“Dex,” Rebecca said, leading me toward the bedroom. “Pack your bags. We’re taking you with us.”

I glared at her as the waves of anger came back. Perry’s betrayal, her hand squeezing my heart, it all came back in an ambush. Everything I was avoiding was still there.

I was too irate and overwhelmed to speak so Rebecca passed me off to Em, who kept her tiny hand affixed around my arm while Rebecca started packing for me.

“I know you don’t want us to be here,” she said, cramming my clothes into a small suitcase she dragged out from the closet. “I know you want to be left alone so you can continue drinking yourself into a selfish stupor like the arse that you are. But you don’t have a choice. You’re coming with us. We’ll take care of you until you’re back on your feet. I’m not saying you have to change who you are, but Dex, you, right now, this is not you. You’ve given up. And the Dex Foray that I know, never gives up, no matter what life throws at him.”

“Perry,” I whispered, trying to find one leg to stand on. “She switched my medication and never told me. She wanted me to see the ghosts. She did that to me.”

Rebecca paused and gave me a thoughtful look. “And you have every right to be angry. So be angry, Dex. It’s better than being nothing at all.”

I felt like I was choking. My words came out hoarsely as I gasped for air, as I allowed myself to feel. “It hurts more than I know what to do with. I can’t handle this. I can’t.”

Em squeezed my arm lightly and started stroking my back. Rebecca sighed and came over to me, placing her hands on either side of my face. “You’re one of my dearest friends,” she told me, tilting my head down so she could look me square in the eye. “I have a pretty good idea of what you can handle. You’ll get over this, Dex. Perry will too. Whether that means you’ll be back in each other’s lives, if that’s even what you’d both want, I don’t know. But she hurt you. And you hurt her. Even though you’re apart, you’re in this together. You’ll get out of it together.”

She gave my cheek a light slap. “So buck up. Put on your big boy knickers and deal with it like everyone else has to when they get their heart broken. People lie and they hurt you and they betray you. But they also make mistakes. You haven’t been the perfect guy with her, Dex. Apart from the way things ended, she had to be only your friend the whole time you were with Jenn. She had to love you and suffer because you were too scared to move on and make her yours. Does it make you feel better to know that she was probably dying slowly inside, that you were breaking her heart bit by bit?”

I swallowed hard. I felt better—for one second. Then it passed, my anger going with it.

“No,” I admitted softly. “It doesn’t.”

Because even after all of this, I still loved her. Love and hate were two sides of the same coin, and my coin was destined to land with love facing up. And the minute I made peace with those odds was the minute I’d start winning.

“Come on.” Em gave me a little tug. “You’re in our hands now. You’ll be back to your obnoxious old self in no time.”

I was looking forward to it. My old self didn’t have permanently orange-stained palms from an excessive Doritos consumption.

***

Originally, Emily and Rebecca thought they’d just show up at my place (I’d given my extra key to Rebecca now that Jenn was out of the picture) and drag me out to a holiday party. Once they saw my trailer trash state of affairs, however, their plans changed. I did go and live with them for about a week, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. After falling one too many times, both of them made sure I was up again and that I stayed up.

That was the ball-sucking thing about heartache. It didn’t follow logic or physics or any sort of rules. It wasn’t that you started off in absolute grief and then slowly got better. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, from hate to love and back again. Each day was different. It was a roll of the dice, a turn of the cards.

Some days I’d feel fine. I had started eating better thanks to the girls and their new vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately, because I was spending Christmas with them now, it meant eating something called Tofurkey. Still, my body and mind were responding to the weird tasteless veggie loaf, rejoicing that I was filling up on healthy foods, and I felt like I could handle anything life threw at me.

But on other days, when I’d see a girl with a fantastic, excessive ass, or hear Slayer on the radio, I was plunged into turmoil. I’d be reminded of Perry, of what she was to me, and I wished I could have realized how I felt sooner. I wished I could have told her how I really felt, that she was more than a friend and a partner, that she was my everything. The only person who really understood—who really loved me for me. But if wishes were fishes, this whole place would really stink.

A few days after New Year’s, when I was back at my apartment with Fat Rabbit, trying to piece my life back together, I got a call from my friend Dean. Dean was a good guy, dependable and funny, and the co-host of Gamers with our friend Seb. I guessed that even though Dean had a good physique and slim build, he’d yielded to one too many video games lately and was looking to get back in shape. I had a feeling that Rebecca had probably let him know that I’d devolved from a dick-grabbing monkey to a defecating parasite (which, by the way, is much worse), and I needed help.

