"Betting on the Best Friend's Brother" Chapter One.
There’s this thing going around on T-shirts and memes rebranding bossiness as “leadership skills.” But honestly, sometimes people are just bossy, and my roommate, Ruby Ramos, is one of them.
I glare at my phone as it vibrates with another text. She’s been at it for an hour.
RUBY: Party starts at 5. When are you getting here?
RUBY: Party is in thirty minutes. You on the way?
As if I don’t know how to tell time. I know how to tell time very well, which is
why I’m staying in my lab until the party is over.
RUBY: Don’t make me come get you and drag you back here.
AVA: You can’t. You’re hosting.
RUBY: You are also supposed to be hosting!
AVA: I chipped in food.
RUBY: A vegetarian charcuterie board does not exempt you from saying
goodbye to Sami!!!!!!!!!!
AVA: I don’t want to live in a world without Sami in it.
RUBY: So you’re pretending this isn’t happening?
RUBY: She’ll only be on tour SIX WEEKS.
AVA: WHY WOULD YOU HURT ME BY REMINDING ME.
RUBY: You’re ridiculous. I’m sending Joey to get you.
AVA: It’s fine. I’ll be home in 20 minutes.
Luckily, I was working on the *MiSeq, so there’s no big cleanup like when
I’m working in the wet lab. I record the last of my measurements and close the file, powering down my computer.
Part of me always believes the answer I’m looking for will be in this round of
data, this batch of slides, but it never is. Not in the eighteen months since I’ve had Biotekk’s permission to pursue this research on my own time.
But it will. I’ll find it.
Right now, though, I better find my car keys or Ruby will one hundred percent
send her brother to fetch me. And the one thing I both crave and avoid at all costs is time with Joey.
I get another text as I pull into my parking space at home.
RUBY: I’m getting Joey.
AVA: Unclench, girl. I just parked.
Ruby sends a gif of a girl patting a kitten’s head.
The condo complex, the Grove, is built in a square with all the front doors
facing the inner courtyard with its pool and community grills. I could feel the bass of the music before I even opened my car door, and when I open it, the buzz of voices punctuated by laughter joins it.
The rear of the condos on our side of the Grove square have small yards and
low fences butting up against a sidewalk separating them from the parking lot. I can enter through our back sliding door and avoid the party for a few more minutes.
I bought one of only four units that have four bedrooms in the complex. I knew
I’d always be able to keep the rooms rented in the Austin market, and for the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to fill the other three rooms with my best friends from college.
Well, except I’ve known Ruby longer. We’ve been friends since I moved in
next door to her when we were kids. That’s why she’s more comfortable bossing me around more than she does Sami and Madi, but they get their fair share.
Still, it all works. I love living with women I know well. It’ll be so strange when
the dynamic changes, and it will. Sami has been dating our neighbor, Josh, for six months, and I have a feeling that her band’s first summer tour will end with both Josh and Sami realizing they want to be together all the time. As in married.
I’ll be happy for them if that happens. I’ll just avoid thinking about a roommate
change until I have to.
I drop my work bag in my room and head for the closet to find something to
change into. Something party appropriate. I glance down at my jeans and the T-shirt I got from a genetics conference last year. Normally, I dress more professionally for work, but since today is Saturday, I hadn’t bothered, knowing I’d be the only person onsite.
This is casual enough for a pool party. No reason to change. I close my closet.
As soon as I open the front door, conversations greet me at a full roar, grilling
food and chlorine swamp my nose, and the Austin humidity blankets me. The bright flashes of bikinis would outdo Mrs. Lipsky’s parrot, except Ahab would never stand for that, so he’s making sure he’s holding his own by cursing at the top of his shrill lungs.
Mrs. Lipsky, our neighbor, rescued him from a tiki bar in Galveston, where the
patrons taught him to swear like a sailor.
It always takes me a bit to adjust from the quiet of the lab to anywhere else,
but…whew. My senses are already maxed, and I haven’t made it through the front door.
