“What the fuck are you doing?” T.J. exclaimed when she walked into the cluttered bedroom and found her friend starting to shoot up with heroin. Dammit! This fucking pissed her off. The pot she could deal with. But fuck…this shit was too extreme. Not to mention…

Jason looked up, his cornflower blue eyes wide with surprise at getting caught in action. All at once, his emotions raced between fear and anger and guilt. Next to Kevin, this chick was one of his closest friends. Certainly hadn’t always been. But when her writing had brought her to Kev’s attention, and after T.J. and Jason had gotten over their initial irritation of each other, the two had started to get along pretty well. They found a mutual friendship in annoying the hell out of other people who didn’t like their brash and often abrasive personalities. The two became almost partners in crime and enjoyed the hell out of pissing people off.

Besides, T.J. cared about him. A lot. Shit. And he’d broken a promise.

“Hey, T.J, it’s not what it looks like,” he started. Then he slipped into the ‘tude. The Jay ‘tude. The I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-And-No-One-Can-Hurt-Me ‘tude that had won him his popularity. “Shit, this isn’t even mine…,”

But T.J. cut him off at the pass. “Fuck you, asshole.” Her bluntness caught him and ripped him right out of ‘tudeville. “Don’t fucking lie to me, Jason. I’m a lot smarter than that.” She moved farther into the room, picking up dirty clothes along the way. She walked to the closet, opened the door and dropped the clothes into the half empty hamper. She kicked several pairs of discarded shoes inside as well and then closed the door. She was pissed; and when she was pissed, she looked for things to do with her hands. Constructive things.

And if she didn’t organize, she’d beat the shit out of the skinny fuck.

“What?” he asked, now trying to be cute. He could almost always rely on being cute. “What’s your problem, bitch?” This he asked with the spirit of their former relationship. The one that started out pretty fiery and volatile. Still holding the syringe in his left hand, Jason threw his arms up in the air as if to say, “What the fuck?” T.J. just stared at him. She was shorter than he was by about half a foot, but when she cut her deep cinnamon eyes up at him, one red-brown eyebrow arching defensively, Jason dropped his arms to his side.

“You know what the problem is. You’re on probation for this shit. You get caught with this again and it’s no more Robert Downey Jr. treatment for you. It’s pack it up time and off to jail you go.” She stood right in front of him now, staring down at the arm that was still tied with the silk tie. T.J. tried to keep a stern, tough-bitch look on her face but it slowly slipped away into one that looked genuinely hurt by the actions of a person that she cared very deeply for. A person that she had really started to love. “Besides, you promised. You’d stick to mild shit if you just HAD to have something. Shit, I’d sit there and smoke it with you just to keep you company and you know I’m not all that into this shit.” Her voice started to crack and this seemed to begin to thaw Jason’s wannabe hard-heart. “Fuck, why do I bother?” And she started to turn and walk out of the room again. “You know what, asshole? You go ahead and fuck yourself up this way. Okay? You go ahead and blast yourself right into prison or a coffin. Either way…no skin off my bones.” She was halfway to the door, still bitching. “It’s clear that I mean nothing to you. Not as a friend…not as…oh fuck you. What does it matter? You can’t keep promises anyway.”

What the hell was she talking about? They were buds, right? But she was talking like there was something more serious there. Oh Christ! Had she been feeling something more? Dammit, he’d only begun to hope for something more and never expected it because of their grating personalities. Oh sure, they were inseparable most of the time as friends go…they had a lot of good laughs. But beyond that? Emotions couldn’t get too involved or they’d probably kill each other. At least, that’s what Jason had always assumed was her attitude on this. What did he know? He’d only allowed his hopes to play through his head and heart for the last few months and he tried to brush that off as just something to pass a good jerk-off with.

And now…dammit, T.J. was serious. She was leaving and he didn’t think she was coming back. He’d only see her around Kevin and even then, would she even look at him again? Grace him with those bedroom eyes that he just wanted to drown in. Fuck…he didn’t think so.

“T.J., come on. I’m sorry!” he apologized and started after her. On his way to the door, where she’d stopped in the threshold, her back still to him, he dropped the syringe on his dresser amongst the clutter and ripped the scarf from his arm. At once he felt circulation come back to him just as he reached her. Tentatively, he reached out and touched T.J.’s left shoulder. The woman shrugged it away, not wanting to be touched or ass-kissed to at this point. And that was always the reaction she got from guys. “Oh now she’s pissed, so let me do damage control.” Gods, she hated it.

