My life was an open book if my mom's current discussion topic was anything to go by. Doctor-Patient confidentiality apparently meant nothing to her, nor did mother-daughter privileges. Why her best friend Bev might be interested in my appointments was beyond me, but she was showing a keen interest in the pow wow. The inappropriateness of the discussion about my blood test only increased as it was occurring over dinner. I had felt queasy enough at the time, I really didn't need to hear about the ordeal and my slight hormone imbalance in front of my family and the Jones' at our half-yearly dinner meet. The second youngest Jones had already latched onto the information and had told me he was looking forward to seeing me grow a beard. The fact that he was even aware of what a hormone imbalance was had impressed me, even if he had gotten the wrong idea.
Surely there were more interesting dinner topics to choose from. Perhaps after twenty two years of friendship our mothers were running out of things to talk about. My dad and their dad Martin seemed to have gotten to that point as their conversation had petered out about twenty minutes ago, although that was nothing new. Where Bev was loud and ballsy, Martin was quiet and reserved and only said as much as was required. Wishing to put an end to the awkwardness of the conversation I put my fork down loudly on plate.
"I know this is interesting stuff, but instead of debating my new medication and its pros and cons – which I know you've googled, mom, but that does not quite equate to a medical degree – maybe we can move onto more important subjects. Like the drop in house prices, or the overpricing of avocados, or whether there are too many Kardashians in the world."
I ignored both the knee that nudged mine under the table and Bev who was going "ooooooooh" and giggling with my mom. My dad had my back though, as he raised his glass to me from across the table and looked pointedly at my mom. He was about as keen on blood tests and hearing about them as I was.
"Alright alright," my mom said, looking apologetic, which wasn't to last. "Bev, how do you feel about avocados these days?"
I sunk lower in my seat, determined to tune out the giggling. Apart, they were good people; together they were just annoying.
"I don't know how I feel about avocados, how about you, James?" my sister asked beside me, leaning towards him, which meant leaning virtually across my lap. James was the oldest Jones sibling at twenty, born one month after me. James Jones; I'd always thought that name was a rather unfortunate phonetic choice.
"I have no real feelings towards avocados," he replied, leaning back in his chair and his gaze flitting to mine. I looked down at my plate, suddenly very interested in my broccoli.
"Oh I hate them too," Jennifer said, running her fingers through her bangs, "I'm not sure I'd even recognize one if I saw it."
This wasn't particularly funny, but I clamped down on my bottom lip anyway. Sneaking a glance at James told me that he was masking his amusement much better than I was. Both of us knew what Jennifer was doing. It must have been about eight months previously when Jennifer had first sidled up to James at one of our outdoor barbeque parties and attempted to woo him by telling him about all the things she had loved about Kober, his dog, who had died recently and was still quite a painful subject to bring up with James. I'd really enjoyed watching that train wreck, and it was endlessly amusing to see Jennifer's further attempts over time to ingratiate herself with him as something more than the little girl next door, even though we didn't actually live next door to the Jones'. The avocado thing was new though, I thought she liked avocado.
"Who cares about avocados?" Lacey said, James' younger sister at fifteen years old, "did you hear what I said about Cameron?"
"Oh yeah, sure, what do you think about Lacey having a crush on Cameron, James? Being a big brother and all."
"It doesn't matter what he thinks, I'm asking you what you think." Watching Lacey's attempts to stop Jennifer from flirting with her brother had been almost as amusing as watching Jennifer try to flirt. I wasn't sure whether Lacey was annoyed that she was losing her friend's attention or whether it was because the attention was being bestowed on her older brother. Either way, every Jones-Patterson get together was an opportunity to watch fantastic social situations at play. I was tempted to write about it for my social studies class at university.
"Oh Cameron's cute, definitely, you should totally ask him to prom. I mean he's not my type or anything but he's great for a high school boy. I just like older men, that's just how I am. And girls can definitely ask guys out these days, it's the modern thing to do, you know?"
