“Maybe you’re just not good at being honest.”
It lands like a physical blow. I imagine a missile launched with pinpoint precision, crashing through my ribs to obliterate the hidden places I rarely examine myself, never mind share with anyone else.
“Is there—is there anyone you’re totally honest with?” he adds, and I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but somehow, this is worse. Because it’s not just anger or hurt in his voice anymore, it’s pity.
I shake my head, because what else can I say? Reid was that person for me—my first, true best friend—and it’s hard to hear how much I’ve hurt him. Disappointed him. I blink around the room; my eyes are hot and burning with tears, and it really hits me what a mess I’ve made of things.
“I think—” Reid says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I think you should probably go. It’s clear we both have some things to work out, and I don’t think we can do it with the other around. I get why you did what you did, Millie. And maybe if it hadn’t gone on so long, maybe I’d be able to overlook it. But—”
I step forward, reaching for him. “Reid, the only way I was able to be that open was because I knew it was you. I can do this. I promise.”
He takes my hands and cradles them in his. “Listen to me, okay? I love you, Millie. I do. But I think you’re worth more than just the easy parts.” He lets my hands fall to my sides. “And I need someone who thinks I’m worth it, too.”
The tires scrape as I turn into my driveway and shut off the car. Most of the houses on the block are dark, so I climb out, careful not to slam the door. A weird numbness has taken over. My head is full of static; my limbs are stiff and heavy with exhaustion. My head hurts. But I’m not tired, not really.
The chair out back is still where I left it, pulled away from the table at sort of a haphazard angle, and I sit, staring at the tree in the yard. My computer is nearby, but I don’t need to reach for it, knowing what I’d find there wouldn’t matter anyway. I know what I need to do and that calendars and schedules are the last thing I care about right now.
My fingers slip into the pocket of my sweater and wrap around my phone. It’s too late to be calling, but I know it can’t wait. I search for the name and open a new window.
Hey. I know it’s late so call me when you’re up. I’ll make all the arrangements as soon as I hear from you, but I wanted you to know that I’ll be home this summer to help. Tell Dad that I love him, and I can’t wait to spend some time at home. Hug each other for me. I love you both. I miss you.
Chris peeks his head in my office door. “You coming?”
I push away from my keyboard and rub my eyes. They’re burning, like they do when I haven’t looked up from my computer monitor or blinked in hours. I should have expected him: he comes at the same time every Monday.
“No,” I say. “I’m going to grab something later and eat in my office.”
This time he steps in, resting his hands on the back of a chair, and levels me with a disappointed look. “You know it’s been three weeks?”
I give him a flat I’m not talking about this now look, and reach for my coffee. I’m acutely aware of every hour that passes.
It’s killing me. I don’t know if she’s still joining them at lunch twice a week—I don’t ask, and Chris has never offered.
Until now: “She’s never there, man. Not since everything went down. It’s just us. The guys. In all our glory.”
I’m not sure what to do with the reaction I have—sadness—and how he seems to be telling me this not as a guilt trip, but as reassurance that I don’t have to see her. But I don’t like the idea that she’s alone, suffering, either.
“I’m serious.” Now he sits down. “Don’t even pretend like that isn’t the reason you’re avoiding all of us.”
“I’m not pretending,” I tell him. “That is exactly the reason I’m avoiding you guys. I’m also pissed that everyone knew—”
“I didn’t,” he reminds me, hands held up in defense.
“It feels like it became a game, and I think that’s the part that feels the most fucked up.”
Chris shakes his head. “It wasn’t a game, at least from what I can tell. Ed did not like having the secret. Alex . . . I mean, who knows. I’m sure he just didn’t want to get involved. But it sounds like everyone’s advice to her was, ‘Talk to Reid.’ ”
“Well, except when they helped her write the last letter. And anyway, she didn’t talk to me.”
He pauses, looking at my shelves. Finally, he agrees, “She didn’t. Until she knew she had to.”
“So how fucked up is it that I miss her?” I ask, and the admission pushes a sharp blade of discomfort through my sternum. I’ve turned this over a thousand times in my head. If it were Chris in this situation, not me, wouldn’t I be telling him to write the woman off for the rest of his life?
Chris turns back and looks at me evenly, and then nods. “I know, man. I miss her, too.”
Because it isn’t the woman. It’s Mills.
“Like, really fucking miss her. And I’m not sure how to get over her. There’s no one like her. No one makes me feel the way she does. And I know that she’s out there, waiting for me to figure out whether I’m going to forgive her. But how can we start something meaningful on that kind of betrayal?”
“Reid,” he says gently, “you know I’m on your side in all of this, but at some point, we all have to admit that Millie is just really bottled up. It’s part of the deal of being her friend, and if you’re going to be with her in a more serious way, and can’t deal with that aspect of her personality, you’re going to have to figure out how to get her to be more open.”
“This is what I’m struggling with, honestly.”
“We all knew there were secrets. I mean, come on, this is Millie we’re talking about. She likes to pretend she doesn’t have a past.”
“Yeah.” I pick up a paperclip, slowly straightening it. “And truthfully, I know with the Cat thing that her intentions weren’t malicious. I know that she was able to open up because it was me. I know all of this, but it is still so hard to reconcile that with how it felt to be in the dark and find out that everything I was telling Cat about my life, I was telling Millie. Even things about being messed up with Millie.” I pause. “And the guys knew. That’s fucked up, okay? They knew, and were loyal to her—not me—to the point of supporting her lie.”
We fall into silence, because there’s nothing else to say about this. I’ve gone around and around about it, nearly constantly: My life doesn’t feel complete without her in it; these past few weeks have felt like there was a death in my family. But every time I’m about to call her, embarrassment rises like smoke in my lungs and I put my phone back down. She had so many chances to tell me, and didn’t.
“All right,” Chris says, and his hands land on his thighs in a gentle slap before he stands. “I’m off to meet the guys for lunch. It’s weird, man. You two are the glue, you know?”
I think he’s going to say something more than that, but when I look back up, he’s on his way out of my office.
Focus on work. It’s the best way to cope, the most productive way to handle stress.
I blink over to my inbox before returning to the journal article I’m working on and see an email notification that I have a new contact request on IRL. The appearance of the site name in my inbox is jarring; I haven’t been on the app since the day Cat—Millie—told me she was moving.
I open the notification and my eyes instinctively drop past the logo to where I know I’ll find the information about who’s contacted me.
My pulse rockets. I have a new contact request from Millie M.
From: Millie M.
Sent: 12:45 pm, April 30
I’ve given you almost a month to process everything, and it’s killed me, but I know you needed space. Ignore these if you want or deny my contact request. But I miss you like crazy, Reid.