Strange chemistry

by sadmilkhotel

Joel sees things others can’t, that is until what he sees starts to become reality.

Added: Jan 2021 5,075 words 1,734 views 5.0 stars (2 votes)

T

The sigh of exasperation mixed with the anxiety of thinking about all the studying I had to get done after this class softly exhaled from my mouth as my organic chem professor dismissed the class from lecture. He had, instead of saying “have a good day,” said his goodbyes with a snide, “most of you all are not ready for the test on Friday.” It was Monday, but the 3 days in between looked as long as 3 hours to me. I slung my backpack in a well-practiced motion to get both arms through while absentmindedly worrying about the future and rising out of my chair into the hallway.

I was jarred from the chemical equation cluttered stupor by the sound of two people running into each other a little ways ahead of me by the doors out of the lecture hall. I glanced up from my feet to see two guys sitting on the ground, presumably from colliding into each other. On the right was my friend Josh, and on the left a guy I hadn’t noticed in the class before. Josh was rubbing his forehead with a grimace. The other guy was immediately on his feet trying to help josh up. His anxious apologies were quick and repetitive. He just kept repeating the same three general phrases, “Shit,” “My bad man,” and “I’m so sorry dude,” until Josh held his hands up and reassured him, “You’re good man, it’s okay.”

He stood up while the meek guy said he was sorry two more times. “Seriously man it’s all good, it was probably my fault,” Josh reassured the miserable looking stranger.

“No,” he replied, “it was mine.” That would have been a normal response back to Josh had it not been for the way he said it. He said it with a tone that suggested much more meaning to the phrase than it expressed. It wasn’t a social pleasantry it was a dirty confession, an admission of guilt.

Josh faltered and responded only after an awkward couple seconds of silence prefaced it. “Uh, I’m Josh,” he said in a slightly bewildered tone.

“Joel,” the guy replied, still looking as if another three apologies were constantly about to burst out of him.

Josh could see that as well, and quickly kept talking to avoid more uncomfortable lamenting. “So, you’re in Oden’s class too?” he said it phrased like a question in an overly curious tone; it was coated in obviousness at it being forced.

“Yeah,” Joel said half-heartedly back looking as if he wanted to bolt out the door.

Thoroughly amused, I decided to throw Josh a lifeline. “Josh,” I called while walking toward the two of them.

Josh’s eyes looked over to me and then lit up as if I was his guardian angel pulling him from the jaws of death. “Ford!” he greeted back with a little too much relief. “Hey man.”

“You see those idiots walk into each other?” I said in an excellent facade as if they weren’t the two that had fallen.

“Yeah that was funny,” Josh replied back, his voice trailing off at the end in a comedic way. This was a running bit one of us would do to tease the other when they did something dumb or mildly embarrassing. It diffused the tension immensely, and made much of Joel’s unease dissipate. “This is Ford,” Josh said as he turned back toward Joel, “he’s in the class too.”

“Ford?” Joel said half as a greeting and half in confusion at meeting someone named after a truck.

“My actual name is Bradford after my dad,,” I began as I repeated the same explanation I’d been giving everyone since I was in first grade, “and my dad is already called Brad, so I’m called what’s left.”

“Oh,” he laughed, much more fond of the name knowing it stemmed from an actual name. “Nice to meet you,” he finished.

Even though he had calmed down considerably he still seemed nervous in a peculiar, wary way. As if he were on guard for someone to sneak attack him; essentially, a wariness that was over the top for the situation, and undermined his nonchalant disposition. I felt bad for the guy, he seemed decent enough, and undeserving of being forced into such an embarrassing situation. If he were to spend some time with Josh he would feel less uncomfortable around him about it, so I took action. “You ready to go study?” I asked Josh bringing up our plans to go to the library we’d made.

“Yeah,” he said as his eyes flitted to Joel and then back to me. Talking about plans in front of others who weren’t invited is always awkward.

“You wanna come?” I asked casually, looking back to Joel. “We’re studying for the test.”

Panic widened his eyes for a moment before he rearranged his facial expression back into the artifice aloofness. “I would but I gotta go home, I’m late for my shift.” His expression froze as soon as he said the combined excuses.

My brain was trying to process what he’d just said as a vague, “maybe next time then, see ya man” came from Josh as he walked out and I followed him.

“Guy’s a bit strange,” I observed out loud to Josh as we walked down the pavement toward the library.

“Yeah, nice, but strange,” he agreed.

