tagNon-EroticJust a Few Words of Encouragement.

Just a Few Words of Encouragement.

byRubenR©

This is my contribution to the "VALENTINE'S DAY STORY CONTEST 2018"

It was a pleasure writing this story and I hope you will enjoy reading it too.

As always, comments are appreciated (even critical ones; insulting ones not so much, though...) and I will try to react on them where applicable. And please, vote.

All names, characters, situations and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended or should be inferred.

Copyright blablabla...


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Gradually I make his dreams fade away. Instead, I project a picture of Monique's face, and softly whisper her name. When the echoes have drifted away, the alarm goes off. Great timing.

He yawns, stretches, and curls up again; he is clearly preparing to doze off for a bit longer.

"Better take a shower," I say. "You don't want to leave a bad impression on a day like this. Who knows what's gonna happen today." And when that doesn't work, I groan, "Coffee would be really nice right now."

He wiggles a bit as if to find a better position, but then he stretches once more and rolls out of bed. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes and groggily stumbles to the bathroom. I don't follow; some things I don't need to see.

The shower does its job and when Roy returns, he looks much better. I know my preferences for his clothes, but I shouldn't micromanage him; he's old enough to take care of himself.

He is so slow, though; so lethargic. It's one of those days that I do want to shake him up; kick his ass and make him pull himself together again. It hurts, seeing him like this, but I know that he needs to take his time. For as long as he needs. But no longer.

"Coffee," I repeat when he walks down the stairs, and it speeds him up a bit. He enters the kitchen and grabs the can with grind coffee.

"It's great, the smell of coffee powder," I muse, and he takes a deep breath. I can see his eyes widen. I know I can't do this kind of things too much, but I cannot neglect to remind him of how great it tastes, when he thoughtlessly sips his coffee. It does wake him up.

When he is halfway through his coffee, he starts preparing his sandwiches. He seems content enough for the moment, so I step back and let him go his own way.

***

The weather is nice—it is cold but the sky is clear and there is no wind. Fortunately, he takes notice of it. His body straightens a bit, his hands go deep into his pockets, and his breathing deepens. He has a sturdy gait and looks around him. He takes notice of the world.

The streets, almost empty near the house, get more crowded when he comes closer to his school. He greets some people but doesn't join anyone. The excitement about Valentines Day for the others is clear, and perhaps he feels left out. I told him to do something—send cards, buy flowers, or even invite Monique to go out—but he had remained impassive.

It is not far to school, and Roy has almost perfected his timing; as soon as he reaches the building, the bell rings and everyone enters. Monique is ahead of us; I call her name and she looks back over her shoulder. She smiles when she sees Roy. Instead of walking towards her, he freezes, and only returns a weak smile. When Monique moves on, Roy continues too.

***

Roy's thoughts wander a few times during the classes, but nothing too bad; he's catching up with it. If he manages to pay a bit more attention to his homework too, I think he can still make this year.

During the breaks, Roy hides in a corner, from where he watches the others. He sees their exchanges of envelopes, and people grouping together, guessing the senders of the cards. No-one looks in his direction; it is clear no-one considers him to be a secret Valentine this year.

I haven't seen Monique during the short break and I noticed her walking outside during the lunch break; I couldn't make out if she received anything from someone else. She doesn't seem distracted during the lessons, though.

***

After the last course of the day has ended, I try to urge Roy to move on—go after Monique—but he doesn't act. Excruciating slow, he gets up from his chair, and Monique is long gone before he leaves the classroom.

Roy drags his feet. It seems that the little spark of happiness from earlier today has faded away. Perhaps the sight of his schoolmates, being all excited about their little secrets, has had more impact than I had foreseen. Should I have tried harder, to make him buy something? I still don't know what more I could have done; in the end, it is he who has to take the action.

It is hard to see Roy walking like this—slumped shoulders, his head down—but can I make up from this that at least he did get some hopes up for today? That he starts longing for the attention of others again? I know I am desperately trying to turn something negative into something positive, but I too need something to believe in.

He doesn't go home, though. At the end of the street, he turns in the direction of the city center. At least, he doesn't shy away from people; that's one small glimmer of light. After a while, I realize that I could have known though; this morning, Roy had packed his library books with him. And besides that, he always goes to the library on Wednesday.

