Josh met Arnold by mistake.
It wasn’t as if Josh was avoiding the guy, really. Rebecca and Sarah had just never introduced the two together before.
In the almost year Josh had been on this side of the country, he had eventually met a few of the women’s friends, like Sarah’s friend Elisa and her baby son Oscar, and Wendy, Rebecca’s friend who was going to get married at the end of summer. He knew plenty of other friends by name, and they had seemed to know him in kind, if the kids that Sarah babysat every week giving her instructions to tell him that they said hello was any indication.
Arnold, however, had been the most elusive, which was strange considering that Rebecca hung out with him a couple of times a month. In fact, one of the first times she had turned down Josh’s invitation to chill was due to the fact that she had plans with Arnold.
Sarah had still come around that time, though, and her sister and Arnold dominated a good chunk of their conversations.
“He tries so hard,” Sarah said as she attempted to mash together a couple of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Josh winced at the action, hoping that the two puzzle pieces wouldn’t get permanently warped from her attempt. She, thankfully, abandoned those two pieces in favor of a few others that fit together. “And Bec tries not to feel bad turning him down, because the other option would be to lead him on, and that’s not cool.”
“Why does she still hang out with him so much?” Josh asked.
“They are friends, despite my badmouthing him,” Sarah said. “Where’s the other half of the parrot’s wing?”
“Oh, I saw that somewhere.” Josh gazed at the pile of unused pieces until a bright red spot against the green jungle background caught his eye. “Is this it?”
Sarah took it and completed the image of the parrot. “Perfect! But, yeah, Rebecca has been friends with Arnold for years, with Wendy and David and a few others. Arnold’s the only one who stuck close by during the college years. He’s done well for himself, in all honesty, but he’s kind of clinging to memories of high school, you know?”
“No, not really.” Josh put together a few puzzle pieces to reveal a monkey. “Most of my high school friendships have fizzled out.”
Sarah glanced at him, apparently waiting to hear more. She prompted him to continue with, “So, you met most of your friends in college? Excluding Rebecca and me, of course.”
“Of course.” Josh gave her a crooked smile. “A few of them were, yeah.”
Josh nodded. “Yeah, like Ethan and Calvin. There were a couple of others that I keep in touch with every so often, but Ethan and Calvin were my main buds.”
“What about Grace and Linda?” Sarah asked. “When did they come into the picture?”
“We actually met at a comic book convention about a year after college,” Josh said. “They were starting up their music collaborations, the guys and I watched them for a while, then we somehow got the guts to go and introduce ourselves when we saw the girls later again at a restaurant.”
“That’s cute,” Sarah said with a grin. “I bet conventions are tons of fun. Did you guys dress up or anything?”
“Calvin did,” Josh said with a roll of his eyes. “He was some superhero, I forget which one, but his cape kept getting caught on everything, the doors, the turnstiles, under people’s feet, under his own feet… I think him making a goof of himself was how we caught Grace’s and Linda’s attentions, actually.”
Sarah laughed. “Well, then I suppose it’s a good thing he dressed up, right? Otherwise you may not have gotten the guts to talk to the pretty ladies.”
Josh chuckled with her, but turned the subject back around. “So, what are Arnold and Rebecca doing tonight?”
“A sci-fi movie,” Sarah said with a shrug. “Rebecca’s been wanting to see it, but I didn’t, and she was going to go herself, but Arnold had suggested it. He said that David was going to go too, but it wasn’t a big surprise that David had to cancel last minute.”
“David flakes out a lot?” Josh asked, shooing Peanut from the table to be sure that the cat didn’t step all over the puzzle.
“Not really?” Sarah said, her head tilted to the side as she thought. “He’s usually pretty good, but the past couple of times he hasn’t shown up when Arnold said he was going to. I think it’s just Arnold trying to get Rebecca alone, in all honesty. Like, he says he invites others, but I don’t know if he’s telling the truth or not.”
Josh put down the two pieces he was trying to mesh together and looked at Sarah sharply. “Should we be worried about this Arnold guy?”
“No, no, no…!” Sarah shook her head. “No, he wouldn’t do anything. I think he’s just trying to climb out of the friend-zone, that’s all. And he is a good guy, always remembering our birthdays, asking about Moose and Panda, has a good relationship with his mother…” She trailed off, apparently trying to think of something else decent to say about Arnold. In the end, she finished off with, “Besides, even if he tried something funny, Rebecca would kick his scrawny ass.”
The topic died there, for Peanut had found a way to leap from the kitchen counter to the top of the trash can to the top of the dining table, her paws skating as she landed on the loose puzzle pieces. With groans and laughter, Josh and Sarah had picked up the pieces of their ruined puzzle and settled on watching a movie until it was time for Sarah to go back home.
It was about another two months until Josh got the accidental opportunity to meet Arnold. Josh had been heading toward the Miller’s house, intent on seeing if they had wanted a couple of cat toys that Peanut wasn’t too interested in. He wasn’t sure if Panda was the type to chase around fake birds, but Josh’s house was beginning to look like a pet store itself with how spoiled his cat was.
As Josh strolled up the Miller’s driveway, an unfamiliar Jeep rolled in. Out of the driver’s seat was a young man about Josh’s age, red hair long enough to be tied back in a small ponytail, and a splash of freckles across his nose. His polo shirt and khakis were wrinkle-free, and his sunglasses looked as if they cost a month’s paycheck for Josh.
The stranger looked just as confused as Josh felt.
“Hi,” Josh said, figuring he should break the ice, and waved.
