Chapter 25:

Dirty Work

Fair, no Fair

After breakfast, Joey and I met up in the kitchen where we were swiftly handed a list of chores; the kitchen staff seemed all too eager to load some of their work onto us. As the other students prepared to leave for the day -grabbing their handbags and backpacks-, we gathered all the dirty cups, plates and cutlery. I had grown up helping with chores on the weekend at home so I did not mind cleaning up after my peers. However, what did tick me off was the amount of stuff Joey was able to carry compared to me.

I was the strongest at home and whenever my mum or dad needed some muscle I would gladly help them out. However, standing next to Joey: Mr Beefcake himself, forced me to re-evaluate my unearned body confidence. Compared to his, my physique was not all that impressive and I stared at him with a mixture of respect and jealousy as he carried around a dozen plates with each hand. I wondered what else he could carry: barrels of oil, heavy logs of wood, a pair of baby hippos... Would he be able to carry me? Probably.

My mind strayed further down this road of thought while I was stuffing used, paper napkins into a bright blue garbage bag. I could already imagine Joey’s warm, chiselled arms around my slim body. He could effortlessly lift me off the ground, awarding me with that rewarding gut feeling of childish excitement that came with being lifted into the air. Nested securely against his chest, I could hear his heartbeat. It sped up every time I ran my fingertips over those impressive muscles of his...

"Hey, dude." Joey was suddenly standing very close behind me, leaving goosebumps on my neck. My face immediately flushed a bright red.

“Y-yes, what’s up?” I quickly turned around to face him and tried to look casually cool by leaning back against the table behind me. Unfortunately for me, the table was further back than I had anticipated and I stumbled backwards to regain my balance. This, of course, did not exactly help me in my goal of looking like a sane person.

Joey peered at me with a puzzled look on his face and readjusted himself. "Um well, the dining room's all cleared now, so we can get started on washing the dishes."

"Ah. Yeah. Sure." The affirmations tumbled out of my mouth in short breaths as a cold wave of embarrassment washed over me. I prayed to all the gods I could remember that Joey had not noticed me gawking at him as I followed him back into the kitchen. Maybe one of them would answer my call.

Joey made room on the kitchen counter for the clean dishes as I got rid of the last garbage bags. He then turned to me and kindly asked: “Would you rather wash or dry the dishes?”

"I don't really have a preference." I shrugged indecisively.

Joey nodded curtly. His attitude was almost businesslike. “Okay, then I’d prefer to wash them.” He threw me a dish towel that I barely managed to catch.

“Nice throw, Burgundy,” I smiled coyly. I was still not completely over the embarrassment of being caught daydreaming about Joey.

“Nice catch, Fisher,” Joey laughed in turn as he started washing the nasty cups.

He remained completely silent while I dried the first load of cleaned dishes. Although I appreciated that he did not bring up what happened this morning, the silence started to bother me after a while. It was uncomfortable. I knew that the unease between us would only grow if we were both too scared to start up a conversation, so this time I wanted to be the first to break the tension.

"Hey... Um, Joey? Thanks again for keeping an eye on me yesterday," I said while keeping my eyes on the dishes in front of me. My cheeks were burning a bright red. "It may be selfish because it got you in trouble, but I'm glad you were there, I really am." Joey snapped out of his concentration and looked up at me. His stare pierced right through me, but was too embarrassed to meet his eyes.

He let out a deep sigh and halted his progress on the dishes. "I hate being stuck here for the day. I hate missing out on the theme park and I hate being separated from my friends, but... I have no regrets about following you into the woods yesterday," he answered truthfully. "As I've explained before: it was fun. Besides, I know I wouldn't have wanted to be alone in that situation either. I could feel the corners of my mouth curl up into a soft smile. This boy was too genuine and kind. I could live a perfect life and still not deserve him. If he continued acting like this, I was afraid my heart would melt.

“And don’t you dare blame yourself for the fact that I'm being punished for going after you, okay?" He added in a harsher tone. "It was my own decision to go with you and I would make that same choice a million times over if I had to.”

“I won’t,” I promised, matching his smile. “But thank you for everything anyway.”