We have always just been friends.
Emily Rhey has been my best friend since tin-can lunches in the first grade. We have seen each other through everything; the ‘firsts’, the ‘seconds, the ‘always,’ but most importantly when everyone left, she was still there.
She’s smart, beautiful, witty–the perfect woman for any man.
Even someone like me; heir to my father’s empire, as handsome as I am rich.
Over the years, plenty have questioned us–my brothers, even my mother; but we have never crossed that line.
I never thought about it, and as far as I’m concerned, neither has she.
When grief draws us together, very close together, it changes everything…
I tell myself we are only friends…until I can decide if it is still true.
“You just had that huge pretzel, now you’re getting nachos?” I lean over Emily on the couch. I haven’t gotten used to her new hair yet, bright brown highlights or something. Usually, it’s just black. She changed a lot of stuff after her last break up, part of the process. I would know since I have seen her through at least three serious ones.
“It’s a football game. I’m supposed to pig out.”
“Yeah, but it is barely past noon, and we have a dinner party at the house after.” I hop over the couch to sit next to her.
She laughs and finishes chewing as she does when we are in public. “But I don’t want to eat myself into a coma later… at the dinner party.” She blinks too much, and I know she is lying.
I know all of Emily’s tells. She blinks when she lies, like it will fan a good lie her way. When she is nervous, she picks at her nails like she is giving herself a manicure. And then when she is happy or excited, sometimes it goes hand in hand, she rambles on about anything and everything. But what hurts most is when she is sad, and she barely says anything, barely smiles or laughs which is a shame because her smile is so beautiful, and her laugh is so wonderfully obnoxious. When she thinks, most of the time I see this at work or back when we would study together, she would get this look, she only has it when she is in her ‘zone’ as she likes to call it. Her left brow will raise, her lips pout into a peachy heart shape, and she doesn’t relax until she resolves whatever is going on in her head.
“You could wear sweats to the dinner party, no one would care. It’s just the family.” I take a meat-covered, cheesy chip from her bowl. At least it tastes good, no wonder she is eating so much.
“Yeah, but I can’t be the only girl who looks a mess. Alec and Brant have super pretty women by their sides now.”
“Yeah, they’re married. You don’t count.” I laugh, but she gives me a face—the semi-hurt face, brows turned up, and lips parted mid-breath.
“That damages self-esteem, you know.” Emily licks off her index finger and turns back to the game. We’re winning.
“I don’t mean it that way. I just mean they know I think of you as family. Anyway, I’m not putting you off wearing something hot. Nope. Never doing that.” I smile and wink at her. She holds her poker face for only a few more seconds before she smiles.
“I like Mia better anyway. Cora is way too pretty for me.”
“I’m shocked, someone out of your league? Besides her, you know, being married to your brother. And older than you.”
“Yeah, there’s that.”
I look over at Mom laughing with Jeffrey. He is probably telling some story about a surgery he did again. He became an attending physician last year, officially done actually training. I thought we would have a grace period or something before his ego shows up. Alec is cocooned over Mia on the other futon, her belly is as big as Cora’s now, and they are sitting next to each other, so it looks like some sort of club. Brant is next to her doing the same thing as Alec, absently caressing their wives’ bellies. This feeling I get, it makes me smile, and I don’t know what it is. It isn’t jealousy, I could never feel that way about my brothers. But it’s something like a sudden deep thinking, and I don’t know if it is because I want what they have or if I am happy for them. It reminds me of how Emily feels about dating doctors—people who save lives when her mother’s life couldn’t be saved. I don’t think either of us are really ready to talk about it.
“They are already winning by two touchdowns. Can’t they call it?” Emily sits with her legs crossed and huffs with impatience.
I chuckle. “No, it doesn’t work that way. You love football, though.” I turn and look at her.
She starts to talk before her phone goes off with a text. Whoever it is must be better than food because she puts the nacho bowl down and replies, smiling at her phone the whole time.
“Who is that?” I ask her. Not in an entitled way, but curious. Or maybe she doesn’t take it that way.
“Who is Kevin?”
She finishes and faces me with her sweet tea in hand. “Kevin. The guy I have been seeing. Well, it has only been two dates, I don’t know if that counts.” She giggles.
“Oh. You’re seeing him again, though, right?”
