“Well,” I said, “be glad you weren’t here earlier, because the doucheking was in here with Tyler a bit ago.”
“Yeah — Kyle Churchill.”
Her eyes widened. “The same Kyle Churchill who plays for the Giants?”
I wagged my finger at her. “Ah, ah, ah. That’s exactly the look that will end up getting douche all over you. Go for Greg. He’s a catch, just ask Rose.”
She nodded. “It’s true. He and I went on a couple of dates, but I was still hung up on Patrick. He’s one of the good ones.”
“Well, then why doesn’t he have a girlfriend?” Bayleigh asked, still suspicious.
Rose shrugged. “It’s not for lack of trying. He’d hit the online meat market looking for someone, but that didn’t pan out, and then his dad got really sick and passed away a few months ago, before we opened.”
“I had no idea,” Bayleigh breathed.
Rose nodded. “Yeah. So he’s really busy outside of work. But I’m sure if you can be patient and understanding about his family life, it could definitely work out.”
Bayleigh’s big, brown eyes were soft. “Yeah. It’s really admirable that he would sacrifice so much.”
“It is admirable,” I said. “He’s an admirable guy with muscles and tattoos and a great smile, which is exactly what you need. And you, my gorgeous, loving friend, are exactly what he needs.”
She smiled, her cheeks flushing yet again. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right.” I bumped her hip with mine. “I’m always right.”
I’d come home to the quiet apartment and changed out of my slacks and button-down, opting for sleep pants and a T-shirt before settling into the couch to read.
Or: try to read.
The only books I’d ever read were for school, never for entertainment or leisure, and on hearing that truth, Cam made it her personal mission to find a book I’d love.
Over the last year, I’d read — tried to read — dozens of books, from a slew of graphic novels to high fantasy, sci-fi, and even romance. But so far nothing had captured my interest, not even the one in my lap — The Martian. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, because I did. It was fascinating, but I kept getting bogged down by the science, which made me feel dense, and when I tried to skim forward, I felt like I’d missed something.
I’d started and stopped the page I was on probably three reading sessions in a row, and that night, I abandoned the story, opting instead to troll my phone. I was in the middle of an article on predictions for college ball that week when Cam walked in the door.
She smiled cheerily as she removed her key from the lock and made her way inside. “Hey. What’s up?” She glanced in my lap, and when she saw the book, she lit up like the Fourth of July. “You’re reading!”
Her bag hit the ground with a thump, and she bounded around the couch, flopping down next to me so we were shoulder to shoulder. Or more like shoulder to bicep.
“Tell me stuff.”
I made a face, not wanting to admit defeat, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t pick it up again. “It’s kinda … science-y.”
Her smile fell, slipping into a pout. “Dangit, I really thought this one would be it. I mean, it’s a major motion picture, for goodness sake.” She flicked the bookmark. “You did good on this one. Look how far you made it.”
“It’s not the book,” I said in encouragement. “It’s just me. I think I just don’t like to read.”
She rolled her eyes. “Everyone likes to read. You just have to find a book that turns you on.”
I raised an eyebrow, and a flush blossomed across her cheeks as she looked up at me.
“Not like that, perv.” She laughed and socked me in the arm to divert her embarrassment. “Imaginatively. Everybody has that one book, that first book that just, like … unlocks their brain.”
I sank a little deeper in the couch. “So what was yours?”
“The Hobbit,” she said without hesitation and propped her feet on the coffee table. “It was the first novel I read that wasn’t written specifically for kids, and once I read it, I devoured everything I could get my hands on, even sneaking some of my mom’s novels. The ones on the high shelf. With penetration.”
I laughed as she continued on.
“Some kids played baseball and rode bikes. I read books. Books were what I asked for for Christmas and birthdays. They were what I spent my allowance on.”
“I think that’s the best use of allowance that I’ve ever heard. I blew mine on baseball cards and Bomb Pops on the ice cream truck.”
She shrugged. “I was weird, but so were my parents. I think it’s just an Emerson thing. But I didn’t really care, you know? I lived a thousand lives to escape from real life, because real life is boring and shitty. There’s no adventure, not like we get with Tolkien or Lewis. It’s fun to escape into a book, and I want you to experience it, so back to the drawing board we’ll go.” She picked the book up with a sigh, her fingers grazing my thigh without a thought, and she shook her head at it. “I really thought I had it this time.”
“I bet next time will be the one.”
She patted my knee and gave me a patronizing smile. “You’re sweet.”
She settled back into the couch and sank a little into the crack of the cushions. Her thigh was pressed against mine from hip to knee, and she let out a sigh. I echoed her with a sigh of my own, comforted by her warm body against mine.