“Don’t be a jealous chick. I don’t like that.”
“Don’t call me a chick either.”
“Shit!” He was silent a second.
I bit my lip. What was I doing?
“Are you seriously jealous?” He was quieter now.
Was I? “I don’t know.”
His voice was strained. “I thought we were friends. I mean…we are, aren’t we?”
Had I just messed that up? I swallowed, pushed down a lump, and sagged back on his couch. “I have no idea. I mean, I’m a mess.”
“Certifiable.” He sounded relieved.
I relaxed, stretching my legs over the cushions. “You know about Stupid Tragic Guy, but you don’t know about the ex-ex, the most recent ex.”
“There was another guy?”
“I was using him to try to get over the tragic guy.”
“It didn’t work?”
“Let me guess. Did you get propositioned by his grandpa?”
“Yes!” I smiled. “You do pay attention to me.”
“It was a shot in the dark.” He was wry now, with a twinge of wariness. “Is this a problem for us?”
“There’s an us?”
He was quiet again. One beat. Then, softer, “I thought there was. A friendship us.”
“Are we doing it? The talk?” He was grinning. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t hear it, but I could feel it.
“The talk?” I asked.
“Where we cement an actual friendship, where we move toward giving a shit about each other and have each others’ backs, and it’s not a big deal.”
Friends. For real. “So that means I should stop calling you Reese Forster in my head, huh?”
He snorted. “Oh my God, tell me you don’t do that.”
I laughed. “I don’t. Or I didn’t. Today.”
More laughter. “Fuck. You’re whacked.” A sigh. “So, when are you going to tell me about the ex-ex?”
“You’re a different duck, that’s for sure.” He seemed resigned to it.
“But I like that.”
I smiled once again, but just like that, my eyelids were getting heavy. “I know.” The moment had passed. We were back to friendly and comfortable waters.
And I was still buzzed, but now the buzzed had moved to the buzz that makes you want to fall asleep, and fast.
A soft chuckle. “So, do you want me to answer those questions, or is this where we hang up and you pass out on my couch?”
I was nodding off. I yawned again into the phone, “Saftrabels. Congrassuladnsonurwn.”
“Yeah. Okay.” He laughed. “No idea what you just said. Good night, friend. I’ll text you my responses in the morning.”
But I didn’t hear. I was asleep.
Reese: Octopus. BBC says they’re smart. Bears could eat me, so there’s that.
Reese: The point of having the last word is feeling like you won? I don’t know. Conflict should be about resolution, not winning, or so my coach said, but he likes to yell. And get the last word in.
Reese: Makes sense to me, but I have someone to clean my place too.
Reese: Yes. It would have to change it to Warm Terrain and no longer Frozen Tundra.
Reese: Let’s cheer again. Good measure.
Reese: Trust her when she says she’s on birth control.
Reese: Are we talking anal or oral?
Reese: Not a goddamn clue. Let’s make up our own word. That can be called Frozen Tundra instead.
I woke up to his responses, followed by one last one.
And then a few new ones that had come in this morning.
Reese: On the bus. Had breakfast. Want our flight number?
Reese: Why are you not answering? Still sleeping or am I getting the last word in?
Reese: Fuck it, woman. Wake up. I’m bored. Send me new questions.
I laughed, rolling over, still on his couch, and typed back.
Me: I slept in. Awake now. Are you in the air?
I sent my response an hour after his last one, and when he didn’t buzz back right away, I left my phone on the couch and got up for the day. After showering and dressing, I was heading out when my phone buzzed.
Trent: I’m coming back this week. The team canceled their last couple days, so I have free time. Want to do something fun? I’ve got nothing planned.
I frowned and called him.
“You’re not with Owen and Hadley, are you?” he answered.
I needed to check on my fishing cabin, so I was heading that way. “No. Why?”
“Because I sent them texts too. What are you up to?”
“I’m heading to my cabin right now. What were you saying about canceling or something?”
