… Whatever. She was trying not to think about it. Plus they weren’t exactly slowing down; she didn’t have time to think about it. She was still breathless, but as she caught her breath a bit, more anxieties started catching up to her too.
“Should we…” she spoke, feeling small against her insecurity. “Should we use, you know… something? I mean, if we’re actually doing this, shouldn’t we use… protection?”
“Don’t worry,” he said, giving her another kiss as he pushed himself off of her, standing up. “Stay there. I’ll be right back.”
He was gone for less than a minute, but she didn’t know what to do with herself in that time. Should she sit up or change position? What was a sexy position to sit up in? She didn’t know how to feel sexy when she was naked, she just felt exposed and, honestly, a little cold.
He was back in the room before she could formulate an answer to anything in her head. A condom from his nightstand was in his hand and the sight of it struck a much more tangible form of anxiety into her gut: she was actually going to have sex with him right now.
Despite how she was really feeling, she found herself laughing again.
“What’s funny?” he asked, coming back down to the bed with her.
“I don’t know,” she said. “You look like a Trojan commercial.”
“A Trojan commercial?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. You’re still really hot, though. I’d still tap that.” She groaned. “Just ignore me.”
He gave her a look—that amused smile that she felt belonged to her—then kissed her again, slightly easing her worries with the tenderness of it. Then things started heating up again.
She wanted to be into it; she liked what he was doing to her and her body was responding more eagerly than perhaps her mind was. But still she felt a little stiff and unsure and it seemed like he could tell, because he kept reassuring her and caressing her in the softest ways.
His reassurances actually soothed her, and she started once again losing herself to the moment. She liked being held by him and she liked that he was who she was doing this with. No one had ever cared for her like him, and she had always cared about him—she couldn’t believe that her unrealistic crush had become… this.
Everything about this was surreal. When she wasn’t feeling her anxiety, she felt really lucky to have her first time be with someone that cared about her so much and who meant so much to her.
When she really felt like this was the closest she could ever be to anyone, she heard herself say, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” the words left him in warm vibrations against her skin, elating her.
The fleeting intensity of that moment was almost enough to make her weep; instead she smiled. She couldn’t believe she had been scared to have him with her like this. He loved her. He loved her, he loved her, he loved her.
Everything was going to be fine, because he loved her.
“How are you feeling?” Yon asked, facing her as they lied together in her bed. She was on her back, focusing on the ceiling, his hand on her arm and his legs touching hers. Her head was spinning.
“I’m fine,” she said.
She glanced at him and he gave her a look that made her blush. She squirmed a little as he started to lightly trace his fingertips over her stomach. Her heart was fluttering.
“Did you mean it?” she practically whispered.
“That you love me?”
He tilted her face towards his and kissed her. Then he pressed his forehead against hers and said, “Of course I meant it.”
She felt a little squirmy again, like she was going to explode out of her skin from how good hearing him say that made her feel. She wriggled her body to face him. He wrapped his arms around her and she bit her lip to try to contain herself.
“I meant it too,” she said.
He kissed her again, pulling her closer to him. God, she couldn’t believe that he really loved her. They loved each other. This was crazy. All she had wanted in her wildest dreams was for him to say that he loved her, and now he had. There was no way her life could be this amazing.
So why was there still an anxious pit in her stomach? Particularly right now, she still couldn’t fight how weird being naked with him felt. They were both literally butt naked and sweaty, and she was pressed up as close as she could possibly get to him. Damn it, Carol. She just had sex with him, so why did she still have to feel so overwhelmed by being naked?
“Are you okay?” he asked. “You feel a little tense.”
“Mmhmm, I’m fine.”
But suddenly the twin bed they were in started feeling even smaller and his body heat was too warm and the sheets underneath her were damp and she was just really sweaty and smelly.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” he pressed.
“I…” She didn’t want to say it, but she did, “I feel gross.”
“You feel gross?”
“Yeah… I don’t know…”
“Do you want to take a shower?”
“It’s probably a good idea.”
“Yeah… I think I want to take a shower.”
She wasn’t sure exactly how to detangle herself from him, she felt a little frozen and self-conscious. But, to her relief, he started to move first, loosening the embrace. As she sat up, she draped her feet off the side of the bed, pressing her legs tightly together, and hugged her arms over her chest. She looked down at the floor and suddenly started blushing again: the torn condom wrapper was right at her feet.
She hadn’t known where to look when he had put the condom on; was she supposed to be just watching him put it on his dick or was she supposed to look at his face or should she just pretend that it wasn’t happening at all?
The awkwardness from that moment was trying to push back into her. From the corner of her eye she could see Yon was standing from the bed, and she still wasn’t really sure if she should be looking at him or not. He was pulling his sweatpants back on, and, once again, it felt so surreal that she had fantasized so often about being with him like this. And now here she was and she was feeling just as immature as ever.
When he faced her now, she felt her entire body flushing. And oh god, now he could actually see that her entire body was turning red. She really just wanted to put her pajamas back on, but they weren’t within arm’s reach and she felt like she couldn’t get herself to move, not when he was looking at her.
But then he picked up her clothes for her and handed them to her. Why was he always so good at reading her mind? She didn’t even know what was going on in her own fucking head half the time.
“Thank you,” she mumbled.
Trying to keep her arms as close to her body as possible, she started putting her top back on. Yon picked up the condom wrapper, and as he turned to toss it into her trash bin, she stood and pulled her pajama pants on. From this angle, she could also see the used condom in the trash.
All of the anxiety she had tried to ignore while she was caught up with him seemed to be fighting its way back into her brain. She had actually just lost her virginity to him. To Yon. To her high school track coach. If anyone found out, they were going to be in so much shit and—
“Carol, is everything okay?”
“Mmhmm, yeah, everything’s fine.” She had to avert her eyes from him.
“You’re being awfully quiet.”
“I… I think I’m just tired?”
“You don’t sound so sure about that…”
He was standing right in front of her now, reaching out to gently touch her arm. She eyed the clock on her nightstand and realized it was actually a lot later than she expected.
“I’m just tired… just, like, suddenly really tired.”
“Okay… are you sure that’s all?”
“Yep. Yep, I’m just tired and… I need to shower.”
His hand was still on her arm, lightly stroking up and down. It probably would have been more comforting if those stupid hornets weren’t starting to buzz through her entire body. She wanted to look at him, but her face seemed to just burn more every time they made eye contact.
Then he gripped her arm, gently but firmly.
“I need you to know,” he said, “that I have no intentions of leaving you. You don’t have to worry about that. I still want you here. I do love you, Carol.”
She forced herself to look at him, to just stop being so fucking weird and not stress out about who-the-fuck-knew what. He looked exactly the same as he had before. Everything was the same except for the nauseating twinge spreading from her stomach and she couldn’t ignore it as easily as she had while he was on top of her. But she would try.
“I love you too,” she said, meaning it.
Yon knew their first time would be awkward—the first time with anyone was always somewhat awkward. But this had been her first time. He was forward thinking enough to know that virginity was a social construct, but that didn’t make having sex for the first time any less impactful, especially for a teenager.
He had tried to make the experience more about her, and it was obvious she had enjoyed herself, but when they were redressing, he had sensed a change in her. She seemed almost frozen. She hadn’t been able to look at him, so he gave her space because he didn’t know what else to do.
Something had unsettled her, but, especially since this was her first time, it could have been anything. Should he have asked her if she had concerns before they had sex? As if a sex education lecture wouldn’t have ruined the moment. He cringed as it suddenly occured to him that he really had no idea how much Carol actually knew about sex beyond what he had done with her. What if she really hadn’t been ready? The feeling that this had been a mistake coiled his gut.
There were a few moments when he had almost stopped. When she had pressed his hands against her chest, he thought he could push her away, but he hadn’t. There was a second when he was pulling down her pants and again when he was taking off his shirt that he told himself to stop. Instead he found himself asking her if she was sure about this and he knew she would say yes and he would use her consent to ease his mind.
And of course when he had left the room to get a condom, he knew that was the perfect opportunity to stand back and take a sobering look at what he was actually about to do—he was about to have sex with one of his students, with a seventeen-year-old girl. But as soon as the condom was in his hand, he knew he would go through with it.
Now it was done, he didn’t know if it was worth it. He had enjoyed himself with her, yes, but he regretted not taking the moment to reflect when he had left to get the condom. But he could never let her know that. If she thought he was second-guessing things, then she would become even more insecure and nothing good could come from her feeling like he had knowingly wronged her.
And also, despite his regret, he was still filled with some kind of love for her—not quite the romantic love he had perhaps expressed, but still significant. Maybe it was wrong to tell her that he loved her and let her believe that he actually loved her in the way she had no doubt taken it for.
He hadn’t said it to hurt her, though, he reasoned. He never tried to intentionally hurt her. She had no reason not to keep trusting him. What had happened wasn’t necessarily right, but she said she loved him. Even though he thought girls her age couldn’t possibly mean anything they said—not when it came to the kind of love Carol thought she was talking about—he still recognized that her saying that meant she at least felt safe with him. And if saying it back could reinforce that safety, so be it.
He hoped by the morning she would feel better. Maybe taking a shower and going to bed would be exactly what she needed to process this and then things would go back to… a new normal for the remainder of her time living here.
It was bizarre to think that she had been officially living with him for almost three months and they were already having sex. Graduation was still about five months away. He never would have predicted this and he had no idea what to imagine “normal” would look like for the next five months.
It might even be more than five months. It wasn’t as if she was going to turn eighteen and graduate and suddenly have the means to support herself. She’d most likely be staying with him the entire summer, so that added roughly another three months. So they had eight more months together in total. And if she needed a place to come home to on school holidays, she’d be coming back to him. So eight months plus whatever the hell was going to happen after that.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed, tapping his fingers against his knee as he listened to her shower running. He couldn’t get a handle on his spiraling thoughts, so he stood up and went to the hall closet, grabbing the extra set of sheets for Carol’s bed. He went into her room, pulled off the dirty sheets and replaced them with the clean ones, moving quickly so he wouldn’t still be in there when she was done showering. Bunching up the dirty sheets in his arms, he went downstairs to the washing machine, not sure why he hadn’t thought to do this right away.
As he went back upstairs, he could still hear her shower running. She didn’t usually take showers for this long. That guilty coiling in his gut constricted even tighter as he walked past her bathroom door. He hesitated by it for a second, listening to the splashing water behind the door.
He had decided to give her space tonight, but he wasn’t sure if that was actually the right thing to do. They were both uncomfortable, but he was uncertain if the space would make her discomfort find relief or give it room to grow. The risk in that was something he couldn’t afford anymore.
Taking a shower hadn’t really made Carol feel any less gross. Getting all of the sweat and other filthiness off of her body made her feel physically clean, but she still felt so weird. Despite how much she loved Yon, her mind was reeling, taking off the sugar coating and continuously throwing the harsh fact in her face: She was a senior in high school and she just lost her virginity to her thirty-four-year-old track coach.
If anyone ever found out about it… She had to take a deep breath as she thought about that. He might go to jail and no one would ever look at her the same again. Even if no one ever did find out, she didn’t know if she’d be able to look at herself the same again.
She couldn’t fully believe that they had sex tonight. He had seen her naked and heard her make embarrassing sounds and probably saw her make weird faces. She saw him do all of that too. She felt like it shouldn’t be embarrassing, but it was.
And how was she supposed to look at him and not think about him having an orgasm on top of her? Wasn’t it supposed to make her feel sexy? She hadn’t really felt sexy when it happened. She felt like they were having two different experiences. They didn’t even finish together. Everything she had read about sex implied that maybe that wasn’t a realistic expectation, but it was still surprising when he came and she wasn’t really feeling anything other than awkward and sweaty.
But she had wanted to have sex with him so badly and she did like parts of it, it was just that everything leading up to it and during it hadn’t prepared her for the sickening sensation of falling she felt once the rush was gone. Was it like that for everyone? Would that feeling change when they had sex again? Or would she feel that way every time?
She wished that taking a shower would have washed away all of these intensely uncomfortable thoughts and feelings coursing through her, but it didn’t. She tried to shake the thoughts away by focusing on the fact that he said he loved her. He actually loved her. That had to mean more than how weird sex made her feel.
Maybe everyone’s first time just felt weird like this. Granted, most people’s first times probably weren’t with their high school track coach, but she couldn’t imagine the whole process feeling less awkward with anyone else. At least he loved her.
And she loved him, she really did. He was always so good to her and he had given her so much. It felt right to love him for that, it’s just that their special situation made everything so complicated. Hopefully someday things would be easier for them.
Maybe when she was in college, they could finally tell people that they were together. No one would ever be able to know that they started their relationship when she was still in high school, but they could think of something. They could act like they had ran into each other a couple years later, and realized that they actually had a lot in common and now that she was older, they had decided to give this thing a go.
And of course she pictured that they would still be together when she was in college. She wasn’t just going to stop loving him when she went away. And she didn’t think he’d tell her that he loved her unless he really meant it and actually saw some kind of future with her—he was older than her, so he had to be more certain about their future. She wasn’t sure what that future looked like yet, but they had to be together. He was everything to her. Even if she felt really strange right now, she couldn’t imagine him not being in her life after this.
Her head kept running through all of this in circles as she finished showering and got ready for bed. When she went back into her room, she paused at the sight of her bed. It was completely made up. Yon must have come in and done that. She pulled back the comforter to see that he had also changed the sheets. From the floor below, she could hear the rhythmic rumbling and humming of the laundry machine. Through the walls upstairs, she could hear his shower running too.
A hint of relief lightened her. She was glad she wouldn’t have to look at her gross, damp sheets or even have to consider lying back down in them. It was actually pretty nice of Yon to change them for her and she found herself smiling a little as she climbed into her bed. Lying down in clean sheets felt so good. God, she really was exhausted.
She had barely settled herself into a comfortable position on her side and was ready to turn off her bedside lamp, when a knock came on her door. She hadn’t even noticed that Yon’s shower had stopped running.
Her heart skipped a little, and she said, “Come in.”
Yon slowly pushed the door open. “I’m sorry, I know you’re tired.”
“That’s okay… I only just got in bed.”
“Well, I wanted to say goodnight. And I wanted to make sure you’re still okay.”
“You know, if you weren’t… you can tell me.”
He walked further into her room, then knelt down next to her bed, so he was level with her. She still felt weird looking at him, but couldn’t help but notice how good he smelled after his shower.
He spoke softly, “I need you to be honest with me.”
“Honest about what?”
“About everything. If you’re uncomfortable or concerned about anything, you need to talk to me. I want our relationship to work, and I can’t read your mind if something is troubling you.”
“Why would anything be troubling me?”
“You seem a little distant.”
“I’m just tired.”
“Are you sure that’s all?” His gaze fell on her in such a soft way, but she felt like it was piercing right through her. She pulled her comforter a little higher up to her neck.
“I don’t know… I just feel kinda weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know exactly.” She sighed. “I guess I just never thought that my first time would be like this—I mean, that it would be with you and everything.”
“Is that bad?”
“No… I’m glad it was you.”
His smile was warm, but she still had to cast her eyes from him.
She pulled her comforter to her chin, almost over her mouth, and in a hushed voice said, “I really love you.”
“I love you too,” he said. He leaned in closer to her, kissing her forehead, and whispered, “I’ll let you get some rest now. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
He stood, going to the door. “Goodnight, Carol.”
“Goodnight.” She watched him walking away, then called after him, “Yon.”
He turned to her, “Yes?”
“Thanks for changing the sheets.”
“Of course. Sleep well.”
Chapter 12: Belonging
Carol opened her eyes to see subtle gray light illuminating the edges of her curtains, and the glowing numbers on her alarm clock told her she had woken up far too early. She buried her face in her pillow, hoping sleep would take her back, but the events of last night replayed in her mind.
She had sex. She and Yon had sex. They had sex together. With each other. Last night.
Her stomach started to fill with that weird mix of butterflies and hornets and she knew she wasn’t going to be able to sleep anymore. She sat up in her bed and realized the various insects in her stomach weren’t the only things bothering her. Nothing had really hurt last night, but now her inner thighs and everything in between were just really fucking sore.
The pain wasn’t unbearable, but knowing that she was sore specifically from sex was weird. She felt almost embarrassed by it. Which was silly, because who the fuck was even going to know unless she told them? Absolutely no one. It wasn’t like she even had anyone to tell.
Once again, the fact that she had lost her virginity to her coach/teacher/guardian hit her in an uncomfortable way. But then she remembered the way he had come to say goodnight to her and how gently he told her that he loved her. The situation was pretty fucked up if she thought about it too much, but it couldn’t actually be wrong if they loved each other.
With a sigh, she picked up her phone from her nightstand, hoping that scrolling through her apps would be a distraction from all the complicated thoughts. But as soon as she unlocked her screen, she saw her text conversation with her brother from last night and it made her just as upset as it had originally.
She didn’t want to be upset, though—she just wanted to not care about her stupid family the same way they didn’t care about her. She had Yon and he loved her, so why wasn’t that making her feel any better?
Carol pushed aside her covers and stood up from the bed. She changed into her running clothes and pulled back her hair, determined not to let all of her useless emotions get the better of her.
Quietly, she opened her bedroom door and looked down the hall at Yon’s closed door. She didn’t know why, but right then it struck her as odd that they had slept in separate rooms. It hadn’t felt odd last night—it had just felt like the most normal thing to do. But right now it somehow made her feel like they weren’t actually together.
