At all times Girl X is talking to Guys A, B, and C.
Girl X meets Guy A at a house party. She’s in the basement fishing out a piece of ceiling from her cup when Guy A makes his way for the stairs. Guy A tells Girl X it was her hair that stopped him—jet black with sudden, auburn streaks. Girl X tries to explain that the glow was actually coming from the cherry Jell-O pit behind her, the architectural feat of a few hopeful baseball players who, post-Theology elective, had misunderstood Noah when he said, “Build it and they will come.”
Guy A laughs. They talk, but he doesn’t learn much about her that night. Girl X dances around his more pointed questions, leaving their edges to smolder somewhere between her tongue and the heat of her smile. Later, he’ll say she’s a good listener.
Guy A is a forward on an Ivy League soccer team. Number 23, he tells her. Girl X stops at the number, but he doesn’t notice. If he had, she might’ve told him that each time she looks at the clock it seems to be 3:23 or 7:23 or 12:23. The number is the sum of her date of birth, a psychic mentioned 23 would be an important year for her during a tarot reading last summer, and it’s been the balance on her college cash card for the past two semesters. Cents, obviously.
Girl X is still thinking about the coincidence when her phone vibrates and lights up. She glances down before sliding it into her back pocket.
Guy A is from the same coastal California town as Blake Lively. Girl X knows this because her roommate googles him later that night, back in their apartment. Search results reveal Guy A is Jewish, 5’7 (generous), and is in the running to play soccer professionally for Chivas USA. He likes Jeff Buckley (plus) and is the nephew of Paula Abdul (plus, until you consider her 2007 reality show and realize, minus).
Over drinks a week later, Guy A tells her that he and his family are vacationing in Belize over winter break. He’s looking forward to the beach and spending time with his 12-pound Maltese puppy, Rexi, who takes up a suspect amount of space on his phone. He tells her he’s an Economics major and likes golf, but Girl X doesn’t hold either of these things against him. Guy A makes her laugh once, but she can’t remember why. Only that he didn’t ask what her winter plans were.
At her door a couple hours later, Guy A says, “Maybe when I come back we can pick up where we left off.” He kisses her.
When Guy A lands in Dallas for his connecting flight to Belize, Girl X is the first person he texts. For the next three weeks Guy A sends Girl X pictures of citrus gold sunsets.
“Sweet,” she responds, hours later.
Guy A is a square. The sum of Girl X and Guy A is less than the sum of Girl X and Guy C.
One week into the spring semester, Girl X meets Guy B on the first floor of the house in which she met Guy A. Guy B is a midfielder on the same Ivy League soccer team. Number 19, he tells her, but the number means nothing.
Guy B doesn’t know that Girl X is also talking to Guy A. Guy B is taller than Guy A, towering over her at 6’1. He’s an English major who thinks he can wear Timberlands with a Celtics jersey and pass it off as an outfit, but she forgives this because he can quote Steinbeck.
“What’s your favorite book?” She asks the question.
“The Great Gatsby,” he answers.
“Fitzgerald knows how to end a story.”
“Definitely,” he nods.
She starts again. “You ever realize that when you ask someone about their favorite book, you only really need to know who wrote it? They get so excited you even know what they’re talking about, the ending never actually comes up.”
“So, you’ve never read it?” He asks, half-amused.
“I have, but you still didn’t ask me anything about the ending.”
She smiles and he smiles back.
Later, in bed, he gets quiet. Girl X stares at him until he begins to talk.
“I’m going to be 23 in March and I have no direction,” he says, speaking more to the room than to her.
Girl X stops at the number, but he doesn’t notice and goes on.
“Like I’m on my own island and everything on it has stopped growing.”
“Or you need to give it time to grow,” she says to the dark.
He turns to look at her.
“You don’t know anything about me,” she tells him. He doesn’t ask anything either.
Guy B offers to drive her home. He gets up and feels for his keys through the dark. Girl X spots them when her phone suddenly lights up, catching on silver. She glances down at the message before jangling them in his direction.
At her door 10 minutes later, Guy B tells her he borrowed the team car to drive her home. The guys had asked who he was with that night, and when he mentioned her name, Guy A said that he, too, knew a girl by that name at that school.
Girl X laughs and he kisses her anyway.
Guy B is greater than Guy A, but always less when multiplied against Guy C.
Guy C doesn’t attend an Ivy League school; he attends a university 2,000 miles away. He doesn’t play soccer and his family can’t afford to vacation in Belize. Guy C is a Finance major who can’t quote Steinbeck, but would never try to pull off Timberlands. He hates golf and agrees with Girl X when she says that small dogs are emasculating. Guy C knows Girl X is speaking with Guys A and B, but they never talk about variables.
Girl X meets Guy C when he visits her roommate’s boyfriend freshman year. They talk. Guy C is from the same town as Girl X, but they’ve never seen each other before. She tells him about her family and her writing and that she likes sad songs even when she’s happy and, sorry, she usually doesn’t talk this much. It’s got something to do with the way he looks at her whenever she speaks, like there’s weight in each of her words but he’d never hold it against her.
On his way out, Guy C asks for her number. Then, without her knowing, he breaks up with his girlfriend of three years.
Back at school, Guy C mails Girl X an album they spoke about the night they met. In return, Girl X mails him her favorite book, The Great Gatsby. Guy C calls her to talk about the ending, but the conversation takes on more of a beginning.
Sophomore year, Girl X is invited to the same New Year’s Eve party as Guy C, who’s home for winter break. A few minutes before midnight, Guy C asks Girl X to step outside. He gives her a postcard from the city where he lives nine months out of the year. On it he has circled the places he plans to take her when she visits. If she visits.
By junior year, Guy C texts Girl X every night to ask what the highlight of her day was. Most days it’s talking to him, but she never tells him this. She waits patiently for her phone to light up, and once it does, she tells him the second best part of her day.
On her birthday senior year, Guy C mails Girl X a box of chocolate cake mix because she told him last year that the raw stuff tastes better than the baked stuff. With the cake mix is a letter. Guy C signs this letter “love.” Girl X stares at the word and counts. She will be 23-years-old when Guy C graduates and moves back home.
At all times Girl X is talking to Guys A, B, and C. Guy C is invariable.
Bethany Sales is an editor and freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. Bethany’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, and more. One of her stories will appear in the forthcoming collection, Tiny Love Stories (Dec ‘20), from the editors of ‘Modern Love.’ Find her on Twitter here. Her website is here.