"A chicken quesadilla, please," I say. "And can I have a bottled water?"
The cashier nods, her long nails clicking against the screen of her register. I hand her my debit card and collect my food with a smile of thanks before heading towards the seating area. Taco Bell at one in the morning on a Tuesday is deserted; there is not a table here tonight that is occupied. Smiling, I pick a seat in the corner next to the window, where I can look outside. Not that there is much to see this time of day.
I am squeezing a packet of salsa onto my first piece of quesadilla when a shadow falls over me. Looking up, I meet the familiar face with smile. "Hey."
"Hey." Dan slides into the seat across from me, dropping his own bag of Taco Bell onto the table along with a stack of napkins. "Fancy seeing you here at one in the morning."
"Yeah, right?" I raise an eyebrow. "Fancy that."
He grins. While he is unwrapping his burrito, I study the male across from me. It's almost October, and his hair is growing from his last haircut in August; dark brown tresses stick up messily in a disarray. Somehow, it still looks good. I can also tell that it's been a while since Dan's last shave: there is a hint of five o'clock shadow lining his jaw. It makes him look slightly older, and not in a bad way.
I look away. It's been almost three years since I first met Danny, while we were taking a tour of the university as high school seniors. Since then, we've become good friends. Good enough friends to regularly hang out in Taco Bell at one in the morning. It's been a habit of ours, ever since freshman year, to convene here on nights that we both need to stay up late finishing ridiculous amounts of schoolwork. We come here for a study break and usually end up simply hanging out and talking for an hour.
Never once, though, in all the hours we've spent together, have we ever been anything more than friends.
Dan finishes his burrito and crumples up the wrapper. Leaning forward, he tosses it towards the trash; it sails smoothly through the air and lands neatly in the bin. Dan grins, meeting my eyes. "Three-pointer," he says. His voice is gleeful and in that moment, I can't help feeling a rush of warmth. Dan is older than me by four months, but sometimes he reminds me of a boy: simple and carefree and happy.
"Oh my God!" I exlaim. Danny blinks, looking startled, and I lean across the table to fix him a meaningful look. "Are you gunning for the NBA?"
Understanding lights his eyes and he grins. "Obviously." Dan locks one arm behind his head in a languid stretch. "I'm so athletic…and strong." Making a muscle, he turns his head and kisses his forearm. Over behind the counter, the waitress raises her eyebrows.
I break into laughter and Dan puts his arm down, looking slightly discomfited.
"So how are classes?" I ask once I can speak again.
Dan considers. "Not bad. My calc professor is kind of a jerk."
"Yeah, this kid's phone went off in class the today and the prof made him go up in front of the whole class and dance to the ringtone."
I'm impressed. "That's pretty hardcore."
"Yeah, but it was a dick move." Dan takes a drink form his soda. He shakes the cup, ice sloshing around inside. "The kid had to go up and dance in front of four hundred fucking people."
"What was the ringtone?"
"A Justin Beiber song."
We look at each other, and I begin giggling. Dan cracks a smile. "That sucks," I say.
"Pretty much." Dan seems amused by my amusement.
We fall silent for a while. I am finishing my food, and Dan alternates between watching me eat and watching the television set in the wall behind me. I concentrate on dabbing sauce onto each piece of quesadilla. At one point when I look up, Dan is grinning at me. "What?" I demand, feeling slightly defensive. I wonder if I have sauce on my chin, or something in my hair.
Dan just shakes his head. "Nothing."
I don't really believe this, but he offers nothing more of an explanation, so I turn back to my food. It's another few seconds before he breaks the silence again.
"So," Dan says, "Melissa and I are official now." I jerk my head up to look at him with surprise.
A moment later though, after the news sinks in, I realize that this is not surprising at all. Melissa, a short girl with long blonde hair in our year, and Dan have been hanging out together ever since we got back to school a little over a month ago. I know that they hooked up a few times at the end of last semester. I suppose that this new development is really only the next logical step.
Still, I taste the dull ache of disappointment in my mouth. "You asked and she said yes?" I ask, even though I already know the answer.
"Yeah." Dan smiles a little. "I wasn't sure I wanted it at first…but we've been hanging out a lot lately. And I really like her."
I think about Melissa, and her blue eyes, and her incessant chatter about anything – everything. I've never spent more than five minutes in silence with her. She always somehow finds something to talk about: the weather, music, complaints about her classes, even what she'd talked about with her parents the last time she spoke with them on the phone. Melissa fills every silence. It's pointless chitchat, most of it, but I can't help wondering what Dan sees in it. Maybe he likes listening to her talk. One thing's for sure: he won't ever have to listen to silence. She will always fill the pauses he leaves behind.
I think about all the nights Dan and I have spent here together, talking about anything and everything. His relationships and my relationships. Our families and our classes. Our frustrations and our futures. I think about the lulls in our conversations. I never thought they were awkward or unwanted, only comfortable and relaxed. But maybe I'm wrong.
"Good for you guys," I say aloud. The smile on my face is automatic. "I'm happy for you."
"Thanks," Dan says, and he looks pleased.
We spend the rest of our time talking about small things, like music and movies and next semester's classes, and when it is time to leave Danny walks me back to my dorm. This is our usual routine. Dan's dorm is further from Taco Bell than mine, so he would have to pass my building to get his room anyway, but I still appreciate it.
"See you tomorrow," I say as I pull open the door to my building.
"Later," he says, and gives me a smile so openly affectionate my heart skips a beat and aches simultaneously.
I wish he were mine, but even though he isn't, I can't help liking him anyway.
The marketing lecture that is my last class of the day is held in a giant, shadowy hall built for three hundred students. I know at least fifty people in the class, but because I always arrive late due to another class held all the way across campus, I usually sit by myself in whatever empty seat is left. Today I'm in luck. There is an empty chair right up against the aisle, so I don't have to go through my usual routine of muttering "Excuse me" while I climb over backpacks, purses and other people's legs to reach my seat.
I've just sat down and am pulling out a binder to take notes when my phone rings. Immediately, heads all around the hall swivel around to look at me. Flushing, I take out my cell and glance at the screen. It's Dan. Pressing the "End" button to silence his call, I settle into my seat and attempt to look as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
A minute later, my phone lights up again. I look at the screen. Dan. Taking the phone and standing up, I duck quickly out of the lecture and into the hallway outside.
"Hello?" I say, wondering what could possibly be urgent enough for Dan to call me twice.
"Callie Rogers, did you just hang up on me?" Dan's voice is indignant.
"I'm in class!" I glance up and down the hall; it is deserted except for me. Clearly, all the other students are busy actually attending their lectures. "Why'd you call me? What's going on?"
"I just wanted to say hi."
I almost slam my phone shut. "Are you kidding me?"
On the other end, Dan is laughing. "Chill out," he says, "I'm joking."
I let out a long sigh, but I am smiling. "Okay," I say, "Seriously, I'm missing class. Why did you call me?"
