Greg didn’t know it at the time, but everything fell apart for three reasons, not necessarily in this order:
1. Heather dumped him. Dumped might be too strong a word; it was more like she was kissing him, and then she stopped, announcing over Chinese food that the two of them were done. “This is boring,” she said. “I thought dating an old guy was going to be hot, but it’s more like you want to be all responsible all the time.”
“Adults have to be responsible,” he’d told her, wondering if this meant he wasn’t getting any of her orange chicken. “You’re an adult.”
“I’m a millennial. Adults have expectations of me.”
“I’m also a millennial, and an adult.”
She looked at him, deeply suspicious.
By the time he’d googled who exactly was an millennial, she’d already left, orange chicken in hand.
2. He signed up for Wallflower, an online dating site. He was tipsy, which was no excuse.
3. Josh proposed to Valencia.
“Don’t do it,” Greg whispered as soon as he realized what was happening. He made eye contact across the room with White Josh, who had gone even paler than usual.
“I want everyone here,” Josh said, looking around the room at everyone who’d gathered for his anniversary party, “to take a moment, take out your phones, get your cameras ready, because you’re about to see the coolest thing that’s ever happened.”
Valencia looked nervously around, muttering something through those beautiful, evil pillows she referred to as lips.
“No, I’m going for this. Valencia, you are my bliss, and I’m going to follow my bliss just like Gandhi said--”
“Ghandi didn’t say that,” Rebecca said, pedantic even in the face of such a terrible plan.
“And that is why--” Josh dropped to one knee.
Before he could even get out the words, Valencia-- and Rebecca, not that Greg noticed-- started shaking her head.
Josh soldiered on, a look of dread on his face.
“I’d love to, Josh, but I can’t marry you,” Valencia said, hands dramatically clutched to her chest. “You know I’m in love with someone else.”
“Is it that guy at the ice cream stand that always gives you double scoops?” Josh asked. “Or that guy who fixed your transmission for the cost of the parts?”
“You know I would never,” she said.
“Is it that guy who goes to like twenty classes a week at your studio?”
“No, Ryan’s sweaty and unemployed.” Valencia shook her head. “But it’s connected to Valencia’s House of Yoga.”
“It’s the janitor.”
“No, it’s the Dos Equis man,” she said, a dreamy look on her face. “He came out my opening ceremonies and has been coming around ever since.”
Greg wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Josh so blotchy. “You cheated on me? With a guy from the TV?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Valencia said. “You know I wouldn’t.” She wrapped Josh in a hug. “But I would be cheating myself if I didn’t at least try to make it work with him. He really is the most interesting man in the world.”
Greg, newly single himself, ended up drinking with Josh until the wee hours of the morning... and signing up for online dating, with Josh.
Greg almost forgot about signing up for Wallflower, but they had not forgotten about him. He got almost a dozen emails that first week, finally logging in when he remembered his password (billyjoelismycopilot). He clicked around idly at first, but the faceless profiles were a little intoxicating. It was some weird promotion they were doing for the month to get people to see inner beauty, but all he saw was weirdos. He was pretty sure SeinfieldFan32 was his eleventh grade English teacher, for instance.
One evening, after a long shift at the bar but before his night class, he actually got a message.
SingingInTheShower: I can’t believe you’ve lived in West Covina your whole life! You come here often?
He clicked through immediately. She was 25-30 years old, medium height, and way more into Broadway musicals than someone on the west coast should be.
Things I am looking for in a mate
Someone who’s ok with broken people
He decided to go for it.
BackToBlack: Only when I’m feeling down on myself
BackToBlack: So literally every day
BackToBlack: Oh god
BackToBlack: ignore that I said hat
SingingInTheShower: No shame in that
BackToBlack: Yes, shame, Yes literally tons of shame.
SingingInTheShower: I get that. I mean, I would never tell my friends I was on here.
BackToBlack: I swear I just started this profile after a recent breakup.