In a way, living next to Ruby’s family prepared me for stuff like this. With five
kids and lots of extended family, every birthday and holiday was a huge Ramos family celebration, with Ruby making sure I was in the middle of it with her.
I take a deep breath and pull the door shut behind me, then wade into the
party. And by “wade in,” I mean stick to the perimeter and look for Ruby, so she’ll quit nagging.
A couple of the guys from Sami’s band, Pixie Luna, are standing near Sami,
trying to look nonchalant, which means they’re probably about to dunk her. The party is a sendoff for all of them because Pixie Luna signed with an indie label and got invited to tour with the label’s biggest act. And while it’s only for six weeks, it’s also just the beginning. The band is too good not to break out, and that’s going to change things for Sami. She’ll be gone for long stretches now, not working her day shift as a nurse anymore.
It makes me uncomfortable. I dislike uncertainty, and that’s why I tried to avoid
this party; it means change—big change.
Sami and Madi are standing beside the pool in coverups, bright toenails in
flipflops, margaritas courtesy of Josh in their hands. He’s got an extension cord running through his open front door while he runs his blender to make drinks on request.
Ruby must have put Joey on grill duty; he’s standing next to it holding a
spatula and a bottle of beer. He’s always puts effort into his look, and today he’s wearing black shorts, a blue shirt unbuttoned over his stupid washboard abs, and pristine white Nikes. He’s conceited about his hair, which is cut close to the sides, perfectly parted, and longish and wavy on top.
Mr. Ramos is second-generation Mexican-American and Mrs. Ramos is white,
but their dad’s genetics dominate in the summer. It’s only late May, but Joey’s skin already has a copper glow. He’ll be a gorgeous bronze by the end of summer, a bronze that makes his medium-brown eyes look lighter and kind of shimmer.
Right now, he’s laughing at something some girl in a turquoise bikini is saying.
Whoever made it cheated her out of at least half the fabric on the bottoms. She’s very cheeky. I avert my eyes. I’ve seen him charm more girls than I count, and it never gets easier.
I turn at Ruby’s call. She’d been down near the other end of the pool, chatting
with her boyfriend, Niles. Or maybe not chatting. Maybe arguing, if the annoyed look on his face is anything to go by. But Niles has Annoyed Resting Face, so who knows?
Ruby hurries my way. “You’re here!” She stops and sweeps a look from head
to toe. “Go change.”
“No. This is casual.”
“Here, let me at least—” She plucks at my tucked in shirt, reaching around me
to tug the back from my waistband.
I hold up my hands to give her room to work. “How many times do I have to
tell you I’m not into you like that?”
“You wish.” She fusses for a few seconds, steps back to survey me, then
makes a couple of adjustments. “There. French tuck. And take your hair down.”
“Nope.” My hair is long because it takes way less work than short hair. Fewer
haircuts and it’s easy to throw up in a bun.
“Ava…” Ruby’s voice is almost a whine.
I lean forward until our faces are inches apart. “N. O.”
She scowls. “That red hair is wasted on you. It’s tragic.”
I cross my arms and stare back.
“Ugh, fine. Let’s go get you an Impossible Burger.”
Put myself near Joey to watch him flirt? Pass. “I’m not hungry. I’ll go hang with
“You need to eat,” Ruby said. “You’re going to need your strength.”
“For a conversation you and I are having later.”
I frown at her. “Am I in trouble?” But I’m not stressed. I’m never in trouble.
“The opposite,” she says. “You’re next.”
She shrugs but doesn’t answer, a cagey smile playing around her lips, and I
roll my eyes. “Okay, Rube. Keep your secrets. I’m not hungry, and I’m hanging with Madi.”
I settle into a deck chair beside Madi, but now I’m nervous, because I have a
bad feeling I know what being “next” is about.
And if I’m right, well…
I do not want to be right.