His day hadn't been what anyone could call exciting, but it felt like a good day for him at least. He spent the morning working up the courage to talk to a girl at the bakery named Meg and he got a chance to walk her home but before he really felt ready to depart, he had to say goodbye and head to work. When he got him he followed his usual routine, showering off the grease from the days work and made himself a sandwich with the bread he’d gotten from the bakery earlier.
Ehren knocked on the familiar door of Dani’s apartment, hoping maybe she’d be home and they could talk. Over the last few years the two of them had grown close and he felt like he’d found some semblance of a sister in her. He knew, as well, that out of anyone, her abilities might actually help to minimize his anxiety. “Open up.” He yelled at her door, trying to keep it as quiet as he could. He held up a bottle of Pinot noir to the door. “I’ve got wine.”
Dani was sitting in her living room, idly flipping through one of her cookbooks when the sound came at the door. The command to open up made her tense, but she soon relaxed when the declaration of wine followed. She let out a relieved sigh as she got up from the couch and made her way to the door. Peering through the peephole, she saw it was Ehren standing there. She shook her head with a smile. She should have known it was him.
She called out through the door. “If you think offering wine is going to get you into this home than you are-” She opened it, smirking. “Absolutely right. Ohh, a red. Come on then.” Motioning him in, she closed the door behind them. Her apartment was, unsurprisingly, filled with plants. Plants hung from the ceiling, some occupied floating shelves on the walls, and there were quite a few smaller varieties that lines the windows in flower boxes. They were everywhere though Dani was extra careful not to let her apartment seem crowded because of it. They were situated in just the right way to keep the room feeling open and airy.
“So what’s the occasion?” she asked as she made her way to the kitchen. She knew he would make himself comfortable while she grabbed some glasses.
He found himself a spot on the couch and sat down as she ushered him in. He wished he could tell her it was a special occasion, they were few and far between. He should have told her he met a beautiful girl and that he got her number. Instead he said “I think I’ve made a huge mistake.” His blue eyed pleaded with her as she brought them some wine glasses.
He hoped she would try and prod a little more at this point but it seemed she didn’t have to as the look on her face said it all. He sighed and began to uncork the bottle of wine. “How much time do you have? Because I’m going to need a lot of this wine before I even begin to tell you about my day.” And as always, Ehren had to say things in a roundabout way.
“I’ve been sort of watching this girl at the market, I used to see her band before..” he didn’t exactly know how to describe it so he gestured broadly to what could be the apartment or the entire universe around him. “...this. I finally went and talked to her, she even let me walk her home.”
I think I’ve made a huge mistake. Dani lifted a brow. Exactly what did he mean by that? Before she could ask he was already going on about how much time she had to listen and the wine and how much he needed it after the day he had. “Depends on what this big mistake of yours ends up being,” she said as she sat down next to him, placing the glasses onto the coffee table. Something told her it wasn’t as bad as he was making it sound.
And it wasn’t. Surprising? Definitely. A huge mistake? Not at all. Her lips crept up into a sly grin. “Did you now? Oh, yeah,this is definitely something I have time for.” Not that she wouldn’t have had time for him if it had been something different. She could always find time to hang out with her might-as-well-be-a-brother friend. “So what’s her name?”
He proceeded to pour the wine into the glasses and place the bottle down on the table before taking a big gulp. Finally after a few breaths he spoke again. “Her name is Meg, she works at the bakery in the marketplace.” But that wasn’t what was putting him on edge, not enough to ply Dani with wine to listen to him talk about her. “Dani, I invited her to my birthday party at Josie’s on Saturday. Why did I do that? You have to help me figure out a way to get out of this.”
One of the reasons he came to Dani in times like these was that she wouldn’t sugar coat anything or coddle him. She would kick his ass into high gear and made sure he did something that was outside of his comfort zone. “I’m begging you.” Was his final plea, but even he knew that wouldn’t work on her because she was smart and she cared about him.
Her brows rose in surprise. “Meg from the bakery?” Dani knew Meg. In fact, she was good friends with her. They would get together and shoot the breeze, sometimes rant or just have some good old fashioned girl talk. They frequently texted each other too. Yet with her connection to both of them they only just now spoken with one another? Had she really never introduced the two to each other? Apparently not.
