Your name is Jane Crocker, and today you are spending time with your best friends Dirk Strider and Jake English. It is an ordinary day at the mall, just teens hanging out, Roxy at home, quarantined by her mother. You wish she were here, but you kind of think maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this is a thing you need to tackle by yourself.
You take a deep breath, and hop out of the car, waving to Dad as he leaves the parking lot and turning to face two of your best guy friends.
Guy friends who just happen to also be boyfriends.
It seemed like eons ago when you cleared the air of every pesky emotion in the very sticky situation, but it was only a matter of months. Young hearts break hard, break fast, and hurt a lot, but they heal relatively quickly, even if the ache of the aftermath lingers.
And of course you’re nervous, and upset, and your stomach is doing flops, but both Jake and Dirk were made aware of your stance long ago. You don’t feel like recalling it now, but there were so many walls of text on both large and small screens, it would have made a wonderful soap opera script. Pages and pages of pink, orange, green and cyan decorated your messaging clients daily when that whole thing was going on- the thing in which you were in love with Jake, but so was Dirk, and you blew it, and Dirk didn’t.
Nevertheless, everything had been sorted out for the most part. Everyone was happy, and you could all move past this! It had been a nice, relaxing last week or two, in which nobody was tense and everyone was aware of everyone else’s feelings. You hadn’t realized what a toll it took on your emotional well-being, to keep everything pent up! You’re pretty sure your friends didn’t, either.
“Miss Jane!” Jake hollers from across the mall, as he turns and sees you. He’s still gorgeous, he’s still that big goofy smile and that sun-kissed skin, with calves big and strong that strain when he runs. Dirk is a faint blur over his shoulder, as he comes toward you and lifts you up, laughing and spinning you for a brief moment. You’re not sure how to feel about it- because this is the sort of thing you used to get butterflies at, ones of hope and promise, but the butterflies don’t come and a sad weight settles in your stomach.
Jake doesn’t notice, though, and you just beam at him. You’re so happy to be near him, you guess it doesn’t matter that you can’t kiss him or anything- you never had before, so why was this any different?
“Hi!” you grin, as the leftover giggles fade away in your throat. He lets you go, but takes your hand and drags you over to Dirk. The two were checking out a Nike shoe display behind a large window, and you glance at it, then down at Dirk’s shoes.
He has a shoe problem.
“Hope you’re not thinking of spending any hard-earned cash on more shoes that you whine about scuffing, Strider.” you tease, and he smirks rather freely. He reaches up and ruffles his fingers through your hair. You take a moment to appreciate how tall he is- and then you feel small, because you’re several inches shorter than both Jake and Dirk.
“Only if you don’t go buyin’ more kitchenwares, Crocker.” he counters, and pockets his hands as you fix your hair.
“Are we going to sit here bantering all day, or are we going to peruse the local scene?” Jake interrupts, and you struggle not to laugh again. He says ‘local’ like ‘locale’. He’s dramatic. You usually love it, but pointedly correct his pronunciation- though you let it go this time.
“The local scene? Jake, it’s a mall, not a diner in the sixties.” you grin, and he heaves a sigh, holding up a hand and looking ready to do that thing where he just fires of old-time synonyms for his word of choice.
You take that held up hand and gently push it back down to his side. “I know what you mean, it’s all right. Let’s go, we are burning daylight.”
So you do go.
You go along the mall’s wide walkways and every time Jake shouts ‘ooh!’ or ‘oh! oh!’, both you and Dirk will stop walking to stand at a window and watch Jake make desperate faces at gadgets he wants but isn’t willing to spend money on. Both of you know better than to attempt to hold Jake’s arm or hand when you go to the mall, or really, any other public venue that has too much to point at and see and do. He has a habit of dragging people along with him, and he’s very strong.
Eventually, he calms down, and it seems that running the entire bottom floor of the mall tires him out. He’s hanging back with you and Dirk now, yammering on and on about things he sees as they pass, and while you’d love to pretend to get a word in edgewise, not even his boyfriend thinks that your comments are getting through.
Your stomach doesn’t flip when you look over at Dirk and think ‘you’re Jake’s boyfriend’. Mostly, it kind of shakes, because the proper phrase is said in your head, too: ‘you’re my best friend’.
