At the entrance to the New England Aquarium, Greer Danville tried not to pace.
She wasn't normally this anxious. Correction: she wasn't normally this visibly anxious. Correction correction: she wasn't normally this excited. Yes, that was better. In any case, it was all Brenna Carver's fault.
Greer had not known what to expect when she'd showed up at Brenna's house the previous day. The two former girlfriends were still on friendly terms, and their break-up had everything to do with external factors and nothing to do with the way they actually felt about each other, but still, a lot could change in five months. Brenna's social media feed, at least, had suggested some level of moving on, and Greer had convinced herself that she was fine with that, if that was the case.
(Correction: almost convinced herself.)
So Greer had been ecstatic when Brenda had claimed that Finn, whom she'd gone with to her new school's Junior Ball, was just a friend. Even if that wasn't the whole story, it suggested that Brenna was open to picking up where they'd left off, and that was more than enough, for now. Enough to make her giddy. Enough to make her more excited about the Aquarium than she remembered being since she was four—and Greer loved the Aquarium.
And yet, Brenna was late. (Don't pace.) Why, Greer couldn't imagine. She'd gotten a text from Brenna apologizing for the delay, but with no actual explanation, leaving Greer with nothing to do but wait and imagine the worst.
It was five thirty-five when Brenna showed up, looking both hot, in the sense that she made Greer want to do things to her, and heated, in the sense that she reminded her of an unstable chemical reaction. "Hey, Bren," Greer said, as she moved in for a hug.
"Hey," Brenna said, awkwardly returning the hug. Something's wrong.
What is wrong with you? Brenna wanted to yell at herself as she walked through the aquarium. She was here, with Greer, brilliant as the sun and gamely acting as her personal tour guide, and who most importantly would not be there tomorrow, and her mind was in Cuernavaca being not with Greer. Stupid police. Stupid text.
It wasn't like it changed anything, being Finn's donor. She didn't like him any more than she already did, or less. It really didn't change anything about his argument that he was more likely to do stupid, life-threatening things—like kissing—if they were together. If it was valid then—and Brenna wasn't sure it was—then it was just as valid now; if it wasn't valid, then…Finn still seemed to believe it, and there was nothing to do but accept his decision.
Except…it did change things. If Finn was her stem cell recipient, that meant she had a stake in his fight—one that existed before the two had even met. It also made her, in a very real way, responsible for his situation. It was her cells that had begun attacking his body, and there was no way she was going to let that be her lasting contribution to his wellbeing.
But where did that leave Greer?
Making her feel even guiltier about it all was the fact that she was even worrying about this in the first place. Finding out her uncle could be arrested should have been enough to push any thought of both Finn and Greer from her mind. Yes, she was worried about him—she'd be at the house with him if Mom hadn't hinted very strongly that she preferred to have her out of their way while the police asked George their questions—but even with the urgency brought about by having law enforcement at their home, the whole thing still felt unreal. Uncle George couldn't really be arrested—could he? Her feelings for both Greer and Finn, on the other hand, felt immediate and real and hers. She needed to deal with them, or else no one else would.
Greer. Focus on Greer. She looked so happy, among the various sea animals—in her element. Brenna had forgotten how much she'd missed her. Even if they didn't get back together (was it presumptuous to assume that they would?) just having her around felt right.
It'd feel even righter if she could actually focus on her.
"Bren, is everything ok? You seem…not here." Greer asked, mercifully forcing the youngest Carver sister's focus outward. They'd been walking through the aquarium for…fifteen minutes? An hour?
"I'm sorry." Solid choice of words. Safe. Also, not exactly helpful in telling her what to say next. The truth? "You're right."
"Well, do you want to talk about it?"
Greer had planned on taking Brenna to The Reef, a restaurant just next door to the Aquarium, after they were finished there. Instead, she took her to the Harbor View Café inside the actual aquarium building. While not the same, it would better serve their purposes; this sounded like a conversation that needed to happen over food.
"So you remember Finn," Brenna said, between bites of octopus salad. "He wasn't just a friend."
"I thought that was the case. What happened?"
Brenna told Greer the story of former jock and current cancer patient Finn, and how the two had first bonded over cancer and the prospect of kissing Ford (Ford? Really? Brenna and Ford kissed? Why? It was funny to imagine, but WHY?). How he'd been a friend as she got used to her new school, and after Leo had died and she'd been feeling not especially happy. How she'd realized that she had feelings for him and how they'd decided to throw caution to the wind at the Junior Ball. Finally, she told her how Finn had gotten sicker, and how he'd broken up with her the day before Greer had come to visit, and about the text from an hour ago, and how it was partly responsible for her current distraction.
