No tags, just story driven chapter. Well, there is suggestion of being crushed. If you’re into that sort of thing.
**Right Under Her Damned Nose**
Darcy almost burned the vegetables that night. Her world famous chicken fajitas (according to herself, but Andrew had always been suspect of that claim) was a dish she had made no less than what had to be a hundred times, but she simply could not keep her mind on her work that evening.
She had decided early on (during the drive back, in fact) that asking him directly was the best course of action. She didn’t want to be ambiguous or vague when she spoke about it, because firstly, Andrew was a direct person: he’d get impatient with pandering and beating round the bush. Secondly, she wanted absolutely no misunderstandings about what she had in mind.
No questions tonight. None at all. Too much was at stake.
They ate dinner at the coffee table while watching a movie, some hyperviolent show that was also, perplexingly, a political drama. It was one of Andrew’s favorites. He had initially suggested The Incredible Shrinking Man with a wry smile, but Darcy could only blush and quickly switched channels.
The show drug on. It was interesting, but not enough to take usurp her thoughts at hand. She had pushed around the last bit of pepper around her plate with her fork, shoveling it and trying to gather the juice into one part of it.
“I saw the check today,” she began flatly. The cat was out of the bag now, for better or worse. Silence dominated the air save for the dialogue on the screen. For a half second Darcy’s heart stopped. What if she had said the wrong thing? What had been the most strict of confidences, what if she had only just waited for instruction? Why couldn’t she just have waited?
Andrew wiped his mouth and hands on the shred of paper towel provided to him. She watched him do this, an anxiety budding in her stomach. He nodded.
Darcy reached over and turned off the television with the remote that sat next to him. He leaned back, letting himself fall into the cushion behind. He still stared straight forward at the empty and grey screen of the television, the lights within still glowing somewhat from their residual power.
“So you did, huh?”
Darcy nodded weakly.
“I did.” She swallowed, the lump sticking in her throat. “That’s a lot of money, Andrew.”
“That it is. And it’s all going to you.”
Darcy crossed her bare feet anxiously. Something about that phrase had a dark finality to it.
“Andrew, please listen.”
He shook his hand, prompting her to stop.
“No, Darcy, hear me ou-”
“Wait, no. Andrew.” The sudden cut off made the man start. Something told Darcy he wasn’t expecting it.
“I know…” Here it came. “I know that you don’t want to be a liability to me. I get that. You think you might be a burden on me, that if I stay here and watch you, I won’t go out and live life. But…” She raised her voice slightly. “I… I can’t… I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
He eyed her curiously, crossing his arms.
“I’ve… well, I’ve read about this- in magazines and some journals. People who become diminished are more like to… well, hurt themselves. Or,” She swallowed, the lump welling in her throat. “Or worse. Andrew…!” She hated saying it, but here it came. “I don’t want you to kill yourself! I couldn’t live with myself if you died…”
Her eyes had started watering now. Andrew could only stare in disbelief, as this giant girl gushed out before him.
“I know things are hard now, I know, but… Andrew, you don’t have to suffer through this alone- I mean,” the words were flowing now, like an unstopped fountain, “I mean, you’re not a liability to me- you can come with me to Africa or Europe or wherever! You can live and stay with me as long as you need to, as long as it takes to help you recover.” She wiped the forming tears from her eyes. “I’m here for you, Andrew. You’re the best roommate, and you’ll always be my best friend.”
For a second, all was quiet. Andrew had relaxed his expression from one of disbelief to a flat stare.
He seemed to gnaw on his tongue for a moment. He did this occasionally- She recalled that past times he had done so- before a large purchase, mulling over a particular legalese-choked contract, deciding on vending machine products. He nodded slowly, and she could tell that he was thinking deeply about something.
“Well,” he began, looking up at her, “that’s exactly why I’m leaving.”
Darcy felt her breath catch.
“W, What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he began, standing and placing his hands on his hips. She felt the edge rise in his voice. “I can’t be around you. Not anymore, anyhow. That’s why I chose to go to Leafstone.”
Darcy’s breath again caught in her throat.
“You… You’re not going to kill yourself?”
“NO!” He shouted, something wildly uncharacteristic of him. It startled her, such a noise coming from such a tiny person- louder than any person of his size had any right to be. Darcy, putting her hands up to her chest reflexively, suddenly felt very, very small. Her feet crossed again in reverse.
