STORY: More Than ‘Just Friends [Part 1]

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Onna met Deji for lunch the following day. What started as an awkward conversation eventually became relaxed as they began to rediscover their old friendship. Onna  was still reeling from the news, but also felt like a weight had been lifted somewhat now that she knew the reason why he left her. Naturally the conversation turned to Joseph. Deji had called her the previous night to make sure she was okay, and she could tell even now he didn’t believe her.

“It’s fine. He was never going to hurt me,” she insisted.

“Why did he think I was going to?” Deji asked.

“I’m not sure; he’s been concerned about how often you would call,”Onna explained. “I guess he thought you were some kind of stalker.”

Deji looked so horrified at the thought that Onna couldn’t help being amused.

“Well, you can’t blame him,” she pointed out. “He doesn’t know you, and you did call a lot,” she joked.

“Yeah, but to immediately jump to stalker,” Deji said, stunned.

Onna shrugged, not wanting to divulge her suspicions about Joseph’s parents.

“How long have you been seeing him?”

Onna looked up in shock. “We’re not together. We’re just friends.”

Deji studied her for a long moment, nodding thoughtfully. “If you say so,” he said lightly.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Shut up,” she said.

He chuckled. “I’d like to think I still know you pretty well, you know,” he remarked. “And I don’t have to know him to see that he’s crazy about you.”

“We’re just friends,” she repeated firmly.

“Okay,” Deji said, feigning innocence.

Onna went home feeling somewhat lighter-hearted after her conversation with Deji. Joseph was another story; that still muddled her brain. It was a long week with no contact with him, a long, lonely week where she often found her gaze wandering across the street to his living room window, not knowing whether she hoped or dreaded seeing him there. She was at a loss as to how to handle it. She missed him, sure, but also couldn’t avoid the disturbing memory of his rage.

———-

Joseph slammed the file drawer shut and leaned over the desk, resting his forehead on his arms. He went to the Light Rail construction site every day off that week, throwing himself into eighteen-hour days just to avoid thinking about Onna, but it wasn’t working. If anything, it made his feelings for her even more painfully clear to him.

It was killing him to not see her or talk to her. But his reaction to both her car accident and Deji’s appearance served as a reminder that being around her, being with her as a casual sex buddy was just as painful. Even with how much he needed her friendship, he couldn’t handle the confusion of ‘just sex’ with her. He doubted he would be able to manage going back to only being her friend. The fuck-buddy non-relationship was corrosive; it had undermined the friendship they had both enjoyed so much.

He shook his head and pushed away from the desk. Not that it mattered. She obviously didn’t want anything to do with him after the way he acted. She hadn’t wanted more from him before Deji showed up, anyway, and certainly wouldn’t want to be with him if she knew the whole story of his past.

Walking to his apartment building that night, he was stunned to see her waiting outside. His feet stopped briefly before continuing slowly toward her.

“Hey,” he said quietly.

“Hi,” she replied cautiously.

There was an awkward silence while they eyed each other. Finally Onna steeled herself to speak.

“I was hoping – do you want to talk to me…about what that was all about?” she asked tentatively.

“Joey?”

They both turned at the new voice to see Bimpe approaching. Joseph suppressed a sigh.

“Hi,” he said. “What brings you here?” he added. He was hoping he didn’t sound rude but wanted Onna to know that he hadn’t invited Bimpe, that this encounter was totally unplanned on his part.

“I…need to talk to you,” Bimpe said, glancing at Onna.

Onna chewed her lip, folding her arms across her chest. Joseph looked between them, frustrated. The last thing he wanted was to have one uncomfortable conversation, and now there was the potential for two. Struggling to keep his voice even, he held out his keys.

“Do you mind waiting for me upstairs? I’ll just be a second.” His hand remained outstretched without Bimpe moving.

“It’s really important,” Bimpe said plaintively.

“Okay,” he said, clenching his jaw. “I’ll be right up, I promise.”

She rolled her eyes and took his keys, throwing a sharp look at Onna over her shoulder as she entered the building. Joseph faced Onna but looked past her, over her shoulder.

“Joseph?” Onna prompted. “Can we talk about -“

“No,” he said sharply. “I still think I’m right about him, but I can’t force you to believe me.”

“Look,” she said with a sigh. “He just – “

“I don’t want to hear it,” he snapped.

