Mutual Benefits Ch. 09

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Ass

It took me a few minutes after Morgan rushed out to even think of doing something other than sitting there. Eventually, I had stood up, wondering if I should search for them like Morgan was doing for Taylor. And yet, another part of me realized — or at least thought — that that could have been a very dangerous idea. Eventually, I uneasily walked out of the hallway and decided to go to my next class early.

I didn’t see either of them for the rest of the day. That was normal for Morgan, but for Taylor, it was like some kind of calm before the storm. An ominous warning. To add insult to injury, when Mrs. Li was taking attendance and noted Taylor was missing (and she took attendance well into the class, so even Taylor’s usual lateness couldn’t have been a factor) she turned to me and asked if I knew where she was. I could only meekly shrug in response.

It’s not like I was completely powerless. I had both of their numbers, and a working cell phone. Even if I didn’t receive an answer, I could have easily texted either one of them, shrugged, and told myself, “I did what I could; the rest is up to them.”

Instead of that, because I’m me, I ended up staring at Morgan’s contact info on my phone screen as Kevin and I walked home. Kevin, being Kevin, leaned over to look at my screen and quipped, “Most guys stare at pictures of their girlfriends, but Quinn Shen, nah, he can’t get over how beautiful her phone number looks.”

I looked at him with lowered eyelids and put my phone away, saying nothing to him.

Which, of course, was permission to continue as far as he was concerned. “Are you trying to memorize it?”

“No,” I replied. “I want to text her, but…” I trailed off.

“But…?” he goaded me on. When I didn’t continue, a smile grew on his face. “Ah, your face says it all. Morgan’s upset, but she says, ‘no, I’m fine, why do you ask? Should I be upset?’ Girl trouble, dude. Happens to the best of us.”

I said nothing, preferring to walk in silence. Kevin was having none of it.

“Do you want my advice?”

I sighed. “Do I even get to cho-“

“I say, text her anyways. Let her know she’s here for you. As long as you don’t double-text, ‘clingy guys’ don’t even exist to girls. They love that shit. They want you knowing you’re thinking about them twenty-four-seven. That way they’re less likely to suspect you’re cheating on them.”

I felt a burning in my cheeks. I really hoped Kevin didn’t notice.

Luckily, he was too busy talking to remember I even existed. “Of course, even the most paranoid girl wouldn’t be worried about you cheating on them. Your first date, like, ever? What’re the odds another girl is gonna come on to you? Nah, you ask me, you’re in a uniquely good position to be trusted, Quinn. You shouldn’t worry about that shit at all, dude.”

Please stop talking, Kevin.

“So she’s a little mad. Honestly? It’s probably projection. She had a bad day or something, and wants to see the bad in everyone she’s around. Everyone she can change. And who does she likely have wrapped around her finger? Spell it out. Q-U-I-N-N. You, man. Watch out, she’s gonna say, ‘I just find it funny how…’ Next thing you know, you’re not allowed to say ‘carrots’ or some word around her because her ex was super into carrots and made her feel weird or some shit. Manipulation. Every popular girl does it, and it works the best when it’s guys that feel they should just be grateful she’s into them in the first place. Trust me, don’t fall for it.”

I turned to him slowly. “I stared at a phone and you just wrote a bad Emmy-winning teen drama series based on it,” I told him. “She and I are fine. I’m just nervous about something. Something private. You don’t need to poke your nose into everything.”

“But Quinn…” His smile turned big again. “How else am I gonna win that Emmy?”

I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head at him. I wish I was as carefree as him. It must have been paradise inside that head of his, at least compared to mine.

***

The next day, I decided to have lunch with the Gifted Kids again, something I hadn’t done in frankly too long. It was nice sitting with them, talking about projects and memes and video games. No gossip, no “did you hear what Tiff did third period? Whore,” and no real pressure to be someone other than the loser I formerly was.

Unfortunately, good things don’t last forever. I must have only sat down for ten to twenty minutes before I felt a hand on my shoulder, a hand of someone dainty yet authoritative. I turned around to see Crystal with a veneer of a kind friend hiding the look of someone that just wanted me to fix something for them.

“Hey Quinn, could I talk to you about something real quick?”

I looked around the table to see the other kids had all looked up from their meals to look at her, then at me, then, almost in unison, go back to their food, too awkward to even bring up the weirdness of this encounter. I didn’t even say anything; I just grabbed my food, stood up, and accepted my fate.