“You think that saying you’re sorry is going to make it all better this time, Jay?” she asked, trying to hide sadness that roughened up her voice. It was at that moment that Jason realized how much he loved hearing her voice. He didn’t care if she was yelling, laughing (oh man, how he loved to hear her laugh!), talking soft or just sitting there reading something to him aloud…like her poetry…he just loved the tones of her voice. It was like velvet on his skin and made the hair rise each time.

“I don’t think I can make anything all better. I just…dammit, I just want to be given the chance to try.”

“You’ve had plenty of chances. You’re not going to live forever. And you’re not getting any younger. You’re just going to keep missing the bus, my friend. You’re clueless to what’s around you except for making money and hanging out.” Oh sure, she enjoyed all that, too. But she stopped and took a good look around her every now and then. She asked, “Why? Why do you keep going back to that shit?” She still hadn’t turned around to face him yet. T.J. was afraid of him seeing her right now. Seeing the tears that glided down her cheeks. She didn’t need to be betrayed by her fucking emotions. Oh how fucking typical. Why hadn’t she been born a guy? It would have made things so much easier. Before she could move out of the doorway to where she left her shoes and her purse, Jason grasped her shoulders again, this time putting more pressure with the touch, meaning business now.

“Jesus, I don’t know. I don’t mean to,” he started. He saw her react and before she could say what he figured she would, he told her, “I DON’T. I don’t want to be hooked on this shit. It’s just…habit. I’m a fucking moron to keep going back to it and no, I don’t wanna go to fucking jail.” Without thinking, he put his other hand on her other shoulder, stepping up closer behind her. T.J.’s shoulders tensed and she felt almost trapped at that point. She was caught between several emotions: fear that he would realize she was almost crying, anger that he just wasn’t getting it…and the most frightening of all, excitement at his touch. Dammit…

“Well, you can’t just expect it all to go away that easily. You’ve gotta make an effort. You’ve actually gotta keep yourself away from it.” She was almost pleading with him now and then stiffened herself and her resolve. “No, Jason. This shit just can’t go on. I’m out of here. I can’t take this yo-yo shit with you anymore.” Once more, she broke from his grasp and started away from him. That’s when she heard a sudden cry and it startled her into turning around. The sound came from Jason and when she looked, tears were streaming down his face. He’d always looked very young. But now, he had this vulnerable quality that she’d never seen. Shit, no one had probably seen it. Doubtful Kevin had seen it. Those two were too often playing the tough-guy routine together, chiding each other for any sign of emotion. The only times that Jason wasn’t ragging on the older of the two was when Kev was talking about his wife or daughter and his honeyed brown eyes just lit up like Christmas.

But here was Jason sobbing those beautiful blues out and shaking like there was an earthquake in his soul. T.J. couldn’t stand it. Dammit. She was supposed to be strong. And now…

…she reached out with a small hand, her long, nimble fingers gently touching Jason’s now wet cheek. She tried to wipe away the tears but they were coming too fast. He closed his eyes, fighting himself for control but finding that he couldn’t. What the fuck? This wasn’t him! But he couldn’t stop himself either. And when she touched his face…oh fuck man. It was like a whole ocean was bursting loose from him like some asshole’d pulled the lever on a dam or something. Fuck this…But he couldn’t stop now and he felt like he was going insane. Man, I’m losin’ it, he thought.

Before he realized it, T.J. had moved closer to him, pressing against him and enfolding him into her bare arms. She felt her friend’s tears fall onto her army-toned tank top but paid no attention to that. All she cared about was making sure that Jason was okay. He was shaking against her almost as if he was cold. She stepped back a minute, took one of his hands that kept trying to cover his face, hiding his pain, and she led him to the unmade bed. Carefully, gently, she eased him down onto the mattresses and then followed suit, curling her legs underneath her. Jason tried to turn away from her, not wanting her to see him this vulnerable anymore. Not wanting her pity. Not wanting anything from her that was out of feeling sorry for him and his pathetic situation. But T.J. proved to be stronger than he thought and she pulled him to her again, this time wrapping him in her arms and under a quilt lying haphazardly on the bed. Rubbing his arms and back, she tried to warm him in case he was cold but also wanting the touch to feel reassuring.

