Dan knew exactly where to find his friend, Vanessa Abrams. Work was her usual place. An average Brooklyn coffee shop, that seemed to work in both their favors. She liked being independent; he liked coffee, a lot, especially if it was free. He rounded the corner and spotted her through the window. Then he paused at the door, collecting his thought. She and Dan had been friends since they were little and they were always protective of each other so, it was natural for him to feel something when he saw her in the arms of another man. But being that he was dealing with his difficult girlfriend, he had yet to mention what he saw, more importantly who was standing next to him when he saw it. Taking a seat at the counter, he pondered how to work it into the conversation. He had been staring at her back for a full minute before she finally realized he was there.
She graced him with a dazzling smile and went right to work on his drink. He looked as though he needed a cup of coffee. Vanessa already knew what he wanted and just how he liked it. She knew that was one thing no one could take from her, but she'd be willing to someday share her secrets with Serena, if she wanted. "Haven't seen you in a while," she said. She secured a plastic lid on the cup which Dan immediately removed. He thought lids were pointless because they limited your amount of consumption to a small slit.
He blew once on the hot liquid, then took a small sip. He nodded, satisfied with the temperature, "Yeah, I've been kind of preoccupied," he replied.
"What's the matter?"
"Just this thing with Serena. She's going through something, but she won't tell me what it is."
"Maybe it's private," Vanessa suggested. "Like something to do with her family."
"I just don't see why she feels she has to hide it from me. She knows she can tell me anything."
Vanessa really sympathized with Dan. He was just as clueless as any other guy. "Just because she can tell you anything, doesn't mean she'll tell you everything." Dan considered that. And it made sense but still. . ."Don't push it," she added, reading into his facial expression. "She'll come to you when she's ready."
"I just want her to know that I'm here for her, whatever the problem may be."
"I think she knows," she said gently. Dan was starting to look a little less stressed, probably due to the caffeine. And though he seemed more content, Vanessa could sense that he was desperate for a change in subject. "How'd it go with the test?" she asked, hoping to sidetrack him from what he was thinking.
He smiled grimly. "I couldn't stay focused, but I finished."
"Well, that's something, right?"
Suddenly, Dan saw this as his opportunity to clarify a few things with her. Mainly the situation between her and Nate Archibald. Dan thought back to the day Nate came to see him at the coffee shop; he thought about how outspoken Vanessa was, then he thought about the following day. They were hugging and laughing like they were old friends. And he was thoroughly confused by this because he knew how Vanessa felt about the Upper East Siders. He cleared his throat to get her attention, "Speaking of the SAT, I saw you there," he declared.
Vanessa seemed genuinely surprised by this, "You did? Why didn't you say anything?"
He raised the cup to his mouth. "You were with Nate," he mumbled into the rim. Vanessa nodded as if she had forgotten all about it. After a long pause, he added, "I should probably mention that Blair saw you, too." There was no initial response to that, but she seem somewhat pleased as she walked from behind the counter and took a seat at one of the tables at the back, where Dan noticed her laptop sitting open. It appeared that she didn't want to discuss the matter and had it been anyone else, Dan would've left it alone, but he hated being left out of the loop.
He went and sat across from her, hoping to get her to spill. They sat in silence for nearly two minutes when Dan decided to do what any normal friend does, prod for information. "So . . .what's the story?" he prompted, trying to sound casual. Vanessa ignored him and continued to attack the computer keys at a fascinating speed, her eyes never wavering from the screen. "Alright. I'll just go ask Nate. And you know how guys are when they talk about girls."
She knew he was bluffing. "Go ask him then," she said.
This was getting Dan nowhere. They were friends. Why couldn't she just give up all the juicy details? He sighed and regarded her from across the table with a solemn face. "I'd rather hear it from my best friend," he told her. She looked at him and he gave his best impression of the puppy dog eyes. Dan knew she was starting to cave when she rolled her eyes at him. When in doubt, play the 'best friend' card, gets 'em every time. "What were you doing there anyway?"
"Taking the SAT," she replied, matter-of-factly.
He looked a little surprised. "You took the test?"
That took a moment to settle on him. "Why?" Dan asked, which apparently, Vanessa took as an insult to her intelligence.
She went on defense, folding her arms across her chest. "Why not?" she replied, peering at him over her laptop. "It was surprisingly easy."
