"Please," Dask begged.
"Why can't you?" I asked.
"I just...come on, Jo. Be a friend."
I rolled my eyes. "You know I'm your friend. Doing this for you would prove nothing."
We were sitting on a small couch in my bedroom, flicking through channels on the television showing Saturday cartoons. We'd started talking about the upcoming school dance and he wanted me to call a girl, Clara, from school for him, to sound out whether she liked him.
"Come on, Jo," he tried again, trying to appeal to my better side.
"What?" I faked ignorance. He needed to grow a pair and do this for himself. I can't be calling up girls, sounding them out to see if they like him. What's the point in that? If you ask someone out and they say no, that's a pretty good indicator right there they don't want a bar of what you've got to offer.
Dask needn't have worried himself anyway, because all the girls in our year liked what he had to offer. He was sweet, caring, kind, a good listener, a loyal friend and he had a growth spurt over the school break. Not to mention they'd always thought he was cute. Most of them had a crush on him, he was just oblivious to it all.
"Fine, give it here," he said, sounding defeated. He held out his hand, waiting for me to place the cordless house phone into it.
Calling her for him would have been easy enough for me to do, but I realised not too long ago that caving in to Dask was becoming a bad habit of mine. Even my older brother noticed over the school break and said something to me about it. I knew how difficult this was for him, considering how shy and socially awkward he could be, but I was becoming unsettled by my lack of being able to say no to him, I felt like I needed to try it out sometimes.
"What do I get if I give it?" I teased, waggling my eyebrows and holding the phone away from him.
"What?" he asked, frustrated.
It was so much fun to mess with Dask. I've learned over the years just how to confuse him and push his buttons. He's like an open book to me, most of the time. I knew there was only so much he could take though, and we were just about there.
"What are you prepared to do to get the phone?" I asked, standing up on top of the couch, my hand with the phone in it held up away from him, above my head.
He looked up at my smirking face, his own marred with stress and stood up, going for the door. I knew then, he'd had enough. I sprang off the seat, caught him by the elbow, and quickly pressed the phone into his hand. "Here," I said.
He looked down at the cordless device and seemed like he was contemplating what to do next.
"Just call her," I said.
He looked up at me with his soft blue eyes and I could see the nervousness in them. "You're so annoying," he accused, his voice barely a whisper.
"Tell me something I don't know," I replied gruffly, and sat back down on the couch with a huff.
I felt annoyed as I watched Dask prepare himself to call Clara DeVries. She was a sweet, funny girl and probably one of the smartest in our grade. They shared a couple of classes and seemed to take a liking to each other lately. Sometimes, after school, I'd see them waiting by the school bus stop together, chatting and laughing.
He cleared his throat and stood up straighter as his face took on a look of concentration, like he was trying to get into some sort of zone. He sighed, then dialed her number.
I had mixed feelings about what was taking place, because I was somewhat proud of him for manning up and calling her, but I was still irritated this was taking up so much of our weekend. Granted, it had just been a small conversation, and what would probably be a short phone call to Clara, but it annoyed me how important it seemed to be to Dask, and we couldn't move on to other things until he did something about it. Mind you, it was an endearing sight, seeing him get all nervous. I watched him, with a small smile on my face.
He looked over at me, as he waited for her to pick up the phone. "What?" he asked.
I shook my head at him and my smile got bigger.
"You're so annoying!" Dask looked exasperated.
"We covered that already."
"What?" I heard Clara's voice speak on the phone, from where I sat on the couch.
Dask's eyes went wide. "Uh...um...that wasn't meant for you. Clara? It's Dask. I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to Jo. I was trying to call you to talk to you. I just, Jo..." He looked over at me, seemingly unsure how to go on.
"Is being annoying,' I heard Clara cut in, 'as per usual."
I could actually hear the smile in her voice.
"No!" he said quickly. "I mean, he's not that annoying," he recovered, his eyes flickered over to me.
Clara was silent on the other end of the phone before she said, "Everyone knows how annoying Jo can be, Dask."
Dask expelled a breath and asked hesitantly, "Do you, um, do you like Jo?"
I glared at him. What was he doing? Clara was silent in what I can only imagine to be shock or surprise. Surely she knew he liked her? Not me. I barely spoke to her, why would I like her? This is why I should have just given in and called her for him!
"What?" Clara asked.
"Give me the phone, Dask," I said.
"No, I just..." he started, no doubt trying to think of some way to smooth things over.
I snatched the phone off him, determined to set things right. I knew the guy practically inside out. What had I expected?
