Chapter 3:

September 7, 2015, 9:30 AM

Let's Make Love Bloom

My sophomore year of my undergraduate studies began last month. By this point, Masashi and I had settled into our classes and started to get to know our classmates, both the familiar and the new faces. And now, one month in, I felt it was time. After making sure Masashi was on board, I entered my first class that Monday morning determined: it was time to get the low-down on these boys.Bookmark here

My first class for the day was one of the core courses for my computer science major. Having knocked out the prerequisite classes last year, we were now delving deep into dusty old forgotten (online) books and ancient (digital) tomes in our quest for ever-more intricate lore on the forbidden knowledge known as C++. Having gone just a little more specialized in subject matter, this new class took place in, instead of one of the auditorium type rooms that I had gotten used to last year, a smaller computer lab with old desktops set up at each seat. There were three computers at each desk and about ten desks lined up going down the room, five desks on each side. A few weeks in, and everyone had claimed and settled into their (unassigned) seating. I had taken one of the middle seats in the middle rows; next to me were Romana, one of only two other girls in the class, and Stephen.Bookmark here

Romana was cute: short, dark skin, long layered braids. Absolutely obsessed with pink. This girl had a million outfits in her wardrobe, and all of them were physical manifestations of the concept of kawaii. (And that’s the one Japanese word that that I ever for sure managed to memorize. Now that I think about it, how is it that I can learn a coding language but not a human language? I… I think I might just be sad. I’m so sorry, Abuela.) Sitting next to her in my dark jeans and my short-sleeved button-up… well, look, no, I’m fairly confident in myself, alright? I look cool, I know that. I am cool. But if anyone could make me look at myself and feel just the slightest twinge of doubt, think just the briefest thought that I might be inadequate, it’s this girl with her overwhelming style. And yes, because of that, she’s way too intimidating to ask out.Bookmark here

Stephen was the classic lanky nerd: pale with big glasses and freckles, unkempt stringy blonde hair, always wearing comic book t-shirts and the like. He unironically still carries his school materials around in a Superman backpack, and the desktop background on his laptop is the black silhouette of a cartoon bat against yellow. But honestly, he’s very sweet and surprisingly sociable. You would not believe the storms he could chat up. Despite how briefly we’ve known each other, we’ve already gotten into several heated but still friendly debates about the quality of the Marvel films. Despite this man’s insistence that that gaudy Superman reboot was superior to everything Marvel had put out, he was still very easy to get along with. (And look, none of those movies are cinematic masterpieces or anything, but I mean, come on.)Bookmark here

Being bunched together as we were, the three of us became fast friends and frequently hung out together after class, tinkering away at personal coding projects or homework or otherwise just shooting the shit, but our group wasn’t limited to just the three of us. As I arrived just a little bit later than usual that morning (a full fifteen minutes before class, I’ll have you know), I found Romana and Stephen already at their seats, and in the row behind them, another friend of ours was already playing a LAN match of Halo with all the other early arrivals sans Stephen.Bookmark here

“Yo, Joe!” I said as I passed by his desk and took my seat. “You manage to kill Romana yet?”Bookmark here

“Not yet,” he said, imbuing his voice with a grandiosity befitting an evil overlord giving a speech about how he’s about to conquer the world. “But today I shall have my revenge!”Bookmark here

“In your dreams, pal,” Romana responded in her somewhat nasally tone. “I keep telling you to stick with the pistol, that rifle’s garbage.”Bookmark here

“I shall never fall for your tricks, wicked demoness!”Bookmark here

“Suit yourself.” As I watched, with a flick of the wrist and one precise click, Romana once again dispatched Joe. From behind me a heard a high-pitched yelp, followed by a creak as Joe presumably sank back into his chair.Bookmark here

“How are you so good at this?” he asked, his tone having reverted to normal.Bookmark here

“It’s called having three older brothers who all think it’s a great and hilarious idea to gang up against the little sister in a video game. Man, my skills were forged in fire. I learned to survive.” Joe just groaned and didn’t say anything else as the LAN game wound down in anticipation of class starting. I leaned over my seat to get a look at him.Bookmark here