Score one for V. She really knew how to bruise an ego. "Where does Nate fit into this?"
She deeply sighed. "He was the one that convinced me to take it and he gave me a ride," she explained.
She watched as Dan thought that over then he frowned, "Why would he do that?" he asked. "You were so rude to him before."
"I felt bad about the way I acted. So, later that day, I asked Nate to meet with me and I apologized."
"You apologized?" he scoffed.
"You're one to talk," she mumbled.
Dan looked offended. "Was it a real apology?"
Vanessa prepared to look offended right back, but then he laughed. She just stared at him for a second. What does he mean a 'real' apology? she thought. What she said was, "What kind of person do you take me for, Humphrey?"
"I know you," he pointed out. "You have ways of apologizing to people without actually apologizing." Score one for Dan. He did know her.
"Yes, it was a genuine apology," she stated. "Unlike you, I actually admit when I'm wrong and I was wrong. I misjudged him."
"I could've told you that."
"He's not at all how I thought he'd be," she confessed with a smirk.
Dan watched quietly as she went back to typing. There had to be more to it. He smiled, wagging his finger at her, "There's still something you're not telling me, V."
She looked at him, really looked at him. As long as she'd known Dan, he never witnessed her interaction with other guys. And of all the ways she expected him to react, this wasn't one of them. There was no hidden anger or petty jealousy, he seemed fascinated and generally interested. Giving it some thought, she really had no one else to talk to about it and it would most likely distract him from his worries about Serena. She decided to finally give in and started from the beginning. She didn't deem it necessary to tell him about 'the kissing' so she skipped right over that part. A girl's entitled to keep a secret or two.
"So, it was a date?" he inquired when Vanessa finished speaking. He drank the remaining drops of his first cup. Most likely hoping for a second one.
"I don't know if I would call it a date. We hung out, ate some food and talked."
"Yeah, that's a date," he clarified. Studying her for a moment, he noticed how hard she was trying not to smile. Then she pursed her lips when she caught him looking.
"You like him," he accused with contentment. She scoffed at his accusation and retrieved the empty cup from his hand. She went behind the counter to get him a refill and hoped he wouldn't notice her slightly blushing. "You do. You like him."
"Nate's a very likable guy. He's nice, smart, funny. . . ." she trailed off, returning to Dan with his coffee. The look on his face did not go unnoticed. "What?"
"No, this is good," he said, nodding. "This is definitely of the good." He took a big sip from his cup, not caring that the hot liquid burned his tongue. "I'll finally have someone to talk to at all those stupid social events."
Vanessa raised her head and blinked. "What are you talking about?" she asked, clearly not understanding.
"I'm talking about you and Nate. You're not a third wheel anymore, V." He relaxed into his chair then snapped his fingers as a new idea struck him. "We can do a double-date!"
"Finally," he interrupted. "Another couple to hang with."
Vanessa shook her head very slightly. This was quickly spinning out of control. She saved her work then snapped her computer shut to give Delusional Dan her full attention. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves," she said. "I mean, sure we had fun together but the truth is, we probably won't see each other again." It was sad, but that's actually what she believed. She was always taught to see things for what they really are. All she could do was hope.
He shook his head. "You should really think positive, Vanessa."
"He hasn't called," she admitted.
"Give it time before you write him off completely. And whoever said it was the man's job to initiate everything? Have you tried calling him?" Her only reply was silence which, as it turns out, was enough of an answer for Dan. He just shrugged, "Doesn't matter anyway," he remarked.
"Why is that?"
A lopsided grin spread across his face. "Because he just walked through the door," he answered. There wasn't much time for Vanessa to react before Nate appeared beside them. Vanessa was momentarily stunned and she could do nothing but smile like a fool. Nate smiled down at her, his dimple winking with the motion. He looked good dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans and a black cashmere sweater, but she had a feeling he would look good even if he wore a potato sack. "We were just talking about you," Dan said as he motioned for Nate to join them.
Nate took the offered seat, then smiled as he turned to Vanessa and asked, "You were talking about me?"
"Vanessa was just telling me all about your date," Dan said. He was clearly having too much fun with this.
She wrinkled her nose as if she disapproved but couldn't keep the smile from her lips. "I didn't say it was a date."
