“Oh, Shaun, that’s sweet of you to say,” Lea finally responded.
“It’s not ‘sweet’. It is the truth,” Shaun pronounced firmly.
Lea sighed. “All right, then. So, how – how do we work this conversation? Assuming we’re having it, of course. Do you want to do this?”
Shaun shrugged. “I don’t know that I have anything to say.”
“Well, I do. God, this is awkward,” Lea muttered. “Okay. I – damn, it shouldn’t be this tough to talk about it. Um. I kinda... resent your work friends manufacturing this moment for us. I feel all this sudden pressure to – to admit to things, and I don’t know if I’m ready, or if I even should, and it’s just – it’s really confusing, Shaun.”
“Is Jake confusing?” Shaun asked, and Lea looked up sharply as the question registered with her.
“No, he’s pretty easy to read,” Lea answered. “He’s chilled out, open-minded, kinda goes with the flow.”
“Do you wish I were like that?” Shaun asked nervously.
“No,” Lea answered immediately. “Because that’s not who you are.”
“Would you like me better if I were?” Shaun pressed, his eyes sad.
“I don’t want you to be someone you’re not,” Lea assured him.
Shaun frowned. “You didn’t answer my question. Would you like me better if I were more like Jake?”
Lea heaved a sigh. “Shaun, I already like you more than I’ve ever liked Jake. I’ve had more time to get to know you. But it’s possible to like different people for different reasons. You like Claire for different reasons than you like Morgan, or me, right? Everyone has their own merits.”
“But I like you best,” Shaun replied, with confusion on his face.
“Yes, Shaun, I know, and I like you too. But you are very different from Jake. Being more like Jake isn’t going to make me like you more.”
“Do you... love Jake?” Shaun asked quietly.
Lea shook her head. “No. It takes time to fall in love with someone. I like Jake a lot, but we haven’t been dating very long.”
“But you’ve had time to — ” Shaun trailed off, and he looked away.
“I’ve had much more time to fall in love with you,” Lea supplied. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it?”
Shaun didn’t answer.
“It’s not that simple, Shaun.”
“It was for me,” Shaun whispered.
“You haven’t been in a relationship, Shaun, and you might be a little bit naive about these things. I’m telling you now, love is not simple. Your black-and-white thinking doesn’t work here. If you want a relationship – if you want to be in love with someone – you’ve gotta understand that there are shades of grey. Love is not an ‘either-or’ proposition.”
“I don’t understand. You kissed me. Why did you do that, if you didn’t want to be my girlfriend?”
“A kiss isn’t a contract, Shaun. Maybe I should have explained that to you before it happened. But I thought – I just – I really wanted to kiss you, and I thought you wanted to kiss me. That’s as deep as it went at the time.”
“But you’ve kissed me three times. On different occasions. Doesn’t that have a meaning? Morgan said that wasn’t an accident.”
“Oh, right, and did you say ‘go back to Hershey’ in three different ways, and expect me to do it?” Lea countered. “Or was that something you said out of anger and hurt? An impulse?”
“No, I — ”
“Well, kissing you was something I did out of attraction, and curiosity. And an impulse. I didn’t expect that — ”
“ — I didn’t expect that I’d want to kiss you all the time,” Lea admitted.
“You want to kiss me all the time?” Shaun repeated disbelievingly.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Romeo. Yes. But I was afraid of this.”
“‘This’? What’s ‘this’?”
“Shaun, everything I do concerning you – and my feelings for you – I’m always really scared. I’m scared to create expectations and obligations. We are not a simple thing, and I’ve been deluding myself for a long time that we are.”
“Jake is a simple thing,” Shaun observed. It wasn’t a question.
“I guess,” Lea agreed.
“You’re with Jake because it’s easy.”
“Yeah, probably,” Lea conceded.
“Being with me wouldn’t be easy. Is that why you aren’t with me? Do you only like simple things?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Shaun. It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like, Lea? You never tell me. You just expect me to understand.”
“Okay, Shaun, I’m gonna be real with you here. I want to kiss you. All the time. And that’s a really simple concept. But what happens when I do act on that desire is never going to be simple. It’s complicated, and it’s messy, and it’s not a good idea.”
“Lea, do you... regret kissing me?” Shaun asked, very quiet, and very hurt.
Lea scowled, exasperated. “Shaun! God, no. Why would you think that? Didn’t I just say I still want to do it? Does that sound like ‘regret’ to you? See, this is what I mean. Things left unsaid – subtext – confuse you, and you jump to the worst possible conclusion. I’ve learned that now. I am trying to be forgiving of that in you, Shaun, but it’s difficult.”
“Jake understands subtext,” Shaun said, slowly. “What is that like?”
Lea thought for a moment. “Uh, okay. I told him my best friend is a guy, who I also live with. The subtext of that statement was: ‘And that ain’t changing, so don’t even ask’.”
“A lot of guys baulk when I’m upfront about my best friend-slash-roommate being a guy. It’s threatening, because a lot of people think guys and girls can’t be friends without romance and attraction coming into play. And, let’s be honest, Shaunie – we’re attracted to one another, aren’t we? Their paranoia isn’t entirely unfounded.”
“Jake wasn’t intimidated by the fact of you, so I said yes when he asked me out. But he’s asking questions. More and more of them. Gotta level with you on that.”
“See? Complicated.” Lea said, smiling wryly. “Kissing you for the first time on that road trip was the last uncomplicated thing I ever did with you. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster.”
“Why did you come back to San Jose?” Shaun asked, eventually.
“Didn’t I explain why? Do you not remember?” Lea responded in a guarded tone.