“You okay, buddy?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Fine,” he said, staring vacantly at the ceiling. He was a handsome fellow, I’ll give him that. Tall, dark hair, smooth skin, thick muscles. Lovely royal blue eyes, too. (Legit, if I could change one thing about myself, I’d give myself eyes like those.) Dude almost looked out of place in this room full of nerds, like he ought to be flexing shirtless in a gym 24/7. But then again, who was I to judge? Me, the butch lesbian who hides behind a mask of Catholic purity at home. Anyone can be nerds about anything, be hiding anything behind their masks, appearances be damned.Bookmark here

As Joe wallowed in his inadequacy (at video games), two more familiar faces sat on either side of him: Miles and Rupert.Bookmark here

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Miles, clasping Joe on the shoulder. “You’ll get her next time.” Miles was a short guy with warm tawny skin, lush curly black hair, and a little mole just under his left eye that had probably made no shortage of straight girls and gay guys (and of course the bis) faint. What I’m saying is, this one’s a real cutie.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” said Rupert. “What do we always say? Never give up!” Rupert was the classic tall, blonde, and handsome, almost exactly a genderbent Esmé, with a chin that looked like it could shatter bricks.Bookmark here

“Yeah…” Joe sat up, looking like he had a fire in his eyes. “Never give up! Get her next time! Yeah!”Bookmark here

“Yeah!”Bookmark here

YEAH!” all three yelled.Bookmark here

This was an exchange that had happened at least five times. They were stuck in in their own groundhog day, and I am here for it.Bookmark here

Those three—Joe, Miles, and Rupert—made up the other half of our little computer science friend group. The six of us had gotten into the habit of grabbing lunch together and meeting up outside of class to collaborate on assignments or otherwise dick around. We usually just dicked around.Bookmark here

I’d actually met Joe and Miles last year at one of our first required engineering calculous classes (which shall never again be spoken of) and coordinated our schedules where possible to end up in this class together. And then, having met the other three, we all became a regular clique, and so here we are.Bookmark here

“Hey, Sara,” said Miles, peeking over his computer station to get my attention.Bookmark here

“What’s up?”Bookmark here

“I bungled my code but can’t figure out where. Damn thing just won’t run. Give it a look?”Bookmark here

“Sure, yeah, shoot it over.”Bookmark here

“Sweet.” I pulled up my school email, and not a moment later a new message popped up from Miles with an attached file: his homework. I opened the file in Notepad++ and started scanning through it, already having an idea of what I was looking for. Everyone in our group has helped each other out at one point or another, but lately I’ve noticed that Miles has been leaning particularly hard on my, ahem, “expertise.” And sure enough…Bookmark here

“Line eighty-three,” I called back. It was a good thing we were in separate rows, or he would’ve seen me smirk. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. “You’ve got a full colon instead of a semi.”Bookmark here

“Oh crap, you’re right,” Miles said not a moment later. “How did you find that so fast?”Bookmark here

“This is like, the hundredth time you’ve made that same typo.”Bookmark here

“Oh come on, I haven’t done it a hundred times.” Then, quieter: “Maybe just like, five.”Bookmark here

“Hey, it’s okay. We’ve all got our tics.”Bookmark here

“Don’t you know it, Ms. Rie?” Romana interjected, sporting a spry smirk of her own.Bookmark here

“Yeah, exactly!” I said. That fun nickname came into being when Romana noticed my one typing quirk. Usually I’m a damn fast and accurate typist, but the one word that always trips me up is “tie.” Half the time I go to type that out, it ends up as “rie,” and don’t ask me why. It’s just that one word that gives me butterfingers. I used to get really annoyed whenever I did that, but when Romana started laughing at it, strangely, I did, too, so the nickname doesn’t really bother me all that much. I don’t know, I guess just realizing that it could be construed as funny took the edge off the whole thing. So yeah, I’m glad for it, glad to have her, hell, glad to have this whole friend group in my life.Bookmark here

And now I have to figure out if any of them are gay.Bookmark here

“I mean, I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Miles said, and when I peeked over the desk one last time before class started to get a look at him, I saw that he was smiling. “Thanks, Sara.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, no problem.” Sitting back down and letting that warm smile linger in my mind’s eye, for the first time I felt like I finally fully comprehended the one big flaw in my plan:Bookmark here