As Josh started talking about the upcoming test I noticed he looked taller. We were essentially the same height, but now he was a little taller than me. “You gotten taller?” I asked looking him up and down. He focused on our eye levels and seemed surprised at being a little above mine.

“Yeah… I guess,” he replied looking down at himself. “Kind of a late growth spurt,” he laughed.

“Some guys grow until they’re 25,” I retorted back. “Maybe you’ll grow to 7 feet tall.”

“God I hope not,” he responded, “I am very happy with my height now at 21. Being 6’1 is plenty tall.”

“6’2,” I corrected him, as I was 6’1, and he had risen above that now.

“Maybe you’re just shrinking,” he jabbed at me.

“Maybe,” I said doubtfully as I noticed that the long sleeve tee he was wearing looked just a little too high up on his midsection and nearly left his stomach exposed. It was a tee I’d seen him wear often, and it had never fit like that. I dismissed the thought and steered the conversation back toward the test as we discussed what to study tonight.


Two days later and it was Wednesday morning as well as time for chemistry class again. I was speed walking as I tried to make up the time I’d lost oversleeping. I appreciated the foliage turning bright orange and red for fall as I hurried down the wide paved pathway through the heart of campus lined by deciduous trees that would take me to the building for the class. I noticed a guy walking a little ways ahead of me, and realized it was Joel heading to the same building I was. How apologetic and embarrassed he had been the other day came back to me, and I again felt pity for the guy. “I should talk to him, it’ll make him feel more at ease around me and Josh and not as embarrassed,” I mentally noted to myself as I called out to him. “Joel,” he jumped slightly at the sound of his name and turned around with the same wary expression he’d had the other day. “What’s with this guy?” I pondered as I slapped on a reassuring, friendly smile and waved at him. “Ford,” I reminded him in case he’d forgotten, “we have Oden together.”

“Yeah,” he said smiling with just a touch of unease, “hey man.” As I caught up to him I got a good look at his appearance for the first time. He was an unusual looking dude, but not in an ugly way; he was hardly unattractive. I recknoed that girls must fall head over heels for his dark, straight hair that was the type to always look a bit messy. He must put gel in it to guide that messiness toward a more controlled, nonchalant, untidy look; as if he’d just woken up but looked good doing it. He had dark eyebrows that matched his hair, and a symmetrical face with narrow cheekbones and a strong jawline. Topped off with dark eyes that looked like a brown/grey mixture his entire look created a very Edger Allen Poe, Donny Darko/Johnny Depp vibe. The brooding troubled kid in the indie movie. I wondered how someone who looked like him could lack so much confidence. He looked like the type of guy to have amazing taste in music and a good sense of humor, but his reclusive nature didn’t match up with it.

We walked in silence a few seconds as I was lost in thought when suddenly I noticed him starting at me in my peripheral vision. He looked… upset? It made no sense. His dark eyes were wide with fear as he looked me up and down. I turned my head to meet his gaze square on as he trailed his eyes back up to mine. Realizing I had caught him appraising me he paled and started talking as a blatant red herring to distract me, “So you feel ready for the test Friday?”

I started saying some generic “chapter 8 is still kind of confusing” reply while I pondered his expression. Had I made him uncomfortable talking to him? Guilt came over me at the notion, as that had been what I was trying to diffuse by talking to him. I decided I would leave him alone after this, and let him approach me if he wanted too. I held the door open with my hand as I walked in first so it wouldn’t shut on him as we entered the building chemistry was in. We were still making light conversation as I opened the door to the lecture hall, but we immediately stopped as we heard that Dr. Oden had already started speaking. Fuck, I felt bad for being late.

I heard Joel mutter “Fuck” under his breath, and I laughed quietly, exhaling through my nose, as he’d spoken what I’d been thinking. I met his eyes as I did, sharing in the guilt we both felt at interrupting his lecture, as he did the same. For a second it was normal and felt like a regular shared moment between friends, but then his face took on that same fearful, wary expression he’d worn when I’d caught him staring at me earlier on the walk to class. His eyes broke contact with mine and looked slightly up, as if seeing things I couldn’t, before he turned and started walking up the stairs to the isle of chairs he usually sat in.

I felt slightly annoyed now with him and his peculiar behavior, and as I walked to my chair in the front row beside where Josh was already sitting I lost my balance as I went to sit down and half fell, half sat in the chair. A noticeable noise ensued from me catching myself on the left armchair making Oden paused mid-sentence to glare at me disapprovingly before resuming his mundane lesson. I heard Josh snicker quietly to my right as I felt blood rush to my face from calling attention to myself.