Dani took a sip of her wine, appearing to consider his pleas. “So let me get this straight,” she began, looking at him incredulously “You want me to help you get out of your birthday party because you invited a girl you like - and who obviously seems to like you if she let you walk her home - to it?” She took another sip of her wine and shook her head. “Yeah, no.” She leaned closer, resting her hand on his leg and looking him right in the face. “I’m not going to let you try and weasel out of this. You’re going.” Because of course she wasn’t going to help him get out of going to his own party, especially not after she found out that he had invited the girl he was interested in. And when had he taken an interest in her anyway and why was she just now hearing about it? Rude. She patted his leg with a smile before leaning back. “Stop worrying so much. It’ll be fun.”
He buried his face in his hands and let out a high-pitched sound that could be considered a groan if it didn’t sound so pathetic. “Dani…” he began but when he peeked his head up to look at her he knew there was no arguing. There never was. He sat straight up again and grabbed his glass to take another large gulp of wine.
“Ok, so let’s pretend she’s interested in me and she comes to the party. What am I going to say to her? By the way I’ve been creepy stalking you since you got to the island and I’m an unmedicated basket case? I don’t have anything to offer this girl except for boredom or probably a massive headache.” At least this was familiar territory, Ehren crying about his problems instead of actually doing anything about it.
Sadly, Ehren chose to be this way in some regard. By refusing medication he basically forced himself to live with his crippling anxiety. “Tell me I’m pretty, I don’t trust the mirror anymore.” He added, hoping to at least maybe bring some humor to the situation.
There was a sigh accompanied by a massive eyeroll. He could be so dramatic sometimes. Dani knew why this happened; it was directly linked to his anxiety and self-esteem issues. He dwelled on everything, overthinking every little thing to the point that all he could think about was the worst that could happen and how it would be all his fault. She sympathized with his plight and did her best to support him; sometimes she did this with kind words and reassurances and sometimes with a smack to the head and some tough love.
“You shut your mouth, Ehren Clemens,” she said sternly. “You have plenty to offer her. You’re just letting yourself get caught up in your head.” She poked his head a couple times. “You sabotage yourself when you do that. And I’ll tell you right now I’m not gonna let you do that to yourself so you better stop that self-defeatist thinking right this instant.”
She took a swig of her wine before setting the glass onto the table. “Now then. You wonder what to say to her. Well, what did you say to her today?
A smile, albeit it one with sad eyes, graced his face and he grabbed her finger from the side of his head to pull down. She truly was some sort of long lost sister he never knew about, or as least as annoying as one. At her question he shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he stopped for a split second to grab at his wine glass and gulp down a portion of it. When he was done he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “...I told her I saw her band back in Seattle, she asked me to walk her home after her shift. Umm..” he tried to remember exactly what had happened and the wine was already starting to cloud his memory.
“Oh, she tried to give me a plastic dinosaur and I declined which was stupid, I mean it was a gift and she looked so disappointed. Then she asked me a bunch of random questions.” He concluded. Now that he’d said it out loud, it felt a little silly. Sometimes just doing that made him realize how much he blows things out of proportion.
“See? You’re more than capable of talking to her. Like I said--” She poked at his head again, hand retreating quickly to avoid his swatting. “--it’s all in your head. Also.” Dani grabbed the wine bottle and topped off her glass before setting it down onto the floor out of his reach. “I’m cutting you off.” A smirk. “At least until I can get catch up. I swear, the rate you’re going the bottle will be empty before I even get my second glass!” One cannot simply walk into her apartment promising wine and then drink it all before she could truly partake! That would just be plain rude.
She lifted her glass to her lips, repositioning herself so that her back was resting against the arm of the couch with knees up and her toes digging under the side of his leg for warmth. “So other than finally working up the nerve to talk to this girl that will be coming to the party you’re definitely going to, how have things been?”
“Good, I guess. I went to the doctors and she recommended a few things to help with my anxiety. Most of it is stuff I’ve tried before and some of it…” was impossible, he wanted to say. She knew he didn’t take any medication but she really didn’t know why he was so adamantly against it. “...I’ve already done a lot of it. I’m really at a loss at this point. I don’t know what else I can do.” He supposed he was doomed to be like this forever.
