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To love a friend, p.1
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       To Love A Friend, p.1

           Jana David
 
To Love A Friend


  Chapter 1

  Allie

  I still remember the very first time I laid eyes on Darcy Brown. And to this day, I am not sure whether I should curse that moment or be eternally grateful for it.

  I was eight years old, and my family had just moved to Liverpool. I didn't know anyone, and I was still mad at my dad for just deciding to move from one day to the next. One moment I had friends, I was going to an amazing school, we had an amazing house. And then, in an instant, it was all gone.

  So I sat there, on the front step of this house, which wasn't as nice as the one we'd left behind, in a town where I didn't know a single soul. To say I was miserable was an understatement.

  And then he showed up.

  He just appeared in front of me, almost like magic. One minute I was all alone, and then I wasn't.

  “Hi”, he said. “What's your name?” He had eyes the colour of storm clouds, and ink-black hair that desperately needed a cut. His T-shirt was full of grass stains and muddy smudges. If I came home like that, my mother would kill me.

  I smiled at him. “Allie”, I said. “My name is Allie Wright.” At that point, I was still wondering whether he was real or a product of my imagination. We shook hands, and I figured, he was most definitely real.

  “Allie, nice to meet you. I'm Darcy. I live over there.” He pointed to a house across the street. It was easily the nicest house around here.

  “Mind if I sit?” he asked.

  I shook my head, still a little wary of this beautiful boy who apparently thought I was worth spending time with. Darcy didn't seem to have the slightest bit of reservation towards me, though. He simply sat down next to me on the steps and proceeded to tell me all about his life. We talked for what seemed like hours, until my father showed up and told me it was time for dinner. As I said goodbye to him, I already felt like I had gained a friend.

  So that's the story of how we met the first time.

  Eleven years later, I was sitting on a bench in the middle of the busy train station, wondering if my boyfriend had forgotten me. He'd promised to be there to pick me up, but he hadn't been waiting for me on the platform the way I'd thought he would. And when I tried to call him, all I got was the generic voice of his voicemail recording.

  I wondered if I should just take a taxi. I was slightly worried, though, because it really wasn't like Ian to simply forget someone. Especially not me. What if something had happened to him? Before I could contemplate it further, a voice pulled me from my thoughts.

  “Hey, Al.”

  A tall, dark shadow descended on me. I didn't need to look up to know who it was, but when I did lift my head, I looked straight into the most striking eyes I had ever seen. I'd almost forgotten just how striking they were.

  Darcy.

  There he was, alive and in person, after we hadn't seen each other in four years. Yet, he looked just like I remembered him. A little more grown up, perhaps, but only in the best of ways.

  “Allie”, he repeated.

  I shook off my dumbfound brain freeze “Darcy”, I said. His name was all I could get past my lips.

  “Ian asked me to pick you up. He was called into work on short notice and couldn't come get you himself.”

  “Okay.” God, it was as if my brain had left the building, leaving me unable to give more than stupid one-word responses.

  Darcy got out his phone and held it up next to my head, his brows furrowing. “With the way you're wearing your hair now,”, he said, “I almost didn't recognise you.”

  I'd gone to the hairdresser just a few days ago and opted for a few changes. Some layers and blonde ends in my otherwise chestnut-brown hair. Nothing too drastic, though. My hair was still long enough to reach my lower back. It had felt so good to make some changes to my appearance. A new look to celebrate my fresh start.

  “You have a picture of me on your phone?” I sounded a little irritated. I wasn't, though. I was just trying to hide the fact that his sudden appearance had totally caught me off guard.

  He quickly took a step back and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Ian gave it to me, alright. I needed to find you somehow, didn't I? And people change. You've changed, Allie. A lot.”

  There was something in his voice when he said it that made my pulse quicken and set butterflies loose in my stomach. His eyes held mine for a moment, and I swear, I saw the storm clouds dance in them.

  “Sorry”, I quickly apologised. “You're right. It's just been a long day, and you caught me by surprise, to be honest. I expected Ian to come pick me up.”

  He gave me a little lopsided grin. “Sorry I can't give you any 'welcome home' kisses”, he said, “but I'm sure Ian will be more than happy to make it up to you later.”

  I rolled my eyes at him. Yeah, his character hadn't changed, either. Still a cocky bastard.

  I should probably explain how Darcy and my boyfriend knew each other. You see, I'd grown up with both boys as my best friends.

  If you knew Darcy, you knew Ian. That was kind of the deal back then. Those two had known each other since infancy, and they were pretty much inseparable. So once I'd met Darcy, it wasn't long before I was introduced to Ian.

  We spent every day together for seven years, until my family moved away, and I left both of them behind.

