From Marty Vee:
This is a Romantic Comedy novella I’m sharing in segments, about two people who don’t like each other getting quarantined together. I suggest starting at the beginning:
But I’ll recap anyway:
Billie is a junior reporter for a local network and Edgar, her least favorite person, works in the same position at a competing network. They are quarantined together at his house. She recently found out that most of her previously conceived notions about him are based on someone else’s lies. As these things go, feelings got all involved and they did the deed. On Day 10 she asked some National Guard soldiers if she could grab some things from her home and come back to Edgar’s place.
I hope you enjoy it!
The hair at the top of Edgar’s neck is damp with sweat. He took off his shirt, a few minutes ago. And with it went my ability to pretend not to stare. His back is to me and I watch as he lowers into a deep lung. His arms simultaneously bending backward into a triceps press with dumbbells gripped in each hand. I might trip on the treadmill at the flex of muscle under his skin but I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.
And I do not want to.
His phone starts ringing. I resent the caller when he puts down the weights and strides to the phone. With one hand he answers the call, with the other he uses his discarded shirt to wipe away his sweat.
My eyes are still taking their fill. Edgar is standing in profile to me; tall and broad-shouldered, basketball shorts sitting low on his hips.
I watch as his posture straightens.
His eyes dart to mine. “Why would you ask me that?”
My eyebrows draw together, silently asking him what’s going on. He shakes his head. Does that mean, he’ll tell me later or that it’s bad?
I stumble mid-stride. My hand smacks the emergency stop and the treadmill slows. The blood in my veins does not, it’s pounding in my head. My vision narrows. I grab the rails on either side of me for support.
“Why would that be any of your business?”
Only hearing one side of the conversation is ratcheting up my anxiety.
“Has my work been neglected in any way?” Pause. “Then why would it make any difference to you or the network?”
The darkness around my vision partially recedes. Stepping to the floor, I begin pacing in front of the window. My focus remains on Edgar, I try to decipher every nuance in his body language; using it to build the other side of the conversation.
“That’s a stretch, Mike. Stay in your lane.”
Some corner of my brain appreciates Edgar’s solid backbone. He’s not asking for any forgiveness. Why would he? That part of me whispers. We haven’t done anything wrong.
“Yeah, I’m gonna call you back… No, I won’t answer any of your questions… Because you’re my producer and I don’t owe you any explanations.” He scoffs. “If this is a sex scandal then people will sensationalize anything.” He listens. “Look, Mike, I’m not blowing you off. I told you I’d call you back, so you’re gonna have to sit tight and wait.” With the jab of his thumb, he ends the phone call.
In a calming gesture that would be used on a scared animal, Edgar splays his hands between us. The phone is encircled by his left thumb and index finger. “Okay, this is not a big deal. Mike can be dramatic.”
“What’s going on?” I force my voice to sound dispassionate. It’s not convincing considering I can’t stop pacing.
“That was my producer. There’s a video.”
Ohnoohnoohno. “What video?”
“Some fan layered one of your videos on top of mine and there’s some imperfection in the wall lined up that more or less proves that you’re here.”
Goddamn it. I knew it.
“Sophia is blasting it all over social media, so it’s blown way out of proportion.”
My mouth goes dry.
“I think, the moral of the story here is, people have a lot of time on their hands.” He’s trying to joke, but I’m not able to see any humor.
I fan my hands at my face, I feel way too warm.
“What’s the big deal?” He asks.
My expression must convey the really I feel because he rolls his head back and stares at the ceiling.
“Alright.” My brain finally figures out what I need to do next. “Let’s watch this video and check out the damage, then I have to call my producer.” Fuuuck.
He follows me into the kitchen. He’s looking down at his phone—probably already taking in the dumpster fire we’ve been thrown into. I tap my nails on the island countertop waiting for the laptop to load. When it does, there’s the ting of messages loading into my email and messenger. I’ll deal with those later.
My notifications are going crazy.
I click on a response to a link Sophia tagged me and Edgar in. It seems like a good place to start. Ignoring the comments—but my eyes snag on the words “fake bitch”—I hit play on the video.
It is exactly as described; proof that I’m at Edgar’s house. That in itself wouldn’t be a big deal, but as I broaden my focus, I can see our real issue is how it has been circulated.
The original post makes a light-hearted joke about us being secret rival lovers. But then Sophia got her claws into it.
Her post is scathing.
