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'cause I'm a creep

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Penny says it’s stalking. But stalking has to be deliberate, right? Stalking has to be malicious and creepy.

Was I stalking him fifth year when I was trying to prove he was selling drugs? No. I was following. I was doing a service. That’s not stalking. And neither is this.

It was an accident, at first. I was scrolling through and I saw one of Agatha’s pictures — she’s always posting, loads of bright pics of beaches and food and dogs and friends — and there, under the photo, was his name. He’d “liked” it.

It pissed me off at first. We finished school. Agatha went to America and he was off studying somewhere posh and exclusive, and he was still trying to pull her? What’s the point of flirting with someone over Instagram?

But then I started thinking further. What could Baz possibly post on Instagram? He was notoriously private during school. We never spoke, except to yell at each other or curse when we swung a punch, and somehow he never struck me as a social media type of guy. A quick scroll proved me right — his account was definitely created sometime after Watford — but my fact finding mission also took me on a tour of the past two years of Baz’s life. 

He goes to Oxford. There’s a picture of him leaning under the Eagle and Child sign, smoking and wearing Raybans and looking cool as hell. 

He still plays football. There was a team picture, one where he’s lined up with a group of guys, all sweaty looking in their knee high socks, and his hair is pulled back. He’s not smiling — his mouth is still severe — but there’s a lightness around his eyes that I know is his way of showing happiness.

There’s pictures in cars with a younger girl who looks just like him. More pictures at bars with guys from his team. He looks like the same old Baz, but…happier. Lighter. 

About a year into the photos, the same boy keeps showing up. Dark skin, wild hair, wide laughing mouth. They’re at a bar. They’re at a pier on a rainy day. The boy is laughing on a sofa. The boy is next to Baz as he blows out candles. The boy smiles over a cup of coffee. The boy is lying in a bed, his arm thrown over his eyes. The boy has his hands over his face as Baz leans into his neck. The boy has his arms thrown around a sweaty Baz, fresh off a football win. 

It’s the boy that made me keep looking. That made me keep checking back. Because it’s so unexpected. Because seeing this boy makes me angry, and confused, and like I’ve been caught doing something wrong. Baz looks happy in all of the pictures with this boy. He’s not smiling, but there’s that telltale scrunch around his eyes. He looks at the boy like he’s the sun, like he radiates warmth. I hate it. 

“Honestly, I think it’s cute,” Penny said when I finally showed her. I’d been checking his Instagram for a few months by that point. It was a random urge I’d only indulge late at night, when I couldn’t sleep. It was only after bad days. Days where I’d gotten anxious, or fucked something up. Or after a bad date. Or sometimes after a fine date, that had been fun and enjoyable and left me feeling good on the way home, but then turned to nothing when I got in my bed. I’d realise I hadn’t checked Baz’s page in a few weeks, and I’d type in his name. I always had to search him out — I didn’t dare follow him. Any time there was a new photo, my stomach flipped. Anytime the boy was in it, my stomach dropped. 

“Why is it cute?” I’d asked her. We were looking at a photo of Baz and the boy smiling in front of some landscape. The boy is never named. Never tagged. I prefer it that way. If he was, I’d click on his name, and I’d scroll too far, and I’d know things about him. I’d know what he likes and what he does and he’d become real. He’d be the real person in Baz’s life, the real person who Baz adores, who laughs on Baz’s sofa and sleeps in Baz’s arms.

“Because Baz looks happy,” Penny said. “Watford was probably a really hard time for him. He seems more himself since going to uni.”

“Literally all he posts are pictures of his boyfriend. It’s kind of gross,” I muttered. Penny just eyed me.

“All you post are pictures of us and food, Si. Just let this go. He’s out of your life. And even you can’t hate him so much that you don’t want him to be in love. He’s happy. He’s not hurting you. Just…let it go and stop stalking him.”

I do want him to be happy. I do want him to be in love.

Just not with this boy.

Maybe Penny is right. I need to move on. I need to stop staring at his pictures. Imagining myself next to him at the pier or hugging him on his birthday. I could have had that chance at school, but I blew it. I was too wrapped up in myself and our stupid, fake, useless animosity that I never stopped to wonder why I thought about him all the time until it was too late.

It took too much vodka and an ill advised weekend to figure out I was bisexual. It took a photo of grey eyes smiling at a wild haired boy to figure out I was into Baz.

Not just into. Attracted to. Obsessed with. Hung up on.

