When I got back from work, the house was dark. Jesse had texted, saying everyone went to a party. As I went inside, dropped my books, and headed upstairs to grab a water, I almost screamed when I glanced into the living room.
“Oh my god, Tiffany.” My heart was in my throat. I gasped, grinning at the shock. “You scared the crap out of me.”
She barely gave me a look, staring out the window.
I narrowed my eyes. It was dark. Tiffany was sitting alone in the living room and she hardly reacted. Something wasn’t right. Then I took a small breath. We weren’t friends, not really, but there was a respect between us. I didn’t understand it, but I knew she felt the same and we had remained distant while we both lived in the same home.
My dilemma was what to do. It would be easy to leave. She wasn’t asking for anything. I could downstairs, change, and head to the party. It would be easy to tell Hannah her sister was moping at home or even Jamie. Since his ex-girlfriend had officially moved into the house, he’d been panting after her like a dog in heat. He had hated it at first, but that changed the first night. Everyone in the house heard the soft knocking on her door. No one slept through that, especially after she opened the door, threw a glass of water on him, and slammed it in his face.
“You don’t have to do this.”
I asked, “What?”
“This.” She gestured to me. “Whatever you’re doing or thinking. You don’t have to.”
I wasn’t going to insult her and play dumb. I went and sank into the other couch, drawing my knees to my chest and propped my chin on top. “What’s your problem?”
Her lips curved up in a slight smile, but she turned back for the window. “I have to tell my sister something tonight and I have no idea how to do it.”
“Opening your mouth and saying the words would do it.”
She closed her eyes, the same grin appeared, but it was gone the next second. She looked sad. That realization hit me and I held my breath. This wasn’t something trivial. I didn’t know how I knew it, but I knew it. Tiffany wasn’t dramatic. She was a bitch, but she was never dramatic.
I murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“No.” She shook her head. “In some ways, I’m glad that you’re the one who came home first. I can say anything to you and I don’t have to deal with you kissing my ass or doing the opposite. You’ll be straight with me.” She laughed to herself, a soft chuckle. “I was so jealous of you. You have no idea.”
Okay. We were going down memory lane. I grabbed a pillow for my lap and settled back. She didn’t want to say it, whatever was wrong, so we were going the round-about way. I frowned to myself. I hadn’t expected that from Tiffany. I thought she would’ve blurted it out, whatever it was, instead of warming up to it.
“I wanted Jesse since last year. I was with Jamie, but Jesse was the prize for me. And I almost had him,” she flashed me a smile, her eyes haunted at the same time, “or I thought I did. Nothing worked and fast forward a year, here you come. I hated you on sight because I took one look at him when he was looking at you, and I knew it was joke. What I thought he and I had was in my head. He never promised me anything. He never even gave me real hope for anything. He gave me friendship and that was it, but I didn’t want to see it. Then you came and holy shit, I had to accept how stupid I had been. And I got to know you, and I really hated that. You weren’t a bitch. You weren’t manipulative. You weren’t a cheater. You were good. He loved you, and you were everything I wasn’t.”
“This is a different type of memory lane than what I thought we were going on.”
A second soft chuckle came from her. It wasn’t forced or bitter. It was genuine, and a tear slid down from her eye. Only one. I waited to see if more would appear, but they didn’t. No matter how she described herself, she was tough. I asked, “What do you have to tell Hannah?”
She shook her head. “I’m not done.”
Now I laughed. “Well, then. Proceed.”
A third chuckle, except it was louder. It sounded more like a laugh before she said, “I was getting to the part where I realized that I would have to hate you in silence.”
“My favorite part. Keep going.”
She glanced over, still smiling. Then rolled her eyes. “Hannah’s rubbing off on you. Your sarcasm has reached epic levels.”
“Your sister would be proud. I’ll make note to tell her.”
She sighed, turning back to the window. “As I was saying, I knew that I’d have to hate you silence. Everyone goddamn loved you. Cord bit my head off a few times, defending you.”
“He did?” I grinned. That felt good.