She describes how while she and Edgar were still married, I started working with them. She claims that she could tell right away that he was falling in love with me and that it had ripped her heart out. That she never blamed me because she wasn’t ‘jealous woman.’ Also, she always saw me as a friend, that I was someone she could reach out to about the issues she had with her ex-husband. That I openly expressed dislike for the man—she even shares some screen-shots of text messages I’ve sent her.
It’s a whole book and she’s a strong storyteller.
Her sign off is something about how I’m duplicitous and I violated her trust.
Then the pin is out of the grenade and the comments are blowing me to bits. Some jabs go Edgar’s way, but mostly it’s me. I should stop reading them. They aren’t helping.
I’m feeling smaller and smaller after each one and there are hundreds.
“You okay?” He slips an arm around my waist, giving me a half hug.
I don’t look at him. “Can I use your phone?”
“Yeah.” He gives me a kiss on the temple that I’m not ready to accept. Then there’s a void where he was, I note that he’s going to his room, probably to give me privacy.
I have to open my email to get my producer’s number, it’s on her signature. There’s a couple of messages from her, one with the subject in all caps “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU??” I open it and read:
I keep getting your voicemail. Clearly, we need to damage control. Call me so I can help.
I don’t have to look any further because her number is listed after that.
The phone is pressed to my ear and gets one full ring when she answers. “Hello?”
“Hey Val, it’s Billie. My phone is dead so I haven’t gotten your voicemails.”
Her tone is full of restraint. “Why is your phone dead?” I’m considering how much to share with her, when she continues, “Billie, just tell me the truth.”
“Do you really think this is that big of a deal?” I ask with forced confidence.
“That depends on how we spin it.”
I take a deep breath, then tell her everything—omitting Edgar’s personal life and the fact that we are sleeping together.
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this earlier? That’s why your appearance has been so casual? You don’t have any of your normal supplies.”
“Yeah, about that. I look fine in those videos.” I might be redirecting some of my aggression towards her.
“You do, but you usually put in more effort. The network was concerned that it looked like you were feeling scared or depressed and they wanted to convey more confidence to our viewers.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me that?” I demand.
“Because I thought you might be feeling scared or depressed, I didn’t want you to feel bad.” I can hear that she’s barely containing her irritation.
“Well, instead, I thought you wanted me to turn up the sex appeal and that felt like shit anyway.”
The speaker sounds like there’s a gust of wind on her side; probably her breathing hard.
I guess, we both could use to be more honest with the other.”
“I guess so.” I don’t sound convincing.
“So what exactly is your relationship with Edgar?”
“How is that relevant?”
“Billie, you are scraping away at my last nerve. It’s relevant because there’s a couple of ways we can spin this. We can claim you two are friends, despite all of the shit you’ve said about him, and you decided to shelter in place together. Or, we can say that this is a whirlwind relationship that swept you off your feet and the moon and the stars and all of that romantic shit.”
It’s what happened, but I don’t want to give that much of myself away for public consumption. “Again, why is that relevant?”
“Because,” she may be clenching her jaw, “it depends on how we play this out. We can work with his network and do a couple of joint videos to be cute and smooth things over. We need to have a plan of attack on how we deal with the ex-wife in all of this. She’s painting you in a really bad light and we need to get a hold of the narrative. So, are you in love or just friends?”
“We haven’t really talked about it.” I know what Edgar wants and I want to save face. I already look like a man stealing lying whore, is it better to pretend that there aren’t any romantic feelings? Will that affect our abilities to become public in the future? If we even have a future after this.
She sighs. “Look, I don’t know what the hell is going on here. You’re obviously not telling me everything. I know we aren’t friends, I know that you’ve never really warmed to me but I cannot help you if you freeze me out. Figure out your shit and call me back.”
The call ends.
I’m stewing because she’s right. I’m not warm to her and I don’t have a reason why. My only explanation is that I’m distant with most everybody. It takes me an abnormal amount of time to open up. Maybe that’s what I liked about Sophia; she didn’t want to know me, she wanted me to know her. Or the version of her that she painted.
I open the door to Edgar’s room after a tentative knock.
Except for his messed up hair, he looks completely composed. His hands on his hips, he stands with feet shoulder-width apart by the window. My eyes land on the divot in the wall that had caused this whole mess.
“Are you okay?” His expression is full of concern.
I don’t want to answer that instead I say, “Val, said we have two options.”
He straightens his back and lifts his chin parallel to the floor. “Who’s Val?”
“Oh, you’ve never referred to her by name.”
