ibooksonline

 

Chapter 1


I was in the fifth grade the first time I thought about turning thirty. My best friend Darcy and I came across a perpetual calendar in the back of the phone book, where you could look up any date in the future, and by using this little grid determine what the day of the week would be. So we located our birthdays in the following year, mine in May and hers in September. I got Wednesday, a school night. She got a Friday. A small victory, but typical. Darcy was always the lucky one. Her skin tanned more quickly, her hair feathered more easily, and she didn't need braces. Her moonwalk was superior, as were her cartwheels and her front handsprings (I couldn't do a handspring at all). She had a better sticker collection. More Michael Jackson pins. Forenza sweaters in turquoise, red, and peach (my mother allowed me none—said they were too trendy and expensive). And a pair of fifty-dollar Guess jeans with zippers at the ankles (ditto). Darcy had double-pierced ears and a sibling—even if it was just a brother, it was better than being an only child as I was.

But at least I was a few months older and she would never quite catch up. That's when I decided to check out my thirtieth birthday—in a year so far away that it sounded like science fiction. It fell on a Sunday, which meant that my dashing husband and I would secure a responsible babysitter for our two (possibly three) children on that Saturday evening, dine at a fancy French restaurant with cloth napkins, and stay out past midnight, so technically we would be celebrating on my actual birthday. I would have just won a big case—somehow proven that an innocent man didn't do it. And my husband would toast me: "To Rachel, my beautiful wife, the mother of my children, and the finest lawyer in Indy." I shared my fantasy with Darcy as we discovered that her thirtieth birthday fell on a Monday. Bummer for her. I watched her purse her lips as she processed this information.

"You know, Rachel, who cares what day of the week we turn thirty?" she said, shrugging a smooth, olive shoulder. "We'll be old by then. Birthdays don't matter when you get that old."

I thought of my parents, who were in their thirties, and their lackluster approach to their own birthdays. My dad had just given my mom a toaster for her birthday because ours broke the week before. The new one toasted four slices at a time instead of just two. It wasn't much of a gift. But my mom had seemed pleased enough with her new appliance; nowhere did I detect the disappointment that I felt when my Christmas stash didn't quite meet expectations. So Darcy was probably right. Fun stuff like birthdays wouldn't matter as much by the time we reached thirty.

The next time I really thought about being thirty was our senior year in high school, when Darcy and I started watching the show Thirtysomething together. It wasn't one of our favorites—we preferred cheerful sitcoms like Who's the Boss? and Growing Pains—but we watched it anyway. My big problem with Thirtysomething was the whiny characters and their depressing issues that they seemed to bring upon themselves. I remember thinking that they should grow up, suck it up. Stop pondering the meaning of life and start making grocery lists. That was back when I thought my teenage years were dragging and my twenties would surely last forever.

Then I reached my twenties. And the early twenties did seem to last forever. When I heard acquaintances a few years older lament the end of their youth, I felt smug, not yet in the danger zone myself. I had plenty of time. Until about age twenty-seven, when the days of being carded were long gone and I began to marvel at the sudden acceleration of years (reminding myself of my mother's annual monologue as she pulled out our Christmas decorations) and the accompanying lines and stray gray hairs. At twenty-nine the real dread set in, and I realized that in a lot of ways I might as well be thirty. But not quite. Because I could still say that I was in my twenties. I still had something in common with college seniors.

I realize thirty is just a number, that you're only as old as you feel and all of that. I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, thirty is still young. But it's not that young. It is past the most ripe, prime child-bearing years, for example. It is too old to, say, start training for an Olympic medal. Even in the best die-of-old-age scenario, you are still about one-third of the way to the finish line. So I can't help feeling uneasy as I perch on an overstuffed maroon couch in a dark lounge on the Upper West Side at my surprise birthday party, organized by Darcy, who is still my best friend.

Tomorrow is the Sunday that I first contemplated as a fifth-grader playing with our phone book. After tonight my twenties will be over, a chapter closed forever. The feeling I have reminds me of New Year's Eve, when the countdown is coming and I'm not quite sure whether to grab my camera or just live in the moment. Usually I grab the camera and later regret it when the picture doesn't turn out. Then I feel enormously let down and think to myself that the night would have been more fun if it didn't mean quite so much, if I weren't forced to analyze where I've been and where I'm going.

Like New Year's Eve, tonight is an ending and a beginning. I don't like endings and beginnings. I would always prefer to churn about in the middle. The worst thing about this particular end (of my youth) and beginning (of middle age) is that for the first time in my life, I realize that I don't know where I'm going. My wants are simple: a job that I like and a guy whom I love. And on the eve of my thirtieth, I must face that I am for 2.

First, I am an attorney at a large New York firm. By definition this means that I am miserable. Being a lawyer just isn't what it's cracked up to be—it's nothing like L.A. Law, the show that caused applications to law schools to skyrocket in the early nineties. I work excruciating hours for a mean-spirited, anal-retentive partner, doing mostly tedious tasks, and that sort of hatred for what you do for a living begins to chip away at you. So I have memorized the mantra of the law-firm associate: I hate my job and will quit soon. Just as soon as I pay off my loans. Just as soon as I make next year's bonus. Just as soon as I think of something else to do that will pay the rent. Or find someone who will pay it for me.

Which brings me to my second point: I am alone in a city of millions.

I have plenty of friends, as proven by the solid turnout tonight. Friends to Rollerblade with. Friends to summer with in the Hamptons. Friends to meet on a Thursday night after work for a drink or two or three. And I have Darcy, my best friend from home, who is all of the above. But everybody knows that friends are not enough, although I often claim they are just to save face around my married and engaged girlfriends. I did not plan on being alone in my thirties, even my early thirties. I wanted a husband by now; I wanted to be a bride in my twenties. But I have learned that you can't just create your own timetable and will it to come true. So here I am on the brink of a new decade, realizing that being alone makes my thirties daunting, and being thirty makes me feel more alone.

The situation seems all the more dismal because my oldest and best friend has a glamorous PR job and is freshly engaged. Darcy is still the lucky one. I watch her now, telling a story to a group of us, including her fiancé. Dex and Darcy are an exquisite couple, lean and tall with matching dark hair and green eyes. They are among New York's beautiful people. The well-groomed couple registering for fine china and crystal on the sixth floor at Bloomingdale's. You hate their smugness but can't resist staring at them when you're on the same floor searching for a not-too-expensive gift for the umpteenth wedding you've been invited to without a date. You strain to glimpse her ring, and are instantly sorry you did. She catches you staring and gives you a disdainful once-over. You wish you hadn't worn your tennis shoes to Bloomingdale's. She is probably thinking that the footwear may be part of your problem. You buy your Waterford vase and get the hell out of there.

"So the lesson here is: if you ask for a Brazilian bikini wax, make sure you specify. Tell them to leave a landing strip or else you can wind up hairless, like a ten-year-old!" Darcy finishes her bawdy tale, and everybody laughs. Except Dex, who shakes his head, as if to say, what a piece of work my fiancée is.

"Okay. I'll be right back," Darcy suddenly says. "Tequila shots for one and all!"

As she moves away from the group toward the bar, I think back to all of the birthdays we have celebrated together, all of the benchmarks we reached together, benchmarks that I always reached first. I got my driver's license before she did, could drink legally before she could. Being older, if only by a few months, used to be a good thing. But now our fortunes have reversed. Darcy has an extra summer in her twenties—a perk of being born in the fall. Not that it matters as much for her: when you're engaged or married, turning thirty just isn't the same thing.

Darcy is now leaning over the bar, flirting with the twenty-something, aspiring actor/bartender whom she has already told me she would "totally do" if she were single. As if Darcy would ever be single. She said once in high school, "I don't break up, I trade up." She kept her word on that, and she always did the dumping. Throughout our teenage years, college, and every day of our twenties, she has been attached to someone. Often she has more than one guy hanging around, hoping.

It occurs to me that I could hook up with the bartender. I am totally unencumbered—haven't even been on a date in nearly two months. But it doesn't seem like something one should do at age thirty. One-night stands are for girls in their twenties. Not that I would know. I have followed an orderly, Goody Two-shoes path with no deviations. I got straight As in high school, went to college, graduated magna cum laude, took the LSAT, went straight to law school and to a big law firm after that. No backpacking in Europe, no crazy stories, no unhealthy, lustful relationships. No secrets. No intrigue. And now it seems too late for any of that. Because that stuff would just further delay my goal of finding a husband, settling down, having children and a happy home with grass and a garage and a toaster that toasts four slices at once.

So I feel unsettled about my future and somewhat regretful about my past. I tell myself that there will be time to ponder tomorrow. Right now I will have fun. It is the sort of thing that a disciplined person can simply decide. And I am exceedingly disciplined—the kind of child who did her homework on Friday afternoons right after school, the kind of woman (as of tomorrow, I am no longer any part girl) who flosses every night and makes her bed every morning.

Darcy returns with the shots but Dex refuses his, so Darcy insists that I do two. Before I know it, the night starts to take on that blurry quality, when you cross over from being buzzed to drunk, losing track of time and the precise order of things. Apparently Darcy has reached that point even sooner because she is now dancing on the bar. Spinning and gyrating in a little red halter dress and three-inch heels.

"Stealing the show at your party," Hillary, my closest friend from work, says to me under her breath. "She's shameless."

I laugh. "Yeah. Par for the course."

Darcy lets out a yelp, claps her hands over her head, and beckons me with a come-hither expression that would appeal to any man who has ever fancied girl-on-girl action. "Rachel! Rachel! C'mere!"

