"Do you mean that?" I asked, and I tried to see past the pain and confusion, but there was too much of it.
"Yes," she said. "No, oh, hell, Anita, I don't know. I thought we had a good thing going, if I could get him to slow down a little, then he suddenly puts it into high gear."
"How long have you guys been dating?"
"Almost two years," she said.
"You never told me about feeling crowded before," I said.
"How could I? You were drowning in domestic bliss. All the things that I didn't want, you were enjoying."
I remembered that Louie had said maybe Ronnie hadn't distanced herself because I was dating Jean-Claude, but because she had problems with me not having problems with Micah. I'd thought he was wrong, now I wasn't so sure. "I'm always willing to listen, Ronnie."
"I couldn't, Anita. You f**k this guy you've just met, and suddenly he's living with you. I mean, it was everything I hated. Someone moving in, and taking your space, and losing your privacy, and you just lapped it up." Again, there was that feeling in her voice that I'd betrayed her.
"Am I suppose to apologize for being happy?"
"Are you happy, really happy?"
I sighed. "Why do I think you'd be happier if I said no?"
She shook her head. "No, I don't mean it like that, but, Anita," she took my hand, "how can you let all these people in your house, all the time? You're never alone anymore. Don't you miss that?"
I thought about it, then said, "No, I spent my childhood alone in a crowd of family that didn't understand me, or didn't want to understand me. I'm finally with people that don't think I'm the weird one."
"No, because they're weirder."
I took my hand back this time. "That was mean," I said.
"I didn't mean it that way, but isn't Jean-Claude jealous of Micah the way he was of Richard?"
"No," I said, and left it at that, because Ronnie wasn't ready to hear the arrangements among the three of us. She thought we were weird already. If she only knew.
"Why isn't he?"
I just shook my head and got up to get more coffee. She thought my lover was weird, she had always hated Jean-Claude, I wasn't about to share intimacies about them with her. She'd just lost her privileges. And that made me sad. I'd thought this crisis with Louie might help Ronnie and me rebuild our friendship, but it wasn't working out that way. Shit.
I poured coffee and tried to think of something useful to say. I finally realized that if I let her last remarks go, then we'd never be friends again. It was truth or nothing.
I leaned against the cabinet and looked at her. Something must have shown on my face, because she said, "You're mad."
"Do you realize by saying that my lover is weirder than I am, it says you think I'm weird. You don't think your friends are weird, Ronnie."
"I didn't mean it that way."
"Then how did you mean it?"
"I didn't mean it, Anita, I'm sorry, but I am weirded out, I mean, I didn't like Micah coming out of nowhere. And that Nathaniel is living here, cooking and cleaning, what is he, like a maid?"
"He's my pomme de sang," I said, and my voice was as cold as my face.
"Doesn't that mean he's like food?"
"Sometimes," I said, and I tried to tell her with my eyes that she should be careful.
"I don't take my steak to bed with me, Anita. I don't read bedtime stories to my milkshake."
I'd told Ronnie just enough of my personal arrangements for her to throw them back into my face and belittle them. Great. "Ronnie, you need to be very careful what you say right now. Very careful."
"You're insulted, aren't you?" she asked.
"Yes," I said, "I came to you with very personal stuff, back when it bothered me that Nathaniel was sharing the bed with Micah and me, and I told you we were reading to each other. That wasn't a complaint."
"Has something changed between you and Nathaniel? Last I heard, he was food, and one of your leopards, but that was all."
"Yeah, things have changed."
"You have two men living with you?"
I nodded. "Yep."
"Two men, two lovers?"
I took a deep breath, and just said, "Yes."
"Then how can you encourage me to say yes to Louie?"
"I didn't encourage you. I just asked which you value more, Louie, or your privacy. It's him that's made it a choice, not me."
"But you didn't have to choose."
"Not yet," I said.
"What's that mean?" she asked.
"It means that I never underestimate the power of the men in my life to complicate things. So far, so good."
"So far, so good. How can you let that be enough? Don't you want a guarantee that they aren't going to cut your heart out and stomp on it?"
"I'd love a guarantee, but it doesn't work that way. You've just got to take the plunge and hope for the best."
"Marry him, you mean."
"Ronnie, the only one here obsessed with marriage is you. You, and maybe Louie. I've got no plans in that direction."
"So what, you just keep living with both of them?"
"For now, yes." I sipped coffee and tried not to let my eyes be as unfriendly as I felt.
"But what about later?"
"Later will take care of itself," I said.
"That's not enough for me, Anita. I want to know that I'm making the right decision."
"I don't think you ever know, Ronnie. Most of the people I know that are absolutely certain they're right, are the most wrong people I know."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"That means, marry him or don't marry him, but don't take your issues out on my relationships."
"And what does that mean?"
"It means don't ever call my boyfriends weird again."
"And you don't think that living with two men is a little unusual?"
"It works for us, Ronnie."
"And how does Jean-Claude feel about you sleeping with Micah and Nathaniel?"
"He's okay with it."
She frowned. "So you're, what, sleeping with"--and she started counting fingers--"three men?"
"Hmm, four, hmm, nope, five."
"Five? Jean-Claude, Nathaniel, Micah, and who?"
"Asher and Damian," I said, and my face was nicely empty when I said it.
Her face wasn't. She was left openmouthed, astonished, apparently so shocked, she was speechless. If she hadn't been picking at me, I'd have broken it to her gently, or not at all. Ronnie had started by not being able to handle me dating a vampire, then hadn't been able to handle my being comfortable cohabitating with a man, and less able to handle me living with two men and enjoying it, two extra vampires to hate, well, that was nothing.
"Let me get this straight, you are f**king all of them?"
I knew she meant, was I having intercourse with all of them? Technically, no, but since it was only Nathaniel who was on the "no" list after today, I said, "Yes."
"When did all this happen?"
"Asher happened after you'd made it very clear you hated me dating Jean-Claude, because he's a vampire, so I stopped talking to you about vampires as boyfriends."
"And Nathaniel moved from food to sex when?"
"And Damian, I mean, Damian wasn't even on the radar."
"It's been a busy day."
She goggled at me again. "Are you serious, just today?"
I nodded, and almost enjoyed her astonishment.
"All this has been happening, and you didn't tell me."
"You haven't wanted to hear it. You just get mad about Jean-Claude, and I think you hated hearing how much I enjoyed the very things with Micah that you were hating with Louie. You said yourself that it made it hard to talk to me, because I seemed so happy with the things that were driving you crazy."
She let out a long, long breath. "I'm sorry, I've cut you out of so much."
"I've missed us talking," I said.
"We talked," she said, "but we both started editing ourselves to each other. You can't stay friends like that." She looked sad.
"No," I said, "you can't. You don't have to tell each other everything, but you can't hold back this much."
"I still don't trust Jean-Claude, and you're the one that taught me that vampires are just dead guys, no matter how cute they are."