When the boy rolls his tricycle down the hall, Bea mutters, “Nope, nope, nope,” and Robbie sits forward, leaning into the scare, and Henry buries his face in his shoulder. The twin girls appear, hand in hand, and Robbie grabs Henry’s leg.

And when the moment passes, a lull in the fear, Robbie’s hand is still resting on his thigh. And it’s like a broken cup coming back together, the shattered edges lining up just right—which is, of course, wrong.

Henry gets up, taking the empty popcorn bowl and heading for the kitchen.

Robbie swings his leg up over the back of the sofa. “I’ll help.”

“It’s popcorn,” Henry says over his shoulder as he rounds the corner. He tears the plastic wrapper off, shakes the pouch. “I’m pretty sure I just put the bag in the microwave and press the button.”

“You always let it go too long,” says Robbie, right behind him.

Henry tosses the pouch into the microwave and swings the door shut. He presses Start, turns back toward the door. “So now you’re the popcorn poli—”

He doesn’t get a chance to finish before Robbie’s mouth is on his. Henry sucks in a breath, surprised by the sudden kiss, but Robbie doesn’t break away. He presses him back into the counter, hips into hips, fingers sliding along his jaw as the kiss deepens.

And this, this is better than all the other nights.

This is better than the attention of a hundred strangers.

This is the difference between a hotel bed and home.

Robbie is hard against him, and Henry’s chest aches with want, and it would be so easy, to fall back into this, to return to the familiar warmth of his kiss, his body, the simple comfort of something real.

But that’s the problem.

It was real. They were real. But like everything in Henry’s life, it ended. Failed.

He breaks the kiss as the first kernels begin to pop.

“I’ve been waiting weeks to do that,” whispers Robbie, his cheeks flushed, his eyes fever bright. But they’re not clear. Fog winds through them, clouding the vivid blue.

Henry lets out a shuddering breath, rubs his own eyes beneath his glasses.

The popcorn rattles and pops, and Henry pulls Robbie into the hall, away from Bea and the horror movie score, and Robbie starts toward him again, thinking it’s an invitation, but Henry puts his hand out, holding him back. “This is a mistake.”

“No, it’s not,” says Robbie. “I love you. I always have.”

And it sounds so honest, so real, Henry has to squeeze his eyes shut to focus. “Then why did you break up with me?”

“What? I don’t know. You were different, we weren’t a fit.”

“How?” presses Henry.

“You didn’t know what you wanted.”

“I wanted you. I wanted you to be happy.”

Robbie shakes his head. “It can’t just be about the other person. You have to be someone, too. You have to know who you are. Back then, you didn’t.” He smiles. “But now you do.”

But that’s just it.

He doesn’t.

Henry has no idea who he is, and now, neither does anyone else.

He just feels lost. But this is the one road he won’t take.

He and Robbie were friends before they were more, friends again for years after Robbie called it off, when Henry was still in love with him, and now it’s reversed, and Robbie’s going to have to find a way to move on, or at least, find a way to smooth in love into love, the way Henry had done when it was him.

“How long does it take to make popcorn?” shouts Bea.

A singed smell wafts from microwave, and Henry pushes past Robbie into the kitchen, hits the Stop button, pulls the bag out.

But he’s too late.

The popcorn is irretrievably burned.

New York City

November 14, 2013


Thank god Brooklyn has so many coffee shops.

Henry hasn’t been back into Roast, not since the Great Fire of 2013, as Robbie calls the whole Vanessa incident (with a little too much glee). He gets to the front of the line and orders a latte from a very nice guy named Patrick who is mercifully straight, who looks at him with cloudy eyes but only seems to see a perfect customer, someone friendly, and brief, and—


His stomach drops. Because he knows that voice, high and sweet, knows the way it bends around his name, and it is that night again, and he is down on one knee like a fool as she says no.

You’re great. You really are. But you’re not …

He turns around, and there she is.


Her hair has gotten a little longer, the bangs grown out into a sweep of blond across her forehead, a curl against her cheek, and she stands with the easy grace of a dancer between poses. Henry hasn’t seen her since that night, has managed, until now, to avoid her, to avoid this. And he wants to back away, to put as much distance between them as possible. But his legs refuse to move.

She smiles at him, bright and warm. He remembers being in love with that smile, back when it felt like a victory every time he earned a glimpse. Now she simply hands it to him, brown eyes shrouded in fog.

“I’ve missed you,” she says. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” he says, because it is the truth. Two years of a life together, replaced by a life apart, and there will always be an empty space in the shape of her. “I had a box of your things,” he says, “but there was a fire.”

“Oh god.” She touches his arm. “Are you okay? Was anyone hurt?”

“No, no.” He shakes his head, thinking of Vanessa standing over the sink. “It was … contained.”

Tabitha sways into him. “Oh, good.”

Up close, she smells like lilacs. It took a week for that scent to fade from his sheets, another for it to vanish from the sofa cushions, the shower towels. She leans into him, and it would be so easy to lean back, to give in to the same dangerous gravity that drew him to Robbie, the familiar pull of something loved, and lost, and then returned.

But it isn’t real.

It isn’t real.

“Tabitha,” he says, guiding her back. “You ended things.”

“No.” She shakes her head. “I wasn’t ready to take the next step. But I never wanted it to end. I love you, Henry.”

And despite it all, he falters. Because he believes her. Or at least, he believes that she believes herself, and that is worse, because it still doesn’t make it real.

“Can’t we try again?” she asks.

Henry swallows, and shakes his head.

He wants to ask her what she sees, to understand the chasm between who he was and what she wanted. But he doesn’t ask.

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter.

The fog twists across her vision. And he knows that, whoever she sees, it isn’t him.

It never was.

It never will be.

So he lets her go.

New York City

March 18, 2014


Henry and Addie offer up their rubber bands to the Artifact, sacrificing one color at a time.

For the purple band, they walk through puddles, inch-thick pools that ripple around their feet. Beneath the water, the ground is made of mirrors, shimmering, reflecting everyone and everything. Addie stares down at the ribbons of motion, the ripples fading, and if hers end a moment sooner than his, it is hard to say.