  I hadn't spoken to either of them, until a chance encounter with Ian about a year ago. We'd been together ever since, but I hadn't seen or heard from Darcy at all. Until now.

  Darcy was Ian's best friend. That hadn't changed in all those years. I'd known I would see him again, but I hadn't been prepared for all these feelings which suddenly came rushing back.

  “Why didn't he just call me and tell me he was sending you?” I asked. I needed to distract myself from his intense stare and my jumbled thoughts. With Darcy, I had always felt like he could see right through me. Right to the bottom of my dark, lonely soul.

  Darcy shrugged his shoulders. “I don't know. That work thing was pretty last minute. Maybe he forgot.”

  It wasn't like Ian to just 'forget' things, but I decided not to say anything more.

  This conversation was over, anyway, because Darcy had already picked up my suitcase and was walking towards the exit. I was left sitting there, staring at his retreating figure.

  Our conversation had been so normal. I'd expected our first exchange to be a different one. He acted like nothing had happened, like we'd seen each other last week instead of four years ago. Could it really be that simple? Could we just pick up where we'd left off?

  After four years of not speaking to each other, I felt like we needed to have a different conversation. But at the same time, I didn't want to have that conversation at all. So I simply got up and wordlessly followed Darcy through the crowd.

  We crossed the road to the car park, and he led me to positively the crappiest car in the entire lot.

  “I know, I know, don't say it”, he said, probably seeing the look of disbelieve on my face. “It's a temperamental old lady, but I love her all the same.” He patted the roof of the car almost affectionately.

  I was curious to see whether this piece of scrap metal would even start. It was a Honda, that much I could tell, but the model was so old, they had probably stopped selling parts for it ten years ago.

  I was surprised to see him driving something like this. From what I remembered, his family had more than enough money. His father owned Brown Construction. Business for them had been great—well, four years ago, when I still lived here it had been. I wondered if that had changed, or if Darcy had finally done what he'd been wanting to do for a long time, which was cut all ties to his father and the man's twisted ways.

  Darcy heaved my luggage into the boot. I had only brought one suitcase and my small handbag. Most o
f my personal belongings I had left at home. This was supposed to be a fresh start for me, and I was going to make the most of it. That meant, no unnecessary baggage, personal or otherwise.

  “Get in, Princess, I promise it's clean”, he said.

  Princess. I paused a moment at the mention of that nickname. Ian always called me that. They'd both always called me that. It was the nickname they'd given me when we were nine or ten years old. And despite profound protesting on my part, it had stuck. Darcy obviously hadn't forgotten, even after all these years.

  I opened the car door and got in. It was clean. I had to admit, I was a bit surprised. The Darcy I remembered was the king of messes.

  We drove in relative silence. Occasionally, Darcy would make some remark about this landmark or that. He pointed out a few of the buildings that were unchanged, and others that had changed a lot since the last time I had been here.

  It almost felt like stepping out of a time machine. In my memory, the city had become a blurry set of streets and buildings over time, but now I got a fresh picture, and many old memories started coming back. I wasn't sure what to make of it all.

  As we were driving, I kept looking over at Darcy when I felt he wasn't paying attention. I realised I knew next to nothing about the last four years of his life. Ian and I had always avoided talking about him. I wasn't sure whether that was my fault or Ian's.

  Starting university was supposed to be my way out. My chance to start a new life. I began to wonder if maybe choosing to come back to Liverpool had been a mistake.

  I had picked this university for a variety of reasons. First, it was far away from my home in Brighton. It also happened to be the university that Ian went to, and I wanted to be closer to him and finally put an end to this long-distance relationship. I already was familiar with the city, and the university offered the course I wanted to take.

  But I realised now, that being confronted with the past was going to be harder than I'd expected. Reuniting with Ian was one thing. But reuniting with Darcy would be an entirely different matter.

  Darcy pulled into the driveway of a brownstone semi in a relatively quiet area of town.

  This was where they lived? Ian hadn't told me much about the house he shared with Darcy and one of their friends, but whatever I expected, it was definitely not something this nice. They were all students after all, right? I'd expected some run-down flat above a smelly Chinese restaurant or something similar. And then I realised where we were.

  “This is your grandma's house”, I said.

  Darcy nodded slowly. “She died two years ago. Left her house to me”, he told me, turning the motor off and opening the door.

  “Oh. I'm sorry.” I was momentarily taken aback. I had known his grandmother. She always baked the most delicious things and let us lick the spoons after pouring the batter, even though my mother told me I was going to get sick from it one of these days. I didn't care. It tasted too good. Darcy had been close to his grandmother. Probably closer than he'd been to his parents. Now she was gone. Ian never told me she'd died.

