“So what did Kitty and Kristy say?” Sara asked, putting her glass of water down on the table.
Silence filled the space between us and I blinked, confused. “To what?” I asked, again.
“So, you’re hung up on Hanna, but you haven’t let your other two lovers know that you have sincere feelings for someone else?”
I picked up my beer, stared down into it. It wasn’t just the hassle of going through the awkward let’s-end-this conversation with Kitty and Kristy. If I was honest with myself, it was also partly about the security of the distraction they could provide if this whole thing with Hanna went downhill. That sounded like a dick move even to me.
“Not yet,” I admitted. “It’s all so casual. Who knows if a conversation is really needed?”
Chloe leaned forward, setting her bottle down and waiting until I looked her in the eye. “Will, I love you. I really do. You are going to be a part of our wedding; you will be a part of our family. I want the best things in the world to happen to you.” She narrowed her eyes at me, and I felt my balls crawl up into my body. “But I still wouldn’t tell a girlfriend of mine to take a chance with you. I’d tell her she should let you f**k her brains out, but keep her emotions out of it because you are a clueless little shit.”
I winced, kind of chuckled, and shook my head. “That’s refreshingly honest.”
“I’m being serious. Yes, you’re always open with your sex buddies. No, you don’t have anything to hide. But what’s your thing against relationships?”
Throwing my hands in the air, I said, “I don’t have anything against relationships!”
Sara jumped in, saying, “You assume from day one that you won’t want anything more than convenient sex,” before continuing more gently, “and let me tell you, from a woman’s point of view? When you’re younger you want the boy who knows how to play the game but when you’re older you want the man who knows when it’s not a game anymore. You don’t even know that yet, and you’re, what? Thirty-one? Hanna may be young in years, but she’s an old soul, and she’s going to quickly figure out that your model isn’t the right one for her. You’re teaching Hanna how to balance multiple lovers but you should be teaching her what it feels like to be loved.”
I smiled at her, and then rubbed my face with both hands, groaning, “Did you guys come over here to lecture me?”
Sara said, “No,” at the same time that Chloe said, “Yes.”
Finally, Sara laughed and said, “Yes.” She leaned forward to put her hand on my knee. “You’re just so clueless, Will. You’re like our adorable, derpy mascot.”
“That is awful,” I said, laughing. “Don’t ever repeat that.”
We all turned back to the basketball game. It wasn’t awkward. I didn’t feel defensive. I knew they were right; I just wasn’t sure what I could actually do about any of it, seeing as how Hanna was out with f**king Dylan. It was fantastic for me to be able to admit that I wanted more with her, and that I didn’t want her out with another guy, but it one hundred percent did not matter as long as Hanna and I were on different pages about it. And the truth was, I wanted her to f**k only me, but I didn’t really want things between us to change.
I picked up my phone, checking to see if I’d somehow missed a text from her in the past two minutes.
“Jesus, Will. Just f**king text her!” Chloe said, throwing a napkin at me.
I stood abruptly, less to comply with Chloe’s bossy shit and more to just move. What was Hanna doing right now? Where were they? It was almost nine. Shouldn’t they be done with dinner by now?
Actually, given his track record, she was probably at home . . . unless they were at his place?
I felt my eyes go wide. Was it possible she was in his bed? Having sex with him? I closed them just as fast, jaw bulging as I remembered how she felt beneath me, her curves, the feeling of her knees pressed to my sides. And to think she might be with that weaselly kid? Naked?
Turning, I walked down the hall toward my bedroom, stopping when my phone buzzed in my palm. I don’t think even my knee-jerk reflex was as fast as my reaction to the lit screen. But it was only Max.
Your girl is here at the restaurant with me and Ben. Nicely done on the Project Hanna, Will. She looks bloody hot.
I groaned, leaning against the wall in my hallway as I typed. Is she kissing the kid?
No, Max replied. She keeps checking her phone though. Stop texting her, you little shit. She’s “exploring life” right now, remember.
Ignoring his obvious attempt to rile me, I stared at the text, reading it again, and again. I knew I was the only person who regularly texted Hanna, and I hadn’t sent her anything all night. Was it possible she was checking her phone as obsessively as I’d been checking mine?
I moved down the hall, slipping into the bathroom under the ruse of actually using it for its intended purpose and instead sitting on the edge of my tub. It wasn’t a game with her. Sara was wrong there; I knew it wasn’t a game. It wasn’t even fun right now. My time away from Hanna oscillated wildly between exhilaration and obsessive anxiety. Is this what it was about? Taking this kind of risk, opening up and gambling on someone else’s ability to tread carefully with your feelings?
My thumbs hovered over the letters for several pounding heartbeats and then I typed a single line, reading it over, and over, checking it for diction, tone, and the overall no-big-deal-I’m-not-obsessing-about-your-night-or-anything vibe of it. Finally, I closed my eyes, and hit SEND.
I was not going to text Will.
“. . . and then maybe live abroad someday . . .”
I was not going to text Will.
“. . . maybe Germany. Or, maybe Turkey . . .”
I blinked back to the conversation and nodded to Dylan, who sat opposite me and who had basically trekked the entire globe during our conversation. “That sounds really exciting,” I said, smile stretched wide across my face.
He looked down to the linen tablecloth, cheeks slightly pink. Okay, so he was pretty cute. Like a puppy. “I used to think I’d want to live in Brazil,” he continued. “But I love visiting there so much, I don’t want it to ever feel familiar, you know?”
