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Just Friends

“Guys are the scum of the Earth,” Parker thought, sipping on his Stella and eyeing the frat kid hitting on the girl across the bar. Parker couldn’t hear what he was saying to her, but he knew that she was eating up every word. All the signs were there. Though her back was turned, he could tell she was giggling, looking down to shyly avoid the frat guy’s gaze, and he was grinning from ear to ear. With just a few more drinks in her system, he’d be taking her back to his frat house for a romantic evening, which she’d later regret.

Parker came out tonight because his friends insisted on him going out to mingle and throw back a couple beers with them. He had already changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth before his buddy Jared started up.

“Yo man, you need to get out; I’m tired of watching you waste away your life holed up in this room. When was the last time you went out with your friends?” he inquired, sounding like a worried mom. Parker knew it had been ages; he hadn’t wanted to go out with the gang since he and Angela had broken up.

“Are you still fixated on that broad?” Jared interrogated, “Trust me man, you are not going to run into her while we’re out; I guarantee you. Plus, the only way you’re going to get over her is if you start putting yourself out there again. If you take any longer recuperating over that ex of yours, who by the way didn’t even treat you well, then you risk facing ostracization by all that is woman.”

Leaning into the bar counter, Parker looked to his left and looked right, studying the crowd that had packed into the joint this evening. Jared was right, he thought.  Though he had no intention of being the slightest bit disrespectful to women, not to mention his discomfort with swapping saliva with a complete stranger, he simply needed to know that he was over Angela. In his mind, the litmus test would be whether he had the cojones[1] to risk potential rejection and emotional misery in order to pursue something that in all likelihood would amount to nothing[2], knowing that all the progress he had made in the past few months could instantly go to shit.

“How you doing buddy?” Jared said, leaning in and slapping Parker’s back. Parker could tell Jared was sufficiently tipsy by the way he was being loud and unusually affectionate.

“Look over there,” Parker pointed, “Can you believe that that guy is gonna take her home? Look at that! He’s telling her how pretty she is, telling her his favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, and she’s completely mesmerized by it.”

“So…? Good for him. He’s got game ‘cause she is wayyy better looking than he is,” Jared said honestly, as he always did. “She looks sorta familiar.”

“Really? Not from here she doesn’t,” Parker shook his head, dismissing Jared’s curiosity. “You think that’s okay though? He doesn’t even like her. I just think it’s just so fucked up that these guys will go to whatever length and say whatever they can.”

“What’s so fucked up about it man? We’re guys, and we’re horny,” as he finished his beer and slammed his glass down on the counter, in complete macho fashion.

“It’s fucked up ‘cause we get screwed over in the end. These girls, most of them, at some point start figuring out that most guys are sleazy. And from that moment forward, that’s their default—men are sleazy, which shouldn’t be the case, but it is because of douche bags like that,” Parker said, raising his voice and motioning across the bar, “who can only think with his penis. We get screwed over because now they can’t trust us since they assume we’re filth like the rest of them, wanting to get some ass.”

Jared looked at Parker for a second, raised his empty glass and suddenly his eyes widened looking at the girl. He appeared sober again. “Fuuuuuuuccckkk dude. Are you serious?” Jared rolled his eyes and turned his head away in irritation. “Of all the places, she had to be here. You’ve got to be fucking kidding!”

“What are you taaa…” just as the words left his tongue, she turned to face them, and then, sense and understanding came to him. Squinting his eyes, the image focused, and everything suddenly became clear. It was Angela.

_______________

“It’s a maternity ward in here,” Norah thought to herself, sitting in a booth with her 4 apartment mates. Her friends had come out to de-stress and unwind after a long week of classes, taking their anger at professors and assignments out on a cold pitcher of beer. Norah, on the other hand, was sipping on a cosmopolitan and on the prowl—the nice-girl-just-wanting-some-attention-and-male-affirmation prowl, not the promiscuous kind. From time-to-time, she’d turn away from the conversation toward the aisle and bat her eyelashes quite conspicuously attempting to draw any handsome admirers, like an echolocating dolphin emitting calls out into the vast ocean. But this ocean was filled with too many dolphins of the wrong breed for her to have any mating success.