Dan chuckles. "Fine," he says, pausing. When he begins speaking again, his tone finally begins to sound serious. "Don't be mad."
Instantly I am wary. My thoughts race, and I try to think of things that Dan could have done, for me to be mad at him. Nothing comes to mind. "Okay…" I am more confused now than anything. "What?"
Silence. Then: "Do you want to crash a wedding?"
"Someone's having a wedding at the church on campus," Dan says in a hurry. I wonder if he can my disbelief radiating through the phone line. "Crashing a wedding is on my bucket list!"
I feel as if I am having trouble following our conversation. "So why are you calling me?"
"Because I need someone to crash with." Dan sounds like this should be obvious. "I can't crash a wedding alone."
I close my eyes briefly. I am beginning to wonder why I ever picked up this call. "Dan," I say with the tone of someone explaining something to a very small child, "I'm in class."
"I know, I know." Dan sounds vaguely guilty. "Is it a really small class?"
"Then no one will notice if you leave!"
"No!" I hope my voice sounds as incredulous as I feel. "I'm not skipping class to go – crash a wedding!"
"Callie." Dan says my name as if he is trying to get me to understand something very important. "This is a once in a lifetime chance."
"No, it's not!" I can feel myself beginning to laugh. "Dan, people get married all the time. We can crash another wedding."
"Are you kidding? It'll never be this convenient. They're getting married on campus!" I am silent. Dan puts on his cajoling tone. "Callie, you know you want to…"
"No I don't," I say, even though I can hear the indecision creeping up in my own voice. He is breaking me down and we both know it. I try to think of dresses I own that could possibly pass as appropriate wedding-guest attire. Most of the dresses I have are for clubbing: too short and too tight for formal day wear. But I do have that green one with the cinched waist that I wore to my cousin's graduation last year… If I pair that with some heels…
"You're coming," Dan decides. "Meet you at your room in ten."
"What? Dan!" But the line is dead, and I am left staring down at the phone in my hand.
Fifteen minutes later, I am shoving my feet into a pair of wedge heels when there is a sharp rap on my door. Grabbing my purse in one hand, I open the door with the other to reveal Dan looking tall and polished in a black suit. He's not wearing a tie, so he's left the first couple buttons on his shirt undone, giving a glimpse of his tanned chest. He looks like a prince.
The only thing that ruins the movie-esque quality of this picture is the eager impatience Dan's face. "Ready?" he demands, and I tear my eyes away from him so I can lock my door. I hope my cheeks aren't flushed.
We make it to the church on campus just as the doors are closing. Inside, most of the pews are packed, but there are a few empty rows in the back; Dan and I grab seats in a row that is deserted except for two little old ladies sitting at the end. I am grinning nonstop, giddy with the excitement of what we are doing. Dan catches my eye and grins too, his eyes crinkling with boyish excitement. The doors swing shut. The music starts.
It's a very nice ceremony – the bride is a short, plump woman and the groom is a little bit swarthy with dark hair, but they look very sweet together. As I listen to the bride begin to speak, my happiness fades and I can't help feeling that we're intruding on something we shouldn't. This is such a private day. But we are already here, and it's too late to leave now, so I just cross my legs and fold my hands in my chest, listening.
Halfway through the groom's vows, I catch Danny's eye again, and he quirks an eyebrow at me. "Bucket list," he mouths at me, and makes a grand checkmark in the air with his index finger. Like magic, I break out into giggles again. The two old ladies at the end of our row shoot me twin looks of disapproval. Stifling myself, I quickly turn to face front.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dan's smile.
When it is all over, the guests filter gradually out of the church to the parking lot outside. Listening to bits and pieces of their conversations, we figure out that the reception is being held at university Arboretum, which is either a short drive or a five-minute walk away.
Since we don't have a car, Dan and I walk. Most of the other guests opt to drive there, and so by the time we arrive, only a handful of seats are left. The reception area is beautiful; round tables have been set up beneath a tall, grand white tent. The sides of the tent are rolled up so that the afternoon sun streams in, lighting everything in October gold. Dan and I choose two seats at a table closest to edge of the reception area. Dan has just starting making small talk with some of the other guests and I am taking the first sip of my iced water when a voice behind us says, "Excuse me?"
I turn around. The speaker is a woman who looks to be in about her forties, with straight hair the color of gold that she has pulled back in a bun. She's wearing a tan pantsuit and turquoise rhinestone earrings. She also has a little boy by the hand. He looks about ten.
"I think," the woman says, "you're in our seats."
I immediately look at Dan, who appears calm. "Oh, there are assigned seats?" he says.
"Yes, I think so." The woman doesn't seem cross, exactly, but she does seem the slightest bit impatient. "Look behind you, there are nameplates on the table."
Sure enough, sitting innocuously behind my water glass is a small gold sign on which "Tommy Olson" is neatly printed. I glance at Dan's place. His name tag reads, "Rena Olson".
"I'm sorry," Dan says genially, and he stands up at once, offering his seat to the woman. "We didn't realize."
I smile at the woman as well, getting hurriedly up from my seat. "I'm really sorry," I say to her, and she waves the apology away with an impatient gesture.
"It's fine, it's fine," she says, helping her son into my seat. I look around. There are no more empty chairs left. Everyone has made it to the reception.
I meet Dan's eyes. Still calm and collected, he does not seem fazed by these latest developments. "Shall we?" he says with a small smile, and offers me his arm.
I smile back. "Of course," I say, looping my arm through his.
We walk like that, linked arm-and-arm, out from under the tent and away from the reception. No one calls us back or says anything at all, though I can feel the weight of stares on my back. I try to walk as normally as possible. I am itching with the urge to look behind me, but I resist the urge and keep my gaze turned straight ahead.
Somehow, we make it out of the Arboretum without breaking our cover. But then I look up and catch Dan's eye, and just like that, we are both doubled over laughing.
"Oh my God," I gasp, "I can't believe we just did that!"
"That woman was so pissed," Dan grins. He shakes his head. "Man, that was awesome. Everyone at our table was so confused."
"I know!" I am so giddy with laughter, I am almost trembling. "I can't believe I actually skipped psych to –"
"Dan!" A voice cuts into the middle of my rambling, and I turn my head to see a familiar petite blonde heading towards us. My stomach drops. Melissa is smiling as she nears us, her blue eyes shining in the afternoon light. "Hey Callie," she greets.
"Hey," I say, managing a smile.
Melissa turns to her boyfriend, tilting her head back to look up at Dan's face. He is smiling down at her, and suddenly it is as if I am not standing here at all. "Haven't seen you at all today," Melissa says, and rises on her tiptoes to give Dan a kiss. It only lasts a few seconds, but the simple sweetness of it almost makes me gag. I look away.
I am just starting to prepare an excuse to leave when Dan breaks the silence. "Guess what," he says, "Callie and I just crashed a wedding!" He sounds incredibly pleased, and when I look up again, he is grinning at me.
