Jay sat on the uncomfortable couch his friends had optimistically covered with a dark blue slip that was far too large. The four girls who lived in the less than perfect apartment he was always welcomed in were all putzing around the kitchen. An area he hardly ventured into on account of the girls insisting on playing hostesses, he didn't mind sitting back and watching them work. Or just looking.
Jay met Danielle in a freshman level Music Appreciation class, and very much to his surprise, they became fast friends. As somewhat of a guy's guy, he'd never been so close to a female as only a friend. But they had so much fun and were so comfortable with each other it was impossible to avoid a friendship. Now, nearing the end of their sophomore year, they'd become a mutual support system. He'd seen her go through a lot, as she had him, and he found a place among her and her friends that was like being adopted into a family. Watching her subtly from the corner of his eye, a technique he'd perfected long ago, he observed her carrying a full dish towards the sink which she set down hurriedly, forcing a good portion of its contents onto the counter. Jay forced his gaze into his lap, unable to hide his smile.
His feelings for Danielle had never been purely innocent, and somewhere in his heart he felt guilty for it, knowing she depended on him. In the beginning some flirting went on but never went further as they dated other people. At some point he realized that he'd never had such an honest friend and decided never to act on the things he might feel, knowing deep down the reaction wouldn't be what he wished for. He always tried to look on the better side of things, thinking that they'd become friends for a reason. They liked to help each other, to take care of each other. Anything he felt beyond that was something he'd learned to push aside. Maybe it was something that happened in every male/female friendship. He didn't know.
After working through a pseudo-thai concoction he was given a piece of chocolate cake, undoubtedly Danielle's contribution to the meal. He saw Cara, Sami and Charlotte cut themselves conservative portions and couldn't help but smile as he watched Danielle, who was always on a diet until about 6:30 pm, chow down and then lick every last bit of frosting off her fingers and utensil. She was a slob, she was a klutz, and he couldn't get enough.
Later on they'd gathered around the coffee table and Jay had lost track of the rules and scores of the odd card game going on, which seemed to him more centered on play-competitive slapping of various cards and purposeful shrieking. Cara and Danielle were mostly laughing and trying to fake out the other players. Jay hadn't involved himself in a while, almost in marvel of their relationships. If he'd ever ask his friends to play a card or word game, something that could be fun but also required a few neurons, or didn't revolve around beer, he'd be laughed out of the university.
There was a knock at the door which he responded to since the girls were so wrapped up. It was Allan, Sami's boyfriend who'd come to take her out. He stood with him at the door and made awkward masculine small talk while Sam gathered her things and the others continued to play the game he was now certain they'd made up. With many overlapped 'goodbyes', Jay closed the door behind the two. He made his way down the hall and ventured into the room Danielle shared with one of the other girls, sitting on her bed. He shuffled through newspapers, magazines, and schoolwork always left there in a mess, trying to put them in a sensible array. He always did this. She always complained. But was always secretly grateful. He wasn't sure how much time had passed when she appeared in the doorway, sipping a cup of water.
"Stop cleaning!", she whined. Finding comfort in her inevitable reaction, he smiled and placed the pile on her desk.
"They're gonna go to Matt's party" she said, motioning behind her. That's when Jay heard the spraying of hair product and general rummaging coming from the bathroom.
"You too?" he asked, pretty sure she'd already decided against it by her tone.
She shrugged and walked back towards the frontroom. By the time he followed, she was already lounging on the couch, looking at nothing, "clearing her head" as she often said.
"I don't feel like going out either" he sighed, sinking into the cushions and getting comfortable. They sat quietly for a while, listening to the calamity coming from the bathroom, watching the two girls come into the hallway in several different tops to glance in the long mirror. Jay felt a little sad his friend didn't want to party. He would have gone in that case, always wanting to witness her after a few drinks. Danielle mostly thought about changing her mind and going, mouth watering at the thought of whiskey possibly being present. But that wasn't enough to sway her and she tried to remember if anyone had actually won the card game. Finally two clothed bodies came into the frontroom.
"Well don't you look cute," she teased.
"Have fun," Jay added as they made their way to the door.
"We'll tell Matt you said hi," replied Cara, looking back at Danielle. She shrugged and offered a limp, pathetic wave as the door shut behind them.
"ahhhhh. Quiet," she sighed, closing her eyes briefly. He let her appreciate the peace for a moment, then started to wonder about her choice for the evening.
"Does Matt like you or something?" he asked, staring straight ahead at the wall.
"Eh, who knows." She made an indifferent motion with her hand, sighing.
"So, you're not into that, I'm guessing?" Jay only managed to peek at her out of the corner of his eye. He'd talked to her about boys before, and it was the one thing that was never totally comfortable.
"He's nice or whatever, but he's a little too into drugs, and then, well, you know." Yeah, Jay knew. Why she wasn't interested, why she didn't want to date, why she didn't care. There were reasons for it, but her apathy was so consistent it worried him. He knew he shouldn't bring it up. He knew that.
"Are you going to do this forever?" the words came out harsher than he meant them to. Swallowing hard, he slowly turned to face her. She was not blinking. She was not moving. Her mouth was set in a straight, tight line.
"It hasn't been forever, Jameson. And I'm not doing anything wrong." Jay felt bile rising in his throat at the combination of the use of his full name and upsetting his friend.
"I didn't want to make you mad, D. I just didn't want you to sit here all night if you like him." It was a complete lie he hoped would get lost in translation and forgotten. Jay was wishing himself silly that he hadn't said anything.
"Well I don't," she said forcefully.
"I'm sorry" he almost whispered, now looking at the ground.
"Don't be sorry," she sighed, "but try to remember that I am twenty years old. I don't need to be checked up on." She wasn't sure why she'd said that. It didn't make much sense, and it wasn't necessarily true. Danielle did need help sometimes. But she wasn't going to be babied.
"I have to look out for you, Danielle." Jay said it with his eyes closed. Something about the guilt he felt for making her angry and the hurt that hit him when she looked so sad made him tell the truth. It was hard for him to get it out, but even harder to know that she wouldn't fully understand why.
"You only think you do. I'll be fine. You have plenty on your mind, I'm sure," she said. More relaxed now, she even friendly shoved his arm. "I just don't understand why you care so much," she said shrugging her hands. Jay looked her in the eye and she wondered if what she'd said made sense. She hadn't meant it to be a question, and couldn't tell if he was going to reply or not. Unconsciously she tilted her head, looking at him curiously.
Jay wanted to tell her why. Instead he stuck his neck out and kissed his best friend.