The second Grant flickered to life on my laptop screen, it was like nothing had changed.
Light spread across his face, moving from his grin up to his eyes like a cracked golden egg yolk.
“Tessa. Wow. Hi.”
“Wow, hi yourself.”
“You look great.”
I smiled modestly, as if I hadn’t Googled “video chat makeup to look perfect step by step instructions help!!” and spent a significant amount of time following them.
“So do you.” He really did. His hair had grown out from what I liked to call the Loin Igniter Buzzcut of 2014 and fell into his eyes. Even though they didn’t have the same startling effect as Jack’s hazel and blue pair, they were pretty nonetheless.
I realized we were just staring at each other, settling under the silence like it was a cozy blanket that held all of the closeness and secrets we’d shared over the years. I suddenly felt as uncomfortable as I did the day I realized I found Nick Jonas kind of hot, so I rushed to get us talking.
“So! You said you had things to tell me? I’m all ears. How’s it going over there?”
Grant obliged, taking me through his day-to-day life of working on graphic design for blossoming companies in Abu Dhabi. His days were long, he said, but he was having the experience of a lifetime giving it his all at work, exploring the city on weekends, and bonding with his coworkers when they could escape the office.
“Sounds like everything is going pretty perfectly, then?”
“Yeah, it is. Especially work,” he said.
“That’s so good to hear! It was such a risk to go over there, so I’m glad it’s coming together.”
“Well, that’s actually why I wanted to talk to you.” He paused for long enough to make me feel nervous. “My bosses are so happy with what I’m doing that they want me to stay here for at least a year.”
My mouth dropped open. Of course I’d known this type of thing was possible, and happiness and pride rose in me. Right on their heels, though, was something much uglier that I couldn’t quite name. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. I knew I wouldn’t like what it said about me.
“I was going to wait to tell you, but I couldn’t really help it. An opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day, you know?”
“Of course!” I rushed to cover up my rattled response. “Of course, how exciting! I’m so proud of you. You’re really creating something amazing for yourself.” I bit my lip and stopped gushing, knowing that if I overdid it I’d just be making it clear that I was a little shaken.
“Even though we haven’t talked in a while, I wanted you to be one of the first people I told,” said Grant.
“That makes total sense.” My pragmatic side edged its way past my shock to remind me of a few key things, the main one being that I was very happy with where things were going with Jack. Sure, it was normal to feel a twinge of sadness that this officially closed the door to any possibility of me and Grant ending up together, but hadn’t I decided I didn’t want that anyway? I had, but that didn’t mean the certainty that it wouldn’t happen, which I never realized I even cared about, wasn’t like a punch to the gut. I realized I’d tuned Grant out for a second and he was talking.
“Abu Dhabi is a city of expats, so it’s actually a pretty fun place to be because you can meet people so easily. And you actually get used to the heat!”
My intuition perked up at his mention of meeting people. Sorry, did I say perked up? What I meant is my intuition roared to life and rang every alarm possible to alert me to the fact that Grant was trying to tell me something. I couldn’t avoid temptation in the form of pizza, but I could when it came to looking at any of Grant’s social media accounts that would give me proof he’d moved on. I just knew it would send me into a tailspin that even the most secure people could fall victim to, so for all I knew he could have started dating someone and I wouldn’t have the slightest clue.
“Really? Have you met anyone interesting?”
He shifted in his seat and glanced down for a spell. “Yeah, actually. There’s this big group of us and I’ve gotten close to a few people.”
A few people? I got flashbacks to when I found out about Sophie and had to drag details out of him. Even when we weren’t together and he was completely allowed to date someone else, it was hard for him to vocalize what was going on. He reached up to toggle the top button on his shirt, and that was as much confirmation as I needed.
“Grant. Are you trying to tell me you’re seeing someone?” I didn’t even choke on the laugh that came out of me. Navigating this was new territory for us, we were totally fumbling it, and it was funny.
“Was it that obvious?” He looked worried, and the part of me that would always care for him bruised like a peach.
“Yes, but it’s totally fine. We’re both moving on. It’s normal.”