I followed Crystal to the table where they all sat, noting bonus veren siteler that I was taking one of the two vacant seats — Morgan’s and Taylor’s. I could guess what this was about, but didn’t really need to.

“So, we need to talk about something,” Milo began. “This is the second lunch period in a row where we haven’t seen either Taylor or Morgan.”

“Okay…” I replied slowly, waiting for Milo to continue. When he didn’t, my expression turned to frustration. “I’m not their — I don’t know. Where they are.”

Lexi cut in. “I think you’re lying. You’re Taylor’s tutor, she’s basically only around you or Joel if she’s not around us, and Joel hasn’t seen her either.”

“But I’m here, and she’s not, so clearly she’s not with me,” I reasoned.

“That’s not the point,” Milo cut in. “It’s true, you’re connected with Taylor, and plus… well, I think it’s obvious Morgan’s got a thing for you.” He looked around and met the eyes of his fellow friends.

I held an expression of stone. “I don’t get it,” I flatly said.

Crystal rolled her eyes. “She’s drooling over you,” she replied.

“Milo told us,” Lexi cut in.

Milo blushed slightly and quickly added, “She said she had a date on the weekend and we’ve seen little signs before that. But now they’ve both been busy, at lunchtime, and neither of them told us where they were, even though we always tell each other when we’re missing lunch and why.”

“Okay okay okay!” I replied exasperatedly, caving. “Yes, the date with Morgan was with me.”

“How far’d you go? Second base? First?” I shot Lexi a look and she gasped. “Don’t tell me it was third.”

“Ignore her. The rest of us do,” Milo quipped. “Just tell us, do you know if something is going on between them? You seem to be a kid of… thread connecting the two.”

I sighed and hung my head. “Okay, I give,” I said to no one in particular. “I don’t even know who’s angry with whom.”

“But you do know something?” Milo asked. I gave no response, so he lifted my head up. “We’ve been here before. I’ve been here before. Be honest with us and we’ll help with this. Be a coward and we can’t do anything to help, either you or them, and we’re always going to remember that you had the chance to help us and didn’t.”

Jeez. Milo could be fierce when he wanted to be. I’m sure my face gave away just how thrilled I was with his little outburst, but I nodded. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll be honest.”

“Were you the one that went on a date with Morgan?” Crystal began.

I opened my mouth but Milo cut in. “Yes, he already admitted that,” he replied.

“Did. You. Fuck?” Lexi asked, standing up.

“We went on a walk,” I answered, hoping that would make her realize how dumb of a question that was.

It didn’t. She gestured around. “That doesn’t answer my question at all!”

“They didn’t,” Milo replied to her.

“How do you know?” Lexi asked.

“We didn’t,” I reaffirmed.

“Finally, thank you! As I suspected.” Lexi sat back down.

“What do you know about Morgan and Taylor? Did you see them yesterday?” Milo asked.

I bit my top lip in thought, unsure to what extent I should answer them. “Yesterday, I was talking to Morgan in the hallway when we ran into Taylor, or rather, she ran into us. She seemed really angry at Morgan for something. My guess is they had a fight or something, or Morgan was supposed to do something for her.”

“And this had nothing to do with you?” Milo asked.

I shrugged. “If it does have something to do with me, I don’t know what it is.”

Crystal had the next question. “Has your relationship with Taylor been completely… professional?” she asked. “Like, has it just been tutoring, or did something happen between you two too?”

Milo craned his neck to answer Crystal, but something held him back. He paused, and eventually turned to face me, waiting to see what I would say.

Milo knew that the answer was “no, we hadn’t been completely professional.” He knew that something happened between us. But I thought, or at least hoped, he understood what I understood about the group when I gave my answer.

“Jeez, Crystal,” I replied, realizing I was almost overacting it. “No. Taylor and I never did anything romantic or sexual. I’m just her tutor.”

Milo stared at me, his expression unchanging, saying nothing. Crystal seemed satisfied with my answer, but Lexi did not. “I think he’s lying,” she announced, to no one in particular. No one responded to her, so she continued. “He lied about not knowing what was going on with Morgan and Taylor, so-“

“But I wasn’t lying about that,” I cut in. “I don’t know what was going on. I just happened to witness Taylor getting mad at her.”

“I still think you’re lying, and that you’re hiding something with Taylor,” Lexi persisted.

I exhaled noisily. “Thank what you want, Lexi. Alright? Think what you want.”