Eyeing the wine, he tried to reach over her to grab it but her feet under his leg didn’t allow him to stretch far enough to grab it and he sighed, eyeing his almost empty glass. He sighed and finished off the glass, hoping she’d be nice enough to fill it up soon. Wine wasn’t necessarily his drink but anything that filled his anxiety was better than nothing.
“Do you have any suggestions?” He wondered since she seemed to be the queen of homeopathic cures.
The reasons for Ehren’s avoidance to medication were something Dani wasn’t privy to and she didn’t feel the need to, not until he was comfortable enough to tell her. She had no desire to force an explanation out of him because, frankly, it was his business. He’d tell her when he was ready.
“Suggestions?” She pondered, tapping her finger idly against her glass as she did so. “Well, you know about chamomile tea.” That was one remedy she had been giving him for some time now. It seemed to help at times but his anxiety was severe; it would do him well to have more options available to him. “There are sedative herbs: valerian, lemon balm, passion flower. Those all have been proven to help with anxiety and restlessness.” She took a drink, considering. “Out of those, I’d recommend valerian. It works well in combination with chamomile. Even more tea yay,” she added with a little chuckle and an apologetic smile.
He nodded at her suggestion. Really, he’d take whatever he could get at this point, he’d try illegal substances if he had to. Like always, Dani was probably right about this. She certainly knew plants and they worked far better for him in his particular situation. His eyebrows knit together in skepticism. Something was different about Dani. Not that she wasn’t usually a chipper, brighten up a room kind of girl, but this was different.
“What’s going on with you? You’re like..” he sat back on the couch, taking her feet into his lap since they were digging into the side of his leg. “...you sound like you got laid or something.” He didn’t mind prying with Dani because Dani would pry right back at him. He also delighted in the uncomfortable shift she would do by mentioning ‘getting laid.’ For so long Dani focused on the art center so he never really saw her with anyone.
Dani was in the middle of partaking in her wine and very nearly choked on it when Ehren made his comment. She sounded like she got laid… oh god was it that obvious? Did others notice too? Did people go ‘yep that girl got laid’ when she walked around town? No, of course not, that was silly. It wasn’t that obvious, not to strangers anyway. Annoying friends however…
“Oh my god,” she exclaimed with embarrassment, her cheeks a deep pink. She gave him a shove with her foot and brought her glass to her lips with the hope of obscuring her face. “I didn’t-- okay, yes, maybe.” There, she admitted it. Damn him for bringing it up out of the blue and getting her flustered. “And it was good too,” she added, attempting to save a little face. Her reddening cheeks and shy smile around the glass weren’t really helping. “Really good.”
“So then who do I have to beat up?” He teased which was ridiculous because Ehren wasn’t beating anyone up. In fact, he was the one getting thrown around by guards all the time. Really, he just wanted to know who it was, since she didn’t seemed to be hanging out with anyone out of the ordinary, it must have been someone she already knew.
Then it occurred to him. Roman. Her and Roman hadn’t been fooling anyone, not for as long as they’d been around each other. And that was dangerous, Ehren didn’t want to get anywhere near him and now he was dating Dani. This was bound to be a difficult situation. He voiced it out loud. “Roman…”
She gave him another gentle shove with her foot, her smile amused. “You won't be beating up anybody, least of all him.” Dani was pretty sure Roman would be able to handle himself against Ehren if he ever tried. He wouldn't though. She wouldn't let two of her favorite guys get into a fist fight.
“Yeah, Roman,” she admitted, fondness in her voice when she repeated his name. Dani fiddled with a strand of her hair, gaze anywhere but on Ehren. She was a little surprised by how quickly he was able to name the man she had slept with and, she hoped, would be able to call her boyfriend. She had only just realized her feelings of friendship towards Roman had developed into something more yet here was Ehren able to figure it out in mere seconds. “I didn't think it was that obvious...”
He pursed his lips and raised a brow at that. “Really? Like, really really? Because we all thought you guys started sleeping together a long time ago.” He said, his heartbeat a little bit quicker now as he realized the implication of the whole thing.