“Yeah. I was scheduled to come in for a last motivational talk for them at the end of the week, but they’ve been changing the days a lot lately. The last change came in this morning. In three days they’re done at camp.”
Reese hadn’t said a word.
“Yeah, but the reason I texted is because I had them scheduled for later in the week. My manager moved things around in my schedule, but I still have those days off. So now, after flying in and doing their speech, I have four days clear. You want to do something?” He paused. “Hold on.” His phone buzzed.
A second later, he came back on. “Uh, what’s going on with you and Reese Forster?”
I stopped mid-stride. I was between the last cabin in Reese’s village and my fishing cabin, a good five hundred feet ahead.
My stomach clenched. “Uh, what do you mean?”
And did his voice have a certain disapproval in it? Flashbacks of my father came to me. He’d tried to get me to leave Damian years before I did.
“I just got a text from Owen. They have time off from Keith, but he didn’t know if you’d be able to or not. Something about being busy with Forster?”
“Nothing’s going on. We’ve just become friends. That’s all.”
He was quiet a beat. “Friends? You and Reese Forster? The ball player, right?” His disbelief was evident.
I didn’t know how to answer that one. Yes, to convince him, or yes, to defend myself?
I started forward again. I hadn’t gone to my own cabin for two days, and the times before had been just to dash in, my nose plugged, as I grabbed what I could and dashed back out.
When I got to my cabin, I waited. I couldn’t talk and not breathe at the same time, so I sat on the front porch, my feet dangling off the side, facing the lake. It was just beyond the tree line and a dip down to the edge, which was lined with rocks. The nice beach area was on the other side of the island. Still, it was pretty. The sun was shining, a sparkling line clearing right through the trees and making the water look like it was glistening.
I hadn’t taken the time since coming here to appreciate the island. Most of my time had been spent avoiding things or being busy. Or with Reese. Sitting here, with Trent quiet for a moment, I took it all in.
A piece of me settled. Calm.
“I thought you went to camp to get away from another guy situation?” Trent said.
“Technically, I was fired and dumped, but let’s be honest here. Lucas and his grandpa weren’t really anything, and neither is Reese. Friends, Trent. Like you and me. Friends.”
I might’ve been lying a tad bit, but that was between me and the fish smell.
“What were you thinking about doing?”
Shit. Not that I was making much money, but that meant I was losing four days of wages. That could’ve covered a weekend of laundry.
“I don’t know. Some of the others aren’t far away. I was thinking we could do a road trip. Janet mentioned having a new house. We could go there, see her. Dinner. You know, just spending time together. She has walking trails by her place too.”
I glanced to the left of my cabin. There was a better walking trail right here.
“I don’t know. You know I don’t get along with Janet.” She was one of the gossiping friends. I’d melted out of the scene so she couldn’t talk shit about Damian. Though she didn’t know that. So maybe the whole not getting along was more on my end, but her tongue could be razor sharp when she talked about her ‘friends.’ I’d heard more than I needed to. Why let myself be a target for her?
But Trent, he loved her. Trent loved everyone.
“Charlie.” His voice dipped. We were going real talk here. All these people in my life, all they wanted to do was converse seriously about things. What was the fun in that? Could we not adult in other ways?
“You said yourself that you need to reconnect with people. Janet’s the glue in the group. She’s the only one who talks to everyone else, besides me. If you want to convey a message to the group or an apology, it’s smart to go see her.”
That made my decision. The words apology and message were enough. “You know, now that I’m remembering, I had a call from my last boss. She wanted me to come back and see her. Maybe I could get my job back.”
I was. I didn’t care. “Have you really never heard Janet talk shit about people? You do know that’s what she does.”
“She’s not that bad.”
“Because you’re a guy. She loves you. With girls, it’s another thing. She’ll talk shit about who you’re dating, but she won’t talk shit about you. If you have a vagina, you’re fair game to her.”
My phone buzzed, and pulling away from my ear, I saw a text.