Unease sat like a weight in Andrea's stomach as she climbed the front porch of the old two-story white house her best friend, Casey, rented with her boyfriend.
The building stood in the middle of the quiet-by-day-three-parties-by-night neighborhood east of campus and looked no different than it did two years ago, yet, to her caring blue eyes,
the features seemed darker than usual. She never liked the house, not in the summer and certainly not now in the fall.
The attractive young woman rolled a few strands of her free-flowing black hair between thumb and forefinger.
Her long-sleeved blouse, as black and shining as her hair, concealed the tension in her gut spurred by what was in store for tonight.
Tight blue denim encased her legs, which held her up after each step despite a hollowness in her bones.
The streetlights behind her flickered and threw two shadows on the facade.
She snuck a nervous glance to her "companion" who cast the second shape and walked close beside her; a thickset man with neck-length brown hair and a bearded,
jovial face that gave her the impression he would be good with children in a green button-up with dark blue jeans she knew as Josh.
She had met him two years ago during their freshman year,
in the first of what would come to be many pre-med courses they would take together as she pursued her goal of becoming a doctor–specialization yet unknown.
He was goofy and personable, with an understanding of anatomy dwarfing some professors. She had no romantic interest in him. He always seemed out there.
On the other hand, he had interest enough for both.
And the tenacity to keep asking despite her roundabout attempts–borne from a kind-hearted desire not to cause harm–to turn him down for the last two months.
The present situation flowed downstream from her capitulation.
"You okay? You've been awful quiet since we met on campus. You feeling alright?" Josh asked, the tone of genuine concern a punch her gut.
"I'm fine. Just a little nervous. I don't often introduce people to Casey, and it's got me tense," Andrea said, stepping to the door so he wouldn't see her face.
Despite knowing the door to be unlocked, she pressed the doorbell.
Moments later the door opened, the sound of music–kept low to avoid rousing the ire of neighbors who reveled in filing noise complaints against college students–pouring out from further inside.
In the doorway stood Casey, a tall, bronze sculpture of a woman, whose crimson low-cut blouse and knee-length skirt emphasized her skin's healthy sheen–as she always strived to do.
Short, obsidian hair, illustrious and full, framed her face and highlighted the coy sparkle in her eyes. Upon seeing Andrea, she stepped outside smiling.
"Andrea! Took you long enough!" She embraced her for a moment and then stepped back to look her over. "Should've dressed up more, blouse is a nice touch but those jeans don't do you justice!"
"You're dressed up enough for both of us, Casey," Andrea said, an uneasy smile on her face, and glanced at Josh. "This is Josh."
Casey turned and flicked her eyes over him as he stepped forward, offering his hand.
"Finally, a face to the description." Casey took his hand, gripping it hard as she shook it with eyes grinning. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise." Josh smiled at her and then drew back.
A chill slid down Andrea's back, and butterflies panicked in her stomach as she watched the smile melt from his face, like a time-lapse of a building's collapse.
For one who seemed jovial, an agitated dourness oozed from every crease and pore. Did he suspect something?
"Well, don't just stand there; get inside." Casey moved around the two of them and pushed them inside.
The foyer was empty, save for two console tables on opposite walls, cleared for the coming party.
The worn wooden floor showed the house's age, while the clean beige of the carpeted stairs along the left wall showed an effort to maintain the house.
The music, typical party fare, beat through the door on the right, accompanied by laughter.
Three other doors, one on the left, another on the right and the last down the hall, were shut, their white surfaces a contrast to the off-white of the walls.
The front door thudded shut, and Casey walked between them, grabbing Andrea by the arm and pulling her forward. In passing, she shot Josh a glance and a smile.
Several feet away, they stopped and faced him.
"Right now, its just us, Daniel, and some of his friends, but more should start arriving shortly. Before then, I need to borrow her.
Hope that's alright?" Casey put on her biggest smile and tugged Andrea closer, earning a curious, sidelong glance.
"Of course. I'll go join them; promise I'll try not to make a mess," Josh said with a chuckle.
"That's the idea! Tell them we'll be down in a minute."
Andrea and Casey headed upstairs as Josh entered the living room, the music growing loud and then muted again.
The second floor consisted of small landing, the master bedroom shared by Casey and Daniel to the left, a linen closet Andrea never liked opening in the right corner,
and a hallway to the right leading to three additional bedrooms.
Their destination, the second-floor bathroom, peeked out from behind a half-open door ahead of them, faded teal tiles and porcelain throne bidding welcome.
They proceeded inside, Casey flicking the lights on before she shut the door and moved to the window overlooking the old house's postage stamp-sized backyard.
She turned around and leaned against the wall. Meanwhile, Andrea stepped to the sink on the left and began to tidy-up her light makeup in the mirror.
"You're nervous about this I see," Casey said, smile clear in her voice. Andrea never could figure out how she always knew when something bothered her.
"Of course I am. None of this feels right. I...." She shook her head.
"Feel conflicted? Expected as much from you; you're too nice. But, that is what makes you so wonderful."
"It also means I lean on you when I shouldn't need to."
"You know I'm fine with that." Casey licked her lips before opening her mouth to continue, only to close it as the light went out. No music climbed the stairs. The house had gone dead silent.
"Damn old house. Daniel's been on the landlord since the start of the semester to fix the electric; keep having to flip the breaker.
I've lost a fucking paper twice because of the damned power died. Finally thought he had it fixed when the electrician came by last week.
" Casey crossed the pitch black bathroom, heels clicking against the tile, and started to turn the knob when the light flickered back on, and the music resumed.
Casey chuckled and shook her head as she leaned against the door. "As I was trying to say, sometimes guys don't get it and need help understanding. Some need more than others.
Danny and his friends will help what's his name understand."
"That is where I have a problem," Andrea replied as she wiped a bit of smeared makeup from under her eye.
She washed her hands, hesitant to continue. The fault didn't lie entirely with Josh, but she hadn't the heart to say this to her best friend, not after all of the arrangements she made.
Guilt needled her chest, the idea that she could've handled this better spurring it deeper. If only she hadn't let herself get swept up twice.
"You done already?" Casey said, a bemused ring to her voice. "Then how about we see how the 'party' is going. I'm sure the guys are 'getting along' fine by now."