Trying to ask the boys, my friends, about their sexuality was going to be nothing but incredibly awkward.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

It was lunchtime. We had all peeled out of class and headed to one of the on-campus cafeterias, which was just about the total opposite of Masashi and I’s usual diner: contemporary furnishings, always busy, and even the food was halfway decent. We’d crowded into a booth in the corner after assembling our trays, and while everyone else chatted away, I was totally out of the conversation, brainstorming to find any method I could of getting the info I needed without coming off as a creep or otherwise making things uncomfortable. Because, like, wow. Sitting here, knowing what I needed to do, it became all too apparent that there’s an immense gulf being thinking you can do something and actually being able to do it.Bookmark here

But then, maybe I’m thinking about this wrong. Maybe I might actually make things worse for everyone if I try to be all covert. Here I am, plotting how to get the info I need about these guys, my friends, right from them without them suspecting my true intentions. That… that just feels insidious. Like I’m trying to trick them or something. God, what the hell am I even doing? Why do I feel the need to lie to my friends?Bookmark here

“Hey, Sara, you okay?” I felt a tap on my shoulder and all but jumped out of my seat.Bookmark here

“What?!” I exclaimed, and looked over. It was Stephen that had tried to get my attention, and now he looked startled; he was so wide-eyed that he might’ve just seen a ghost. “Oh, God, sorry man.”Bookmark here

“No, no, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said as he pushed his glasses back up onto his nose. “You just looked out of it, is all. You okay?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, no, I’m fine,” I said, and looked around the table. Everyone had gone quiet and was looking right at me.Bookmark here

Well hell. I had already made things awkward and I’d barely even said anything. How long had I been lost in my own thoughts? I’d barely even touched my food, but everyone else was at least halfway through their meals. Looking at everyone’s faces again, it occurred to me: they’re all concerned about me. And that realization both elated me and struck me with a wave of guilt. I shouldn’t have to lie to these people, to my friends. If I can’t be honest with them, then what sort of friend does that make me? I can’t be scared with them—no. I won’t let myself. I’m ashamed that that was my instinct in the first place, but I won’t let that my instinct guide me.Bookmark here

“Actually,” I said, “there is something I need help with.”Bookmark here

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Romana asked. “Spit it out, girl.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” said Joe, “we’re here for you.” Everyone else nodded in agreement. Oh God, guys, you all are going to make me cry.Bookmark here

“Thanks, guys,” I said, then steeled myself. “So… this is awkward, but…”Bookmark here

“But?” Stephen prodded as I trailed off. God, why was saying it so hard?Bookmark here

“Take your time,” Rupert said, “we’re not going anywhere.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s cool, I got this.” I took one last deep breath and went on. “I’ll just be honest, then. I’ve got this friend who, well… I guess the easiest way to say it is I’m trying to set him up with a date. With a guy. And I was hoping I could get your guys’ help.” For a moment, the only sounds at the table were the echoes of other conversations in the cafeteria floating our way as everyone around me went quiet. The only thing that kept my hopes up was that at least no one looked grossed out, but still, the quiet was excruciating. Even worse, after far too long a silence, the first word out of anyone’s mouth—Stephen’s—was “Oh.” And I mean, I guess I can’t blame him. That’s a lot to process. “Oh” seems perfectly acceptable, yeah.Bookmark here

“I see,” said Joe, next to speak, and then he exhaled as he leaned back in his seat, cupping his hands over his mouth as he often did when he was thinking. “Well, I’m sure we’d all help you if we could, but…” Joe first pointed at himself, then Stephen, then Rupert, then finally Miles. As he pointed, he said, “Straight, straight, straight, bi but taken.”Bookmark here

“What?!” I whipped my head around so that I was looking at the now-startled Miles. “Since when?”Bookmark here

“Since I tapped that,” Romana said, flashing the peace sign.Bookmark here

“Holy crap!” Chuckles echoed around the table as Miles blushed, and I laughed too. All at once, the tension I had been feeling evaporated. Of course this was how it should be. We’re all friends, why shouldn’t we laugh at stuff like this? “How long have you two…?”Bookmark here

