The Readiness Is All

I never like to back down when I'm certain that I'm right about something. Old habits die hard. And I'm going to be completely honest here-when it comes to a difference of opinion between me and Lor...I'm almost always right. No, I'm not being an egotist. Believe me, I have my moments, but I don't need to be stroked that badly. And it's not because I think Lor is stupid. It's because Lor is Lor, and she's the type to jump without thinking. There's plenty of arguments we've had where, ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. Stupid, little arguments, about stupid little things, that never really tested the cohesion of our friendship. I suppose I should remember to understand that even when Lor is wrong...she may be right. Right for her that is. She doesn't live her life like other people do. Like I do. And what is right and wrong for me isn't the same for her. Maybe I need to remember that more often.

But this one is big. And deep down, I know that I'm right. What I don't want to admit...what I have to admit...is that she's also right, and it scares me. It would be so much easier if she could've just left Tino for Phil. Maybe easier on all of us. But I can't accuse her of that. I can't, because it isn't true. The signs have been there for a long time. Come on, Tish; admit it to yourself, you called it back when they first got together. Lor is incapable of understanding Tino at that intimate a level. Beyond the fun, beyond the affection, beyond the sex...they just aren't compatible people. Because they don't have enough values in common to maintain a relationship. And neither of them is capable of living their lives the way the other does. It's a basic, underlying conflict that can be ignored and denied for only so long. But sooner or later, as all relationships do, you have to make a bigger commitment...and then things just fall apart. Exactly as I knew they would almost two years ago. Exactly as they wanted them to. God, I should hate myself for thinking that, but I think I would hate myself more if I didn't own up to it. I always wanted them to fail as a couple. But it wasn't jealousy. Yes, it's true; I do want Tino for myself. But both of them are dear friends, and I couldn't lift a finger against them. Because it would've poisoned any chance I could have had with him on my own. And if we do ever get together...that's not how I want it to happen. So I kept my distance and stayed in the friend zone. I didn't do anything to influence their relationship, I just let it grow, peak, and decline on its own, let nature take its course, like I knew it would. And I did nothing to interfere in their affairs. As tempting as it was, I refused to strengthen the strain between them as it grew. So, hooray for honor, right? Except I don't feel proud of myself. Because in the end, as much as I restrained myself for tipping the balance, I didn't help them either.

If I had been a better friend, to either of them, I would've done something to help. I would've offered some real advice to Lor. I would've asked Tino what it was he loved about Lor, helped him to keep focused on that. I would've been a sounding board, or...or something. But instead, I was nothing. I am nothing. And I have nothing to celebrate. So what if Lor is the only person left who doesn't realize that she's in love with Phil. Maybe she even genuinely believes it. And if so, how sad for her, because she'll let the greatest opportunity her life has given her pass by. Part of me wonders if she would, too, just to spite me. But I like to think that she's better than that. Certainly more mature. So why are the both of us acting like children?

I move out of the living room and into the kitchen. I just want to clear my head. Chamomile has always served me well in that regard, and I search for a canister of Prince of Wales to see if it can soothe what's ailing me. I find it, a light shade of purple, in the cupboard where I keep my oversized mugs. Ironically, there's one in there with a picture of the four of us, back when we were in high school. It was the afternoon of our junior prom, we all went to our usual pizza place before going home to get ready for the big night. We all looked so much happier then. But of course, we weren't living in the real world. Hell, we still aren't. We're fortunate in that regard. Our problems, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively minute. So why do I feel like the melancholy Dane?

