My Favorite Half-Night Stand (Page 34)

He’s a good f*****g guy, but . . . this may be too much to forgive.

He’s a good f*****g guy but . . . you’re too much work for him to bother trying to be romantically involved.

My heart follows possible Future Reid in each of these scenarios, and I want to scream. How many of the women I write about thought they were good people? How many mistakes does it take before you’re bad? Does it start with a little white lie, and slowly progress to fraud . . . and worse? Does it matter if you do the wrong thing for the right reason? Okay, obviously at first I was just being competitive, but then being Cat was almost more fun than being Millie, because I got to have something with Reid that I’ve never had with anyone before, and I fell in love with him.

The wind is knocked from my lungs as the word bounces around inside my head. Because now that it’s there, I don’t want to let it go.

Love.

Did I know this an hour ago? Yesterday? How long have I felt this and just left it totally unlabeled?

My existential crisis can’t be bothered with the fact that Ed and Alex are still in the room, and so it takes Ed shaking my shoulder to bring me out of it.

“Are you listening?” he says, hand waving in front of me but eyes lit like he’s just figured something out.

“Yeah,” I say, and attempt to blink myself back into focus. “You were saying . . .”

Ed frowns in a way that makes him look just like his mother did when she found a Fleshlight in his kitchen drawer and thought it was an actual flashlight. She spent five minutes trying to put batteries in before I realized what she was doing.

“I think a good compromise is you should tell him you’re leaving,” he says. “That Catherine is moving. Alex agrees.”

I glance to Alex, who gives me a noncommittal shrug. “It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

“But then I’ll be lying to cover up a lie,” I tell them both.

“Yes,” Ed says, pausing dramatically. “But you can still make this right. Get Catherine out of the picture and talk to him. Tell him how you feel and let him really see you. That’s what he wants, Millie. You read it yourself, he wants something to happen with you. Catherine is what’s making him second-guess that, and that’s you! Give him what he wants.”

I reach up to rub my temples. Can I give Reid what he wants? I don’t even have to think about it: I certainly don’t want to lose him.

“How would I do this?” I ask, almost wincing like I’m afraid to admit to myself that I’m considering it. “What would I say?”

Ed and Alex both lean forward; the three of us huddle together around the kitchen island.

“Tell him your grandfather died and he left you some giant house, and it says in the will that you have to live there and—”

“This isn’t Scooby-Doo, Ed,” Alex says, shaking his head. “Let’s keep it simple.”

“Right. Simple is better.” Straightening, Ed looks around the room, his eyes brightening when they land on his laptop bag. Once his computer is powered up in front of us, he turns it to face me.

Still unsure, I log into the site, and then Catherine’s account. The REPLY button practically pulses on the screen.

“Okay,” Ed says, and swallows nervously. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”

Chapter fourteen

reid

There are few things that settle me more when I’m stressed or preoccupied than going into the lab, grabbing a set of slides from one of my graduate students’ cabinets, and heading into the dark calm of the scope room.

My newest student, Gabriel, is measuring dendritic spines in the visual cortex, and he’s really starting to get the hang of the staining protocol. The fluorophores are brilliant green, sharp, low-background. As I go through his latest experiments, a thrum of pride begins to take over that space where the anxious gnawing resided only twenty minutes ago.

In the darkness, my phone lights up with a notification from IRL: a new message from Cat. Within seconds, my stomach is tight again. This is it: after all of our messages, we are going to meet.

From: Catherine M.

Sent: 5:54 pm, April 7

Hi Reid,

There was a lot to unpack in your last message, and some things on my end have shifted, so I’ve been taking some time to find the right words.

First up, I just want to say thank you for being so honest with me, and for being willing to just put it all out there. The information about your friend wasn’t upsetting to me, I know how this works. I really admire how you cut right to the chase and shared what you need and want. It’s something I need to learn how to do better myself.

