Of Boundaries and Pranks: A Love Story
Summary: What's a guy to do when being friends is just not enough anymore? Be confused and notice things he never did before, that's what. And hope it will soon end, so his life would make sense again. Sadly, life's not co-operating. Humorous approach to a cliché budding romance - or so it was intended. Reviews most welcome.
A.N.: This story still is not beta-read. If someone would like to volunteer for the task, I'd be most grateful.
Leaving out mixed signals or dirty thoughts, one thing still remained constant – Emma could grate on his nerves like no one else, ever. For instance, today. At the moment the bane of his existence was sharply poking Andrew's left thumb with the dessert fork to get back his wandering attention while calling out for check.
'Well, dear Emma, what is it that you want to do?' He dragged his mind back to the situation at hand and fished out his wallet. Waitress appeared beside their table and quickly collected the money. Emma stood up to stretch, smirked and shot him a challenging look.
'You get to guess.'
It was quite clear from her expression that Emma wanted to play and the whine-fest would be back in full force if Andrew refused. Although it didn't explain the barely noticeable tension lines around her eyes, Andrew noted. Emma must have something really special in mind if she was anxious about spelling it to him. This was getting interesting.
'Alright, I will play your game. Let's go.' They gathered their belongings and headed out in the warm late spring afternoon. Emma casually linked her arm through his and steered him across the street into the park. They admired the fresh greens of the Mother Nature in companionable silence for a while. Andrew flashed hopefully subtle glance at Emma.
She noticed and smirked again.
He resolutely broke away from a sudden forbidden vision about Emma's full, smirking lips at her enquiring nudge. Distraction was good. She was driving him barking mad anyway, and better be it about things he could somewhat handle. He'd play her game and beat her in it, too. So - what inane notion had her overly capable brain hatched this time?
'Okay. So. You want us to go and finally jump with parachutes. Hey, we could do that! This is fun! I think they'd still let us do it. It's not like we actually carried out the 'separated star-crossed lovers will tragically plummet to horrible death' plan, did we? It was just a game. We didn't mean it seriously, surely they must understand this much! Also, they might have forgotten. They weren't that upset, were they? What?' He hesitated at her insistent headshake.
'Nope. None can do. Trust me, they haven't forgotten. And they let others know, too. Remember that time I went on business trip to Rome? The airline didn't want to let me fly at first, and they only agreed when I said I'd wear a parachute during the flight. Damn inconvenient, that was. Stop laughing! You try and pee when there's a pack of bricks attached to your back and an overzealous stewardess knocks on the door every thirty seconds or so. I think the batty woman was under impression I'd try to squeeze out of plain through the pipe just to spite her. Besides, that's not what I want to do. Next guess, please!'
Andrew swallowed the last snicker.
'You want us to take revenge for your skirt on Mrs. Greenlace's dear Archibald. Oh, this is the perfect idea! Let me think… We could lure the nasty thing in a trap, dress him up in your niece's christening outfit and douse him in some vile perfume. Maybe lipstick, too? Or we could spray him all over with the gold paint you used for Christmas decorations last year. You have some left, right?'
Andrew met Emma's answering evil smirk. She sputtered and started to laugh. They both hated Emma's elderly neighbour's spoiled, overfed Pekinese with passion. The feeling was mutual, but until recently their dislike had been restricted to scowls from one side and furious yapping from the other. Last week little bugger had crossed the final line of civility by leaping through a hole in the fence and ripping Emma's brand new and very expensive skirt. Retaliation was inevitable.
'Wait, we'd need to snatch my dad's fishing boots first, and some janitor gloves, perhaps? I don't fancy getting bitten and catching rabies from that beast. And we'd need some kind of net, I think. We could use your old sweep-net; the chubby scoundrel is small enough. You should be the bait, and I'm gonna mesh him in. He'll never see it coming. This dog must learn that we are not to be trifled with,' Andrew dramatically raised a fist in the air.
Emma had laughed till tears and now was gasping for breath on their favourite bench under an old, gnarled willow tree arched over the bank of a small pond.
'Excellent idea, my dear friend! Impressive! Yes! I can see it! Golden-boy Archibald! We should positively do it. Are you free next Thursday? Mrs. G. is going to the theatre, and little darling, lovable Archie will be home all alone. Poor thing will be bored. Can't let that happen, can we? Still, not today.'
Satisfied that another devious plan was set in motion, Andrew nodded and sat beside her at a safe, friendly distance. He searched his brain for more ideas.
Emma had noticed and was now with warm smile watching the local stray dog the friends had taken under their protection. She called out, and the dog barked once in answer.
The dog showed up in the park several months ago, investigated the territory and decided to take up residency. Emma and Andrew were in the park that very day. Emma gave the dog her hotdog and patted his head; he looked at her with pure adoration and defended her against the pigeons. Thus a bond of mutual affinity and trust was formed almost instantly between the two. When the park keeper wanted to chase the dog away and even mentioned the dog pound, Emma loudly stepped in and screamed at the poor man for good ten minutes until he promised to leave the dog alone if Emma provided better solution.