"Dask wants to know if you'll go out with him!" I shouted down the phone.
"What? Jo! Give me the phone!" he said, panicked.
We struggled over the phone. I slapped his hands away. It was useless really, for him anyway. Until he jumped on me! Yes, he jumped on me! Who'd have thought? I fell over onto the bed and he fell on top of me. He was trying to reach for the phone and nearly had it in his hand when I elbowed him in the side and snatched the phone away.
"Oomph!" he gasped. He fell off the bed, flat onto the floor and landed on his butt, hard. "Ouch!" He looked up at me.
My eyes clouded over with worry. Just then, he grabbed onto my ankle and tripped me over.
"Ow!" I yelled.
In the background, I could hear the faint voice of Clara. "What's going on guys? Dask? Jo?"
Dask rolled on top of me, crawled up the length of my body and reached for the phone in my hand, which was now extended above my head.
Dask's body on mine seemed to be touching all of my most ticklish spots, the whole situation struck me as funny and my body began to shake with laughter.
Dask eyed me warily before he finally grabbed the phone from my hand and made to get off me, but I grabbed him in a bear hug and trapped him against my side.
"Clara?" he managed to breathe into the phone.
"Yes Dask," I heard her answer.
"I just wanted to say 'hi' and, yeah, see how you're going." He nodded his head. "Don't listen to Jo."
"It's okay Dask. The answer is yes, I'll go out with you," she replied.
"What?" Dask asked, clearly flabbergasted.
"I said yes. You don't have to be embarrassed," she said.
I snatched the phone. "Dask has to go now. Bye." I hung up on her.
Dask's eyes were wide, his mouth open. "Why'd you do that for?" he asked.
I really didn't know. Not then anyway.
We were just kids when we first met.
I remember our class had free time and me and a bunch of my friends had pushed together a few of our desks and sat around them, taking turns playing Snakes and Ladders. I'd just lost a game and was waiting for my turn to come around again.
Our teacher, Ms. Fisher, was outside with a mother and her son, a new student to the school.
The door to the classroom was slightly ajar, and being the curious eight year old boy that I was at the time, I tried to eavesdrop on their conversation while they stood outside in the corridor, and also get a first look at the new boy.
It wasn't often a new kid started at our school, especially halfway through the school year. Our town had a small population and had hardly any movement to or from it.
While the rest of the class carried on playing happily, I watched the classroom door. Rocking my chair back as far as it could go without me falling off, I stretched my neck backwards even further, and tried to catch a glimpse of the new boy through the slightly open doorway.
That's when I noticed the commotion. No one else did because they were too caught up in enjoying their free time.
Looking back, Ms. Fisher may have known there could be difficulties with the new student, and let us have free time to ensure we'd be too distracted to see or hear any trouble that might take place with him.
I was straining my ears, trying to hear a snippet of what was happening, when I heard it. A small voice begging his mom not to make him stay here, at this new school.
He cried out and one shod foot kicked the door open a little more. My eyes widened when I saw my teacher and the boy's mother restraining him in their arms, trying to calm him down and stop him from running away. I didn't get a good look at him because all the movement involved in his struggle to get free made it difficult to get a clear picture of him.
I wondered why he behaved like that, and if it was all just because he didn't want to come to a new school. It didn't make sense to my eight year old self.
Ms. Fisher caught me watching the scene. Her face was normally pleasant and calm and her clothes were usually smooth and pristine. However, at that moment, she looked like a flustered mess. Her face was full of worry as she quickly pulled the classroom door shut.
Everyone continued their free time, oblivious to the events taking place outside.
Without thinking, I rose from my seat, turned the classroom door handle, and stepped out into the corridor. A little up the corridor, I saw a whirlwind of flailing limbs as the boy kicked and screamed and held on to anything he could reach for dear life, and tried to stop his mother and Ms. Fisher from dragging him back towards our classroom.
His mother looked worried, my teacher appeared upset, and his face wore a look of fear, as though he felt deathly afraid and very scared. It did something to me, seeing another boy that way.
I interrupted all the action with, “Excuse me, Miss. I'm busting to go to the toilet and I was wondering if the new boy wanted to come with me, to the bathroom to wash his face?”
Everybody went still and the corridor became quiet. The boy's mother looked at me in surprise and my teacher cleared her throat as she collected herself.
Ms. Fisher placed the half of the boy she was holding, his legs and feet, onto the ground. She straightened her clothes and took a deep breath before facing me. “You may go to the bathroom, Jo,” she said. She then turned to the new boy and asked him, “Would you like to go to the bathroom with Joseph to wash your face, Dask?”
