How about Saturday?
I squinted at my phone in exhausted disbelief. It was after midnight, but the numbers were too small for me to read– I barely managed Dakota’s text, I was so tired. I assumed he was referring to my offer to hang out.
Yeah, I’m off. What time?
Whenever. In the morning or something.
Well then. I had a friend date for Saturday. My sleep fogged brain was already dimming the lights, so rather than attempt to make an actual plan, I just responded by muscle memory.
I locked my phone and rolled over, passing back out almost immediately.
“Just friends,” I whispered to myself Saturday morning. My reflection judged me for wearing, yet again, matching underwear, this time in a muted greyish purple. Hope springs eternal, my traitorous side cheered. I sighed, yanking a tee shirt and jeans from my dresser drawers. Dakota didn’t have to know I was covered in lace underneath them, but I could, and maybe that would give me the self confidence I needed to make it through the day without breaking down over–
Nope, not gonna think about that.
I did my makeup, light but pretty, telling myself it wasn’t for Dakota but knowing deep down that I was lying to myself. “Just friends,” I whispered again, and threw my hair into a ponytail.
On my way.
The drive to Dakota’s house was downright strange. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off, the paranoia that someone else would be there– his girlfriend, even. I shuddered at the thought, but swallowed the vague nausea and the urge to turn around and go home.
That urge doubled when I pulled into the driveway of a beautiful two story house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. I came from the outskirts of a city that had quite a reputation for crime, from a neighborhood where you locked your doors at all times and didn’t look out of windows more often than not. Being in a classy, upscale neighborhood wasn’t exactly new to me, but it wasn’t familiar, either. I felt distinctly out of place, my skin buzzing with the desire to just cancel and leave. But that was the cowardly way out.
Clutching my purse and my courage, I got out of the car.
The door swung open almost immediately at my knock. Dakota towered over me, and at his feet, a little puffball of gray fur I recognized from a few dozen pictures I’d seen. Wade the cat sat in a loaf, his feet tucked under him, tail swishing slowly, his bright eyes shining up at me as he took me in.
“Hey.” Dakota stepped back to let me enter.
“Hi,” I answered fleetingly, before focusing all of my attention on the cat. “Hi, kitty.” After throwing my purse over my shoulders, I bent and scooped him into my arms, cradling him like a baby. “Hi, baby. Hi.” Stroking his fur, I returned my attention to Dakota, more at ease already.
“Of course you’re here to see the cat, not me.”
“Is your friend here, D?”
The ease shattered, the nausea returned, but my smile stayed– mostly– intact. Dakota closed the door behind me and I followed him down a short hallway into what I assumed was the living room. A massive TV hung from one wall over a gorgeous (and wonderfully full) antique bookshelf, while two office desks bookended it, both with dual monitors. A tan leather sofa sat across from the wall of tech, upon which sat, I assumed, Dakota’s mom. She was a plump, bright eyed woman with shockingly red hair that fell in a sleek sheet to her shoulders, and fluffy bangs covering her forehead. She had a laptop propped up on one leg, a game of solitaire unfinished on the screen. As we entered, she turned to give me a warm, welcoming sort of smile.
“Hi, you must be Piper. I’m Bella, Dakota’s mom.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, still holding Wade in my arms and stroking his fur. Bella made no move to stand, so I figured formal greetings were being forgone.
“And behind you is Dakota’s dad, Henry.” I turned to see a kitchen, with one of those big island-counters in the middle of it, and a short, slightly chubby man standing at it. He was shirtless and in basketball shorts (I had the sinking suspicion that was where Dakota’s habit of wearing only shorts came from), his salt and pepper hair messy, his eyes dark but warm. They were Dakota’s eyes, staring at me from someone else’s face.
I smiled at Henry as well. “Hallo!”
“So D man,” Bella said, recapturing our attention, “what are your plans for the day?”
“Just playing games, probably watching a movie.” I nodded my agreement, petting the cat more as a means of calming myself than actually paying attention to him.
“And Alexis was okay with it? No jealousy?”
I looked at Dakota, my smile finally dropping into a frown. Why would Alexis– who I was assuming was his girlfriend– care who he had over to his house?
Dakota’s face was completely blank, and his only response to his mom’s question was a shrug.
“So you must know Dakota from work!” Bella pushed herself up from the couch to come stand with us, while Henry went about washing dishes.
I nodded, although the movement jostled the cat. He scrambled from my arms and went running off to who knew where, leaving me to stand awkwardly, fidgeting with the strap of my purse. “Yeah, I work with the costumes.”
Bella looked downright delighted. “I’ve always wanted to know how Steph does that, but she insists it’s a secret.”
I laughed. I wouldn’t put that past Steph, to keep her entire operation a secret; at the same time, I could imagine her jokingly saying that, but with a completely serious, deadpan voice. It was hard to tell.
“It’s essentially like…” I struggled to find the words to describe working as a costumer. “It’s like Macy’s, but Scottish themed. And the storage rooms are what we like to call Narnia– jam packed with the most bizarre assortments of costumes you can imagine.”
“Do you guys have to maintain the other costumes even when they’re in storage?”
Wrinkling my nose, I said, “Yeah. It’s the most boring job, but there are so many, and sometimes they’re just so faded and ratty and awful we have to scrap them. We also rent the costumes out to local community theatres and school shows.”
“That’s so cool!”
The ease radiating from Bella was enough to calm my shattered nerves. I felt myself relaxing considerably, and smiling more honestly. All in all, Dakota’s mom was nothing short of wonderful.
Dakota shifted from foot to foot, restless. “We’re gonna go upstairs.”
I followed Dakota up the long flight of stairs, turning into a spacious loft. Like the living room downstairs, the loft boasted an enormous TV, standing on a shelf that held every gaming system ever created. There was one window, shaded but still letting some sunlight in. A black futon rested in the center of the room, separating the loft from a few short hallways leading to what I could only assume were bedrooms. It was clean, everything in its place, but still felt homey and lived in.
Dakota ruffled his hair and swept his arm in a semi circle. “So, welcome to the cave.” He dropped down on the futon and I followed, tucking my purse underneath it, then slipping my shoes off and putting them with it. I tucked my feet under myself and watched as Dakota pulled up a YouTuber we both liked on the Apple TV.
I stayed in my corner, sometimes checking my phone, splitting my attention between Dakota doing something on his computer– it looked like a roleplay forum, but since I’d only ever used Facebook Messenger to roleplay, I couldn’t be sure– and the video on the gigantic TV screen. It was in the middle of me scrolling through my tumblr that he poked me in the side..
Scowling at him, I poked him back. “Nerd.”
“Doofus.” He poked me again. I shot my hand out to get him back, but he grabbed my wrist. Before I could register his intentions, I found myself yanked up against him, his lips pressing down on mine, one of his arms around me while his opposite hand held my wrist.
My mind went blank, not from enjoyment– though I did, traitorously, enjoy it– but from confusion. Dakota released me and I dropped onto his chest, his arm still around my shoulders. The embrace was almost romantic, but all I felt was a numbing bewilderment. It was as though all of my thoughts had been replaced with line after line of question marks.
Slowly, rationality returned to me. I had come here to be the adult, to prove that I could be a good friend, without the benefits part. Now all of that had gone to shit, and I wasn’t entirely sure why.
“I have so many questions,” I murmured.
Where to start? What in the ever loving hell is your deal seemed too whiny. Why me was too vague. Are you actually with this Alexis chick or not seemed a little too straightforward. Why am I actually considering an affair with you– oh no wait, that was a question for myself.
I chickened out, shaking my head. “Doesn’t matter.” Turning my head up, I pressed my lips to his jaw.