“Do you know where they are now?” Milo asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t even know if they’re in the school. Yesterday Taylor didn’t show up to data management.”

“Morgan bedava bahis was in chem, so, like, she’s in the school,” Crystal interjected.

Milo looked at her, then at me. “I guess I should go find them,” he announced.

Something in the pit of my stomach churned at that. I didn’t know for sure if the Morgan-Taylor thing was my fault, or if it had to do with me, but I was pretty sure it did, somehow. The idea of Milo looking for them, finding them, and finding out more about me was a thought I wasn’t really comfortable with.

“Shouldn’t I go instead?” I asked. “You said yourself that I’m the connection between the two. I have some good ideas where they might go-“

Milo lowered his eyebrows. “We’ve known them for years, Quinn. Don’t act like you’re the only one that knows either of them.”

“…Okay, but, still, I might be able to find out more about what’s going on. Like, if I am the link here, they might be more willing to talk to me about it. If they were willing to talk to you about it, they would have sat down with you guys and hashed it out as a group, right?”

I wasn’t sure if I convinced them, but Milo sighed and looked at his posse. “Alright, whatever. If you wanna do this, go right ahead,” he conceded. “But I’m going too.”

“Just give me until the end of lunch, okay?” I asked. “Pretend this is a favor.”

“Why does this matter so much to you?” Milo asked me, looking me dead in the eye.

“Honestly? I’m just as worried this is about me. I don’t know if I’m being selfish, but I want to find out firsthand what’s going on. Even if we find them together, they might… withhold more details about it.”

Milo shrugged, moving his head. “Alright, that’s actually a fair point.” He held his phone up to me. “Here’s my number though. All I ask is you let me know if you see them.”

I copied down the number on his screen into my phone and promptly left, not saying much more to any of them, making a beeline for the elevator hallway.

I couldn’t stop myself from fiddling with my hands as I walked. I withheld the fact that I was pretty confident this was my fault — Taylor seemed more angry that we were together than anything — but that was a problem future me had to deal with. And only a problem created because Milo had to be nosy.

Well… caring. He cared about his friends. In a nosy way.

The elevator hallway had nobody in it, but I kind of expected that. The school was big, and if people wanted to have private conversations, there were a lot of hallways where you could meet. I checked my watch — I had time. Making a map in my head, I started wandering to different floors, trying to keep my eyes and ears open the whole time.

Searching for two students in a school the size of Hazelwood may have been a challenge, but knowing that at least one of them could be shouting makes the search a lot more easy. I wasn’t sure if I was glad or horrified when I heard raised voices coming from a particular hallway; Taylor’s voice, to be precise. Whatever was going on, it was clear Taylor was doing most of the talking.

As I got close enough to hear the words she was shouting, it suddenly dawned on me how much I missed being a nerdy nobody. I had to confront what was essentially my nightmare scenario — turn the corner and walk into a shouting match that I had no business walking into, all for the woman I was dating and the woman I had fooled around with. Nerdy nobodies don’t have to deal with that kind of bullshit. Our lives were less exciting, but on the bright side… our lives were less exciting.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself, turning the corner and walking into the pair of them.

I wasn’t sure how much I liked Morgan, but I was sure I had some kind of feelings for her at this point, and looking at someone you have a crush on with a hand over their mouth and teary eyes just sucks. It was like a sucker punch to the gut. I didn’t say anything, I just stood there awkwardly, no doubt with a face half-stricken with sadness, half nervousness.

Taylor yelled a few more words (“…stabbed me in the fucking back!” to be specific) before noticing me and hesitating, just for a second. A second of silence hung in the air, before she quietly, gravely, let one word escape from her mouth.

“You.”

It was probably reasonable to assume I was connected to this somehow. I stood there, standing my ground, as Morgan quickly became the second person to notice me. When her eyes met with mine, her face did this wincing thing and she bolted out of the hallway, her hands gripping her sides insecurely, her puffy red eyes closed in shame, the cheeks streaked with tears. I tried calling out for her, but in an instant, she was gone.

I watched her leave, then my eyes slowly trailed back to Taylor, who came marching up to me. I looked around nervously for anyone else in the hallway, but as far as we knew, we were alone.

She aimed her gaze squarely at me. “One. Simple. Request,” she barked. “Don’t talk to Morgan. Was that so fucking hard?! Jesus fucking Christ, you’re so exhausting,” deneme bonus she gushed angrily, practically every word accompanied by some sort of vague angry gesture.

“Wha- what’s…” I started.

