"You can't be serious!" James exploded.
I cringed and held the sleek, pink phone away from my ear. "Why the hell not?" I demanded after a moment, throwing a new swimsuit into my luggage.
"Do I have to say it?"
"Considering I don't know what it is..."
"He's gay, Sammy," he answered flatly.
I rolled my eyes. "This shit again?"
"He's prettier than you are, with all those curls. Ask Amira!"
"NO! You guys are just scheming." I twisted my mouth to the side and eyed two beach towels while James swore at a careless driver. I chuckled. "Should I take my Dragon Ball Z beach towel or the cute sunset one?"
"Neither. You shouldn't be packing anything. Actually, do what you want. Do whatever you want."
"That's exactly what I'm doing."
"Then you shouldn't need my input for this dumb as fuck idea of yours. How much is your ticket anyway?"
I giggled and rolled up the anime-influenced option to be packed. "No idea. He covered it."
"You know I hate when you say that!"
"You know I hate when you lead on gay men!"
"He's not gay and I'm not leading him on!"
"One sec, I'm parking."
James' car beep beep beeped in the background of our call and I had a few seconds to consider how our friendship had arrived here.
He was my ex-boyfriend twice over. We were extremely close - maybe too close, if that were a thing. Knowing that one more break up would have ruined us forever, we'd made a pact to be friends. We went on a bar-hopping night out, pinky swore over our new status and never looked back. Our relationship was probably in the best place it had ever been.
There were still moments, but...
But right now, he was annoying me.
"So is your young man also-"
"Oh my God, J, so he's like a full eleven months younger than me. Use his name."
He chuckled and finally relented, his car door slamming shut with my purple cosmetics case. "Fine. Ryan. So Ryan paid for your ticket? You're sure it's a return trip?"
I laughed. "Yes it is and yeah he did. Shit." I shook the now empty box of tampons that Amira, my best friend and apartment mate, and I shared. "J, where are you exactly?"
"At Sov, grabbing some dinner. What's wrong?"
"I need tampons."
"I don't remember this being in our terms."
"It falls under 'emergencies'. Come on, James, don't be an asshole tonight. You have to come over to say goodbye to me tonight, anyway."
"Isn't your flight on Saturday morning?" I heard a gentle ding and the familiar pop music of the pharmacy. He was such a good friend. My tummy warmed in a very non-friendly fashion.
"Yeah, but from Mo Bay. I'm leaving work a little early tomorrow to get the bus down. Up. Whatever."
We shared a laugh at that. "What size do you need? God I can't believe I'm doing this shit."
"It's a pink box that says 'super' and has a lady playing tennis on the side."
"These are expensive!"
"I'll bring you back something really nice from the Bahamas."
"If the young Mr. Brown doesn't suddenly go crazy and do something unfortunate, then yes, you'd better."
"You're so dark."
"Tampons are really expensive. Please pay me as soon as I get to your place. I can't afford it if he's a killer."
"He's not a killer!"
"You met on Tinder!"
"You know, you're on Tinder too."
"Yeah but I'm not inviting girls from around the Caribbean to visit me for the weekend."
"Because you're poor."
"I will be, from buying all these tampons."
"Oh God, suck it up. What are you having for dinner?"
He groaned. "I'll just get the big family deal from KFC. Text Amira."
"Reasons we're friends."
"Tell the guard I'll be there soon."
I couldn't help the butterflies. We hung up and I called the guard house to inform them that he'd be coming. After texting Amira that James was coming with dinner, I circled my room, reminding myself of all the conditions behind my and James' friendship.
We could never date each other ever again. We could never be friends with benefits, even in extremely desperate times. We could never kiss, no matter how drunk we got on our once monthly night outs. We were required to be entirely honest about everything all the time.
Except jealousy over each others' future significant others. Absolute honesty in every area but that one.
The pinky swear bound us.
I sighed deeply. I was mostly fine with the arrangement. In fact, we hadn't worked so well in years. Bro-ship really had been the best move. But every now and then... I couldn't help the feelings. Over a five year period, James and I had dated, been official and then argued and fought our way to breaking up twice. We tried being friends in between but that had proven impossible. We cut each other off but Jamaica was small and we had such a strong bond. So now we were... this.
My phone dinged with a message from Ryan. Can't wait to see you, babe :)
He was sweet where James was sharp. Soft where James was covered with jagged edges. Simple where James was complicated. Ryan laughed instead of making comebacks. Even his sarcasm was gentle.
He didn't thrill me, but he was good for me. I was 30 years old. Maybe 'good for me' had to be enough now.
Same here, sweetie :) I typed back. I'm done packing now and planning to get an early night.
Sleep tight, honey <3
I texted back good night at the same moment that the doorbell rang. "Use your key!" I yelled from my bed.
"Open the door, Sammy, I have KFC and tampons!"
"James!" I shrieked and dashed to the door. "That was mortifying, ass!"
"You know me, though, so you should have opened the door or expected it. Move."
I rolled my eyes and stepped aside to let him in. We bantered over dinner until Amira got home.
"Amira, you have to help me talk her out of this," he pleaded as she joined us at the table.
Amira laughed and shrugged. "I tried, J, trust me. But it is a free trip to the Bahamas."
"But he could end up being one of those split personality people!"
"He is not! I know crazy men when I meet them." I narrowed my gaze at him and he glared back.
"You've only actually met him once. And if I remember correctly, you were very drunk."
"You remember wrong because you were off rubbing up on that girl with the cheap wig."
"Is that jealousy I detect?"
"It's disgust at her wig."
"You guys need to just shut up or get married and leave me in peace. I can't live like this! I'm legit just trying to enjoy this free KFC."
James and I exchanged one last, harsh glance and then he ended with "The chicken is on me, just don't forget the tampons money."
Amira's eyes popped open with her "What?!"
It was nearly midnight when I walked James out to his car. Amira was snoring on my bed, where the three of us had watched a movie over dessert and a few drinks.
The July night was warm and sang with harmless insects. Escorting James out sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, made me nostalgic for our days as a couple. The good days, anyway. Not the ones when he yelled at me from the car or I threw his shirts at his head.
There was so much history.
And so much drama.
And so much drama.
"Seriously, Sammy," he said gravely when we got to his car. He turned to face me and waited until I met his serious gaze. "Be careful. You've known this guy for, what, a few months?"
"Half a year, J," I murmured and focused on the blades of grass between our feet.
"Yeah well... Stay in touch."
"It's just for the weekend and -"
"Jesus, why are you so stubborn?!"
"Why are you so controlling?" I shot back. Our eyes met again and sparks zinged, heating the space between our faces. He grunted and I stepped back. "Thanks for dinner and stuff."
"And tampons, you mean?"
I shoved his shoulder and we laughed. It could only be more tense and awkward if I slipped and fell on top of him.
"What do you like about him, Sammy?" he asked quietly after a few moments.
The question surprised me, but it shouldn't have. Honesty.
"He's easy." I barely heard my own voice but I knew he caught the low words. "He makes things so easy, J."
James' eyes landed on mine again and we drank each other in. Unspoken words jumbled between us, but I wasn't sure what either of us was trying to say.
"I'll text you," I promised.
"Yeah, you do that." He got into his car and drove off. I blew out a long breath and turned to go back in.