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Funny Story: Chapter 38


THROUGH THE DOOR, Celine Dion is bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t want to be all by herself. The chime of the oven timer barely cuts through the song, and I flip on the interior light to check that the edges of the brownies have gone crispy, the top cracking in that mouthwatering way. I pull them out and set them atop the stove, eyeing the clock.

Of course today I would be running behind.

I jog to the shut-tight door and rap on it. He doesn’t hear the first time, so I knock again. The music stops.

“Yeah?” Miles calls.

“You okay?” I ask.

A pause. “Yeah?”

That didn’t inspire confidence. “Can I come in?”

The door swings open. He’s standing there shirtless, shaving cream covering the lower half of his face, razor in hand.

“I thought I should shave,” he says, by way of explanation. “Since your mom’s coming.”

I fight a smile. “You once told me that women of a certain age love the scruffy thing.”

“Oh, they do.” He leans against the sink. “I can’t have your mom falling in love with me.”

A ridiculous chortle jars out of me. I’d actually finally talked her into going on one date with a guy from her gym. It had gone surprisingly well, but afterward she’d told me, “I think I’m too busy to date.” The more important thing, though, was that she was too happy with the life she’d built for herself to change it for anyone who didn’t set her world on fire. And I liked that for her. She deserved the life she’d worked so hard for.

“You know I think you’re unbelievably hot,” I tell Miles, “but I think Holly Vincent is safe from your charms.”

His smile deepens. “I want to impress her.”

“She already knows you, Miles,” I say.

We’d gone to her place for Christmas last year, slept on the tiny pullout couch, and eaten Korean barbecue takeout while watching It Happened on Fifth Avenue, followed immediately by Die Hard.

“Yeah, but this will be the first time she sees us here.” He waves toward our new (old) place.

Technically, it will be the first time anyone’s seen us here, other than Ashleigh and Julia. The place is still a wreck, but the living room, one bathroom, and Miles’s and my bedroom at least are functional at this point.

Even if one of the diamond-paned windows is literally being held together by packing tape, and the power goes out when we run more than one fan.

It will take years to fix up this eye-bleedingly orange cottage, two and a half blocks from the green one with the same floor plan. But I don’t mind. I love it enough as it is that I’m happy to wait.

The doorbell rings, which is a surprise. It only works about every eighth time someone touches it.

“Shit,” Miles says. “I’m late. Sorry.” He grabs the towel off the rack to wipe off his shaving cream, thoughts of a smooth jaw abandoned.

“It’s okay,” I say. “Just put on a shirt and meet me in the living room. Or skip the shirt. I told everyone tonight’s casual.”

He doesn’t even wait to finish laughing before kissing me, leaving foam behind on my face when we pull apart. He wipes my chin off with the towel. “Be right there,” he promises.

I’m not worried about my mom, or tonight. I’m more nervous for next week.

Sadie’s first visit to see me since we started really talking again.

For months after I decided to stay in Waning Bay, I waited for that splinter in my heart to push its way out, to stop missing her.

The night Miles and I decided to buy a house together, we went to dinner to celebrate, then walked home past a bookshop. Sadie’s favorite writer, the one whose event Miles had taken me to all those months ago, had a new release sitting in the window. On a whim, I popped in and bought it. But I couldn’t bring myself to read it, so it sat on a shelf for weeks, before finally I picked it up, devoured it in one sitting, and closed it with tears streaming down my cheeks.

The very first thing I did when I finished that book was reach to text her. An impulse, an instinct. And even though I didn’t send the message, the feeling didn’t go away either.

For another week, I moved through the world feeling like I’d forgotten something, like there was somewhere I should be, like there was someone I’d meant to call.

I was hurt and angry and confused by the distance in our relationship, but more than that, I missed my friend. I didn’t want to write her off.

So I wrote her a letter. A letter seemed more Sadie than an email. Austenian, even. In college she’d had personalized stationery and a wax seal stamp, but I had to settle for a Pure Michigan sticker.

The day she got the letter, right after she read it, she’d called me right away, and even though I was terrified, I answered on the second ring.

We’d talked for hours. We’d both cried.

She’d been engaged for two months by then. “I wanted to tell you so badly,” she said. “But I didn’t think you wanted to hear from me. I thought—when you and Peter broke up, I thought you were pushing me away. Because of Cooper. Because as long as I’m with him, I’m kind of . . . stuck with Peter, you know?”

And I did know. Peter and Cooper were like family. The real kind, who will always love you, even when your decisions make no sense to them.

The decision, for her, had never been me or Peter. It was her best friend or the love of her life. And now that I understood, I realized I didn’t need it to feel like an easy choice after all.