I never have really gotten over Tino. It's always been him, in one fashion or another. I should know better, but...he's just so cute. And I don't just mean that he's easy on the eyes. He's just so...helpless. But he tries. For all of his idiosyncrasies and sarcasm, he really has one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen. He's gentle, and my heart has always gone out to him. Sometimes, I've probably even indulged him too much. He has trouble letting go of things, but...he still manages to grow and evolve, with a little help from his friends. I think that was really what bothered me about the whole Tino and Lor dating thing in the first place. It wasn't really outright jealousy. Okay, sure, there was a little...but it wasn't that simple. I've always had a little crush on him, but it wasn't like a sweaty palms, nervous stutter, deep, dark secret kind of thing. It's always been there since I was young, but I've never really done anything about it. It's more like a little bee that buzzes in my head late at night when I can't get to sleep and I truly feel alone, or the warmth I feel inside whenever we hang out together and it's apparent that, despite our own differences, we're on the same basic wavelength. God only knows it would take someone with his foibles to be able to put up with mine. And yet, we've never taken our relationship in that direction. We've always been friends, wonderful friends, and maybe in the end, I'm too scared to risk changing that. And yet, I couldn't understand what Lor had that I didn't. Honestly, I still don't. Maybe he just wanted someone who was different, a little of the old yin and yang. But, it takes a lot more than that to make a relationship work.

Lor didn't shed much in the way of tears over their breakup. But then, I get the feeling that she was the one to instigate it. Whatever her motivations, it was Lor who was the unhappy one. Tino either didn't see it, or ignored it. Because he doesn't like change. He would've rolled on and on with Lor, and she would have ended up hating him. She says that she didn't dump him for Phil. I don't want to believe it...not because I think so badly of Lor, but because it makes it all the harder for me to even try to approach Tino about all this. How could he ever even want to consider getting involved with me after what happened with Lor? So I get to be the odd one out again. I should go to him, as a friend if nothing else. I should go to him, and make him have some fun, and maybe...maybe try to get over the sad part. He has a habit of dwelling on the things that go badly, and I worry that he'll blame himself. He just doesn't have it in him to be angry at her, but I need to know how he's taking it.

I put the water on to boil and walk outside, sitting down on my front stoop. It's been dark for an hour, but the weather is warm and the streetlights make this college town seem more like home. How did it ever come to this? And will Lor really pass this up? We are given so few chances at true happiness in life, and if she can't see that Philip Deville was born and bred for her companionship...then I fear that she really will always be a drifter. But she's ready, God, for all her faults, she's more mature now than she ever has been. She's ready for her great adventure, if she'll only reach out and start the journey. But am I ready for my own? The words come to my mind unbidden, and though I would rather chase them out, I hear myself speaking, quietly, to no audience.

"There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all."

Funny how those words aren't any less true today than they were hundreds of years ago. Sometimes, we have to accept that things will simply happen, and we need to be ready for them. Am I ready? My question floats upward, to the stars. Maybe there is a way of knowing, but it's going to be awkward.

OO-OO

I'm lying apathetically on the couch, an oversized cup of tea on the ancient coffee table sitting beside me. My cell phone is in my lap. I've turned it over in my mind over and over. There's only one thing left to do. Call him. The readiness is all. In one brief moment of bravery, I do it. Speed dial number three, right after my parents and the corner pizza joint.

"Tish?" I hear his voice on the other end of the phone, and it has this way of simultaneously making me feel calm and relaxed while also making me feel like I can't catch my breath.

"Hi Tino. I, um, needed to ask you a weird question?"

"Weird?"

"Uh-huh."

"Sure, go ahead. I've had a little too much normality in my life today." I heard the chuckle in his voice.

"Um, do you happen to have Kimi's number?"

"Kimi? Kimi Finster?"

"Yeah. I had dinner with...someone tonight." I knew I was chickening out, but the last thing I wanted him to know was that I had been with Lor. Best to avoid mentioning her name for the time being. "And I needed to ask her something." Tino seemed to pause for a moment, digesting this. He probably knew I had seen Lor. I wouldn't bother to deny it if he called me on it. I mean, obviously, what possible reason could he think I would have for speaking with her? What could be going through his mind?

"She actually lives in two buildings down from here. I haven't talked to her in a little while, I probably should." Tino stalled.

