"We were better friends before… Before I found out
you were having an affair with my husband.
I’m saying it out loud, and I’m hearing what the problem might be."
[Mahlena wrote this short story! Please leave a comment! 🙆🏾]
“You and I. We’re not friends.”
Sasha sat up in the king sized bed, her monogrammed gold pajama shirt shifting over her emerging baby bump. She shook out her fluffy mass of black hair, which previously had been nestled in Noa’s cross-legged lap. “I’ve been ruminating bout what has been bugging me about the quad setup we enacted two years ago.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Noa pulled down her red and white gingham pajama shirt, which was styled and monogrammed similarly to Sasha’s. She scooted back against the headboard, sliding her bottom between the two pillows occupied by sleepy heads.
“It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not a cool girl like you are, Noa. I’m not the fun one. I’m too intense, so we don’t click.”
“What are you talking about?” Noa whisper shouted. “We’re all friends, Sasha. All four of us.”
Sasha faced her, mirroring Noa’s position on the end of the bed, avoiding the two other pairs of feet. “We all get along, but there are six relationship to manage. Seven, if we count the big one.”
“There are only four of us, and two couples.”
“But we each have our own partnerships with the other person.” Sasha sneaked off the bed to reach for the hotel embossed pad and pen. “I’ll draw it out for you.”
“What time is it?” To Noa’s right, Antonio blinked his eyes open. He crawled out from underneath the sheets, noticed the dawn’s early light peeking through the sheer curtain, and stepped to the window to see the waves rolling onto the sand of the private beach outside of their villa. “What are you two doing up?”
Sasha and Noa said nothing.
“We’re getting up?” On Noa’s left side, Morrow located his glasses on the bedside table.
“Antonio, would the menfolk like to make breakfast?” Sasha stated.
“Do you want us to exit the room so you can talk?” Antonio replied.
“Can we order room service, and I go back to sleep on the couch?” Morrow pulled on his boxers. “You all wore me out last night.”
“So I’m calling for the food?” Antonio said.
Noa kissed his forehead. “We’ll see you out in the living room.”
The two shirtless men left the two women alone on the rumpled bed.
The bedroom door shut.
Noa hugged herself, sad. “Why don’t you want us to be friends?”
“I do!” Sasha wrote on the top sheet of paper. “Here’s me, Antonio, you, and Morrow.”
“Yeah, two couples.” Noa pointed at the page.
“No, four individuals. And six pairs.” Sasha drew lines to connect the names. “We started with me and Antonio. Then you and Morrow. Then you and Antonio” Sasha hid her scowl. “Then me and Morrow.” Sasha looked happier.
“And everything was fine, until our husbands,” Sasha drew the line, “became best friends.”
“What’s wrong with that? It was unexpected, and weird at first, but—”
“Nothing. Except,” Sasha dragged the pen tip between their names, “the same thing didn’t happen with us. We were better friends before… Before I found out you were having an affair with my husband. I’m saying it out loud, and I’m hearing what the problem might be, but I think it’s deeper than that.”
Antonio burst into the room, menu and phone in hand. “What should I get for each of you?”
Sasha turned to frown at him. “Whatever I had yesterday.”
Antonio flipped through the Breakfast section. “What did you have yesterday?”
“Ask Morrow. He’ll remember,” Sasha suggested.
“But he’s still asleep,” Antonio said.
“Then ask Room Service, they’ll know.” Sasha stared at him.
Antonio peered at both of his partners. “Are you okay?”
Noa got off the bed to push Antonio out with a gentle hand. “Thank you.” She locked the door behind him, then she resumed her seated position across from Sasha. “What’s deeper?”
“I’m trying to determine that.”
“I love you. And I like you.”
“I love you, and I like you, too,” Sasha declared with sincerity.
“Are you unhappy with our arrangement? Did someone say something at KC’s wedding yesterday to make you uncomfortable? Are you embarrassed by us?”
“No. I like what we have. When we first started this, I initially thought I’d get jealous of your relationship with Antonio. Sometimes I am. You get to know new things about him in a different way than he shares them with me.”
“But they are slivers,” Noa replied. “The selected parts of his life that he chooses to share with me, and vice versa. You get the messy whole.”
“We’re a mess together. I know I shouldn’t compare my relationship with him to his with you.”
“Did you expect the four of us to fit together like puzzle pieces, each connected to and supporting the others?”
“I had no expectations. That’s why I feel off-kilter. Because now I want things I never imagined before.”
“Are you attracted to me?”
“Not in an intimate way. Well, not in a romantic way. I want what Antonio and Morrow have. Which is odd, because I would I want to be besties with my husband’s girlfriend? But those two guys figured it out, which is more bizarre. Maybe it’s easier for Eskimo brothers. Also, ew, I need a better description. What do you want?”
Noa thought for a moment. She grabbed a pillow to squeeze. She started to cry.
“Oh no.” Sasha climbed across the mattress to comfort Noa.
“This is hard,” Noa said through sobs.
There was a knock at the door. “Is everything okay in there?” Antonio inquired.
“We’re fine!” Noa shouted.
“Do you need anything?” Antonio replied.
“Don’t come back without food.” Sasha listened to him shuffle away.
“I don’t want to be a bad friend.” Noa wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
Sasha gave her a tissue from the box under the bedside lamp. “You’re not a bad friend! I’m an insecure dummy.”