"You did what?" Melissa's glance flickers from Dan to me, and back to Dan again. She looks amused. "Is that why you're all dressed up?"
"Yup." Dan looks thrilled. "It was on my bucket list."
Melissa shakes her head. "You're crazy," she says, and leans into Dan's chest. He put an arm around her almost immediately, as if without thinking. She makes a face up at him, and he wrinkles his nose back at her.
We walk back to our dorms together. I am mostly quiet while Dan recounts our adventure with vigor, and Melissa makes various comments and exclamations. We reach her dorm first, and I stand a little off to the side while she and Dan exchange another quick kiss. "Dinner at eight," I hear her say to him as she leaves, and he nods. He stands watching her, hands in his pockets, until she disappears into her building.
On the walk to my dorm, Dan and I are mostly silent. I no longer feel as elated as I did before, and Dan is mostly just smiling to himself.
When we reach my building, Dan gives me a grin. "See you later, Callie," he says. "Thanks for crashing a wedding with me."
As usual, I can't help smiling back. "Of course."
He's already turned to walk away – he doesn't wait for me to go in before leaving, like he does with Melissa – when I call out, "Wait!" Dan turns and takes a step back towards me, a questioning look on his face. I suddenly feel breathless. I know what I want to ask. I'm just not sure how to ask it. "Why'd you call me to go with you?" I say. "Why didn't you call Melissa?"
Dan looks as if he doesn't understand the question. "She was taking a test," he says.
This is all I need to know. "That explains it," I say brightly, and my smile is forced. Of course Melissa would be his first choice companion for something like this. Of course he would only call me because she was busy.
"We always do stuff like this together, anyway," Dan adds. I look at him, slightly confused, and he elaborates. "You and me, we go to Taco Bell at one in the morning and talk. So I figured you'd be up for this."
I can't decide whether to be offended or to feel special. "Are you saying that I'm just someone you do random crap with?"
He grins. "Yeah, I guess so."
For some reason, his response makes me feel better. "Whatever," I say, hiding my smile as I start towards my building.
"You love hanging out with me!" Dan calls after me.
I don't respond, and I don't turn around, but then again I don't need to.
He already knows he's right.
The Wednesday two weeks later dawns beautifully, with clear blue skies and sunshine pouring through the amber leaves, but unfortunately my mood doesn't match the weather. It' s the day of my first big psych test, and I've stayed up almost all night studying. By the time I leave to go to class I'm running on pure adrenaline. I've slept through my alarm so I don't have time to stop by the local java place on campus to pick up my normal cup of coffee.
The test turns out to be incredibly easy, which, though relieving, does nothing to improve my crankiness. Probably the only thing I hate more than failing a test is putting in hours of study time only to find that I could have just crammed beforehand.
I collapse onto my bed the minute I get back to my room, dropping my backpack to the floor with a clunk. My roommate, Sarah, looks up from her own bed, where she is curled up with a biology textbook in her lap. "How was the test?" she asks.
"Easy," I groan. "Really easy." Rolling over onto my stomach, I bury my face into my pillow. "Why was it so easy, Sarah?"
"Aw, that stinks." Her voice is sympathetic. "You stayed up all night studying, didn't you?"
"Pretty much." I let out a long breath before peering at the digital clock on my desk. Twenty minutes before I have to leave for my next class. Is it enough time for a quick nap?
"I don't think you should sleep," Sarah says, sensing my thoughts. I turn around to glare at her and she shrugs, her dark and vigorous curls bouncing off her shoulder. "You're not going to want to get up in time if you go to sleep now."
She's right, and I mutter so in acknowledgement, but make no move to get off my bed. My eyes are just starting to flutter shut when a sharp rapping sound jerks me awake again. I glance up at my roommate. "What was that?"
Sarah, who is now taking notes in a spiral notebook, doesn't look up from her writing. "Knock on the door," she says. Raising her voice, she adds, "Come in!"
The door cracks a little before swinging open all the way, and I lift my head just a little off my pillow so I can see the intruder. Dan stands in the doorway, wearing a backpack, his hands shoved in his pockets. He looks like he just got back from class. Or like he's on his way to class. He glances around the room, nodding at my roommate first before meeting my eyes. "Hey Sarah."
"Hey Danny," she says back.
I sit up, more awake now. "What's up?" I ask.
Dan hesitates, which is unlike him. "Are you busy?"
"Um." I look at my clock. "I have class in twenty minutes?" I study him. "Why?"
He shrugs, clearly unwilling to spill any details. "It's fine, I'll come back later," he says. "I just wanted to talk."
"No, we can talk now," I say quickly. Getting off my bed, I grab the books I need for my next class and shove them into my backpack. I can feel Sarah watching me. When I look up, she meets my gaze with knowing eyes. I don't think I'm that obvious when it comes to my feelings for Dan, but Sarah has always maintained that it isn't too hard to figure out.
Then again, no one at the university knows me better than Sarah.
Except for Dan. Maybe.
Shouldering my backpack, I turn to Sarah. "Meet at twelve-thirty for lunch?"
She nods, and I close the door behind me as I leave the room.
Dan is quiet as we walk down the hall, which is fairly unexpected, because he usually is the one to instigate the conversation. Not to mention he is the one who asked to talk in the first place. So I speak up instead, asking, "So…what's going on?"
For a moment he says nothing. Then, quietly, "I think…Melissa cheated on me."
My mouth drops open as my mind reels. "What?"
The corner of his mouth lifts, just a little, before turning down again. He is looking ahead, so I am met with the view of his profile rather than his whole face. He doesn't offer to elaborate. I am too impatient to wait.
"How do you know?" I ask, trying to be reasonable.
Again, silence. Then, "She told me."
This time I am so startled that I don't say anything at all for a moment. Dan turns to look down at me, the corner of his mouth turning up again. "I know," he says, "It's kind of messed up." He seems to find some kind of twisted, ironic humor in my shock.
My voice returns to me. "What did she say?" I ask, but this time my question is more careful. I don't want to overstep by asking, and I'm also not sure I want to know the answer.
He shrugs, clearly not wanting to go into the story. "It was at a party this weekend with her ex-boyfriend," he says briefly. He doesn't say anything more and, because I am not sure what to say either, we walk without speaking for several long seconds. I try to picture Melissa hooking up with someone else at a party. It's a difficult image to capture, mostly because she seemed so wrapped up in Dan for the last couple weeks.
"Are you guys…over then?" I ask finally.
Dan meets my eyes. He has that small, twisted smile again. "Why," he says, "you don't want me to get into another Kat situation?"
I flush. Kat was a girl that Dan dated two years ago. She was blonde, like Melissa, and beautiful – but she was also haughty and always somehow…distant. She never really spoke to me, or any of Dan's friends for that matter. Dan had spent ages chasing her before he finally asked her out. When she cheated on him three months into their relationship and Danny didn't break up with her, I was furious. I couldn't understand why he gave her a second chance. Once a cheater, always a cheater, I said, but he just shrugged.
