Jessie slogged into her apartment, dumped her keys on the counter and her bag in the corner. She kicked off her shoes and trudged to the loveseat--sometimes the illusion that it was a couch simply could not be maintained--and lay down with her feet over one arm and her head on the pillow at the other end. God, what a week. Two projects, three essays, and a midterm, all before the semester break. Jessie stretched out, reaching her hands above her head until her t-shirt rode up and wriggling her toes, then reached up to haul off her socks.
Glancing over the back of the couch, she noticed the red light blinking on the answering machine. She slumped back down, debated getting up, and heaved a huge sigh. Well, at least it was the weekend; she could comfortably put off dealing with whoever had called until Monday morning--unless it was Paul or Carly calling to ask her out drinking. In which case, she was most definitely in. Anything to erase the stress of the past five days.
She pushed herself to her feet and pressed the replay button, then opened the fridge door and stared blankly at a whole bunch of nothing much while the tape cued.
"Hey, Jess, it's me," the playback said.
"Hey, Paul," she answered, checking to see if anything edible was hiding behind the mustard.
"Listen, this probably isn't the best way to do this, but..." Long pause on the tape.
"Spit it out," Jessie suggested, now digging through the cupboards. Wheat thins. Amazing. Probably Paul didn't have time to do anything with her on the weekend and didn't want to talk to her in person because he knew that after a few kisses she could wheedle him into something. It was practically summer, for God's sake. Time to start getting in shape for the hiking season. Maybe mountain biking. Grocery shopping, certainly.
"Well, the thing is, Jess, I think I need a change. We've been doing this for a while now, and it's been good, hasn't it? But sometimes it's just too much, you know? Not you..."
Jessie lifted her head and frowned at the machine. "What the hell?" She slammed the cupboard door closed.
"...it's really not. It's me, I guess. Uh, that's corny, but it's just...well, you're a great girl, Jess, but..."
"But?" Jessie stalked over to the machine and glared at the red light. "But what? Fuck, Paul, don't leave me hanging."
"It's like, you're the right person, you know? But the timing, it's all screwed up. It's the wrong time for us, that's all. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that, uh, I don't think we should be together anymore--"
Jessie took a swipe at the answering machine and smacked it halfway across the room. "Fuck!" She went after the machine, aimed a kick at it, then turned on her heel and paced back into the kitchen. She shook her head, feeling like the past few minutes hadn't really happened. How completely out of the blue was that? And on the fucking answering machine. Real classy, Paul.
She grabbed the phone and punched talk, intending to phone Paul and yell his ear off. How dare he? Better, she would go over there and kick his scrawny ass across the state and back again. She would find whatever tramp was the wrong girl at the right time and tell her that Paul was bad at romance, worse at commitment, and completely clueless in bed. She would--
"Hey," she said. And sniffed.
"Jessie? Is that you, sweetie? Are you okay?"
What was the answer to that question? It wasn't like Paul was the love of her life. Far from it. But to be dumped over the fucking phone--dammit. She was not going to do this. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I can hear you crying," Carly answered matter-of-factly.
She tried to laugh--the great Jessie Burlingame, in tears over a guy, of all things--but it came out wrong, more like a sob. God, how pathetic. She scrubbed the tears off her face. "You wanna come over?" she asked. At least that sounded normal.
There was a pause--longer than it should be--and Jessie bit her lip, feeling the tears leak out without her permission. Finally, Carly's voice came, warm and reassuring: "Of course."
"I'll bring ice cream."
"I think you need it."
"I need pizza more," Jessie tried hopefully.
Carly laughed, the sound of it pushing away the lump in Jessie's throat. "Okay. I'll bring both. A large with everything, hold the green peppers, right?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Carly."
Jessie opened the door forty-five minutes later to Carly carrying a pizza in one hand and a pint of Haagen-Dazs in the other. She was trying to look serious, but there was a smile sparkling in her eyes. She looked amazing, as usual. Jessie stepped back from the doorway and nodded her inside, taking the pizza from her as she passed. "Mmm...God, I needed this." Jessie took a deep whiff of the steam rising from the pizza. "Carly, you are a goddess." She opened the box and brought it to the living room, where she'd already set out plates and cans of Coke.
