Rose was just putting the finishing touches on her final paper that wasn't due for two more weeks when she was interrupted by the ringing of her phone. She glanced down at it and saw the familiar series of numbers, and though she'd deleted his name, she couldn't help but immediately recognize the digits and the person to whom they corresponded.
She sighed, wondering if she should answer. He'd been a right prat to her, but he'd still been her best mate since she was nine. He deserved a second chance.
She grudgingly tapped the green phone icon.
"Rose Tyler!" Rose flinched away from the loud exclamation of her name. "Rosie Rose Rooooose Tyyylahhh!"
"James?" She furrowed her brow at her phone. This was not what she had been expecting.
"Hello, Rose! Long time no see! Or speak," he said, and judging from his loud volume and the slur to his words, Rose suspected he was drunk. "My fault, really. I was a really rubbish friend to you, wasn't I?"
"Just a bit," she said with a hint of impatience.
"S'why we stopped talking, right?" he asked. "Because I was a right wanker? And you were nothing but kind. And turns out you were right!"
Worry started to creep into Rose's belly, and she saved her paper and shut down her computer.
"James, are you all right?" she asked.
"Yep! Well, no, actually. I'm all out of wine. Travesty, innit? Blimey, I was such an idiot, Rose! You were my best mate—hope you still are, actually. I miss you so much, Rose. Why'd I have to be such a bloody wanker? You didn't deserve that and I tried to think of how I could make it up to you but then I got busy with other stuff and that's no excuse but God, Rose, I really bloody miss you. Why'd I have to fuck up the best thing that ever happened to me—that's you, by the way—for a perfect stranger who actually wasn't so perfect? How 'bout that, eh? What a kick in the balls."
Rose stood up in alarm and gathered her shoes at the sudden anger and melancholy in his voice.
"James, are you at your flat?" she asked, heart pounding.
"Yep," he said in a small voice. "Rose, I want… Could you…?"
"I'm on my way," she promised softly. "I'll be there in just a little bit. Want me to bring anything?"
"More wine?" he asked hopefully.
"I think you've had quite enough, James. I'll grab some ice cream."
"Thanks, Rose," he sighed. "You're the best, you know."
"Don't you forget it," she teased, putting him on speaker so she could open her Uber app and request and ride.
"I won't, Rose," he said earnestly. "I swear I won't!"
"Okay, James, I gotta go now," she said. "I'll be at yours in fifteen minutes."
"Kay," he murmured.
"Bye, James," she said. "See you soon."
She made quick work of swapping out her pajamas for yoga bottoms and a baggy jumper before she grabbed her keys, wallet, and a carton of ice cream from her freezer and headed to the Uber driver that had approached her flat.
She bounced her knee impatiently as the driver made the short trip across town to James's flat. She'd never heard him sound so distraught before.
Rose was suddenly so angry at his (probably ex?) girlfriend for daring to hurt such a beautiful, pure soul such as James.
Rose's belly flipped when the cabbie drove into James's neighborhood.
"Thanks, mate," she said distractedly as she climbed out of the car.
She walked up to James's door, carton of ice cream in hand, and rang the doorbell.
He answered almost immediately.
"Rose!" he said cheerfully, but his wide smile was at odds with his bloodshot eyes and limp hair.
He ushered her inside and pushed her towards the sofa in his living room before he turned away towards the kitchen for a pair of spoons.
"How've you been, Rose?" he asked, and at least he was no longer shouting like he'd been on the phone.
"I'm fine," she said distractedly. "But James, what happened? What's wrong?"
He dropped his eyes to the ice cream, as though carefully scooping out the perfect bite and said, "Oh, nothing, really. It was just the alcohol talking. Got quite pissed, didn't I? I shouldn't've called. Sorry about that."
"It's not nothing," she said gently. "You-you mentioned something about River?"
James flinched and muttered to the table, "She already had a boyfriend. They'd been together almost a year. Only found out when a kid in my history class used his own laptop for his presentation, and the background screen was him and River on some beach. Date-stamped last summer."
Rose's heart broke for James when his voice cracked. He clenched his hand around his spoon until his knuckles were white.
"Why wasn't I good enough?" he asked, looking over at her with red eyes. "Why didn't she—?"
Rose dropped her spoon onto the coffee table and wrapped her arms around James the moment she saw his face. He trembled in her arms and hugged her back fiercely.
"You are more than enough, James," she whispered, feeling so bloody angry at River for doing this to her best friend.
"Clearly not!" he spat.
"She's a wanker," Rose said simply. She cradled the back of his head and rocked them slowly from side to side. "She's the one at fault here, James. Not you. Never you. How could you have known, eh? You trusted her that she was faithful."
"Never making that mistake again," he grumbled angrily. "God, this is such a fucking mess, Rose. You warned me about her! Told me she was nothing but trouble, and I threw it back in your face!"
Rose closed her eyes against the memory of their seemingly friendship-ending row. She'd, truthfully, been slightly—okay, very—jealous of River. She'd loved James almost from the day they met, but he'd never expressed the slightest bit of interest in expanding their friendship into something more.
