Tag Archives: opposite sex friendship

Familiarity

familiarity

 

When Lori walks up Dex’s drive, she sees him kneeling by the steps to his porch, gouging an old basketball with a box cutter. The box cutter is dull and the hide of the ball is thick, so he isn’t cutting so much as he’s slashing. The ball is old, and the bright orange Lori remembers from high school games of Horse has dulled into a deep, graying brown. When Dex finally punctures it the ball spews dust in a wheeze that almost sounds asthmatic.

“The shit are you doing?” she sneers as she kicks her way up his walk, her heavy boots snapping against the concrete. Dex works his fingers inside the cut and holds the ball open as he flattens it.

“Time to retire the old fella,” he tells her, and when the ball is rendered a sad, flat carcass he lifts the lid of the city trash can and flings it inside like a Frisbee. Dex crosses himself facetiously and lowers his voice: “In nomine Patris, et Spiritus Sancti.”

“I think there’s more words to that,” Lori tells him.

“Well fuck it. I ain’t even Catholic.” Dex rubs his arms. He’s wearing a thin long sleeve tee, one he always wears. The seams at the shoulders are wearing out and each threadbare elbow has a thin, short rip at its apex. “Damn. It’s colder out here than I thought it’d be.”

“Yeah, I know, right?” Lori says, making her way up the steps. “Some dumbass might even try to tell you it’s January.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get yer ass inside.” Dex opens the door and lets her in before following.

Inside it’s substantially warmer, though not as warm as it might be in other people’s houses. Dex’s parents own the place but he lives here alone now, paying utilities and generally bumming off his folks while he builds his own funds. When his mother still lived here she kept it warm enough to bake bread, but Dex starts to sweat at 70 degrees. Luckily Lori’s always wearing her ugly gray and brown sweater, so it’s never an issue for her.

“I’m hungry,” Lori tells him.

“Well then go eat,” Dex says. They’ve already made plans to head out to The Nacho Shack, however, and Dex pulls on a sweater for the walk.

Lori snuffles her chilly nose and watches him while he’s turned away and she has the chance. With his black curly hair and his rounded face he’s pretty average looking, but there are moments or angles or something that Lori doesn’t have the words for where he’s so goddamn handsome that a warm trickle drips from her chest to her gut. She can only take these moments in quick bursts before her mind goes to her greasy hair and her horse teeth and the stomach that seems flat enough so long as she wears the ratty gray and brown sweater she always wears. When she thinks of those things she feels like she’s stolen something, and she has to stop before the embarrassment can make her face red.

Dex ruffles his hair and grabs his phone and wallet. He scratches at his shoulder, at a scar he got in high school. He’s so milquetoast that he mostly keeps the scar’s origin to himself. The few people he’s told who didn’t see him get it assumed he wass just making it up, trying to make himself seem less bland than he was.

A kid who grew up two doors down from Lori had taken to harassing her every chance he got. He’d follow her before, during, and after school, calling her a dyke and telling her he planned to kill her or rape her or both. Then one day Dex told him to back off. Dex had never met Lori but didn’t like how ugly things were getting between these two kids he passed in the hall. The guy had a box cutter and jammed it in Dex’s shoulder, then got shipped off to juvie. Lori heard from someone that he was dead now, beaten up in some prison upstate. Lori felt a little guilty over how relieved that news made her feel when she heard it.

Dex ruffs his hair again and checks himself in the mirror. “Will you hurry up, you pussy?” Lori groans. She really is hungry and this honestly is getting on her nerves a bit.

“Alright, alright,” and he grabs his keys and goes up to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and shaking her playfully. Then he looks down and pinches her nose. “You’re so cuuuuute!” he teases, a head taller than her, and she shoves him and punches him in the scarred shoulder.

“Oh, fuck you!” she snaps, and makes her way outside, smiling while also scowling. Dex follows her and locks the door. When he was pinching her nose there was a fleeting urge to kiss her forehead, because she’s almost like a little sister to him. Sometimes there are moments when the words are capitalized – KISS HER – and when those words grow in his mind, he sees her both again and for the first time. He sees her huge toothy smile, and the wide scattering of dark freckles on her dimpled cheeks, and the gray-blue eyes almost hidden behind messy bangs that aren’t quite brown and aren’t quite red. And in those times, with those words so huge in his head, she isn’t like a sister to him at all.

