Bailey trudges down the school hallway, his eyes barely open. The sounds around him seem muted. The lights seem too bright. The pack on his side, despite having hardly anything in it, seems too heavy. All he can think of is crawling into bed and dozing off. Even Cooper, the reason for his lack of sleep, is a distant second to Bailey’s desire for sweet unconsciousness.
I’m fine. A little sleep deprivation never hurt anyone, right?
He’s half way through the school day, and he can barely remember what happened in his first or second class. There was some math involved… maybe… and something about… government? Civics? Was that what it was called? He really can’t remember. The parts of his brain responsible for keeping track of that sort of thing are protesting his present conditions, and the other parts of his body seem eager to join them. Not even the food’s helping. His lunch break is more than half-way over, but that only means that he has nothing to do for the next fifteen or so minutes.
I need to find a place to sit down…
He finds a map on the wall and gives it a look. He quickly realizes that he’s only a couple of rooms away from the library, so he trundles down there and walks inside. The din of the hallway disappears, and ease washes over him. He walks around, eyes scanning the rows of books for anything interesting. And then he spots, in a tucked away corner, a few bean bag chairs, all unoccupied except for one tall, tan rabbit, hunched over his phone, sinking into the chair.
Bailey jolts awake at the sight of Cooper, then ducks into an aisle of books.
He’s just sitting right there! What do I do? Do I go over to him? Will he think that’s weird? Is it weird? Am I weird?
Bailey’s heart, beating slowly moments ago, slams against his ribcage like a knock on the door. He swallows and takes a shaky breath.
Just go out there. It’s not like you were stalking him. You weren’t! You didn’t even know he was there!
After a few more breaths, he takes a long stride out of the aisle, and moseys to the chair pit, his arms swinging and his chest forward.
Dude, what are you doing? Is this how a normal person walks? Have you ever walked like this in your entire life?
His body shrivels at the realization. He dares a glance at Cooper, but to his considerable relief, the rabbit’s eyes are still glued to his phone. He takes a few tentative steps toward the rabbit, whose left ear shoots into the air. Cooper looks up from his phone, and grins ear to floppy ear when he sees the dog.
“Bailey! Hey, man!”
The sound of the rabbit’s voice simultaneously soothes Bailey’s nerves and makes him antsy. He feels his tail start to wag, so he skips over to one of the free bean bags and throws himself on it.
Wait, did that look weird? But I had to! My tail was about to start dusting the tables! Oh man, his nose is wiggling like crazy again…
Wait. My tail starts whipping around when I see him… his nose starts twitching when he sees me…
…I’m pretty sure that means something, but I’m too tired to figure out what.
“I didn’t see ya at our lockers this morning!” Cooper says.
“O-oh, yeah,” Bailey says before he yawns. “I was late.”
Cooper laughs. “How come?”
Why’s his laugh gotta sound so nice? Why’s his voice gotta be so soft?
Bailey scratches the back of the ear. “Uh… I… didn’t wake up until like thirty seconds before it was time to go.”
Cooper grins even wider, and Bailey’s body burns even hotter.
“Thirty seconds? You serious?”
“My mom yelled for me and I just kinda… rolled outta bed, put on my clothes, and walked out the door.”
…Did I just tell him that I sleep in my underwear?
Cooper turns his head, letting one of his ears dangle. “No time for a shower?”
Okay, good. He didn’t notice.
“I take them before bed.”
“Huh! I take mine when I get up.”
A pause hangs in the air as the small talk meets an impasse. The tension in Bailey quickly grows.
Why can’t I think of anything to say? I’ve wanted to see him since yesterday and now all I can talk about is sleeping?
As he opens his mouth to babble something, Cooper saves him from his potential embarrassment. “So, why’d you sleep in so late?”
“Ehh, just couldn’t fall asleep, I guess.”
Because I saw your face every time I closed my eyes?
Bailey yawns. “I, uh, guess I’m just not used to being back to school.”
Half the truth is still the truth, right?
“Ahh… it’s certainly an adjustment! A whole new place, all new faces…”
“You seem to be taking to it better than me.”
