Chapter 4

“I think you need to come out with me tonight.  It’s not too late and you haven’t missed all of the fun yet.”  Her words of foreboding had no effect on me.

I wasn’t missing anything but a bunch of drunken co-eds grinding on a drink-soaked dance floor, invading each other’s personal space.

I liked my personal space the way it was—empty.

“Come with you?  Lena, you left hours ago.”  The bars would be making last call in the next twenty minutes.

“I know but I’d love it if you joined me.  It would make my night.  No, it would make my semester,” she amended.

“The semester just started.”  And if the weeks continued like this it was going to last forever.  She knew how I felt about her extracurricular activities; I wanted no part of them.

“Why not start on the right foot?”

“Lena, I can’t.  I have a ton of stuff to do.”  Even as I turned her down I was getting things ready for the morning.  We were doing a promotion for a new hair care line, and I had to be at the salon an hour earlier than usual.  Six o’clock came soon enough without going to bed after three in the morning.

“Please, please, please come out,” she begged.

“No matter how many times you ask, I’m not going to come.”  It was best to be upfront with her.  Otherwise, she would find a chink in my armor.

“Mer, I’m graduating at the end of the semester…”  Here we go with the guilt trip. “… and who knows where I’ll end up after that.  This could be the last few months we have together.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to focus on remaining stoic.  She was right, but that didn’t trump the fact that I had to wake up at the crack of dawn and be functional for what promised to be a busy Friday.  “Why do you want me to come so badly?”

Lena only pulled the I’m-never-going-to-see-you-after-graduation ploy when she really, really wanted me to do something.

“Because there’s this guy here.”

“There are always guys everywhere you go.”  Following along like yippy terriers, nipping at her stilettos.  Just when she was able to shake one loose, another took his place.

“This one’s different.”

No doubt.

There was no point asking what made him different; she never thought that far ahead.

“Ugh, Lenaaaa,” I drew out her name in a pathetic whine.  Even if I wanted to give in (which I didn’t), I couldn’t.  There were boxes to be filled, gift bags to be arranged, and sleep to be enjoyed.  “Is he cute?”

“Understatement.  TDH.”

The current object of her flighty affection must have been close.  My best friend only resorted to her own encrypted speech when she couldn’t talk freely.

So the guy was tall, dark, and handsome?  Typical Lena.  Of course, even if he was short, fair, and handsome he would still be her type.  The key word in both descriptions was handsome.

“Sounds boring,” I said.  TDH had been done too many times before.

“Not in the least.  He’s got the whole rock star chic thing going on.”

“Elaborate?”

“Sexy, ripped-up jeans and a t-shirt rippling with barely contained man-meat.  Lithe, toned, perfect.”

“Hair?”  A guy’s hair was my one pet peeve.  If his coif wasn’t worthy of a GQ cover shoot then it ruined the entire effect, no matter how attractive his face or body.

“Think Beatles.”

“Bowl cut?  Ugh.  Now I’m picturing Lloyd Christmas.”  And I was beginning to lose what little interest I’d had in the conversation.  There was still at least an hour of work to be finished before blessed bedtime.  This was my punishment for procrastinating.

“No, Mer, don’t be stupid.  Not bowl-cut Beatles.  More like late 60’s early 70’s.  Shaggy chic—Efronseque.”

Thankfully, the mystery gentleman had redeemed himself.   “Nice.”

“Very, very, very.”

“Three?”  Rarely did any man receive that type of commendation from my best friend.

“Without a second thought.”

Okay, so he was most likely extremely hot.  She had never needed my help with a guy before tonight.  Why did she want me there now?  What difference could I possibly make before the curtain closed on the end of her night?

“Have you talked to him yet?”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“Not. Interested.”  Her frustration overly punctuated the sentence.

That particular response caught me off-guard.  Was she trying to say that he wasn’t interested in her?  A man like that didn’t exist.  “Since when does that stick?”

