I kissed the tombstone, giving Mom’s name one last brush.
“By the way, you would have loved Daisy. She is a hoot. I’ll bring a picture of her next time I come visit. Do you know Chase was the only man who ever entered my apartment and didn’t get the pee-in-shoe treatment? Do you think it’s a sign?”
I looked around me, actually waiting for a sign. Like in the movies. A dramatic lightning bolt slicing the sky. A flower opening unexpectedly into full bloom. Even a phone call from Chase himself would have been sufficient. Which was why the stillness of everything around me made me chuckle. Kismet didn’t happen in real life.
Just as I turned around to walk away, a groundkeeper appeared from behind a tree, holding a leaf blower and sparing me a tired smile. He wore a black uniform. The tee that stretched across his chest read in white: Black Solutions.
“Thanks, Mom.” I smiled. For me, it was enough.
Chase: Is the offer to be friends still on the table?
Maddie: You mean the one you rejected?
Chase: *While highly intoxicated and nursing a shattered ego. Yes.
Maddie: Yes. I would love to be there for you.
Chase: What are your plans for tonight?
Maddie: Watch Daisy chasing after Frank the squirrel in her quest to make love to him?
Chase: Can I join you?
Maddie: I mean, you’d have to ask them but the bar is set pretty low for Daisy if she chooses Frank for a lover.
Chase: Plus, it would be consistent with my devilish reputation to bang her roommate.
Maddie: Oh boy. I would pay good money to see your face when Daisy and Frank go at it.
Chase: You need a hobby.
Maddie: Not all of us can afford entertainment in the form of exotic ranches on lakes and mansions in the Hamptons. Us mortals have to make do with less lavish time wasters.
Chase: You mortals also have Netflix.
Maddie: I withdraw the invitation to watch Daisy and Frank recreating Gone with the Wind.
Chase: What if I come bearing food?
Maddie: We’re on. But no lip about my movie choice when you get here. I don’t like your sass.
Chase: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Chase: Thank you for taking Katie and Mom for lunch. They appreciated it.
Maddie: Technically they took me.
Chase: You paid.
Chase: You’re good at sneaking into places.
Maddie: Like where?
Chase: My heart.
<Chase has removed a message from the chat>
Maddie: Was shopping for sex toys with Layla. What did you delete? Where’d I sneak into?
Chase: Platonic pizza tonight?
Maddie: Not sure I’m familiar with that topping.
Chase: It’s my least favorite and includes you fully clothed. Then I’ll go home to jerk off while you make use of your new sex toy purchases.
Maddie: Platonic pizza sounds good.
Chase: My turn to choose the movie.
Maddie: I want you to know that I will never forgive you for Scarface.
Chase: I was going for Love, Actually but didn’t want my mascara to get ruined.
Maddie: You wouldn’t cry during Schindler’s List. You have no heart, remember?
Chase: Yeah, because you stole it.
<Chase removed a message from the chat>
Maddie: What did you delete? I took Daisy for a walk and things got a little intense with Frank. She almost caught him this time.
Chase: I said I do have a heart.
Chase: I keep it in a glass jar on my desk.
Chase: Okay that is a Stephen King quote. But the sentiment is clear.
Maddie: I demand a rematch.
Chase: A rematch?
Maddie: A movie of my choice which you should suffer through. I’m actually thinking of making it even more painful. How about Clemmy chooses it? Is she back from Wisconsin yet?
Chase: Last night, yeah. Let me call Amber and set it up.
Maddie: How are things between you and Amber?
Chase: I think she is starting to realize we are not going to happen.
Maddie: And Julian?
Chase: Julian and I are definitely not going to happen either.
Chase: He’s busy with the divorce. We haven’t really talked about us (idk what it is about you that inspires me to talk like a chick, but there you have it).
Maddie: I have a confession to make.
Chase: I was your best, huh? I knew it.
Maddie: I miss what we had but I’m so afraid you are going to break my heart again or dump me after this is all over.
<Maddie removed a message from the chat>
Maddie: Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. Forget it.
“I’m seeing Clementine today.” Julian stood in the doorway to my office, still sporting the remainders of a black eye, a cut lip, and the sulky expression of a middle-aged tool who’d gotten his ass handed to him in a fistfight.
I looked up from my laptop, because we were talking about Booger Face. I pressed my index along my mouth.
“First time since?” I asked, leaning back in my executive chair. It had been a shit show since the moment Julian had found out about Wisconsin Dude. The CEO bullshit had finally taken the back seat, and the reality that his marriage—his family—was a sham had sunk in. He looked wrecked. Like reality had finally managed to snap some sense into him. Especially as Amber hadn’t wasted any time dragging Clementine to Wisconsin to hide from the social blow and had taken the opportunity to introduce the dudebro to Clementine as a “good family friend.”
Julian nodded, rubbing at his jaw. “I don’t know what to say to her.”
“How about that you’re fucking sorry?”
“Maybe without the ‘fucking’ part. Amber will kill me, and I think that’s a hundred bucks in the potty-word piggy bank.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Wait, what am I sorry about, exactly?”
“That she’s in this situation in the first place,” I said. “About the circumstances. Where are you taking her?”
“I don’t know. Amber just said to pick her up at five. Where should I . . . ? What does she like? Jesus Christ, I don’t even know what she likes.”
Julian fell into the chair in front of me with a sigh, not bothering to receive a formal invitation to come in. I stared at him like he’d just taken a shit on my desk. We were not exactly on friendly terms since he’d outed my father’s illness and I’d rearranged the organs in his face. We hadn’t even spoken since I’d come to rub the negative paternity test in Julian’s and Amber’s faces. (Literally. I’d shoved it into Julian’s nose and scrubbed it up and down. It would have been the highlight of my year if it hadn’t meant more bad news for Clemmy.)