  “She was very ill in the end. It was a blessing for her to finally pass on”, Darcy said. The pain in his voice was obvious.

  I took a moment to look out towards the house. I had many happy memories of playing here as a child and later as a teenager raiding the hidden liquor cabinet in the kitchen. His grandmother even let us hold sleepovers at her house and always made us delicious breakfast in the morning. I didn't have any living grandparents of my own, but if I had, I would have wished for them to be just like Darcy's grandma.

  “Are you coming in, or do you plan on sleeping in my car?” Darcy was standing in the open door, drumming his fingers on the frame. His steady stare was kind of unnerving. I don't even think he did it on purpose. He just had these intense eyes that caught your attention whenever he so much as fleetingly glanced in your direction.

  “Sorry, yeah.” I opened my own door while he got my suitcase out. Then I followed him inside.

  “Welcome to the castle, Princess”, Darcy said as he gestured for me to walk through the door.

  The house, much like his car, was cleaner than I expected as well.

  The old 60s-style furniture which had inhabited the space when his grandmother still lived here was gone. In it's place was a healthy mix of new and old. New wallpaper in the foyer, but old family photos on the wall.

  Walking in further, I noticed some bigger changes, too. The way I remembered it, the first door on the right had been the small kitchen, and then one room over had been the living room. Peeking through the kitchen door now, I was surprised to see the wall between the two rooms gone. Now, while cooking, you could see straight through the large living room windows, out into the back garden.

  “Yeah, we changed a few things up in here”, Darcy said, probably noticing my curious look. He walked past me into the room and gestured towards the now missing wall. “We took out the wall to give it more of a modern feel. Not quite so claustrophobic. And better for parties”, he added. “The tiling and the cabinets are all new as well. And we put in the bar, which makes it all blend together a little nicer.”

  “Did your dad help you with this?” I asked, still hovering in the doorway. I liked the new layout. Darcy was right, it felt more spacious, despite the house being on the smaller side.

  “Yeah, he did. One of the perks of having a father with a construction business.” He gave me a lopsided grin, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. “What do you think of it?”

  “It's nice”, I said honestly. “You should design kitchens for a living.”

  “Nan always talked about how nice it would be to be able to see out into the garden while cooking”m Darcy said. “It's a shame she never got to see this.”

  “She was an amazing woman. I still remember hanging out here all the time”, I told him.

  “Yeah, this house isn't the same without her”, he said, sounding a million miles away. “Here, I'll show you Ian's room”, Darcy offered, suddenly changing the subject. He led me up the stairs and along the narrow hallway with several closed doors. He opened the last one on the right.

  This room, at least, was exactly what I had expected. It was so Ian. Most of the space in the small room was taken up by the low futon bed, but he'd also managed to cram his desk in beside it, as well as a bookshelf which was full of school books.

  A large poster with a list of endangered species on it along with a world map hung above the bed, and I spotted the picture of us, the one we'd taken on our trip to Iceland two month ago,on his bedside table. Ian wasn't the cleanest person—even though he was freakishly well organized when it came to his schoolwork. His clothes were strewn everywhere, and Darcy had to push a pile of laundry aside to make room for my suitcase.

  “There you go. Do you need anything else?” He folded his hands together, then unfolded them. He'd been so cool earlier, but suddenly he seemed uncomfortable.

  I just shrugged. “Do you know when Ian is going to be back?”

  “He said he'd be back before dinner.”

  I looked over at the clock on Ian's desk. It was only four o'clock. He'd probably be gone for another hour or two.

  “If you want to take a shower or something, bathroom is the second door to the left.”

  I nodded. A shower did sound nice. The train had been crowded and without functioning air conditioning, and I probably smelled like it.

  “Alright, I'll leave you to it then. I'll be in my room next door, if you need anything”, Darcy said and then he turned around and left, closing the door behind him.

  I slowly walked over to the bed and sank down onto it, just then realising how tired I was. Turning my head, I looked out the window.

  It looked out onto the street, and I willed Ian's car to come around the corner and ease this uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  When I'd looked out the window for five minutes, and nothing had happened, I got up and decided to distract myself by taking that much needed show
er.

  I knew my towels were all buried in the depth of my suitcase, and I wasn't going to start unpacking everything here, since I would only stay one night before moving into my room in the halls tomorrow, so I took one of Ian's towels off the back of his chair, and prayed it was at least somewhat clean.

  I'd opted for the university-provided accommodation, at least for my first year, because I figured it would be easier and cheaper than finding a place to rent. I had enough on my plate already. At least living in the halls of residence meant I didn't have to cook for myself.