Of course she knows that I will not join her. I have never danced on a bar. I wouldn't know what to do up there besides fall. I shake my head and smile, a polite refusal. We all wait for her next move, which is to swivel her hips in perfect time to the music, bend over slowly, and then whip her body upright again, her long hair spilling every which way. The limber maneuver reminds me of her perfect imitation of Tawny Kitaen in the Whitesnake video "Here I Go Again," how she used to roll around doing splits on the hood of her father's BMW, to the delight of the pubescent neighborhood boys. I glance at Dex, who in these moments can never quite decide whether to be amused or annoyed. To say that the man has patience is an understatement. Dex and I have this in common.

"Happy birthday, Rachel!" Darcy yells. "Let's all raise a glass to Rachel!"

Which everyone does. Without taking their eyes off her.

A minute later, Dex whisks her down from the bar, slings her over his shoulder, and deposits her on the floor next to me in one fluid motion. Clearly he has done this before. "All right," he announces. "I'm taking our little party-planner home."

Darcy plucks her drink off the bar and stamps her foot. "You're not the boss of me, Dex! Is he, Rachel?" As she asserts her independence, she stumbles and sloshes her martini all over Dex's shoe.

Dex grimaces. "You're wasted, Darce. This isn't fun for anyone but you."

"Okay. Okay. I'll go… I'm feeling kind of sick anyway," she says, looking queasy.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine. Don't you worry," she says, now playing the role of brave little sick girl.

I thank her for my party, tell her that it was a total surprise—which is a lie, because I knew Darcy would capitalize on my thirtieth to buy a new outfit, throw a big bash, and invite as many of her friends as my own. Still, it was nice of her to have the party, and I am glad that she did. She is the kind of friend who always makes things feel special. She hugs me hard and says she'd do anything for me, and what would she do without me, her maid of honor, the sister she never had. She is gushing, as she always does when she drinks too much.

Dex cuts her off. "Happy birthday, Rachel. We'll talk to you tomorrow." He gives me a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks, Dex," I say. "Good night."

I watch him usher her outside, holding her elbow after she nearly trips on the curb. Oh, to have such a caretaker. To be able to drink with reckless abandon and know that there will be someone to get you home safely.

Sometime later Dex reappears in the bar. "Darcy lost her purse. She thinks she left it here. It's small, silver," he says. "Have you seen it?"

"She lost her new Chanel bag?" I shake my head and laugh because it is just like Darcy to lose things. Usually I keep track of them for her, but I went off duty on my birthday. Still, I help Dex search for the purse, finally spotting it under a bar stool.

As he turns to leave, Dex's friend Marcus, one of his groomsmen, convinces him to stay. "C'mon, man. Hang out for a minute."

So Dex calls Darcy at home and she slurs her consent, tells him to have fun without her. Although she is probably thinking that such a thing is not possible.

Gradually my friends peel away, saying their final happy birthdays. Dex and I outlast everyone, even Marcus. We sit at the bar making conversation with the actor/bartender who has an "Amy" tattoo and zero interest in an aging lawyer. It is after two when we decide that it's time to go. The night feels more like midsummer than spring, and the warm air infuses me with sudden hope: This will be the summer I meet my guy.

Dex hails me a cab, but as it pulls over he says, "How about one more bar? One more drink?"

"Fine," I say. "Why not?"

We both get in and he tells the cabbie to just drive, that he has to think about where next. We end up in Alphabet City at a bar on Seventh and Avenue B, aptly named 7B.

It is not an upbeat scene—7B is dingy and smoke-filled. I like it anyway—it's not sleek and it's not a dive striving to be cool because it's not sleek.

Dex points to a booth. "Have a seat. I'll be right with you." Then he turns around. "What can I get you?"

I tell him whatever he's having, and sit and wait for him in the booth. I watch him say something to a girl at the bar wearing army-green cargo pants and a tank top that says "Fallen Angel." She smiles and shakes her head. "Omaha" is playing in the background. It is one of those songs that seems melancholy and cheerful at the same time.

A moment later Dex slides in across from me, pushing a beer my way. "Newcastle," he says. Then he smiles, crinkly lines appearing around his eyes. "You like?"

I nod and smile.

From the corner of my eye, I see Fallen Angel turn on her bar stool and survey Dex, absorbing his chiseled features, wavy hair, full lips. Darcy complained once that Dex garners more stares and double takes than she does. Yet, unlike his female counterpart, Dex seems not to notice the attention. Fallen Angel now casts her eyes my way, likely wondering what Dex is doing with someone so average. I hope that she thinks we're a couple. Tonight nobody has to know that I am only a member of the wedding party.

Dex and I talk about our jobs and our Hamptons share that begins in another week and a lot of things. But Darcy does not come up and neither does their September wedding.

After we finish our beers we move over to the jukebox, fill it with dollar bills, searching for good songs. I push the code for "Thunder Road" twice because it is my favorite song. I tell him this.

"Yeah. Springsteen's at the top of my list, too. Ever seen him in concert?"

"Yeah," I say. "Twice. Born in the U.S.A. and Tunnel of Love. "

I almost tell him that I went with Darcy in high school, dragged her along even though she much preferred groups like Poison and Bon Jovi. But I don't bring this up. Because then he will remember to go home to her and I don't want to be alone in my dwindling moments of twenty-somethingness. Obviously I'd rather be with a boyfriend, but Dex is better than nothing.

It is last call at 7B. We get a couple more beers and return to our booth. Sometime later we are in a cab again, going north on First Avenue. "Two stops," Dex tells our cabbie, because we live on opposite sides of Central Park. Dex is holding Darcy's Chanel purse, which looks small and out of place in his large hands. I glance at the silver dial of his Rolex, a gift from Darcy. It is just shy of four o'clock.

We sit silently for a stretch of ten or fifteen blocks, both of us looking out of our respective side windows, until the cab hits a pothole and I find myself lurched into the middle of the backseat, my leg grazing his. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Dex is kissing me. Or maybe I kiss him. Somehow we are kissing. My mind goes blank as I listen to the soft sound of our lips meeting again and again. At some point, Dex taps on the Plexiglas partition and tells the driver, between kisses, that it will just be one stop after all.

We arrive on the corner of Seventy-third and Third, near my apartment. Dex hands the driver a twenty and does not wait for change. We spill out of the taxi, kissing more on the sidewalk and then in front of Jose, my doorman. We kiss the whole way up in the elevator. I am pressed against the elevator wall, my hands on the back of his head. I am surprised by how soft his hair is.

I fumble with my key, turning it the wrong way in the lock as Dex keeps his arms around my waist, his lips on my neck and the side of my face. Finally the door is open, and we are kissing in the middle of my studio, standing upright, leaning on nothing but each other. We stumble over to my made bed, complete with tight hospital corners.

"Are you drunk?" His voice is a whisper in the dark.

"No," I say. Because you always say no when you're drunk. And even though I am, I have a lucid instant where I consider clearly what was missing in my twenties and what I wish to find in my thirties. It strikes me that, in a sense, I can have both on this momentous birthday night. Dex can be my secret, my last chance for a dark twenty-something chapter, and he can also be a prelude of sorts—a promise of someone like him to come. Darcy is in my mind, but she is being pushed to the back, overwhelmed by a force stronger than our friendship and my own conscience. Dex moves over me. My eyes are closed, then open, then closed again.

And then, somehow, I am having sex with my best friend's fiancé.


Chapter 2


I wake up to my ringing phone, and for a second I am disoriented in my own apartment. Then I hear Darcy's high-pitched voice on my machine, urging me to pick up, pick up, please pick up. My crime snaps into focus. I sit up too quickly, and my apartment spins. Dexter's back is to me, sculpted and sparsely freckled. I jab hard at it with one finger.

He rolls over and looks at me. "Oh, Christ! What time is it?"

My clock radio tells us it is seven-fifteen. I have been thirty for two hours. Correction—one hour; I was born in the central time zone.

Dex gets out of bed quickly, gathering his clothes, which are strewn along either side of my bed. The answering machine beeps twice, cutting Darcy off. She calls back, rambling about how Dex never came home. Again, my machine silences her in midsentence. She calls back a third time, wailing, "Wake up and call me! I need you!"

I start to get out of bed, then realize that I am naked. I sit back down and cover myself with a pillow.

"Omigod. What do we do?" My voice is hoarse and shaking. "Should I answer? Tell her you crashed here?"

"Hell, no! Don't pick up—lemme think for a sec." He sits down, wearing only boxers, and rubs his jaw, now covered by a shadow of whiskers.

Sick, sobering dread washes over me. I start to cry. Which never helps anything.

"Look, Rachel, don't cry," Dex says. "Everything's going to be okay."

He puts on his jeans and then his shirt, efficiently zipping and tucking and buttoning as though it is an ordinary morning. Then he checks the messages on his cell phone. "Shhhit. Twelve missed calls," he says matter-of-factly. Only his eyes show distress.

When he is dressed, he sits back on the edge of the bed and rests his forehead in his hands. I can hear him breathing hard through his nose. Air in and out. In and out. Then he looks over at me, composed. "Okay. Here's what's going to happen. Rachel, look at me."

I obey his instructions, still clutching my pillow.

"This will be fine. Just listen," he says, as though talking to a client in a conference room.

"I'm listening," I say.

"I'm going to tell her I stayed out until five or so and then got breakfast with Marcus. We got it covered."

"What do I tell her?" I ask. Lying has never been my strong suit.

"Just tell her you left the party and went home… Say you can't remember for sure whether I was still there when you left, but you think I was still there with Marcus. And be sure to say you 'think'—don't be too definite. And that's all you know, okay?" He points at my phone. "Call her back now… I'll call Marcus as soon as I leave here. Got it?"

I nod, my eyes filling with tears again as he stands.

