"We ARE friends," she blurts out in place of a hello.
They're the only two people in the elevator the Monday after Danny's disaster of a party, and the tension in the air is thick and palpable, making her nervously chatty the minute the doors slide shut.
Mindy shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her coat. She watches the electronic panel on the wall tick to the second floor and flicks her eyes sideways; Danny frowns, but keeps his attention on the newspaper in his hand.
"I'm just saying," she continues, watching his reflection in the door. She balls her hands into angry fists in her pockets. "I know you didn't ask for it, but that's too bad, buddy. It happened. You and me? Officially qualify as friends."
He's quiet for another long few moments, and she begins to worry that he's going to ignore her for the foreseeable future. Just as she's about to open her mouth again, he sighs, and says, "I know, Min."
His reflection looks over at her, and she finally turns her head to face him. He looks tired, and somehow it stings a little. "Oh," she says. She nods. "Well. Good."
They both turn to stare straight ahead rather than at each other, and she makes a conscious effort not to let her eyes wander, keeping still until the elevator finally dings at their floor.
Mindy walks out first, prepared to have him ignore her for the rest of the day anyway, and jumps when Danny snags her arm as the doors slide shut behind them. His eyes are serious as they scan her face; she sets her jaw, eyes trained on his as she prepares for a fight.
"Sorry about what I said the other night," he says instead, his voice low and extra creaky in the early hour. "That was… shitty."
The hard line of her mouth gives way to a small smile. "I'm sorry, too, Danny."
He nods. "Friends?"
Danny is wholly unprepared for the armful of Mindy he gets in response.
We're friends, she thinks – and friends hold each other's hands in life threatening situations, right?
That's all it'd been, in truth. A totally-could-have-been life threatening situation – on an airplane, for God's sake, where she's pretty sure it counts more – that she'd gotten through with the help of a good friend.
Still, Mindy can't help the way her mind wanders as she stares blankly at a soundless Life of Pi, thinking of all the ways in which a person could, if they really wanted to, interpret the situation otherwise.
Honestly, she really hadn't meant to grab his hand. The turbulence had just been a sudden, terrifying jolt, akin to stopping short in a car, and she'd instinctively flung her arm out onto the shared armrest and curled her fingers around the first thing they'd touched. He'd done the same thing – he'd just beaten her to the armrest.
He couldn't just ignore the accidental hand-holding, either, of course; had to go grab her hand back and squeeze the tips of her fingers just enough for her to know he was still there. It'd thrown her so much that she'd only managed to squeak out a response when he asked if she was okay.
And honestly, what is his damage, anyway?
Why did he have to go and look at her like that? His stupid handsome face staring at her, all open and vulnerable, and she thinks there might have been a moment where his features flashed with something else, too – something where, if the turbulence hadn't let up, he might have leaned his whole body over the armrest dividing them and kissed her right on the mouth.
What is she supposed to do with that?
There's an hour and a half left in the flight before they reach New York, and she can't bring herself to look at him, which is really, really hard because she can see Danny in her peripheral vision, sneaking constant glances at her but not saying a word.
The whole thing is ridiculous, she thinks. It was actually, really, honestly nothing. Probably not even worth mentioning to Gwen. Maybe.
She wills her heart to stop thumping in her chest, because seriously, the turbulence came and went twenty minutes ago already. Enough.
She wonders what's going on in his head.
She thinks he's probably sweating through his shirt.
"We're friends," she insists. She makes an approximation of the Boy Scout Oath sign with her hand and holds it up. "I swear, that is it."
"Sure," Gwen says, smiling the smile of a person who's been around long enough to know better.
Mindy rolls her eyes. "Gwen. You are my best friend. Why would I lie to you about having a secret relationship?"
She considers it for a moment. "Okay, fine," Gwen sighs, sounding kind of disappointed. "If you say so."
"Um, yes, I do say so." Mindy slumps backwards into the cushions on her best friend's couch and folds her arms over her chest. "Geez."
Gwen holds her hands up. "I believe you."
"Good." Mindy waits a moment, chewing her lip, before she adds, "Can I just ask what makes you think Danny and I would be together, though?"
Gwen eyes her curiously. "Why?"
"It's just that… Josh kind of said the same thing when I saw him in New Mexico."
"What? You didn't tell me that part!"
Mindy brushes an imaginary piece of hair from her face. "Well, I was trying to avoid this exact conversation."
"Uh-huh. So what did Josh say?"
"He said he always knew Danny and I had a 'thing,'" she says, rolling her eyes as she finger quotes. "Oh, and also that while I am smart, I tend to miss things that are right in front of me, even when they're obvious. Like I'm an idiot."
