The Perfect Guy
Some days, Tara could wake up refreshed and ready to face a new day. Most days, she would wake up feeling slightly moody but, no problem, still able to hang it in there.
Other days, she'd wake and would rather eat cauliflower even as she imagined them to be syphilis rather than to really get up.
This was one of those days.
She never could hold her alcohol.
Her hip was buzzing. That didn't seem right.
Tara's left eye fought her, but she got it open. The right was far more stubborn. Didn't matter, because all she could see through her cloud of hair was darkness, which she figured wasn't much to look at anyway. The only reason she could see her hair in the first place was the moonlight illuminating the room through the open window. She gave up, closed her eye, and cursed her imminent hangover.
Her hip buzzed again. Gah.
She groped her butt a bit, and then snatched up the offending, vibrating cell phone. Without bothering to check the caller id (it was too late, or early, for that kind of coordination), she croaked "Hello?"
"Hey, Tare, where are you?" Jen.
And right then, for the life of her, she couldn't remember anything that happened the night before. But soon, as her senses began booting up, she knew without a doubt that she was lying down on Brandon's couch. The firm, yet soft cushion supporting her body was as familiar as sunshine on…well, sunny days, as it should be for all the nights she'd slept on it in the past.
Tara sat upright, and immediately regretted the hasty movement – her head began to throb and the blanket that had been covering her fell to the floor. The cold air swathed around her and she shivered, before quickly reaching down to retrieve and rewrap herself in the warm cotton.
"I'm at Brandon's," she yawned. "Something up?"
"Ah, Brandon's, is it? Hmmm."
Immediately, Tara felt defensive. "Yes, at Brandon's. My best friend's place. There's nothing wrong with that!"
Jen laughed a wicked laugh. "I just said hmm. No need to scratch my eyes out. But anyway, I need a new dress, which means I need to go shopping. Want to come with?"
Tara was nonplussed. "Let me get this straight. You called me at…" she stole a peek at her cell phone's screen and the blindingly bright display glared 4:53 at her. "…4:53 in the morning to ask me out on a shopping date?"
While waiting for her friend's answer, she spent a few more moments orienting herself, before getting up. Slowly, still draped in the blanket, she navigated her way to Brandon's room in the darkness, feeling her way by sliding her left palm against the walls, while accidentally sending random knick-knacks crashing to the floor.
"Nah, I called you at 4:53 in the morning to annoy you a bit." Tara felt her forehead wrinkle. "And before you ask, I'm up so early, or late rather, this fine morning because I'd just engaged in a bout of superbly satisfying sex. And yes, that sure is some awesome alliteration, is it not?"
Tara groaned, and with a quick 'Call you back', she hung up the phone and placed it on a table (or a shelf, she wasn't too sure which, and she didn't care enough right then to ponder over it).
Without dithering about, she entered Brandon's room.
The first sight that caught her eyes was that of the comatose figure on the bed, and a twinge of righteous indignation burst through her.
How could he let her take the couch, and he the bed? Is that how a gentleman should treat a lady? Huh? Huh?
And then she came closer and realized that Brandon didn't look comfortable at all. In fact, he looked downright uncomfortable. And blanket-less.
He was lying on his left, facing the door. His arms were sort of crisscrossed over his chest and his legs were bent close to his body, in some variant of a fetal position. Even in her slight hung-over and glued-shut-eyes state, she could make out the goose bumps on his skin and the shiver he made every now and then. A mixture of guilt and unexpected delight hit her.
Tara tip-toed even closer to the bed – so close she could count his eyelashes. Sharp moonlight sprayed across his bed, as white as the bright sun, illuminating his profile. She refused to feel guilty for scrutinising him so closely – after all, she could count on one hand the number of times she'd actually had the opportunity to just look at him.
The moonbeam cast shadows on his face – somehow making his features more prominent and chiseled. Even sideways, his face looked perfectly symmetrical.
She looked at his hair – the slight coppery tint wasn't present in the dark, yet it still looked so soft and pretty.
And his eyelashes. So thick and inky, the ends pointed like a devil spear. They looked a bit like her eyelashes after some serious mascara-ing.
Then, she focused on his lips. And went on staring.
He was breathtaking.
It's okay to find Brandon attractive, she worriedly reminded herself. After all, she would be blind not to. Plus, she wasn't really attracted attracted to him. Well, she was, but in a strictly platonic-kind of attraction. But wait, that wasn't right either. What she meant was first and foremost as a friend.
But that did not explain why her thumb was stroking his brow now, screwed up with anxious sleep as it was. It was a stupid impulse, and she was clumsy enough about it to wake Brandon up instantly.
