Wicked Sexy Liar: A Not-Joe Not-So-Short Short: Chapter VI


Perry

WHEN I WAKE the next morning, it’s hard to believe that yesterday happened at all. I flew to America. I saw my best friends. I finally talked to Ansel, and for the first time in what could possibly be our entire relationship, it feels like we’re on the same page and I can move on. I’m probably not going to be having dinner at their house and helping plan an anniversary party anytime soon, but we’re okay. I’m okay.

I push off the blankets and climb from the hotel bed. Feeling lighter than I have in months, I walk straight to the window and push open the curtains. The sky is bright and blue and I can see the ocean from my room. Boats bob in the harbor and the dock is dotted with people out for a run or walking their dog. Seagulls swoop across the horizon, and it’s so beautiful here it’s not hard to understand why Oliver chose this as the place to make his dream happen.

My phone chirps by the bed and I cross the room to retrieve it. I have a few emails and a handful of texts I need to reply to, but nothing pressing I have to do today but see my boys. And God, after all this time and so many miles between us, it feels so good to say that again.

I get a text from Finn as I’m on my way down to the hotel lobby. I was actually surprised to find that Mr. Serious even knew how to text; the Finn I knew would have glared and told me to make a damn call if I needed something. Now he lives in California, has an agent, there are T-shirts with his face on them, and he knows how to text? The list of things to tease him about just writes itself. He tells me he’s just a few blocks away and to head into the restaurant and get us a table.

The scent of coffee and bacon fills my nose as soon as I step through the doors, and my stomach growls. I catch the eye of the waiter just a moment later, tell him there will be two of us today, and follow him to our seats.

Finn arrives only a few minutes later, and I feel some giddiness ignite in my chest at the idea of having him all to myself for a little while. I love these guys so much. He grins back and makes his way to our table, pulling his cap off his head and smoothing his hair back down, giving me the chance to really take a moment to look at him.

“Mon dieu, you are all biceps,” I say when he reaches the table, and he rolls his eyes as he takes a seat on the bench opposite me.

“Easy, Frenchie.”

“I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, but when did you turn into Popeye?”

He laughs, looking down at the menu. “Does anyone even know who Popeye is anymore?”

Ignoring him, I ask, “Have you always been this enormous? I don’t remember.” I reach across the table to wrap both hands around his biceps.

Finn makes a show of looking at his watch. “When is your flight home again?”

I drop back in my seat and bring my water glass to my lips. “It’s not my fault you look like Captain America. No wonder they’ve put you on television.”

Finn turns his coffee cup over when the waitress stops at our table, and we wait while she fills it and takes his order.

“You’ve heard about the show, then,” he says carefully. He takes a sip of his coffee—black, just like he’s always taken it—and the liquid is so hot the steam curls up from the mug to disappear in front of him. There’s something comforting about this moment right here, that even after all this time he still takes his coffee the same way and is so impatient to drink it he can’t wait a few minutes for it to cool.

“Of course I heard about it. Everyone has. Oliver sent me a magazine clipping and I saw your photograph in a train station in Lille.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks, tilting his head to look at me.

I shrug. “I’m not sure. I know we had the occasional text just to check in, but I think I was still too embarrassed for more. Or maybe it was that it felt like after the breakup, Ansel got to keep you and Oliver, and I didn’t.”

He smiles and folds his arms in front of him. But his smile isn’t amused; it’s gentle, as if he’s telling me how much he loves me with that expression. There’s a moment of silence where Finn’s smile slowly turns into a frown, and the tan skin of his forehead furrows in concentration. “You know none of us blamed you, right? We thought you were a jackass and went off the deep end, but we also know you. And Ansel. We all have meltdowns.”

“I know this now,” I tell him. “And things are better.”

“Good,” he says, taking another sip of his coffee.

I love this about Finn: if you tell him you’re fine, you’re fine. He doesn’t need to get in your head or analyze every one of your thoughts; he trusts you to tell him the truth.

“I’m happy for him, for all of you,” I add. “Speaking of, tell me about this wife of yours. She’s . . .” I search for the right word, “something else.”

Finn laughs, full and loud, the corners of his eyes crinkling mischievously. “She certainly is. And marriage is good—it’s fucking great, actually.”

We take a few minutes to catch up, to talk about his father’s health and all the trouble his brothers are getting into, and then breakfast arrives: fruit and oatmeal for me, eggs and everything else you can imagine for Finn. He doesn’t waste any time before digging in.

“So you’re living here part-time, and Vancouver the rest?” I ask.

He nods and reaches for the ketchup. “At least until the show is done.”

“That sounds complicated.”

He shrugs. “It is. Sometimes.”

“How is it all going? I have to admit, I never thought I’d see Finn Roberts on TV.”

“You and me both. So far it’s good. The pay is fucking incredible, and as big a pain in the ass as it is, it’s nice getting to do the thing I love without worrying so much about money. I’ll take it while it lasts.” He takes a bite, chews, and washes it down with coffee before continuing. “You’ve been to Oliver’s store?”

“I have. I do not know a thing about comics, but I think it is amazing. It looks exactly the way he used to describe it to us.”

“Doesn’t it? And it’s never empty. Thank God Not-Joe is smarter than he looks and Olls can leave once in a while.”

“You mean Dylan,” I say, and he looks at me a little oddly, like he might not know who I’m talking about. “The cute one who works in the store?”

Finn straightens and sets his fork on the edge of his plate. “I knew who you meant.” He stares at me a beat longer. “ ‘Cute’?”

I shrug and take another bite of oatmeal. “Well, he is.”