“How could you even think that? For Christ’s sake, I’m moving away, Darcy; I’m not going to prison or a gulag. Why would I even think to do that? God.”
She shifted uncomfortably and felt the red show on her face.
“Then,” she began, meekly as a mouse, “why are you-”
“Why am I going to Leafstone?” His voice cut knives. It still bewildered her how such volume came from a man no bigger than her thumb. “Because, Darcy…” she heard him grind his teeth, but his voice softened somewhat.
“I can’t be a burden on you. And yes, I know that I have said that before, but I don’t think you understand.” He cleared his throat, swallowed. “I thought that I could get by as your friend, your roommate. It was nice, being with you and being able to be a part of your life. You came to me in confidence and cried on my shoulder. I was happy, joyful even, to provide that for you. You trusted me.” He sat down again, crossing his arms. “But when this…” He held out his arms, looking down painfully at his body, “thing… happened to me, this fucking diminishing bullshit, I realized that I couldn’t just… Get by anymore. Not while being around you.” He laid down and shut his eyes.
“I can’t deny to myself how much you mean to me anymore, Darcy.”
Darcy had only ever been too shocked to speak twice before in her life. Once when her mother had slapped her for backtalk, the second during the turning point of her favorite book. This one may have beat all those by far, however.
He loved her. Not the fraternal or human sense… But love. Infatuation. Romantic. Deep, resounding affection.
And she never once suspected.
She apparently took such a long time to even say something that Andrew had opened his eyes. He looked up at her, and then sat back up, sitting cross legged with his hands in front.
“I could never tell you,” he half-admitted, maybe to himself. “I never knew how to bring it up. Maybe, I don’t know, I was too busy with work. I didn’t want to keep you up at night while I worked long hours. What if the firm moved, sent me to our attaché in California? I couldn’t uproot you from near your family just for me, as badly as I wanted it.”
She heard a deep sigh.
“I wanted to be with you, I found out. Sometime after you moved in, actually. We had tried, yes, once, but I thought that was the end of it. I liked you well enough to be your roommate. Thought maybe you had some friends I could get to. I didnt know,” he rubbed his chin, smiling, the slightest hint of remembrance, “that I would fall for you hard like this.”
His hand dropped down from his chin and he nodded thoughtfully. His blue eyes, even visible at this size, shone in the slight dark.
“That’s why I left you that money, you know? It was something of a gift for you.” He sighed, his breath leaving him in a deep way. “Something to help you along. Maybe help you get your graduate degree. Travel the world. Buy a house… maybe even start a family.” He chuckled. “It might be old fashioned, but…” he trailed off. “Hell, I sure couldn’t use it. Why not give it away, and why not to you?”
He stood back up, walked over to the edge of the couch. Reflexively, Darcy moved forward and began to outstretch a hand- but it was too late- she saw the tiny scowl that spoke volumes appear on his face.
“See, right there. There.” He raised his voice again ever so slightly. “That’s why I can’t be here, Darcy- with the roommate relationship, I could at least not be seen as a liability. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know you’d give up your life in a second for me- that’s one of the many elements of why I love you- but there’s an absolute disparity between us now that I’ve shrunk. See, you don’t look at me as see me as a roommate anymore.”
She felt like she had been slapped in the face.
“I saw it, Darcy, I saw it in your eyes last night when we talked. I’m no longer your roommate, but something you look after, something you make sure doesn’t accidentally die. I’m an obligation now, not a friend. At least, with being your roommate, you were my friend, or bro, or… Shit, even the ‘girl next door.’ I could live with that- I may have had a chance. But now, like this, you’d be my caretaker, my older sister, my owner. And I’d be your pet, Darcy- if not in name, then in practice. That’s what upset me so much last night.”
He shook his head, looked up at her.
“If I knew it would be like that for the rest of my life, it would’ve been better if you had just stepped on me yesterday. Because I’d rather be crushed under your foot knowing that you saw me as your best friend, an equal, rather than living at your feet, being looked after, with not even a chance of ever having your love.”
Darcy was silent. Andrew half wondered if maybe he had gone too far in telling her all this. Might it just have been better to leave it at ‘I don’t want to live here anymore? Still, the confession and erupted out of him, unbidden, and before he knew it, it was all out there for her and the gods to hear.
“Listen, I know that- wait, Darcy? What’re you- where are you going? Darcy?”