BackToBlack: Not even because I want a date necessarily
BackToBlack: It was just... to see what was out there
SingingInTheShower: I get that. Boy, do I get that.
Rebecca came in to the bar mid-day, smiling way more than someone should on a Monday.
“What’s your excitement? You just finish paying off your student loans?”
“Oh, I paid mine off ages ago. They really pay lawyers well in New York. No, I’m just excited about some stuff happening in my personal life.”
“Did you get hit on at the Brown Bunny? Because, just so you know, that’s a gay bar. I know they make better cocktails than us, but the customers just aren’t interested.”
“No, I haven’t made that mistake since college. Actually, I had someone hit on me. A straight guy, and we talked forever, and I’m not telling you this to make you jealous.” She twisted in her seat. “Just kidding, of course I want you to be jealous of my successful love life.”
“Is that so? Because I have been doing just fine in that department.” He wasn’t ready to tell her about SingingInTheShower. “Just fine.”
It was silly to get excited about talking to a faceless woman on the internet. And yet he’d always make sure he was by his phone at 9:02. She’d always start messaging him then, and he’d feel his heart goddamn skip when she did.
SingingInTheShower: You know what I like about coffee? It’s always the same jolt every time.
SingingInTheShower: liquor hits me different depending on what food I’ve eaten or how much sleep I’ve gotten
SingingInTheShower: but coffee is always the same.
SingingInTheShower: even this swill in my office
BackToBlack: Coffee is the worst
BackToBlack: they’ve done studies and found out that I hate it
BackToBlack: and I’m over the age of college freshman so I can handle my booze
SingingInTheShower: hey now, I could kegger with the best of them
BackToBlack: spoken like someone who has never been to a party. Maybe has never even seen one on the tv
“Hector, my man, happy birthday,” Greg said, handing him a bottle of Skol vodka. Greg was not a person who brought plastic alcohol to parties, but Hector’s taste buds were permanently stuck in the eleventh grade.
“Dude, excellent,” Hector said. “I’m going to go put this through my Brita.”
“Hey, that one girl was looking for you,” Hector said, his head already in the fridge.
Greg went off in search of the one girl. He decided it had to be Rebecca, given that she was carefully studying twelve years of Hector’s school pictures, rather that talking to the crowd of surfers.
“I just don’t think this guy had front teeth,” she said by way of greeting.
“He had a few sports accidents. Only ever on school picture day.”
“When I was a kid, my mom would make me practice my smile in the mirror for a week before these things. My pictures look like those fake kids you see in picture frames.”
“That’s literally insane,” he said.
“I sure hope that isn’t hereditary!” She gave him a picture day smile. “I can only imagine what you looked like back then. Did you wear only black t-shirts, or were you once someone who wore bright colors?”
“I can show you,” he said. She hesitated but followed him to the staircase, where there was a line of pictures, including a third grade birthday party pic. “That’s me, Josh, White Josh, and Hector and his cousin.”
She leaned up on her toes to see. “Look at you guys! I had no idea you were chubby once.”
“Oh, I had the cheeks back in the day. You want to see something great?”
“Absolutely.” She followed him to Hector’s room.
“Is this how men in their twenties live?” she asked, glancing around at the unmade bed and the dishes piled in the corner.
Greg grimaced, then opened a window. “My room is way cleaner than this. It might even live up to your exacting standards.”
“My closet is organized by color,” she said.
“Never mind, then.” He pushed the door closed, cutting down on the pounding music.
“What did you want to show me?” she asked, sitting on the bed, and for a moment-- a crazy, non-significant moment-- he remembered Beans’ party; Rebecca in that Pepto bottle pink dress, Rebecca kissing him, Rebecca crying, Rebecca.
He shook his head and grabbed Hector’s yearbooks from the shelf.
He flipped through the pages, pointing out everyone.
“That’s Valencia back when she was Maria,” he said. “And this is me, back when I was president of the Environmental Club.”
