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  • Writer's pictureSophie Lou Wilson

100,000 followers

A festive short story about TikTok followers and teenage unrequited love


It was the first weekend of Christmas break and I had decided to tell Eddie I loved him. A winter chill flushed his cheeks as we stood in the hallway, the front door ajar while my dog jumped at his feet. The snow had melted, and now only small grey ice caps lay scattered and alone in the damp, black grass. He closed the door and we went to the kitchen for a drink. 


The week before, Eddie had invited me round for dinner. We cooked pasta and watched a Derek Jarman film. Eddie spoke drolly of his growing online following. He tried to seem indifferent, but his expression each time his phone buzzed betrayed his true feeling. The iPhone light glowed in the corner of my eye as a firebomb erupted on the TV screen. Outside, sleet was falling light and fast, the shadows of trees like great arms reaching towards us, and I knew that very soon everything was going to change, and I knew I needed to tell him I loved him before that happened.



Eddie sat on the sofa on his phone while I poured the drinks. My parents had gone out for dinner and the boy I loved was sitting on their sofa. He was wearing faded black jeans and a striped mohair jumper. As he leaned forwards, he concentrated hard on whatever was on his phone screen. I poured us both a vodka and coke, making sure mine was stronger, making sure to top the vodka bottle up with water before putting it back in the cupboard.


As I walked over with his drink, Eddie looked up excitedly. “I think I’m going to hit 100,000 followers tonight.”


“Ooh congrats,” I said, handing him the drink. "That's pretty big, right?"


Eddie had started making precocious YouTube videos when he was 13. Four years later, he had 90,000 TikTok followers, 10,000 YouTube subscribers and 12,000 Instagram followers which, when you’re seventeen in a small town, was a pretty big deal. His first videos had been about films, but now he mostly just vlogged his life. I thought they were fairly generic videos, but for some reason, people loved them. I supposed it had something to do with charisma. At seventeen, he was already a fully formed person who could show other people how real he was. I was not like that, and when he tried to get me to join his videos, I shrank away from the camera, so I mostly just filmed him when he needed an extra pair of hands. 


“Shall we go upstairs?” I said.


Eddie nodded and got up, saying, “This feels big. I’ve been feeling kinda overwhelmed lately about turning eighteen and what comes next, but maybe it’ll be ok. It’s like, I’ve already got my job sorted. Most people our age can’t say that.”


“I can’t say that,” I scoffed as we walked up the stairs. 


“You’ll be fine,” he said. “You’re clever. You’ll go to a good uni.”


“I thought you were going to uni too.”


Eddie shrugged. “My parents want me to, but I don’t see the point if I can make more money doing this.”


“Fair enough,” I said, although I’d always imagined us at uni together, falling in and out of nightclubs and lecture theatres, staying up late talking about poetry or doing other things. “I feel like it’d be such an experience though. You know, making new friends, going out, the whole social side. We might never get another chance to do that."


Eddie shrugged. “I’m not that fussed. It’s easy to make new friends now.”


In my room, he sat down on the carpet and I sat on my bed. He looked around at the haphazard posters peeling off the walls. 


“You could do both,” I said.


“What?”


“It doesn’t have to be uni or content creation. You could do both. I always see those day in the life uni videos on my for you page.”


“Hmm. I would like to live in another city. The people who are really killing it are all in East London.”


I drank some of my vodka and coke. “I don’t want to go to London,” I said, knowing that if Eddie went I’d probably follow him. “Not yet. It’s too big and expensive. I want to have a proper uni experience first.”


“If I go, I’ll probably go to London,” Eddie said, but he was looking down at his phone. He laughed. “Sorry, I’m just doing a Q&A on my story.”


I noticed Eddie had a spot on his chin. It was nearly double the size it should be, like he’d been self-consciously touching it too often. I was more attracted to him when I could see his imperfections. When he caught me looking at the spot, he changed the subject.


“Do you still want to go to the beach between Christmas and New Year’s?” he said. 


“Yeah,” I said. “It can be our new tradition.”


Eddie laughed at something on his phone.


“What is it?” I asked.


“Oh, nothing,” he said. “It’s silly.”


*


I remembered the night I realised I was in love with him. Six months earlier, we were lying on our backs in the grass, ducking out of a game of spin the bottle at Grace’s house party. We were talking about the bands we both liked while our friends all kissed each other. It was the night that Liv had sex for the first time and walked back into the party with twigs in her hair. Something about it all made me feel like I was finally living my life for the first time. I was tipsy from the cider Liv’s boyfriend had bought us and I thought about telling Eddie I had a crush on him. Alcohol had loosened my lips, but it never loosened them enough to tell the truth. I drank more when we went back into the kitchen, seeking honesty or lack of inhibition, and finding only drunkenness. Once I could barely see, I staggered back outside and threw up against the garden wall. 


Later on, when we were packed into the living room like sardines, trying to sleep sitting upright on the sofa, Eddie rested his head on my shoulder. I rubbed my foot against his and when he responded, I knew I would completely degrade myself for him if he asked me to, crawl on my hands and knees begging, give him everything, lie down in the middle of the road to die. I was being fatalistic. I was sixteen and drunk.


I had not been surprised when, a few weeks later, Eddie started dating his childhood best friend. And it did not surprise me either when he told me they’d had sex for the first time, though I did wonder how much longer I could go on hearing about it. I spent my days dragging my feet through school corridors lined with dark blue lockers and girls who were louder than me, and meaner too. 


