(A very happy Mother’s day to all out there!)
“Grace really misses you,” Ethan said.
“I would hope so,” Josh teased. “I hope all of you guys still miss me. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all, you know?”
“Dude, I can’t miss you any more than I already do,” was Ethan’s response, his chuckle coming out a little cackling through the phone. Josh smiled tightly, taking a deep breath through the nose to calm himself. Every time Josh thought his stupid crush on his best friend was waning, Ethan went and said or did something that made the crush ram back into his heart.
“No, but man, I mean Grace really misses you,” Ethan continued. “Like, pretty sure she’s kicking herself over not confessing her love for you before you thought to up and move.”
Josh nearly tripped over Peanut. “Confess? What?”
“She must have fallen hard for you at some point,” Ethan said. “She’s fine, but every time your name comes up, she gets mopey. How does she sound when you talk to her?”
“Pretty normal, I guess,” Josh said, shrugging to himself as he plopped down on the ground. Tossing one of Peanut’s toys for the cat to chase, he added, “She’s not sighing wistfully into the phone or anything, and our text conversations don’t have a million heart emotes or anything. Grace has always sounded cheerful.”
“Linda’s trying to talk to her into saying something to you,” Ethan said. “I’m probably not even supposed to be telling you this, but I figured we’re somewhat adults—”
“Just somewhat?” Josh asked, amused.
“Yeah, just somewhat,” Ethan said firmly. “We’re still figuring stuff out, like not to put aluminum in the microwave—”
“My God Ethan—”
“I didn’t do it!” Ethan protested. “Calvin did.”
“Of course,” Josh drawled. “Why the hell would he do that?”
“Wanted to see what would happen,” Ethan said, and Josh could picture his friend shrugging. “Anyway, I figured that you should be prepared for Grace telling you or Linda saying something.”
“Thanks for the warning, I guess,” Josh said, not entirely sure what to do with the information. “She could just miss me as a friend, you know. She always wore her heart on her sleeve.”
“That’s true,” Ethan agreed. “If Grace does suddenly confess, though, any idea what you’d say?”
“Why?” Josh asked, nearly hitting a vase that his mother had given him before the move with Peanut’s mouse toy. The cat wasn’t deterred at all from the toy smacking the wall and landing next to the vase on the end table. She wiggled in anticipation to jump up on the table, but Josh scooped her up and moved her away. There was no doubt that Peanut would knock over the vase in her quest to get the toy.
“Hey, if the feeling was at least a little mutual,” Ethan said, “that would be a perfect excuse for you to move back out here.”
Josh sighed and tossed the mouse toy a safe distance away from anything breakable. “Ethan, I’ve been out here for almost a year,” he said. “I have no plans to go back there anytime soon, if at all, alright?”
Ethan grew quiet on the other end, and Josh had a sudden fear that the pair were disconnected. Eventually, though, Ethan murmured, “I’m still not used to it. It’s still too weird to not have you here with us, playing games with us, ragging on my art while I complain about your writing, working together… It still sucks.”
“Seriously, Josh,” Ethan said. “What exactly made you move so far away? Did we do something? Did I do something? I just… I still can’t figure it out.”
“No, Ethan.” Josh leaned against the wall, opting to pet Peanut instead of throwing her toy again. Peanut didn’t seem to mind too much, if her purring was a good indicator, but she did bat the toy at Josh’s foot. “It definitely wasn’t your fault.”
It was mine.
“Whose was it?” Ethan asked. “Did someone say something to you? Was it Chris, the new guy who helps the girls edit their music—”
“No, no, no,” Josh said, hoping that Ethan wouldn’t go on a rampage against any person that had found their way into their little ragtag group. Shy Chris certainly hadn’t done anything. “No, seriously, it’s just me. I needed to move to figure out stuff about myself.”
“You couldn’t have done that around us?” Ethan asked. “I mean… I get it if you wanted to take a vacation from us, we all can be bat-shit crazy sometimes, but there wasn’t any hope of us helping?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Josh said. “I just really needed this move. I’m sorry that it took me away from all of you, really. No one is sorrier than I am about that…”
Ethan sighed into the phone. “Don’t apologize. I mean, if you know what you need, more power to you. Just wish it didn’t take you so far away, that’s all. On the bright side, since I really don’t want to end this conversation on a melancholy note, you met the Miller sisters! How are the cuties doing? That Arnold bastard still being a pain?”
“Don’t let Linda hear you say that,” Josh teased. Ethan scoffed and Josh answered his question. “Rebecca and Sarah are doing well, thanks. I honestly haven’t heard about Arnold in a bit, so I guess everything’s okay on that front? The sisters ask about you guys all the time too. Can’t wait for you all to meet.”
“We’re looking forward to it too,” Ethan said. “Just a couple of months until Tradeline! Don’t think we’re getting a panel, but it’ll be a nice excuse to just travel over there, you know?”
“Advertise to your stream followers that you’re going,” Josh said. “Some may be able to make it out here, too. I got a few of my regulars planning on coming to say hi, and Naomi has it advertised on the Boss Mode website for even more interest. Maybe if we get enough people appearing just to see us, the organizers behind Tradeline will be willing to give us a panel next year.”
“That’d be great,” Ethan said. “You got my room all ready for me?”
“It’s still there, last I checked,” Josh replied cheekily. He finally got up from the ground and, with Peanut trying to wind her way around his legs, went into the kitchen to get her supper ready. Josh paused a minute and, while trying to sound casual, asked, “Is Linda coming here too?”
“Well, not sure,” Ethan said. “Do you have room for all of us to crash at your house? We definitely want to see you as much as possible, but we also realized it was kind of shitty of us to assume that we could get free room and board over there. It’s completely up to you who you want there, myself included. Say the word and we’ll book a hotel.”
“No, I want you guys here,” Josh said, glancing around his house and trying to imagine where five of his friends would go. If anything, he could get an air mattress or two while someone took the living room couch, maybe. “Just, uh… bring sleeping bags just in case.”
Ethan laughed. “A sleeping bag? Dude, I haven’t had one of those since middle school, I think. I’ll try to find one, haha!”
Josh chuckled as well, putting Peanut’s food down for her. With a bright meow, she dug in and Josh leaned against the kitchen counter, just enjoying the connection he had with Ethan even though neither were saying a word at the moment. Silences with Ethan had always been comfortable, and Josh hoped that they always would be.
Eventually, however, Ethan said gently, “Hey, I’m going to go now, alright? I’m not sure what time it is over there because I suck at time zones, but I have to start prepping for dinner. I’ll talk to you soon, man.”
“Alright, Ethan,” Josh said, looking at his own clock. “Take care.”
“You too, Josh!” The line disconnected and Josh took a deep breath. He smiled down at Peanut as she cleaned her bowl before figuring he should surprise his followers with an impromptu video game stream.