Brown eyes blinked rapidly and stared.
"There was a…um, ladybird on your forehead," she stuttered, and then picked up the imaginary bug off Brandon's forehead and flicked it to the floor. "There."
Brandon's warm chocolaty eyes never left hers, never followed her hand's movement. Tara's heart thumped a fast uneasy fluttery tempo.
"A real gentleman would've given the lady the bed, and settled for the couch himself," she snarked immaturely after a while, at the lack of anything else to say and to break the nervous silence.
"Well, nobody's ever called me a gentleman before, and I'm sure hell not calling you a lady," Brandon retorted playfully, his voice still husky from sleep.
Tara gave him a baleful look. Silence reigned again.
"And how are you feeling, by the way? I mean, hangover much?" he asked after a big yawn.
"It could've been a lot worse. Thank God you saved me from the party before I was too far gone," she admitted, before pausing and staring at him intently. "Wait, why'd you do that anyway? Come to the party, I mean."
At once, something in his expression changed, and he slowly sat upright in his bed. "Like I said, the blonde from last night wanted to gatecrash the party," he answered with an easy smile.
Tara wasn't fooled. She was sure he was hiding something. "If my Brandon-radar isn't faulty after months of non-use, it's telling me that you somehow made Serena implicate herself. The question is why." And obviously, Brandon had already forgotten Miss Gorgeous Blonde's name.
"Right. Serena." And then he snorted. "And we have got to do something about this paranoia of yours."
"You forget that I've known you since you were about three feet tall."
Brandon kept stubbornly silent, but Tara smiled sweetly at him. She knew that he probably came to the party because he'd been worried about her being on her own. After all, as she'd pointed out, they've known each other for so long now, he definitely knew she didn't really get on well with people she didn't know.
Except when she was drunk, it seemed.
"So, yeah, you want me to drive you home?"
Her eyelids were beginning to droop again.
"Ughh, what I want, and need, right now is to catch more Z's." She yawned a big ginormous yawn that would have embarrassed her greatly if she wasn't so sapped.
Brandon scrutinised her as she began swaying on her feet, in serious danger of falling asleep standing up. Without a word, he scooted his body back slightly, leaving a miniscule area of space in front of him on the tiny bed. He patted that space, beckoning her without words to scoot on.
Tara blinked at him. "What?"
"Come on, get on. You're dead on your feet."
Tara briefly considered saying heck no, but her body betrayed her and soon she found herself lying on the bed, with her back to Brandon's front. She felt a contrary mixture of comfort and alarm. It wasn't like they had never slept on the same bed before (they had). It was just that it had been so long, it felt like they were pretty different people back then.
She was just beginning to settle into sleep when she felt Brandon's right arm reaching out and covering her body. Her eyes shot wide open. She tried her best to keep her body as still as possible, even going so far as to hold her breath, and waited to see what Brandon would attempt next.
To her disappointment (scratch that, it was to her relief!), Brandon was just reaching over to tuck the blanket covering her around the both of them.
Right, she told herself, and there was even a thread of disappointment colouring her inner voice. It wasn't disappointment. I've known all along that there was no way Brandon has any sort of feelings for me anyway.
And she only found rest later, after snuggling in the warm cocoon made from heat permeating from her and her best friend's bodies.
Tara woke up to an empty bed and silence. She felt lonely, for some reason.
And then, the headache came pounding in, and soon all she felt was pain.
She immediately proceeded to clutch her head and moan.
"My, don't you sound chirpy this bright morning," an amused, smug, and familiar voice commented.
Tara moaned again, although she felt slightly better than she had a second before. "Go away!"
Instead of heeding to her request though (not that she'd thought for a second that he would), Tara heard the sound of his footsteps moving towards her. She creaked open one eye to look at her best friend.
He looked annoyingly gorgeous.
"You look annoyingly gorgeous," she grumbled.
"And you look like shit."
Tara opened both her eyes now, just to give him a severe glare. She was about to sarcastically thank him for the compliment when he shoved a glass of water and two painkillers in front of her.
"Thanks," she said, after she'd swallowed the pills and he had placed the glass on the bedside table. "God, I feel like shit."
"Like I said, you look–"
"Like shit too, I know."
Brandon laughed quietly, and then said, "Gonna pass out for a bit again?"
"No, I need to get back to my place and shower. And then, I'm going to follow Jen shopping," she grimaced at the thought of going out in the world with what felt like an elephant stomping and dancing around in her head.
"Seriously? Wow, friendship is indeed a wonderful thing. All the sacrifices you're willing to make and all." He sounded amused.