“You were a total nerd!”
“Ok, Harvard. Here’s one of Josh winning Junior Homecoming King.” Seventeen year old Josh smiled up at them, but Rebecca was focused to the side of him.
“Is that you?” she asked, pointing to seventeen year old Greg, pictured with the rest of the decorating committee. “What a motley crew of weirdos.”
“Some of these guys are professional nerds in Silicon Valley these days.” He smiled tightly. “And I’m also technically employed.”
“Those guys are probably married to their jobs,” she said.
“And I’m recently single and the highlight of my day is seeing you come into my bar.”
She glanced over at him, her eyes wide.
He panicked. “Not because-- because you’ve got some crazy shenanigan going on, at any given moment. And otherwise it’s just another boring day with the drunks and the children.”
“Oh,” she said, before turning another page in the yearbook.
That night, he pulled up the Wallflower app and typed to Ms. Shower, Do you ever think your life would be different if you ever took a goddamn chance?
SingingInTheShower: I’ve had a few moments like that recently
SingingInTheShower: Listen, do you want to meet?
Greg was humming. This was not his usual state of affairs, but his shift at the bar was about to end, he was about to meet Ms. SingingintheShower, and his life (for once) was not going to suck.
“Hello,” he muttered, hoping none of the regulars could hear him, as he talked to a bottle of Fireball. “I’m Greg. I’m Greg Serrano. I’m Greg. No, too forceful.”
He imagined the bottle of Fireball/Ms. Shower introducing herself. He didn’t know what to expect, but he thought she’d have shining eyes, the type of eyes that showed exactly what she was thinking about when she was thinking about it. Going out with her would be so different than hanging out with Rebecca, who was always staring off into space. He’d once snapped his fingers at her, trying to pull her back to earth, and she’d been annoyed at him the rest of the night, drumming her fingers on the counter while sighing loudly.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, but I’m getting my degree and getting out.” He wondered if he should bring up his father’s health problems. “I take care of my father,” he whispered experimentally. “I manage my father’s affairs. No, that sounds like I pimp him out.”
He was contemplating how to tell Ms. Shower about his shitty car when he heard heels clack over towards the bar.
He felt his heart skip, but it was only Rebecca, wearing one of those tight little dresses she usually reserved for parties or Tuesdays. It was red, like the red Ms. Shower was going to wear.
He went to grab her usual when she leaned over towards him. “I’m meeting a guy, so I’m going to need you to just, like, casually drop hints that I’m amazing. ’Remember that time you saved those orphans?’ or some other garbage.”
“You’re meeting a guy? Like a date? The one from before?”
“I think so. He’s from--” she looked around, like she didn’t want the sad regulars to notice her. “the internet.”
“Oh no,” he said. Oh no.
“But secretly, I think he’s actually someone you and I both know.”
“I’m about 96% sure that this guy, this one I’ve been talking to online, is actually Josh! He’s recently single, he likes video games, he’s always online. And Josh has been really happy lately, like he’s probably excited about talking to me.”
Greg found, in that moment, that he couldn’t swallow the lump that had suddenly developed in his throat.
“God, how cute would that be? Like we went out when we were kids, practically, and now we get together as adults?”
“Are you sure?”
“That it would be cute?”
“That it’s Josh? I mean it could be anyone.”
“That’s true,” Rebecca said, her face falling. “In which case you subtly let this guy know how great I am.” She shook out her curls. “But it’s probably Josh.”
He put a hand to the back of his neck. “Listen, Rebecca, I have something to--”
“And it’s going to be good for us both, you know? I mean, he was a wreck after that super embarrassing failed proposal, and I-- I lied to you.”
She put down her beer, tenting her fingers on the bar counter. “When we first met, you asked me why I’d left New York and moved here. And I told you it was for work, but it wasn’t for work. My job is a joke, the summer is too hot, and we’re almost four hours from the beach.”
