The phone rang four times before Liv picked up.
“Ziggy!” my sister said. “How’s the lab rat?”
I closed my eyes, leaning into the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. “Good, good. How’s the baby maker?” I asked, quickly adding, “And I was most definitely not talking about your vagina.”
Her laugh burst through the line. “So the verbal filter hasn’t grown in yet. You’re going to confuse the hell out of some man one day, you know that?”
She didn’t know the half of it. “How’re you feeling?” I asked, steering the conversation to safer waters. Liv was married now and very pregnant with the first, oft-heralded Bergstrom grandchild. I was surprised my mother ever left her alone for more than ten minutes at a time.
Liv sighed, and I could imagine her sitting at the dining room table in her yellow kitchen, her giant black Labrador moving to lie down at her feet. “I’m good,” she said. “Tired as hell, but good.”
“Always,” she answered, and I could hear the smile in her voice. “This baby’s going to be perfect. Just wait.”
“Of course it is,” I said. “I mean, look at its aunt.”
“You guys picked a name yet?” Liv was thoroughly set on not knowing the sex of their incoming package until it was born. It made spoiling my new niece or nephew a lot more difficult.
“We may have narrowed it down.”
“And?” I asked, intrigued. The list of gender-neutral names my sister and her husband had come up with was bordering on comical.
“Because you always find something wrong with them.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I gasped. Though . . . she was right. So far her name choices were terrible. Somehow she and her husband Rob had decided that tree names and types of birds were gender-neutral and fair game.
“Now what’s new with you?” she asked. “How has your life improved since your epic showdown with the boss man last month?”
I laughed, knowing of course she meant Jensen, and not Dad, or even Liemacki.
“I’ve been running, and getting out more. I mean, we came to sort of a . . . compromise?”
I’d spoken to Liv a few times in the past weeks, but had steered clear of my growing friendship, relationship, whatevership with Will. For obvious reasons. But now I needed my sister’s thoughts on all of it, and my stomach clenched into a giant ball of dread.
“Well, you know Jens suggested I go out more.” I paused, running my finger around a swirling pattern carved into the antique hutch in the dining room. I closed my eyes, wincing as I said, “He suggested I call Will.”
“Will?” she asked, and a beat of silence passed in which I wondered if she was remembering the same tall, gorgeous college-aged lad that I was. “Wait—Will Sumner?”
“That’s the one,” I said. Even talking about him made my stomach twist.
“Did I what?” I asked, instantly regretting the way it came out.
“Yeah. Which is sort of why I’m calling you today.”
I had no idea how to do this, so I started with the simplest, most innocuous detail there was. “Well, he lives here in New York.”
“I thought I remembered that. And? I haven’t seen him in ages, sort of dying to know what he’s been doing. How’s he look?”
“Oh, he looks . . . good,” I said, trying to sound as neutral as possible. “We’ve been hanging out.”
There was a pause on the line, a moment where I could almost see the way Liv’s forehead would furrow, her eyes narrowing as she tried to find the hidden meaning in what I’d said.
“Oh my God, Ziggy! Are you banging Will?”
I groaned, and laughter filled the line. Pulling back, I looked at the phone in my hand. “This isn’t funny, Liv.”
“Oh, no, he wasn’t. Not even a little. I think we made out for like ten minutes.”
“Yes, but there’s some sort of time limit. Or base limit. Like, I think we barely shanked it down the first base line. Though, at the time, I was completely prepared to let him enter the batter’s box, if you know what I’m saying.”
“I thought you were devastated after that holiday.”
She started cracking up. “Take it down a notch there. First of all, we were never together. It was a horny fumble behind Mom’s gardening tools. Jesus, I barely remember.”
“But you were so upset, you didn’t even come home the summer he worked with Dad.”
“I didn’t come home because I’d f**ked around all year and needed to catch up on credits over the summer,” she said. “And I didn’t tell you because Mom and Dad would have found out and killed me.”
I pressed my hand to my face. “I am so confused.”
“Don’t be,” she said, her tone changing to concerned. “Just tell me, what’s actually going on with you guys?”
“We’ve been hanging out a lot. I really like him, Liv. I mean he’s probably my best friend here. We hooked up and then he was weird the next day. Then he started talking about feelings, and it just seemed like he was using me as a test subject in some sort of weird emotional-expression experiment. He didn’t exactly have the best track record with Bergstrom girls.”
“So you ripped him a new one because in your twelve-year-old memories he was the man of my dreams and left me, brokenhearted and alone.”
“What was the rest of it?”
“That he’s a whore? That he doesn’t remember a fraction of the women he’s been with and less than twenty-four hours after brushing me off, he’s telling me he wants more than just sex?”
“Okay,” she said, considering. “Does he? Do you?”
I sighed. “I don’t know, Liv. But even if he did—if I did—how could I trust him?”
“I don’t want you to be an idiot, so I’m going to do a little overshare here. Ready?”
“Not even a little bit,” I said.
She went on anyway: “Before I met Rob he was a giant slut. I swear to God his penis had been everywhere. But now? Different man. Worships the ground I walk on.”
“Yes, but he wanted to get married,” I said. “You weren’t just banging him.”