Shaking her head, she headed downstairs and geared up for a quick jog in the grey morning. She had hoped the movement and the shock of cold December air would quiet her mind, but the air was colder than she anticipated and even the warmth from her rising heart rate didn’t make the stinging in her lungs feel any better. So her jog ended quicker than she had wanted it to.
Once back in the house, she headed for the kitchen to get some water, but nearly jumped when she saw Yon.
“Jesus,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” He smiled at her. He was leaning against the counter, his phone in hand. He set it down as he looked at her now.
For a moment, she felt frozen—not just because she had been out in the cold, but because she didn’t know what they were supposed to do. If they were an actual couple, was she supposed to give him a kiss when they said good morning or hello or whatever? But he wasn’t moving towards her to do anything. Did that, along with the fact that they hadn’t actually slept together, mean that what happened was just a casual thing to him? But he said he loved her, and that hadn’t felt casual.
It wasn’t like she had any relationship experience to draw from, so maybe she was overthinking this. Still, she kinda wished he would do something, but he wasn’t. So she just stood there too.
“Were you really out running this early?” he asked.
“No, I was just pretending to run,” she said, finally making herself move to get a glass from the cupboard and fill it at the fridge.
He rolled his eyes at her. “You shouldn’t run outside when it’s this cold. It’s not good for your lungs.”
“Well, don’t worry, I didn’t actually run for that long.”
“If it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I’d say we could go to the gym.”
“Nothing says Christmas Eve more than a nice work out.”
He chuckled and then just gazed at her. Something in his look made her feel squirmy, and she was glad her face was already flushed from the cold. She sipped at her water to keep herself from smiling.
When she set down her glass, she said, “Why are you up this early anyway?”
“I thought I heard the front door, so I got up and then saw you had left.”
“Were you scared I left you for good?”
He hesitated, almost laughed, then said, “No.”
“Well, I got what I wanted from you last night, so I’m good to bail whenever.” Ugh, she couldn’t even make sex jokes without making herself blush. Everything still felt weird. He was turning a little red too. Great, so this was just going to be super awkward for both of them?
“Well…” He seemed a little flustered and he shook his head. “You can bail if you want, but it is Christmas Eve… I’d be a little disappointed at your timing.”
She chuckled, feeling some tension lift at his attempted joke.
“Okay, I’ll stick around for now,” she said. “But it’s really all hinging on how good this Christmas is.”
“What constitutes a good Christmas to you?”
“For one, you have to not storm out of the house because I was texting during Christmas-themed Scrabble.”
“That’s highly specific.”
“I’ll let you open a present early if you can guess why that is.”
“I don’t think I need to guess.”
“So you don’t want a present early?” She didn’t seem to have any control over herself adding, “I mean, other than my virginity.”
Oh boy, he was red now. He opened his mouth as if he might lightly scold her like usual, but nothing came out. For a second, she thought she broke him. She was uncomfortable too, but she laughed, because of course she would.
“Carol…” There it was, that light-hearted scolding he was trying to get out. “Sometimes I… I don’t know what to do with you.”
“You knew last night.” Fuck, why couldn’t she just shut up?
He closed his eyes, fighting a smile.
“Sorry I keep making things awkward,” she said.
“You’re not making things awkward,” he said, somewhat awkwardly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he said. “Part of your charm is your odd sense of humor.”
“You think my sense of humor is odd?”
“I also said it’s charming.”
“Okay, whatever, weirdo.”
He sighed, but he was smiling. He was doing that thing again where he just looked at her, but she couldn’t tell what the look meant. It was somewhere between assessing and admiration.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.
“I don’t know…”
That look he was giving her lingered over her and he said, “I was just thinking that you’re very beautiful.”
“Pfft. Yeah right, liar.”
“Why would you think I’m lying about that?”
“Because I just went running… I don’t know.”
He laughed and then he came towards her and her heart jumped a little as he pulled her to him.
“Maybe I haven’t said it enough already, but I always think you’re beautiful.”
She just giggled and then he kissed her. He pulled away and stroked her cheek.
“You seem to be feeling better this morning,” he said.
“I told you I was just tired.” She still wasn’t sure if that was entirely true, but she kinda believed it when she said it.
“Well, I’m glad.” He kissed her again, then said, “I want to give you something now.”
“Is it in your pants?”
He shook his head, then headed towards the living room. She followed him and sat down on the couch as he selected a small box from underneath the Christmas tree.
He sat next to her, handing her what looked suspiciously like a jewelry box. It took everything in Carol not to make a joke about a proposal—she somehow felt like that would go over even worse than her sex jokes. Holding her tongue, she opened the gift and saw that her suspicions were right, it was jewelry. Specifically, it was a silver necklace with a dainty eight-pointed star pendant.
“That’s supposed to be Polaris,” he said. "The north star.”
“I didn’t know you were into astronomy.”
“Well, I know basic facts, like that Polaris is the one constant star in the sky, that you can always depend on. The necklace is simple, but I felt like… it was something I wanted you to have.”
Carol looked at the necklace in her hands, a weird sort of giddiness and self-consciousness coming over her. She didn’t really care that much for jewelry, but the sentiment he had put into this made her feel like this might be the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given her.
She had no idea how to respond to this form of affection from him, and she said, somewhat meekly, “This is actually pretty nerdy of you.”
“Is that good or bad?”
He moved his hand to her knee, gently caressing his fingertips against her. “Do you want me to put it on you?”
“Oh, that sounds très romantique.”
He held out his hand and she handed him the necklace box.
“Turn around,” he said, and she did. When he pushed her hair aside for her, she shivered a little and bit her lip to stop herself from smiling too much. He draped the necklace over her neck and fastened the clasp. She touched the pendant and then felt him gently kiss her neck.
“Let me see,” the way he spoke so warmly next to her ear made her shiver again. She turned back around for him and he smiled at her. “I think it suits you.”
“I feel like my workout clothes might clash with it a little.”
“Nonsense,” he said, leaning closer to her. “You look great.”
The way he kissed her urged a gradual and joyful dizziness over her, until she barely felt like any version of herself she could recognize. But she liked the sensation. The necklace seemed to physically radiate the celestial sentiment of security he had assigned to it, and the ways he was touching her right now emphasized that feeling within her.
But she was still self-conscious as she said, “I really do like this necklace, but I feel kinda bad…”
“Why do you feel bad?”
“Because I couldn’t get you anything this fancy.”
“I didn’t expect you to. I’m glad you like the necklace.”
“But still… I wish I had something this nice for you.”
“Just keep it on for me, then. That’ll be enough.”
“Okay. I will.”
They had sex again later that night. It was still really weird. Maybe it was weird because they did it in his room. When things started getting heated on the couch, he said they should go upstairs, and before she knew it she was half naked and climbing onto his bed. The feeling that his room was off limits still lingered in her mind the entire time, but part of her was excited to be there with him.
True, she had lost her virginity to him roughly twenty-four hours ago, but being in his room, in his bed, somehow made being with him feel so much more official. They weren’t just getting randomly carried away. They went to his bedroom to have sex on purpose.
But, even with the excitement of being with him in a way that felt more adult, sex still felt awkward and overwhelming to her. It was good during parts of it, but she felt so weird when they were finished and just lying there or whatever. She thought post-coital bliss was supposed to be a thing, but in her very limited experience, she was mostly feeling post-coital stress.
She was trying her best not to let him catch on to how strange she felt, though. After everything he had done for her and all that he had given her, she didn’t want him to feel bad or regret anything. He was always so reassuring and kept telling her that he loved her. And the star necklace was such an amazing gift—she liked it more every time she looked at it or touched it. Having an actual symbol of how he felt about her filled her with happy butterflies. She couldn’t wait to wear it everywhere she went.
She kept looking at it in the mirror as she got ready for bed that night. She pushed aside her weird feelings and focused on him telling her that he loved her while she adjusted the pendant on the chain. Fighting back a stupid grin, she left her bathroom and went down the hall to peak into Yon’s room.
“Goodnight,” she said, poking her head in his room to see him standing by his bed, adjusting the comforter.
“Goodnight, Carol,” he said, smiling at her.
“I’ll see you in the morning, and then we’ll finally find out if you were good this year.”
“You know, we’re gonna find out if Santa left any coal in your stocking in the morning.”
“Ah, well, seeing as we don’t have any stockings out…”
“He can get creative. You’re not off the hook yet.”
“I’m shaking in my boots,” he said flatly, giving her a soft, playful grin.
“Okay, well, whatever, Scrooge. Goodnight for real.”
“Goodnight,” he said, and she started to turn away. But then, “Carol.”
“Yeah?” She turned back to him.
“Would you like to sleep in here tonight?” He asked it so simply and calmly, but it still shocked her.
“What? In here? In your bed?” Why did she always have to sound like such an idiot?
“Yes… Only if you want to, though.”
God, she felt ridiculous trying to get herself to stop smiling. But he was being so casual about it, she didn’t want to act too excited about this.
“Your bed is pretty comfy,” she said, trying to match his level of casualness.
“It’s up to you.”
“Okay, well… Since it’s Christmas and everything.”
So she climbed into his bed with him. It was bizarre. Did this mean they were a couple couple now? She thought so, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment by asking. Instead, she just curled up next to him, and when he kissed her and said goodnight again, she was just happy to be with him like this—this maybe even felt better than having sex. More than ever, she felt like she finally had somewhere she belonged.
When Yon woke up next to Carol on Christmas morning, he felt a strange sense of guilt—the same he had felt when asking her to sleep in his bed with him last night. Having sex with her and then sending her back to her room felt like some kind of formal transaction and he didn’t want her to end up feeling that way too. She was clearly happy when he asked her to sleep with him, and he was slightly relieved that he could use this kind of affection to continue making her feel comfortable.
Even though it would have been ideal to have waited to have sex until she was at least eighteen, he still found some relief in the fact that they had done it over winter break the first time. Somehow, he felt like having the two weeks away from their normal lives would make this new development easier to process. He imagined that losing her virginity on a school night would have hit her a lot differently. So he was glad that it would be just them for a while, giving him a little bit of time to figure out the best ways to soothe the situation.
But there was also something serene about having Carol all alone to himself for the two weeks of winter break. As break continued, and the awkwardness from the first couple times had slightly subsided, he felt like she was at least starting to get more comfortable, which eased his mind. She continued to be more taken by him than anyone else he had ever been with, and he was finding it fairly easy to reassure her when she seemed insecure.
He could tell she loved the necklace and he was glad he had ordered it for her on a whim. And he actually found that he did like seeing it on her, maybe even more than he liked seeing her in all the other things he had given to her. Having her in his home, seeing her wear the clothes he bought for her, seeing her in the necklace, having her in his bed… That feeling of belonging began to resonate even deeper within him.
He had never felt this way with anyone else. No one had ever needed him so much or had been so infatuated with him. She was so willing to comply with him in so many ways, and, even if he did carry some guilt with him still, he was no longer trying to resist how satisfying that felt.
What Yon always liked most about sex was watching the other person lose control because of him. He liked knowing that if he paid enough attention to his partner, he could push them into that indescribable place where everything about them disappeared, except the sensations he was creating. Seeing someone so overcome gave him a rush that he sometimes enjoyed even more than having an orgasm himself.
With Carol, he had found the perfect partner. He could take the lead with her, telling her what to do and of course, she almost always listened. Even when she surprised him, he still felt like he had command of the situation. There was still the risk of being exposed, but the more he came to understand Carol, the less he worried about being caught.
It was especially easy to relax when he was alone with her. Living together on their normal schedule was entirely different from living together when that schedule was gone. The real world barely existed. For those two weeks, Carol didn’t belong to anyone but him.
Chapter 13: Truth
Carol thought that going back to school after winter break would feel fine—after all, she had pretty much gotten used to carrying her secret with Yon around. But as she walked alone through the crowded halls, she felt exactly that: alone. Her secret with Yon had gotten so much bigger over break and, even if she had friends, she still wouldn’t be able to tell anyone.
Maybe she should’ve been glad that there were no friends to keep the secret from. She didn’t think she’d even want to share this secret if she could anyway. If she had still been friends with Attlass and for some reason decided to tell him about this, she knew he’d be judging her. She couldn’t imagine a scenario where she had a friend that wouldn’t judge her for this.
The whole day, she kept touching the star necklace, feeling both reassured that Yon loved her and worried that someone would, for some reason, ask her about it. Of course no one noticed she had a new necklace, though. She didn’t have a reason to be paranoid that everyone would be able to guess her secret just by looking at her—no one even paid attention to her.
By the time French class rolled around, she was still feeling kinda paranoid and uncomfortable. But at least Yon wasn’t ignoring her like he had after the first time they kissed. He was a little preoccupied with something on his computer when she walked in to his classroom, but he did still look at her and smile when she sat at her desk.
“Hey, Carol,” came a voice behind her.
Startled, she turned to see Attlass approaching her and a strange kind of panic trickled over her. He hadn’t tried talking to her like this in forever.
“How was your break?” he asked.
“Fine,” she offered flatly, trying to cover how frazzled this actually made her feel.
“That’s good.” Attlass’s tone felt so awkward, like he was talking to a stranger, and it stung a little. “I, uh… I tried to text you over break. I got a message that your number is out of service.”
“Is everything okay?”
“It’s, uh…” Carol glanced at Yon over at his desk, catching him averting his gaze, and she knew he was paying attention. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure?” Attlass lowered his voice a little, “Did your parents kick you out again?”
“Yeah, but it’s fine—I mean, no!” Fuck. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “No, I’m at home, I just got grounded. I got grounded… from… my phone?”
“What?” Attlass squinted his eyes at her, doubtful. “You got grounded from your phone so now it’s out of service? That doesn’t make sense.”
She glanced at Yon again to see him staring at his computer screen, pursing his lips together. He stood up.
“Is something else going on, Carol?” Attlass seemed genuinely concerned, and that, coupled with Yon obviously overhearing her fuck up, twisted her stomach. “What’s actually—”
“Bienvenue à la classe,” Yon suddenly announced to the chattering class. “Let’s all get settled in our seats now.”
“But the bell hasn’t rung yet,” one of her classmates protested.
“Well, it’s—” Yon was interrupted by the bell.
“Can we talk later?” Attlass asked her, stepping back towards his own desk, but still trying to linger near her.
“Attlass,” Yon said, as calm as ever, “asseyez-vous s'il vous plaît.”
“Désolé, Monsieur Rogg,” Attlass mumbled, going back to his seat.
Yon’s eyes met Carol’s for the briefest second, so brief that no one else could possibly notice, but she could feel a warning in him gripping her even as he turned his attention to the class, beginning the lesson. For the rest of class, she found it a little hard to look at him. She hoped she hadn’t fucked up too bad.
“What was that today?” Yon said once they were driving home after school that same day.
“What was what?” Carol knew exactly what he was talking about.
“With Attlass.” His voice sounded just as calm as it had earlier in class. “You told him you were kicked out.”
Yon glanced at Carol and she turned to look out the passenger side window, feeling her stomach knot as she said, “I told him I was grounded.”
“After you said you were kicked out.”
“But I took it back.”
“It wasn’t very convincing, Carol.”
“I didn’t actually tell him anything important, though.”
“Because I intervened.”
“I wouldn’t have told him even if you hadn’t.”
“How can you be so sure? You slipped up very easily.”
“Because you were right there staring at me and I got frazzled—I don’t know.”
“I wasn’t staring at you.”
“Well, you were right there.”
“So if I hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t have slipped up?” There was a shift in his tone, becoming less calm and more commanding. It made Carol’s skin itch and she flexed her hand in and out of a fist to ease the tension within her.
“I didn’t even say anything that bad,” she said. “It’s not that shocking to him that my parents might have done something weird like ground me from my phone.”
“The problem is less him knowing about your parents and more you not being able to control what you were saying.”
“I had control over it.”
“You could’ve had more control.”
She groaned. “It’s not like he even really cares about me.”
“He seemed pretty concerned for someone that doesn’t care, Carol. He can’t start asking more questions about your home life.”
“He’s not going to.”
“You don’t know that.”
She kept flexing her hands in and out of fists, feeling frustrated heat creep up the back of her neck. “If he had really wanted to talk to me, he could’ve sent me a message on any of the apps we’re friends on. But he didn’t.”
“I still think you need to be more careful with him.”
“Kinda like how you and I were careful?”
“Carol,” Yon reprimanded. “Take this seriously.”
He sighed, and then, continuing a little more calmly, said, “If he asks you about it again, just tell him that you got a new phone for Christmas. That should explain the out of service number and that’s all you need to say.”
“He’s probably not even going to talk to me again.”
“He said he was trying to text you over break and he’s trying to talk to you in class now. He clearly wants to talk.”
“And do you have a problem with that?”
“No, not as long as you can keep us a secret.”
“I can—I haven’t said anything this whole time I’ve lived with you, not even when my family asked.”
“I know you haven’t.”
“I don’t know why you’re acting like I made some huge mistake today, though. I didn’t say anything about us.”
“It could’ve been a huge mistake, Carol. All it takes is just one slip up like that and then this is all gone. You have to assume that one person finding out means that everyone is going to find out, and once that happens… you’re not going to have anywhere to go.”
“I know, I know.” She sighed. “I didn’t actually tell him anything bad, though.”
