Undecided, page 26
“It’s chocolate cheesecake,” I try. “You’re going to love it.”
Celestia winces. “Ooh, is it dairy? I don’t eat dairy.”
Marcela pauses in setting the table to stick a finger down her throat and mock gag.
“Have some more wine,” I say. “Or beer. Or tap water. Let’s all just go back to the table immediately.”
Celestia shrugs and turns to sit down, Crosbie following. I’m halfway there when Nate says, “Red Corset?”
All of a sudden I’m doing my best statue impression, one leg in the air, arms mid-swing. I swear the whole room can hear the alarm bells clanging, the arrows that appear mid-air to point at me, shrieking “Guilty, guilty, guilty!” at the top of their gleeful lungs.
“She was an actress,” Kellan lies smoothly, walking over to fold the Christmas tree drawing back down over that dreadful list and putting an end to the inquiry. “It was one of those historical plays where the women wore corsets.”
“Hmm.” Nate takes his seat and accepts a piece of cheesecake. I stare at mine like it’s a lump of dirt and wonder how the hell I’m going to choke it down. “Didn’t you have a red corset, Nora?”
Now I’m sure they can hear the alarm bells, because the room goes deathly silent for ten full seconds. Crosbie looks at me in surprise and I open my mouth to say something, anything, when Kellan beats me to it.
“Nora?” He laughs. “In a corset? I can’t picture it.”
“Have you ever even been on stage?” Marcela asks, nudging me when it becomes clear that I’m too stupid to play along. “Ever dreamed of being an actress?”
“No,” I manage. “Never.”
“Wrong girl,” Marcela says firmly. “You’re imagining things.”
Nate shrugs. “Huh. Okay.”
I pick at my cake but my lack of appetite is unremarkable, since everyone is eating very slowly, still too full from having inhaled their dinner.
Celestia resumes her texting and after a minute Nate puts down his fork and pulls out his phone, and I wonder what message she’s sending. Get me out of here? Do you think they have any Perrier?
But that’s not it at all.
“Aha!” Nate crows happily. “Here it is.” He shows his phone to Crosbie, who glances at the screen politely, then freezes mid-bite. I have no idea what he’s seeing, but all the blood drains from his face and he’s suddenly gripping his fork so hard his knuckles turn white.
“What is it?” Kellan asks.
I reach for his hand, but Crosbie moves it away. “Are you okay?” I try. But he won’t look at me. He won’t look at anybody.
“I knew you had a red corset,” Nate says, oblivious. “Marcela texted me this after the May Madness party. Remember when you went there to get drunk after learning how bad your grades were? Then you said the party was no good so you left to go streaking down Main Street?”
I can barely breathe. “What are you doing?”
“She told me what was happening and I didn’t believe her, so she texted me some proof,” he continues, turning his phone so I can see the damage. And it’s bad. It’s so bad.
It’s a picture of our clothes crumpled on the sidewalk, the corset gleaming red on top, a beacon of my guilt. It’s like sliding the final block into a very precarious tower, and just for a second it stands there, announcing its presence, before it all comes crashing down.
Crosbie’s breathing heavily. “Is it true?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Nate answers, oblivious. “She got arrested and everything. You didn’t know?”
Crosbie ignores him, eyes on me. “Red Corset,” he utters. “Is you?”
I can’t say a single thing to defend myself. I don’t want to admit it but I don’t want to lie anymore, either. In any case, it doesn’t really matter what I do, because he knows the truth, even if he can’t believe it.
“Did you know?” he asks, turning to look at Kellan. His eyes are pleading, begging his friend not to have known, not to have betrayed him. “Did you know it was her?”
Kellan’s shaking his head helplessly. “I just… I didn’t remember…”
I’m numb. Every part of me. I don’t even feel the tears, just see them splash onto my plate, the untouched cake, the ruined everything.
“What am I missing?” Celestia asks, breaking the spell.
But it’s already too late, because when I finally look up Crosbie’s seat is empty and his jacket is gone and the front door is slamming shut.
“No!” The word sounds strangled as I lunge from my seat to go after him. I stumble around the table and down the stairs, yanking open the door to a face full of freezing rain. My feet slip on the wet stone as I run to the sidewalk, but I can’t see him. In seconds my hair is soaked and plastered to my head, my teeth chattering, temples aching from the cold. The streets are dark, abandoned on this miserable night, and when I call his name the only answer is a car starting up somewhere out of sight, the squeal of wheels on slush and ice, and then the fading growl of him leaving me.
I stumble back into the house and close the door behind me, resting against it when I can’t bear the thought of climbing the stairs and facing everyone. I’m numb from both the cold and the shock of what just happened. Of course he would find out this way. Of course he would find out at all. Of course. The truth always finds a way out, in the end.
I hadn’t realized I’d closed my eyes, but now I open them to find Kellan standing at the base of the steps, a towel in his hand, his face a miserable mirror image of mine.
