“Oooh, Nikolai’s gonna be maaaaad at you,” Alex teases.
“I’m not too happy with him either,” I say, and cut a long flap in the plastic, pulling it aside and loosely knotting it, so there’s a gap for air to flow through.
“He’s going to sue us,” he deadpans.
“Come at me, Nicky.”
Alex chuckles, and after a few seconds of silence, I say, “Tomorrow I was thinking we could check out the art museum and go take the tramway. The view’s supposed to be amazing.”
Alex nods. “Sounds good.”
Again we lapse into quiet. It’s only ten thirty, but things are just awkward enough that I think calling it a day might be our best bet. “Do you need into the bathroom before . . .”
“No,” Alex says. “Go ahead. I’m gonna catch up on some emails.”
I haven’t checked my work email since I got here, and I’ve also let a few messages from Rachel sit, along with the always overflowing group text between my brothers and me. It’s largely just the two of them brainstorming ideas that won’t go anywhere. Last I checked in, they were concocting a board game called War on Christmas and demanding I contribute puns.
So at least I’ll have something to do while lying on the chair bed, wide awake.
Headache still building, I tug my hair into my go-to stubby ponytail and cross the scuffed wooden floors to the space-age bathroom. In its strange blue light, I wash my face, but rather than applying any of the fancy moisturizers or serums that Rachel is constantly offloading on me, I splash my face with cold water when I’m done, rub some on my temples and my neck.
In the mirror, my reflection looks as wretchedly stressed as I feel. I need to turn this around and remind Alex how things used to be, and I only have five days left to do it, the last three of which will be peppered with wedding festivities.
Tomorrow has to be amazing. I need to be Fun Poppy, not Weird, Hurt Poppy. Then Alex will loosen up, and everything will smooth out. I change into a pair of silky pajama shorts and a tank top, brush my teeth, then step back into the living space to find that Alex has turned off all the lights except the lamp beside the bed, and he’s lying on the chair mattress in a pair of exercise shorts and a T-shirt, his same book from earlier in hand.
I happen to know that Alex Nilsen has always slept shirtless, even when the temperatures are not this absurdly high, but that’s neither here nor there because the point is, I’m supposed to take the foldout chair.
“Get out of my bed!” I say.
“You paid,” he says. “You get the bed.”
“R+R paid.” Just like that, I’m deeper into the lie. It’s not like it’s a harmful one, but still.
“I want the chair,” Alex says. “How often does a grown man get to sleep on a fuzzy foldout chair, Poppy?”
I sit beside him and make a big show of trying to push him off, but he’s too solid for me to budge him. I twist around, bracing my feet against the floor, my knees against the edge of the bed thing, and my hands against his right hip, as I grit my teeth and try to push him off of it.
“Stop it, you weirdo,” he says.
“I’m not the weirdo.” I turn sideways, try to use my hip and side body to force him off. “You’re the one who’s trying to steal my one joy in life, this weird bed.”
In that moment, when all my weight is pretty much focused in my hip, he stops resisting and scoots sideways a little, and somehow I tumble halfway onto the chair bed and halfway onto his chest, forcefully knocking his book onto the floor in the process. He laughs, and I laugh too, but I’m also feeling kind of tingly and heavy and, frankly, turned on, lying on him like this.
Worst of all, I can’t seem to make myself move. His arm has come around my back, loose over the curve at its base, and when his laughter settles, I look up into his eyes, my chin resting on his chest. “You tricked me,” I hum. “I bet you didn’t even have emails to respond to.”
“For all you know, I don’t even have an email account,” he teases. “Are you mad?”
His laugh shivers through me, goose bumps chasing it down my spine, and the heat of the apartment sinks into my skin, gathers between my legs.
“I’d forgive you eventually,” I say. “I’m very forgiving.”
“You are,” he agrees. “I’ve always liked that about you.”
His hand just barely brushes the skin between the bottom of my tank top and the top of my shorts, and I shift against him, feeling as if we could melt into each other.
What am I doing?
I sit up suddenly and take my hair down just to put it back up. “You’re sure you’re cool to sleep on the chair bed?” My voice comes out too high.
“Of course. Yeah.”
I stand and pad over to the bed. “Okay, cool, then . . . good night.”
I turn off the light and climb onto bed. Onto, not into, because it’s way too hot for blankets.
WHEN I STARTLE awake, it’s still dark out, and I’m sure we’re being robbed.
“Shit, shit, shit,” the robber is saying for some reason, and it sounds like he’s in pain.
“The police are on their way!” I yelp—which is neither a true statement nor a premeditated one—and scramble to the edge of the bed to snap on the light.
“What?” Alex hisses, eyes squinting against the sudden brightness.
He’s standing in the dark in the same black shorts he went to sleep in and no shirt. He’s bent slightly at the waist and gripping his lower back with both hands, and as the sleep clears from my brain, I realize he’s not just squinting against the light.