“Just be more careful in the future.”
She bit her lip and nodded in silence. Being careful seemed to be the most important thing in their lives right now. First they had to be careful not to kiss, then they had to be careful not to keep making out, then to not have sex, and, through it all, they had to be careful not to tell anyone. Clearly they hadn’t been careful with each other, but so far no one knew about that.
Carol had thought that being with Yon would be so easy because all they had to do was not say anything. But she hadn’t anticipated how odd keeping that secret would make her feel. At first she thought maybe it was a little hot to have that forbidden, hidden relationship with him, but she didn’t really feel that way anymore. Having sex the first time had made her feel gross, and she still carried some of that feeling with her everywhere she went. She didn’t like that part of their secret. She was beginning to think that she didn’t like secrets at all.
Later that week, seniors were filed into the auditorium for some boring assembly, and Carol was, of course, sitting alone. But she could see Yon next to some other teachers across the room, standing there with his arms crossed, nodding and talking. With this distance between them, she felt pretty safe openly staring at him. She touched the star pendant at her neck and thought about him saying that he loved her. In this big auditorium, their relationship seemed like something that belonged in a dream, not in the actual world. She felt a bit like she was shrinking.
Then she started picking up on a conversation a couple of girls behind her were having.
“Okay, but he’s literally the hottest teacher,” one of them said.
“It’s the British accent,” said another. “It’s literally so hot.”
Carol suppressed a laugh as she realized they were talking about Yon. A small, bright bubble rose in her chest, unexpectedly elating her with an unfamiliar sense of pride.
“Do you think he’s single?” the girls continued.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a ring on his finger.”
“God, if I wasn’t seventeen, I’d be all over him.”
Get on my level, Carol thought.
Hearing those girls talk about him like that made her feel slightly accomplished. She had always known that she wasn’t the only one with a crush on him, but now she was the only one that actually got to be with him. It was a little amusing to think that they were talking about this right behind her—they had no idea. No one had any idea.
For once, Carol had a secret that wasn’t about her shitty parents. This new secret was actually enviable, if she thought about it. Maybe she could make the bad feelings go away if she really tried to focus on things like this. Between everything in her past and what was happening now, having this secret with Yon was an upgrade.
Carol curled up on the couch after completing her homework that night, switching on the tv to wind down before bed. Yon joined her, and she repositioned herself to be curled up against him. Now that they had basically done everything physical, she liked that he would touch her in simpler ways too. They didn’t have to worry about cuddling leading to something more since it had already happened. It was nice to have these moments with him.
As they sat watching tv together now, she was enjoying how good it felt to be so close to him. And she kept thinking about the girls behind her at the assembly, feeling that bubble of pride within her.
“So do you know that half the girls in school have crushes on you?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
He gave a half hearted, breathy chuckle that she could feel vibrating through her. “I wouldn’t say it’s half.”
She squinted her eyes. “Wait, so you know?”
“I can pick up on things,” he said. “Some people aren’t too secretive about those things, especially people… in your age group.”
“Okay, so… could you tell that… I did? I mean… was it obvious?”
“Well, I can tell now.”
“No duh. But… before.”
He did that half hearted laugh again. “I had suspicions.”
“Suspicions? Like what?”
“Like how often you blush, the way you’re probably starting to right now.”
She was indeed blushing. Had she really always been that obvious?
“Blushing doesn’t mean anything,” she said, not sure if she was being brazenly sarcastic, or just awkwardly fumbling around in an attempt to defend herself. But then another thought came to her.
“Okay, wait,” she said. “So you knew the entire time that I had a crush on you? Even before I moved in?”
“Well…” He paused. “Like I said, I had suspicions.”
Something in the way he had hesitated struck her.
“You did know!” She sat up fully, so she could look at him, and was a little surprised to see him turning red.
“It wasn’t exactly hard to tell, Carol,” he said.
“But you knew the whole time and you never said anything?”
“What was I supposed to say?”
“I… don’t know. But you knew the whole time!”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. I knew, but that didn’t affect anything.”
Carol stared at him for a moment. It was odd that he had just tried to lie about knowing and that he was also blushing over it. She didn’t know why exactly, but the fact that he had known about her crush the entire time shed new, strange light on their relationship.
“It didn’t feel weird living with someone who had a crush on you?”
“It didn’t affect anything, Carol.”
“But the first time you kissed me…”
“Did you start wanting to kiss me before or after I moved in?”
“I didn’t anticipate any of this happening, Carol. I didn’t think we’d end up like this when you moved in.”
“But did you see me as more than a student before?”
“No. Of course not,” he answered quickly. Then he added a little clumsily, and perhaps as an afterthought, “I never saw you as anything but a student until… until I didn’t.”
“When did you?”
“After you moved in.”
“But when?” Carol waited for him to answer, but he hesitated too long, so she said, “How long before you kissed me for the first time did you realize?”
He sighed and said, “It wasn’t long before. It happened quickly.”
“I… I saw how different you are from everyone else and I…” He paused, looking her over. “I saw how mature you are for your age, and once I realized that, I think I saw something more in you.”
“You don’t ever think that about the other girls who have crushes on you?”
“Why would you even ask that?” He was starting to sound so calm now, which, for some reason, annoyed Carol.
“Because you know about all these other girls that have crushes on you,” she said, trying to stay calm like him, but feeling heat rise to the tips of her ears. “Why am I different from them?”
“I think our living situation answers that pretty clearly in and of itself, Carol. I wouldn’t have gotten to know you like this otherwise.”
“So if I hadn’t moved in, you wouldn’t have seen me as something more?”
“It gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better.”
“If a different girl with a crush on you had moved in, would you have hooked up with her?”
The sigh he gave signalled that he was really having enough of this conversation and he gave her a look somewhere between puzzled and irked, but his voice was still calm as he spoke, “Why are you asking me all these questions, Carol?”
“I don’t know…” She had to avert her eyes from his stare. “It’s just weird that you knew I had a crush on you the whole time.”
“Why is it weird?”
“Because… because—I don’t know.” She groaned. “It’s just weird.”
“You’re overthinking it.” He put his arm around her to pull her back towards him. “Don’t get too emotional about this.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” he said, almost playfully. She didn’t like that he was reprimanding her for being “emotional,” but that hint of playfulness in his tone made her decide not to push the issue any further. She sighed and made herself settle back into her position against him.
For a moment they were silent against the sounds from the tv, then he said, casually, “Who were you talking to about having crushes on me, anyway?”
Ugh. She should’ve known he would ask about that.
“I wasn’t talking to anyone,” she said, trying not to let herself get tense. “I just overheard some girls behind me during the assembly.”
“Ah, I see.”
She didn’t know why she felt the need to keep dragging this out, but she added, “I actually thought it was kinda funny.”
“Because they were talking about it right behind me and… I don’t know, it felt funny, because of… everything.”
“Funny in a bad way or…?”
“I just think it’s funny that nobody knows.”
“It’s good that nobody knows.”
“Right, but I’m saying that’s it’s funny that they’re just casually talking about how hot you are and I’m right there. It’s funny in a good way, I guess.”
“You still have to be careful,” he said, and she was glad her position meant he couldn’t see her roll her eyes. “Try not to join in any conversations like that if you can.”
“I mean, that’s not the first time I’ve heard people talking about you, and I’ve never joined in before so…”
“Okay, just making sure.”
She suppressed a sigh. She was still vaguely heated from the crush thing and being told that she had to keep being “careful” just itched at her even more. But she knew he was just trying to look out for both of their best interests, even though that didn’t really cover the fact that he had known about her crush the entire time. That probably didn’t mean anything though, and he was right about her overthinking things. She didn’t think she had any actual reasons to be annoyed with him, so she just tried to keep being calm and mature.
Yon could feel how tense Carol was in his arms after that brief argument, but he was determined not to let her moodiness get to him. Of course, she had been right to infer that her obvious crush on him made it that much easier for him to make the first move, but there was no point in confirming it out loud. And this relationship definitely would not have happened with just any girl in a similar situation, but he wasn’t willing to let himself reflect on that for too long.
It was getting late. Carol had relaxed after a bit and was now resting with her head in his lap. He thought she may have fallen asleep, so he was a little hesitant to move. But then her phone made a ding and her hand slowly found its way to her sweatpant pocket, pulling out the device and bringing it up to her face. He watched her trying to unlock her phone with her fingerprint, but after failing the first couple of tries, she punched in her PIN—he had watched her do that so many times now, he practically had it memorized—and she opened a messenger app. She groaned.
“Something wrong?” he asked, trying to make out who she might be messaging before she locked her phone.
“No… Attlass just finally decided to message me on Facebook.”
“What did he say?”
“Just that he wants to talk again. I don’t really know what he wants to talk about, though. I’ll message him back later.”
“Just remember to—”
“Be careful. I know.”
She sighed and he watched her slide her phone back into her pocket. There was a sudden small burning inside of him to know exactly what Attlass had said to her and to know what she was planning on saying back. He wanted to ask her, but somehow felt like pressing her on this wouldn’t do any good right now. He wanted to trust her, but he didn’t want to find out the hard way that she had made a mistake. How exactly he was supposed to handle this, he wasn’t sure.
“I’m tired,” she said, sitting herself up on the couch. “I’m going to go to bed now.”
“Okay. I’ll be up in a minute.”
She went upstairs and he straightened up the living room before going up himself. By the time he got into the bedroom, she was already fast asleep. Her phone was on what was now becoming her nightstand. Since she had slept in his bed over winter break, she slept in here pretty regularly, but there was still the off-night when she decided to sleep in her own room.
As he got ready for bed, he kept glancing at her phone. It was just right there. She wouldn’t even notice if he tried to unlock it right now. But he couldn’t invade her privacy like that; it would be a complete breach of trust.
Although, after the way she had been so close to slipping up with Attlass before, it might be in both of their best interests for him to know exactly what was going on. Looking at her phone might be slightly invasive right now, but it would be nothing compared to what could happen if he didn’t look and something was amiss. It’s not like she would even have to know that he looked.
He finished brushing his teeth and blankly stared at himself in the mirror as he contemplated this. He shook his head, turned off the bathroom light and went to his side of the bed, trying not to look at her nightstand.
He lied down and listened to the sound of her steady breathing, staring at her for a moment in the dim lighting of his bedside lamp. She was facing him, half her face buried in the pillow and one of her hands resting close to her face. The necklace he had given her was still around her neck—as far as he knew, she hadn’t taken it off even once. He reached over, lightly pushed a lock of hair out of her face, then traced a fingertip over the chain at her neck, lingering over the star pendant. Her steady breathing continued, her peaceful sleep undisturbed from his touch.
With a sigh, his eyes travelled to her nightstand. She really wouldn’t know if he looked.
Before he could stop himself, he was standing up, walking to her side of the bed, picking up her phone. He punched in what he thought was her PIN, and, with a small gleam of satisfaction, found that he had been right. He then tapped her Facebook messenger app and opened her conversation with Attlass. It was just as she had said, he only wanted to talk. He scrolled up a bit in their older messages, but those were inconsequential.
And since he had her phone out right now, he eyed over her other recent messages, and not just in the Facebook app, but also her texts and any other apps he thought might have messaging. But still, he found nothing important. Most of the conversations he skimmed over were brief and formal, just about school or track. Seeing that lack of any meaningful personal interactions suddenly swirled into an unbearable pity for her. She really wasn’t lying when she said she didn’t talk to anyone.
He finally placed her phone back on the nightstand and got into bed. He shut off the light, and after a moment, he reached for Carol. He was relieved he had nothing to worry about right now, as long as the situation with Attlass didn’t turn into anything, but at least he now knew he could attempt to monitor that. Still, he felt slightly guilty for looking through her phone, even if it was for the best.
As he started to feel like he was falling asleep, he felt her move closer to him. She wrapped an arm around him and then nuzzled herself against his chest, mumbling something incoherent in her sleep.
“Goodnight, Carol,” he whispered, somewhat pointlessly.
But then she mumbled back, “I love you.”
Her drowsy statement filled him with relief. Knowing that she hadn’t been lying to him about anything almost made him a little proud—though he wasn’t sure if he was more proud of her or himself. He had gained her trust so completely, he probably wouldn’t even ever need to look through her phone again to know that she was sharing everything with him. But, as long as she didn’t know what he was doing, checking her phone now and then couldn’t hurt anything, just to be safe.
He held her a little tighter and kissed the top of her head. Their relationship had never felt quite as comfortable as it did right then.
Hello, beautiful readers! I'm sorry to say that I'm not going to be able to keep regularly updating for a while, so this fic will be going on a temporary hiatus.
I definitely have lot a in store for this fic and have a good chunk of future scenes written, but it needs more work than I currently have the energy for. I've had a very challenging relationship with this fic since I started my first draft of it (now scrapped) a year ago, but I'm determined to see it through, one way or another.
I also want to just say thank you to everyone that's been reading, commenting, giving kudos, and spending any amount of your time with this fic. I'm just continuously so happy to see you all reading this every week, and I'm honestly pretty sad that I can't keep posting once a week for the time being. But I'm very excited to share the rest of this fic with you all when it's finally ready!
Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you're all staying safe and healthy out there!
Chapter 14: Silence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
After over a month, I finally have a completed chapter for you guys! I'm still not going to be able to post regularly after this, but I feel like I've been making some significant progress lately (spoiler alert: my doc for this story currently has 84k and counting, so there's lots to come still).
But thank you for being patient with me and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the next chapter won't take so long to get to you all!
The start of the spring semester meant that track was finally coming back. Carol was glad to return to this part of her routine and found that she actually missed her teammates more than she realized. Although, since she hadn’t been part of the unofficial winter meetups, she did still feel a little like she had missed out.
But Yon had been right that she was in better shape than all of them, thanks to all of their extra one-on-one training time. She felt like she could easily outrun all of her teammates now, and Yon could see it too. He had already admitted to playing favorites with her before, but it had never felt more clear than when track started again.
He always seemed to be calling her name to pick up the pace or to watch her form while doing push-ups or sit-ups. He’d call out some of the other girls too, but it felt more like he was doing that just to cover up the fact that he was constantly watching her.
After track practice one day, Angela came up to Carol outside of the locker room and said, “Looks like you didn’t even need to come to our winter meetups.”
“What?” Carol didn’t know why she sounded so panicked and she tried not to look at Yon across the gym.
“You’ve been showing us all up since we came back,” Angela said, smiling. “You didn’t even have to train with us over break and you’re making us all look bad.”
“Oh, well I did train a little… on my own.”
“Yeah, you’re just trying to impress Mr. Rogg,” came a familiar voice from behind, making Carol’s face flush. She groaned and looked over her shoulder to see Minnerva walking out of the locker room.
“Why are you eavesdropping on other people’s conversations?” Carol said.
“You’re standing right outside the locker room,” Minnerva said flatly, shrugging. “Maybe don’t have private conversations in public if you don’t want other people to hear.”
“It wasn’t really that private,” Angela said, perhaps a little too politely to make up for the bordering on hostile interaction in front of her. “I was just telling Carol that she’s been doing really good lately.”
“Yeah, because she’s always sucking up to Mr. Rogg.”
Carol clenched a fist at her side. “I am not always sucking up to him.”
“Of course you’re not, Vers.”
“Vers? I don’t get it.” Angela laughed, maybe from discomfort. Carol’s face was practically on fire.
“It’s my name in French class,” Carol muttered, flexing her hand out of the fist, trying to stay calm.
“Except it’s not even a real name,” Minerva said. “You just made it up.”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t. It’s just difficult not to notice how hard you’re always trying to get him to pay attention to you. It’s kinda embarrassing, honestly.”
Carol had to clench her jaw to stop herself from blurting that it actually wasn’t embarrassing because he was in love with her and she didn’t need to try to get him to pay attention to her because she slept next to him every night, so take that, Minnerva!
As it were, she just glared at her and stammered out, “Why don’t you—why don’t you just go back to whatever miserable hole you crawled out of and—and fuck off?”
Minnerva scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Oh wow, real mature, Danvers.”
“At least I’m not the one butting into other people’s conversations just to be an asshole.”
“Okay, guys, just cool it, okay?” Angela said, focusing beyond them. “I think Mr. Rogg’s coming over here, so just don’t get in trouble?”
Carol’s heart skipped a beat when she saw that Yon was indeed coming towards them, looking somehow sterner and taller than usual.
“Everything okay over here, girls?” he said.
“Yeah, just talking,” Angela said.
“Just talking?” He gave them a pointed look that Carol was pretty sure made all of them blush.
“Yep, just talking,” Carol said.
“Good, because for a moment I thought you might have been arguing, and I’d hate to see anyone on my team arguing.” He paused. “If I ever did catch anyone being less than civil, there would be repercussions. Don’t let that happen.”
It was weird how small he made her feel. She wanted him to be on her side so she could rub it in Minnerva’s face, but she also just wanted to feel like he really actually was on her side. She understood that there wasn’t any other way he could treat her in front of them, but it was kinda frustrating that he got to be so authoritative and she just had to quietly accept it.
When they got home, Yon asked, “What was actually going on in the gym today?”
Of course she knew what he was asking about, but she said, “Uh, we had track practice?”
“Carol,” Yon said, unamused, “you know what I’m talking about.”
She sighed. “I was just talking to Angela, then Minnerva walked over to be a bitch.”
“You really shouldn’t argue with anyone on the team, Carol.”
