It was nearly noon by the time Gail left the counselor’s office. She pulled out her phone to check for messages and found a couple texts from Haley. One said she was going to pick up lunch for the two of them so they wouldn’t have to bother with the cafeteria while the other sounded a bit more ominous.
“Someone else might be joining us for lunch. Sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything but there’s not much we can do about it now.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Gail muttered under her breath as she sent a reply, telling Haley she was free for lunch now. Almost immediately she got a text back saying to go meet Haley in the gazebo.
Gail made her way across the campus and found both Haley and Ivan sitting in the gazebo with bags of takeout food. Haley smiled when Gail approached and waved her over, holding up a bag.
“Hey, I got your favorite. It’s still warm, don’t worry.”
Gail grabbed the bag and sat down beside Haley with a grateful smile. “Thanks, I really wasn’t in the mood for whatever they might be serving at the cafeteria today anyway. This is so much better.”
Ivan stared at Gail while she pulled the food out of her bag, as if he wanted to say something to her but was holding it back. Finally he was no longer able to keep his mouth shut and took a deep breath. “Gail, Haley told me that something happened. I was really worried about you when I didn’t see you around this morning.”
Gail peered over at him, glancing once at Haley who gave her an apologetic look. Gail shrugged her shoulders and turned her attention back to her food. “Yeah, but it’s fine now. I went to the counselor and we talked things out. I’m gonna keep going to him. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Ivan said as Gail took a bite. “You’ve been acting really… different lately, and I just-”
“Wow, she’s been acting different lately?” Haley cut in. “I wonder why that could be?” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm and Gail couldn’t help but crack a small smile. Haley really was the best friend she could ever ask for.
Ivan huffed and turned his face away, muttering, “Alright, yeah, I see your point. Sorry. I really have been worried about you, though. I mean, Gail, if you really do need someone to talk to, I’m always here for you.”
Gail nearly choked when she swallowed her food, then she glanced at Haley again. Haley sighed and nodded her head. Gail rubbed a hand across her face and took a deep breath. “Ivan, there’s something we need to talk about.”
Ivan gazed at her a bit more attentively, setting his own food aside. “Yes? What is it?”
Gail sighed and fidgeted and slowly shook her head. “Look, uh… do you like me? That seems to be the general impression I’ve been getting recently.”
Ivan’s cheeks turned a bit red and he cast his gaze down. “I… yes, I do. I’ve been trying to find the words to ask you out for awhile now, but I keep getting nervous. Uh!” He looked up at her suddenly and puffed out his chest. “So do you… want to?”
Gail inhaled deeply and kept her gaze on him level. “No, I don’t. Nothing against you, I’m just not interested in dating anyone. At all. Alright?”
“Oh…” Ivan turned his face away and sighed heavily. “I just thought-”
“I told you she wasn’t interested, dude,” Haley said with an almost exasperated sigh. “Gail’s just not interested in romance.”
“Are you sure?” Ivan asked, looking directly at Gail. “I mean, couldn’t you just try it and see if it works out? Maybe you’re just not interested because you’ve never given it a chance before.”
Gail’s gaze grew a bit harder. “I’m positive. Look, I’m happy staying friends with you, Ivan, but I don’t want to ruin that with you trying to ask me out all the time. I’m not interested. That’s that. If you’re my friend, and if you care about me, you’ll respect that and move on.”
Ivan opened his mouth as if to say something else but then he sighed and looked away. “Okay… yes. I get it. I’ll respect that.”
“Good. Thank you.” Gail leaned back and took a deep breath, shaking her head a little. For a time there was an awkward silence but Haley cleared her throat to break the tension.
“So, hey. Halloween’s in a couple weeks. Janae said there was gonna be a big party in her dorm lounge and apparently they’re gonna watch horror movies or something. She invited me and said I could bring anyone else I wanted, too. Are either of you interested?”
“You know, we still haven’t met Janae,” Gail said. “How do we know she’s even real?”
Haley snorted. “She’s real. Hey! Why don’t I see if she’d like to get together and meet you? We’d been planning on that anyway before… well, before your dad came.”
“I’m certainly not opposed,” Gail said. Haley glanced at Ivan with a slight smirk.
“What about you? Do you wanna meet her too?”
“Uh…” Ivan’s face went red. “I dunno. Maybe? I guess it depends.”
Haley rolled her eyes. “Right, whatever. I’ll let you know regardless. Anyway, are you interested in going to her party or not?”
“Sure, I’ll go,” Gail said. “I like scary movies.”
“Um, sure! Count me in too!” Ivan looked a bit more nervous at the idea, like he was only going because they were, but neither of the girls made mention of that fact.
When they had finished their lunch and the three of them were about to part ways, Ivan cleared his throat and Gail glanced back at him. “Need something?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I, uh… I mean, even if you don’t want to…” Ivan gestured vaguely with his hands before shoving them in his pockets. “If you ever need someone to talk to, I’ll still listen, okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Gail said a little shortly. “Listen, I have to get to my next class. I’ll see you later, Ivan.”
