Opposite of Always(6)

A text from Franny.

FRANNY: Hope you’re having fun, man! I know I don’t have to say this but watch out for Jillian. Keep those drunk frat-goons away from her!!

ME: I got you

I redeposit my phone. Kate stops singing. I try to think of something to say because I don’t want her to stop talking. “Is it just me or do these steps smell pretty awful? I’m thinking numerous people have puked and peed up and down them.”

She nods. “So us sitting here, it’s like we’re participating in ancient party history.”

I laugh. “I like the way you think.”

She smiles an awesome crooked smile.

Maybe it’s her smile that emboldens me.

Maybe the jittery party lights are doing weird things to my brain.

Or maybe it’s that there’s suddenly guitar strumming from the speakers. Me, forever a sucker for acoustic.

Maybe it’s that, for the first time in three years, I feel like it’s okay that Jillian and I will never be. That after a few minutes on some crusty stairs I can suddenly see a different future. An alternate ending, or two.

Maybe it’s because everything around us is now an unrecognizable swirl, Kate the only thing in perfect focus. Portrait mode IRL.

I gulp, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. “Can I ask you something, Kate?”

Kate smiles, and in a very formal-sounding voice says, “Yes, Jack, you may ask me your question.”

“It’s a tough one, though. Fair warning.”

“Consider me warned.”

I clear my throat, a habit when I’m uncomfortable, and/or when I’m about to say/do something stupid. “So how would you suggest a guy transition from talking about a girl he has a crush on but has no chance of being with to another very attractive girl—okay—to hitting on that very attractive girl even though he, at this point, also has zero chance of being with her, either?”

“Ooooh, that is a tough one.”

“See, I told you.”

“I’m fairly certain that such a maneuver is entirely impossible,” she says.

“I figured.”

“But were I to suggest a strategy . . .” She grins, as if she is about to divulge a top-secret tactic.

I lean in. “I’m listening.”

“I’d say, start with getting that girl a drink, and when you come back she can tell you she’s not looking for anything serious because she has a million commitment issues that she’s currently not at all interested in sorting, and also because she is only just escaping a disaster of a relationship and essentially hates all human beings at the moment.”

“Right, so definitely hold that thought because I’m definitely gonna go get that girl a drink, okay?”

She smiles. “Okay.”

“Don’t go anywhere. You must guard these steps with your life.”

“I’ll slay anyone who tries to scale these here steps, sire,” she says.

“What was that voice just then?”

She cringes, covering her face as she laughs. “My attempt at sounding Scottish.”

“Oh, is that what that was? Hmm,” I say, smiling hard. “Yeah, maybe work on that. Or maybe just don’t do it again. Like ever.”

“Was it that bad?”

I shrug, playfully. “The worst.”

She nods. “I’m a big fan of failing miserably, so I feel pretty good about it.”

“Oh, well, in that case, mission accomplished. Glad I could be here for that.”

“Me too,” she agrees.

“Sooo . . .”

“So,” she repeats, smiling. “Perhaps you get the drinks and we reconvene this epic pity party on the back porch?”

I stare at her a beat. “Maybe you should just make all of my decisions for me from now on.”

Kate extends her hand to me, this time with far better results. “Deal, Jack.”

I squeeze and sidestep my way into the kitchen, the alcohol scattered across the long countertop. I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Hey.”

It’s Jillian.

“Having fun?” she asks.

I shrug. “You?”

“It’s okay. Was considering leaving soon actually.”


“Maybe grab a burger.”

“Oh,” I say. “Yeah, we could do that . . . um . . . I was just gonna . . .”

She nods to the bottle of wine in my hand. “Where you going with that?”

“Oh, uh, nowhere, um.”


“Well, not nowhere. That would be silly. No, I was gonna go to the porch. The, uh, back porch.”

“You shouldn’t drink alone, Jack,” she says, smiling.

“I wasn’t planning to,” I say, clearing my throat. “I’ve, uh, made a friend, I guess.”

Her face flashes something I can’t compute, but it’s gone before I can consider it. “Oh, I see,” she says, her smile now somehow different. “Jack’s made a new friend.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“No, I’m happy for you, J,” she says.

“Thanks, J,” I reply. A thing we do. “We can totally get a burger, though, like I’m down for whatever . . . just let me, um . . .”

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