Opposite of Always(5)

She snaps her fingers. “Bingo.”

I frown. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of course, I know exactly what she’s talking about, but I’m offended that I’m so transparent.

“You were clinging to her during the entire tour, man.”

“I was?”

“Dude, you reached barnacle status.”

“Gee, thanks.”

She grins. “I’m saying, get in that kitchen and talk to the girl.”

“I don’t need to. I talk to her all the time. She’s my best friend.”

“Wow, so you guys are best friends but she has no idea you’re in love with her?”

This girl is awfully loud. I realize we’re at a party, but her voice is set to Evacuate Immediately. I almost shush her, except not being shushed is an unalienable right, right there with pursuit of happiness.

I whisper, “I’m not in love with her, okay.”

She leans in closer. “What?”

“I’m not in love with her,” I repeat.

“I can’t hear you. Why are you whispering?”

I resume normal volume. “I said I’m not in love with her. She’s really nice, is all.”

“That’s obviously your problem. You’re too nice. You’re, what, waiting for the perfect opportunity to tell this girl how you feel and you’ve already waited for . . .” She pauses for me to fill in the blank.

“Three years.”

She palms her forehead. “Whoa, it’s been three years and she has no clue you want to jump her bones?”

“I like to take things slow.”

“Yeah, you do. At this rate, you’ll have to hope they find a way to freeze our bodies so that they can defrost you in two hundred years and you can ask her to go steady. You know, right after you do that whole fake yawn-and-stretch thing and slip your arm around her shoulders. Smooth move, by the way. Spoiler alert, she never sees it coming.”

“Hahaha. Listen, I appreciate the pep talk, but if you don’t mind—”

It is at this point that this girl, rather than proceeding down the steps, instead slides in beside me. Now, by our powers combined, we are officially damming all second-floor access. No one is going to pee on our watch.

“I’m Kate,” she says, extending her hand. Which is awkward because it’s a tight squeeze on the stairs, and I can’t turn my arm to meet hers.

“Jack,” I say, managing to give her The Wimpiest Handshake in Recorded History. “Jack King.”

“Do you always give people your full name when you meet them?”

“Nope. I only hand out full-name intros to cool tour guides.”

“Ha.” She grins. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jack King.”

“It’s nice to meet you . . .”


“Just Kate, huh?”

“For now.”


“Gotta keep the mystery alive, right?”

“I don’t know. I sorta hate mysteries. I’m more of an all-cards-on-the-table guy.”

“So, Jack and King, that’s different.”

“’Cause I’m just looking for my queeeeeeeen,” I say with instant regret.

She bursts into laughter.

My cheeks are ablaze. “I promise I’ve never said that before.”

She shakes her head. “It came out of your mouth pretty quickly, so . . .”

“I’m serious.”

“I’m not sure if I believe you, Jack.”

“Cool. Only fifteen minutes in and we’ve already introduced distrust into our relationship. I normally like to reserve that for the second time I talk to someone, but.”

She snickers. “So, look, Jack King, I’m not trying to bust your balls, okay? But I think you could use help from someone who understands the female species.”

“And you can put me in touch with this someone?”

“Hey!” Kate punches me in the shoulder. It stings, but I pretend to shrug it off.

“Okay then, Ms. Love Doctor, what do you suggest?”

Kate laughs again. “Honestly, I haven’t the slightest. I’m still only in my Love Doctor residency, so.”

“Well, I haven’t told you the best part yet,” I say. By this point, I’m laughing too—partly because it took a stranger to validate what I already knew (that it is too complicated for Jillian and me), and because if I don’t laugh, I’ll probably cry.

“What’s the best part?” Kate asks. She clasps her hands together.

“She’s dating our mutual best friend.”

Kate erupts in laughter and mock-horror. “You giant douchebag!”

“I know, right? I am The World’s Giantest Douchebag.”

“Easy, boy, don’t give yourself too much credit. I’m guessing you’re an average giant douchebag at best.”

“That’s sort of my MO.”

“What is?”

And I don’t mean to say it but I’m on a sad roll, so. “Average at best.”

Her mouth opens but she says nothing, and for this minor miracle, I’m grateful.

We watch a kid sporting the plungiest V-neck sweater murder a pop song while a girl with a Hello Kitty tat on her neck accompanies him on the piano. Kate’s lips are moving, faintly singing the melody. My phone buzzes.

Justin A. Reynolds's Books