He looks up, pulling his glasses off and setting them down near his keyboard. “Hey. I assume you guys got home okay last night?”
I expected him to ask, but the way the question comes out so immediately feels almost accusatory—almost knowing. The answer bursts out of me, a touch hysterically: “Of course we did.”
He stares at me a second longer before he reaches for the paper takeaway cup I’ve put down on his desk. “Cool. Thanks for the coffee.”
Out of all of us, Chris is the most intuitive, and—because he and I first met in graduate school nearly a decade ago—he also knows me better than anyone else. If even a flicker of last night passes through my thoughts, he’ll see it. But maybe that’s exactly why I’m here. Millie and I drove a mallet into our easy rhythm, creating a fault line that will either lie dormant or break everything into pieces. I need to know I can still act normal . . . where normal means I pretend the fault line is not directly underfoot.
“You good?” Chris asks.
“Oh, yeah.” I stare with intense focus at his bookshelves, specifically studying a worn copy of Wade’s Organic Chemistry, and finally, the moment snaps free. “Just wanted to come by and say thanks again for hosting last night.”
“Of course, man. I’m really happy for you.”
My gaze swings higher up on his bookshelf, to some molecular models, some awards on small pedestals, and . . . “Nice cock.”
He groans, standing so he can reach for the rooster-shaped stress ball and toss it into the trash. “You have my students in on this rooster thing now.”
“A student gave you cock?”
He jerks his attention past me, out into the hallway, before giving me the expression that speaks to the mental murder happening inside his brain. “Think you could keep your voice down?”
I grin. “I can try.”
“What do you have going on today?”
Checking my watch, I tell him, “I’m giving our department seminar in thirty. Wanna come?”
“Then I’ll see you at lunch.”
I’m halfway through my fifty-minute presentation on optic nerve inflammation when the back door to the theater creaks loudly open the way it always does when someone unfamiliar with it tries it from the wrong side. Heads turn, and my chest suffers a weird, painful hiccup as Millie steps in. Dressed in black jeans and a deep green sweater, she tiptoes down the aisle with a paper bag in her hand and a dramatically apologetic expression for the disruption of her entrance. Millie has never come to one of my seminars; given that I’m in neuroscience and she’s in criminology, she’d have no reason to. How did she even know where to find me? Maybe she wants a word with me afterward . . . ? The thought makes me uneasy.
Last night was good, right? I mean, to me, last night was incredible. We had sex twice. We talked for an hour in between, about all the kind of stuff we always talk about: Ed’s latest lab disasters, Millie’s upcoming lecture at Princeton, whether Alex will get tenure this year. Nothing too personal, nothing deep. Eventually pillow talk turned into touching, which turned into me climbing over her and words falling away. Before last night, I couldn’t have even imagined the quiet, rhythmic sounds she would make, but I can’t seem to get them out of my head today.
Glancing at the slide up on the large screen, I find my place again. As the only retinal specialist in the department, I try to keep my presentations sharp, interesting, and accessible. Millie knows my biggest gripe—that the rest of the neuroscience department likes to forget that the retina is part of the brain—and I catch her grinning when an image of the central nervous system comes up, with the retina highlighted right up front. The smile unknots the seed of tension in me.
This is Millie. She’s unflappable. Of course we’re okay.
In fact, she meets me halfway up the aisle as everyone is filing out and pulls a small pastry box out of the bag, handing it over. Inside, there is a cupcake with a unicorn sculpted out of frosting.
“What’s this for?” I look up at her. “We celebrated my tenure last night, and my birthday is still a month away.”
Millie grins. “It’s the morning-after cupcake.” When I don’t figure out a response fast enough, she adds in a whisper, “It’s a good job with the orgasms cupcake.” Pausing, she looks down at my hands. “And it’s an Are we okay? cupcake.”
This rare display of vulnerability tilts me sideways, so I close the lid and boop her nose with my index finger, the way she always does to us. “You know we’re fine.”
“Then come to Cajé with me.” She tugs my hand. “I need caffeination.”
“I already had some . . . with Chris . . .”
But she’s already turned to head up the aisle. I should have led with the more compelling I need to get into the lab explanation, because to Millie, work always comes first, but there’s no such thing as too much coffee.
Cajé is a coffee shop right near campus and it’s generally populated by the scruffiest representation of our student body. I’d wager there are as many white people with dreadlocks outside on the patio as there are baristas inside. And, although I know Millie can slob it up with the best of them on the weekend, right now in her fitted jeans, heels, and cashmere sweater, she stands out like a spray of flowers in a field of dry grass.
Without even bothering to ask what I want—she knows, anyway—she leans in and orders two medium Americanos, extra hot, and then, in a rushed flurry, points to a miraculously empty table for me to snag.
I wipe the table off with a couple of napkins, trying to calm the unfamiliar anxiety I’m feeling about an upcoming conversation with Millie.
My best friend, Millie, who puts moisturizing facial masks on me while we watch our favorite 1990s gangster movies and generously eats all the melon in my fruit salads.
With two steaming cups in her hands, she walks toward me at the table, and I have to make a conscious effort to look normal, which I’m pretty sure negates any potential for success.
This is so weird.
I mean, it’s impossible to ignore the way her jeans curve over her hips, and then I’m boomeranged into wondering whether I would have noticed this before last night.
Sitting wordlessly, she smiles, touching her cheek, and the motion catches my eye as she drags a few wayward strands of hair behind her ear. There’s a new, bare honesty here, an unspoken awareness captured by eye contact and screaming, We had sex! My gaze slides down to her neck and trips over something there. I don’t think I would normally notice the tiny red bruise on her throat if I hadn’t been the one to inflict it.
She notices me noticing and covers it with a fingertip. “I’ll put some more makeup on it before lunch.”
That’s right. It’s Wednesday, one of two days each week we all meet at Summit Café, near the library.
“It’s cool. It’s small,” I say. “I mean, sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry.”
The sex is front and center now. Millie stares directly at me and it’s a lot, having her undivided attention like this; it always is. Only now instead of simply enjoying it, my mind toggles between the calming surety of her expression and the memory of her eyes falling closed in relief when she moved on top of me and found that buckling moment of pleasure.
“You sure you’re okay today?” I ask.
She nods decisively. “One hundred percent. You?”
“Same.” I wonder whether she’s also having these disruptive flashes of recollection. I don’t exactly know how to extricate us from this topic, but letting the words “It was really good, though” tumble out of my mouth is probably not the way to do it.
She could make this awkward—and it’s absolutely what I expect her to do because making us uncomfortable is Millie’s favorite pastime. But she’s feeling generous, apparently. “Of course it was good. We’re both amazing in bed.” When I laugh, she adds, “But . . . we’re still on the same page, right? About . . . us being friends?”
“We’re on the same page.”
And we are. For as good as last night was, I don’t want to be with Millie that way again. At least, I don’t think I do. I definitely shouldn’t. We’re too good at being smart-ass friends to be very good tender lovers. I can’t really imagine Millie like that, anyway.