I’m sitting on my bed finishing what’s left of the salad I got downstairs when I feel my phone vibrate. I set down my food and shuffle around in the sheets trying to find it before I realize that it’s fallen between my mattress and the bed frame. I yank it out and check my notifications, surprised to see an Instagram message from Cameron.
“Come to the sculpture studio,” it reads, sounding more like a demand than a question or offer.
I look down at what I’m wearing. Great. I changed right back to pajamas after my class finished. I have to switch back into regular clothes if I’m going to trek across campus. Normally I wouldn’t care if anyone saw me like this, but I feel like Cameron will say something if I show up looking like garbage.
I set my food aside and climb out of bed, fishing around my room for what I was wearing earlier. Finally, I find my sweatshirt and jeans, throwing them on and then grabbing my jacket. After pocketing my phone and slipping on my boots, I head out.
What does Cameron want? We aren’t friends, so it’s weird that he’s contacting me. He’s outgoing though, so maybe it’s not weird for him. I don’t know. All of this is so foreign. I don’t get how people can be so extroverted. Strangers make me uncomfortable. I can barely tie my shoe if I know someone’s watching.
When I reach the sculpting studio, I push open the doors and look around until I spot Cameron. He’s standing at one of the work tables, pulling chunks off of a purple rubbery block. When the doors slam closed, he stops and looks up, quirking his eyebrows when he sees me.
“Hey, Rudy. That was fast.”
Well, that makes me feel awkward. Should I have taken longer? Should I have made him wait?
“What are you working on?” I decide to ask, trying to change the subject.
Cameron looks down at the gelatinous cube he was just messing with.
“Oh, this?” he asks, sounding amused. “It’s alginate. It’s for plaster casting. Have you taken a sculpture class before?”
“I’ve been putting it off.”
“It’s the best department,” he tells me. “You really should find time for it.”
“I’ll try to,” I say noncommittally.
“This stuff is pretty 101,” Cameron continues to explain. “You mix up the powder, see? Then while it’s still wet you can stick whatever you want in it really. When it dries it’s still flexible so you can usually pull whatever the object is out without tearing it. Then you fill the mold with plaster and once that’s dry, you pull it all apart.”
I nod along, pretending to know what he’s talking about. I like all kinds of art, but sculpting isn’t something I can ever see myself doing. I like to paint. I like to draw. I feel like most artists have a preferred medium, but there are some who are good at everything. I guess that’s nice. I wish I was good at more. Sometimes I feel like I can barely paint. My skill isn’t as versatile as I’d like it to be.
I walk over to where Cameron’s standing and scan his work station. There’s a bunch of those purple alginate blocks sitting around, some still in the mismatched containers he poured them in. There are several white shapes sitting further in on the table. That must be what he’s casting. I can’t make them out from this far away though.
“What are those?” I decide to ask, rather than craning my neck.
Cameron smirks. “What? You’ve never seen a flaccid dick before?”
I recoil at that.
“You’re casting dicks!?”
“Yeah!” he exclaims, leaning over the table and picking one up to show me. “This one belongs to this junior guy named Harrison. Isn’t it funny?”
He tries to hand it off to me but I don’t let him. Instead, I stare at him critically.
“What are they for?” I ask.
“Part of my senior project,” he tells me, sounding kind of offended that I didn’t want to take a closer look. “I’m installing them all around the school.”
That’s so bold. I could never do something like that. I’d be so embarrassed I’d die. This kind of work makes me feel shy. If I paint something even remotely risqué, I either get rid of it or keep it hidden.
I wonder what the school board’s going to think about this. I wonder if he’ll get in trouble.
“Why are you doing a project like this?” I ask. “What’s the meaning behind it?”
He gives me a dull look. “Give it some thought.”
Give it some thought? Damn, okay, dude. That makes me feel fucking stupid.
I keep watching him work, wondering why he wanted me to come down here if he was just gonna be a jerk. After a few minutes of awkward silence and Cameron flicking bits of alginate onto the floor, he looks at me and lets out a little laugh.
“You’re not very talkative are you?”
I shrug. I don’t really know how to reply to that.
“You should give me your number,” Cameron continues, unfazed by my lack of response.
“Um, okay,” I agree without much thought.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and hands it to me.
“Just add yourself to my contacts. Put yourself in as Rudy.”
It’s weird to have a nickname. I’ve never had one before.
“Okay…” I say again, doing as he asks. After saving my number, I hand him back his phone.
“So, um, why did you want me to come down to the studio?”
“For company,” he says like it should be obvious. “I didn’t want to hang out with my other friends. They’re always hanging off of me. Sometimes I just need a break, you know?”
“Oh… yeah,” I agree, though I have no idea what that could be like.
I don’t know how to maintain friendships. It’s always been this way. I’d like to blame it on my parents, but there comes a time when you need to take responsibility for your own shit, right?