“Shh,” she crooned and leaned down to kiss his forehead. She brushed a strand of his long golden hair off his face and kissed his face again. When he looked up at her again, his blue eyes bloodshot, he was starting to calm down some. His crying was beginning to fade and his breathing was becoming hitched, almost to a steady hiccup. “Shh,” she continued, kissing him again. This time his nose and he started to giggle. She cupped his face in her left hand, caressing his cheek lightly, then cocking his face upward so that she could touch her mouth to his. It was a soft kiss. A friendly kiss, sure, but one that promised more if he was a good boy. And he desperately wanted to be a good boy at this point. He was suddenly exhausted and felt himself starting to fall asleep curled up in T.J.’s arms. He could hear her heartbeat and her breathing and it was as sweet as her voice was sexy.

“T.J.,” he began and she started to shush him. “No, listen,” his voice was fading now with the onset of relaxation that would lead to sleep. “I’m…I’m sorry. I mean it. I don’t want to lose you.” T.J. leaned down to kiss him again and realized that he’d already drifted off to sleep. But his breathing was now normal and he was no longer shaking. This was a good sign. Finally, after a long time, he was relaxed.

The next morning, Jason woke to birds singing outside his window and the smell of bacon coming from his kitchen. He rolled over on his bed, bleary-eyed and wondered at first what the hell had happened. Reaching up to rub his eyes, he found his cheeks dry but at the same time weird feeling like he’d been crying. What the fuck? Him, cry? No fucking way…

.…and then he remembered last night. Not only did he cry but also he remembered the whole shebang of almost losing one of the people who cared the most about him to a stupid addiction. Jason’s eyes trailed over the room and settled on his dresser where the syringe still sat. Staring at him. Tempting him. He climbed out of bed, realizing that he wasn’t in the jeans and T-shirt he’d been wearing yesterday. He was in a pair of his most comfortable flannel pj pants. Okay, that was odd. He knew he didn’t remember changing into those. Someone would have some explaining to do, he thought with a smirk. Treading carefully, Jason made his way to the dresser and picked up the syringe and stared at it for a minute. It was almost as if he’d been hypnotized by it. The glass tube, the long needle at the end…filled with a liquid that promised euphoria. Jason licked his lips absently. Then he turned and walked over to the door that was one of the two that led into the bathroom. Standing over the sink, Jason held the hypo and pushed down on it till it spit all its liquid down the drain. While he did that, he turned on the water to wash it down saying goodbye to a past he didn’t want to repeat. When it was all gone, he dropped the needle into the trashcan, listening to the sound it made as it echoed out of his skull.

Feeling good for the first time in a while, Jason turned and walked out of the bathroom…out of his bedroom…and into the rest of his apartment. All around him, the clutter had been picked up and organized. The mags on the table in the livingroom were stacked neatly on top of each other. There were no clothes on the floor. There were no plates, utensils or other food containers anywhere in there. Shit, T.J. really HAD been pissed last night. It’s a wonder she didn’t use him to mop up the kitchen floor in the process.

…hmm…kitchen floor…that reminded him…

Jason walked into the kitchen to find that it was much cleaner than he’d left it and there were dishes drying beside the sink. Sunlight was coming in through a now clear window, streaking across the floor in a beam that led straight to the person he wanted to see. T.J. was standing there in another pair of his flannels (shit, she didn’t keep clothes here…why would she?) and a T-shirt of his that had been cut off at the sleeves, neck and midriff. He saw the clench of bare skin at her stomach, side and lower back as the shirt revealed as much on her as it did on him. Only her skin was much tanner than his. But he knew for a fact that T.J. liked to lay out any chance she got. She wasn’t from up here normally and wasn’t quite used to the cold yet. She often claimed hating to sleep alone since she’d moved up north because no amount of blankets, clothes or heaters could get her warm enough in the night. He stood there in silence for a long time, that being odd in and of itself as he was never without words, and just stared at her cooking eggs at his stove. Shit, he had eggs? But he pushed the mundane thought away and continued to drink in her beauty that was highlighted by the rays of sun through his kitchen window. Her hair was wet…ooh, she’d taken a shower here and he’d missed out on it! Damn. He allowed a smile to play over his full lips as he casually leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms over his bare chest. Jason drank in as much of her as his heart would allow. From her head to her bare feet with metallic purple-painted toes, she was just something. He never thought he’d have this. Usually the chicks he was with left before sunrise of their own free will or he ushered them out the door, glad for a few moments peace till he started his day. But this…shit, this was domestic in a way that he could handle. This was damned sexy and he never thought he’d think that. This wasn’t a scene for guys like him usually. Nah, this was a scene for that ass Kevin since he’d settled down. But me? Jason thought. Nah, guys like me never woke up to something like this.