Gwen purses her lips. "Hmm."
"Well… I mean, you know I love you, right?"
"Well… what he said is actually not that far off base."
Mindy's eyes get wide. "Seriously? You're siding with my coked-up ex-boyfriend on this?"
She crosses her arms and shrugs. "I'm just saying, think about it. Look at what happened with him. And with Tom. And with that prostitute Alex was telling me about. And –"
"Oh, GOD." Mindy leans forward and starts to stress-heave, but catches herself. "Are you – are you kidding me? This isn't a thing you could have made me aware of about my own self? As my friend, Gwen? Freaking Josh is the only one who would tell me this?"
Gwen frowns. "Mindy."
"I have to lay on the floor," she mutters, rising from the couch only to fold her legs up underneath her. Her head is spinning. "Oh, God. I don't know what to think about anything."
"Okay." Gwen watches her friend lie spread-eagle on her living room floor, eyes squeezed shut, and reaches out to pat her arm. "You just let me know when you're ready to talk."
"Thank you. Your floor is so comfortable."
"We're friends," she says, and presses a kiss just below his Adam's apple. "That's it."
His fingers fumble with the buttons on her cardigan. "Hmm?"
"Danny." He dips his head to lick the skin above her breasts. "Oh, God," she groans.
His hips buck in response. "Mm-hmm."
"No, wait a second," she tries. He doesn't listen, intent on disrobing her, so she reaches up and pinches his ear. "Danny!"
"Ow!" He pulls away from her slightly, rubbing his ear. "What?"
Mindy purses her lips. "I'm just trying to – Can we please just talk about this for a minute before… you know, things happen?"
He looks down between their bodies and back up at her, his eyes wild and his jaw slack. "Your hand is on my penis and you want to stop and chat?"
She makes a face. "Danny," she sighs.
She pulls her hand out of his pants to fist in the fabric of his shirt, a move that's met with a groan of protest. He drops his head to rest against her collarbone with a huff.
"What do you want to talk about?" he mumbles against her skin.
"Just some ground rules that I think we need to be clear on before we… proceed. Number one," she ticks off on her fingers, "is that this… thing, or whatever, isn't a relationship, okay? We're just two friends who sometimes…"
Danny awkwardly shrugs his shoulders. "Fuck buddies. I get it."
She smacks him lightly. "Ew. That sounds so tawdry."
"Mmm," he hums. His hand starts wandering along the hem of her shirt again, long fingers working their way underneath. "You're right."
"Okay, that's not…" His hand slips up and inside her bra, and Mindy can feel her self-control start to break down. "Hey. Listen to me."
"We're friends. That's it," he parrots, his eyes suddenly dark and serious looking down at her. He leans in and kisses her gently. "That's fine," he mumbles against her lips.
"Good," she says shakily. Her back arches, pressing herself further into his touch. "Number two."
Danny groans. "Please," he begs, and thumbs at her nipple, "can't we finish this later?"
Mindy nods, gasping when his thumb flicks over her breast again, because they'd gone over what she thinks is the most important point and really, they deserve a reward for being so diligent.
She flashes a dangerous smile at him before snaking her hand back down between their bodies. "Where was I…?"
"We are friends," she begins nervously. The backs of her thighs just touch the edge of her mattress as she stands half-dressed in front of him. "And we are… lovers."
Danny makes a face. "Come on, don't use that word."
She frowns. "You're creepy."
Mindy shakes her head and brushes hair away from her face, steeling herself. "Look, I just… I'm just not sure this is working anymore. I think we should go back to being just friends again. Without the benefits."
His face falls, and he makes half a move toward her before falling back to his original position in front of her bedroom door. "Oh."
The sweater he'd peeled off of her in the moments before she decided to put a stop to things lays at her feet, and she bends at the waist to pick it up and pull it over her head again.
She plays with the ends of sleeves. "I mean, don't get me wrong. It's been great."
"Yeah," he agrees, nodding enthusiastically. "I thought so."
"It has," she assures him. "It's been amazing."
"Okay, so what's the problem?"
"It's just… I mean, how long am I supposed to just do this with you, Danny?" She does a palms-up and stares sadly at him. "Sometimes I feel like I'm right back where I was with Jeremy –"
He waves his hands in front of her, cutting her off. "All right, don't, okay? Don't compare this to that."
She sighs heavily. "It's not the same, okay? But on paper…" She looks down at her feet and bites hard on the inside of her mouth to keep from crying. It doesn't work. "I want more, Danny. I want something real. I want to get married, and have babies, and take them apple picking, and –"
Her head snaps up. "Huh?"
"Okay." He shrugs and looks her in the eyes. "Let's do it."
