Arnold did not like him, and the feeling was beginning to be mutual.
Okay, so Josh didn’t exactly hate the guy, but it was starting to become annoying when the guy gave Josh the stink-eye just for hanging out with Rebecca and Sarah. Josh supposed it was mostly Rebecca, but Arnold was at least courteous enough to also be friendly with Sarah, even when ninety-nine percent of her responses to Arnold were dripping in sarcasm.
Josh did his best to take it in stride. It was obvious that Arnold liked Rebecca in a romantic sense, and it couldn’t have been the greatest feeling to suddenly see another guy getting close to her as well.
Rather, it wasn’t the greatest feeling to see another get so close to the one you had fallen for. Josh knew that from experience.
So, he tried to be understanding, tried to back off when appropriate, but he definitely wasn’t going to let Arnold push him around. Josh could shove back just as hard, and he would, especially if Josh was around Rebecca enough to see if she was exasperated and needed an out that Sarah couldn’t provide.
Sarah noticed and appreciated it too. Case in point was one particular night when he received a text from the younger Miller sister: “You home?”
Josh put down Peanut’s brush, much to the cat’s chagrin, and responded quickly with, “Yeah, need something?”
“I have such a big favor to ask,” Sarah replied. “Can you go to the movie theater and pick up Rebecca?”
Josh absently tried to tug the brush back from Peanut as he typed back, “Yeah, sure. She get a flat or something?”
“Arnold drove,” was the answer, complete with a grumpy-looking emote. “He apparently did something to make her text me for a ride, but I’m babysitting Oscar for Elisa and his car seat is with Elisa.”
“No worries,” Josh texted back, and laced up his sneakers. “I’ll go get her.”
“Thank you so much!” Sarah said. “We owe you dinner!”
“No, you don’t,” he said, sending it with an emote that stuck out its tongue. “It’s what friends do.”
“Cheeseball,” was Sarah’s last text.
“Peanut, be right back—Don’t eat that!” After successfully saving the brush bristles from his cat, Josh grabbed his keys and raced out the door.
It took Josh longer to find a parking spot than it did to find the theaters itself. After glancing back at his car several times to try to memorize the spot, he jogged to the theater entrance while mentally cursing himself for not asking Sarah where he was supposed to meet Rebecca.
In fact, he had half a mind to text Rebecca herself after he looped around the lobby before catching sight of her standing outside of one of the theater’s side entrances. Getting closer to the doors, Josh saw her with crossed arms, back to Arnold, while the redhead’s arms were flying in exaggerated gestures. Josh frowned and didn’t hesitate to step outside. He may not be part of the argument, but he didn’t mind barging in on it if it meant helping Rebecca.
Josh said nothing as he stepped around Arnold and went to Rebecca’s side. Her eyes widened when she noticed him, a cross between surprise and embarrassment, if the red on her cheeks was any indication. Either that, or she was flushing from whatever inane words Arnold was spouting from his mouth.
Arnold, on his part, had stuttered to a stop mid-sentence when he saw Josh appear. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“It’s a public movie theater,” Josh said mildly, moving close enough to Rebecca so his arm touched her shoulder. Glancing down at Rebecca, he asked, “There a problem?”
She took a deep breath and seemed about to say something, but Arnold blurted out with, “Of course there isn’t—”
“I was asking Rebecca,” Josh interrupted.
She glared at Arnold before softening her gaze and looking up at Josh. “No, I’m fine. I’m just waiting for Sarah to pick me up.”
“She’s babysitting,” Josh said. “I’m your ride instead.”
“I’m supposed to be Rebecca’s ride,” Arnold said, running a hand through his hair hard enough as if he wanted to pull it all out.
“We’re done tonight,” Rebecca said, putting on her firm dog trainer voice. Josh was proud of himself for not being startled enough to take a step back. “Honestly, we’re done for a while now. Don’t call or text me. If I feel like talking to you again, I will. Otherwise, leave me alone.”
“You can’t be serious,” Arnold said. “After all the shit I’ve done for you—”
“None of which was asked or, frankly, that necessary,” Rebecca said. “I don’t know where you’ve gotten this sense of entitlement from… You didn’t have it during high school…”
Arnold rolled his eyes. “Here’s the thing, Becky. People grow up.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “We do. Drive carefully going home.” Turning to Josh, she asked quietly, “Can we please go?”
He put a hand on her shoulder, steering her gently in the general direction of where his car was parked. “Of course.”
“This is because of him, isn’t it?” Arnold yelled at their backs. Josh only paused because Rebecca did, the young woman looking back at Arnold. “What the hell does he have that I don’t? What makes him a better boyfriend than me?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Rebecca said.
To back her up, Josh said, “I’m just a friend.”
“Yeah?” Arnold chuckled humorlessly. “I thought I was too.”
“So did I.” Rebecca’s tone was forlorn. “That was our problem. A friend was all I wanted you to ever be. I can’t change my feelings for you, Arnold, and I had hoped you wouldn’t have wanted me to pretend otherwise. Considering what just happened, though…” She shook her head and continued to move forward, Josh right beside her.