Friendship is a bond, but also, sometimes, a chain.

The Nacho Shack is down and around the block, so they walk, Lori’s baggy jeans scraping against themselves, Dex occasionally running his fingers through his hair in the cold wind. They’ll probably eat outside, warmed by fresh tacos and fueled by too much Cuban coffee. They’ll tease and kick each other, like they’ve done for nearly a decade, and they’ll ignore fleeting wishes that will pass between their ears. They walk, neither arm-in-arm nor with outstretched hands. They are bound both together and apart by placid, steadfast familiarity.

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Between Lines

pen

 

Hannah had read bits and pieces of Bryan’s book when he’d been writing it, but it wasn’t until the book had been revised, agented, revised again, and published that she’d been able to sit down and read it cover to cover. The story was good, competent but not too impressive. Not to diminish what he’d done. He’d sold work. But still, it was only good. Not great, not amazing. Decent.

What stuck with Hannah, aside from her best friend having written it, was the woman in it, Leila. The love interest to the protagonist, who Bryan admitted in his first outlines was essentially him. In the novel, Nick, the hero, is in love with Leila. The romance is played up in the typical fashion for popular fiction. They once dated. It didn’t work out. They both developed feelings later, deep into their friendship. Both waited for the other to say or do something. Neither was willing to make that first trespass. Then the plot occurs, and lessons are learned, and held hands indicate a consummation will occur after the book is closed.

The romance wasn’t particularly moving. It was sweet, cutesy, but mainstream and generic. But it hit Hannah like a gust of wind. She got goosebumps that stayed even after she was done. Because Leila was clearly her.

***

“You wanna meet up at Wendy’s?” Bryan asked her on the phone. He worked half days at the bank on Saturday, and the Wendy’s was right next door. Tellers had to stand through their shifts. He needed to sit and eat before they did anything else that afternoon.

“Yeah man. I may be a little late. Dr. Tanner had an emergency this morning he needed help on.” Hannah was Tanner’s most reliable assistant. He chalked it up to work ethic, but Hannah simply couldn’t stand the idea of letting the animals down. A crying teenage girl had brought her screaming dog in after calling Tanner’s emergency line. The dog had swallowed a jagged piece of bark, and by the time the vet had gotten it out, it had nearly worked its way into the hound’s lungs. Hannah wouldn’t tell Bryan this, but after the girl and her dog had left, and Dr. Tanner and locked the office, Hannah had chain smoked in her car and cried for half an hour.

She fixed her eyeliner and said: “Say…half an hour?”

Her eyes wouldn’t be so puffy and red then.

“Sure. See ya see ya.”

By the time she got there, fresh faced and feeling both relieved and silly, and annoyed at feeling silly, Bryan had already eaten. He was on his laptop, exploiting the franchise’s wifi. He looked studious and he was typing quickly. Too anyone other than Hannah he looked like a dedicated young professional. To her, he looked like a man busily organizing his iTunes playlist.

“Mr.Bestseller,” she lied as she dropped in beside him, cramming chicken nuggets whole into her mouth. His book had sold but it was of the kind that seemed to be mostly background decoration for the bookshelves.

“She teases me,” he said, looking up to God. “Her best friend accomplishes his dream, and here she is to cut it down.”

“Someone’s gotta keep ya grounded,” she shrugged. She stretched her legs out and draped them across his lap. She’d tossed her scrubs into her back seat, and without her professional attire she seemed ten years younger, all skinny jeans and facial piercings. Studs in her nose and lip and ears, glinting in the fluorescent light and noonday sun. Hair so short and so dark and so smooth it almost seemed painted on. She still scribbled the names of bands she liked on the toes of her Converses when she got bored. They were both twenty-five.

