“So what time should I expect you tonight?”
Edie sounded happy and rested in stark contrast to the tension headache and borderline panic currently coursing through Cleo. Cleo shifted her phone to the other ear as she picked up her delivery bag and set it in her car’s passenger seat.
“I’m not sure I can come over,” she said.
Edie was silent for a second. “Is everything alright?” they asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Cleo replied, well aware of how not-fine her voice sounded as she said it.
“Then why not?” Edie asked, their voice just on the edge of irritated. “I’ve got dinner going already. And that bath bomb you were jealous of? I’ve got three more.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
Cleo climbed into the driver’s side and slammed the door shut. “Deliveries were slow today on both apps and I’m still short for rent,” she explained. “I need to pay it tomorrow so I’m going to stay out tonight until I get enough.”
“Do you know how long that will be?”
Guilt squirmed in her stomach. It had been almost two weeks since she’d seen Edie and that was when Edie had come to her house and rode along for a full shift just to spend time with her. Cleo had promised to come over tonight. And she’d intended too, really. It wasn’t until a couple hours ago that the nagging sensation settled in her gut and she’d realized it wasn’t going to happen. Edie had the right to be upset at the short notice cancellation.
But if Cleo didn’t stay out and finish this, either her rent would be returned or her bank account would overdraft. Both of which would leave her screwed when her utility bill went through next week.
“How much is it?” Edie asked.
“How much more do you need?”
Cleo knew that tone. “Seventy dollars,” she said.
“I’ll give you the money.”
“Edie, I’m not going to ask you to pay my bills for me.”
“I know that,” Edie said. “But how many hours have you worked today?”
“Only nine. It’s not that bad.”
“And how many have you worked this week?”
Cleo tried to do the mental math, but the numbers kept sliding away. After a moment’s silence, Edie sighed. “That’s what I thought.”
“Look, it’s just until I can find something permanent,” Cleo said. “And it’s my rent. I need to get it in tomorrow.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. “Edie?”
Her phone buzzed against her ear with an incoming notification. Cleo pulled it down and glanced at it. It was a Venmo alert notifying her she’d received seventy dollars from Edie.
“Edie, I mean it.”
“So do I,” Edie snapped. “Come on, Cleo, you’ve been working too hard. Let me help you this one time. Consider it me paying you back for dinner a couple weeks ago.”
Cleo was about to counter this argument with the fact that Edie had bought dinner the time before that, but her throat was suddenly too tight to get the words out. So instead she nodded, even though Edie couldn’t see her. “Thank you,” she finally choked out. “Alright, fine. Let me finish this delivery and then I’ll head over.”
“I’ll have dinner and a bath waiting.”
Edie lived on the second floor of an old house that had been converted into a duplex. It was a beautiful apartment, clearly cared for and loved by both the owner and Edie. As Cleo walked up the steps to Edie’s unit, she saw the landlord shuffling around on the side porch. He spotted her through the window and raised a withered hand in greeting. She waved back, then made her way up to Edie’s front door.
Edie opened the door seconds after Cleo knocked. They wore black lounge pants and a Fitchburg State College tee shirt, yet somehow still looked glamorous. “Hey beautiful,” Edie said, pulling Cleo in for a kiss.
They tasted like mangoes as they smiled against Cleo’s lips. Despite her draining exhaustion, Cleo’s mood lifted just a little. She ran a hand through Edie’s soft hair. They’d cut it recently, the bob now short and choppy just below their ears.
“I like this,” Cleo said.
Edie smiled. “Just cut it for the summer.”
Cleo kissed them again. “It’s a good look.”
“I’m glad you came,” Edie said.
“I am too,” Cleo said, realizing she meant it.
Edie pulled her inside and closed the door. “You know what’s the best part of this apartment?” they asked, steering Cleo through the living room.
“Lots of parking?”
Edie rolled their eyes, but still smiled with a blend of affection and mischief. “That’s pretty great,” they admitted, hand still in Cleo’s and heading toward the bathroom. “But I think my favorite part is the big, clawfoot tub. Have I shown you that yet?”
Cleo smiled at them. “I think I might have seen it once or twice,” she said with a laugh.
Edie opened the bathroom door to reveal the dimly lit bathroom. Three candles were lit on the countertop and the scent of jasmine drifted up from the foamy surface of the filled tub. Cleo turned to Edie, who was grinning at her.
“I thought you said you had no plans?” she said, raising an eyebrow.
Edie shrugged. “I didn’t. But now I do.”
They wrapped their arms around Cleo, tugging at the hem of her shirt. Cleo let them slip it off, then kicked off her shorts and slid into the tub. Edie took a moment to undress, then got in on the other side.
“Mangos?” they offered, holding out a small plate of mango slices.
“I’d say you thought of everything, but I know this is a normal evening for you,” Cleo said with a laugh, taking a slice.
Edie laughed too as they set the plate aside. “Fair. But I’d much rather have the company.”
Cleo leaned back against the cool tile wall and closed her eyes as she took a bite of mango. “Agreed.”