tagRomanceMore Than Friends Ch. 01

More Than Friends Ch. 01


A note to the observant: Almost all city names are false; they were taken from a variety of fantasy sources. All characters are based on real people, so it is no coincidence that they are the strongest part of the story. Names, and sometimes personality and personal history, have been modified to protect the innocent. The events of this story, however, are complete fiction.

This story is dedicated to its inspirer and female lead, the 'real' Heather. I have not seen her in over a decade. Wherever you are, I hope the rising sun finds you happy each day.

When I heard the message on my machine, I kinda had a hunch. "Uh, hi, Colin, this is Heather, please give me a call," and then this little hiccup which really made me think she was crying. When you've known someone for ten or twelve years, you get a sense of what they sound like. Plus, the message hit my voicemail at 3 PM, which is not when she normally calls me.

Unfortunately, quite some hours had passed since then. It was now 7 PM. When you're an active freshman in college and it's the near the end of spring quarter, schedules can get pretty hectic. I hoped it hadn't been anything terribly important.

"Hello, this is Colin, may I speak to Heather please."

Without preamble, Heather said, "Jason broke up with me."

Oh, shit. It had been something important.

"What, just now," I said, clutching the handset.

"Yeah," Heather said. "I called you the moment I got home."

I winced. Okay, four hours had passed, not a great response time for someone who's supposed to be a best friend. Unfortunately, it couldn't have been any faster. I am not gonna get caught in that stupid cell-phone thing. My life isn't that complicated yet. ...Is it?

"Why'd he do it," I asked.

"It was some really stupid reason," Heather told me. She shifted into an oafish, slurring voice for an imitation. "Something like, 'Oh, you're not smart enough for me, you don't agree with me, you suck.'" Sadly, her impression wasn't very far off.

I frowned. Jason Bishop had that rare combination of good looks, athletic ability and brains, and his name had settled at the top of most of the lists people really look at in high school. He was now a freshman at Stanford University. His redeeming (or fatal) character flaws were an extreme vanity and a habit of lashing out rather viciously at anyone who crossed him. But Heather had known this going into the relationship.

"Well, if he's gonna be such an asshole," I said, "it's just as well you got out of there, right?"

She didn't say anything. She had got out of there--but clearly it hadn't been fast enough.

Abruptly Heather said: "Can I come over?"

I blinked. "Sure, I'm not doing anything tonight except homework." Yeah, homework on a Friday night. I am such an exciting person. "I doubt my roommate will mind. Oh, wait, he already went home." My roommate's trips home are rare because he lives two hours away. Heather, on the other hand, lives in Nibelheim, which is weird because when my family moved to Saldaea Heights, hers followed me to the next city over within a few years. And both of those cities are about twenty minutes away from Keld, so me visiting home, or Heather and Adam and Lindsay visiting me, is pretty common.

"All right, I'll come over," Heather said. She didn't sound sad; she sounded angry. That was fine with me. Anger's a little easier to deal with.

"Don't run someone off the road," I said, only half-joking.

"Let's pray," Heather gritted.

I puttered around for half an hour, waiting for her to show up: checked my e-mail and the various websites I read, that sort of thing. The clock moved erratically: one minute I'd look and it'd be 7:43; then I'd look back, thinking it had been twenty minutes and she should be here by now, only to discover it was only 7:44. And then randomly losing five minutes while I waited for a site to load--what was going on? If I didn't know better, I'd swear someone was fooling with the space-time continuum. Or maybe I was just really distracted.

Part of it is Heather. She's my oldest friend. I've known her since the first grade. My next-oldest friend, incidentally, I met in third grade, and ever since then it's been Colin, Heather and Adam, more or less inseparable. Like seeks like, they say, and they're right; all three of us were of similar mindsets concerning studying, teachers, whether to obey rules or not, that sort of thing. But after sixth grade, we split up--Heather's mom got a job transfer to Sacramento or something, and I moved to Saldaea Heights and a new junior high while Adam stayed in Guardia. It took until early high school for us to reunite. Adam called me up with the news, and I hightailed it over as fast as I could.

See, the thing is: I'm in love with Heather.