You smile at him, seemingly out of nowhere, and Jake doesn’t notice when Dirk takes your hand and squeezes it. You lace your fingers in his and swing your arms dramatically, happy to be silly and happy to bring the beginnings of a grin to Dirk’s face.
Jake doesn’t take long to notice that he’s being left out of the fun. He frowns and grabs up your hand on the other side, swinging it in time with Dirk’s, and then the three of you look stupid but stupidly happy, and you’re all giggling or smirking or chuckling or talking too loud, phrases like ‘tallyho!’ and ‘onward, Watson!’ and even ‘for Narnia’. You’re starting to quote Internet memes only three minutes later, and you all stop having so much fun, much to the delight of other mall patrons that are simply trying to shop.
You take the escalator up to the second floor, and the first thing you see is a hat shop. You’ve been meaning to get something for your Dad’s birthday coming up, so you pop in and the three of you split up. You browse fedoras and try a few on in the mirror just for kicks, not paying much attention to Dirk or Jake. When you cannot settle on one, as they are all either too dapper or not dapper enough, you’re about to leave- and then there’s a call of your name on the other side of the shop.
“Jane! Jane, oh good heavens, you must come see this!”
“No, Jane. Really. You musn’t.”
“Don’t be such a wishy-washy little—-“
“/Nothing/ about me is ‘little’, English.”
“What are you two /doing/?” You frown, and you round the corner to see Dirk in an atrocious, fuchsia wide-brim hat. You gasp and hold a hand over your mouth, as Jake reaches up and flicks a few soft, bright blue feathers protruding from the base of the hat, and you try your very best to keep your laughter behind your palm.
“Oh, I think she likes it, Dirk. I rather take a shine also, I think.”
“I can’t even see.”
And indeed, he can’t. Dirk has an unfortunately small head- most hats sink on him, and cover his eyes almost entirely. This is often only a problem when he feels like going into long-winded, tragic, almost Shakespearean monologues about his poor, unused baseball caps.
You feel like you are going to burst with laughter, as Jake stands beside Dirk and models a beach hat in stark white. You cannot hold it back anymore, as he pulls down the sides of the floppy brim and rolls his eyes up, and you let out a wild laugh.
Eventually, you feel a hat shoved onto your head, and you make a stupid face in the mirror when you see that it is a top hat. Each of you tries on a number of different hats, from bowler to straw, for quite some time, before your laughter and loud ruckus gets you kicked out of the hat shop.
You feel kind of guilty and a little ashamed, but not so much that you let it ruin your day. When you stand outside the shop, you ask about lunch, and then the three of you head off again.
You are reminded, when you sit down at the shared table in the middle of a crowded mall, how supremely enormous Jake and Dirk’s appetites are. Not that you’re a small-portions-girl, but they trump you.
You’ve got two pretty big slices of pizza, a side-salad, breadsticks and a soda, and they’ve got probably triple that. Each. Dirk has a huge helping of Asian cuisine, from orange chicken to fried rice, sweet pork and a conglomeration of California rolls. All of his food, unlike Jake’s, is portioned out in separate areas of his tray, on several small plates.
Meanwhile, Jake has a smorgasbord of conflicting foods. He has six small crunchy tacos, a heaping of sticky white rice, a large carton of french fries, a little clear container of sushi, and- oh, no, you can’t even begin to comprehend what the rest is, you just start eating. Jake’s already shoveling food down his throat, you might as well join in.
The table is silent for a really long time. That’s expected, since you’re all starving and waiting for the heaviness to kick in and slow you down. It eventually does- you’re half way through your second slice of pizza, and you’re starting to bring conversation around. Dirk tells you about stuff he’s been working on, and you try to act interested in mechanics, but you’re distracted because of Jake’s desperately trying to balance a french fry on his nose.
He plays with his food quite often, you’ve come to accept it and stop chiding him. For all his talk of being a gentleman, you notice he has few manners. You don’t care.
All of you finish eating, Jake clearing Dirk’s tray despite the poor thing still trying to pick at the last of his food, and you all separate to use the facilities. Upon exiting the women’s restroom, you see Jake and Dirk facing one another, their fingers entwined, their noses touching, speaking quietly to each other. You retreat back into the bathroom and take a second.
You’re surprised. The feelings you expected to surface are there, sure, but not…as strong, or action-provoking as you thought they’d be. You feel a tiny bit sick, but you did just pretty much inhale a lot of food, and so you take a deep breath. You peek out the side of the bathroom again and they’re kissing, but it’s gentle and light and kind of really cute.
