Ryan followed Brooke into Chili’s. He wouldn’t lie and say he wasn’t nervous to meet Gretchen. He thought that maybe meeting the friends was even harder than meeting the parents. Wait a minute. That’s not right at all. The first time he met Brooke’s dad, Mr. Wright was holding a gun. Still, girlfriends were tricky, and he knew he was in for a thorough scrutinizing. Brooke told him a bit about what to expect from Gretchen, and frankly he was scared of her.
“You two are late,” Gretchen said when they reached the table.
“Traffic, Gretchen,” Brooke replied, then cut her eyes at her friend.
“Well, I just about ate all these chips like a fat ass, so if I do, in fact, get a fat ass, it’s totally on you,” she replied.
Ryan realized his heartbeat sped up. All he could think was, I hope she doesn’t get a fat ass. What will she do to me if she gets a fat ass? He waited for Brooke to slide into the booth before joining her. Gretchen watched him the entire time. He tried to ignore her piercing eyes. He knew she had a trillion thoughts flying through her head as she stared at him, sizing him up, taking mental notes about all the things she was going to say about him to Brooke when they were alone.
“Hi, Gretchen,” he said when he was settled.
“Hello, Ryan. Now, you’ve been dating my best friend for how long now? And I’m only just meeting you today?” she replied.
Ryan shook his head. “It’s shameful but true.”
“I don’t like being left out of things,” Gretchen explained.
“Ease up, Gretchy,” Brooke said.
“Do not call me that,” she snapped, then looked back at Ryan. “We’re gonna be here for awhile. I hope you know that. So get comfortable.”
“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” Ryan said pleasantly. This chick was a little crazy, but he was starting to see that most of it was for show. And he liked it. He thought it might be like a game. She had her guard up, and it was his job to take it down.
“How old are you?” Gretchen asked.
“Do you think that gives you free license to do whatever you want?”
“I don’t even understand what that means,” Ryan confessed.
“Do you have siblings?”
“A younger sister.”
“Do you watch over her the way an older brother should?”
“That sounds weird. Just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice,” Gretchen replied.
“You got it. And yes.”
“What music do you listen to?”
“Well, I like older stuff. The Smashing Pumpkins. Linkin Park.”
“So what? Are you, like, all up in your head all the time?”
“I try to be.”
Ryan saw the slight grin forming at the corners of Gretchen’s lips.
“Do you play sports?”
“So are you one of those kids who causes trouble in neighborhoods where you’re not allowed to skateboard?”
“I try not to tear anything up,” Ryan said.
“Do you vandalize things? Like with spray paint and stuff?”
Ryan grinned. “I’m not sure I understand what that has to do with skateboarding, but no. I don’t vandalize anything.”
“Are you a good student? Because I can’t have my best friend dating a moron.”
“I always get my homework done first before we make out,” Ryan said.
Gretchen’s eyes went wide. And then she burst out laughing. She looked over at Brooke who was laughing, too.
“Okay okay. He can keep up,” she said to Brooke, then turned to Ryan. “I guess you’re all right.”
“Good to hear,” he replied.
The waitress approached the table and took Ryan’s and Brooke’s drink orders. Actually there was only one order. A Cherry Coke to be shared. The waitress rolled her eyes and left the table.
“That is so disgustingly cute,” Gretchen said, then stuck out her tongue like she was gagging.
“How did you two become friends?” Ryan asked.
“Oh no no. This is so not about us right now. I’m not finished drilling you,” Gretchen said.
“Really? Okay,” Ryan replied.
“Gretchen, can you just stop being so intense? I mean, a question here, a question there. That’s okay. But you’re freaking me out,” Brooke said.
“It’s fine,” was Gretchen’s response accompanied by a dismissive wave of her hand.
The waitress returned with one Cherry Coke and two straws. She took their dinner orders and disappeared right before Gretchen’s next statement.
“So Brooke tells me you two play video games together. Particularly Call of Duty.”
Poor Ryan. It really wasn’t fair. He was in the middle of sucking down some Coke when he choked and spit it all over his girlfriend.
“Gretchen!” Brooke cried, patting Ryan’s back as he continued coughing and spluttering all over the table.
“I’m so sorry, Brooke,” he wheezed, catching sight of the spots on her shirt.
“Not your fault,” she replied. “It is, however, my friend’s fault for being totally inappropriate. What is wrong with you?”
“Oh, whatever Brooke. You couldn’t wait to tell me about the Gamers Embrace.” She directed her next comment to Ryan. “I wanna know how you came up with that.”
“Gamers Embrace?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Gretchen replied.
“Oh my God. I’m so embarrassed,” Brooke mumbled, hanging her head.
“Is this what you girls do? You talk about these intimate things with one another?” Ryan asked. “I mean. I know you talk. But about everything?”