He was still calling out to her when he heard her bedroom door lock- she had gotten up and left without a word.
Right under her nose.
Right under her damned nose.
Darcy was still bewildered by the whole of it- by how blind she had been for the past year, for how insensitive she had been to Andrew’s feelings. God, how stupid.
She lay there in her bed, the lights off, her day clothes still on, covered by her blankets, as if they were some sort of safety. She had been crying softly into the pillow for the past half hour, unable to stop try as she might- the revelation and painful realizations that had accompanied it were, as combined, a little too overwhelming for her to handle. In fact, this might’ve been on several orders of magnitude larger than what she had ever encountered before.
All the signs had been there, she had realized. In going over the event in her mind, she found that each little piece of evidence made manifest to her now in painful, slack-jaw clarity, that it seemed absurd that she hadn’t seen it before. Everything could be explained- the flowers that had spruced up the apartment. The cold brew waiting and ready shoulder to cry on. The occasional peanut butter cup that seemed to spring up at the most oh-so-opportune times. And now, most clearly, Andrew’s dry spell with girls. He hadn’t brought home a girl since, what, a year and half or so?
Way too long to be any sort of unintentional thing, she realized.
So, why didn’t he confess that he loved her? Sure, he was busy, but so was she. Maybe he had been afraid?
Wiping her eyes, Darcy couldn’t help but chuckle at that thought. Andrew, the guy who had ridden a bull, who had skydove, who, if rumors were true, was banned from the Grand Canyon for reckless behavior on the cliffs, afraid? Of little ol’ Darcy? Though she supposed she wasn’t so little to him now. It was hard to believe for her; she felt like she really knew the guy.
But did she really? Did she really know him? If she did, wouldn’t she have known that he loved her? Picked up all the now very obvious signs? Still, the thought occurred to her that she may have partially been to blame for his silence on the subject- she had been so wrapped up in herself, in her own problems, with work or friends or other boys, she had hardly noticed him as the man in her life. She realized that maybe if she had been more attentive, more receptive, maybe had opened her dark brown eyes every once in a while, she would have seen it. She might have seen just how very much this man was an element in her life. Intertwined with it, she would even argue.
The thought Darcy had earlier in the day still made her giggle- the late night tampax runs by Andrew. She could just see him puzzling over the daunting, vaguely terrifying wall of feminine products before him, with only strange and menstrual-rage words uttered by Darcy to guide him along. The thought prompted others- Andrew accompanying her to a court date to argue a speeding ticket. Attending a gala event put on by the firm during Christmas. Spontaneous trips to see midnight showings at the theatre. And once, a very awkward Skype session with a distant relative of his, one that had apparently questioned his sexuality, hence why he had asked her to be there with.
She smiled, remembering. She had stopped crying now, for which she was grateful- she hadn’t taken her make up off and she reckoned she now looked somewhat like a raccoon. Her eyes drifted to her nightstand, where her phone was now charging (she had the presence of mind to plug it in, at least, but not take off her clothes). Above that was a framed photo- one of Darcy and her grandmother, the very last she had ever taken before her death. The photo, in fact, had been taken in the hospital not hours before her death on the operating table.
Darcy exhaled. Now that was a day to remember.
It was the cancer, her mother had told her frantically over the phone. Metastasized, very aggressive. Something about her liver function down to practically zero. The truth was, she probably wasn’t very long for the world. The doctors were going to try something radical at her university, some new treatment, but it wasn’t a sure thing. She had been told the surgery was in eight short hours, so it was practically impossible for her to come see them before. Try as she might, no current flights were scheduled until tomorrow night between the two cities, and worse yet, Darcy’s car was in the shop.
And then her knight in shining armor had appeared.
Andrew had driven Darcy, who was an emotional wreck, up six hours north to the very hospital, through the night. He didn’t even hesitate, she remembered, and practically had started the car before Darcy had gotten off the phone with her mother. In her grief, Darcy hadn’t even realized that it was a Tuesday, and Andrew had work the next morning, along with a very important legal doc he needed to finish. When she expressed that to him halfway into Appalachia, he simply shook his head, smiled, and said,
“Well… this is more important, isn’t it?”