He’d loosened his tie and ruffed his hair, so he looked a little like his usual, non-bank self. “The insane amount of money Nicolas Sparks makes does that effectively enough. Still,” he rapped her shins with his fingers, “that advance was pretty sweet.”

“I liked it.”

“Well of course you did. You’re obligated to.”

“Noooo, you asshole! I mean I actually liked it. It was sweet.” Through the last of her chicken nuggets she mumbled: “You know, despite it being indulgent wish-fulfillment.”

“Oh, please. If it’d been that I would’ve had the guy fistfight terrorists on a roof somewhere.”

“Funny you had the girl like the same bands I like.”

“All of which I exposed you to.”

“Fair point. Hey!” She drew a leg back and shoved his knees with her shoe. “What are we doing tonight?”

Bryan closed his computer, leaned back, and rubbed his eyes. “Well I’m gonna crash for a couple hours. Then…I dunno. You wanna get drunk and listen to music?”

“We do that almost every night.”

“You wanna do something else?”

“No. It just occurred to me that that’s our ritual.”

“Well, rituals are important.” He stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder. He used to be so much slimmer. Used to be he’d waver from the weight of the bag. Now he was so…solid. Or was she just imagining that?

He shoved her feet with his knee. “See ya…six-ish?”

“Okey dokey, artichokey.”

***

When she swung by his place he answered the door with puffy eyes and the pout of someone who slept too long. He told her to grab a beer while he showered, then shuffled back down the hall. He was barefoot and tie-less but otherwise still in his work clothes.

While the shower ran Hannah plopped down at his desk and opened his laptop. She did that all the time. Bryan knew about it. He didn’t care if she found his porn and he didn’t keep any personal info on his machine. She opened the folder he kept his writing in and scrolled through thumbnails until she found a title that interested her.

“Transcription.”

The file was a series of single sentences, followed by small paragraphs of transliterate rephrasing.

If I’m asleep just come on in. I trust you not to murder me.

Then the following: She could come and go without him knowing, and despite his ignorance he’d be in bliss. Because around her there was comfort, and in that comfort he found also safety. Her friendship and his trust were fair substitutes for arms locked around one another.

The next line: If you think you can stand my company. It’s PMS ahoy time.

Followed with: There came between them moments when warning was needed. Don’t do this; keep away when I need you to. The ignorant say that love is in knowing everything about the other, but the truly in love know better. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to accept it. There are moments when love means putting up a fence, or at the very least, caution tape.

She recognized the line that had come before. She’d texted it to Bryan once.

Sister’s wedding wasn’t too bad. Only the super fucking old relatives asked me when I was growing my hair out again.

Her hair had spilled to the middle of her back, and once he’d put his hand on the oaken curls and the glossy smoothness had caught his breath. And he winced inside when she’d cut it off, but it was not for him to mourn or complain. She attended to her temple, as he attended to his. She was not here for his acceptance. That was his to choose to give. The attraction was to her being, all of it, and after a moment he found his breath catching again, because the new hair was still, of course, her.

“You feel like Chinese?” Bryan asked from behind her, and she screamed and spun in his chair.

“Jesus fucking Christ! How do you fucking move so fucking quietly?”

His wet blond hair ringed his forehead in little curling spikes. Small wet drops sprinkled the shoulders of his blue tee shirt. He’d pulled on a pair of jeans that weren’t so much slashed as they were worn. He shrugged. “My house, woman.” He grinned and tapped his fingertips together. “Your life is in my hands!”

She leaned back and swigged her beer. “Where ya thinking of ordering from?”

“I dunno. I like Stir King but they take forever to get here.” He looked up from his handful of takeout menus and noticed the screen. A small but clear look of alarm crossed his face, but to his credit it passed like a flash of heat lightning. “If I put in a carryout order would you be down to ride with?”

“Sure, so long as you’re cool with me smoking in your car.”

“I’m not, but you’re gonna do it anyway, so it’s moot.” He stepped into a pair of loafers, grabbed his keys and wallet, and pocketed his phone. Before they left he closed the word file and shut the laptop’s lid.

