I woke up to rain. The situation was not novel to me, a native Clevelander. I groaned and pulled my comforter more tightly around myself. I felt cold. It was the sort of cold that had nothing to do with the 60-degree late August morning. It may have had something to do with my knowledge that the rain was cold, and very soon it would be snow. Winter in Cleveland was always long, cold, and harsh. During that time, the sun is an elusive thing that is seen maybe twenty times if you're very lucky. Even then, you don't feel very lucky because the clear skies mean it's even colder than when it's cloudy and snowing.
The one saving grace to waking up to that particular rainy morning was the fact that it was Saturday. The only things on my to do list were to wake up and brush my teeth. I sat up and grabbed another blanket to help with the coldness. I knew it wouldn't do me any good because the cold I felt was the sort one feels when they're sick. It was the kind of chill that sort of feels like it's settled in your bones, which promptly start to ache, and will never leave.
I've always wondered if everyone felt that way once in a while, but it's always seemed like a very awkward thing to ask. I wasn't sick. I knew I wasn't. I couldn't peg the exact emotion that went along with my chilly bones, but it also settled in my chest. In that moment, I had never felt so alone. Something about the rain I could hear pounding on the roof made me feel like I was drowning in an overwhelming sadness.
I whimpered at the pang in my chest and tried to burrow further into my blanket cocoon. "Julio?" I heard a familiar voice call from my living room. I sighed. Rorek was my best friend. While we didn't live together, and we weren't dating like everyone seemed to think. He had a key to my place. I had a key to his apartment, too, but he spent all of his time on my couch playing my PS3 on my huge television.
I did what every person who is feeling very depressed and wants to go back to sleep would do. I shut my eyes and slowed my breathing, pretending to be asleep. I felt his warm breath on my face and flinched, recoiling away from him. "I already know you're not asleep, Jules," he sang at me.
I growled. "Used to be," I muttered. I really hoped my sour reaction would make him leave so I could brood in peace.
"No grumpy pants today, missy," he told me and laid down beside me. When I finally opened my eyes a few minutes later, he was very close and staring right back at me. If I hadn't been used to such juvenile behavior, I may have jumped in shock.
"Not wearing pants, Rorek. Some dickhead woke me up, remember?"
"I didn't wake you up. Come on, let's play some CoD."
"It's almost noon. You aren't going to stay here all day, are ya?" Rorek Burgh was tall and skinny. He had black hair just long enough to be nice to run your fingers through. I knew he kept it like that because I told him chicks dig that sort of thing. By chicks, I'd really meant me specifically. I suspected he didn't know that. His eyes were a gorgeous green that I always found easy to get lost in.
"I was thinking about it." Normally, I enjoy very much seeing Rorek at any time of day. Sometimes he did wake me up and even then I didn't mind. Everyone has their moods, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and stop existing. My friend's goofy antics did nothing to help me forget about my troubles. I considered punching him.
"So you weren't asleep."
"Go away," I muttered irritably. I rolled over so I didn't have to look at him and could stare at the wall instead. Rorek's nagging added to my depression did nothing to reduce my frustration with being conscious. "I'm tired."
As any good best friend does, the man finally started to realize that something was not right. "Want to talk about it?" he asked me gently. I wanted to give in, to turn around and cling to him while I explained that I didn't even know why I was so upset. That would have been incredibly irrational, and Rorek was all about logic. He'd have made fun of me for years if I did a silly thing like that.
"No," I grunted. If only he'd take no for an answer just this once.
"What's the problem, then?"
"Don't lie." I was glad he hadn't started touching me yet. I'd surely have lost my resolve if he had.
"You asked if I wanted to talk about whatever silly thing might be wrong with me. I said no. Just leave it be."
I heard an exasperated sigh leave his full lips and didn't need to turn to look at Rorek to know he was running his hand through his hair. He always ran his fingers through his hair when he was really starting to get frustrated. He also took slow, deep breaths because he felt that they helped him retain his patience. "I can't fix your problem unless you tell me what it is," he tried to reason. Rorek was the most adorable man alive. I was sure of that. He loved to solve problems, regardless of what they were.