"I told you it was a weird, Tino. Look, I would tell you, but...it's kind of a girl thing." Maybe I can tell you about it later, but for now...I just really need to talk to her. There's a few more seconds of silence, and then he gives me the number. Now if I can just get the courage to dial it, I'll be okay. Maybe.

"Hey, Tino?"

"Yeah?"

"Look, I was thinking...I'm off this weekend. Maybe we should get together. It's been awhile since we talked about anything. What do you say?" Remember earlier, how I was saying how this wasn't a sweaty palms crush? It isn't. So why do I suddenly feel so nervous?

"How about if we talk on Friday night?" Tino responded, apparently not repulsed by the idea of seeing an old friend.

"I'll call you. And...I'll try to explain myself." I emphasized.

"Fair enough. Talk to you then, Tish. And good luck."

"Thanks." I whispered into the phone. I didn't realize I was still holding it up to my ear as it clicked away to a dial tone, the angry beeping noise startling me out of my reverie. At length, I toggle the button on the phone that clicks it off, grabbing the mug and taking a long pull on its dark but unimposing taste. It settles my nerves a little. But it's still hard to get up the nerve to make this phone call. I barely even know this girl. But I can't talk to Lor about this. Not now, anyway. She's the only other person who is even on the edge of my circle that can understand my plight. I can only hope that she'll share in it with me. Come on, Tish. Let's do this.

It's only a series of ten buttons, but each one beeps in response to my touch with an echo of finality. Perhaps I'm embarking on a new journey by doing this. If so, I'll try to have no regrets. There are too many clouding my judgment already. About the last thing I need is to take myself on a tour of them. Tonight is going to be about taking some measure of control over my happiness. I hope.

"Hello?" The voice that greets me is a mixture of fatigue and puzzlement. Great, not only is she taking a call from someone who might as well be a total stranger, but I probably got her at a bad time as well.

"Hi. Um, this is going to sound rather strange, I don't know if you'll even remember me. I'm Tish? A close friend of Tino and Lor..."

"Oh, right! You're that girl...yeah...ugh, sorry, I didn't mean for that to sound so..."

"It's okay, really." Tish explained, moving past the awkward introduction. "Look, I know this is weird, but I don't know who else to talk to. And I was hoping you could help."

Kimi pursed her lips. "Is this about Lor?"

"No, it isn't. Not really, anyway. I had a fight with her tonight, but that's not what I'm calling you about."

"Not to be rude, but this isn't going to be quick, is it?"

"I don't think so." I shook my head. What was I even thinking? You can't just call someone you barely know and ask them to help you with a personal problem.

"Well, since you are a friend of Lor, I'd be honored to help." Kimi's voice sounded different, noticeably more cheery than it was when this conversation began. "Give me a few minutes, I need to get settled. I've got your number on my caller ID. Ring you back in ten minutes?"

"Sure. Hey Kimi?"

"What?"

"Thank you for this. We don't really know each other, and I think I already regret that."

"Then I guess we'll just have to get to know each other." There was a smile in her voice. She really was a genuine person. It's funny, but I immediately decided that I liked this girl. "I promise I'll call you right back."

"Thanks Kimi. I'll talk to you soon." I released the call with a gentle press of the button. Somehow, everything was going to be okay.

OO-OO

I counted off the minutes by changing into a nightgown and settling into my futon, my back propped up by pillows. I tucked in with a light fleece blanket, and reheated my cup of tea for optimum comfort. This was going to be a girls' night in, and I was so ready. Sitting with the phone in my lap, I feel so grateful for the opportunity to grow and affect some kind of positive change in my life. I smile as it rings after what seems like an eternity but was really only a few minutes. Keeping promises means a lot to me. "Hello?"

"Hi. Thanks for giving me a few minutes; I just wanted to settle in if we're in for a long haul."

"I don't want to keep you up all night."

"Perhaps...it all depends on where we're going. Something tells me I'm not the only one who will take something away from this."

