“What kind of surgery did you say you are getting again?” Chad asked, “How do you even say that?” His cell phone became a little slippery in his hand as he gripped it tighter. Talking neighbors from surrounding apartments and his nails tapping against the metal frame of his futon made him more edgy. Strange Colorado summer humidity seeped through the windows and cracked door and clung to his face.
He thought of his words and wondered how odd it of a question it was to ask the only female friend he had. He was relieved her problem could have been cured, but was worried about the rest of her road to recovery.
“Oophorectomy,” Anne answered. “If I had the proper spelling in front of me I’d give it to you.”
“Yeah, what is that?”
“It’s where they removed both ovaries but leave the uterus. There’s nothing else they can do; the Endometriosis can technically be cleaned out every few months, but that’s a lot of surgery and it can cause cysts in between surgeries, infections, etcetera. The doctors said it was bad enough to have kept me from ever having kids until now, so it’s not like it’s a real loss or anything. My periods will be less painful because, well, they won’t happen and I’ll be a lot less bitchy because of it. That’s a good thing. Be honest Chad, I know you’re happy about that part if I am.”
“I guess.” He pondered the idea of what her kids would have looked like. He then started wondering who the father would be and how that would make them look. The ones he imagined to be the cutest would have her brown hair and green eyes. He wondered how the father would mess up the potential cuteness they could have had. The idea of him being the father struck him and shivers ran down his spine. He didn’t think his awkwardly tall and thin build with blondish hair and dull brown eyes would have made an attractive mix, let alone the mixing ever happening.
“Doesn’t that all bother you though?” Chad asked.
“You should know me well enough to know the answer. We’ve been best friends for how long?”
“We met when we were eight, right? That should be eleven… twelve… thirteen… seventeen years?”
“What? Really? Wow, I can’t believe it. Actually, you’re still that clingy little twerp, always wanting to hang around me instead of other little boys like a normal boy that age should have,” she said with a mocking laugh. “Anyway, you should know me better than that; if it’s always been a loss, then how can it hurt? Technically, I’ve never been able to have kids, so why worry about losing something I’ve never really had? Why are you worried though? You’re acting like you wanted me to or something.”
“No! Not at all! I mean, uh, It’s your life to do what you want and what you need, I just want to make sure you get the best out of it.”
“Awww thanks Chad. Hey, I’ll talk to you later, Goldie is calling.” She said, “No offense dude, but girlfriends come before the guy-friends on this one.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up. Chad sighed and fell back onto his futon. He thought back on his thoughts over the past several weeks. He thought back to when they had returned to each other’s lives after she moved further East for a few years and counted up to the reunion being ten months prior. He counted back to the separation being from living further east for eleven years that stopped their contact for some time. The thought of literally running into her again in a college hallway made him chuckle. He couldn’t remember where he was going or where she was going, but he did remember the surprise of seeing her again and with a more mature figure stuck better than anything he had been trying to memorize for tests that semester.
His special “Angel I Can Never Have” ringtone blasted from his phone. A smile quickly spread across his face. she did not know about the ringtone he had for her yet, but she never had to call him when they were hanging out together. He opened the phone to see the secret nickname “Annie-Girl” he had for her appear on the screen.
“Hey buddy,” she said. “Diane– I mean Goldie–I mean–same person. Anyway, she called to say she can’t help me after the surgery thing, so can I stay with you? It’d only be for a week, two at the very most, I swear!”
Fold-out photos Chad had seen in his brother, Scott’s collection of women in what Chad knew to be “morning after” shirts that were a few sizes too large with nothing else to wear came to him. He began imagining her in one, slowly altering it to a white button-up shirt he didn’t own and eventually what he wondered her pajamas might have looked like. The thoughts slipped into what if questions of wearing nothing to bed before.
“Would you need someone to care for you?” he asked, suddenly wondering if it was a stupid question.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t be able to do any physical activity for a while like bathing and walking to the bathroom or whatever.”