And so they drove. Darcy at some point fell asleep during the night, but when she woke they were parked just outside the university’s teaching hospital, the blue and white logo plastered all over the side of the building, a hot coffee and bagel waiting for her in the car’s cup holder. They had made it with only a couple of hours to spare, and Darcy was able to say her goodbyes to her grandmother. Andrew had taken the picture that was now framed on Darcy’s night stand, something that she realized that would not have ever even been possible without the help of her best friend.
The thought made her tear up again. Andrew had placed her before himself that time, something above and beyond even what she might have done for a friend. He had done that before and after, now thinking about it- given up his own wants just so she might have hers. He had risked his job, she realized, just so she wouldn’t miss out on the last time she would ever see her grandmother. Driven through the night, dropping everything, just for her.
If that wasn’t affection, if that wasn’t love, what was it?
Darcy sighed and put down the picture, turning over in her bed. She shifted a couple of times, realizing that her clothes were making it absurdly difficult to get comfortable. With a grunt, she hoisted herself up and started to undress, taking off her pants and shirt and, after a second’s consideration, her bra, letting herself be free before going back under the covers, wearing naught but lacy britches to cover her nethers. Then, arising once more, she got up and sauntered over to her dresser. She dug through it, cursing herself for letting it be so messy- she knew that one day she would have to clean it out, give some of her newer clothes to the thrift. She certainly wasn’t wearing a lot of them anymore. She picked out a sports shirt with a huge ‘A’ plastered over it, one she’d bought at a game but never wore out, which explained why it ended up in her pajama drawer. Fitting it over her bare breasts, the cool spring air scraping softly against the cloth, she went back to bed.
She tried to sleep. Five minutes. Ten.
“I can’t let him leave,” she admitted, softly, finally, to the dark. That much was clear to her now. It was the obvious solution to the problem presented, only enhanced by the realization found by her today at the bank- Andrew was a large, if not the biggest, emotional component of her life. Yeah, she realized that it may have been self-interested, but…
She found that she really cared for Andrew. A lot. On a lot of levels.
Maybe she hadn’t seen it prior to events- maybe it took a cloudy day to appreciate the sun. But it was clear to her now- something was there. Something… bonding. Something sweet. Some kind of affection. She tittered when she thought about it, the novelty of it. It was like that tickling when you first started seeing someone new. Hell, maybe that is what it was. Maybe she had never really… seen Andrew for what he was to her.
What he IS to me, she thought to herself.
She bit her lip, that old feeling of tittering coming up again, stirring in her loins like a mild anticipation. Could something like love grow between them? Obviously, he had practically confessed it to her so she knew that it had grown, bloomed, and sprouted everywhere for him- so at least, that half was covered. And, while Darcy hated to be… y’know, ‘that girl,’ she had to admit, she had taken a couple of sidelong glances at Andrew himself, not dissimilar to the way that Andrew looked at her- God knew that he wasn’t bad-looking, she thought. Warm blue eyes, golden blonde hair, an active body and lifestyle (he ran semi-frequently, she recalled). He wasn’t Fabio, but she couldn’t deny that there was a certain sexual appeal to him. Certainly, he possessed desirable personality, emotional, and physical traits…
But what about her? Yes, she cared for him, deeply. But on what level? Did it stop at best friends, or could this affection go someplace else, somewhere in their secret places where only a few had gone for her? Might that spark she didn’t feel on their first date be nurtured? Was it something she wanted? Could she trust this man with her heart?
She knew, smiling to herself, that she could. The answer seemed obvious- shared events, heartfelt bonding, a million laughs, all of it seemed to point to a natural progression now, made clear by his confession and imminent departure. He couldn’t leave, she thought to herself. She didn’t WANT him to leave. It may be juvenile, selfish, even, but she couldn’t deny it- she wanted to keep Andrew in her life.
She shifted once again in her bed, trying to find a comfy position.
Well, that was the problem now, wasn’t it? ‘Somehow.’
She wanted, in short, to try a relationship with him, something deeper than just roommates. She wanted to be his girlfriend, if she could- or at least try it. But how? She couldn’t just… go out there and tell him- that would be too jarring, no- hell, it would probably make things worse. No, she had to think about this. She would have to know exactly what she wanted to say.
Andrew was someone she cared about very deeply- she wanted to show that to him, not come crying to him like a wishy washy lovesick puppy. No- he needed something special.
She thought. And thought. And thought. She checked her smart phone for thoughts. And then she thought some more.
And then Darcy, about an hour later, thought no more, but smiled to herself- she knew then exactly what she wanted to do.