Dean had the goal of entering a few half-marathons and wanted me to train with him. He said he needed the motivation and accountability and that I was the perfect match. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to a little exercise. But knowing Dean, our training sessions would start making up half of our lives. It was a good thing then that I didn’t have a life anymore.

The first couple of weeks were the toughest, but fuck did it feel good to put my body through the ringer rather than my heart. When we were running I didn’t have energy to think. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other, pushing through the pain in my shins or my lungs that were threatening to explode. It was cathartic and torturous at the same time. Hurt so good.

Then we started weight training. Dean was African American so it was extremely unfair that he bulked up in what seemed like days, whereas for me it was a slower process. But with my diet improving (I tried to follow Rebecca’s diet, except that I was back to eating meat…worst vegan ever) and my alcohol intake cut drastically, I could see the changes. And as my body improved, my mind improved. My soul improved. Everything was feeling stronger.

The great thing about Dean was that we never talked about anything too serious. He never asked me about my family or my past or ghosts or Perry. All talk about women was carefree and easy and he let me be the pervert that I was.

But I guess on one suspiciously sunny day, his curiosity had gotten the better of him. While we were winding down our run at Lawton Park, he said, “So, Perry. Were you in love with her?”

I nearly tripped over my own feet and caught myself before I face-planted into a tree. “What the hell kind of question is that?” I asked, fighting for my breath.

He shrugged, which is kind of hard to do when you’re running.

“It’s a good question,” he said with a sly smile. “Everyone wants to know what made Dex Foray fall to his knees.”

“Oh, is that so?”

“What can I say, man? You’re a celebrity at Shownet. People care about what happens to you. Besides, Jimmy told everyone you went crazy and tried to eat your dog or something so he had to put you on sabbatical. I figure if you tried to eat that fat thing, someone must have broken your heart good.”

I slowed down my pace, finding it difficult to defend myself and exercise at the same time.

“I didn’t try to eat my dog…and I’m not on sabbatical. I haven’t even talked to Jimmy since all this shit happened.”

“Dude, you know when you pull that shit, you’re on sabbatical. No one can just leave Shownet, especially not Mr. Popular like you. Well, actually it was Perry that was Mrs. Popular. So tell me, were you in love with her? What happened?”

I don’t know why I thought it was anyone’s business to know that, but with the whole turning over a new leaf and becoming a new man thing, I figured being honest would be a good start. Lying had never done me any good before.

I exhaled hard and chewed on my lip for a few beats. “Yes. I was in love with her. And to be honest with you, homeboy, I still am.”

“Shit, Dex. First you say you’re in love with her, then you call me homeboy? Who the hell are you?”

I rolled my eyes as we jogged through a grove of Douglas firs. “Why does everyone act so surprised when I admit that? I’m not the motherfucking Tin Man. I have a heart.”

“Apparently. So what happened?”

“Didn’t Rebecca tell you?” I asked wryly.

He shook his head. “No. You and Perry were totally humping each other with your eyes at the Christmas party though, so it was kind of obvious that something was going to happen.”

“Well I guess you could say we took eye humping to the next level. Then I freaked the fuck out because I realized I was in love with her, and she had told me earlier that she wasn’t in love with me.”

“Whoa, wait up,” Dean said, slowing down to a fast walk. “She told you she wasn’t in love with you? Before you had sex with her? How the hell did that come up?”

Good question. Because I was an idiot and had to ask, that’s why.

I told him as much.

“Okay, man, seriously,” he said, holding up his hand, palm out. “You mean to tell me that you asked her, point blank, whether she loved you or not. Before you even had a clue that you loved her. And you believed her when she said she didn’t?”

“Uh, yeah. I trusted her.”

“You don’t know shit about women, do you?” Dean actually sounded a bit angry.

I frowned. “I know how to get them off.”

“Not good enough, my man. Put yourself in her fine shoes for a moment. She’s in love with you—that was quite obvious from what I saw, but I can see you’re a bit of a dumbass about the whole thing. So she’s in love with you and suddenly you ask her if she loves you. You don’t say, ‘oh babe I love you’ or any shit like that to give her an idea of where it’s going. You just ask her, like you’re being good ol’ fuck-with-you Foray. Of course she’s going to lie! What would her alternative have been? To tell the truth and have you laugh at her or act all smug on some ego trip?”

“Hey,” I sniped, “I wouldn’t have done any of that. I would have told her how I felt.”

He jammed his finger in my face. “Only after she had to go first. What were you trying to do, test her? That’s not cool, man, not cool. You would have lied if you were in her shoes, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Are you trying to make me feel bad?” I asked. My lungs and heart couldn’t handle the revelation. I stopped, leaning against a tree, feeling hotter by the second as the sweat streamed off me.

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