You had never realized how good-looking Dirk is, you’d always been so preoccupied with Jake. They’re both pretty attractive guys! You smile softly and don’t realize that you’re pretty blatantly staring, and Jake catches you. His face heats up and he lets go of one of Dirk’s hands, holding out his for you to hold, and you laugh.
You decide to make a joke of it, because…you’re not upset. You’re really not. It kind of sucks to see Jake kiss someone else, but you’re really happy because he looks happy, and Dirk kind of smiled a little bit for a second and that was nice to see. You squeeze his hand a couple times and ask, in a chipper voice, about where you should all go next.
Both of them seem kind of surprised that you aren’t making a big deal out of it, but you wonder why it’s even a deal at all, or why it has to be a big one. Nobody ever really notices change in the heart, it just kind of…happens, without warning, without a step-by-step guide. You’ll reflect later on when you really ‘got over’ Jake, and you won’t be able to pinpoint a date or a time, but you’ll recognize this as the first notable instance where you did not want to scream at the sight of him holding someone else’s hand.
You actually feel sort of lucky. Two attractive boys are your best friends. You know that, as far as boys go, they’re pretty dorky and weird, but you like to pretend that you’re envied for being their best friend. It makes you feel good- it kind of fills up that longing need for romance. At least, for now.
You realize you’ve been caught daydreaming (they think it’s daydreaming, you’re just introspective right now!) and you stumble a little when Jake yanks your arm forward to point without letting go of your hand.
“A photobooth! What an excellent way to remember the day. What say you, Jane?”
Dirk isn’t even consulted. You laugh when he raises a brow above his glasses as Jake doesn’t wait for a response, and you cram into the box with the boys. You suddenly feel like kind of a third wheel. You don’t want to ruin a perfectly good photo-op between lovebirds.
“Am I in the way? I mean, isn’t this kind of a couples-thing to do?”
You frown when Jake flat-out stops putting money in the machine to look at you. He gives you this level stare behind his glasses, and Dirk wraps an arm around your shoulders.
“Jane, you’re still our friend. That’s really stupid. Shut up.” Dirk mutters, and Jake continues feeding the machine. You don’t notice him rattling on about how much money it is, how absurd it is that it costs so much for a tiny reel of pictures.
You take a deep breath, and you realize that Dirk still has his arm around you. Probably so that he doesn’t fall off the bench. Jake follows suit around your waist, and the numbers are on screen too quickly for you to be bothered by the positioning. You notice that, in the reflection of the glass, the boys are making pretty impassive faces, so you just smile sweetly.
“Funny face!” Jake practically shouts, and so you make a funny face. So does Jake- and you don’t see Dirk move a muscle. Party pooper, but what did you expect?
On a whim, for the next picture, you yank Jake’s glasses off, put your own on him, take Dirk’s shades, put Jake’s on his- and then don the pointy ones yourself. Jake and Dirk look a bit taken aback, since they weren’t expecting it, but you’re beaming.
A few silly faces and eyewear-swapping photos later, it comes down to the final one.
“All right, now-“
“Are you /sure/ you don’t want to get in a cute little-“
Dirk and Jake share a look over your head and kiss your cheek on either side. Your face turns red as the final picture is snapped, and they pull back, laughing. Even Dirk’s breathy little chuckle sounds off in your ear, and you shove them playfully in the sides, clamoring out of the photobooth.
You pick up the warm, freshly-printed strips, and hand one to Jake, allowing Dirk to glance at it as you look at your own copy. You laugh and make fun of each other’s faces as you leave the mall, but nobody says a word about that final picture.
Jake and Dirk, boyfriends, but best friends first. Your best friends.
You share a group hug, and you could swear that Dirk places a kiss on the top of your head, but you don’t say anything as you hop into Dad’s car and wave goodbye to the two. Jake shoots you a double-pistols-and-a-wink, and Dirk smacks him in the back of the head, probably admonishing him as you drive away. You laugh openly out the window, and Dad asks to see the pictures you took.
You show him, he smiles, and he pats your head gently, telling him he’s so proud of you. You roll your eyes.
“Yeah, I know, Dad.”
You pause, looking down into your lap, and smile gently at the grinning faces of two boys who you are hopelessly, platonically in love with.
“I’m proud of me, too.”