“Did your friends help with your project? I decide to ask, timidly pointing at the spread of plaster castings on the table.
“Nah,” he chuckles with a shake of his head. “These are mostly just guys who wanted to fuck me.”
Now that takes me aback. I stare at him, kind of dumbfounded by his response.
“I put a call out on my Instagram,” he explains, taking my silence as an invitation to continue. “A bunch of dudes messaged me wanting to get involved, so I set some hours that I’d be in the studio and they just started showing up.”
“Ah…” I nod, trying to sift through my memories and remember if I saw that. I think I must have. I check up on what other people I go to school with post pretty regularly.
“They were all really flirty,” Cameron adds with a roll of his eyes. “It was annoying to deal with.”
I shift from one foot to the other. I know that he’s into men because I’ve seen more than enough photos of him getting cozy with various guys on his Instagram to draw a conclusion, but I still feel like I should pretend not to. I don’t want to come off like I’m obsessed with him.
“Are you…gay?” I ask cautiously.
“Yup,” he confirms.
He sounds so nonchalant. I guess he’s open about it. I mean, he’d have to be to post those kinds of photos online.
I don’t really post personal photos on my Instagram and I don’t have Facebook or anything else like that. I don’t have any photos worth showing off. Nothing would gather attention. The only photos I have of myself are ones I’ve taken for dating profiles that I don’t even use anymore. They were exclusively for hookups.
“Oh,” I say, unsure what else to respond with.
“Are you?” he asks.
“Um… yeah, I am,” I admit it a little squeak. Ugh! I sound so shy. I don’t even know why. It’s just something I don’t talk about. It’s not like I’m consciously trying to hide these things. They just never come up in conversation when I talk to people.
Cameron nods. “I thought so.”
“How?” I can’t help but wonder.
He laughs and shrugs. “It’s just the vibe,” he explains vaguely.
I want to ask what he means. Is it the way I look? The way I act? The way I talk?
“Well,” Cameron claps his hands together. “I’m pretty much done here.”
He starts to do a sweep of the table, picking up the bigger chunks of jelly and tossing them into a trash can. I just keep standing there awkwardly.
“I have dinner plans with some people,” he tells me, carelessly gathering up his sculptures in his arms and moving them across the room to a little metal cart which seems to be where he’s storing the rest of them.
“Oh,” I mumble.
Jeez, okay. He could have explained that before I trekked all the way across campus.
Cameron picks his coat up off the floor and puts it on, followed by a hat and a pair of gloves. Should I leave? Ugh. This is so weird. Finally, he grabs his bag and slings it over his shoulder, giving me a funny look as he moves towards the door.
“You coming?” he asks expectantly.
“What? Like, to dinner?” I stumble over my words.
“Yeah, to dinner,” he scoffs. “I didn’t drag you all the way down here just so you could bum around with me for a few minutes. We’re going to hang out.”
I guess it’s a good thing I have my coat… but he could have explained the plan to me. How was I supposed to know?
He puts his sculptures away and I follow him out of the studio.
“I have my car, so we don’t have to bus,” he adds.
“Okay cool,” I nod. I’m glad about that. I hate waiting for the bus.
We head out to the parking lot and I follow him to his car. It’s small, but looks nice and is a cute blue.
I don’t even have my license. I never got it back home because no one in my family would teach me, so I always just relied on other people for rides. Things are different now, and maybe I should try to learn, but it seems like such a hassle.
Cameron unlocks the door and we both climb inside. He turns on the stereo and flips through his phone for a minute until settling on something he likes. Then he starts the car, pulling out of the parking space. I don’t even know how to describe what it is we’re listening to, but the music has this dreamy pop sound. Jesus Christ, I feel like Cameron doesn’t have to put any effort into seeming cool. He just is. He’s not even trying to impress me right now. He’s just doing his thing.
Why the hell am I even here? This feels like a disaster waiting to happen.
“Where are you meeting people?” I finally ask after a long while of staring out the window and trying not to bother him.
“It’s a neat little place,” he describes vaguely. “Sometimes there’s live music. That’s why we like it. Plus they have good beer and let us push the tables together when there’s a bunch of us.”
“Sounds good,” I nod.
I wonder if there will be a bunch of people there tonight. Probably. I bet they’re all there now waiting for him. I wonder if they even know he’s bringing someone. I wonder if they’ll be okay with that. I might not be the kind of person they’re used to hanging out with. They’ll probably find me boring.
The more I think about all of this shit the more anxious I get.
“Chill out,” Cameron says like he senses I’m freaking out. “Damn.”
“Yeah, okay,” he snorts, sounding like he doesn’t believe me at all.
Soon enough, we pull into a parking lot and I assume we’ve reached our destination.
“This place is awesome,” Cameron turns the car off and unbuckles his seatbelt. “You’ll like it.”
I do the same and follow him out of the car. I really hope he’s right.