Cooper shifts in his bean bag. “I have practice…”
That seems like a weird response to Bailey, but the jammed gears in his sleep-deprived brain once again can’t figure out why. He strains to think clearly, but it’s just not coming to him. He groans and falls back in the bean bag chair.
“You sure you’re feeling okay?” Cooper asks with a slight chuckle as he leans over to look at the dog.
Bailey’s head lulls back farther. “I’m so tired…” he says, his voice a deep vocal fry. If Bailey had known the word ‘uncouth,’ that’s how he would describe himself. Instead,
I am the lamest boy alive.
Before he can humiliate himself further, the bell rings. With great exertion and a little bit of grunting, he sits back up, then pushes himself to his feet. He looks down at Cooper, who’s still swiping on his phone. He opens his mouth to speak, but the rabbit snaps to his feet with alarming speed. Bailey would have jumped if his body had let him.
“Well, time to go!” Cooper says. “What class do you have now?”
Bailey scrunches up his face. Fortunately, at least some parts of his mind still function, and he manages to spit out an answer as the two start walking toward the entrance. “Umm… geography.”
“Oh, cool! I’ve got a programming class now.”
Bailey feels his tail start wagging again. “Programming? You like computers?”
“Yeah! Um, I’m… kind of a nerd,” Cooper says, scratching his forehead.
Oh man! I wonder what games he plays…
“Me too! Though I don’t know how to program or anything… I just play games and stuff like that.”
“Aww, you should have taken the class, too! Then we’d have two classes together!”
Yeah, Bailey! Why didn’t you take a programming class so you could—wait, together? Does he… want to hang out with me?
The two step into the hall and turn in different directions.
“Computer lab’s down this way… well, catch you in biology, if you haven’t fallen asleep!” Cooper says as he walks away.
“I’ll try not to.”
No promises, though…
I am so, so tired.
Biology drags on. The teacher talks about water cycle this and migration that, but Bailey’s exhausted mind just does not have the space for science right now. He sighs and puts his head down on the desk. His eyes fall on Cooper, who is sitting next to him.
Wow, he’s totally into this. Taking notes like a madman, with his cute little tongue poking out the side of his mouth.
Er, well, cute as in like… it’s small, okay? That’s all I meant. It’s a lot smaller than mine, anyway. I bet he can’t even lick his own nose. Not even close.
Bailey’s mind is invaded by thoughts of licking Cooper’s nose for him. He closes his eyes and tries to pay attention to the teacher’s voice instead, but it keeps getting quieter, and quieter, and quieter…
The bell rings and Bailey’s head jolts up.
“Well, shoot, looks like that’s all the time we’ve got. Okay, read pages eight through thirteen for tomorrow. Everyone get home safely!”
It’s so bright… I wasn’t asleep, was I?
Bailey looks at the chalkboard, which has twice as much writing on it than he remembers.
Dang… I hope none of that’s important…
He pushes himself out of his chair, holding the edge of the desk for support. He walks toward the door, but turns to take a look at Cooper, who’s still putting his books in his bag.
I should wait for him. I don’t want him to think I’ve just ditched him.
As he’s looking back at the rabbit, a cockatoo steps into his line of sight.
“Hey, you gonna move, shorty?”
Bailey has to fight to keep his eyes from rolling—and to keep them open. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, picking up the pace and leaving the room. He waits at the door, giving enough space for the other students to walk out.
“Oh, Mr. Basney, I have some questions,” Cooper says, walking to the teacher’s desk.
I look dumb standing here. I’m just in the way. Everyone has to step around me. I should go. I’ll see him at my locker. He won’t mind. It’s not like he was expecting me to wait—
“Whoops, excuse me!” a deer says as she dodges Bailey.
Okay, okay, I gotta get going.
Bailey sets off toward his locker, his tired legs carrying his body through the tangle of people. His mind is a tug of war between trying to reconcile his conflicting thoughts, and trying to watch where he’s going. He keeps peeking back over his shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bunny. As he approaches his locker, he twists around one last time, walking forward while looking backward. This was not one of Bailey’s better ideas. He never quite figures out what he hit, but his foot catches on something and he loses his balance.
