Walking out of my bedroom, my lips curve at the sight of Ryan standing at the stove cooking breakfast. Based on the amount of clothes he’s wearing, one might think we’re expecting a snowstorm in the kitchen. The oversized police sweatshirt and beanie are typical of my lifelong best friend, though. Even his cop uniform is two sizes too large.
Funny, when we were kids growing up in the Philly suburbs, I don’t remember his clothes being quite so…roomy. Then again, a lot about him has changed. At six foot five, he towers over me. He wears glasses. His voice has dropped approximately nine octaves. One thing that hasn’t changed about Ryan, though? He’s safe. Dependable.
And he doesn’t try and get too close.
Sure, we’re roommates and all, but our bedrooms are on opposite sides of the apartment. I pay half the rent, he pays the other, so neither one of us owes the other anything. When I come home from working at the hair salon, he seems to always know what kind of mood I’m in. If I’ve had a rough day, he hands me a bowl of whatever he’s been cooking, pours me a glass of wine and listens patiently while I vent about lousy tips or dramatic coworkers. No prying questions or judgment. And I do the same for him, although his venting mostly comes in the form of a grunt or two.
He’s my big, safe teddy bear of a best friend and I don’t know what I’d do without him.
Do I feel guilty for keeping so many secrets from him?
Against my will, yes.
See, though? That guilt is why it’s best to keep everyone on the other side of the glass. When a woman starts piling all of her problems onto a man—and then he eventually leaves—those problems fall back on her like a mountain of bricks. Ryan knows more about me than anyone else in the world, but he still knows very little. And that’s the way it has to be. If I keep the most important parts about me to myself, he can’t shake them if he leaves.
I prop a hand on the dining room table and slide on my black high heels, comforted by the steady scrape and flop of Ryan cooking pancakes, his broad back turned to me.
Ryan has given me no evidence to think he might vanish from my life any time soon, so maybe this need to stay withdrawn from my best friend is irrational. If anything, he’s given me reason to think he’ll stick by me forever. Unfortunately, the more I rely on him, the shakier the ground becomes under my feet. If he were to leave…
“Morning,” he says without turning around, his voice still raspy from sleep. “One pancake or two?”
“Two, please.” I take my usual seat at the table and pour us some orange juice, trying to subdue the tremor in my hand. “I have a long day.”
He must detect the unusual note in my voice, because he sends me a narrow-eyed look over his shoulder. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” I say curtly, desperately needing the subject to drop. At twenty-six, Ryan has already been promoted to detective, thanks to his skills of deduction. If he knew exactly why my day was going to be so long…well, I have no idea what he would do.
I just have to make sure he never finds out.
“Um…” Hastily, I gather my long, strawberry blonde hair, pushing it to one side. “What about you? What’s on the agenda today?”
So much time passes, I wonder if he’s going to break our unspoken rule and pepper me with prying questions. “Still working the Garvey case,” he finally says in a low voice. “Going to question a potential witness in South Philly later. Then…”
My lips quirk up. “Paperwork?”
He sighs. “Always.”
Ryan turns from the stove where he’s been plating pancakes, setting my dish down in front of me. I drown my breakfast in syrup, earning a quiet chuckle from my roommate. He sits across from me, his hand curled around a coffee mug. Watching me in that quiet way of his.
I glance down at the pancake and wrinkle my nose. “Did you make this in the shape of a heart?”
He frowns. “Must have been accidental.”
“Good thing it’s not some cheesy Valentine’s Day gesture,” I tease him. “You know how I feel about February fourteenth.”
“It was invented by the greeting card industry and places shame on single people.”
“That’s right.” I shiver. “God, can you imagine the thousands of tacky price fix dinners being served tonight in Philly? Prove your devotion to one another and get a free glass of champagne. No thank you.” Why does Ryan’s smile look a little sick? “Aren’t you going to have any pancakes?”
Shaking his head slowly, he leans back in his chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him. It’s a move that should be familiar to me, but when his socked foot accidentally nudges me under the table, my belly sucks in hard and I gasp, dropping my fork, left shaken by the sensation of…what? What was that?