“But I didn’t start it. I was just minding my own business.”
“Still, you should keep your emotions in check and try not to engage.”
“Try not to engage? What is that supposed to mean?”
“If someone is trying to get a rise out of you, just stay calm. You don’t need to react.”
“Why are you acting like you’re on her side? You’re telling me to stay calm but you don’t even know what we were talking about.”
“What were you talking about?”
Carol felt her face heat up. “Nothing important.”
“Please don’t lie to me.”
“How do you know I’m lying?”
He just gave her a look and she clenched her jaw, casting her eyes down.
“Angela said I was doing really good at track and then Minnerva came over and said I was only doing it to impress you and I told her that wasn’t true.”
“Why did she think you were trying to impress me?”
“I don’t know, she just kept saying that I try too hard to get you to notice me, which is stupid because I don’t do that.”
“What exactly did you tell her?”
“I didn’t tell her anything.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I didn’t say anything about us, don’t worry about it.”
“I have to worry, Carol. I shouldn’t need to explain that to you.”
“Okay, then don’t explain it. I understand the whole situation, okay? I’m not saying anything, I’m just standing there and shutting up while you get to boss me around just like everyone else on the team.”
“I’m your coach. Nothing’s changed about that. I’ve never tolerated any hostility between anyone on my team. I can’t turn a blind eye to you arguing with Minnerva if I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.”
“I’m not asking you to turn a blind eye, I’m asking you to just, I don’t know, be on my side?”
“Why would you ever think I’m not on your side?”
“Because you’re telling me not to engage her as if I started anything when you already know that she hates me. I don’t ever go out of my way to talk to her—I don’t go out of my way to talk to anyone anymore and I don’t get any credit for that. I’m not provoking anything! Everyone always thinks I’m provoking things, but I always just have all these shitty people trying to provoke me and I’m doing my best to just stay away from them!”
“Carol, slow down. I didn’t mean to upset you. I know you’re not trying to provoke anyone, but I did hear you raising your voice in the gym earlier and—”
“Because she was being an asshole!”
“I understand that now, but can you understand why I would be worried? We all say regrettable things when we’re upset, not just you.”
“But I didn’t say anything regrettable, that’s what I’ve been telling you! All I wanted to do was to tell Minnerva why she was wrong. I wanted to rub it in her stupid, smug face that I’m fucking sleeping with you, but I didn’t say anything like that, I just told her to fuck off.”
Yon sighed. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t say anything.”
“Of course I didn’t say anything. You don’t have to lecture me every time I talk to someone.”
“I wasn’t lecturing you.”
“Yeah, says the teacher.”
“Just… try to avoid being at the center of any… drama.”
“I literally just said that I’m trying to stay away from it. I didn’t do anything.”
“Alright. I believe you.”
Yon was used to teenagers disliking each other and being dramatic for various reasons, which was why early on in his teaching/coaching career he had made it a point to penalize anyone on his team for starting petty arguments. He didn’t care what anyone was arguing about, he just didn’t want it to become a distraction to the team. And he had always known there was some degree of hostility between Carol and Minnerva, but it was never anything that raised any real alarms. But of course he now had a much more significant stake in Carol’s personal life, so her odd feud with Minnerva became slightly more concerning.
But only slightly. He had a feeling that their run-in in front of the locker room was about as escalated as any of their interactions would get, especially since he had stepped in. While Carol may have disliked her, Minnerva did have a respect for authority that Yon appreciated. And since he had started to monitor Carol’s private conversations, he felt almost confident that everything was in hand.
All the same, the fact that Minnerva had openly judged Carol for apparently trying to impress him during track and class was something that he couldn’t ignore. He didn’t realize that he was noticeably playing favorites with her again, but he would have to make it a point to be more conscious about where he focused his attention.
He knew part of why he was paying so much more attention to her was because he had devoted so much of his personal time into training her. He liked seeing the work he put into her reflected in her improved performance. It was simply impossible to put that same level of energy into every student, but he would have to find a way to even it out. Perhaps if he caught himself about to say something to Carol in front of the rest of the team, he could just refocus on someone else in that moment instead.
Whatever he decided to do, he was already fairly confident that his actions towards Carol in public weren’t going to raise any serious alarms. But, if he was honest with himself, it was his thoughts about her—all the secret, forbidden moments with her that he carried with him—that he didn’t know how to control. He tried to compartmentalize his thoughts about her, but wandering thoughts were harder to control than actions.
When they were at school, he tried to see her as just a student, just that version of Carol that he had never let slip into his personal life. And when they were home… he still didn’t know quite how to look at her when they were at home. But the important part was, when they were at school, he needed to see her as a student and only a student.
But of course he should have known that he wouldn’t be able to do that.
Seeing Carol wearing the necklace he had given her made it impossible for him to see her as just a student. When he caught a glimpse of her toying with the pendant or when it dangled as she leaned over her an assignment on her desk, he had to make himself look away from her. All he could picture was the pendant sliding down to the dip in her clavicle as fucked her. He imagined her straightening out the necklace as she sat up and he looked at her naked back.
He liked knowing that perhaps anyone could imagine her in all the ways he did when the necklace distracted him, but no one else knew. He liked that no one else knew that the necklace was from him, and when she wore it, she was his. And what he liked, more than anything, was that she never took it off.
He had to stop thinking about that though. At least in school. If he could stop distracting himself with lewd thoughts about her, it would no doubt be easier to stop playing favorites with her in front of everyone else. He just had to ignore his personal feelings towards her as much as he could. Maybe not to the extreme he had attempted at the beginning of their whole affair, but there had to be some degree of apathy in their public interactions. It would be for her own good.
Later that night, Carol sat on the couch looking through her phone. She pulled up her conversation with Attlass, which she had been avoiding for a couple days while also just trying to avoid looking at him in class, but when she saw he was online, she decided to just face it now.
Carol: Hey, sorry. Been busy.
Carol: We can talk if you want
Attlass: I thought u were just going to leave me on read tbh
Carol: I still could
Attlass: so how are u?
Attlass: so ur parents took ur phone away???
Carol: It wasn’t a big deal
Carol: I ended up getting a new one for Christmas, so it’s fine
Attlass: oh so new number and everything?
Attlass: could I get ur new number?
Carol: Why do you suddenly want to be friends again?
Attlass: look I get why ur upset… I feel really bad about my parents. I would’ve let u just move in with me if I could… I’m still really sorry and I wish I could change everything that happened… I miss u.
She had to look up from her phone then. She wanted to accept his apology and she wanted to tell him that she missed him too, but part of her was still upset. His apology didn’t really do any good—she was still forced out of her parents house. And she couldn’t even be honest with him about all of that. If she told him that she missed him and then they started to become friends again, how much would she really be able to talk to him about?
Yon was over at the kitchen table, putting away the papers he had been grading.
She sighed and said, “Yeah, everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
She stared at her open conversation with Attlass for a moment, that white blank space with the blinking cursor staring back at her, waiting for her reply. Everything that she could say was trapped somewhere inside her, locked in some imaginary yet foolproof cage with steel bars. She wasn’t sure when it had got there or if there was a way to open it, but she could feel little truths wanting to slip between the bars.
She closed out of the messaging app and locked her phone. “What?”
“I said, are you sure everything’s okay?”
He came into the living room, standing just next to the couch. “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t know if she was just that easy to read or if he really did just know her that well. Either way, it was always difficult to really hide anything from him.
“I don’t know…” she said. “Do you ever think…”
“Do you ever think about when we’ll be able to tell people about us?”
“Carol, is someone—”
“No one’s asking me anything; I just want to know for myself.”
He let out a deep sigh and sat down next to her. “What’s making you think about this?”
“I mean… why wouldn’t I? I love you and we’re together but… no one knows.” She was sitting with her back leaned against the armrest, and brought her knees up closer to her chest. “It just feels a bit like maybe this isn’t real.”
“What do you mean? Of course this is real, Carol.”
“But… but it’s like this is the most important part of me and it’s just invisible to everyone. It’s like I’m invisible.”
“You’re not invisible to me.”
“I know… I know, but…”
She fidgeted with her phone in her hands and said, “Attlass is apologizing to me and he said he misses me and I… I don’t know what to say to him.”
“Even if he does want to try to be friends with you again, you can’t say anything about us. You know how important that is.”
“But when could we tell anyone?”
“I just want to know how long we have to keep this a secret. I get that right now it has to be a secret, but someday it won’t have to be, right?”
“Someday, but right now, this just has to be between us. No one else would understand. You know that I love—I love you more than anyone else could, but no one else is going to see that. The minute someone else finds out, then both of our lives as we know it are over. At best, I’d lose my job. And you would be homeless. I don’t want that for you.”
She stared at the empty space between them on the couch. With each word he said, she could feel those steel bars inside of her getting somehow thicker. Everything that she thought she might be able to say to Attlass seemed to be pulling back deeper into that entrapment—she didn’t even think she would be able to say that she missed him.
“Carol?” Yon spoke after she had been quiet for a moment. “Are you okay?”
“Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I just… I don’t know.” She sighed.
“Carol…” Yon moved closer to her, and reached to her, tucking his finger under her chin to tilt her head up towards him. “I love you. I’m always here for you, no matter what. I know this all feels hard right now, and I wish we didn’t have to keep this all a secret either, but it’s what we have to do right now. It’s for the best.”
His hand travelled down her neck, stopping over the star pendant on her necklace. She shivered a little.
“I just want to keep you safe,” he said. “All I want is for you to be safe and happy.”
“I… I am happy,” she said, putting her hand over his at the base of her throat. “I’m happy with you.”
He turned his hand over, so he could take hers, then brought it to his lips. It still made her feel a little swoony when he did things like that, even if she was feeling super bummed about everything else. She knew that he loved her, though. It didn’t make sense to her that she was feeling so many negative, heavy things when he really loved her.
She really wanted to just be happy with him like she said she was. He had given her so much to try to make her happy, and she didn’t like how ungrateful she felt when she was down. She didn’t want to keep going on about how negative everything made her feel—she didn’t want him to regret being with her if he realized how immature she actually was.
So when he pulled her closer to him, she let him do what he wanted. Physically, she was into it, but the conversation with Attlass that she had abandoned wouldn’t leave her alone. There was no way for her to get close to him again in a way that wouldn’t make her a liar. And if she did tell him the truth, then everything would just be fucked.
She couldn’t stop thinking about those dumb steel bars holding every moment with Yon inside of her. She couldn’t stop thinking about how, to the rest of the world, everything between them didn’t exist. All of these important things in her life were being kept inside of her and she wasn’t sure exactly who she was supposed to be outside of this.
Carol was walking to French class the next day, still feeling weird about Yon reprimanding her just like anyone else. She didn’t particularly want to have to go sit in his class right now just so she could be yet another one of his students. And she started to wonder how many other people thought she was sucking up to him. As if all these other students with crushes on him wouldn’t give anything to have him pay attention to them. It wasn’t fair that she got made fun of for it.
But she didn’t even know if anyone else thought that besides Minnerva. Still, she felt pretty shitty imagining that everyone else felt that way. Maybe looking like a teacher’s pet all the time was part of why she couldn’t actually make any other friends.
Thinking this all over as she walked through the busy hall, she didn’t register that someone had called her name out behind her. She didn’t notice until they said it again, “Danvers.”
Surprised, Carol turned and, to her complete confusion, saw Minnerva staring expectantly at her.
“Did you say my name?” Carol asked, pausing in front of the lockers just outside of Yon’s classroom.
“Yeah, like twice,” Minnerva said. “Do you have a second?”
“Why, did you leave something out yesterday?”
“Look,” Minerva said, blinking a couple times, then rolling her eyes. “I’m sorry about that.”
“What?” Had she heard that right?
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I shouldn’t have butted into your conversation or whatever. And I shouldn't have called you a suck-up. So… sorry, I guess.”
“Okay, so are we cool for now?”
“Uhh… I mean…” Carol really didn’t know what she was supposed to say to this weird, out-of-the-blue apology. “Sure?”
“Cool. See you in class.” Without any further formalities, Minnerva walked past her, and Carol stared after her as she turned into Yon’s classroom.
She just continued to stare for a second. Had she just hallucinated that? What the fuck.
Shaking her head, she went into the classroom. She glanced at Minnerva and Attlass, but Minnerva wasn’t paying attention to her in the slightest. Attlass smiled at her a little though. Carol smiled back and quickly went to her desk.
On the list of strange things happening to her this year, Minnerva apologizing was definitely up there. But she wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad thing yet. She had no idea why Minnerva would go out of her way to do something like that.
As Carol got ready for bed that night, she couldn’t stop thinking about Minnerva’s apology. After she had changed her pajamas and brushed her teeth, she went into her own room to make sure her backpack was all put together for the morning. Then she switched off the light and headed down the hall to Yon’s room, hopping onto her side of the bed. The door to his bathroom was open, and he stood facing the mirror as he brushed his teeth.
Carol scrolled through her phone for a second, looking at Minnerva’s Instagram posts, feeling a bit jealous that Attlass was in so many of her pictures. Then Yon shut the bathroom light off and was going to his side of the bed, so she locked her phone and set it on the nightstand.
Yon had barely pulled back his side of the comforter when Carol said, “So remember how Minnerva was being a bitch to me at track?”
“So she apologized.”
“Really?” he said, getting into bed next to her. “Well, that’s good, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s weird.”
“Maybe you should just take it for what it is and not overthink it.”
“Ugh, can you not be boring for one second?”
“I didn’t realize I was supposed to be making my advice more exciting.”
“I wasn’t asking for advice, I was telling you that she apologized and it was weird.”
He sighed, maybe finding it hard to hold back the rest of his boring advice. “Why was it weird for her to apologize?”
“You don’t think it’s weird that she apologized out of nowhere?”
“Maybe it wasn’t out of nowhere. You don’t know what else she might have going on in her life to bring her to apologize.”
She rolled her eyes. “Like what?”
“I don’t know, Carol. Maybe she talked to someone about it.”
Carol stared at him for a second, considering. Then she said, “Did you have anything to do with it?”
He raised his eyebrows, almost laughed. “Me? Why would I have talked to her about this?”
“I don’t know…” From his reaction, she started to feel a little dumb for suggesting it, but went on, “You could’ve said something else to her about the team rules and not told me about it or something. I mean, she’d probably apologize if you told her to.”
“No, I spoke to you both at the same time, there’s no need for me to bring up the situation with her again. Besides, even if I did, I wouldn’t have urged her to apologize. That would obviously be me playing favorites and we don’t need to draw more attention to that issue.”
She didn’t know why what he said had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty stupid of me to think that you might ever stand up for me.”
“What—what does that even mean, Carol? The issue isn’t me standing up for you, it’s about keeping us safe.”
“Yeah, I know… I know. I just—I don’t know, nevermind. I’m just tired. We don’t have to keep talking about this.”
Carol laid herself back and pulled the comforter up to her chin. Yon looked at her like he had more to say, opening his mouth, then closing it.
Finally, he sighed and said, “I’m glad she apologized, Carol. I hope it’s a good sign for you.”
“We’ll see, I guess,” she said.
He switched off his bedside lamp and, even though she was still kinda annoyed by his comments, she pressed herself close to him as he settled himself into a comfy position. She still just really liked cuddling up to him at night—it was nice to feel this close to someone and he always smelled so good.
“You’re so boring,” she said, “but you’re still hot.”
His exhale sounded like a laugh. “Goodnight, Carol.”
Carol sat at a table in the library during her free period one day, trying to focus on her French assignment. A small part of her kinda resented having to do homework for Yon’s class still, even though she knew that was immature of her. Just because she was sleeping with him didn’t mean that she was suddenly fluent in French. But at the same time, no one else in class had ever given him a blow job so… maybe there was a balance to be found somewhere.
As Carol sat somewhat bitterly bent over her assignment, someone set their books down across from her and she looked up to see Attlass.
“Hey, Carol,” he said, his mouth twitching into an uncertain smile. “Mind if I sit with you?”
She didn’t know if the panic she felt was from Yon’s warnings, or because she had left his last message to her on read. Either way, she just said, “Sure, if you want to.”
He sat across from her, nodding towards her open books, “Is that the French homework?”
“Yep,” she said, trying to act like she was still focused on the sentence she had been writing before he sat down. She couldn’t even remember what she had been writing now.
“I finished mine if you need help,” he said.
“I’m almost done,” the words came out sounding maybe a little more harsh than she had wanted, so she quickly added, “but thanks.”
A quiet, heavy moment passed between them as Carol forced herself to write a few more French words while willing herself to somehow not look too concerned about Attlass’s presence.
“So…” Attlass attempted to lift the heavy silence. “You never replied to my last message.”
So the silence got heavier. Cool. Carol glanced up to him, feeling her face burn.
“If I had known you were going to hunt me down, I might’ve replied faster,” she said.
“Were you actually going to reply?”
“I don’t know, it was pretty late when we were messaging. I was tired.”
“Look, I just really want to talk to you.”
“Okay. Well, we’re talking now.”
“Yeah, but I mean… like, actually talk about… everything.”
She fidgeted with her pencil, staring down at the French words that were becoming even more foreign as she tried to wrestle all of the various anxieties that a conversation with Attlass brought.
When she didn’t say anything, he continued, “What I said was true: I get why you’re upset. And I am really sorry. Maybe I should’ve tried saying this in person first, but I really do miss you. This year has been really weird without you.”