…and trips straight into his locker.
A cold shock runs through his nose and up to his forehead, and he clutches his snout as he crashes to the floor.
“Haha, what a klutz!”
“Oooh, that looked like it hurt.”
“Bailey! You okay?”
“Wow, I heard that one!”
With his eyes squinting, he turns around to find the source of the one voice that seems worried about him. Crouching next to him, with his ears back and his mouth half-open, is Cooper.
“Oh shit, you’re bleeding!”
Bailey pulls his paw off his nose. Sure enough, his pads and the fur between them are stained dark red. He looks down at a steady drip of crimson spackling the top of his light blue shirt.
Ow… it’s getting everywhere…
“Hey, let’s get you to the nurse. Need some help?”
Bailey looks back at Cooper, whose expression has softened up. The rabbit extends his paw, and Bailey takes it with his clean hand. Immediately, a surge of adrenaline runs through his body as the bunny’s furry paw presses against his fleshy pad.
Wow, it’s so soft… okay, wait. He’s just helping me up. Not a big deal, right? Nothing weird, nothing gay. I’m just—whoa!
Cooper explodes out of his crouch, yanking Bailey up to his feet.
Holy crap… how strong are those legs?
The dog blinks a few times, trying to process what just happened.
“You okay? Can you walk?” Cooper lets go of Bailey’s paw, then turns his head, scowling at the gawkers. “If you’re not gonna help, then piss off!”
The crowd murmurs as some people walk away. Some stay around, some laugh, but no one offers to help.
“Sorry… what a bunch of assholes,” Cooper says, his mumbling barely audible over the noise of the bustling hallway. “You feeling alright?”
“My whole face hurts,” Bailey says, his voice slightly nasal.
Actually, I feel fine aside from the blood dripping into my mouth. The throbbing mostly went away when I grabbed his paw.
Cooper stands on his tiptoes and scans the hallway. “Okay, I think the nurse is…”
Wow, he’s like… a whole foot taller than me. More if you count the ears. He should stand up straight more often.
“Ah! Right, that way. Come on, Bailey.”
Cooper begins walking, and Bailey follows behind him, keeping a hand cupped under his nose. People stare at them—at him—as they pass by. He can feel the embarrassment creeping in, but for some reason, it’s not as strong as he expects.
Cooper keeps looking back at me. His nose is wiggling like crazy. Why does it do that? Is it a smelling thing? Is it a—
“Hey!” A cat hops out of Bailey’s way as he passes in the other direction. He turns to look at the feline, then realizes the reason for the sudden jolt is because his tail is whipping around again. He catches it under his arm and continues walking down the hall.
How many people have I almost smacked or run into the last few days?
Cooper swings his head around. “Still bleeding?”
Bailey pulls his paw off his nostrils. The flow of blood hadn’t completely stopped, but it had slowed to a trickle. “Yeah, a little bit…”
“Well, we’re here,” Cooper says, pointing at a little sign that says ‘NURSE’S OFFICE.’
Bailey scratches the back of his ear. “Thanks, Cooper…”
Why is he so nice to me? Wait, did I just rub blood on my ear?
Cooper smiles a wide smile, tilting his head slightly, his eyes half-lidded. “No problem!”
A thought had been festering at the edge of his consciousness for the past day or so, and in that moment, seeing Cooper make that face, something flips inside of Bailey. His mother’s voice echoes in his mind.
“Have you fallen in love, Bailey?”
I… I… I… I need to go to the nurse.
His heart throbs as he jerks strangely away from the bunny and takes an unnaturally long stride into the office. Almost as soon as he does, an otter lady looks up at him, then immediately gets out of her chair.
“Ooh, what happened here?”
“I tripped and hit my nose…”
“Aww, alright, let’s get you fixed up.”
The nurse washes her hands and puts on some gloves, then starts messing with his nose. Bailey’s heart slams against his chest as she does, adrenaline coursing through his body a second time as he tries to cope with his epiphany.
