Mints

Even though Andy adored his ringtone, he adored Erin a slight bit more. And that's who was calling.

He knelt down on his couch, eagerly flipping open the phone and casting away the TV remote he'd finally uncovered.

"Hi, Andy...?" She sounded frantic, but not in the least bit upset. Some would call it 'excited', but they didn't know Erin well enough.

"Erin! Hey, what is it?"

"Long story, kind of... but I left my keys at work on my desk, and my foster mom has the spare key, but she's in Denver this week, and... can I stay at your house tonight?"

"Sure. Absolutely. Yes, and fine, love to have ya."

"Oh, you're the best. Let me pick up dinner or something for you. I'm about fifteen minutes away right now."

He smiled, widening it and waiting for her to answer it. After realizing that they were talking over the phone, he offered her an awkward 'goodbye' and surged from his seat.

Fifteen minutes...

Andy considered her company, and thought of ways to compliment it, without seeming too desperately romantic. He was amazed at his own impulsive brilliance; he stumbled first to his jar of mints (always kept on hand to battle a singer's sore throat) and grabbed two to place on the pillows. Hadn't he seen that in a hotel once? Yes. He made sure, also, that the sheets were clean, matching, and neat.

Next on his list was a robe. He had a couple, so she deserved one. Was that too much? Just in case it wasn't, he cut a flower from his front garden and tied it to the robe's bow, in a blind attempt to tip the scales. Oh, she would need clothes to sleep in! Andy was sure she would look completely adorable in an old, handsomely distressed, not-too-wrinkly Cornell t-shirt. If he could find one in time.

As he heard the doorbell, he hauled a Here Comes Treble shirt from the very back of his closet. On his way to the door, he threw the shirt and a blanket over the couch. He assumed he would get stuck there.

She stood, in the same peachy dress from work, on his door mat. She dusted her feet over it a couple times too many, and passed him the fragrant catering bag so she could hug him properly.

"Thanks, Andy." She pulled away, took the bag back, and shut the door behind her, "I hope it isn't too much... I just got spaghetti from Cello's."

"That's great... goes perfectly with tonight's movie screening... let me go find Lady and the Tramp."

He helped her set the food on his dining room table, then sprinted for the drawers beneath his TV cabinet.

"That's so cute; you have Disney movies..."

He gave her a slight, nervously jumping laugh, which she returned.

The movie was put on, and dinner was eaten. They shared a chat about the day's events at work (during whatever time they spent more than five feet apart), and complimented the food as if the chef stood nearby, waiting to bow with a flourish of his flour-speckled hat.

It was friendly. Until near midnight.

"Do you have a shower?" Erin asked this innocently, as if he could tell her no.

He hadn't even thought of it during his raving preparations.

"Uhh... it's not clean."

"That's okay. I'm sorry I asked. I can shower at home tomorrow after work. Or I could come in late if I shower first. That might be better, huh?"

"Hmm... yah. Definitely."

"Oh! Tomorrow's Wednesday and I really missed my bedtime. For work nights." She kicked off her heels and tucked them beneath the table.

"Same." Offered Andy, "And uh... I didn't think you'd have your, um... 'jammy jams', so there's a shirt on the couch. It's clean I promise."

She giggled and picked it up, turning it over to read the logo.

"The bedroom's down the hall, to your left, and there's a robe for you on the bathroom counter." Andy proceeded, taking a half-step forward and pointing, "I'll be out here if you need anything."

"I don't wanna take over your whole house, Andy. You're doing me a favor... I can sleep on the couch."

Her eyes brimmed with urgency that he just couldn't catch on to.

"Oh no, the bed's more comfortable. Go ahead, get some sleep."

She looked down and bit briefly at her knuckle. Thoughts spun on her mind's rotisserie, until one volunteered itself, edges charred.

"We'll just split the bed in half." She caught his uncertain frown and tossed it gently back, "You're like my best friend, it's okay."

And thus, they both prepared for bed, taking turns in the bathroom more flawlessly than any set of siblings or married couple ever could.

At the exact same moment, they tore off the covers, standing at the side of the bed.

Erin picked up the mint from the pillow and smiled as she smelled it.

"Cheers." Andy told her, picking his up too.

They ate them and curled up on the bed.

"Goodnight, Andy. Thanks again, for everything."

"Sure thing. G'night."

Andy switched off the lights and watched her back quiver under the Cornell shirt, until he was sure that she'd fallen asleep.

There was something that linked them together; their need for approval. A constant yearn for attention, which was never quite answered.

He felt like crying at this realization... how long would it take her to realize they needed each other?

Overcome by what he later considered madness, Andy wrapped his arms around her waist. His face curved over her shoulder and he tried not to cry onto it... that would chill her skin, abandoned by the too-loose shirt and folded blankets.

Her eyes blazed open, but she didn't move... this felt nice, anyway. A part of her wanted to reach back and hold him even tighter. Her heart danced in its moonlit jail cell, glaring up at her brain, which jangled the keys.

She reached down for his hands and patted them. They were cold, but they instantly relaxed when she got to them.

Erin turned carefully around to face him, but he kept his eyes shut. It would be ruined if he opened them only to see her pending disapproval.

He shivered as she put her arms around his back. Within her, the jail-keys fell and shattered.

They fell asleep in each other's arms. And they woke up, advertising the same brand of friendship they always kept in stock. Since the day they met, and forever, hopelessly, into the future.

She looked casually into the mirror the next morning, wishing she could brush her teeth, but grinning as Andy tossed her one of his older, brighter jackets and folded khakis.

"You'll look great." He promised, leaving her alone in the bathroom.

And he drove her to work, where she cowered behind her desk to avoid questions about her wardrobe. Andy made sure not to look her way, even when Erin proudly picked up her keys and waved them in his direction.

It was more normal than anything else the office had ever witnessed. Maybe Erin should forget her keys more often.

She planned to.