“You have to give it back.” Wren gifts me the kind of disapproving glare only a big sister could give, and then turns to face her dresser mirror. “Jesus, Aidy, it’s been a week now.”
“We don’t know if he’s looking for it.” I press the tobacco-hued notebook against my chest, greedily dragging its leather-and-aftershave scent deep into my lungs.
“You don’t even know if it belongs to a man.” She squeezes a dime-sized dollop of sunscreen onto her fingertips before emulsifying it between her palms.
“The handwriting,” I say, sitting cross-legged on the edge of her bed. “It’s definitely a man. No question. And this thing is full of ramblings on love. He writes about women in a way that only a man could.”
“So now you’re Adelaide G. Kincaid, literature expert?”
Flipping through the weathered pages of a stranger’s notebook, I pull up a bookmarked page and trace my fingers across the jet-black ink that fills each line.
Clearing my throat, I begin to read aloud, “Tears fell into her champagne glass as she leaned over the balcony railing. She was alone, the way she tended to be these days. That woman was beauty and sadness, glitter in her hair, tears in her eyes, and lips wrongfully un-kissed as the rest of the world rang in the new year.”
“That’s depressing.” Wren squeezes a dab of concealer on the back of her hand and grabs a small brush. Over the next twenty minutes, she’s going to morph herself into an honorary Kardashian before dashing out the door to head to a job interview with some reality show actress from L.A. looking to hire a go-to Manhattan makeup artist. L.A. makeup and New York makeup are two different breeds of dogs, and part of being an in-demand artist in a city full of talented competitors is knowing when to look the part.
“It’s not depressing. It’s bittersweet.” I fan through the pages, breathing in the paper-scented air that dusts my face. “And romantic.”
“That guy is obsessed with that girl,” Wren says, “in a way that’s completely unhealthy.”
“It’s a beautifully tragic love story, Wren. He’s in love with a woman he can never be with, and this entire journal is like him professing his love for her and documenting all their stolen moments,” I sigh, thumbing through the pages to find another excerpt. “I stole a glance from her that night. But she stole my heart. It was a prelude to a lover’s war neither of us would win.”
“Creepy,” Wren sing-songs.
I find another passage, determined to prove my point, “Tonight we almost kissed. Almost. I took her soft hands in mine and felt a pull as our lips held in limbo, separated by mere inches and an unspoken if-only.”
“Give me that.” Wren swipes the journal from my hands and flips it open to a random page. “Tonight, I watched my neighbor fuck his maid against the floor-to-ceiling glass of his penthouse bar. Her breasts bounced with each thrust as they rained reckless inhibition over the snow-covered city street below, his hand cupping the underside of her jaw as he whispered in her ear words only the two of them will ever know.”
She hands it back, her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth and her nose wrinkled.
“You didn’t read the rest,” I defend the stranger. “He goes on to talk about why he thinks a man would want to take what he’s not supposed to have. Is it lust-driven? Primitive? It’s fascinating, his perspective.”
“He’s obsessed with men wanting women they can’t have.” Wren shrugs then turns to face her dresser mirror.
“No,” I argue. “He totally gets love, Wren. He embraces that it’s messy and complicated and imperfect, and he’s exploring that. He’s trying to figure out why he loves this woman so much and if it’s possible to let her go because being with her would hurt people he cares about.”
“I’m seriously second-guessing your decision to follow in my footsteps, little sis.” Wren unsnaps a cream blush compact and dabs some peachy-pink on the apples of her cheeks. “Sure you don’t want to go back to school to study literature? I mean, you’re digging pretty deep here. It’s just a notebook full of ramblings from some deranged guy, and you’re painting it like it’s the second coming of Romeo and Juliet.”
“Don’t burst my romantic little bubble. I want to believe this is legit.” I clasp my hands over the front cover of the book and exhale, shoulders falling. “I have this image of him in my mind, dashing and broad-shouldered. Dark hair. Brooding stare. The kind of guy who brings you flowers for no reason and leaves love letters on your pillow and loves you with an intensity so fierce it physically hurts.”
“I love how you’re inserting your ideal man into someone else’s love story.”
“Oh, now you’re admitting it’s a love story?”
My sister rolls her eyes, fighting a smile. “Whatever.”
“I just hope they’re together now, you know? I hope they figured things out and they’re happy and that love won. Because it should. Love should always win.”
“Tell that to my ex,” Wren mutters before glancing at her phone and pressing the button to light the screen. “Shit. I’m running late. If I’m not done by three, can you pick Enzo up from St. Anthony’s?”
“Of course. Just text me and let me know.” I love picking my nephew up from school. He’s eight, so I don’t embarrass him yet, and he’s still so full of wonderment and adorable little boy smiles, and his freckled face always lights up when he sees me despite the fact that we live together twenty-six days of the month. Enzo knows when Aunt Aidy picks him up from school, we stop at the pretzel cart and the park on the way home. “Good luck today. Not that you need it.”