"And calm down," he says, not meanly, but firmly. Then he is at the door, one hand on the knob, the other running through his dark hair that is just long enough to be really sexy.

"What if she already talked to Marcus?" I ask, as Dex is halfway out the door. Then, more to myself, "We are so screwed."

He turns around, looks at me through the doorway. For a second, I think he is angry, that he is going to yell at me to pull myself together. That this isn't life-or-death. But his tone is gentle. "Rach, we are not screwed. I got it covered. Just say what I told you to say… And Rachel?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm really sorry."

"Yeah," I say. "Me too."

Are we talking to each other—or to Darcy?

As soon as Dex leaves, I reach for the phone, still feeling dizzy. It takes a few minutes, but I finally work up the nerve to call Darcy.

She is hysterical. "The bastard didn't come home last night! He better be laid up in a hospital bed!… Do you think he cheated on me?"

I start to say no, that he was probably just out with Marcus, but think better of it. Wouldn't that look too obvious? Would I say that if I knew nothing? I can't think. My head and heart are pounding, and the room is still spinning intermittently. "I'm sure he wasn't cheating on you."

She blows her nose. "Why are you sure?"

"Because he wouldn't do that to you, Darce." I can't believe my words, how easily they come.

"Well, then, where the fuck is he? The bars close by four or five. It's seven-freaking-thirty!"

"I don't know… But I'm sure there's a logical explanation."

Which, in fact, there is.

She asks me what time I left and whether he was still there and who he was with—the exact questions that Dex prepped me on. I answer carefully, as instructed. I suggest that she call Marcus.

"I already called him," she says. "And that dumbass didn't answer his goddamn cell."

Yes. We have a chance.

I hear the click of call-waiting and Darcy is gone, then back, telling me that it is Dex and she'll call me when she can.

I stand and walk unsteadily to my bathroom. I look in the mirror. My skin is blotchy and red. My eyes are ringed with mascara and charcoal liner, and they burn from sleeping in my contact lenses. I remove them quickly just before dry-heaving over my toilet. I haven't thrown up from drinking since college, and that only happened once. Because I learn from my mistakes. Most college kids say, "I will never do this again," and then do it the following weekend. But I stuck to it. That is how I am. I will learn from this one too. Just let me get away with it.

I shower, wash the smoke from my hair and skin with my phone resting on the sink, waiting to hear from Darcy that everything is okay. But hours pass and she does not call. Around noon, the birthday well-wishers start dialing in. My parents do their annual serenade and the "guess where I was thirty years ago today?" routine. I manage to put on a good front and play along, but it isn't easy.

By three o'clock, I have not heard from Darcy, and I am still queasy. I chug a big glass of water, take two Advil, and contemplate ordering fried eggs and bacon, which Darcy swears by when she's hungover. But I know that nothing will kill the pain of waiting, wondering what is going on, if Dex is busted, if we both are.

Did anybody see us together at 7B? In the cab? On the street? Anyone besides Jose, whose job it is to know nothing? What was happening on the Upper West Side in their apartment? Had he gone mad and confessed? Was she packing her bags? Were they making love all day in an attempt to repair his conscience? Were they still fighting, going around and around in circles of accusation and denial?

Fear must supersede all other emotions—stifling shame or regret—because crazily enough, I do not seem to feel guilty about betraying my best friend. Not even when I find our used condom on the floor. The only real guilt I can muster is guilt over not feeling guilty. But I will repent later, just as soon as I know that I am safe. Oh, please, God. I have never done anything like this before. Please let me have this one pass. I will sacrifice all future happiness. Any chance of meeting a husband.

I think of all those deals I tried to strike with Him when I was in school, growing up. Please don't let me get any lower than a B on this math test. Please, I will do anything—work in a soup kitchen every Saturday instead of just once a month. Those were the days. To think that a C once symbolized all things gone wrong in my tidy world. How could I have ever, even fleetingly, wished for a dark side? How could I have made such a huge, potentially life-altering, utterly unforgivable mistake?

Finally I can't take it any longer. I call Darcy's cell phone, but it goes straight to voice mail. I call their home number, hoping she will pick up. Instead Dex answers. I cringe.

"Hi, Dex. This is Rachel," I say, trying to sound normal.

You know, the maid of honor in your upcoming wedding—the woman you had sex with last night?

"Hi, Rachel," he says casually. "So did you have fun last night?"

For a second, I think that he is talking about us and am horrified by his nonchalance. But then I hear Darcy clamoring for the phone in the background and realize that he is only talking about the party.

"Oh yeah, it was a great time—a great party." I bite my lip.

Darcy has already snatched the phone from him. Her tone is chipper, fully repaired. "Hey. I'm sorry I forgot to call you back. You know, it was high drama over here for a while."

"But you're okay now? Everything's all right with you—and Dex?" I have trouble saying his name. As if it will somehow give me away.

"Um, yeah, hold on one sec."

I hear her close a door; she always moves into their bedroom when she talks on the phone. I picture their four-poster bed, which I helped Darcy select from Charles P. Rogers. Soon to be their marital bed.

"Oh yeah, I'm fine now. He was just with Marcus. They stayed out late and then ended up going to the diner for breakfast. But of course, you know, I'm still working the pissed-off angle. I told him he's totally pathetic, that he's a thirty-four-year-old engaged man and he stays out all night. Pathetic, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess so. But harmless enough." I swallow hard and think, yes, that would be harmless enough. "Well, I'm glad you guys made up."

"Yeah. I'm over it, I guess. But still… he should have called. That shit does not fly with me, you know?"

"I hear you," I say, and then bravely add, "I told you he wasn't cheating on you."

"I know… but I still pictured him with some stripper bimbo from Scores or something. My overactive imagination."

Is that what last night was? I know I'm not a bimbo, but was it some conscious choice of his to get laid before the wedding? Surely not. Surely he wouldn't choose Darcy's maid of honor.

"So anyway, what did you think of the party? I'm such a bad friend—I get wasted and leave early. And, oh shit! Today's your actual birthday. Happy birthday! God, I'm the worst, Rach!"

Yeah, you're the bad friend.

"Oh, it was great. The party was so much fun. Thank you for planning it—it was a total surprise… really awesome…"

I hear their bedroom door open and Dex say something about being late.

"Yeah, I actually gotta run, Rachel. We're going to the movies. You wanna come?"

"Um, no, thanks."

"Okay. But we're still on for dinner tonight, right? Rain at eight?"

I totally forgot that I had plans to meet Dex, Darcy, and Hillary for a small birthday dinner. There is no way I can face Dex or Darcy tonight—and certainly not together. I tell her that I'm not sure I'm up to it, that I am really hungover. Even though I stopped drinking at two, I add, before I remember that liars offer too much extraneous detail.

Darcy doesn't notice. "Maybe you'll feel better later… I'll call you after the movie."

I hang up the phone, thinking that it was way too easy. But instead of feeling relieved, I am left with a vague dissatisfaction, wistfulness, wishing that I were going to the movies. Not with Dex, of course. Just someone. How quickly I turn my back on the deal with God. I want a husband again. Or at least a boyfriend.

I sit on the couch with my hands folded in my lap, contemplating what I did to Darcy, waiting for the guilt to come. It doesn't. Was it because I had alcohol as an excuse? I was drunk, not in my right mind. I think of my first-year Criminal Law class. Intoxication, like insanity, infancy, duress, and entrapment, is a legal excuse, a defense where the defendant is not blameworthy for having engaged in conduct that would otherwise be a crime. Shit. That was only involuntary intoxication. Well, Darcy made me do those shots. But peer pressure does not constitute involuntary intoxication. Still, it is a mitigating circumstance that the jury might consider.

Sure, blame the victim. What is wrong with me?

Maybe I am just a bad person. Maybe the only reason I have been good up to this point has less to do with my true moral fiber and more to do with the fear of getting caught. I play by the rules because I am risk-averse. I didn't go along with the junior-high shoplifting gags at the White Hen Pantry partly because I knew it was wrong, but mostly because I was sure that I would be the one to get caught. I never cheated on an exam for the same reason. Even now I don't take office supplies from work because I figure that somehow the firm's surveillance cameras will catch me in the act. So if that is what motivates me to be good, do I really deserve credit? Am I really a good person? Or just a cowardly pessimist?

Okay. So maybe I am a bad person. There is no other plausible explanation for my lack of guilt. Do I have it in for Darcy? Was I driven by jealousy last night? Do I resent her perfect life—how easily things come to her? Or maybe, subconsciously, in my drunken state, I was getting even for past wrongs. Darcy hasn't always been a perfect friend. Far from it. I start to make my case to the jury, remembering Ethan back in elementary school. I am on to something… Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, consider the story of Ethan Ainsley…

 

Darcy Rhone and I were best friends growing up, bonded by geography, a force greater than all else when you are in elementary school. We moved to the same cul-de-sac in Naperville, Indiana, in the summer of 1976, just in time to attend the town's bicentennial parade together. We marched side by side, beating matching red, white, and blue drums that Darcy's father bought for us at Kmart. I remember Darcy leaning in to me and saying, "Let's pretend we're sisters." The suggestion gave me goose bumps—a sister! And in no time at all, that is what she became to me. We slept over at each other's houses every Friday and Saturday during the school year and most nights of the week during the summer. We absorbed the nuances of each other's family life, the sort of details you only learn when you live next door to a friend. I knew, for example, that Darcy's mother folded towels in neat thirds as she watched The Young and the Restless, that Darcy's father subscribed to Playboy, that junk food was allowed for breakfast, and the words "shit" and "damn" were no big deal. I'm sure she observed much about my home too, although it is hard to say what makes your own life unique. We shared everything—clothes, toys, yards, even our love of Andy Gibb and unicorns.