A knee nudged mine again under the table, so I knew that James hadn't failed to receive the subtle messages Jennifer was shooting his way. Subtle as grenades, my grandfather used to say. Clearly if James wasn't going to ask Jennifer, then she would be making the move herself. Props to her for having the courage, I thought, I never would have when I was in high school. As James and I had both been single at the time it had just been a foregone conclusion that we would go together for ours. Unfortunately, I knew Jennifer's prom actually fell over a quite heavy exam period for my university, which was probably the same for James, but I saw no need to intervene and dash her dreams so soon. I'd let James do the honors, hopefully when I had already left to go back to HCU and wouldn't have to deal with the blubbering repercussions. At sixteen, Jennifer could be prone to quite intense dramatics.
Lacey had not yet given up and was pulling up pictures of Cameron on her phone from Facebook, most of which appeared to be of him topless if my sideways angle didn't deceive me. James poked me in the side.
"You're too old for him, it's practically pedophilic."
"I'm twenty, not senile," I said, rubbing my ribs.
"He's sixteen, he's barely legal."
"All I'm doing is looking at his six pack, I'm not about to hunt the guy down. Good choice, by the way," I said to Lacey who looked smugly at her phone.
James sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"Oh he's lovely isn't he?" said Bev, clueing into our conversation. "He reminds me of Martin before we got engaged."
"You fancy someone who looks like your dad," Jennifer sniggered, not meanly, but Lacey was back to glaring at her. Martin, although still not contributing to the conversation, looked offended; probably because Bev had insinuated he'd really let himself go after he'd secured a future wife.
"Do you get the sense that both of our families are odd?" James whispered, leaning down to me so that Jennifer beside us couldn't hear, and nor could Bev who had noticed Martin's reaction and was trying to placate him.
"You're only just catching on?" I answered, also whispering. He grinned and then turned to listen to his younger brother just as my phone went off in my pocket.
"No, no Dani, you are not to answer the phone during dinner," my mom said, catching me retrieving the device. I glanced at the screen.
"Sorry mom, I really really have to take this. It's very important. It could affect my whole life as well as my children's children's children if I don't answer. I'm sure you understand." I made my escape and answered the phone as I exited the restaurant. "Thank you, thank you for calling me."
"Why? What's happening?" said the voice on the other end.
"A Jones-Patterson get together."
"Oh right, your mom behaving herself?"
"Does she ever at these things?"
"Well, I'm glad to do you a service," Caleb said, chuckling. "Can I expect a reward when I get back?"
"A reward would require something along the lines of you coming to the restaurant and dragging me out despite my mom hanging onto my arm with her claws," I said, sitting on a bench and putting up my feet. The weather wasn't too cold for October and no one was around except a waiter on his fag break.
"Bit difficult, seeing as I'm 200 miles away, but if you give me advance warning next time I might be able to work something out."
"How's basketball?" Caleb was at an away game which I had been invited to join, but a Jones-Patterson get together always took priority, according to my mom.
"Good, would be better if we had your support. We all miss your crazy ass cheering. It's noticeable that you're not here."
I made a face. "That's because I never have any idea what's going on and so I tend to cheer at the wrong times when no one's making any noise."
"Exactly, we can tell you're not here. Everyone is responding at the right times. Dean says he misses hearing you get excited when he's standing still."
"Funny, what else is happening?"
Caleb launched into a tale about space hoppers and frozen yoghurt – seriously, the basketball team was strange – and I laid my head against the back of the bench. I had met Caleb in one of my business classes and he'd been mock outraged when I'd mentioned I'd never seen a basketball match before. I was then given a season ticket and escorted to the matches, because he knew I would never have bothered to turn up without being forced, although I still didn't really get it. Caleb had left for the away game with his team a few days prior to my return home, and I missed those guys, and missed being at university. Coming home was always strange now that I'd essentially moved out to a city across the state.
My phone bleeped in my ear.
"Sorry Caleb, call waiting, won't be a sec." I switched lines, "hello?"
"Dani finish your call and come inside."
I sighed. "I've been out here for all of thirty seconds, mom. Has the conversation died without me?"
"Yes, mom." I switched lines again. "Sorry Caleb, I've been recalled."
