"Why you want to leave me!" Nina wailed like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. "I mean, who am I going to come to when I start to screw things up with Nick? Which you know I will. This one is just as much a basket case as me." She jerked her thumb at Ashley.
Ashley tossed her hands in the air. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Nins."
"Wow." I took a pull of my bloody. We were at our favorite brunch place, Walker's, where the servers are sassy relics of the Chelsea Hotel glory days in the 60s. It might be my favorite place in New York. "I'm honestly flattered that you don't consider me a basket case. I'm like the basket casiest of the basket cases."
"You used to be," Nina said, "but you've really mellowed now that you're on the wrong side of twenty-five."
I pointed my finger at her. "You're next, you know."
Nina slapped her hand to her forehead. "That's another thing you won't be here for! My birthday!"
"Maybe we'll come out and visit you for it," Ashley suggested. "That could be fun."
"Oh, yeah," Nina drummed her fingers on the table, plotting. "We can go to the Viper Room and hang out with all the grimy hot celebs."
"Cool your jets," I stabbed a forkful of Cobb salad, "I don't think I'm going to have much time to socialize while I'm out there. William keeps telling me how there is no precedent for this at CWA—an assistant simultaneously entrenched in the program and still working for her boss. I'm going to be at it six, seven days a week."
"You should tell Peter that," Nina said. "Ain't no time for hanky-panky."
"There's always time for hanky-panky with Peter." Ashley smiled, slyly. She's been pretty brazen about waving her Team Peter flag lately. Richard's heart-wrenching back story, the way he responded so coolly to the news that Peter was LA-bound too, it had softened her a little to him, but not enough. It was a little annoying, but I've given her plenty of shit for the guys she dated in the past (with the exception of Tom, as that was well-warranted concern and I'll never say I shouldn't have spoken up then), so maybe it's just my karma.
"No, there isn't," I said. "I'm obsessed with Richard. The sooner you get that through your thick skull the better."
"And the sooner you get that through Peter's thick skull the better," Nina said. I was meeting Peter for a drink later in the week. I had asked him. I wanted to make it crystal freaking clear that not only would nothing happen between us in LA because I'm in love with someone else, but that it could put my job in jeopardy.
Nina brushed some crumbs off her lap and stood. "Going to the loo."
"You know I'm just teasing you, right?" Ashley said when we were alone. "I do actually think Richard is a good guy. I didn't before, but I do now. I just think Peter is a good guy too."
"Peter is a good guy," I said, "but I've always felt inferior to him, in a way. I don't want to be with someone who makes me second-guess myself. And I never second-guess myself around Richard. That's why I love him." I dunked a french fry in a blob of ketchup. "That, and he gives as good as he gets. I want someone who calls me on my bullshit." I popped the french fry in my mouth and thought for a moment. "Also, it's kind of dick of Peter to insert himself into my work life like this. It's almost like he's doing it because he subconsciously doesn't want me to do well. Like it freaks him out that my career is finally going"—I froze as Nina's phone lit up on the table with a text. It was from Richard.
Ashley widened her eyes at me. "What the fuck?"
We both craned our necks to try and read the text upside down. One thing that has started to deteriorate now that I'm on the wrong side of twenty-five is my eyesight. I squinted at his text, but I couldn't make out the words. "What does it say?"
"Pick it up before the screen goes dark," Ashley whispered.
"You pick it up," I hissed.
Ashley glanced over her shoulder to make sure Nina wasn't coming and snatched the phone off the table. She began to read out loud. "Did she say anything about Peter? And yeah, I realize what a sad-sack I sound like right now. I just feel like that guy has chocolate flavored nipples or something and I can't compete. I need to know what...."Ashley stopped, abruptly.
"Need to know what?' I demanded.
"I don't know. The screen went dark before I could get to the end." She set the phone down and I stared at it for a moment before grabbing it myself.
"What are you doing?" Ashley looked over her shoulder again. "She's going to be back any second."
"I'm going to ask her about it," I said. "I'm not going to pretend like I didn't see that. I can't pretend like I didn't see that."
We waited in silence until Nina returned from the bathroom. The smile fell away from her face when she saw I was holding her phone in my hand.
"Richard just texted you," I said.
Nina tossed her hair. "Ah, yes. We're having an affair."
I tilted my head at her. "Come on. I read it. At least part of it."
Nina plucked the phone out of my hand and turned it on. Her eyes scanned Richard's text. "It should be illegal to read a person's phone the way it's illegal to go through a person's mail."
"You left your phone on the table and it blew up with a text from my boyfriend," I said. "I'm human. I was curious. What does he need to know, anyway?"
Nina propped her elbows on the table and parked her chin in her hands. "What he's up against."
"What he's up against?" Ashley repeated.
"Yeah. Like, if you still have feelings for Peter. If he's about to get his heart fed through the shredder. He knows I'm 100% on his team," she shot an accusing look at Ashley, "he asks me for advice sometimes. I think it's sweet."
It actually was sweet. I'd always wanted a boyfriend who got along like a bandit with my best friend. I loved the idea of him going to her for advice on birthday gifts, what my favorite flowers are (not that so many guys have sent me flowers in my life that I even know). "I just didn't realize he was shaken by this whole thing," I said, "he was so...cocky about it."
"Come on, Jos," Nina said, "he put on a brave face. He didn't want to ruin your moment."
I bit my lower lip, feeling bad that I was so singularly focused that I didn't pick up on Richard's discomfort. "Well," I said, "he doesn't have anything to worry about. I swear on my new Alexander Wang bag."
"You bought an Alexander Wang bag?" Ashley gasped.
"Well," I sniffed, "it's like a million seasons old and it was 70% off on The Outnet. But still."
Ashley bit into a mini poppy seed muffin, which Walker's serves for free with their brunch and sweet baby Jesus they are delightful. "He knows you're meeting Peter for a drink next week, right?"
I nodded, emphatically. "Of course. I wouldn't meet my ex-boyfriend for a drink and not tell him. That would be ridiculously shady."
"So maybe after that he'll feel better about the whole thing," Ashley offered.
"And in the meantime," Nina added, "maybe go out of your way to reassure him that you two are really solid?"
"Guys," I laughed, "I don't know why you're so worried about me leaving. I'm the one who's going to be screwed without you."
"So, they have these things called phones," Nina said, "and you can call us and tell us when you're being a dumb-dumb and we'll set you right."
I threw a mini-muffin at her.