I held my breath as I waited for his reply. Now that I look back on it, I think we all did, and we were all hoping for the best.
I wondered about his name, Dask. It was an unusual one for these parts of Cheshire, where life was a predictable pattern of school, sport and church and the people a medley of routine and simple names.
His behavior surprised and confused me, intriguing me.
The moment Dask lifted his head to look at me, I felt captured. His soft blue eyes showed knowledge of a life outside our small town. His hair was a golden mess upon his head and his creamy skin looked tinged pink with fresh tear streaks on it. He looked so miserable to be here. I just wanted to make him feel better.
He gave me a once over before he decided I was okay and nodded his head, or maybe he just wanted to get away from the two frantic ladies who didn't seem to know what to with him. “Yes,” he replied to Miss. Fisher, in a quiet, broken voice which had me feel protective of him.
Ever since that day, I've had a soft spot for Dask. Later that day, I introduced him to my friends. That was the beginning of our friendship.
Dask was a shy, quiet boy, especially that first day, but I soon found out he had a wicked sense of humor and was so much fun when he was happy. Making him smile became my most important task.
We would play, mess around, pull pranks together, and did all the usual things that boys get up to at that age. He became my best friend.
Our parents befriended each other too, which gave us even more opportunities to spend time together, having fun.
We were different, but we were the same too. Our personalities and temperaments were miles apart, but we enjoyed many of the same things, and we could make one another laugh out loud over the smallest of things.
Little did I know that when we became teenagers, things would begin to change between us.
"Why'd you do that for?" Dask asked, after I'd hung the phone up on his sad attempt at trying to talk to Clara.
I really didn't know. "I was saving you from yourself! Who knows what else you would've said! You're not exactly great at speaking on the phone, Dask."
"Thanks," he huffed to himself.
"Well, it's true!" I laughed.
A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, his eyes met mine and he laughed. "Well, you were no help!"
"What'd you want me to do? I hung the phone up before you sounded like an even bigger dork. That's helping!" I said and Dask smiled.
I still had Dask in a bear hug on top of me. I reluctantly released my arms from around him and he shifted his weight off me, then rolled to my side and rested his head on my shoulder. We both looked up at my bedroom ceiling, lost in our own thoughts. I was absent-mindedly drawing circles with the pad of my thumb on his soft flesh on the inside of his elbow. He leaned in to me and hugged my side closer.
"Do you think Clara thinks you like her?" he asked quietly.
I turned my head to look at him. "What? Why?" I asked, surprised by his question.
"Well, now that I think about what I said, I think I made it sound like you liked her," Dask said.
I grinned. "Nah, but I think she now knows how inadequate you are on the phone," I joked. Then, to reassure him, "I don't think she thinks that I like her." I was getting kind of confused. "I hope," I added as an afterthought.
Dask smiled at me.
I grinned back at him and then turned to look back up at the ceiling. "What does it matter anyway? You two are together now," I reminded him.
"Yeah, but I screwed that call up a bit," he said.
"A bit? A bit!" I teased him.
"Yeah." He laughed.
"I'm pretty sure she realised it was you who liked her when I shouted down the phone that you wanted to go out with her." I laughed.
Then, I grew quiet as I remembered something. "I'm sorry I elbowed you," I told him, feeling a little guilty. 'It looked like it hurt when you fell..."
"...on my butt?" he finished, grinning at me.
"Yeah," I said, a little sheepishly.
"I'm fine Jo," he replied and turned to look back up at the ceiling.
"I know. Just, sorry, yeah." I said quietly, casting him a sideways glance.
He met my eyes with his soft blue ones. His dark, gold lashes lowered, casting shadows across the top of his cheeks. They fluttered a little, then lifted, and revealed the soft blue, dewy depths underneath that were always so ready to forgive me . "Okay Jo," he breathed softly.
I didn't deserve him. He's always forgiving me too easily. "Let me see." I said gently, and lightly tugged on the bottom edge of his shirt.
Dask lifted the bottom of his shirt up a little and I saw a small, faint red mark on one side of his lower stomach. I hoped it wouldn't bruise. What's wrong with me? I always get so worked up and impulsive when we're messing about. Though I never truly wanted to ever hurt him.
I gently circled my fingers around the pink blemish on his skin.
"Does it hurt at all?" I asked quietly.
"Its fine, Jo," he replied in a soft, husky voice.
