Home > Darius the Great Deserves Better (Darius the Great #2)

Darius the Great Deserves Better (Darius the Great #2)
Author: Adib Khorram

 THE HISTORY OF CREATION

The first cut is always the hardest.

“You ready?”

I met Mikaela’s eyes in the mirror.

“Yeah.”

The clippers buzzed to life and growled in my ear as she pushed the teeth through the back of my hair. The curls tickled my neck as they fell to the floor.

It was tradition among the student athletes on Chapel Hill High School’s varsity men’s soccer team (Go Chargers!) to get their hair cut before the first game of the season. It was supposed to promote team unity.

Except I had my internship at Rose City Teas on Sunday when everyone else got their haircuts, so I had to make a separate appointment.

It was my first haircut in two years.

“How high do you want this fade?” Mikaela asked as she neared my ears.

I’d never met Mikaela before, but Landon recommended her. She was beautiful, with brown skin, impeccable box braids, and the brightest smile I’d ever seen.

I shrugged, but I wasn’t sure she could tell from under the plastic cover. “I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think would look best?”

She turned off the clippers and looked at me in the mirror for a second. “Probably something higher for you. Show off these beautiful curls up top.”

“Okay.”

I relaxed and let her turn my head this way and that as she worked, first with clippers and then with a pair of scissors. When she was done, Mikaela took me to the hair-washing station. I guess it wasn’t designed for tall people: I had to scoot my butt to the edge of the chair to fit my head in the basin. But she washed my hair and massaged my scalp (which was just about the nicest thing I had ever felt) and got all the itchy bits off, and then it was back to the chair for styling.

“You use product?”

I shook my head.

She pulled at one of my curls—she hadn’t touched the top, except for a little trimming—and twisted it around her finger.

“Landon said you’re . . . Indian?”

“Iranian. Half.”

“Sorry.” She let the curl fall. “Lucky boy.”

My cheeks warmed.

“Thanks.”

Mikaela squeezed something that smelled like coconuts into her hands and massaged it into my hair. It made it a little shinier but kept it soft. She took one last lock from the very front and pulled it down into my forehead, so it dangled like a little question mark.

“All set.”

I studied myself in the mirror. Instead of my usual messy halo, I had a huge pile of curls up top, but the sides and back of my head faded from super short black hair down to my skin.

I hadn’t seen the sides of my head in years.

I’d never noticed how much my ears stuck out.

“It looks great,” I said, even though I was kind of anxious about my ears. “Really.”

“Yeah it does,” Mikaela said. “Let’s go ring you up.”

Landon was waiting for me up front. He got this big goofy smile on his face when he saw me.

“Wow.”

I smiled and looked down to open the Velcro on my wallet.

“You like it?”

“I really do.”

Landon’s hand brushed mine, and I curled my thumb to trap it. He wove our fingers together and led me out the sliding glass doors.

It was one of Portland’s perfect fall days, where it was warm enough that you didn’t have to wear your hoodie, but cool enough that it was cozy if you did.

(I had on my hoodie.)

“Isn’t Mikaela the best?”

“Yeah.” I pressed my ear flat against the side of my head with my left hand. “I didn’t realize I had such huge Ferengi ears.”

“Your ears are cute.” He pulled me to a stop and stood on his toes to give me a kiss on the cheek. “But what’s a Ferengi?”

* * *

The first time Landon kissed me, we had eaten at Northwest Dumplings after closing up shop at Rose City, and I’d been nervous, because I’d never kissed anyone before. And at the time, we were still just hanging out. I didn’t go in expecting to kiss him, which is why I made the extremely unfortunate choice of having too many onions at dinner.

When Landon leaned in close, I thought maybe I had something in my teeth. Because I never thought someone like him would want to kiss someone like me.

But then he took my hand. And he said, “Hey. Can I kiss you?”

And I was kind of surprised and amazed, because I really liked Landon, and I really did want him to kiss me.

I wanted my first kiss to be with Landon Edwards.

His lips were warm and soft, and he let them linger against mine. But then I made the mistake of sighing, which blew a noxious cloud of onion breath into his mouth.

