“Hi,” I said, slowing as I neared him. He turned around, shoved his hands in his pockets, and spent a long time just looking at me.
“Is there something wrong with your phone, Hanna?” he asked finally.
I felt a brief pang of guilt before I straightened, meeting his eyes. “No.”
I moved to unlock the door, keeping some distance between us.
“What the f**k is going on?” he asked, following me inside.
Okay, so we were doing this now. I looked at his clothes. He’d obviously just come from work and I had to wonder if he’d stopped by here before going to meet . . . her. You know, to make the rounds and settle things down before stepping out with someone else. I wasn’t sure I would ever understand how he could be so wild about me, while f**king other women.
“I thought you had a late meeting,” I murmured, turning to drop my keys on the counter.
He hesitated, blinking several times before saying, “I do. It’s at six.”
“Hanna, what the hell is going on? What did I do?”
I turned to face him . . . but chickened out, staring at the tie loosened at his neck instead, his striped shirt. “You didn’t do anything,” I started, breaking my own heart. “I should have been honest about my feelings. Or . . . lack of feelings.”
“Things at my parents’ house were weird. And being so close, almost getting caught? I think that was the real thrill for me. Maybe I got carried away with everything we said on Saturday night.” I turned away, fidgeted with a stack of mail on a table and felt the crackling, dried layers of my heart peel away and leave nothing but a hollow shell. I forced a smile on my face and gave him a casual shrug. “I’m twenty-four, Will. I just want to have fun.”
He stood there and blinked, swaying slightly as if I’d hurled something at him heavier than words. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry. I should have called or . . .” I shook my head, trying to shake the sound of static in my ears. My skin felt hot; my chest ached like my ribs were caving in. “I thought I could do this but I can’t. This weekend just solidified that for me. I’m sorry.”
He took a step back and glanced around like he’d just woken up and realized where he was. “I see.” I watched him swallow, run a hand through his hair. As if he’d remembered something, he looked up. “Does this mean you won’t run on Saturday? You’ve trained really hard and—”
He nodded once before turning, walking out the door, and disappearing, probably forever.
There was a hill near my mom’s house, just before the turn down the driveway. It was an uphill followed by a blind downhill curve, and we’d learned to honk whenever we went over it, but when people drove it for the first time, they were never aware of how tricky it was at first and would later always tell us how crazy that turn was.
I supposed my mom or I could have put up a curved mirror at some point, but we never did. Mom said she liked using only her horn, she liked that moment of faith, where she knew my schedule and she knew the curve so well she didn’t need to see what was ahead in order to know it was clear. The thing was, I was never sure whether I loved or hated that feeling myself. I hated having to hope the coast was clear, hated not knowing what was coming, but I loved the moment of exhilaration when the car would coast downhill, clear and free.
Hanna made me feel this way. She was my blind curve, my mysterious hill, and I’d never been able to shake the lingering suspicion that she’d send something the other way that would crash blindly into me. But when I was with her, close enough to touch and kiss and hear all of her crazy theories on virginity and love, I’d never felt such a euphoric combination of calm, elation, and hunger. In those moments, I stopped caring that we might crash.
I wanted to think her brush off tonight as a glitch, a scary curve that would soon straighten out, and that my relationship with her wasn’t over before it even started. Maybe it was her youth; I tried to remember myself at twenty-four and could really only see a young idiot, working crazy hours in the lab and then spending night after night with different women in all manners of wildness. In some ways, Hanna was such an older twenty-four than I’d ever been; it was like we weren’t even the same species. She was right so long ago when she said she always knew how to be a grown-up and needed to learn how to be a kid. She’d just accomplished her first immature blow-off with a complete lack of clear communication.
I’d put Kitty in a cab and returned to work around eight, intent on diving into some reading, and trying to get out of my own head for a few hours. But as I passed Max’s office on the way to mine, I saw that his light was still on, and he was sitting inside.
“What are you still doing here?” I asked, stepping just inside the room and leaning against the doorway.
Max looked up from where he’d been resting his head in his hands when I walked into his office. “Sara’s out with Chloe. Just decided to work a bit late.” He studied me, mouth turning down at the corners. “And I thought you left a few hours ago. Why are you back? It’s Tuesday . . .”
We stared at each other for a beat, the implied question hanging between us. It had been so long since I’d spent a Tuesday night with Kitty, I don’t think even Max knew exactly what he was asking.
“I saw Kitty tonight,” I admitted. “Earlier, just for a bit.”
His brows pulled together in irritation, but I held up a hand, explaining: “I asked her to meet me for a drink after work—”
“To end it, you ass,” I growled, frustrated. “Even though things with her were always meant to be casual, I wanted her to know they were done. I haven’t seen her in forever but she still checks in every Monday to ask. The fact that she even thinks it’s a possibility made me feel like I’ve been cheating on Hanna.”
Just saying that name out loud made my stomach twist. The way we had left things tonight had been a mess. I’d never seen her look so distant, so closed off. I clenched my jaw, looking over at the wall.
I knew she’d been lying; I just didn’t know why.
Max’s chair creaked as he leaned back. “So what are you doing here? Where is your Hanna?”
I blinked back over to him, finally taking in his appearance. He looked tired, and shaken, and . . . not at all like Max, even at the end of a long workday.
“What’s with you?” I asked instead of answering. “You look like you’ve been through the wringer.”
Finally he laughed, shaking his head. “Mate, you have no idea. Let’s collect Ben and go grab a pint.”
We got to the bar before Bennett did, but not by much. Just as we sat at a table in the back, near the dartboards and the broken karaoke machine, Bennett strode in still wearing his crisp dark suit and a look of such utter exhaustion I wondered how long the three of us would manage to remain conscious.
