I’m still sitting in Josh’s lap, my head in the curve of his neck, probably covering him in sweat. I try to struggle off but I’m held tight.
“I am indeed Dr. Templeman. One of them, anyway.” The amusement fades from his face and he coughs and begins to turn away. I catch his sleeve to try to see how much of Josh is in his features. He stills obediently, but his eyes flick to Josh, who is tense as a brick wall behind me.
“Sorry, yes. Josh is better looking.” There’s a pause before both brothers laugh. Patrick isn’t remotely offended and Josh’s arm relaxes.
“Can you tell me embarrassing things about him?”
“When you’re feeling better, you bet. Keep her fluids up, Josh. She’s small enough that she’ll dehydrate.”
“I know.” Together they coax me to swallow a sour medicine. I am laid flat against the bed and the two leave the room, shutting the door, but their voices still reach me.
“You would have been good at this,” Patrick says, rattling in his medical kit. “You’ve done all the right things for her.” Josh sighs heavily. I’m sure he’s just crossed his arms.
“Don’t get defensive. So, next hard topic. Were you going to give me an RSVP? Ever?”
“I was going to.” He’s lying.
“Well, you can give me one now. And don’t pretend you don’t know the date; I know for a fact Mom gave you the invite in person. We didn’t want it to go ‘missing’ like the engagement party invite.” Josh, you little weasel.
Patrick is thinking the same thing. “RSVP right now. Mindy needs to know. For such minor details as catering. Seating.”
“I’m busy at the moment,” Josh tries, but Patrick cuts him off.
“Imagine how it’ll look if you don’t turn up.”
Josh says nothing and Patrick perseveres. “I know it’s going to be hard.”
“You expect me to walk in there like nothing happened?”
Patrick is confused. “But you’d bring Lucy, wouldn’t you?”
I ponder this in the dark. Why on earth would it be hard for Joshua to attend his own brother’s wedding?
“She’s not my girlfriend. We work together.” Josh sounds irritated. I wish that didn’t give me such a punch in the gut, but it does.
“You could have fooled me.”
“Yeah, well, she’s more on the market for a nice guy. Aren’t they all.”
There’s a loaded silence. “How many more times do I have to say—”
“No more times.” Josh is the king of shutting down a conversation. There’s more silence. I can almost hear them both looking at my bedroom door.
Patrick’s voice is lowered now and I can’t hear anything except huffy arguing. Hating myself desperately, I climb silently out of bed, careful to keep my feet in the shadows. I’m a disgusting little snoop.
“I’m asking you to come to my wedding and make your mother happy. Make me happy. Mindy is stressed as hell thinking there’s some sort of family feud happening.”
Josh sighs, heavy and defeated. “Fine.”
“So, that’s a yes? Yes, please, Patrick, I’d love to come to your wedding? I accept your gracious invitation?”
“I’ll mark you down with a plus one. If she survives the night.”
I grip the wall in horror until I hear Josh say sarcastically, “Ha-ha.”
IT’S NOW SOME time before dawn and my room is ice blue. I’m propped into a sitting position, gulping messily what I realize is lemonade. Did he go to the convenience store across the road? The sweet-sour taste of childhood nostalgia and homesickness makes me almost choke.
He takes the glass and eases me back down against the pillows with his arm behind my shoulders. His touch was uncertain yesterday, but now he smoothes his palms and fingertips across me with no hesitation. He looks wrecked with tiredness.
His eyes flicker with surprise. “Lucy.”
“Lucinda,” I whisper archly. He turns away to smile, but I catch his sleeve.
“Don’t. I’ve already seen it.” I’m never getting over his smile.
“Okay.” I can tell he’s confused. He’s not the only one. I’ve been staring at Joshua for so long, he’s become a color spectrum unto himself. He’s my days of the week. The squares on my calendar.
“White, off-white stripes, cream, non-gender-specific yellow, disgusting mustard, baby-blue, robin’s-egg, dove-gray, navy, black.” I tick them off on my fingers.
Josh is alarmed. “You’re still delirious.”
“Nope. Those are the shirt colors you have. Hugo Boss. Haven’t you ever been to Target?”
“What the hell is the difference between white and off-white?”
“Ecru. Eggshell. They’re different. There was one single time you surprised me.”
