6 years earlier
Heart racing, Elsie scanned the quad. She was attempting to escape before any of her friends spotted her. Elsie had rushed out of class after her African History lecture, hoping to hide out at the quad over lunch. She couldn’t afford to eat at the university cafeteria a second time this week. There was no universe in which her allowance could stretch that far. Plus, she was sick of having to come up with some excuse about why she wasn’t eating.
She knew everyone assumed it must have something to do with her weight, but she couldn’t decide if disabusing them of that notion was worth it. She also didn’t relish proclaiming to all and sundry that her allowance could allow only a single meal at the cafeteria per month. So, like the conflict-avoidant person she was, she was hiding.
She spotted Tommy alone at one of the canopied tables. After a brief hesitation, she started walking toward him. It was the only available canopied table, and it was too hot for her to sit out in the punishing sun. She and Tommy never hang out alone, but they had enough mutual friends between them to place them in each other’s orbit at least once a week. If it came down to him or a total stranger or some open table, she’d pick him. Awkwardness be damned.
He was seated on the bench seat, his eyes trained on his laptop in intense concentration. He’d likely not mind if she was quiet and didn’t try to engage him.
She got to the table and cleared her throat. “Hey, Tommy.”
He looked up, eyes widening in surprise. Before he could reply, his phone started vibrating. “Hey Elsie,” he replied, before turning away to answer his phone. Then he walked away after taking one last look at her and his laptop as if to assure himself his stuff would be safe with her.
She covertly admired his lean form before turning away, embarrassed. That’s not how we look at our friends, Elsie, is it? She mentally chastised herself, a small smile belying her internal monologue. “Only when they’re hot.”
Elsie sat opposite him and sprung up from the bench so fast, she almost face-planted. The seat was hot enough to burn. She moved to the other side, next to his makeshift workstation. She was mindful about leaving enough room so that neither of them felt crowded. The last thing she needed was that look people gave her whenever she sat next to them on public transportation. That look that judged her undesirable based on her size.
She wasn’t sure what drew her attention to the screen, but she looked up to find a video playing. It was playing on a video editor she sometimes used herself. The video was a compilation of clips of couples from different TV shows. It looked so sweet she couldn’t stop herself from picking up the connected headphones.
The background music was a love song she’d never heard before but knew would look up as soon as she was done losing herself in the adorable couples on screen. She was so engrossed in the video that she didn’t hear Tommy’s return. He tapped her shoulder, startling her. His face creased in anger.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, voice low and tight.
She took off the headphones. “Oh, sorry…”
“Why are you snooping through my stuff?”
His jaw was clenched tight, eyes narrowed and fixed on her. She’d never seen him upset, and it took her a moment to compose herself. He immediately started shutting down the laptop and packing up his stuff in his backpack. First his blue water bottle and two A4 exercise books.
“I wasn’t snooping. I just looked up, and it was playing, so I… I… I looked. Sorry.”
He said nothing and kept packing. A bunch of freshly printed handouts and pens went in. His mouse and external hard disk followed. Each clearly had its own compartment, and he was slipping them in with a level of care that spoke of controlled anger.
“I truly am sorry. I didn’t mean to…. But it was really good, and I couldn’t stop myself.”
He stilled himself from getting swept away by her earnestness. He paused his borderline frantic yet careful packing, and rubbed his clean-shaven chin. “Just don’t tell anyone, please.”
“Okay. But it’s really good. So fucking beautiful and moving, and that song plus the transitions. Damn. I cannot believe you made that. I live for those fanvids and edits.”
He was silent. She couldn’t abide tense silence. “You’re not embarrassed, are you?”
He said nothing, waiting for the laptop to power down, his eyes never meeting hers.
“If you are, I could tell you something embarrassing about myself so we can be equal, you know, mutually assured destruction.”
Finally, he turned to her with a small, amused smile. “Okay.” He remained standing, leaning on the table so he was facing her.
“I write fanfic,” she said, hiding her suddenly trembling fingers under the table.
“More.” He said, his eyes fixed on hers.
She turned away from his piercing gaze, trying to keep her voice light. “All kinds of fanfic.”
“Yeah, that’s not embarrassing enough. Mutually assured destruction, remember? Tell me what you’re currently working on.” He said, voice light and playful.
With her face hidden behind her long braids and eyes closed, she whispered, “Hawaii Five-0 fanfic.”
“McDanno fangirl? No,” he said in mock horror. McDanno was the name of the fictional McGarrett/Danno pairing created by the fandom of the TV show Hawaii Five-0.
She turned to him, voice firm to counter his obvious scepticism. “Yes.”
“Do you let anyone read it?”
“Are you kidding me? No.”
He laughed, shaking his head like he’d been expecting that exact response.
“Though you should definitely let people see your stuff. Are you on YouTube or something? Why are you even doing economics?”
“Nope, not on YouTube,” he said, turning to pack the laptop. “I’m just doing it to teach myself editing.”