"You're very kind, Kimi."

"No, you just haven't seen me when I'm angry." Kimi laughs. I think I like the sound of it. Because it isn't fake. "So let's get to know each other. Tell me a little about yourself. You said you're a close friend of Lor. I've heard her mention you, but there hasn't been much in the details about you or Carter."

"Carver. With a 'v." I correct her politely.

"Sorry."

"No big. Anyway, the four of us, we've known each other since, well, since grade school. It was somewhere in the first grade when we signed our Friendship Charter..." I continue regaling Lor with the story behind our friendship for nearly half an hour. It's probably rather interesting to her, to hear things from a different perspective than she's used to. I can tell she's genuinely interested, because she keeps asking questions. And then the conversation turns to her own circle, and now I'm even more convinced of how perfect Lor and Phil are for each other. Not that I can ever mention that to Kimi, of course.

I sigh rather wistfully at hearing her story. "You know, you really are fortunate that you were able to find your way to Phil. You've got a good thing going. Honestly, that's why I wanted to talk to you. I mean...not about you and Phil specifically, but...I think I may have a situation."

"And you want to know how you turn a friend into a lover without screwing the whole thing up." Kimi finishes for me.

"Yes, but...it gets worse. It's Tino, and...I'm worried that he would never even consider me as a woman considering the way things ended with Lor. I know it wasn't nasty...but I know Tino. He blames himself. And he feels like he failed her. I don't think he could ever bring himself to risk "failing" me as well."

"Ouch, that sounds complicated. Okay, you've got me on this one. I mean, I'm dating Phil. He's rather easy going. And Tino is a little..."

"Uptight? Idiosyncratic? Neurotic?"

"Um...maybe I'd better not pin a word to it. He and Phil...they never got along well. It's not like they hated each other or anything, but...when the four of us would get together, you could tell things were off. Tino would kind of struggle to keep up with Lor. And because they live together and think alike, Phil and Lor would always be on the same wavelength. I wouldn't ever mention it to him-but I think Tino was kind of threatened by Phil. Not so much that he though Phil was trying to steal Lor away, more like...that Phil could talk with her so effortlessly. I don't think Tino was a jealous guy, but I think he envied that. I know I do."

"You?" I blink in surprise, startled.

"Well, yeah. Phil and I are from different worlds, and we have different priorities. But what makes us work is because we always set them aside for each other. Because it just feels good to be together. And when he makes his little romantic gestures...they always remind me of how I feel for him in the first place. I don't know, I guess it's complicated."

"Sounds perfect to me." I reply, thankful for her sharing.

"I wish it were." Kimi sighed. "But let me see what I can do to help you. Fundamentally, Tino's an okay guy. He's got his head screwed on straight. He's very loyal to his friends and loved ones, and he has a big heart. But, and I'm sure you know it far better than I; it's also a delicate one. He reminds me of my brother, in that regard. They should probably meet.

"I can only imagine. They'd probably have a lot to talk about!"

"I'll see if I can drag him with me sometime. Speaking of which, I feel like we should be doing this over coffee or something."

"I'm drinking a chamomile tea." I inform her, hoping to sound prepared.

"Sounds nice, Tish, but I was thinking more like a bistro?"

"Oh, right! Of course!" Smooth move. What is about meeting new people that always makes me come off as weird?

"I'm a little booked this weekend, but I think I could drive out to Bahia Bay the one after. Would you be up to it?"

"I'd love to!" I think I'm actually beaming. What is it about this girl that makes me feel so empowered?

"Okay if I crash, or would I be imposing?" Did she just invite herself to stay with me?

"I've got a futon if you don't mind. My place is a little small..." Did I just accept?

"I've been in worse, believe me. I'd tell you to ask Phil about our little camping fiasco-he tells it a lot better than I do. But I don't know when next you'll see him. Maybe I'll tell you when I visit."