In the fifth grade we discovered boys. Which brings me to Ethan, my first real crush. Darcy, along with every other girl in our class, loved Doug Jackson. I understood Doug's appeal. I appreciated his blond hair that reminded us of Bo Duke. And the way his Wranglers fit his butt, his black comb tucked neatly inside the back left pocket. And his dominance in tetherball—how he casually and effortlessly socked the ball out of everyone's reach at a sharp upward angle.

But I loved Ethan. I loved his unruly hair and the way his cheeks turned pink during recess and made him look like he belonged in a Renoir painting. I loved the way he rotated his number-two pencil between his full lips, making symmetrical little bite marks near the eraser whenever he was concentrating really hard. I loved how hyper and happy he was when he played four square with the girls (he was the only boy who would ever join us—the other boys stuck to tetherball and football). And I loved that he was always kind to the most unpopular boy in our class, Johnnie Redmond, who had a terrible stutter and an unfortunate bowl cut.

Darcy was puzzled, if not irritated, by my dissent, as was our good friend Annalise Giles, who moved to our cul-de-sac two years after we did (this delay and the fact that she already had a sister meant she could never quite catch up and reach full best-friend status). Darcy and Annalise liked Ethan, but not like that, and they would insist that Doug was so much cuter and cooler—the two attributes that will get you in trouble when you choose a boy or a man, a sense that I had even at age ten.

We all assumed that Darcy would land the grand Doug prize. Not only because Darcy was bolder than the other girls, strutting right up to Doug in the cafeteria or on the playground, but also because she was the prettiest girl in our class. With high cheekbones, huge, well-spaced eyes, and a dainty nose, she has a face that is revered at any age, although fifth-graders can't pinpoint exactly what makes it nice. I don't think I even understood what cheekbones and bone structure were at age ten, but I knew that Darcy was pretty and I envied her looks. So did Annalise, who openly told Darcy so every chance she got, which seemed wholly unnecessary to me. Darcy already knew she was pretty, and in my opinion she didn't need daily reinforcement.

So that year, on Halloween, Annalise, Darcy, and I assembled in Annalise's room to prepare our makeshift gypsy costumes—Darcy had insisted that it would be an excellent excuse to wear lots of makeup. As she examined a pair of rhinestone earrings freshly purchased from Claire's, she looked in the mirror and said, "You know, Rachel, I think you're right."

"Right about what?" I said, feeling a surge of satisfaction, wondering what past debate she was referring to.

She fastened one earring in place and looked at me. I will never forget that tiny smirk on her face—just the faintest hint of a smug smile. "You're right about Ethan. I think I'm going to like him too."

"What do you mean, 'going to like him?"

"I'm tired of Doug Jackson. I like Ethan now. I like his dimples."

"He only has one," I snapped.

"Well, then I like his dim-ple."

I looked at Annalise for support, for words to the effect that you couldn't just decide to like someone new. But of course she said nothing, just kept applying her ruby lipstick, puckering before a handheld mirror.

"I can't believe you, Darcy!"

"What's your problem?" she demanded. "Annalise wasn't mad when I liked Doug. We've shared him with the whole grade for months. Right, Annalise?"

"Longer than that. I started liking him in the summer. Remember? At the pool?" Annalise chimed in, always missing the big picture.

I glared at her, and she lowered her eyes remorsefully.

That was different. That was Doug. He belonged in the public domain. But Ethan was exclusively mine.

I said nothing else that night, but trick-or-treating was ruined. The next day in school, Darcy passed Ethan a note, asking him if he liked me, her, or neither—with little boxes next to each selection and instructions to check one. He must have checked Darcy's name because they were a couple by recess. Which is to say that they announced that they were "going out" but never spent any real time together, unless you count a few phone calls at night, often scripted ahead of time with Annalise giggling at her side. I refused to participate in or discuss her fledgling romance.

In my mind, it didn't matter that Darcy and Ethan never kissed, or that it was only the fifth grade, or that they "broke up" two weeks later when Darcy lost interest and decided that she liked Doug Jackson again. Or that, as my mother told me for comfort, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It only mattered that Darcy stole Ethan from me. Perhaps she did it because she really did change her mind about him; that's what I told myself so I would stop hating her. But more likely Darcy took Ethan just to show me that she could.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in a sense, Darcy Rhone had this coming to her. What goes around comes around. Perhaps this is her comeuppance.

I picture the faces of the jury. They are not swayed. The male jurors look bewildered—as if they miss the point altogether. Doesn't the prettiest girl always get the boy? That is precisely the way the world should work. An older woman in a sensible dress purses her lips. She is disgusted by the mere comparison—a fiancé to a fifth-grade crush! Good heavens! A perfectly groomed, almost beautiful woman, wearing a canary-yellow Chanel suit, has already identified and allied herself with Darcy. There is nothing I can say to change her mind or mitigate my offense.

The only juror who seems moved by the Ethan tale is a slightly overweight girl with a severe bob the color of day-old coffee. She slouches in the corner of the jury box, occasionally shoving her glasses up on her beak of a nose. I have tapped into this girl's empathy, her sense of justice. She is secretly satisfied by what I did. Maybe because she, too, has a friend like Darcy, a friend who always gets everything she wants.

I think back to high school, when Darcy continued to get any boy she wanted. I can see her kissing Blaine Conner by our locker and recall the envy that would well up inside me when I, boyfriendless, was forced to witness their shameless PDA. Blaine transferred to our school from Columbus, Ohio, in the fall of our junior year, and became an instant hit everywhere but in the classroom. Although he wasn't bright, he was the star receiver on our football team, the starting point guard for our basketball team, and, of course, our starting pitcher in the spring. And with his Ken-doll good looks, the girls loved him. Doug Jackson, part two. But alas, he had a girlfriend named Cassandra back in Columbus to whom he claimed to be "110 percent committed" (a jock expression that has always bugged me for its obvious mathematical impossibility). Or so he was before Darcy got in the mix, after we watched Blaine pitch a no-hitter against Central and she decided that she had to have him. The next day she asked him to go see Les Miserables. You'd think a three-sport jock like Blaine wouldn't be into musicals, but he enthusiastically agreed to escort her. After the show, in Darcy's living room, Blaine planted a large hickey on her neck. And the following morning, one Cassandra of Columbus, Ohio, was dumped on her ear.

I remember talking to Annalise about Darcy's charmed life. We often discussed Darcy, which made me wonder how much they gossiped about me. Annalise contended that it wasn't only Darcy's good looks or perfect body; it was also her confidence, her charm. I don't know about the charm, but looking back I agree with Annalise about the confidence. It was as if Darcy had the perspective of a thirty-year-old while in high school. The understanding that none of it really mattered, that you only go around once, that you might as well go for it. She was never intimidated, never insecure. She embodied what everyone says when they look back on high school: "If I only knew back then."

But one thing I have to say about Darcy and dating is this: she never blew us off for a guy. She always put her friends first—which is an amazing thing for a high school girl to do. Sometimes she blew her boyfriend off altogether, but more often she just included us. Four of us in a row at the theater. The flavor of the month, then Darcy, then Annalise and me. And Darcy always directed her whispered comments our way. She was brash and independent, unlike most high school girls who allow their feelings for a boy to swallow them up. At the time, I thought she just didn't love them enough. But maybe Darcy just wanted to keep control, and by being the one who loved the least, that is what she had. Whether she did care less or just pretended to, she kept every one of them on the hook even after she cut them loose. Take Blaine, for example. He is living in Iowa with a wife, three kids, and a couple of chocolate Labs, and he still e-mails Darcy on her birthday every year. Now that is some kind of power.

To this day Darcy talks wistfully of how great high school was. I cringe whenever she says it. Sure, I have some fond memories of those days, and enjoyed moderate popularity—a nice fringe benefit of being Darcy's best friend. I loved going to football games with Annalise, painting our faces orange and blue, wrapping up in blankets in the bleachers, and waving to Darcy as she cheered down on the field. I loved our Saturday-night trips to Colonial Ice Cream, where we always ordered the same thing—one turtle sundae, one Snickers pie, one double-chocolate brownie—and then split them among us. And I loved my first boyfriend, Brandon Beamer, who asked me out during our senior year. Brandon was a rule-follower too, a Catholic version of me. He didn't drink or do drugs, and he felt guilty even discussing sex. Darcy, who lost her virginity our sophomore year to an exchange student from Spain named Carlos, was always instructing me to corrupt Brandon. "Grab his penis like this, and I guarantee, it's a done deal." But I was perfectly happy with our long make-out sessions in Brandon's family station wagon, and I never had to worry about safe sex or drunk driving. So if my memories weren't glamorous, at least I had a few good times.

But I also had plenty of bad times: the awful hair days, the pimples, the class pictures from hell, never having the right clothes, being dateless for dances, baby fat that I could never shed, getting cut from teams, losing the election for class treasurer. And the overwhelming feeling of sadness and angst that would come and go willy-nilly (or, more accurately, once a month), seemingly out of my control. Typical teenager stuff, really. Cliches, because it happens to everyone. Everyone but Darcy, that is, who floated through those tumultuous four years unscathed by rejection, untouched by the adolescent ugly stick. Of course she loved high school—high school loved her.

Many girls with this view of their teenage years seem to really take it on the chin later in life. They show up at their ten-year reunion twenty pounds heavier, divorced, and reminiscing about their long-gone glory days. But the tide of glory days hasn't ebbed for Darcy. No crashing and no burning. In fact, life just keeps getting sweeter for her. As my mother once said, uncharacteristically, Darcy has the world by the balls. It was—and still is—the perfect description. Darcy always gets what she wants. And that includes Dex, the dream fiancé.

