Five

Chris

It wasn't the logical thing to do.

No, this was entirely impulsive, and perhaps not the smartest move.

The thought was nagging slightly at him, but he found that he could easily push it aside as he kissed Audrey.

His slid his arm around her waist, under her coat but over her sweater. He pulled her towards him and could feel her body pressed against his.

He cradled her head with his hand, felt his hair slide through his fingers. He had wanted to do this for a long, long time.

They stumbled into the building and down the hallway, breaking away from one another only to get in the elevator. Once they got in they came back towards one another immediately with a passionate hunger. It was lucky that there was no one else in the building.

He held her hand as they made their way down the hall, and he only let go once they got to her apartment so Audrey could fumble and get her keys out to open her door. They were both breathing heavily. Chris could tell that she found this just as intoxicating as he did.

It was a pure adrenaline rush.

He couldn't remember the last time he felt this way. He couldn't even remember if he had ever felt this way.

They didn't speak a word to one another as Audrey searched her purse for her keys.

Chris watched her as she stuck the correct one in the door and turned, frowning slightly in concentration at the task. A strand of hair slipped out from where it was tucked behind her ear and covered her face. This wasn't the way he had anticipated the night going.

The little break from kissing her had brought back some clarity back to his mind.

They should talk about this. They shouldn't let this continue any further otherwise it might turn out to do more damage than good. He should stop them and talk about where things stood and what she wanted, but the next moment Audrey had opened the door and slipped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his once more and the logical side of his brain took a backseat.

He wrapped his arms around her once again. They had maybe stepped into the apartment for less than five seconds when a voice interrupted them-

"Oh my God."

It took Chris a second to register the voice and pinpoint who it belonged to, but the response on Audrey was much more immediate. She jumped and slipped out of his arms like she had been electrocuted.

They both turned towards the hallway, where Casey was standing in plaid pajama pants and an old tshirt, her hair wrapped in a towel, her toothbrush hanging out of her mouth as she stared.

Casey's eyes were wide. She looked utterly shocked.

Right. Audrey had a roommate. He had forgotten that. He had forgotten quite a lot of things on the way back to her apartment. He wished they had gone back to his place instead - he lived by himself and there was little chance they'd be interrupted there.

The three of them stood for maybe a good thirty seconds in that position. Chris tried to say something, but his brain seemed to not want to process anything at the moment. He found that he could only stand there and try his best to focus on the moment at hand rather than replay the last they minutes over again.

Audrey cleared her throat. Chris knew without having to look at her that she was probably flushing red. "Casey," she said, flustered. "Er...I didn't know you were home."

Casey didn't even respond directly to that. Instead she continued to stare. "Oh my God," she repeated her words.

But Chris could tell that the initial shock was wearing off, and Casey was now trying her best to keep her face neutral instead of looking utterly delighted but failing quite miserably. Her toothpaste was dripping down her chin and she wiped it away quickly but could not stop the grin from spreading across her face.

"Finally!" she said, looking at Audrey now, giving up on trying to contain her excitement. "Fucking finally!"

Chris glanced sideways at Audrey and understood immediately that this was something she had discussed with Casey - the potential of something happening with him. And they had been discussing it for quite some time.

He looked back at Casey and wanted to laugh. He liked Casey before this, but he liked her more now.

Thankfully, he was better at suppressing his expressions than Casey was. He didn't think Audrey would appreciate laughter in this moment.

"Um…" Audrey was saying, looking cautiously at her roommate.

Casey blinked. Then, probably realizing that her presence there was interrupting something that she fully supported happening, quickly plucked the toothbrush out of her mouth and asserted, "Just pretend like I'm not here!"

And then she promptly turned on her heels and disappeared into her room off the hallway and shut the door.

"I'm not even here!" she shouted one last time, her voice muffled slightly by the closed door. And then there was silence in the apartment. She had disappeared so quickly he was surprised she had even been here a moment ago.

Chris and Audrey turned to look at one another. Chris found the entire situation quite comical and wanted to laugh, but any thought of that immediately vanished when he saw the expression on Audrey's face.