“I want you to tell me again,” Shaun said.
“No, Shaun. You’re asking because you want to hear a particular answer,” Lea stated. “You know how we were just talking about subtext? Well, buddy, here’s the subtext of your question: ‘Did you come back to be my girlfriend?’”
Shaun said nothing.
“And you simply don’t answer questions you don’t like. I’m right, aren’t I? Are you trying to make me less attracted to you? Keep going on like that, and I’m sure it will work.”
“Grow up, Shaun,” Lea snapped. “You want a relationship? Any relationship? Then you’d better get it through your head – real quick – that you’ve gotta communicate. Right now, you are not communicating. You’re throwing a tantrum. Stop it. Just talk to me.”
“I’m scared, Lea!” Shaun shot back.
“Shaun, come on. I’m not gonna yell at you. I’m not gonna leave this apartment. I’m not gonna stop wanting to be around you. I’m not gonna see you differently.”
“But what if you do?”
“Oh, my God, Shaun! You already know how you feel. You already know how I feel. It’s happened. We’re there. We are officially into one another. Hooray for us. Now, do you actually want to do something about that fact? Or do you just wanna talk around it and about it forever? Because I am not here for that, Shaun.”
“I want you,” Shaun said.
“And I want you, too. But do you understand what that means, Shaun? It means that I don’t want a relationship with you only in theory. I want one in reality. Do you want me in theory, or in reality? You should think about that.”
“I used to think about that. Until you told me to stop thinking about it. Are you telling me to start thinking about it again? Are you telling me that you want me to start thinking about it again?”
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
“Do you guess, or do you know?”
“Yes, Shaun, I want you to start thinking about what being in a relationship with me would actually mean to you. I want you to think about us being a couple. I’m very interested to hear what you think that might be like.”
“Okay. I will — ” Shaun started to say, before Lea jumped in again:
“And, while you’re analysing that to death, here’s some stuff for you to consider about me, and what I think a relationship is. I want to go on dates. I want to cuddle up on this couch. I want to cook dinner together. I want to sit by you. I want to kiss you. I want to touch you. Everywhere. I want you to touch me. Everywhere. And eventually, Shaun, I want to sleep with you. I want to go on road trips, and – and stay in rooms with only one bed instead of two. I want to dive into the backseat of the Striped Tomato with you and just go at it. I want to slam you up against the wall and kiss you so hard, and so long, that you forget how to breathe. And I am sick to death of doing all the Goddamn talking here, so could you please say something?!” she finally burst out.
Shaun sat, dumbfounded and silent, looking very much like he was preparing to flee.
“If you run to your room right now, Shaun, I swear to God, I am going to lose it,” Lea hissed. “Say. Something. To. Me.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Hmm. Well. When I didn’t know what to say, I fell back on actions. There’s a hint for you.”
“No,” Shaun’s voice rang out clearly.
“The hell do you mean, no?!” Lea burst out, trying hard not to yell.
“You need to get out, Lea. Please leave,” Shaun said dispassionately, like he was just passing on a message. Detached.
“What the hell did you just say to me?” Lea shot back. “‘Get out’? Excuse me, Shaun, but I live here too. You can’t just tell me to leave.”
“Lea. Leave. Get out of here before I — ”
“Before you what, Shaun? Use your words.”
“Before you’re more than just an emotional cheater. I think you want me to kiss you. I know that I want to kiss you. I can’t kiss you. I can’t do anything you want me to, because you are already in a relationship with someone who isn’t me. He wants to do those things with you, right?”
Lea came crashing right back down to Earth as Shaun’s words sunk in.
“You still have a boyfriend, Lea,” Shaun elaborated, his voice now calm and matter-of-fact. “And even I know that you are emotionally cheating on Jake at this point. We should not go any further.”
“Yes, but – Shaun, I knew what I was saying and I said it anyway – we might as well — ”
“This is wrong, Lea. You have to fix it. Please fix it.”
“‘Fix it’? Do you mean, go and break up with Jake? Right now?”
Shaun nodded firmly. “Yes. Right now.”
“It’s ten PM, Shaun. Jake’s working till close. I can’t see him tonight. And I’m not doing it over the phone or by text. He’s done nothing wrong except for the fact that he isn’t you.”
“Then I’m going to bed,” Shaun pronounced. “Good night, Lea.”
Don’t go. We’re so close to something. Stay here with me, Lea thought frantically.
“Wait,” Lea spoke out loud to Shaun’s retreating back. “Wait, I — ”
Shaun spun around to face her, and his eyes widened as though he’d just remembered something important. He reached into his pocket, and for a moment Lea thought he was retrieving the toy scalpel.
But she heard jingling instead. Shaun walked back towards her and handed her the item he’d taken from his pocket.
“I took your car keys when I was going to escape to Claire’s. Here they are.”
Dumbly, Lea looked down and reached out for the proffered keys. Their fingers brushed, and she nearly dropped the keys. Static electricity.
She looked up at him, curiously, wondering if he felt it too. Contemplating if this was Shaun’s way of stealing any kind of physical contact he could.
No, Lea decided. He just wanted to give me back my keys. He wouldn’t have slept until he did. Things have to go back to their proper places. Let it go.
And then she had an idea. Something that would let them be close, but also something that could be explained away as merely friendship.
Something that could help them both still sleep comfortably at night.
“Do you trust me?” she asked Shaun.
“Then there’s something we can do. Or... some things. Sit down,” she said, tugging Shaun back to the couch. He let himself be led, and they fell, almost as one, back onto the sofa, sinking once more into the cushions.
Their hands were still joined.