I leave Darcy a message on her cell, which will be turned off during the movie. I say that I am too tired to make it to dinner. Just getting out of going makes me less queasy. In fact, I am suddenly very hungry. I find my menus and call to order a hamburger with cheddar and fries. Guess I won't be losing five pounds before Memorial Day. As I wait for my delivery, I picture Darcy and me playing with the phone book all those years ago, wondering about the future and what age thirty would bring.

And here I am, without the dashing husband, the responsible babysitter, the two kids. Instead my benchmark birthday is forever tainted by scandal… Oh, well. No point beating myself up over it. I hit redial on my phone and add a large chocolate milk shake to my order. I see my girl in the corner of the jury box wink at me. She thinks the milk shake is an excellent idea. After all, doesn't everyone deserve a few weak moments on her birthday?


Chapter 3


When I wake up the next morning, the cavalier girl sucking down a milk shake is gone, caved to guilt and thirty years of rule-following. I can no longer rationalize what I did. I committed an unspeakable act against a friend, violated a central tenet of sisterhood. There is no justification.

So on to Plan B: I will pretend that nothing happened. My transgression was so great that I have no choice but simply to will the whole thing to go away. And by proceeding with business as usual, embracing my Monday-morning routine, this is what I seek to accomplish.

I shower, dry my hair, put on my most comfortable black suit and low heels, take the subway to Grand Central, get my coffee at Starbucks, pick up The New York Times at my newsstand, and ride two escalators and one elevator up to my office in the MetLife Building. Each part of my routine represents one step further from Dex and the Incident.

I arrive at my office at eight-twenty, way early by law-firm standards. The halls are quiet. Not even the secretaries are in yet. I am turning to the

Metro section of the paper, sipping my coffee, when I notice the blinking red message light on my phone—usually a warning that more work awaits me. Some jackass partner must have called me on the one weekend in recent memory when I failed to check my messages. My money is on Les, the dominant man in my life and the biggest jackass partner amid six floors of them. I enter my password, wait…

"You have one new message from an outside caller. Received today at seven-forty-two A.M…" the recording tells me. I hate that automated woman. She consistently bears bad news and does so in a chipper voice. They should adjust that recording at law firms, make the voice more somber: "Uh-oh"—with ominous Jaws music in the background—"you have four new messages…"

What is it this time? I think, as I hit play.

"Hi, Rachel… It's me… Dex… I wanted to call you yesterday to talk about Saturday night but—I just couldn't. I think we should talk about it, don't you? Call me when you can. I should be around all day."

My heart sinks. Why can't he adopt some good old-fashioned avoidance techniques and ignore it, never speak of it again? That was my game plan. No wonder I hate my job; I am a litigator who hates confrontation. I pick up a pen and tap it against the edge of my desk. I hear my mother telling me not to fidget. I put the pen down and stare at the blinking light. The woman demands that a decision be made with respect to this message—I must replay it, save it, or delete it.

What does he want to talk about? What is there to say? I replay, expecting the answers to come to me in the sound of his voice, his cadence. But he gives nothing away. I replay again and again until his voice starts to sound distorted, just as a word changes in your mouth when you repeat it enough times. Egg, egg, egg, egg. That used to be my favorite. I'd say it over and over until it seemed that I had the altogether wrong word for the yellow substance I was about to eat for breakfast.

I listen to Dex one final time before I delete him. His voice definitely sounds different. This makes sense because in some ways, he is different. We both are. Because even if I try to block out what happened, even if Dex drops the Incident after a brief, awkward telephone call, we will forever be on one another's List—that list every person has, whether recorded in a secret spiral notebook or memorized in the back of the mind. Whether short or long. Whether ranked in order of performance or importance or chronology. Whether complete with first, middle, and last names or mere physical descriptions, like Darcy's List: "Delta Sig with killer delts…"

Dex is on my List for good. Without wanting to, I suddenly think of us in bed together. For those brief moments, he was just Dex—separate from Darcy. Something he hadn't been in a very long time. Something he hadn't been since the day I introduced the two.

I met Dex during our first year of law school at NYU. Unlike most law students, who come straight from college when they can think of nothing better to do with their stellar undergrad transcripts, Dex Thaler was older, with real-life experience. He had worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, which blew away my nine-to-five summer internships and office jobs filing and answering phones. He was confident, relaxed, and so gorgeous that it was hard not to stare at him. I was positive that he would become the Doug Jackson and Blaine Conner of law school. Sure enough, we were barely into our first week of class when the buzz over Dexter began, women speculating about his status, noting either that his left ring finger was unadorned or, alternatively, worrying that he was too well dressed and handsome to be straight.

But I dismissed Dex straightaway, convincing myself that his outward perfection was boring. Which was a fortunate stance, because I also knew that he was out of my league. (I hate that expression and the presumption that people choose mates based so heavily upon looks, but it is hard to deny the principle when you look around—partners generally share the same level of attractiveness, and when they do not, it is noteworthy.) Besides, I wasn't borrowing thirty thousand dollars a year so that I could find a boyfriend.

As a matter of fact, I probably would have gone three years without talking to him, but we randomly ended up next to each other in Torts, a seating-chart class taught by the sardonic Professor Zigman. Although many professors at NYU used the Socratic method, only Zigman used it as a tool to humiliate and torture students. Dex and I bonded in our hatred of our mean-spirited professor. I feared Zigman to an irrational extreme, whereas Dexter's reaction had more to do with disgust. "What an asshole," he would growl after class, often after Zigman had reduced a fellow classmate to tears. "I just want to wipe that smirk off his pompous face."

Gradually, our grumbling turned into longer talks over coffee in the student lounge or during walks around Washington Square Park. We began to study together in the hour before class, preparing for the inevitable—the day Zigman would call on us. I dreaded my turn, knowing that it would be a bloody massacre, but secretly couldn't wait for Dexter to be called on. Zigman preyed on the weak and flustered, and Dex was neither. I was sure that he wouldn't go down without a fight.

I remember it well. Zigman stood behind his podium, examining his seating chart, a schematic with our faces cut from the first-year look book, practically salivating as he picked his prey. He peered over his small, round glasses (the kind that should be called spectacles) in our general direction, and said, "Mr. Thaler."

He pronounced Dex's name wrong, making it rhyme with "taller."

"It's 'Thaa-ler,' " Dex said, unflinching.

I inhaled sharply; nobody corrected Zigman. Dex was really going to get it now.

"Well, pardon me, Mr. Thaaa-ler," Zigman said, with an insincere little bow. "Palsgraf versus Long Island Railroad Company."

Dex sat calmly with his book closed while the rest of the class nervously flipped to the case we had been assigned to read the night before.

The case involved a railroad accident. While rushing to board a train, a railroad employee knocked a package of dynamite out of a passenger's hand, causing injury to another passenger, Mrs. Palsgraf. Justice Car-dozo, writing for the majority, held that Mrs. Palsgraf was not a "foreseeable plaintiff" and, as such, could not recover from the railroad company. Perhaps the railroad employees should have foreseen harm to the package holder, the Court explained, but not harm to Mrs. Palsgraf.

"Should the plaintiff have been allowed recovery?" Zigman asked Dex.

Dex said nothing. For a brief second I panicked that he had frozen, like others before him. Say no, I thought, sending him fierce brain waves. Go with the majority holding. But when I looked at his expression, and the way his arms were folded across his chest, I could tell that he was only taking his time, in marked contrast to the way most first-year students blurted out quick, nervous, untenable answers as if reaction time could compensate for understanding.

"In my opinion?" Dex asked.

"I am addressing you, Mr. Thaler. So, yes, I am asking for your opinion."

"I would have to say yes, the plaintiff should have been allowed recovery. I agree with Justice Andrew's dissent."

"Ohhhh, really?" Zigman's voice was high and nasal.

"Yes. Really."

I was surprised by his answer, as he had told me just before class that he didn't realize crack cocaine had been around in 1928, but Justice Andrews surely must have been smoking it when he wrote his dissent. I was even more surprised by Dexter's brazen "really" tagged onto the end of his answer, as though to taunt Zigman.

Zigman's scrawny chest swelled visibly. "So you think that the guard should have foreseen that the innocuous package measuring fifteen inches in length, covered with a newspaper, contained explosives and would cause injury to the plaintiff?"

"It was certainly a possibility."

"Should he have foreseen that the package could cause injury to anybody in the world?" Zigman asked, with mounting sarcasm.

"I didn't say 'anybody in the world.' I said 'the plaintiff.' Mrs. Pals-graf, in my opinion, was in the danger zone."

Zigman approached our row with ramrod posture and tossed his Wall Street Journal onto Dex's closed textbook.

"Care to return my newspaper?"

"I'd prefer not to," Dex said.

The shock in the room was palpable. The rest of us would have simply played along and returned the paper, mere props in Zigman's questioning.

"You'd prefer not to?" Zigman cocked his head.

"That's correct. There could be dynamite wrapped inside it."

Half of the class gasped, the other half snickered. Clearly, Zigman had some tactic up his sleeve, some way of turning the facts around on Dex. But Dex wasn't falling for it. Zigman was visibly frustrated.

"Well, let's suppose you did choose to return it to me and it did contain a stick of dynamite and it did cause injury to your person. Then what, Mr. Thaler?"

"Then I would sue you, and likely I would win."

"And would that recovery be consistent with Judge Cardozo's rationale in the majority holding?"

"No. It would not."

"Oh, really? And why not?"

"Because I'd sue you for an intentional tort, and Cardozo was talking about negligence, was he not?" Dex raised his voice to match Zigman's.

I think I stopped breathing as Zigman pressed his palms together and brought them neatly against his chest as though he were praying. "I ask the questions in this classroom. If that's all right with you, Mr. Thaler?"