“You’re not a dummy. And why are you insecure? You have everything.”
Sasha leaned back. “No, you have everything.”
“You’ve had the perfect pregnancy. When I was in my second trimester with the twins, I was miserable. Same as in the first and the third. You can see your family, your whole family, anytime you want. You can talk to them whenever you feel like it. I have two more years on a five-year sentence before I can communicate to anyone outside the Homestead communities. You have a husband who adores you and stands in awe of what you do in your job and who you are as a person. I betrayed my husband’s trust, and I’m the reason he has two more years before he can communicate with hi family either.”
“You also gave Morrow a family,” Sasha reminded her. “Those babies are the only biological relatives he know. And he love you sooo much. He doesn’t resent you. He wants to protect you. He wants you to stop harboring guilt about something you couldn’t control.”
Noa blew her nose into another tissue. “But I was the target of the invasion. Red Spore blamed me for spreading peace with the Homestead Expansion.”
“From what I’ve been learning working with Mia, any of the eight Associates, or Dr. Tom or Kimber, could’ve been scapegoated as the target. You were quoted, without permission, in a news story that went viral. You were an easy mark. It could have been any of you.”
“It doesn’t feel that way.”
“According to the mercenaries who set you up—”
“And Nikolai,” Sasha corroborated, “You know how they flipped and work for Counterintelligence in Naboombu?”
“On one of the lower levels. Morrow and I live on Level 1, so I haven’t seen them since the Reubenville evacuation.”
“Well, due to their isolation, Nikolai tends to get chatty with his colleagues, and I heard that Peach initially wanted to take down Kimber, because of some old sibling rivalry between their South Asian South African families.”
“It’s a convoluted explanation, but you’re helping me feel better.” Noa threw her tissues in the wastebasket. “ We should talk like this more.”
“Why don’t we?”
“You live in Australia, and I live in a pineapple under the sea.”
“It’s more of a dome.”
“We only see each other on holidays with long weekends. You could call me. You call Morrow. I know I’m not as stimulating to your nether regions as he is.”
“You do fine,” Sasha poked. “And you could call me, too.”
“I did, once. I didn’t know what to say, so I pretended that the twins had both pooped.”
“I remember that!”
“You and Morrow are so much alike, with your ambition and energy and relentless desire to get involved and do your best for Homestead. And I’m more like Antonio, laidback and low key, but not in denial about it, unlike him. He tries hard to live up to what he thinks you want him to be.”
“I want him to be honest with me. Now he is. Why were you scared to talk to me?”
“Besides the obvious? There isn’t a manual for conversing with your boyfriend’s wife.”
“We could write it,” Sasha offered. “Or maybe we could start by learning about each other without two other people around.”
“Two other men especially. They are dear, sweet human beings, and they are better than almost every male person I’ve encountered on the outside—”
“But they take up so much space!” Sasha threw up her hands.
“Literally and figuratively!” Noa moved her body into a position with her head at the top right of the mattress and her feet at the bottom left. “Did you see how Morrow fell asleep diagonally like this last night? As if there weren’t three other grown adults sharing the bed.”
“Did you hear Antonio snoring? He can’t stop filling the air with sounds even in his sleep.”
“He can’t control his snores,” Noa said, remaining supine.
“He could try, if he visited on of the many ear, nose, and throat specialists I recommend, five in Lake Elmo alone. When I last reminded him of his nighttime sounds, that a physician could help him address, for free, he brought up the Tuskegee experiments.”
“Then he apologized after he realized the women he’s married to is Black and he is not.”
A tentative knock came from the other side of the door. “I come bearing eggs, bacon, and toast.”
“Our hero, ladies and gentlemen,” Sasha sighed.
“What’s going on in there? Help me help you.” Antonio steadied the jostling tray.
“We’ll be out in a minute,” Noa called, setting her feet on the carpet.
“We will?” Sasha whispered to her.
“Where should I put your plates?” Antonio asked.
“We’ll see you in the kitchen.” Noa waited for Antonio to retreat from the bedroom door. Then she held out her hands to help Sasha off the bed. “Have you been to Kau Kau?”
“Morrow tried to call for a delivery order from there the first time he and I visited the island together, but the line was busy. And when we tried to order online, their website kept crashing. He said it was par for the course on Hale Kapua.”
Noa pulled a black polo shirtdress and white sneakers out of the closet. “It’s more fun in person anyway. You and I will go the restaurant, eat a bunch of Hawaiian fusion dishes, then we can take the bus to Downtown Kapualani Ranch and shop for matching BFF outfits.” Noa patted Sasha’s tummy. “Including one for the baby. If that sounds like something you’d like to do.”
Sasha smiled and nodded. “Just us?”
“No boys allowed. You and me are going to be best friends by bedtime.”
Sasha leaned against the wall. “Is Kau Kau far from here?”
“Up a hill and over a bush. It’s a shack in the rainforest with a license to serve meals. I’ll handle the transportation details.” Noa put her ear against the doorjamb. “Morrow should still be sleeping. I’ll distract Antonio so you can walk past the kitchen to your room to get ready. How fast can you meet me at the golf cart in the driveway?”
“If I shower, ten minutes. If I don’t, five.”
“I need to shower, too, so let’s say fifteen.” Noa gave Sasha a high five. “Who knows what kind of DNA your husband left on me.”