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Authors: Rebecca Serle

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Chapter Twelve

I leave work at seven on Monday, a full hour before I should, and meet Bella at Snack Taverna in the West Village. It’s this tiny bistro, the best Greek food in the city, and we’ve been going there since we moved to New York—way before I could afford to.

Bella is back to being fifteen minutes late. I order us fava beans drenched in olive oil and garlic—her favorite. They’re on the table when she arrives.

She texted me back this morning and demanded we have dinner tonight.
It has been too long,
she said.
I feel like you’re avoiding me
.

I rarely leave work early, if ever. When David and I make dinner reservations they’re always for eight-thirty or nine. But now it’s a little past seven, still light out, and I’m sitting here. Bella has always been the only person in my life who can talk me out of my norm.

“It’s so hot out there,” she says when she arrives. She’s wearing a white brocade-and-lace dress from Zimmermann and gold lace-up sandals. Her hair is up in a topknot, some loose strands dangling down her neck.

“It’s a swamp. Summer always happens so suddenly.” I lean over the table and kiss her on the cheek. I’ve sweated through my silk shirt and pencil skirt. I own basically no summer clothes. Luckily the air conditioning is on full blast in here.

“How was the weekend?” she asks. “Did you sleep at all?”

I smile. “No.”

She shakes her head. “You loved it.”

“Maybe.” I scoop some beans onto her plate. I have to know: “Did you guys hear anything more about the apartment?”

She looks at me and frowns, and then her face dawns recognition. “Oh, right! There’s this other one I think I want. It’s this totally savage place in Meatpacking. I honestly didn’t know they had anything like that left there. Everything is so generic now.”

“You don’t like the Dumbo loft?”

She shrugs. “I’m just not sure I want to live there. There’s only one grocery store, and it must be freezing in the winter. All of those wide streets that close to the water.? It seems kind of isolated.”

“It’s close to every train,” I say. “And the view is spectacular. There’s so much light, Bella. I can see you painting there.”

Bella squints at me. “What’s going on? You hated that place. You told me I shouldn’t even consider it.”

I wave her off. She’s right, though. What am I doing? The words keep tumbling out, like I have no control over them. “I don’t know,” I say. “What do I know? I’ve lived within ten blocks for the last decade.”

Bella leans forward. Her face splits into a sly smile. “You love that place.”

It’s raw space, but I have to admit it’s beautiful. Somehow industrial and energetic and peaceful, all at once.

“No,” I say. Firm. Definitive. “It’s a pile of plywood. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.”

Bella crosses her arms. “You love it,” she says.

I don’t know why I can’t just condemn it. Tell her she’s right—it’s freezing and too far and absurd—then drop it. I should be thrilled that she has forgotten about it. I want her to forget about it. I want that apartment to disappear into the atmosphere. So far I’m doing a good job at preventing that fateful hour. If the apartment disappears, so does what happened there.

“No, it’s true,” I say. “Dumbo is far. And Aaron said it would need a ton of work.” The last part is a little bit of a lie.

Bella opens her mouth to say something but closes it again.

“So things are good with you guys?” I venture.

Bella sighs. “He said you had a nice time at the apartment. Like maybe you liked him a little better? He said you seemed friendly, which is entirely out of character.”

“Hey.”

“You’re many things,” Bella says. “But friendly never really comes to mind.”

I have a flash of Bella and me, newly minted New Yorkers, in line for some ludicrously expensive club in the Meatpacking District. Bella had lent me one of her dresses, something short and bright, and it was cold, although I don’t remember the season—late fall, early winter? We were without coats, as we usually were in the years surrounding twenty.

In this slice of memory, Bella is flirting with the door guy, a club promoter named Scoot or Hinds, some sound not word, someone who liked when hot girls showed up, liked when Bella did. She’s telling him she just has a few more friends she wants to bring in.

“They like you?” he asks.

“No one is,” Bella says. She shakes her hair off her neck.

“Her?” Scoot points to me. He’s less than impressed, this I can tell. Being Bella’s friend has always felt a little bit like standing in her shadow. It used to make me insecure, maybe it still does, but over time we found our things., our shared ground, our complimenting balance. Standing in front of that club maybe we hadn’t, yet.