"Of course," she replied, completely serious. "You know I'd break a bone if I knew it would help you."
Brandon looked slightly stupefied, but soon recovered and then commented, "You must have forgotten how much it hurt when you broke your finger that time in sixth grade."
She looked him in the eye when she replied. "No, I remember perfectly well how it freaking hurt like a bitch."
Brandon looked stunned again. He made a move like he was going to hug her, but then stilled and lifted his arm instead. He placed a palm on her head, and ruffled her hair in an affectionate way. She grimaced slightly at that, and he ceased movement immediately.
Then he leaned towards her, before placing his lips against her forehead gently. They stayed in that position – her sitting at the edge of the bed with his body bending slightly to even out the height difference, his lips against her forehead – for a long while. Then he slid his lips down her eyebrow, past her cheek, to her ear. Her face was tingling as he whispered, "You know I'd do the same for you."
She heard the emphasis he placed on the last word, and knew that he meant he would do it for her, and her alone.
Once again, the silence between them became charged.
Brandon cleared his throat. Tara cleared hers.
"Right, well" was all she could think to say.
"You could just shower and change here, and phone Jen to pick you up here. You've still got some clothes you'd left behind in this place."
Tara smiled. The weird atmosphere was gone again. Plus, it didn't sound like a half-bad idea.
The shower was steaming hot, refreshing and simply heavenly. While humming a random tune, Tara thought of the recent weirdness between Brandon and her.
In all the years they've known each other, she couldn't remember a time when they felt more ill-at-ease around each other.
Technically speaking, Brandon and she had first met when they were pre-schoolers in the same kindergarten. Tara vaguely remembered Little Brandon as a born leader – he had all the other boys and girls in the palm of his hand. He wasn't particularly nice though, and was already on the road to becoming an ass – he'd promised both Elaine Rich and Jenny Peters that they could be his wife.
And then his family moved away, and he left.
The next time they saw each other, they were both in 4th Grade, and in the same school once again. Tara didn't recognise him immediately, although the tousled inkiness of his hair was a familiar enough sight. Plus, Brandon didn't take notice of her. He was immediately swamped with friends when he transferred in, so why in the world would he pay any attention to the strange short dark-haired girl with a bow on her head sitting at the back of the class?
For days, the question of why he seemed so familiar wreaked havoc in her brain. And then, one day, she saw him in his seat, two rows down hers, talking to his new mates, with the back of his head facing her.
And it hit her.
"Oh oh oh oh!" she squealed excitedly, not realising just how loud she was being. Brandon swivelled his head and looked in her direction in surprise. "You're Brandon Kemp!"
There was a long silence. Then everyone in the immediate vicinity burst out in laughter. Tara felt her face glow as red as Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer's red nose. The colour intensified when Brandon looked at her as though she'd said "I love eating noodles, and shooting them outta my nose!"
But when the laughter finally settled, he just said, "Yeah, that's my name."
And despite the humiliation that day, she somehow knew that she wanted to be friends with him – and not because she wanted him to be her boyfriend or anything like that.
So for days after that, she tried her best to talk to Brandon, to get him to want to be friends with her too. Too bad she wasn't much of a conversationalist back then.
All her questions ("So do you like chicken?") and random comments ("I watched Teletubbies last night!") were met with an annoyed expression on his face. Then one day, he called her irritating and told her that he didn't want to be friends with a girl with a stupid bow in her hair, okay? That night, she examined herself in the mirror with the pretty bow in her hair, and thought that maybe they weren't meant to be friends after all.
The day after she came to that depressing conclusion, Chase Henney, one of Brandon's friends, pushed her down hard.
"Stop bothering Brandon, you pest!"
Tara had bit her bottom lip to hold the tears threatening to drop, telling herself that she was a big girl (and big girls don't cry), but they spilled anyway. Soon, she was sniffling and blubbing all over the place, while the other kids were laughing meanly at her.
And then Brandon came into her circle of vision, and she watched through swollen droopy eyes as he charged wildly at his supposed friends, pushing them to the ground. After that, he came towards her and pulled her up, and rushed off with her left wrist still encircled in his hand.
The day after that, Brandon began sitting next to her in class and having lunch with her, and they were pretty much inseparable after that.
Being with Brandon was like coming home. The biggest part of her heart would probably always belong to Brandon and Brandon only. Sometimes, she wondered if he really knew how much he meant to her. When she had revealed the night before the fact that she's been feeling so incredible lonely without him, he looked exceptionally shocked, as though such a thing had never occurred to him.
As the water pelted, and then streamed down her body, she mused at the fact that lately, she was seeing more of Brandon than she had the entire month before. She bleakly wondered how long she would go without seeing him after today.
