The guy did grab me, and I definitely screamed, but while attempting to flee, I ran into a faux–serial killer with a prop chainsaw and somehow managed to slice my left shoulder open pretty bad. SIX STITCHES. Leslie did see me, but covered in my own blood and only as I was being carried out on a stretcher.
Funnily enough he stopped by my house a few days later, and we did actually make out.
He was a terrible kisser.
My Uber drops me off a few buildings down from the Sandbar.
With a giant smile, I walk to where Ed is waiting. Strangely, after sending that insane note to Reid, I feel better. Maybe the best strategy here is to scare him off Catherine with boatloads of honesty, and hope that Daisy is a dud . . . oh, and also figure out my own shit.
Like, what does my jealousy mean, and are these spasms in my stomach what most normal people describe as love? Or is it the Indian food I had for lunch staging a mild gastrointestinal coup?
“Your smile is weird,” Ed says when I reach him. “Like you’re farting.”
“Trying not to.”
He rolls with this easily. I love Ed. “Do you want to sit inside or outside?” He points to my stomach. “Maybe outside, better air circulation?”
Downtown Santa Barbara is lively this time of night, with bars and restaurants that line the sidewalks, and brightly lit patios with seating that spills out toward the street.
Although the inside looks warm and inviting, with pin-tucked leather stools and a wide-open bar, it’s quieter on the patio. Plus, he’s not wrong about the ventilation. I’m still not sure what to name this feeling in my belly.
“Three for outside,” Ed tells the hostess. It takes my brain a moment to catch what he’s said.
Like a hot Latin Dementor, Alex materializes at his side.
I turn on Ed. “You brought Alex? I told you I needed to talk.”
Alex snags a chip off the tray of a passing waiter and pops it into his mouth, talking around it. “Why would you need to talk to Ed?”
I frown at Ed. “Never mind. It’s nothing.”
Ed gives him a conspiratorial tap on the arm to get his attention. “Because she’s Catherine,” he whispers, and then leans in, adding, “Oh, and she and Reid are sleeping together.”
Thunder booms inside my skull. “Oh my God! Ed!”
“What? You said I couldn’t tell Reid,” he says. “You can’t expect me to keep something like that to myself. It’s bad for my skin.”
Alex’s eyes go wide. “I’m sorry, what the fuck did you just say?”
I’m saved from having to respond when a pretty waitress appears to lead us to the patio. Because both Alex and I are locked in place, Ed gives us each a shove and we reluctantly follow.
She takes us to a round table with a low, flickering fire in the center, and hands us our menus before leaving. An awkward silence settles between us as Alex is probably attempting to wrap his head around what he’s just heard, and I file through my vast bank of knowledge to narrow down how to most efficiently murder Ed. Arsenic seems like a good choice.
“So . . .” Ed says, casually perusing his menu. “How is everyone?”
Alex stares blankly at the paper in his hand. “I don’t even know where to start.”
I couldn’t agree more. “That makes two of us.”
“I heard the entire thing through a paper-thin wall, so if you’d like I can start there,” Ed tells him. “Perhaps a dramatic reenactment?”
I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but Alex’s eyes widen further, and I see the moment he puts two and two together. “At his parents’ house?”
I sink into my chair.
Across from me, Alex calls back the waitress and gestures to the rest of us at the table. “Yeah, we’re gonna need some drinks.”
If you want to get as drunk as possible for around twenty dollars, a Blackout Beach is a pretty fancy way to do it.
After loosely explaining the situation to Alex, I look at him over the top of my giant drink—a potent concoction of vodka, rum, blue curaçao, peach schnapps, and a shot of 151, served in what can only be described as a fishbowl. I’d bet money no good decision was ever made while holding a drink this size.
“So you’re the ugly girl,” Alex says, and I debate whether I would feel better drinking the final third of my Blackout Beach or throwing it in his lap.
“It is not an ugly photo,” I say, and settle on throwing a tortilla chip at him instead. “What was I supposed to do? I can’t actually show my face.”
Alex vaguely motions to the general vicinity of my boobs. “You could show your—”
Ed cuts him off, reaching to cover Alex’s mouth. “Even I know you should stop talking.”
Alex pushes him away. “Let me get this straight. You’re writing to him as Catherine, but having sex with him as Millie?”
“Yes. But we’re not having sex,” I say. “We just had sex.”
“Okay, so just the once, then,” he clarifies. “I mean, that’s different.”
“Well . . .” I say, taking a long pull on my straw while I pretend to think. It tastes like candy gasoline. “Maybe twice.”
Alex leans back in his chair, arms folded across his chest. “Maybe?”
I sigh. “Fine. Twice.”
“So far,” Alex suggests, and Ed takes a break from shoveling in chips and salsa by the handful to bark out a laugh.
I glare at them both. “There’s no so far about it. It was a weird little accident. It won’t happen again.”
Alex laughs now and his eyes are devilishly bright in the light from the fire. “Do you know what an accident is, Mills? Spilling a glass of water is an accident. Cutting someone off in traffic—that can be an accident. As much as I would personally enjoy using it as an excuse, I don’t know how person one would accidentally put their penis into person two.”
“Well, theoretically, depending on the circumstances, the angle of your fall, and the velocity—” Ed stops and looks around the table. “Carry on.”
Alex clears his throat before turning his attention back to me. “Not even getting into the fact that you confided in Ed about this and not me. Does Chris know?”
“Hell no, Chris doesn’t. And I didn’t confide in anyone.” I poke at my drink with the straw, glaring at Ed. “I only admitted it to him because he basically caught me.”
“And let me tell you,” Ed says, straightening, “I don’t think the amount of insulation they have in those walls is up to code. I might as well have been in the same room for the things I heard. I almost took a shower myself.”
“If you don’t plan on doing it again,” Alex begins, “then why are we here? Why did you need to talk to Ed? I mean, I’m surprised to hear about the Catherine thing, but not really the rest. You and Reid are . . . different with each other. I’m frankly surprised you haven’t banged long before now.”
Ed narrows his eyes, and I swear it’s like watching a cartoon lightbulb go on above his head. I’m already wincing when he says, “He’s out with Daisy, isn’t he?”
I push my drink away, unsure whether my stomach can tolerate any more black booze. “He is. But what I wanted to tell you is that I don’t think we need to worry about the Catherine thing anymore.”
“Why?” Ed asks, shifting when the waitress arrives with our food and another round of drinks.
I gladly trade my Blackout Beach for a water, thanking her before she steps away again. “I did my best to scare him off.”
Alex is already shaking his head. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Trust me,” I say, and unroll my napkin to place it in my lap. “If he hasn’t blocked me by tonight, he’ll definitely do it by morning. I was sort of having a moment, and did an emotional purge in his inbox.”
Ed pauses with a taco halfway to his mouth. “I’d kind of like to see that.”
Alex seems to be similarly surprised, and I look at each of them in turn. “See what?”