I started to cry again, so hard I couldn’t see.
I opened my texts with Shadi and typed: I need you.
It was seconds before she answered: First train out.
I stared at my phone for a second longer. There was only one other person I really wanted to talk to now. I tapped the contact info and held the phone to my ear.
It was the middle of the night. I didn’t expect an answer, but on the second ring, the line clicked on.
“Janie?” Mom whispered in a rush. “Are you okay?”
“No,” I squeaked.
“Tell me, honey,” she urged. I could hear her sitting up, the rustle of sheets drawing back and the faint click of her bedside lamp turning on. “I’m here now, honey. Just tell me everything.”
My voice wrenched upward as I started at the beginning. “Did I tell you Jacques broke up with me in a hot tub?”
Mom gasped. “That little shit-weasel!”
And then I told her the rest. I told her everything.
SHADI ARRIVED AT ten AM with a duffel bag an NBA player could’ve slept comfortably in and a box of fresh produce. When I opened the door to find her on the sunlit porch, I leaned first to see into the cardboard box and asked, “No booze?”
“Did you know you have an amazing farmer’s market two blocks from here?” she said, whisking inside. “And that the only Uber driver seems to be legally blind?”
I tried to laugh, but just the sight of her here had tears welling up behind my eyes. “Oh, honey,” Shadi said, and set the box down on the couch before enveloping me in a hug that was all rose water and coconut oil. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her hand toying in my hair in a gentle, motherly way.
She pulled back and gripped my arms, examining me. “The good news is,” she said softly, “your skin looks like a newborn baby’s. What have you been eating out here?”
I tipped my head toward the box of squash and greenery. “None of that.”
“Drafting diet?” she hazarded, and when I nodded, she patted my arm and turned toward the kitchen, gathering the box in her arms as she went. “I figured as much. Before the booze and the crying, you need a vegetable. And probably, like, eggs or something.” She stopped short as she reached the kitchen, gasping either at size, scope, and style or at the disgusting mess I’d managed to make of it. “Okayyyy,” she said, regrouping as she began to unload the veggies on the lone spare bit of countertop. “How about you change out of those pants, and I’ll start on brunch.”
“What’s wrong with these pants?” I gestured to my sweats. “These are my official uniform now, on account of I’ve officially given up.”
Shadi rolled her eyes and drummed her blue nails on the counter. “Honestly, Janie, it doesn’t have to be a ball gown, but I will not cook for you until you put on pants that involve a button or zipper.”
My stomach grumbled then, as if pleading with me, and I turned back to the first-floor bedroom. There were a handful of wrinkled T-shirts Gus had discarded in the past couple of weeks on the floor, never to be picked up again, and I kicked them into a pile behind the closet door where I wouldn’t have to look at them, then dressed in cutoffs and an Ella Fitzgerald T-shirt.
Making brunch was an hour-and-a-half-long affair, and then there was the fact that Shadi insisted we finish all the dishes before we took a bite. “Look at this stack,” I reasoned with her, gesturing at the leaning pile of cereal-crusted bowls. “It could be Christmas by the time we’ve gotten through all of these.”
“Then I’m glad I packed a coat,” Shadi replied with a casual shrug.
In the end, it only took half an hour to load the dishwasher and hand-wash everything that didn’t fit. When we’d finished eating, Shadi insisted on cleaning the entire house. All I really wanted to do was lie on the couch, eating a pile of potato chips off my chest and watching reality TV, but it turned out she was right. Cleaning was a much better distraction.
For once, I didn’t think about Dad’s lies or Sonya approaching me at the funeral. I didn’t replay tidbits of my fight in the car with Mom or picture the pretty, apologetic smile on Naomi’s full lips. I didn’t worry about the book, or what Anya would think, or what Sandy would do. I didn’t really think at all.
Deep cleaning put me into a trance; I wished I could stay in an emotional cryogenic chamber that would allow me to sleep through the worst of whatever heartbreak I was avoiding.
The first phone call from Gus had come at about eleven, and I didn’t answer. There wasn’t another for twenty minutes, and when that one finally came in, making my heart knot up into my throat, he left no voice mail and sent no follow-up texts.
I turned my phone off and stuck it in the dresser drawer in my bedroom, then went back to mopping the bathroom. Shadi and I decided not to talk about it, about SEG or the Haunted Hat or anything else, until we’d finished with our work, which seemed like a good policy, since the cleaning was helping to numb me, and any time my brain even gestured toward a thought about Gus, the numbness started to unravel from my middle.
At six, Shadi determined we were done and banished me to the shower while she started on dinner. She made ratatouille, which she’d apparently been craving ever since she watched the movie Ratatouille with Ricky’s little sisters during Fourth of July weekend.
“You can tell me about him,” I promised, as we sat on either side of the table, my back turned to the window into Gus’s house, despite the fact that it and its blinds were both closed. “I still want to hear about you being happy.”
“After dinner,” Shadi said. And again, she was right. It turned out I needed this, another meal, comprised mostly of vegetables, with nothing but comfortable small talk. Things we’d seen our old classmates post online, books she’d been reading, shows I’d been watching (only Veronica Mars).
After dinner, the sky clouded over, and as I was washing our plates and silverware and Shadi was making us Sazeracs, it began to rain heartily, claps of distant thunder quivering through the house like mini earthquakes. When I’d dried the serving dish and put it away in the cupboard to the right of the oven, she handed me my glass and we went to the couch I’d spent my first night on and curled up in opposite corners, our feet tucked under a blanket together.
“Now,” she said. “Start at the beginning.”
WE TALKED ALL night, through the storms that rolled in and out like waves, always carrying a fresh batch of thunder and lightning in just when it seemed like it might let up. Our conversation took that long, with all the breaks for crying and the two Shadi took to make us fresh drinks.
In the time we’d been friends, I’d witnessed five of Shadi’s life-shattering breakups. “It’s about time you threw me a bone,” she assured me. “I needed you to cry this much so I can come to you if and when Ricky destroys me.”
“Is he going to?” I asked, through sniffles, and Shadi let out a deep sigh.
She had a habit of falling in love with people who had no interest in falling in love. It always started as something casual, a fling that accidentally put down roots. In the end, there was always something standing in the way, something that had been there from the very beginning but hadn’t been an issue back when things had been truly casual.