“And when was that?” He asks the question as indulgently as a babysitter. I kick my heel in temper against the mattress.
Why aren’t I draped in a black negligee at least? I have never been this unattractive. I’m wearing SLEEPYSAURUS. I look down. I’m wearing a red tank top. Holy shit. He changed me.
“The elevator,” I blurt. I want to reroute this moment, back to a time I was halfway attractive. “You surprised me then.”
He looks at me carefully. “What did you think?”
“I thought you were trying to hurt me.”
“Oh, great.” He sits back, embarrassed. “Clearly my technique is a little rusty.”
I snatch his sleeve with superhuman strength and sit up a little. “But then I realized what you were doing. Kissing. Of course. I haven’t kissed in ages.”
He frowns. “Oh, really.” He stares down at me.
I elaborate so forcefully my voice shakes. “It was hot.”
“I never heard from HR or the cops, so . . .” He trails off, looking at my lips. I’m twisting my hands into his T-shirt. It stretches around my fists. It’s so soft, I want to wrap my entire body in it.
“Is my bed everything you imagined?”
“I wasn’t expecting so many books. And it’s a little bigger than I pictured.”
“What about my apartment?”
“It’s a tiny little pigsty.” He’s not being mean about it. It’s true.
“Do you think Mr. Bexley and Helene make out in the elevator?” As long as he keeps answering my questions, I’ll keep asking them.
“Guaranteed. I’m sure they have vicious hate-sex after each quarterly review.” His eyes are tipping into black and he unravels his T-shirt from my hands as I catch a glimpse of half an inch of stomach—hard and hair. Now I’m sweating more.
“I bet when you shower, water pools right up . . . here.” I put my finger into his collarbone. “I’m thirsty. I’ll dehydrate.” He lets out a breath and it blows right through me.
“Let’s be just like them when we grow up, Josh. We could start a new game. Imagine. We could play games forever.”
“Let’s talk about it when you’re not crazy with fever.”
“Yeah, right. When I’m not sick you’ll hate me again, but for now we’re good.” I take his hand and put it on my forehead to hide my sudden despair.
“I won’t,” he tells me. He smoothes his hand away, over my hair.
“You hate me so much, and I can’t take it much longer.” I’m pathetic. I hear it in my voice.
“Stop calling me Shortcake.” I try to roll onto my side but he presses the heels of his palms lightly against my shoulders. I stop breathing.
“Watching you pretend to hate that nickname is the best part of my day.”
When I don’t reply, he almost smiles and releases me. “It’s time to tell me about the strawberry farm.”
It’s a sore point—and it’s also not the first time he’s asked. I might be about to give him fodder to tease me with for a long time.
“I’ve always wanted to know. Tell me everything about strawberries.” His soft, cajoling whisper will be the death of me.
In my mind I’m almost back there, under the big canvas umbrella with the torn corner, talking to tourists while their kids run on ahead, buckets clanking. The alien hum of cicadas fill the air. There’s never silence.
“Well. Alpines are also called ‘Mignonette,’ and they grow wild in France on the hillsides and they’re as big as your thumbnail. They have amazing flavor intensity for their size.”
“Tell me another.”
I open my eyes to slits. “Strawberries are not a joke. I’ve gotten shit from almost everyone I’ve ever met about it.”
“It’s such a cute thing about you.”
The word cute lights up like neon in my dim bedroom and I’m so rattled I begin babbling.
“Fine. Okay, Earliglows. They grow so quickly. One day you’re walking along at sunset next to nothing but green . . . the next morning they’re all there. Little red buds, getting brighter. By dinnertime they’re done, like red Christmas lights.”
When Josh sighs, his eyes close for a second. He’s exhausted. “Which are your favorites?”
“Red Gauntlets. They were in the rows closest to the kitchen and I was too lazy to go much farther. I had a big pink smoothie every morning.”
He sits in silence, and his eyes are definitely not the man I know. They’re wistful, lonely, and so beautiful I have to close mine.
“I swear, I can still feel the seeds between my teeth. Chandlers are my dad’s favorite. He says he paid for my college tuition with them.”
“What’s your dad like? He’s Nigel, right?”
“You and that blog. He worked so hard to send me to school. I can’t begin to tell you. He cried on the back porch the day I left for college. He said . . .”