The Visit - Part 2

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As I got closer to the counter where Alex should have been working, I glanced around the area. Behind the counter, there was a guy sitting at a desk and a girl helping someone else, but no Alex in sight. But he'd told me he had a shift. I pulled out my phone. 2:45 pm. He should still be working.

"How can I help you?" the girl asked when I reached the counter.

"Is Alex here?"

"Yeah." Before I could say anything else, she turned around then walked to the door behind a second desk and peeked in. "Alex, someone's asking for you."

I felt a growing smile as the excitement of surprising my best friend returned. He'd be shocked yet happy to see me. Carrying a small stack of books, he came out of the office. But he was looking down at them and so didn't notice me until he looked up, already halfway to the counter.

Alex's eyes went huge and then narrowed. As I realized he wasn't smiling, my own smile started to fade. "Liam?" he asked, looking very confused and frowning. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to surprise you?"

He eyed the full backpack on my back then walked to the counter and leaned over, speaking lowly with narrowed eyes, "Liam, are you serious?"

"Well, I'm here?"

Alex sighed then gave one of his forced smiles. "I'm still working. I don't get off until four."

I had really expected him to be happy, so all these signs of him being bothered by my arrival were confusing and disappointing. "Four? I thought it was three."

"It was, but my plans changed. I can do that when I'm not expecting guests." He looked at me pointedly.

"Oh, okay. Well, I'll just hang out at the computers until you're done." I shrugged.

"Cynthia, he needs a guest login," Alex said, turning around and sitting down at the second desk.

I took a seat at a computer where I could make out the top of his head. Alex ran his light brown fingers through it then turned his head towards the computer area. He lifted himself from his chair a bit and when our eyes met, I smiled and waved.

Alex did his best to look annoyed, but I caught the corner of his mouth twitch and he glanced away―the same glance he makes when he tells me my dorkiness is "so cringe." He pretends he's bothered, but I know he likes it. I could tell what the truth was: he was happy to see me. It made me even happier to see him.  

***

"I made plans―before you showed up―to eat dinner with my friends," Alex told me as we walked out of the library.

"Oh, sorry," I muttered. While I wouldn't make or ask Alex to change his plans, I hoped that he would. I would only be here until Monday.

Alex looked at me sideways. "Oh, please, Liam. You want me to eat dinner with you."

"I do!" I admitted. "But I am sorry. I didn't really think about your plans changing."

We passed by some other students and they waved to Alex.

"Did you book a hotel?"

"No?"

"And where were you―"

I shifted my eyes.

"Liam, I have a roommate! Jesus." Alex took out his phone and began texting. "If Tim says no, I'm not pressing it. You're on your own. Did you even think this through?"

"I did. I just wanted to surprise you."

"You succeeded." Alex scoffed.

I twisted my lip, disappointed. "I wanted a happy surprise. Like, 'Oh my god, Liam, I'm so touched and glad you're here!'"

"I don't sound like that," Alex remarked, fighting a smile. He waved back for the third time to people passing by.

"You're well-known on campus," I remarked, remembering Tobiath's comment from earlier.

"Tim says it's fine if you stay. Be sure to thank him tonight."

"Thank you. Oh, I met your old roommate."

"Tobiath?" Alex looked up from his phone at me wide-eyed. "How was he? How'd you know―"

"He led me to the library and I mentioned your name. And he seems to have allergies, but he seemed okay? I don't have any baseline to judge off, though."

Alex nodded. "Tobiath is precious. He's a nervous, but sweet boy."

"You sound just like your mom."

Alex nudged my arm and smiled. "Shut up. Uh, so, my friends want to meet you." He grimaced slightly.

"Oh, cool! Yeah, we should meet."

Alex shifted uncomfortably.

"You don't want me to meet your friends."

"No," Alex lied. "It's fine. Um, so Rashaad is non-binary and goes by 'they/them' pronouns. Can you please make sure you use the right pronouns? An easy way to avoid slipping up is to just use their name."

"Got it."

He looked back down at his phone. "Also, I'm warning Lexi not to ask you too many questions, but she's like your mom and does what she wants, so, sorry in advance."

"Well, I've dealt with my mom for 22 years. So I think I can handle Lexi for a few hours."

"Thank you, Liam." Alex smiled softly and linked his arm around mine and hugged it. It made me happy that he treated me like his other friends. I could see from his social media photos that he was affectionate with them and I didn't want to be an exception just because of our past or my straightness.

But it was a fluke. Alex pulled away quickly and added half a foot of distance between us. Maybe he didn't want me to get the wrong idea. But, hell, I'd hold his hand if he wanted. Guys did it in other countries, nothing really gay about it. But because there was a chance he was being careful for his own sake, I let it happen. The last thing I ever wanted to do was cause him problems. As long as he allowed me to be by his side, that was enough.

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