“Wait, you’re moving on? With who?” His eyebrows shot up and disappeared behind the locks of hair that obscured his forehead.
“Well, remember that Jack guy I told you about?” There was potential for this to blow up since I’d made the faux pas of telling Grant about my run-in with Jack when we’d still been trying to work things out. First he looked confused, then the realization dawned on his face.
“That naked model guy you flirted with?”
“We’re not officially together or anything,” I rushed to explain. “We’re just hanging out a lot right now. It all happened after you left.
“Right.” Grant nodded slowly, absorbing the information. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yeah, I am. Once you were in Abu Dhabi, Marley went into my phone and invited him to Grey & Boehm.” The silence descended again as Grant processed what I was saying.
“OK, well, as long as you’re happy,” he finally said. There was some dejection lying just under the surface, but what could I really do?
“Like I said, we’re not together.” The memory of Jack’s body on top of mine sprang to the forefront of my mind at the most inopportune moment. “But it’s, you know, it’s, um, nice. What about you? Who’s this new person you’re so vaguely referring to?”
“Her name’s Tori. She’s here on a Fulbright studying the history of pearls.” A freaking Fulbright? Jealousy shot through me, a white-hot streak that made my fingers tingle, then settled into the pit of my stomach like an uncomfortably warm lump of coal. Tori was apparently brilliant. I somehow knew her hair also didn’t expand to the size of a small continent in the Abu Dhabi heat like mine certainly would. Some girls have all the luck.
“Is this weird?” Grant asked. “For us to be talking about this?”
I shook my head with vigor. “No. I mean, if we want to be friends, it isn’t weird. Do we even want to be friends? Because this is what friends talk about, and I think we can handle it.”
“I do too.”
“OK, so the weirdness will go away. Too bad we’re not in the same place, or we could double date,” I said.
Grant laughed uncomfortably. OK, too much. I moved on to telling him what had happened at Grey & Boehm, which made him livid on my behalf.
“I always knew Marian would do something like this! And you devoted so much of your life to her to the point that it screwed up our relationship.”
I winced. “You know what they say about hindsight,” I said.
To calm him down, I switched gears and we spent the rest of our talk going over much more trivial issues. I explained what was going on in The Bachelor, which had been one of his guilty pleasures when we were together, and he took me through all the new foods he’d tried and promptly made my mouth water.
“Oh, and I’ve been eating the most unreal shawarma,” Grant was saying when I heard my front door creak open. Celine was finally home. I hadn’t seen her since my watch had gone missing, and now it was time to find out whether she had anything to do with it.
“Grant, I’m so sorry. Celine’s home, and I really need to talk to her about something before she hightails it again. I’ll explain later.”
“Oh, sure. OK. It was good talking to you. Let’s do it again soon.”
“Definitely. I’ll email you.” I was thankful that I had something to preoccupy me enough that I wouldn’t have to sort through my emotions about Grant just yet. I knew they were the usual ones that come along with someone you love getting over you and you doing the same, but they still stung.
We said a quick goodbye and I steeled myself for what was probably going to be a mess of a conversation. I did a quick sweep over my dresser and in my closet to make sure I hadn’t somehow overlooked the watch in all of my searching. After coming up empty-handed, I headed into the living room. A wall of music slammed into me; Celine had turned on some insane EDM music that I pictured as the soundtrack to the kind of festival my soul was too old to withstand.
Different scenarios ran through my mind. What if I’d accidentally thrown away the box that held the watch, neglected and alone under a flap of cardboard? What if it had somehow fallen out of the back of the moving truck like that poor Budweiser puppy? Even though there were both outlandish and understandable reasons my watch could be gone, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Celine was involved.
I knocked on her door and waited for a moment, hearing only pounding bass and the trills of electronic beats in response.
“Celine? I’m coming in, OK?” I shouted over the music.
I wrapped my hand around the doorknob and pushed. The door drifted open without much effort, and my brain took in the scene in snippets. It was fogging over with disbelief, so it took a few beats for me to realize that what I was seeing was real.
