Their story has never been much more than a sideline, a subplot to the great love story that is Denis-and-Leslie. But that's okay. They're used to being overshadowed by their more exuberant friends. Used to being overlooked, forgotten. It almost doesn't bother them anymore.
Denis and Leslie, with the typical self-centredness of those assured of their positions as main characters, begin to fall loudly and dramatically into love one night at a bar, and continue the bumpy process over the course of the next few months. Cynthia's there the night they meet, of course--Leslie's her roommate, so she's kind of the go-to girl when everyone else wants to stay in. Phil's there too, in his perpetual role as Denis's best friend/wingman.
When Denis and Leslie abandon them to make figurative babies on the dance floor, it's only natural that Cynthia pull up a chair beside Phil and say, "Apparently my friend likes your friend."
Raising his glass, Phil responds, "To their lifelong happiness, in the hopes that I never have to be his wing man again."
"To never having to listen to her boy drama," Cynthia agrees, clinking glasses and downing her gin and tonic.
That's about the extent of the excitement, on that first night. Their toasts don't come true--not yet, anyway. Leslie has more boy drama than ever, and Cynthia, as always, plays the patient friend and talks her through it. Denis goes out at least twice a week, and expects Phil to come along.
While Denis and Leslie go and do exciting things and fall further into love and generally fulfill their roles as main characters, Cynthia spends her evenings at home with a book and a glass of wine, secretly rejoicing in the freedom, and Phil jams for hours with his guitar and the kid from next door who has a drum kit.
Of course, there are still nights, lots of nights, when Leslie says, "Come on, Cyn. Come out with me. I really want to go in case Denis shows up, but I don't want to be alone in case he doesn't," and Denis says, "Hey, man, let's go out for a couple beers, maybe see if Leslie's there," and Cynthia and Phil shrug and dress up and come, because it's their role. They're the best friends, the supporting actors.
On those nights, while Denis and Leslie drink and dance and laugh and probably go and have sex or do something else plot-related, Cynthia and Phil sit and try to make intelligent conversation--and somehow, over time, they become friends.
It's not long after this that they start noticing things, little things. Cynthia notices Phil's bright smile, the roughness of his calloused fingers on her elbow when he helps her through the crowded pub, his touching sincerity when he talks about the little kids he's teaching guitar. For Phil, it's Cynthia's legs that time she wears a skirt, the smiley faces she paints on her fingernails, the light that shines in her eyes when she talks about the literacy awareness program she volunteers with.
They're not main characters, they're in the background. This kind of stuff never happens to them. So they don't so anything about it, they just revel in the times their friends' dramatic lives push them together. Besides, they could never have any kind of permanence or commitment between them--that would be immediately destroyed if something happened to push Leslie and Denis apart. Their lives are dominated by the whims of their better halves.
One night they stick around after Leslie and Denis have made their big exit, sipping at their drinks and ecstatic in the fact that they can pretend, just for a little bit, that they're relevant.
They have a little bit too much to drink that night--not enough to produce gastrointestinal fireworks or awkward mornings-after, but enough that Cynthia wobbles when she stands up, and Phil's laugh is too loud when he offers to walk her home. He means to leave her at her door--really he does--but when they arrive, she turns and smiles up at him in thanks, and his booze-boggled brain throws caution to the wind and makes him lean forward and kiss her.
It's not a fairy-tale kiss, a Hollywood production. The world doesn't turn upside down, the camera doesn't do an elaborate spin shot. But it's real, and it's them, and it's emotion, and that's all they want. They're only a subplot, after all. It's enough. It's enough to make it difficult for Cynthia to pull away and say, "Phil... we can't."
It's enough to make Phil clench his jaw tight as he accepts the inevitable, and nods, and walks away.