“Two when there’s no traffic.”
“But moving to West Covina was really, on some level, on some entirely conceptual level, like it wasn’t really the reason but I think part of me just wanted to see if-- Josh.”
He felt his stomach drop. “Josh.”
“I mean, if we could recapture that magic of summer camp. You know, it was only two months and I still had acne but it was the best summer of my life. And Josh is like, a bit of that summer distilled, does that make sense?”
He could feel a migraine starting, could see the halos already. He knew he didn’t have any medicine on him. He’d known, at the very edges of his consciousness, that there was something weird about her, something weird about Rebecca and her relationship with Josh. He hadn’t followed his gut, and he never did, and then he was constantly surprised when he got fucked over.
“Of course you have feelings for him.”
“Who wouldn’t?” Rebecca said, a dreamy smile on her face and that far-away look in her eyes. “He’s so nice.”
Everyone thought Chan was nice, even when he wasn’t. It was like a person got a reputation in the second grade, and people just continued to make assume it was always true even when the situation was unwarranted.
Just then, his boss, Kevin, walked out of the back room. “You still here, Serrano?”
“I’m always here.”
“I thought you were heading out early. Didn’t you have a date?”
Greg stopped breathing, just started shaking his head.
“Well, you should go out more regularly. Too much sperm in your system isn’t good for you. Maybe next weekend. I’ve got a hot one tonight, don’t wait up.”
Greg waited until Kevin’s steps had faded before turning back to Rebecca, certain the game was up.
“I didn’t know you had a date! Who is she? Where are you two going?”
“Just a-- girl, you wouldn’t know her. We were going to the West Covina Cinema, get a popcorn and some sodas .”
“That’s our place,” she said, and for a moment, he allowed himself to think she was a little jealous.
“You don’t own seeing movies with me.”
“No, and I wouldn’t care if it was the AMC. But the Cinema is our standing Sunday night thing.”
“I have lived here all my life,” he said. “And I have been going to the Cinema since I could walk. Seriously, that seems like shitty parenting and it probably was, but they meant well.”
“I might not be a West Covina native, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have traditions.” She locked eyes with him, like a challenge.
He broke first. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m not going out with her, after all.”
She perked back up.
“Can I get you another beer?”
“I don’t want to get wrecked before Josh-- before this internet guy gets here. This could be the start of something beautiful.”
She looked so hopeful, so excited, that he wanted to stab himself with a fork. “When was your mystery guy supposed to get here, anyway?”
“I mean, he’s running late.” she frowned, looking down at her watch. “But he’s coming.”
Greg couldn’t stand watching her watching her watch, so he went to the back room to grab more glassware. That wasted some time, but not enough, so he took a moment to read over a poster outlining Californians’ right to work, paying extra attention to the section on pregnant ladies.
He went back to the bar, single tumbler in hand, only to see Rebecca, head in her hand, trying very hard to keep her smile pasted on.
He was a heel. He should have told her right when he’d figured it all out, when he’d put two and two together and realized Rebecca was Ms. Shower. It was cruel to let her suffer, thinking she’d been stood up.
He needed to say something now.
“Do you think,” Rebecca asked, clutching her beer bottle like a lifeline, “that Josh realized it was me, and that’s why he didn’t show up?”
Greg, a noted coward, said nothing.
“I hate him,” Rebecca said, staring at her glass of wine before grabbing the bottle. She took a swig. “How could he ditch me?”
“Maybe he got held up somewhere?” Greg said.
“Maybe I’m just not attractive enough?”
“You are so attractive.” She’d kicked off her heels, and her lipstick had long been chewed off, but her curls were still framing her face like she was in some romantic movie, and her neckline was still showing off her--
He shook his head. He needed to focus on something else.
“Do you really think that?” She batted her impossibly long lashes at him, a goofy edge to her voice. “Or are you just pretending so I feel better?”
