Alex laughs and shakes his head, and even that small gesture seems to cost him a shock of pain. “Shit,” he says. “You have to stop making me laugh.”

“You have to stop assuming I’m joking when I’m talking about robbing art museums.”

He closes his eyes and presses his mouth into a straight line, smothering any more laughter. After a second he opens his eyes. “Okay, I’m going to go pee for—hopefully—the last time today and take another pill. You can grab my laptop from the bag and pull up Netflix, if you want.” He cautiously turns, sets his feet on the ground, and stands.

“Got it,” I say. “And do you want me to leave the nudie mags in there or get those out too?”

“Poppy,” he groans without looking back. “No joking.”

I push off the bed and tug Alex’s laptop bag onto the chair as I sort through it for the computer, then carry it back to the bed with me, opening it as I go.

He hasn’t shut it down, and when I brush the mousepad, the screen flares to life, demanding that I log in. “Password?” I call toward the bathroom.

“Flannery O’Connor,” he calls back, then flushes the toilet and turns on the sink.

I don’t ask about spaces, capitalization, or punctuation. Alex is a purist. I type it in and the log-in screen vanishes, replaced by an open web browser. Before I’ve realized it, I’m inadvertently snooping.

My heart is racing.

The water turns off. The door opens. Alex steps out, and while it might be better to pretend I didn’t see the job posting Alex had pulled up, something’s come over me, yanked out the part of my brain that—at least occasionally—filters out things I shouldn’t say.

“You’re applying to teach at Berkeley Carroll?”

The confusion on his face quickly transforms into something akin to guilt. “Oh, that.”

“That’s in New York,” I say.

“So the website suggested,” Alex says.

“New York City,” I clarify.

“Wait, that New York?” he deadpans.

“You’re moving to New York?” I say, and I’m sure I’m talking loud, but the adrenaline has me feeling like the whole world is stuffed with cotton, deadening all sound to a muffled hum.

“Probably not,” he says. “I just saw the posting.”

“But you would love New York,” I say. “I mean, think about the bookstores.”

Now he gives a smile that seems both amused and sad. He comes back to the bed and slowly lowers himself down next to me. “I don’t know,” he says. “I was just looking.”

“I won’t bother you,” I say. “If you’re worried I’ll, like, show up on your doorstep every time I have a crisis, I promise I won’t.”

His eyebrow lifts skeptically. “And if you find out I have a back spasm, will you break into my apartment with donuts and Icy Hot?”

“No?” I say, pitch lifting guiltily. His smile widens, but still, there’s something vaguely sad about it. “What is it?”

He holds my eyes for a while, like we’re caught in a game of chicken. Then he sighs and runs a hand over his face. “I don’t know,” he says. “There’s some stuff I’m still trying to work out. In Linfield. Before I make a decision like that.”

“The house?” I guess.

“That’s part of it,” he says. “I love that house. I don’t know if I could bear to sell it.”

“You could rent it out!” I suggest, and Alex gives me a look. “Right. You’re way too high-strung to be a landlord.”

“I believe you mean that everyone else is way too lax to be a tenant.”

“You could rent it to one of your brothers,” I say. “Or you can just keep it. I mean, your grandma owned it, right? Do you owe anything on it?”

“Just property taxes.” He pulls the computer away from me and exits out of the job posting. “But it’s not just the house. And it’s not just because of my dad and brothers either,” he adds when he sees my mouth opening. “I mean, obviously I’d miss my nieces and nephew a lot. But there are other things keeping me there. Or, I don’t know, there might be. I’m just kind of . . . waiting to see what happens.”

“Oh,” I say, realization dawning. “So, like . . . a woman.”

Again he holds my gaze, as if daring me to push the matter. But I don’t blink, and he cracks first. “We don’t have to talk about this.”

“Oh.” And now all that vibrating excited energy seems to be freezing over, sinking low in my stomach. “So it’s Sarah. You are getting back together.”

He bows his head, rubs at his brow. “I don’t know.”

“She wants to?” I say. “Or you do?”

“I don’t know,” he says again.


“Don’t do that.” He looks up. “Don’t chastise me. It’s really grim out there, dating-wise, and Sarah and I have a lot of history.”

“Yeah, a sordid history,” I say. “There’s a reason you broke up. Twice.”

“And a reason we dated,” he fires back. “Not everyone can just not look back like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demand.

“Nothing,” he says quickly. “We’re just different.”

“I know we’re different,” I say, defensive. “I also know it’s grim out there. I’m single too, Alex. I’m a card-carrying member of the Unsolicited Dick Pic Support Group. Doesn’t mean I’m running to get back with one of my exes.”