He decided he needed to drink more. He leaned over her again but couldn’t reach the bottle of wine. He frowned and groaned at her. “Please, I need wine.” He begged in an immature way. Ehren wasn’t actually immature but he could be whatever way he felt like around Dani and that was one of the reasons that she was his favorite person on the island.
It was nice to see her so happy, but he wished it was under different circumstances. Like, maybe someone who didn’t work for the government.
A gasp. “No they did not!” For a third time she shoved Ehren with her foot though this time may have been a little bit harder. Everyone thought they had been sleeping together for a while - that was a bold-faced lie if she ever heard one! Maybe Ehren thought so but she doubted anyone else would have jumped to that conclusion… right? Wait, did everyone actually think that? No, they couldn’t have. Others saw them interact, they would have known. Ehren hardly ever interacted with him so was just basing it off of what she would say… about him... dammit.
She crossed her arms with a huff, turning her head away from the begging man. She wasn’t angry or even really irritated, mostly embarrassed. “Apologize first then maybe.”
“For what?” He pleaded, letting out a strangled “ow” as she kicked him again. “That hurt.” It didn’t actually hurt that bad but Ehren found comfort in playing the brother sister role. He never had any siblings of his own, at least the ones that he knew about. Who knew? Maybe he shared DNA with some other adopted kid out there. He didn’t know much about his birth mother other than the fact that she was a junkie and that she was young.
“Okay okay, I’m sorry for pointing out the blatantly obvious fact that the two of you were going to get together.” He stayed and while deep inside it scared him that someone he was so close to was in a relationship with a government employee, he’d play the part of the doting brother. “More wine please.” He demanded, holding out his glass.
Dani rolled her eyes. “That was such a non-apology but fine, I’ll give you some wine. But only because it saves me from all your whining.” She stuck her tongue out. He could be so insufferable. She leaned over and grabbed the bottle, filling up her own glass before very slowly filling his. If he was going to be annoying he would just have to deal with waiting a good long minute for his alcohol.
"It is nice though," she said as she poured the wine. "Being with him. It's been a long time since I've been with anyone, let alone dated." They were dating right? "I'd forgotten how good it felt being in a relationship." It was a wonderful feeling having that closeness that only a partner could give. "I hope this one lasts." Her last relationship hadn't lasted more than a year; he grew tired of her always traveling and she didn't want to stop dancing just to make him happy.
Ehren offered a smile to her, trying to make it seem like he was happy about it, which he should be for his friend, but he just couldn’t muster up the actual feeling because she was roaming into the lion's den and he had to keep his mouth shut. Instead of speaking all the thoughts on his mind he took a large gulp of the wine that she’d taken what seemed like hours to pour. “Yeah.” Was all he could muster about her current relationship.
He knew he wasn’t fooling her, knew she could see right through his facade and that he wasn’t getting away with anything. “Just, be careful please. I worry about you.” Especially with him. It wasn’t like Ehren knew him well but something about him frightened Ehren and he couldn’t lose another friend, especially not one so close to him.
“There’s nothing to be worried about,” she assured. “I’ve known Roman for as long as I’ve known you. He’s a good guy.” Dani didn’t understand why Ehren was so unsure of Roman. After everything the man had done to help her with the center and all the good things she said about him, she would think her friend wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with his presence in her life. Yes, he worked for the government which would put some people on edge, but Roman had only done good things; he wasn’t like some of the others that prowled around.
She took a swig of her drink. Her smile turned impish. “Besides, you should be thinking about your party. We going to have balloons? Streamers? Aww what about party hats? I’m sure we could find party hats.”
“No decorations please. I really just want to keep it chill, you know?” Ehren wasn’t big on huge celebrations. It was a miracle he even agreed to have a birthday party in the first place. If he was smart, he would have just not told anyone when his birthday was but he tended to be an open book when he had a few drinks. He sipped at his wine again before looking over at her. Yep, big mistakes, she was going to decorate the crap out of that bar.
Ehren wasn’t sure why he was so uneasy about Roman, besides the obvious. Something about his demeanor suggested he was hiding something and Ehren didn’t want Dani getting involved in that because he loved her like a sister and her well being was important to him. “Also please just keep the birthday song to yourself, I don’t need that extra attention.”