"Fair enough, I want your mom to keep liking me so she'll still let me come back and eat her pecan pie."
"Priorities, nice. I'll see you soon."
"Can't wait to see you. We're going out the night we're both back, I'll take you somewhere fancy, okay?"
"Just no white table cloths, I don't need visible evidence of how messy an eater I am."
"You got it."
Ending the call, I made my way back inside to our table where everyone had finally finished their desserts and were passing around photos of the Jones' last family holiday. James handed me a bunch as I retook my seat.
"You've missed some exciting stories," he said.
"As long as they're not about me," I replied, flipping through the pictures.
"You weren't invited, so no. Interesting call?"
"Wasn't long enough to have the chance to get interesting. What the hell are you doing in this photo?"
He peered over at the picture.
I looked up at him and back at the photo of him in the sea, almost obscured by the spray.
"Where's your board?"
"It made a bid for freedom."
I smiled, handing the photo to Jennifer who not unexpectedly gushed about his surfing prowess. Not long after the Jones' had shown us all their photos my dad managed to persuade mom it was time to get the check. There was a long, drawn out goodbye in the parking lot which would have given the impression to any bystander that one of us was moving to Africa although I was pretty sure Bev and mom had plans to meet up two days from now for coffee. Lacey said a quick goodbye to Jennifer, who she had still not quite forgiven for her behavior over dinner, and gave me a hug as we probably wouldn't see each other for another six months. Also, I'd complimented her love interest so I was still in her good books. The two youngest Jones boys were had not quite come back into the age when hugging goodbye was acceptable and made a dash for the car. James extracted himself from the hug Jennifer had launched upon him, patting her head which made her frown. I hid my grin in his sweater as he enveloped me in a hug.
"See you Dani," he said, eyes twinkling, and our families parted ways.
"I love our get-togethers," my mom said as we were driving home. "It's so nice to catch up now that Dani and James are both away at university. I'll be sad when you two stop coming home so often."
"You'll actually allow me to stop coming home?" I asked, moderately surprised.
"Well, no, you'll probably have to have a legitimate excuse."
"Like you've moved to Latvia and I've only given you 24 hours notice."
"You're so demanding."
Later that night, I'd been watching TV for about half an hour after everyone else had gone to bed when I received the text message I'd been expecting. Leaving the TV on mute, I grabbed a cardigan and my keys and shut the front door behind me as quietly as possible. My whole family were heavy sleepers, but it didn't hurt to be careful. The walk to the park was a short one, and the gate squeaked familiarly as I went through. There was no one about, not even a breeze, but the moon shone and lit up the metal surfaces of the swings and other playground objects. Two hands clamped themselves on my arms.
"Jesus! Shit! What do you think you're doing?"
James laughed and backed up as I aimed a weak punch at his chest.
"Just trying to get your heart pumping."
"I'm outside after dark in an empty park and you thought grabbing me was a good idea?"
"Sorry," he said, not looking sorry at all. Instead he reached for me and tucked me under his chin. He wasn't wearing any cologne but I could still smell it faintly on his sweater. It was my favorite. "Come on, I've set us up over there."
By this James meant he'd laid out a blanket under a tree, where I kicked off my shoes, and we laid back trying to see the stars through the heavy cloud cover.
"How've you been?"
I made a face at him, although he didn't see it. "We were just together, like two hours ago, you know how I've been."
"Okay." I slipped my hand underneath his. "I've been fine, busy mostly with the project I told you about and trying to set up interviews with strangers."
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"We run a similar course, I took the class last semester."
We were quiet, and I listened to the tree shifting slightly above us. James attended a university three hours away from mine. We both took Business, James minoring in History while I took Social Studies. Our mothers had tried to get us to go to the same university, just as they'd tried to convince us to take all the same classes through high school and attend all the same extracurricular activities in middle school. They'd been determined to throw us together at every opportunity for twenty years. As best friends, having their children get along was an absolute.
"Jennifer is getting bolder," I pointed out. James groaned, gaining a chuckle from me.
"I know, she's a viper. What happened to the sweet little kid who thought I was the grossest most disgustingest boy she'd ever met in her whole entire life?"