Carol stayed silent, filled with a want to tell him that yes, this year was weird and he couldn’t even begin to imagine exactly how weird it was. But she could hear Yon telling her that that would just lead to Attlass asking more questions that he shouldn’t be asking, and Carol didn’t know what to do. She just kept fidgeting with her pencil.
“So… are you just going to ignore me then?” Attlass said.
“No… no, I’m sorry.” Carol put her pencil down, clasping her hands together on her lap, still having a hard time looking at Attlass. “I just… I don’t know what to say. We haven’t talked in a while.”
“I know, but that’s why I want to talk now. I want to keep being friends with you, Carol. I don’t like not having you around.”
“I…” She was fidgeting with her hands on her lap, made herself stop, brought a hand to the back of her neck, then fingered the chain down to the star pendant at her throat. She took a deep breath and without thinking said, “I miss you, too.”
When she looked up at him, he smiled. It was actually a little awkward. Now that they both knew that they missed each other, what were they supposed to do? Run off into the sunset to get friendship bracelets?
“So…” Attlass said. “Does this mean we can talk?”
“I thought we were talking…?”
“I mean more like… can we catch up? I mean, your parents finally got you a new phone? We never thought that would happen.”
“Yeah…” She thought about the day her parents cancelled her phone and about Yon picking out a new phone for her and how weird it was that that felt like so long ago now, but Attlass had no idea. “It’s crazy.”
“Does that mean things are going better with them?”
That was exactly the kind of question that Yon would be losing his shit over if he could hear this conversation. As it were, Yon had no idea this was happening, but she still felt like he was somehow listening over her shoulder
“Uh… I mean, things are fine… I guess.” She toyed with the pendant on the necklace and tried to smile at Attlass. “My dad’s still a piece of shit.”
“Well, I doubt he’ll ever not be a piece of shit.”
“But we’re half way through senior year now. You won’t have to live with him for too much longer.”
“No… no, I guess I won’t.”
Getting to talk to Attlass again after so long was pretty nice, but also just as stressful as Carol had feared it would be. Unless they were talking about things happening at school, she had to lie about pretty much everything. Maybe it would get easier eventually, but catching up with him was hard. But she really wanted to have him as a friend again, so she hoped she wasn’t acting too weird around him and that she wouldn’t scare him off or something.
And then there was also the whole issue of whether or not she was going to be honest with Yon about catching up with Attlass. She felt like she was going to tell him eventually, but she didn’t want to have him freak out and give her another lecture about being careful. She didn’t know if she’d be able to enjoy being friends with Attlass again if Yon was going to be constantly reminding her not to fuck everything up.
When she was in French class that day, turning in the assignment that she never actually finished—Yon was going to ask her about it later of course, but he might give her full credit anyway if she played it off right—she could barely look at Yon. She was glad that her back was to Attlass too, because she didn’t want to look at him either.
God, sometimes she really really wished that she was just a normal teenager worrying about normal teenager things. As if dealing with her shitty parents hadn’t been enough, now she had to worry about getting Yon sent to fucking prison if she started having friends again. It was great that she had Yon and that he loved her and everything, but maybe it would’ve been better if they had just waited.
She immediately shoved that thought out of her brain.
There was nothing she could do now to change anything. And she had wanted all of this with him so bad, she felt like she had practically begged him to be with her, so she just had to deal with the parts of it that sucked. And it wasn’t like everything sucked, either. Most things were fine, and he was doing so much for her.
But since he did do so much for her, she felt like she shouldn’t be having this dilemma over whether or not she should be honest with him about Attlass. It felt like she owed him honesty about this. Plus, Yon was the one person in the world she could talk to about anything right now, so why would she start hiding things from him, too?
She just didn’t want him to tell her that she couldn’t have her friend back.
The same thoughts kept cycling through Carol’s head, and none of them resolved themselves into anything that made her feel any better about her situation. If anything, they just made her feel increasingly worse, until the spinning cycle of her thoughts seemed to be physically banging against her skull and swirling down to twist her stomach.
By the end of French class, she had a headache and a stomach ache and no idea what she was going to tell Yon about Attlass. As she went through the rest of her classes for the day, her indecision was outweighed by how much physical pain it had put her in. The end of the school day was rolling around, which meant it was almost time for track practice, but she was nauseous and her head was pounding and she just wanted to close her eyes and lie down.
Wincing against the sounds of the other students clamoring to get to their lockers after the last bell, Carol trudged back to Yon’s classroom. God, had everyone in this school always been so fucking loud? She wished she could just teleport from here directly to her bed.
She reached Yon’s classroom and, cautiously, she peaked her head in, just to make sure no one else was around. Only when she saw that everyone from his last class had left, she walked in. He was focusing on his computer and she wasn’t sure he had noticed her.
“Hey,” she said.
He looked up then, wrinkling his forehead in confusion. He stood, eyeing the door behind her, then said, “Why aren’t you at the gym right now?”
“I don’t feel good.” She set her bags on the floor and plopped in the desk she sat in for French, folding her arms on top of the desk and resting her head on them.
“What’s wrong?” he asked
“My head hurts,” she mumbled. “And I feel nauseous.”
He kept his eyes on the door as he stood from his desk and walked to the front of it, leaning against it, arms crossed. The buzzing fluorescent lights overhead were grating against her and she shut her eyes.
“Did you go to the nurse at all?” he asked.
Shaking her head, she mumbled, “I thought it would go away.”
She was keeping her eyes shut, so she couldn’t tell what he was doing in the silence, but she imagined he kept glancing at the door. Then he said, “What do you want to do about it?”
Peaking at him, she said, “Can I go home?”
He sighed and ran a hand over his face, looked at the door, then back to her. Voice low, he said, “I don’t know how you’re going to get there.”
Just above a whisper, she asked, “Can’t you drive me?”
“I’d miss too much practice; I might as well cancel at that point. I don’t really want to cancel on everyone else at the last minute like this.”
She put a hand over her face. “Can I just wait in your car or something?”
“No, you’re not waiting in the car the whole time. It’s too cold out and I’m not leaving the car running in the parking lot for that long.”
Sighing, she pressed her hand against her forehead—the aching just seemed to become worse the more they talked.
“Are you certain you can’t just take some aspirin and try going to track?”
She removed her hand to look at him, then immediately had to cover her face again, suddenly feeling prickling at the corners of her eyes. “I can’t…”
“Okay, okay, you don’t have to go. You can just…” He let out a long sigh. “You can just wait in here. If anyone comes in, just… just be honest and tell them you didn’t feel good during track and you needed to wait somewhere quiet until your ride got here. Alright?”
She heard him sigh and then rustle around his desk as he got his things together for track. His footsteps came towards her and she squinted her eyes open. Hesitantly, he touched his fingers to the desk, close to her arm.
“I’ll text you when track is over, then meet me at the car,” he said, softly, touching the back of his fingers to her arm. “Feel better.”
“Will you turn the light off when you leave?”
Closing her eyes again, she listened to him walk away and flick the light switch. The buzzing overhead faltered and ended, and she heard his footsteps fade down the tiled hallway.
As she sat there in Yon’s dark classroom, she remembered that she still had to decide whether or not she was going to tell him about Attlass. The pulsing pain beating at her temples wouldn’t let her think about it for too long, but the unsettled feeling in her stomach made her wish that she didn’t have to lie to anyone. She just wanted to be normal.
Yon felt terrible making Carol just sit and wait for track to be over while she was clearly in pain, but he didn’t know what else to do. For a moment as he walked to the gym, he thought that maybe he really should just cancel practice. But he still didn’t want to do that to the rest of the team last minute, especially to the team members who were dependent on someone else picking them up.
So Carol waited in his classroom while he coached the rest of the team. If Carol had been any other student, he wouldn’t have had much anxiety about letting her wait in his classroom. But of course she wasn’t any other student, and showing even the tiniest hint of favoritism now worried him more than he wanted it to.
But track finished and Carol met him at his car and everything was fine. Well, other than Carol’s headache. He had hoped that she would be feeling better by the time track was over, but she silently slouched in the passenger seat of his car, covering her face with her hand, wincing if he hit a bump in the road.
“Do you normally get headaches like this?” he asked. He had lived with her for months now and this hadn’t happened, so maybe that was a silly question.
“I don’t know,” she mumbled. Now probably wasn’t the best time to ask her about her medical history, or anything really.
When they got home, she dropped her bags, took off her shoes, and went straight upstairs to her room. He listened to her bedroom door shut. For a second, he thought it was odd that she wouldn’t just go straight to sleep in his bed—that’s where she slept every night now—but her headache meant the decision didn’t really mean anything other than her needing a dark, quiet space.
He picked up her backpack and gym bag, setting them near the kitchen table, and as he did, he heard a buzzing sound. She had put her phone in the side pocket of her backpack. Looking towards the stairs, as if she would come walking down any second, he pulled the phone from the pocket. On the lockscreen was a new message from Attlass, reading: It was good to talk to u today.
He felt a coldness wash over his limbs as he unlocked her phone, pulling up her chat history with Attlass. There was nothing else to indicate what they had been talking about. Yon almost pulled up the keyboard, ready to type under Carol’s name in an attempt to figure out what she had told him today. But he locked her phone and replaced it in the backpack before he could do that.
Whatever Carol had talked to Attlass about, it probably wasn’t anything important. And anyway, she would probably tell him about it once she was feeling better. He’d have to wait until then to find out.
But Yon kept looking at that pocket on her backpack. What if Carol had told him too much?
When he heard the buzzing again, Yon was quick to pull her phone out. Another message from Attlass: I’m glad things are better w ur parents.
Of course Carol hadn’t said anything she shouldn’t have. All the same, he was overwhelmingly relieved.
Once more putting her phone in her backpack pocket, Yon went to the kitchen to fill up a glass of water. He brought it to Carol along with some aspirin, setting them on her nightstand for her, gently stroking her hair the way he had wanted to earlier when she had buried her head atop her desk.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, sitting next to her on the bed.
She just shook her head. He’d make dinner for her anyway and leave it in the fridge if she didn’t feel better at all tonight.
“Take some aspirin and try to drink all the water,” he said, stroking her hair again.
She propped herself up a little on her elbow, squinting, even though the only light in the room was coming from the hallway, spilling through the open door. She reached for the glass at her nightstand, and, for fear that she’d spill it, he helped her. He watched her swallow the aspirin and drink about half the water in the glass. Then she handed him the glass and buried her face in her pillow.
“Let me know if you need anything,” he said, touching her back. She made a vague mumbling sound and then he stood, leaving the room, gingerly closing the door behind him. He didn’t know exactly why, but in that moment, knowing that he was still safe with her, and being able to care for her in her weakest moments… it made him feel like he might actually be able to love her. At least in the way he always told her he did.
It was a nice, strange feeling, one that he didn’t know if he could trust. Was it actually her that he thought he could love? Or did he just love how comfortable he could feel in a situation that no one should actually be comfortable in?
He wouldn’t overthink it. After all, feelings like this didn’t really mean anything.
Chapter 15: Waiting
Valentine’s Day was around the corner and this year Carol felt its approach looming in a way she never had before. In the past, the holiday had been mostly a joke, but she had never been in love with someone before. Now that she had Yon, she wasn’t sure how to handle a holiday about love. For one, she wasn’t even sure that he cared about the holiday, but if he was her boyfriend or whatever, she felt like she should do something for him.
He was probably going to do something for her, right? That’s what couples did for Valentine’s Day—they did things for each other. After the star necklace he gave her for Christmas, though, she couldn’t imagine him getting her something that meant more than that.
If they were a completely different couple, she imagined that they might go out to dinner together, maybe even a movie. It’d be so nice to just go out like a real boyfriend and girlfriend, no terrible consequences for being together. But there were consequences and that meant that they didn’t get to do anything in public. Everything they did was in his house. How were they supposed to celebrate Valentine’s Day if it had to be like literally every other day they spent together?
Ugh. She knew their relationship couldn’t be anything different right now, so why couldn’t her brain just leave well enough alone?
Trying to remain positive, she started to brainstorm what she could actually do for Yon for the holiday. Her first thought was that she should get him something, like maybe a card. But she couldn’t think of what to get him beyond a card—what were you supposed to get guys for Valentine’s Day?
A quick turn to the internet gave her a plethora of gift ideas, but most of them were out of her budget, AKA the unimpressive amount of cash she still had stowed away from her summer job. So, with guidance from various sites and articles, she decided that her budget friendly gift to him would be mostly sexual.
Although, she still wanted to make it different than all the other times they had sex. The only suggestion she found online that she was mostly comfortable with was lingerie. That was pretty simple, right? It was basically just fancy, extra-feminin underwear for adults, and she wore underwear everyday so she could muster up the self-confidence for that.
But of course self-confidence wasn’t the only thing she needed to wear lingerie. She needed to actually obtain the lingerie. Ordering anything online was out of the question since she only had cash. So she had to go out somewhere, which meant Yon had to take her.
If she ever needed to go to the store to pick out anything herself, he’d usually just drop her off and they’d agree on a general time for him to come back, and she’d keep a close eye on her phone the whole time. This time shouldn’t be any different, but asking him right now made her a little nervous. Probably because she wanted to keep her gift a surprise.
On a Friday evening, she came up to him while he was grading papers—honestly, he was so fucking boring, he was always grading. She touched his back, playfully tiptoeing her fingers up to his neck.
“Can I go to the mall this weekend?” she asked, moving her fingers to the top of his head. He moved his head a little, probably annoyed, and she took her hand away.
“What do you need at the mall?” he asked.
“To be at the mall.”
He was quiet for a moment as he finished writing something in red pen at the top of the paper he was grading. Then he flipped the paper over onto his completed stack and he said, “There’s no specific reason why you need to be at the mall?”
“Do I need a specific reason?”
He turned away from his papers to look at her. “Well, you usually have a reason for wanting to go somewhere.”
“Maybe I’m just bored.”
She thought about it for a second and knew the honest answer was that yes, she was bored; watching Yon grade papers on Friday nights wasn’t exactly exciting. But that wasn’t why she wanted to go to the mall. She just shrugged.
“You’re being very evasive right now,” he said.
She fought a smile and said, “No, I’m not.”
“You’re not going to give me an actual reason why you want to go?”
“Yeah, I already told you.”
“To just be at the mall?”
“It has surprisingly more things to do than your house.”
He started smiling back, giving her a skeptical look. “Alright, I’ll drop you off there tomorrow. I have to run errands anyway.”
“Oh, are you going grocery shopping?”
“Can you get Doritos?”
“Didn’t I just buy you some?”
“No, you bought me Cheetos last week and I ate them pretty much right away, obviously.”
“I don’t know, Carol, that’s a lot of junk food lately. You should really be sticking to your track diet.”
“Basically all we eat is healthy stuff.”
“I don’t hear a problem in that statement.”
“What about all things in moderation?”
“That’s what the Cheetos were, and clearly you didn’t enjoy them in moderation. Anyway, if we start buying junk food all the time, then it’s not in moderation.”
She threw her head back and groaned. “I just want a fun snack.”
Yon chuckled and said, “I’ll find you an alternative.”
“Don’t laugh at my pain.”
“Well, you’re being over-dramatic.”
“Because you’re being overly lame.” She groaned again and dragged her feet to the couch, flopping herself down. Staring at the ceiling, she called over, “I’ll let you put it in my butt if you buy me Doritos.”
“Carol, no, that’s—no, I don’t even want—no.”
“I thought all guys wanted that.”
“No, they don’t.”
“What if I wanted it?”
He hesitated before saying, “Do you?”
“Not really. Unless I’m getting Doritos out of it.”
“Well, then it looks like we’re not doing it.”
She propped herself onto her elbows so she could look at him bent over his grading again. Thinking about both the possibility of convincing him to buy her junk food and her Valentine’s gift she said, “Is there any other weird thing you want to do?”
Head still bent down, he glanced at her, then focused back on his papers. “Nothing weird comes to mind.”
“Okay, then anything different? I mean, from what we normally do.”
“Why are you asking this right now?”
She let herself flop back down onto her back. “Maybe I’m bored.”
“Bored just right now, or bored about… sex?”
“No… I don’t think sex is boring.” She held herself back from adding, For the most part.
She didn’t think sex was boring so much as it still just wasn’t everything she had expected. It was less… cinematic than she had hoped, even after she had mostly gotten over how overwhelming it was at first. Bored didn’t really cover that feeling. Maybe the right word was disappointed, but even that didn’t feel right. Yon always tried to make sure that things felt good for her, so not everything about sex was disappointing—sometimes it was the opposite, sometimes it was fun—but it was still awkward.
She wasn’t sure that she could ever really be comfortable being naked in front of anyone, and sometimes it was still just weird to see Yon’s orgasm face. And she felt like she made a lot of jokes after sex, which Yon would just roll his eyes at. He knew her so well and he knew that she got extra sarcastic when she was uncomfortable but he seemed to forget that when it came to sex.
She wished she could just get herself to say that sometimes sex still made her feel gross—the kind of gross that can’t be showered off. And sometimes she’d feel that way when she was at school, like when he had reprimanded her for arguing during track.