Two months later, Kat cheated again. This time Dan ended things. Afterwards, Danny told me that he gave her a second chance because he felt like first time had been his fault. I guess it kind of felt like maybe I wasn't good enough, he said. His eyes, dark brown and usually lively, had been hesitant and muted.
"Yeah," I say now, evenly, although I feel bad for bringing her up. We haven't talked about Kat in months. I know that in some ways, it's still an open wound.
Dan holds my gaze with his own. His eyes are the color of dark chocolate. "Of course I'm not dating Melissa anymore," he says. "I'm not stupid."
I study him. He seems resigned enough, but not in a way that is reassuring. It is as if he has given up, but only because he knows it is a lost cause – not because he actually wants to move on.
I do not know why, but this realization suddenly makes me irritated. "Well good," I say, "Don't make the same mistake you did last time."
Dan looks at me oddly. "I already did," he says. "Two cheating girlfriends in a row." He gives a little half-laugh. "I suck at picking girls."
"Next time you'll pick the right one," I say. Dan looks away, as if he does not want to hear this, and suddenly I feel sad for him. He does not look cheerful, and he does not look happy. He just looks hopeless. And in his hopelessness is also confusion, like he isn't sure what he did wrong so he doesn't quite know how to fix it.
I reach forward on impulse and give him a small hug. "I'm sorry, Danny," I say, and Dan stills with surprise.
"Why?" he says. "It's not your fault."
"I know," I say, "I'm still sorry it happened."
Dan looks at me, his eyes soft. "Thanks Callie," he says. And he hugs me back.
"You're a horrible hooker."
I resist the urge to slam my door in Dan's face. "I'm not done yet," I say, turning away and glancing in the mirror to reassure myself that I don't look worse than I think I do. My hair, half-curled, looks kind of like I woke up during a tornado, and I'm wearing an over-sized t-shirt that is large enough to be a dress. It does look pretty unconvincing.
On the other hand, my makeup is done, so my eyes are darkened and my lashes look full and thick. Just for tonight, I even broke out siren-red lipstick.
Oh, the things I did for Halloween weekend.
"Okay," Dan shrugs, "just trying to give an honest opinion."
I turn to glare at him, but he's grinning at me of course I can't help smiling back. Stepping into my room, he slides his hands into his pockets. He's wearing cargo shorts, hiking boots and an Under Armour shirt. I twist my hair around my curling iron as I survey his costume. "A hiker," I deadpan, "Really?"
He holds up his hands. "Hey, it's the only thing I could come up with."
"And you couldn't even find a backpack to wear? No one's going to know what you are."
Dan looks at me like I'm crazy. "I'm not wearing a backpack to a party."
Shaking my head, I turn my back on him and rummage through my closet until I find the remaining pieces of my outfit tonight: a black leotard from my old ballet days, and fishnet stockings. It's the Friday of Halloween weekend, and Dan and I are heading to a party together. I would've gone earlier with Sarah and a couple of our other friends, but Dan and I both had a leadership dinner that only just ended. "Don't look, I'm changing," I warn, and Dan turns his back with a roll of his eyes. I slip on a pair of black stilettos when I'm finished, and stride out of the room. "Let's go," I say.
Dan waits while I lock my door. "Now you look like a hooker," he says.
Internally, I sigh. Whatever faint hopes I've entertained of Dan somehow being protective or surprised at my outfit disappear completely at the satisfaction in his words. But by now, I am so used to having my hopes let down that I barely feel a twinge of disappointment.
This is actually a pretty good sign. Maybe I'm getting over Danny. It's about time, anyway; I've had a crush on him for how long now? Two years? And not once has he returned my feelings, or been anything but oblivious.
The party is in full swing by the time we arrive, music thrumming through the floorboards as we step into the house. The halls are packed, everyone wearing various versions of Halloween costumes. Over the sea of heads, I spot the DJ wearing a giant Deadmau5 head. I grin and turn to share this with Dan, but he's watching someone else. I follow his gaze to a short, slim blonde wearing a short red dress and talking to another girl in the corner.
"Melissa's here," Dan says to me, without taking his eyes off the blonde in question.
I feel a familiar irritation rising in my gut. "Yeah, I see that," I say. He misses the sardonic tone in my voice, but I'm not surprised. "Are you gonna go talk to her?" I ask, knowing he's already thinking about it.
It's a moment before Dan answers. "No," he says, shaking his head, and he finally turns away from his ex-girlfriend to meet my gaze. I give him a small smile, somewhat proud of him for his restraint, and he offers me small smile in return. "Want something to drink?" he asks.
"Depends…do they have anything that's not beer?"
His smile is replaced by a grin. "I don't know," he says, "I'll go look."
It doesn't take me long, despite the large throng of people, to locate Sarah and the rest of our friends once Danny is gone; Sarah, who beams when she sees me, is dancing with her arms over her head and has clearly had more than one beer already. "Where's Danny?" she shouts in my ear, "Weren't you guys coming together after your leadership dinner?"
Wrinkling my nose at the volume of my roommate's voice, I lean away from her. "He's here," I say, "He went to look for drinks."
"Oh!" Sarah looks at me with wide eyes and I can't help smiling, as she takes considerably longer than usual to process this bit of news. Then, having finally absorbed the information, she thrusts her red cup at me. "You can have mine!" Seeing the hesitant look on my face, Sarah leans in to me so that her mouth is right next to my ear again, and screams, "It's vodka, not beer!"
Wincing away, I look into the cup; sure enough, the liquid inside is clear. I can't help being amused. "You're taking vodka shots out of this?" It's a classic red beer pong cup, and it's filled at least three-quarters of the way.
"You get drunk faster!" The song changes, the music picking up, and Sarah raises her arms over her head at once. She shimmies her hips back and forth. "Callie," she shouts, "Come on, let's dance!"
By the time Dan locates us with drinks half an hour later, Sarah and I have formed a circle several other girls who are also giggling and drunk, all of us moving madly to the music. The cup Sarah handed me is empty, and I can feel my long curls sticking to my neck with sweat. "Whoa," he says, raising his eyebrows at my roommate and I, "What've you been up to while I've been gone?"
I grin at him, reaching out and grabbing his wrist to pull him into our dancing circle. "You don't look like you're having fun!" I shout. The room hasn't started swaying yet, but I do feel deliriously happy, which is usually a sign that the bitter taste of vodka is starting to pay off. "Come on, Danny, dance!"
He laughs. "Okay, okay." Handing me a red cup, he adds, "I don't really think you need this now, but…"
I peer down at the red liquid. "What is it?"
"Hawaiian punch," Dan says. "Spiked."
"Awesome," I beam, and raise the cup to my lips. Dan looks me with a little trepidation.