“I promise I would never try to make someone feel better.”
But he still skipped class the next night to take Rebecca out for a drink, which turned into two or six fairly quickly.
“Do you know what he sent me on Wallflower last night?” she demanded.
“You told me several times already.”
“He said, something suddenly came up, like what kind of bullshit reason is that?” She picked up a fork, stabbing the air to emphasize her point. “And I went on Insta last night and Josh was out with his work bros.”
“You don’t know this guy is Josh.”
“You don’t know he isn’t. So he was supposed to meet me, and then instead he went out with the tech nerds. That’s just rude.”
“So rude,” he muttered, pushing a shot her way. She didn’t need more, but it was a lemon drop, so basically water, and he’d already paid for it.
“And now he’s just, what, going to apologize?”
“Maybe in person?” she said, eyebrows raised. “He’s here.”
It took Greg, a bunch of drinks in himself, a moment to piece together what she was saying. He jumped up to grab her, but she was already across the room, by the door, by Josh, who was by himself by the door.
He missed what looked to be a passionate speech from Rebecca, but he caught Josh’s, “I mean, I signed up for Wallflower, but I never signed back in. I couldn’t remember my password.”
“But I was sure you were the guy I was talking to. I as positive. Like I would have tattooed this guess on my arm, that’s how sure I was.”
“No, dude. It’s not like I’m waiting for Valencia.”
“Of course not. Why would you wait for Valencia? She turned down your very public proposal. It was humiliating.”
“It wasn’t humiliating. I put myself out there for love, and I was rejected, but at least I tried, you know?”
It had seemed a little humiliating to Greg, but what did he know?
“And now she’s just like, dating the guy from the beer commercials. I would die. I would literally die if I were publically rejected like that.” Rebecca looked up at the lights, her eyes suspiciously moist. “I mean, this isn’t quite that bad, but it’s pretty bad.”
“Aww, Becks. I think you have to find this guy you had this great connection with. And maybe he skipped out on you, but he apologized, and that’s what matters.”
“Yeah, he did apologize. But it still wasn’t-- what I expected.”
“I think it’s great you’re on dating apps. You know who else is on that site?”
Greg started coughing, hoping to distract them both.
Josh whacked him on the back, concerned, before saying, “White Josh.”
“Yes, he is!” Greg said. “ICrunchThere4IAm, orsomething.”
“Ugh,” Rebecca said. “He would be named that.”
“He’s got, like, an entire list of the charities he’s worked with. And like five pictures of his abs.”
“It’s so good he’s our one friend who’s on that site,” Greg said, as smoothly as he could.
“I’m really sorry,” Rebecca said. “I swear I thought this guy was you.”
“No, I think it’s great you’re trying to find your person,” Josh said. “I know my person, my non-Valencia person, is out there, just waiting for me to ask her out. I will find her.” He had that slightly manic look in his eye. Greg vowed to invite him over for Halo, and soon.
“Oh, that’s great. Really great. I can’t wait to meet her.” Rebecca gingerly reached out to pat his arm. “I bet she’ll be really pretty.” She continued to pat his arm until Greg grabbed her wrist gently.
“We should be getting going,” Greg said. “Somewhere near coffee and pancakes.”
“Do you need help?” Josh asked.
“No, I’ve got her,” Greg said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder protectively.
Thirty minutes later, they were both seated at the better IHOP in town, surrounded by cheap, shitty breakfast foods.
“So Josh isn’t the one I’m talking to,” Rebecca said, chewing on a strip of bacon. “And this guy just might be a total flakey idiot--”
“Or he’s a great guy who just had something come up.”
“Or he’s a weird troll taking advantage of the fact I can’t see his picture to cover up for his male pattern baldness and obsession with Cheetos.”
“I bet he’s got a great head of hair.”
“I shouldn’t even talk to him anymore.”
He felt a the familiar lump in his throat, like he wanted to defend his online persona, even though that was literally the stupidest thing he could do. “You should do what makes you happy.”