I'm honestly no longer sure if she knows this. She did in elementary school, because I wore my emotions on my sleeve back then, with all the naivete of the young. I know she trusted me back then, because we were each other's first kiss; she had seen people doing it on television and wanted to see what the big deal was. But then again, maybe I was just the nearest gullible sap to hand. When you're talking about Colin Anthony Watson, the answer is never clear. (For the record, I didn't think that kissing stuff was all that cool. What can I say, we were in second grade.)

But then that fateful first day of seventh grade rolled around, and she was gone, and didn't come back for a while. And when she did, she was changed. Her long golden hair was cut short and ragged, and she had several piercings on each ear, and her clothes were so small that seemed to have been designed for Barbie dolls. For a while, I didn't recognize her.

Heather was the product of a single-parent home, a mother who spent her days working minimum-wage jobs trying to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of her two daughters, of which Heather was the oldest. Heather's father had divorced the family before I met her. Heather had the brains she needed to do just about anything, but endless afternoons staring at the television had left their mark. It doesn't help that she is practically the American stereotype of feminine perfection--blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect figure, the works. During high school she and Adam had a lot in common--they were both up on the trends, both fans of MTV, both knew who Pamela Anderson was... What, don't look at me like that! I had other concerns. And other people to drool over, for that matter; someone I could actually reach out and touch, as opposed to staring at through the glass wall of a television screen. But that, of course, depended on me getting the courage up to talk to her. And also whether Heather would come back into my life or not.

It was somewhat dismaying to watch them spiraling into pop culture like that. I figured Adam would come back to his senses eventually, but Heather was another matter; it quickly became clear that she was actually interested in that stuff. I didn't get it--never have--so what was surprising was that she came back to me in the first place. After all, I was something like the complete antithesis of trendy hip culture--the Antichrist of the boyband craze. What did she find interesting in me? To this day, I'm still not quite sure, but I'm glad she came back.

I didn't recognize her, and she didn't recognize me. For a while we had almost nothing in common. She certainly didn't seeme as as dating material. But as the years wore on her choice in men became more and more stable--don't get me wrong; Jason Bishop can be an ass, but when he isn't drooling over his reflection in a mirror, he can be quite a lot of fun to be around--and she gradually severed her ties with that whole mainstream culture thing. I'm glad. In my opinion, mainstream culture is nothing but a substitute identity for those who don't feel like they can have one of their own. Heather is definitely not one of those people. We have come to recognize each other again.

And here she was now, the product of twenty years of learning and conditioning, lighting up my phone.

I picked it up. "Domino's Pizza, this is Colin, how can I help you?" I have no idea why I said that.

"Hi, can I get a large opening in your dorm's front door, with pepperoni, bell peppers and extra cheese?"

"Hiya Heather. Coming right down." Three flights of stairs, then a door.

I imagine most colleges have something like this: you have to swipe your ID card at the door to get into the dorms. If you don't have one, you don't get in, and the RAs don't let you in either. We've had cases of telemarketers actually going door-to-door down the hallways (guess they aren't telemarketers anymore), not to mention perverts trying to sneak into the girls's bathroom, so you have to let yourself in. Or get someone to let you in.

I saw my own reflection in the glass-paned door for a scant second: tall, thin, almost spindly, with dark hair and glasses. I've worn glasses since I was seven. Heather always thought they were cute. Some people find me handsome. More find me engaging. I know I'm not a looker, so I've tried to make myself into an interesting person.

My reflection dissolved as I opened the door. Heather, on the other hand--now there's a woman who doesn't need to concentrate on her personality. She's beautiful. She was wearing a plain white T-shirt and jeans, and no makeup that I could see, nor any of those ridiculous shove-your-boobs-in-my-face bras I had seen her wear on dates. Her hair came down to the small of her back; she had it loosely gathered, and it sang in the early May sunset. I was glad she had not bothered to primp herself up; I like the natural look on people. A lot of the makeup people wear nowadays looks ridiculous, and let's not even start on what they try to do with their breasts. Breasts were actually Heather's sore point; she thought hers were too small. The fact that they fit her frame perfectly, and that her real beauty was in the expressiveness of her face, the warmth of her smile, did not mitigate her longing for a taller letter of the alphabet on her bra size. Oh well; that's what today's standards have lead us to expect. I mean, look at online pornography. If you're a woman and you haven't got at least a 47-billion-DD cup size, you'll never be photographed. Or written about, for that matter.

