Derek stepped out of the shower to the sound of the street-door buzzer sounding throughout the loft. With a muttered curse he wrapped a towel around his waist and walked to the intercom on the balls of his feet, grimacing at the water drops he left in his trail as he answered the bell. "This is Derek."
"Hey, it's me."
He felt a smile turn his lips upwards when he heard her voice. "Hey 'me,' come on up. Door's open."
"Great. Thanks, kid."
Derek chuckled and shook his head, buzzing her in and waiting for the sound of the outside door slamming before letting go of the button. Glancing down at the towel around his waist, he pulled his apartment door slightly open before heading back towards his bedroom to find at least a pair of pants. As he buttoned the fly on his jeans he heard her footsteps come through the door. He grinned, knowing her well enough to picture the pause she took to kick the door closed to catch her breath at the same time.
"Yeah, be right there," he called back, abandoning his search for a tee shirt and pulling a button-down off a hanger. "Sorry, you caught me just as I was getting out of the shower, so I had to come back here and get myself decent." He grinned rakishly as he came out of the small hallway and into the open room.
She shook her head at him from where she sat at his counter, spinning slightly on one of the barstools. "Should I be thanking you for sparing my delicate feminine sensitivity from such a sight of your…indecency?"
If possible, his grin stretched wider and he shrugged. "If you want."
She rolled her eyes, though the matching smile on her face removed any malice in the gesture. "You just think you're so charming."
He shrugged again, his voice teasing as he replied, "Can't help it if it's a God-given gift."
She let out a bark of laughter that quickly dissipated into quieter giggles, her grin taking up her entire face. She shook her head as he winked at her, setting the razor, shaving cream, and washcloth he'd grabbed from the bathroom on the counter next to the sink. He tossed her his shirt to hold before flipping open the tap and splashing his face with water. Shaking out some cream, he spread it over his jaw and watched his best friend as she stared out the paneled windows, her fingers idly playing with the tips of his shirt collar.
In a rush, the warning words of a mutual friend sprang to the forefront of Derek's thoughts. You haven't been around her in a while, Der. She's…different. Quieter, more somber. It's still Harper, but a much duller version. I think you should talk to her. He watched her silently, relying on pure muscle memory as he started shaving the scruff he'd been sporting for the last week or so. With each swipe of the razor across his jaw, Derek tried to spot anything out of the ordinary in her demeanor, but he only saw a slightly more tired version of the Harper he knew. At the moment, she looked more like she used to each semester before midterms and finals than anything else. At the thought he ran the razor under the tap and spoke up. "Hey, you look tired, everything okay?"
"Hm?" She looked back at him, her eyes slightly glazed over. She shook her head before responding, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm, I'm fine, thanks." She smiled softly. "I've just…been having some trouble sleeping, is all."
"Trouble sleeping?" He set down the razor and looked at her more fully. "Why? You never have trouble sleeping." Derek chuckled. "In fact, I think you have more trouble staying awake than you do falling asleep."
Harper smiled back at him, though he noticed that this time there was a slight strain at the edges. "Yeah, well, it's starting to feel like my body is pulling some karmic punishment on me for all those years when I slept through something I shouldn't have."
Derek huffed in acknowledgement, but he knew neither of them were joking. "Harper, you'd tell me if something was wrong, right?" His eyes roamed over her face, watching for signs that she'd lie to him.
She averted her eyes, pinning her gaze to the shirt she held in her hands and the collar tips she continued to worry with her fingers.
"Harper." Derek waited until she looked up at him. "What's going on?"
She stared at him, her brown eyes glazing over as she got lost in her thoughts. "I got the job."
His voice seemed to shake her from her reverie. A small smile hovered around the corners of her mouth as she looked up at him. "I got the job. In Boston, they offered it to me."
Derek felt like crowing. "Harper that's amazing! When did they tell you?"
