My best friend was pacing, shaking his dark hair out like a wet dog as I watched him from atop my unmade bed, amused, apprehensive. I told him to look at me and spit it out. He tried.
"So . . . Jacey said maybe we shouldn't—fraternize so much? She did say 'fraternize.' What a freak," he said with a dram of affection, turning his turquoise eyes away, rubbing at his lightly freckled nose. "Or, well—um, she clarified for me and said that if I didn't stop hanging around you, she'd break up with me. Total pwnage of the heart, I know."
I blinked at the fidgeting boy before me, swallowing hard, neck burning, soul sweating. I think I'd seen this coming. "And?"
"And . . ." Tanner searched my face. "And I hope you don't think I'm complete fail sauce for going along with her." The breath left my lungs and the betrayal dried my throat. "I love you, Danni, really I do," he looked so desperate for me to believe him, "but Jacey is so different from any girl I've ever dated—"
I couldn't help but nod wryly in agreement. For one thing, none of his other girlfriends had tried to get rid of me. Heh.
"—and I just really . . . she said, well, I—we want to keep this thing we've got going, you know?"
I nodded again, bouncing slightly on the bed, kind of wanting to cry. "Yeah," I said.
He cleared his throat, and I waited for him to say whatever it was he did not want to say. "I hope you're not upset" was what he whispered finally, and I flinched.
Upset? That the boy whom I'd taught how to bike without training wheels was ditching me for a girl—however pretty—he'd met only last semester? Oh, please. I had bigger things to be upset about.
Like . . . like the way he was staring at me now, a hope (that I'd laugh it off and tell him I understood) shining in his bright eyes, reflecting another thousand emotions I couldn't quite comprehend.
"I—" I exhaled gently, averting my empty gaze to an equally vague spot on the wall behind him. "Nobody says 'fail sauce' anymore, uber-noobert. Get with the program!"
I grinned a grin so small I wasn't even sure it could be called that. But I guess I was trying to make sure he remembered me as the understanding girl who found something to laugh at in the thorniest of thorny situations. I wasn't that girl. He knew that. And it pained me to see him grinning back as though he didn't realize how blithe my voice was, how lightheartedly I tossed my stuffed calculator in the air to keep myself busy, how I smacked my lips playfully to keep from biting them, how easily I met those eyes of his as the stuffed toy fell back in my barely trembling hands—he smiled like he didn't see this, like he wasn't my best friend.
Then he kneeled on the carpet before my bouncing form.
"Thank you," he mumbled into my hair, and I willed the building pressure behind my closed eyes to just go away.
"Thank you so much, Danni. You're so pro at this best friend stuff, you silly girl," he laughed, but the lightness in his tongue was not there. So I stroked his hair idly, and then wondered why I was comforting the boy imposing this pain on the both of us. "You know," he said thoughtfully with an almost undetectable strain in his deep voice, "this is gonna hurt me so much—oh man, is it gonna hurt when we can't get attacked by pond ducks together, and I can't tickle you to make you stop kicking me. I mean, come on. Stones won't kill those stupid ducks, right? And if I don't throw them at 'em, we might get ourselves killed." He paused for a moment and I tried to calm myself down as I felt him grip my shoulders tighter; he held me as tightly as I held loosely the cotton Texas Instruments gift in my left hand. "Me? It's gonna hurt me?" he spat suddenly and my eyes snapped open, "Danni, why didn't you ever tell me how much of a selfish prick I was? Are you gonna be okay?" he asked, his eyes softening in genuine distress, honest concern.
There he was, I thought, and I almost smiled in relief. There was my best friend with the blue-green-blue-gray-and-blue-again eyes who'd bought me that teddy bear of a calculator when he'd broken mine the day before our final. He'd replaced the graphing calculator that same night, of course, but had tossed me the huge huggable one as I glared at him sternly from my tape-ridden bean bag.
"Here," he said sheepishly. "Not even I can break that."
"Moron," I said, but raced toward his waiting arms with a laugh.
"Danni?" Tanner poked me worriedly, and I was harshly jolted from my thoughts of his hopeful grin, his warm arms, his chin resting on my head in relief. "Are you gonna be okay?"
I honestly didn't know how he could be asking me that.
"Yeah," I said.