His attention was locked to the word “bathing”. Moments in romantic comedies he had grown to love as a pre-adolescent boy of women having oil baths layered over his vision. He turned the women into the movie into Anne. He could almost smell the very scent of her detergent and sweat he had secretly loved when she would work out or run around doing errands in the sun for too long.
No matter how much he didn’t want to and risk turning her away.
“Parents can’t help?” he asked.
“They moved to a different state almost a year ago remember?” she said, “Please Chaddy? I’ll treat you to dinner for once, play video games with you or buy whatever that new one coming out is, take you to a movie, whatever else you could possibly want. Pretty please?”
“Sure,” he said with a sigh, “I’ll do it. Friend’s pinky swear I’ll have everything ready for you by the day before.”
“Awesome. Well, I’m meeting Goldie at Yue Garden Café here in a bit and I have to get ready so I’ll talk to you later.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up. He stared at his phone with “Annie” blinking at him until the screen switched to his wallpaper of them sitting in front of a ticket booth for a rock concert. It was their most expensive hang-out day yet and the most he’d seen Anne so giddy.
“We’re both single Annie,” he mumbled to himself, guessing her couple status, “so why can’t we be more?”
Twenty minutes later, “Mother Freaking Gentleman” blared from his phone. He quickly flipped it open.
“Aha!” he shouted when he answered, “I fixed your ringtone.”
“Yeah, but did you fix the sparkly rainbow pride theme yet?” Scott asked as he ran his fingers through his long, greasy dark blonde hair. He wiped his hand on one of the several cats in the house when it jumped onto the couch. It was too second-hand high to care.
“Yes.” Chad lied.
“You suck at lying. So anyway, I heard from Annie’s little Goldie that you get to play in-home nurse for a couple days.”
“‘Annie’s little Goldie’?”
Scott’s four friends started giggling in the background.
“Dude, he has no idea, does he?” another one of Scott’s friend’s whispered to him.
Scott shook his head and put his finger over his lips to quiet them. The friends huddled closer around the phone, waiting for Scott’s game to continue.
“Oh you know how girls are.” Scott said, “Oh wait, you don’t, and that’s why I’m here to help.”
“Help with what?” Chad asked nervously.
“Well, this is a chance to get some experience little bro. Dad helped me the same way I’m going to help you, so it’s time for me to do my job as the big brother and pass on the knowledge.”
“What? But I can’t do that! Anne and I are best friends. We’re like brother and sister. Besides, I’m sure she can’t do anything dirty during her recovery time.”
“No but this is the perfect time to start working your way into her pants. Trust me man, this is absolutely the best time to do it. Once you prove yourself, you’ll be as good as gold. I guess I should say good as Goldie instead but you know what I mean.”
Scott’s friends started snickering. Scott quickly covered the mouthpiece to his phone.
“Shut up you bunch of dumbasses or you’ll ruin everything.” Scott hissed quietly. They all took a few steps away from the phone to mock Scott’s inside pun.
“Who exactly is Goldie?” Chad asked nervously, “Actually, nevermind that right now. I don’t think that would be right. We’re friends and she wants me to help her with something. She trusts me.”
“Oh come on bro, you like her.” Scott said, “If you didn’t, why would you help her with something as intimate as this? There’s no way someone could agree to that and just like them as a friend. In fact, she might like you too if she asked you to help. I mean, she clearly wants you to see her naked and fondle her.”
“Wow dude this is so wrong.” one of Scott’s friends whispered with a laugh.
“It’s a technique women sometimes use.” Scott continued, “She’s obviously playing the damsel in distress role so you can be all romantic with her. I highly doubt it’s a test. If it was, she would’ve done it in some other way I’m sure. Dude, she totally wants you and I can tell you do too.”
“Okay then,” Chad said, “how do you know, huh? How do you know she does?”
How do you know if I do? Chad thought to himself, How do I know if I do?
“Dude, how many women have I scored with?” Scott asked, “I do what you’re going to get to do here in a couple days and every single time I got laid no longer than an hour after their doctor gives them the okay for it at the post-op appointment. It takes time and this is the best chance to earn her trust or prove yourself to her, whichever way you want to see it.”