Dex shrugged as if to say, have it your way, makes no difference to me.

"Well, let's suppose that I accidentally dropped my paper onto your desk, and you returned it and were injured. Would Mr. Cardozo allow you full recovery?"

"Sure."

"And why is that?"

Dex sighed to show that the exercise was boring him and then said swiftly and clearly, "Because it was entirely foreseeable that the dynamite could cause injury to me. Your dropping the paper containing dynamite into my personal space violated my legally protected interest. Your negligent act caused a hazard apparent to the eye of ordinary vigilance."

I studied the highlighted portions of my book. Dex was quoting sections of Cardozo's opinion verbatim, without so much as glancing at his book or notes. The whole class was spellbound—nobody did this well, and certainly not with Zigman looming over him.

"And if Ms. Myers sued," Zigman said, pointing to a trembling Julie

Myers on the other side of the classroom, his victim from the day before. "Should she be allowed recovery?"

"Under Cardozo's holding or Justice Andrews's dissent?"

"The latter. As it is the opinion you share."

"Yes. Everyone owes to the world at large the duty of refraining from acts which unreasonably threaten the safety of others," Dex said, another straight quote from the dissent.

It went on like that for the rest of the hour, Dex distinguishing nuances in changed fact patterns, never wavering, always answering decisively.

And at the end of the hour, Zigman actually said, "Very good, Mr. Thaler."

It was a first.

I left class feeling jubilant. Dex had prevailed for all of us. The story spread throughout the first-year class, earning him more points with the girls, who had long since determined that he was totally available.

I told Darcy the story as well. She had moved to New York at about the same time I did, only under vastly different circumstances. I was there to become a lawyer; she came without a job, or a plan, or much money. I let her sleep on a futon in my dorm room until she found some roommates—three American Airlines flight attendants looking to squeeze a fourth body into their heavily partitioned studio. She borrowed money from her parents to make the rent while she looked for a job, finally settling on a bartending position at the Monkey Bar. For the first time in our friendship, I was happy with my life in comparison to hers. I was just as poor, but at least I had a plan. Darcy's prospects didn't seem great with only a 2.9 GPA from Indiana University.

"You're so lucky," Darcy would whine as I tried to study.

No, luck is what you have, I'd think. Luck is buying a lottery ticket along with your Yoo-hoo and striking it rich. Nothing about my life is lucky—it's all about hard work, it is all an uphill struggle. But of course, I never said that. Just told her that things would soon turn around for her.

And sure enough, they did. About two weeks later a man waltzed into the Monkey Bar, ordered a whiskey sour, and began to chat Darcy up. By the time he finished his drink, he had promised her a job at one of Manhattan's top PR firms. He told her to come in for an interview, but that he would (wink, wink) make sure that she got the job. Darcy took his business card, had me revise her resume, went in for the interview, and got an offer on the spot. Her starting salary was seventy thousand dollars. Plus an expense account. Practically what I would make if I did well enough in school to get a job with a New York firm.

So while I sweated it out and racked up debt, Darcy began her glamorous PR career. She planned parties, promoted the season's latest fashion trends, got plenty of free everything, and dated a string of beautiful men. Within seven months, she left the flight attendants in the dust and moved in with her coworker Claire, a snobbish, well-connected girl from Greenwich.

Darcy tried to include me in her fast-track life, although I seldom had time to go to her events or her parties or her blind-date setups with guys she swore were "total hotties" but that I knew were simply her castoffs.

Which brings me back to Dex. I raved about him to Darcy and Claire, told them how unbelievable he was—smart, handsome, funny. In retrospect I'm not sure why I did it. In part because it was true. But perhaps I was a little jealous of their glamorous life and wanted to juice mine up a bit. Dex was the best thing in my arsenal.

"So why don't you like him?" Darcy would ask.

"He's not my type," I'd say. "We're just friends."

Which was the truth. Sure, there were moments when I felt a flicker of interest or a quickening of my pulse as I sat near Dex. But I remained vigilant not to fall for him, always reminding myself that guys like Dex only date girls like Darcy.

It wasn't until the following semester that the two met. A group of us from school, including Dex, planned an impromptu Thursday evening out. Darcy had been asking to meet Dex for weeks, so I phoned her and told her to be at the Red Lion at eight. She showed up, but Dex did not. I could tell Darcy viewed the whole outing as wasted effort, complaining that the Red Lion wasn't her scene, that she was over these grungy under-grad bars (which she had been into just a few short months ago), that the band sucked, and could we please leave and go somewhere nicer where people valued good grooming.

At that moment Dex sauntered into the bar wearing a black leather coat and a beautiful, oatmeal-colored cashmere sweater. He walked straight over to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, which I still wasn't used to—Midwesterners don't kiss and greet like that. I introduced him to Darcy, and she turned on the charm, giggling and playing with her hair and nodding emphatically whenever he said anything. Dex was pleasant to her but didn't seem overly interested and, at one point, as she was dropping Goldman names—Do you know this guy or that guy?—Dex actually appeared to be suppressing a yawn. He left before the rest of us, waving good-bye to the group and telling Darcy that it was nice to meet her.

On the walk back to my room, I asked her what she thought of him.

"He's cute," Darcy said, giving the minimum endorsement. Her lackluster response irritated me. She couldn't praise him because he hadn't been dazzled enough by her. Darcy expected to be the one pursued. And that's what I had come to expect too.

The next day, as Dex and I had coffee, I waited for him to mention Darcy. I was sure he would, but he didn't. A small—okay, a big—part of me enjoyed telling Darcy that her name hadn't come up. For once, somebody wasn't falling all over themselves to be with her.

I should've known better.

About a week later, out of the blue, Dex asked me what the story was with my friend.

"Which friend?" I asked, playing dumb.

"You know, the dark-haired woman from the Red Lion?"

"Oh. Darcy," I said. And then cut right to the chase. "You want her phone number?"

"If she's single."

I delivered the news to her that evening. She smiled coyly. "He is pretty cute. I'll go out with him."

It took Dex another two weeks to call her. If he waited on purpose, the strategy worked wonders. She was in a frenzy by the time he took her to Union Square Cafe. The date obviously went well, because they went to brunch the next morning in the Village. Soon after that, Darcy and Dex were both off the market.

In the beginning, their romance was turbulent. I always knew Darcy loved to fight with her boyfriends—it wasn't fun unless high drama was involved—but I viewed Dex as this rational, cool creature, above the fray. Maybe he had been that way with other girls, but Darcy sucked him into her world of chaos and high emotion. She'd find a phone number in one of his law-school notebooks (she was a self-proclaimed snoop), do the research, trace it back to an ex-girlfriend, and refuse to speak to him. One day he came into Torts looking sheepish, with a cut on his forehead, right above his left eye. Darcy had hurled a wire hanger at him in a jealous rage.

And it worked the other way, too. We'd all go out and Darcy would cozy up to the bar with another guy. I'd watch Dex steal casual glances their way until he could stand it no longer. He'd go to collect her, looking angry but composed, and I'd overhear her justifying her flirtations with some tenuous connection to the guy: "I mean, we were just talking about our brothers and how they were in the same freaking fraternity. Jesus, Dex! You don't have to overreact!" <

But eventually their relationship stabilized, the fights grew less intense and more infrequent, and she moved into his apartment. Then, this past winter, Dex proposed. They picked a weekend in September, and she picked me as her maid of honor.

I knew him first, I think to myself now. It is no more ironclad than the Ethan defense, but I cling to it for a moment. I picture my sympathetic juror, leaning forward as she absorbs this revelation. She even raises the point during deliberations. "If it weren't for Rachel, Dex and Darcy would never have met. So, in a sense, Rachel deserved one time with him." The other jurors stare at her incredulously, and Chanel Suit tells her not to be ridiculous. That it has nothing to do with anything. "In fact, it might even cut the other way," Chanel Suit counters. "Rachel had her chance to be with Dex—but that window has long passed. And now she is the maid of honor. The maid of honor! It is the ultimate betrayal!"

I work late that night, delaying my call back to Dex. I even consider waiting until tomorrow morning, mid-week, not calling at all. But the longer I wait, the more awkward it will be when I inevitably see him. So I force myself to sit down and dial his number. I hope for voice mail. It is ten-thirty. With any luck, he will be gone, home with Darcy.

"Dex Thaler," he answers, his tone all business. He is back at Goldman Sachs, having wisely chosen the banker route over the lawyer route. The work is more interesting, and the money much better.

"Rachel!" He sounds genuinely happy to hear from me, although somewhat nervous, his voice a bit too loud. "Thanks for calling. I was starting to think I wasn't going to hear from you."

"I've been meaning to call. It's just that… I've been really busy… Crazy day," I stammer. My mouth is bone-dry.

"Yeah, it's been nuts here too. Typical Monday," he says, sounding a bit more relaxed.

"Yeah…"

An awkward pause follows—well, it feels awkward to me. Does he expect me to bring up the Incident?

"So. How do you feel?" His voice becomes lower.

"How do I feel?" My face is burning, I'm sweating, and I can't rule out the possibility of regurgitating my sushi dinner.

"I mean, what do you think about Saturday?" His voice is lower still, almost a whisper. Maybe he is just being discreet, making sure nobody in the office hears him, but the volume translates as intimate.

"I don't know what you're asking me…"

"Do you feel guilty?"

"Of course I feel guilty. Don't you?" I look out my window at the lights of Manhattan, in the direction of his downtown office.

"Well, yeah," he says sincerely. "Obviously. It shouldn't have happened. No question about that. It was wrong… and I don't want you to think that, you know, that it's typical practice for me. I've never cheated on Darcy before. Never… You believe that, don't you?"

I tell him that of course I believe him. I want to believe him.