"You sure you don't want to take a break?" He watches me take three massive gulps of the punch. I can just taste the bitter bite of alcohol beneath the sickly sweetness. Honestly, it tastes delicious after the straight vodka I'd downed from Sarah's cup earlier.
I widen my eyes at him. "I haven't had that much," I say, though my words are somewhat belied by the fact that I can already feel the flush in my cheeks.
"Danny!" shouts a voice from behind him, and we both turn to see Jake Landers heading towards us, wearing a blue soccer jersey and holding a beer in his hand. He is grinning at Dan, and holds his hand up for a high-five. "Hey man, how's it going?"
"Hey," Dan smiles. He slaps hands with Jake. "I'm good, man. How are you?"
"Great." Jake grins at me and then turns his attention back to Dan. "I'm great."
Dan seems amused by this. "Well hey man, that's good to hear -"
I turn my back on them as they continue to talk, ready to go back to dancing with my friends.
The rest of the party passes in much of a blur; some time after I finish my Hawaiian punch, Jake Landers takes my hand and I being dancing with him. Sometime after that he begins nuzzling the side of my neck, which I let him do for a while because he has dark hair and the most piercing blue eyes – and I love blue eyes –
Sometime after that I pull away from Jake Landers, because even though he is undeniably attractive and friendly and all-around a pretty decent guy, I've never really been one for hooking up and I still have just enough of my wits about me to remember this. I stumble onto the back porch to get some air because it's so stuffy inside, and there's a couple leaning against the deck railing with their arms intertwined. They are murmuring to each other in low voices, and I am so hot and sweaty that I wouldn't even have minded third-wheeling their private tete-a-tete to spend some time in the cool air outside, except for the fact that they are also smoking, and I hate smoke.
So I stumble back inside, pushing through the packed living room until I find the basement door and go downstairs, where there is a raucous match of beer pong going on. Here, I find myself being pulled into the game by Sarah, and after playing four games, three of which were lost and one narrowly won, I make the grueling climb back upstairs in search of the bathroom. But the bathroom line is so long that I trek into the kitchen instead, where I begin rummaging through the cabinets, because I have an inexplicable craving for apples…
"What are you doing?" a voice asks, and I turn around to see Danny standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised. He's holding a beer in his hand. I take a moment to appreciate how good he looks, tall and dark-haired, silhouetted against the frame of the doorway, before I shake myself out of my daze.
"I really want some apples," I say, and turn back to the cabinet of chips and salsa that I am currently looking through.
"Uh, don't you think you want to try the fridge?"
Genius! I whirl around. "Danny!" I exclaim, "I didn't even think of that!"
Grinning, he walks over to the dusty refrigerator and pulls open the door. I peer over his shoulder, excited – but the fridge is empty except for three six-packs of beer and what appears to be half a loaf of old, moldy bread.
"Gross," I say as Dan slams the door shut. "Someone really likes beer."
"Well, we are in the guys' soccer house," he reminds me. He puffs out his chest. "All we men need is beer," he drawls. Then, as an afterthought, "And sex."
"Well, all girls need is chocolate," I say. "And sex."
Dan bursts out laughing. "What?"
"Nevermind," I am beginning to get annoyed now. "This party sucks." I push past Dan to exit the kitchen. "Why don't they have any apples?"
"You want to go get some?"
I stop walking. Pivoting on my heel, I fix Danny with a level stare. "You want to go get apples?"
He shrugs. A grin is pulling at his lips; for the first time since he appeared in the kitchen, I realize that he seems to be a tipsier than he was when I last saw him. I feel a grin spreading across my own face. "Oh my god," I say, "Yes. Let's go get apples."
The night is cool outisde. It's cloudy so the moon is dim and veiled, and I can't see the stars when I look up, even though I screw up my face and squint as hard as I can. Dan, who is watching me, grins. He seems endlessly amused by my antics. "The stars aren't out tonight," he says.
"Yes they are, we just can't see them."
My response makes Dan laugh, which causes me to break out into giggles as well. I skip down the sidewalk, my heels clicking loudly against the dull pavement. My mood feels lighter with every step that takes me further into the darkness. I've gone about three strides when suddenly my toe catches on a sidewalk crack. It's too late to stop my momentum. "Damn it!" I say as I land on my hands and knees, my voice shrill in the night.
"Wow." Dan's voice sounds over my left shoulder as he catches up to me. "Did you just curse?"
My eyes sting from the impact of breaking my fall. I ignore Dan's comment and turn my palms upward, so I can see the damage. We're some distance away from the nearest streetlight, so I can't see much, but the pain is sharp anyway. Dan takes my arm as I try to climb back to my feet.
"Hey," he says. "Are you okay?"
"Now I know not to skip in heels." I try to inject a note of casualness, but my words come out subdued.
He chuckles. "Let me see," he says, and kneels down so he can inspect my knees. I peer down too, but the darkness prevents me from seeing much. Dan touches my scraped skin lightly. "Ouch," he says. His voice is quiet but still slightly humored.
"You should carry me to get apples," I say, making my voice purposefully childish.
"Do you want me to?"
I blink. Dan is looking up at me from where he kneels on the ground, and I can't decide whether he is playing around or not. Still, I begin to grin. "Will you?" I ask.
Dan straightens up. In my stilettos, my top of my head easily clears his chin, but I still have to look up to meet his gaze. His eyebrows are raised. "Do you want me to?" he repeats.
"Okay," Dan grins, and bends slightly – the next thing I know, I am squealing as he bodily sweeps me off my feet.
He carries me bridal style. I am laughing so hard I am gasping for air. His chest is solid against my shoulder, and I can feel his breathing with every step. Looking up, I can see strong line of his jaw. It moves as he complains, "Stop laughing." He peers down at me. His eyes are hooded in the dark and I can tell by the curve of his mouth that he is smiling.
"Put me down," I say as soon as I find the breath to speak. "Dan, put me down!"
Dan slows obligingly and sets me back on my feet. I am a little unsteady from laughter and I stumble a bit, putting my hands against Dan's chest to steady myself. His hands are on my waist, helping me find my balance.
We stay like that for a while, even after I'm standing quite securely. We are so close that I can feel the heat radiating from his body onto mine. Neither of us say anything. My laughter has died away now. When I look up, it is difficult to make out Dan's expression in the dark, but I can tell he is not smiling anymore. Instead, he looks almost…pensive.
"What are you thinking?" I whisper.
He doesn't answer. Instead, he lowers his head towards mine, and kisses me.
My heart goes still. I kiss him back, slowly, sweetly – something about this feels so natural, so right. I lean into him, fisting my hands in his shirt. His mouth is gentle against mine, but also bold. His kiss is soft and languid, but hungry.
When it is over, he leans his forehead against mine. We are both silent, breathing. Then he pulls away and smiles, and it's his same old, familiar smile, boyish in its handsomeness. "How 'bout them apples?" he says. His voice is light, teasing.
"Let's go," I say. He links his fingers through mine.