She dropped her head onto her crossed arms, moaning. “He made me so happy.”
“Because you thought he was Josh?”
“Because he was so cool.”
Greg let himself smile at that.
SingingInTheShower: I’m going to forgive you. Just this once. Don’t disappoint me again.
He was at work one day, idly scrolling through his Wallflower messages when his phone actually rang. No one called him except his dad, his bar, and his great aunt, so he almost didn’t pick up.
“Is this Greg Serrano?”
“This is he.”
“This is Sarah, from the West Covina General Hospital. You father was brought in an hour ago after suffering what looks to have been a heart attack--”
He was already running out the door.
He called Josh first, but Josh didn’t pickup. He was probably at work, so Greg left a brief voicemail.
He considered who else he could call. Hector’s phone was probably dead, White Josh was on a retreat, and his mother was terrible.
He called Rebecca.
“You know I’m never gonna die,” his dad said, in between wheezing. “Serranos don’t die. We get stronger with every bite of penne.”
“Did you eat bacon? I bet you were eating bacon. Again. It’s so like you,” Greg said.
“And it’s so like you to worry about me instead of living your life. Haven’t I told you it’s time to stop worrying about me and get your life--”
“Knock, knock!” Rebecca chirped from the door. “I brought flowers.”
“Dad, this is Rebecca.”
“You’re Greg’s little friend?” Dad asked. “The one from New York?” He sent Greg a sidelong glance, and Greg knew, just knew, he remembered all the stories about her.
She shook his hand before handing him a Hallmark card. “I brought this for you.”
“This is so fancy,” Dad said.
Greg intercepted the card before his father could open it. “I still need to talk to the nurse about getting you an extra jello cup.”
“Nonsense. I can do that. You two go get some coffee.”
“I’m not doing that,” Greg said.
“I’m just here to support Greg,” Rebecca said. “Which seems to mean staying here.”
“Let me help you, Dad,” Greg said.
Seven minutes later, Greg and Rebecca were in the cafeteria, drinking the black tar someone apparently thought was coffee.
“You sure know how to show a girl a good time,” Rebecca said, pouring sugar in her cup.
“Women have said that to me, historically.”
He winced. “Well. Her idea of a good time is too ironic for me to understand it. Why, did she say something about it?”
“Just like a few side comments.” She stopped stirring her tiny straw long enough to add, “Does it bother you?”
“Nah, I’m freaking teflon. Look, you didn’t have to come here. In fact, the only reason I called you was to pop in at home, and make sure everything was locked up. My dad worries someone’s going to break in and steal his oxygen tanks.”
“And I took care of that, but I wasn’t going to leave you hanging. Hospitals are the worst. Listen, I was talking to your dad’s doctor--”
“I told him we were married. Anyway, they’re talking about how much this little trip to the ER is going to cost him-- not to mention the time he’s going to have to stay-- and let me tell you, it’s more than I paid out-of-pocket for undergrad.”
Greg put a hand to his temple, massaging lightly. “We aren’t married.”
“Agreed. It’s amazing how often this fake wedding ring I carry comes in handy, like you wouldn’t believe how quickly it scares away creeps in bars. Anyway, let’s talk about payment plans--”
“My dad’s getting out of the hospital,” he told her over lunch one day. “They said he can go home tomorrow.”
“You must be so excited. Should we throw him a welcome home party? We could rent a keg, put up some streamers, invite all of his friends.”
“Maybe something a little quieter. I was thinking about making him dinner from that cookbook you got me, the one with the healthy recipes. I’d save you a seat, if you wanted.”
She grinned across the table. “I’d like that. Not that part where I have to eat your cooking, but the rest of it.” She rested her hand lightly on the edge, and he reached for her.
Just then, her phone buzzed, a split second before his did, too.
“This damn Wallflower app is always--” Her eyebrows knit together. “Designed by idiots.”
