The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur of wild speculation, nerves, and paranoia. Even the copious amount of manga I had waiting for translation didn’t provide enough of a distraction, and by the time we went home for the day I was actually ready to go on my date with Hans – if only to get it over with.
Megan and I didn’t really talk on our drive to my home. That was okay because I was still slowly stewing over the evening’s plans…or maybe it was more like my thoughts were in a pressure cooker. In any event, I didn’t want to get us all killed by exploding while she was driving.
When we got home I got out of the car before Megan even turned it off. Seeking some routine, I collected my mail before unlocking my apartment. I don’t get much real mail. Today I had advertisements, a credit card offer, and a complimentary edition of a local newspaper – which was mostly just advertisements and coupons. I went inside, flipped on the light, and dropped the mail on the end table by the door. Megan followed me in and, because she knows me, closed and locked the door behind herself.
And then I finally felt safe enough to fall apart a little.
I turned on Megan. “He’s going to eat me!” I wailed – and she laughed.
“Actually,” Megan said, “speaking from experience, that’s often the highlight of the evening.”
My eyes widened. “Not like that!” I protested. I started to pace. I couldn’t help it; I had too much pent-up nervous energy. “He ordered the number three with extra bacon. You know what that means.” Oh, God: I was going out on a dinner date with a cannibal. An insane cannibal. I knew he couldn’t be altogether there in the head because he’d spent the rest of lunch paying attention to me even though Megan had been right there, and Megan is the pretty one.
Megan put a fist on her hip and looked at me askance. “It means he ordered the same thing you did?” she guessed teasingly. “Oh! Or are you implying you want to nom on him, too?” She put her other hand on her chest and sighed theatrically. “Abby’s first sixty-nine,” she said wistfully. “Oh, tonight will be one to remember.”
I froze and stared at her. I didn’t know if all the blood wanted to drain out of my face in horror or flood there in embarrassment, but I was abruptly dizzy. Megan was at my side in an eyeblink.
She had one hand on my arm to steady me and the other around my waist. “Come on, Abby, let’s sit down,” she said as she guided me to the edge of my bed. “There we go.”
Megan sat down with me. I know I say I just put up with her hugs, but the truth is, sometimes I really need them. She cradled me about the shoulders and waist and buried her face in my hair. “Hey,” she said gently. “It’s okay, sweetie. Now, take a deep breath. That’s right. And hold it. Okay, now let it out. That’s good. Again: In, two, three and hold, two, three. And out, two, three. That’s good.”
I took another deep breath and held it and then let it out. Megan called it meditation breathing. It was supposed to help me relax, but I never remembered to do it until after it was way too late. When I have these panic attacks on my own I just break down somewhere private, and then I’m done for a while. But when I have them around Megan they’re always more… cathartic? I think that’s because she reminds me to breathe and helps me pull myself together and tells me I’ll be okay.
I was safely locked up in my apartment, and my best friend was holding me close while murmuring reassuring things in my ear. And I felt absolutely and utterly drained… like I’d been super-saturated with anxiety and Megan’s last bit of teasing had added just enough for all of it to fall out of the solution. Or maybe it was more like my irrational fear and anxieties had overflowed and been skimmed off. But I also felt almost – almost – normal. I always feel better if Megan’s there to put the pieces together than if I’m trying to cope on my own.
I pulled my legs up onto the bed and twisted around to face Megan. “I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought you were interested in him. Why’d you set us up?”
Megan arched an eyebrow at me. “Hey, he asked you out on his own.”
I frowned. “You know what I mean,” I said. She hadn’t let me make excuses to get out of it… and I was perfectly confident that if she’d wanted to Megan could have kept Hans focused firmly on her.
Megan sighed and leaned back, dangling her legs over my bed’s baseboard. She stared at the ceiling while she answered. “Well… I won’t deny that he’s an impressive piece of eye candy. And he seemed pretty nice. But I’m not looking for another random fling, and I haven’t been for a while. I had plenty of those in college. I want something that will last.”
“Oh,” I said. My brow furrowed as I tried to understand. “But how do you know it won’t with Hans, if you aren’t going to try?”
