“Was that a Zorro reference?”

“I don’t know what it was, but the truth is I hate how messed up things are between us. I hate that I lost you. I hate that I like you. I hate that you’re not who I thought you were, because there’s some affection between us. I know it’s there…” Marty’s lips get this soft dreamy smile, which makes me feel horrible. Oh God, I shouldn’t have said anything. Plowing through, I finish, “But—”

The grin vanishes. “Ah, the but…”

“But it’s overshadowed by someone else. Marty, I—”

“You don’t need to say more. I get it.” He rolls onto his back and takes a deep breath, like I just kicked him in the ‘nads.

I feel horrible, not better. Confession is good for the soul, my ass. “What would you have me do? Should we fake date? Should you be my rebound guy? Should we wing it and see what happens? Those are crappy choices, because in every single one of them, you’re second. You don’t deserve to be the runner-up, Marty. You deserve better than me.”

“There is no one better than you.”

“Then we’re both screwed, because I suck.” I nudge his elbow with mine, but he doesn’t return the gesture. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you to get Sean out of your system. Either be with him or forget about him. This in the middle shit is driving me insane. I swear to God, being friends with you is beyond exhausting.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.” Sighing, I drape my arm over my eyes and say, “So, what are we? Is friendship off the table?”

He pushes up onto one elbow, lifts my wrist, and looks me in the eye. “What kind of an a**hole do you think I am? Oh wait, don’t answer that.” He smiles down at me. “Yeah, we can be friends, maybe even friends that kiss?”

Laughing softly, I shake my head. “No kissing.”

Marty considers it, like he’s bargaining with some old lady at the flea market. “Okay, okay. I’ll settle for friends with benefits.” He winks at me.

“The only benefits you’ll be getting are rides in my awesome car.”

“Is that a euphemism?”

I laugh. “For what?”

“I have no idea. Your car sucks monkeys, like literally. It must have plowed down an entire gaggle of the hairy little suckers at some point. I mean, the smell alone…” I shove his arm and he laughs. Running his hands over his face, he groans, “Oh God, Avery. It’s like we both signed up to be miserable. You don’t like me enough to do anything about it, and Sean ditched you.”

I nod slowly, like something should become clear, and hope that a big fat unicorn will jump out of a rainbow that formed in the dark clouds that hang over my head. “We deserve a unicorn.”

“I know what you mean, and I’m not even gay.”

“You’re brain damaged, like me.”

“Fucking unicorns.” He glances at me and we both start laughing. It’s that sleepy giggly laugh that is difficult to stop. When we do, we’re both on our own pillows, staring up at the ceiling. “So, are you going to make yourself more miserable, like me?”

“Probably, but I need you to be more specific.”

“Are you going after him?”

I’m quiet for a moment, even though I already know the answer. Saying out loud that I’m going after Sean makes it real, admitting it to someone sets the concept in stone. I’m stepping into a pair of cement shoes and jumping off a bridge, willingly.

“Yeah, I have to see this through. I’ll get down on one knee, hold up a ring, and shut my mouth until he answers me.” I laugh, “You know, I don’t think I can take any more stress. It feels like my life is held together with cobweb string. If things don’t go well, I don’t know how I’ll get over it.”

“Mel and me are here, Avery. We always will be, and if I ever run into Henry Thomas on the street, he better run the other way. Ditto for Mel. She described what she’d do to that bastard and it’s not pretty. That woman is scary.”


Isolation is a weird thing. I’m not sure how it happened. It kind of snuck up on me after I lost my parents. My childhood friends faded to acquaintances and then fell into the shadows of my past. I have no desire to bring them back, either. People that are only there during the good times suck. I’ve had enough leeches in my life, and I’m grateful for the friends I have now. It hasn’t escaped my notice that the people that I like the most are the kind that have been beaten by this life and didn’t lie down, face first, in the dust. We gravitate toward one another. Maybe no one has an ordinary life, but since that’s what I’m striving for, I’d rather not think about it. Chasing something that doesn’t exist would completely suck.

I can imagine bringing Mel home to meet my Mom. First off, no one ever forgets meeting Mel. She’s all personality in a mocha-skinned body with killer curves. It’s hard not to notice how striking she is when the woman is standing in front of you. I think Mom would have liked her. Mel fights for what she wants and encourages me to do the same.

Right now we’re standing in a jewelry store and I have a goofy smile on my face with bags under my eyes.

“He better appreciate this shit.” Mel is crouched over a ring case, her eyes scanning diamonds, gold, and platinum for something that has an antique feel.

“I should probably just get a plain band. He’s going to say no anyway.”

Her gaze flicks up and her caramel eyes give me the you-crazy once over. “What are you going to do if he says yes?” She folds her arms across her chest and leans her hip into the case.