Knock, knock—someone tapped on her shoulder. Norah turned around to see who, and there she saw what they classified in the olden days as a “hunk.” “I noticed you looking around. Are you waiting for anyone?”

“Oh…me?” she asked, feigning innocence as she pressed her hands against her chest. “Nope. I’m here with a few girl friends, but I’m very much on my own…if you catch my drift,” she said in her unnaturally seductive voice; she sounded like Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians. Though she hoped this didn’t come off as too forward, this guy was in no way off the hook yet. He possessed the looks—tall, broad shoulders like an Olympic swimmer, and she liked the way he styled his hair, like a traditional James Dean. Now, did he have the personality?

“Oh good!” he said with widened eyes. Norah smiled. “Because my friend over there…” What? “thinks your cute and would like to buy you a drink and take you home for the night…” Huh? “Would you like to meet him?” he looked at her as if he had simply asked her for the time.

Norah looked down at her black leggings, looking for any lint she could find to pick off. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard. She shook her head and looked up at him, “Sure!” She followed him to a group of guys standing by the pool table in the back, all with one hand in their pocket and the other around a beer mug. They stood silent as she joined the circle. James Dean looked at Norah and then nodded to his friend with an eager grin—the go-ahead.

“By the way, my name is….” But before James Dean could even introduce himself and offer a handshake, she reached out and grabbed his crotch with a death grip and violently yanked his “private area.”

“You are a loser,” she said angrily as the other guys cringed in empathy and silently mouthed “ooooouuuuch.” They drew back out of fear when she turned around. “A real fucking douche bag.” Norah shook her head and rolled her eyes as she grabbed her coat and stormed out of the bar before her apartment mates could have a chance to inquire.

_______________

On his way home that night, Parker couldn’t help but think about Angela. He remembered the early morning pillow talk they used to have after making love and how she always asked to be kissed on the forehead before falling asleep. He remembered the night he lost his virginity to her. He had waited over a year to be sure that he loved her despite her pressuring him—she had already lost her virginity when she was in high school. They had come back to her dorm room after a night out with friends. “Do you want to do it tonight?” he endearingly asked. She nodded with a smile in affirmation—the adorable smile he wanted to take a picture of and keep in his wallet for instantaneous happiness. But her smile turned to a grimace after a few brief moments when he fell short of satisfying her. Unsatisfied, She ruthlessly guilted him for his lack of knowhow and experience. “I’m sorry,” he confessed. “I’ve literally never done this before.” He woke the next morning to her leaving to run errands; it wasn’t until hours later that he finally sat up and the ideal image he had of making love to the woman he loved was shattered by what actually was—reality.

When Parker arrived back at his apartment, he tossed his keys on the kitchen counter and peeled off the many layers of clothing he had on. In his wife beater and boxers, he brushed his teeth looking at himself in the stainless bathroom mirror. He judged the person he saw, looking for the confident, steadfast guy he once knew himself to be. On days when the past was completely behind him, he saw this version of himself. Tonight was not one of those days. Deciding that he needed to take his mind off of things, Parker opened his top drawer. Packed in with his socks and underwear, he took out his pipe and packed it with the last of his weed.

Smoking always put Parker at ease. After a stressful week of school, he would typically wind down with Jared, smoking and jamming on the guitar. Tonight, he simply needed a release. As he lit the pipe and slowly inhaled, the videotape of old memories stopped playing. The smoke was harsh, but the burn was liberating.

_______________

“Fucking shitheads!” Norah jammed her key into the rusty gold doorknob and kicked the door open. Her phone vibrated. She opened it to see a text from one of the girls: Hey, what happened? Frustrated, she ignored the message and slid the phone across the coffee table, grabbed a beer out of the fridge and toppled onto their la-z-boy. In a lash of anger, she grabbed her phone and starting furiously typing away: “It’s amazing that despite how low my expectations are for men, they continue to sink to new depths. How do they do it? Take tonight for example, all this douche bag had to do was simply be a gentlemen, a little engaging and he could’ve had a make-out buddy for the evening. Unbelievable.” Sent. Norah and her best friend from home had a habit of slandering the male gender on occasions guys sucked, which these days were pretty often. She wanted to forget this failed evening because she hated feeling disappointment, especially this kind—earnestly hoping for and expecting something and not have that thing ever happen. She felt the way she did in grade school on mornings after she had lost a tooth. Despite knowing better than to believe in enchanted fairy tales, she would check under her pillow anyway, secretly hoping for something magical.