Which she did. She couldn't exactly take the stray home because her cat positively hated anything dog-like, and the dog had chosen the park as his living area. So, Emma had concluded, he'd stay where he was. She just had to ensure it. If it took a war, war it'll be.
By now the dog was officially acknowledged by local authorities and also the park keeper, a feat accomplished single-handedly by Emma through furious persuasion that the dog was no threat and only added to the charm of the green area. After Emma took the dog to the vet to get the shots and appropriate paperwork stating dog's perfect physical and emotional health, the authorities had succumbed. Andrew privately thought it was due more to get Emma off their backs than anything else.
The dog was official part of the park with his own little line in the budget now, and Emma was appointed as his official guardian. The dog, as if knowing he owed Emma his safety and maybe even life, did anything he could to please Emma and show his boundless affection.
Andrew had voluntary helped in the 'dog campaign' though he still wasn't sure what had provoked the fierce protectiveness over the dog in Emma. Perhaps the crossbreed monstrosity reminded her one of the many dogs at her grandparents house when she was a little girl.
The huge grey-spotted hound Emma had affectionately named Bonaparte was currently impersonating playful puppy to get some treats out of two young couples having a picnic. When one of the guys threw a chunk of pica to the dog, he happily sauntered over, reclined against Emma's legs and proceeded to munch on his trophy. Emma idly bent down and scratched behind his ears. They both looked very satisfied with themselves and each other. Andrew quietly smirked at the cosy scene and launched back in the game.
'You think we should go to the port and hitchhike a ride across the bay. No. Wait. We did that already after your graduation.'
'We did?' Emma looked surprised. 'I can't remember.'
'Well, no wonder you can't. You were absolutely sloshed. You drank four bottles of champagne that night,' at Emma's suspicious glance he mischievously continued. 'And you actually had the time of your life on the boat. You managed to wrap the captain around your pinkie, sure as I'm sitting here. The gruff old sea dog recklessly told us he was looking for a wife; said he'd be happy if he could find someone cute like you. You batted your eyelashes the best you could and all but told him you were available. I think he was halfway ready to drag you to the church, no questions asked, when you got sick all over his shiny shoes. Pity, that. We might call you Mrs. Captain today if not for that mishap,' Andrew managed to end his tale on exaggerated nostalgic note.
'What are you talking about?! Don't give me this! I didn't… I wouldn't… did I?' Emma looked confused, and then recollected herself. 'Wait, I don't wanna know. If I don't remember there must be a good reason why. I should spare myself emotional trauma. Right?'
'Aye, Mrs. Captain,' Andrew deftly avoided a punch. 'Okay, okay. I did make up most of it. You were a good girl. Too drunk to do stupid things. Too stupid things, that is.'
Emma had a doubtful look as if she wanted to press the issue, and then decided to drop it. She motioned towards the hotdog stall and got up. Andrew answered her expectant look with a shrug that translated into 'go on if you want'. Bonaparte, long since done with pica, raised interested eyes and hastily rushed after the girl. They returned with cola and four hotdogs – one for each human and two for the dog because – as Emma always pointed out – 'he's big as a house, you can't expect to feed him with just one, now can you?'
Emma distributed the hotdogs and prompted, 'Moving on. Next?'
'You want us to sneak into the Planetarium, hide from the security and treat ourselves to a night of festivities under artificial stars. You might even like it, what, with the lurking in the shadows, deceiving poor troops. And we could name the event after some kind of poetic crap. I know - we'd call it The Night of Practical Surrealism. They'll be green with envy when we tell the tale,' Andrew wasn't sure where this load of tripe had come from. He couldn't deny, though, that the idea of spending the whole night with Emma in locked environment was very appealing to him.
Emma gave him an expressive if doubtful look testifying that the idea's appeal was obviously unshared. Andrew promptly fired the next guess.
'You want to get piercing in your left eyebrow, am I right? Yes, yes, that must be it! You're acting kinda weird all day. I know - it's the stress from work. You finally snapped under pressure and want to get yourself fired in the craziest way imaginable. Piercing would do. Your boss hates them.'
If anything, Emma's look was even more expressive than after the unfortunate Practical Surrealism suggestion. Andrew sighed once more. He was getting tired. One's brain was supposed to rest on weekends.
'Alright, alright. But that's my last guess. You fess up next if you don't like it,' he stared pointedly at Emma until she gave a reluctant nod. He paused, a thought about possible little prank born. It was unlikely he would guess right. They both knew it. So he might as well make up something to annoy her. Turn the tables a bit. It didn't do for him to be the annoyed one all the time today. Now, the question – what did she really, really hate? That was easy.