About that time, T.J. looked up from what she was cooking and smiled warmly at her friend. She was glad he’d gotten some sleep last night. He looked much better than he did last night anyway. Perhaps he’d just been stressed or something and that’s why he’d acted so stupidly. “Morning, sleepyhead,” she greeted him and kept on turning the scrambled eggs over and over in the pan, checking the flames every once in a while on the gas-top stove. She still wasn’t quite used to working with gas heat after the last couple of years living here. So, she overcompensated in her cooking all the time by being more careful than she used to be.

“Hey, those are my clothes,” he teased and walked into the kitchen. He tried to sound irritated with her, seeing if he could push her into playing and joking with him as always. “Where do you get off raiding my closet?” Jason stepped up behind her and poked her with one long finger in the side. She jumped, being ticklish, which is why he’d done it. They’d often gotten into wrestling matches because he started to tickle her, knowing that it would drive her crazy.

“Dude, it’s my right to raid that warzone you call a closet. Especially since I cleaned up your place this morning. My clothes were gross and I was gross and I took a shower. I didn’t have anything else to wear, so I rummaged around and found something that would fit. Sort of.” She didn’t look at him as she spoke to him. Just kept stirring the eggs. She reached over and picked up a mug of doctored up coffee and drank some down. Jason looked at that. Shit, I have coffee? He thought. Then pushed that away.

“Oh and what’s this shit with what I’m wearing? Who the fuck changed me?” He started to go into Jay’tude with her again, teasing though, but making it sound convincing. “You just wanted to get me naked, didn’t you?” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, going into his “everyone thinks I’m so hot and wants to screw me” routine. T.J. just rolled her eyes and laughed a little.

“Yeah, I changed you. So what? It’s not as if I hadn’t done that before,” she began, taking a bite of egg to see how it tasted and how done it was. Nope, still a little slimy, she thought and kept stirring. “You’ve been so drunk so many times that it wouldn’t have mattered who’d changed your clothes. It could have been Kevin for all you know.” She looked at him then and saw a look of total shock wash over his face. Just as he was starting to protest in some denial homophobic prattle, she went on. “Yes, one time Kevin DID have to help me get you up these stairs and into something else. But don’t worry, I didn’t let him take advantage of you.” She laughed much more at that, knowing that that poor sap worried too much about not only what chicks wanted his bod, but what guys wanted his bod, too. When Jason went back to looking smug and lewd at her, she finished with, “You couldn’t have been comfortable in your jeans. Dude, I just changed you into something you could sleep in.”

Satisfied with her answer, but trying to look like he thought otherwise, Jason nodded at her and leaned down on the counter. “So, where did you sleep?” he asked, genuinely curious. He remembered falling asleep in her arms and her holding him comfortingly at first. But surely, she left him at some point. After he asked that, he saw T.J. stiffen a little and then smile slightly.
“Um…out on the couch,” she lied. But her lie was transparent because even Jason, still a little groggy from sleep, caught it.

“Oh yeah, right. You didn’t sleep on the couch. Oh you’re such a liar-head!” he teased and poked her side again. She jumped again and looked a little worried. Then she tried to smile and when she did so, she blushed. This was something that Jason didn’t miss. The tint of rose rising to her cheeks there in the sunlight, her long chestnut hair cascading down over her shoulders in a mane of what could pass for pure silk…oh man, this wasn’t easy to just play it cool to.

“Alright, you got me. I slept right next to you in bed,” she answered honestly. Then she went into defensive mode. “Well, why should I have slept on that lumpy bastard you call your sofa? Your bed was way more comfortable and after all the shit I’ve put up with from you, I deserved a decent night’s sleep!” She turned then to look at him more straight on and he was just smiling, infuriatingly smiling at her He stood up straight long enough to shrug his shoulders at her.

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