“He’s gone,” I whisper, taking the towel. I can’t stop shaking, even as I try to do the responsible thing and wring the icy water from my hair.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“It’s not your fault.” The words come out automatically, but as soon as I hear them, I want to take them back. Of course it’s his fault. It’s his fault for pretending to be Matthew; I never would have shown up here that day had I known it was Kellan McVey’s apartment. It’s his fault for offering me free rent; I never would have moved in if I’d had to pay. It’s his fault for saving that stupid list; Nate never would have seen it if we’d burned it with the rest.
But even as I try my best to get angry at him, I can’t. Smarter, grown up Nora knows where the blame belongs, and unfortunately, it’s on my wet, slumped shoulders. “I should have told him,” I mumble, slouching onto the steps. Kellan hesitates a second before joining me, and though there’s a foot between us, the distance is quickly covered by the pool of water seeping out of my sodden wool dress.
“When?” Kellan asks ruefully. “When would have been a good time to tell him something like this?”
I shrug and think about it. When, exactly? When we first met in this very entryway? When there was no earthly reason to believe he’d ever want to know—or even care? Should I have told him when I started to realize there was some kind of spark between us, even though the news would have most definitely extinguished any potential flame? Should I have told him when things got more serious, when the news was bound to hurt impossibly more?
“I don’t know,” I answer eventually. “I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done worse than this.”
“Our first and last Chrisgiving,” Kellan says with a sigh.
We quickly run out of commiserating things to say, but the silence lasts all of four seconds before angry voices begin to filter down from the living room.
“…obsessed!” Marcela is shouting. “Why couldn’t you just drop it? Why are you even here?”
“I was invited!”
“We were invited,” Celestia corrects.
“Who brings their own dinner to a dinner party?” Marcela demands. “And who, under the age of ninety, wears fur coats?”
“Would you get over the fur coat thing?” This is Nate. “You never gave her a chance. You’re like a toddler who doesn’t want a toy, but doesn’t want anybody else to have it. It’s time to move
“Move on?” she squawks, outraged. “Move on from what, exactly?”
“This unrequited love you two have going,” Celestia replies calmly.
A shocked pause, then both Nate and Marcela start sputtering. “We don’t—We’re not—There’s no—”
“Stop kidding yourselves,” she interrupts. “Because you’re certainly not fooling anyone else. Have a nice life, Nate.”
“You call her Cece?”
“Would you shut up?”
Kellan and I stand uncomfortably as Celestia descends, collecting her fur coat from the hook by the door and pulling on her boots. “Thanks for dinner,” she says, opening the door and frowning as she looks outside. “And Happy Chrisgiving.”
“Happy Chrisgiving,” we echo uncertainly, watching as she exits into the storm, presumably to walk…somewhere.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” Nate mumbles, hurrying down the stairs. He snatches up his coat and stuffs his feet into his sneakers, not bothering with the laces. “Nora,” he begins, hand on the knob. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I—I have to go catch—I just—”
I wave him off. “Just go.”
He looks between Kellan and I, pained. “I had no idea.”
I shrug. “You’re not the only one.”
Kellan winces at the reminder, and we both shiver as icy wind whips in when Nate leaves.
After a moment we turn to see Marcela hesitating at the top of the stairs. “I guess I’ll go,” she says awkwardly. “Unless you need…”
“I think we’re all set,” I say.
We hover uncomfortably as she gets dressed and pulls her car keys from her pocket.
“Sorry about Crosbie,” she offers.
“Sorry about Nate,” I say.
“Sorry about Chrisgiving,” Kellan adds, just to be included.
Marcela leaves and then it’s just Kellan and I looking at each other until my teeth start to chatter.
“Do you think there’s any point in driving to the Frat Farm?” I ask, wrapping the towel more tightly around my shoulders. It makes me think of Crosbie’s Superman cape, which reminds me of watching him remove it the first night we’d slept together, and that makes me indescribably sad. I’m the world’s worst superhero; the antihero of this dreadful story. The lamest villain.
Kellan shakes his head. “We can try, but he knows we’d go there. He was planning to head to his parents’ place in the morning. He’s probably driving over right now.”
“Do you know the address?”
“No. Just that it’s in Chatterly. I’ve never been.”
The intensely awkward silence is broken only by the snap of my teeth clacking together.
“Go take a shower,” Kellan says, placing a palm in the center of my back and urging me up the stairs. “Get warm. I’m sure… I mean, this thing… He knows you… We… I…”
“He knows everything,” I say. “Too much, too late.”
We stop in the living room and stare at that stupid easel, the flashing lights, the silly Christmas tree, the secret we tried to hide.
“We should have done this last time,” Kellan says, striding over and tearing off the page of names. “But better late than never.”
“It’s just late,” I say, trailing him as he grabs the lighter from the television console and heads into the bathroom. “Nothing’s better.”
He doesn’t answer, just tears the paper in half and half again, crumpling each piece and tossing it into the tub. We’re quiet as he lights the fire, the pages crackling as they catch. They burn quickly, turning into murky black ashes against the white porcelain.
When the fire is gone Kellan and I look at each other, and the only reason I know I’m crying is because the tears cut warm tracks over my frozen skin.
“I’m sorry,” he says, as though the tears remind him. “For everything.”