"She grew boobs and developed hormones."
"I don't want to think about your sister's boobs. And her hormone problems have nothing on yours."
"It's a slight hormone imbalance, okay?" I exclaimed defensively, aiming a solid wack on his chest with my free hand. "That doesn't mean I'm gonna go ape shit about tiny problems or grow a mustache or anything. It's totally common, most people don't realize they have it."
"I believe you."
My fist once again connected with his chest, which only made him laugh harder. When I was younger I had taken a few Tae Kwon Do classes, and had even made him cry with one well placed punch in the playground which I got in an unbelievable amount of trouble for. But apparently I no longer had any impact with my attacks.
"Who was on the phone?" James asked, picking at the grass at the edge of the blanket absentmindedly.
"Earlier, at the restaurant."
"Oh, Caleb." When James didn't say anything else, I continued. "You remember Caleb, right? From my course? You met him last time he was here, I think. He's at a basketball meet. Apparently the team misses my sporadic bursts of applause."
James' had stopped stroking my hand and turning my head I could see him staring straight up into the tree. I raised myself on one elbow.
"I can tell you want to say something. So what is it?"
"I have nothing in mind," he replied, putting his hands behind his head. I snorted and sat up cross legged beside him. James was humming and staring into the tree canopy. It always amazed me how boys could be so ridiculous sometimes. We'd always gotten along well, and I knew him better than I knew anyone. He ignored my attempts to nudge him with my knees, but couldn't prevent an intake of breath when I stroked my finger tips along the exposed skin of his stomach. He was always so sensitive there.
"What is it?"
After another thirty seconds of silence, which felt like much longer, he said, "You mention Caleb quite a bit."
Now was not the right time to smile, but he wasn't looking at me so I did it anyway. Seriously, boys were ridiculous.
"He's my friend. We have a lot of classes together. We also go out as a group a lot. Seeing as he's usually with us he ends up being in a lot of the stories I tell."
"I'm not complaining. Just making an observation."
"James, you're the only guy I'm hooking up with. I can promise you that."
Hooking up was essentially what we were doing; what we had been doing for about two years. It was something of a surprise to us too. It had begun towards the end of high school, we'd been at his house and he had been showing me the classes he was thinking of picking when we graduated and went to university, comparing them to the ones I thought I'd like. He'd always been a forward planner. Thinking about us going to different places had suddenly caught up with me, and in that moment I'd rested my head on his shoulder. When he drew me into a hug we had sat side by side at his desk, not saying anything, until it had just… happened. It had been hard not to feel awkward when Bev had called up to us, breaking the kiss, asking if I was staying for dinner, but it hadn't felt wrong. Clearly James had thought the same as he'd dragged my mouth back to meet his.
After that, we secretly made out whenever an opportunity presented itself, while appearing to the outside world as exactly the same as we'd always been. Neither of us had discussed keeping it a secret, but there just didn't seem any point in causing a stir. At school we'd been voted 'Most likely to still be best friends in 10 years.' If they had known we'd begun to see each other as a bit more than that, the furor would have been tremendous. After we left for university, we saw each other when we found ourselves back home at the same time, and essentially picked up where we left off. We phoned each other occasionally, texted more often than that, but carried on with life as if nothing had changed. It wasn't a relationship, but it meant more than a casual fling, because we had known each other our entire lives.
James was sweet, and genuine. It's what had made him a good friend and why I'd kept him around even during the 'boys are aliens' stage of growing up. He opened doors for people and did fairly well at school. He only got into trouble every so often, and usually with the rest of the unofficial baseball team he had been a part of made up of other boys at our high school who were either not good enough to join the school team or, like James, weren't really that bothered to make the kind of commitment joining the school team would entail. He'd put up with a lot of my sarcasm, a trait which had set in around the age of fourteen and never really left me, and the time when we were twelve when I'd made a point to always bring up that he was a month younger than me in every conversation I could work it into.