“For fuck’s sake, you never even liked Morgan,” she continued, pacing up and down the hallway. “You don’t even like drama. So why, like, start up all this bullshit?!”

“I never said I don’t like Morgan!” I fired back, now getting invested.

“Yes you did!” she argued. “You said it plain as day. It’s why I asked you to not talk to her in the first place!”

“Taylor, you’re the one that insisted I don’t even like her. You asked me if I don’t, implying the answer was yes, and I never answered.”

“Implyi- wha? Quinn, speak fucking English. This isn’t debate club.”

“I never said I didn’t like Morgan. You made it up.”

Taylor mock-laughed. “So what, you always liked her? This was all a ploy to get at my friend? Is that what you’re fucking saying, Quinn?!”

“Taylor, what’s all this about?” I asked exasperatedly. “Does this have something to do with you and me? Is that why you two were fighting?”

Taylor shook her head at me in anger. “You don’t even get it, huh?”

“I swear I never seemed to get anything since I started tutoring you.”

“I just — like, why would you talk to her? I made it clear that it would be a bad idea.”

“But it was only a bad idea because you got mad when we did!” I protested, then something hit me. “Taylor… are you jealous?”

“No,” she asserted confidently. “It’s not about that. I have a boyfriend.”

Well, at least now she was acknowledging his existence around me. That was progress. “Then what’s it about?” I asked.

Taylor stared at me a bit, anger still in her eyes but visibly cooled down. I hated to admit it, but she still looked cute as fuck when she pouted like that. “We’re studying tonight,” she told me flatly.

“Are we?” I asked. “What if-“

“You’re free tonight, Quinn. Don’t play games,” she told me in this low voice. It was like a new voice for her. “You told me yourself you don’t do other things, and I, like, know you don’t have a date tonight.”

Ouch. That one stung. I said nothing, staring at her.

“We’re hanging out tonight, Quinn. My place. Bring your data management book. Say yes.”

I said nothing for a bit, trying to stare her down. She met my gaze evenly, and took a single step towards me.

“Yes,” I conceded embarrassingly immediately. She was scary.

Without smiling or anything, she nodded and left, not saying another word. I was left there, alone in the hallway, remembering my promise to Milo maybe a full minute after she left. I brought my phone up to my hands and opened a text message to Milo, and… stared at the screen. What the hell was I going to tell him? I was no closer to the truth.

It wasn’t like I had much face to lose with him if he found out I met them and learned nothing, and I doubt he would have believed me if I told him I found them and ended up more confused. I put my phone back in my pocket, and wandered off towards my next class.

***

I would have thought Taylor would lose her smoulder by the time the end of the day came, but if anything, it was more apparent. She gave this half-smile to me when we first got settled in the basement, but apart from that, she had a darkened expression the whole time. And, most scarily, she was intensely focused on studying.

“What’s the holdup?” she barked as I flipped through the pages. “Did I finish percentages or didn’t I?”

“You did, you did, I’m just trying to figure out which unit came next,” I replied diplomatically. This was new for me, but I wanted to defuse the situation as best as I could. She clearly had a rough day and the last thing she needed was for me to be impatient with her, I guess.

When I had found the page, she was angrily texting someone on her phone. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered to herself. “Fuck off and die.”

“Friend of yours?” I inquired dryly.

“Some fucking boys are so inconsiderate,” she replied bitterly. “Y’know, my dad’s a black belt. Karate. I could, like, stick him on people.”

I shrugged. “That is the white dad stereotype,” I replied. I hunched over and mimed holding a shotgun. “If yew ever come near mah daughter…” I continued in a terrible Southern accent.

That was the closest I came to seeing a genuine smile from Taylor the whole night. She composed herself. “Anyway, like, some guys are just…”

“Is it Joel?”

“No, but he’s being a jerk too,” she commented. “What’s the next unit?”

“You seem to have a lot of things going on,” I pressed her. “Would you like to talk ab-“

“What’s the next unit, Quinn?”

I sighed, looking at her for long enough for her to return my gaze before answering her. She looked at me for a brief moment before, amazingly, looking down at the floor. That was good enough for me and my eyes returned to the book, ready to resume studying.

We kept it up for the next hour or so, taking only a short break along the way. Taylor was clearly preoccupied on her phone, so much so that she kept asking “when I thought we’d be done,” but at least in the last twenty minutes or so, seemed focused on the task at hand, so much so that we beat my projected finish time by at least fifteen minutes.

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