His apartment was on the twelfth floor. It had a balcony. From the street, Olivia looked up, saw her friend leaning on the railing, and waved at him. Garrett raised his hand, the bare minimum needed to acknowledge her. He made a perfect silhouette against the light coming from inside. For a moment Olivia wished she had her camera. This would make such a pretty picture, Portrait of a Lonely Man.
She dialed his number. It would be impolite to invite herself to his flat without contacting him, but she hated the impersonal style of text messages.
"Your call has been forwarded..." the computerized voice said flatly. As if she had expected him to respond. Olivia pushed open the lobby doors and walked in. There was no elevator; this side of town wasn't good enough to have stuff like that.
He was waiting for her outside of unit 1214. "What do you want?"
"I-I wanted to talk to you," she said.
"Um," Olivia paused. She had come up with a full speech to comfort him. Where in the world was it now? "You didn't come to the wedding. Mark was worried..."
At the mention of his friend's name, Garrett seemed to grow colder. "So he sent his wife to go see if her ex was okay; screwed up plan, if you ask me."
It had been so much easier when the three of them were kids. "I'm not coming to you as your ex; or Mark's wife. I came as a friend."
He opened the door. "If you say so,"
The living room was almost empty. One would think that a college kid living alone would have a messy house, with fast food containers, dirty laundry, et cetera all over the floor. Garrett's place had none of those. The only furniture was a desk and a couple of chairs. They sat across from each other.
She looked up at him; one had to, to make eye contact. There had always been an extraordinary height difference. Garrett was always the tallest in the class, a giant. Beside him Olivia seemed even smaller. There had been a lot of teasing when they started dating, she remembered...
Garrett's voice interrupted her thoughts. "How is Mark? Is he still the snarky guy he was in high school?"
"Guys like him never change," Olivia said, forcing a smile.
"Really," he replied, turning away. "I never thought a guy like him would put a girl above his best friend."
Olivia opened her mouth to protest, but then she realized it was true. Mark was a cynic, but he was a loyal cynic, and he had known Garrett longer. In fact, the two of them had been best friends before she had pushed her way between them.
"But you did," she said.
"Yes, but I really loved you. Still do. Nobody was forcing me to brush everyone else away in order to pay attention to you. Mark told me once how sorry he felt for you, the only girl in a family of thousands. How often you must have been ignored. How you were screaming for attention, and if you didn't get it from him, you'd get it somewhere else."
Her eyes narrowed. "I'm not that desperate!"
"I got the invitation," Garrett continued, ignoring her, "To the wedding, I mean. My best friend and my girlfriend were on a one-way trip out of my life. See the balcony over there? I thought about jumping off, getting to fly for once in my life, just like you." He held up a hand. "Yes, I understand that that was a stupid thing to think. But I was always impulsive, remember?"
"Mark and I will still be here, Flinch," she said.
"That's the thing!" He rose. "Mark will be here. For me, for you, for that stray cat who got run over by a car. He takes care of us, not because we mean anything to him, only because he feels sorry for us." By this point he was standing behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder, speaking sotto voce. "In other words, he doesn't love you."
She turned and slapped him. "That's a rotten lie!"
"That's what I thought, when I realized it," Garrett said. "But it makes sense, doesn't it? This guy has a perfect life—happy family, good-natured, well-liked. His best friends are a couple of whiners with daddy issues. All through school, we've just been hanging on him, pretending that we were part of the family. And Mark always played along. He was so darn kind…he hated to see anyone hurt. That's why he would rather marry you than tell you he didn't love you."
Olivia glanced at her wedding ring. It was a simple gold band, no engravings or gems. The day Mark had given it to her; it was the most radiant thing in the world. Now it seemed like a child's toy, the kind a little girl wears when she's pretending to be a princess.
"So are we agreed to stop using Mark as a crutch and let him live his own life? I'll take that as a yes. The way I see it, we have three options." He reached up. Earlier it had been hidden on top of the ceiling fan, but now there was a rope hanging just above Olivia's head, tied into a noose.
"I don't want to kill you," he said, pulling it away. "Or myself, for that matter. But that's option one. Option two. We stage an accident, the two of us disappear. It's not like your dad will worry. My grandfather is dead. We could go to Spain, or wherever. He doesn't have to worry about us."
"A-and option three?"
"You get a divorce and I take you travelling. That's the boring one." He put his hand under her chin, made her look at him. He was smiling that same reckless grin he used to use when they were kids, usually right after he accidentally destroyed something. It was... nice. "Come on, Ollie. We were adventurers. We're used to stuff like this."
Suddenly her phone rang. Garrett went back to his seat, folded his hands, and waited politely while she answered.
"Honey, where are you? It's dark already. I've been worried sick..."
Olivia put it on speakerphone. She and Garrett listened as Mark talked about how he had come home and, finding nobody there, basically freaked out, especially when his calls didn't go through.
She held her hand over the mouthpiece. "You were wrong," she said, getting up and heading toward the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, my husband is waiting for me."