Despite looking like he hadn’t gotten much sleep, Brendan still looked fantastic. He was in a preppy cream colored sweater and jeans.
“Hi!” I said.
He smiled warmly. “Hey. Can I come in?”
“Of course!” It was like we had reverted back and now he was asking for permission just to come into my office. He stepped in and shut the door behind him.
“Are you busy?” he asked as he sat in one of my chairs.
“Extremely, but definitely not too busy for you. One sec.” I finished sending my email then closed out to give him my undivided attention. “What’s up? How are you?”
Brendan shrugged. “I’m sure you heard.”
I nodded, confirming, but not giving Thomas away. “You okay?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Things haven’t been good for a while, but I thought she was willing to work through it. That’s what she said a few months ago. I think someone got in her head,” he said.
I nodded again, afraid to ask what exactly happened. Brendan and I were nowhere near as close as we used to be, but I would absolutely die if our friendship had anything to do with their divorce.
“It’s just weird,” he went on. “She’s the only person I’ve ever really been with. We were together forever. So it’ll be an adjustment, for sure.”
As in, his wife is the only person he’s ever slept with? How weird, but kind of cute I guess? But all the more reason to see what else is out there.
“So there’s no chance for reconciliation?” I asked.
Brendan shook his head. “No. Things were said and done that can’t be taken back, you know?”
Oh, I knew. “Yeah. So what now?”
“Business as usual, I guess. There’s still some stuff that has to be figured out, but I just got a place in Murray Hill so I’m happy.”
“A bachelor pad?” I teased.
“Hardly,” Brendan grinned. “Wanna come check it out? It needs some work, but I’m settling in.”
“Definitely.” There was no way I would go to see his new place. What a bad idea.
“Anyway. What’s going on with you?”
“The same shit. Everyone is pissing me off. You have to see what Paige just emailed me,” I replied.
Despite being terrible at her job, Paige had been on my ass about the stupidest bullshit. That day, she’d sent a message that said, “I don’t care how you do it, but this needs to be figured out today.” And it’s like, instead of demanding shit get done, why don’t you actually help? She’s a bitch and she’s annoying and it doesn’t help that she works from home every single day and answered a Zoom call from her bed one day. Really?
“Man,” Brendan said, laughing. “The two of you just can’t get along, can you?”
“No because she’s a cu—”
And then my door flew open and Sam rushed in. Brendan jumped up like he was caught doing something inappropriate. Sam, of course, stopped and looked back and forth between us.
“Sorry to interrupt…” she started to say.
“You’re fine. Do you have the samples?” I said back.
Meanwhile, Brendan waved and snuck off behind her out of my office. Not suspicious at all, dude. I didn’t see him again the rest of the day, but that evening he texted me saying, “Sorry I had to run. Wanna grab lunch this week to catch up?”
I knew I shouldn’t so I waited an entire day to say, “Sure! How’s Friday?”
So at least that gave me something to look forward to. On Friday, I got dressed in a brand new cute outfit; not so much to impress Brendan or anything like that, but because I’d spent the entire pandemic shopping online and I was excited to wear my new clothes.
And okay, so maybe I was a little too excited to be having lunch with a newly single guy when I was having so many issues in my own relationship. But we’d already decided that the only thing we’d ever be is friends so it was fine.
As soon as we sat down and ordered at the cute bistro near the office, I blabbed about what was going on with Brady. The only person I’d really talked to about it was Kendra and she, of course, sided with Brady.
“I mean, why were you spying on him? If John overheard some of our conversations, I know he wouldn’t be happy. And I’m sure Brady wouldn’t be either,” she said.
She’s so annoying. Sometimes I wonder how and why I’m still friends with her.
“Don’t you think you should talk to him?” Brendan said after my spiel.
“And say what? I’ve already told him exactly how I feel and he’s said nothing. The ball is in his court now.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It just seems weird that you haven’t talked about it at all.”
“Welcome to my life!” I burst out. “This is what I’ve dealt with for years.”
“I’m sorry, Reese,” Brendan said, sounding sincere. “I guess we’re both having some issues in the relationship department.”
That was an understatement. I considered what he said though, and thought maybe I should bring it up again. It made zero sense that we were walking around the house ignoring each other when we could just talk about our problems. When I got home that afternoon, Brady was already home and in the kitchen with Winnie.
“Hey,” he said, barely looking up at me.
“Hello. You’re home early,” I said.
I put my stuff down and saw that he’d picked up the mail and it was all sitting on the counter. And right on top was a postcard from one of the places I’d looked at in the city with a note saying something like, “Greetings from your new home.”
“Yup,” Brady said. And then he started talking to Winnie and pretending I wasn’t there. So that got me even more mad. Clearly he’d seen the postcard and knew I was looking to move out and he wasn’t even going to say anything? He didn’t care? Typical.