I pulled the little desktop out from the side of my chair and, as quietly as possible, unzipped my backpack to get my notebook and pencil out. I felt unusually klutzy doing even that small task. I was usually an averagely coordinated guy, so as I tuned into what was happening on the projector screen showing an alkyne molecule we were supposed to be naming I was also aware of my body. I felt that my pants had ridden up my ankle in sitting, so I reached down to pull them back over my socks. They wouldn’t budge though. I shifted slightly to the side to look at my feet and was mildly surprised that the pants looked too small. I’d just bought these pants last month, and they’d fit exactly how I’d wanted. I knew without a doubt I had not dried them specifically so they wouldn’t shrink resulting in this. Noticing this also made me realize my shirt felt uncomfortably tight in the back and chest, as well as felt too high on my stomach.

“What the hell?” I thought to myself just as I was hearing the words, “let’s get some class participation on naming this one,” causing me to focus my attention back on Oden in case he called on me to do it.

As class finally ended I saw Joel heading toward the door, and despite my brain telling me I was bordering on being pushy, I decided to try one more time in case he really was just shy and needed to be asked a couple times before he could say yes to something.

“Joel,” I called and instantly regretted it as he seemed to consider bolting out the door he’d stopped next to before turning around to face me. Well, “face” me was more an expression, because he for some reason refused to look directly at me. “Too late to back out now,” I thought forlornly as I walked up to him and put on a what I hoped was a normal smile to mask the awkwardness very close to spilling out of me. I self-consciously tried to pull my shirt down lower from its inexplicable shrunken form.

“What’s up,” he replied, not even hiding the level of how uncomfortable he was this time.

“God, if you’re there please kill me,” I prayed silently as I forced my way through what I came to say so this interaction could be over. Aloud, I said, “Me and Josh are studying for the test again tonight, if you wanna come.” I winced internally at how lame and weird it sounded.

He shifted his gaze slightly more toward me as he answered, but still refused to actually look at me square-on. “Oh yeah, maybe,” his tone conveyed the unspoken ‘no’—the ‘maybe’ actually meant “I have some work to get done for my other classes though….” He trailed off, unsure of how to keep going, so I took initiative to end this torture I’d subjected us both to.

“Well if you change your mind I live in Stophel,” I informed him as I forced myself to speak at a normal pace and not rush from my desire to be out of this building. “Floor 3, room 322.” Stophel was the dorm building I lived in, about 10 minutes away from here by walking, and I desperately wanted to start heading back there. I began to walk out the door as I told him, smiling coolly all the way.

“Cool,” he said smiling and flitting his eyes to me for half a second before breaking and going back to looking elsewhere. I meant to say some sort of goodbye, but my flight or fight instinct had been activated at this point so I had little control over my motor functions as I walked swiftly outside.


(Joel’s perspective)

Why was I like this? I mean, I knew why, but I also knew I didn’t have to be like this. All I’ve wanted was one friend, just one, and the fates deliver me one on a silver platter and I fuck it up.

I continued similar self-loathing themed thoughts as I trudged my way back toward my dorm. My last session I’d had with my psychiatrist had literally been on not letting my paranoia hold me back from being more social. I exhaled forcefully while I walked from how annoyed I felt with myself. By the time I walked through my front door I was sufficiently in a bad mood. That guy Ford had been so nice too, and he was kind enough to extend an invitation to study not once, but twice, despite my weird, panicky behavior when talking to him.

I took a piss, barely aware of my dick in my hand as I stayed in my thoughts. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror after washing my hands and appraised what I saw. Self-satisfaction diluted the self-loathing a tad as I noticed my time at the gym was beginning to be more apparent on me. I was only going for the mental benefits and stress relief, but I still took pride in the physical results as well. I’d always been a lanky guy standing at 6 foot; never skeleton skinny, but not defined either. I was slowly leaving that vague, undefined-ness and entering the casual model body type. I wasn’t ripped or anything, but I had three abs and enough muscle to not look like I ate cigarettes for breakfast and nothing else anymore.

My eyes flitted up to my face after I’d taken all the mental notes on my body I wanted. I’d always liked my face, and never had any insecurity about that aspect of myself. It wasn’t in a vain way I liked it, but more in a, “thank-god-I’m-at-least-not-mentally-ill-and-ugly,” kind of way. If I could ever work through my mental bullshit I would probably do pretty well with the ladies, or guys. I really didn’t know. I’d never had the time or reason to consider what I wanted.