“Actually, it just happened over the weekend,” Romana said. “We weren’t hiding it or nothing, it just hadn’t come up yet.”Bookmark here

“And I know because it was my place they crashed at when they hooked up,” Joe said. “And look, I’m happy for you two and all, but really, you need to do a better job of cleaning up after yourselves.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, well…” Romana said before trailing off and looking away. Turns out, even she can get embarrassed. “Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Please, next time, just go to a motel or something.”Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

“So yeah,” Joe said as he returned his attention to me. “We’re all off the table, and I don’t think I know any guys who are both gay and on the market. I mean, the middle bit of that Venn diagram is really very tiny.”Bookmark here

“Figures,” I said with a sigh. “Well, thanks for not freaking out on me, I guess.”Bookmark here

“What’s there to freak out about?” asked Stephen.Bookmark here

“Well…” I paused as I thought about it. What was there to freak out about? I know these guys, they’re cool. Given that, there’s only one real answer to that question. I smiled and said, “Nothing at all.”Bookmark here

“Actually, hang on,” Rupert said, drawing everyone’s attention as he furrowed his brows and scratched at the stubble on his chin. “I… I think I just might know some right in the center of that Venn diagram there.” There was a moment of stunned silence as everyone, myself included, just started at him mouth agape. Then, Romana jolted things back into motion by shaking the guy in the shoulder.Bookmark here

“Well, what are you waiting for, my guy?!” she said. “Spit it out!”Bookmark here

“Right, right,” Rupert said. “His name’s Oscar, and… actually, why don’t I just give him a call?” With that, Rupert whipped out his old flip phone, dialed Oscar, and put the receiver to his ear. As he didn’t bother to walk away, we were all privy to his half of the conversation.Bookmark here

“Hey man, what’s up?” he said after the phone barely rang twice. “Yeah, I’m good, brother. …Nah, man, I clocked out early. Had this big paper due, knocked me straight out. What happened? …Oh damn, dude, no way! Man, I gotta remember to record that shit. …Really? Hell yeah, I’ll take you up on that. Tonight work for you? …Alright, sweet.” It was at this point that someone in our group coughed. Whatever business Rupert was roped into was his own, but clearly someone else was more concerned with mine. I would never dream of pestering someone doing a favor for me, but also I would have remember and repay that solid, as when he heard that cough, Rupert looked back up at me, went wide-eyed, and tried to regain control of the conversation. Thanks, Romana.Bookmark here

“Hey man, listen,” Rupert said. “You’re still single and searching, right? …Nah man, you know me, straight as an arrow. But look, a friend of mine’s got a friend who she’s looking to set up on a blind date, and—no, yes, it’s a guy.” After another pause, Rupert put his hand over his phone as he lowered it and looked over at me. “Hey Sara, Oscar wants to meet you before he agrees to anything. You cool with that?”Bookmark here

“Sure,” I said. If anything I preferred that. I wasn’t about to set Masashi up with someone I didn’t know. Being Rupert’s friend helped, but still. I had to make sure for myself that he was trustworthy.Bookmark here

Rupert nodded, relayed my agreement to Oscar, then looked back at me.Bookmark here

“Well, I was already meeting up with him at around five, care to tag along?” I nodded, and Rupert returned to the phone. “We’re good to go. See you soon. …Bye.” And with that, he hung up. “Great, it’s a date!”Bookmark here

“Not yet,” I said. “But fingers crossed.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

The rest of the school day passed without incident. Rupert and I agreed on where to meet up, and the group split to all attend their separate classes. My third and last class of the day, a mid-level physics course, got out at five, and from there I headed straight out to the parking lot and met up with Rupert to attend to the last business of the day: meeting my best friend’s potential future boyfriend. Oscar’s apartment, as it turned out, was affiliated with the school and thus just a short ten-minute drive from campus. And with Rupert’s reckless driving, it was more like five. By the time he pulled into the apartment complex’s small parking lot, my heart was racing almost as fast as the car had been.Bookmark here

