“My turn,” Ethan said. “Best way to start the day?”
Coffee, doughnuts, and talking to Dad on the phone. Mostly listening to the small-town gossip he had to offer. I was about to answer, Jogging, a granola bar, and listening to podcasts about climate change, before remembering I’d promised myself to be honest this time. So I gave him my real answer. Ethan scrunched his nose.
“What?” I winced, bracing myself for his disappointment.
“Nothing. Just . . . I don’t do gossip. I also don’t drink caffeine. It gives me terrible tremors.”
“Right,” I said. At this point, between Diet Coke, coffee, and energy drinks, caffeine had surely embedded itself into my blood type. Not that it mattered. Ethan and I didn’t have to be compatible in every single way.
“Favorite TV channel?” I smiled sunnily. “On a count of three.”
“Three . . .”
“Two . . .”
“One . . .”
“HBO,” I piped up at the same time he said, “National Geographic.” We laughed, shaking our heads.
His eyes lit up, just when his pasta and my pizza arrived. His was loaded with vegetables, seafood, and exotic mushrooms. Mine consisted of pepperoni, bacon, and extra cheese. We counted to three again. I said puppies. He said vanilla.
I repeat—vanilla. Just like the sex Chase had promised we’d have.
Ethan and I continued this tango for the rest of the evening, amused by how morbidly different we were. It was actually a kick-ass icebreaker. If it weren’t for the fact I knew he’d slept with someone else mere hours ago, not to mention that I was going on a second date with my ex-boyfriend come Friday, I’d actually say the evening brought us closer.
Ethan walked me back home and had the good sense not to kiss me on the mouth when we parted ways. He kissed my cheek again, smiling shyly as he cast his gaze downward.
“I’d invite you to come up, but—” I started at the same time he opened his mouth.
“That thing with Natalie—”
We both stopped.
“You go.” I felt my cheeks heating.
“She just broke up with someone, it was long term, and she and I have this thing when we’re both single. I’m really interested in you. I’m not the sleeping-around type of guy. Honestly, I wanted to show myself that I was okay with you going out with your ex.” He rubbed at his temple. “And for the most part, I am.”
“I understand,” I said quietly. Although a part of me didn’t. I wished Ethan would have just told me the truth before we’d both compromised the beginning of our relationship. But there was no going back from what it was right now. A messy shot in the dark made by a blind, intoxicated cupid.
“Maybe it’s best if we don’t have sex until everything with Chase is over. It obviously makes you feel weird. Like I’m not fully committed to this,” I suggested.
Ethan nodded. “That’s fair. And I promise to end things with Natalie after your last date with him. You’re seeing him Friday, right?”
“For the second and last time,” I confirmed.
I pushed the door open to my building and closed it, plastering my back against it with a heavy sigh. My phone pinged in my purse. I plucked it out, thinking it might be Ethan, wanting to soften the blow of our goodbye by saying something sweet or playful.
Unknown: Don’t forget the banana bread on Friday. It’s Chase, btw.
Maddie: How do you know I deleted your number?
Unknown: When the nights get cold, the memory of your ex burns hotter. You seem like the type to self-preserve.
Maddie: You seem like a conceited idiot.
Unknown: That may be true, but you just admitted to deleting my number.
Maddie: Can I ask you something?
Unknown: Seven inches.
Maddie: Har. Har.
Maddie: Where do you want to live when you’re “settled down”?
Unknown: I will never “settle down.”
Maddie: Humor me, jerk.
Unknown: Fine. I’ll stay in Manhattan. You?
I pushed the door to my apartment open. Daisy jumped on my legs excitedly, nuzzling her wet tennis ball into my hand. I glanced at the overhead clock above my fridge. Almost eleven. Chase was going to be here to take her out in seven hours. The thought of him in my apartment made my head swim. I added him to my contacts, purely for logistical purposes. I’d delete him again on Saturday morning, post our fake-engagement dinner.
Maddie: I don’t know. Maybe Brooklyn. What did you have for breakfast?
Chase: I think her name was Tiffany.
Maddie: Dear God, you’re stabbable to a fault.
Chase: Relax. A protein pack.
Chase: Do NOT make a jizz joke.
Maddie: Favorite channel?
Chase: Is that a real question? Is there a right answer other than HBO?
Maddie: Best way to start the day?
Chase: You sitting on my face.
Maddie: Thank you.
Chase: For the riveting visual?
Maddie: For reminding me why we broke up.
I shouldn’t have gone to bed with a smile on my face, yet I did.
Chase Black was the devil. A sinister, cold creature that somehow managed to scorch his way into my veins. But whatever he was . . . being next to him made me feel alive.
On Tuesday, I woke up to zero sticky notes from Chase. Considering I’d specifically asked him not to touch my things, I should have felt a lot more cheerful than I did when I glanced at the shelf of my fridge, offended by its stark emptiness.
Not that it mattered. No Post-it Notes from Chase meant I didn’t have to clean up all his mess when I got back to my apartment. It gave me a good chance to bake something and bring it to Ethan’s office. (This was not retaliation against Chase for not leaving me any notes. No sirree. Just me trying to be nice to Ethan.)
Wednesday, however, was a game changer. Two days away from the festive engagement dinner, I found a slew of black sticky notes stuck to my fridge. Not the same color as my turquoise ones with the leopard print that I kept on my counter to make supermarket lists. Bastard had brought his own notes. That was why he hadn’t written anything on Tuesday. He’d probably asked his assistant to provide him with the stationery he required to continue our written beef. There was no way his Royal Highness had descended down from Olympus himself and visited Office Depot. The pen he’d used was gold. He had a lot to say, so he’d spread it over a few notes, sticking them one below the other in succession.