“Jesus,” she said, startled. “What the hell is going on?”

He stared at her, trying to find words.

“I – I can’t do this anymore,” he said in a tight voice.

“Do what?” she asked, baffled.

“I don’t think I can be around you,” he said, unable to keep the words in. “I – I want more from you. And I can’t – do this. I can’t just be your friend anymore. And I can’t be just your fuck buddy.”

“What?” she whispered.

He nodded. “You heard me. I can’t do it, Onna.”

“Joseph…” She stopped, blinking rapidly.

“I have to go,” he said quickly before rushing into his building.

———-

“You’re going to talk to me,” Kachi said, brushing past Onna and flopping on her couch. “You’ve been avoiding us – me – for weeks. Now, what’s going on?”

Onna sighed and dropped to the couch next to her friend. She hadn’t done anything other than work and come home since the day Deji surprised her and Joseph freaked out. She missed them – him – but couldn’t face them. Not when she knew it would be horribly awkward to be around him. Not when she knew how much it would hurt to see him.

“Onna,” Kachi said worriedly. “Please tell me what’s going on.”

Kachi remained silent while Onna told her everything, her eyes growing larger as Onna spoke. They sat in silence for several minutes after she was done.

“I never thought I would say this to you of all people and not be joking,”Kachi said slowly. “But you’re an idiot.”

Onna’s head shot up. “Geez, thanks?”

“I mean it, Onna. Joey’s a terrific guy and he’s nuts about you. Why would you let him just walk away?”

“Chi, he was about to rip Deji’s head off – for no reason. That wouldn’t freak you out? I can’t even tell you – I didn’t recognize him at all. It was scary.”

“Okay, I get that. I’m sorry,” Kachi said, giving her a hug. “I really am. It must have been frightening. But it was because he cares about you so much that he’s that protective of you,” she pointed out.

“I don’t think so,” Onna insisted. “He was in a daze of some kind, like he didn’t even know what he was doing.”

“But – you shouldn’t let it ruin what you two have -“ Kachi implored

“We don’t have anything,” Onna snapped. “He doesn’t even want to see me now anyway!”

“Jesus Christ, that’s just because he’s hurt. He’s wanted you since he met you,” Kachi said sharply. “Why do you think he hasn’t gone out with anyone in all this time?”

“What?” Onna asked, baffled. “Of course he has – he flirts with women at the club all the time. And we both know he slept with Bimpe.”

Kachi’s expression fell and she looked at the floor.

“What is it?” Onna asked cautiously. “Is he seeing her now?”

“No,” Kachi said instantly. “Look, he flirts, because that’s his nature, it’s like breathing for him. But Musa told me he hasn’t gone out with any of them since you two met. He’s been waiting for you,” Kachi told her. “I don’t think he realizes it, of course, even though it’s obvious to everyone else. Except you, of course,” she added with a playful grin.

“Well, whatever,” Onna mumbled. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t date anyone now. I don’t know if I ever will.”

Kachi sighed. “Onna -“

Onna noticed Kachi’s concern and gave her a worried look.

“I can’t even imagine what you’ve gone through – going through a divorce in your early twenties,” Kachi said slowly. “But…you’ve changed.”

Onna rolled her eyes. Of course I’ve changed.

“How?” she asked stiffly.

“You’ve always been straightforward and logical, of course,” Kachi said earnestly. “But now…you’re even more reserved. Like, cold…severe.”

Onna could feel her friend watching her apprehensively. She wasn’t upset by the assessment, appreciating when others could be as direct as she was. It just wasn’t anything she’d considered before.

“I am?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Kachi murmured. “I get why, I do. But…it’s not you. And it’s no way to live.”

“You might be right,” Onna admitted. “The whole thing with Deji really messed with my head. Maybe now that I know the whole story, that it really wasn’t anything to do with me…maybe I can get past it.”

“I hope so. About Joey -“

“Chi, I just – can’t. Not now. Besides, he said he couldn’t be around me anymore. I have to respect that,” Onna told her firmly.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Kachi said slowly. “That Bimpe thing – that was just a diversion…but…”

“What?” Onna asked impatiently.

“She’s pregnant.” Kachi gave Onna a sympathetic look.

Onna’s eyes widened.

“What did you just say?”

Kachi sighed sadly. “Bimpe’s pregnant.”

Onna jumped to her feet and began pacing, clutching her stomach. Kachi stood as well.