The feeling was a deep-rooted, grimy thing that started in the middle of her brain and leaked down her body to become stagnant in her heels. It was toxic sludge that left a trail of every bad thing she had ever thought about herself and everything that made her too sick to talk about. It felt like all the times her dad yelled at her, it felt like her mom pouring a drink as she looked the other way, like her brother barely talking to her once he went to college, like having only one friend that she never saw, and it felt like Yon’s hand between her legs when she hadn’t been ready for it.
But she didn’t like thinking about that. She doubted she’d ever even talk to Yon about it—it felt like too much to say when all he wanted to know, at least right now, was if sex bored her. Maybe she’d just grow out of that feeling eventually. Keeping it to herself was probably fine.
“So you’re just restless in general right now?” Yon asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I’ll be done grading soon, if you want to do something.”
“I don’t know… pick out a movie or something.”
“And we can cuddle?” She did still really like cuddling; that never really made her feel awkward or gross.
“Yes,” he said, sounding farther away than the kitchen table, most of his attention on the papers in front of him.
She sighed and pulled her phone out of her sweatshirt pocket, scrolling through social media apps to see what everyone else was doing right now. Her brother was at some party. Attlass and Minnerva were hanging out. Some girls on the track team went to a movie together. Post after post about what everyone was doing tonight.
It wasn’t as if she had a roaring social life before Yon, so she probably wouldn’t be doing much right now anyway. But, for some reason, she kinda wished she could just make a dumb post about spending time with her boyfriend, just so she could feel a bit like everyone else. Obviously she couldn’t do that, though.
The sound of shuffling papers made her look up from her phone. Yon was putting away his grading, and he glanced over at her, her phone still up close to her face.
“Has Attlass tried talking to you again at all?” he asked.
Self-conscious heat crept up Carol’s neck—she still hadn’t told Yon about her conversation with Attlass in the library. It was easy not to say anything if it never came up, but here it was, being brought up now. But she knew she had to tell him, even if he might lecture her again.
“He, uh…” She locked and unlocked her phone, then put it back into her pocket, hands still fidgeting with it. She just had to say it. “He talked to me at school and it went fine and I didn’t say anything important, so you don’t have to freak out or anything.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Yon said, tucking away the last of his papers into a folder. “I’m glad you got to talk to him. Just keep being cautious.”
She couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes, or from letting out a deep breath. That hadn’t been nearly as bad as she had worked it up to be. It was a little suspicious.
“Is that all you’re going to say?” she asked, as he walked into the living room.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you usually have a whole lecture planned for when I talk to anyone.” She moved her feet so he could sit down.
“No, I don’t. I just remind you to keep being careful; that’s not a lecture.”
“Okay, well the way you said it right now wasn’t a lecture, but it usually is.”
“You always say that. But right now it feels like you’re the one trying to give a lecture.”
She scoffed. “No, I’m not.”
“Alright. Well, I wasn’t either.”
Rolling her eyes at him, she reached for the remote on the coffee table. His hand was on her leg, and she briefly remembered the first time he had touched her leg on this couch and how jittery and excited that had made her. Right now, it didn’t make her feel quite that electric—it felt pretty normal. But she still wondered if he was going to move his hand up her leg tonight, if he’d end up on top of her, or if she’d be pulling herself onto his lap when they were twenty minutes into whatever they decided to watch. Or maybe they were just going to watch tv. It would be nice to just cuddle like she asked.
She turned on the tv and they settled on a movie and it became clear that they weren’t just going to cuddle. Which was fine. After their conversation, she didn’t want to seem like she had, for some reason, lied about not being bored with sex. And once she got her Valentine’s Day gift for him, she hoped that she’d be excited to wear it. She didn’t want him to know about any of the other feelings. Maybe lingerie would help her get over all of that.
The next day, Yon dropped off Carol at the mall. The mall was usually busy enough for her to be dropped off without anyone noticing, but she still always felt a little tense whenever she got out of his car in public. He pulled his car into a parking spot, so she could get out at an inconspicuous distance. It made him too nervous to drop her off closer to the door; he thought it would be more likely that someone walking in or out would notice them that way.
“I’ll text you when I’m on my way back,” he said as she unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Okay.” She glanced out the back window as a few unfamiliar faces walked by, then looked to Yon. For a second she wished that she could lean towards him to give him a kiss goodbye, but that obviously wasn’t an option. Glancing out the back window again, she said, “Coast is clear. No one here to arrest you today.”
“Sorry.” She met his eyes for a brief second, ducked her head and started opening the car door. “I’ll see you later.”
She got out of his car and walked through the parking lot in the cold February air. She looked over her shoulder once to see him pulling away, then directed her attention ahead of her. Now that she was actually at the mall, she felt a little giddy that she was putting her gift idea into motion.
After browsing through Victoria’s Secret and a few other nicer stores, Carol was almost defeated. She just wanted some lingerie that made her feel adult and stayed in her budget, but she couldn’t find anything to meet those parameters. Finally, she gave up on being a classy adult and wandered into one of those cheap fast fashion stores that was overflowing with girls her age.
The music overhead was too loud and seemed to be more fitting for a nightclub than a clothing store, and she could barely hear herself think as she found her way to the underwear section. But at last, the price tags fit into her pathetic budget. She dug through various cheap and flashy undergarments, all the while trying to imagine exactly what Yon would think was hot. It wasn’t really like he looked at her in her underwear for long anyway, but she had her fingers crossed that this would go over well.
Finally, she paired some lacy black bottoms with a lacy black bra bedazzled with rhinestones. The bra was marked down, probably because some of the rhinestones had fallen off and another one fell to her feet as she looked it over for any other flaws. It was the best she could do though, so she settled, planning on flicking off the remaining rhinestones when she got home, and took her finds to the checkout.
She felt a little embarrassed buying glitzy underwear, as if she were basically advertising that she had some kind of sex life, but the cashier gave no indication that she cared in the slightest, which was oddly reassuring. Leaving the store with her purchase in hand, it seemed like her Valentine’s Day plan was going to be mostly successful.
She checked her phone for any texts or missed calls from Yon, but didn’t have any, and now that she had what she had come here for, she let herself wander a bit more aimlessly. It was nice to be somewhere besides school or home for a change. She hadn’t realized how incredibly cooped up she actually was until now; her footsteps were somehow lighter walking around the mall on her own.
As she wandered, she walked past a jewelry store boasting a Valentine’s Day sale. A sudden knot twisted her stomach as she observed a couple holding hands, pointing at something within the glass counters and smiling at each other. They just got to be out in public like that. And they probably had some really nice plans for the holiday because they didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing them. Meanwhile, she could barely get away with saying two words about Yon without potentially risking everything.
Compared to all the couples that got to walk around in public together, her relationship with Yon felt almost like a joke. She knew it wasn’t a joke, but was it even a real relationship if literally no one else knew about it? It wasn’t like she wanted to start telling everyone that she was sleeping with her teacher, but part of her wished that they could just be normal.
But of course nothing in her life really seemed to be normal, so maybe she just needed to accept that.
Suppressing a sigh, she turned away from the jewelry store, touching the star pendant around her neck. Yon loved her, and as long as he kept loving her, then maybe someday they’d get to have a normal relationship.
Thinking about the future of their relationship didn’t really bring her much comfort though, at least not right then, because she had no idea when they were actually going to start acting normal. Whenever they talked about their relationship, it was always about keeping it a secret right now, and then someday things would be different. But when was someday?
She thought maybe during college would be a good time to start being open, but Yon never really specified exactly what he thought. She knew it was probably because he was too worried about keeping everything secret right now to really discuss the future, but she just wanted to be able to picture how all of this stress was going to be worth it.
After dropping Carol off at the mall, Yon went to run some basic errands. He ran errands on most weekends, although Carol usually stayed at home and did homework while he was out. It was probably good for her to be out doing something today, though.
He knew she didn’t have much of a social life since moving in with him, and because of their unique situation, she didn’t really get to go out much beyond school in general. It was for the best that she didn’t socialize too much right now, just in case she slipped up. And he felt like he was doing his best to keep her happy with him.
Even so, he could still sense that she might be somewhat frustrated with his routine. He spent most of his weeknights coaching, and when he wasn’t coaching, he was grading. Even before Carol moved in with him, he didn’t have much of a social life—just the occasional drink with coworkers. It certainly wasn't a very exciting lifestyle, especially for a teenager.
But, other than her being bored and restless lately, he didn’t think she was unhappy. Even if they had the odd argument about their relationship, she always warmed back up to him. She was just as willing as ever, and he continuously enjoyed having a partner that seemed so eager.
As Yon got to the store and grabbed one of the red shopping carts, the thought of Carol’s eagerness to be with him reminded him that, among other items on his list, he needed to buy more condoms. At the thought, he felt the smallest bit of heat travel up his neck.
Buying condoms hadn’t made him anxious since he was much younger, but these days, just placing the box in his shopping cart made that feeling of vulnerability return. Logically, he knew there was nothing suspicious about an adult man needing condoms, but his anxiety kept telling him that it was blaring evidence against him. His conscience flung accusations at him, insisting that this deliberate purchase was somehow pushing him even farther away from his morals. As if he were trying to fool himself into feeling “responsible” by using protection to shag a teenager.
The genuinely responsible choice would be to not buy the condoms—and put an end to the relationship.
But he wasn’t going to do that. Ending things now would hardly clear his name, anyhow. And since he couldn’t erase his past choices, he didn’t want to end things with her now. What was done was done. And since things with her were clearly going to continue, then he had to buy them. At this point, it was just practical.
So today as he walked around with the condoms tucked underneath some other items in his shopping cart, the anxiety didn’t concern him too much. There was no way that anyone in the store—whether they saw what he was buying or not—could possibly know who he was sleeping with, he reminded himself.
He completed his shopping without any incident, moral or otherwise, and got in line at the checkout. While he was waiting, he took out his phone to text Carol that he would be heading back for her soon. He began to unload his cart as the person in front of him finished paying for their purchase. Absentmindedly, he glanced at the cashier as she handed the other customer their receipt, and it briefly struck him that she looked familiar.
“Did you find everything okay today?” the cashier greeted him as he stepped closer to her. She was a possibly middle aged woman, her name tag reading “Marie.” He didn’t think he knew her, but there was something familiar… It was probably nothing.
“Yes, I found everything okay,” he said, smiling. “Thank you.”
She gave him a polite smile in return as she started to scan his items, but then she stared at him for a second too long, as if she also recognized him.
“Aren’t you…” she began, uncertain. “I’m sorry, but are you a teacher at Hala High?”
“Yes, I am,” he said, smiling again. “I’m the track coach as well.”
He winced at sharing that bit about himself; he didn’t need to explain who he was to the cashier. But now he looked at her a little harder and a new anxiety coursed through him. Fuck. He was beginning to realize why she looked familiar.
“I thought so. You coach my daughter, right?” she said. “I’m sorry—my daughter is Carol Danvers.”
All he could do for a moment was just continue to smile, watching her scan a box of Carol’s favorite cereal. Then he said, “Yes, yes I’m her coach. She’s a great student.”
“That’s good to hear,” she said, and he swore she was turning a shade of red, up to the tips of her ears. For a moment she silently focused on scanning all these things he was buying for her daughter.
“So… how is she?” she asked, turning even more red before adding, “I mean, you know how teenagers are… the last thing they want to do is talk to their parents. She’s actually doing okay in track and… everything?”
“She’s the best athlete I have,” he said, mentally adding, And everything else has been going okay for her, despite being kicked out of her home by you. “She’s a pleasure to have on the team.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” She smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, somehow only emphasizing the dark circles underneath them. An infuriated part of him felt that she deserved to be as tired as she looked. He could practically feel the vibrations of her tired, anxious energy as she said, “She always had good things to say about you.”
“Really?” was all he could think to say in return. The way she spoke about Carol in past tense made him feel a bit like they were at a wake, and he was somehow a medium between the two of them. For all he knew, this was the closest she had come in months to anyone who had regular contact with Carol, and perhaps she was hoping to get an impossible glimpse of her through him.
“You’ve been a good influence,” she said, a little forced, like she was just trying to keep this conversation going, just hoping to get another glimpse of her daughter through him.
“I’m glad you think so,” he said, smiling, unwilling to volunteer much more to this conversation than he already had.
His palms were starting to sweat as she silently scanned and bagged the condoms. She didn’t have the slightest clue as to what was happening in Carol’s life and somehow here she was, telling him he was a good influence as she unwittingly helped him buy the condoms he was going to use with the daughter she was probably losing sleep over.
He wished his heart would stop pounding, rushing blood past his eardrums. He wasn’t the one who had forced Carol out of her home. He hadn’t done anything like that to Carol. It wasn’t his fault that Carol had all but vanished from her mother’s life.
“Will you be paying with cash or card today?” she asked, a slight crack in her voice. She cleared her throat and smiled.
“Card,” he said, taking out his wallet, returning her unsteady smile. He heard the faint ding of his phone’s text tone, indicating Carol had texted him back.
The formal transaction ended with her handing him his receipt and saying, “It was nice to see you.”
He pushed his cart away, hearing her greet the next customer, and he imagined he could feel her watching him a moment longer. But then he was leaving the store and he felt like he could still feel her watching him.
After loading up the car and returning the cart, he just sat in the car, heart still pounding, hands on the steering wheel. He counted to ten, inhaling, exhaling, telling himself that nothing had really happened. Then he texted Carol that he was on his way to pick her up. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he decided that he couldn’t come back here, not for a while. It was for the best.
Carol felt her phone vibrate and pulled it out of her back pocket. Yon was coming back for her now, so she texted him that she was heading towards the parking lot. She was more than ready to be done with Valentine’s shopping.
She tried not to focus on how bummed she felt about the happy couples and the unaffordable lingerie, because she knew how complicated their situation was and that he was doing so much for her right now. Thinking about all he did for her didn’t exactly make her cheap Valentine’s Day gift for him feel that much better, though. They always had sex, and she was beginning to think that adding clearance underwear into the mix wasn’t really going to make Valentine’s Day that special.
On her walk back to the mall entrance, she was a little zoned out as she mulled this all over. But she was swiftly pulled out of her thoughts as she nearly ran into someone walking out of a store.
“Oh god, I’m so sorry!” She was ready to keep her forward momentum and move away from this awkward situation, but a double take at who she had run into stopped her in her tracks. “Oh—hi, Attlass.”
“Carol? Nice to literally run into you,” he said, laughing a little at the mishap. Rather quickly, Carol realized that Minnerva was right next to him. And they were holding hands.
What the actual fuck.
“Hey, Minnerva,” Carol forced herself to say, kind of awkwardly.
“Hi,” Minnerva said, not really giving away any emotion.
“You… seemed like you were in a hurry to get somewhere,” Attlass blurted, probably eager to move on since he had never ever mentioned anything about liking Minnerva like that and now here he was, holding her hand in public. Was there anyone in the entire world who wasn’t in this fucking mall holding hands?
“Oh, I’m not really in a big hurry or anything, I was just kinda spaced out and then, uh… almost ran you guys over.” She was trying so hard not to look at their hands.
“Your parents let you drive here?”
“No… I got dropped off.” She eyed Minnerva, embarrassed that she was hearing this. But who knew what else Attlass was telling her if they were just casually out and about holding hands now.
“Oh, well… do you need a ride back?” Attlass asked. “We were just going to stop at the foodcourt before heading out, but you could totally join us.”
“Oh no, I, uh… my mom is on her way now. But thanks.”
“Okay, I get why you were in a hurry now. But hey, if you want, we were going to study for our French quiz at my place later. You should come if you can.” He glanced at Minnerva, and surprisingly, she nodded and smiled, even gracing some of the smile in Carol’s direction.
“I— I…” Why couldn’t she think of anything to say? “I’ll have to… I mean, I’ll ask my mom and I’ll let you know.”
“Cool,” Attlass said, seeming genuinely happy. “Well maybe we’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah, maybe.” That definitely wasn’t going to happen.
They exchanged awkward goodbyes and Carol went on her way, trying not to get too lost in her own thoughts—god forbid she spaced out again and ran into her parents or something this time. Luckily her dad hated malls though, so that run-in was unlikely. But she hadn’t thought that Attlass and Minnerva being a thing was very likely either, and yet there they were.
A little frazzled, she waited on a bench at the entryway, leg bouncing up and down, until her phone vibrated with a text from Yon, telling her he was finally here. She found him in the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his car.
“How was the mall?” he asked, nodding towards her shopping bag. “What did you get?”
She clutched the bag closer to her chest, and found herself grinning despite herself as she said, “Don’t worry about it.”
“Well, now I’m worried about it,” he spoke like he was joking, but she felt like he was partly telling the truth.
“You’ll find out later; it’s a surprise. Don’t ruin it.”
“Ah, I see. As long as it’s not too surprising.”
She rolled her eyes. “What could I possibly have gotten at the mall that would be too surprising?”
“You never know.”
“Okay, well just calm down. It’s for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll find out what it is this week.”
“You shouldn’t be spending whatever money you have on me for Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah, because the whole ten dollar bill I had to bust out at the mall was really going to make or break me.” She sighed. “You don’t need to be grumpy about it.”
“I’m not being grumpy.”
“Uh-huh, sure.” Her face was growing warm and she looked out the passenger window. All she had wanted to do was attempt to do something nice for him and he just wanted to lecture her about money.
“I’m sure whatever you got is going to be a nice surprise, though,” he said in a way that sounded a little fake, probably just trying to appease her. Or maybe she was just imagining that and he wasn’t being patronizing at all.
