"...and I just wanted to introduce the TAs for this course. I know some of you have met them already, but as we start getting into more complex scenarios, many more of you may start to utilize their office hours."
The professor waves over some people standing in the back of the room. Nikhil pokes Jake in the arm and shakes his head. "Man, really? Office hours for this stuff? It's just algebra."
Jake laughs in response, trying not to think about how much he likes it when Nik pokes him. He can't understand it either. Then again, he supposes a lot of students in the room may not be in technical fields or be as comfortable with math, so it's nice that there's a lot of help there for them.
"...and this is Nathan. He will be holding office hours Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings."
Nathan waves, and Jake can't stop staring at him. Nik poking his arm again snaps him back to reality, and he blushes furiously, staring at his notebook and hoping Nik hadn't noticed.
"Man, I should be a TA for this course. Or maybe for programming or something. It'd be good to make some money or something, right? And it seems like it’d be really easy."
Jake nods, mutely, watching as Nathan files off with the rest of the course staff and feeling like his ears are burning.
He finds himself walking, almost automatically, that evening, notebook in hand and only a vague idea of where the room was.
What on earth am I doing? He's not even... like that. Right? And even if he was. What on earth am I doing?
He rounds a corner and looks at a sign, then at his notebook with a hastily scribbled room number. At least it's the right floor, although the numbering scheme doesn't seem to make much sense.
He turns back around and almost runs straight into Nathan, carrying a bag and staring as his watch.
"Whoa!" He stumbles backward, regaining his balance, before looking Jake over with a grin. "Hey. Sorry. Didn't mean to almost run you over... just running a little late."
Jake stammers, trying to find any words at all, but instead turning red and staring at the floor. He wishes he'd dragged Nik along. Then again, he can't imagine coming up with a good enough excuse as to why he needed help with the homework.
He holds his hand out and Jake takes it, reluctantly, still unwilling to meet his gaze. "...Jake."
"Well, it's great to meet you Jake, but I should get going."
"I, uh... office... hours?"
Nate laughs, and somehow it feels right on him, the rumbling in his chest and that grin on his face.
"Ah. Yeah. You must be in intro econ? The room's right around here... not that the signs are much help. Clearly the 1400 block of rooms are after the 1800 block." He puts a hand on his shoulder, and it's friendly, but somehow Jake tenses anyway and feels like he wants to die. "Come on."
The hand gone, but the feeling still somehow lingering, Jake follows him to a surprisingly full room and sets up in the back, trying his hardest not to stare at Nate as he pulls out his textbook and prepares to take questions.
...this was a mistake.
Jake vows to himself that he won’t do that again... won’t go chasing after this guy that he has no business being interested in, and knows nothing about, and who doesn’t even like guys like that. It’s bad enough that he’s hopelessly crushing on Nik.
So it’s a huge relief when Chris messages him Saturday morning asking about plans, and he commits himself to board games instead.
Nikhil excuses himself afterward -- something about seeing a show with Chris -- and Jake and Hannah wander off to find food.
“Okay, so seriously. I think you should do it.”
“Huh?” Jake looks up from his sandwich to see Hannah staring at him, smiling.
“They’re not going to care. Tell them already! Either he is or he isn’t, and then you’ll know, and then you can stop pining over him.”
It takes a second for him to realize she’s talking about Nik. She puts her hand on his arm, in some gesture of comfort.
“Seriously. I know I felt a lot better after we’d... talked. Even just knowing is nice. And then you can move on.” She laughs. “Or, who knows? Maybe you two can get it on in your room.”
Jake shrugs off her hand and shakes his head, turning red. He really does appreciate Hannah, and enjoy having her as a confidant, but sometimes he wishes she wouldn’t tease him so much about it.
“Well, let me know either way. I’m happy to get everyone together for you.”
She stares at him, clearly not having expected that response.
“...okay. Monday after classes?” She looks at him sternly. “You’re not allowed to chicken out now, Jake. I’m going to hold you to this.”
The growing sense of dread in his stomach must be showing, because she smiles again and puts an arm around him.
“Seriously. It’s going to be fine. I’ll be there with you. We all support you, I promise.”
Jake nods, somehow not feeling any better at all.
In the end, she’s right, and Nik is straight, and Chris isn’t (who would have guessed?), and it really does feel a lot better now that they know, and he knows. And there’s no chance of anything there.
“So now you can start moving on, right?”
Jake missteps and almost fails the song before catching himself. Hannah looks apologetic, waiting for him to finish before stepping on the DDR pad next to him.
“Sorry. Figured I’d find you here... Nik said you weren’t feeling like homework tonight.” She smiles at him, sympathetically. “Want to talk?”
“Okay. Another round, then?”