“Ryan, you’ve got a lot to learn,” Gretchen said. The tone in her voice was both patient and condescending.
“Can you move on to something else?” Brooke asked Gretchen. Ryan glanced at his girlfriend and handed her another napkin.
“There’s a few spots you missed.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “And this is Gretchen’s shirt anyway.”
Brooke giggled. “You didn’t even recognize your own shirt?”
“No, you bitch. Why haven’t you given it back?” She studied the top. “Wait a hot sec. Is that my White House Black Market top?”
“That’s it. I’m tired of Coke being spilled on my nice shirts because of you, Ryan,” she said.
“This has happened before?” Ryan asked. “Because I’m pretty sure I don’t remember.”
“That time!” Gretchen cried. “In the diner when you were making eyes at Brooke and she was all googley over you. She spilled Coke on me.”
“Two spots, Gretchen. Two spots,” Brooke said.
“Whatever. You two are buying me dinner,” Gretchen said.
“I’m buying dinner,” Ryan replied.
Gretchen’s face lit up. “Oh, so he’s a gentleman, too.”
“That’s how I was raised.” He smiled at Gretchen then at Brooke. He let his eyes linger on her face, watching as she popped another salsa-loaded chip in her mouth. She looked content, and it made him warm inside.
He noticed how quiet she was around Gretchen. It was an interesting dynamic between the two. Brooke was so forward with him when they were alone, but she seemed to let Gretchen take the lead when they were together. She became the level-headed one. Gretchen was loud and silly and all over the place. He really had no idea how much he’d learn about Brooke from just listening to Gretchen and the way she and Brooke bantered.
He leaned over and kissed Brooke’s cheek, feeling the smile spread across her face. And then he looked at Gretchen.
“God, you two make me sick,” Gretchen said, but the look on her face told otherwise. She was grinning from ear to ear, and Ryan thought he’d won the game. Her guard was down, and she seemed to really like him. Approval from the best friend was crucial, and he was positive he’d gotten it.
“So who are you dating, Gretchen?” Ryan asked as the waitress placed their meals carefully on the table.
“Oh, anyone and everyone,” Gretchen replied.
“Gretchen likes my friend Terry. Remember I told you about him?” Brooke said.
“I do not. He’s a freaking old man,” Gretchen argued.
“Whatever. You like him.” Brooke turned to Ryan. “And he’s thirty-six!”
“Wow, that’s ancient,” he teased, watching Gretchen’s face.
“I don’t like him! And thirty-six is not ancient! And how did this discussion become about me? We’re supposed to be discussing you!” she cried, pointing at Ryan.
Brooke laughed. “Fine. You don’t like him. But you sure as hell like flirting with him.”
“I’ll flirt with anything that’s got two legs,” Gretchen said.
“Isn’t that the truth,” Brooke mumbled.
Gretchen narrowed her eyes at Brooke.
“Okay then. Let’s talk about how much you were in love with Ryan after your first make-out session.”
It could have gone very badly for Ryan since he was in the middle of biting into his burger, but from the short amount of time he’d spent with Gretchen, he’d come to expect another shocking comment. He chewed his burger and swallowed without any incidents.
“Gretchen,” Brooke warned.
“Please do tell, Brooke,” Ryan said. He nudged her, and she pushed back.
“No way,” Ryan replied. “Tell me what this is all about.”
“Your first make-out session. And then Brooke couldn’t believe you hadn’t kissed a girl in a year, and you were all embarrassed and stuff,” Gretchen explained.
Ryan scrunched his nose. “Oh yeah. I remember that.”
“Gretchen, shut up,” Brooke said.
Gretchen ignored her. “And she ended up getting drunk at my house and wanted to call you and tell you she loved you.”
“I’m not speaking to you for, like, a century,” Brooke snapped.
Ryan turned to Brooke and grinned. “You could have called me. That would have been okay.”
Brooke’s face blushed crimson. “I didn’t have your number,” she said softly. “And anyway, Gretchen took my phone away.”
“I wish I could have been there to see that,” Ryan said.
“No you don’t,” Brooke replied, hiding her face. She was shy all over again, just like the first night they made love. He had an overwhelming urge to throw some money on the table, grab Brooke, and tell Gretchen he’d catch her later.
“I think I would,” Ryan went on.
“She was adorable,” Gretchen said, and Brooke looked at Ryan, rolling her eyes.
“I’m glad I met you, Gretchen,” Ryan said. “I hope you share more of these stories with me in the future.”
“Oh, I plan to,” Gretchen replied. “You passed the test which means you’re BFF material.”
“Can guys be BFFs?” Ryan asked.
“Sure they can,” Gretchen said.
Ryan nodded and thought for a moment. “Okay. So we’re all BFFs now?”
Brooke and Gretchen giggled in unison. He thought it was funny. He thought girls were funny.
“Totally,” Gretchen said.
“Totally,” Brooke echoed.