The annoyance I’d felt towards myself for ditching on the study plans returned as I pondered all this. My eyes tightened slightly as I held my gaze. “You going to live your whole life without actually having one,” I asked my reflection trying to give myself a pep talk. What if Ford didn’t want me there now? What was I supposed to say showing up after I made that half-ass, odd excuse to get out of it? They were going to think I was so weird. Well, they probably already did.

That made me feel better, strange enough. I shut my eyes as I thought back to what my psychiatrist had told me. “Stop catastrophizing,” I said quietly to myself. “Reverse the negative thoughts, say what’s real. Ford invited you to come to this, so he wants you there.” I opened my eyes, leaned closer to the mirror, “You are going. You are not going to let a dumb disorder where you see people grow and shrink make you miserable. You are in control.” I let that last statement hang in the air as I tried to internalize it.


(Ford’s perspective)

As Josh and I walked through the front door of our dorm I immediately beelined for the fridge. I’d not eaten breakfast due to oversleeping, and was in full on caveman monkey-mode from the hunger. As I moved my arms to spread peanut butter on bread my shirt pulled in the back, and I was reminded again of the bizarre shrinking of my clothes I’d noticed this morning. The urge to go change out of the uncomfortable clothing grappled with the drive to finish making the food. I got tired of the indecision and pulled my shirt off in the kitchen, throwing it on the counter. The pants were tight as well, but the shirt had been the main culprit for driving me nuts in class and on the walk home.

Josh walked over to the other side of the counter I made lunch on as we made casual conversation. He didn’t comment on my partial nudity while making a sandwich, which I hadn’t expected him too. Josh didn’t care about most things; he was the most unfazed human I’d met, which was why I’d made sure to catalog the incident of him running into Joel in my memory. Josh looking bewildered happened once every decade probably. Also, being roommates as well as gym partners meant we’d seen each other shirtless countless times prior, so it was nothing new. I laughed at a joke Josh made, glancing at him straight on as I drizzled honey on my sandwich, and did a double take. I took my hand to the top of my forehead and then moved it straight across until it touched the top of Josh’s.

He caught my drift. “Hang on,” he said as he walked out of the kitchen and down the right hall toward our rooms. The sound of him rummaging around a drawer lasted about 30 seconds until he came back into the kitchen holding a tape measure. I took a bite of my sandwich before setting it down and walking over to the wall next to him. He positioned the top of the yellow reel next to my forehead, and slid down to my feet as I held the top to prevent it from snapping back. “6’2,” he announced as he stood back up, the sound of the measurer rolling in soundtracked my shock. The last growth spurt I’d had was my junior year of high school. I knew the age bracket guys could still grow lasted until 25, but that was more for guys that lagged behind.

My old pediatrician had told me I was on the finishing laps of puberty at 18. I swapped places with Josh as we repeated how he had measured me; him announcing I was 6’2 had taken the surprise out of what his height would be though, as we were eye level again, so neither of us were any more surprised when I announced that he was indeed the same height as me give or take a few millimeters.

“So I was taller the other day when you noticed after chemistry,” he remarked, stepping back over to the counter where he had been before we’d noticed the odd change.

“And…I guess I grew an inch the last couple days,” I replied unsurely, as I was unable to offer any other explanation as to how, yet unable to doubt it faced with the unyielding black numbers on that yellow tape that confirmed it was true.

“Weird,” Josh offhandedly commented after a few seconds of silence.

“Yeah,” I replied back, matching his nonchalant tone for comedic effect. The conner of the right side of his mouth turned up in a crooked smile at that. He knew my running bit of making fun of his never-ending at ease disposition stemmed from my being in immense awe of it. I was a little jealous of it also, because my emotions were not as easily inclined to be so stable.

After a few more minutes of light conversation Josh went into his room while I finished my sandwich and worked on some of my Spanish homework. Odd and coincidental as it was, at the end of the day it wasn’t that big a deal, so the shock passed quickly.

A few hours later I was sitting on my bed knee deep in binge watching a tv show I’d told myself I was only going to watch one episode of an hour and a half ago. I’d ditched the tight pants for my favorite grey sweatpants and an oversized sweater I’d thrifted a couple months ago. The sound of someone clearing their throat snapped me back to reality. I looked up to see Josh leaning against my doorway with a good-natured look disapproval on his face. He was also wearing sweatpants along with a short sleeve tee that had always been a bit long on him, but now, from the spontaneous growth spurt, didn’t hang so low down his midriff as it used to. “Studying hard?” he rhetorically asked me in a joking tone.