No, no, no. Okay, it’s not anything like that. He’s just nice. He’s just… a friend. He’s a friend? Okay? A friend. That’s all!
…Would you be saying that if he were a girl?
“Nosebleeds usually look worse than they are. Doesn’t seem like anything’s broken.”
…Wouldn’t you want to kiss him if he were a girl?
“Looks like it’s not bleeding anymore. How long ago did you hurt it? Hey? Still with me, kiddo?”
Bailey snaps back to reality, the question stopping the runaway train in his mind from going off a cliff. “Wuh-uhh, j-just a few minutes…” Bailey says, his voice still honking slightly.
The nurse raises an eyebrow. “Okay, then it’s unlikely that you hurt yourself too badly. I think all you need is a good cleaning up. You can use the sink over there. Take that shirt off when you get home and have someone wash it right away, okay? Blood stains easily!”
“Oh, uh, thank you.” He walks over to the sink and turns on the water.
I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t.
So why were you thinking about it last night?
He starts scrubbing his paws a lot harder than he needs to.
It’s just, you know, one of those thoughts! Like, how you think, ‘I should walk into traffic’, or, ‘I should punch that guy in the face.’ It’s like that! It doesn’t mean I want to do it! I can’t choose what I think about!
But it did feel nice to imagine, didn’t it?
Frustration wells up inside as he cleans his nose and upper lip.
No, it didn’t! It just kept me awake all night!
Because you liked it.
No! I don’t… I wish… I wish it were still summer. I wish I’d never met Cooper! Then I wouldn’t…
“You okay?” the nurse asks.
Bailey’s head whips around, a trail of water flying from his face. “Huh?”
Bailey sighs and looks back toward the sink. “I’m fine. Just… mad.” He picks up a towel and begins drying his paws and face.
“Aww, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all hurt ourselves sometimes.”
That is not why I am mad.
He rubs his paw against his nose. Everything seems dry enough. “T-thanks again for the help…”
“Of course! Take care! Remember, change that shirt!”
Bailey picks up his bag and walks toward the hallway, his mind moving at triple speed the entire time.
Stupid Cooper. What’s so special about him, anyway? Just because he’s nice to me a few times, now my brain has to be on fire all day? Who cares! I hope I never see him again! It would just be better—
“Hey! You okay?”
Bailey jumps and spins around. Leaning against the wall, his eyebrows slightly furrowed, is Cooper.
“You’re still here?” Bailey asks with far more bark than he intends.
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright…”
It’s subtle, but Bailey spots a tiny flinch. A hint of fear. A hint of pain. The animosity he had thought himself into instantly melts away, and a wave of nausea crashes over him.
He was worried about me… and I just… shouted at him. I scared him. I hurt him…
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!” Bailey says, his half-pubescent voice cracking like a phone screen hitting cement. “You just startled me… I didn’t mean to shout… I’m sorry…”
Any visible discomfort in Cooper’s body disappears as he waves his hands in front of his face. “Hey, whatcha apologizing for?” He smiles. “ It’s cool, man, I get it! Are you feeling okay? Anything broken?”
Bailey exhales. “N-no, she said I’m fine…”
Why did I react like that? Why was I so… so scared?
“Great! Oh, I’m so relieved! Okay, I better go catch my bus.” He looks down the nearly barren hall, then at his phone. “Oh, shit! I totally lost track of the time!” He launches into a run, bolting down the hall as he stuffs his phone back into his pocket.
Wow, he is so fast.
Wait, did he seriously not notice that there’s basically no one in the hall anymore?
Bailey tries to run after him, but between his still-tired body, still-clogged nose, and still-unathletic legs, he almost immediately drops back into a brisk walk. He watches as Cooper puts his hands against the far door, then slouches. Over the rabbit’s shoulder and out the window, the school buses roll past as they begin pulling out of the lot. Cooper turns around and plods back toward Bailey, shaking his head.
