Two days home in Linfield and both of us were already a little restless, but he didn’t mind the mess and he liked the menagerie of dying animals and he joined right in when we did a New Talent Show over Skype with Parker and Prince.
Still, after how everything went down with Guillermo—and pretty much everyone else in the entire world—I was restless, eager to get out of Linfield before something scared Trey off, so we probably would’ve headed back early if not for the fact that it was Mr. Nilsen’s sixtieth birthday, and Alex and Sarah were coming down to surprise him with a visit. We’d decided the four of us should grab dinner before the party.
“I’m so excited to meet this guy,” Trey kept saying whenever a new text came in from Alex, and every time, it made my nerves inch closer to the surface. I felt fiercely protective—I just wasn’t sure over whom.
“Just give him a chance,” I kept saying. “He takes a while to open up.”
“I know, I know,” Trey insisted. “But I know how much he means to you, so I’m going to like him, P. I promise.”
Dinner was okay. I mean, the food was great (Mediterranean), but the conversation could’ve been better. Trey, I couldn’t help but think, came off a little show-offy when Alex asked him what he’d studied, but I knew his lack of formal education was something of a chip on his shoulder, and I wished there was some easy way for me to signal that to Alex as Trey launched into the story of how it all happened.
How he’d been in a metal band all through high school back in Pittsburgh. How they’d taken off when he was eighteen, gotten offered an opening slot on the tour of a much bigger band. Trey was an amazing drummer, but what he really loved was photography. When his band broke up after four years of near-constant touring, he took a job taking pictures on another band’s tour. He loved traveling, meeting people, seeing new cities. And as those connections built up, other job offers rolled in. He went freelance, eventually started working with R+R, and then came on as a staff photographer.
He finished his monologue by putting an arm around my shoulders and saying, “And then I met P.”
The flicker on Alex’s expression was so subtle I was sure Trey didn’t notice it. Maybe Sarah hadn’t either, but to me, it felt like a pocketknife plunging into my belly button and dragging upward five or six inches.
“Sooo sweet,” Sarah said in her saccharine voice, and probably my face made a much bigger twitch.
“The funny thing is,” Trey said then, “we were supposed to meet sooner. I was scheduled to go on that Norway trip with you two. Before she got sick.”
“Wow.” Alex’s eyes flicked to mine, then dipped to the glass of water in front of him. It was sweating as badly as I was. He picked it up, slowly sipped, set it down. “That is funny.”
“Anyway,” Trey said awkwardly. “What about you? What did you study?”
Trey knew exactly what Alex had gone to school for (was still going to school for), but I figured that by phrasing it as a question, he was giving Alex a chance to talk more about himself.
Instead, Alex took another sip and said only, “Creative writing, then literature.”
I had to sit and watch my boyfriend struggle to find an appropriate follow-up question, give up, and go back to studying the menu.
“He’s an amazing writer,” I said awkwardly, and Sarah shifted in her seat.
“He is,” she said, her tone so acidic you’d think I’d just said Alex Nilsen has an incredibly sexy body!
After dinner, we went to the party at Grandma Betty’s house and things improved a bit. Alex’s goofy brothers were all clamoring to meet Trey, bombarding him with all kinds of questions about the band and R+R and whether I snored.
“Alex would never tell us,” the youngest, David, said, “but I assume Poppy sounds like a machine gun when she sleeps.”
Trey laughed, took it all in stride. He’s never jealous. Neither of us can afford to be: we are both relentless flirts. It sounds strange, but I love that about him. I love watching him go up to the bar to order me a drink and seeing how the bartenders smile and laugh, lean across the bar to bat their eyelashes at him. I love watching him charm his way through every city we go to, and that whenever he’s next to me, he’s touching me: an arm around the shoulders, a hand on my low back, or pulling me into his lap like we’re home alone rather than dining at a five-star restaurant.
I’ve never felt so secure, so sure that I’m on the same page as someone.
At the party, he kept his hands on me at all times, and David teased us about it.
“You don’t think she’s going to make a run for it if you let go, do you?” he joked.
“Oh, she’ll definitely make a run for it,” Trey said. “This girl can’t sit still for longer than five minutes. That’s one thing I love about her.”
The party was the first time all of Alex’s brothers had been in the same place in a long time, and they were as rowdy and sweet as I remembered them being when Alex and I were nineteen, home from college and charged with driving them around in Alex’s car, since none of them had their own yet and their dad was a sweet man but also a forgetful, flaky one who was incapable of keeping track of who needed to be where and when.
While Alex had always been calm and still by default, his brothers were the kind of boys who never stopped wrestling or giving one another wet willies. Even though some of them have kids now, they were still like that at the party.
Mr. and Mrs. Nilsen had named them in alphabetical order. Alex first, then Bryce, then Cameron, then David, and weirdly they’re mostly sized like that too. With Alex the tallest and broadest, Bryce just as tall but lanky and narrow shouldered, Cameron a few inches shorter and thick. Then there’s David, who’s an inch taller than Alex with the build of a professional athlete.
They’re all handsome, with varying shades of blond hair and matching hazel eyes, but David looks like a movie star (which lately, Alex said at dinner, he’s been talking about moving to L.A. to become), with his thick, wavy hair and wide, thoughtful eyes, and his excitability, the way he lights up whenever he starts talking. He starts fifty percent of his sentences with the name of whoever he’s addressing, or whoever he thinks will be most interested.