Cynthia doesn't cry herself to sleep that night. She stands in the shower until the water runs cold, hating Leslie for dominating her life, hating herself for letting Leslie dominate her life, hating Phil for not standing up for her and for himself and kissing her again anyway, hating Phil for kissing her at all in the first place. Then she gets out, dries herself off, and goes to bed. In the morning she makes Leslie coffee and listens to her retelling of the nigh before, laughing and "aw"-ing and gushing in all the right places.
Because that's her role.
The hardest time for both of them is the two-month period when Leslie and Denis aren't talking. There's something big involving betrayal and anger, and it's potent enough that Leslie drowns herself in salty tears and chocolate ice cream and Denis takes his aggression out on five subsequent kitchen tables, until Phil gets fed up and makes him buy one out of reinforced steel.
It's the trip to the hospital brought about by that last kitchen table that brings them together again--Phil's trying to hold Denis's broken knuckles in place and Cynthia's trying to calm Leslie's asthma attack when they run into each other at the ER. It turns into a big tearful reunion, while Phil and Cynthia try to explain the various accidents to the triage nurse.
When Denis proposes--exactly the way Leslie told Cynthia to tell Phil to tell him to propose--Cynthia feels a prickle of hope, but she tampers it down behind wedding plans and ugly bridesmaid dresses. No point in jinxing it. Still, as it gets closer to the wedding, there's a heat, an excitement in the air when she and Phil are in the same room.
Phil nearly has a heart attack the day before the wedding, because Denis has cold feet about giving up his freedom and starts talking about breaking it off. Halfway to opening his mouth to talk Denis out of it, Phil pauses. This is the first time he can't tell whether he's trying to be a good buddy or just being selfish.
Finally, he shrugs. "I can't tell you what to do, man. All I know is that if you walk away now, you're gonna regret it. You're gonna be miserable."
This seems to do the trick, way better than if he'd been horrified and indignant, and from here on in, things go off without a hitch.
As Phil takes Cynthia's arm to escort her down the aisle, the both feel a little thrill of anticipation, and try to suppress it. There's still a chance things could go horribly, horribly wrong...
The officiator says, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," and for one terrified moment Cynthia is absolutely positive that someone is going to stand up, that the door is going to fly open, that the words "I object!" will soon be ringing through the air.
But nothing happens. Cynthia doesn't allow herself a sigh of relief. Neither does Phil.
They stand apart, reserved, throughout the ceremony, the pictures, the dancing, the cutting of the cake. Cynthia doesn't catch the bouquet, despite Leslie's best efforts to throw it in her direction, and Phil doesn't catch the garter, even though the general consensus of the older crowd is that if Denis is hitched, Phil must be well on his way in that direction too. Never see one without the other.
Leslie and Denis drive away in a shower of rose blossoms and drunken, suggestive comments. The crowd thins, the caterers tear down and clean up, the wait staff leaves, the lights switch off.
Cynthia's standing alone on the dance floor, a free woman for the first time she can remember. She's so caught up in the intoxicating sensation of it that she almost doesn't notice Phil coming up behind her.
"So," he says after they've stood in silence for a while.
"That went very well," she replies, feeling a little awkward.
"Yeah--yes, it did."
They're quiet for another moment, and then she says, "Phil--" and he cuts her off with a kiss. This time they don't have to limit themselves, to pull back, and it's wonderful.
He pulls her in closer against him and whispers into her hair, "What do you think about trying us out, to see how we work? Now that we don't have to worry about them working."
Biting her lip, she glances up at him. "But what if we don't work out? How will they feel about that?"
"I have confidence in your ability to act like nothing happened in that case," he says--"but more importantly, I have confidence in us."
And as they kiss again, they move forward into their own little happily-ever-after--the happily-ever-after without the fairy-tale, the Hollywood ending without the starring roles.
And really? It's all they need.
A/N: Hey guys, I'm back! After several years of promising myself I wouldn't start posting something without finishing it entirely first, I discovered the wonderful world of one-shots. I'll be back sooner next time, I swear!