“You should share your stuff.”
“Yeah, the same way you should let people read your gay fanfic.”
“My thing is I don’t know if I’m any good, but you are good so…”
“You saw mine, so you have to show me yours. That’s the only way we’ll be equal.” He said as though it was crucial, critical, existential even.
“Are you flirting with me?” she replied, narrowing her eyes.
“Are you deflecting?” he asked, head cocked to the side, a smile playing on his lips.
She looked away, smiling like she was holding back a laugh, her shyness completely out of character. He took the opportunity to look at her, and it felt like he was seeing her anew. She had generous curves, with a wide shapely ass that he forced himself to look away from. His eyes moved to her full breasts, then her round face. Her eyes were on him. His breath caught as he realised he’d been discovered. His mind raced to come up with a sufficient apology.
“Fine, I’ll show you mine.”
That was a pleasant surprise. He plopped onto the bench, straddling it, watching her with an indulging smile on his face. That was how they spent many, many lunch breaks for the rest of their time at the university.
They talked about everything. How he’d gone to medical school and quit after his first year because he just didn’t have the stomach for it, how disappointed his parents had been, how he’d picked economics even though he hated it, attempting to appease them. How he wished he could figure out how to make a living through the editing skills he was cultivating.
How she wore baggy clothes in part because when she wore fitting clothes, she felt exposed, with people’s judgmental eyes on her curvy body. How sometimes a tiny part of her believed the negative things people believed about her body. The resultant shame.
How much fun he had making the fanvids, how afraid he was of people finding out, especially his friends and parents. How much fun she had writing fanfic because it allowed her to feel her feelings deeply without being subjected to people’s censure. With each revelation, they fell in love with an unprecedented intensity for both of them.
Elsie lay half sprawled out on Tommy’s hairy chest; eyes closed in post-coital bliss. Tommy’s hand was gently sliding over her bare back. It was so sweet she felt tears pool in her eyes. His gruff voice whispered, “Imagine how much you’d like that in Cabo.”
Elsie stiffened and knew he knew by the way his touch turned comforting, rubbing circles on her back. “Why would you bring that up now?” She sat up and pulled her sleeping shirt over her ample curves before walking out of what passed for her bedroom.
She lived in a tiny studio apartment also known as a bedsitter, which she’d sectioned off into different rooms. Her bedroom was behind a thick multi-coloured curtain and the kitchen was the area behind the bamboo divider that was about half the height of the room. The bathroom was hidden behind the bedroom. Everywhere else was for all intents and purposes her living room.
Tommy followed her, tugging his boxers on. “Come on, Elsie.”
Elsie dropped onto the only couch in the room, one leg folded under her ass. She’d gotten it when her parents had upgraded their furniture. She’d reupholstered it and it was the cosiest piece of furniture she owned, the most colourful too, with bright yellow fabric. “Call me crazy, but I don’t want to talk about your mother in my bed while riding my orgasmic high.”
“Noted. Then let’s just talk about the vacation in Cabo. Cabo, Elsie.”
She pinched her eyes closed with her fingers, a sure sign that she was getting upset. “There’s no talking about the vacation without talking about your mother. Why do you even want me to go?”
He sat on the coffee table right in front of her and for a second was distracted by her exposed thighs, the pleasant result of her sleeping shirt riding up. Focus. Focus. You’ll circle back to her dark chocolate thighs after. He forced himself to turn away and look into her eyes. This wasn’t going well. He took her free hand in his, stroking. His voice soft, he said, “Because I want to do that. In Cabo. With you.”
“Do you imagine that if you keep saying Cabo, I’ll say yes? Cause that’s hella misguided.”
“I love you and I want you to get along with my family.”
She still wasn’t looking at him, alternating between looking at their hands and staring at some unknown thing over his shoulder. “What happens if we can’t get along?”
“You will. I know you will. Just please say yes. Please.”
She shook her head, her eyes briefly on him before she turned away. “I have a bad feeling about it. Your mother hates my guts. There’s no way this goes well.”
“She knows we’re still together, and she is the one who asked about you coming along. That has to mean something. Can you just try for me?”
Elsie took a deep breath and finally met his eyes. “Fine. I’ll go-”
He grabbed her in a hug and started peppering her face with kisses.
“On one condition.” She continued, pulling away from his embrace.
Her voice softer, she went on. “I know it’s hard for you, but I need you to promise to stand up for me… if you know… things happen…”
“You won’t regret it. I promise. Helloooo Caboooo!!”
He kissed her again, and she smiled his infectious energy overriding her worry.
Elsie is not excited about Tommy’s suggestion that they go on vacation with his parents. But because she loves him and wants to get along with his family she agrees to go on vacation with him. Hopefully, nothing will go wrong but knowing how his mother is, Elsie knows this trip will not be easy. Read part two here. Not Even Cabo: She Meets His Parents At The Airport And It Is A Disaster – Part 2
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