Then, unlike Roy who still has his head down, I do see Monique, standing in the distance. She is saying goodbye to some friends; girls. Would she have an appointment, later today? The looks she secretly, and less secretly, takes at Roy all the time, tell me she likes him; she sees him. It is clear he likes her too, but if he doesn't take any action himself; if he doesn't act on the openings she is constantly offering to him... I can't blame her if she accepts other options; she is a nice girl, and others can see that too.

The group of girls split up. If Monique walks away now, another chance is gone. I can't let that happen. I look around for options, and then notice the advertisement next to her.

"Fountain Festival?" I whisper in her right ear.

Surprised, she turns her head in that direction and notices the poster. Her eyes scan the text, and then again; her face demonstrates amusement; how could she have misread 'Valentine Festival' like that?

The interruption offered me some time, but it's not enough; they won't see each other, unless...

Monique doesn't leave, though. She looks around her as if she is waiting for someone, and when she sees Roy, she calls out his name.

Roy waves at her, and Monique waits patiently until he has arrived.

"Where are you going to," she asks.

"The library." He lifts his bag as if for further proof.

"And you?" I shout in his head, almost losing it—what a dork!—and thank goodness, he repeats after me, "And you?"

"Me too!" Her happy smile can't go unnoticed by him. "Let's go together!"

Roy shrugs, and together they move on.

"What have you been reading?" she asks when Roy remains silent.

"Hm. Different things," he replies, but does not elaborate any further. What an idiot! I rack my brain—what do I know about her; how would he like her to see him—and come up with "Chimpanzee Politics".

It makes him smile; he takes a deep breath, and tells her, "One of the books is called, 'Chimpanzee Politics'."

She seems surprised. "Is that something like 'Planet of the Apes'?"

"No!" Roy laughs at the thought of that. "It is a study on a truly existing group of chimpanzees in a zoo, and describes their struggles about power, the building of alliances, and their intrigues. It is interesting, especially since the actions of those apes show similarities with what is happening between humans, for example with politicians or business leaders."

"Really?" Monique seems amused. "That's the kind of books you read?"

"Well, at least it's one of them," he replies, a bit cocky. "And there is a book on Python." I'm sure he does it on purpose, and Monique takes the bait.

"Python politics?" she laughs, but shows to be intrigued.

"No!" Roy grins. "Python is a programming language, and I've been reading a manual to learn more about it."

"So you are programming; you're making computer games?" She seems impressed; I knew she would be interested!

"Kind of." He's getting uncomfortable again. "It will be the third language I'm learning. It's not too hard, once you get the hang of it. I've been making some apps and stuff, but nothing very useful yet."

"And any normal books?" Monique goes on.

"I also have 'Guns, Germs, and Steel', and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' with me," Roy concludes.

"'Guns, Germs, and Steel', and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'," she echoes. "That's an eclectic combination you have in that bag. And you've read them all? One week?"

"I haven't finished the book on Python," he admits. "It's like a course book, and I'm thinking of buying it. The others I did read over the last week." After he finished talking, his eyes are back on the street in front of his feet.

"And you?" I hiss.

Roy scratches his neck, under his ear. He then quickly glances at Monique, whose eyes are fixed on something in the distance, and finally he asks, "Which books did you bring?"

"Ehm," she replies, "I'm going to read some magazines. I often go there, just to sit and read. It is quiet."

Roy seems satisfied with that answer, doesn't ask any further, and silently they walk, together, to the library.

Roy courteously opens the door for Monique—he does have some manners—and she follows him when he goes to the intake desk.

"Oh, I also got 'The Girl on the Train'," he admits, when he takes that book out of his bag.

Monique picks up every book that Roy puts down, and scans their covers and synopses. "I like your choices," she compliments him, making him blush. "Is there any of them you would not recommend to others?"

Roy looks up at her, thinks for a while, and then replies, "It depends on your interest, of course. I did like all of them, each on their own, but I wouldn't recommend a programming book to someone who is not into that."

"And if I'm not into politics and apes, you wouldn't recommend the 'Chimpanzee Politics'?" she jests, but of course, Roy takes it too seriously.

"Well, that is different," he smiles. "I'm not into either of them, but I still found that book very interesting; partly because it is very well written."