He broke the kiss and giggled.

I panicked at first—I thought I had messed everything up—but he smiled at me. He squeezed my hand and said, “That was good. Even with the onions. Can we do it again?”

So we did, and the kissing got even better once we started using our tongues.

But my favorite part was the way Landon looked at me after and said, “You’re beautiful, you know.”

No one had ever called me beautiful before.

“You’re beautiful too.”

* * *

I’d gotten better about food choices since then. And keeping breath mints in my messenger bag.

“Come on. The streetcar should be here.”

But then, as we turned the corner, my stomach dropped.

Chip Cusumano and Trent Bolger were walking down the street, jostling each other and laughing about something.

Cyprian Cusumano was the strangest guy I knew. He used to be kind of mean to me, but ever since the end of sophomore year, he’d turned around and been nicer.

We’d actually become friends.

I mean, it helped that we both played on the Chapel Hill High School varsity men’s soccer team (Go Chargers!). It was the first year on the team for both of us—Chip used to play football in the fall—but we’d both managed to get spots on the varsity squad.

Trent Bolger, on the other hand, was the meanest guy I knew. He’d been picking on me since elementary school.

And yet for some strange reason—some Byzantine logic that defied explanation—Chip and Trent were best friends.

Landon must have noticed it when my shoulders hunched up, because his step faltered. Which is exactly when Chip looked up from his phone and caught my eye.

He looked from me to Landon, and then down at our linked hands, and then back to me.

Chip already knew I was gay—the whole team knew, since I told them at one of our team-building things when training started over the summer—but I was pretty sure Trent did not.

In fact, I was certain Trent did not, because when he saw me and Landon, he looked like Christmas had come early.

“You know those guys?” Landon asked.

“Yeah. From school. I play with the taller one.”

Chip had grown at least an inch over the summer. He was almost as tall as me now, and I had plateaued at six three over the summer.

I kind of hoped I would hit six four eventually.

“Hey, Darius.” Chip grinned at me. Cyprian Cusumano was one of those guys who always seemed to be grinning. He wore a pair of black Adidas joggers—the same kind I wore, with the white stripes down the sides and the tapered calves—and a plain white V-neck T-shirt.

“Hey, Chip.”

“Nice haircut.”

“Thanks. You too.”

Chip always had nice haircuts. He was a Level Eight Influencer at Chapel Hill High School: Whatever haircut he got, about half the guys in our class ended up doing some variation of it. Now that he was doing the Standard Soccer Team Fade, though, I wasn’t sure what everyone else would do.

“Oh. Chip, this is my—”

The thing is, Landon and I hadn’t talked about whether we were officially boyfriends. Even if it felt like we kind of were.

How did you ask a guy if you were officially boyfriends?

“This is Landon. Landon, Chip. And that’s Trent.”

Trent was hanging back, playing with his phone. He wore a crimson sweatshirt that read PROPERTY OF CHHS VARSITY FOOTBALL—he’d finally made the varsity team this year, as a something-back—and a pair of black swishy shorts.

Chip was still grinning, but he looked Landon up and down. Almost like he was judging him. “Nice to meet you.” He held out his fist.

Landon blinked for a second and then bumped his own with Chip’s.

It was the most awkward fist bump in the history of creation.

“Well,” I squeaked. I cleared my throat. “We’ve gotta catch the streetcar. See you later?”

Chip bumped fists with me too. “Yeah. See you.”

I stepped to the side so he and Trent could make it past us and tightened my grip on Landon’s hand.

“Later, Dairy Queen,” Trent said.

Great.

ZERO POINT SIX EIGHT SECONDS

Rose City Teas was in the Northwest District, a couple stops down the streetcar line from Mikaela’s salon. It was a brick building with ivy growing up one side, and a little wooden sign hanging over the door. Big windows made up one wall, with the shades half-drawn against the afternoon sun. In the corner, shelves of tea tins lined one wall, and opposite it, the tasting bar was packed with afternoon customers.

Rose City Teas was a dream come true.

Landon’s dad waved from the door to the tasting room, wiped his hands on the towel he always kept over his shoulder, and came to greet us.

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