I nodded again, doing my best to pay attention and rein in my thoughts, to focus on my date and not the fact that my phone had been silent all night.
The restaurant Dylan had chosen was nice, not overly romantic but cozy. Soft lighting, wide windows, nothing heavy or too serious. Nothing that screamed date. I’d had the halibut; Dylan had ordered a steak. His plate was practically empty; I’d hardly touched mine.
What had he been saying? A summer in Brazil? “How many languages did you say you spoke again?” I asked, hoping I was close enough to the mark.
I must have been because he smiled, obviously pleased I’d remembered this detail. Or at least that such a detail existed.
And that wasn’t even stretching the truth. He was amazing. Dylan was good-looking and smart and everything an intelligent girl would be looking for. But when the waiter stopped at our table to refill our drinks, none of those things kept me from glancing quickly down to my phone again, and frowning at the blank screen.
I swiped a finger over Will’s name, and reread a few of his texts from earlier in the day. Random thought: I’d like to see you stoned. Pot amplifies personality traits so you’d probably talk so much your head would explode, though I don’t know how you could possibly say even crazier things than you do now.
And another: Just saw you on 81st and Amsterdam. I was in a cab with Max and watched you cross the street in front of us. Were you wearing panties under that skirt? I plan on filing that away in the old spankbank so whatever you do, just say no.
The time stamp on his last message was just after one this afternoon, almost six hours ago. I scrolled through a few more before pressing the box to type, my thumb hovering over the keyboard. What could he possibly be doing? The phrase or who crept into my thoughts and I felt my frown deepen.
I started typing out a message and deleted it just as quickly. I will not text Will, I reminded myself. I will not text Will. Ninja. Secret agent. Get the secrets, and get out unharmed.
I looked up again; Dylan was watching me.
His brows drew together for a moment before he laughed a small, uncertain sound. “Are you okay tonight? You seem a bit distracted.”
“Yeah,” I said, horrified to have been caught. I lifted the phone from my lap. “Just waiting for a text from my mom,” I lied. Horribly.
With a small, relieved sigh, Dylan pushed his plate away and leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “So what about you? I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk. Tell me about the research you’re doing.” For the first time all night, I felt the grip on my phone lessen. This I could do. Talk about my work and school and science? Hell yes.
We’d just finished dessert and my explanation of how I was collaborating with another lab in our department to engineer vaccines for Trypansoma cruzi when I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see Max standing behind me.
“Hey!” I said, surprised to see him here.
He was about ten feet tall and yet when he bent to kiss my cheek, he didn’t look awkward at all. “Hanna, you look absolutely smashing tonight.”
Damn. That accent was going to kill me dead. I smiled. “Well, you can pass your compliments to Sara; she’s actually the one who picked out this dress.”
I wouldn’t have thought it possible for him to get even more attractive, but the proud grin that stretched across his face did just that. “I’ll do that. And who is this?” he said, turning to Dylan.
“Oh!” I said, turning back to my date. “Sorry, Max, this is Dylan Nakamura. Dylan, this is Max Stella, my friend Will’s business partner.” The two men shook hands and chatted for a moment, and I had to talk myself out of asking about Will. I was on a date, after all. I shouldn’t be thinking of him in the first place.
“Well, I’ll just leave you two to it, then,” Max said.
“Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
I watched Max walk back to his table, where a group of men were waiting for him. I wondered if he was out for a business dinner, and if so, why hadn’t Will gone with him? I realized I didn’t know much about his job, but didn’t they do this kind of stuff together?
A few minutes later, just as the bill came, my phone vibrated in my lap.
I closed my eyes, feeling that word vibrate through me like an electrical current. I thought back on the last time he’d called me that and felt my insides liquefy.
Fine. Max is here, did you send him to check on me?
Ha! As if he’d ever do that for me. And he just messaged. Said you look pretty hot tonight.
I’d never known I was much of a blusher before Will, but I felt the heat as it flashed through my cheeks. He looked pretty hot himself.
You home? I hit SEND and then held my breath. What would I do if he said no?
I was really going to have a talk with myself; knowing Will was home and texting me should not have made me quite so damn happy. Running tomorrow? I asked.
Quickly wiping the smile from my face before Dylan noticed, I tucked my phone away. Will was home and I could rest easy and attempt to enjoy the rest of my night.“So how was your date?” he asked, stretching beside me.
“Yeah.” I shrugged, unable to get it up for a more enthusiastic response. “Fine,” I said again. “Good.” I felt decidedly worse about my Will codependency this morning than I did last night. I would need to get my act together and remember: Secret agent. Like a Ninja. Learn from the best.
I didn’t respond, instead walking to retrieve the water bottle I’d stowed against a nearby tree. It was cold—so cold the water had turned to slush and sloshed around as I tried to force it open. We were at the post-workout stage of our run, where Will would give me a pep talk and say something inappropriate about my boobs, and I would complain about the cold or the lack of easily accessible bathrooms in Manhattan.
And I really wasn’t sure I wanted to have this conversation today, or admit that while I actually liked Dylan, I didn’t daydream about kissing him or sucking on his neck or watching him come on my hip, like I did a certain someone else. I didn’t want to tell him I was constantly distracted on our dates and having a hard time becoming invested. And I also refused to admit that I was failing at this whole dating thing, and might never learn how to keep things casual, enjoy life, be young, and experience things the way Will could.
He ducked to meet my eyes and I registered that he was repeating a question. “What time did you get back?”