Bella leans forward and whispers something into Scoot’s ear. I don’t hear, but I can imagine what it is:
She’s a princess, you know. She’s royalty. Fifth in line to the Dutch throne. A Vanderbilt.

It used to embarrass me that Bella had to do this. It embarrasses me that night in Meatpacking, too. But I never tell her. Her proximity is my gift; my silence is hers. I make her life smooth and solid. She makes mine bright and dazzling. This seems fair. A good trade.

“Come on in, ladies,” Scoot says. We do. We enter Twitch or Slice or Markd. Whatever it was called, it’s gone now. We dance. Men buy us drinks. I feel pretty in her dress, although it is a little too short on me, a little loose in the chest. It hugs in the wrong spots.

At a certain point, two men come up to hit on us. I am not interested. I have a boyfriend. He’s in law school at Brown. We’ve been together for eight months. I’m faithful to him. I think, maybe, I’ll marry him, but it is a passing thought.

Everywhere we go Bella flirts. She does not like that I don’t. She thinks I am withholding, that I do not know how to have a good time. She’s right, but only sometimes. This form of fun does not come naturally to me, and therefore feels impossible to engage in. I am constantly trying to learn the rules, only to realize that the people who win don’t seem to follow any.

One of the men makes a comment. Everyone laughs. I roll my eyes.

“You’re so friendly,” he says. It sticks.

At the restaurant now, I scoop a fava bean onto a small piece of crisp bread. It’s hot, and the garlic pops in my mouth.

“Morgan and Ariel met Greg on Saturday,” Bella says. “
They
loved him.”

Morgan and Ariel are a couple Bella met through the gallery scene four-ish years ago. Since then, they’ve become more David’s and my friends than Bella’s—mostly because we’re better at making dinner reservations and staying in the country. Morgan is a photographer who does popular cityscapes and had a coffee table book called
On High
come out last year to much fanfare. Ariel works in private equity.

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Bella says. “I honestly thought you would, too.” She continues while I chew. “I’m not mad it’s just . . . you’re always wanting me to be more serious, and be with someone who cares. Like you never stop talking about that. And he does. And it doesn’t seem to matter to you.”

“It matters,” I tell her. I do not want to keep talking about this.

“You have a weird way of showing it.”

She’s annoyed, her voice edgy, her arms outstretched. I sit back.

“I know,” I say. I swallow. “I mean, I can see that, that he cares. And I’m happy for you.”

“You are?” she says.

“I am,” I say. “He seems like a good guy.”

“A good guy? Come on, Dannie, that’s pathetic.” She’s petulant, angry. I don’t really blame her. I’m giving her nothing. “I’m really crazy about him,” she says. “I’ve never felt this way before, and I know I’ve said this a lot, and I know you don’t believe me—”

“I believe you,” I say.

Bella sticks her elbows on the table and leans forward. All the way. “What is it?” she says. “It’s me, Dannie. You can say anything. You know that. What do you not like about him?”

All at once my eyes sting up with tears. It is an unusual reaction for me, and I blink, more in surprise than in an effort to stop it. Bella looks so hopeful sitting across from me. Naïve, even. So full of the possibility she purports to feel. And I have a giant secret I cannot tell her. Something profound, terrible, and strange has happened in my life, and she doesn’t get to know.

“I guess I’ve had you all to myself for a really long time,” I say. “It’s not fair, but the idea of you being with someone for real makes me feel, I don’t know.” I swallow. “Jealous, maybe?”

She sits back, satisfied. Thank god I came up with something. Bless me for being a lawyer. She buys it. This makes sense to her. She knows I have always wanted the space closest to her, front position, and she has given it to me.

“But you have David, and it’s fine,” she says.

“Yeah. It’s just always been that way, so it feels different.”

She nods.

“But you’re right,” I say. “It’s dumb. I guess emotions aren’t always rational.”

Bella laughs. “I genuinely never thought I’d hear you say those words.” She reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. “Nothing is going to change, I promise you. Or if it does, it’ll be for the better. You’ll see me even more. You’ll see me so much you’ll be sick of me.”