Yep. He missed his bus. This is all my fault… if only I could walk like a normal person, he’d be on his way home now. Stupid! Bailey, why do you suck so much? This is the second time in a minute that you’ve hurt him!
When the two reach speaking distance, Cooper shakes his head. “Yep, I missed it.”
“Nah, my fault for not keeping track of the time. Guess my mom is gonna have to come get me…”
Before Bailey can reply, his phone vibrates. He yanks it out of his pocket.
“Oh, shoot. It’s my mom! She’s probably freaking out right now!” He answers it. “Hel—”
“Bailey! Where the heck are you?”
“Sorry, mom… I…”
Ugh, mom always frets so much when I hurt myself. But I’m not gonna be able to hide this…
“...had to see the nurse.”
“The nurse? Why? What did you do? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine! I just… kinda fell and hit my nose on my locker.”
“Did you break it? You sound funny. Do you need to go to the hospital?”
“No, I didn’t break it, but I’m gonna need to wash this shirt.”
“What, did you bleed all over it? Blood stains are such a pain in the ass to get out…”
Cooper sighs, and Bailey looks up at him.
“Everything okay?” the dog asks as he covers the microphone.
“My mom’s not picking up…”
I… I want to hang out with him a little while longer… maybe I could… maybe…
“Hey, Cooper? Maybe my mom can give you a ride back?”
The rabbit’s head shoots up and he beams. His eyes almost seem to twinkle at the suggestion. It fills Bailey’s stomach with butterflies.
“Bailey? Are you listening? Are you talking to someone?”
Was she saying something?
“Uh, a friend—”
Friend… that feels so good to say…
“—he missed his bus, and he lives all the way out in Ridgeton, so, uh, could we maybe take him—”
“Bailey, I gotta be home in like fifteen minutes. I can’t drive all the way out to Ridgeton right now.”
I can’t just leave him here! I mean, I can, but I’m the reason he’s in this mess. Wait, actually…
“Oh, um, well, could he at least come back with me so he doesn’t have to wait alone at school?”
Wow, this might be a new nose wiggle speed record.
“Mmm, alright. But hurry up and get out here, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Mom. See you in a sec,” Bailey says, then hangs up the phone.
Cooper looks away. “I would have been fine waiting here…”
Yeah, but then I wouldn’t be with you anymore… um, and that’s bad, because uh—
Bailey’s eye catches the fleshy inside of the rabbit’s ear.
Is it usually that red? I guess he’s upset about missing the bus, right?
“Well,” Cooper says, his voice suddenly very monotone, “I guess I should try calling my mom again.”
Oh no… I hope he doesn’t get in too much trouble.
The boys start walking to the parking lot as Cooper taps his screen. A few seconds later, a high pitched, feminine voice comes through the speaker.
“Hello? Coopie?” she says, as Cooper jerks the phone away from his ear and winces.
A snicker tries to escape Bailey’s throat, but he holds it in.
Coopie? Oh man…
“Oh, Coopie! What’s wrong?”
The voice is so loud that Bailey can hear every word clearly.
“Umm, I missed the bus, and—”
“Oh, Coopie! Do you need me to come pick you up?”
“Yeah… but I’m gonna be at a friend’s house. Is that okay?”
The voice somehow manages to get even more shrill. “Oh? A friend? You’ve made a friend? Is your friend a girl?”
Cooper deflates like an untied balloon. “No, Mom…”
What is it with moms and teasing their kids about girls?
His mom laughs. “Oh, too bad! I’m sure the girls will be all over you soon! You’re too handsome for them not to!”
She’s not wrong…
Before he can scold himself for the thought, Bailey looks up at Cooper. The rabbit’s face scrunches up and he hunches over, almost like he’s in pain.
Wow, he looks miserable. I can’t even laugh. And I thought my mom was bad…
“Anyway, uh…” Cooper looks at Bailey. “Where do you live?”
Bailey tells him his address, which Cooper repeats to his mother.
“Okie dokie! Let me finish up here and I’ll be right down! Bye, Coopie! Bye, Coopie’s friend!”