“When we first got together it was definitely just banging. Look, Ziggy, a lot of stuff happens to a person between the ages of nineteen and thirty-one. A lot changes.”
“I’ll believe that,” I mumbled, imagining Will’s even-deeper voice, his expertly wicked fingers, his broad, solid chest.
“I’m not just talking about the developing male body, you know.” She paused, adding, “Though that, too. And now that I think of it, you should totally send me a picture of Will Sumner at thirty-one.”
“I’m kidding!” she laugh-yelled through the phone and then paused. “No, I’m serious, actually. Send me a picture. But I really would hate for you to pass up a chance to spend time with him just because you expect him to always act like a nineteen-year-old man-whore. The truth is, don’t you feel like you’ve changed a lot since you were nineteen?”
I didn’t say anything, just chewed on my lip and continued to trace the carving on my mother’s antique hutch.
“And that was only five years ago for you. So think how he feels. He’s thirty-one. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained in twelve years, Ziggs.”
She laughed. “I assume your logical brain has been using all this as some sort of a force field against the Sumner charm?”
“Not very well, apparently.” I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall.
“Oh God, this is amazing. I’m so f**king happy you called today. I’m giant and pregnant and nothing about me is interesting right now. This is awesome.”
“Isn’t this weird to you at all?”
She hummed, considering. “I guess it could be, but honestly? Will and I . . . he was the first boy I fell in lust with, but that’s pretty much it. I got over that two seconds after Brandon Henley got his tongue pierced.”
I pressed my hand over my eyes. “Oh gross.”
“Yeah, I didn’t tell you about that one because I didn’t want to ruin you, and I didn’t want you to ruin it for me by researching how the piercing affected the contractility of the muscle or whatever.”
“Well, this has been a scarring conversation,” I said. “Can I go now?”
“I really made a mess of things,” I groaned, rubbing my face. “Liv, I was a total dick to him.”
“Looks like you have some ass to kiss. Is he into that sort of thing now?”
“Okay, okay. Look, Zig. Don’t see the world from the eyes of a twelve-year-old. Hear him out. Try and remember that Will has a penis and this makes him an idiot. But a sweet idiot. Even you can’t deny that.”
“Impossible. Now go put on your big-girl panties and fix things.”I spent the entire walk to Will’s apartment trying to dissect every memory I had of that Christmas, trying to reconcile them with what Liv had told me.
I’d been twelve and fascinated by him, fascinated by the idea of him and my sister together. But now that I’d heard Liv’s version of events of that week and what had come after, I wondered how much of it had been real, and how much my overdramatic brain had manufactured. And she had a point. Those memories had made it so much easier to shove Will into a man-whore-shaped box, and almost impossible to imagine him out of it. Did he want more? Was he capable of it? Did I?
I groaned. I had a lot of apologizing to do.
He didn’t answer the door when I knocked; he didn’t answer any of the messages I sent standing there.
So I did the only thing I could think, and resorted to texting him bad dirty jokes.
What’s the difference between a penis and a paycheck? I’d typed. When there was no reply, I continued. A woman will always blow your paycheck.
What did one boob say to the other? And when no answer came: You’re my breast friend. Jesus these were bad.
I decided to try one more. What comes after sixty-nine?
I’d used his favorite number, and hoped this might be enough to lure him out.
I almost dropped my phone when the word What popped up on my screen.
Oh for f**ks sake, Hanna. That was terrible. Get up here before you embarrass us both.I practically sprinted to the elevator.
His door was unlocked, and when I walked in, I saw he’d been in the middle of cooking dinner, pots boiling on the stove, the counter colored in produce. He was wearing an old Primus T-shirt and faded, ripped jeans—looking good enough to eat. He didn’t glance up when I entered, but kept his head down, his eyes on the knife and the cutting board in front of him.
Unsure feet took me across the room and I stood at his back, pressed my chin into his shoulder. “I don’t know why you put up with me,” I said.
Breathing in deeply, I wanted to memorize the smell of him. Because what if I’d really done it—what if he’d had enough of silly Ziggy and her idiotic questions and fumbling sexual encounters and jumping to conclusions? I would have kicked me to the curb ages ago.
But he surprised me by putting down his knife, and turning to face me. He looked miserable, and guilt twisted my stomach.
“You might have had the details wrong about Liv,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean there weren’t others. Some I don’t even remember.” His voice was earnest, apologetic, even. “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. It’s all sort of catching up with me.”
“I think that’s why the idea of you wanting more terrified me,” I said. “That there have been so many women in your past and I can tell you have no idea how many hearts you’ve broken. Maybe no idea how to not break them. I like to think I’m too smart to join those ranks.”
“I know,” he said. “And I’m sure that’s part of your charm. You’re not here to change me. You’re just here to be my friend. You make me think more about the decisions I’ve made than I ever have before, and that’s a good thing.” He hesitated. “And I’ll admit I got a little wrapped up in our post-coital moment . . . I just got carried away.”
“Just friends is good for me,” he said. “Friends who have sex is even better.” He pulled me back to meet my eyes. “But I think that’s a good place to stay for now, okay?”