Greer had to admit: it was romantic. Had Brenna and Finn's story been the plot of a film, starring, say, Kristen Stewart and Ellen Page, it would have been her favorite film ever. From this particular distance, though, it mostly left her confused. She could see how it could have thrown Brenna for a loop.
Confession, at least, did not appear to have made Brenna any less miserable. "Sorry for ruining aquarium night. I really wanted to spend time with you." Greer believed her; it did not make things easier.
"Okay, let's do this," Greer began. "My psychiatrist always tells me that a good way to process things and avoid anxiety was to take up a big problem and break it up into smaller pieces. Do you want to try it?"
"Do you want to get back together with Finn?" Best rip the band-aid off quick.
"Not if he doesn't want to. And not if it will make him worse. He doesn't need that. "
"But you'd get back together with him if he wanted to. If he were okay."
"Maybe? I don't know! You're here now—you're going to be here. God, that makes me sound horrible."
"What do you mean?"
"It makes it sound like Finn is a back-up—that I'd only date him if you're not around."
"Isn't that what you'd be doing with me? Dating me because Finn broke up with you?"
"No! I'd date you because I want to date you. I mean, you're fun and hot and you make me feel good and I still really like you."
And there it was. The thing Greer wanted to hear ever since she'd returned to Boston. And yet…it was never easy, was it? If it wasn't her parents it was distance, and now this.
Simplify, her psychiatrist said. Break things down into manageable pieces. She liked Brenna; Brenna liked her—so far so good. While she'd been away, Brenna had gotten involved with someone else. This was fine: it's not like she'd expected Brenna to become a nun after she'd left for Nantucket. Brenna and Finn were no longer dating, even though they still liked each other—that, at least, sounded familiar to Greer, and gave her a weird kinship with Finn that she wasn't sure she liked.
"So what's your ideal scenario here, Bren?"
"I don't know. I'd date you both, and you'd both be okay with it?"
This was also familiar—Brenna had wanted the same thing back when she'd been dating Kieran. Greer had agreed to it then, thinking that Brenna deserved time to figure things out, and the arrangement hadn't lasted long enough for her to really figure out how she would have felt if things had lasted indefinitely, or if it turned out that Brenna wasn't figuring things out, but rather, had always known exactly what she wanted.
She had asked Brenna what her ideal scenario looked like; now Greer asked that of herself. She wanted Brenna—that much was clear. Was it enough?
"Some date, huh?" Brenna said, after the silence had become unbearable. "You must really hate me," Brenna said. Greer had travelled all the way from Nantucket for her, and all she'd gotten was this equivocating bullshit. She deserved better.
Greer's hand on hers felt like fire. "Listen, Bren. When I came here, I was fully expecting you to have moved on. Yeah, this date kind of sucks. It's still better than not having one at all."
"So you still want to see me?"
"Isn't it obvious? Listen: I won't pretend to be 100% comfortable with this. It's a lot to process. But I do know that I care about you, and want to be with you.
"I won't be back for a few weeks. Maybe by then Finn will have gotten better and decides he wants to get back together with you. Maybe he doesn't. Maybe you decide to remain friends. Maybe by the time I actually return you'll have decided that you only want to date one of us, or none of us, or someone else. I don't know! All I know is that right now, you're single, I'm single, and we both really like each other, we're in my favorite place ever, and you look really hot. Can we just…not worry about this today?"
And with that, the buzzing Brenna had felt in her brain since she'd gotten that text was gone. Not forever, and not entirely, but now it felt perfectly manageable, instead of crushing. Greer was good at that—making her feel better. She may not have given her any answers—just the opposite—but she'd validated Brenna's fears, agreeing that things were indeed as big and messy and confusing as Brenna felt they were, and for now, that was enough. "Yeah, we can do that," she said, with the first genuine smile she'd managed all evening.
Their meal finished, the two girls resumed their journey through the aquarium, and, although the pacing was more hurried than Greer would have liked, it was nevertheless as enjoyable as she'd initially hoped. At the penguin exhibit, the two girls took selfies and challenged each other to give each of the birds better names. When visiting the turtles, Greer told Brenna of the scuba diving trip she'd taken with her parents when she was eight, and how it was then that she decided that she wanted to be a marine biologist. As they watched the fish once more, Greer talked of her attempts to reconcile with her mother and her renewed relationship with her dad; Brenna in turn told Greer of April's extremely short marriage to Leo Hendrie, of her sister's worsening health, and, in vaguer terms, of the current drama involving George, Natalie, and Olivia. By the time they'd made it to the mammals, Brenna took Greer's hand, and didn't let go until they both saw a woman with children trying to burn them to ashes with her power of her disapproving stare; after leaving her sight and dissolving into giggles, their fingers once again interlocked.