'Opera!' he exclaimed with fake cheerfulness. Bonaparte gave him a curious look. Emma flinched at the shout and then snorted. Andrew carried on as if oblivious of her reaction. 'Wagner! The Valkyrie! Last show of the season! Tonight! We should go. Bruno can get us tickets. He owes me for that book I got him. You'd get to dress up, too. Fun? I think so.'
Emma's face instantly screwed up in distaste at the mention of Wagner, and her eyes got really angry after The Valkyrie. They both had been forced into the world of classical music after one of their close friends, Bruno, had managed to secure the position of opera stage designer. Bruno regularly showered them with tickets to 'his' shows and it seemed rude to always decline. Besides, Bruno's boyfriend Riley always invited them to a treat of homemade tiramisu after they braved one more performance. Riley's tiramisu was not a thing lightly dismissed.
The friends shared the opinion they've seen more operas then it was healthy. Frequent attendance of the Opera House had helped them to develop something resembling a taste, though. Emma and Andrew discussed what they saw in the world, and that applied to the opera, too. They had debates over the range of voice of the pirmadonna and a certain regular faux pas in the orchestra pit. They had attitude and points of view now.
The gist of Emma's thoughts was that she didn't really care for opera. Wagner she hated with passion. The Valkyrie in particular she called the 'extreme caterwauling of tremendous proportions' and bluntly declared that she expected to hear such cacophony in its natural surroundings, namely, in a factory with all machinery gone crazy, not in a respectable art institution. The performance simply gave her headache.
Her glare rivaled the acid in her tone when she mimicked, 'Fun? I think not. '
Andrew's hidden smirk reached surface. She'd bought it, hook, line and sinker. Emma noted the smirk and realized she'd been had, if slightly. She scowled at him, clearly annoyed about her spoiled game.
'Fine,' she snapped. 'Have it your way.'
The girl stood up and irately glanced around, looking for means to unwind – her usual method of dealing with whatever made her feel bad. She was immediately followed by Bonaparte who, as usual, had picked up on her mood. The dog quickly found a fallen tree-branch and engaged Emma in their favourite game 'take over control'.
To an innocent passer-by it was an alarming sight when the rhino-sized dog tackled Emma off her feet and they rolled in the grass, accompanied with load growling and high-pitched squealing. Though he had worried a bit at the origins of the game, Andrew was now long used to the sight and enjoyed the view of Emma's fluent movements when she avoided the cleverest of Bonaparte's assaults. Finally Bonaparte managed to yank the stick out of Emma's grasping hands and promptly departed to perform a victory sprint around the park. He always won due to his superior strength, and always ran a victory lap.
Emma stood up from the ground and futilely brushed the grass stain on her knee, then dropped beside Andrew, panting and fanning at her glowing face. She looked after the dog and laughed at especially high leap over a bench Bonaparte managed, all her ire forgotten. Andrew always admired the ease with which the girl got rid of the moods she did not want to have. Her method 'Oh, that's easy. All you have to do is use the bad things in your head elsewhere' somehow was not so easy for him to achieve. Emma could flame up and simmer down several times on a bad day. He could fume for days. But it was way harder to make him angry in the first place, so it balanced out, in Andrew's opinion.
Emma leaned back against the bench and took several deep breaths to calm down.
'So... Your next guess?' she warily tried after some moments Andrew had spent unobtrusively observing the fine effect that the intense breathing made on Emma's chest.
'Oh no,' Andrew snapped out of his breast-induced trance immediately. He wasn't going to give in anymore. 'No. Nope. No way. We had a deal. You fess up. And don't start that opera was a low blow. You asked for it, and you know it.'
Emma regarded him in unexpectedly pensive manner.
'Okay. You sure you wanna know?' She suddenly seemed uncertain for some reason. He studied her for a moment and nodded hesitantly.
'Let me show you, then.'
'Show me what?'
Emma leaned forward, tentatively reached a hand behind his nape and pulled his face to hers. A wisp of her smell - of green gardens and sunlit roses - reached Andrew's nose, and his stomach went somersaulting. She looked searchingly into his startled eyes. He held his breath. She smiled timidly after a moment, and then lightly brushed her lips against his mouth. His mind went blank. The soft, short kiss was over before Andrew gathered his wits enough to respond. He finally exhaled and slowly opened his eyes. Emma's face was flushed, gaze barely meeting his. She looked unsure and ready to bolt.
Her voice, when it finally came, was husky. 'I think that's the most fun I could wish for. Have thought so for awhile,' she whispered quietly to his chest. 'How about you?'
He caught her chin and tenderly forced her to look up. They locked eyes. Time seemed to freeze for a moment. Then he traced slightly trembling fingers up to her cheek and closed the distance between them.
After a slow, exploring, burning kiss he felt her smile against his lips and relished in the sound of their rugged breathing. She was right. Turning best friends into lovers was the most fun thing to do today, after all.
There! Done! Please, tell me what you think!