He raised an eyebrow coolly, but I saw the rueful flash of pain flit across his boyish face when I'd answered so unaffectedly. I ignored it. "Alright then," he said as he scratched his neck reluctantly. "I guess I'll see you around. I'm sure I can sneak out of Jacey's clutches some time and we'll do something fun. Maybe we'll find another online game and I'll spam everyone with naughty jokes and you'll blush and apologize on my behalf?"
"Yeah," I said, eyes shining, and I watched him turn away from the unshed tears as he headed toward my door. He wanted to get out scot-free, and I wanted to cry out for him to stay as he turned the knob.
"Yeah," he muttered.
Only he never did take time away from her as promised.
Tanner and I didn't push or trip or insult each other in the halls anymore. We didn't even smile.
All it took was two weeks—as in the amount of time it took for the UPS guy to show up at the door with the new game we'd fawn over for hours—to turn the most beautiful friendship I'd ever had into the most apathetic nothing I'd ever suffered.
I didn't know how that happened. All I knew was that it hurt so, so much, and it hurt more when I realized that no one was going to whack me with the pillow I'd cried into with shouts of "Noob!", or force-feed me ice cream when all he really wanted to do was eat it himself, or stroke my hair while humming RPG battle music until I fell asleep.
Our classmates were just as confused as I was about our dying relationship and I shrugged at them.
I wished I had answers for them, and for my mom who looked curiously at me and the vacant seat beside me over her cup of coffee at the breakfast table, and for myself. I didn't, and—I missed him.
But he was having fun. Jacey was, too. And I tried to feel happy for the two of them, honest. Sometimes in the hallway, I'd see her pull his surprised face down to her puckered lips, and when they'd finished mauling each other, he'd be blinking, and she'd be smiling coyly at me.
Only Jacey was too sweet—you know, notwithstanding her pressuring my best friend into pushing me out of his life, as she must have been having a bad day—to smile at anyone in that way, so I would walk away with my head bowed, ashamed at myself for thinking so lowly of her.
. . . Maybe I was more ashamed of the fact that I was quickly becoming an idiot. Because, you know, I think I was aware that these thoughts about Jacey were completely absurd, but putting her on a pedestal made dealing with the reality that Tanner left me for her more bearable.
"Weirdo," I mumbled as I smacked my forehead in my self-delusion and deprecation, "I am such a weirdo. Jacey looks like a freaking red-headed . . . something really un-mean! Why would I even think—?"
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEARIE!" someone shrieked, jumping on my back from behind, laughing, snickering, tugging at my chocolate-mahogany—or so Tanner had pensively described its color—hair as I choked on my spit. And then I smiled mirthfully at her words, laughing for the first time in a while as I hopped around, trying to regain my balance so the petite girl wouldn't fall off. At least I had one other friend.
At least his sister remembered.
"Tammy Allison Lennox! Get. Off. Of. ME! " I screeched, but my fumbling hands gripped her wriggling form tighter in unthinking concern for her life.
"Never!" Tammy cackled. But she slid off less than half a second later and I smiled smugly. "Here," she said eagerly, thrusting a gift bag into my hands, grinning so hard I wondered how much that hurt.
My eyes widened.
"Tam, you freaking dork!" I said, smiling wider. After lunch had passed, I was sure no one was giving me anything for my sixteenth. I told myself I didn't care. But now, with grateful tears dotting my lashes as I whispered, "Thanks," I knew that deep inside, I did.
I was also quickly becoming a softie.
"Yeah, yeah," she said slightly uncomfortably as she crossed her arms. I concealed a grin at her reaction to my out-of-character, ah, sentimentality, wondering what would happen if I dropped to my knees and started weeping. Just as I was debating whether or not that would be too much, she shouted, "Just open it!"
I did so without another word, pulling out a simple T-shirt. Psychedelic, more like. Bold words such as "I PWN U" and phrases like "HEHEHE! YOU STING LIKE A BEE!" jumped out at me in orange and neon green. There were pictures of guys neither of us knew, pictures of me, her, Flick from A Bug's Life, Charmander, blueberry muffins, was that a hippo with an ax?—and Tanner, inevitably.
I felt so lucky with Tammy grinning hopefully beside me.
Swallowing the lump forming in my throat, I enveloped her in a bone-crushing hug. "Fankksss, dorkus maximus!" I said, sniffling. "You are so crazy."