She pouted. “Aww not even some balloons?” Dani repositioned herself on the couch so she was sitting upright next to Ehren. “They could be pink to match your new beau’s beautiful hair.” Dani teased, leaning into him and fluttering her eyes as if trying be alluring. She then let out a laugh, quickly retreating to the end of the couch to avoid any potential retaliation for her teasing.
She took a sip of her drink, her eyebrows raising when he discouraged her from bringing up the birthday. “Hey, now, no decorations or the birthday song? You can’t not have at least one of those. Gonna have to choose.”
He shook his head, a smile playing on his face. “I can’t decide so I’ll leave that one up to you.” He offered, finishing his second glass. He didn’t ask for more because at this point it was too far away anyway. “Do you think you could get a bass for the arts center?” He asked her seemingly out of nowhere. Not like it wasn’t obvious why he wanted a bass there.
The girl with the pink hair was beautiful and sweet and he wanted to do something nice for her. If there was ever a way to get his old dog back he’d do it. For her, this was her dog and if he could help her get back something she loved, it would make him happy too.
“You’re going to let me decide?” Dani grinned mischievously. “Oh, you’re a brave man, Mr. Clemens.” The possibilities were already whirling around in her head. Oh, he was a brave man indeed! The question concerning a bass for the center caused her train full of absurd thoughts to derail. And just as she was pondering the likelihood of finding a big band to play the birthday song too.
“A bass?” She repeated quizzically. It took a moment but it soon dawned on her what he was specifically asking for a bass guitar. Likely for Meg considering she had been her band’s bass player before coming to the island. “Hmm, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, I don’t think. As long as we’re talking guitar. A bass bass might be a little trickier.”
“I’m not really looking for one of those fishes that sing to you.” He said, referring to her comment of it being a bass bass. “I want to surprise her with it, do you think I might be able to take her into the center after hours so she can see it with me alone?” He knew that was a lot to ask and he was expecting her to fight him on it.
He knew he was getting ahead of himself, that Meg and him hardly knew each other but he wanted her to have it, regardless of whether or not she even liked him. “Please.” He practically begged her.
Dani chuckled. A singing fish wasn’t exactly what she meant when she said bass bass rather she meant an upright bass. The image of one of those hookey electronic fish residing at the center with its mechanical flailing and singing was an amusing one though.
A brow rose. “You want me to let you in past hours?” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. It was one thing if she was with him but just him and Meg? It’s not that she didn’t trust her friends, she did, yet at the same time... “I don’t know,” she began, looking uncertain. “I guess, maybe?” She let out a sigh when she saw his face. Dammit. “Okay, fine.” She pointed a finger at him. “But you make sure to lock it up. And don’t do anything other than play music and chat, you hear me? You go somewhere else for the other stuff.”
A huge smile formed on his face and he put his glass down to pull Dani into his arms. She really was one of the best friends he’d ever had and he was so grateful to have her. He squeezed his arms around her and pressed a kiss to her cheek before leaning back. “You’re the best.” He said, standing up from the spot he was sitting on his couch.
“I should head back home, I have to work in the morning. Thank you for taking the wine I brought and mercilessly regulating it. I’ll see you at the party?” He asked, but he already knew what the answer was. She wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Dani managed to lift her drink out of the way of Ehren’s friendly assault just in the nick of time. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m amazing,” she replied with a couple pats on the back with her free hand, the other awkwardly above them holding her wine out of harm’s way. Her smile turned into an amused smirk at the mention of regulating the wine. “You’ll truly thank me in the morning when you aren’t waking up with a massive hangover.
“And of course you’ll see me there,” she continued. Such a silly question. “The surprise will be what I bring with me.” A wide grin. “And I’ll see about getting some valerian for you.“ She did a shooing motion with her hand toward him. “Now off with you. Go. Shoo, shoo.”
He gave her a playful stink eye and then went to her door. It was nice to have her so close and so willing to drop anything for him. He tried not to think how worried he was about her. Roman seemed like a nice guy but there was just something about him that Ehren didn’t like. It was like a dark force that was bubbling just beneath the surface.
He clicked her front door shut behind him and went back to his apartment. Maybe his instinct was wrong, but it rarely ever was.