“Well, you’ll see for yourself soon enough,” she said, still staring out the window.
“I think you’re the one being grumpy, Carol.”
“What?” She glanced at him.
“Is something wrong?”
“Other than you lecturing me about getting you a surprise?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ll forgive you this time, I guess.”
He smiled, and for a moment she watched his hands on the steering wheel, thinking about how they never really just held hands. She was burning to ask him what he thought about their future together.
Instead she blurted, “I saw Attlass today.”
“At the mall?”
“Yeah, I ran into him. He was with Minnerva… but, like… with her. They were holding hands.”
He nodded slowly. “And are you… upset about this?”
“I don’t know… maybe? I just don’t get why he never told me that he liked her like that.”
“Do you think it’s because he knows how much you dislike Minnerva?”
“Maybe… but she disliked me first.”
“He still probably didn’t want to upset you by telling you.”
“And finding out like this isn’t upsetting?”
“Do you feel like he wasn’t being honest with you?”
“Yeah, I just wish that he had maybe said something to me.” Carol paused, considering something. “Do you think that he asked Minnerva to apologize to me? I mean if they’re… together, then I guess she might listen to him.”
“That does seem likely.”
“Ugh, I just wished he would’ve told me! Especially since he’s trying so hard to be friends again now. He actually asked me to study with them today.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t tell him I was going to go. I said I’d have to ask my mom, so I’ll just say that she didn’t want to drive me anywhere else today. I don’t really want to study with them both anyway.”
Yon cleared his throat, then said, “It’s probably for the best that you’re giving yourself space if you’re upset with him right now.”
“I guess.” She didn’t really feel like she had any choice in whether or not she was giving herself space from anyone besides Yon right now, but she didn’t want to start that whole conversation. She sighed and said, “They were studying for French, anyway. I don’t think I really need their help with that.”
“No, but you should still study.”
She let out an exaggerated groan. “You suck.”
“I’m still your teacher.”
“Okay, then I’ll just remind you of that next time you’re taking off my pants.”
Yon said nothing, but color rushed to his cheeks. She knew he still didn’t like it when she said things like that. He shook his head, tapped his fingers a couple times on the steering wheel and she was waiting for him to say something but it was taking longer than she thought it should.
“Do you have a comeback or are you just going to give me the silent treatment now?” she said, trying to sound light-hearted.
“What kind of comeback am I supposed to have?”
“I don’t know, you’re usually all like, Carol, what am I going to do with you, you cheeky little blighter?”
“When have you ever heard me say cheeky little blighter?”
“Never, but I’m not ruling it out as a possibility. I know it’s in your British vocabulary somewhere.”
“If you say so.”
She didn’t know why, but even though he smiled, she still felt like something was slightly off.
“So was grocery shopping okay today?” she asked. “Or did something upsetting happen to you too?”
“What? No, it was uneventful.”
“Exactly how you like it.”
“Precisely. Dull and uneventful.”
She snorted. “You’re so boring.”
“I’m fine with that,” he said. “There are worse things to be than boring.”
That evening, Yon was trying to keep his mind off of his encounter with Carol’s mom. He wasn’t sure if not telling Carol about it was the right decision—if he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t even sure he knew why he decided not to tell her. Maybe part of him didn’t want to upset her anymore by talking about the encounter. He’d hate for her to keep picking at that wound more than she already did.
But there was a voice in his head telling him that if Carol knew her mom was asking about her, she might try to reach out herself. Other than all of the obvious issues that would arise if talking to her mom went better than expected, he didn’t think he wanted to see Carol decide that she’d rather go back to her parents than stay with him.
That idea was an absurd leap from the actual situation, he knew. Even if everything went the way his anxiety kept telling him it would, Carol wouldn’t willingly choose to go back to her parents; she was too stubborn and still too angry with them. And if, for some reason, Carol did ever forgive her mom, it seemed unlikely that it would lead to Carol moving back home, given that her abusive father had all the power.
And, perhaps more importantly, after everything that had happened between the two of them, he didn’t believe that she would want to leave him.
And he didn’t want her to leave—he needed her to stay. At least until after graduation. And if she left him after that, he hoped they would be on good terms. He didn’t see why they wouldn’t be, but the last thing he needed was for Carol to get upset and destroy his career. But she wouldn’t do that, not after everything he had done for her.
At any rate, these anxieties were mostly hypotheticals that he didn’t need to worry about, not tonight. Carol was safe at home with him.
Although she had been acting off since the mall, she was a little too quiet. After helping him put away the groceries, she had leaned against the counter, scrolling through her phone. With an exaggerated sigh, she had announced that she was going upstairs to study, and he watched her walk away, her shoulders slouched.
He blamed her mood on her run-in with Attlass and Minnerva. He didn’t quite understand why seeing them together had upset her, but then again, she was a teenager, and teenagers had a tendency to lean towards the dramatic. He hated that he sometimes forgot that about her.
After a few hours of silence, he went upstairs to check on her. He knocked on her door, didn’t get an answer, knocked again, then let himself in. She was lying on her bed, earbuds in, passed out with her open French textbook resting atop her chest. It was somewhat endearing, seeing her like that, but it made her look so young. For a moment, he imagined the bags underneath her mom’s eyes, the tired, fake smile.
Shaking his head, he counted the few strides it took to walk towards her, pushing aside the image of her mom. He sat at the end of her bed, gently touching her foot. She inhaled a sudden, large breath through her nose, opening her eyes.
“Did I fall asleep?” she said, pulling out her earbuds and pushing herself to her elbows, the book sliding off of her, and she slapped her hand on it before it could fall off the bed. He reached for the book, taking it from her.
“I’m glad my class continues to excite you,” he said, setting the textbook on the floor next to her backpack.
“Oui,” she said with a yawn. “Très excitant.”
She sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. Her eyes were cast down, towards his hand resting near her foot. She reached her own hand towards his and took it, holding it lightly, stroking the back of his hand with her thumb.
“What did you come up here for?” she asked.
“It’s almost dinner time,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
She just kept holding his hand, focusing on it. Maybe she was still a little out of it from her nap, but there was a heaviness in the air around her.
“Is… is everything okay, Carol?”
“Yeah.” She kept her eyes cast down.
With his free hand, he traced his fingers against her jawline to her chin, tilting her face up and she finally looked at him.
“Are you still upset about what happened with Attlass earlier?”
“No…” she said, her shoulders stiffening a bit. “I just…”
“I just… I just want to know…” She cast her eyes away from him. “I just want to know that someday… that someday we can tell people about us.”
There was a sinking in his gut as he pulled his hand away from her face. “Carol…”
“I know, I know—we can’t tell anyone right now. But when? Maybe when I’m in college?”
He knew the answer, but he also knew it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“What about when I’m nineteen?” she continued, shedding the drowsiness from her nap. “That way it’s not right after graduation or anything, so no one would think that our relationship started when I was still in high school. And if you wanted, you could maybe even find a job at a different school, that way no one here would ever have to know.”
He couldn’t tell her that even waiting until she was nineteen wouldn’t look great for him. And getting a new job for the sake of their relationship was a step that, at least right now, seemed too complicated to be worth it. Whatever their future looked like, it wasn’t going to be as simple as her wide-eyed vision.
“You’ve been putting a lot of thought into this,” was all he could say.
“Well, I mean… I want to keep being with you so… yeah.”
“You’re very forward thinking.” He squeezed her hand. “I think it’s a good plan.”
“Really?” Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled.
“Yes, of course.” He tucked her hair behind her ear and she leaned into his touch. Reassuring her was so simple sometimes.
“I just want us to have a real relationship someday,” she said.
He knew what she meant, but he said, “We do have a real relationship.”
“But I want to be able to go to places with you and walk around together and just be normal.”
“We will,” he said. “Someday. Like you said, maybe when you’re nineteen we won’t have to worry.”
Brimming with pitiable sincerity, she said, “I hate being underage.”
Internally, he cringed. For a second, he was back at the store feeling her mom watch him walk away. But that had been mostly in his head then, and it certainly was now. No one was watching. No one knew anything and he found some comfort in their isolation.
“Everything is going to work out, Carol,” he said. “We’ll get through this. Together.”
Look, another update!! I don't think I'll be able to get the next chapter posted too quickly, since I have basically nothing written in it yet, but the chapter after it is pretty much done. Not that that helps. So basically, I guess this chapter title not only has something to do with the chapter, but also possibly what we will all be doing with this fic once again... just waiting for me to get shit done.
Also, does anyone reading this care to know what's on my playlists for this story? I have a lot of songs that feel important to this fic, so I might just start listing a few of those in my chapter notes, since I'm apparently getting talkative here. Actually, I'm going to just name a song right now: Angels of Porn II by Nicole Dollanganger. That song is always on my mind while I'm writing this fic.
I hope you guys are all staying safe and healthy! Thank you all for reading!
Chapter 16: Adoration
Carol really hated going to school on Valentine’s Day. Some club had organized a thing where students could send a carnation to someone during class and it was vaguely humiliating to sit there watching everyone get flowers from their friends and significant others while she got nothing. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t get a flower, but it still sucked. She didn’t want to be bothered by this dumb thing, but it was hard when it was all around her at school. Everyone else who had a boyfriend or girlfriend in the building got a tacky flower.
This particular Valentine’s Day was determined to be as irritating as possible. During French class, a couple giggly girls who also clearly had crushes on Yon decided to start asking him off-subject questions.
“How come no one sent you any flowers, Mr. Rogg?” one of the girls asked, making her friend giggle. Carol stared straight ahead at Yon, watching him smile and shake his head.
“Faculty doesn’t participate,” he said.
“Aw that’s a bummer,” the girl said, her voice flirtatiously lilting, grating against Carol’s ears. And Yon just smiled that smile that she knew was making them melt.
“Do you have a Valentine you’re going to see tonight, Mr. Rogg?” the other girl brazenly asked, making a few people laugh. Carol glanced over her shoulder at them; they looked so pretty and confident with their fancy makeup and low-cut tops. They didn’t even notice her staring. She wondered how much about them Yon was noticing. She looked back at him.
“Let’s get back on track,” he said, calm and smooth as ever.
“So that’s a no,” one of the girls said, probably meant just for her friend but it was just loud enough for everyone to still hear, and Carol snorted. It was amazing how well Yon could avoid looking at her.
Class went on and she was increasingly annoyed at the girls behind her. Yon was talking about how Valentine’s Day would be celebrated in France, which seemed like it wasn’t really as big of a deal as it was in the US, but the girls still giggled over everything he said. It especially didn’t help that the lesson today took a turn to focus on things to say during a date.
In any other year, she would have been just as flustered as the girls behind her and would probably have barely noticed anyone else in the classroom. But now everything was different and she was an actual part of Yon’s Valentine’s Day plans, so, as far as she was concerned, those girls could fuck right off.
She also knew Yon was fully aware that they were crushing on him—everyone within a ten mile radius probably knew with the way they were acting—but she tried not to get jealous. Yon had already told her that she was different because he had never gotten to know a student as well as her. And it wasn’t like he was suddenly going to start romantically pursuing every student that had a crush on him. Yes, she was sleeping with him, but she still didn’t think he was like that. These girls meant nothing to him, so they shouldn’t mean anything to her either.
For the last fifteen minutes of class, Yon let them all start on their homework. Carol kept her head bent down, focusing on her assignment, but she glanced up to see Yon looking at his phone. As if he could feel her looking at him, he glanced up at her and smiled. She smiled back, but focused back on her assignment as another student approached him with a question.
When the bell rang and she was walking to her next class, she peaked at her phone and her stomach did an excited little flip to see that she had a text from Yon reading: You look very beautiful today. I love you.
In that moment, Carol felt a little smug. Those girls in class and anyone else in this school could giggle and act as flirty with him as they wanted, but they were never going to get what she had. Maybe it didn’t even matter that she didn’t get a dumb flower from anyone either; the flowers were pretty silly and childish if she thought about it, but she was more mature than that now. After all, she had a real, adult relationship.
“So… some people in class today seemed pretty concerned about your Valentine’s Day plans,” Carol said once they were driving home after school.
Yon sighed and said, “That was rather awkward, wasn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah, they were practically ready to throw themselves at you.”
“I’m never really sure of the best way to react to those situations.”
“What do you mean? Does this happen a lot?”
“No, not a lot, but there are occasionally students that feel a lot more confident than perhaps they should, and, as a teacher, it makes me rather uncomfortable.”
“Yes, of course. It’s inappropriate for them to behave like that and I have to be careful to respond in the right way, seeing as I have an entire classroom watching me.”
“Hmm, yes, it’s very inappropriate for a student to flirt with a teacher. Imagine your shock when you find out I’ve been a student this whole time.”
“You’re not flirting with me in front of the entire class, Carol.”
“No, but… you said before that you could tell I had a crush on you…”
“Not because you were acting out-of-line. You never put me in an awkward position like that.”
“Yeah, but I can think of a few other positions I’ve put you in that might be even worse for the whole class to see.”
She snorted and he just rolled his eyes at her.
But then Carol considered for a moment exactly how on-the-spot Yon actually was in that situation. There really were a lot of eyes on him, waiting for him to react. The wrong reaction could easily trigger one of the students to say something to another faculty member who might get Yon in trouble.
In this instance today with the girls, there really wasn’t anything alarming to uncover if the issue got out of hand, yet he still had to be careful how he handled it. Maybe it really was in both of their best interests when he didn’t pay her much attention in class. An entire classroom noticing the wrong thing could really fuck them both over.
Then it all made her wonder exactly why he wanted to be in a relationship with her if it really were that easy to get in trouble. He was concerned about saying the wrong thing to girls that he wasn’t involved with at all, and yet he was actually sleeping with a student. She knew they were both stressed about this relationship all the time, but maybe he really did think she was mature enough to trust, even if he did constantly remind her to keep everything a secret.
Thinking about how much he had put on the line for her made her start worrying about her Valentine’s gift to him—what if it wasn’t enough? But it was too late to do anything else.
They reached home, and once they were inside, coats and shoes removed, Carol felt her veins tingling with a buzzing urgency to get ready for her gift. But she had to play it cool.
Carol set her backpack down on the kitchen table, thinking maybe she should just start her homework to distract herself for a bit before getting ready. But she had barely put her backpack on the table when Yon pulled her closer to him, hands on her waist. He kissed her.
“It was hard to stop looking at you today,” he said.
“Yeah, you even stopped class early so you could text me,” she said.
He rolled his eyes, then kissed her again.
“I know we can’t go out to do anything special tonight,” he said, “but I thought we could order out something and have a nice night here.”
“Really? We haven’t ordered food in a while.”
“Well, seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I think the occasion calls for something different.”
“I think you’re right,” she said, thinking about her gift, hoping it was different enough from what they normally did.
He said that they were going to order food, but he just kept kissing her and she began to wonder if he actually wanted to eat dinner at all. She wasn’t ready to get too carried away right now, though, because that might ruin her gift. But then he slid his hand underneath her shirt and she found herself laughing.
“This isn’t uncomfortable for you as a teacher?” she said, pressing her hand over his.
She wasn’t sure if the sound he made was a laugh or a sigh, but he kissed her once more before loosening his hold on her, saying, “Let’s get dinner ordered before it gets too late, shall we?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
After they ordered dinner, Carol’s nerves about her gift started buzzing through her at a frequency she couldn’t ignore. She had to go get ready before she went crazy.
“I’ll go do homework until dinner gets here,” she said, trying to sound calm as she grabbed her backpack.
“Alright,” Yon said. “It should be here in about an hour.”
Carol went upstairs and locked her bedroom door, just to make sure he wouldn’t come in and see her before she was ready. She set out her cheap lingerie on her bed, feeling like it really did look a little lackluster, but it was still technically fancier than her normal underwear. Then she went to her mirror and did her makeup the best she could and let her hair down.
Finally, she stripped down and put on the lingerie and looked at herself in the mirror. She thought the lacy bottoms were pretty cute, and she didn’t hate the bra now that the rhinestones were all off, but it was a little scratchy. Her self-confidence wasn’t soaring through the roof or anything, but she felt surprisingly okay about how she looked right now. Although she wasn’t sure if she looked sexy or like a kid playing dress-up. She just hoped that she didn’t feel too awkward and ruin this whole thing when she revealed this to Yon.
Her “gift” was pretty much ready, but she realized that she couldn’t just go downstairs like this right away, so she went to her closet and dug through until she pulled out the same red dress she had worn on her college tour—it was still probably one of the fancier things she owned. The first thing she noticed when she looked in the mirror again was how much more pronounced her cleavage was with this padded bra, and somehow that made her feel strangely exposed. But the whole point of this bra was to make her look hot and mature, so she’d just have to act like it.
Feeling mostly ready, she looked in the mirror once more and headed downstairs. When she walked into the kitchen, Yon was sitting at the table with his laptop, probably doing some lesson or track planning. She just stared at him for a second. She hadn’t thought this through. Should she get him upstairs? Should she just strip in the kitchen? She didn’t really want to strip in the kitchen. Maybe she should wait.
“The food should be here soon,” he said, not looking up from his computer, but obviously he had heard her walk downstairs.
He glanced at her, looked back to his laptop, then did a double take. “You changed… into a dress?”
“Well… it’s a holiday.”
“It is…” He was giving her a confused yet thoughtful look, then his eyes travelled over her and he shut his laptop, standing up. “Why don’t you go to the living room? I have a present for you.”