"Crazy about you," she joked lamely, waggling her eyebrows as she pulled away. "So, what'd my brother get you?" she asked, grinning. I think she expected me to say "A bag of candy and the surprise will come later" because—this was what I always said. That was what he always said. But her smile faded when I looked down almost guiltily.
"Oh my freaking—you have got to be kidding me. That jerk! Jacey was one thing—that's right, thing—but forgetting his best friend's birthday?! He needs to be slapped," she ended firmly, but there was a sympathetic glint in her eyes that I smiled softly at.
"Eh," I shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. He's . . . busy."
Tammy started. "Too busy for his best fr—"
"I doubt he considers me that anymore," I interrupted, scratching my neck.
"Oh, Danni," she whispered, eyes losing their hardness altogether, pulling me into another hug. "Oh, Danni."
I really did cry that time.
I adjusted the shirt Tammy had given me in my locker's mirror the following Monday.
Mondays were horrible without Tanner's homemade blueberry muffins, but I figured wearing the shirt would keep me sane. Maybe. Hopefully.
I sighed, resting my head against the cool metal, biting down hard on my lip, until a voice startled my eyes into opening.
"Roflcopter?" he said excitedly. "I remember when we used to say that all the time. Crazy shirt you got th—"
"Tanner?" I whispered, shocked, as I spun around. My locker closed shut with a bang, and my mouth with a hardly audible click. The pain of the last three weeks suddenly presented itself at the bottom of my stomach, and my voice grew cold. "What are you doing here?"
The boy with the turquoise eyes frowned, scratching his head in bewilderment. His behavior was so—boyish, and I was reminded with a pang of the way I'd constantly teased him for being such a child, even though my actions were nothing short of puerile when he stood beside me, grinning.
He'd responded to my playful jeering by growing up too fast, leaving me to watch him plow through hordes of girls, searching for someone apt. Romantic relationships are mature, right? Right, I said. Um. Let's go tee-pee someone's house. 'Kay, I said.
I tried to ignore the fact that after this particular conversation, all the ones following were centered more on interesting girls at school, in lieu of up-and-coming musical artists, online games, words we thought should be added to the dictionary, how many Tanners it took to screw in a light bulb, why Danni should not run for president, our favorite sports radio hosts, and least of all beautifying my neighbors' property with toilet paper.
"Uh . . . I can't visit my favorite girl anymore?" he answered my question with his own. He was nervous. And defensive. And embarrassed.
And I flinched. Three weeks ago, there was no need for the word "visit" between the two of us. We weren't strangers then.
Now we were strangers who didn't even say hello, for Pete's sake. Now he was speaking to me as if nothing had changed. And I wondered if my ex-best friend was for real.
I glared, watching his teal eyes blink. "Sure you can," I said, nodding my head to the right with a sardonic smile. "She's right there." My voice was light, mocking, and—it was so difficult for me to speak to him like that. I crossed my arms, foolishly hoping that this would extinguish the sparks of guilt budding in my chest.
Tanner turned his dark head to his girlfriend, who was also standing with her arms folded at the end of the hallway, tapping her foot impatiently as she watched us.
He merely waved at Jacey with a small grin, before turning his back toward her so that he faced me completely. He closed his eyes and sighed, and I felt my already weak resolve withering almost entirely, as if it were being attacked by a monster that took 150,000 hit-points per second.
"Look," he mumbled contritely. "You'll always be my favorite—"
"Save it," I said, but there was little sharpness to my voice.
"Alright," he replied, his freckled nose scrunching up just a bit at being interrupted. He knew that he wouldn't get anywhere, ah, sweet-talking me like that, but I hadn't expected him to give up trying to convince me so soon. I swallowed the hurt that clenched my heart and forced my teeth to do that instead. "Nice shirt," he said awkwardly, "Looks like something Tammy would make, actually, only she usually just makes stuff like that for people's birthdays. Erm. Yeah."
"Yeah," I said, battling the emotions that tried to sneak their way into my voice.
"Only, your birthday's on the third of November, and today's—" Tanner reached into the jeans hanging loosely on his hips, taking out his cell phone flippantly. I held my breath. "Today's . . . the tenth," he said in a surprised whisper, and his fancy phone that cost him months of flower deliveries dropped to the sullied tiles with a crash. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Oh, Danni," he said as he paled, tilting my head up as he tried to meet my quickly-watering eyes. He sounded just like his sister, only she had never abandoned me. "Trust me, I—"
"Yeah," I choked out. "I don't think I can do that anymore."