"Uh-huh." Carly sounded way more excited than delivering pizza could account for.
Jessie glanced over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow. Carly was practically bouncing as she put the ice cream in the freezer. She shut the door and turned around, not hiding her smile anymore. "What is it?" Jessie asked.
"Nothing, nothing," Carly returned with an innocent stare. She waved at the pizza. "Dig in."
"Carly, what the hell is that?"
"What the hell is what?"
Jessie rolled her eyes and reached across the counter, grabbing Carly's right wrist. "What's this ring where there was no ring before?"
"Jessie, you asked me to come over because something was wrong. I am here as your best friend to commiserate and get fat with you. This is certainly not about how Scott asked me to marry him!"
"Oh, my God. Carly!" Jessie leaped around the counter and wrapped Carly in a tight hug, jumping up and down with her and squealing. "That's amazing. Congratulations!" She stepped back, still holding Carly's hands, biting down on all her stupid questions. It was like getting punched in the stomach twice in one day, and she felt like her smile was going to break. Of course Scott asked Carly to marry him. Everyone knew it was coming. They were a wonderful couple. She squeezed Carly's hands and pulled her in for another hug. "Tonight?" she asked.
"Right before you called," Carly said, dancing out of the hug, now proudly showing off her ring.
"You should be with him," Jessie said, trying to ignore the small voice that was cheering because Carly was with her instead.
"Oh, no." Carly turned back and pointed at her. "You are not getting away with that. Something is wrong. I am here to help. Tell me what's happened."
Jessie shrugged. "Paul ended things." She'd had an hour to get used to the idea, and she knew she was actually getting a bargain. At least this way they hadn't dragged it out for months, both of them too complacent to get up the courage to say it wasn't working. She knew Paul wasn't what she wanted. Still, it would be nice to have a substitute, especially right about now.
"Aw, Jessie." Carly ran a hand down her arm, and Jessie looked away, going back to the couch to hide how much that simple, sympathetic touch had affected her. "He's an asshole. When did you talk to him?"
Jessie snorted and waved at the answering machine lying on the floor, its casing cracked. "Paul had a nice chat with the tape, really made it understand," she said. "Fucker." She shook her head. "Anyway, pizza heals all wounds." She grabbed a slice and pulled the cheese strings onto the toppings. "Tell me how Scott asked you."
Carly sighed and sat down next to her, leaning against her shoulder. She picked a piece of pepperoni off the pizza and popped it in her mouth. "He was a sweetheart. Got all nervous and stuttery." She smiled and snuggled closer, holding Jessie's arm. "But you. We've got to do something to get your mind off things. We've got all of Easter break, a whole week--I bet Scott can get off work...Evan and Frannie, too. Let's go somewhere. Do something crazy."
"Nah, I just want to forget it." Jessie tossed her crust back in the box. She wanted another slice, but there was no way in hell she was going to move even an inch right now.
"And how are you going to forget it if you're moping around here?" Carly shook her head. "We'll go camping. I know you wanted to climb Bear Mountain this year. We could make it to Virginia and back in plenty of time."
"Nobody else wants to go scrambling through the forest," Jessie said. "For sure not Evan. If he didn't have running water and a guaranteed supply of weed he'd probably go catatonic."
"Okay, Jessie, if you're going to be like that..." Carly stood up, put her hands on her hips. Jessie grinned up at her; she couldn't help it. "Think of it like this--it's all for me. You wouldn't turn your best friend down on the engagement trip she's had her heart set on, would you?"
Jessie tilted her head, considering. "Well...if you and Scott are going to be all lovey-dovey..." She shrugged and snagged another slice of pizza. "I might not say no."
Carly smiled and clapped her hands together. "I'm calling them right now. You'll see, Jess. This going to be the best trip you've ever taken."
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January 12, 2006