"Why are you smiling?" he taunted.
"I didn't call it a date," she repeated more sternly.
"Why not?" asked Nate. "I'd call it a date."
Dan nodded in agreement. "See, even Nate says it was a date."
Vanessa looked at Dan until Nate leaned closer to her, "I do recall us kissing." he said softly.
Dan suddenly sputtered into his drink and began coughing convulsively. When he finally caught his breath, Nate and Vanessa were both staring at him. One with a little concern, the other with slight irritation. He quickly grabbed a napkin to wipe his mouth. "Hot coffee," he supplied as an explanation for his impulsive outburst. Ordinarily, Vanessa would call him on his bullshit, but he might call her on the fact that she left out the juiciest part of the story so, she chose to ignore it.
Instead, she smiled broadly at Nate, "Dan was just leaving," she informed him.
He was actually considering staying and having a little more fun, but then Vanessa fixed him with a menacing look in her eye. "Bye, Nate," Dan laughed, getting up from his seat.
Nate gave a little wave. "Later."
"Bye, Vanessa," he sang, weaving through the tables and moving toward the door. Vanessa half expected him to embarrass her further by making kissy noises and weird faces on his way out, but was thankful when he just raised his brows suggestively. It wasn't much better, but at least it went unnoticed by Nate. She waited till she saw him stop on the sidewalk before giving Nate her full attention.
"So," he said, suddenly taking her back to their doorstep moment. It made her giggle.
"So. . " she repeated. Then they both laughed at how silly they were being. Vanessa pushed her hair behind her ear, out of habit. "Um, you want some coffee?"
She stood from the table and went behind the counter. "Double espresso, right?"
That made him smirk. "You remembered." Of course she remembered. As she waited for the fresh pot to finish brewing, she stole a glance over her shoulder. Yeah, he was looking. What was she? Twelve? Something about him really brought the adolescent girl out of her. She blushed and smiled all the time, and she even did that little girly giggle she was never fond of. Was it his eyes? Those adorable dimples? She took a deep breath, smelling a hint of his cologne mingled with the smell of fresh coffee. She turned and found him standing just on the other side of the counter, his eyes watching something outside. Vanessa took the opportunity to check him out. Delicious was the only word that came to mind at the time.
She gently sat the drink in between them, bringing his focus back to her. "It's on the house," she said.
"Thank you." His eyes stayed on her as he slowly slid the drink aside and leaned forward on his elbows. "So, you wanna do something tonight?"
Confidently, she leaned forward, meeting him halfway across the counter. Vanessa hoped he was planning to kiss her. "Like what?" she asked as he started playing with the gold bracelets dangling from her wrist. His pinky finger lightly grazed her skin, sending a vibration of electricity up her spine. God, she hoped he didn't notice that.
"I don't know. Let's wing-it," he suggested. His voice held a slight anticipation and she had a feeling that he didn't get to say 'wing-it' often. Like his time spent was always scheduled and in no way adventurous. His gaze suddenly dropped to her lips and any thoughts she may have had immediately flew away. "Let's see where the night takes us."
Wherever the night takes us. Vanessa smiled. She liked that idea. "Okay."
"Okay," he whispered, reaching up to finger a wavy tendril of her hair. He definitely knew how to turn any moment into an intimate one. She smiled at him coyly as he fixed his eyes on her lips once more and he leaned closer . . . .then an extremely loud slurp startled them both. Vanessa scanned the place for the intruder and found Humphrey sitting not too far away, watching their whole exchange with amusement. You're supposed to be gone, her eyes clearly stated. He smiled, saluting her with a tip of his coffee cup. She turned back to Nate who was now close to laughter. The mood was officially killed. "I gotta run," he said, checking his watch. "But I'll be by to pick you up later. Say seven o'clock?"
"Okay." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and grabbed his coffee. She watched him leave then turned, glaring daggers at Dan and his smug grin. "What the hell was that?" she demanded.
His second slurp was equally as loud as the first. A woman seated at the next table sneered at him in disgust. "Payback," he said, now approaching her. "For walking-in on me and Serena."
"That was an accident!" she protested.
He shrugged, flippantly. "Whatever. You totally cockblocked me that day."
She stared at him in disbelief, but couldn't keep her lips from twitching into a smile. "I want to like. . .strangle you so bad right now."