We end up walking twenty minutes from the soccer house to the nearest college grocery store that was still open; as it turns out, they are sold out of apples, but Danny locates some dried apple chips in the aisle with trail mix and nuts. I accept these as the closest thing to apples that I am going to find tonight.
It's nearing one in the morning at this point, so we decide against going back to the party and Dan walks me back to my dorm instead. On the way, I open the apple chips and put one in my mouth. It tastes like dried Styrofoam. I spit it out.
"Let me try one," Dan says. I shove the bag towards him.
"You can have them all, they're gross."
He just raises an eyebrow before popping a chip into his mouth. "They're not that bad." He grins as he swallows. "You're so dramatic."
"No I'm not!" For some reason, I am genuinely offended by this. Dan almost never calls me out on anything, and now that he has, I am defensive. "They don't taste good! How is that being dramatic?"
"See? You're being dramatic now." He looks at me. His eyes are the color of dark coffee under the dim streetlights. For some reason, he seems to be in a mischievous mood. "Come on, Cal," he says when I refuse to smile, "I'm kidding. You read too much into everything."
"No I don't," I say, stung.
He laughs. "Yeah, you do. You analyze everything all the time."
I'm not sure what bothers me more, the fact that Dan is saying this to me, or the rising awareness in the back of my mind that he is, in fact, right. And the ironic thing is that there is nothing and no one I analyze more than Dan himself. Everything he says, every small inflection of his voice – I analyze it all. I have ever since I realized that I had a crush on him. Ever since I began wanting to know he could ever like me back.
"Well," I say, somehow needing to hurt him as deeply as he has unintentionally hurt me, "At least I've never made the same mistake twice."
Silence. Dan turns to look at me. We're past the streetlight now, and the shadows across his face prevent me from making out his expression properly, but I can tell he's lost his grin. "Ouch," he says.
I turn my head away to look at straight in front of me. Even in the recesses of my still alcohol-hazed mind, I know I've overstepped. Still, I can't bring myself to take it back. Not now. Not right away.
After a minute of walking in quiet, Dan says, "I talked to Melissa tonight."
An old, familiar fury rises in my chest. "I thought you said you weren't going to."
"She came up to me when I was going to get a drink." Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Dan isn't looking at me, but rather staring straight ahead, just like I am. "She said she wanted to get back together."
Any other day I would be aching at the thought of this, but right now I am not. Right now I am just furious, furious that he talked to her even after everything that she'd put him through. Furious that he talked to her despite everything that he said he wouldn't stand for. "Well, what did you say?"
"I said no." Dan stops walking now, and I halt too, unwillingly. It takes me a minute to realize that we've stopped because we are in front of my dorm already. "I don't want to be dating some girl who thinks she can cheat on me," he says. I look at him, and he is staring right at me. His gaze is bright in the darkness, and remarkably steady. He is asking for validation, I realize. He is trying to prove that he's moving on.
For some reason, this only makes me angrier.
"Really, Dan?" I say, and my voice is so challenging that it doesn't sound like me. "You don't want to be with Melissa? Because I think you do. I think you really want to be with her, even though she cheated on you. And you know what? I can't figure out why. I can't figure out what's so awesome about her that you still want to be with her. What does she have that any other girl doesn't?"
I step closer. At this proximity, Dan seems much taller than me, and I have to tilt my head back to look up at him. "You know what else I don't get?" I say. I jab my finger into his chest. "I don't get why you dated her in the first place. I don't get why you can't see that you're so much better than her. Why don't you understand that you don't – have – to – settle?"
Dan's hand closes around mine, forcefully halting my jabbing movements. "Stop," he says.
I pull my hand away from him and take a giant step backwards. "Make up your mind," I say, and even to my ears my voice sounds bitter. "When you decide to stop going back to the same kinds of girls, let me know."
Turning my back, I wrench open the door to my dorm building and stride inside.
I am in the cafeteria eating an extremely late breakfast – or rather, an early lunch – the next day, when Sarah tells me she thinks I should spend less time with Dan.
"Where…is this coming from?" I say, more than a little bewildered. Sarah and I both got up late this morning and so far it's been a slow day, both of us quiet and tired from the events of last night. I was poking at a salad, mulling everything that happened last night and trying to decide the best way to tell Sarah about it, before she interrupted my thoughts.
Across from me, my roommate is tearing her chicken tenders into little bite-sized pieces. Though she is petite and small, Sarah eats the most junk food out of everyone I know. In general, she hates anything green. The grill in our cafeteria, famous for its burgers and chicken tenders, is her favorite place to eat.
"I just think you can find someone better," she says now. Tearing open a packet of ketchup, she squeezes the sauce onto a piece of chicken and pops it into her mouth. "Dan is a really great guy. But maybe he's not the best for you."
It takes me a long moment to wrap my mind around what my roommate is saying. I've known Sarah since freshman year, and she has always been someone who listens and supports without criticizing. She always understands where I'm coming from, and because of this, she almost never challenges the things I do. Until today.
I fight the sinking feeling in my stomach. I don't say anything, mostly because I am still in shock, but Sarah takes the chance to continue speaking.
"It's not like you shouldn't be his friend anymore," she says, "I just think you shouldn't be together so much. You guys are really close already, so it shouldn't make a difference if you start hanging out with other guys. You know?" She looks at me. "And this is probably the only way you'll get over him."
At this, I can't help giving a small smile. I've only been "getting over" Dan for all of the last two years. It's not like I haven't dated anyone else – I have. But nothing has lasted, and honestly, none of the guys I went out with ever got to know me as well Dan. I remember how things ended last night, me furious at him for talking to Melissa even though she was the one who approached him. Part of my anger was probably the alcohol getting to my head, and certainly part of it was the righteous, indignant anger of a friend, but I can't even pretend to ignore the fact that part of my fury had also stemmed from jealousy.
I also think of the kiss, the way the streetlight played over his face as he lowered his head. The solid weight of his forehead against mine. My fingers clench around my fork. How do we even stand after that? Was it a tipsy, oh-hey-we're-really-good-friends, I'm-single-you're-single-why-the-hell-not kiss? Was it him trying to get over Melissa? Or was it somehow…more?
I don't feel hungry anymore.
Sarah is watching me with an intent look on her face. "Are you okay?"
I take a deep breath. "I have something to tell you."
Sarah doesn't say anything. She's stopped eating now, and is giving me her full attention. Her gaze is focused and almost wary. "Okay…" she says, letting her voice trail off. I know that she is waiting for me to jump in. I wish more than anything that there is some way of telling her without actually telling her.
"I left the party with Dan last night," I force myself to say.
Something seems to click in Sarah's mind. Her mouth drops open and she leans forward. "Wait a minute…did you guys hook up?" Her tone is loud with disbelief.
"No!" My face is flushed. "Sarah!"
My roommate looks contrite, but only a little. "Sorry, that's what you were making it seem like."
I twist my fork back and forth between my fingers. "Well…I guess…kind of."
