"Bobby is officially moved out."
She doesn't look up from the shoebox full of photographs as Brendan collapses on the other end of the couch. There won't be comforting her, not tonight. That's not why she called him and that's not why he showed up with a stack of VHS tapes buried in a box long forgotten. It's not why he pops the cap off a beer and hands it to her before picking up a worn album full of weathered snapshots. It's not why either of them are there. Really, it's not.
It's a pattern that started back in college after her first real boyfriend broke her heart just a few weeks before the spring formal. PJ maintains to this day that she didn't call Brendan looking for him to cheer her up. She just asked him to hang out, much like tonight when she called him at a few minutes past midnight, sniffling on the other end of the line while demanding that he bring a six pack with him. This was just a celebration of their friendship without Stephanie or any of the guys. It was totally normal.
Of course, Brendan knew this to be a lie, but he never once told her otherwise. This is how PJ needed to deal with the hard stuff, and as her official best friend (no matter what Stephanie said), it was his job to make sure that he held up his end of the bargain. He brought the movies and the beer, while PJ offered up the snacks and the venue. It usually started with her looking over old photographs and crying into her beer, at which point she'd tell him to put in a movie so that she could blame the tears on some sappy plotline.
"Do you remember this?"
Brendan glances from his own album to a pair of photographs on her knee. They are snapshots of them together, all those years ago in college, standing together on a beach during Spring Break of their sophomore year. They look happy and he knows that they were. There were very few times he wasn't happy to be with PJ. She was his best friend, his shoulder to cry on, his saving grace. She definitely made his life better and made him a better person in the process.
"I do," he tells her softly as he wraps an arm around her shoulder. PJ sniffles a little as she lays her head on his shoulder, squinting at the faded photographs as if she is trying to remember what it was like to be that happy. "That was just before we went to that fiesta on the beach. You looked so beautiful dancing in the moonlight in your white dress and bare feet. I've never seen you let go so completely. I wish that everyone got to know the PJ I saw that night."
"There are parts of me that only you get to know," she confides before turning over the photograph to read its inscription. It's nothing more than a date, but they both know that it's significant because it's the first time they kissed. They both pretend not to remember, never acknowledging that this is something that has happened more than once. They certainly don't talk about the kiss that happened a few years ago, before Bobby started to matter as more than a friend again. "I made a mistake, Bren."
He kisses her forehead and shakes her head. "Bobby is the one who made a mistake," he reminds her. He knows that his friend – make that his former friend – left after he was offered a job in New York. PJ refused to leave her beloved city or her beloved Cubs in the vain hope that she might get picked up in the Big Apple. She was a Chicago writer through and through, and loyalty mandated that she stay as far away from the Yankees as possible. "Besides, New York has awful beer, and their hot dogs aren't much better. You belong here."
What he doesn't say, what she wants to hear and what he means, is that she belongs there with him. He's spent much of the past year single, working hard to make his bar one of the most successful in the city and getting his DJing career back on track. She comes to hear him spin every Sunday night at the club, bopping along just a smidgeon off beat but never complaining when she has to run box scores in his tiny dressing room instead of from the comfort of her own home. When there are night games and he has a set, he'll come back to her apartment after and help her write her column. It's a little pattern they fell into two months ago when Bobby left for Manhattan. He had pretty much moved out the month before that, but PJ had just got around to sending the last boxes today; thus, the phone call.
"Thanks, Bren," she smiles smally as he brushes another kiss on her forehead. He asks if she wants to watch a movie yet but she shakes her head. "Maybe we just talk for a little bit." He gets that the suggestion is more of an insistence and doesn't push it. There is something else on her mind. "Stephanie and Kenny were by earlier. Did you hear their news?"
"Who would have thought they'd end up married?" he laughs. The two of them had their ups and downs, but they were definitely made for each other. No one else could tolerate either of them, Brendan reasoned, and that was how they had stuck together. Kenny had asked Stephanie to marry him that weekend while they were at the lake, kneeling down and giving her the exact diamond she had been not-so-subtly hinting about the past two months. "It was only a matter of time. I guess that makes us the last two men standing."