She nodded. “Yeah, told me I was becoming a bitter bitch and needed to change my attitude or I was going to become a bitter spinster. He told me no guy would want to marry me and I’d end up alone, being screwed by lowlifes. He said everyone would turn against me and I had no choice, but to shut up, accept you, and fucking deal with it. His words exactly.”
I laughed, sinking more comfortably into the couch. “I think I’ll bake Cord a cake tomorrow.”
She grunted. “He’d like that.” Then she grew silent, looking back over the window.
She was stalling. I knew it because it was something I would do, so I asked, “What happened?”
“With you?” She grimaced. “I started to like you.”
Our eyes caught and held. She knew that wasn’t what I meant.
She said further, “That’s what happened. It’s a pain in my ass, liking you when you got the guy that I wanted, the guy that treats me like I’m family and accepted me into this group of friends even though I’ve been an absolute bitch to his girlfriend, to who I really actually like, even though, I’ll never tell her.” Another tear slipped free and she let it. Her voice shook on the last word.
“Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell that bitch you like her.”
She laughed again, but stopped. The emotion was there, buried deep and she took a ragged breath. More tears slipped down. She let them. “My mom died tonight—” She broke off and the tears rolled freely now.
I closed my eyes. The pain in her voice struck deep in me and I couldn’t stop myself from looking at Ethan’s portrait. A small ache, an old one that I knew would never go away, reminded me it was still there. “I’m sorry.”
She jerked her head in a nod. “Yeah. It sucks.”
It more than sucks. I knew that much.
“Car accident. Our dad called me.” She closed her eyes, filling her lungs with air. “He told me that I have to tell Hannah. That’s my job. That was, I have no idea. I’ve been sitting here. I can’t—she’s dead, but she’s my mom. It’s so weird. It’s…”
She nodded, slowly. Painfully. “Don’t car accidents go to the hospital? Isn’t there, like, a time when they try to save them? I should be rushing to the hospital and hoping she’ll live. I mean,” she blinked rapidly as her eyes filled with tears, “that would prepare me, right? Isn’t that how these things go? Not like this, not one phone call and it’s done.” Her voice dipped in a sob. “Like a fucking business deal, no negotiations, no time to counter with another deal, no…Jesus, my mom’s dead.”
I didn’t go to her. Anyone else and I might’ve, but this was Tiffany. She was the head sorority type. She was smart, vicious at times, but she was tough most of all. This was the nice side of her and I ached for her. I ached because I’d been there. I could still hear when they told me that Ethan was dead. I was like Tiffany. I didn’t want someone to hug me or comfort me, not at that moment. That came later, but not during this time.
She whispered now, “I have to tell Hannah and this is going to break her. She’s…the two of them were so close. They were so much alike. My sister, my little sister,” her voice broke again. “What the fuck am I doing?”
When she looked at me, I lifted a shoulder. “It’s not real, then it’s too real, and then it bounces in between. You’re still in the ‘it’s not real’ stage.”
She swore. “I can’t…”
I took a breath, feeling my brother in that moment. He was right beside me. He was holding my hand. He was patting my back. I understood. I could tell her so many things. I could tell her this was the first day of grief that wouldn’t lessen for years. The pain would always be there. She’d have to live with it. She’d have to hope to accept it, but I didn’t. None of that was going to help, it would only hurt. She couldn’t escape it.
I took a small breath and murmured, “I’m sorry for your loss.” That was it. That was all I could say. She wasn’t ready for anything else. She was only ready for this stage now. Then I realized the one thing I could do that would help. “I’ll tell Hannah.”
Her eyes filled with more tears. They were steadily trailing down her face, falling onto her lap. Tiffany didn’t notice them. She sat like a statue, but I saw the relief in her eyes. Mustering up a smile, aching for her because I had ached so much myself, I reassured her. “I’ll tell your sister. I’ll tell everybody for you.”
She whispered, “Thank you.”
Then I went to her and sat beside her. Reaching over, I held Tiffany’s hand and we remained like that for the rest of the night. She cried. I held her hand. I didn’t tell Hannah until the next morning, and that night, Tiffany and I became friends after that night.