She was clearly conflicted, and he had a hunch that she was debating whether to flusteredly ask him to leave and avoid any resolution.

"I think we should at least talk about what just happened," he said immediately.

Audrey met his eyes.

She looked surprised but there was a hint of relief. Good, she wanted to talk about it too. She nodded, and then tilted her head slightly towards her room. "Do you want to talk in my room?"

And then, as if she was realizing the implications of inviting Chris into her bedroom, looked away from him, sucked in her cheeks and said quickly, "I just meant to talk."

He touched her arm in a gesture of reassurance. "I know," he said softly.

He followed her to the room and sat down beside her. They were sitting close to one another but not touching. Chris took a quick once over in her room out of sheer curiosity. Despite having come over to her apartment multiple times before, he had never really stuck around, much less stepped in Audrey's room before.

He had expected to glean some insights by looking around, at the decorations she put up, at what pictures were on the walls, but Audrey's room was surprisingly minimalistic. She had a bed, a set of drawers, and a desk, but there was not much in the way of decorations. Not a single framed photo hung on the walls.

She was neat, neater than he was at least. But it didn't seem like she had much stuff here anyways whereas he had accumulated quite a lot over the last year.

It was as if she had never quite settled in. He guessed the coziness of the living room - the decorations and the lights that were hanging by the windows - they were largely Casey's doing.

"I don't know if I'm ready to start anything with anyone," Audrey began immediately. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear - a nervous gesture, but ventured on. "I mean, I'm obviously attracted to you, but it's just...it's just so complicated."

Chris actually disagreed on the last part, but he didn't want to start the conversation with an argument.

"I'm not looking for something casual with you," he told her. "I'm genuinely interested."

In a way that had not happened for a long time, but he held off on that part.

Audrey looked up, her eyes a haze of confusion. "I'm not either, but I don't think I should be looking for anything at all," she told him. "Not right now."

Chris pondered this. He wasn't sure he agreed on this part either, but the truth was, it wasn't his call whether or not she felt ready to date. She liked him, if he wasn't reading her wrong.

He wondered if he had jumped the gun with telling her how he felt, with all this kissing, but he decided to brush the thought aside for now. And, more because he didn't want Audrey to continue looking so confused and torn, said with a slightly cheeky grin, "Even though you obviously find me really attractive?"

She blinked, and then laughed out loud in surprise at a joke when she wasn't expecting one, but it had done the trick. She smiled back. "Don't let that go to your head," she admonished.

"Too late, it already has," Chris replied.

Audrey laughed, but then she sobered up quickly and looked at him with a slightly pained expression. "Can we...can we just be friends right now?" she asked. "I can't make a decision the other way...not at this moment."

He looked at her carefully, tried to read the expression on her face and in her eyes. He wanted to ask her if that's what she actually really wanted, but she seemed conflicted either way.

So instead he nodded, biting back the desire to let out a sigh. "Of course," he said, lifting the corners of his mouth into a smile even though he didn't quite feel like smiling. If that's what she wanted right now then he could deal with that.

He shifted forward, getting ready to get up off her bed and tell her good night, but as soon as he moved, Audrey's hand reached out and caught his forearm.

It was a light touch, but one that was meant to stop him. Chris looked over at her, surprised.

Audrey was biting her lip. "Can you stay?"

He raised an eyebrow, and it took him a moment to comprehend just exactly what she was asking. And even then he couldn't quite believe it. "Stay the night?" he asked, raising his eyebrow. "Here, with you?"

She was looking unsure, but nevertheless she nodded. "Yeah?" she said, the request a question in itself.

He turned to face her. "You're sending very confusing signals," he told her.

Audrey groaned, burying her face in her hands at his words. "I know, I'm sorry, I'm very confused. It's the conflict between what I want in this moment versus what I should want, if that makes any sense," she mumbled, her voice trailing off and growing softer and softer as she spoke. She peeked out from behind her fingers at him, looking miserable. "I'm sorry, that's not a fair request of you. I want you to stay, but you can refuse, of course."

