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Friends Forever

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“Every time you give a guy your heart, there’s a chance he’ll hand it back to you in pieces.”

Jamie hesitated before knocking on the inner door at the front of the Harrison residence. Jude’s mother had encouraged him to talk to Jude as she scurried off to catch her cab, because, she reasoned, “she really needs a friend right now.”

Not that he was all that sure that he should be that friend, but, well, he was standing right there…

“Jude?” he called, knocking again when she didn’t answer. He tried the knob. “I know you’re in there, Harrison! Don’t make me come find you – I remember all of your favorite hiding spots!”

Ugh. He winced. He’d tried for light and irreverent, but his tone had completely fallen flat instead. He wiped his palms on the front of his jeans before pulling the door open, only to have his best friend tumble back, spilling over in an unceremonious heap at his feet.

“Jude,” he breathed, stooping down to help her upright once more.

“Go away, Jamie,” she sighed, wrenching out of his grasp.

He pulled the door closed and slumped down beside her. “It’ll take a lot more than that to get rid of me,” he intoned, taking her hand in his and giving it a warm squeeze. “C’mon, Jude. It’s me. You can tell me anything.”

She pressed her lips together, looking for all the world as if she was going to resist any and all measures of comfort he offered…but then she crumbled, leaning against him and burying her face in his shoulder as tears slipped over her cheeks.

“It hurts, Jamie,” she blubbered.

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. “I know,” he murmured, his heart gaining traction in his chest as he held her. “And I’m sorry.”

She nodded wordlessly, lifting her hands to cover her eyes as she cried. He simply held her, wishing he knew what to say to make her feel better – but he really sucked at this whole love and comfort business. The only thing he knew for sure was that he’d drop everything in a heartbeat if Jude ever asked him to. It didn’t matter that he had a girlfriend now – being there for Jude would more than make up for the pain of hurting Kat.

Jude wasn’t one to scream and sob, and, indeed, she’d quieted, lowering her hands to her lap and turning her face into the hollow of his neck. “This sucks,” she groused. “This really, really sucks.”

“Shay’s a jerk,” he agreed, figuring that was neutral enough ground to start on. He flexed his hand over her shoulder, forming and releasing a fist. “Did I mention that I tried to defend your honor last night, only to fail spectacularly?”

She smiled. “You’re sweet,” she murmured, reaching back to touch his injured hand, her fingers clinging to his for a moment. “Unfortunately, the jerk count doesn’t just stop at Shay.”

Jamie frowned, dropping one of his arms and pulling back so that he could look at her. “It doesn’t?” he mused warily, not entirely sure he wanted to hear who else had made her shit list in the last twenty-four hours.

Jude’s expression turned glum. “Tommy,” she sighed, wiping away the tracks of her tears. “He – we – he kissed me last night,” she blurted out.

Her words sliced straight through him. “He did?” Jamie whispered, his heart sinking.

She nodded. “After Shay humiliated me,” she confirmed. “He found me in the alley, and…” Her words trailed off, leading his train of thought to places he didn’t care to visit, not even in the sanctity of his head.

“And then he made me swear that it didn’t mean anything – that it never even happened,” she bit off. “I’m so sick of this – of guys treating me like I’m disposable.”

She looked up at him. “I’m glad you’re not like that, Jamie,” she said softly, her eyes searching his for a long moment. “I don’t think you’ve ever hurt me. Ever.” She sighed. “You have no idea how much I appreciate that, especially right now.”

Her words were meant to be complimentary, but they only served to ravage him with guilt. He and Kat had been hiding their relationship from Jude for weeks now, because they were so afraid of how she might react. He knew, deep down, that it was just about the worst thing they could ever do to her – and that this wasn’t the time to admit to it.

Not when her heart was already broken.

Though, he had to wonder if there would ever be a good time to break the news that they’d paired off, leaving her as the third wheel in their decade-old friendship.

“That’s why you’re my best friend,” Jude continued after a moment, leaning into him again.

He patted her arm. “I try,” he mused. He’d been at a loss to compete with Shay’s celebrity, and Tommy’s glamour, but he’d never given up hope of breaking out of the friend-zone. “So what can I do for you now?”

She sniffled. “Hold me?”

He smiled, closing his arms around her once more. “Your wish is my command,” he said softly.

Always has, and always will be…