Day Three Hundred and Fifty-Two.
It had been two full weeks since I'd seen Pep. Two weeks since I'd heard her voice or gotten a text message with her name written across the top. Two weeks since I'd had anything to do with her.
Don't get me wrong. With a profession like mine, I was able to go long periods of time without seeing my friends. There had definitely been two-week stalemates between Pep and I before, no question about it. The difference was that those stalemates were due to travelling; it's hard to keep in contact with people when you're halfway across the world with a non-flexible schedule. This time, we hardly travelled at all. Aside from filming, we weren't doing a whole lot within those two weeks. My phone was in perfect working condition and I was in the right area to use it without additional fees. Pep's house was just a few blocks away, accessible by car, bike, or foot. But those two weeks were very Pep-less, and it was weird. Home wasn't home without Pep.
What did I do in those two weeks? Well, I whipped Elvis into shape. We went for long runs in the neighbourhood, always avoiding Pep's street. (Side-note: I ran at my own pace, where cramps were harder to come by). I read up on Helen Keller. Now that I'd given up on Chaucer, I needed someone new but equally extraordinary to compare myself to. Helen Keller was perfect because nobody expected her to notice anything.
And I spent time with Rainie. I took her out a couple of times, just like she wanted. She was happy about that.
As Joe and I were lounging around in front of the television one night, he casually asked, "Hey, where's Pip lately?"
"I don't know," I answered lamely.
Though we were both lying on separate sofas, he dug his hand into the jar of peanuts he'd been munching on and threw them at me. "What do you mean? You haven't been talking to her?"
With a scowl, I brushed the peanuts off my face and chest. "No."
I glared at him. "As if you don't know."
Joe released a short laugh. "That's why I'm asking!"
We watched a commercial about Mr. Clean in silence. When it was over, I sighed. "She told me she was in love with me."
Joe didn't skip a beat. "And...?"
"And!" I called in annoyance, narrowing my eyes at him. "What do you mean, and? That's it!"
"Well, what did you say?"
It was my turn to laugh sarcastically. "Okay, Joe. Let me paint you a picture. This was two weeks ago, in this very room. We haven't spoken since then, not once. That must mean that my response was...?"
"What? You turned her down?" Joe grabbed the remote control and muted the TV.
"What was I supposed to do?"
At a loss for words, Joe sat up and scooted to the edge of the sofa, closer to me, as if he would be able to hear better.
Ignoring my rhetorical question, Joe asked, "And then she left?"
No, then we danced a merry jig around a roaring fire. Obviously.
I nodded as I sat up, reaching for a handful of peanuts. Just as my hand was reaching the jar, Joe swung it away from me and slapped his other hand to his forehead, shutting his eyes in what appeared to be great pain. "And you haven't talked to her since then?"
"Nick, you idiot!" he exclaimed. He removed his hand from his forehead and used it to slap me across the side of the head. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
In annoyance, I swatted his arm away as he moved to slap me a second time. "Me? What the hell is wrong with you? Pep said you knew about this, and you didn't even think to tell me?"
Joe rolled his eyes. "First of all, it wasn't my place to tell you. Second of all, you're a right tool and a half if you didn't have even the tiniest inkling of suspicion."
My eyes widened in horror as I stretched my arms for the peanuts. "Don't you think I would have brought it up if I ever suspected it?"
Joe shrugged, intentionally leaning back against the couch to hold the peanuts further away. "There are some things you keep to yourself."
I was frustrated for two reasons: firstly, because he had purposely withheld vital information from me that could have saved me an awkward conversation and more importantly, an entire friendship, if I'd had the appropriate amount of time to prepare myself. Secondly, I wanted a handful of fucking peanuts. Through clenched teeth, I cried, "No! You dickhead! You stupid fucknoodled candy-ass! Why the hell wouldn't you tell me?!"
I could feel my face reddening with fury. I'd kept it all inside for too long, but every day, my resentment grew for Joe. The blame had inevitably shifted, and this was, in essence, his fault.
"I told Pip to tell you; isn't that enough?"
"No!" I exclaimed. I didn't want the peanuts anymore. I lunged for his neck with both hands, prepared to strangle him. "You... ruined... everything!"
Joe dropped the jar of peanuts and they spilled all over the couch. He used his free hands to grasp my wrists while he kneed me in the gut to escape my wrath. I shirked backwards in pain as he shot up from the sofa, one of the cushions sliding to the floor in the process.
I hated that he fought back when it was my turn to hurt him. Grabbing another cushion from the couch, I stood up and made a move to crash it down on his head. Reflexively, Joe raised both his hands to protect himself, and that was when I cheated out and slammed the cushion into his gut instead. It felt good, even if it was only a soft cushion.