Chris met her eyes, and suddenly the very real possibility that she might hurt him popped into his mind. That at the end of all this, it might not end well for him. He was surprised at the thought - he had never been hurt in a relationship before.

"I'll stay," he said.

It wasn't the logical choice, but he couldn't find the will within himself to refuse.

And so he slipped under the blankets next to her in bed, and Audrey curled up beside him. It was unspoken, but neither of them made a move, even though they were now lying next to one another in bed with the lights turned off. Instead, he wrapped his arm around her waist and she shifted a little closer to him and together they started drifting off to sleep.

Minutes passed by and neither of them said a thing. It was at the point between waking and slumber that Chris' phone, which he had left on the nightstand on his side of her bed, chirped with the sound of an incoming text message.

Audrey mumbled something incoherent but didn't open her eyes - she was too close to falling asleep already.

Trying to shift as little as possible, Chris turned around to put his phone on silent.

While doing so, he picked up his phone and looked at the message preview on the screen.

It was from Henry.

"Hey. Can we talk."

It was a question without the question mark. Henry didn't have to set the context - Chris knew instantly what this was about.

He set his phone on silent and put it face down on the nightstand. He listened to Audrey's breathing slow down to a steady sleepy rhythm, but it took a while after that for him to fall asleep.

The next morning he met Henry at a coffee shop. It was small and local, and because it was early Sunday morning in Cambridge there was hardly anyone there. A couple of people were standing at the middle, looking up at the menu and trying to decide what to order, but besides that most of the tables were left empty. The students were probably still hungover from the night before.

"Hey," Henry said from the table where he was sitting, nodding at Chris as he approached. He didn't get up. He had also arrived early, which was unusual. Chris was usually the early one when they met up.

"Hey," Chris said back, pulling out the chair that was facing Henry from across the table. There wasn't really anyone in the shop, but he was still glad that they had a table in the corner of the room, away from where anyone else could be.

Henry looked tense.

Chris sat down and unzipped his jacket. It was a cold and crisp morning outside but it was still quite cozy in this coffee shop. Henry tapped on his mug of coffee but for a moment didn't speak.

Chris waited, but he didn't have to wait long.

"You're hanging out with Audrey," Henry said, looking at him, jaw still tense.

It was straight to the point. That was one thing Chris had always liked about Henry. He didn't beat around the bush when it came to confrontations.

He opened his mouth to reply, but paused for a moment. He wondered who had told.

"Garrett told me," Henry said, reading the unanswered question on Chris' face.

"Ah," Chris replied, thinking of how to proceed. He had been wondering whether it had been Julie or one of the guys from Shakespeare in the Boston Common a couple of months back. He had thought it was Julie, given how far back the play had happened. He was surprised it had taken this long for the news to travel back to Henry, but in the end it didn't matter really. The only thing that mattered now was the fact that the news had indeed traveled back.

He didn't even feel angry at Garrett, who was closer to Henry than he was to Chris. It was what anyone would have done.

"Yes, I've been hanging out with her," he admitted, watching the jawline on Henry's face harden even more. "I'm sorry," he said, and he genuinely meant it, although it wasn't the hanging out with Audrey part that he was sorry about. "I should've told you myself. It shouldn't have gotten back to you through Garrett."

Henry didn't nod or make any indication of accepting the apology. Chris knew his friend was mad. "And why didn't you tell me?" Henry demanded, leaning forward, both arms on the coffee table in front of him.

Chris wondered how to approach this delicately and then decided that there was really no way to approach this delicately. "I didn't think it should matter," he replied.

"Bullshit," Henry retorted immediately, his brows furrowed. He was less able to keep his emotions in check than Chris was. He looked furious. "That's bullshit. She's my ex-fiancée man."

Chris sighed. "You broke up with her. You have Evelyn now," he said. He backed off from mentioning the fact that Henry had cheated. He didn't think it was the best thing to say in this moment.

But that did nothing to soothe things over.

"There's loads of girls in HBS," Henry said, seething now. "Loads of girls in Cambridge who'd like to go out with you. Why do you have to go for her?"

Chris had thought about this as well, pondered over it for the past couple of months. Audrey certainly wasn't the most convenient choice, but since when was falling for someone a choice?

