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Past Imperfect, Future Tense

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The first time she texts him, six months after he left town, it’s really not her fault.

She’d been browsing Facebook while eating a burrito bowl at her desk, and the little “Trending” box at the top right of the screen said that 100K people were talking about Atlanta. Which happens to be where Greg lives.

When she hovers over the news item, Facebook helpfully links her to an article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a mountain lion that somehow ended up blocking all lanes of traffic on 285 during rush hour. Did Greg need to drive on 285 to get to class? Rebecca had no clue. But if he did, and he didn’t know about said mountain lion… well, she’d be a bad friend-slash-former-lover (incidentally, was she old enough to consider herself anyone’s “former lover”? She’d always considered that term the parlance of Blanche Devereaux on Golden Girls, not modern thirty-something women like herself) if she didn’t tip him off.

 

[REBECCA BUNCH]: Weirdest thing-- I just saw there’s a mountain lion loose on the highway in ATL? Hope you’re safe.

 

She cringes as soon as she hits send, but he texts back almost right away.

 

[GREG SERRANO]: You do know how I hate cats

[REBECCA BUNCH]: Just thought you might not know about it!

[GREG SERRANO]: Thanks. That’s wild

[GREG SERRANO]: Get it??

 

Her mouth twists into a wry grin, and she tosses the remnants of her lunch in the trash. And that’s the last time she speaks to Greg.

Until a month and a half later, that is, when he texts her while she’s getting boba with Valencia.

 

[GREG SERRANO]: Hey, what was that cheese you made me eat?

 

“Who is it?” asks Valencia, after Rebecca’s stared down at her phone for a moment too long. She looks up.

“Wh-- what? No, it’s-- it’s nobody. It’s Paula. Want to get me another boba?”

Valencia narrows her eyes. “You haven’t even finished your first one.”

“I know, but my throat’s feeling kinda dry. Might be coming down with something.” Rebecca pulls out her wallet and hands it to Valencia. “Get yourself one, too. On me.”

Once the other woman has shrugged and walked away, Rebecca turns back to her phone.

 

[REBECCA BUNCH]: You’re gonna have to narrow that down, Serrano. You know I’m a cheese connoisseur

[GREG SERRANO]: Looked kind of like a custard pie?

[REBECCA BUNCH]: Camembert!

[GREG SERRANO]: That’s the one.

[GREG SERRANO]: There’s a fancy cheese shop near campus. Thought I’d pick some up.

[REBECCA BUNCH]: You hate fancy places. And your favorite cheese is Kraft singles.

[GREG SERRANO]: People change, Bunch.

 

Then, a minute later:

 

[GREG SERRANO]: Everything good with you?

 

She thinks about it for a minute as she watches Valencia pay for round two at the boba stand. Things are good-- not great, but good. Work’s good. Friend stuff? Decent. Man stuff? She wrinkles her nose-- she’s in a bit of a dry spell, but she’s not about to tell Greg that. She texts back.

 

[REBECCA BUNCH]: Great! You?

[GREG SERRANO]: Finishing up finals. Can’t drink to blow off steam. Going to eat this entire wheel of cheese now instead.

 

She giggles at the image.

“Paula’s pretty funny, huh?” Valencia asks with a knowing smirk. She sets down their plastic cups and Rebecca drops her phone back in her purse.

“The funniest.”

You’d think it would make her crazy, texting an ex like that, but it really doesn’t. (Sure, she finds herself checking his Instagram a few extra times a week-- seriously, Serrano, why get an Instagram account if you’re never going to post a damn picture?-- but that’s perfectly normal.) When Heather offers to set her up with her parents’ cute neighbor, a divorced guy named Brad, she doesn’t even think twice. Josh and Greg are her past. Maybe Brad isn’t her future-- Brad, with his excessive collection of electric guitars and his inability to parallel park-- but she’s out there, and she’s dating, and it’s good.

She goes on six dates with Brad. When she gets home from playing putt-putt with him one evening and opens up her laptop, she has an email. It’s from Greg.

 

To: rbunch@gmail.com
From: gserrano@emory.edu
Subject: Read ‘em and weep, Bunch

 

In the body of the email, he’s pasted a screenshot of his grades from his second semester: all As. A perfect 4.0. She grins, and immediately begins to compose a reply.

 

To: gserrano@emory.edu
From: rbunch@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Read ‘em and weep, Bunch

Oh my god, Greg! That’s amazing! I knew you could do it. Maybe it’s good that you’re so far away-- no distractions to keep you from finally doing what you want. You can just concentrate on what’s important.

 

She frowns at what she’s written, but she can’t pretend it isn’t probably true. Quickly adding a “Best, Rebecca,” she hits ‘Send,’ then goes to bed.

The next morning she has a one-line reply from Greg.

 

To: rbunch@gmail.com
From: gserrano@emory.edu
Subject: Re: Read ‘em and weep, Bunch

Hey, those distractions were pretty important, too.

