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(Not) Afraid

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“Unique is not afraid of anything.”

She stares at herself in her bedroom mirror and repeats the words one more time for good measure. They’re not true, of course they’re not true, no one is scared of nothing, and Unique least of all. The words are a relic left over from a past that sort of embarrasses her now, when she thought she could handle things by splitting herself in two, pleasing the people she loves with one half and pleasing herself with the other. She doesn’t think she’ll ever stop being bitter that pleasing herself wasn’t enough to please the people she loves.

Things are better now, more difficult in some ways but better for her soul. She’s not two people, she is one person. Not a new person, no, she’s the very same baby her mother and father held for the first time at Akron General 17 years ago. She’ll never let anyone convince her different again.

Unique is not afraid of anything.

But this thing with Ryder is scary. She’d never attempted to act on a crush before, never even considered it, and the whole thing had turned out to be so wonderful and so terrible at the same time, the thrill every time they talked tamped down by guilt every time she remembered that she was lying to him, stringing him along. He didn’t know the truth. He knew her, after a few months of talking, but he didn’t know what she looked like, and it didn’t matter that it shouldn’t matter, because it did. It mattered to everyone, especially high school boys, and she had known Ryder would probably recoil once he found out her true identity, but she’d kept at it anyway, continuing the ruse as long as she possibly could, allowing herself the tiniest bit of hope that it wouldn’t matter to him that she’s not the vision of female beauty most guys look for.

It’s been two months since Ryder learned the truth, and the hope Unique had let go of after his initial anger has bloomed again, bigger and brighter than before. It had taken a little while, but the two of them are friends again, even closer than they’d been before. They talk, they laugh, Ryder doesn’t back away from her touch and even initiates his own. The past few weeks in particular have been promising. More often than not, when she’d turned to sneak a look at him in Glee or at the lunch table, he was already looking in her direction. He’d drop his gaze almost immediately, but she never missed seeing the beginnings of his smile before she turned away, too. No one has ever liked her before, she’s pretty sure, so she has nothing to compare this to, but she feels it. He wants to ask her out.

But she’s been waiting for days, for months, really, for her whole life, and maybe she’s reading this wrong or he’s just not ready yet, but Unique is sick of waiting. It’s 2013, for God’s sake, and she is a strong, beautiful black woman who does not need to wait around for a guy to ask her out. She can ask him out herself, and she will. In glee today, Mr. Schuester had announced the theme for glee this week as they get close to Nationals is ‘hope.’ It seemed like a sign.

Unique is not afraid of anything.

He might say no. He will probably say no, but that’s okay. It’s not going to be worse than the months she spent with her insides twisted up by guilt, or that terrible moment in the hallway when she’d confessed. What’s a ‘no’ compared to all that? What’s the risk of a ‘no’ when there’s even the slightest chance it could be a yes? Remaining silent has never made Unique feel okay, has never gotten her the things she wants.

A few deep breaths, and then she nods at the mirror in affirmation and acceptance before picking up her phone. She opens up the text conversation she has going with Ryder and taps out a few words before backspacing and hitting the call icon instead. Texting is fine, but it’s not very brave, and the two of them don’t have the best history with it.

By the time Ryder answers the call on the fourth ring, Unique is feeling a little less bold. He sounds confused when he greets her, but not upset, and it makes sense - they’ve never talked on the phone. It would probably be easier for them to talk on the phone, where Ryder wouldn’t stress about spelling, and Unique can’t believe she’s never considered this before.

“Hello?” Ryder repeats after a few seconds. “Unique? Are you there? Did you butt dial me or something?”

She huffs out a laugh. “No, no, I’m here, sorry.” It’s still startling sometimes, how just hearing him say her name can make her feel. She is in so deep with this boy, it’s ridiculous.

“Oh, okay,” Ryder says. It sounds like he’s letting out a breath. “Hi.”

“Hi. I just wanted to ask you something.”


The few seconds before Unique starts talking again feel like painful, silent hours, and she knows even before she says the first word that she’s not going to be able to do it.

“I… um, I was wondering…” She trails off, trying not to be too annoyed with herself. She called him, after all, and that’s an accomplish in its own. She can aim smaller tonight, and maybe she’ll be ready tomorrow or Wednesday or next month. “I was wondering if you wanted to work together on a song for glee this week,” she says eventually. “I know a lot of the others are pairing up. It’s a pretty vague theme, but at least we’ll have tons of songs to choose from.”

Ryder exhales again. “Yeah, that’s… we should do that. I haven’t come up with any ideas at all yet, so…”

“We could meet up tomorrow after school,” Unique suggests a grin spreads across her face. She didn’t ask him out, but she still got a yes. It feels like a good start. “Bring your laptop, we can go through our music libraries. Maybe do another mash-up?”

“Sounds good. Though I’m not sure if I even have any songs about hope.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Unique assures him.

“Hopefully,” adds Ryder.

Unique frowns. She knows he’s only talking about picking a song, but she doesn’t like hearing him so doubtful. “Definitely.”

Hope-fully,” Ryder repeats, teasing. “I was trying to be on theme. Way to ruin my super hilarious joke, Unique.”

And she’s smiling again, just like that, because he said her name, because he’s such a dork, because someday soon she is going to ask him out and she’s at least 75% sure he’s going to say yes.

They don’t talk much longer, just finalize their plans for the next day and say goodbye, and Unique’s alone with her mirror again, thinking of the words she’d repeated while trying to convince herself to make the phone call. They weren’t true, not entirely, but she’d known that before she called. She’d known that before she called and she’d called anyway, and she’ll fall asleep smiling tonight even if things hadn’t gone exactly to plan, so she says it once more, steady and defiant.

“Unique is not afraid of anything.”