I start to open my mouth when a sales girl walks over. She’s wearing a perfectly pale pink suit and is cute as a button. Mel’s going to eat her—uh, like a lion, not a hooker. Perky chick says, “My name is Tiffany and I—”

Mel tilts her head to the side like she’s annoyed and doesn’t even look at the woman. “Listen, Stepford Psycho, we aren’t going to take any crap, or hard sales, or whatever you have planned up there in your little plastic head, so walk away and if we find something to buy, I’ll snap my fingers and you will pounce over like a good little bitch because you work on commission.”

The sales girl’s face falls, her mouth gaping open in horror. She’s momentarily stunned, so Mel snaps her fingers. “Hear that?” The girl nods. “Good, now go over there until I call you. Go on. Scat. That’s a good girl.”

Tiffany’s super pink pouty lips repress a sneer as she walks away. I glance at Mel. “Do you have to be so mean?”

“She’s a bitch. Fake people deserve to be treated like they’re made of tin—or plastic. I recycle, it’s okay. Besides, you know how I feel about robots.” She cringes and shakes her head. The expression on her face is reminiscent of the second before a woman realizes there’s a spider crawling across her lips and into her mouth.

Strumming my fingers across the top of the glass case, I say, “Yes, I know you hate robots—”

“The f**kers are everywhere. If there’s going to be an apocalypse, it’s going to be from that bitch inside my phone—”

My fingers press to my temples and stare at her. “Oh my God, Mel. Not now. And I don’t think the sales girl deserved to be verbally castrated because she likes pink.”

Mel glances up at Tiffany. “Nah, I did it because she interrupted me. What was I saying?”

“What if he says yes…”

Mel nods, which makes her thick gold hoops sway back and forth. She seems to have an endless supply of huge-ass earrings. “Yeah, about that—you don’t want him to have an ugly-ass ring for the rest of your life, do you?”

“No, but none of these are quite right.” I glance over at her. Every scenario I can picture fades to black before I can even get the words out of my mouth. It’s like the black hole of horror. My mind stops there and can’t see beyond it. “Why do you think he’ll say yes?”

“Because he thinks with his dick and we’re gonna make it commandeer his brain.”

I smirk at her. “Seriously, Mel. I need to know why.”

She gives me a long hard look and exhales. “Because of the way he acted before he left. Something about it screamed overprotective, which could mean he’s an a**hole that planned on ruling your life, or he actually loves you. Since, he let you keep working for Black and skipped town, I’m guessing it’s the latter. The boy may be scary as hell, but deep down he’s a coward. He wouldn’t have run off if he didn’t care about you. Besides, that whole theory lines up with what his brother told you. Sean Ferro has the hots for you.”

Her words are what I want to hear. No, they’re better than that. They give me hope and I can’t hide the stupid look that crosses my face. “So, what do I say?”

“You tackle him to the ground like a linebacker and shove the ring over his cock. Then you say, marry me. Easy peasy.” Mel sees something in the case and snaps her fingers over and over again until Tiffany bounces over. Mel and Tiff exchange deadly smiles. Mel points to a ring. “I’d like to see that one.”

Tiffany has one of those I’m-better-than-you-smiles on her face. “I’m sorry, but we only take jewelry out of the case for customers who intend to make a purchase.”

Oh shit. I glance at Mel, almost afraid to see how she took it. Mel’s face is perfectly smooth with the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen. She’s at DEFCON 1 and ready to nuke the place. Just as Mel opens her mouth, I grab her arm and cut her off, “I’m hungry. Let’s go to Friendly’s and then keep shopping. And you—“ I glare at the idiot sales girl. “I just saved your life. Remember to kiss my ass the next time you see me.”

I pull Mel out of the store before she goes into a full rant. By the time she’s onto heavy nostril breathing and death ray vision, we’re seated at a little table. The truth is Friendly’s is one of my favorite places to eat because my parents took me here when I was a kid. It was the special place that I could choose to go to whenever something awesome happened. Basically, it’s a small diner that sells sundaes and milkshakes.

Mel’s nostrils flare and she slams her hands on the table. “I’m going back there. She can’t talk to me like that!”

“So, show her that she’s a dumbass on the way out.”

Mel smashes her lips together and grunts, “I will.”

“Good.” I open the menu even though I already know what I want. My eyes skim over the plastic pages, avoiding Mel’s freaky pissed off gaze.

“I mean it.” Her jaw is locked tight.

Laughing, I say, “I know.”

I order for both of us and eat in silence as Mel stews across from me. She dabs a fry in ketchup over and over again with a vacant look in her eye. It’s not a good look for her. It means she’s thinking, no, plotting, and nothing good ever comes from that.