“You sure are making me drink a lot on weeknights lately, Will,” Bennett mumbled, taking a seat.
We both looked at Max, expecting his usual semi-serious and barely intelligible rant about the blasphemy of ordering a Diet Coke in a British pub, but he just remained uncharacteristically quiet, staring at the menu and then ordering what he always ordered: a pint of Guinness, a cheeseburger, and chips.
Maddie took the rest of our orders and disappeared. We were back on yet another Tuesday night and, just as before, the bar was almost empty. A strange quietness seemed to ring our table. It was as if none of us could get it up tonight to bother shit-talking.
“Really, though. What’s up with you?” I asked Max again.
He smiled at me—a genuine Max smile—but then shook his head. “Ask me again after I’ve had two pints.” Grinning up at Maddie as she put our drinks on the table, he gave her a little wink. “Thanks, love.”
“The text from Max said we are convening at Maddie’s for a girls’ night out,” Bennett said, and then took a sip of his beer. “So which of Will’s women are we discussing tonight?”
“There’s only the one woman, now,” I murmured. “And Hanna ended it earlier tonight, so I guess technically there are no women.” Both men looked up at me, eyes concerned. “She said, essentially she didn’t want this.”
“Fuck,” Max murmured, rubbing his face in his hands.
“The thing is,” I said, “I think she’s full of shit.”
“No,” I said, waving him off, and feeling a surge of relief, of realization as I thought more about it. Yes, she’d been pissed tonight at her place—and I still had no idea why—but I remembered how it felt making love on the floor this weekend, in the middle of the night, and the hunger in her eyes like she didn’t just want me, she was starting to need me.
“I know she feels this, too. Something happened between us this weekend,” I told them. “The sex has always been f**king amazing, but it was so intense at her parents’ place.”
Bennett coughed. “Sorry. You had sex at her parents’ place?”
I chose to believe his ambiguous tone meant impressed, so I continued: “It was like she was finally going to admit there was more between us than just sex and friendship.” I lifted my water glass to my lips, took a sip. “But the next morning, she snapped closed. She’s talking herself out of it.”
Both men hummed thoughtfully, considering this. Finally, Bennett asked, “Did you two ever decide to be exclusive? I’m sorry if I’m not following the map of this relationship very clearly. You leave a very treacherous path of women behind you.”
“She knew that I wanted to be exclusive, but then I agreed to keep it open—because that’s what she wanted. For me, she’s it,” I said, not caring whether they gave me a mountain of shit for being so whipped. I deserved it, and the funniest part was I relished being claimed. “You guys called it, and I have no problem admitting you’re right. She’s funny, and beautiful. She’s sexy and she’s f**king brilliant. I mean, she is completely it for me. I have to think today was just a bump in the road or else I will probably go on punching walls repeatedly until my hand is broken.”
Bennett laughed, lifting his glass to clink it against mine. “Then here’s to hoping she comes around.”
Max lifted his glass, too, knowing there wasn’t really anything he could say. He winced a little, apologetically, as if this was all somehow his fault simply because he’d wished lovesick misery on me only a couple months back.
After my little speech, the silence returned, and the weird mood with it. I struggled to not be pulled under. Of course I was worried I wouldn’t be able to win Hanna back. From the first moment she slid her fingers beneath my shirt in the bedroom at the party, I’d been ruined for anyone else.
Hell, even before then. I think I’d been lost in her the second I pulled the wool cap over her adorably rumpled bed head on our first run.
But despite my certainty that she had lied about her feelings, and that she did feel something for me, doubt crept back in. Why had she lied? What happened between our obvious lovemaking and when we got into the car the next morning?
Bennett interrupted my downward spiral with his own misery: “Well, since we’re letting out all of our feelings, I guess it’s my turn to share. The wedding is driving us both mad. Everyone in our family is traveling to San Diego for the ceremony—I mean everyone—step-great-aunts and second-cousins-twice-removed and people I haven’t seen since I was five. The same thing on Chlo’s side.”
“That’s great,” I said, and then reconsidered when Bennett slid his cool gaze to me. “Isn’t it good when people accept your invitation?”
“I suppose it is, but many of these people weren’t invited. Her family is mostly in North Dakota, and mine is all over Canada, and Michigan, and Illinois. They’re all looking for a reason to have a vacation on the coast.” Shaking his head, he continued: “So last night Chloe decided she wanted to elope. To cancel all of it, and she’s so hell-bent on it that I’m afraid she is going to call the hotel and cancel and we’ll be thoroughly f**ked then.”
“She wouldn’t do that, mate,” Max murmured, roused from his uncharacteristically quiet mood. “Would she?”
Bennett’s hands slid into his hair and curled into fists, his elbows planted on the table. “Honestly, I don’t know. This thing is getting huge, and even I feel like it’s spiraling out of control. Everyone in our family is inviting whoever they want—as if it’s just a big free party and why not? It’s not even about cost at this point, it’s about space, about having what we wanted. We were imagining a wedding of about a hundred and fifty. Now it’s close to three hundred.” He sighed. “It’s just one day. It’s a day. Chloe is trying to stay sane but it’s hard on her because there’s only so much I . . .” He laughed, shaking his head, and then sat up to look at us. “There are only so many details I give a shit about. For once in my life, I don’t need to control everything. I don’t care what our colors are, or what wedding favors we choose. I don’t care about the flowers. Everything that comes after is what I care about. I care that I get to f**k her for a week in Fiji and then we’ll be married forever. That’s what matters. Maybe I should just let her cancel it all and marry her this weekend so we can get to the f**king.”