"Well…" He scratches at the back of his head and laughs a little. "All of it. I mean, we could start with the apple picking, but…"
Mindy's face softens, and she takes a tentative step towards him. "Really? Like, you're not just saying that? You would really want to do all that with me?"
Danny grins, lopsided and genuine. "I mean, I never said anything because I didn't think that was what you wanted," he confesses. "But… yeah."
He closes the gap between them and cups her face in his hands. His thumb brushes a stray tear from her cheek. "Hey. Let's be real, okay?"
She smiles and nods her head. "Yeah," she says with a giggle. "Yeah, let's be real."
Mindy's got him backed against the outside wall of a coffee shop, her index finger poking into his ribs while passersby throw him sympathetic glances.
Danny holds his hands up defensively. "Min…"
"Is that seriously how you introduced me just now?" She puts on her Danny Voice. "'Oh, um, this is my friend, Mindy.' Seriously, dude?"
He sighs heavily, shoulders slumped, and crosses his arms over his chest.
"We are not friends, pal," she informs him. She gestures back and forth in the space between their bodies. "We are an item. Significant others. Lovers in the nighttime."
He pulls a face. She puts a hand on her hip.
"Well, yeah, okay," he shrugs. "So then that means we're not friends anymore, now?"
She smacks his arm. "Not when you are introducing me to your brother for the first time, Danny!"
He blows out a breath. "I'm sorry, okay?"
"Fiancée, Danny. For the record, the word you want to use? It's fiancée. Your intended. Your betrothed, if you want to get really fancy."
"Okay, stop." He rubs at the back of his head. "Look, I really wasn't expecting to run into him. I mean, he's not usually in the neighborhood."
"So what difference does that make?"
He sighs heavily. "I didn't tell my family yet, okay?"
Her eyebrows shoot up into her hairline. "WHAT?"
"Mindy," he says pleadingly, trying to calm her down.
"You haven't told your family that we're engaged?" she cries. "What, is it some kind of secret?"
"No. People know."
"Who did you tell?"
He avoids her eyes and mumbles, "The people in the office."
She glares at him, and both hands go to her hips.
"Okay, we've been dating for like two months and got engaged, what? A day ago?" he argues. "Cut me some slack. I'm getting to it."
"Danny! Are you kidding me? Why would you not tell your family this huge news?" She frowns suddenly and asks, quietly, "Is this because I'm not Italian-Catholic?"
"What? No!" he says with a scowl. "Christina wasn't Italian or Catholic, either."
"Oh. Well, what, then?"
"It's just… look, ever since my marriage ended, I avoid talking about dating with my family, okay?"
Mindy frowns. "Are you serious?"
"My mom didn't take it very well. Especially with Christina cheating and everything." He sighs and rubs his face. "You don't understand Italian mothers with their sons."
"Danny Castellano, are you afraid of your mother?" She gasps and adds, quietly, "Is she in the mafia?"
He rolls his eyes. "No, Mindy, my mother is not in the," he lowers his voice to match hers, "mafia."
Mindy breathes out a sigh of relief. "Okay, I was a little worried for a second."
"I mean, she threatened to hire someone –"
"—but those connections are just…" He waves his hand. "Long gone."
He just shrugs.
"Okay, Danny, you know what? Relax." She smiles reassuringly and puts her hands on his arms, squeezing gently. "I am, like, the anti-Christina. Your mother is going to love me. Let's just go meet your brother inside, we'll call your mom on speakerphone, and we'll tell them at the same time."
Danny's eyebrows go up. "You want me to call my mom right now and tell her over the phone that I'm getting married to someone she's never met before?"
He laughs. "You really don't get Italian mothers."
Mindy rolls her eyes and taps her heel against the concrete. "Okay, fine. Do whatever you want. But just so you know? Until you tell your family, my vagina and your penis are not on speaking terms. Got it?"
He narrows his eyes and just stares at her, as if he's looking for cracks in her veneer. "You wouldn't."
Pushing himself off the wall, Danny leans in closer to her. She knows what he's doing; his lips are an inch away from hers, and she merely stares into his eyes, setting her jaw. When he moves in to kiss her, she ducks away from him as if he were handing out pamphlets in Times Square.
Mindy gets four steps away before he snags her elbow, stopping her in her tracks. She turns to look at him, and he sighs heavily, head tipped back as he digs in his pocket for his phone.
"All right, fine. You win," he says, his fingers moving across the device's screen. Under his breath, he adds, "It's not me she'll put a hit out on."
With a grin, Mindy wordlessly loops her arm through his as they walk into the coffee shop, Danny pressing the phone up against his ear.
"Hey, ma? You sitting down?"