He frowns. “I like that picture.”
“Alex . . .” I say calmly. “There are four people in this picture.”
“So we have found the first and largest problem.”
“That I have friends? I thought that would help.”
“You poor innocent baby creature, freshly arrived to earth,” I coo.
“Women don’t want to date men who have friends?” he says dryly, disbelieving.
“Of course they do,” I say. “They just don’t want to play Dating App Roulette. How are they supposed to know which one of these guys is you? That guy on the left is, like, eighty.”
“Biology teacher,” he says. His frown deepens. “I don’t really take pictures by myself.”
“You sent me those Sad Puppy selfies,” I point out.
“That’s different,” he says. “That was for you . . . You think I should use one of those?”
“God, no,” I say. “But you could take a new picture where you’re not making that face, or you could crop one that’s you and three biology teachers of a certain age so that it’s just you.”
“I’m making a weird face in that picture,” he says. “I’m always making a weird face in pictures.”
I laugh, but really, warm affection is growing in my belly. “You have a face for movies, not photographs,” I say.
“Meaning you’re extremely handsome in real life, when your face is moving how it does, but when one millisecond is captured, yes, sometimes you’re making a weird face.”
“So basically I should delete Tinder and throw my phone into the sea.”
“Wait!” I jump out of bed and snatch my phone off the counter where I left it, then climb back up beside Alex, tucking my legs underneath me. “I know what you should use.”
He dubiously watches me scroll through my photos. I’m looking for a picture from our Tuscany trip, the last trip before Croatia. We’d been sitting outside on the patio, eating a late dinner, and he slipped away without a word. I figured he’d gone to the bathroom, but when I went inside to get dessert, he was in the kitchen, biting his lip and reading an email on his phone.
He looked worried, didn’t seem to notice I was there until I touched his arm and said his name. When he looked up, his face went slack.
“What is it?” I asked, and the first thing that jumped into my mind was Grandma Betty! She was getting old. Actually, as long as I’d known her she’d been old, but the last time we’d gone to her house together, she’d barely gotten up from the chair she did her knitting in. Until then, she’d always been a bustler. Bustling to the kitchen to get us lemonade. Bustling over to the sofa to fluff the cushions before we sat down.
But the thought didn’t have time to gestate because Alex’s tiny, ever-suppressed smile appeared.
“Tin House,” he said. “They’re publishing one of my stories.”
He gave a surprised laugh after he said it, and I threw my arms around him, let him draw me up and in against him tight. I kissed his cheek without thinking, and if it had felt any less natural to him than it did to me, he didn’t show it. He turned me in half a circle, set me down grinning, went back to staring at his phone. He forgot to hide his emotions. He let them run wild over his face. I tugged my phone out of my pocket, pulled up the camera, and said, “Alex.”
When he looked up, I captured my favorite picture of Alex Nilsen.
Unfiltered happiness. Naked Alex.
“Here,” I say, and show him the picture. Him, standing in a warm golden kitchen in Tuscany, his hair sticking up like it always did, his phone loose in his hand, and his eyes locked onto the camera, his mouth smiling but ajar. “You should use this one.”
He turns from the phone to me, our faces close though, as ever, his hangs over mine, his mouth soft with a trace of smile. “I forgot about that,” he says.
“It’s my favorite.” For a while neither of us moves. We linger in this moment of close silence. “I’ll send it to you,” I say weakly, and break eye contact, pulling up our text thread and dropping the picture into it.
Alex’s phone buzzes in his lap where I must’ve dropped it. He picks it up, does his half-cough tic. “Thanks.”
“So,” I say. “About that bio.”
“Should we print it out and find a red pen?” he jokes.
“No way, man. This planet is dying. No way I’m wasting that much paper.”
“Ha ha ha,” he says. “I was trying to be thorough.”
“As thorough as Dostoyevsky.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Shh,” I say. “Reading.”
Already knowing Alex, I do find the bio kind of charming. Mostly in that it speaks to that lovable grandpa side of him. But if I didn’t know him, and one of my friends read me this bio, I would suggest that perhaps this man was a serial killer.
But that doesn’t change things. He lists where he went to school, when he graduated, talks in depth about what he studied, the last few jobs he had, his strengths at said jobs, the fact that he hopes to get married and have kids, and that he is “close with [his] three brothers and their spouses and children” and “enjoys teaching literature to gifted high school students.”
I must be making a face, because he sighs and says, “It’s really that bad?”
“No?” I say.
“Is that a question?” he asks.
“No!” I say. “I mean, no, it’s not bad. It’s kind of cute, but, Alex, what are you supposed to talk about when you go out with a girl who’s already read all this?”