“Listen Scott, I don’t think–” Chad said nervously.
“Oh quit being such a sissy. Well, call me if you need any help.” Scott said in a hurry, “I have to go for now but I’ll explain to you some of the signs to look out for and what to do about them in a bit, alight. Talk to you later.” He hung up the phone as quickly as he could. He burst into laughter with his friends.
While Scott high-fived his friends, across town, Chad hung his head and started pondering his thoughts on his relationship with Anne. He knew it was not only a test of friendship, but the true test of their relationship itself.
* * *
Anne weakly clung to Chad as he carried her from his car to his living room. She growled a few times from the pain. Her words were still weak and slightly slurred. Once she was all the way onto his futon, she fell asleep.
It had been the first time Chad had ever gotten to see her sleep; perfectly still in what looked like an uncomfortable position with her foot and hand dangling off the end. She had a very quiet snore. A calm and almost vulnerable side to her was something he had never seen. He wondered how many had seen it before him. He began to think of her snuggling next to him in his own bed or waking up to see her sleeping just like this every morning.
He walked up to her and carefully pulled a blanket over her. She started moving once the blanket got close to her stomach.
“Go away.” Anne grumbled sleepily, “I’m hungry. Make me food.”
He flinched and moved to the kitchen to start cooking, wondering if being a live-in nurse like his brother joked about was as scary as the real job.
* * *
Chad stepped into the bathroom. Anne sat in the bathtub’s edge, hunched over with her back towards him. It was a common pose he had seen in plenty of horror movies and video games.
The flirtatious tricks to look out for played like a movie in his mind’s eye. He could almost hear his brother’s words along Anne’s supposed tricks of needing her breasts washed for her or complaining about having to go without sex to give him hints of her arousal. Stories Scott told of how such a moment had led to him scoring with this or that chick played out too. For a split second, Chad had envisioned his brother with Anne. He grimaced at the thought of their betrayal of trust in relationships to him.
“Sorry again,” Anne said quietly, returning him to reality. “Thanks again by the way. I’m getting a little cold though.”
Oh God, Chad thought nervously, Scott said complaining of being cold was a way of flirting.
He shivered and brushed it off.
He wedged himself between the tub and the toilet to reach the nozzles. He turned the hot water enough to get a light flow from the nozzle. He turned on the cold after to keep it from getting too hot. The water started filling the tub when he lifted the drain stop.
In the corner of his eye, she remained unmoved with her hair covering her face. He peeked over at her. It was the first time he had ever seen her in anything less than shorts and a tank top. Her crossed arms covered her breasts and the profile angle hid her privates. She appeared huddled in shame or in chill; he couldn’t tell.
He inched his way free and picked the wash cloth back up. Up close, he couldn’t slip away to fantasy. The bathroom light yellowed her skin worse. Her figure was hourglass, but it wasn’t what he considered a curvy sort of attractive. The natural farmer tan appeared more gray than golden. The sharp tan lines made her natural skin tone appear more pale. Her shoulder blades poked through her skin like boomerangs under thin cloth. A few blemishes on her back made the skin a little red, but nothing distracting. He could see each individual vertebra of her spine. There wasn’t a steady ridge of back fat to hug them as they poked through. His own back become sore from looking at it.
He looked away and tried gathering his composure.
How can she look like this? He thought.
He looked back at her, trying to ignore the painful-looking back bones poking through. He gripped the wash cloth in his hands as he wondered if she felt softer than she looked with a boney exterior and if he would be able to tell through the cloth.
He locked his attention to a single tile that was cut in half for the tub. He rubbed the washcloth on her back as carefully as he could, but still rushed through it. Anne twitched and quietly grunted a few times. These actions and sounds were familiar to him; they were the same twitches and grunts she would make to prevent lashing out in pain or irritation. Memories of her doing these things came back like every other childhood or recent memory he had of his close friend. He thought of the years he had known her, guessing they were enough to give him reason to stop.
He stopped, sighed, sat the rag on the edge of the tub and stood up.