Her smile slipped and her eyes shuttered as she looked down, the joy she'd had suddenly gone. "A month ago."
"Wait, what?" He frowned. "A month? But then…" Derek shook his head, his chest starting to feel inextricably tighter. "Why are you only telling me now?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? Harp…"
"Why didn't you tell me you were getting engaged?" Now she looked up at him, and this time her gaze was steady, those wide brown eyes aimed straight at him in a piercing, lasered way she rarely used.
Derek started, that uneasy feeling growing. "What...what do you mean?"
Harper scoffed, faint traces of disgust lacing her voice as she replied, "don't play dumb with me, Derek. Amy was all too happy to tell me that you'd proposed to her on her birthday."
"I, I didn't…" Derek shook his head. "That's not, that's totally different."
"It's totally different?" Harper's eyebrows lifted high on her forehead. "Me not telling you life-changing news is totally different from you not telling me life-changing news?" Her voice took on a hard edge. "Please, do tell me all about how different the two are."
He swallowed and hesitated, unsure how to answer her. "Harper, I…"
She shook her head, the disgust from earlier crossing her face. "Oh don't even." She stood, dropping the shirt on the counter and grabbing her bag from the stool next to her. "I came to say goodbye, Derek. I took the job. I've got a place to live and someone's taking my spot in my apartment. I'm not going to be around for your wedding, just in case you were going to bother sending an invitation." She looked up, and her eyes shone with unshed tears. With her next words her voice cracked with emotion. "I left my new address with Jack, if you ever decide you want to get in touch with me."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? What the hell is any of that supposed to mean?" Derek watched as she pushed in her stool and slung her bag across her chest, turning her face away from him, though not before he caught sight of tears dripping down her face. "Harper, stop." He strode around the island counter, grabbing hold of her arm as she tried to walk away. "Harper, wait, God, what the hell is going on? You can't be serious about leaving like this." He tried to pull her to face him but she refused to move. He ducked his head around her to meet her eyes. She looked away from him, but couldn't hide the tears that streamed down her face or the way her chin quivered. "Harp, you can't leave. Not like this."
She used her free hand to swipe helplessly at her tears. "Derek let me go."
"Derek," she started, her voice weak but protesting.
"Harper," he mimicked, his voice stronger. "You're not leaving. I won't let you. Not until we talk about this. You didn't even give me a chance to-"
"To say what?" She looked up at him, her eyes wild and wet. "To tell me that you're in love with her? To try to convince me that nothing will change once you're married and I'm living in a different city? To let me know that everything will be the way it's always been?" A sob escaped her throat on the last word. "Well I don't want to hear it! I don't want to hear any of it!"
"Harper you're not making any sense!" Derek grew exasperated, and both his hands came to grip her arms. "What does this all mean?"
"God, Derek, I'm in love with you!" She fairly shouted the words, throwing them at him in almost anger.
He felt his hands slacken, and he could only imagine that he looked as stunned as he felt. "You're…"
She'd closed her eyes, trying to calm her shaky breathing. "I'm in love with you. I have been ever since our freshman year." She opened her eyes, staring at him with the most desolate expression he'd ever seen. "I kept waiting, hoping that one day you might wake up and realize that you love me, too, that you felt something other than friendship for me. But now, you're getting married. And you didn't even tell me. So I guess this whole time, I've been waiting in vain. And I don't want to do that anymore."
He stared at her, speechless, that uneasiness in his gut gnawing at him and expanding.
She watched him, those brown eyes ever observing, seeming to know like always what he was thinking before he even thought it. But he couldn't think. Not now. Not when his best friend had just told him that she loved him. Not when his world was crashing around his shoulders. Not when memories were rushing into his head, memories of them together, little things becoming so much clearer.
Harper blinked and swallowed, nodding her head before stepping carefully back. She swiped again at her eyes before turning around, crossing the threshold of his apartment and shutting the door gently behind her, the silent click of the knob sounding more final than words ever could.