Chase: Is this code for “put some pants on”?
Maddie: Why would you NOT be wearing pants midday?
Chase: I’ll have you know some of my favorite things are done pantsless. What are you doing?
Maddie: Sunbathing on the roof right across from your building.
Chase: If this is your way of coming on to me, it is highly unsubtle.
Chase: Also, that means you aren’t wearing pants either.
Chase: Also 2: Remember what happened the last time we were in the same room not wearing any pants?
Maddie: I actually have no recollection of that ever happening.
Chase: Always happy to refresh your memory.
Maddie: We’re not going to sext.
Chase: Great. I’ll come over in a couple hours and give you a personal demonstration. You look like you’re in need of some vitamin D.
Maddie: You’ll be getting some vitamin P if you as much as try.
Chase: Not sure I’m familiar with that supplement?
Maddie: A Punch in the face.
Chase: You know, I thought you’d be a lot less ardent after realizing I hadn’t cheated.
Maddie: Why? Wanting to scare me off by scarring me for life intentionally is only marginally worse than getting caught with your pants down.
Maddie: And yes, I know you’re not wearing any pants. It doesn’t bear repeating.
He sent me a picture of the lower half of his body, sitting on his black leather couch in dark-gray slacks. I’d never seen him in anything but black suits before, and stupidly, it threw me off guard. His legs were spread, and the imprint of his huge erection traced along his inner thigh. I felt my throat bob with a swallow and sucked in a breath. A million ants were dancing on my flesh with excitement. The caption read: Nice bikini. I looked down, examining my breasts in my swimming suit. Was he really looking at me through the window? His windows were tinted, but I still found myself struggling not to check.
“Why does Maddie look like she’s about to faint?” Layla asked. “What is she looking at on her phone?”
“Looks like a super burrito from where I’m standing,” Francisco said, humming.
“Oh, I would love some Mexican food with my mojito,” Layla pondered. “Check the DoorDash time for that place down the road.”
I ignored my friends, typing the words I knew I was going to regret. I was too flustered—too turned on—not to take Chase’s bait. Besides, it was harmless flirting. I was single. Ethan was the first to keep pointing out how casual we were.
Maddie: Is that a gun, or are you just happy to see me?
I paused, wanting to shock him. To keep this electrical current between us sizzling. So I did the unbelievable. The unthinkable. I lifted my phone and took a selfie of myself in my pineapple-patterned bikini. I didn’t have a Sports Illustrated–worthy body. Nothing like Amber’s careful strokes of muscle and surgically enhanced curves. I was tiny, with wide hips and a flat, albeit soft, belly. I sent it to him, wincing as I did. In the background, I heard Layla complaining about my inability to say no to anything. “He probably asked her to sext him, and she can’t refuse because no is not in her vocabulary.”
“Did she just take a picture of herself in a bikini? She doesn’t even post things to Instagram that don’t include flowers and sketches,” Francisco mumbled, losing interest.
Maddie: You mean this bikini?
Chase: Yes, that one. Yes, I am happy to see you, and yes, I would like to pound you so fucking hard I’ll leave a dent in your shape through your mattress, that new bed frame I got you, and the carpet.
Maddie: Romantic. Is that Atticus?
Maddie: Don’t give up your day job. Poetry is not your forte.
Chase: O ye of little faith. I can be romantic if I want to be.
Maddie: Really? Let’s see. This is going to be fun.
Chase: I would like to pound you so fucking hard I’ll leave a dent in your shape through your mattress, that new bed frame I got you, and the carpet. Please. <3 <3 <3
Chase: How’d I do?
Maddie: Exquisite. Pablo Neruda’s got nothing on you.
Chase: Does that mean I can come over tonight?
Maddie: No. And if you ever sext me again, I will block your number.
Chase: Keep lying to yourself.
Maddie: You think I won’t do it? I wasn’t very hesitant to cut you off from my life the first time around.
Chase: This is not the first time around, Mad. This is real, and we both know it.
Maddie: And that doesn’t worry you?
Chase: Nothing worries me.
But that wasn’t true, and we both knew that.
Losing Ronan Black worried him to death. In fact, I thought it might be the very reason why Chase didn’t want to love someone new.
Chase Black rejected love because he was afraid of losing it.
And me? I chased it because I’d lost the greatest love of all.
We were bad for each other in all the ways that mattered. I wanted everything he was afraid of, and he despised everything I stood for. A sane girl would call off the stupid azalea bet, turn around, and run away.
I leaned forward, trying unsuccessfully to peek into Chase’s window. I applied most of my weight to the edge of the sun bed. I tipped the entire thing over, falling the short way to the ground, taking Francisco with me.
On our way back home on the train, I rehashed my dating situation to Layla. I told her I had two options: a relationship with an expiration date with Chase, who was sure to leave my heart in tatters, versus a safe, steady relationship with sweet, reliable Ethan.
She considered both options with a frown, then said, “On one hand, you don’t want Ethan. You don’t talk about him the way you do about Chase. You don’t have that glint in your eye when he calls or texts. On the other, Chase is a wild card, and if you sleep with him again, you will regret it at some point. He flat-out told you he doesn’t want marriage. A wedding. Kids. Those things are important to you, Maddie. I don’t want you to ever give them up for a pretty face in a dark suit. But I also don’t want you to wake up in twenty years and hate yourself for choosing Ethan.”
She licked her lips, launching into the deep end. “The thing is, we call you Martyr Maddie for a reason. You have the tendency to forgive, even those who don’t ask for forgiveness. Take that Nina girl from your work, for example. You never tell Sven about her bullying or stand up to her. You let Chase gift you a goddamn dog, Maddie, and your landlord doesn’t even allow it. And you are allergic.”