By winter, all anyone could talk about was who had kissed who or who had and hadn’t had sex or the older men we were talking to in secret online. Most people assumed Eddie and I were dating because we spent so much time together. Only Grace knew how I felt about him and one day, when we were walking to history class, she said I should tell him I loved him because he probably felt the same way. She said it didn’t matter if he had a girlfriend right now. She said that if I didn’t say it soon then I’d never say it. I just nodded and told her she was probably right. Then we sat down at our desks and waited for the teacher to hand us back our essays on the Vietnam War.


*


In my bedroom, I was telling Eddie about my dream. “I dreamt we were at the beach last night,” I said. 


“What happened?” he asked.


“We were in a lighthouse, but then the sea started flooding and we just had to stand up there together and watch the town get destroyed and everyone drown.”


“Bleak,” he said.


“I thought it would mean something negative like being really overwhelmed, but apparently it symbolises new beginnings. A big change is coming.”


“Hmm.”


“Even if you don’t go to uni, everything’s going to change soon,” I said. “We won’t be walking distance away from each other anymore.”


“I’m ready for change.”


“It’ll be weird not living so close.”


“We’ll stay in touch,” Eddie said flippantly. 


I finished my drink.


“You drank that quickly,” he said.


“I want to relax.”


“I’m already relaxed.” He didn’t look relaxed.


“I’m gonna get another drink. Want one?”


Eddie shook his head. I looked at his glass, which was still full, then went downstairs.


*


When we first met, Eddie wasn’t an influencer yet. He was a thin, awkward fifteen-year-old who still wore braces. We met at an after-school club in a church. None of my friends were religious, but we'd go every Thursday for £1 pizza. It was just something to do. Grace and Eddie played tennis together so she introduced us and we bonded straight away over old bands like The Cure and Joy Division. Within a few weeks of knowing each other, we were inseparable.


Eddie was posting content for years before a silly video he made about Barbenheimer went viral last summer around the same time he finally got his braces off. The momentum kept growing and his life had been taking off while mine stayed the same. It hadn’t changed him exactly. It was just something that he now spent more and more time on. The clock was ticking on our teenage years. I poured out some more of my parents’ vodka and checked my phone.


How’s it going? Have you told him yet?


It was from Grace. I could imagine her sitting at home with popcorn waiting for the night’s plot to unfold, waiting for the moment I would tell Eddie I loved him. I wondered whether she had only encouraged me to tell him so we had something to talk about during lunch next term. She wanted a rom-com ending, but I was afraid it would go wrong and break me. Then again, I sometimes thought unfulfilled love was more romantic. 


I put my phone away without replying and went back upstairs. Eddie was still sitting on his phone on the floor.


“I’m so close to 100K now,” he told me. I sat down on the bed and didn’t say anything. I sat in silence for what seemed like a long time. 


Eddie would laugh or read something aloud at intervals. He was so engrossed in his phone, in all the people who weren’t really there, who didn’t really love him. I couldn’t think of anything to say, other than what I’d told myself I must say, so I just laughed and nodded along. I didn’t want to make myself smaller for love, but I thought that maybe that’s what our parents meant when they talked about making sacrifices. I finished my drink again and put the empty glass down on the floor. Without anything to hold onto, my hands grew clammy. I knew that if I tried to say something, my voice would shake. The house was cold, but I felt myself sweating profusely. I tried holding my breath, although I didn’t know what I was waiting for. 


Eventually, Eddie gasped. “I did it! I’ve got 100K followers!”


Instead of congratulating him, I said, "I think I'm in love with you."


“I have a girlfriend,” he said, only briefly looking up from his phone. "And I don't feel that way about you."


I lay back on my bed and smothered my face with the pillow. Eddie wasn’t looking up anyway. I felt drunk, stupid, ashamed. With my eyes closed, I saw all of the dreams of the last few months fall away. Visions dwindled one by one. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was supposed to say it back.


I sat up, got out of bed, and left the room. I walked downstairs into the kitchen and rested my forehead on the cold granite surface. Don’t cry, I told myself. I took a few deep breaths then took the bottle of vodka from the cupboard and went back upstairs.


I sat down next to Eddie on the floor and numbly watched his phone with him. He posted an Instagram story about hitting 100K followers and I watched the congratulations roll in. I unscrewed the lid from the vodka bottle and drank from it, screwing up my face as it burnt my throat. I thought I could sit here drinking forever. What else was there to do now but drink?


“Do you think if I drink all of this I’ll die?” I said, holding up the bottle. 


Eddie shook his head. He was hardly acknowledging me. I hated the idea that I’d made him feel awkward or pushed him away. I wondered why he didn't just get up and leave, but I was scared of what I'd do if he did.


When he finally turned to me, I thought we’d talk about what I’d said, but instead, he said, “Can you hold my phone? I just need to film a quick TikTok to thank people”


“Do people still do that?”


“Yeah, I wanna show that I’m grateful.”


“Just seems a bit cringe," I said.


“Don’t sound bitter.”


“I’m sorry. I’ll do it.”


“Get my outfit in. Keep your hands steady.”


We stood up and Eddie passed me his phone. He thanked his followers for helping him reach 100K. "You have no idea how much this means to me," he said at the end. "I love you so, so much."


I watched him say this through the screen and he wasn’t in my room anymore. He was inside the little rectangle of his phone. He didn’t exist. I didn’t exist. We weren't doing this for each other but for the 100,000 people watching on the other side. Maybe if I climbed in through the phone screen he would let me love him too. Maybe that would be simpler. I wouldn't mind if it was fake. Instead, I stood stiffly in my room a few feet away from him, doing what he asked me to do. I could see the Christmas lights on the house opposite twinkling irregularly through my bedroom window and I felt disconnected and alone.

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