“Well then, cheers—I look forward to being sick of you.”

Bella smiles. We clink glasses. Then she waves a hand back and forth in front of her face. “So you like him, sorta. Maybe. You’re jealous. We’ll leave it there. Okay?”

I shake my head. “Sure.”

“But he really is—” She starts, and her voice trails off, her gaze with it. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like I finally get it, you know? What everyone always talks about.”

“Bella,” I say. “That’s wonderful.”

Bella wiggles her nose. “What’s new with you?”

I take a deep breath. I blow some air out of my lips. “David and I got engaged,” I say.

She picks up her water glass. “Dannie. That’s decades-old news.”

“Four and a half years.”

“Right.”

“No, I mean. We’re going to get married this time. For real. In December.”

Bella’s eyes widen. Then they flit down to my hand and back up again. “Holy shit. For real?”

“For real. It’s time. We’re both just so busy and there’s always a reason not to, but I realized there’s a really big reason to do it. So we will.”

The waiter comes over, and Bella turns to him abruptly. “A bottle of champagne and ten minutes,” she says. He leaves.

“He’s been asking me to set a date for a long time.”

“I’m aware,” Bella says. “But you always say no.”

“It’s not that I say no,” I say. “It’s just that I haven’t said yes.”

“What changed?”

I look at her. Bella. My Bella. She looks so radiant, so high on love. How can I tell her that it’s her? That she’s the reason.

“I guess I just finally know the future I want,” I say.

She nods. “Did you tell Meryl and Alan?”

My parents. “We called them. They’re thrilled. They asked if we wanted to do it at The Rittenhouse.”

“Do you? In Philly? It’s so generic.” Bella wiggles her nose. “I always saw you doing something very Manhattan.”

“I’m generic, though. You always forget that.”

She smiles.

“But no Philly,” I say. “It’s just inconvenient. We’ll see what’s available in the city. “

The champagne comes, and our glasses are filled. Bella holds hers to mine. “To good men,” she says. “May we know them, may we love them, may we love each other’s.”

I swallow down some bubbles.

“I’m starving,” I say. “I’m ordering.”

Bella lets me. I get a Greek salad, lamb souvlaki, spanakopita and roasted eggplant with tahini.

We sink into the food like a bath.

“Do you remember the first time we came here?” Bella asks me. We rarely make it through a meal without her repurposing some memory. She is so sentimental. Sometimes I think about our old age and it seems intolerable to have to sift through that much history. We have twenty-five years now, and there’s already too much to pull from, too much to make her weepy. Old age is going to be brutal.

“No,” I say. “It’s a restaurant. We’ve come here a lot.”

Bella rolls her eyes. “You had just moved down from Columbia, and we were celebrating your job with Clarknell.”

I shake my head. “We celebrated Clarknell at Daddy-O.” The bar off Seventh we used to frequent at all hours of the night for the first three years we lived in the city.

“No,” Bella says. “We met Carl and Berg there before we came here, just you and me.”

She’s right, we did. I remember the tables all had candles on them, and there was a bowl of Jordan almonds by the door. I scooped two handfuls into the pouch in my purse on the way out. They don’t keep them stocked anymore, probably because of customers like me.

“Maybe we did,” I say.

Bella shakes her head. “You can never be wrong.”

“It’s actually part of my job description,” I say. “But I seem to remember a night in late two thousand fourteen.”

“Way before David,” Bella says.

“Yeah.”

“You love him?” she says. It’s a strange thing to ask and it’s not lost on either one of us, this question, and that she’s asked it.

“I do,” I say. “We want so many of the same things, we have the same plans. It fits, you know?”

Bella cuts a slice of feta and spears a tomato on top. “So you know what it’s like then,” she says.

“What?”

“To feel like you’ve met your person.”

Bella holds my gaze, and I feel something sharp prick my stomach from the inside out. It’s like she put the pin there.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry if I was weird with Aaron. I really do like him, and I’ll love him if and whenever you do. Just take it slow,” I say.

She puts the bite into her mouth and chews. “Impossible,” she says.