“You okay?” Kachi asked worriedly.

Onna swallowed against the lump in her throat. Pregnant.

“Oh, God,” she muttered.

“Yeah. He’s freaking out, according to Musa,” Kachi told her.

A pained sound came from Onna’s throat and she nodded weakly.

“And – and she’s keeping it?” Onna asked in a tight voice.

“Sounds like it,” Kachi said softly. “Look, I know he said he can’t be around you, but you are his friend. And he needs his friends now, even if he can’t admit it,” Kachi pointed out.

Onna sat gingerly on the couch, nodding again.

“Besides, the other guys are your friends, too. Everyone misses you. So you should come out with us tonight.”

“I’ll think about it,” Onna muttered.

“Good. Because frankly, they’re starting to annoy me with how much they ask about you. It’s like my charming personality isn’t enough for them or something,” she said haughtily, her eyes twinkling.

Onna smiled despite herself, giving Kachi a grateful hug.

When Kachi left, Onna shut the door behind her friend, flattening her back against it. Her breath was coming in short, painful bursts, her chest so tight it was burning. She slid to the floor, letting the tears fall.

———-

Onna shuffled into her kitchen and made some tea. She couldn’t shut her mind off and had been tossing and turning for hours, same as she had the past few nights since hearing the news. The echo of Kachi’s voice had been repeating on a loop in her head. Bimpe’s pregnant. Considering how floored she was, she couldn’t begin to imagine how Joseph was feeling.

Making herself comfortable in a chair by her window, she wrapped her hands around the mug and stared outside absently. A light coming on across the street caught her eye and she realized it was Joseph’s apartment. She could see him pacing and reached for her phone without thinking.

“Onna?” he said in surprise.

“Hi,” she said awkwardly. “I saw you were up.”

She watched him walk to the window and look down at her apartment. She lifted her teacup with a small smile.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked.

“No – you, too?”

“Nope.” He sighed and she watched him drag a chair to the window to sit down. He leaned on the sill and looked at her. “I guess you heard,” he said flatly.

“Kachi told me,” she admitted.

“Yeah,” he said morosely.

“Are you okay?” she asked timidly.

“No,” he said with a sharp laugh.

“Understandable.” She bit her lip. “But – you’ll be a great dad, Joseph.”Despite the truth in her words, saying them hurt her more than she expected.

He snorted derisively.

“It’s true. Once the shock wears off, you’ll be excited about it. I know you will,” she said reassuringly.

He made a noncommittal sound and she saw him running his hand across his head.

“So, when is she due, anyway?” Onna asked, trying to find the positive of the situation. “Have you been able to see the baby on an ultrasound yet?”

“No – she didn’t want me to come with her to the doctor. I don’t know when she’s due, she said she’s not sure.”

Onna’s brow wrinkled. “But – I mean, she must have an idea. You were only together that one night, right? Unless -“ She stopped, horrified at the thought that he might have kept hooking up with Bimpe after they’d started sleeping together.

“Just once,” he confirmed bitterly.

Onna let out a long breath, relieved. “So, it would be easy to calculate how far along she is.”

“I don’t know,” he repeated.

“Why wouldn’t she want you at the doctor appointments?” Onna asked.

“I don’t know,” he said again, sounding impatient.

Onna gave a start as some horrible thoughts occurred to her. She blurted the words before she could tell herself not to.

“Joseph – are you sure she’s really pregnant?” Or that you’re the father if she is? she added silently.

“What?” he exclaimed.

“Well, it’s just – I would think she’d be excited about it, and want to share doctor’s visits with you…” Onna trailed off anxiously. “Most women would want the fathers there for that kind of stuff.”

“So you think she’s lying? To – what? To trap me? Am I on Jerry Springer right now?”

“I’m sorry,” Onna said meaningfully. “I am. I don’t want to upset you. But, you really don’t know her, and it’s a possibility. That’s all. I hope I’m wrong.”

“Of course you’re wrong,” he said heatedly. “Just because things went to shit with us doesn’t give you the right to say things like that.”

“That’s not why I said it,” Onna said, hurt.

“Right,” he said sarcastically.

“It’s true,” she replied stiffly.

“Whatever,” he said. “I have to get to sleep. Thanks so much for your call,” he added harshly.

“I’m sorry -“

“Goodbye, Onna.”

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