  Ian had made some light-hearted jokes about the two of us moving in together, but I just didn't think I was ready for that yet. Following him here to university was already a big enough step for me. I'd read enough romance novels and seen enough movies to know that rushing a relationship usually ended badly. I wanted to enjoy my independence for a little bit before I settled down.

  Tiptoeing across the hall, I heard the faint sound of music coming from behind Darcy's door. I recognised the song as one of my favourites. For a moment, I paused to listen to the soft notes, leaning forward ever so slightly. But then I came to my senses. What was I doing, acting like the perfect stalker? What music Darcy listened to was none of my business.

  I turned and walked into the bathroom.

  After my shower, I felt a hundred times better. I passed the time until Ian would come home listening to music on my iPod with my headphones on, blocking out the music that was coming from next door.

  I had the volume turned up so loud that I didn't even hear Ian come in. My eyes flew open when he tackled me, his large body wrapping around me. He hovered over me, his blond hair falling into his eyes. I laughed, pulling him closer. He took the headphones from my ears, grinning down at me like a naughty schoolboy.

  “Hey, Princess. God, I missed you”, he purred.

  “I missed you, too.”

  His lips met mine, and I lost myself in the kiss. We hadn't seen each other in a week, which didn't seem like a lot on paper, but had felt like an eternity to me.

  “I love you”, I said when we came up for air.

  “I love you, too. I can't believe you're actually here now.

  “Crazy, right?” I moved in for another kiss.

  “Sorry I couldn't be there to pick you up”, Ian whispered against my lips.

  “That's okay. Darcy did a fine job covering for you”, I replied. I'd meant for it to sound light-hearted, but somehow it came out a little more forceful than necessary. Maybe because Ian's use of the nickname 'Princess' had just reminded me of earlier, when Darcy had called me by the very same name.

  Ian's expression turned serious, and he moved back a few inches. “Was he an arse to you?” he asked. “You know how moody he can get sometimes.” Ian sat up, leaning his head against the headboard. “I knew it was a bad idea. I wanted to be there when the two of you met. Darcy is...he is still holding grudges against you for leaving back then. I know it's been a long time, but he never really forgave you for it.”

  “No”, I hurried to say, “he was perfectly nice to me. That's not it.” I hesitated a moment. “It is just strange to see a person again, whom you haven't seen in ages. It takes some getting used to. It took some time to get used to having you around, too.”

  Ian gave me a little smile.

  “So he really hates me, huh?” I went on.

  “Hate is a very strong word”, Ian cut in. “He'll come around”, he confidently stated. I wasn't so sure.

  I wondered about Darcy. If really still hated me for simply leaving back then, I wouldn't blame him. He wasn't like Ian, ready to forgive and forget. And again, I couldn't blame him for it. Was that why he'd been so quick to lock himself inside his room earlier? Maybe he'd only been nice to me for Ian's sake.

  I sighed, shaking these dark thoughts from my mind. I needed a distraction. I climbed onto Ian's lap and he readily let me. “Now, can we please go back to what we were doing a minute ago?” I asked, brushing my fingers along his jawline, and watching his green eyes darken in response.

  “Absolutely”, he said, and covered my mouth with his.

  The first time I met Ian Curtis, he'd been upside down. Well, alright, I had been upside down—in other words: hanging from the tree in our back garden—so in turn, the whole world was upside down for me.

  As I was hanging there, wondering how on earth I was going to get off that branch now, since I was by no means a gymnastics prodigy, Darcy walked through the gate, followed closely by a boy with dirty-blond hair, wearing a T-shirt with a terrifying shark on the front. I didn't know him, but he seemed to be around the same age as Darcy and I, and his shirt was kind of cool.

  “Help”, I called out to them. I was beginning to feel a bit dizzy from all the blood rushing into my head.

  The two boys rushed over and each took one of my arms to steady me while I untangled my legs from the branch.

  “Thank you”, I said when I finally had solid ground under my feet again.

  “Any time”, Darcy replied. “Hey, I want you to meet my friend Ian.” He waved his hand back and forth between us. Allie, Ian. Ian, Allie.”

  “Hey”, Ian said, smiling at me. “Darcy told me you're new here. We can show you round the neighbourhood if you want.”

  “Yeah, we'll show you all the cool things to do around here”, Darcy chimed in. And they did. The entire day we spent running around the neighbourhood, probably annoying quite a few people in the process, and the two boys showed me everything from their favourite playground to the shop with the best selection of sweets. I fell in love with both boys then and there.