The librarian checks the books and each goes their own way; Roy to the book section and Monique to the reading table.

I wonder which books Roy will select this time; it is always a surprise. Also this time he doesn't disappoint me. First are the books with a more scientific background; he has always had a predilection for fact-finding, and this time 'Noah's Flood' catches his eye. I'm sure his dad will love it too.

He then enters the fiction section. The first book is 'The Rosie Project'—I thought he already read that one. Then, after a bit wandering, he takes 'The Millennium Trilogy', and somehow he also picks up 'Five Past Midnight in Bhopal' on his way.

I have this nagging feeling that there should be something more, but I can't figure out what. Slowly, Roy moves through the aisles, and then I see it on display.

"What is that," I whisper, and briefly, Roy's eyes scan over the cover.

It doesn't attract him, though. His eyes move on, glancing over the spines of the books next to it, and he's about to take a step away when I try again.

"Why does it look..."

Roy's attention goes back to the book, he looks a bit longer, even picks it up and briefly looks at it from all sides, but then he puts it back and moves on.

'Three times is a charm', I tell myself, and mutter to him, "What is it with that book?"

Slightly annoyed with himself, Roy turns and grabs the book, without even further looking at it. Then he goes directly to the service desk.

The moment Roy walks to the desk, Monique also gets up. "What a coincidence," I say when she shows up, but it doesn't trigger any response from Roy.

"What did you take?" Monique asks, and curiously picks up the books from the desk; one after the other.

Roy remains silent and watches Monique studying his findings. "How do you find books li..." she says, holding 'Five Past Midnight in Bhopal' in her hand. Then she notices 'Taking Flight', which was below that book.

I can even see her blush!

"Is that because of me?" she whispers, looking at the cover picture.

"No!" Roy reacts as if bitten by a snake. Then, he too notices the black girl in a ballet tutu, and he too blushes. "I didn't know that," she stammers, realizing it's a lost battle.

Monique, on the other hand, now shows a big grin. "I didn't know you were interested in ballet?"

Remarkably quick, Roy pulls himself together. "It's like my interest in Chimpanzee Politics," he replies. "It's just my general interest in almost everything."

"Uh-huh!" Monique replies, teasingly, and her grin remains. "Would I be the Chimpanzee?"

Not knowing how to react on that, Roy remains quiet and hands his books over to the librarian.

"What did you read?" Roy asks, once they are outside the library.

"Some magazines," Monique replies. "About ballet, in case you're interested."

"I happen to have a general interest in ballet," Roy retorts, and both start laughing.

There is a girl selling roses on the street. Roy looks at Monique, and it is obvious to me that Monique avoids looking at Roy.

"Can I..." Roy starts. "Do you mind if I... Do you want a rose?"

"I would love to!" Monique feigns surprise, and Roy buys her one.

They move on, but Roy is encouraged now; a bit later, he asks, "Can I buy you something to drink?"

Monique checks her watch and seems sincerely disappointed when she replies, "I would love to, but I have classes in one hour. Ballet classes, in case you wonder."

Despite his disappointment, Roy can't withhold a thin smile.

"If you're really interested, you can join me," she continues after a short silence, but I don't think she really has any hopes.

Roy does seriously consider her offer, though, but eventually shakes his head. "I think I'll start with the theory," he replies, padding his bag. "So see you tomorrow?"

Monique seems seriously disappointed. I can see her brooding on something else, but then replies, with a sad smile, "See you tomorrow, Roy."

I cannot let this happen! Not today!

"Valentine Festival!" I shout in Monique's ear, and she lightens up again.

"Unless you'd like to offer me the drink this evening, at the Valentine Festival?"

Surprised, Roy looks up. "You don't mind, going there with me?" His uncertainty makes me cringe.

"No?!" Monique is shocked by his reply. "Not at all! I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't want to! I would love to go there, and I would love to go there with you... if you don't mind going there with me."

Roy's smile is back too. "Shall I pick you up then? At what time?"

They set up the time, and happily continue their way.

***

Roy immediately moves up to his room and empties his bag on his bed. He then picks up 'Taking Flight' and starts reading.

"I'm going out tonight!" Roy calls to his dad when he hears him entering the house.