“He’s also not your type.”

I laugh at how his shoulders have gone tight, how he looks ready to battle. “How do you know? Maybe that’s why things have never worked out for me—maybe what we thought was my type is all wrong.”

Finn eyes me suspiciously. “You heading over there today?”

I stir my oatmeal, ignoring the intensity of his gaze. “Yeah, after breakfast. Oliver wasn’t there when I stopped by the first time, and I know he wanted to show me around.”

“Right. Well, I can walk you over if you don’t mind.”

I laugh. He just can’t help the protective big-brother reflex. “As if I would let you get away from me so quickly.” I wipe my mouth and set my napkin on the plate in front of me.

“When are you leaving?” he asks. “Maybe we can all plan a ride before you go.”

My heart skips a beat. “I would love that! And I don’t know, really. My ticket is open-ended, but I need to put together my résumé and organize my portfolio at some point. Probably next weekend? Can we plan something before then?”

“Definitely,” he says, snagging the check before the waitress can set it on the table. “Now let’s get you over to that store so I can watch Oliver fall all over himself showing off for you.”


WE GO FOR a ride that weekend: high up into the hills, sweating our faces off. Oliver, Finn, Ansel, and me, back together again on the road, racing down the hills and yelling encouragements at each other on the climbs. It’s better than before.

We are better than before.

We meet Mia, Harlow, Lola, and Dylan afterward at a tiny café in Alpine, where we drink sharp beer and eat food that makes me want to sleep for days. Dylan brings us all bracelets he made while babysitting Fred’s granddaughter, and I put mine on, wondering whether I’m imagining how it appears to be the only one of the lot not made by a five-year-old girl.

And still . . . I don’t book a trip home afterward. An entire week flies by and I realize I haven’t even looked at flight schedules yet. Each day, I make every excuse I can to visit Oliver’s store.

I need to take him to lunch.

I need to bring him lunch.

I’m looking for Finn.

I need to borrow a phone charger.

I need to return a phone charger.

I left my sunglasses on the counter maybe sort of by accident.

Every time I walk through the door, the little bell chimes overhead and Dylan stops what he’s doing, smiles like I’m his long-lost best friend, and lets me spend the rest of his shift following him around the little store.

We talk about books and clothes and architecture and cows.

He’ll look at me and smile and it’s like I’ve stepped out from a cold chill into the warm sun.

It sounds insane, I know it does, but he’s so easy in his own skin, he makes me feel easy in mine.


IT’S TUESDAY.

The second Tuesday I’ve been here, and I arrived on a Thursday.

“So are you working here now, or what?” Oliver asks, dropping a stack of comics onto the counter in front of him.

I look up from a copy of Tank Girl Dylan left for me to read with instructions to note “the subtle nuances of her character” so we may discuss them when he returns. I didn’t even realize there were nuances in comics.

Oliver waits for an answer, but let’s be real, I don’t have one. “Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing, Olls.”

He smiles, and I can tell he sees the internal What-the-hell-am-I-doing-next question looming in my eyes, but he doesn’t push. “I’m not complaining, mind you,” he says. “Between you and Lola hanging around here all the time, business has never been better.”

I set my book on the counter and look around the busy store. “I like being here. I like just . . . being around you all day.”

Oliver laughs as he rounds the counter, picking up a stack of mail to go through. “Right.”

“What?”

“It’s sweet, but I’m supposed to believe you’re here for me?”

I stare up at him, giving him an unconvincing, “What do you mean?”

“You spend all your time with that one,” he says, motioning to where Dylan is taking down a box from a larger stack of boxes. “I came in here yesterday and you didn’t even notice. I walked in and you two had your heads together, laughing about something you were watching on his phone.”

“He’s fun.” I look down, picking at a loose thread on my sweater. “I’ve never met anyone like him before. We can talk about the weirdest things and he manages to make it into the most fascinating conversation. He sees things differently.”

Oliver snorts. “I’ll say.”

“I mean it.” I pick up a letter from a stack of mail in front of him and hold it up. “You and I would look at this envelope and see that it’s blue and that it is an envelope. Dylan would have some story about visiting a paper factory when he was small and how they used a special dye to make this exact color blue. How it’s the same color blue as some dove that only lives in the Himalayas or something, and how just seeing that color or feeling the texture of the paper under his fingers takes him back there. To the paper factory, not the Himalayas,” I clarify.

“He’d probably also tell you about the time he got a paper cut because he was trying to close an envelope with his dick,” Oliver says. “And after watching the pair of you over the last couple of weeks, I imagine you’d probably laugh and ask him what color that envelope was.”

I drop the letter back into the pile and look out over the shop again. I’m not sure what to say. I probably would, just to keep him talking.

Oliver crosses his arms, leaning back against the counter. “You like him.”

I think about this, watching the way the muscles of Dylan’s back stretch as he bends to pick up a box, how his shirt clings to the length of his torso. Physically, he’s the opposite of every man I’ve ever been drawn to: he’s beautiful, but messy. But his heart is enormous, and his intellect seems even bigger.

“Maybe,” I admit. “Would that be so bad?”

Oliver takes a step toward me and wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Not bad at all.”

“But maybe he doesn’t think of me that way,” I say, and chew on my bottom lip.

Dylan chooses that moment to return to the front of the store, grinning at me as he bends to pick up a pile of broken-down boxes and carry them to the back. He whistles, calling out, “Just carrying some cardboard, don’t mind me, pretty Perry . . .”

Oliver laughs at my side and shakes his head. “Let’s just say I don’t think that’s a problem. At all.”


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