"I just said there isn't a problem."
"And then you retracted that statement to say that whatever is wrong with you is, by your definition, silly." I wanted to smack him, or at least to scream and maybe cry. I definitely wanted to cry. The tears were welling up in my eyes, and my throat felt tight.
"Just shut up. I'll come play games with you later."
When I started to speak, I felt Rorek's large and very warm hand rest on my upper arm. I shivered and didn't do a good job of trying to hide it. "Are you crying?" he asked gently.
"No." I didn't trust my voice to produce stable sounding responses longer than one word. The human contact had nearly sent me over the edge.
"Jules, I only want to help you."
"It's nothing some sleep can't fix." I'd resorted to the long, slow deep breaths he sometimes practiced to calm myself down. I would not cry.
His thumb began to trace patterns on my bare arm. I whimpered. "Tell me what's bothering you, Julio."
I sighed and relaxed slightly. This was an argument I knew I could not win. "I'm cold," I finally told him after a long time.
"Cold? Is that all? I'll just grab you another blanket. No need to be so grumpy about that." He was gone before I could tell him not to leave, and draping a second comforter over me as I was telling him he had things wrong. "This should make it better."
"Thanks, but it's not that kind of cold."
"I was unaware that there was more than one kind of cold you could feel." I could hear the confusion in his voice. "Are you sick?"
I groaned and finally rolled over to face him. This problem was not going to disappear on its own, and I was getting very tired of our conversation. "You know how when you're sick you feel like you're very cold and you just can't get warm regardless of how many blankets you pile on or how many hot baths you take?"
"So you are sick?"
"No. I'm not sick. I just feel cold like I am." My voice sounded strained to me, and I could feel the tears very ready to fall. "Please," I pleaded, "I really don't want to talk about this anymore."
Rorek looked stunned at first, but promptly laid down beside me. "Julie," he whispered as he pulled the blankets over himself and wrapped me in his arms. Rorek rarely used my real name unless something really serious was happening.
My best friend was very, very warm. I couldn't resist the urge to scoot closer to him and press my body against his in a way that must feel inappropriate to him. If I could borrow some of his warmth, maybe I wouldn't feel so miserable. The way he traced slow, deliberate circles on my back made me shiver and sigh at the same time. For all of Rorek's logic, he had never picked up on the very obvious fact that I'd been in love with him for years.
"Julie, everything will be okay," he whispered.
I felt my heart breaking. Of course he wouldn't take such an opportunity to kiss me with unbridled passion and huskily whisper that he'd keep me warm in my ear. He didn't love me the way I loved him, I started to realize. I could feel the figurative cracks in my chest, as though the organ which pumped blood through my body were actually falling apart. The method Rorek used to get over such things was to tell himself that there was no logic behind the pain. Rationality did nothing to dull what I was feeling.
"Oh," I replied dully. I tried to make myself feel numb. It did not work.
"Tell me what's got you feeling so down?" he pleaded.
"I don't even know. I just... woke up like this."
"I see." He looked as though he were having a hard time processing the information. "Well, how are we going to fix that?"
Every fiber of my being screamed 'love me!' I stared at him for a long while, feeling very conflicted. I could, of course, not tell him something like that. "I don't know that, either, Rorek." Unable to stare into his lovely green eyes any longer, I buried my face in his chest. "Laying like this makes it a little less cold," I mumbled honestly. Part of me wished he hadn't heard what I'd just admitted because I didn't want him to know. The rest, which knew if he didn't hear I'd have to repeat it when he pried about it, hoped very much that he heard.
"Sweetheart," he cooed gently at me and hugged me more tightly. I didn't even feel like he was patronizing me. I felt him inhale and exhale deeply before he continued. Rorek unwound an arm from my body and used his index finger to make me look into his eyes once more. "You're lonely," he told me honestly.
I closed my eyes, ashamed. When a few tears spilled out, he brushed them away with the pad of his thumb and kissed my eyelids with a tenderness I'd never before experienced. "A little," I admitted. My voice was unsteady. I wished that it wasn't. I wished I could be a steadfast pillar of emotional stability like Rorek. I had my doubts that such a thing would never be the case.