We are interrupted by a loud cheer from everyone actually watching the game to see Fletcher sack the quarterback on the other team, I tune in fast enough for the replay. Emily gets up to look out the sky-view window hitching a conversation with Dylan. I can tell by the hunch in her shoulders he has already said something bitter and could be mistaken for sociopathic. He has always been kind of dark, like Alec—but it got worse after Dad died. It took him a lot longer to come back to work than it took Evan or Holden, and I took a bit longer than them too. Maybe because I am younger, but Dylan is three years older than me so that theory is out the window. They weren’t even that close, him and Dad. Maybe that is it. I let him and Emily chat about whatever, probably work, before I get up to join them, but I’m road blocked.
“Headed over to lust over Emily?”
“Say that louder, why don’t you, Evan?”
“Come on. It’s a joke.” He hands me a beer, and I gladly take it. We don’t all drink Michelob because we bought stock in them, it’s good beer.
“You joke about it too much. You all do.” I try to escape him by going over to the second sky window on the other side where I see Brant from behind either whispering in Cora’s ear or doing something else—probably something else.
“It wouldn’t hurt so bad if it weren’t true. Which it is…”
I side eye him, and he laughs. I get a few good sips of beer in before I retort back at him. “It isn’t, she is my friend. My best friend.”
“I thought I was your best friend,” he whines.
“You’re my idiot big brother, I’m obligated to like you.” I lean over the silver bartop and watch the game or try to. Fletcher is on the big screen again. They love his pretty face.
“Emily is just my friend. If my best friend was a guy, you all wouldn’t be irritating me about it so much.”
“If you were gay, we would, which is fine. Is that why you’re blind to Emily?” He nudges me, and I shake my head.
“No, I’m not. And again, I’m not. I know she’s hot. I grew up with her and watched her turn into a beautiful woman. That doesn’t mean I am in love with her. I do love her but not like that.”
“If you say so. But we can all see. Hell, Grayson can see it all the way from Baghdad.”
“I don’t, Evan.” I sigh, dropping my head and rubbing at my eyes because this broken record is giving me a headache. “And he’s not in Baghdad.”
“Okay. Fine. Holden is looking at promoting her. It’s that or hiring out. You know he is all about the family element.”
“Yeah, I know. She’ll be happy about that.” I force a smile for her because I am happy for her despite being irritated at the moment.
“She should be. Executive is a big jump. It isn’t senior executive, but she will get there one day. Hopefully with us.”
“I don’t think she wants to go anywhere else if that’s what you’re asking.”
Evan steps back with an ‘ah ha’ noise that is equally irritating. I shake my head at him and finish my beer. I need the liquid patience.
“So, that’s the angle. You don’t want her to leave the company, or your friendship, so that’s why you’re stepping back.”
I laugh out loud from the ridiculous reach he has gone to. I look around, but no one is here to help me. Holden and Jeffrey are now entertaining Mom. They are arguably her favorites.
“No, Evan. Jesus. You just don’t quit. Why don’t you worry about that princess you ran off?” I roll my eyes at him. About a year ago, we had a high-profile case with a small territorial country that still practices some weird, old stuff. One day with Evan, and the equivalent of a royal family came back and canceled their business with us. I’d like to think it had something to do with the woman tagging along with them. But I could be wrong.
“I do worry about her, trust me on that. But it doesn’t mean I can’t worry about you.”
“I’m fine. Remember when we used to talk about normal stuff and not invisible love you made up?”
“Okay fine. I’ll stop.”
“Swear on the glove.”
“The glove?” He gapes, blue eyes wide with shock. He is the only one with blue eyes, and we haven’t brought up the glove in years—an old baseball glove we all used at some point when Dad would play catch with us in the backyard or at Evan’s actual baseball games. He was the only one to pick it up and play in high school and college, almost went pro. But the essence of the glove is that it’s the only thing we all used, at one point or another, even Isaac. It was covered with rips, tears, and burn spots from when we went camping with it. It’s a shared experience between us, and we all treat it for what it means to us.
“Yeah, the glove.”
He laughs and claps my shoulder dramatically. “Yeah, I’m not doing that.”
I have been a romantic all my life; in books, movies, television, and anything that brings happiness into the world. Though I love reading and avoiding daily responsibilities, I am also an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, a flag ship university for writing and creative freedom. I love connecting with all my readers, and sharing the stories that dance around in my head.