Of course, this is not to say that Heather is an airhead. On the contrary. She wasn't always interested in academics--her first SAT score was about a 980--but once she realized she'd need academics to get anywhere, it skyrocketed past 1400. She and Adam and I have all been in honors and advanced classes, both together and apart. That's part of why I like her; instead of falling back on her appearances, she's gone out and made a person out of herself.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi," she said.

"Do you wanna come up, or..."

"Have you had dinner yet," she asked.

I shook my head. "Cafeteria?"

She shrugged. "Sure, why not."

I stepped outside and we set off for the cafeteria. "I'll spring."

Heather looked at me. "I can pay for myself."

"Trust me," I said, "it's faster. You know how we swipe our ID cards to pay, right? Well, you have no idea how much it holds up the line when people pay with cash."

She smiled.

We sat at one of the smaller side tables, she with her salad and I with a pasta entree. Hers was so small that she was finished practically before I got started. "You know, you can eat more than that if you want," I said. Some girls think they have to eat less than the guys sitting near them. I don't hold with that for a second.

"I'm watching my weight," Heather said.

I rolled my eyes. "Heather, you look fine. You know people were looking at you when we came in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your figure. You're beautiful."

Heather looked at me strangely, and I suddenly wondered if I had said too much. Especially when she asked me, "Do you mean that?"

Not, "Oh, right, I'm so hot;" not "Yeah, yeah, I'm beautiful." "Do you mean that?" With a direct gaze and nary a trace of frivolity about her voice.

I'll tell you a secret: I love Heather Elizabeth Norwellyn. I'm not just in love with her, I love her. How's that for tripping over your feet.

I looked away for a second, and in that instant, decided to be honest. "Yes, I do," I said. "You've always been beautiful, Heather, even from day one. When I walked into that classroom the first day of first grade, you were the prettiest person there."

It's not that I lust after her, because I've gotten over that. Mostly gotten over that. I realized it when she came back during high school, when I would look over at her on our infrequent weekend visits (we all went to different high schools) and think about how much she'd changed, and how much I hoped she wasn't making a mistake that would hurt her. And that I was worried, but never gave up hope that she'd be able to find herself.

Heather smiled at me. "Thanks, Colin." A teasing light entered her eyes. "You were kind of pretty yourself, that first day."

I gave her a twisted grin. "Oh, right. Pudgy little me, the shortest kid in the class, tripping over my own shoelaces and never having any idea of how to shut up."

She laughed. "God, do you remember those days? Things were so much simpler then."

I nodded. I didn't think they had been any easier, but they certainly were less complex. "Yeah. The only thing I had to worry about was whether Jeffrey would flatten me at recess."

"I remember him!" Heather said. "He always reminded me of that one guy you see on T-shirt logos--you know, the one with the muscles and the short flat haircut and the glare?"

"That's him exactly," I said, giggling. "I wonder where he is nowadays."

"Oh, who knows," Heather said, her smile shining brilliantly. "Maybe in the military or something. Takin' it to those Al Qaeda terrorists, or something like that."

I rolled my eyes and ate more pasta.

"Do you remember," she said, and now her voice was soft and introspective. "Do you remember that time we kissed on the bus?"

I blinked at her, startled. She rarely ever mentioned that incident, despite how thoroughly it embarrassed me--which she loved to do--and in her current emotional climate, I had no idea what was going through her head. "Yeah," I said carefully, "I do. Second grade, right?"

She nodded. "I thought I was so grown-up, doing that. I was trying so hard to be grown-up." Her eyes suddenly focused on me. "What did you think?"

"Of what?" I asked guardedly.

"Of the kisses, silly," she said, smiling.

