The door to the gym clicks closed behind her, and it’s quiet.
She finds herself in a long hallway lined with lockers, giving her a bit of déjà vu—did she have Spanish in a room around here? Yes. The last door on the right. Charlie was in that class.
Now he’s nowhere to be seen, and neither is Emery.
She tiptoes down the hall—for some reason, she feels sneaky, looking for them where she isn’t invited. But what they fought over, their entire relationship, was her. So it’s her responsibility to keep them from destroying each other. Never mind the fact that they’re grown men who should know better than to get into another fistfight over something that happened a decade ago.
“Where are you?” She slips down the hall toward an intersection. Either they went down a different hall, or they slipped into a classroom. She starts peeking in the windowed doors, checking for movement.
It’s funny, though—Emery’s fighting spirit came out of nowhere. He behaved like Charlie had done something wrong, dancing with Diya, but could he reasonably think he had any right to complain about it after ten years? She remembers him being upfront and confrontational, but fair, too. That, it was like…not a day had passed.
“I’m freaking out,” she sighs. The empty hallway echoes in agreement.
Wait—that wasn’t an echo?
A voice. A man’s voice—muffled, but she’s sure of it—coming from the next classroom down. Diya scurries toward the door, which stands a few inches ajar, and ducks under the window.
She can’t see them, but she sure can hear.
“You promised,” says Emery’s voice. He sounds more upset than angry now.
Charlie’s voice answers, “And I didn’t break that promise!”
“You went up to her,” Emery snaps. Oh, they are talking about her?
“I didn’t say anything important. Did you want me to just ignore her until you got there?”
“We said we’d approach her together.”
Diya leans closer to the door, like hearing them better will somehow make this conversation less confusing.
Emery asks, “Are you actually going to act like you didn’t do anything wrong here?”
There’s a long pause before Emery speaks again. “I should have gotten off work early so we could take one car.” Another pause. “Like you asked me to.” Another pause. “I am sorry.”
“That was amazing,” Charlie says, laughing under his breath.
“Oh, shut up. Your fucking turn.”
“I’m…sorry I talked to Ramps without you. I know it’s important to you. I got impatient.”
Literally what the fuck is happening right now.
“Thanks,” says Emery, gruffly.
Long pause. Long pause. There’s a noise, metal scraping the floor, but still no voices. It doesn’t sound like a fistfight, but—what is it? What is any of this? What is so important that Emery wanted to tell her with—
She leans close enough to the door that she leans on it, and it swings open, sending her face-first into the classroom.
Where Charlie is sitting on a desk, his tongue down Emery’s throat.
They’re so absorbed in making out, with each other, using their tongues—that they don’t even notice her until she starts shrieking.
“Ah, ah, AH, AH, ah. I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry, ah, ah, AH—” Etcetera.
They break apart, and Emery’s face is bright red; she might as well have caught him with his pants down. Apparently immune to embarrassment, Charlie rushes down from the desk to help her up from the floor. Because she somehow ended up on the floor.
“Ramps! Ramps, it’s okay, calm down—”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, ah ah ah—”
“She has to stop making that noise, I’m going to have a panic attack,” Emery wheezes.
Charlie drags her off the floor with all his strength. The vodka shots aren’t helping her state of mind—she shakes from head to toe. “Okay, I can’t deal with two of you like this.” He grabs her face. “Ramps, kiddo, it’s okay. You’re fine! Take a deep breath.”
“I am so bad with crying people. Charles!”
“She’s not crying—oh, wait, she is crying a little.”
“Fuck!” Emery braces himself against a desk. “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t gone up to her. I told you we had to do it right—”
“Fine, Em, you were right! You’re always—”
Diya sobs through her teeth. Charlie awkwardly pats her head.
Emery takes a few deep breaths of his own, then steps toward her. “Diya. I’m sorry you had to find out like this.”
He talks nice and slow, and she finds the steadiness to draw a couple of breaths. Her chest stays tight. “You two…”
Charlie winces. “We’re dating.”
Emery tosses Charlie a glare. “Two and a half years. And what he meant to say is that we’re engaged.”
“Where’s my purse?” She squeezes Charlie’s hand so tight, he whimpers. “I need a Valium. Stat.”
As a child, when Diya got upset or scared or worried, her nanny would make her French toast, slathered in strawberry jam.