Something inside of me stirs when she mentions her boyfriend. "Kimi, how will I know? With Tino, I mean. I think...I think if I'm honest with myself, I've been in love with him since the eighth grade. I just never took the chance, and..."

"And you're afraid it's gone forever. I wish I could give you some kind of a guarantee. But love is just something you have to let happen. And trust in. But sometimes..."

"Sometimes?" I prompted, quietly.

"Can I tell you something?"

"What?"

"You can't tell anyone else. I haven't told anyone yet, not even Phil."

"I promise, I won't even tell someone who's a stranger to you."

"I'm...I'm going to be leaving California, Tish."

"I've been offered an internship in New York...and I'm going. And I don't know what I'm going to tell him. Phil and I, we always compromise, always. And then we went to college, and the schools we wanted to go to weren't really close. But, neither of us wanted the other to change, so we decided to try out this long distance thing. And it's gone a lot better than I expected. We've kept it together. But this time...I can't compromise for him. And I don't know how I'm going to tell him that. It doesn't seem fair, somehow."

"But you want New York, right?" I ask her.

"Yeah. I want New York. No matter what." I'm not certain, but I think she might be crying, quietly. "Tish?"

"Yes?"

"Lor was good to Tino, right? In spite of what happened between them...do you think she made him happy?"

"I like to think so." And I do, really. I want to blame Lor...but I can't. Because she broke up with Tino for all the right reasons. It was very mature on her part. I never thought that 'mature' would be a word that I would use to describe Lor. Yet here I am, doing it. "She might not seem it, but she can be pretty mature when she decides to be."

"Just like Phil."

I wanted to say something, but it wasn't my place. Cupid's Arrow makes fools of us all from time to time. But it's when we are betrayed by it that we are the most vulnerable. "Are you okay, Kimi?"

"I'm fine. I just...think I might have gotten over something. Forget it. Did I even help you at all?"

"More than you know." I kept a smile in my voice.

"I'm glad. Anyway, I should get myself to bed; I have a long week ahead of me. Could you call me next Wednesday? I'll schedule my arrival with you."

"Sure thing. Thank you for everything, Kimi. We should've done this a long time ago."

"We're doing it now, Tish. That's what matters."

"It does, doesn't it?"

"Thanks, Tish."

"You're the one helping me, remember?"

"I know, but...I think what I needed right now was someone I could talk to who wasn't so..."

"Involved?" I fill in for her.

"Yeah. So Wednesday, okay? I think it'll do both of us a lot of good."

"I'll call. Tell Tino to remind me if you're worried."

"Want me to bring him along? Maybe I can finally coax him out of that funk he's been suffering through with the whole Lor situation."

This was difficult. I wanted her too, really. But at the same time, I knew I wasn't ready. Almost, but not quite. And I couldn't possibly talk with Kimi about how to approach Tino if he was with us. "Part of me would like that, but I think I should get a little more of your guidance first. But maybe I could come down on a weekend that's good for you and surprise him."

"Better yet, I could intentionally book you for a weekend that's bad for me and then he'd have to take you in-now that could be romantic!" The way Kimi was laughing, I wasn't certain how much was mirth, and how much was sinister plotting.

"We'll discuss that later." I was blushing; I could feel the heat rushing to my face. Thank goodness no one could see me.

"Fair enough. Just...don't be afraid to be a woman for him, otherwise you'll never get anywhere." Kimi grinned. "Talk to you later, Tish."

"You too. Take care." I sat listening to the sounds of a dial tone for several seconds, hanging up before the angry blaring telling me the phone was off the hook kicked in. Somehow, everything felt a little surreal, but calm and pleasant. I had a new friend, and I had a new goal. Things were looking up.