It was her resilience and grace, her 'I don't need you to feel sorry for me' attitude and her adamancy. Her ability to take the hard road head on. It was the way she laughed and the way she wasn't afraid to voice her thoughts around him, even if they might offend him. There were girls in Cambridge who were smart and ambitious, beautiful and funny, but they weren't her.

"I like her," he said simply. It didn't really answer the question but how could he encapsulate the way he felt in an explanation that would satisfy Henry? He couldn't. It was better to say less if Henry was going to be angry regardless. "Why does it matter - you don't want her anymore. You haven't wanted her for a long time."

"I don't want her, but I don't want you to date her," Henry said immediately. He tapped the table impatiently, as if he was angry that Chris just didn't get it. Henry tried a different tactic. "How are we supposed to hang out after this?" he asked.

Chris raised an eyebrow at his friend. "I never said I wanted to stop hanging out," he said.

Henry was clenching his teeth. "What, it's going to be you, me, Evelyn, and my ex-fiancée?" he asked sarcastically.

Chris didn't reply to that. He had nothing to say. Henry was right, it wasn't going to be like that of course, but to Chris it didn't necessarily have to be one way or another yet.

He had anticipated Henry being angry, but now that it had happened, the full impact of what's to come had hit Chris. Henry was his best friend at school, and Audrey was a girl he wasn't even dating. She had made it clear to him last night that she wasn't looking to date him, that she couldn't offer him anything more than her friendship at this point. He was about to lose his best friend over a non-relationship.

All loss, no gain.

But still, he hadn't done anything wrong.

"Don't do this, man," Henry said, one last push to make him see reason. "Date someone else, anyone else. Julie's into you."

Chris refrained from snapping back that he wasn't into Julie. Henry already knew this. It was pointless to bring it up again. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you myself," Chris said instead. "But I like her."

"So you're going to date her?" Henry asked, his eyes hard, fuming.

"I'm not dating her," Chris replied, admitting the truth.

At these words, Henry looked surprised. He seemed so taken aback that for a second he forgot to look angry. And then he narrowed his eyes once again. "You're sleeping with her?"

Henry seemed to be more concerned about this point than any other. The truth was, Chris had slept with Audrey in the same bed the previous night, but that wasn't the question Henry was asking. And so he answered what Henry really wanted to know.

"I'm not," he said. "But I did tell her that I wanted to date her."

Henry took this in. Mulled it over. "And what did she say?" he asked, his eyes still narrowed.

Chris pondered telling him off in this moment, because in his mind Henry had no right to pry. But even if Henry couldn't articulate just why logically he was so angry about a girl he had long since given up, Chris could understand his sentiment. And he felt that it wasn't fair to tell Henry off in this moment. He decided to answer truthfully.

"She said she wasn't ready to date yet."

Henry sat back, his body relaxing a little. He looked slightly relieved. He brought his arms out in a shrugging gesture, "So what are you doing dude?"

"I like her, I'm still going to hang out with her," Chris told him.

Henry's body tensed up again. He was like a stretched out rubber band - all tension. "This is a lose-lose scenario," he said, glaring.

It may be, Chris admitted to himself. But he'd see it through. "I'll take that risk," he said.

Henry looked as if Chris had physically punched him. "You'd risk our friendship for a maybe with Audrey?" he looked incredulous.

"I don't think I'm doing anything wrong here," Chris replied. "You let her go."

"That doesn't make her anyone's game, much less yours," Henry said, angry once again. "You really want to risk our friendship going after my leftovers?"

For the first time since their conversation started, Chris felt angry. "Don't call her that," he said, his voice low.

Henry was still fuming, but to his credit, he didn't call her that again. Instead, he leaned across the table to drive his next point across. "You're being selfish," he accused.

"Nowhere near as selfish as you were," Chris retaliated, still feeling angry.

Henry looked mutinous. Then, without saying another word, he pulled out his wallet and left a five dollar bill on the table - enough to cover his own tab. He pushed his chair back, stood up, and walked out of the coffee shop without another word or even a glance back.

Chris watched him go.