“Bye, mom,” Cooper says, his voice flat as paper. He puts his phone back in his pocket, his face still looking like he sucked an entire lemon.
He groans and pushes a hand into his face. “Please, please don’t call me that…”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Um… how about Coop? Is that okay?”
Cooper rocks his head from side to side. “Yeah… yeah, Coop is fine,” he says, his face slowly returning to a smile. It quickly vanishes. “God, she’s so embarrassing…”
“She seems…” Bailey says, his voice trailing off. “Uh, energetic?”
“That’s… one way to put it.”
As the two reach the edge of the parking lot, Bailey points at a car parked near the road. “There’s Mom’s car. Sorry that she’s so far away… she’s always all—” he makes his voice a higher pitch “—oh, stop complaining! It’s good for you! You could use the exercise!”
“Aww, you look fine.”
The compliment is like a splash of cold water on the face. Bailey looks down at his shirt, rounded over his stomach.
Do I look fine? I mean, I’m normal size, right? I know I’m not fat because I looked it up online and it said I’m not fat. Barely. But still, not fat!
…I do look fat, don’t I…
No, he said I look fine… that’s what matters, right?
“No, really, you do,” Cooper says.
Bailey looks up at him, and the rabbit smiles.
Did he know what I was thinking?
Before he can get too lost in his thoughts, the two reach the car. Bailey opens the back door, and Cooper climbs in, scooting to the far seat, with Bailey following after him.
“Oh my god, Bailey,” his mom says. “That shirt is wrecked! Are you sure you don’t need to go to the hospital?”
“Mom, I’m fine… I just bled a little,” Bailey says, looking at Cooper, who smiles and closes his eyes.
Yeah, you know how this is, don’t you…
“A little? Well, I guess I can try to get it clean… give it to me as soon as we get home.” Her head turns to Cooper. “Oh, I am being so rude. Hi, I’m Marcie. What’s your name?”
“Hello. I’m Cooper. Nice to meet you, Marcie. I really appreciate you letting me come along.”
Wow, he’s so… respectful. Almost too respectful. What’s with that?
“Oh, please, it’s no problem at all. So, how are you getting home, Cooper?”
“My mom’s going to your house to pick me up.”
Marcie pulls out of the parking lot and onto the road. “Sounds like a plan.”
As they drive down the street, Cooper turns and looks out the window. “Wow, there’s definitely more to this place than Ridgeton…”
There is nothing ‘wow’ about Clanedale…
“Are you new to the area, Cooper?” Marcie asks.
“Oh, yes. I only moved to Ridgeton last month.”
Wait, really? I didn’t even consider that.
“So, where’d you move from?” she asks.
“Oh, um, a town called Wicksham, in Westfeld.”
Marcie gasps. “Westfeld? That’s halfway across the planet!”
“Are you originally from there? You don’t seem to have an accent…”
“Oh, no, I was born near here… it’s just, well, my dad’s in the military—”
“Ahhh,” Marcie says, nodding. “That’ll do it.”
Bailey turns his head. “What’s the military have to do with it?”
Cooper swings around and looks at the dog. “Oh, um, well, they’d send my dad all around the world, and we kinda had to go with him. I think I’ve moved like ten times by now…”
Oh, that’s what he meant by ‘having a lot of practice…’
Bailey’s heart sinks.
Wait, does that mean he’s going to move away again soon?
“Hang on, though,” Marcie says. “There’s no military stuff around Ridgeton, is there?”
“N-no…” Cooper says, and he turns and rests his elbow on the door, holding his chin in his hand. Awkwardness hangs in the air, but it’s soon broken as the car pulls into the driveway. “Oh, this is your place?”
“Yep!” Bailey says, trying to put the anxious thought out of his mind. Everyone gets out of the car, and the boys walk up the front step.
“Get that shirt off, Bailey!”
“Yes, Mom,” Bailey says in that yes-you-don’t-need-to-remind-me voice. He looks at Cooper. “My room’s just down the hall.”
The two walk into the house, but Bailey pauses as he reaches his bedroom door.