Though still looking incredulous, Sarah is now smiling a bit. I can tell she is struggling to decipher the meaning behind my words, unsure of whether I am serious or not. "What are you talking about? You guys 'kind of' hooked up?"
"We kissed," I say.
"I know!" My eyes are wide when I meet my roommate's gaze. I am fighting a smile, but at the same time, my stomach feels so unsettled that I am not sure if I want to throw up. "I don't know what it means though – or if it means anything. You know?"
Sarah is staring at me. She's smiling for real now, but she shakes her head at the same time, still looking disbelieving. "I can't believe this," she says. She laughs a little. "Okay, clearly I'm wrong. I was beginning to think you should just move on." She grins. "I'm happy for you."
Her words make me glad, but it's an empty sense of gladness. The kiss from yesterday is no doubt the best kiss I've ever experienced. But now that it is day, I can't help feeling like the sweetness I felt in the dark last night was false. Inflated. Why did I feel so close to Dan when we kissed last night? I don't even know if he was just drunk, or goofing around, or trying to get over Melissa. And part of me doesn't want to find out. "I kind of wish it hadn't happened," I say.
The look of astonishment on Sarah's face is mixed with just a hint of exasperation. I can't blame her. She knows I've wanted nothing more than to kiss Dan for the last two years. "What? Why?"
"Because – I don't want it to change things. We're really good friends. I don't want to lose that." There is a tightness in my chest as I search for a way to try to explain. "You know Dan," I say finally. "Girls flirt with him all the time and he flirts back. It's just what he does. But when he really likes someone, he always goes ahead and asks them out. Like Kat – and Melissa." I hesitate. "If he wanted to date me, he would've asked by now."
There is a sudden understanding in Sarah's eyes. "You think it just happened because you guys were drunk?"
The thought makes my heart ache, but I can't deny it. "I don't know."
Sarah hesitates. "Do you ever think about just telling him how you feel?"
"I can't." My voices catches.
"Because you're afraid he won't like you back?" Sarah's voice is gentle, sympathetic. I nod.
Sarah lets out a long sigh. For a moment we both sit in silence, neither of us moving. Sarah's chicken strips lie in a cold pile on her plate, and my salad is limp in a pool of Italian dressing. Finally, Sarah reaches over to take my hand. Her grip is tight. I wait for her to say something, and am surprised when she doesn't.
When I look up at her, though, she smiles at me. And her smile – small, tentative, encouraging – speaks volumes.
My first psych test grade turns out to be an A, which is fine. What is not so fine is my first marketing test grade. I've been a stickler for getting straight A's ever since middle school; the minute I see the little black "B" next to words "Exam 1 Grade" on my computer screen, my heart sinks.
My marketing lecture is so large that the professor tells us to come to office hours on our own time if we want to pick up our tests. I am the first one to arrive. By the time I leave, I've jotted down at least six paragraphs of notes of corrections in red pen on my test.
I am walking with my head down, reading these corrections and trying to decipher my own hasty handwriting, when someone calls out to me.
I pause. Even without looking up from my test, I know it's him. I'd recognize that voice anywhere.
I consider pretending I didn't hear him, but in my peripheral vision, I can see that Dan is already approaching. My mouth is dry. I raise my eyes from my test, giving Dan my best smile. "Hey," I say, trying for my usual buoyancy.
Dan looks glad to see me. We haven't talked since the night of the Halloween party two weeks ago, and part of me is glad to see him too. It's pretty cold out today, so he's wearing a black track jacket over a t-shirt and jeans. He still hasn't gotten a haircut, and his brown tresses stick up even more now, giving him a faintly disheveled appearance. He looks like he just finished playing a game of soccer. Or went for a really long walk in the wind.
"What's up?" Dan says. His voice is warm. "I haven't seen you in a while."
"Yeah, sorry." I flush a little, trying to sound normal. "I've been really busy."
"Yeah?" Dan studies me. I'm having trouble meeting his eyes. "Want to get coffee and catch up?"
A list of possible excuses runs through my mind. Too much homework. I need to call my parents. I'm trying to cut down on caffeine. "I'm running out of money on my card," I say finally. It's halfway true. I am running low, but not so low that I can't afford a cup of coffee.
"I'll spot you." Dan's response is prompt. I stare at him, half-heartedly trying to think of another protest, and he tilts his head at me to peer down at me. I know he senses my hesitation. I can tell he is trying to decide how to change my mind. "Come on," he says, "we haven't hung out in forever."
He's right, we really haven't. And I don't realize I've missed him until now. The prospect of spending even just the next half an hour with him, while terrifying, also cheers me up for reasons that I can't even understand. My heart slams out an erratic beat in my chest. I feel my lips lifting into a hesitant smile. "Okay," I say, and I hope my voice is not as tumultuous as I feel. "But you're buying."
Dan's face, which was beginning to cloud over, splits into a smile. "Alright," he says. "Come on."
After we've both ordered and sat down, Dan leans back in his chair and surveys me. I am sucking my vanilla Frappuccino through a straw and I look back at him, frowning a little. There is something very steady and direct about his dark gaze that throws me a little. It suddenly feels like I haven't sat across from him in what feels like a very long time. "What?" I say, feeling slightly unnerved.
Dan narrows his eyes. "Why have you been avoiding me?"
"What?" Now I am really thrown. Almost automatically, I begin to smile, as if he has just made a joke. "What are you talking about?"
"You've been ignoring my texts." Dan's voice is just short of accusing.
"No I haven't," I say at once.
Dan's eyebrows shoot up. "Really?"
My cheeks flame. I feel as if he has just caught me in a lie. From the look on Dan's face, I can tell this is what he thinks too. I look down at my drink.
"Okay, fine." Dan's voice is obstinate. "Why have you been ignoring my texts?"
The nervousness in my stomach claws up my throat and turns absurdly into laughter. "Stop trying to pick a fight with me!" I say. I feel the same way I do when I have a public speech to make: giddy, but not in a good way. Dan's gaze on me seems to be more unsettling than a whole stadium of strangers would be. I avoid his eyes, but I can still feel his stare.
I wish more than anything that I didn't agree to sit down with him. I knew this would happen. Why did I decide to get coffee with the one person I've been trying to avoid?
"I'm not trying to pick a fight," Dan says. "I'm just asking you a question." He waits, and when I don't say anything, he leans forward. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah!" The tentative, but genuine concern in his voice makes my eyes sting. I look resolutely at my drink. I can't meet those brown eyes.
Dan's next words, however, blindside me. "Are we okay?"
I am truly at a loss for words.
Dan doesn't seem to take my silence as a good sign, because after a moment he stands up. My heart leaps, and I am simultaneously relieved and terrified and the thought of him leaving. Dan, however, shatters my anticipations. "Let's go for a walk," he says. His tone makes it clear that although his words are phrased like a suggestion, he does not expect me to refuse.