Second, what I’m about to tell you sounds insane, but this shifting I mentioned came at such a weird time in our “relationship.” I found out this morning that I’m being transferred to a different research site, in Cambridge MA. I think it effectively mutes our ability to make anything romantic out of this, but I’m obviously a bit gutted over it since I do think we could have had some really great chemistry. That said, there really isn’t any reason to prolong the misery, and there certainly isn’t any reason for us to meet in person.

I’m sure if I were you I’d be reading this thinking, Ok I’ve definitely been messaging with a dude who lives in rural England somewhere and is having a laugh, but I promise. I am a woman, who came into this with good intentions.

All this to say, I really do hope that things work out with your friend.

Sometimes, the thing we want is right in front of us, and we’re the last ones to see it.

Take care, Reid,

C.

I read it again, because it doesn’t feel like it sinks in the first time. After all of that—every letter, every bit of honesty—we’re never going to meet?

The feeling of bewilderment that slams through me is almost impossible to describe. On the one hand, realistically, I’m no worse off than I was a month ago when this entire adventure started: things with Millie are murky, and I’ve got no other relationship prospects in sight. Sure, the romantic life has no momentum, but in all other respects, I’m fine.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve just been dumped twice.

I’m halfway into my third read of Cat’s message when Millie’s photo—one she took and entered into my contacts, and is of her with a huge cheesy grin while wearing my Cal baseball hat and Chris’s sunglasses—pops up on the screen.

I want to laugh. Cat just blew me off. I haven’t talked to Millie since last night, so of course now she’s calling.

“Hey, Mills.”

“Hey, Reidy.” On the other end of the line, she sounds either sad or nervous. In any case, she’s subdued enough to make me wonder whether she realizes that her postsex routine wasn’t great.

In her beat of silence, I pull the slide off the microscope tray and file it back in the slide box. “What’s up?”

“Would you come over?” she asks. “For dinner? Or I can come to you?” Another unsure pause, and then, “To talk.”

“Talk?” I ask. Millie doesn’t ever ask to talk.

“About us,” she says, clearing her throat. “The other night. I mean, the first night, the night at your parents’, last night. All of it.”

Wow. I feel thunderstruck. “Sure. I’ll be there in twenty.”

She lets out a shaky laugh. “Take your time. I have to get a little drunk first.”

I pause, quietly annoyed, and in the silence she goes still, too, and then she groans.

“I’m kidding,” she says. “God, I am so terrible at this. Reid, just come over, okay?”

Spring is creeping into Santa Barbara with warm fingers; the heat from the day lingers after sundown, and even inside my car, the scent of the blooming vines outside Millie’s town house makes my head feel full and claustrophobic.

At the curb, I pull out my phone and look at Catherine’s profile. Honestly, I’m bummed that she’s moving. I wanted that level of connection with someone. I thought maybe Millie and I could go back to being just friends. Maybe Catherine was it for me somehow. But even in the past hour, her profile has gone inactive—I can’t click through to her pages anymore. There’s only the photo she’s always had: that turned-away jawline, the bare shoulder, the tiny scar. Over time, I actually liked that she didn’t give everything of herself up front but seemed to share much more than I’d expected in her messages.

“Well,” I say into the quiet car, “I guess that’s it.”

With my thumb pressed to the IRL icon on the screen, I wait until the app goes wobbly, and then delete it.

Looking up, I see Millie is waiting for me on the porch, her hands clasped together tightly. Everything about this scene feels strange: she’s out here waiting for me, she wants to talk, she looks anxious, she breaks into a huge grin when she sees me.

“You’re being weird,” I say when I hit the first step up to her porch.

“I know. I know.” She wipes her hands on her jeans, and my attention is drawn to her bare arms, her long, smooth neck. “Just go with it. I’m super nervous right now.”

And as soon as she walks toward me, it’s like I’m deflating in relief. I’m bummed about Cat. I’m worried about me and Millie. I’m disappointed that Daisy was such a bust. And the reality that I’m about to get a hug right now makes me want to melt in front of Millie’s door.

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