He has been my first. Not my first kiss; that treasure had been awarded to an ex-boyfriend when I was fifteen who had not really deserved it as it turned out. James and I had been away at university for almost a year, and seen each other a handful of times in between. If we added up the amount of time we had actually spent together since starting our thing, it really wasn't a very long time at all. Our siblings were at school, our parents at work, and we'd been at my house. Usually when things got too hot and heavy, we'd put on a movie or get food or something else to distract us. That time, neither of us had stopped. I guess we were both on the same page, at the same place. We usually were. I'm not sure what first times are supposed to be like. I guess girls hope it will be all rainbows and stars, although usually it turns out to be painful. And it was painful. And there were no rainbows or stars. But there was warmth, and a feeling like I was being filled up to the brim until there was no space left between him and me. His kisses had soothed my body and when we tried a second time a while later, it had been better.
Now I leaned over him and placed chaste kisses on his lips until he finally looked at me properly. "You've never been one to hold back something that was on your mind. Don't start now."
"My mom would flip if she knew we'd been doing this all this time."
The randomness of the comment didn't really faze me, and I grinned. "If by flip you mean she'd be flipping excited then yeah, I guess she would. Which is part of the reason why we've never mentioned it. Because that would be scary. But then again, my mom would probably be the same way."
"Do you like Caleb?"
The quick switch back to Caleb threw me again. "Um, what? No. As in boyfriend material? No."
"Are you sure?"
I narrowed my eyes and leaned back. "What's that supposed to mean?" James didn't elaborate. "Okay, stop staring at the tree and tell me where this is coming from."
"It's just curiosity, it doesn't matter."
"Oh it matters. Because it means you think I could like him, and possibly date him, while hooking up with you at the same time." Suddenly I was all kinds of offended.
"Do I think he's good looking? Yes. Do I want to date him? No. If I wanted to date him I would have broken this off with you."
James finally sat up. "Dani-"
"What? You think I'd do that?"
"No," James said as took my hands in his. I resisted the urge to pull them back. What was he trying to say? "I don't think that's you. I was just- I only wondered, I wanted to know. That's all."
I exhaled, looking at our hands. When James saw this he turned our hands over to thread his fingers through mine. While I didn't resist, I didn't look at him either.
"Dani." Garnering no response from me he raised our joined hands and kissed my fingers. "I'm sorry, I really didn't mean it that way." When I still didn't respond, he sighed. "Look, I guess things have gotten more complicated. We've been doing this for almost two years now. I only really see you when we both happen to be back here at the same time. Then we both go back to college and it's like nothing has changed. I just thought…I'd like to know what you're thinking. I want to know where we're going with this."
"You're such a girl," I said, which was probably not the right response, but I was flummoxed. This had been the most that either of us had really said about… us. We'd never gone through the stage of defining what we were, or what we were doing. I had thought that we were just happy to go with the flow, see how things went. Or maybe not happy, just that it was scary – truly, honestly scary – to put a name to what we were going with anything other than a lighthearted label, because then things became complicated, as James had said. It meant that other people might find out about… us. That our families would find out. Our moms would probably be overjoyed but then we'd never hear the end of it. And if things between us soured? Then what? There'd be no more Jones-Patterson get togethers because it would be too awkward for everyone? Would it spoil our parents' friendships? There was a lot to think about, which is why we never really had before.
James' smile was one part amusement, two parts frustration.
"Dani, come on. Is this all you want from me?"
Okay, so I'd thought about it. Of course I had. What girl wouldn't? And yes, there were always instances where I'd thought "It would be great if James was here to see this." Maybe that was just as friends, or maybe it wasn't when sometimes I found myself reaching out in bed, half asleep and expecting him to be there. And yes, maybe even hoping that he'd be there. Maybe I was making too big a deal of all this. Or maybe I wasn't.
James let me struggle with my inner monologue for all of twenty seconds when he then leaned forward, pulling me towards him, and kissed me. We were only connected at our knees, hands and mouth, but I could feel my body straining towards him. The only reason I didn't leap on him was because James kept the kiss slow, exciting my mouth with his tongue and nipping me occasionally on my lower lip, which by now he'd come to know was something I really liked.