A tiny part of her questioned if he was tired of her, and maybe that was the reason he didn't come see her often. Did he feel that school work and his string of women more important and exciting than her?
She knew she was being irrational, and wished that tiny part of her would just get bent and leave her alone.
She swiped a plain unlabelled bottle from the top of the sink and sniffed it cautiously. She was surprised she could recognise the scent of Brandon's shampoo instantly. She wasn't even aware that she knew what his hair smelt like.
She poured a generous dollop on her palm, rubbed, and then spread her fingers through her hair. "Hmmm, smells good," she said aloud, and went on humming her happy song.
When she was all done, she stepped out of the steamy shower and to the sink to replace the shampoo. Then she snatched up her toothbrush (she had her own at Brandon's), and just as she was about to open the flip-top cap of the toothpaste tube, the door swung open, and she got an eyeful of Spencer Aemings, Brandon's roommate.
Spencer was groggily scratching his crotch through his slacks, his eye growing wider and wider by the second. And she was standing there, naked as the day she was born.
"HOLY SH–" he exclaimed, before her piercing shriek woke everybody in the vicinity up. Probably. Brandon was there in seconds.
By then, Tara had slumped to the ground, trying to cover as much of herself as possible with awkwardly bent limbs. Spencer had turned around, but kept whipping his head back to look at her.
Brandon's gaze swept the scene, put two and two together, and in a flash, he grabbed Spencer by the scruff of his shirt, slamming him against the wall.
"You asshole!" Brandon snarled, and even in her distress, Tara's eyes widened at the venom in his voice. The normal Brandon would have just seethed quietly if he was angry. Then she remembered the scene some eight years ago, when he had pushed Chase Henney for making her cry. But there were more pressing matters to think about.
"Brandon, towel!" she squeaked. Instantly, Brandon let go of his roommate and grabbed a towel from the towel rack beside him. He then came towards her, his eyes resolutely fastened to the wall behind her. She grabbed the towel, and when she had successfully enveloped herself in the white cotton, he hesitated slightly before stalking back to Spencer.
But the sound of her voice – or maybe it was the words? – stopped him short.
"Brandon, no!" Brandon whipped his head back in disbelief. She could meet his gaze squarely now that she was relatively and decently attired in a white towel. "It wasn't his fault. I forgot to lock the door."
Brandon's eyes reflected a mixture of incredulity, frustration and fury. "You didn–"
"Yeah, man!" Spencer had also turned around, and he was waving an emphatic arm about his face. "I was just popping in for a leak, man. I thought you were in here."
Spencer must have hoped that his input would cool Brandon down, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. When Tara saw Brandon's murderous look, she hurriedly stepped in.
"Spencer, could you please just go?" Get lost so I can calm him down, her eyes relayed the urgent message to him. Spencer gulped loudly once and then scampered off.
The silence Spencer left in his wake was thick enough to spread on toast. Tara kept her eyes on Brandon and simply waited for him to begin what she was sure was going to be a lengthy rant.
"Why didn't you lock the door?" Brandon's voice was dangerously low. Tara wondered if he was angry.
She was just about to respond when he repeated the question – only now it sounded more like a demand than anything else. "Why didn't you lock the door?"
Okay, he was definitely angry.
"I thought you were the only one here."
Brandon was alarmingly quiet for exactly three seconds. And then the explosion came. "Why didn't you lock the door?"
Tara lost the last of her patience. "Can you stop repeating that?" she snapped. "And stop roaring at me!"
He looked vaguely perturbed. "I wasn't roaring," he grumbled, but obviously made an effort to keep his voice down. He then continued in a sardonic voice. "Ah fine, let me rephrase that – why the hell didn't you lock the bloody door, Tara?"
Now Tara was exasperated. "Yes you were. But my response to your fine effort at paraphrasing, as I've been telling you, is that I thought you were the only one here. If I knew Spencer was here too, I would've locked the door. Obviously."
"What the hell does that mean? So you'd be perfectly fine if I was the one who accidentally burst in here just now?"
"Well, you wouldn't have. I mean, you knew that I was in here, right?" She saw from the look on his face that he was about to interject, so she quickly said her piece. "Besides, I trust you."
Brandon looked dumbfounded. But when he finally spoke, his voice was sober and serious. "Maybe you shouldn't trust me then."
Now she was bewildered. "Why shouldn't I? I mean, you're my best friend."
To her further confusion, he sighed. "Yeah, I am. I'm just saying…I'm a guy too. And you should know better than to really trust a guy, you know?"
Tara nodded. "I know that. But it's not as if I treat you like a guy."