So I need to say goodbye. I need to go cold turkey. I allow myself one last look.

The boy hasn’t been in many photos recently — there haven’t been many photos at all, honestly — so it’ll be easier this way. I scroll back, all the way, to one of the earliest ones. One of my favourites. One of the very few solo selfies he’s ever posted. Just Baz, hair up, sleepy look in his eyes, pen tapped against his forehead with the caption “why am I in here studying when there’s snow outside?” He looks beautiful. Calm, happy, casual. It’s a mundane photo on a mundane day, but I love it. I consider screen shotting it, to keep one bit of him, but no. That’s stalking. That’s too far. So I stare at it a moment longer, then carefully snake my thumb up the screen to swipe back.

Except I don’t. 

My thumb hits the heart, and I like the photo.

The photo from almost two years ago.

I unlike it immediately. My heart is racing, my mind is screaming, my blood is pumping in my ears. Maybe he won’t notice. Maybe it will be fine.

I throw the phone away from me, and try to breathe.

This is good, honestly. It’s the push I needed. The scare to snap me back into the real world, to kick me of this creepy late night habit. I won’t look at his pictures again. I won’t.

And I don’t.

I go about my life. I go to class. I bake. I hang out with Penny. I go to America to visit her boyfriend Micah. I go on dates — some good, some bad — and I date a boy for the first time, seriously. I take pictures with Vincent, but he doesn’t smile — he’s too serious for that — and we go to dinners and movies and eat cake on my sofa. And then we stop texting as much. We stop taking photos. We drift apart. There’s not much between us, anyway. We stay friends. I keep going to class. I prepare to leave uni.

And then one night I get a notification.

Baz Pitch has liked your photo.

I slam my thumb into the screen before I have time to breathe, racing against time to find the photo, to see what it is, to find out what about my life drew him back in, after all this time.

It’s a photo from four years ago. 

It’s old. It’s grainy. There’s a ridiculous filter on it, and I’m sitting in my room at Watford. Our room. I’m making a stupid face. It’s not a cute picture.

But it’s old. It’s so old. He went way, way back to find this photo. Why was he so far back in my pictures? And why was he looking at all? It’s been months since I accidentally liked his photo.

Oh God. Has he been stalking me this whole time?

I click back to my main profile, to see what pictures I’ve added over the past few months. To try to view them through his eyes. Photos of food. Of America. Selfies. Photos with Vincent. A few recurring ones of me pointing to things, looking excited, while he’s on his phone in the background. It had been a joke. A gag. I don’t remember why it was funny. A photo of Vincent and me on my sofa, heads tilted together, eating ramen with the caption “he only dates me for my cooking.” Photos of Penny and Micah over break. The most recent, from less than a week ago, a picture of them kissing under mistletoe, while I stand to the side making a face. The caption reads “tis the season to be awkwardly single.”

I shouldn’t look at his profile. I told myself I wouldn’t, and it was unhealthy, and I was happier when I stopped. But he’s clearly been looking at mine. He knows what my life has been like these past few months, and I don’t know what his has been.

I hold my breath and type in his name.

There’s no photos of the boy. None since I last looked, actually. A handful of photos of his family. Some more of his football friends. The boy is conspicuously absent. I hate that this delights me. I hate that there’s excitement in the pit of my stomach. I go to click out, but I pause. 

He was clearly going through my photos. He thought of me. He sought me out. I don’t know whether he saw the notification from my accidental like, but either way, we’ve both been creeping on each other.

So I do what I haven’t done since fifth year. 

I follow him.

It’s agonising. There’s a rush of excitement and then panic as I press the button. I put the phone down and leave the room. I make tea. I get a scone. I hold the world’s most stilted conversation with Penny, pretending that I’m here, in our flat, instead of wandering somewhere in Oxford, in some posh flat or country lodge or trendy coffee shop or wherever Baz is right now. 

When I finally return to my room, it’s with shaking hands that I see the notification. 

Baz Pitch has sent you a message.

I open it.

You finally caught me creeping,” it reads. I laugh. It doesn’t sound anything like the Baz I knew. But that Baz was a lonely, angry 17 year-old. This Baz is a matured, happy looking 20 year-old. 

I did it first, I guess,” I respond. I see the chat bubbles telling me that he’s typing.

It’s okay. I don’t mind,” he answers. I feel myself swell from within, and go to type my response.

I don’t mind either,” I type. Then, “hey, happy Christmas Eve.”