"If it helps you make a decision," he said pulling away, not quite breathlessly but not in his normal voice either, "I think you're amazing. And I want to see you more often. And I'd like to introduce you to my friends. And we don't have to tell our parents right now, I don't think I could handle any more of their crazy than we already do, but I would like to tell them at some point so my mom stops asking who I'm hooking up with at college. Which she asks me all the time, by the way. Pretty soon she's going to start thinking I'm lying or gay."
I rested my forehead against his.
"Jennifer's going to kill me."
His smile was hesitant, and then blinding, tugging firmly on my heart strings.
"I'll protect you."
I didn't resist, couldn't, when he took my lips with his again. This time, although it started slow, soon he had disentangled our hands to pull me onto his lap, his hands sliding beneath my shirt. Mine delved into his hair, finding that he must have had a haircut since the last time I'd seen him as his brown locks were not quite as long as I'd remembered. His hands roamed along my skin, warming every part he touched. It wasn't long before I could feel him straining between my legs, and our gasps were becoming more pronounced.
"Not sure this is the place for this," I managed to say between kisses. His laugh reverberated through his body and mine, but he didn't slow down. His fingers teased the edges of my bra, occasionally daring to slip underneath for a second before pulling away. When I could take it no more I pulled back to gasp in more air and he moved his attentions to my neck. By now his excitement was very obvious and every time I ground down a little he sucked in a breath. My hands sought his muscles hiding underneath his sweater, but I resisted the urge to pull it off completely. The fire was moving too fast, but it was so hard to ignore.
James broke away first, pulling his hands down to my waist and collapsing back on the blanket, breathing heavily. "You're right, this probably isn't the place," he muttered, covering his eyes with his arm.
I laughed, lowering myself beside him and I let him tuck me back under his chin. It was one of my favorite habits of his.
"You should visit me next weekend," he said after a while.
"At JCU. You should come check it out. There's a baseball game. You'll enjoy it."
"Do you know me at all? You know the only sport I understand is football. And that's as long as there's someone beside me to explain what's going on."
"You should still come. You can meet Gareth and Paul."
"Your housemates?" I stared at the black sweater in front of my nose. The voice above me sounded relaxed, but not entirely natural. I supposed that while we were again at the same place in the book, we'd still not really confirmed anything out loud, which meant the James was still nervous. My own heart had started beating a little faster, almost as fast as the heart I could hear through the sweater. I squeezed him tightly. "Okay then."
The arms around me which had tensed up so slowly I hadn't noticed it now loosened up considerably.
"Okay." I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Just putting this out there," I said, "so I don't read the situation wrong or anything… does this mean you want to properly date me date me?"
James growled, and I giggled. I never really giggled. But I guess now I did.
"I think if you decided that we should end this and you started dating Caleb, you would be ripping out my heart." Wow, I was such a sucker for a line.
"Can I just suggest one thing?" I asked.
"That we definitely wait to tell our parents? I really don't want to have to deal with the squealing anytime soon."
"You have my unconditional support. Them bitches be crazy. They'd have us married and you knocked up by the end of the week."
A/N: I'm not dead! Applause please... no? Nevermind, I don't deserve it. It's been way too long. I really wanted to write a Befuzzled prequel but I just couldn't get Jane's voice the way it was in the original so until I figure that out, I decided to write a different one-shot, and came up with this.
I hope you like it, if you've read through this twice and thought "some things have changed..." that's because I went back and did a re-jig of some of it because I felt something was missing when I reread it this morning. Thanks to Serena62 for pointing it out to me. I totally agreed, and hope this is a bit better.
With this one I plan to continue with some extra one-shots continuing their story as I like Dani and James quite a lot. They'll mostly be set after this one, but I may decide to do one or two from earlier. That is if you guys like it!
Thank you so much to everyone who favourited and reviewed my other stories since my last post. I'm so grateful, you have no idea. Every time I got a new notification I thought "Man I really gotta step up and write something" which is how this came about. I absolutely love you guys who are sticking with me, and excited about all the new people who are discovering my stories. Now I have offically moved and settled, I'm going to aim to churn out some more one-shots way more frequently than I have been doing.