Anyway, that was the new routine. Brady and me ignoring each other, looking for places to live around the country and meeting Brendan for lunch once a week. But that quickly turned into lunch 2-3 times a week. And then when we weren’t hanging out, we were in constant communication; binging shows on Netflix together, signing up for the same Peloton rides, exchanging pictures of our respective dinners, etc. And it was bad, like back to before I got pregnant, but even worse now that he was single and I was basically on my way to being single. It wasn’t like super subtle flirting that could be passed as friendly banter. The pics he sent after our Peloton rides were not exactly platonic. And neither were some of the conversations we had while we were texting in bed.
The last thing I needed was to get involved with Brendan — a very recently divorced (had the papers even been signed?) coworker. Not when Brady and I had so many unresolved issues and a needy toddler in the mix, but I didn’t care. I knew it would all blow up in my face eventually, but I’d cross that bridge when I got to it. For now, I’d enjoy the fruits of my bad decisions.
One day, we decided to go to lunch and then we would visit a site with Thomas and Mike afterwards. We opted for just green smoothies and as we sat there sipping, Brendan asked about Brady. We hadn’t really broached the subject since my first venting session, mainly because the situation hadn’t changed at all.
“He’s fine,” I said. “He’s been working from five am until like nine or ten so I usually don’t even see him. I’m sure he prefers it that way.”
“Do you think he’s really working all that time?” Brendan asked.
I just stared at him and so he continued.
“I mean, you’re the one who alluded to him doing something in Florida. I don’t know.”
Honestly, I hadn’t even considered that Brady was being sketchy in that way at all — he’s always been a workaholic. But perhaps he was getting into something/someone else. Maybe he was meeting up with Sydney in Brooklyn after work everyday and spending the evening with her. Or even someone else I didn’t know about.
“I’m sorry,” Brendan said when he saw the wheels turning in my head. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sure he’s not.”
“I have no idea,” I admitted. “But that’s my point. I don’t trust him.”
As if I had any room to talk.
Thomas called as we were leaving the shop to tell Brendan he’d lost his keys.
“Thomas is good at a lot of things, but he would lose his head if it wasn’t attached to his body,” Brendan said once he hung up. “I need to grab the spare set from my place. Do you mind?”
And I was mostly just eager to see his apartment because I’m nosy so I let him know I didn’t mind. We hopped in a cab and headed over there. To no one’s surprise, Brendan’s new bachelor pad is a hip, beautifully decorated brownstone just off Park Ave.
“I thought you said you were still settling in,” I said as we entered the fully furnished living space.
“My stepmom has been helping me. Just give a sec while I find the keys. You can look around if you want,” he said.
Which I was going to do anyway. I gave myself a tour around the living area and kitchen, noting the very expensive furniture and original art pieces. I wondered if he inherited some of it from the divorce since the ex-wife is supposedly “loaded.” I went through the hallway to look at a spacious bathroom and a guest bedroom that actually did need a little bit of work. I stopped just before I got to the open door of what I assumed was the master suite. Brendan was coming out and we stood there staring at each other.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“It’s okay,” I lied. His place was stunning and clearly a lot nicer than he originally let on. “When you’re ready, I can help you revamp some things.”
Brendan smiled. “Thank you.”
And then, something about being in such close quarters when all I could think about was his sweaty shoulders and body after a Peloton ride made my body clammy.
“Did you find the keys?” I said to change the subject.
“Yep. We can get going,” he said.
And then I didn’t immediately turn to leave because some wicked part of me still wanted to see his bedroom. It wasn’t until Brendan began to walk toward me that I turned and hustled out of there.
He must have read my mind, because later that night he sent me a picture of his modern white and grey bedroom.
“You didn’t get to see, but still working on my room. I need art for above my bed,” he captioned.
The picture was of the entire room and I couldn’t even fully see the bed. Which was completely fine. I didn’t need to be thinking about his bed anyway.
So that’s how things were for the next few weeks — lots of texting and lunches and flirting. But…it wasn’t just that. I realized that I actually really fucking liked the guy. I loved how open he was about his feelings about his ex and his divorce and how he was working through them. I didn’t exactly want to hear about her, but I enjoyed the fact that he’s not afraid to be vulnerable and he’s well adjusted, not emotionally unavailable like someone else in my life. And I love that when I complain about the most random and stupid shit, he always asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?” And it’s like no, I just want to complain. But at least he tries and he listens.
It sort of felt like we were in a long distance relationship. Like we were a couple, but lived on opposite coasts and that’s why we weren’t intimate. So when he invited me to his dad’s birthday dinner in Manhattan, I immediately said yes. It was on a Thursday night and I knew Brady would be working late so I arranged with the sitter to watch Winnie. I put on high rise light wash jeans by Agolde and a skimpy tank top and then threw a blazer over it in case
my future in-laws his parents were conservative (but from everything Brendan told me, I didn’t think they would be). And that’s when it hit me that I was meeting his parents and maybe this was all really weird? Was I ready to meet his family? What had he told them about me? Did they think I was his date? But I’d already agreed and I didn’t want to back out at the last minute. It’d be fine.