Right now, in this moment, fairly sobered up and sitting opposite Emery in a twenty-four-hour diner, she still feels a special rush of comfort when the waitress sets down her plate. If they’d let her take the Valium, she’d assume it was that, but instead she got a short lecture from Emery on the dangers of mixing alcohol and sedatives.
“Feeling any better?”
She nods, though the same might not be true for him. He ordered mint tea, nothing else, and has been sitting stock still for fifteen minutes without once meeting her eye. “Thanks for taking me here.”
“Sure. Now if Charlie would just get his ass over here.” Emery twists around to check the door, for about the tenth time since they arrived. Diya drops her eyes to her food. She gets it. He’s not comfortable, and neither is she.
“I really wanted,” Emery continues, turning back to her, “to tell you in the right way, after how things ended between you and me in high school. I know you hate big surprises. Unless you love them now, but that would be a huge change.”
She gives a tiny shake of her head. “Nope. Still not my thing.”
“Right.” He keeps looking anywhere but at her.
She shouldn’t have framed the reunion like she did, as some false opportunity for a prophetic happy ending. This hurts. This day, this year, this phase of her life. She stuffs her mouth with French toast.
Things she could say pop into her brain unbidden, and she stomps on every one. Some are more ill-advised than others, like, hey, remember that time you took my virginity? I’m so, so sorry.
Maybe that wouldn’t be terrible, compared to the silence. The silence hurts, too. Where there used to be love, now there’s quiet.
“Emery,” she says, just to say something. It scares her—the thought of talking about it, and what she could learn—but the thought of not talking is scarier. Not talking leaves her with an abundance of possibilities and a deficit of answers.
He still doesn’t look up. He’s got his phone out. “Mmhm?”
She leans forward, and a little more forward, and a little more forward, trying to dip into his line of vision. Instead, she dips her boob into strawberry jam.
“Shit!” Diya flails for a napkin, but she’s got Emery’s attention now. “This is the worst night. Everything is just…wrong!” Emery frowns. “No, not in a—I don’t mean—not in a homophobic way, I don’t mean what you’re doing.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Okay…”
“It’s more like…” She lets her head fall back. She’s not getting strawberry out of silk. “Do you ever build something up in your head, even though it’s a bad idea? Because you’ve built it up so much, there’s no way you won’t be disappointed.”
Emery’s brow furrows. He’s genuinely thinking about it. “…No.” Kill me, says a tiny voice in the back of her mind. “But I can see how that would be problematic for someone.”
Well. That’s close to sympathy. She forgot how bad Emery is at all this stuff. Diya takes a stab at her toast.
“Tonight, I was…clinging to this memory of one time in my life, and how I wish I could go back. And instead, I had, like—the whole experience ripped out from under me? None of it was what I thought. You guys didn’t like me, you liked each other.”
“That’s not true.”
The surety in Emery’s voice surprises her. “It isn’t?”
“I’m bi. Our relationship, that was real.” He shakes his head. “Charlie—you’re right. Charlie is gay. He liked me. But I loved you.” Emery’s exhale twists the steam coming off his mug. “And now I love him.”
Oh my god, she realizes. I’m gonna cry again. I am.
“Em, can I give you a hug?”
“What?” he says, but she’s already scooting out from her side of the booth and into his, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Thank you so much for saying that, you don’t even know—it means so much—”
“Oh, wow, should I be worried?”
Walking up to their table.
Diya flings herself out of the booth and away from Emery. “Charlie, I was only—it was a thank you—”
“Jeez, relax,” Charlie snorts. “I was kidding. I’m not that insecure.” He marches right past Diya and leans over to peck Emery’s cheek, then plops down in front of Diya’s French toast. “In fact, I’m super secure. Are you going to finish this?”
Diya lowers herself into the booth beside Emery, who makes a big show of rolling his eyes in Charlie’s direction. “Um, no. You can have it.”
“Awesome!” Charlie grabs her fork, not seeming to care that it’s used. “But seriously. You’re both so high maintenance, I don’t know how you didn’t panic each other off a cliff.”
“You’re high maintenance, too,” says Emery. It looks like he wants to glower but can’t stop his mouth from smiling.
“Yeah, but I’m fun high maintenance.” Charlie leans toward Diya, lowering his voice. “It’s ’cause I like to go dancing. He gets tired because he’s elderly.”
“I’m four months older than you,” Emery gasps, making to hit Charlie with a straw. Diya finds herself giggling.
Charlie waves him off, and flags down a server. “Yes, hi. This is way more important—I’m going to need a boatload of syrup.”