“This is repellent.”
You look over your shoulder. Rafe is holding up a t-shirt by the tips of his fingers as if the very fabric is going to burn him. The t-shirt itself is a faded brown colour with a cartoon octopus on it.
“Why is an octopus on it?” He demands to know, as if you have designed the shirt yourself.
“It’s just cute, Rafe.”
He shakes his head impatiently, “No, it’s hideous. That’s why it’s on sale.”
“Everything is on sale. It’s Black Friday.” You remind him.
He scowls and turns away to another rack of clothes. This is Rafe’s first time dealing with Black Friday and it has been going about as well as you expected – terribly. You go every year. After you moved away from your family, it made sense to spend the day scoping out the best deals. There was no one to spend Thanksgiving with, after all, so you might as well buy some great stuff to mail to everyone.
This is your third year. You have a schedule you usually follow once you get to the mall. By the end of the day, you are exhausted but content with your purchases.
All of that, however, has changed this year.
Rafe is by your side a minute later, “Can we get out of here?”
“No, not until I find something for my aunt.” You reply patiently.
He turns to the rack of clothes and pulls a shirt out, thrusting it towards you, “Here.”
You take it from him and place it calmly back on the rack, “No, Rafe.”
He begins to grumble but you tune him out. This is how you have been handling him all day. He didn’t want to go Black Friday shopping. The only reason he agreed is because his friend, Sam Drake, kept badgering him to get out of the house.
Rafe had been cooped up in there since his parents died last month.
You glance at him out of the corner of your eyes. His mouth is set in a thin line and his shoulders are hunch. He has been on edge since you arrived. The mall is teeming with people, all of them frothing at the mouth to get the best deals possible in the shortest amount of time. Rafe, who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, found the entire thing beneath him.
You pull out a sweater and look at it, running your fingers over the fabric. Rafe huffs and looks away. You knew he would be difficult today. Well, even more difficult than normal. But since his parents were killed in a car accident, he has been even worse. You have a sneaking suspicion that he is also off his anxiety meds.
Deciding you’ll find something for your aunt later, you put the sweater back and go, “Come on. Next store.”
A woman knocks into Rafe as she breezes past him. Her arms are full of clothes and she doesn’t glance his way.
“Yeah, excuse you too!” Rafe snaps at her.
You grab his arm and lead him out of the store before he decides to throw down with someone. Quickly, you usher him into the next store which is filled with pop culture things. He scans the rows with a bored expression on his face.
“This place is crowded.” He whines.
“Rafe, every store is crowded. It’s Black Friday.”
“Why is this a thing?” He picks up a statue of a comic book figure and puts it back down a second later, losing interest.
“You save money. You can get your holiday shopping done in one day.”
“Just buy people gift cards. Or give them money.” He grumbles as a small child runs screaming past him, “Ugh, children.”
“First off, coming up with a unique gift idea instead of tossing money at people is a nice thing to do. And secondly, people have children so please…keep your voice down so a soccer mom doesn’t try to fight us in the store.”
“I got you a gift card last year. Are you saying you didn’t like it?” He asks, a curious note in his voice.
He had, in fact, gotten you a gift card last year. It had been for a makeup store you really liked but could only afford once in a blue moon. You had appreciated it. You feel a sharp stab of guilt for making him feel bad about what he had gotten you. You didn’t need to give Rafe a complex over gift giving when he is still grieving.
You had been the only one to receive a gift card. Everyone else had been given a card with money shoved hastily inside.
“No, I did like it. Are you kidding me? I got makeup I normally would have to save up for.” You reply.
“Is that where you got that blue lipstick? The one with the glitter that makes you look like you went down on a –”
“No! No, that isn’t where I got the blue lipstick,” You say quickly, cutting him off because he is speaking loudly, “I only wore it once, okay? Like, six months ago.”
You turn around sharply and start weaving through the aisles in a desperate attempt to put some distance between Rafe and yourself. You really didn’t want to remember all the tragic times you tried out various make-up tricks. The shade hadn’t even been that bad. It was the fact you had decided to wear it to brunch that had made it look ridiculous.
Scowling, you pick up a mug. Rafe is hovering behind you.
“What is that?” He asks.
“It’s a cup. You drink out of it.” You deadpan.
“Not that. That.” He points to something behind the mug and leans over to grab it.
It is then that a cluster of small children run by, screaming about video games. One of them knocks into Rafe and he falls forward. He holds his hands out to stop himself from falling, steading himself by touching your shoulders.
The touch is minor, one of a thousand touches you have accidentally had with Rafe, but a swooping feeling comes over you. Surprised, you pull away from him and nudge into the cabinet.