Our eyes met. I hoped he saw in mine how much I never really wanted to hurt him. How I'd always do everything I could to protect him. "I'm sorry." I repeated.
His fingers covered mine. "We were messing about, Jo." He said softly.
"I know but..."
"But nothing." He propped himself up on his side to look at me, letting my hand go in the process. "But nothing," he repeated.
I couldn't help but look at his lips. They're so soft looking. Light pink. His eyes watched me as I gently ran the back of my fingers near the reddened skin on his stomach again.
Dask smiled at me.
"What?" I asked.
"You're such a big teddy bear," he replied.
"I am not big."
He laughed. "You're the sweetest guy, Jo."
"Yeah, right," I said.
Still smiling, he shook his head, then laid down by my shoulder once again and tugged the edge of his shirt back down. "What about you?" he asked me.
"What about me?" I responded.
"Aren't you going to ask someone to the dance?" he inquired.
"I wasn't planning on it," I replied.
His brows crinkled. "There's usually always someone you like. So who is it this time and why aren't you telling me?" Then he gasped. "It's not Clara is it?"
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Clara? Not again!" I laughed. "No, she's not my type."
"What do you mean? She's pretty and she's nice," Dask said.
"Yeah, but she's too chirpy for me," I replied.
"She's not a bird," he said.
I laughed and Dask joined in too.
"I know. I'm just not interested in anyone at the moment," I informed him.
"Well, that's a first," he said.
I shrugged my shoulders. "It's not a big deal. There's always the dance next month." Dask nodded his head in agreement.
Dask likes me drawing on his back. He let me gently push him over to face away from me, and I drew pictures over the shirt on his back.
I started thinking about how I'd been out with a few girls this year and I hadn't had much of a break between them. I get on fairly well with girls and there always seemed to be a few who liked me.
Now, I felt like being by myself for a while, have a break from trying to live up to their expectations or impress them. I felt like I needed a breather.
"Guess what I'm drawing?" I asked Dask.
He was quiet as he concentrated on the swirly patterns my fingers were making. "Is it my name?" he asked in surprise.
I laughed. "Yeah."
He turned to face me. "It's meant to be a picture. Why would you write my name, Jo?" he questioned.
I shrugged my shoulders and turned around. "Now do me," I said.
"Fine," Dask replied.
I felt content as Dask's fingers lightly drew on my back."Did you just draw a bell?" I laughed.
"How did you get that?" he asked me, smiling.
"It was easy," I answered.
"At least I didn't write your name," Dask said.
"No, you drew a big bloody bell instead!" I laughed. Dask laughed too. "Why'd you even think of drawing a bell?" I asked, after we'd calmed down a bit.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, there's the church bell. You know, it goes off every hour," he replied.
"No, it doesn't. Not anymore," I said.
"It use to," he responded.
I looked at him fondly, then stood up and stretched.
"You wanna go to the lake?" I asked.
"Sure," he said.
We changed our clothes, grabbed some towels, then headed for the small lake on my parent's property.
After a while, we were hungry, so we headed back to the house. We took a shower, then had dinner, before heading back to my room.
"Ready to see Clara tomorrow?" I asked Dask.
"Sure," he shrugged, like he didn't care.
"Yeah, right." I grinned.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said.
He picked up a pillow and threw it at me.
"Ow! What was that for?" I asked, exaggerating the pain for effect.
"You're annoying," he said. I laughed.
We settled down on my bed together. "Do you think it's weird we sleep next to each other and don't top and tail?" Dask asked.
"Nope," I said, my back to him.
"You want me to draw on your back?" he asked me.
I turned to face him. "No."
"Okay," he said softly, looking into my eyes.
My stomach clenched. I wanted to touch him. Dask has been my best friend for so long, sometimes it felt like he'd become a part of everything that was important in my life, and now things were changing. He was going to be spending more time with Clara now that they were together.
"If we topped and tailed we wouldn't be able to do this, would we?" I said and reached my hand out towards him. I ran the tips of my fingers along the skin near the neckline of his shirt, then gently dragged them down his chest, over his stomach to the bottom of his shirt and slowly lifted the edge up a little, exposing the creamy skin there. I ran the pad of my thumb lightly over his belly button and Dask gasped. I smirked, then trailed my fingers down to the top of his jeans and flicked open the top button. I maintained eye contact with him while I slowly inched his zipper down.
"Do you want me to stop?" My voice was low and husky.
Dask took in a sharp intake of breath and gently shook his head, no.