Twister is brought out, and only then does Mom put her drunken foot down and suggest that Rayme put on shorts, at least. After I nearly break my leg trying to keep my right foot on red and my right hand on green, the other six drunken adults gather around the coffee table to play Bullshit with six sticky decks of cards, and I go in search of Millie, who disappeared about a half hour ago.
I find her bundled up on the back deck, changed into a sweater and jeans, reading on her iPad. She has the thick comforter from her bed wrapped around her, and has found one of Dad’s wool caps to pull over her mess of hair. It’s chilly out, but not freezing, and as soon as the door inside closes, the quiet falls like a hush over the deck. The vineyards stretching out ahead of us are an invisible sea of black.
“Hey, you.” I sit in the lounge chair to her right, facing her. “You’re missing Ed’s recounting to Mom the time he was nearly run over by his ex-girlfriend, the fire breather from the carnival.”
She grins up at me, joking, “You can only hear that story so many times before it’s just another story, you know?”
“What’re you reading?”
Millie tilts her iPad toward me. “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”
“My adorable true crime fanatic.”
She nods. “It’s so good.”
I want to talk to her a bit about the conversation we had before dinner, but feel like I should leave her to the book. She turns back to the iPad and I stretch out on the chaise, crossing my feet at the ankle. I like it out here—it’s quiet and crisp . . . and relaxing. Millie is so calm all the time—being near her is a little like sitting in front of the fireplace. I pull out my phone, checking my work email before habitually opening the IRL app to see whether I have any new messages. In fact, I have two. One from Daisy, and another from Cat, to whom I’d mentioned my ambivalence about a weekend at home with my parents.
From: Catherine M.
Sent: 11:43 pm, March 31
When I was in the fifth grade, I had about seventy pounds of hardware in my mouth and could never get over the lisp from it. I mean, it was a terrible, cartoon-level bad lisp.
There was a girl, Tessa, who was an enormous asshole about it. She would raise her hand in class to answer a question, and do it with a lisp, and the entire class would fall apart laughing. It finally bothered me enough that I went to talk to my dad about it, and he gave me these “replies” I could use when she was mean.
Let me be frank right away: They were terrible. They were, like, “Tessa, I really don’t appreciate it when you make fun of me this way,” or “Tessa, you might think it’s funny to make fun of my lisp, but it hurts my feelings.” I mean, not only would saying both of these sentences with a lisp just send her into further hysterics, but these comebacks would not make any ten-year-old feel remorseful.
I figured my dad was just terrible at comebacks, and added that to the list of things that Mom Would Have Done Better, but then one day I came home crying, and went straight to my room, and about an hour later I heard his voice downstairs, and it got louder and louder until I finally heard him yell, “Look, I don’t know if you feed her sand, or you make her sleep in a small, dark closet, but just keep your dumb bitch of a bully away from my daughter from now on or I’ll come say it again in person.”
Needless to say, Tessa never bugged me again.
I’m not really sure what my point is, but sometimes we think our parents are lame and then they totally surprise us by being awesome. I hope that this weekend is like that for you.
I read it again, laughing, and then type a quick reply:
From: Reid C.
Sent: 12:02 am, April 1
OK, I just laughed out loud reading this. We’re actually having a pretty good time. Mom made ribs and mashed potatoes, and only mentioned The Woman Down The Street about seven hundred times, but I don’t think Dad noticed. My friends got her drunk so that she won’t be mad when they run naked in the vineyards later. It’s chaos in the house, but I’m outside with my best friend, which always makes me . . . calmer. It’s quiet and nice and I’m glad I came home. You were right.
I hope it doesn’t sound too forward for me to say that I’m really glad you wrote me tonight.
I open the message from Daisy.
From: Daisy D.
Sent: 9:15 pm, April 1
Omg I bet it’s so pretty up there! Happy birthday! Mine is in July. It always sucked to have birthdays in the summer because no one was around! Let’s definitely plan a time to get together when you’re back! Have the most fun!
I read this one again, struggling to find a thread of anything I can reply to here. Granted, I tend to overthink things, but having conversations with Daisy online is a little like playing Candy Land. I know some people are better in person, and I thankfully get that sense from her. I type out something, and then delete it. Honestly, I could just decide to not reply, right?
I look over at Millie, whose screen looks like she’s also reading a message on IRL, and with a faint smile on her face. That odd surge of jealousy is back, but I press in on it, forcing it to collapse into nothing.
Finally, I settle on a simple note to Daisy—Thanks! Have a great weekend!—and hit SEND just when Millie stands and moves so that she’s hovering over me, with the comforter cocooned around her shoulders, cap low on her head.
“What are you up to?” she asks quietly.
“Was just replying to Daisy.”
She goes quiet, and I look up at her face. It’s lit with the warm light coming through the windows behind us, her head is tilted to the side, and she’s frowning a little—the way she does when she’s working out something in her head.
“You okay?” I ask. I feel like I’ve asked her that a lot in the last few days, but I suppose that’s why it’s inadvisable to have sex with your beautiful-but-closed-off best friend.
“Yeah.” She reaches down, takes my hand. “Want to go upstairs?”
“Good call, I’m beat.”
“I mean,” she says even quieter now, “upstairs.”
Her fingers tighten around mine meaningfully.
“Upstairs upstairs?” I ask, leaning on the innuendo.
Any intelligent thought process falls away, and I am wiped clean of any reaction but lust; after only one night she has me trained to alternate from concerned friend to eager lover with just the tone of her voice. “Like for sex?”
She laughs, a low rumble, and hesitates for only a moment before gifting me with a shaky “Yeah.”
I stand, and we’re so close I can feel the heat emanating from her body. I have a wild urge to kiss her, like I need to confirm that she’s serious. It’s short, just a brush of my mouth over hers, but she chases it a little, eyes heavy. Anyone inside would only have to turn and look out the window to see us, so it isn’t smart to do this here, but I’m too thunderstruck to be cautious.
The first time was the last time, at least that’s what I thought. But has she been wanting this again, and only just worked up the nerve? It doesn’t sound like Millie. Or is it an impulsive thing, to be hosed down tomorrow and put away in storage inside of us again?
Right now I’m not sure I care.
After the briefest brush of his lips, Reid takes a step back, leaving what I assume is a platonic amount of distance between us. But I’m a little woozy from both the wine and his proximity so I chase him, stopping only when his eyes swing to the picture window where the rest of our group is congregated inside, loudly playing cards.
Reid takes my iPad, turning it over in his hands. I send up a silent prayer that I closed the app before locking the screen. For a second, things get too quiet; I think he’s going to gently remind me that we’re not doing this again.
That we should definitely not do this again.
But then, he looks up at me and half grins, eyes dark. “Why don’t you head up first?”
Static fills my bloodstream. “Okay. My room?” At the end of the hall, it makes the most sense.
Nodding, he says, “I’ll follow in a few minutes.”