“I know,” I say. “But I’m your best friend. I have to say it ­anyway.”

Chapter Thirteen

The swamp of July meets us with a heavy, cloying inevitability: the weather is going to get worse before it gets better. We still have to get through August. David asks me to meet him for lunch in Bryant Park one Wednesday toward the end of the month.

In the summer, Bryant Park sets up café tables around the perimeter and corporates in suits take their lunches outside. David’s office is in the thirties and mine in the fifties, so Forty-Second and Sixth Avenue is our magic midway zone. We rarely meet for lunch, but when we do, it’s usually Bryant Park.

David is waiting with two nicoise salads from Pret and my favorite Arnold Palmer from Le Pain Quotidien. Both establishments are in walking distance and have indoor seating so we can eat there in the colder months. We’re not fancy lunch people. I’d be happy with a deli salad for two meals out of three most days. In fact, one of our first dates was to this very park with these very salads. We sat outside even though it was too cold, and when David noticed me shivering, he unwrapped his scarf and put it around me, then he jumped up to get me a hot coffee from the cart on the corner. It was a small gesture, but so indicative of who he was—who he is. He’s always been willing to put my happiness before his comfort.

I take a car down to meet him, but I’m still drenched when I arrive.

“It’s a hundred degrees,” I say, folding myself into the seat across from him. My heels are rubbing blisters into the backs of my feet. I need talcum powder and a pedicure, immediately. I can’t remember the last time I stopped to get my nails done.

“Actually, it’s ninety-six but feels like one oh two,” David says, reading off his phone.

I blink at him.

“Sorry,” he says. “But I understand the point.”

“Why are we outside?” I reach for my drink. It’s miraculously still cold, even though the ice has almost melted entirely.

“Because we never get any fresh air.”

“This is hardly fresh,” I say. “Do the summers keep getting worse?”

“Yes.”

“I’m too hot to even eat.”

“Good,” he says. “Because the food was a ruse.”

He drops a calendar book down on the table between us.

“What is this?”

“It’s a planner,” he says. “Dates, times, numbers. We need to start getting organized about this thing.”

“The wedding?”

“Yes,” he says. “The wedding. Unless we start making phone calls, everything is going to be booked. They are already. We’re too tired at night to talk about it, and this is how we got four years down the line.”

“And a half,” I remind him.

“Right,” he says. “And a half.”

He bites his bottom lip and shakes his head at me.

“We need a human planner,” I say.

“Yes, but we needed to plan to even get a planner. A lot of the top people book up two years in advance.”

“I know,” I say. “I know.”

“I’m not saying this is like, your area—” David says. “But I think we should do it together. I’d like that. If you want.”

“Of course,” I say. “I’d love that.”

This is how badly David wants to marry me. He’ll take his lunch hour to look over
Brides.

“No cheesy shit,” he says.

“I’m offended at the suggestion,” I say.

“And I don’t think we should have a wedding party,” he says. “Too much work, and I don’t want a bachelor party.”

Pat’s, in Arizona, didn’t exactly go according to plan. They booked the wrong hotel and ended up getting delayed at the airport for nine and a half hours. Everyone got drunk on beers and Bloody Marys, and David was hungover the rest of the weekend.

“I’m with you. Bella can hold our rings, or something.”

“Fine.”

“And white flowers only.”

“Works for me.”

“Heavy cocktail hour, who cares about dinner?”

“Exactly.”

“And open bar.”

“But no shots.”

David smiles. “No special wedding shot? Alright then.” He flips over his wrist. “Nice progress. I gotta go.”

“That’s it?” I say. “Planner and run?”

“You want to have lunch now?”

I look at my phone. Seven missed calls and thirty-two new emails. “No. I was late when I got here.”

David stands and hands me my salad. I take it.

“We’ll get it done,” I tell him.

“I know we will.”

I imagine David wearing a sweater and a gold band on his ring finger, opening wine in our kitchen on a cozy winter night. A sense of sustained comfort. The materials of a warm life.

“I’m happy,” I tell him.

“I’m glad,” he says. “Because either way, you’re stuck with me.”

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