“I gotta see what my phone--”
“Oh wow, the weird ‘can’t see faces’ promotion is over. This is my pic, want to see?” She pushed her phone forward, displaying the same picture from her facebook profile, a pic of her in a bright pink dress he swore he’d seen before.
Greg knocked over his water glass, hoping to create a distraction. The glass rolled right off the table, shattering on the sidewalk next to him.
“Don’t touch that,” she said, swiping on her phone. “You’ll cut--”
“I have to tell you something,” he said, panic naked in his voice.
Her face fell; he could see her hold a breath a little too long. She knew.
“So the thing is,” she said, her eyes finally off her phone. “I have been talking to one guy on this stupid app, and that one guy is not Josh Chan.”
“I’m sorry. So sorry. Endlessly, stupidly sorry.”
“He’s you, in fact. Somehow we’ve talked about this guy a dozen times, and you’ve never once thought to mention that you were the asshole who stood me up--”
“I was in over my head--
“You let me confront Josh, knowing, knowing, he wasn’t the guy. Because you were the guy.”
“I promise I didn’t know.”
“You had to know by that point. Because you saw me get stood up. You bought me alcohol because I had been stood up.”
“I mean, I knew, but not until that night, I’m sorry, I’m so--”
“Gregory. I’m going to leave here, and if you follow me, I’ll scream like you’re stabbing me. And unlike in New York, people will care. People will notice.”
“I’m just so sorry.”
“I am, too. Because I was really starting to fall for him. You. I mean, him.”
She ignored dozens of text messages. Several voicemails. A bouquet of flowers he couldn’t really afford, delivered by a man in a bear costume, and he really owed White Josh for that.
Greg bought a chocolate eclair (the word ‘sorry’ was written on it in red frosting) and was going to leave it by her front door. He was debating ringing the doorbell when he saw Heather, watching him amusedly from her own front door.
“Of course,” he muttered before giving her a wave. She took it as an invitation, naturally.
She looked him over before leaning against the door, standing between him and the doorbell, making the decision for him. “Are you two broken up? Because you’ve been over here like all the freaking time, and ever since that day she was screaming, just like trashed her room or whatever, I haven’t seen you.”
“Probably something you did.”
“It wasn’t anything I did on purpose. Per se.”
“Yeah, you sound convinced.”
“We weren’t even dating.”
“That’s why she burned those pictures of you two?”
“She did what?”
“She asked me for lighter fluid. Obviously I had it.”
He sighed. “It was a complete accident that we ended up internet dating each other.”
“Retro, I dig it. Keep going.”
He explained the whole thing. The app’s pictureless promotion, the online talking, the night at his bar.
“So you dated her online and in real life--”
“I know it was stupid.”
“It goes without saying you were stupid.”
“And I wasn’t dating her in real life.”
“I mean, you totally were. It’s like when I was dating Zeke, and I told everyone we weren’t dating, and then we got that matching ink, you know? And that’s how I knew we were dating.”
“That’s a great story, truly.” He started thinking back to all the times he spent with Rebecca since he’d stood her up. Was that dating? It felt way too natural to be dating, like was it still dating if he wasn’t having commitment-based panic attacks?
“Hey, don’t be a dick. I’m your only friend right now. You think Josh is going to keep being bros with you when you’re being all Mr. Steal Yo’ Girl with him?”
He glared at Heather, who was peeking in the windows. “Rebecca is no one’s girl.”
“Ok, be sure to tweet me when this all blows up in your face.” She took his eclair before crossing the lawn back to her house.
Greg spent the afternoon studying accounting while playing rom coms on Netflix. It was mostly a giant mess of silly misunderstandings and excessive cuteness on the part of Meg Ryan, but he got the overall message: most things could be forgiven.
It made him feel better. No wonder people went to see these things.
