“You could, you know,” I tell him quietly.
Chris scowls, but I know him well enough to know he’s covering. “Man, she was fifteen when I met you.”
I shrug. “Yeah. Ten years ago.”
He opens his mouth to reply, but is cut off by the appearance of Rayme and Mills next him.
“What was ten years ago?” Rayme asks.
“Nothing,” I say, too quickly, sounding extremely suspicious.
Millie slides her knowing eyes around the room, landing eventually on me. “What’s going on, weirdos?”
“They were talking about us,” Rayme guesses in a dramatic stage whisper, and the two of them turn and saunter out of the room.
This has all become officially too much for me. It feels like we’re in a van, teetering atop a cliff. If we lean one way, we slide back to safety. If we lean the other way, we catapult headfirst into a canyon.
The problem is, I have no idea which direction to lean to get us safely to the ground.
If you were a murderer in the nineteenth century, it’s likely that poison—most commonly arsenic—was your weapon of choice. Used for everything from killing rats to removing hair and controlling insects, arsenic was cheap, easy to acquire, and kept in abundance in most Victorian homes. If you were a desperate woman with an abusive or rich husband you’d like to kill, it was a relatively easy way to do it.
As you might have guessed, the section of manuscript I’m working on—and that I should have finished hours ago—is about poison. More specifically, it’s about women throughout history who’ve been tried for using it. Nannie Doss—dubbed the Giggling Granny—murdered husband after husband, and always wore a smile, even after admitting to killing four of them. Anna Marie Hahn lured rich, elderly men to their deaths, though not before taking them for everything they had. Blanche Taylor Moore’s life was a scandal of dead family and husbands and extramarital affairs, and even inspired a made-for-television movie.
Mayhem, calculated murder, history, and a body count—this is my jam. Normally I would be engrossed. Normally I would have finished this chapter and been well into the next before my laptop ever needed to charge.
But today, nearly a week after Reid and I had sex (again), I have the attention span of a teaspoon. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why.
Since I love torturing myself, I pick up my phone and reread my texts with Reid.
Dinner tonight? I was thinking pizza and gossip about Chris and your sister . . .
Nothing tickles me like hassling him, but he didn’t take the bait.
. . .
You are way too easy.
Pepperoni sound good? We’ll fancy it up with the two bottles of wine your mom gave me.
Correction: the two bottles my mom caught Ed putting in your purse.
Details, details. Should I text everyone and order?
It’s been fifteen minutes and Reid has yet to reply, but just as I’m about to put my phone down, a new one comes in:
Actually I can’t. The date’s tonight.
Did we make plans I’d forgotten about—
Then it hits me.
He’s referring to the date he’d texted me about, when I had promptly lied through my teeth, or through my fingers.
So Reid is going on a date. But I’m fine.
I can’t think or concentrate for more than ten consecutive minutes, but it’s cool.
Emotions are live wires, and mine are DOA.
If things go well, they could have sex tonight.
I’m definitely not fine.
Gathering my things, I push away from the table and carry it all outside, in desperate need of some air.
I don’t have a huge yard—this is California, after all—but it’s lush and shaded during the summer months, and full of golden colors in the fall. A full-grown ginkgo blots out most of the fading sun, leaving just enough spikes of sky visible where there will soon be stars. Its branches creak overhead and I take a seat on the patio swing, using one foot to gently rock in time with the breeze.
It’s cooler out than I expected, but the overcast weather seems appropriate considering my mood. Reid is going on a date and I’m here, just like I am every night and will be every night in the future because I’m doing nothing to change it. What does it say about me that rather than looking at my own profile, I want to look at Catherine’s? What does it say that I want to write him, even now? In the slim hope he might read it during his date and possibly think about me. Er . . . Catherine.
The swing squeaks, a gentle reminder of when Reid helped me hang it. Dustin and I had just broken up, and I’d mentioned needing an extra set of hands. He’d volunteered before it had even occurred to me to ask. He helped lay the pavers that wind their way to the garage and replaced the smoke detector after an unfortunate Thanksgiving incident. And when I wanted to release a paper lantern on New Year’s Eve—somehow lighting the fringe of my scarf aflame in the process—he was there to put out that fire, too.
But if things go well with Daisy . . . will he still be?
I glower at my laptop and don’t bother listening to the tiny professional voice in my head—it’s immediately overshadowed by the possessive one telling me to ignore the manuscript I’m supposed to be working on and open up the IRL app to reply to his last letter.
From: Catherine M.
Sent: 6:48 pm, April 6
Wow this is becoming a regular occurrence. Do we officially qualify as pen pals now? I’d always wanted one when I was a kid, but never went anywhere or did anything—what would I possibly have to say?
Thank you for your last letter. It was so honest and sincere, and I want to tell you how much it meant that you shared it with me. Do me a favor and give your mom a big hug when you see her next. She won’t know exactly why, but something tells me it will make her day. Fingers crossed that there was no late-night streaking in the vineyard.
So, as pen pals we’re supposed to be honest and tell each other things we might not otherwise say, right? I know the goal here is to find people we like. I like you, Reid. I know that means that I should put my best foot forward, but I’m in an odd mood and I seem to have lost my filter. Besides, wouldn’t it be better to be brutally honest? I feel like we meet people in life and want so much for them to like us that we suck in our stomachs and pretend we don’t fart and tell them a bunch of things we think they want to know. If it works they fall for the person we want to be, and not for the person we are.
First, my dad is sick. He’s sick and I haven’t told anyone because I’m sad enough about it without making everyone else around me miserable, too. Isn’t that insane? I have the most kind and understanding friends in the world, all of whom would do anything to help, and I’ve kept this from them because I don’t want to be a drag.
Which leads me to my next bout of emotional diarrhea (and if you write me back I promise not to ever use that term again). I’m lonely. I’m lonely because I don’t tell people what I need or what I want, and then get hurt when they don’t figure it out on their own.
Is it possible to be a highly functioning adult with a successful career, awesome friends and a lovely family, and still be a Level Five Hot Mess? I may be living proof.
And because I can’t leave with the phrase “emotional diarrhea” this close to the end (okay, NOW I’ll never use that term again), here’s an embarrassing little tidbit about myself to cap off this dumpster fire of a reply. When I was sixteen, I had such a crush on a guy named Leslie. Rather than—I don’t know—actually talk to him, I came up with elaborate reasons to pass his locker at least six times a day, and would covertly just happen to show up wherever he was going to be.
One weekend in October, I heard a bunch of his friends were going to the local corn maze and haunted house. I love all things scary, but for some reason can’t stand the idea of ghosts. Still, my lust for this boy had clearly clouded my judgment because I threw together a costume and dragged my best friend along with me.
Everything was fine at first, I managed to make tit halfway through the attraction without peeing my pants or otherwise embarrassing myself, but I still hadn’t seen him. Unfortunately, my best friend had, and she wanted to make sure he saw me. Her brilliant plan involved telling one of the workers that it was okay to scare me and grab me from behind. I’m sure in her head I would scream in this really adorable way, Leslie would see me, and we would slip off to make out and probably end up engaged. What happened was slightly different.