As soon as both of them were strapped in the car and Josh turned on the engine, Rebecca said, “I’m sorry.”
“There is absolutely nothing for you to be sorry for,” Josh said. He reached over and gave her shoulder a squeeze before putting a hand on the back of the passenger seat to help him twist enough to look through the back window to back out of the parking spot. “I’m only sorry your night was ruined, and I hope I didn’t overstep my boundaries or anything back there—”
He was cut off by Rebecca suddenly laughing. “You? Oh, Josh, you were amazing. I just… You shouldn’t have gotten tangled up in that. I feel ridiculous that I forgot Sarah was watching Oscar…”
“You do know that you and Sarah can call on me for anything, right?” Josh asked, taking the risk to glance at the young woman. “I mean, we’ve known each other for less than a year, but I do care about you both. If I can, I’ll always come running whenever you need me.”
Rebecca was quiet for a few minutes before breaking the silence with, “Josh, you are so sweet… I certainly hope you understand the feeling is mutual, right?”
“I damn well hope it was,” Josh said with a cheeky grin. “Otherwise I’d feel like an idiot.”
“I’m glad you moved to the neighborhood, Josh,” Rebecca said.
He turned back the wattage on his grin, bringing it down to a crooked smile. “I am too,” he said, and found himself meaning it.
“I can’t help but feel a little guilty,” Rebecca said, her tone casual and a bit teasing. “Not that it’s our fault, but it’s like we stole you away from your friends on the other side of the country. I hope, whenever we do happen to meet, that they won’t blame us for keeping you.”
She chuckled lightly, but Josh stayed quiet. His mind swirled and it wasn’t until Rebecca, perhaps worried that she said something wrong, prompted him with a soft call of his name. In response, he said, “I’m gay.”
“Of course you are,” was Rebecca’s response. Josh, surprised, glanced at her and found a smirk on her lips. “You know, Sarah so called it back when we first met you. I mean, we hoped you weren’t because, seriously, you’re a catch, but the thought was always there.” She paused before saying sincerely, “Thank you for trusting us with that.”
“Well, apparently you knew,” he said sarcastically, willing his face to stop blushing at Rebecca’s easy acceptance and compliments. “That’s why I moved out here, you know. It’s not the only reason, of course, because that’d be really stupid. Houses are cheaper out here, there’s actually seasons, things like that, but… My self-esteem was dying while being so close to my best friend whom I’ve been in love with for a couple years now and still am…”
“You’ve never tested the waters?” Her question was gentle.
Josh shook his head. “He always liked women.”
“What if he’s bisexual?”
“I don’t think so?” Even Josh wasn’t positive. “It doesn’t really matter right now. He’s in a relationship with our friend Linda.”
“Josh, I’m sorry,” she said.
“S’okay,” he said, “I guess. I doubt I would have had the courage to say anything, anyway.”
“Why?” Rebecca asked. “At the risk of sounding cliché, you never know until you try.”
Josh pulled into their quiet street and pulled into her driveway. With a rueful smile at her, he said, “It’s a terrifying thought to lose a friend.”
Rebecca bit her lip and looked down at her lap, no doubt putting two and two together.
“What did Arnold do?” Josh asked, trying to keep his tone as mild as she had been.
She took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair. “He asked — yet again — to take our relationship to the next level. And, well, you heard. I don’t like him that way. I can’t see him that way. Unlike him, I’m sure if you had ever tried something like that with Ethan—”
“How’d you know it was Ethan?”
“Oh, please, the way you look whenever you talk to or about him.” Rebecca waved off his question. “Anyway, unlike Arnold, I’m sure you would have been cordial about his decision if he had decided to just want to remain friends with you. Arnold…”
Josh frowned. “He didn’t get aggressive or hurt you or—”
“No, he didn’t,” Rebecca said, “but he was rather persistent. I just… I have a hard time thinking of anyone that way, anyway…”
“There a special reason why?” Josh asked.
She paused, but said with a slight smile. “Think it’s because I’m asexual. Heteromantic, but asexual. Thank you, America, for oversexualizing everything. Arnold’s and my relationship started really deteriorating when he thought slipping dirty talk into our conversations would make me fall for him.”
Josh winced. “He didn’t know?”
“He knew,” Rebecca said, “but I don’t think he understood… Or really believed it.”
She huffed out a laugh and shook her head. “Listen to us carrying on about this. This ride has certainly been enlightening.”
Josh chuckled with her. “That it has. Thank you, though, for listening and… accepting all of this.”
“Why wouldn’t I accept you?” She reached out and hugged him. “Thank you for running to my rescue.”
“Always happy to,” Josh said. “Unless there’s a chance I’ll get hurt. I’ll count on you to protect me during those times.”
“Of course.” She kissed his cheek and got out of the car, giving him a wave before disappearing into the house. Josh returned the wave and laughed to himself as he heard excited yips from Moose before getting back home himself, feeling oddly lighter.