OooooooooO

I have always hated undressing in front of a mirror. It's not that I think I'm ugly; I'm actually satisfied with my face. A little dignity mixed in with quiet beauty. I've never cared for turning heads, it's always been about being comfortable. And I'm okay with that. It's my body I've never been happy with, and I've never quite known why. I don't feel that I'm too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. I'm not the athletic type, so it's alright that my legs aren't shapely or defined. I've learned to live with my chest. I like my hair. My glasses suit me, much more so than contacts. I don't know what it is, exactly, I just feel like the end result is...disappointing. I feel smaller and vulnerable when I change into my nightgown. Maybe it's the knowledge that I've never been truly loved before. Not romantically. I've had boyfriends, I've been touched...but there's never been that moment when I've been able to say I was in love, where I wanted to become one with someone else. Have I been holding out for him? I've always wanted Tino, but I don't think I've ever allowed myself to realize exactly how much. Those were dangerous thoughts, especially while he was seeing Lor, and I always kept him as an off limits figure in that regard. It's been building for awhile, for longer than I prefer to think about, and as I climb into bed, it begins to dawn on me. He is what I want, because he's always made me happy. Tino knows how to make me smile when it's the last thing that I want to do, and my heart has always gone out to him whenever I see him struggle. I've always had ideas when I think of my future, but when I think about him...I see children, and a station wagon, cold nights in the bleachers of soccer and little league, bundled up in a blanket next to him. I see long drives in a hot car, the kids in the backseat, visiting my parents and trying to teach them a little of their heritage...and none of that scares me. Not in the slightest. I'm not even certain if I'm scared that I'm not scared, if that makes any sense.

But...none of that is going to happen if I don't make the effort. Maybe he needs to make it too. I know that he needs to be loved; it's what he yearns for. But it's not just a case of needing someone, anyone. In the end, I think we really do fit together-but getting there is the hard part. How do you tell one of your best friends that you're in love with them without ruining it? I shut the light off; deciding sleeping on it was the best course of action for now. If I'm going to approach Tino, I'm going to need help. And definitely be in a better state of mind than I am right now. I drape the violet purple comforter over my head, letting the darkness lull me to sleep. To sleep, and perchance to dream...

Author's Notes

So I've been working on the Tertiary universe for some time now. Not nearly to the extent as Acepilot6. I started out four years ago as something of a creative consultant on the entire project and my contributions have since ballooned to where he's asked me to share in the actual creation process. At first I wasn't sure that I even knew what I was getting into. It's an uncharted territory for both of us. I've done some crossing over of characters before in a similar fashion—I believe that a crossover works best when the fact that it's a crossover is hardly even apparent. We both prefer to believe that all the characters inhabit different corners of the same large, rich universe, and now they're paths are having the opportunities to cross. It's the approach I took when I began working on Instant Gratification five years ago. Tertiary takes that simple concept and puts it on steroids.

It was with great anticipation that Tertiary was completed. But indeed, that was only the beginning of the collaboration. Ace got this brilliant idea for a sitcom style series modeled in the same universe, and asked me to come on board and write some episodes with him. So, I figured, what the hell?

To be honest, we've only just started, and I already have that whole "the journey is the destination" vibe going through my head. I'm psyched to be working on this new concept, broadening my horizons and hopefully bringing some joy to more readers out there. But, before we can tackle the ever expanding From Here On…, we need to tackle some backstories for some characters, and that brings us here. I'm currently tasked with handling all the Tish material, and loving every moment of it. I'm expecting this yarn here to be about five chapters in length, setting Tish and some other characters up for their roles in the new project as well as tying into Tertiary seamlessly. While I'm doing this, the literary mastermind and head puppet master is busy writing the other prequels and interquels that to flesh out other ideas. Look for The Best Laid Plans and The Gruen Transfer over in the Rugrats section if for some reason you've missed them. I promise you that you won't be disappointed.

The second chapter of Perchance To Dream already has some significant progress, but it hasn't finished yet. Likely by the end of this month. It depends on how well I can weather the coming News Corp. storm, but that's an occupational hazard I won't bore you all with. Suffice to say that you'll be hearing from me sooner rather than later.