His soft lips pressed to my forehead and one of the hands which had been drawing slow circles on my back moved up to rub the back of my neck. I let out a content sigh. "I think I could maybe fix that, if you'll let me," my friend offered. His voice sounded unsteady, and I began to realize that he was nervous.
"You could?" I felt my body quiver. What could he have possibly had in mind? Did he want a relationship? Did he know I was in love with him? Dozens of questions raced though my mind. It was a nauseating experience.
His fingers moved up to play with my hair. The next time he spoke, the confidence was back. "Yeah, I can. But only if you'll let me."
I bit my lower lip and scooted closer to him. My heart was beating so violently that I wondered if it would jump right out of my chest. "What did you have in mind?" I wondered quietly. Though I hadn't outright asked him to confess undying love for me, I was sure he knew that's what my question meant. I hoped he knew, and that he wouldn't let me down. I'd surely die of unhappiness if he were only toying with me.
The arm he'd had draped around my waist slid up to tilt my face to look at him. His other hand found rest at the back of my neck. At some point during our discussion, I'd gone from feeling very cold to wondering if I'd burn up if the man in front of me continued his assault on my senses. I wondered if Rorek was about to kiss me. I certainly hoped he'd kiss me. I'd wanted him to for a very long time. I nearly squealed with delight when I saw his eyes close slowly. "I think you know, Julie. But if you haven't figured it out by now, you're a damned fool."
My cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and my eyes drifted shut in return. Rorek had been accused of many things. Romantic was not on that list, as far as I knew, and I was perfectly content with the way things were going. "Oh," I told him dumbly. Eloquent wasn't something I was frequently called, and I was glad he knew me well enough to realize that I was at a loss for words rather than turning him down.
"You're adorable, Julie." His lips were on mine before I could respond. They were soft, and warm. I pulled him closer, wanting more. When his tongue darted between my lips and the hand he'd used to hold my face where he wanted it slid down to my waist to pull me flush against his chest, I let out a quiet moan. He chuckled, and I grinned. I'd never been so attracted to a man. "Irresistibly so, I'd say," he informed me quietly while his forehead rested against mine.
"How did you know?" I asked after a few minutes when I felt I had a voice again.
"I'd have to be deaf, blind, and dumb not to notice." He was grinning. I could hear it in his voice. "Also, perhaps perpetually drunk. Even then, I might have known."
I pouted. My eyelids felt heavy and I couldn't be bothered to open my eyes to confirm my theory. "I thought I hid it well..." I muttered.
"As compared to what? Your terrible cooking skills?"
"I resent that."
"You shouldn't. If you had hid it well, I'd never have the courage to kiss you and put our beautiful friendship in jeopardy."
"Well now that you already took that risk, you should do it again. For science," I insisted.
"Just to test your theory again."
He took a moment to respond, and I cracked an eye open to see what he might be contemplating. He wore the sexiest grin I've ever seen. It took a good deal of effort to keep from jumping on him that instant. "Very well. For science." He kissed me again, quite soundly. It lasted longer than the first time. "And maybe because I love you."
If I'd been worried about my heart jumping from my chest before, I was certain it would do so when he said those words. "I love you, too," was the best retort I could think of. We laid in bed for a long time, simply holding one another. After nearly half an hour, I found myself yawning. "So about going back to sleep.."
Rorek groaned. "But I wanted to play Call of Duty."
"Sleeping first. It's Saturday, we have all day for me to kick your butt."
"Fine, but only because your bed is comfortable and I didn't get much sleep last night."
I leaned up to kiss him again. "Okay. Thanks, Rorek. It means a lot."
"I'm sure it does, Jules." He shifted and pulled me close once again to place a lazy kiss on my lips.
I smiled, returned the favor, and curled up beside him. My head rested on his chest. Rorek's heartbeat was steady as he ran his idle fingers through my silky hair slowly. The sound of the rain on the roof now served as a lullaby, I reflected. No longer feeling cold and alone, sleep came easily.