I know, because I’m a broken person that takes every measure to keep people at arm’s length.
“Well, she thinks we can either come out as friends or say we are in love. She would like to coordinate with your network.”
A crease forms between his eyebrows. “I don’t like this. I don’t want Sophia playing puppet master here.”
I have to swallow down a spike of rage. “Yet here we are.”
Muscles flex in his jaw. “Okay, yesterday you said you needed more time. We can say we’re friends.”
“But if we claim to be in love, I think public opinion is more likely to take our side.”
“I won’t do that.”
“I read the post and some of the comments, I know you’re getting the brunt of this, I want to do whatever will help you. But I’m going to draw the line at pretending to be in love.”
“What’s the big deal? You were just saying yesterday you wanted to be exclusive.”
“Being exclusive and lying about how we feel are two different things.”
It’d be a lie for him? It takes the air out of my lungs.
He keeps going, “I want to establish our relationship on our terms, not because we were forced into it. Sophia has soured too many things in my life. I won’t do it. I’ll be your friend on camera, I’ll pretend to laugh about the things you’ve said about me, but I will not tell people we are in love unless that’s the truth.”
The flippant way he’s confessing his menial feelings is taking a shitty situation and making it worse. I thought he felt for me, what I feel for him—even if I haven’t given him any reason to know that. The worse version of myself is clawing to the surface. My basic instinct is to hurt him as much as he’s hurting me. But I resist.
“How do you see this playing out?”
“Ideally, we say nothing. We do our jobs and let this burn itself out.”
I shake my head. “How’s that been working for you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been waiting for this to burn out for years. You have a restraining order and still she’s forcing herself into your life. She warps people into hating you and you just keep taking this lying down. Just waiting for it to go away.”
“Look at the expert over here. You’ve been on the receiving end for twenty minutes and you know everything there is to know.”
“I know the way you’re handling it is wrong.”
“And you think lying would be better?”
“I never said I’d be lying.”
He and I both take a quick inhalation at my words. I watch his chest rise and then hold. There’s a buzzing in my ears. My mouth goes dry. I want to hide, like actually hide; maybe in a dark closet like a goddamn child.
“That’s fucking low.” His voice shrivels my insides, it’s sucking all of the oxygen from my lungs. “I thought it was fucked when you suggested claiming that shit to other people but to try and manipulate me like that? That is fucking low.”
“It’s not manipulation.”
“I can’t talk to you right now.”
“Oh, okay, so you’re using the maybe it’ll go away tactic for me too. Good. You know, I thought there was something between us. But you’re too busy throwing your baggage at me to hear what I’m saying.”
“What you are saying today is drastically different than what you were saying yesterday.”
“Doesn’t make it not true!”
“Then where the fuck was it yesterday? Don’t make it out like I’m damaged goods when you’re claiming to love me because the spotlight is on you.”
“And aren’t you just being so noble? I wanna help you in any way but not really.” I know it’s the wrong words to say. It makes it sound like what he thinks is correct. But I’m too scared and hurt to pull back my attack. “You’re just, what was it you said yesterday, projecting all your shit about Sofia onto me. Instead of taking me at my word.”
“Your word?” Where there was heat in his voice a moment before, it’s turned to ice. “I read your words. That little conversation that you had with her; the shit you said about me, the names you called me. You haven’t even said the other words, just vaguely insinuated them.”
My heart is somewhere in my stomach.
His jaw is clenched like he’s fighting back saying more. We stand there staring at each other. I’m looking for any of the kindness that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in his eyes.
It’s not there.
There’s nothing in his expression. I realize, I’m seeing his reporter face. A mask to hide everything. “I can’t talk about this, right now.” He says with the bland authority of a news-caster.
I don’t trust my voice not to shake, so I don’t speak. I turn and walk out of his room, closing his door behind me. Blinking my eyes, I struggle against the welling tears.
I “spoke” with Libby; mostly a ranted and railed against the injustice of the whole mess. She listened and suggested that I “talk” to Edgar.
Yeah, no thanks.
I also emailed Val. She was not impressed with my decision to wait to respond. But if I addressed this now I’d end up crying either in outrage or consuming grief.
Disguised by the shower, I let myself sob. Powerless broken-hearted sobs.
From Marty Vee:
Thank you for reading! If you are enjoying the story, please share it with a friend. You can continue on to Day 13 at: https://martyvee.com/2020/05/11/you-and-me-in-quarantine-day-13/