Ed steps up behind him, and they silently scan the latest message from Reid. I try not to watch them, to decode every one of Ed’s brow lifts and Alex’s muttered yikes. It’s hard not to feel naked as they peer down at the screen where my shortcomings are laid out so plainly.
Alex is the first to look up. “He sent this today?”
I chew on my fingernail. “Last night. While I was sleeping.”
“He wants to meet you—her,” Alex says. “Holy shit.”
Ed straightens, turning around to tug on his hair. “If I don’t say much it’s because I’m screaming inside.”
“Okay, this doesn’t have to be that big a deal.” Alex looks up at Ed, confused.
Sweet, breezy Alex.
But sweet, emotional Ed drops into a chair and wipes his palms on his robe-covered thighs. “It is a big deal, though, Alex, since these are our best friends, and one of them has been lying to another. Not to mention the tiny fact that both of us knew. We’re aiders and abettors.”
“Not helping.” I whimper and sink deeper into the cushion. The beads in Ed’s cheap beanbag choose this moment to shift underneath me, folding me in half and causing me to roll awkwardly to the floor. I land on my face with a groan. And remain there.
“Oh, that’s just sad.” Alex lasts about five seconds before bursting out laughing.
At least Ed takes pity on me. “Come on,” he says, and offers me a hand. “Let’s get you up.”
“Leave me,” I mumble from the floor. “This is where I belong.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?” Ed bends one knee to kneel near me, and I squeeze my eyes closed as I get an eyeful of vague dickness up his robe.
“You mean, I’m being too dramatic about Reid having feelings for a version of me who doesn’t exist? Or am I being too dramatic about the reality that he thinks I’m emotionally barren? I mean, let’s not forget I basically catfished my best friend.” I push to sit up. “Who does that? I didn’t even really know what that was a few months ago. I thought it was just a show on MTV.”
Ed, thankfully, moves to drag a milk crate across the floor to use as a seat. “Please take this the way it’s intended, because you know that I love you, but what did you expect to happen?”
When I whimper instead of answering, Alex has no problem hopping in: “This. This is what happens. Secrets are cancerous.”
He shrugs. “Someone’s got to be straight with you, and who else would do it?. We’re your only friends.”
“I have other friends,” I say, indignant.
“Who?” Ed asks, quickly adding, “Baristas don’t count.”
“What, you want names?” I try to laugh but it comes out wheezy. “I have lots of names. Like, all my friends at work. And my sister.”
“A sister we’ve never met, and who you never talk about,” Ed reminds me.
I open my mouth to argue, but there’s nothing but dead air.
“And all these friends at work,” Alex says, “why not introduce us to some of them for dating purposes?”
Again, I want to argue, but can’t. I have acquaintances at work, people I talk to on the way to faculty meetings, or at lunch. I have casual friends like Avery—okay, maybe she’s more frenemy, but others—who I see at the gym, or might run into somewhere, but I’ve never been great with girlfriends. At some point, every female friendship I’ve had has turned south somewhere, and I never knew how to fix it because I’d never learned how to fight. I always thought a fight meant the end. I may be older and wiser now about these things, but I’m still terrible at confrontation.
“I’ve never had, like, deep friendships,” I say, and hate how I feel myself shrug defensively. “After my mom died, we just sort of . . . rallied. Dad’s motto was ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.’ I guess to him, after Mom died, that saying was pretty accurate. Nothing felt big in comparison.” Realization unfolds as I let this all out. “If I made it through that, I can make it through anything, right? No sense making something bigger by dwelling on it.”
Ed struggles to hide his exasperation. “Sharing things doesn’t mean you’re dwelling.”
“I know, but—”
“It’s about us knowing who you are.” He holds up a hand to keep me from arguing. “Tell me five important things about Reid.”
This I can do. I give them both a knowing smile and Alex adds quickly, “Above the belt.”
“Okay,” I say. “One, he loves his work—like, genuinely loves doing research on optic neuritis in multiple sclerosis. See? I don’t know what any of that means, but I know that’s what Reid studies because he’s always so excited about it.”
Ed leans in like he’s going to start explaining all the science to me, but I hold up a hand to stop him.
“Two, he loves his parents to death, and even when he complains about his mom being crazy, he still loves being home second only to being in the lab.” I sit up, adjusting the beanbag beneath me. “He’s so proud of Rayme because she’s smart and beautiful and confident, but more than anything he’s secretly relieved that she’s taking on the family business so he doesn’t have to.”
“Good one,” Alex says.
“He wants to travel more,” I say. “And, um, he’s claustrophobic.”
“See?” Ed says. “Now if you asked me what five things I know about you, they’d mostly have to do with murder, belching, and Monopoly.”
I laugh, but it sounds like it’s coming from someone else’s body, because suddenly my brain is full of Reid.
He likes when I bite his neck, I think, and heat builds in my belly. He likes when I’m on top. He likes quiet afternoons watching tennis in the summer, likes his coffee extra hot. He doesn’t like strawberry pie, but loves cherry. His favorite band is the Pixies, although seeing Pink Floyd live is at the top of his bucket list. He didn’t think he liked brussels sprouts until I cooked them for him. He runs a six-minute mile, sleeps on his left side, usually forgets to eat breakfast. He loves my laugh, likes holding hands, hates when someone is looking at their phone while he’s talking.
I blink when Alex snaps in front of me. “Hello?”
“I asked what you want,” he says.
“Other than a Time-Turner or to be blackout drunk so that I don’t have to think about this anymore?”
He doesn’t even crack a smile.
Embarrassment feels like a tight band around my throat. “Okay, I don’t know what you’re asking.”
“With Reid,” Ed clarifies. “What do you want with Reid?”
The answer has been forming since I woke up this morning. I knew days ago that I didn’t want anyone else to have him, but that’s not exactly the same as wanting him for myself, is it?
Except in this case, it is.
But the idea of admitting this to Ed and Alex before I’ve said it to Reid feels . . . cowardly. “I’m figuring it out,” I tell them. “I just want to talk to him.”
Alex stands, tugging me up, and we make our way to Ed’s disaster of a kitchen. There are about six cereal bowls in the sink, brown bananas hanging from a banana hook and hovering above some wrinkly apples. The recycling is overflowing, and when Alex opens the fridge, the only things visible are a few six-packs of beer.
Before I can say anything, Ed is standing in front of me, frowning. “Don’t judge. I order takeout most nights.”
“I mean, if you ever manage to get a woman in here,” I begin, and then sweep my arm around the room, “she’ll be horrified.”
“My mom is coming to help me clean this week,” he says.
Alex smirks. “I don’t think that’s what she meant by ‘woman.’ ”
“Do you ever hear the words you’re saying?” I ask Ed, taking a beer when Alex hands it to me.
He sits at a barstool and takes down about a quarter of his beer. “Selma still hasn’t replied.”