Written for Yuletide (www . 2005.

Amongst Men

She doesn't particularly like Deborah at first, even though she tries not to let it show. The thing is, she knows on some level that it's not Deborah's fault. It's not that she's done anything wrong. The girl can't help it if she's beautiful and blonde and thin and looks more like Gary's ideal woman than Dorothy does.

Dorothy is perfectly sure that Deborah's a very nice girl. It isn't her fault if she makes men fall in lust with her as easily as breathing. It isn't her fault that she lives in the flat upstairs, instead of still with her parents. It isn't her fault that Dorothy finds herself looking at herself in the mirror far too much and resenting what she sees (and then criticising herself for it, this silly teenage angst stuff) and wishing she looked more like Deborah.

Wishing she could be more like Deborah.

She has a dream once, where she and Deborah are best friends and sit around and talk about girly things and sigh over men together.

Dorothy has friends, sort of, a mix of people from work and people she's known for years, but no one special. That's the problem with working a tiring job and having a boyfriend and having to sort out things at home every so often; it doesn't leave much time for getting to know lots of new people in any way that isn't casual.

It's not like it was in school, when she had lots of female friends and they were as close as sisters and told each other everything. Now the only person she really talks to Gary, and that's difficult at the best of times – anything remotely serious terrifies him, gets him changing the subject or turning silent or just plain ridiculous.

She loves him. She really does. She is also exasperated and frustrated by him, asks herself what she's doing with him and if this is really what she wants out of life at least once a week, and has given up any hope that he might someday mature and grow into something even vaguely resembling an adult.

She just wants someone to talk to about it all.

They end up rolling their eyes over the ridiculousness immaturity and general idiocy of men, or at least the men who live in that particular flat, and it's not quite friendship but it's getting there. Tony moves in and falls madly in love with Deborah, and Dorothy feels that pang again, that wistfulness, that sense of being thirteen and convinced that she's never going to be loved, really, ever.

"I can see why he fancies you," she says to Deborah one night. She's come around to see Gary, but he's gone off to the pub with Tony and Deborah's invited her up for a drink or two.

Deborah dismisses it as just wanting what's close by, insists Tony would want any woman who was living upstairs.

"I think it's more to do with you being gorgeous, actually," Dorothy says, finishing off her vodka and tonic.

Deborah shrugs and says she's always wanted to look more like a real woman. More like Dorothy.

It turns into the sort of thing that teenage girls do, the mix of fishing for compliments and the genuine feeling that the other person is infinitely more attractive.

Deborah hugs her goodbye, and Dorothy finds herself smiling, going down the stairs.

She knows they're proper friends, not just tied together by their relationships to Gary and Tony – as tenuous as the latter is – when Deborah invites her to a dinner party after she and Gary have broken up.

Jamie is nice, but he's not Gary. That's supposed to be the point, she thinks, but there's something missing.

"I just want someone I can talk to," she explains to Deborah.

Deborah reminds her that she can talk to her.

It's true. And Deborah is a far better listener than Jamie is, and maybe that's not what she wants in a man. Why look for something when you already have it? she asks herself.

They kiss once. Well, twice, really, but it's the same event, same night, same drunken mistake.

The thing is that Dorothy isn't entirely sure how much of a mistake it is, afterwards. It's flattering, to be kissed by someone like Deborah, someone that beautiful and desired. It's flattering to be kissed by such a good friend, to be wanted.

She thinks too much about it, really, turns it over and over in her head, attributing far more meaning to the event than it probably deserves.

Of course she loves Deborah, but as a friend.

She needs her as a friend.

Gary asks her once – actually, more than once, because he seems unusually interested in the topic – if she's ever been with a woman.

"What are you talking about, Gary?" she sighs, even though she knows exactly what he means.

She lies and says no, because it doesn't count if it's just a kiss. And because she's still afraid, somewhere, that what would interest Gary most would be Deborah's role in the whole thing, rather than her own.

She's chosen him. Despite it all, despite the reasons not to, she's chosen him. Because she cares about him. Because she loves him.

Deborah is the only real threat to their relationship. Dorothy isn't entirely sure in what way she's most threatening.

She doesn't want to decide that.

Some nights, they stay up late in the flat and talk, the way that they used to except without the pressure for Dorothy to go home or for either of them to go downstairs, because their rooms are just next door.

They've fallen asleep on the couch too many times to count, curled up together like cats, and when Dorothy wakes up it takes her a moment to realise that the figure pressed against her own isn't Gary's. The lack of a lager can clutched in a tight fist is always the dead giveaway.

She loves Gary. She knows now that she'll probably marry him, maybe even have kids with him.

But this – this waking up next to someone she now feels entitled to describe as her best friend, this comfortable companionship with just a hint of envy at times, now, this will have to go.

Deborah will give in to Tony, eventually. They all know it's only a matter of time.

What they have now, Dorothy and Deborah, will have to go. It can't last, not when they finally get what they've spent years discussing – Gary and Tony in proper relationships, no messing about.

Certain things need to be let go of.

She's not sure she's ever going to get her happy ending with Gary. It's never going to be fairytale perfect, the sort of thing that films are made about. It's never going to be completely safe or the sort of thing she dreamed about as a child.

She tells Deborah this, and they sit back, have a drink, and wait for their boyfriends to return home from the pub.

It's good to have a friend there, she thinks.

- end -