“Hello.” The word was as crisp as his outfit. Nevertheless, the guy came around the car and extended a hand to Josh. “I’m Arnold. Arnold West.”
Sarah had been right. Arnold was scrawny. Josh had to take extra care not to crush the guy’s hand.
“Joshua Kent,” Josh said amicably. “Pleased to meet you. I’ve heard your name often enough from the sisters.”
“Oh really?” Arnold finally grinned. “I hope they said all good things about me, haha!”
Josh smiled, realizing that most of the things he had heard were from Sarah and, while they weren’t particularly bad, they didn’t color Arnold in the most favorable light.
Josh was going to let the topic die, but Arnold made sure it stayed alive by prompting him with, “Did Rebecca tell you what a good time she had when we saw Carvings of Space?”
“The sci-fi movie?” Josh nodded. “Uh, yeah, she said she enjoyed it enough.”
Arnold’s forehead wrinkled as his brows furrowed. “Just enough?”
“Think she said it would have been the type of movie that she’d watch on Netflix rather than buy the DVD,” Josh clarified.
“Oh, so just the movie,” Arnold said, taking a few steps ahead of Josh toward the front door. With a crooked smile, he added, “Not the company, right?”
“Just the movie,” Josh said, knowing that it was mainly the movie that Rebecca had spoken about. She had barely mentioned Arnold as she shared her analysis of the film to Josh the next time the pair had seen each other. He supposed he shouldn’t try to offend Arnold, though.
Not yet, anyway.
Arnold rang the doorbell, sending Moose inside in a flurry of yips and barks, and the redhead rolled his eyes. “Never understood why they got a small dog…”
“They said that he was abandoned by an old family down the road,” Josh said, “so they took him in. He’s a good dog to the girls.”
“I guess.” Arnold rolled his shoulders and stared at the front door until Sarah swung it open. Moose growled by her feet.
“Hey, it’s two guys!” Sarah greeted them as she moved aside. Moose danced aside with her, his growls louder as Arnold passed by. “Oh, shush Moose, you know both of them.”
“Hi, buddy.” Josh bent down to Moose and, even though he yipped softly, the Chihuahua wagged his tail a touch at Josh’s greeting. It was a trick that Josh slowly learned to earn more of the little dog’s trust. Vaguely, Josh wondered if Moose was so protective of Rebecca and Sarah due to his abandonment, as if the dog was nervous that the girls would leave him if he didn’t do his job.
Arnold, while careful not to step on the dog, ignored Moose and greeted Sarah with a quick hug. “What’s up? Rebecca around?”
“She’s here somewhere,” Sarah said. “Hang on.” The younger sister went off deeper into the house and Arnold plopped down on the sofa, cell phone out of his pocket and in his hand in one fluid movement. Josh put the bag of cat toys on one of the stairs, letting Moose sniff the contents. If Panda didn’t want the toys, maybe Moose would. That, and it would help Moose get used to Peanut’s scent.
Josh felt a touch awkward and wondered if he should just wave to Arnold goodbye and to tell the girls he just dropped off some pet toys, but Sarah and Rebecca appeared. Sarah made a beeline for Josh and the bag of cat toys, grinning at him in thanks, while Rebecca gave Josh a smile before turning it to Arnold.
“Hello, you two,” she said.
“Hey, Rebecca,” Arnold said, taking a few seconds to finish whatever he was doing on his phone before standing to give Rebecca a hug as well. “Was curious if you wanted to take a ride. Got the new Jeep!”
“Thanks for the offer, but we already had plans with Josh,” Rebecca said.
Josh tried not to look too surprised. Instead, he focused on watching Sarah dangle one of the bird toys above Moose’s head and seeing him try to stand and reach it.
“Oh,” was Arnold’s brilliant response. “So, Josh, what are you doing with the girls?”
“We have lunch reservations,” Josh said, knowing it wasn’t a total lie. He had been planning on getting some lunch soon, anyway. May as well hang out with Rebecca and Sarah.
“Were you planning on walking?” Arnold asked.
Josh turned to stare at Arnold and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “They’re driving, I’m buying,” was his steady response. He had a thought to invite Arnold on this impromptu luncheon, but he figured if Rebecca had wanted to hang out with the redhead, then she would have taken him up on his ride offer.
“Perhaps another time?” Rebecca said to Arnold, bringing his attention back to her.
Arnold smiled. “Yeah, sounds good. I’ll see you all later then.” He gave each of the girls another hug and Josh a handshake with a muttered, “Good to meet you,” before getting into his Jeep and very slowly backing out of the driveway.
Sarah watched from the window. “Hey, he cleared the fence again. That makes it a solid four times in a row!”
Rebecca shook her head at Sarah’s words, but turned to Josh, pink dusting her cheeks. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m really sorry for dragging you into that, but thank you for playing along.”
“No worries,” Josh said, relaxing his posture and leaning against the wall. “Is there a special reason why you didn’t want to hang out with Arnold?”
“Other than the fact that he just showed up and expected me to drop everything to go with him?” Rebecca asked. “Well, we did just see each other last week, and he’s the kind of friend that I need more of a breather in between outings.”
Josh chuckled. “Good enough reasons for me. So, you two want to go to lunch?”
“You still buying?” Sarah asked with a cheeky grin.
“Considering I’m asking you to go out,” Josh said, “yes. As long as one of you drives, of course. And we have to make a pit stop at my house for my wallet.”
Rebecca grabbed her keys and wristlet from the hanger by the front door. “I’ll drive and buy,” she said, “as a thank you.”
Josh shrugged, figuring that he would pay them back at some point in the near future, like they usually did. “Not going to argue with that!”