***

They gorged on sweet and sour pork and cinder block sized boxes of fried rice, then passed a bottle of Canadian Club between them and listened to scratchy GG Allin tracks.

It was winter but it was a muggy southern winter, and when the music ended they just migrated to the back deck to polish off the bottle. They collapsed into a cushioned swing and dragged an afghan across themselves.

“Man, fuck,” Bryan yawned. “Fuckin’ late twenties gotta remind me I can’t stay up this late when I hit thirty.”

“Gotta wake up, old man,” Hannah told him, swigging the whiskey. “I ain’t dragging your ass into bed.”

“Oh, but for the grace of God,” he said, taking the bottle back.

“Hey Bryan?”

“Hey Hannah.”

“You keep all our texts?”

He seemed confused at first, then his eyes widened and he bobbed his head as he remembered. “Yeah, yeah I do. I keep a lot of stuff people tell me. Use it in a lot of stuff I write. Old fuckin’ habit.” He took another drink.

“Gotcha.” She grinned, obnoxious and twisted drunk. “You fuckin’ creeper.”

“Well, stop textin’ and I’ll stop creepin’.” He was slurring, and blinking a lot to keep awake.

“So how much of me did you use, then?”

“Huh?”

“In…in your book.” And now she was slurring too. “You said you use people’s texts in your stuff. How much of me is in there?”

“Uh…” He tilted his head back and thought about. “Well, book’s about 240 pages long. Leila’s in about 120 of those pages. So…yeah, 120 pages.”

It was quiet for a beat, and then Hannah slurred. “Wait, did you just say I’m Leila?”

“Huh?” He squinted as he thought, then it dawned on him what he’d said. “Oh, well, you know what I mean. Maybe, like, 80 pages of her is you. Different…you know, different hair.”

He yawned.

“And how much of you is in it?”

“Oh, well…all of it.” He grinned, then stretched. “Heart and soul. I gotta crash.”

He leaned forward, hanging his head in drunken exhaustion, then looked over at her. They held eye contact until she smiled, and then until he also smiled.

It’d be a trespass to cross that line. Regardless of how it’d be done, it’d always be a trespass. The trick would be in figuring out when that boundary could be broken. And neither could figure out that puzzle, even when they were sober.

So he stood up, wavering but remaining upright, and squeezed her shoulder. “Lock the doors when ya come in,” he told her, and shuffled inside.

Hannah capped the bottle and leaned back in the swing. Where Bryan had sat, the polyester cushion was warm. Tree frogs, emboldened by the mild winter, croaked all around her. After an hour, she made her way in, latching the deck doors behind herself. While they slept, beneath the same ceiling, inside different rooms, the whiskey bottle sat on its side in the swing. It stretched across the cool gap between where they’d sat.

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Move In

pretty hair

 

“If you’re worried about whether I have ulterior motives…”

“No, it’s not that, Jesus. I just worry…”

“Worry what?”

“It’s not just me. It’s me and Kat.”

“Kat’s three. It’s not like she’s gonna take up that much space…”

“You know what I mean.”

Jesse swigged his beer and nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But the room’s pretty big and we can set up an extra bed.”

“And Alexa’s fine with this?” Megan knotted her brows. She twisted her wrists about so her own beer sloshed in the bottle.

“I don’t know. Guess she’ll have to be.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

Jesse shrugged. “You’re my friend. Leaving you in the cold seems a lot less fair.”

“But maybe more appropriate?”

“You’re sweet, but Jesus, I don’t wanna be a part of any world where abandoning your friends is considered appropriate.” He guzzled the rest of his beer and set the bottle on the porch, sliding a new one out of the six-pack in the same movement. He pried the cap off with a flick of a calloused thumb, offered her the bottle but she shook her head and sipped the one she had.

He couldn’t pretend he didn’t know what she was worried about. She and Alexa got on fine. Alexa was never worried when they hung out alone while she was at work. But having her in the back room? Out of work, so she was always there? Jesse worked mornings, Alexa worked afternoons. He and Megan would be alone together for hours, every day.