  Ian was so easy to get along with, and over the years, I came to know him as a the person I could always turn to when things were looking bad. He was always kind, always understanding, and often, out of the three of us, he was the most pragmatic one and would tell Darcy and me to bugger off if we came up with a certain, particularly crazy idea which, to be honest, was quite often the case.

  Our meeting a year ago had been completely unexpected. It turned out we'd both signed up for a programme volunteering for a wildlife trust on the south coast. A passion for the ocean was what we'd always had in common.

  I walked into the office on the my first day, and there he was, filling out some paperwork.

  I recognised him immediately. The same shaggy, blond hair, the same carefree expression on his face. Exactly how I remembered him, except that he'd grown a few extra inches. Okay, more than a few. He'd always been on the taller side, but his height was truly impressive now that he had the muscle mass to go along with it.

  He recognised me, too. I stood there and watched as his face changed from the usual early morning sleepiness to shock and surprise.

  At first I was afraid he would simply turn around and leave. I wouldn't have blamed him, after what I had done. But he didn't. He came right over and simply wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight.

  Ian's laugh brought me back to the present. “What are you thinking about, Al? You seem a million miles away.”

  “Just lost in thought”, I said. “Sorry.”

  “Am I that boring?” he asked, feigning hurt. “I mean, we haven't seen each other in a week, and what are you doing? Making a shopping list in your head when we should be totally naked by now?”

  I leaned in. “I was definitely not thinking about going to the shops later”, I told him, biting my lip as I scooted back on the bed, and lifted the hem of my shirt up.

  I watched as Ian's eyes darkened with lust, and he didn't utter another word about shopping lists.

  “Go lock the door”, I said as I pulled the shirt over my head.

  The last thing we needed was someone barging in on us.

  Someone very specific came to mind. Someone who was most likely still on the other side of that wall. I tried to push that thought away and block out the faint sound of music still coming from his room.

  Soon, I forgot about that, though. Ian came back to bed, and I lost myself in
the pure sensation and bliss of feeling his body move with mine. I needed this feeling more than anything. Ian always had the ability to chase away the demons in my head. With him, I felt less broken, less flawed.

  We stayed in bed for a while after, just talking and enjoying being together. I told him about my train journey, and he told me about his crazy new boss.

  But eventually it was time to get up. I knew I needed to call my parents before it got too late, let them know I arrived safe and well. So while Ian went to take a shower, I made the phone call.

  My father picked up on the second ring.

  “How's the ocean, sweetheart?” That was the first thing my father asked.

  “I guess it's the same as it is on your end”, I told him.

  He laughed. He sounded cheerful,and that alone made me feel a million times better. Even though I had impatiently waited for the day I could finally move out and live on my own, I felt guilty for leaving him alone with everything.

  “How's Ian? Did everything go well with the trains? No trouble on the journey?

  “Everything went according to plan, dad, don't worry. And I'm at Ian's at the moment. It's all good.

  “Good, good.” My father sounded relieved.

  “How's mum?” I asked. “She miss me yet?”

  “Oh, she sure does.” He told me how they'd gone shopping that afternoon, and mum had kept telling him to buy that special muesli I liked, and he'd had to remind her that I wasn't going to be there to eat it.

  I hadn't expected it, but a little sting of sadness spread through me as I listened to him telling me about their day. Was it homesickness? Maybe not exactly, as I had always had a love-hate relationship with my 'home', but I missed the familiarity of it all. I missed the stable routine and knowing where I belonged.

  I hung up the phone just as Ian came back from the bathroom.

  “Everything alright?” he asked.

  I managed to nod, but didn't quite trust my voice enough to speak.

  Ian seemed to sense my mellow mood. “Are you hungry? We can order pizza or something.”

  I was actually starving, and pizza was exactly what would cheer me up.

  So we ordered pizza, and I met Ian and Darcy's other flatmate, Sam, who was a quiet chemistry student with thoughtful eyes. He joined us, and we ended up watching several episodes of Game of Thrones while devouring the pizza.

  We had fun, but Darcy remained hidden away in his room.

  Ian said Darce had a lot of work to do and preferred working in the evening, but I still wondered if he was hiding from me. If it was true what Ian had said, and Darcy really was still hurt over my disappearing act all those years ago, maybe it wasn't that simple. Maybe we couldn't just pick up where we'd left off. And maybe that was for the better.

  Ian had been right, though, hate was a strong word. I let myself hope—just for a second—that Darcy didn't hate me. I remembered the way he'd looked at me at the train station. It hadn't been hate. It had been...something else.

  It was getting quite late, and I was tired from the long train ride, so I leaned over to Ian, and whispered in his ear, “I'm tired, are you coming to bed with me?”

  Of course he was. I needn't even ask.

  Chapter 2

 
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