 

She goes out with Brad again the following weekend, but then lets him down easy. In spite of owning sixteen guitars, he only knows how to play the intro to ‘Kryptonite’ by 3 Doors Down, and it’s getting old.

That summer, she and Heather and Valencia and even Paula spend a weekend in a rental house on the beach, and it goes mostly smoothly. She takes on a huge case at work and wins (Darryl hangs up a banner and orders a cake for when she gets back to the office from the courthouse; it really is a huge case). She emails back and forth with Greg, each message a sentence or two longer than the last, every week or so. They’re in touch at odd hours: when he’s up late studying; when she’s up early prepping for court. It’s unorthodox, but it’s good.

The emails peter off when she starts dating someone new, a graphic designer named Timothy. But that’s good, too. It was bound to happen eventually.

Timothy tells her he loves her on their three-month anniversary, and she says it back after only a moment’s hesitation.

She’s checking Instagram in bed later that night, with Timothy snoring softly beside her, and she almost scrolls right past it, but there it is-- a selfie with no filter, Greg and some blonde girl, grinning up at the camera. His very first post on Instagram.

And you know what? She feels just fine.

Of course, Timothy only lasts another couple of months. But that’s okay, too. It’s winter in West Covina, and she’s working a lot. She and Heather start volunteering with a youth literacy group. She paints the walls in her bathroom yellow, then repaints them in a slightly different shade of yellow. She reads six books in four months.

It all actually feels pretty great.

She’s busy enough that spring creeps up on her. Suddenly it’s warm out instead of just slightly warm, and it’s only when her phone buzzes with an email from Greg that she realizes how long it's been since she's heard from him.

 

To: rbunch@gmail.com
From: gserrano@emory.edu
Subject: Plans next week?

I’ve got an interview lined up at a consulting firm in Pasadena. Going to stop by West Covina to see my dad-- want to grab coffee?

 

To: gserrano@emory.edu
From: rbunch@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Plans next week?

Ok, but you’re buying, Mr. Bigshot Consultant.

 

When she gets to the coffee shop, he’s already there, smirking up at her from a pair of cozy armchairs nestled in a back corner.

“Of all the coffee joints in all the towns in all the world…” he says as she settles into the empty chair.

“What made you pick this place?” She looks around, noting the cappuccino sitting on the end table between them, looking just the way she likes it. She picks it up and takes a sip.

He shrugs. “Never been here before.” They’re both silent for a few seconds, and then they speak at the same time.

“So how was your--”

“What’s going on with--”

Greg rolls his eyes good-naturedly and gestures for her to continue.

“How was your job interview?”

“Oh, that? I bombed it. Accidentally insulted the interviewer’s mother, invoked a handful of Carlin’s seven dirty words, the works.”

Rebecca’s eyes widen, and she sets her mug down hard. “You’re joking.”

His lips turn up in a slow smile. “Yeah. I am.” He wraps his hands around his mug and looks down for a moment. When he glances back up, he looks a little shellshocked. “It went… really, really well, actually. I think... they kind of loved me.”

She gives him an open-mouthed smile, and reaches out to smack her hand lightly against his knee. “Get outta town!”

“Already did that.”

“Greg, that’s amazing. Really. See, I knew you could do it.”

“Stop it, Bunch, you’re making me blush,” he deadpans.

“Watch it, Serrano, or I’ll take it all back.”

He sits back in his chair, taking a long sip of his coffee and staring at her all the while. “I’ve missed this,” he says after a beat.

“This-- what, us?” Rebecca quirks an eyebrow. “I don’t know if I believe that. If I recall correctly, you once said we were a shitshow.”

“Oh, we definitely, absolutely were.” Rebecca pouts, and Greg just chuckles. “And I don’t miss that. At all. Do you?”

She thinks back to the way they both behaved, more than two years ago now, and she can’t help but laugh and wince at once. “Not really.”

Greg leans forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees. He’s got a soft smile on his face, and his eyes look happy. Not guarded, not bitter, just happy. It makes a pleased little giggle bubble up inside her.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” he says, his voice low, “but I think we’re kind of just adults now.” He raises his eyebrows. “Is that bad?”

She shakes her head, grinning at him. “No. No, I think it’s good. We grew up.”

“You know,” he says, biting his lip. “Pasadena’s only like, an hour away.”

It’s longer at rush hour, but she’ll let him have that one. “That’s true.”

“Whattaya say we… meet up for dinner sometime once I’m settled? Assuming I get the job, I mean.” He doesn’t sound self-deprecating, like the old Greg-- just practical. “I could come here, or you could go there.” He shrugs. “Or we could meet in the middle.”

Her heart speeds up, just a little bit. “You’d really want to?”

“I said I didn’t miss the shitshow, Bunch. Never said I didn’t miss you.”

When she leaves the coffee shop, they have a plan to grab dinner sometime in the amorphous future, and Rebecca tries not to get her hopes up about what that might mean. The next day, he texts her for the first time in what feels like forever.

 

[GREG SERRANO]: Got the job. Moving out there in two weeks.

[GREG SERRANO]: First order of business

[GREG SERRANO]: How about Italian?