_______________

After Parker had smoked two bowls, deciding to stop because he felt sufficiently impaired, he slipped into his bed and nuzzled into place, embedding himself in the grooves of his mattress. He realized that he didn’t want to be alone; with one hand in his underwear, Parker typed in “N-O-R-A-H” into his phone, and it started ringing.

“Hello?” said the voice at the other end. She wasn’t sleeping, he could tell.

“Hey Norah, it’s me. What are you up to right now?” he said, hoping she’d respond enthusiastically.

“I’m not really up to anything. It’s 2:45; I was about to go to sleep actually.”

“Well, I was wondering if you wanted come by and chill for a little. I’m in my pajamas so don’t think you have to look nice or anything. Just drop on by.”

“Are you taking me up on my offer, Parker?” she said; he could hear the corners of her mouth curling upwards.

“Maybe I am,” he admitted. “Do you want to come over? The door’s unlocked.”

“I’ll be over in 10. Don’t fall asleep on me, loser.”

_______________

Lying next to her, Parker didn’t know how to break the ice. He had invited her over, but it was she who tipped the first domino weeks earlier: “Parker, why is it that you are habitually single and NOT hooking up with anyone?” she had teased. “Is your game that bad or are you barking up a different tree?”

Parker chuckled. This wasn’t the first time their conversation had digressed to the topic of his love life. “For the record,” he said, “I am most definitely straight. I like women. The only problem is that they don’t seem to like me. Or maybe, I’m just not ready. Take your pick.”

“Well then tiger,” she said, jotting something on a scrap piece of paper, “Why don’t you give me a call when you decide you’re ready ‘cause it’s plain as day that you’re still not over your ex.”  She playfully winked at him and slipped the paper into his breast pocket. Parker laughed; he already had her number. He was surprised, however, when he pulled the note out during his next class (he had disregarded it until that point) and saw, “Free lovin’? (No strings attached)  You have my number, put it to use,” scribbled in cursive.

_______________

“So we both know why we’re here. I think we should just get this show on the road. That’s if you’re still comfortable with this,” Norah said.

“Yeah totally. Shall we?” as he started inching toward her. He didn’t know how her lips were going to feel on his or if they’d even have any chemistry, but he didn’t care.

Parker and Norah kissed for a few minutes. Somehow, Norah felt at ease with him, comfortable even. Even if this was just a booty call, she didn’t mind. Not with him, at least. Though she wondered why he decided to call her tonight of all evenings, she subconsciously wanted Parker to restore her faith in humanity once again. More than anything, she simply yearned to feel beautiful.

Still experiencing his high, Parker didn’t possess the filter most sober people have between what they are thinking and what they say, “So…how far can we go?” he asked.

“That’s quite forward of you, mister. I’ve never had a guy ask me that before…I don’t know. Why do you ask?”

“I just wanted to know. It’s better than having my hand slapped away and feeling vile about myself. I figure, we’re talking now, might as well just establish boundaries. Do you do this kind of thing often?”

She closed her eyes and smiled. She thought his inquiries were cute. “Umm…not often. I’m just over relationships at the moment, but a girl has needs, ya know? We can’t have sex, but why don’t we just go with it for now and see what happens?”

“That works for me,” he responded. He hadn’t slept with anyone since Angela, but he knew himself well enough to know that he would be tempted unless lines were drawn. In an effort to get her in the mood, he ran his hand through her hair and massaged her lips with his. He kissed the crest of her neck, a spot that was highly sensitive—this turned her on. She liked the way he placed his arms under her head and her shoulder, cradling her. In the heat of the moment on a few occasions, Parker tried unbuttoning her pants, but Norah wouldn’t have it. Feeling slightly bad for her conservatism, yet unwilling to budge on this one, she tried appeasing the situation by rolling on top of him playfully asserting her authority. This was a maneuver most guys she had been with liked; they liked her athletic figure, her curves and the width of her hips. Believe it or not, most guys didn’t mind submitting to a woman who could take the driver’s seat.