There Celine sat on her bed, just in a bra and pants, the contents of the huge bucket bag I’d bought at H&M on sale around her. After running some errands, I’d stupidly left it on the couch in a rush to get my coat off and be on time for my talk with Grant. Celine didn't look up at my entrance because she was too busy rifling through my purse, her petite body hunched over with grotesque determination. She scrabbled at the bottom of the bag, the muscles in her gaunt arm standing out in stark relief until she found what she was looking for.
She pulled a wad of cash out from the inner pocket of my purse, then hurriedly unrolled it to count how much she’d stumbled upon. She stuffed it into the waistband of her jeans and I stood still, my mind trying to come up with a rational explanation for what I was seeing.
Celine’s head snapped up and our eyes locked together. She froze like a doe who had been innocently grazing on shrubbery until she heard the telltale snap of twigs underneath a hunter’s feet. The thing was, I felt like I was the one who was being hunted. What was I doing to attract this kind of insanity into my life? Between Liv and Celine, I felt like I was starring a lifetime movie. Betrayal Around Every Corner: Tessa’s Story had a nice ring to it.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I clenched my fists at my sides until my knuckles turned white. I immediately heard my mom in my head, urging me to call the police. But it felt like such a drastic step that I wasn’t ready to take. Not until I had all the facts, anyway. After that, though, Celine could very well be finding herself in handcuffs.
“I—I was trying to make the change. I had a $50 and needed smaller bills,” Celine stammered.
I eyed the items surrounding her: my birth control pills, driver’s license, lip gloss. My wallet, tellingly lying open in her lap. I knew it was stripped of cash without having to check.
“Why didn’t you just ask me?”
“I thought you were busy. I didn’t want to bother you.” Celine glanced up and to the left. As if I hadn’t watched enough Discovery ID to know that was the sure sign of a liar.
“Celine, do you think I’m an idiot? You just put my money in your freaking pants and I didn’t see you put any in my wallet to replace it.” I took a deep breath before adding more fuel to the fire. “And I know you took my watch.”
“What watch?” Instead of cocking her head or furrowing her brow in confusion, Celine straightened with indignation.
“The really sparkly Bulova that suddenly happens to be missing from my dresser. I know you took it.”
She folded her arms in defiance. “I’m offended that you would think that, Tessa. Maybe you lost it.”
With that, something broke in me. Besides Marley, Liv and Celine had been the friends I’d trusted the most in the past few months. I was getting bitten in the ass for it, and I was tired of both of them treating me like I was too much of an idiot to notice.
“Really? Then why is my watch gone, Celine?”
Her eyes darted around wildly, like she was a cornered animal. “You know, I forgot to mention. While you were gone for that trip with Jack, I spent the weekend with some friends. I came back and some of my stuff was missing too. I left my window open, maybe someone came in through the fire escape? How you say, a cat burglar? I can even tell you everything they took!”
It was a good thing she was a designer and not an actress, because she was a dismal liar. I slammed my hand against my thigh. “I’m done. I’m done with this. You’ve been acting weird for too long now. I never see you. You leave our fucking apartment door open so anyone can wander in, and now my watch is gone. You’re the only person who could have taken it, but you’re just making excuse after pathetic excuse. I can’t live like this.” I pulled out my phone and started looking up locksmiths. I couldn’t just up and move since I’d signed onto Celine’s lease, but I wasn’t going to leave myself unprotected. I was going to get an industrial-strength lock put on my door until I could get the hell out.
“What are you doing?” She leaned over worriedly, so far that she almost fell off the bed before she caught herself.
“I’m calling someone to put a lock on my door. And give me my money! What’s wrong with you?”
“No!” Celine looked alarmed and snatched the money from her waistband then threw it in my bag. “You don’t need to do that! Nothing more will happen, I promise you.”
“Nothing more?” I shrieked. “Tell me one reason I shouldn’t move out, Celine. Because right now, I can’t think of any.”
Celine stammered, sputtering like an old car engine in desperate need of repair. I shook my head, dialed a 24-hour locksmith, and kept my eyes trained on Celine’s foxlike face the entire time.