Megan laughed and turned to look at me. “Because,” she said with a lopsided grin, “Unlike you I have dated around. I’ve had a lot of relationships. Some of them I tried to make serious, and a lot more were just for fun. I have a pretty good idea of what I want in a long term relationship and Hans – although we’d have fun for a while – just isn’t it. So when you told me to do with him as I pleased and he oh-so-casually asked if you were seeing anyone, I decided it pleased me to hook the two of you up.”
“Oh,” I said again. I turned that over in my mind a moment before frowning. “But I told you I wasn’t interested in him!” I protested.
“Sure,” Megan agreed. “And that was a lie, so I ignored it.” She laughed and sat up while I sputtered out an inarticulate denial.
“Oh, please,” Megan said. “I’m your best friend, Abby. I know you. I’ve browsed your manga library. I’ve seen your cheeks flame up during the kissing scenes in the movies. Shoot, you’ve asked me about every relationship I’ve ever been in and,” here she paused to bink me on the nose with a finger, “you’ve practically begged for the intimate details of each of them. I know you aren’t asexual, sweetie. As far as I can tell you’re just scared.”
Megan shook her head. “And then along came this guy,” she said. “And he made you blush as soon as you saw him, and got you so flustered you just about threw him out of your office… and then he sat with me all morning and I realized he was not only just as laid back and easy going as he seemed, but he was also at least a little interested in you. And by then I was pretty sure he was the kind of fellow who would take all the trouble you were likely to put him through and like it, too.”
Megan shrugged. “So sure, it’s been a while for me and I could have scooped him up and indulged in a few evenings of physical release for the sake of physical release,” she said. “But really, that would have made me just about the worst friend ever. So I gave him a few encouraging nudges in your direction and asked if he’d be interested in joining us for lunch, instead. And the rest, as they say, is to be determined.”
I stared at her. “You know, you’re a great friend,” I told her. It was the only part I could really respond to. The reminder that I still had to go out with Hans later tonight had broken through my post-catharsis calm and I could feel myself winding up again.
“You have no idea,” Megan said with a laugh. Then she seemed to notice my rising nerves. “What’s wrong, Abby?”
My eyes widened in slowly resuming horror. “I have no idea what I’m going to do tonight,” I said.
But Megan just scoffed. “Well, that’s easy. He asked you out to talk about work, so just talk about work. It’s not really a date, so there’s no pressure, right? But he’s definitely into you, so if you feel up to it you can throw in some flirting and know it’ll be appreciated.”
I swallowed. “But I don’t know how to flirt,” I said.
Megan snorted. “Oh, pish.” She said. “Just do like you were at lunch and you’ll be fine.”
“…what?” I asked.
Megan snickered. “Sweetie, the way you kept blushing and chewing or sucking your straw while making eyes at him was downright explicit.”
My jaw dropped a little. “Oh,” I said. Was that why he’d kept watching me? Oh, God. Oh God. “But I was just doing that to keep my mouth too busy to blurt out anything stupid!” I blurted.
Megan laughed at me. “Well,” she said, “if you end up deciding to bring him back to your place after dinner, but you’ve exhausted your topics of conversation…” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively. “I’m sure Hans won’t mind if you want to keep your mouth too busy to say anything stupid,” she teased.
I yelped in indignation and shoved her. Megan caught me and flopped back on my bed, laughing. I fell over with her, and after a moment I started laughing, too. It was a pretty preposterous mental image. I could just see myself kneeling down in my living room and pulling down imaginary Hans’ pants while he just tilted his head and heaved a sigh of boredom. Now, sure, if imaginary me were Megan instead… Real me stopped laughing and started blushing.
After a moment, Megan’s laughter died down too. She smiled and tousled my hair. Then she caught my hand and rolled out of bed. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you made up, and then I’ll skedaddle before your gentleman caller arrives.” She gave me a sly smile over her shoulder. “Just remember to call me, after. It’s my turn to tease all the intimate details out of you, and I have to say, I am really looking forward to seeing how badly you blush when recounting the tale.”