Joe grunted in pain before grabbing the cushion and throwing it away, pointing a finger at me. "I didn't ruin anything. This has nothing to do with me. But can I say that you are by far the biggest asshat I've ever known? And that's saying a lot, knowing Kevin!"
That much was true, though I'd never admit it. (Side-note: From the kitchen, Kevin overheard and cried, "Hey!").
He continued, "You're so ignorant, and you've treated that poor girl like shit more than once. She never asked for anything from you, you know that? All she wanted was to be your friend, and now you've gone and killed it."
"How have I done anything?" I demanded. Without another comment, I shrugged my shoulders and made a move for the jar of peanuts. Joe was swifter than I was, grabbing them and jumping away.
He must have seen the threatening look in my eyes. Just as I was about to lunge at him, he jerked the jar forward, sending hundreds of peanuts flying at my face. They hit me like tiny raindrops and then fell to the floor. Gone forever. Dammit.
I forgot about the peanuts and stepped over them. Lowering my voice, I said quietly, "If you would've told me, I could have figured out how to deal with it."
Joe's expression softened. "What are you gonna do now?"
I shrugged grimly. "I dunno. Wait it out."
I thought we had calmed down from the fighting and were about to engage in rational conversation when I received another smack to the head.
"Wait it out?" Joe repeated incredulously. "Wait what out?"
Rubbing my curls with a pout, I responded, "She said the reason she never got over it was because I was around her all the time. If we spend time apart, she'll be okay. Things can go back to normal."
"Are you really that idiotic?" Joe hissed. "You're just gonna sit here and wait for the day she calls you to tell you she's over it?"
"Pep's resilient like that," was my excuse.
"Nobody's resilient like that! She already made her move, Nick. It's your turn. You have to call her."
I stood up, glowering. "I'm not calling her."
I was about to leave the room as Joe called after me, "Don't expect her to call you. She never will, not after this. It's up to you, bro."
Whipping around, I whined, "Why is it up to me? It's her fault."
The blame appeared to be shifting again. From me, to Joe, to Pep. It was definitely Pep's fault.
"What, you're mad at her now?"
I thought about it for a second, rationalized, came to a conclusion, and then I nodded. "Yeah. I am. It's not like I did anything wrong. I didn't make her fall in love with me. It's not like I was leading her on; I didn't even know! Do you know how long she felt this way, Joe? Since July. She felt this way since July, and she never told me!"
Joe let his shoulders slump. "Maybe she was scared."
"I don't care!" I retorted, throwing my arms in the air in exasperation. "She had seven months to tell me and she didn't! We're supposed to be friends. I don't keep shit from her; why is she keeping secrets from me?"
Shaking his head in disappointment, Joe rolled his eyes. "I think this is a special case where secrets are allowed."
All I wanted was for someone to sympathize with me, and Joe was doing a terrible job. I growled in frustration. "Fine. Whatever. Even so, I'm still mad at her. If she wanted it to be a secret, she should have kept it that way forever. Now she's complicated everything, and things will never be the same."
Joe paused. "You just said if you gave her time, she'd get over it."
Gritting my teeth, I huffed and fell backwards onto the couch. "That was my attempt to convince myself it'd be okay. Who am I kidding? We can't be friends like this. I can't look at her the same way."
After a few seconds of staring at my hands in my lap, I looked at Joe. He could have smacked me again if he wanted to. I wouldn't have appreciated it, but I wouldn't have retaliated. Instead, Joe picked up the remote again and turned off the television completely.
"You're blind if you can't see what everybody else sees," he said gently.
With a dreary expression, I stared at the blank screen. "Now it all makes sense. I just never thought there was a possibility she'd say she was into me."
It was true. It never seemed logical. I went out with Miley; she went out with Jake Lancaster, that dipshit quarterback big-shot. She went out with Lance; I pined after Rainie. We did our own thing.
"Not that," Joe corrected me with a frown. "I mean, yeah, she's into you, but what about the other way around?"
Carefully, I shook my head.
With a frustrated breath, Joe smiled mockingly, his expression incredulous. "Whatever, Nick," he said, taking a step backwards to exit the room. "But I want you to know I never would have set up Pip like that if I thought there was no chance in hell of you returning her feelings." He paused to let his words sink in. "Just think about that."
After he left, I sat there for a while mourning the loss of the peanuts. Joe was too nosey. I never butted my head into his business. I never asked him for advice or for help. I didn't want it. He didn't know anything about Pep and me.
Mom passed the living room on her way to the kitchen. She did a double-take, her expression morphing into a frown. With innocent eyes, I scanned the room. There were two cushions laying haphazardly on the ground. Peanuts on the couch. Peanuts on the floor. Peanuts everywhere.
"Clean this up, Nick," she ordered.
I had my own personal mess to clean up, but I'd start with the living room. I'd always been a firm believer in procrastination, anyway.