She then giggled at the rather insulted look on his face. "I mean, I know you're a guy, obviously." Then, she too frowned. "It's hard to miss with all the girls glued to your side like mollusc." But Brandon still looked bothered, so she tried a different tactic. "You don't want me to treat you like a guy, do you?"
With marked deliberateness, he replied, "Of course I wouldn't."
Tara blinked. "Okay. That's settled then."
"Yeah, that's – Wait, what were we talking about again?" He gave a cursory glance at her towel-clad figure. "Oh, right. Damn, I hate it when you do that distract thing you like to do."
She giggled, albeit a bit feebly. "You know it works every time." While Brandon chuckled along, she wondered what he would say if he knew that she wasn't trying to distract him – that she was really asking him an honest question.
Unwittingly, their eyes met – brown locked with black – and the laughter gradually died off, leaving behind a charged silence. Her face flushed slightly. It felt…strange, she standing facing Brandon in nothing more than a towel in the bathroom with steam still crawling from the shower, fogging up the mirror above the sink.
It felt…intimate, she admitted. Different – more exposed than she'd ever felt in her entire life. She felt even more naked than she had ever felt when she was naked with her past lovers. And that was ludicrous; firstly because she had worn much lesser around him – what with bikinis and summers, and secondly because…well, because it just sounds plain ridiculous.
Brandon cleared his throat. "Well, you better get back to…shower–"
"Actually, I'm done."
She awkwardly made her way to the door, and stopped because Brandon was also standing there, blocking the way out.
"Excuse me," she said, and then stilled. Brandon raised his eyebrow and just looked at her, and she promptly turned beetroot. She had never been all formal and polite with Brandon – hardly any "please"s or "thank you"s. And definitely no "excuse me"s.
Brandon started chuckling again, and to her relief, that broke the heated silence. She laughed along with him – this time not just to cover up the awkwardness – and the two of them walked out the bathroom together; average, regular, normal ol' best friends once again.
When Jen arrived an hour later in her car, Tara hopped in and said, "Don't say it."
With a laughing voice, Jen asked innocently, "Say what?"
"Anything along the lines of 'Brandon's, huh?' Just don't say it."
"Actually, I was going to say that look particularly fetching today, my friend. Nice top."
Tara looked down at the Little Miss Sunshine t-shirt, and her stark white still-sickly face through the rear view mirror, and grinned.
And just as she had predicted, she didn't see him much after that morning.
It wasn't a surprise, but she felt incredibly let down nonetheless.
A/N: Okay, please don't kill me! I swear I meant to write and post this chapter sooner, but RL was getting so hectic. I'm just in my second year of college, and already, I feel myself dying. Early Childhood is way more difficult that what most people think – it's definitely not just about playing with children and toys.
Okay, now that I've got the obligatory rant out of the way, allow me to reply to some of the lovely reviewers.
(Farah Diyanah) Thank you for the compliment XD I'm glad you find the main characters pleasing. And sorry about the absurdly slow update. I promise I'd do better next time! (Are you Malay too, btw?)
(fallinginlove) WOW, you're really bright and observant (and that's all I'm going to say about your comments, hehe) And yup, my friend, who has an opposite sex best friend, says that the comments and innuendoes about their supposed relationship totally gets outta hand.
(Jaeiyola) I'm sorry I'm made of so much fail ( sorry for the sloooow update). Will try to do better next time!
(a fan) Spot on! :D
(kissme 3)I know right!
(wantyoutoknow) Thank you for that – I always did find it a big awkward when authors ramble on and on about how the main character looks like when they first start the story. So really, thank you!
(Allison) Wow, I'm so happy to read your review. Firstly, sorry for the slow update. Secondly, thanks for reading the extra notes on my profile. I was wondering if anyone was reading it, and whether I should bother updating that part of my profile too. XD
(Core Satiated) Well, I hope the Friday's here, and about time, I must say. Sorry for the late update. I hope this chapter is satisfying enough XD
(Inky-angel) Or else, what? XD
(Ferrie) Thank you for all your reviews, and sorry for the slow update! You totally made me all giggly when I saw your review. The copy+paste (and admitting it!) thing was brilliant, my dear! And:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO FERRIE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
(totally copy+pasted that, but that doesn't mean it was less sincere, I promise XD)
I know this may be a lot to ask, but I hope that you guys would stay with me/this story. I might take a loooong time to update, and would probably not have a good reason (excuse) for the absence, but it'd make me so happy to see you guys continue reading this story!
Oh by the way, if you spot any embarrassing typos, please do tell me! Sorry the format's all cramped up and all.
See you all next time!