Greer could have stayed there forever, but even aquarium membership privileges had their limits. After leaving, the two shared a banana split at the nearby Ben & Jerry's before making their way on foot to the Battery Wharf Hotel, where she and her father were staying.
"So I book-slapped her," Brenna said, as they walked across the harbor. "I'm not proud of it, but I'm not sorry, either."
"Ha! I've wanted to do that once or twice. Guess I'll just have to live vicariously through you. Oh, hey, we're here."
A crossroads. "Um… thank you for coming," Greer said. "I know the timing wasn't ideal." She was playing with her hair; why was she playing with her hair? She wasn't nervous. At all. Nope.
"Oh, please: have you met my family? It was never going to be ideal. But yeah, I had fun too. I missed this."
The kiss felt at once both perfectly natural and inevitable, and for a solid five seconds, thought became impossible. It was blissful, and therefore worrying; a girl could agree to a lot, after a kiss like that.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have," Brenna said, far more embarrassed than Greer believed possible for a girl who had just admitted to book-slapping people.
"Sorry not sorry, I hope," Greer said, with a smile. "I missed those."
"So, it's still early: do you need to get back home? You could stay awhile—we could order in and watch a movie."
"Actually, mom texted me while you were ordering ice cream; things are fine, for now. And did you just ask me if I'd like to Netflix and chill? How's that going to work? Isn't your dad there?"
"He is, it can't, and I didn't. I did not say Netflix and chill."
"Movie and room service it is, then. "
As they made their way to Greer's room, Brenna steeled herself for a challenging several hours. Ever since meeting up with her earlier that day, she'd been hoping for a private moment or ten with her former girlfriend (current gal-pal?). Staying in a hotel room under the supervision of Greer's father was enough like privacy to get her excited, and different enough to be incredibly frustrating. Oh, well—perhaps they'd be able to get creative under the blankets while they watched the film.
The elevator was mercifully empty, and the kissing that took place inside as the girls made their way to the sixth floor was hungrier, more urgent. The only unfun part was that the proximity made Brenna unable to fully appreciate Greer's dimples. It lasted until the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, where a woman wearing a hijab apologized for accidentally pressing the wrong button, leaving the two girls red-faced for more reasons than one.
If the Danvilles' financial situation had been affected at all by their separation, Brenna couldn't tell; Greer's hotel room was nicer than Brenna's actual room, and given the right decor, she could see herself living there and never wanting to leave.
"Okay, Bren, You look for something we can watch," Greer said, after some fiddling with her laptop. I'm going to take a minute to change."
"But you look so nice!" Brenna said, mock disappointed, as Greer disappeared into the bathroom. Now alone, Brenna went to Greer's laptop, which had Netflix open. What to watch, what to watch…
"Hey, have you ever seen D.E.B.S.?" she called out.
"No. What's it about?"
"Hot girls with guns. It's supposed to be fun." She had first heard about the movie from Margo, who during their brief friendship had given her a crash course on the LGBTA film canon; it seemed like just the thing for a casual night.
"Go ahead, then."
After prepping the film, Brenna scoured the room for the room service menu. It didn't take long, as Greer, unlike her, was all about the neatness. Her dad, too, come to think of it; while there were signs that the room was in use, such as the copy of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood on the nightstand, everything the Danvilles had brought with them seemed to be very deliberately placed. After finding the booklet, checked to see their hamburger selection.
"Hey Greer, what do you think about—"
During their relationship—and sometimes outside of it—Brenna had found herself visualizing Greer in various states of undress, usually during moments of idleness—a sort of screensaver for her brain. Oftentimes, this meant imagining her wearing nothing but an oversized shirt (which made no sense, to her—who had it belonged to, originally?) Sometimes, she imagined her completely nude, and sometimes in the sort of underwear where what she was wearing was less important than what she wasn't. She'd never imagined Greer as being the sort of person to go for sexy Victoria's Secret lingerie.
Looking at Greer now, it was clear she needed to reassess things.
"What do you think?" Greer said, with her third most adorable smile, the one she wore whenever she was uncertain about something.
After an eternal two seconds, Brenna found her words. "Well, if you want to give your dad a heart attack when he comes in, that would do it." She wasn't sure she wasn't having one herself.
"Actually… I kinda lied about him being here," Greer said as she walked towards Brenna, her smile shifting into the one she used after being clever. "He always gets me a room of my own when we're in hotels, so it's just you and me."
It would be years before Brenna could confirm that D.E.B.S. was, in fact, a really fun movie.