Another silence.

"So, yeah, that was a first for me," he says.

More silence. I picture him with his feet up on his desk, his collar loosened, tie thrown over his shoulder. He looks good in a suit. Well, he looks good in anything. And nothing.

"Uh-huh," I say. I am gripping the phone so tightly that my fingers hurt. I switch hands and wipe my sweaty palm on my skirt.

"I feel so bad that you've been friends with Darcy forever, and this thing that happened between us… it puts you in a really atrocious position." He clears his throat and continues. "But at the same time, I don't know…"

"What don't you know?" I ask, against my better judgment to end the conversation, hang up the phone, choose the flight instinct that has always served me well.

"I don't know. I just… well, in some ways… well, objectively speaking, I know what I did was so wrong. But I just don't feel guilty. Isn't that awful?… Do you think less of me?"

I have no idea how to answer this one. "Yes" seems mean and judgmental; "no" might open the floodgates. I find safe, middle ground. "I have no room to judge anyone, do I? I was there… I did it too."

"I know, Rachel. But it was my fault."

I think about the elevator, the feel of his hair between my fingers.

"We were both at fault… We were both drunk. It must have been the shots—they just sneaked up on me and I hadn't really eaten much that day," I ramble, hoping that we are nearly finished.

Dex interrupts. "I wasn't that drunk," he states plainly, almost defiantly.

You weren't that drunk?

As though he has read my mind, he continues. "I mean, yes, I had a few drinks—my inhibitions certainly were lowered—but I knew what I was doing, and on some level, I think I wanted it to happen. Well, I suppose that's a rather obvious statement… But what I mean is that I think I consciously wanted it to happen. Not that it was premeditated. But it had crossed my mind at various points before…"

At various points? When? In law school? Before or after you met Darcy?

I suddenly recall one pre-Darcy occasion when Dex and I were studying for our Torts exam in the library. It was late and we were both punchy, almost delirious from lack of sleep and too much caffeine. Dex started imitating Zigman, quoting certain pet phrases of his, as I laughed so hard that I started to cry. When I finally got ahold of myself, he leaned across the narrow table and wiped a tear off my face with his thumb. Just like a scene in a movie, only usually those are sad tears. Our eyes locked.

I looked away first, returning my eyes to my book, the words jumping all over the page. I couldn't for the life of me focus on negligence or proximate cause. Only the feel of his thumb on my face. Later, Dex offered to walk me back to my dorm. I politely declined, telling him that I'd be fine on my own. As I was falling asleep that night, I decided that I had imagined his intent, that Dex would never care for me as more than a friend. He was only being nice.

Still, I sometimes wondered what would have happened if I hadn't been so guarded. If I had said yes to his offer that night. I am wondering now in a big way.

Dex keeps talking. "Of course, I'm well aware it can never happen again," he says with conviction. "Right?" The last word is earnest, almost vulnerable.

"Right. Never ever again," I say, immediately regretting my juvenile choice of words. "It was a mistake."

"But I don't regret it. I should, but I just don't," he says.

This is so weird, I think, but say nothing. Just sit dumbly, waiting for him to speak again.

"So anyway, Rachel, I'm sorry for putting you in this position. But I thought you should know how I feel," he finishes, then laughs nervously.

I say okay, well now I know, and I guess we should move on and put this behind us, and all of those other things that I thought Dex was calling to tell me. We say good-bye, then I hang up and stare out my window in a daze. The call that was supposed to bring closure only ushered in more uneasiness. And a tiny little stirring inside me, a stirring that I resolve to squelch.

I stand up, turn off my office light, and walk down to the subway, trying to put Dex out of my head. But as I wait on the subway platform, my mind returns to our kiss in the elevator. The feel of his hair. And the way he looked sleeping in my bed, half-covered by my sheets. Those are the images that I remember the most. They are like the photographs of ex-boyfriends that you desperately want to throw away, but you can't bring yourself to get rid of them. So instead you store them in an old shoe box, in the back of your closet, figuring that it doesn't hurt to save them. Just in case you want to open that box and remember some of the good times.


Chapter 4


We are days away from the official start of summer and all Darcy can talk about is the Hamptons. She calls and e-mails me constantly, forwarding information about Memorial Day parties, restaurant reservations, and sample sales where we are guaranteed to find the cutest summer clothes. Of course, I am absolutely dreading all of it. Like the four previous summers, I am in a house with Darcy and Dex. This year we are also sharing with Marcus, Claire, and Hillary.

"You think we should've gotten a full share?" Darcy asks for at least the twentieth time. I have never known such a second-, third-, fourth-guesser. She has buyer's remorse when she leaves Baskin-Robbins.

"No, a half share is enough. You never end up using the full share," I say, the phone tucked under my ear as I continue to revise my memo summarizing the difference between Florida and New York excess insurance law.

"Are you typing?" Darcy demands, always expecting my full attention.

"No," I lie, typing more quietly.

"You better not be…"

"I'm not."

"Well, I guess you're right, a half share is better… And we have a lot of wedding stuff to do in the city anyway."

The wedding is the only topic I wish to avoid more than the Hamptons. "Uh-huh."

"So are you going to drive out with us or take the train?"

"Train. I don't know if I can get out of here at a decent hour," I say, thinking that I do not want to be stuck in a car with her and Dex. I have not seen Dex since he left my apartment. Have not seen Darcy since the betrayal.

"Really? 'Cause I was thinking that we should definitely, definitely drive… Wouldn't you rather have a car the first weekend out? You know, especially because it's going to be a long weekend. We don't want to be stuck with cabs and stuff… C'mon, ride with us!"

"We'll see," I say, as a mother tells a child so that the child will drop the topic.

"Not 'we'll see.' You're comin' with us."

I sigh and tell her that I really should get back to work.

"Okay. Sheesh. I'll let you go work at your oh-so-important job… So we still on for tonight?"

"What's tonight?"

"Hello? Ms. Forgetful. Don't even tell me you have to work late—you promised. Bikinis? Ring a bell?"

"Oh, right," I say. I had completely forgotten my promise to go bathing-suit shopping with her. One of the least pleasant tasks in the world. Right up there with scrubbing toilets and getting a root canal. "Yeah. Sure. I can still do it."

"Great. I'll meet you at the yogurt counter in the basement of Bloomie's. You know, next to the fat-women's clothes. At seven sharp."

I arrive at the Fifty-ninth Street station fifteen minutes after our designated meeting time and run into the basement of Bloomingdale's, nervous that Darcy will be pouting. I do not feel up to cajoling her out of one of her moods. But she looks content, sitting at the counter with a cup of strawberry frozen yogurt. She smiles and waves. I take a deep breath, reminding myself that there is no scarlet letter on my chest.

"Hi, Darce."

"Hey, there! Omigod. I'm going to be so bloated trying on suits!" She points at her stomach with her plastic spoon. "But whatever. I'm used to being a fatty."

I roll my eyes. "You're not fat."

We go through it every year during bathing-suit weather. Hell, we go through it virtually every day. Darcy's weight is a constant source of energy and discussion. She tells me what she is weighing in at—always hovering around the mid-to-high-one-twenties—always too fat by her rigorous standards. Her goal is one-twenty—which I maintain is way too thin for five nine. She e-mails me as she eats a bag of chips: "Make me stop! Help! Call me ASAP!" If I call her back, she'll ask, "Is fifteen fat grams a lot?" Or "How many fat grams equal a pound?" The thing that irritates me, though, is that she is three inches taller than I am but five pounds lighter. When I point this out, she says, "Yes, but your boobs are bigger." "Not five pounds bigger," I say. "Still," she'll say, "you look perfect the way you are." Back to me.

I'm far from fat, but her using me as a sounding board on this topic is like me complaining to a blind woman that I have to wear contacts.

"I am so fat. I totally am! And I chowed at lunch. But whatever. As long as I'm not a fat cow in my wedding dress…" she says, finishing her last spoonful of yogurt and tossing the cup into the trash. "Just tell me I have plenty of time to lose weight before the wedding."

"You have plenty of time," I say.

And I have plenty of time before the wedding to stop thinking about the fact that I had sex with your husband-to-be.

"I better rein it in, you know, or else I'm gonna have to shop here." Darcy points at the plus-size section without checking to see if any larger women are within earshot.

I tell her not to be ridiculous.

"So anyway," she says, as we ride the escalator up to the second floor,

"Claire was saying that we're getting too old for bikinis. That one-pieces are classier. What do you think of that?" Her expression and tone make it clear what she thinks of Claire's view on swimwear.

"I don't think there are precise age limits on bikinis," I say. Claire is full of exhausting rules; she once told me that black ink should only be used for sympathy notes.

"Ex-act-ly! That's what I told her… Besides, she's probably just saying that because she looks kind of bad in a bikini, don't you think?"

I nod. Claire works out religiously and hasn't touched fried food in years, but she is destined to be lumpy. She is redeemed, however, by impeccable grooming and expensive clothing. She'll show up at the beach in a three-hundred-dollar one-piece with a matching sarong, a fancy hat, and designer glasses and it will go a long way toward disguising an extra roll around her waist.

We make our way around the floor, searching the racks for acceptable suits. At one point, I notice that we have both selected a basic black Anne Klein bikini. If we both end up wanting it, Darcy will either insist that she found it first or she'll say that we can get the same one. Then she will proceed to look better in it all summer. No, thanks.

I am reminded of the time that she, Annalise, and I went shopping for backpacks the week before we started the fourth grade. We all spotted the same bag right away. It was purple with silver stars on the outside pocket—way cooler than the other bags. Annalise suggested that we get the same one and Darcy said no, that it was way too babyish to match. Matching was for third-graders.

