“A little crazy as in . . .” I trail off, deciding I might not really want the answer.
Reid laughs over the top of his glass. When Ed doesn’t immediately clarify, though, his smile slowly straightens, and a hush falls over the room as we’re all left to mentally unravel this, logistically. “Wait. Seriously?”
I tidy up the meager remains of my money. “He did say it was a small bandage.”
Reid falls forward onto the table laughing, and maybe it’s the fact that half my blood has to be wine at this point, but I’m reminded all over again that the first thing I noticed about him was his smile.
Just over two years ago, Reid and I were introduced by my then-boyfriend Dustin, the department chair for criminology. (Yes, this means that my ex-boyfriend is now my boss—the reason I will never date someone I work with again.) Reid was new to UCSB, and at the dedication of a new computer science building, Dustin made some crack about it being the first time anyone had seen Reid outside his lab. Apparently Reid and his fiancée had just broken up; her first complaint was that Reid spent too much time at work. I didn’t know that at the time, but I found out later that Dustin had. Reid laughed at the little dig and continued to smile warmly as we shook hands. I had a tiny, immediate crush on that sparkling, crinkly-eyed smile that survived the sting of Dustin’s underhanded jabs.
For un-Reid-related reasons, I broke up with Dustin a few months later, but because it turns out no one liked Dustin anyway, I got to keep Reid, and all his friends, too: Chris and Reid went to graduate school together, Ed joined Reid’s lab as a postdoc shortly after he was hired, and Alex shared lab space with Chris when they were both new faculty at UCSB. I’m the only non-sciencey person in the group, but at work and at home, these guys have become my sweet little chosen family of sorts.
“So,” Chris says, “I’m going to take that as a no, on the still dating question.”
Ed rolls again, happy when he doesn’t manage a double and gets to remain safely in jail. “Correct.”
“Then who are you inviting to the commencement banquet?” Chris asks.
Reid pulls his attention from the board and over to Chris. “Do we have to think about that yet? The banquet is in June. It’s only March.”
Chris smiles and looks smugly around the table. “I take it none of you heard the rumor about this year’s speaker.”
Reid searches his expression. “The speaker will make me want to bring a date?”
Chris stands and walks into the kitchen to grab another beer. “I heard a rumor that Obama is giving the commencement address, and a keynote at the Deans’ Banquet. Black tie, plus-one, the whole nine.”
We all gasp, deeply, in unison.
“I got word that the chancellor is going to announce it this week,” he adds.
“No way.” Ed stares at him, eyes wide behind his thick glasses. “Oh. I am definitely going this year.”
Reid laughs, picking up the dice “You’re supposed to go every year.”
“Last year the commencement speaker was Gilbert Gottfried. I don’t think I missed anything.”
“I actually wanted to talk to you guys about this,” Chris says. “None of us is dating anyone—” He stops, glancing to where Ed is balancing a cork on his nose and counting to see how long he’s able to do it.
“Look at this, Millie.” Ed stretches his arms out. “Ten seconds, no hands.”
Chris turns back to the rest of us. “—or has any serious prospects,” he continues slowly. “Who are we taking?”
Ed straightens, catching the cork in his palm. “Why can’t we all go together?”
“Because it’s not junior prom,” Chris says.
“We can’t just go solo?”
“I mean, you could,” Chris says, “but this is gonna be a big deal with dancing and coupley stuff. Go solo and be the loner, go in a group and we’re the table of dudes—and Mills—sitting there awkwardly. We should get dates.”
Reid rolls his dice and begins counting out his turn. “I call Millie.”
“You call me?”
“Whoa, whoa.” Derailed from his initial argument, Chris turns to Reid with a frown. “If we’re just going to pair up, why’d you pick her?”
Reid shrugs and gives a vague nod in my direction. “She looks better in a ball gown.”
Ed seems genuinely insulted. “You have obviously never seen me in one.”
“I took you to the Deans’ Banquet last year,” Chris reminds Reid. “We had an awesome time.”
His turn completed, Reid drops the dice onto the center of the board and picks up his drink. “We did. I’m just being fair and going with someone else this time.”
Ed smacks Chris’s shoulder. “I’m more Reid’s type. Remember that cute bartender he liked? The one with the curly hair?” He makes a show of pointing to his head and the mass of auburn curls there. “Tell me we wouldn’t look great together.”
“I can beat that.” Alex brings up a foot to rest on the table and rolls up the hem of his jeans, flexing his calf muscle. “Reid is a leg man. Just look at these stems. I could spin you all around that dance floor.”
Reid watches each of them, bemused. “I mean, technically speaking, Millie is my type. Being female and whatnot.”
“Is it weird to anyone that this roomful of straight men is fighting over Reid and not me?” I ask.
Chris, Alex, and Ed seem to give this fair consideration before answering “No” in unison.
I lift my glass of wine and take a deep swallow. “Okay, then.”
Finally, Reid stands, carrying his empty glass into the kitchen. “Millie, you need anything?”
“Other than tips on how to develop an alluring female presence?” I ask. “I’m good. Thanks.”
At the counter Reid rinses his glass and bends to open the dishwasher, carefully setting it inside. It’s something I’ve seen him do a hundred times, and I don’t know if it’s the talk of dates, or the wine, or if Reid is just looking particularly good in that dark gray shirt, but tonight, I don’t look away.
I watch as he easily moves around the kitchen, picking up stray dishes near the sink and loading them into the correct tray. I can see the muscles in his back flex as he bends when he’s done, rubbing a hand over the broad head of Chris’s silver Labrador, Maisie.
I’ve had enough to drink that my limbs feel loose and pliable; my stomach feels warm. My brain is a little fuzzy around the edges—just enough to block out my tendency to overthink everything. Instead, my mind meanders around the fact that Reid doing something as mundane as loading a dishwasher and petting a dog is absolutely fascinating.
With the kitchen tidied up, Reid extends his arms above his head in a leisurely stretch. My eyes are like magnets and follow the lines of his body, the way the fabric of his shirt pulls tight across his chest and strains along the curve of his biceps. I get a peek of stomach.
Reid has a really nice stomach.
I bet he’d look great with that shirt all the way off . . .
Kneeling above me, arms outstretched, fingers wrapped around the headboard while he—
I mean . . . WHOA. Where did that come from?
I fix my attention down at the dining room table and it’s a full five seconds before I dare to move again. I just had a sex thought about Reid. Reid. Reid Campbell, who always roots for the underdog in any sporting event, who pretends he enjoys classical music so Chris doesn’t go alone to the symphony, who buys a new pair of running shoes precisely every six months.
When he returns to the table and sits down next to me, if the pounding of my heart is any indication, I do not look like I’m thinking about resuming our fascinating game of Monopoly.
I blink over to my empty wineglass, eager to point blame in the most convenient place. How many of these did I have? Two? Three? More? I’m not hammered, but I’m not exactly sober, either.
I’m the kind of tipsy where I should want to hug everyone, not pull my best friend’s pants down.
Strictly platonic best guy friend. Strictly platonic best guy friend.