_______________

Parker’s phone rang. Sunlight streamed through the window onto his face and body. He felt slow, like a computer processing too much at once. He rolled off his bed out of the sun’s rays onto the cool floor and crawled to his obnoxious phone.

“Hello?” he said in his morning voice. Jared was at the other end.

“Yo man. Are you just getting up? It’s 2 pm. Let’s grab some grub.”

The thought of lunch hadn’t even crossed his mind, but Parker’s stomach began to growl and complain. “Sure. Gimme 20 minutes to wash up. I’ll meet you outside my place.” He hung up the phone and stood up. He stretched his arms and cracked his neck and his back as though he had stepped out of his coffin after years of death and needed to test whether he could still move his limbs. He slumped back in bed with his legs dangling off the side and his head on the pillow. With a deep inhale, Parker smelled a fragrance on his pillow that was not his own, and he immediately sobered up. “Fuck!”

_______________

“So what you’re telling me is that you’ve had this friends-with-benefits offer on the table this whole time, and last night was the first time you took her up on it. Are you loco?” Jared exclaimed in his classic Hollywood Mexican accent staring, both impressed and agitated.

“Fuck, man. What did I do? I don’t even like her. I came back last night after torturing myself with thoughts of Angela on my way home, smoked a little, and the next thing I knew, I wanted to have someone around…so I called her,” Parker said, picking up his giant bean burrito and taking a big bite.

“So you feel….guilty? Is that it?” Jared attempted to empathize. “You didn’t even have sex with her dude. Look here, my young padawan, she wanted you for one evening,” he paused for dramatic effect and placed his hand on Parker’s. Parker instantly withdrew his hand and laughed, shaking his head. “Who knows? She may want you for more. She doesn’t want you to be her boyfriend or her baby’s daddy. You two simply partook in an element of nature, the nature of college…hooking up. Plus, you were more than respectful…for Christ’s sakes, I can’t believe you tried to set the boundaries before the hook up even started. Who are you?” he joked.

“It feels strange not having to call her or being obliged to her in anyway. I had a great time; don’t get me wrong. We chatted, I told her my corny jokes and she laughed; it wasn’t just physical. You know I’m not the type of guy to do that.” For reasons that escaped him, Parker found himself wondering how early Norah must’ve snuck out to go home. The only traces she left were the scent on his pillow and earrings on his nightstand.

“You need to stop type-casting guys like that. Just because you hooked up with a girl that you don’t necessarily have feelings for doesn’t make you ‘one of those guys.’ It was just as much Norah’s choice to hook up with you, as it is any girl’s decision to go home with whatever asshole they’d like…only you were more forthcoming about your intentions. So please, do me and the rest of us a favor, and stop beating yourself up about it.” Parker thought about what Jared had said and most of it was true. The guilt subsided, and for the first time in a while, Parker felt childishly excited by the thought of a hassle-free relationship.

Without lifting his face, he looked at Jared and cracked a smile. “We are back in business, my friend!” Jared shouted putting his hand up for a high five. Parker couldn’t do anything but chuckle and five his friend in return.

At that moment, however, Norah walked through the door and caught Parker and Jared mid-slap. She instinctively knew exactly what they were celebrating. After all, it had only been minutes earlier that she and her friend were giggling and gossiping about the same thing in Starbucks. Parker spotted her in the periphery of his vision and quickly withdrew his hand from Jared’s. Standing in line, Norah laughed as he turned red. She watched him peak to see if she was still looking in his direction, and she smiled, accepting his immaturity—she was no better herself. She made a gesture to him, tugging her bare ear lobe. He patted his breast pocket and winked back at her.


[1] Cojones is a vulgar Spanish word for testicles.

[2] Jared practices utilitarianism.

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