“Just barely,” I muttered, knowing she wasn’t wrong.
“My point is, I think losing your mom at a young age made you seek acceptance from literally everyone. That’s why you’re still dragging this thing with Ethan. You need to grow a backbone and just . . . say no to whatever doesn’t suit you. Even if it’s both men.”
I munched on my lower lip, mulling her words over in my head.
“However.” Layla tilted her head sideways, frowning. She wore a green beach dress that matched her electric hair perfectly. “I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to get Chase out of your system. One last hurrah with the devil is just the recipe to purge him out of your head. A summer fling. It could work, but only if you don’t get attached. Think you can do that?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I don’t think so. But a part of me wants to. It will be the emancipation of Martyr Maddie.” I chuckled. “Walking away from a broken, gorgeous man who needs me.”
Something hummed beneath my skin. A carnal need to make a decision. I texted Ethan, asking him to see me Tuesday evening. When Layla and I got to our apartment building, each unlocking our own doors, I glanced behind my shoulder to see the word of the day Layla had forgotten to remove from her door from Friday.
Hiraeth: a homesickness for a home you can’t return to or that never was.
The word stayed with me the entire afternoon. Soaking into my bones like the summer sun. Hitting roots in me, populating within my body. I understood it with frightening clarity.
A home that wasn’t mine but that I couldn’t, for the life of me, stop trying to worm my way into. A place I missed without ever visiting.
A place of my own I could call home.
Maddie: How many women have you slept with since we broke up?
Chase: Ladies first. How many men?
Maddie: No, you.
Chase: I feel like this is highly counterproductive to what I’m trying to achieve here.
Maddie: Which is?
Chase: Your lips wrapped around my cock as I examine the top of your head for stray grays.
Maddie: I actually have a few. My mom said it runs in my family.
Chase: I can have the tweezers ready if you want.
Chase: (my romance game is strong today.)
Maddie: Thanks, but I wouldn’t trust you with a stress ball.
Maddie: Also, grays are natural.
Chase: I’ll take your grays. All fifty shades of them.
Maddie: Now stop stalling and tell me.
Chase: I’m guessing it is not a good wow.
Maddie: Correct, Sherlock.
Maddie: I’m guessing it’s a good wow.
Chase: Yeah. Although it is beyond me how you managed to withstand the tights-and-tie-combo charm.
Maddie: Ethan is exactly the kind of man I want to fall in love with.
Chase: Love doesn’t work for your ass, Mad. You can’t tell it who to fall for.
Maddie: You really think you’re immune to falling in love?
Chase: Yes, I really am immune to falling in love. I’m unable to. It’s a nonproblem.
Chase: I’ve seen the ugly side of love and now I’m all sober when it comes to the other sex.
Maddie: Tell me about Amber.
Chase: Only if you come to the engagement shoot with me on Monday.
Maddie: Do I get to shoot my fake fiancé?
Chase: Har. Har. Yes or no?
Maddie: This is blackmail.
Chase: I’d rather call it negotiation.
Maddie: I hate you.
Chase: You wish.
Maddie: What are you doing tonight?
Chase: You, hopefully.
Maddie: Try again.
Chase: Out on the prowl, since my soon-to-be temporary girlfriend is refusing to see me.
Maddie: Back to being a cheater, I see.
Chase: We’re not exclusive. You kiss Ethan all the time. I bet Ethan kisses other women too.
Maddie: Forget it. Go have your fun. I hope you catch hispes.
Maddie: Herpes, pour homme.
Chase: Fuck, I’ve missed you.
Maddie: I actually stole this from Ray Donovan.
Chase: You can untwist your little (patterned?) panties. I’m currently at my parents’ house, playing chess with my father. And losing. Thanks to you.
Maddie: Strawberries (re: panties). How is he feeling?
Chase: Good (re: panties). And not good (re: Dad).
Maddie: I’m really sorry. There is nothing I can say to make this better, but I’m thinking about you and your family all the time. I’m seeing Katie next week for lunch. I want you to know I’ll be there for her.
Chase: The end-ness is unfathomable. Today he is here, but tomorrow, who knows?
Maddie: My mother began to write me personal letters when she first found out about her breast cancer. Little anecdotes about me as a child, about her as a mother. We bonded over flowers. I always got excited when she took me to work and there was a big order for a wedding. When she beat cancer the first time, she didn’t stop writing me letters. When I asked her why, she said it didn’t matter. Just because she didn’t have cancer didn’t mean she wouldn’t die. And she wanted to remind me she’d always love me. I think maybe telling him how you feel now is a good idea.
Chase: How did it feel? I mean, afterward.
Maddie: I felt betrayed by her. I kept thinking how could she do this to me, even though it didn’t make any sense. I knew she didn’t choose to be ill. I felt robbed of something. Tricked. Cursed. But then, slowly, I got back on my feet. You will too.
Chase: What if I don’t?
Maddie: I’ll make sure you will.
Chase: I won’t let you stick around and help me.
Maddie: I won’t ask.
Chase: So you’ll save me, but won’t fuck me?
Chase: Monday. I’ll pick you up at six.
It was the same studio.
Of course it was the same fucking studio.
An industrial loft on Broadway.
I wasn’t surprised. Mom had one assistant on her payroll—Berta—who was approximately eighty years old (not an exaggeration for the sake of making a point). She should’ve retired about three decades ago, but Berta was a widow, no kids, and Mom said the job kept her busy. Berta had a personal, ongoing feud with technology and used the Yellow Pages whenever she had to book anything outside the usual service providers the family used. Which meant that the studio—Events4U—was the same one she’d booked for every family occasion in the last century, including engagement shoots, Christmas cards, condolences, virtually every official picture taken of Booger Face, my college graduation pictures, and Katie’s Himalayan cat’s funeral photos (more on that never; I still hadn’t forgiven her for wasting everyone’s time while providing the feline with a proper burial).