“Poppy, Alex brought a bunch of issues of R+R home so I could read your articles,” he said at one point at Betty’s house, and that was the first time I found out Alex even read my articles. “They’re really good. They make me feel like I’m there.”
“I wish you were,” I told him. “Sometime we should all take a trip together.”
“Hell yeah,” David said, then looked over his shoulder, grinning as he checked whether his dad had heard him swear. He’s a twenty-one-year-old baby, and I love him.
At some point, Betty asked for my help in the kitchen, and I followed her in to put candles in the German chocolate cake she had baked for her son-in-law. “Your young man Trey seems like a nice one,” she told me without looking up from what she was doing.
“He’s great,” I said.
“And I like his tattoos,” she added. “They’re just beautiful!”
She wasn’t being an asshole. Betty could be sarcastic, but she could also catch you off guard with her opinions on certain things. She was changeable. I liked that about her. Even at her age, she asked questions in conversation like she didn’t already have all the answers.
“I like them too,” I said.
I was attracted to Trey’s energy more than his appearance during our first work trip together (Hong Kong), and I liked that he waited to ask me out until we were home because he didn’t want to make anything weird for me if I said no.
I’d be lying, though, if I said Alex played no part in my saying yes.
He’d just told me that he and Sarah had been talking a lot more at work, that things seemed okay between them. At that point, I was still regularly waking up from dreams about him showing up at my door, looking sleepy and worried and too comforting, while I was in the throes of a fever.
It didn’t matter that he’d said nothing about getting back together with Sarah.
He would or he wouldn’t, but in the end, there would be someone, and I didn’t think my heart could take it. So I said yes to Trey that night and we went to a bar with free Skee-Ball and hot dogs, and by the end of that night, I knew I could fall in love with him.
Trey was to me what Sarah Torval was to Alex. Someone who fit.
So I kept saying yes.
“Do you love him?” Betty asked me, still not looking up from the task at hand.
I had the sense that she was giving me a level of privacy. The option to lie, without her looking straight into my eyes, if that was what I needed. But I didn’t need to lie. “I do.”
“Good, honey. That’s great.” Her hands stilled, holding two thin silver candles into the frosting like they might try to jump out. “Do you love him like you love Alex?”
I remember with vivid clarity the feeling of my heart stumbling over its next several beats. That question was more complicated, but I couldn’t lie to her.
“I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone the way I love Alex,” I said, and then I thought, But maybe I won’t ever love anyone like I love Trey either.
I should’ve said it, but I didn’t. Betty shook her head and looked me in the eye. “Wish he knew that.”
Then she walked out of the kitchen, leaving me to follow. Alex and Sarah had brought Flannery O’Connor with them, and she chose that moment to make her dramatic entrance, walking up to me with her spine arched up and eyes wide, staring into my face and meowing loudly, in a full-body expression that Alex and I call Halloween Kitty.
“Hi,” I said, and she rubbed against my legs, so I reached to pick her up, and she hissed and swung a handful of claws toward me just as Sarah walked into the kitchen with a stack of dirty dishes. She laughed and said in that sweet voice of hers, “Wow! She does not like you!”
So yes, I see where Alex is coming from with his nerves about this couples trip, but we’re making progress. With the Instagram likes and the perfectly pleasant time Trey, Alex, and I had at an arcade bar the last time Alex visited. And besides, being in the Tuscan countryside with an IV drip of incredible wine is not going to be the same as one awkward dinner in Ohio followed by a sixty-year-old teetotaler’s birthday party.
“They’re going to get along great,” I tell him now, propping my legs up on the balcony railing and adjusting the phone between my face and shoulder.
I hear his turn signal click off, and he sighs. “How can you be sure?”
“Because we love them,” I reason. “And we love each other. So they’ll love each other. And we’ll just all love each other. You and Trey. Me and Sarah.”
He laughs. “I wish you could hear how much your voice changed for that last part. It sounded like you were inhaling helium.”
“Look, I’m still working on forgiving her for dumping you the last time,” I say. “It seems like she’s figured out that was the biggest mistake of her life, though, so I’m giving her a chance.”
“Poppy,” he says. “It wasn’t like that. Things were complicated, but they’re better now.”
“I know, I know,” I say, even though, really, I don’t. He insists there are no hard feelings between them about their last breakup, but whenever I think about what she said—that their relationship was about as exciting as the school library where they’d met—I still see red for a second.
Another wave of nausea hits me, and I groan. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I really need to go to bed so I can be flight-ready tomorrow, but I’m telling you. This trip is going to be amazing.”
“Yeah,” he says stiffly. “I’m sure I’m worrying for nothing.”
Mostly, it turns out that’s true.
We’re staying in a villa. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re staying in a villa, with a gleaming pool and old stone patio, an outdoor kitchen with bougainvillea dripping all over everything in soft pinks and purples.