“I have gathered everyone here for one reason,” Greg said, looking around the room from his staircase. All of his friends were gathered. He’d made sure Rebecca was there the only way he knew how: by getting Josh to invite her. It’d been a blow to the ego, but at least she was there.
“Is it because I’m celebrating six months in my new yoga studio?” Valencia asked.
“Absolutely not,” Greg said. “And I don’t even know how you heard about this party.”
“It’s not a party without me,” Valencia said, allowing her super old boyfriend to put his arm around her.
“I’m hoping you’re going to do something weird,” Heather said. “‘I heard a rumor you were going to reveal a tattoo.”
“You started that rumor,” Greg said.
White Josh piped up. “Multi-level marketing scheme.”
“God, no,” Greg said. “I’m here on a mission. To apologize to someone special to me.”
Rebecca, digging into the shrimp platter, froze.
Greg barreled on. “Sometimes, in the course of your day to day life, you get a reputation for being brutally honest with people. I know I have made some people in this very room cry with sarcastic comments.”
“That was the fifth grade,” Hector yelled, raising his beer can.
“But there have been times I’ve been less than honest with people as well. For instance, Rebecca. I was on Wallflower--”
“I’m on there!” White Josh said.
“Which is a dating app, and I was talking to her. I didn’t know it at the time, I swear--” He told the whole story, from the part where he’d screwed up by ditching her to the part where he didn’t come clean once he knew. He left out only the part with Josh because he might be a jerk, but he wasn’t an asshole.
“And in conclusion, I was awful, and I’m really sorry. Rebecca, I hope you can forgive me.” He looked straight at her.
She put down her plate of shrimp tails. “I would like to talk now,” she said, walking towards the stairs.
He nodded. “And now, a word from--”
She grabbed his hand roughly, pulling him up to towards his bedroom.
He was certain her heard a “woooo” from Rebecca’s boss, so that was sort of weird.
“Is this some sort of dating thing?” Rebecca asked, closing the door behind her.
Greg put a hand on the back of his neck. “It’s not...not a dating thing.”
“You like me.” It wasn’t a question, but the look in her eye said she was uncertain.
“I always have. I tried not to. I tried a lot, because you had that whole Josh thing, and it seemed messy, but I don’t care anymore.”
She contemplated him for an eternity.
He could hear party noises from through the door. Someone had broken out the late ‘90s pop music. “Should I--”
She stepped up to his, grabbing his face and kissing him before he could finish his sentence. She tapped his lips with her tongue and he let her in, resting his hands on her hips. She was warm under his hands, and he pulled her closer.
She put a hand up to his chest, pushing ever so slightly, and he let go of her immediately.
“Whoa,” she said.
Greg learned three things about dating Rebecca.
1. She was absolutely unopposed to making out during a party, a party he was supposed to be hosting.
2. Josh was, as predicted, not cool with it.
“I’m not cool with this,” he said while helping Greg clean up from the party.
“I’m not sure you have to be,” Greg said, tossing red Solo cups into a trash bag.
“It’s not like I was going to-- that’s my ex, you know?”
“You were both teenagers. I’m not sure I buy that it counts.”
“It counts,” Josh said, throwing a stack of paper plates away with more force than was strictly necessary. “It counts a lot.”
“You don’t get dibs on a person indefinitely. That’s not how it works.”
“You call dibs on stuff all the time.”
“Stuff! Seats! Not people.”
This might have ended in a short fistfight had Rebecca not chosen that moment to return to Greg’s door to pick up her cell phone, still sitting next to the shrimp. “I gotta call Paula!” she said, by way of explanation.
Greg had a brief moment of hope that this was a front for more making out, but instead, Rebecca pulled Josh off to the kitchen to talk.
Greg wasn’t eavesdropping, but he did hear a few phrases. “Sweet” was one of them. “So important to me,” was another. And “So happy with Greg” made him stop eavesdropping, so he missed the rest.
3. Greg Serrano, for the first time in two decades, was actually kind of happy.