“When I got back to my car I was like, wait… if I didn’t have a boyfriend, were we about to kiss?”
Carissa hadn’t planned on telling any of her friends back home about Jules. He was just the “camp crush,” a substitute for Charlie while she was away for a two-week teacher retreat, someone to tell jokes and go on hikes and kayak rides with. And besides, there were only three male teachers at the retreat. Everyone probably had a crush on Jules. But their goodbye haunted her every time she closed her eyes. And since she had returned home, her conversations with Charlie were almost nonexistent, while Jules kept liking and commenting on all of her Instagram stories, even the most mundane ones–a new TV show she had watched, home improvement projects, her writing progress for the weekend. She didn’t know what any of it meant. Is he just super friendly? she asked herself every time a new notification popped up on her phone. With no plans for the last few weeks of summer, Carissa had too much time to fixate on the small things (were they small things?), and now she needed her friends’s opinions.
Kim and Brittany exchanged a wide-eyed look across the table, Brittany aggressively swirling her coffee stirrer in her mug.
“You know the answer to that,” Kim said. “Right?”
Carissa sank down in her chair, picked at the remainder of her oversized blueberry pancakes with her fork. “I don’t know. I mean, we’re friends. We were sad to leave each other.”
“I have plenty of male friends and we don’t gaze longingly into each other’s eyes when we say goodbye to each other,” Brittany said. “He’s in love with you.”
“I doubt that.”
Kim held out her hand. “Give me your phone. I need to see if he’s flirting with you.”
Carissa sighed and reached for her purse, placed the phone on the table but kept her hand on it until Kim playfully slapped her and took it away.
Brittany slid her chair closer so she could look over Kim’s shoulder. “Oh, he’s cute,” she said, in a tone that made Carissa wonder where Charlie fell on the attractive scale in their eyes and whether they doubted her taste in men.
“A lot of your DMs are happening very late at night,” Kim observed.
Carissa shrugged. “That’s when most people are on their phones.”
Kim raised an eyebrow and kept reading. “Hm. You were right. This is questionable.” She slid the phone back across the table. “He probably likes you, and is letting you know he’s there while respectfully keeping his distance because he knows about Charlie.”
“Or he just views me as a good friend.”
Brittany snorted. “No one makes ‘good friends’ with a member of the opposite sex in their 30s. I don’t think there’s anything platonic about this.”
“So what do I do?” Carissa asked.
“How far away does he live?” Kim asked.
“And he teaches art?”
“Find an art museum or something that’s in between the two of you. Ask him if he wants to meet up with you there. Totally innocent.”
“We can come with you for moral support,” Brittany added. “And then Kim and I will find a winery or something nearby.”
“But Jules and I don’t drink–” Carissa started, and then noticed both of them smirking. “Oh. Right.” She wasn’t sure if her face felt flushed or if it was just that the sun had moved higher in the sky, their brunch date running much longer than probably any of them anticipated.
“Serious question though,” Kim said. “You were already feeling unsure about Charlie before you went to this retreat, right?”
“Yeah.” It was barely a whisper.
“So what’s keeping you with him?”
Carissa shrugged. “The house? I can’t afford my own place right now. I can’t go back to living with my mom. And I thought I could make it work between us.”
They were all quiet, imbibing the hot August sunshine, their last few lazy summer mornings.
“It’s not a Disney movie,” Kim finally said. “Not everyone finds their person super early on in life. Or in a way that’s really convenient.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for apartments. I think you need to get out of Charlie’s house.”
“Or just pack your shit and show up on Jules’s doorstep,” Brittany said.
Kim shot her a dirty look. “That would be too much like a movie.”