Well, not really. Kat would be there. But it wasn’t too hard to distract a three-year-old, was it?

“What are your other options?”

She shrugged. “No fuckin’ clue, man. I mean, I could head to Hawthorne where Kat’s dad is, but…” She sighed, wordlessly admitting she’d nearly prefer to be homeless. She swigged her beer. “No fuckin’ clue.”

“Alright, you’re crashin’ here then. You gotta.” He waved a hand to cut her off. “It’s out of our hands, woman. Until you can get something figured out, alright? I ain’t gonna leave ya to twist in the wind.”

She was quiet a long while. Her oak-brown hair fell over one shoulder and curled around her elbow. She had smooth skin with a tone like honey. He could never tell if her eyes were brown or green, but they were always sparkling. There was a single freckle on her nose, like a pin holding everything together. She was a looker, alright. Not that he ever looked, but others did. His buddy Dave. Alexa. His cousin Kim. And they didn’t mind bringing it up around him, either. Megan was beautiful. Looking at her now, he could easily see it.

But.

But there’d never been that instinctive recognition. That lurch in the gut that told him when someone was pretty. Megan was beautiful, but somehow she was beautiful in everyone’s eyes but Jesse’s.

And damn, but do people get imaginative when you’re alone with someone pretty.

Jesse’s friend since sixth grade finished her beer, scooted lower into the porch swing, and stuck a leg out against the railing, softly rocking herself along. She seemed to be intensely studying the satin flat she was wearing, shimmering black against the whitewashed wood. “Thank you,” she nearly whispered.

Jesse took off his ball cap and dropped it over her outstretched foot. “No biggie,” he told her, then swigged his beer.

***

Well, how could she say no?

She liked Megan, a lot, actually. They always got along. She loved it when the three of them stayed up late together, drinking beer and laughing over stories from high school.

When all three of them were together.

Jesse was always home by three. Alexa was always home by seven. And Megan, at least for now, would always be home.

Moving her in had been easy enough. Megan’s life was sparse enough she could fit it all into a car trunk. When everything was unpacked and Kat’s bed was put together, Jesse left to grab pizza. Megan and Kat played in the kitchen. Alexa had left to pee, but now she stayed behind and stared into the mirror.

She put a hand against her cheeks, pushing against them so she didn’t look so much like a chipmunk. Her nose was round and looked a little mushed. Blond hair always a little too shiny, oily looking. She ran a finger behind her jaw on either side, feeling for the goddamn whiskers that always tried to grow there. It was the first, second, and third thing she always checked for in the morning, always with a pair of tweezers gripped like a six-shooter.

No one but Alexa saw this being who only came alive in the mirror. This creature that in Alexa’s mind could only just barely be called a woman. This thing that, she felt, she’d managed to hide from Jesse.

Megan was in the kitchen, sweaty in an old tee shirt stained with grape jelly. Bandanna holding her hair back from her dirty face. Movie star beautiful. Suffering but still so goddamn beautiful. Here, in this house.

Alexa touched up her foundation, and heard Jesse come in. Kat screamed in delight. She loved Jesse. Alexa felt something jerk violently somewhere in her heart.

She grabbed paper plates and plastic cups, poured juice for Kat and grabbed beers for everyone else. She watched Jesse toss his hat by the TV and run a hand through his rust-red crew cut. Even so short, it always looked like he was fighting a case of bed head. He rubbed at eyes that always looked a little puffy, like he’d just woken up. His face alternated between pale in tone and red from a swarm of freckles. He scratched at his neck, dotted red from acne that’d held on since he was sixteen.

Kat hugged his neck and flopped backward in his arm like Katherine Hepburn. Jesse hoisted her up and sat her down in Megan’s lap. He untangled himself and moved to Alexa. The whole time, he was moving toward her. They locked eyes, and there was the smile he only ever gave her. She knew this. She’d watched him around others. He only smiled like this, with his eyes and his lips, for her.

Megan and Kat picked at a slice of pizza. Kat told her gorgeous mother about her day at preschool. Jesse held Alexa close, telling her hello with a kiss.

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