"Oh. Uh." Well. What was there to say? "We were kids. We didn't know what we were doing. Even at the time, I kinda didn't get it." Didn't get it was an understatement. I sat in the school bus with my backpack sticking out into the aisle, looking at her and wondering exactly what this lips-on-lips thing was supposed to mean. At the age of seven, my television exposure was mostly limited to Sesame Street, so I may not have even known what kissing was. Unless I had seen it in a Disney movie or something. I was not the most knowledgeable of persons. Though, ironically, I had already discovered masturbation. Now that I think of it, I had some weird developmental patterns.

Breaking out of my mental tangent, I took in her expression: at once impassive and slightly hurt. "What," I asked quietly, "you were hoping that those kisses had changed my life or something? Honestly, Heather, how likely would that have been, with us being in second grade? No one knows how to kiss at that point. I mean, you asked me to try it out with you. Remember?"

"Clearly I didn't learn a whole lot, or maybe Jason would still be with me," she said darkly.

"Oh, come on," I said gently. "You know that's not true."

We walked back to my dorm in silence. Heather didn't seem inclined to talk, but I had a question I needed answered. "Do you have a curfew?"

She shook her head. "No, I just have to call my mom before twelve and tell her where I am and where I'll be. She's pretty lax about these things. I've stayed over at boyfriends's houses a couple of times."

I didn't say anything. I knew what went on when a couple spent the night together.

Heather looked over at me. "What," she said. "Are you jealous?"

My face squirmed.

"Oh, come on," she said. "It's not like you haven't--"

"No," I said, "I haven't."

She seemed genuinely surprised. "Really?"

"I used to date Jane, remember," I said. "She wouldn't open up if we were the last two people on Earth." Jane and I were close, but love, whether real or pretended, doesn't help when one person doesn't want the relationship to go anywhere, emotionally, physically or otherwise.

"What about that other girl, what's her name--"

"Selena? We only dated for a month. You know the kind of people I like: they tend to be responsible. They don't jump in bed just like that."

"That's true," Heather said. She shook her head. "I'm just surprised, is all."

My lips twitched in a not-quite smile.

"You're not bitter," she asked.

I sighed. "Well, what can I do? It sucks, but that doesn't make it change."

"Just find somebody and get laid," Heather suggested.

"That's not what I'm looking for," I said. "I could do that. I thought about it when I first got to college, and I decided not to. Sex is sex, it's boring. I've been masturbating all my life, it's not anything new. I do it maybe..." I cut off. We were entering the building. I wasn't exactly planning to give the RAs a rundown of my sexual proclivities.

When we entered the elevator, I finished: "I want to be in love with somebody. And then have sex with them."

Heather just looked at me, an unreadable look, and said nothing until the elevator stopped at my floor. Then she said: "You sound like a girl."

I gave her a humorless smile. "That's my specialty."

I've always been an odd one, and the latest in the line is this: I have a lot of distinctly feminine traits. I'm not very interested in sex, I want an emotional commitment when I date somebody, I'm quite sensitive to how people feel... Hell, I'm a psychology major, the ultimate touchy-feely occupation. Thankfully, I'm in college now, and people seem to accept you without much question once you reach that age. Maturity? Indifference? I don't care, as long as it stops people from beating up on me.

When we got to my room, she checked her e-mail on my computer, looking for something from Jason. There was nothing. She surrendered the keyboard to me, and I floated aimlessly around cyberspace for a short time, having nothing to do. Dorm rooms are not generally stocked with provisions to occupy more than one person, especially when you left your TV at home like I did. What? I spend most of my time on the computer anyway, who would need it?

There is, of course, the bed, but we're not counting that. Nor are we counting how I'd like to get Heather into mine some day. Seeing as how I love her and all. And it'd be okay if she didn't want to have sex. You know what would be nice? Someone to just hold all night. Another living, breathing presence beside me, whom I could count on to be there in the morning.

One of the basic facts about my life is that I have always, always, always felt myself to be completely alone. This has nothing really to do with how many people are in the room with me; it has more to do with how often I have been singled out by groups and people. It also has to do with how nobody has ever found me important enough to visit at odd hours, just because they felt like it; or buy gifts for, for the same reason; or, well, or to have sex with me. Twisted logic, I know, but hey--I'm a college student. I'm allowed some leeway in the logic department.

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