“Right, okay. See you, Gail!”
The horrible swell that had grown in her chest the past weeks whenever she thought about confronting Ivan finally started going away now that she had done it. There was still a lingering anxiety, however, and she felt that this was not going to be the end of it. She tried to put that thought out of her mind to focus on her work, though every once in awhile it nagged at the back of her mind.
Once her classes were finished for the day, Gail considered going out and taking some pictures. She decided against it when she remembered what happened yesterday when she was taking pictures. She had to take a moment to breathe when she remembered what she saw and felt that taking a short break from her photography walks might be the best thing for her right now. She had some assignments to get finished up anyway.
While Gail was finishing her work for the evening, Cecil stepped into view and cleared his throat a little. “Hey. Are you doing better, Gail?”
Gail glanced up from her computer and sighed, nodding her head. “Yeah, a bit. Better than last night, or this morning. Talking to the counselor did help a lot, actually.”
Cecil smiled and sat on the chair at her desk. “Good, I’m glad to hear that. I guess things are looking up for you somewhat?”
“I wouldn’t quite go that far,” she mumbled, closing her laptop and setting it aside to stare at him. “I’m getting some help, yeah, but things are still…. complicated.”
“Are you referring to your friend Ivan?” Cecil asked a little tentatively.
“I’m going to assume you were present to see what happened.”
He nodded his head and sighed, resting his arms on the back of the chair and setting his chin on them. “He’s… he seems awfully desperate. It’s probably for the best that you turned him down.”
“I turned him down because I’m not interested in being with anyone,” Gail reiterated. “But yes, even if that weren’t the case…” She made a face that said everything she was wanting to without words.
“You know, I’ve been watching humanity for a long time and I know for a fact that people like that are usually not going to end up in a healthy situation with anyone. It’s a sad fact, but.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s nice that you still want to be friends with him, though.”
“Yeah, well…” Gail turned her face away from him and slowly slid off her bed. “I’m giving him a chance for now, but I have a bad feeling that he might…”
“Attempt to convince you again?” Cecil offered. Gail groaned in response and left the room, but it was a clear yes.
As she wandered out to find something to eat, Gail found Haley on the couch staring at her phone screen. Haley glanced up as Gail moved to the kitchen and smiled. “Hey, so I asked Janae about having you meet her, and she’d love to. She didn’t really want to go out to eat though and offered to cook something herself. She’s apparently a really good cook. I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting her cooking yet.”
“So, what? Are we gonna go over to her dorm or something?”
Haley snorted. “You’ve obviously forgotten what it’s like to live in a dorm. You can’t exactly cook anything quality there. No, actually she said how much she missed cooking real food and I suggested she come over here and cook, since we actually have a kitchen. I hope that’s okay with you?”
“Hey, if she’s the one making the food, I don’t have a problem with it,” Gail said with a smirk as she pulled out some old leftovers from the fridge. “Not exactly like we make home cooked meals all that often.”
“Great! Is tomorrow okay with you, then?”
“As far as I know.” Gail sat down on the couch next to Haley and ate the cold leftovers, shuddering mildly at the taste but not wanting to bother with heating it up. “I think it’ll be a great way to meet her.”
“Awesome.” Haley grinned and typed away on her phone as Gail continued to eat cold leftovers. Cecil, the kitten, popped out from under the couch and mewed at her. With a slight sigh, Gail reached down and scooped him up, setting him down next to her, and he started to purr.
At some point one of them turned on the TV and they found some mindless program to watch. Gail was just starting to close her eyes and when she opened them again she realized it was late and she needed to go to bed. She glanced over at Haley on the other side of the couch and found she had also dozed off, though Gail didn’t feel like waking her.
Gail carefully stood up and set the kitten next to Haley. He curled up with her and immediately fell right back to asleep. Gail went to her room and, just before opening the door, she heard a strange sound. She went still for a moment and then stepped inside, peering around the room rather cautiously.
“Cecil?” she whispered. “You there?”
There was another sound, almost like a muffled whimper, then Cecil appeared in the corner, mostly hidden in shadows. “I’m here.”
“Is something going on?” Gail asked. “I thought I heard something.”
“Maybe it was just the television,” he said with a shrug.
Gail blinked at him then sighed and moved toward her bed. “Maybe, I dunno. Maybe I’m just tired.” She crawled into her bed and pulled the covers around herself, letting her eyes drift shut. “It’s been a long day. I need to sleep.”
“I agree. You should.”
Gail shifted under the covers and mumbled, “Goodnight, Cecil. Thanks for watching over me.”
There was a slight pause before Cecil responded, “Goodnight, Abbey.”
Gail drifted off to sleep in short order. The figure in the corner of the room slowly stepped toward her bed and reached his hand out to brush over her head, claws lightly gliding through her hair. A smirk tugged at the corner of his lips before his tongue slipped out to lick them.
“Little Abbey’s all grown up, I see. You really should have known better than to get close to her again, Cecil, especially after what happened before.”