“I have one for you too.”
“We’ll take turns,” he said, walking to the kitchen, opening a cabinet.
Carol sucked in a breath and went to the living room. As she sat on the couch, she watched Yon walk over carrying a decently sized gift box. He set it next to her and sat down.
“What is it?” she asked, fighting a smile.
“I can either tell you or you can open it.”
At that she took off the lid and pushed aside some tissue paper, revealing two variety packs of snack sized chip bags, Doritos and Cheetos among them.
“Doritos!” She was genuinely elated.
“Yes, and they’re in the smaller bags so you don’t eat them all at once.”
“We’ll see about that.” She picked up one of the variety packs and then saw underneath were a bunch of assorted chocolates. “And candy? And we’re ordering takeout tonight? You really said fuck the track diet this Valentine’s Day, huh?”
“The plan isn’t to eat all of this tonight, Carol.”
“Maybe I should’ve just gotten you a teddy bear holding a heart instead.”
“What would I do with a teddy bear?”
“Not eat it.”
“Pfft.” Rolling her eyes, she put the variety pack back in the gift box and leaned closer to Yon. “Thank you for these Valentine snacks.”
She gave him a kiss and felt slightly relieved that his gift hadn’t been too fancy, since she was still feeling unsure about hers. But she was pretty happy with all of these snacks, especially since he was so into keeping her on their healthy track diet. Hopefully he’d be happy with his gift too…
“I have my thing for you too,” she said.
“Ah yes, the big surprise from the mall.”
Her face was growing warm. She didn’t know what she should do. She should’ve planned this reveal a lot better, maybe she should’ve waited until they were upstairs or dimmed the lights or something. But she could do this. She just had to stand up, take off her dress, then she could sit on his lap or something.
She was starting to stand up to just try and make herself do this thing when the doorbell rang.
“And that’s the food,” Yon said. “I’ll be right back.”
Of course. She didn’t know if she was relieved or annoyed that her timing was so bad. Should she just wait until after they ate? No, it couldn’t wait, he was expecting her gift now. Plus, she wouldn’t want to feel all bloated after stuffing her face with dinner, and she was a little too nervous to eat anyway. So should she take off her dress and act all sexy and then they’d have sex or something before dinner? Would the food get too cold? Oh god, she really hadn’t planned this very well. She needed to think fast.
Yon walked to the kitchen table with the takeout bag and he barely had set the bag down when Carol blurted, “I left something upstairs.”
Yon gave her an odd look as she scurried past him. Once she was upstairs, she still wasn’t sure what she was doing. Okay, but she was upstairs now, so maybe if she could get him upstairs too then stripping in a bedroom would feel better.
“Is everything okay?” Yon called up to her.
“Uh… yeah!” she called back down, then, “Actually, can you come up here?”
She heard his footsteps coming towards the stairs, then she quietly dashed to his bedroom. She stood at the foot of the bed, brushed her fingers through her hair—ugh, she should’ve looked in a mirror before calling him up—and then he was upstairs, coming towards the room. He gave her an odd look as he walked into the room.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, everything’s fine—everything’s great, I’m great.” Why did she have to sound like such a moron all the time? “I just… I just wanted to give you my gift.”
“We did get interrupted, didn’t we?”
“Yeah… we did. So…” She was fidgeting with the fabric on the dress, but she made herself stop. “I’m going to show you now.”
He gave her a puzzled sort of look. “I’m very curious.”
This wasn’t really happening at all like how she had wanted it, and she wished she had put on something that she could let drop to the floor because that felt inherently sexier than having to pull the dress over her head, hoping she wasn’t going to get stuck in it the whole time. Luckily, she didn’t get stuck in the dress, but once it was off, dropping to the floor, she kinda wished it was back on.
“Happy Valentine’s Day…” She did some half-assed spirit fingers, as if that was going to be a turn on to anyone.
Yon was still looking at her like he was puzzled. “Are… are you the gift?”
“No, no it’s—” she gestured broadly up and down her body. “I got this lingerie. Well, I mean, it’s not super fancy, it just looks like a bra and underwear, but it was the best I could do…”
“So that’s what you were hunting the mall for.”
“Yeah… but it was supposed to be revealed a lot better…”
“You… you look amazing, Carol,” he said, stepping closer.
“Yeah, but I…” she sighed. She felt like such an idiot right now. She knew that her face must be red and she wasn’t feeling any of the confidence she had hoped to have in this moment. She was supposed to be seducing him or whatever right now, but she was too embarrassed to even really look at him. “The doorbell threw me off.”
He reached out to touch her hair, tucking it behind her ear, then cupped her cheek in his hand. His other hand was on her waist and he said, “You look beautiful. This is a very nice gift.”
“It’s not supposed to be very nice…”
“What is it supposed to be?”
“I don’t know… not nice, like hot or… something…”
“Well, you do look hot, or something.”
“Stop, you’re making fun of me.”
“No, I’m not. You look beautiful and there’s no reason for me to make fun of that.”
He kissed her, but she cut it off to say, “This wasn’t even the whole gift.”
“No… I kinda… well, lingerie was step one, and the rest was, well… we can still do the other stuff.”
He smiled a little, then kissed her again. “Why don’t we eat dinner first?”
“Really?” she pulled back from him. “Was the surprise so bad that you just straight up don’t want to have sex with me now?”
“No… believe it or not, I’m very happy with this surprise, even if the doorbell did throw you off.” He stepped back from her, then picked up her dress from the floor. “But we did order dinner, and I know how excited you were about that, so I’d hate for it to go cold.”
He handed her dress to her and she took it, holding it against her chest. She didn’t want to put this stupid dress back on, she felt like an idiot. And she knew he was trying to be nice, but it just made her upset because he wasn’t supposed to be basically consoling her right now. Ugh, she should’ve known she’d fuck this up somehow.
“I’m, uh… I’m gonna go put on my sweatshirt before we eat…” she said.
“Okay, I’ll meet you back downstairs.”
Maybe she should just put the dress back on, but she didn’t want to feel ridiculous with her cleavage on full display for no reason. But she felt pretty ridiculous anyway as she walked to her room in her underwear. There was no winning here.
After she had not only changed into a sweatshirt and sweatpants but also changed into her normal underwear, she went back downstairs. Yon was setting the table and he smiled when he saw her.
“I like this ensemble too,” he said, and the look he gave her made her fight a stupid grin.
“Shut up, you see me in this every day,” she said, sitting down.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t like it.”
She just rolled her eyes. He walked by her before he sat down and kissed the top of her head. He kept being especially nice all through dinner, and even though she was still embarrassed at how she had fucked up her gift, he was actually making her start to feel like maybe it didn’t matter that she had fucked up.
Just like she had realized months ago that he genuinely wanted to be there for her, she realized now that he actually really did love her. Yes, he said it all the time and he did lots of other things to show it, but part of her was always scared that he didn’t mean it, or that he would change his mind just like everyone else. Maybe him consoling her wasn’t what she had wanted to happen and maybe it had hurt her pride a bit, but, strangely enough, it was making her feel really loved by him.
More than anyone else in her life, he really did make her feel wanted. This was exactly why she had fallen for him to begin with. Well, other than him just being super hot.
When they were cleaning up after dinner, the table cleared and dishes in the dishwasher, he stood by the sink washing his hands, and she came up to him, hugging him from behind. She nuzzled her cheek against his back and squeezed him.
“I love you a lot,” she said. He touched her hands with his, still wet.
“I love you too,” he said. He moved to dry his hands on a dish towel, and she kept herself pressed against him, feeling the soft vibrations of his gentle laugh as she moved with him. Hands now dry, he took hers, loosening her grip so he could turn to face her.
“You’re remarkable,” he said, his touch on her waist making her feel a little giddy. “And I’d love to take a closer look at this gift.”
“I changed out of it,” she said, blushing as if he had never held her this close to him before. “But I can put it back on… and then I can complete my gift. If you want.”
He tucked her hair behind her ear and said, “If that’s what you want, then that’s what I want.”
Then he kissed her in a way that was both soft and comforting yet dizzying and electric. Kissing him right now was just as good as it was the first time, when it had just been him holding her close, comforting her, filling her with unexpected joy. Right now she wasn’t thinking about how that first electric kiss had so quickly turned into something confusing and nauseatingly stressful. She forgot about how those butterflies in her stomach had turned to hornets, because right now the fluttering in her stomach wasn’t violent. Right now, being with him was everything she wanted it to be.
“I love you,” she spoke against his mouth. “I love you more than I love those Doritos you got me.”
“I’m relieved to hear that.”
He kissed her again and his hands wandered over her and she wanted to keep pulling herself closer to him, but she said, “We should go upstairs before my gift to you gets ruined again.”
His mouth was close to her ear, making her shiver as he said, “I’ll follow your lead.”
Yon let Carol take his hand as they drove to school the next day. Since last night, she was being particularly affectionate. He wasn’t sure how the night would end up after the initial awkwardness of her gift, but after reassuring her, it didn’t take long for her to bounce back.
When he told her that he liked her gift, he wasn’t lying. It wasn’t so much that he was blown away by the cheap lingerie, but he saw how much genuine thought and effort she had put into it. And, somehow, the way she had fumbled her initial execution of the gift made his chest ache from how endearing he found her.
After her mood had lightened, their night ended on a high note. She was clearly still feeling the high this morning; he had woken up to her intertwining her legs with his, kissing his cheek and whispering that she loved him. He was completely taken with her, and wholly disappointed that today was a weekday.
Her contentment and love-struck behavior was practically contagious. As they drove in his car now, he didn’t see the harm in letting her hold his hand until they got closer to school.
“You should cancel track tonight,” she said, a flirty playfulness putting a drawl on her words.
He laughed. “No.”
“I don’t have an actual reason to cancel it.”
“Uh, I can give you a few good reasons right now.”
“Oh you can, can you?”
“Yeah, like, for example, I didn’t actually get to show you everything I learned for your gift.”
“Where exactly were you learning all this again?”
“So, if I were to pull up your browser history, what part of the internet exactly would I be seeing?”
“Why pull up my browser history when I could just demonstrate all the best parts myself? All you have to do is cancel track tonight…”
She squeezed his hand and he glanced at her, unable to fight a smile.
“I’m not cancelling track, Carol,” he said.
“Well then…” she pulled their clasped hands closer to her, onto her lap, then pressed his hand against her thigh. “Your loss.”
“Carol…” They were starting to get close enough to school for a bit of anxiety to sink in. He gave her thigh a gentle squeeze, then pulled his hand away from her, gripping the steering wheel. “You’re very unruly this morning.”
“Yeah, but you like it.”
He side-eyed her and she wiggled her eyebrows at him. He shook his head and laughed. She wasn’t wrong—he did enjoy her like this. It was nice to see her so happy, and it was even nicer knowing that her happiness was because of him.
Yon had lunch duty during Carol’s lunch hour that day. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a teacher to stop and chat a bit with some of the students during lunch, although obviously he tried not to seek Carol out too much. More often than not, he’d see her sitting alone in the cafeteria. He remembered seeing her sit with Attlass the years before this, and it did sadden him to see her so lonely this year, even if that same loneliness meant their secret was safe.
Today, as he monitored the buzzing cafeteria and observed her sitting alone, her concentration focused on her phone, lunch half eaten in front of her, he didn’t fight the direction his feet were taking him and found himself standing next to her table. She glanced up at him from her phone, and her mouth twitched into a smirk that she tried to hide by ducking her head down.
“I hope you take a break from that phone to actually eat your lunch,” he said, trying not to sound any more personable than he would with any other student. But most of the other students were oblivious to what was going on beyond their own table, and the other staff members in the cafeteria had no reason to concern themselves much with him.
“I can multitask.” She held up her phone in one hand and grabbed the uneaten half of her sandwich in the other, taking a bite from it. Mouth full, she said, “See?”
“Very impressive,” he teased. He nodded his head towards the snack sized Doritos bag on the table. “That looks like a fun addition to your lunch.”
She was turning an adorable shade of red as she fought back a grin. “Yeah, they’re pretty fun.”
He had to focus down at his feet for a moment, scared if he looked at her for much longer that he wouldn’t be able to look away. He could feel himself starting to blush for no reason.
“Well, I’ll see you in class soon, Vers,” he said, starting to step away, but noting the way she bit her lip to uselessly hold in a smile at the use of her “French” name. “Enjoy your lunch.”
Carol’s French class period rolled around after lunch, and Yon was doing his best to keep his attention spread across the entirety of his students, not just Carol. But, of course, he was finding that difficult. She was raising her hand a lot today and clearly enjoying having him call on her so much. While he knew other students had the answers or wanted the attention as well, he really just couldn’t resist seeing the way Carol squirmed under his attention today, fidgeting with her pencil, casting her eyes down as she bit her lip, toying with the star pendant on her necklace, crossing and uncrossing her legs.
He also couldn’t help but notice the way certain other students, namely Minnerva, seemed to be picking up on what a terrible job he was doing at diverting his attention. A couple times after calling on Carol, he saw Minnerva roll her eyes as she leaned back in her seat, side-eyeing Attlass and raising her eyebrows. Minnerva had already all but made her frustrations about this clear to Carol, so he knew it would be in everyone’s best interests to just stop calling on Carol so much, but it was so difficult not to, especially today. He simply just wanted to keep giving her more attention.
About half way through class, though, he decided it would be best to just put on a video, avoiding the way he felt he was stumbling through the lesson. The class was, as he expected, happy to watch a video instead of listening to him lecture. He sat at his desk, attempting to look over the homework assignments that had been turned in today while trying to keep an eye on the class, but he just kept catching himself stealing glances at Carol.
He found his thoughts drifting a bit. He briefly entertained the idea that, if they had enough good days like this, then maybe they might actually have some kind of future together. Maybe moving somewhere else so they could be out as a couple wouldn’t be a terrible idea. If that ever did happen, he knew that it wouldn’t be when she turned nineteen, like she had suggested. It’d probably have to wait until she had graduated college, or at least until she was close to graduating.
He didn’t really imagine what their future lives would look like together beyond this vague happiness he felt right now—there were finer details that he couldn’t bear to think about. Like when she went to college and entered her twenties, how much would college change her? And if they were going to have a future together, would they eventually consider getting married or even starting a family?
Those were things that he might be thinking about if he were feeling this way with someone closer to his age; after all, he was getting to an age where he felt like he should be thinking about that. But he had a hard time projecting that all onto the seventeen-year-old sitting in his class, so his mind washed the thoughts away quickly, like waves lapping up writing in the sand. It was much more comfortable to think about a broader, sensualized happiness with her.
He never would have imagined himself fantasizing about having any kind of future with a student. He wasn’t sure he really believed that it would ever turn into anything more than an absent minded fantasy, but, then again, if someone had told him a year ago that he would soon be cohabiting and sleeping with a student, he wouldn’t have believed that, either.
If he thought about how he would have viewed this a year ago, he was unsettled. But, as it were, he was months into this relationship with Carol and he wasn’t unhappy. Neither was she. If he could hold her forever in this strange, fragile happiness, he would.
To Carol’s surprise, Yon let track get out early that evening. It was hard for her to control the stupid grin on her face as Yon had told everyone to enjoy their Friday night. She could barely stop smiling the entire time they waited for everyone on the team to clear away so she could sneak to his car with him.
“What made you decide to end track early?” Carol said as they were pulling out of the school parking lot. He took her hand, making her entire body tingle.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he said, squeezing her hand. “And I didn’t think the rest of the team would mind having an early start to their weekend.”
“No, I don’t think anyone minded.” She was feeling a little light-headed at him being this brazenly affectionate to her right now, at least in regards to what she was used to from him. It was pretty crazy that he wanted her this much.
When they were home, she was blown away by how quickly he led her upstairs—she didn’t even get to take her shoes off when she walked in. She found herself laughing as she sat back on the bed and he took her shoes off for her.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Just that you seriously cancelled track so you could take me home and fuck me.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted? You kept going on about it this morning.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d actually do anything about it. I just like teasing you.”
“Well… do be careful what you wish for.”
“If all my wishes go this way, I don’t think I really want to be that careful.”
He laughed as he brought himself up to her, kissing her, dizzying her. Everything he did to her made her feel so good, so electric, and she was pretty sure she was making him feel the same way. God, she was so into what was happening right now.
Something about last night and right now felt so different from all the other times they had sex, and not just because she had been planning on doing something different for Valentine’s Day. She had a feeling that even if she hadn’t actually done anything different or put on that stupid, cheap underwear, last night would have still felt really special.
Part of her was even starting to think that maybe she really could get over how awkward sex made her feel, or that maybe their secret relationship wouldn’t always be so stressful. If everything could always feel this good, then the stress would definitely be worth it. She didn’t know if that was wishful thinking or not, but for once, she was too happy to care.
Thanks once more for everyone's patience while waiting for me to update again! I'm not sure how quickly I'll get the next update to you guys either, but I promise that there's lots more coming.
Also, I mentioned in my notes last time about sharing my playlist for this story, but I've yet to take the time to figure which platform to use for sharing it. So in the meantime for anyone that's interested, here's another song on the playlist: Girls Your Age by Transviolet. I tried to find a lyric in this song to name this fic after, but failed. Bonus points to anyone that knows what song this fic is actually named after!
I hope you're all safe and healthy. Thanks for reading!