But I can't go with him. I just can't. I shake my head. "I don't really feel like it," I say.
Taking one long step towards me, Dan puts his hand on the armrest of my chair and pulls me around to face him. He kneels down so that we are almost eye-to-eye, and the proximity of that warm brown gaze makes my breathing faster. "Callie," he says, and he is surprisingly calm. "Come walk with me."
For some reason, I find myself nodding. And so, standing up, he leads me out of the café.
We don't end up going very far; we've only gone a little ways down the street before Dan stops walking and turns to face me. It's much windier now than it was earlier, and I cross my arms against the cold. I brace myself for whatever Dan has to say. Quickest started, quickest over.
"I want to be friends with you," he says.
Great. My heart sinks like a stone. Whatever I expected, it isn't this – not that I should have expected anything at all. I stare Dan's shoulder. Of course he wants to be friends. That's what we've always been. Nothing more, nothing less.
"I do too," I say. I look up at him and manage a small smile. It's true. I don't want to lose our late-night talks at Taco Bell. I don't want to lose our spontaneous adventures to cross items off our bucket lists.
Dan searches my face. He seems to be waiting for something more. "So…we're good?"
Any other day I would ask Dan if there is more on his mind, but right now I am more than happy to see our conversation draw to a close. "Yeah," I say. It's still hard to smile, but I feel better, at least, knowing our friendship is still intact. Being friends is better than being nothing. I've always told myself that. "We're good."
"Can I get a hug?"
I am still a little shaky, but I let out a little laugh anyway. "Of course." I close my eyes as I move forward and his arms wrap around me. He smells faintly of cologne. I breathe in deeply. Dan's presence is so solid, so comfortable, and in this moment, I can almost pretend like everything is alright. Like nothing is wrong.
He rests his chin on the top of my head. "I missed you." His voice, low and almost gentle, vibrates deep in his chest.
My mouth twists. "I missed you too."
When we pull apart, I gather my spirits and channel all my energy into giving Dan one last, sunny look. "I'll see you later?" I say, hoping to God that he doesn't ask me to spend more time together. I can't, not today. Today I just want to go back to my room, and curl up in my bed. I just want to close my eyes and go to sleep. To leave this all behind.
"Okay," he says. His eyes linger on mine. "Later."
Finally. Turning, I begin to walk away. I've already gone at least twenty feet when Dan calls after me.
I'm so surprised that for a heartbeat, I actually think I must have mistaken his voice; it must be someone else calling after me, not Dan. But when I turn around, there he is, striding towards me in that familiar, long gait.
He stops some distance away, and it strikes me that he seems cautious. Tentative, even. But there is also a strange set of determination to his jaw that I have never seen before. "Do you want to go out sometime?" he says, as if he is proposing a movie night or something else very ordinary.
I stare. "What?"
"I'll pay." Dan's mouth quirks up, as if he is joking, but I can tell in his eyes that he is serious. He waits for my response.
My heart suddenly feels very still. I am afraid to hope. "You mean…" I almost can't bring myself to say the words. "Like date?" As soon as I've said it, I want to take it back. Of course he doesn't mean it like a date. Dan has never meant anything like that.
But he nods. "Yeah. Like a date." He steps closer and the brightness of those brown eyes threatens to overwhelm me.
I shake my mind free of my daze. I want to clarify. I want to make sure there are no misunderstandings. "You just said you wanted to be friends."
"I do." Dan's gaze doesn't waver. "Can't we be both?"
A smile threatens to erupt on my face. "Both what?"
"Friends and dating."
I laugh out loud. "Yes," I say. "Yes, yes!" And the next thing I know, he has his arms around me again, and I am burying my face in his chest, breathing in his familiar scent, breathing against the soft warmth of his t-shirt. When I finally raise my head, Dan is looking at me, and his eyes are so warm and soft I almost can't bear to meet his gaze. He lowers his head, and I rise onto my tiptoes, and meet him halfway for our second kiss.
Dan's voice startles me out of my reverie. Surprised, I trip over the curb I walking past, and catch myself from falling just in time. When I look up Dan is standing in front of me, shaking his head. He's chuckling. He doesn't seem the least bit contrite.
"I hate you," I say. It's a good thing no one is out in the streets right now, because no one saw me stumble. Then again, not very many people venture outside at one in the morning on a Thursday.
Dan ignores my less-than-magnanimous comment. "You're such a klutz," he says. He slings and arm around my shoulder and presses a kiss to my temple. I turn my head away, still annoyed. But when Dan pulls open the door to Taco Bell and steps in, I step with him, allowing him to keep his arm around me to that I am tucked securely into his side.
The cashier looks at us expectantly. "I'll have nachos supreme," Dan says. "And a large soda."
She nods, her long nails clicking against the screen of her register as she takes down the order. "You guys ordering together?" she asks, without looking up.
"Yup." Dan's response is prompt, without a hint of hesitation.
The cashier does not even seem surprised. "Alright then, what can I get you?" She directs gaze at me.
"I'll have a chicken quesadilla," I say. "And a bottled water, please."
After Dan hands over his debit card and pays for the both of us, we slide into a booth next to the window with our food. I twist the cap off of my water and take a long sip. Dan pulls open his box of nachos. We eat without speaking for a few minutes. On the television screen behind me, I can hear a reporter giving updates on the latest news in college sports. It feels like we've been here, doing this, forever. It feels like home.
"You know…" Dan's voice is thoughtful. "It's on my college bucket list to pull an all-nighter without doing work."
I can't help my skepticism. "Why would you miss out on sleep if you don't have work to do?"
"It could be a fun all-nighter." Dan's voice is reasonable, but his eyes are playful. "We'd do whatever we want."
"Other than sleep?" I am obstinate on my point.
Dan gives a long sigh. "Yes, Callie, that is the point of an all-nighter." He finishes his nachos and wipes his hand on a napkin before stuffing it into the empty nachos container. "Do you have a lot of homework tonight?"
I can sense where this is going. "Dan, I am not pulling an all-nighter with you." As thrilled as I am about spending time with my new date, there are few things I love more than the feeling of falling into my bed and curling up beneath the covers.
"Why not?" Dan reaches across the table and grabs my wrist before I have a chance to respond. I look up at him, meeting his deep brown eyes. His face is serious. "Callie, you know what they say."
"What?" Despite myself, I am smiling.
"You only live once."
I start to shake my head, pulling my hand away, but he's already won me over and I can tell he knows it. "What are we even going to do?" I say finally.
Dan is grinning. "What do you want to do?"
I have no idea. But even as I sit there, pondering, I don't care if I can't come up with a single suggestion. It doesn't matter.
Because tonight, sitting at our local Taco Bell with Dan across from me and a whole night of possibilities before us, nothing has ever – ever – felt more right.
A/N: This is my first real oneshot/story. Though none of these scenes were taken directly from my life, the whole story is based off some personal experiences near and dear to my heart. :] Please review!