Wait, how messy is my room? Oh no, is there laundry on the floor? Did I bring all my dishes out? What if he sees my—
Bailey’s stomach tenses up.
No, I’m pretty sure that’s…
“Is it locked?” Cooper asks.
“O-oh, no, just,” Bailey says before he pushes the door open and takes a precise step into the room, standing just where Cooper doesn’t have enough space to see in or walk around him. He scans the room for a moment, making sure there’s nothing too embarrassing out in the open, then steps all the way in, making a direct line for his dresser.
“Oh, cool!” Cooper says as Bailey rummages for a clean shirt.
Before he can answer, there’s a yell from the hallway. “Need that shirt, Bailey…”
“I’m coming!” Bailey yells back. He turns to Cooper and waves the shirt. “I’ve gotta—”
Cooper nods. “Yeah, of course.”
Bailey walks out of his room, into the washroom, and yanks the bloodied shirt off in one tug. Before putting on the clean shirt, he turns toward the mirror. He looks at his torso for a few seconds, then grabs his belly and shakes it a bit.
I do look kinda fat… don’t I…
It’s never bothered me before… why does it bother me now?
Because you want to look nice for Cooper, you idiot.
Shut up! I do not! It’s just that… I’m just…
He turns away from the mirror and steps on the scale. His weight is up. Not by much, but enough to register. He groans, his stomach tying itself up in a knot.
Maybe… I can just… eat less for supper… or go for a run, or something…
An exasperated voice comes through the door. “How long does it take to change a shirt?”
“Sorry, sorry…” he says, the words crawling out of his mouth.
“I can’t hear you. Is everything okay in there?”
Bailey throws the clean shirt over his head and pushes open the door. “I’m fine,” he says, still mumbling as he hands his mom the bloody shirt.
“Why are teen boys so weird?” she asks as she takes the shirt and walks away.
Bailey walks back into his room, and sees Cooper sitting on the edge of the bed with his feet gently swinging. The rabbit turns his head and smiles.
He always smiles when he looks at me. Always.
Wait, do I do the same thing…?
Bailey becomes aware of his own face—especially his half-open mouth. Self-consciously, he closes it as Cooper starts to speak.
“I like your room. You’re lucky you get to have a computer in here.”
Bailey turns his head. “Don’t you have one?”
“We do, but my mom won’t let me have it in my room.”
“Really? Why not?”
“She just says she doesn’t, um…” Cooper says, before suddenly looking at the floor. “She just wants to keep an eye on me, I guess.”
“Aw, that sucks.”
Wait, what does he mean by that?
Bailey walks over and sits next to Cooper—but not too close. “Man, I thought my mom was a handful…”
Cooper sighs. “My folks are definitely… a lot.”
“What’s your dad like?” As soon as he asks, Cooper’s shoulders stiffen.
“Well… like I said, he’s in the military. He’s…” Cooper exhales, his cheeks puffing out. “He’s… well… mm, sorry. I don’t really want to talk about him. I probably won’t see him again… and I’m fine with that.”
Oh, crap… I am totally not ready for this. What do you even say to something like that?
“Sorry, man, I, um… well, I, um—”
Cooper leans back and laughs a slow laugh. “No, it’s okay. Don’t worry about me.”
There’s something about the mirthlessness of that laugh that hits Bailey in exactly the wrong way. Suddenly, Cooper doesn’t seem like this super cool dude who’s better than him. He’s just a kid, just like him. Vulnerable, scared, just trying to figure things out. And that makes those strange feelings inside Bailey even more intense.
But I want to worry about you…
“Thank you, Bailey.” He turns and smiles again, his nose wiggling slowly. “You’re really nice, you know that?”
A wave of heat rushes through Bailey’s body, starting from his chest, working its way into his fingers and toes, until everything burns. He has to consciously stop himself from panting.
Wow, this shirt is… a lot hotter than my other one…
“N-not as nice as you are.”
Cooper looks away. “T-thanks. I just, never really… had a friend, you know? All that moving around, and other military kids are just… well…”
A light bulb goes off in Bailey’s head. “U-um,” he says, his voice cracking. He clears his throat, then tries again. “Well, if you want, maybe we could, like, hang out here, this weekend? I mean, if our parents are, you know, fine with that.”