Mike was still happily married, and Andy was living it up in the suburbs with his family. PJ and Brendan were in fact the last singletons in their little group, but neither of them seemed phased. PJ had been beat up after the emotional breakup her last relationship had left her with, and Brendan had just watched her go through it. They weren't exactly chomping at the bit to go through all that again.
"Remember when Stephanie used to insist that we'd be the first ones to get married?" she reminded him with a laugh. Their mutual friend from college had maintained thatthey would wake up one day and fall in love. Her prediction had been severely off, with Brendan spending that first decade after college chasing Wendy and PJ floating between casual relationships and Bobby. There had been that brief moment of promise in the kitchen some years back, but that was gone. All they had been left with was a friendship that had endured a lot more than an awkward kiss. "Man, she couldn't have been more wrong."
"Yeah…" Brendan trails off as he looked down at PJ. She peered up at him with those blue eyes, the ones that had traded smirky glances and meaningful glares and annoyed looks and pretty much every other unspoken emotion over the years. "Wrong, totally wrong." He lets the words drawl out because he doesn't really believe them. He never did. He just let her believe that he did. "So how you doing, Peej?"
"I'm doin' all right, Brendo," she giggles, uneasy about his sudden shift in mood. "I'm thinking. I've been thinking a lot lately, actually." She pulls away then and hands him another photo album, this one red leather and filled to the brim with photos of just the two of them. She flips through the first few pages. There is shot after shot of them smiling at different concerts, games, bars, venues. There are ones on the beach, ones in snow, ones in their shared apartment. Her favorite is one where they are smiling up at each other in the stands at Wrigley, sunglasses hiding his eyes and a Cubs had shading hers. It was so quintessentially them. "What if we are the only ones who didn't see it?"
"See what?" His voice is hopeful but he's still not sure.
"This," she answers, tapping that photograph. "That there is more to this than beer and poker and baseball and friendship." She keeps her gaze fixed on that photograph, afraid of what she'll see if she looks up into his eyes. "That there's more to us than this."
Brendan tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and shakes his head. "What if you are the only one who didn't see it, PJ?" The question hangs in the air, letting her know that he has known all along. He knew in college and he knew with Wendy. He knew with Bobby and during those awkward years where they shared a mutual bedroom wall. Most of all, he knew when he had kissed her in the apartment that night and he knew it when she came back from taking Stephanie her keys. He knew it and that's why he left and why he knew that he had to pretend that there wasn't more. "I knew, PJ. I've always known. You were the only one who didn't."
Her hands are on him then, grasping for whatever she can touch as she crawls into his lap and just hugs him. He holds her back. There are no kisses this time, only true affection – a connection more real than they've ever shared and definitely more than either of them have ever had with anyone else before. Brendan presses his forehead to hers and whispers confessions that he has long wanted to share and PJ gives him these secret treasures of her own. And when they are done, when they are both sure that their eyes are wide open and that they know everything, Brendan takes her hand and holds it tightly. They both feel like they've finally come home.
"Do you love me?"
Her question comes as he pulls a blanket across their laps and her head finds its home on his shoulder. "Of course I do, Peej, that's what all this is about," he chuckles. "And I'll marry you tomorrow if that's what you want or in two months or a year from now. It's whatever you want because I have what I've always wanted now. I have the club and friends and a great life in Chicago, but most importantly, I finally have you."
It's cheesy and romantic and everything she usually hates, but it sounds perfect coming from her best friend. She lets him kiss her then, a soft kiss that doesn't last more than a breath or two. And then she tells him that she'd like to get married in the fall, after the Series so that she can enjoy her honeymoon without having to worry about batting lineups and injury reports. He never really asks so she never has to accept. It just happens, kind of like everything else with them.
After all, life is what happens when you're busy watching baseball.