The Grey Zone

It was one day during Rent rehearsal where my world started to turn grey. He took a seat next to me out of the blue, smiling this doofy smile that I had never seen before.

“Hey Kelso. Scarlet Letter, eh?” Not the most interesting topic of conversation, but it didn’t matter- my heart surprisingly jumped into my throat anyways.

“Y-yeah! Just started it- and I don’t hate it? Is that weird?” I tried my best to keep my cool as I looked into his dark brown eyes, noticing the way they glinted in the dimly lit theatre. As we talked, I noticed the way he ran his hand through his silky black hair, noticed the way he gingerly twisted his sunglasses in his hand, noticed the way he stole quick glances at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. I felt my own smile stretch across my face to match his, felt my heart palpitating as if I had an IV shooting caffeine directly into my bloodstream, felt the world around me slow down until nothing else was moving except for us. . What was this feeling? It had a familiar twang- something I hadn’t felt in about 3 and a half years. Oh shit, I thought to myself. I have a crush.

We talked whenever we could- backstage mouthing lyrics melodramatically to each other, in the dance room chatting about good Netflix shows, even quickly passing in the hallway on the way to our respective sides of the stage discussing how his character, Benny, could be even more douchey (“Just be yourself man! That’s douchey enough!”). Throughout rehearsal that day, I found myself wanting to be near him more and more, trying to find him during my breaks so I could say just one word to him. The resulting speedy “Hello” was worth all of the effort I put into the search, leaving me with an absolutely ridiculous smile plastered on my face, a tight scrunch in my nose, and a ear-piercing squeal in my throat.

At the end of the night, after we had run the show twice, and the cast was plumb tuckered out, I found myself sitting next to him in the same red seat from this morning; however, this time, we weren’t alone. Of course, my wonderful, prying, scheming friends had taken a notice to the “vibe” coming from our awkward teenage banter.

So, with him on my left, and 3 of my friends circling us, we proceeded to have a lovely, semi-private conversation about Loan Anh’s ex-boyfriend Drew, who he just happened to be best friends with. He chatted nicely with them, tolerating their presence as best he could, but he always stole looks back at me- I’m still not sure if he knows if I saw them or not, but I’m glad I did. Then, he reached into his vibrant orange and electric blue XC backpack and pulled out his matching electric blue phone.

“Oh damn. I was going to call you so that we could prank Loan Anh and you could pretend to be Drew, but I don’t have your number.” I froze. Mich and Lucy got up and walked away, screaming silently to each other. Loan Anh just recoiled in her seat, her eyes quadrupling in size.

“Well… we can fix that easily,” I said as calmly as possible, motioning for his phone. He handed it to me softly, fingers brushing mine for a fleeting moment. He watched intently as I carefully plugged my number in so as not hit a wrong digit. As soon as it happened, it was over- the smoothest slide in I have ever witnessed, let alone been a part of. I left that night, heart flitting around my brain like a singing canary, ready for our conversations to continue over text.

We texted a total of 7 times that night- 4 out of 7 of those text bubbles were just memes. I was confused- he asked for my number, didn’t he want to talk to me? Wasn’t I interesting? Why wasn’t he immediately texting back? All of these impossible questions sped around my head along with my flitting heart. The butterflies of joy that I had felt quickly met the infamous butterflies of stress and over thinking. When I left rehearsal, I was sure of where I stood with this adorably dorky boy; but now, I wasn’t even sure that the slide in was a slide in!

I fretted for the rest of the night, not able to think of anything else. I over thought and over thought until 4 am, when my brain finally overloaded and shut down, waking up just in time for rehearsal the next day.

Our banter continued for the rest of the week, our connection growing stronger and stronger, our comfort levels rising and rising; my anxiety growing stronger and stronger, my stress levels rising and rising- right up until closing night. By closing night, my world had turned completely grey. There were times where I was positive that something was going to happen, that our budding romance was going to burgeon into a relationship; and then, there were times where I was positive that he wanted nothing to do with me at all. The tension was tearing me apart; I couldn’t think about anything else but him and where we were… what we were. If I weren’t so tired from rehearsing 8 hours a day, I know I would have been up all night long thinking about how to define what was happening.

At the end of the show, I bawled. The fact that the show was over, the fact that we could never recreate what we had just done, the fact that we had to leave it behind- all of it just pushed me over the edge. I went around the stage after the curtain closed, hugging all of the other weeping theatre kids, crying into their shoulders, wailing words of love into their ears.

I saw him from across the stage and made a beeline- at that point, I didn’t care how I looked, I just wanted a hug from him. I screamed his name and leapt into his arms.

“Awe, Kelsey.” he whispered, a tone I couldn’t quite perceive touching his voice. His arms wrapped all the way around me, forcing me to bury my head into the crevice between his neck and shoulder. He held me tightly- truly held me- as I sobbed into him. I went to loosen my grip, not wanting to let go. He must have read my mind, for when I loosened my embrace, he pulled me in tighter.

“Not yet. You need this.” he mumbled softly.  For a moment, no matter how cliché it is, everything disappeared. It was just us. Just his arms swaddling my torso, just my arms clasped around his neck. He just… held me. He held me until he knew I was okay.

After he was sure that I could stand on my own, we slowly disentangled ourselves, not wanting to leave the bubble that we had created; but soon, we were quickly grabbed by other friends, forced back into the real world around us. Once the crying had died down, and we had all hung up our costumes, it was finally time prepare for the cast party.