“Is it really that hard to watch the little brats?” He hisses and then picks up what he was trying to look at on the counter.
It’s just a book. The title is unfamiliar to you. Rafe squints at the cover and turns it around to read the back. You sigh.
“Just put your glasses on, Rafe. No one cares if people wear glasses anymore.”
He looks like a petulant child as he pulls out his glasses, slipping them on. For as long as you have known him, he detested wearing his glasses. This meant most of the time he would wander around blindly and end up with a headache from eye strain.
The glasses soften his features somewhat. The thick frames make him look more like a student than a grieving billionaire. He could probably buy this entire mall if he felt so inclined. A lock of his hair falls in front of his face and your heart constricts. Your eyes flick away from him, confused at how you are feeling.
“Thought this was something else.” Rafe finally admits, putting the book back.
“Leave your glasses on,” You say impulsively, “Or else you might collide into something.”
Rafe eyes you warily but leaves them on. He turns around and wanders off. You watch him go. You feel unsettled, wondering why his small touch had sent your heart fluttering like that. You also like the way he looks in his glasses. You push the thought to the side and get back to shopping. You have deals to save on.
Two hours later, Rafe is tapping his fingers impatiently against the wall as you ring up another purchase at the bookstore. He has made exactly zero purchases for himself.
“You know,” You remark once you are back out into the main area of the mall, “You can buy something for Christmas and just finish your holiday shopping.”
You have repeated this throughout the day. Rafe, who did keep his glasses on, mutely shakes his head. His attention has been wandering. Even when someone collided into him and sent an entire row of those Pop figures flying off the shelf, he had picked up them up silently and excused the person. Any other time, as of late, he would have gotten in their face.
“This is endless.” He complains but his heart isn’t in it, “Is this what regular people do?”
Sensing that he is dwelling on his parents, you hesitate before speaking, “Do you want to leave?”
“No, it’s fine.” He replies.
“Rafe, we can go –”
“I said it’s fine!” He snaps, his tone hostile, “Stop being fake nice to me.”
Alarmed, you shake your head, “I’m not trying to be ‘fake nice’ to you. I’m just being nice. We’re friends.”
Rafe glowers at this, “I know what we are.” There is an undercurrent to his tone that you don’t understand, “I don’t need you pussy footing around me because my parents are dead.”
Your eyes widen in surprise at his outburst. He turns around and stalks through the crowd. He shoves past people into the nearest store. You take off after him, excusing yourself as you bump into people.
Rafe heads into the store as you scurry in, cutting through two men who are bickering over who grabbed an item first. You find him in the back, staring at a row of lava lamps. He is picking them off the rack, carefully balancing four lava lamps.
“What are you doing?”
“Why are you buying four of them?” You ask him.
You can see his eyes over the pile of lava lamps as he goes, “Gifts.”
“Rafe, stop. No one wants lava lamps. This isn’t the 70’s.”
He pushes past you, “Narrow minded. Everyone wants a lava lamp. Sam would love it.”
You turn around, letting out a sigh, “Sam would love it because he’ll smoke an entire bowl and spend the evening watching the lava float around inside.”
“So, I’ll give him all four.”
You reach out and grab his arm, forcing him around so he has to face you again. You pull two of the lava lamps away from him so you can see his face and hold them yourself.
“Rafe, I wasn’t being nice to you because of your parents passing away. Sam and I both thought it’d be good if you got out of the house. You’ve been cooped up since they died. All you do is work and come home and sleep. We’re just concerned, that’s all.”
His eyes are unreadable but he looks away from you. A child has pulled down a talking stuffed animal while his sibling screams loudly about having to ‘go poo’. His lips twist in annoyance and then he tilts his face back to you.
“I’m fine. I’ll get over it.”
“Your parents dying isn’t something you can just get over. You should let someone in to help you.” You try to explain patiently.
For the first time all day, the hostility seems to drain from Rafe’s face, leaving a raw vulnerability exposed as he goes, “I want you to be the –”
He doesn’t get to finish. A large man who looks as if he lives at the gym barges through the two of you. You take an awkward step back but it is too late – the two lava lamps you are holding fall to the ground. There is a telltale cracking noise as they strike against the tile. Shit. Now you’re going to have to buy the broken lamps.
“Hey, asshole!” It is Rafe who has spoken up, “You just broke her lava lamps.”
The giant man stops, looking over his shoulder, “I didn’t do shit.”
“Uhm, pretty sure you did. You’re in such a hurry to buy,” He glances down at the item the man is clutching, “Some hideous looking football team chair cover for your pathetic place you call a house that you collided right with her.”
“Rafe!” You hiss.