Even if men resisted at first—and very few did—Lena had the uncanny ability to lure them to her bed within the hour.

“Tell me about it.  But he has a friend who is nearly as hot.”  Her voice dropped in disappointment as she prepared to settle for second best.

The intrigue was almost enough to get me out of the house—almost.  What guy in his right mind would turn down Lena Whyte?  This had to be a first.  No wonder she was having such a rough time with it; at twenty-two she was feeling her first sting of rejection.

“Efronesque?” I asked, hoping she considered the friend a close second.

Lena was silent for a moment as she compared and contrasted.  “Closer to Ryan Reynolds.”

In my opinion, still just as good.   “Older?”

“No.  Shorter hair.”

“Is he interested?”  Two uninterested men in the course of one night would be detrimental to Lena’s self-esteem.

She snorted.  “Of course.”

“Huh,” I muttered.  My friend didn’t really need me there; she probably wanted me to entertain bore the uninterested friend until she could make him understand what he was missing.  Over the years I had become an expert at repelling the opposite sex and herding them directly into Lena’s open arms.

“So, are you coming?” she asked, less buoyant as she anticipated my negative reply.

Short and sweet; no room for negotiation.  “No.”

Like the most strategic of warlords, Lena changed her tactics.  “Will you come out next week?”

The request threw me off.  Normally she was so focused on her goal that she couldn’t see any other avenues.  Lena possessed a single-track mind unless she was really trying to annoy me.

“You are the most obnoxious person I have ever met.”

“Thanks,” she said cheerily, unfazed.

It was impossible to insult her unless she felt she deserved a set-down.  It wasn’t that she was unintelligent, naive, or deaf; Lena simply chose to take things according to her own terms.  Compliments, back- or front-handed, were equally as complimentary in her eyes.  Tonight being obnoxious served her purpose.  My comment confirmed that she was doing her job.

“So, will you come out next week?” she repeated.

“I don’t know…” I hedged, truly unsure.  Who knew what unforeseen complications would arise next week.

“You have to come out with me at least once this semester!  What if next week is the only week you can come out and you miss the opportunity to hang out with your best friend outside the confines of your cave?”

“And what if I say I can but something comes up and I have to cancel?” I challenged.

Lena paused before responding.  “You wouldn’t be allowed to cancel.”

“You see, this is why I never—”

“I would accept a rain-check though and then forgive you willingly.”  Yeah.  That was likely.   “Just say you will.  I’m begging here.”

“Alright, Lena!” I said, willing to do anything to stop her rant.  Was it just me or had the boxes in the living room doubled during the course of our conversation?

“You’ll come out with me next Thursday?” she clarified, leaving no wiggle room in the absence of an emergency.

“Yes.”

“Do you promise?”

I let out a heavy sigh.  “I promise.”

“Hmmm… do you swear?” she pushed.

“Lena…” the tone of my voice held all the warning necessary to change the subject.

“These guys may not be here next week though.  You really should come out tonight.”

“I don’t care about those guys!  I have a boyfriend, remember?”  As if on cue, Holden’s number beeped through on my phone.  My thumb pressed ignore; I was certain he would forgive the slight.

“I remember.”

“Okay.”

She was silent for a beat.  “Maybe I could talk them into coming back next week so you can meet them.”

“Do whatever you want.”  Those guys would probably do whatever she wanted, too.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come tonight and get it over with?  I’ll let you off the hook for next week,” she promised.

If I relented now she would be harassing me every Thursday for the rest of the semester.  “For the last time, NO I am NOT coming tonight!”

“You are the worst friend ever,” she pouted.  “Fine.  Let me know if you change your mind.”  She waited, hoping for a change of heart or any indication that my resolve may have been wavering.

“Love you, Lena,” I offered, smiling at her buoyancy and tenacity.

“Obviously I love you more because if our roles were reversed then I would be—”

I threw in a, “Goodbye, Lena,” above her tirade and ended the call before she could further delay my bedtime.

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