November 15, 2004
I wanted to thank you for being the best daughter in the world. Yesterday, I felt sick all day and didn’t go to work. You went to help your father in the shop even though you had an important test the next day, and when you came back, you brought a bouquet of azaleas with you. My favorite (you remembered. You always do).
You told me you ate the petals secretly. They tasted like sweet nectar, you said. We pressed them into books in my bed, watching Steel Magnolias and drinking sweetened tea. The flower made me feel loved. I hope one day they’ll make you feel the same too.
To the moon and back,
I gave the azaleas to Ethan when we met for coffee. (Tea, he amended in a text message. Coffee is highly unhealthy. I’ll send you an article.) Instead of relaying my bet with Chase, which I thought was rude and presumptuous, I simply explained that the flowers meant a lot to me and gave them to him as a gift. Azaleas were Mom’s favorite flowers, I explained, and they required special attention and a lot of care, but in return, their bloom was breathtakingly beautiful.
“They’re a lot of work, but they’re worth it.”
“Reminds me of someone.” He took a sip of his green tea, his smile stretching across his face like a wound. He looked different. Tired. I couldn’t help but suspect I had a lot to do with it.
Since Ethan didn’t know about the bet, which was a clear disadvantage, I balanced it out by printing out specific instructions of how to take care of the azaleas. Ethan shoved the plant and instructions under our table, before ordering a gluten-free pastry and launching into a speech about how he’d been invited to talk at a conference about children who suffered from anxiety. I immediately thought about Katie. How she’d be interested in listening to this lecture.
Then I thought about the moronic mistake I’d made the other day, when I’d forgotten she was privy to my waiting for Chase on his birthday and had basically blown up our cover to the sky.
As for Ethan, it was nice to hang out with him, but it lacked that feeling I had with Chase. Where every interaction felt divine, before the aftermath, in which I’d obsess about every single thing we’d said to each other.
The weekend rolled in, forcing me to unglue myself from the DWD project. I made plans with Layla, Sven, and Francisco. The latter two hosted their annual roof party on their neighbors’ rooftop, serving low-calorie, low-carb mojitos and putting George Michael on blast. Sven was religious about throwing the bash once a year, explaining that he needed to channel his inner Kris Jenner without maxing his credit card. He sold the tickets at a hundred bucks a pop. A ticket would secure you a plastic sun bed, watered-down cocktails, Costco sandwich wraps, and Sven’s glorious company for a few hours. All the money went to a charity of Sven’s choice. This year, it was the Animal Protection Society.
The rooftop was jam-packed with Francisco’s and Sven’s colleagues and friends. “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga made the ground shake. Layla and I secured a couple of sun beds on the far end of the roof, away from a school of high-pitched interns from Francisco’s office. I couldn’t help but notice the penthouse level of Sven and Chase’s building was parallel to the roof where the party took place. Which meant that Chase’s living room was right in front of my face. As with all high-rises, the windows had tinted film, which meant he could look outside, but no one could see into his apartment. Not that I planned on looking into his place. Or that I tried to when no one was looking.
I closed my eyes, letting my skin soak in the sunrays. My sun bed was wonky, and I was probably going to come back home with red streaks all over me, but there was nowhere else I’d have rather been in that moment than here with my friends.
“Speaking of men, how’s Grant?” I asked my best friend. Shortly after Chase and I had broken up, Layla had announced that she was interested in sleeping with Grant and asked if it would be okay by me. Of course it was. Grant seemed like a trustworthy man. But that was before Chase had told me he’d exchanged the lipstick-stained shirt with him. Although if I were being honest with myself, between Grant and Layla, the person who needed to guard their heart wasn’t my best friend. She was notoriously against any sort of long-term romantic relationships.
“Super lickable, as per usual. He went to a bachelors’ party in Miami.”
“And you aren’t worried he’ll be sampling more than Cuban food and fruity cocktails there?” I asked.
Layla shook her head. “I sure hope he does. I told him we are only a fling. I even cemented the fact by going out with a total Tinder fuckboy so he realizes we’re not exclusive. Alas, Grant is the marrying type.”
“And you’re not the marrying type because . . . ?” Francisco came over to us, dumping burgers onto a tray and then putting it on a set table. He sat on the edge of my sun bed.
“I don’t want to have children.” Layla shrugged. “And although the two don’t have to go together, let’s admit it—one insinuates the other. I just don’t believe in marriage.”
“Ethan is like that,” I mused. “The marrying type, I mean.”
“Yeah”—Layla cocked her head sideways—“but Grant is, you know, interesting.”
“Ethan is interesting,” I protested. “That’s unfair. You haven’t even met him.”
“Is that why you still haven’t let him put the tip in, Maddie?” Layla looked unconvinced.
Francisco leaned forward and tapped Layla’s shoulder. “Show me Grant.”
“Okay, but don’t get attached. Because again—he’s a total family man, and we’re bound to break up once he realizes I’m serious about not settling down,” Layla warned, twisting her torso to fish her phone from her bag. She took it out, holding my flower-cased phone too. “Here, you have a message from the commitment-phobe.”
I caught my phone in midair, surprised that my body was in sync with my brain. My heart bounced around erratically like a frat boy looking for easy prey at a party. Chase had sent me a picture of the vivid-looking azaleas on his coffee table. I recognized his living room in the background. The minimal, impersonal space that always reminded me of a sad, plush hotel room where rock stars went to die.
Maddie: Color me impressed. The Nobel Prize people are on the way.