The birthday dinner was at a bustling restaurant in Hudson Yards and Brendan’s family took up the back half of the space. I got really nervous going in, thinking about Brendan’s ex and his family and what they would think of him bringing another girl to his dad’s birthday dinner. But then I was introduced to the cute dad who was clearly a few drinks in and I suddenly felt fine. The stepmom rushed over and pulled me into a hug.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you! Brendan has told me such amazing things,” she said. And then pulled away, still holding onto me. “And he was right — you do have great style. Who’s the blazer by?”
So obviously we were pretty much inseparable after that. Brendan is really close with her and she’s super cute and active on Instagram; posting her outfits and tablescapes and makeup looks (we follow each other now obvi). I think she’s a bit younger than his dad, who is also fun. He ordered bourbon for the table to go with dinner and told inappropriate jokes all night. His brother — Brendan’s uncle — and his wife were also there along with two other couples. It was a boisterous group, but it was so fun and so normal. Obviously the booze helped, but I loved them all.
Dinner wrapped up, but a few people wanted to stay and drink at the bar. I debated staying since I was having fun and it wasn’t that late yet, but I felt bad about leaving Winnie at home so I decided that I should to get going. I went to the restroom and came back out, looking for Brendan to tell him I was leaving. He found me as I was walking out.
“Heyyy, I was looking for you. Wanna have another drink?” he said.
“I wish, but I need to get home to my brat,” I said back, rolling my eyes.
“Aww,” Brendan said, still coming toward me. We were in a tiny pocket of space next to the stairs partially hidden by a wall. “Well, thanks for coming. I hope you had fun.”
“Definitely. I’m expecting an invite to every birthday dinner going forward,” I said.
Brendan kept coming closer until I was backed into the wall. “You know I can make that happen. Everyone loves you.”
He tossed his head back and laughed. “Do you need any help getting home? Can I call you a car?”
I let him know that I’d called an Uber.
“Okay. Will you be around for lunch tomorrow?”
“Brendan.” I gave him a look because we’d already had lunch together three times that week. “Don’t you have work to do?”
“Yeah, but I can always find time to eat with you.”
At this point his face was like an inch from mine and clearly we’d both had too much bourbon. But something about him saying, “I can always find time to eat with you,” made me want to fucking melt. So naturally, I put my hand on his chest and shoved him away.
“Please. You’ll be too hungover to even get out of bed tomorrow,” I said.
Brendan grabbed my arm and laughed and just stared at me for a moment. And then he said, “Can I kiss you?”
I should’ve said absolutely not, WTF did he think this was? But I just stood there like a goddamn tit. And so he leaned down and kissed me and without me telling it to, my hand reached up and entwined itself into the back of his hair like this was at all normal. Brendan wrapped his arms around my waist and leaned into me, and there we were: in the corner of the restaurant making out. It felt like years and years in the making. We both reeked of bourbon and I knew would immediately regret it, but fucking finally. The moment he began to pull away, I pushed past him.
“I feel like my Uber is here,” I said and then I rushed out of there.
By the time I got home, I was overwhelmed with guilt and ready to jump off a bridge. Brady was home, working on his laptop, and didn’t even say hi to me or ask where I’d been. That made me feel a little bit less like an asshole, but I still felt like shit — not just from all the bourbon, but because I wanted to kiss him again. Maybe I didn’t feel all that guilty. I dry-heaved and cried all night.
I didn’t hear from Brendan until late the next morning. I decided against going into the office, mainly so I would have an excuse not to have to face him at lunch. As much as we’d been flirting, we’d never been physical. And I wasn’t sure how things would be after that.
“Hey. I’m sorry about last night. Needless to say, I had way too much to drink. And you were right, I’m too hungover to meet for lunch,” Brendan texted me.
He was such a gentleman about it that it made me melt a little bit more. So I didn’t reply. We avoided each other for a few days, but found time to get lunch the following week. We skirted around the dinner/kiss, but still fell back into our usual conversation and any awkwardness we felt went away.
The following weekend, Brady didn’t go to work and the three of us had breakfast together. We’d exchanged a few one word sentences, and I planned on going to get mani pedis with Mel in the afternoon. Brady got a phone call — which I didn’t eavesdrop on — but I heard him say, “Wow. I’m on my way.”
And then he grabbed his car keys and beelined for the door. We made eye contact briefly, but he didn’t bother telling me where he was going. I thought nothing of it and that he’d be back soon. But several hours went by and since I was home with the baby, I couldn’t leave to get mani pedis with Mel. I was thinking, what the actual fuck, Brady? Where the fuck was he and why did he leave knowing that I had plans? I wasn’t even going to bother texting him, I’d save my rage for later. I assumed he was doing something nefarious with Sydney or one of the girls he loves at work. And that was fine, I guess, now I’d definitely leave him for Brendan.
But then he finally called. It was eight PM and I was absolutely seething. Where the absolute hell had he been all day?
“Hi,” I answered boredly, ready to hear whatever he had to say.
“Hey,” Brady said. “My dad just died.”