He nods, and lets himself get caught up in the music again, and for a while, at least, he can forget about everything else.
He really didn’t mean to do this again, especially after having ditched Hannah, Nik, and Chris during exam studying the previous week to sit in this stuffy room with too many people staring blankly at Nate as he smiled, and laughed, and answered stupid questions about supply curves.
But somehow he finds himself walking the same hallway, turning the same corner, and entering the same room. Early, this time, because he wants to get a spot near the front in some hopeless futile attempt that maybe, somehow, it’ll give him some sort of chance with this guy.
He walks into the room and freezes. It’s empty, except for Nate and a guy that Jake doesn’t recognize. And they’re clearly kissing.
Nate notices him and pushes the guy away, who laughs and shakes his head. “Fine, Nathan. I’ll just see you later tonight.”
Nate shakes his head, almost playfully, as the guy grabs his coat. “Whatever you say, Daniel. But seriously. You cannot have sex here, even if I do have this room booked for a few hours.”
“Spoilsport.” Daniel shakes his head and grins at Jake. “I bet you just want this one for yourself.”
Jake turns red and quickly sits in the nearest chair, staring at his hands. Nate shakes his head. “You’re an ass, Dan.”
Dan winks at Jake and then is gone, and Nate sits in a chair next to him and smiles at him. “Sorry about that. He’s not exactly...”
“Boyfriend?” The question is out before he knows what he’s doing, and he supposes that’s for the better, because he wouldn’t have had the courage to ask it otherwise.
Nate laughs then, the sound unexpected, but somehow comforting. “God no. That would, uh... That would not work at all. I’m not actually seeing anyone at the moment. Dan just...” He shrugs and puts his hand on Jake’s arm, looking at him strangely. “Seriously, though. Are...”
They’re interrupted by another student walking through the door, and the moment is lost. Jake shifts uncomfortably in his seat, now wishing he wasn’t sitting right in the front, and Nate returns to the front of the room, clearing the chalkboard almost mechanically.
Jake thinks it’s a good thing that his laptop is broken. Thought it was, anyway. Because it’d keep him from doing something stupid, like asking out this guy who clearly has no interest in him and he knows nothing about, just because he can’t stop thinking about him and the memory of watching him kiss Dan or whatever and feeling this strange sense of jealousy.
He told Hannah, or tried to, and somehow Nik found out because of course he did because they’re dating, and Jake felt like he wanted the earth to open up and swallow him whole. He’d left out parts about going to office hours to see him, feeling like that made him sound like somewhat of a stalker, instead saying that he’d only become interested in dating this guy a few days ago.
In some ways, that wasn’t too far from the fruth.
“Ask him out. What’s the harm?” Chris stares at him, a fork of pasta hovering in the air next to his mouth. Nik laughs and voices his agreement, while Hannah shakes her head.
“Jake, you’re really... sensitive. And that’s a good thing. But I’m not sure you should date a guy just because.”
“But you never know if you don’t try.” Nik smiles at him and steals a fry from his plate.
Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
They head to the computer lab afterward to do homework. Jake quickly fires off an email to Nate, before he has a chance to change his mind or ask himself what he’s actually doing, before closing the window and staring at a code window for the next hour, feeling the knot in his stomach growing bigger and the sense of dread threatening to overtake him.
He doesn’t sleep well that night.
He sneaks out of his room early the next morning, somehow dragging himself to a computer lab, feeling his heart threatening to explode out of his chest as he logs in to a machine and his email account.
Seeing the bold “Re: Hi” in his inbox somehow makes things so much worse.
He forces himself to click that message, forces his eyes to focus on the lines of text even as he feels like he wants to pass out or somehow be anywhere but here, at this moment, reading the words in front of him.
Do you want to talk over breakfast tomorrow morning before office hours?
> Will you go out with me?
He isn’t sure if he should be relieved, or utterly terrified. An IM window pops up, providing a welcome distraction.
Nikerva: hai jake u ok?
Nikerva: in copmutr lab?
Nikerva: brkefst? gmes?
NuttyJake2008: um maybe?
NuttyJake2008: let me see
Nikerva: srlsy u ok?
He somehow manages to send a response to Nate, apologizing for the late response, and seeing if he’d want to meet up quickly before he meets up with Hannah, Nik, and Chris. The response, surprisingly, is almost immediate.
Sure. I can meet you in front of the Adamson building in a few minutes, if that works for you. We can talk then.
It’d be nice to meet your friends, too. But I understand if you don’t want that yet.
Jake hastily writes a response before he gets a chance to second-guess himself, and arranges to meet up with Nik and Hannah afterward.
He logs out of the computer and stares at the blank screen for a bit, heart pounding in his chest, still not quite willing to believe what just happened.
I hope I haven’t just made the biggest mistake ever.