My guy. The reference makes my stomach shrink about two sizes, my heart balloon about three until it is this envious, thundering beast in my chest. How weird is it that it didn’t occur to me until we were standing right here that if Millie meets someone, I won’t have free, unlimited access to her anymore? Without entirely realizing it, I’ve become the most important man in her life . . . and I like it.
“You’re all pinched,” she says, “like some new lab tech messed up the hematoxylin stain.” She grins at me. “That’s the easy one, right? See how I pay attention?”
I give her a proud smile, but my mind is turning this around, distracted. How honest should I be here? Millie isn’t the most touchy-feely friend, but we’ve also never been here: no longer just friends, but never going to be more, either. “It just occurred to me that one or both of us could be in a relationship at some point soon.”
She lets out her trademark husky laugh. “That just occurred to you?”
“Yeah. I know what I said the other night, but I don’t think it felt real yet.”
“If we were just doing this for the gala, you and I would still be going together. You were right. But Obama wouldn’t want that. Obama would want us to have sex lives, Reid.” I laugh, and she continues, “At some point, if we kept going the way we were going, we’d all be seventy and doing crosswords together in Chris’s backyard.”
“I mean, that doesn’t sound completely terrible,” I say.
“Come on,” she says, shrugging and then taking a sip of her wine. “We both like sex.” The whole lower half of my body explodes into heat when she says this. “I’m not entirely optimistic, but it might be nice to have someone that I’m close to, and who wants sex with me on a regular basis. And kids, maybe. Someday. And, like, a shared life of adventure.”
“You know,” I tell her, “if there was a way to translate that kind of openness and sincerity to your profile, you might get more legitimate interest and fewer dick pics.”
“Why you gotta be a hater?”
“Why you gotta be such a secret?”
She twists her mouth a little at this, narrowing her eyes at me. “Hitting me where it hurts.”
So she knows she’s bottled up. Interesting. “Seriously, Mills,” I say. “You keep everything so close to your chest. Are you secretly a spy?”
She absorbs this with a smile. “You got me.”
“Okay, no more jokes.” And suddenly sincere curiosity burns through me and out: “Why? Why don’t you tell me more?”
She opens her mouth to say something, and for a beat it feels like a revelation is going to pour down over me. Something about how it felt to lose her mother so young, or how she wishes her relationship with Elly were different. Something bare-wire honest about me, or her, or—fuck—even Dustin. But she presses her lips together again and just smiles at me.
“There,” I say, pointing at her, “right there. What were you going to say?”
Alex steps in, swiping my beer from my hand. “She was going to say that Benedict Cumberbatch looks like an uncircumcised penis.”
“I thought you were getting beers?” Ed looks forlornly at me, and then Alex, and then the fridge.
“Shit. I forgot.”
Ed frowns like I’ve genuinely let him down.
“Ed,” I say, “there are two six-packs in there. Just grab one.”
He peeks around the corner like a guilty teenager, as if he’s making sure that my parents aren’t going to catch him stealing alcohol, and then does an open-grab-slam maneuver so fast that the condiment bottles rattle in the fridge door when it rockets shut.
“Is Chris still out with your dad?” Alex asks.
“Yeah.” I grab a new beer for myself. “I swear he won’t leave Mom for the younger woman down the road; he’ll leave her for Chris.”
“I don’t think Chris is into dudes,” Ed tells me, helpfully.
“He was joking, Eddie,” Mills says with a gentle fist to his shoulder.
Ed downs about half of his beer and then burps. “Clearly I’m not firing on all cylinders. I need more beer.”
Alex tilts his head to the side, indicating the living room. “Ed just got a message from Selma.”
“The hot one?” I ask.
Ed nods, trying to look breezy about it. “It’s going pretty well. I asked her if she wants to meet up next week.”
“Already?” Millie asks.
“Millie,” Alex says, laughing, “people on Tinder meet the same day they match.”
Millie shrugs. “I know, but I guess IRL seems to emphasize taking things slow.” She glances to me and quickly away. “Which I like.”
“I’ll meet her whenever she wants.” Ed shrugs and then studies the beer in his hand. “I should cut down to, like, three beers a day. I need to lose weight. I’m tired of being brave at the beach.”
“Isn’t that why we get into relationships?” Millie asks. “To start eating again?”
Alex laughs again, and then points his beer bottle at me. “What about you, Reid? What’s up with your ladies?”
“I still really like them both.”
“We need to think of a tiebreaker,” Alex says.
Millie steps forward, slightly flushed as she looks at him with genuine scorn. “Has it occurred to you guys that Daisy and Catherine are probably talking to multiple men, too?”
I blink. I am such an asshole—and realize it the second she says this. “Is it terrible if my answer is no?”
Ed and Alex say, “No,” at the same time Millie shouts, “Yes!”
I give a tiny apologetic wince. “It just seems crazy that Cat would be having this kind of interaction with someone else.”
“But aren’t you?” Millie asks, genuinely annoyed. “With Daisy?”
Conceding this with a nod, I say, “I mean, yes, though I probably talk to Cat more frequently, and openly.” When silence stretches for a beat, I say, “So when should I ask to meet them?”
“Maybe ask for more pictures first?” Alex says.
Millie gasps. “Don’t do that, that’s douchey!”
We fall into a contemplative silence.
Millie is normally unflappable, and can hold her own against us in every way. Is she worried she’ll lose me to another woman? That the friendship we have will suffer?
“Okay,” I say, “it’s someone else’s turn to be in the spotlight. It’s not like I’m the only one who is on this app.”
“Chris matched with one of his old TAs the other day,” Alex says, and we all turn to look at him in shock. “I was giving him shit about it, but then I got on the app and saw that I’d matched with my sister.” Our shock deepens into horror, and Alex shivers violently. “I feel like she’s seen me naked now, okay? Maybe you can understand why we’re hoping your story goes more smoothly, Reid.”
We marinate in this for a few more silent beats, and then everyone turns their optimistic attention back to me.
“Well, I like them both,” I say, “but I feel weird about dating them both in person because I’ve never really worked that way.”
“So just ask Daisy out already,” Millie says with vinegar on her lips.
“I like Catherine a lot, though,” I say. “She’s funny and we interact a lot more. It’s hard to find funny.”
Millie gapes at me, offended. “Excuse you! I am hilarious, you dark stain on humanity.”
“I am forever calling my brother that, from this day forward.”
All attention sweeps to the door to the living room, and a hush falls over the group as we all take in Rayme in unison. My little sister has always had a flair for exotic outfits, but right now she’s wearing a loose-fitting sequined tank top and . . . I’m not even sure whether the bottom half qualifies as a skirt.
“Rayme, what on earth? It’s forty degrees outside,” I say, probably too loudly.
My sister is trying to kill Ed and Alex.
Or win over Chris.