So we rock-paper-scissored for it. I went with the rock (which I have found to be a winner more than its share of the time). I pounded my jubilant fist over their extended scissor fingers and swept my purple book bag into our shared cart. Annalise balked, whining that we knew purple was her favorite color. "I thought you liked red better, Rachel!"

Annalise was no match for me. I simply told her yes, I did prefer red, but as she could plainly see, there were no red bags. So Annalise settled for a yellow one with a smiley face on the pocket. Darcy agonized over the remaining choices and finally told us that she was going to sleep on the decision and come back with her mom the next day. I forgot about Darcy's bag choice until the first day of school. When I got to the bus stop, there stood Darcy with a purple bag just like mine.

I pointed at it, incredulous. "You got my bag."

"I know," Darcy said. "I decided I wanted it. Who cares if we match?"

Hadn't she been the one to say that matching was babyish?

"I care," I said, feeling the rage grow inside me.

Darcy rolled her eyes and smacked her gum. "Oh, Rachel, like it matters. It's just a bag after all."

Annalise was upset too, for her own reasons. "How come you two get to be twins and I'm left out? My bag is gay."

Darcy and I ignored her.

"But you said we shouldn't match," I accused Darcy, as the bus pulled around the corner and screeched to a stop in front of us.

"Did I?" she said, fingering her stiff, feathered hair, freshly sprayed with several layers of Breck. "Well, who cares?"

Darcy used "who cares" (later replaced by "whatever") as the ultimate passive-aggressive response. I didn't recognize her tactic as such at the time; I only knew that she always managed to get her way and make me feel stupid if I fought back.

We boarded the bus, Darcy first. She sat down and I sat behind her, still furious. I watched Annalise hesitate and then sit with me, recognizing that I had right on my side. The whole purple backpack issue could have escalated into a full-fledged fight, but I refused to let Darcy's betrayal ruin the first day of school. It wasn't worth going to battle with her. The end result was seldom satisfying.

I covertly replace the Anne Klein suit on the rack as we make our way to the long line for the dressing rooms. When one becomes available, Darcy decides that we should share a room to save time. She strips down to her black thong and matching lace bra, contemplating which suit she should try on first. I steal a look at her in the mirror. Her body is even better than it was last summer. Her long limbs are perfectly toned from her wedding workout regimen, her skin already bronzed by routine applications of tanning cream and an occasional trip to the tanning beds.

I think of Dex. Surely he compared our bodies after (or even during, since he "wasn't that drunk") our night together. Mine isn't nearly as good. I am shorter, softer, whiter. And even though my boobs are bigger, hers are better. They are perkier, with the ideal nipple-to-areola-to-breast ratio.

"Stop looking at my fat!" Darcy squeals, catching my glance in the mirror.

Now I am forced to compliment her. "You're not fat, Darce. You look great. I can tell you've been working out."

"You can? What body part has improved?" Darcy likes her praise to be specific.

"Just everywhere. Your legs look thin—good." That is all she is getting from me.

She studies her legs, frowning at the reflection.

I undress, noting my own cotton underwear and nonmatching, slightly dingier cotton bra. I quickly try on my first suit, a navy-and-white tankini, revealing two inches of midriff. It is a compromise between Claire's one-piece edict and Darcy's preference for bikinis.

"Omigod! That looks so awesome on you! You gotta get it!" Darcy says. "Are you getting it?"

"I guess so," I say. It doesn't look awesome, but it's not bad. I have studied enough magazine articles about suits and body flaws over the years to know which suits will look decent on me. This one passes.

Darcy puts on a tiny black bikini with a triangular top and bare coverage in the bottom. She looks straight-up hot. "You like?"

"It's good," I say, thinking that Dex will love it.

"Should I get it?"

I tell her to try the others on before making a decision. She obeys, taking the next one off the hanger. Of course, every suit looks amazing on her. She falls into none of those categories of body flaws in the magazines. After much discussion, I settle on the tankini and Darcy decides on three tiny bikinis—one red, one black, and one nude-colored number that is going to make her look naked from any kind of distance.

As we go to pay for our suits, Darcy grabs my arm. "Oh! Shit! I almost forgot to tell you!"

"What?" I ask, unnerved by her sudden outburst, even though I know she isn't going to say, "I forgot to tell you that I know you slept with Dex!"

"Marcus likes you!" We might as well be in the tenth grade, from her tone and use of the word "likes."

I am intentionally obtuse. "I like him too," I say. "He's a nice guy." And a hell of an alibi.

"No, silly. I mean, he likes you. You must've done a good job at the party because he called Dex and got your number. I think he's going to ask you out for this weekend. Of course, I wanted it to be a double date, but Marcus said no, he doesn't want witnesses." She drops her bikinis onto the counter and fumbles in her purse for her wallet.

"He got my number from Dex?" I ask, thinking that this is quite a development.

"Yeah. Dex was cute when he told me about it. He was…" She looks up, searching for the right word. "Sort of protective of you."

"What do you mean by 'protective'?" I ask, way more interested in Dex's role in this exchange than in Marcus's intentions.

"Well, he gave Marcus the number, but when he got off the phone he asked me all these questions, like were you seeing anyone and did I think you would like Marcus. And you know, was he smart enough for you. Stuff like that. It was really cute."

I digest this information as the store clerk rings up Darcy's bikinis.

"So what did you tell him?"

"I just said that you were totally single, and that of course you'd be into Marcus. He's such a sweetie. Don't you think?"

I shrug. Marcus moved to New York from San Francisco only a few months ago. I know very little about him, except that he and Dex became friends at Georgetown, where Marcus's claim to fame was graduating dead last. Apparently Marcus never went to class and got high all the time. The most infamous story is that he overslept on the day of his statistics final exam, showed up twenty minutes late only to discover that he had thrown his remote control into his backpack instead of his calculator.

I haven't yet determined whether he is a free spirit or simply a buffoon.

"So are you psyched? If you get a date in with him before our share starts, you will have dibs on him over Claire and Hillary."

I laugh and shake my head.

"Seriously." Darcy signs her receipt and flashes a smile at the clerk. "Claire would love to sink her nails in him."

"Who said I'm going on a date?"

"Oh, puh-lease. Don't even start with that shit. You're going. (A) he is such a cutie. And (b) Rachel, no offense, but you can't exactly afford to be all picky, Ms. Haven't Been Laid in—what? Over a year?"

The store clerk looks up at me sympathetically. I glare at Darcy as I slide my tankini across the counter. Yeah, right—a year.

We leave Bloomingdale's and look for a cab on Third Avenue.

"So, you'll go out with Marcus?"

"I guess so."

"Promise?" she asks, getting her cell phone out of her purse.

"You want me to take a blood oath? Yes, I'll go," I say. "Who are you calling?"

"Dex. He bet me twenty bucks that you wouldn't go."

Darcy's right—I have nothing else going on. But the real reason I say yes to Marcus when he calls and asks me out is that Dex said I wouldn't go. And just in case he thought he had cast some sort of spell over me and I was going to turn Marcus down because I'm preoccupied with the Incident, I will go out with Marcus.

But as soon as I say yes, I start obsessing about what Marcus really knows. Did Dex tell him anything? I decide that I must call Dexter and find out. I hang up three times before I can dial the full number. My stomach is churning when he answers on the first ring. "Dex Thaler."

"So what does Marcus know about what happened last Saturday?" I blurt out, my heart racing.

"Well, hello to you too," he says.

I soften slightly. "Hi, Dex."

"Last Saturday? What was last Saturday? Refresh my memory."

"I'm being serious! What did you tell him?" I am horrified to find myself talking in the girly, whiny way that Darcy has perfected.

"What do you think I told him?" he asks.

"Dexter, tell me!"

"Oh, relax," he says, his tone still one of amusement. "I didn't tell him anything… What do you think this is? A high school locker room? Why would I tell anyone our business?"

Our business. Our. We. Us.

"I was just wondering what he knew. I mean, you told Darcy you were with him that night…"

"Yeah. I said, 'Marcus, I was with you last night and we had breakfast together this morning—all right?' And that was that. I know that's not how it works with you girls—women."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I mean you and Darcy share every exhaustive detail with one another. Like what you ate that day and what brand of shampoo you plan on purchasing."

"And like when you sleep with one another's fiancés? That sort of detail?"

Dex laughs. "Yeah, that would be another example."

"Or like your bet that I'd say no to Marcus?"

He laughs again, knowing that he is busted. "She told you that, did she?"

"Yeah. She told me that."

"And did it offend you?"

I realize that I am starting to relax, almost enjoying the conversation. "No… but it made me say yes to Marcus."

"Oh!" he laughs. "I see how it works. So you're saying that had she not shared that piece of information with you, you would have turned my boy down?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I ask coyly, hardly recognizing myself.

"I would actually. Please enlighten me."

"I'm not sure… Why did you think I'd say no?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," he retorts.

I smile. This is full-fledged flirtatious banter.

"Okay. I thought you'd say no because Marcus doesn't seem to be your type," he finally says.

"And who is?" I ask, and then feel instantly remorseful. Flirting like this is not the path to redemption. It is no way to right my wrong. This is what my brain tells me, but my heart is galloping as I await his answer.

"I don't know. I've been trying to figure that out for about seven years."

I wonder what he means by this statement. I twist the cord around my fingers and can think of nothing to say in response. We should hang up now. This is going in a bad direction.

"Rach?" His voice is low and intimate.

I feel breathless, hearing him say my name like this. The one syllable is familiar, warm. "Yeah?"

"You still there?" he whispers.

I manage to say, "Yes, I'm still here."

"What are you thinking?"

"Nothing," I lie.

I have to lie. Because what I am thinking is, Maybe you are my type a little bit more than I once thought.

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