I don’t want to look at myself anymore. Shaking my head, I pull on the thick white bathrobe from the back of the door and head out again.
My boss is at the window, her blond hair white in the early light. With a nervous glance toward the door, I wonder when James will come back. A few minutes ago, I wanted him to hurry. Now I want the barista downstairs to take their sweet time. I wouldn’t wish this conversation on anyone, and I certainly don’t wish Melly’s ire on James.
“So how long has this been a thing?”
I turn at the sound of her voice.
I’m not exactly sure what to tell her, because I’m not sure myself. “It’s new.”
She lets out a small, humorless laugh. “Right. That’s why you two are always huddled together. Why he’s always looking at you. Why you’re always talking. Because it’s new.”
I think back over the last few days and can’t really argue. It might have started as camaraderie, as us against them, but somewhere along the way it changed.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you, Carey. It’s always been you and me, a team. But lately …”
“We are a team. What’s happening between James and me isn’t about work.” For once, I don’t add, I didn’t think about you for an entire night.
But of course Melly would never believe this. She turns around, arms folded tightly across her chest. “Isn’t it? I used to be able to depend on you—for everything. You were in my corner, and I was in yours.”
“I don’t understand where this is coming from. None of that’s changed.”
“You disappeared yesterday,” she says.
“The luncheon was winding down.” It’s hard to admit it, but I suck it up: “I was totally wiped and needed a break.”
“So you left without even telling me? With James?” She throws up her hands. “I’d just given you a shout-out in front of some of the most influential people in entertainment and then you made me look like a liar by vanishing and leaving Robyn to wrap up the party.”
My heart drops. “Melly—”
She brings a shaking hand to her throat. “I trust you with details of my livelihood and my family. You know things about me that no one knows. And I help you—”
“I would never talk about any of those things. To anyone.”
“Really? Not going to have a rough day and commiserate together about the mean boss?” she says, going for flippant and not quite making it.
She, I realize suddenly, doesn’t want me getting close to James because she’s worried I’ll confide in him, tell him what I do and don’t do behind the scenes. She has no idea that her own husband has already done that. Even now, I try to downplay it or change the subject whenever James brings it up. Melly has to know I would never have said anything on my own. She has to know that I’m more trustworthy than that.
I take a step closer. “You’ve known me since I was sixteen. Do you really think I would do that?”
She blinks several times before her shoulders lose some of the tension. “No,” she says. “But lately I feel so out of control of everything, and you know I don’t handle that well. Between Russell and Stephanie, the book, the tour, and the announcement—I’m losing track of everything. I’m not ready to lose you, too.”
It feels like pushing glue through a straw to get the words out: “You’re not gonna lose me, Melly.” And it’s so easy to fall back into this role; it’s as easy as breathing. “Right now life is moving faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Of course you’re stressed.”
She reaches for my arms and pulls me down on the small couch. Her eyes are glassy. “That’s no excuse for losing my temper with you, for not trusting you. I know that.” She gives my hands a squeeze. “We’ve worked so hard for this, Carey.” I nod. “You’ve worked so hard.”
My heart pounces on this tiny crumb. “Thank you.”
“I can’t do this without you.”
“I’m right here,” I tell her. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Melly wipes her eyes, her smile brighter than I’ve seen in a long time. “It’s us against the world, hon. The two of us, just you and me.”
I nod again, my smile not quite as bright as hers. “You and me.”
Ella @1967_Disney_bound • July 9
I KNEW IT. Remember when I said my spidey senses were tingling?
Variety @Variety • July 9
Fresh off the runaway success of New Spaces, @Netflix nabs home decorating duo Melissa and Rusty Tripp and their new show, Home Sweet Home. Exclusive: www.variety.com/2L6Kz8l
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@1967_Disney_bound omgggg. I saw a tweet the other day that said they barely talk anymore. If they hated each other with an entire cast of costars to share the load wtf will happen now
@booksnbangtan @1967_Disney_bound is it bad that knowing they hate each other makes me want to watch the show like ten times more?
