She leaned into the counter. “I’m sorry, Erica. I just figured it might be easier to explain in person.”
“You can stay with whoever you want, Alli. It would have been nice to know though. Blake doesn’t know I’m here.”
She frowned, and I heard a door open down the hallway. Heath emerged, freshly showered and dressed, a content smile on his face. He looked more like Blake than I remembered. I couldn’t shake the sense that something lay hidden beneath all of his charm. Sure, Blake had layers. Many in fact, but he didn’t mask them as conspicuously.
“Erica, long time no see.” He gave me a quick hug before joining Alli in the kitchen. He kissed her and I looked away.
My chest tightened, and my thoughts went to Blake. What lengths would I go to have him here kissing me that way? Still, I knew better. Whether or not he agreed, I needed some space to make sense of what had happened. The way Blake had pried into my life was completely unacceptable, and illegal. The violation had left me raw and vulnerable.
I swiveled on the stool, stood, and walked to the massive windows overlooking the park below. I wondered how much of this was a result of Blake’s support, or if Heath actually contributed to his lifestyle in any way. Maybe I was being too hard on him. He was obviously sweeping Alli off her feet, which I’d never seen happen in the three years I’d known her. I hoped it wasn’t too good to be true, for her sake.
“Are you hungry? I was thinking we could get lunch,” Alli said.
“That’d be great.”
“Let me show you your room.” Alli reached for my bag.
Heath took it from her swiftly and led us both down a hall opposite to the one he’d previously emerged from.
I peeked into a nice-sized bedroom decorated with the same muted off-white tones and a deep red bedspread. I regretted I wouldn’t be sharing it with Blake. The vision of him spread out under me, or vice versa, was more than appealing. The memory of our last time together washed over me, and my eyes misted. I shook my head. I needed to get Blake out of my system.
Heath and Alli were adorable together, and energy radiated off them in a very familiar way. I’d only been here ten minutes and I already felt like I was horning in on their privacy. Before I could give it a second thought, they said their goodbyes and Alli and I were back on the hot city streets, walking briskly toward a destination I sincerely hoped had air conditioning.
Alli and I devoured a plate of calamari between sips of Prosecco as we waited for the main course, which for me was a pile of carbs in the form of homemade ravioli. Going through Blake withdrawal had involved a serious lack of appetite, but being around Alli made me feel relaxed again and comfortable enough that my hunger had returned with a fury.
When I came up for air, I asked her about work. “How do you like the new job?”
“I love it, most of the time, anyway. It’s crazy, fast-paced, and can be stressful running around after everyone, but I feel like it’s a major step toward where I want to be.”
“It really is. And I’m totally making connections for you, by the way. Heath hooked me up with someone who’s getting us into an opening at a gallery tomorrow night.”
“An art show?” I said, wondering what that had to do with fashion and me.
“Yes. It’ll be very chic and a lot of super important people will be there.”
“Chic, eh? I suppose.” I eyeballed the plate of steaming pasta that the server set in front of me. I took my first bite, my senses overwhelmed with the flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg that oozed out of the firm squares. Heaven, I thought. I could replace sex with food, surely.
“What’s going on with Blake?”
An unexpected wave of emotion surged through me. Pumpkin ravioli could make me forget, but only for a little while. I told her about the last day I spent with Blake. From meeting with Max to getting screwed to the door by Blake. The good, bad, and the ugly.
“Do you love him?” she asked.
“Are you kidding me?” My voice was shrill, the very mention of the L word launching me out of my longing and headlong into panic and fear.
“Is that such a crazy thing to ask?”
“Are you in love with Heath?” I spat out, desperate to change the subject but scared of what she might say.
She swallowed hard and ate a fork full of pasta.
“There.” I countered, vindicated.
“I am,” she whispered, almost too quiet for me to hear.
We ate in silence for a while. I wasn’t sure why, but the news saddened me. I’d had Alli all to myself for three years. We shared everything, looked out for each other, and together helped build the business that gave me purpose today. In a matter of weeks she had eyes for no one but Heath. Feeling jealous was irrational, because above everything, I wanted her to be happy, even at the expense of our friendship.
“Is he good for you?” I asked.
“We fit,” she said simply. “Things aren’t always perfect, but somehow they always seem right. We’re figuring it out.”
“Well I’m happy for you. I want you to know that.”
Her features relaxed and she reached over and grabbed my hand across the table. I knew then that she had been waiting for my approval all this time. Was I really so hot-headed that she’d been holding her breath all this time for me to give her the okay?
“I’m so glad you’re here. I miss you,” she said.
“I miss you too. Sometimes it feels like we’re a million miles away.”
“We’re not though. I’m always here for you.”
I smiled and nodded, not wanting to bring up the fact that she’d been largely unreachable since moving to New York. Still, I felt better hearing her say it. With Blake out of my world at the moment, rekindling life back into my friendship with Alli was more than welcome, even if I had to share her with Heath.
* * *
With Alli at work, I spent most of the day catching up on my own. The heat was a little more bearable, so I took a few breaks and meandered around the park to collect my thoughts and people watch. As dozens of tiny figures walked across the bridge to Manhattan, I tried to imagine what it might be like to be a New Yorker.
Maybe it was time for a change. Alli was so blissed out here, due in large part to Heath jumping her bones expertly and frequently it seemed, based on the very little sleep I’d gotten the previous night. But maybe I could be happy here too.