He smiles sadly, then turns and walks out the door, tugging it shut behind him. I strip out of my wet dress and wring it out in the sink, then climb in the shower and turn on the water. I’m so cold that even lukewarm feels searing hot, and I watch the ashes swirl around my feet as the water beats against my shoulders. Every drop hurts.
I thought this was over the last time we did this, but I was wrong.
Now it’s over.
* * *
Breakfast the next morning is a torturously awkward affair. Kellan and I each have exams that start at one, so we’re both home to study. When I stumble out of my bedroom shortly after eight, Kellan’s already sitting down with a bowl of cereal. I’d much rather crawl back into bed and hide under the covers, but I can’t afford to do any of the things I really want to do, so I stick some frozen waffles in the toaster and eat them standing up.
For a long time the only sound is the scrape of Kellan’s spoon against the bowl and the crunch of my waffles.
“Sleep all right?” he asks eventually.
“I texted Crosbie a dozen times, no answer. I called too. No response.”
Kellan stirs through the flakes until he finds a blue marshmallow. “Me too.”
“You really think he went home? To Chatterly? In the storm?” The weather is now deceptively calm and clear, the sun out, the sidewalks dry, as though nothing had happened last night. As though everything is fine.
“Yeah,” Kellan says. “I do. Wouldn’t you?”
I think of my parents, living together but apart, making everyone miserable. “No.” I polish off my second waffle and wipe my fingers on my shorts, then glance at the clock on the microwave.
“You’re going over there?” Kellan finishes the cereal and stands. And, apparently, reads minds.
“I have to try. I mean, I know that news had to come as a shock, but it was last year. We didn’t even know each other. Maybe now that he’s slept on it, he’ll…it’ll just…”
Kellan looks unconvinced, but shrugs anyway. “I’ll come with you.”
“I don’t think seeing us together is going to help.”
A long gap of silence grows as the words sink in.
Kellan clears his throat uncomfortably. “You’re right.”
“I should go alone. I’ll bike over now, then head to the library to study before my exam. If he’s at the Frat Farm I’ll text you.”
He nods. “Fine.”
* * *
He’s not there, of course. My knocking wakes up Dane, who is, for some reason, sleeping in a hammock strung up at the bottom of the stairs, and he confirms that Crosbie didn’t come home last night. He’s a little perplexed to learn that I don’t know where my boyfriend is, but I hurry away before he can wake up enough to ask questions.
Last spring I’d nearly flunked out of Burnham, had sex in a closet with Kellan, streaked down Main Street, and gotten arrested. If I learned anything from the experience, it’s how not to compound my mistakes. So even though what I’d really like to do is cry myself to sleep and bike all the way to Chatterly wailing “Crosbie, talk to me!” what I actually do is head to the library, crack open my books, and control the one thing that’s actually within my power.
By the time I get home that evening, the apartment smells like fried chicken, Kellan’s second favorite food.
“Hey,” I say, finding him in the living room, eating straight out of the bucket and watching a hockey game.
“How’d your exam go?”
“I think it went well. Yours?”
I grab a microwave dinner out of the freezer and nuke it for two minutes, then sit at the dining room table to eat.
“I guess you didn’t find Crosbie this morning,” Kellan remarks when the game goes to commercial.
“Dane said he didn’t come home last night.”
“Did you hear from him?”
Kellan takes a deep breath and sets the bucket on the coffee table. I watch him turn and steeple his fingers under his chin, deeply serious. “We should talk.”
“We are talking.”
“About…this.” He gestures around the room.
I follow his arm and just see the apartment. “Okay.”
He exhales heavily. “I really like you, Nora. You’re a good roommate and a nice person and…yeah.”
There’s a pause, as though I’m supposed to return the compliment somehow, but I’m not about to offer him anything when I know there’s a “but” coming.
“But,” Kellan continues when I don’t chime in, “Crosbie is my best friend. I don’t know what’s going to happen from here on out, but the one thing I do know is that there’s no way he’s going to keep being my best friend if you’re living here.”
My brows shoot up, and not just from the surprise of learning I’m being evicted. For once, Kellan’s actually making a good point, and I’m a little alarmed I didn’t think of it first. I open my mouth to reply but he plows ahead.
“It would just be weird,” he adds. “And uncomfortable for everybody. And while I hope you and I will stay friends, I have to do whatever it takes to fix things with Crosbie. Bros before ho—roommates. Ahem. Roommates.”
And there’s the Kellan we know and love.
“Fine,” I say, even as I’m wondering where the hell I’ll go. It’s not like Christmas is prime apartment-hunting season. “I’ll look for something else.”
He looks relieved, as though there’d been a chance I’d throw a fit. “Great. Okay. Good.”
I eat the last limp piece of pasta from the cardboard container. “Great.”
“I’m sorry, Nora,” he adds, when I stand up to throw away my trash and head for my room. “For everything.”
“Me too,” I say.
* * *
“He threw you out?” Marcela looks like she’s utterly confounded by the news.
“Not ‘threw out,’ exactly,” I clarify, wiping down a table. “But the ‘sooner the better’ part was pretty strongly implied. The worst part is, I should have been the one to initiate the conversation. Obviously I should leave. I never should have moved in.”
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