“How do you not get constantly pulled over?” I asked. With a grin, Rupert reached over and popped open the glove box in front of me. I gasped: it was filled with speeding tickets.Bookmark here

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” he said.Bookmark here

“Hey, I’m no snitch,” I said, still staring in disbelief as he closed the box. He raised an eyebrow at me, then chuckled.Bookmark here

“Nah, I know,” he said, then hopped out of the car. “Come on.” I followed suit and, closing the door behind me, regarded the apartment complex. It seemed like it had been built relatively recently: the light pastel blue paint that covered most of the buildings didn’t have much in the way of wear and tear. The buildings themselves looked like two-story colonial homes with stairs on the outside jammed tight together. Soft yellow lights emanated from most of the windows. As Rupert led me up the nearest staircase, I tried to get a feel for what I was in for.Bookmark here

“So what’s this guy’s like?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Man, I’ve known him forever,” Rupert said. “Real nice, real romantic type. You’ll like him.”Bookmark here

“Okay, cool.” Arriving at the top of the stairs, Rupert knocked on a plain white door. Not a moment later, the door swung inward, and standing on the other end was a handsome devil. Light skin; dark, slicked-back hair; a full, shiny beard so thick you could probably hide some knickknacks in it. And given the few inches I had on him, he looked like he’d just about be on eye level with Masashi, which I knew would be a plus for him. Decked out in a white guayabera and khaki shorts, hands buried in pockets and smiling, I have to admit, my first impression was not bad at all. He’s no rose, but this Oscar just might be alright.Bookmark here

“Rupert, my man!” Oscar said, his face lighting up. He threw his arms wide and pulled Rupert into a hug.Bookmark here

“Hey, good to see you!” They gave each other some firm pats on the back before parting, and Oscar turned his attention my way.Bookmark here

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, extending a hand my way. “I’m Oscar.”Bookmark here

“Sara,” I said, and grabbed his hand. His grip was tight and the shake was firm. Doing good so far. At that point, I started worrying that I was having too good a luck streak. Surely something had to go wrong?Bookmark here

“Well, come on in, then, make yourselves at home! I’ll get some drinks.” He led us inside and sat us down on the couch in the living room. The apartment was small, and in fact there was nothing separating the living room from the kitchen save a small counter. There was only one other door at the back, presumably leading to the bedroom. The couch we were on was barely wide enough to fit the two of us, and the only other seating right next to it was a small barstool with a little red cushion on top. Just in front of us was a small glass table, and in front of that a TV which, despite being only maybe thirty-two inches wide, still looked more modern then the old square box back home.Bookmark here

“Nothing for me, thanks,” I said as Oscar moved to the kitchen. “I can’t stay long.”Bookmark here

“Sure, no problem,” Oscar said as he opened and started digging around the refrigerator. “Rue—the usual?”Bookmark here

“You know it!” Rupert said, and with some laughs the two exchanged some quick, incomprehensible hand gestures from across the room that I can only assume were a sort of secret handshake.Bookmark here

“Alright, then, just one minute.”Bookmark here

“Rue?” I asked in a hushed tone as we waited. Behind us, I could hear the sounds of Oscar pouring and stirring drinks.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Rupert said, shrugging. “Started calling me that in first grade and never dropped it. I don’t really mind. You can use it too, if you like.”Bookmark here

“I think I just might,” I said. “Rue, huh? I like it.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Rie.”Bookmark here

“Alright, here we are!” Oscar said, suddenly appearing in front of us. “For you, the usual.” As he said that, he sat down on the table in front of Rue a glass filled with some fizzy golden drink. Looking at me, he said, “And I know you didn’t want anything, but just in case you get thirsty, I got some water.” And he sat a clear glass down in front of me.Bookmark here

“Thanks,” I said, and suddenly realizing I was thirsty (or maybe I was just trying to not be rude), I gladly took a few sips as Oscar sat on the stool beside us.Bookmark here

“So tell me, Sara,” Oscar said after taking a sip from his own glass, filled with a clear blue drink. “Who’s this guy you’re trying to set me up with?” Straight to business, then. I like it.Bookmark here