Things were allowed to be complicated. They were allowed to be messy. We were allowed to disagree and argue and even hurt each other, on occasion, and it didn’t mean it was time to let the revolving door of life carry us away from each other.

Sometimes things are hard. They just are.

That first phone call had been like a waterfall, but after that, our texts and calls had been slow and steady. We still aren’t back to where we used to be—maybe we never will be—but we are something. We still love each other. We’re still trying.

As for how she’ll mesh with my new life and friends here, I have no idea. But I’m working on being excited instead of nervous about the unknown. So many of the most beautiful things in life are unexpected. Look at Dad and Starfire. It’s not like he’s suddenly a different person, but he’s more settled, less restless. He’s actually made it to two of our last three scheduled visits, and to be fair, he and Starfire won an all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland (on a hot tip from their psychic) that overlapped with that third visit, so I can’t really blame him for that one.

At the front door, I smooth down my skirt and swing it open. (Door, not skirt.)

“Hiiii!” Both women on the front step shriek. Ashleigh’s sun-bronzed from her solo Eat, Pray, Love–style trip to Portugal—most of which she spent with a gorgeous local named Afonso who already has plane tickets to visit her next month.

“Happy housewarming!” she cries, shoving an enormous bottle of espumante toward me.

“That’s from both of us,” Julia says.

Ashleigh scoffs.

“I bought the bow,” Julia says. “I’m a twenty-four-year-old barista, give me a break.”

“I thought you were bringing a date,” I say to Jules. “That guy you just went to Chicago with?”

“Ryan.” She rolls her eyes. “He cut his fingernails on the bus ride.”

“Ew,” Ashleigh and I say in unison.

Julia nods solemnly. “Flags so red, they veered toward maroon.”

“Come in, come in!”

Instead they pin me in a tight hug between the two of them. The heat is sticky against our skin, the buzz of insects in our overgrown front yard loud enough to dull the resumed singing of one Ms. Celine Dion.

“Okay,” Julia says, pulling back. “I’m taking control of the playlist.”

“I’ve never known a happier man who loves sad songs more,” Ashleigh muses.

Inside, Julia talks Miles into letting her take over the sound bar. He finishes making a batch of margaritas, and adds salt and pepper to the guacamole.

Barb and Lenore let themselves in a few minutes later, Barb’s arms loaded with bags of freshly picked apples and Lenore’s with a housewarming bouquet of lavender.

Mom’s cab from the airport shows up next. After giving me and Miles each a rib-cracking hug, she introduces herself to everyone without any hesitation.

We’d invited her to stay with us, said we’d camp in the living room so she could take the bed, but she’d insisted on booking an Airbnb with a home gym.

Harvey and Elda are the last to arrive. They knock, rather than ring, or else the bell just doesn’t work this time.

They make quite a pair: Harvey in his Red Wings sweatsuit, a box of cigars under his arm; Elsa with her pink disco ball earrings and elegant cheeseboard, wrapped in beeswax cloth.

Everyone’s here now. The family I didn’t expect, minus Mulder, who is strictly banned from poker night, due to strong language, smoking, gambling—take your pick, really. He’s not allowed to join until he’s eighteen, the same rule Ashleigh’s parents had for her.

I take Harvey and Elda back to the living room, and there’s one last round of introductions for Mom. She doesn’t drink often, so her few sips of margarita must be hitting her: she tears up when she shakes Harvey’s hand, and thanks him for “taking such good care of my girl.”

“She’s a great employee,” he says, “and a wonderful friend. Terrible poker player, though.”

Mom cackles. “She’s always been too honest for her own good. Except that one time you told that girl you grew up on a horse farm. Remember that, Daphne?”

“I’d finally sort of forgotten,” I say.

And the time you told your ex-fiancé you were dating his new fiancée’s ex-boyfriend,” Julia puts in.

“What’s this, now?” Elda sets the cheeseboard on the counter.

“Harvey didn’t tell you?” Ashleigh says.

“I don’t gossip about the staff,” he says, with false and unconvincing sternness that doesn’t hide his grin.

Miles slips his arms around my waist, the woodsmoke and ginger smell folding around me, my heart pattering at the feeling of him kissing the side of my neck. I let myself lean back into him, the best feeling in the world. At least, the best feeling that’s appropriate to have in front of your mother.

“You really don’t know this already?” I ask Elda.

She shakes her head.

“It’s how Daphne and I got together.” Miles’s arms tighten around me.

Elda claps her hands together. “Oh, I love a good meet-cute. Let’s hear it.”

I crane my neck over my shoulder to look at him. His dimples sink into his beard, and it feels like my heart is unzipping, stepping out of its calloused skin, a glowing, sunlit thing.

“Funny story . . .” he says, but he doesn’t go on, just watches me and waits.

He knows how much I love to tell it.


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