“Just taking a short break,” I replied,

“You know my room is right next to yours, right? These walls are thin.” We stared at each other in silence for two seconds.

“What’s your point,” I asked point blank back.

He let loose a short laugh, “Come on,” he said as he turned around and walked toward the living room. That’s where we always studied together.

I groaned theatrically as I slumped down into my bed and covered my head with my blanket. “You wanna re-watch Avatar now or re-watch organic chemistry next semester cause you failed?” he called down the hall. I was sufficiently motivated as every cell in my body cringed at the thought of going through this class again.

I swung out of bed, grabbed my backpack from under my desk, and trudged into the living room where Josh was already set up at the wooden coffee table in the center. We only got through a couple minutes of studying before a knock at the front door stopped us.

I looked to Josh in a slight panic that he met with urgency. When you weren’t expecting anyone living in a dorm and someone knocked at your front door it probably meant it was a RA. Both of us sprang to action; we each had our own jobs in this situation. Josh ran to the kitchen to get the Titos out of the freezer and hide it in his room while I sprinted to my own room. I had a contraband gecko I had to move into my closet in case whoever was at the door did a smoke alarm inspection in my room. I shut my closet door and ran back to the front door as quietly as I could and looked through the peep hole while trying to slow my breathing.

Instead of Sarah, our floor’s RA, I saw Joel standing a little ways back wearing a backpack. Mild surprise washed through me as I called out to Josh, “False alarm,” as I opened the door.

Joel jumped slightly as I opened the door, but looked at ease enough as he smiled at me. “Hey man,” he greeted me.

“Hey,” I replied trying to coax the surprise from my voice that he had come.

“You guys still studying for the exam,” he asked as his left hand played with one of the straps of his backpack; a tick I had a habit of doing as well.

“Unfortunately,” I said as I stepped aside to let him in.

He laughed silently by only blowing air out of his nose and smiling as he walked in. Josh, in the process of putting the Titos back in the freezer, nearly ran into Joel again as he shut the freezer door and turned to greet him.

Joel artfully sidestepped out of the way before they could collide. Josh blinked hard once, taking in the person he didn’t know had been there, then laughed, “Okay, that one is on me.”

“I’m starting to think we’re in a RomCom,” Joel replied, which made Josh smile.

“You mean where the guy and girl run into each other and drop all their papers?” he asked Joel.

“Yeah,” he laughed back.

“It could be a soap opera called, The Chemistry Within, since you guys met in chemistry class,” I said as I walked back into the living room. I made my voice take on a low, sultry tone impersonating a bad soap opera narrator, “Will our star struck lovers finally confess their feelings for each other? Or will the only chemistry we see be in the classroom? Tune in next week for, The Chemistry Within.”

“That was pretty good,” Josh said as he stepped around Joel and joined me in the living room. “My mom would watch that.” Joel followed suit taking off his backpack and sitting down across from Josh and to the left of me at the coffee table.

As he sat down I noticed the long sleeve tee he was wearing had a band on it. “Car Seat Headrest,” I said out loud as I read it.

He looked down at his shirt briefly as if he forgot he was wearing it, then looked back at me, “Yeah, do you listen to them?” he asked back.

“I love them, have you heard their new album?” I replied, thoroughly happy to have met someone that knew the band.

“Yes,” his voice got excited as he replied, “There must be more than blood?” he quoted the song title as a question asking my opinion of it. “That’s my favorite.”

“Same, though, ‘Bodys’, and, ‘It’s Only Sex’, are my top two,”

“Those are good,” he agreed. I was a bit whiplashed by the personally change Joel had shown so far. He looked far more at ease and carefree than he ever had the other times we’d interacted. He was even holding eye contact while we talked, and didn’t look terrified to be doing so. I was sitting with my legs crossed at the table, and near the end of the conversation about the band they had started to feel cramped and squished. I scooted back from the table so I could stretch them out fully.

As I did I noticed Joel’s eye flit to my legs for half a second and then flit back to his work on the table. He had looked like there was something about my legs he was trying very hard to ignore. Oh well, I thought as I re-crossed my legs and started focusing on my studying as well, even if he is a bit odd I like him.

Update posts:
Weekly Update: 30 January 2021

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