"There's a pretty bird!"
I looked up to find some guy bent over, head hovering over mine. He had brought his face so close to me that I could feel his breathe against my lips. Fucking peppermint.
"Who the fuck are you supposed to be?" I spat, pushing him away and rising to my feet.
"You know what," he smiled, bringing two fingers to his chin, "I just knew you weren't half as bland as you seemed to be."
"Again, who the fuck are you supposed to be?"
"Think, pretty bird. We might have a certain someone in common."
Oh, fucking hell.
"Oho, there she goes!" he burst, whistling and clapping his hands, "Smart bird, this one!"
"You've literally got to be the most obnoxious person I've ever met."
"Well, I do apologize for not being as debonair as my uncle." he smiled, licking his lips, "But I assure you I'm just as pleasant to eat."
Ugh, fucking hell.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't see that eye-roll, pretty bird."
"What the fuck did I say about calling me pretty bird?"
"I don't know," he leaned in, pressing his knee between my thighs, "How about you tell me?"
"You are the worst at reading your audience, aren't you?"
"Fair enough," he pulled away, avoiding my gaze as he pressed out the wrinkles on his shirt, "I'll stop."
What happened next was the most surprising and awe-inspiring transformation I've ever seen. It was so sudden, so quick, like a switch that he instantly turned off. His entire demeanor; the way he walked, talked, and even the way he smiled changed. He went from being that obnoxious fucking creature to a sweet, stammering young man that blushed whenever I smiled at him.
He explained how he had a long history with self-confidence. He was a small and frail child, the youngest of four boys, and on top with that was cursed with a crippling shyness. Both his brothers and the children at school made a mockery out of him. He told me of countless times where he'd been ridiculed, bullied, and beaten. How his father's reaction would always be indifference: his view of it was that if he wasn't able to defend himself, he deserved every last bit of it. He recalled how it constantly broke his mother's heart, and how she was the only support he ever truly had.
And his uncle, of course. He was sent to his uncle's every summer, and those three months he spent with him would be his happiest of the year. It was his uncle that taught him to embrace his true self. To be strong and confident and take care of himself. His uncle was always keen on history, and so he'd always take him to all these old buildings and museums. He enjoyed it a lot, describing how patient his uncle was, following him around for hours and hours on end. He found himself particularly interested in the structure of these buildings, rather than its history. It was then that he began his interest in architecture. Architecture became his life; his distraction from a very difficult reality. If it weren't for his uncle, he said, he couldn't even imagine where he'd be today.
"So yeah," he smiled, bringing his hand to his head and tousling his hair, "That's why I was acting like an idiot. My uncle always told me that whenever I felt I didn't have it in me, I should just fake it."
"I guess your uncle's been giving you bad advice, then."
"No, he's a pretty good psychologist, he knows what he's doing." he laughed, "I guess I just over-do it sometimes."
"He's a psychologist?"
"Yeah. You didn't know? I thought you would, considering..."
"Considering." I smiled, raising my eyebrows.
He blushed and shook his head, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"It's fine," I cut him off, taking a sip out of my tea before continuing, "How is he, by the way?"
"He's good," he nodded a little too enthusiastically, like he's been waiting for that question all this time, "Why did you two stop seeing each other, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I think," he softly started, breaking off eye-contact and looking down at his hands, "I think he really liked you. I think he thought you were great."
"Did he or do you?" I teased, out of habit, more than anything. He looked so much like his uncle that I unconsciously reverted to my usual banter. And unlike his uncle, I got quite a reaction out of him.
"No, I mean, you're really nice and all, but my uncle, I wouldn't, I would never." he stammered, blushing profusely and shaking his head.
"It seems I'm rather popular with the men in your family. Maybe I should meet your brothers."
"Oh, no!" he shot up, alarmed, "You wouldn't like them, they're nothing like my uncle."
"And how is your uncle like?"
He stared blankly at me, and for a brief moment, I could've sworn I saw his uncle in his eyes; distant and full of terrible secrets, "Kind, I guess."