“My friend, Masashi. Best friend, actually. We’re the same age, he’s an English major, very well-read, very full bookshelves. And he’s… you know, hasn’t had any luck with dating because he just hasn’t been able to date period, so I’m trying to help him out.”Bookmark here

“Cool,” Oscar said, nodding. “So tell me… and, pardon me if this question comes off as shallow, but is he cute?”Bookmark here

I smiled. “You bet your ass.”Bookmark here

Oscar smiled back. “Good. I mean, not that that would be a deal breaker or anything, just, you know, people have their preferences, I have mine, I’m just trying to be honest and upfront about—”Bookmark here

“No, no, I get you, you’re fine,” I said. “Long as you’re being honest.”Bookmark here

“Okay, cool. Honesty’s the policy.”Bookmark here

“So on that note, could you tell be a bit about yourself? I just want to make sure that I’m setting my friend up with, you know, someone he might actually jive with.”Bookmark here

“Of course, of course. What about me?” Oscar clasped his hands in front of him. “Well, I’m studying for a major in biology, hoping to go to med school when I graduate.”Bookmark here

“That’s neat. Rue told me you were a ‘romantic type?’” At that, Oscar’s face blushed deep red.Bookmark here

“That’s, well…”Bookmark here

“He’s been on eight first dates in the last three months,” Rue spoke up, a grin on his face. “Suffice to say, none of them resulted in a second date.”Bookmark here

“Dude!” Oscar cast a wide-eyed plea at Rue, and the implication was clear: you’re making me look bad!Bookmark here

“Hey,” Rue said, shrugging. “Honesty’s the policy, right?”Bookmark here

“Right,” I said. Okay, so, that’s worrying. What does that say about him if he can’t get a second date? Does he just have persistent awful luck, or is there something about him that scares off his partners? Turning to Oscar, I asked, “Do you mind telling me about that?”Bookmark here

“I mean…” he said with a sigh and a shrug. He was avoiding meeting my gaze. For some reason or another he didn’t want to answer.Bookmark here

“I think he just gets over-excited,” Rue interjected. “Like he just ends up scaring them off. Like I said, he’s a romantic. He wants romance.” The faux-French affect he put on for that last word was enough to make me snort.Bookmark here

“You don’t get too… handsy to start, do you?” I asked. “Because if you ended up going too far with Masashi without his consent, I would kill you myself.”Bookmark here

“Oh, God no!” Oscar said, perking up to give me his vehement denial. “It’s just… you know, I get too into it. When I’m out with a guy I like, I almost can’t help but shower them with praise. I want them to know how beautiful they are, but I guess…”Bookmark here

“Mm,” I grunted, nodding. “Yeah, maybe tone down the flirting.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Normal conversations.”Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

“Well, I gotta to be honest, man, I’m a little worried that you might not be his type.” And by that, I of course meant that excessive flirting such as the type Oscar engages in might fry his brain. When I said that, Oscar slumped his shoulders and let his gaze fall. Wow, that looked like it really hurt.Bookmark here

“Why not let him be the judge of that?” Rue piped up. “One date couldn’t hurt, I promise.” And I had to agree. The guy’s a bit of weirdo, but from what I could tell, he seemed mostly harmless. Sure, one date couldn’t hurt—as long as Masashi agrees, of course.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I guess I can run it by him,” I said. “Oscar, can I get your number?”Bookmark here

“For sure, yeah!” So we exchanged cell phone numbers, and once that was done, I stood to leave, feeling satisfied.Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll talk to Masashi and see if he’s up for it. I’ll call you as soon as I know.”Bookmark here

“Thank you so much,” Oscar said. “This really does mean a lot.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, thanks,” Rue added. “You have no idea how sad this guy can get when he’s lonely, this is a weight off my shoulders.”Bookmark here

“You’re welcome, I guess?” I said. Gotta be honest, Rue, I don’t think your priorities are quite straight. “Before I go, got anything else I should know about? Any big hobbies or anything?”Bookmark here

“Well,” Oscar said. “I love fantasy football. Right after this, Rue and I have a game to watch.” I cringed.Bookmark here

“Oof,” I said. “That might be a toughie.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.