Cooper twists his body toward Bailey and sits up straight. Any hints of sadness in his face vanish as his nose goes berserk. “You mean, like a sleepover?”
“Y-yeah! I’ve never had a sleepover before.”
Tail. Stop. Don’t.
“Me neither! I’ve always wanted to!”
Bailey’s battle with his tail ends before it starts as it whips back and forth over the blankets. As the excitement threatens to overwhelm him, a shrill voice rings out from the front of the house.
“Hello, hello! I’m here to pick up Cooper!”
Cooper flinches and sags. “She sure got here fast…”
Marcie’s voice follows. “Bailey! Cooper!”
Bailey furls his brow. “”Is she always so—”
“Yes, she is.”
Man… he really gets uncomfortable when he talks about his parents. Mom and Dad annoy me sometimes, but they’re not that bad…
The bed creaks as the boys hop off and walk down the hall, where the two mothers are standing.
Wow, how is Cooper so tall when she’s so short? Is she even as tall as me? Though I can see where he gets a lot of his features. Same big ears, same cream fur, same pretty blue eyes…
Er, wait. I mean, her eyes are pretty, not his. I mean, they have the same eyes, so his are also pretty, but that’s because hers are pretty, and not because I think his are pretty, or something gay like that.
Y-yeah, that’s right.
The older rabbit claps. “Oh, Coopie, I’m so glad that you’re making friends!”
“Mom, please… how did you even get here so fast?”
Bailey nearly swallows his throat.
Is this lady for real?!
Her gaze shifts to him. “Goodness, look at you! Oh, Marcie, your boy is simply adorable! Oh, your colours! They’re so lovely!”
I want to die.
Bailey looks at Cooper, who also looks like he wants to die. “Oh, uh, t-thanks?”
Cooper’s mother smiles and swings the door open. “Well, ready to go, Coopie?”
“Oh, um… Bailey and I were thinking… well, maybe I could… come over this weekend?” He looks at Marcie. “I mean, if it’s okay with you?”
Cooper’s mother pouts. “Aww, and leave me all alone?” Her expression quickly breaks into a wide grin. “I’m kidding! Don’t look at me like that!”
Wait, I missed it. Look at her like what?
“I have no problem with my Coopie making friends! What do you think, Marcie?”
“I mean, I’m fine with it,” Marcie says. “Sorry, I never got your name—”
“Oh, lordy, I seem to have left my manners at home. Beth. So, it’s a date, then?”
A date!? No, no, not a date! We’re just hanging out!
Marcie laughs. “Sounds good.” She looks at Cooper. “I guess I’ll pick you up with Bailey on Friday?”
Oh, wait, she meant—
“Yes, thank you.” Cooper steps toward the door, then looks back at the dog. “Well, see you at school tomorrow, Bailey!”
“Bye, Marcie! Bye, Bailey!” Beth says, and the two walk out of the house, the two boys maintaining eye contact until the door closes.
“See ya!” Bailey says just before the latch clicks. He watches the rabbits through the window as they get into Beth’s car.
“That woman sure is a lot all at once,” Marcie says. She suddenly jolts toward the kitchen. “Oh, shit, the shirt…”
Holy crap. Is this happening? Is this really happening? It’s been two days and this is happening? We’re going to be together all weekend? Like, ‘hanging out’ together and not ‘together’ together, I mean. but like, this is happening?
And then it crashes into Bailey. With the adrenaline and excitement of the last half-hour wearing off, his body reminds him that he barely got any sleep. He groans as he plods back toward his room, his legs suddenly feeling like they weigh twice as much. When he walks inside, he falls backward on his bed.
Wow… he really does want to be my friend. No one ever wants to be my friend.
But that’s not what you really want, is it? Being just friends?
…It is. It is! I don’t want anything more than that. Definitely not anything more with a boy! I just want a friend. That’s all. Just a friend…
Yeah, keep telling yourself that.