“I’m sorry.” he said, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s okay.” she said as she picked up the washcloth, “thanks for getting my back at least. I didn’t expect this much. I mean, I didn’t expect a pussy like you to have any balls.”
Chad chuckled lightly and left to get her clothes and towel. He felt the burden relieved enough to take care of her more easily.
* * *
Two weeks had passed with most of Anne’s complaining being about hot flashes and his constant reminders of her hormone therapy to help them.
Chad dragged her last bag to the door. She dropped her grocery bag full of bras and underwear in the one he left open just for it. Chad sat on the futon and Anne plopped down next to him, growling quietly as she did every time she moved too roughly.
“Did you remember your pills?” Chad asked. Anne read through the text message Goldie sent of her estimated pick-up time.
“Yes.” she said.
“Did you remember to take them and pack them and set an alarm to remind yourself?”
“Did you remember to take your Vicodin and Estro–?”
“Yes dad.” she whined sarcastically, “I’m not a smartass teenager using technicalities to get out of doing things.”
“I know I know. I just want to make sure you know your hot flashes aren’t because of my a/c.”
“Yeah yeah. My ride will be here in a few by the way.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask, who exactly is Diane? She also goes by Goldie too, right?”
“I met Diane through your bro in the first year of college,” Anne said. “I think that was maybe half a year before you and I ran into each other again after forever. Anyway, we became friends and we really started talking. We both started agreeing how much guys sucked and we just sort of clicked. Of course, Scotty helped out with that one, but that’s kind of what I wanted anyway. I doubt most guys would’ve liked a girl my age dealing with old lady stuff that only girls would understand and respect. Yep, she’s my little Goldie.”
“How’d she get a nickname like that?” he asked.
“Well, that’s my nickname for her since the skirts she always wore made me think of frilly goldfish fins. The way they sometimes match her hair when it flies around as she walks or whatever makes it perfect. Please don’t tell her I call her that though. She might get the wrong idea.”
“I didn’t know you swung that way.” He thought back for clues from before, but he couldn’t find any: still too naive to catch them. He assumed her attitude towards him was a game of hard to get, but finally understanding it made it more painful than he expected it to be.
“Well, yeah. I mean, for one college is the time when you’re supposed to take experimenting and finding yourself seriously and so far I like dating girls way better than guys. I’ve always been too much of a tomboy to get attention from guys and most of them wouldn’t want a girl in her mid-20’s going through menopause. Besides, I’m pretty sure a guy who hangs out with a tomboy like me as much as you is probably hiding a lot of rainbows in his closet.”
Chad thought about the homosexuality comment. He knew that much wasn’t true and was pretty sure he didn’t give any impressions or even if she was joking. He thought back on what could have given her that impression. As he thought back on the suggested signs of guys paying more attention to people with stereotypically manly personalities, honestly or pretending to enjoy romantic comedies, and things of the sort, he thought back to realize it was all advice Scott had given him over time. It suddenly made sense to him. The weight of the uncertainty was gone. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Thinking of skeletons in the closet,” Chad said happily, “I found that pink dancers outfit your mom made you wear when you were about eight or nine. The one with the sparkly rhinestones that says ‘Annie-Girl’ for your name on the back label, remember that one? I still have it if you ever want Goldie to see it.”
She glared at him for a moment and then smiled.
“I think I’ll be going now. I can carry the rest of my things.” she said cheerfully as she scooted her bags outside the door, “Wouldn’t want to leave you alone with it; I wouldn’t want you showing a possible straight side of me and ruin a good relationship, now would I?”
“Hey, best friends are siblings with different moms and dads, right? Go have fun with Goldie and make sure she knows I didn’t touch her girlfriend or she gets to see your true pinks and purples.”
Anne rolled her eyes and smiled as she left, dragging her bags out faster than he expected her to be able to. She said her goodbyes in a chipper tone and slammed the door quickly.
Chad could hear the two girls talking and laughing outside his apartment as they loaded the car and took off. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed for Scott.
“Your little game is over, you prick,” he mumbled as he waited for him to answer.