"Out? You?" His father's voice doesn't conceal his surprise. Then the penny drops. "You're on a Valentine's date?"

"Date... Date," Roy plays it down. "I'm going out with some friends."

"Great," his father replies, not pushing any further. "Will you have dinner at home?"

"Yes," he answers. "We're only leaving at eight."

Dinner is early, and after cleaning up the dishes, Roy goes back to his room to get dressed.

He is picky; he takes out several blouses, checks them with the trousers, and one after the other gets rejected. It's too late to buy something new now, but it isn't really necessary either.

"Just pick something warm," I suggest. "It will be in a tent, and it may get cold!"

Stubborn, he won't take one of his warm pullovers, but at least he now also rejects his thin-fabric blouses. When finally he makes his choice, I tell him that no-one will notice it when he puts on a warm shirt underneath that blouse. Thank goodness, he listens.

It is too early to go out yet. Roy takes up the book, but he is too restless. In the end, he goes down to watch television with his dad, checking his watch every three minutes. His father watches with amusement but doesn't comment, not willing to spoil the good mood.

When it is finally time to go, Roy jumps up, slips on his coat, stuffs his gloves in his pockets, says 'Hi' to his dad, and hurries to Monique's house. Monique lives not far from Roy, and from there it is only ten minutes to the festival-place. Near enough to go by foot.

Monique's sister, Léa, opens the door and shouts, "Monique! He is he-here!!" Then she takes her time to take up Roy before she calls again. "He is wai-ting!"

"Why don't you let him in," someone calls from inside; their mother.

"Monique told me to let him wait outside," Léa replies, but their mother is persistent. "Please, come in, Roy! Don't listen to her!"

Roy hesitantly gets inside the hallway. Upstairs, someone is rushing through the house, slamming with doors, muttering about nosy family. I don't think Roy can hear the words.

"Go on!" Léa now pushes Roy and guides him to the living room.

"She will be here in a minute," their mother smiles. She sits on a sofa, reading for Monique's little brother. "Please, sit down."

Roy takes place at the edge of an empty sofa, looking at his shoes, while Léa takes place next to her mother, opposite to him. "Where are you going to?" Léa asks, inquisitively; then skillfully avoids a poke from her mother.

"To the Valentine Festival," Roy replies, clearly uncomfortable.

"So you are Monique's Valentine today!" Léa gushes, making things even worse.

"Léa!" her mother calls out, but she only raises her shoulders.

"I'm only asking!"

"How are you!" I shout in Roy's ears; what happened to his manners!

"How are you doing, Mrs. Keïta?" he then finally asks. "And how is the family; is your husband coming home soon?"

"We all are fine." She smiles back at him. "Monique's father just left, so it will take almost half a year before he returns, but it was nice having him with us at Christmas."

Then Monique barges into the living room. "Let's go!"

She is dressed in tight jeans and a T-shirt. Roy barely dares to look at her, but it's clear he likes what he sees.

"Too cold," I whisper, and I can see Roy preparing to say something. However, by that time he is interrupted by Monique's mother, who asks "Shouldn't you offer him something to drink first?"

Monique shakes her head. "We are late already! See you!"

Monique seems to make a move to hold out her hand to Roy, but then changes her mind. "Let's go!"

She rushes to the hallway, and Roy gets up and gives Monique's mother a hand "It was nice meeting you again, madam." Then he follows Monique to the door.

"Cold!" I say again, and this time Roy reacts.

"It might be cold, you know," he says to Monique, but she shrugs. "I have a thick coat."

"Later!" Monique calls, and they leave the house.

"Sorry about that," Monique says, once they are on the street.

"About what?" Roy asks, surprised. "Nothing happened."

"I told Léa not to take you into the house. My mom looked awful, and Léa is—well—she is just annoying."

"Your family is nice," Roy speaks up for them. "And your sister looks like you."

"She does not!" Monique snaps. "She is stubborn, she is a chatterbox, she doesn't think. What did she say to you when you entered?"

Roy turns red again. "She said I am your Valentine."

That amuses Monique; she looks his way and asks, "And? Are you?"

Roy's blush deepens, making Monique laugh. "Would you like to?" she continues.

If Roy paid some attention, he would notice her voice betraying her own feelings about that.

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