As soon as we got to the party, he didn’t leave my side. Wherever I wandered, he would be next to me a few minutes later- but I didn’t mind. In fact, I welcomed the clinginess. We talked and joked and flirted throughout the night, but not as secretly as we may have thought.

“What’s with the sexual tension between you guys?” “Will you guys just get a room already?” “Okay, we get it, you’re flirting.” All things I heard throughout the night. And I still didn’t mind. This just validated my experience- everyone else was seeing that he was flirting back, that there was a connection between us! But, despite everything, I still had this lingering doubt, these questions that just wouldn’t leave my head. “What if he’s not flirting? What if I’m reading too much into this? What if I’m just being stupid?”  My chest tightened, not with affection, but with uncertainty.

Of course, my friends tried to overturn my doubt by taking the validation one step further. During the game paranoia, Jordan whispered a question into his ear. He looked quickly at me, and then darted his eyes around the circle. He put his hand over his mouth, pointer finger lightly tapping on his upper lip, thinking. Finally, he said nonchalantly, “Kelso.”

My entire body tensed up. We both waited for the coin to flip, to see if the question would be revealed or kept secret. Watching as it fell towards the ground, our anxiety rose with each flip. Then finally, after years of anguish- Clink.

“Tails. No reveal,” the game leader shouted. I couldn’t show the disappointment that left a pit in my stomach, or the nervousness that was quickly filling it. So, I hit him on the shoulder before hanging on his arm. “What was the question?! Come on, tell me!” I yelled playfully, giving him my best puppy dog eyes. He just shook his head, chuckling, and whispered his own question into my ear.

Later that night, after he had gone to bed, I got a text from Jordan: “I asked him who he would fuck in the circle. Conspiracy confirmed. Jump his bones.” Once again, my entire body tensed up. I wanted to go into the next room and slip into his sleeping bag, his body perfectly outlining mine- but I couldn’t. Even after all of this, I was still unsure. “What if he just said this to cover his real answer? What if he said this to mess with me? What if he didn’t really mean it?” I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

These questions and more were still wracking my brain at 7am when he reentered the room, eyes glazed over, hair tousled, sweatpants dangerously close to falling off of his hips.

“How did you sleep?” he asked, sitting down next to me, a tired smirk gracing his lips.

“Super well!” I said sarcastically, matching his energy. I buried my face in the pillow I was holding in my lap and groaned. I just wanted to fall asleep and forget that all of this was happening. I wanted to wake up to a colorful world- whether that meant I had a boyfriend or a really good friend, it didn’t matter, as long as everything around me wasn’t grey anymore. I began to drift off, until I felt a hand clap me on the back and circle around my shoulder-blade comfortingly. Looking up dazedly, I saw him smiling goofily at me.

“You okay, Kelso?” he asked.

“Never better,” I replied, smiling reassuringly.

We continued to flirt lightly until my mom came to pick me up- including him stealing my seat on the couch, to which I “retaliated” by sitting on top of him. It was too hard to leave. I knew I would see him around school, but with no classes together, when would we find time to interact like this again?

The school week began with no person to person contact. We texted a bit every night, which made me feel better, but I missed the more intimate (and slightly awkward) face to face interactions. I over thought everything more than I had ever over thought before.

I was a wreck. My shamble count increased. I tried to go to bed as early as possible, putting off some of my work, but I just ended up thinking about him until the wee hours of the night anyways. All I wanted was a text back, an in person interaction, a date for Saturday night. It was truly getting to be a problem for my mental health. I was putting too much into this- whatever this was- letting my stress and anxiety get the best of me. But finally, on Thursday, one of my wishes came true.

I caught him on the main stairs walking to the lunchroom for break. He was wearing his grey quarter zip, hair slightly tousled with one strand separate from the rest. The smile on his face when I came around the corner in my black velvet dress was just too much to describe. We chatted about history and childhood toys until we had to split to our different friend groups- reluctantly for me.

I went through the next two periods with the dopiest smile on my face and the bubbliest feeling festering in my stomach, causing my nose to crinkle. Even in jazz combo I felt an intense joy. Soon, the bell rang for lunch, and I skirted over to the lunchroom, getting in line early- too early. Somehow, I knew that if I just went to the bathroom and fiddled with my appearance for a little bit, that I would run into him. Sure enough, as soon as I stepped out of the bathroom, he was at the top of the steps.

“Look who it is again!” he exclaimed brightly! My heart fluttered. He ran his hand through his windswept hair as he commented on the wild wind whipping through campus. Even when his friends came up behind us, we continued to chat. He grinned dorkily at me whenever I spoke, even if I was saying nothing of substance. All was well.

Until that night. No text. “Which is fine,” I thought. “We talked a ton today, he probably doesn’t feel the need to text. He’s probably really busy.” I tried to reassure myself, giving excuses for him. I would have texted him, but I had texted first the last 2 out of 3 nights and I was petty- it was his turn. Plus, I felt like I was being clingy, even though the clinginess was probably just in my head. “He’ll probably text me Friday if he really wants to talk.”

Well, he must not have really wanted to talk, because here we are, Friday night. I just wrote this 7 paged thing (story, memoir, who knows?) about him, and there’s no text at all. I needed to write this all out, for my sanity. My thoughts were so cluttered, my emotions so scattered, that the only way to de-shamble myself was to write this out. Hopefully, I can come back to this soon and think how stupid I was to fret when the answer was so clear and colorful in front of me- no matter what direction that answer takes me. But for now, bring on the over thinking, the anxiety, and the grey zone.

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