He'd cottoned on to the source of her anger easily, and mocked her for being petty. But the fatal blow had been dealt when he'd told her he'd never take her opinion on a relationship after she'd fallen for the abusive wanker Jimmy Stone.
That was when she'd left his flat, deleted his number—despite having it memorized—and all contact between them had ceased for five months.
"I was so bloody awful to you," he sobbed. "You were my best friend, and I cocked it all up for someone I'd just met. What kind of selfish twat does that? You were just trying to help."
Rose stroked her fingers through his hair and murmured, "I actually wasn't. You were right about all the things you'd said back then. I was just jealous of River. I'd had no backing on my dislike for her other than that. I'm so sorry, James. I really wanted to be proven wrong. All I ever wanted for you was to see you happy."
"But I still shouldn't've said those things to you about Jimmy," he said softly.
"No, you shouldn't've," she agreed. James had been there for her when things had painfully fallen apart between her and Jimmy. He'd never once belittled her or mocked her or said "I told you so" like her Mum had done, and she loved him for that. But then for him dig open that old wound had stung the most out of everything they shouted at each other.
"I'm sorry, Rose," he whispered, tilting his head up to look at her. "I'm so sorry. Please, forgive me? I miss you so much and I'd give anything to have you back as my best mate."
"Course I forgive you," she said, stroking his hair softly. "I'm sorry too. For everything. And I'm sorry River was such a cow."
James chuckled self-deprecatingly and said, "Guess we're both rubbish at relationships, eh?"
"Sort of," she said. "But this friendship thing is still going strong. Well, ignoring the last five months where we were both stubborn arseholes. Going on twelve years together. I think that the longest relationship I've had with a bloke."
She bumped his shoulder playfully, and he smiled sadly at her.
"Y'know, I always thought we'd be more," he said forlornly, scraping the last of the ice cream off the bottom of the carton.
Rose's heart stuttered in her chest.
"What do you mean?"
"Y'know," he said. "Us. More. Dating. Blimey, Rose, you've been my best friend since we were nine. You know everything about me, I know everything about you—I think—and it's just so easy to be with you. Figured we'd one day do the whole dating thing, make it official. But then you didn't want any of that, and that's fine. Being your best mate is more than enough for me."
Rose's head was spinning.
"What do you mean, I didn't want any of that with you?" she demanded.
"Well, there was that thing with Jimmy," he said, staring at her in confusion. "When we were sixteen, I'd been trying all summer to drop hints that I wanted to date you, but you seemed to ignore them. Then when you became Jimmy's girlfriend, I took that to mean you just weren't interested."
Rose couldn't believe her ears. James had actually thought about her like that? She racked her brain on the summer he was referring to, trying to piece together when and how he'd thought he'd been "dropping hints". But for the life of her, she couldn't figure it out.
"And that's okay," James said. "Honestly. I'm okay. I think I'm putting off dating, anyway. Give me time to be your mate again. I missed you."
"I missed you too," she said faintly, wondering how in the world she could have missed James's interest.
But that didn't matter right now. He certainly wasn't in the proper state for that conversation. They could talk about it later, when he was sober and less emotionally compromised.
"Thanks for coming, Rose," he murmured, cuddling close to her and resting his head on her shoulder.
"Anytime, James," she promised, nuzzling her cheek against his hair. "S'what best friends are for, right. You think I let anyone eat the last of my double chocolate peanut butter ice cream?"
James snorted out a laugh.
"C'mon. Let's get you to bed," Rose said, nudging him with her shoulder.
"Will you stay with me?" he asked. "Like we used to? Don't really wanna be alone."
Rose glanced at the door to his bedroom. They'd always shared a bed when one of them would spent the night at the other's flat; it had been second nature to them. But it had been over six months since they'd done that.
But James looked so earnest and vulnerable, how could she refuse those big sad eyes?
"Sure," she whispered, standing up and pulling him unsteadily to his feet.
"I can give you something to sleep in," he said when he stumbled into his bedroom. He went to his dresser and rooted around until he found a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. "Here you go. I'll let you take the loo first."
Rose thanked him with a gentle squeeze of his fingers, and turned back towards the bathroom.
When she joined him several minutes later, he had folded the covers down on the bed and had already changed into his pajamas.
"Be right back," he said. "Get comfy."
Rose tentatively crawled into his bed and lay down on the left side of the bed, trying hard not to call it "her side". She was immediately engulfed in the smell of James, of sandalwood and spice, and it made her feel so warm and safe as she ached with nostalgia.
"Okay if I turn the lights off?" he asked, reappearing and looking the tiniest bit refreshed.
She nodded, and the room was plunged into darkness. She leaned over and hit a button on her phone, providing him with a little bit of light to guide him to the bed.
He plopped down heavily and sighed as he pulled the covers up to his chin.
"Thanks for being here, Rose," he murmured, reaching out and fumbling for her hand.
Rose twined their fingers and stroked her thumb across his.
"I promise I'll be a better friend to you from now on," he said, giving her fingers a squeeze.
"I promise, too," she whispered, pressing a soft kiss to the back of his hand. "Goodnight, James."
"Nuh-night, Rose," he murmured.
He gave her fingers a final squeeze before he dropped her hand, rolled away from her, and fell asleep.