I bolted, throwing a "TTYN" over my shoulder.
And I didn't look back, even as I heard what sounded distinctly like a fist hitting metal, even when I heard the yelps and coos of a certain Jacey, even as I heard his grieved voice calling after me, even when I heard him mutter, "Pwned. I got pwned!" to himself in remorseful disgust, even as I heard that girlfriend of his mock his choice of words, even when I heard him tell her to just shut the flip up, in the name of all that is good and pro.
Even though I knew that my heart would run straight into his Jacey-pinned arms, if only it had legs.
I R SORRY!
I growled under my breath when I saw the scrap of paper taped to my locker the next day. What a moron.
I thought he would have left me alone after I'd ignored all thirty-seven of his calls. I hated his persistence more than I admired it. Really. After talking to Tanner again, I was so over having him as a best friend. I couldn't even figure out what I liked about him to begin with. Pft. Danni was back.
And was that the best he could come up with? A grammatically-unbecoming apology with sincerity in the form of exclamation points? Honestly! The least he could do was scribble in three of those daftly enthusiastic punctuation marks there. Two was such a stupid number. And my favorite.
He was such an idiot.
After fuming to myself for a healthy ten seconds, I wondered when exactly he had the time to post that shred of paper there. I always got to school before he did. No way was he waking up at 6 AM to tape that piece of crud to my beautiful hunk of metal.
"Jeez." I jumped at the huffy voice. "Is it so hard to believe that I'd wake up a little earlier in an epic quest to win my best friend back? And don't pretend you weren't smiling at the note. I saw it," Tanner said, pointing a finger at my cheek accusingly.
I glared at him.
He continued. "Well, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to. I don't even think I want you to. I mean, you'll probably just call me a lazy bumcrumb and say of course it's hard to believe—because, you, Tanner, are quite possibly the most noobish—"
"What part of TTYN don't you understand, you senseless cretin?" I snapped rudely. "The T? The Y? The other T?!" I paused. "The—"
"The N," Tanner said matter-of-factly with a somber shake of his head. "I just couldn't, for the life of me, figure that one out. Talk to you now? Talk to you no-sooner-than-tomorrow? Talk to you, uh, Nabisco? Talk to you, God forbid, nerdface?! Really, you can't just make up acronyms like that and then expect me to go along with them. Not even I'm that good."
I was certain my eyebrow was ticking. "Never," I said through gritted teeth. "Talk to you never."
"Hmm," he deliberated, cocking his head, his dark hair falling over one of those brilliant eyes. "Well, that wouldn't make much sense, considering—you know, you're talking to me now. So I guess it was the second one. It's tomorrow, Danni! Be happy! We're talking!"
"Shut up," I said.
"I broke up with Jacey," he said.
My mouth dropped slightly at his words which he'd spoken without a smile and without preamble. I crossed my arms. "Good for you."
Tanner looked just a little amused and a little pained with his brow arching over his left eye. "Good for me? You know, when one tells another that he has just broken up with his significant other, one usually expects to be told that there are other fish in the sea, or something, like, equally comforting. Oh, but good ole Danni, she just has to—"
I stalked off without another word.
I heard him curse to himself, and then I heard his quick steps behind me. He grabbed my arm before I could get my legs to walk faster.
"I'm sorry. I was being obnoxious, I know. I planned to act that way after we made up, believe me. I messed up. Sorrysorrysorry. Sorry," he repeated, sticking his hands in his pockets. He was frustrated.
And then those hands gripped my shoulders in that eerily familiar way and I stiffened, trying not to be affected by the look I saw in those eyes of his, tinted gray with an ache I had never seen there before. "I never—I didn't mean to do this to you," he whispered heavily. "I just—please look at me, Danni. Please?"
I don't know why I did. Maybe it was because he said "please," or because his voice was strained with something like desperation. But I looked into those blue-again eyes of his, and immediately wished I hadn't. They were so beautiful and so alive and so distraught and so, so Tanner.
He stroked my cheek and my stomach tightened. "Thanks," he said, and cleared his throat. "You know, I hate myself sometimes. For hurting you."
"Truth is . . . I never did like Jacey that much," he confessed.
