Even then I thought it was silly, but one day I found Rayme on the floor, and her lips were purple. I ran to my mom in a panic. In the calmest voice she’s ever used, she told me it was okay. She called 911 and turned Rayme over on her lap, carefully hitting her between the shoulder blades and softly telling her to come on, breathe.
Turns out, Rayme had swallowed one of my Legos, and only once it was out and Rayme was crying again did my mom burst into tears. I must have been nine at the time, but I never looked at my mom the same way again.
That was a much longer story than I’d intended, but being here, with my parents and my friends, I’m glad I remembered that. I feel like I’ve been giving Mom sort of a hard time lately, and maybe I needed to remember how badass she was when I was little.
Speaking of my friends, I can’t tell you what it’s like being here with them again. I think it’s easy to become complacent and maybe forget how important people are to you. I’m not sure if I gave you Millie’s name or not but we’ve been hanging out a lot and . . . she’s the most amazing and confusing person I’ve ever known. It’s late now, but maybe I can tell you about her next time. Thanks for listening, C, and I hope you have a great end to your weekend.
I sit back in my chair. I don’t even know what to call this emotion in my chest. Fondness melted with anger and hurt. This wasn’t just a quick note after he was with me. This is a letter.
I bend, cupping my forehead. How much leeway do I get here to be mad? On the one hand, we’d just had sex—twice—and then he left to go write another woman. On the other hand, I am that woman, and am lying to him every time I pretend I’m not. Neither of us is innocent here, but at least I’m only sleeping with Reid and writing Reid. He’s sleeping with me and writing two other—!
I scroll back through his message again, zooming in.
“Uh, what are you doing?”
I swallow a scream when I turn and see Ed standing over me with a leftover rib in his hand. His eyes are glued to my screen.
“Working!” I shove the phone into my pocket, hoping he doesn’t notice the way the cord is stretched taut between me the wall. I rest a casual elbow on the table and absently twist a piece of my hair. “I just needed to get my laptop.”
Ed makes Disappointed Seth Rogen Face at me. “So where is it?”
Frowning, I track him as he walks to where my laptop bag is still hanging by the door, and back as he sets it on the table. God damn it.
Ed pulls out the chair next to me and sits. He takes a bite of rib, chews, swallows, thinks. “It’s funny because it looks like you’re pretending to be Catherine, and it sounds like you had sex with Reid last night.”
I bark out a laugh that echoes in the empty kitchen. “What! That’s insane! How much did you have to drink?”
I stand and move to step around him, only to be stopped short by the cord jerking me backward.
“Mills,” he says, “I’m in the room next to yours, and in case you haven’t noticed, the walls are pretty thin. I heard all about some ‘spot’ you wanted him to ‘keep hitting.’ I hope you both refreshed with electrolytes afterward, because”—he whistles—“wow.”
“I . . .” My eyes dart around the kitchen, hoping the correct response will materialize on one of the community flyers on the fridge. “Okay, there’s a good explanation for all that.”
Ed scoots back, propping his feet on the edge of the table. “I’m ready when you are.”
Defeat and panic make me insane. I grab Ed by the shoulders. “Don’t tell him I’m Catherine,” I say in a burst. “If he finds out . . . I . . .” I shake my head and start again, “He . . .”
To his credit, Ed doesn’t seem to be taking much joy from my mortification. He sits up and holds his hands out in front of him. “What were you thinking? That you didn’t want him to like Daisy?”
“But you wanted him to like Catherine?”
I nod emphatically. I know the answer to this question. “Yes.”
“But there isn’t a Catherine.”
“No. I mean, yes. It’s my middle name . . .”
Ed rolls his eyes. “Well in that case, it’s totally okay. So what happens if he does like Catherine? Won’t he eventually want to meet her? I mean, you? Since you’re Catherine.”
I glance back over his shoulder and hiss, “Can you stop saying Catherine so many times?”
He glares at me. “Do you like him?”
“Reid? What? No.” I double down on this answer, even though it feels a lot like lying. “Not like that.”
“I love how offended you look, considering what I had to listen to last night.” He stands and walks to the fridge, opening the door and pulling out a beer. “I am not drunk enough for this yet.”
“Ed, it’s like seven in the morning.”
He wheels on me. “I will not be judged by you!”
Holding up my hands in defense, I tell him through a laugh, “Fine, sorry, sorry.”
He cracks the bottle open and returns to his seat. “Now you. Out with it.”
“Okay.” Deep breath. Calm down. “I started an account because you guys gave me shit about how boring mine was, and also I was getting matched with a lot of assholes. But then Reid somehow matched with me—as Cat. I thought he’d figure it out because I made some stupid crack about Monopoly. And Girls Trip. And cats. But he didn’t!”
Ed blinks. “You are not blaming Reid here for being too dumb to know he’s talking to you online.”
Yes. “No.” I groan, dropping my head to my arms on the table. “When you guys started talking about how Catherine must be ugly, I guess I got a little competitive.”
“Well, at least it sounds like you had a proportionate response. What could possibly go wrong?”
“Shut up. I know.”
“We were all doing this together,” he says. “Am I the only person taking this dating plan seriously?”
When I sit up again, he’s looking at me with Sad Ed eyes, and I can barely stand it. “I’m taking it seriously. I promise. It just . . .” I flounder. “Once I started being Cat it felt—I don’t know—easier to be more open? Is that weird?”
“Not really,” he admits. “I think I get why you’d want to keep it to yourself. But . . . it’s Reid. You know? You’re lying to Reid. That’s like lying to your dad or something.”
“No, Ed, it’s nothing like that. Please don’t put Reid and dads—”
“It’s bad, is what I’m saying.”
“I know how bad it is,” I hiss, and the truth rolls out of me without warning, “but it’s also sort of nice.”
He tilts his head down, staring up at me through thick eyebrows. “It’s ‘nice’?”
I feel my cheeks heat. My explanation comes out meek: “I like being able to talk to Reid like this. Is that terrible?”
Ed stares at me with gentle pity. “You are a mess, you know this, right?”
I sit up. “You won’t tell him, will you?”
I can’t even fathom what I’d do if Reid found out. Am I in too deep? I mean . . . it doesn’t feel like a runaway train yet. It feels like we’re getting to know each other, like a sweet entrée into . . . a different place for us. But the idea of Ed saying something to Reid before I can figure out how to fix this so thoroughly nauseates me that it chases away any residual hurt-anger that Reid left my bed to go write Cat. I am, without a doubt, the bad guy here.
Ed runs a hand through his hair and looks around the room. “I won’t say anything. But this kind of thing is sort of hard to juggle, Mills.”
Millie has to walk past my bedroom to get to the stairs, and I hear her passing by around seven in the morning. I know it’s her because I hear her shushing Bailey and cleverly avoiding the squeakiest spots in the hallway—something Alex and Ed would never think to do.