Ever since meeting Dakota, I’d found myself making awful, selfish choices, without considering the consequences. It wasn’t that I didn’t know they were horrible decisions, I just didn’t care.
Dakota was completely unaware that I’d discovered his secret– as far as I knew. Of course, he probably didn’t think of it as a secret. I was just an idiot for not seeing it earlier. It was right there on his Facebook.
In a relationship.
Finding out had been, in a word, devastating. I’d been about two seconds from a full blown meltdown, Kimmy telling me that there were other fish in the sea–not to mention naively believing me when I told her that Dakota’s visit a few weeks prior had been just that, him hanging out, and for longer than he’d actually stayed. Wonderful, innocent Kimmy, sitting with me while the anger, the hurt, the resentment, the betrayal, raged through me like the hurricane that raged outside. A couple of our neighbors had made it over for a Hurricane Slumber Party, had patiently waited out my meltdown as I sat in our bedroom and sobbed. With my laptop left up on Facebook, they saw the posts of Dakota with his girlfriend– the word still left a bitter taste in my mouth– and realized what had set me off. They’d known about my crush; I could talk about him incessantly if I wasn’t cut off. And, like the amazing people they were, they fed me junk food and alcohol and dragged me into ridiculous games like Cards Against Humanity.
The next day I was still hurting, still pissed, and still stranded in the student apartment with the girls. Sleeping on the news– not to mention getting shitfaced and laughing over CAH for about three hours– had helped me put things into perspective, a little bit. I hadn’t wanted anything permanent from Dakota in the first place, and obviously we were on the same page. Then he essentially cut me off and put us firmly back into the realm of “just work friends.” So, in that case, I was going to casually forget that everything had happened between us, and stay his friend.
When I returned to work, I was steadier. I could breathe easily, at peace with my decision, happier than I’d been in awhile– since breaking up with Jay, honestly. Brigadoon was having some technical difficulties, but everyone handled them as gracefully as possible. We had a new girl learning the ropes, Cait, who looked like a live Honey Lemon from Big Hero Six— tall, willowy blonde, with glasses and a long sheet of golden blonde hair.
“Cinderella closes tomorrow night,” Mindy chirped, while showing Cait where she’d be stationed before the show.
“Boo.” I hung a kilt, brushed it with my hand so it would hung in place. Got another and repeated the process.
“I’ll probably see it tonight,” Cait said, pre-lacing the front of a corset.
I hummed noncommittally, lost in routine.
“Ah, here’s our third musketeer!” I turned at Mindy’s announcement and saw Elena, one of the girls from the storage room downstairs, who had recently joined the Brigadoon team. Taller than me, with wild blonde curls, Elena was a round girl with a lot of energy and a knack for puns. Her glasses gave her a vaguely grandmotherly appearance, which had earned her the nickname “Grandma” with some of the girls in the room downstairs. I smiled at her, awaiting her usual morning pun, but none came.
“Sorry I’m late!” Her voice was low, deep in her throat, a little strained. “I was doing… stuff.”
“Who’s stuff?” I smirked at my own joke, but it flew over Elena’s head.
“It was for the room downstairs–”
“No, no, babe.” Cait stopped lacing the corset and patted Elena’s arm. “She meant that as in who were you doing.”
Elena froze, then rapidly turned beet red. I burst out laughing, clutching my heart. “YOUR FACE!” Covering my own face with my hands, I tried to contain my laughter, managing– with a great deal of effort– to get it down to just a giggle. “Oh my god, Elena, I’m so sorry, but you’re so cute– YOUR FACE!” I turned to try and keep my laughter away from her, only to run solidly into a tall male body. I screamed, startled, and dropped into a crouch, before realizing it was Bowie.
“Oh god, I’m sorry!” Bowie caught me, hoisting me up into hug as my laughter caught in my throat. “Jesus I’m sorry, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I gasped, “you just startled me, I’m fine!”
Bowie giggled and struck up a conversation with Cait and Elena and Mindy while I tried to calm my now cantering heartbeat. As he left, costume in hand, he hugged me again. “Sorry, Piper! Love you!”
“Love you too, Bowie.”
He had come to cover someone in second show, which meant we had barely an hour before Brigadoon performers would come to swap out morning costumes for afternoon costumes. We went through our weekly costume check, with me finally out of the aisle of shoes, and took costumes in need of repair over to today’s seamstress, Kat.
I had my head up one of the pretty, frilled skirts when I heard Dakota’s voice. I backed out, smiling, privately but pleasantly surprised at the absence of anger. “Hey, Nerd.”
“Bowie scared Piper today,” Mindy announced. “It was hilarious.”
“Oh?” As Dakota turned to me, I had already begun to laugh again.
“Yeah, I was laughing at Elena over there for being adorable, and I didn’t hear him come up behind me. I screamed.”
He laughed, actually laughed. “Smooth one. Proud of you.”
His sarcasm didn’t affect me, but I responded with my own dry humor. “Thanks, I try.” I moved to stand out of the way by Elena, resting my arm on her shoulder. “You excited for the end of Cinderella?”
He shrugged. “The audiences seem to love it, but I don’t think any of us actually enjoy it anymore. It’s time for a change.”
I nodded. “Makes sense. Still, I bet it’s bittersweet to see it go. Shows always are.” At his lack of response, I tacked on, “To me, anyway.”
Dakota wandered away to get the rest of his costume, and I went back into the skirt I’d been checking. Lucky me, I found a considerable hole in the slip, so I grabbed the hanger and hung the skirt at the end of the line where I’d see it. When I turned, Elena was in a similar position in the blouses, investigating one so closely that her nose was almost touching it.
An idea, a mean idea, wormed its way into my head. Grinning like a madwoman, I crept up behind Elena, moving silently to stand directly behind her. Without a word, I reached out and poked her in the sides.
Elena didn’t so much scream as squawk and jump back, just as I dove to the side to avoid her swinging arm. Laughing, I practically skipped to the end of the line to grab the skirt and drape it over my arm. “You know I do it out of love,” I said, turning back to face her.
Karma, it seemed, was instant today.
Arms came around my sides, hands went in to tickle me, and with another scream to rival a horror movie actress, I dropped to the floor, and burst into laughter, shaking so hard I stopped breathing for a second..
Looking up, I saw Dakota standing over me, downright cackling.
“You’re a dick,” I told him through my laughter, my voice higher pitched than usual. “Help me up. Jesus.” I shot my arms up, and he linked his arms under them and hoisted me back to my feet. “There you go, Elena, instant payback via Dakota.” Elena and Cait were both clutching their chests through peals of laughter at the other end of the aisle. I bent down and scooped the skirt back up as Dakota cackled and left to get himself food before showtime. “Bye, Nerd.”
At lunch, resting my head on Elena’s shoulder in amiable silence, I stared down at my phone. I wanted to make things right between myself and Dakota, and today seemed like a step in the right direction. We could be friends, even best friends if we worked at it. It was worth reaching out and talking to him.
One of these days we should hang out like regular people. Play videogames. Watch a movie. Sacrifice a chicken. SOMETHING.
It wasn’t a solid plan, but it was something. I felt like the world had realigned itself. Things were really going to be okay.
You know how to reach me if you want to hang out.
Grab you, right?
Belatedly, the meaning of his text hit me, and I did a doubletake. Apparently we could be friends who flirted. I was weirdly okay with that.
Oh. Yes, anytime 😉
My grin stayed with me through the rest of the day.