And I felt myself flinching, tightening my fist as I exhaled slowly. "So . . . let me get this straight." I detached myself from his hold before continuing, "You ban-hammered me right out of your life for a girl you weren't even close to loving?" I said lowly, feeling my face burn at the injustice of it all. What he was saying now—that hurt more than anything.
"Well . . . ban-hammer? I wouldn't go that far," he mumbled, and I glared. "It's just that—well, you see, it's kind of your fault."
My eyes bulged, and I poked him in the chest out of habit. "Oh, you are not going to put this one on me, you freak!"
He smiled softly, coming close enough to brush the hair out of my face, close enough to overwhelm my senses, enough to make me remember how much I missed him. "You told me I was too much of a kid," he shrugged, and the movement seemed kind of sheepish. "I just wanted to show you that . . . you know, I was capable of being an, ah, adult. That I wasn't completely—childish."
I merely stared.
"So . . . when Jacey told me that our relationship wasn't, uhm, 'serious' because I was," he cleared his throat, looking away, as I wondered at the pinkness tingeing his cheeks. "I was—practically dating you, too—" he smirked slightly as I choked, "and that we couldn't have a mature, serious relationship until you and I stopped, you know, fraternizing . . . I thought that the grown-up thing to do would be to stop hanging out with you? In order to better pursue this ripening relationship?" he paused. "I kind of hoped that you would be proud of me. Or that you would stop me. I don't know."
I rested my head on his chest, feeling him stiffen and relax. "Oh," I whispered. "My fault."
Tanner ruffled my hair and tweaked my ear. "I know, I know. I was gonna put IAMF on the note, too, actually," he said thoughtfully. "But then you would be like, 'He even has to acrononym-ize It's All My Fault? Honestly, that boy!' So I just left it out. Plus—it wasn't all my fault. It was all yours, as we've just agreed."
"It's yours, too. Mostly yours," I mumbled into his chest sulkily.
"Yeah, yeah," he said, feigning indifference as he pulled me closer. No matter how confident this boy was trying to appear, I knew that he was so afraid that I'd turn my back on him. He didn't want to let go anymore.
I smiled and looked down at our shoes that just barely touched. "Tanner?" I said.
He shifted, attempting to get a better view of my slowly-reddening face. "Yeah?" he said.
"I like you the way you are. You don't have to grow up so fast."
Tanner tilted my head up and waited until I met his eyes. "I wasn't being much of a grown-up anyway."
"Hmm?" I responded, raising my eyebrows in question.
He shrugged kind of nervously. "Grown-ups don't run away from their best friends until they feel so freaking out of it that they forget their birthdays—your candy's in your locker by the way—especially when, you know, they're in love with them," he murmured, Adam's apple bobbing. I wondered if that was the surprise.
Then I stared at him, at the uncertain and hopeful turquoise of his eyes. "Yeah?" I said finally.
My best friend's lips met mine sweetly, with just a hint of urgency, with just a pang of apology and a twinge of forgiveness, and with all the childlike brightness and insistence I loved about him.
"OMG! Uh . . . OWNED!" Jacey shrieked down the hallway as Tanner's hand cupped my cheek.
I broke away to whisper, "Noob."
"Roflcopter," he said, smiling, before pulling my lips back up to his much more forcefully.
a.n. Inspired by every author who's written the best-friend-ditched-for-girlfriend plot, by every author who's used gaming lingo in their stories, by my brothers who use it all the time, and by my friend who apologized for snapping at me by saying "I R SORRY." Classiness.
I had to write this. I couldn't even think about the next chapter of jfobi because Danni and Tanner kept popping up in my head. My bad, homies.
Hope you liked it. It was uber fun to write. BWAHAHA.
Maria? I sincerely hope your best friend comes around. They're tough to lose, I know.
Hope the ending wasn't too abrupt. And reviewing is so, so pro. ROFLCOPTER.
P.S. Okay, so I alluded to Full House unthinkingly. DUDE. I just realized right now (a day after the initial post) that I did that, and that I am, in fact, a loser. I mean, I love Danny Tanner, but come on - if I wanted to steal someone's name, it would definitely be Jesse. So my characters would be Jess and See, not Danni and Tanner. Obviously. But if anyone out there caught this DT thing, you are AWESOME. Well, not completely. 'Cause you didn't tell me. But close enough. HEHEHE.
P.P.S. To anyone who doesn't get what pwned is (-coughTheLatestPlaguecough-), it's like...owned. Only with a P. Uhm.