It isn’t that Rafe is short - but he isn’t exactly tall, either. This man looks as if he could snap both of you in half and use you as a tooth pick. The man turns around fully and goes over to Rafe, staring him down.
But Rafe doesn’t seem bothered, “So, pay for the broken lava lamps.”
“Why don’t you tell your bitch of a girlfriend to watch where she is going?” The man growls.
It happens so fast that later that night, you keep thinking back to it as if you can slow the image down. Rafe drops the lava lamps and swings his arm back, bringing it forward and punching the man in the face. Around you, everyone lets out sounds of surprise and alarm. The cashier is already calling for security.
The man’s nose explodes in blood as Rafe wraps the top of his shirt around his fingers, bringing the giant close to him, “Apologize to her.”
“Rafe!” You exclaim, trying to stop him before he punches the guy again.
“S-sorry, I’m sorry,” The giant crumbles, looking over at you, “I’ll pay for the lava lamps.”
Rafe releases the man and wipes his fist on his own shirt. He looks over at you and goes, “Are you okay?”
“Me? You’re the one that just – you punched him!”
Security is already behind Rafe now. The man is picking up the lava lamps, hurrying over to the cashier, already declining help from security and offers to call the police.
When security escorts the two of you out, you let out a small sigh. Black Friday shopping did not go how you had been expecting.
“I can’t believe that guy didn’t wanna call the police. He probably took one look at you and knew you were bonkers.” You remark as you trudge towards your car.
Rafe, who seems in much better spirits since punching the giant, shrugs, “He deserved it. He called you a bitch.”
“So, what? That doesn’t mean you can punch him. This isn’t…the Wild West or something where you can dual or fist fight over issues.”
“That was the highlight of the entire shopping trip. Shame we didn’t get the lava lamps for Sam though.”
You have reached the car. Unlocking the trunk, you shove your purchases in the back. Rafe is looking at you curiously. His head is tilted to one side and the setting sun is reflecting in his glasses.
“What did you think?”
“About what?” You ask as you shut the trunk.
“About the fact he called you my girlfriend.”
There it is – your heart skips a beat again. You avoid meeting his stare as you unlock the front door of the car. But Rafe doesn’t go over to the passenger side and instead comes over to you. He is very close to you – almost alarmingly so. His body is warm and his knuckles are tinted red from where he punched the guy.
“What about it?” You repeat carefully.
“Rafe taps his foot impatiently, “Don’t pretend you’re stupid. Would you be interested in something like that?”
“Interested in being your girlfriend?” You delay because you aren’t sure if he is messing with you or not.
“Listen,” He isn’t looking at you now but off towards the sunset, “This is the most fun I’ve had since my parents died.”
“You literally whined the entire time.”
“It was still fun, alright? And I mean…I thought I had made it clear how I felt about you…. the gift card, for one…” He trails off, unsure.
The gift card. Everyone else had gotten money. At the time, it hadn’t meant anything to you but now you realize it had been Rafe trying with his gift. To him, the gift card of a makeup place you couldn’t afford had been a thoughtful gift.
Other signs flash across your mind, bright as neon signs. The way he’d defend you if Sam had poked fun at you. The way he just punched a guy for insulting you.
“If you aren’t interested, don’t say you are because they’re dead.” His tone is hot now. He is growing defensive, afraid of rejection.
Up this close, you can see how clean shaven he is and how his t-shirt is a little too small. It clings to his toned chest. His eyes, framed by his glasses, look fragile. He is fiddling with the edge of his shirt, clearly nervous. His hair is slicked back. He looks handsome…but tired and wounded, hurt and alone.
Your stomach swoops again and before you can stop yourself, you are reaching up on your tiptoes and leaving a kiss on his cheek, “No, we should go on a date. A movie or something.”
“You’re not picking the movie,” He grumbles, “Last time you picked a movie, it was some three-hour foreign film and I fell asleep an hour in.”
“That was because you were hungover from beer pong that Sam had challenged you to.” You remark.
Rafe tilts his face to yours and doesn’t reply. Instead, he leans down and his lips are pressing against yours. The touch is surprising. Rafe has been a constant companion since you moved here. A surly one, yes, but also fun and comforting to be around.
His lips are soft and nervous but you don’t reject him. Instead, you let yourself dare to imagine what dating someone like him would be like. He’s hurting now and in mourning. You can’t make the loss disappear. But you can try to be there for him and offer him comfort in the times he keeps to himself and wants to shut the world out. You can try to help him learn how to heal himself.
As Rafe’s fingers run through your hair and your mouth opens wider to kiss him more deeply, you think to yourself that perhaps this Black Friday wasn’t such a loss after all.