@1967_Disney_bound still say this is wild speculation. ITS LIKE WE CAN’T JUST LET
PEOPLE BE HAPPY
@broken_box_mmusik @1967_Disney_bound idk if it’s really /just/ speculation. I’ve seen three separate posts suggesting that Rusty is playing around and the mood was weird at their signing. That Melissa is on EDGE lately. Something up
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I realize I’m a somewhat socially awkward guy and will occasionally misread a romantic situation, but I’m usually misreading it in the wrong direction—a phenomenon that my older sister calls my “flypaper tendency.” Jenn says I’m unlikely to think a girl is interested in me until she’s literally plastered to my side. She’s not wrong—and the strategy has generally worked.
Last night with Carey, for example. She was pretty clear about what she wanted, and that she wanted it from me, specifically. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been with a woman who was more precise in her instruction. This morning she seemed to want more of the same—and I was happy to oblige.
So when I come upstairs with coffee and bagels to find my room completely empty—no clothes, no condom wrappers anywhere, even the bed has been hastily made—the only conclusion I can draw is that Carey flipped out, and I misread everything.
I sit at the edge of the mattress, balancing a cardboard tray of coffees on my lap and cycling through what we said and did, trying to find where it fell apart. It doesn’t take a lot of emotional intelligence to figure out that Carey needed an outlet last night … and that outlet was me.
Am I okay being used for sex? Generally, yes. In this case, though, it’s complicated by the reality of our future forced proximity, and the genuine feelings I’ve developed for her. I like her. I like her laugh, and how competent she is. I like her teasing humor that doesn’t mask how much she’s always taking care of everyone else. I like her mouth, her body, and her skin, too. I like her vulnerability—as much as I know I shouldn’t be drawn to it, I am—and I like what I realize is her complete creative genius.
I put her coffee on the desk and step out onto the balcony to drink mine. Am I really that surprised that she vanished? More easily than imagining her waiting for me, I can picture her in my bed, the stress of ignoring her phone mounting until she finally got up and dressed, heading to her room to shower and wipe the slate clean for the day. We’ve been friendly for only a matter of days, and yesterday’s meltdown aside, I doubt she’s ever shirked responsibility for an hour.
In truth, we barely know each other, and what we do know tells me we don’t have much in common. She might want to stay in Jackson forever; I live in a tiny studio that I’ve barely furnished because I don’t expect to be there for more than a year or two. Relatedly, I don’t let Melissa and Rusty hit me anywhere emotional, because it’s just a job. But Carey’s life is all tied up in theirs; their circus is her entire world.
And yet, despite these problems, I can’t immediately shake the way being with her felt totally right, even if it was for only twelve hours.
We have a late start this morning because we’re only going to Sacramento to sign some books for store stock before driving to spend the night in Medford, Oregon. The leisurely start to the day means I have time to shower, pack, and then figure out what to do with myself. Rusty is, as usual, sleeping until the very last minute before we leave. Thankfully I won’t sit around thinking about Carey or feeling useless: Melissa texts me a to-do list.
James could you take care of the following:
-Pick up some Alka-Seltzer for Russ
-He also needs a pack of plain white undershirts
-The bus could use a humidifier
The air is bright and sharp; the wind catches me off guard. I knew that San Francisco could be cold, but it’s still disorienting to feel the chill on my face with the iconic backdrop of a brilliant blue sky over the Golden Gate Bridge. A stress headache pulses at the edges of my temples.
It’s not a terrible thing if this fling with Carey turns into nothing. If I can just keep my head down and focus until the second season is rolling, I’ll have a great focal point on my résumé. Rather than citing my duration on the job, I’ll be able to say I worked on season five of New Spaces and the first season of Home Sweet Home. Rusty will give whatever recommendation I need him to give, I know. From here, I can move on to another position—an actual engineering role. While I don’t enjoy the cult of personality in the entertainment world, the pace and variety are so much better than the lifeless humdrum of my cubicle at the old job. If I could someday leverage the connections from Comb+Honey to get a job on a show that actually values science and engineering—something on the Discovery Channel—I would be thrilled.
Halfway up a steep hill, my phone buzzes in my pocket.