Brittany’s pictures were more provocative than Jessica’s, but Jessica’s texts were more explicit. Ryan scrolled through his messages, his thumb hovering between the names. Some evenings he preferred the former–his conversation reserves plummeted after shilling minivans to clueless soccer moms–but other nights, pictures felt especially one-dimensional. Plus, Ryan had already seen every angle of Brittany’s curvaceous body, and Jessica painted the most vivid descriptions of where she’d like to stick her tongue…

Ryan sent hey babe to both.

He stripped off his European suit and hopped in the shower. Karina was supposed to come over later, but she flaked. Something about an early conference call. Ryan didn’t remember–he was already checking the stock market as soon as he heard, “I have bad news about tonight.” He poured shampoo onto his hands. It was probably for the best Karina that canceled. She always expected to sleep over. And snuggle. Ryan hardly rested when he obliged; that girl locked her limbs around Ryan’s torso like some needy monkey. Ryan cringed at the memory. He dug his hands into his thick mane. Girls loved to run their fingers through his hair… and tug it, as they lied beneath him… and he thrusted forward…

Fuck. Ryan glanced towards his hips, cursing his meandering mind, which now recalled the last time he had shower sex. Some chick from Tinder. Samantha or Stephanie. Or Sydney. Whatever; something with an S. Ryan squeezed body wash into his palm, massaging his chest as he pondered. The sex wasn’t great. He couldn’t picture her face–only her body from behind–but she complained the entire time that her feet were slipping, she couldn’t grip the wall, her legs ached, blah blah blah. He unmatched her as soon as she left his apartment.

Ryan turned off the water. He stepped out of the shower and wrapped a white towel around his hips, admiring his chiseled abs in the mirror. He initially joined the gym to pick up girls donned in booty shorts and sports bras, but his training results were almost as satisfying as an orgasm. Almost. Ryan grabbed his phone. He snapped a photo, flexing his bicep as he reached behind his head, flashing the camera his signature squint. Thinking of you, he sent Katie (New York), Marie (Dallas), and Rebecca (Miami). Ryan mastered the art of maintaining hoes in various area codes. His stomach grumbled. He walked to the kitchen, still in his towel, and grabbed a protein bar. Ding.

Called u earlier. Did u get my voicemail? XO mom.

Ryan sneered at his screen. That woman only contacted him when her rent was due. The nature of their adult relationship didn’t surprise him, though. Growing up, Ryan knew he was a burden–the aftermath of a reckless rendezvous in the high school janitor’s closet–and his mother raised him with the bare minimum, off money she swindled from her countless boyfriends. A different man seemed to appear at Ryan’s kitchen table every week. So many, that Ryan’s mother spanked him when he’d mix up their names. Now, she relied on one man for money; but nevertheless, still a man that she never truly loved nor wanted: her son. Ryan opened his banking app and wired the money. That’ll shut her up until next month.

Ryan scrolled through his contact list. He groaned. He kept forgetting to add last names, or at least screenshots of the photos from the dating app on which he and the girl matched. Eight Amandas, seven Beckys, and six Danielles. Well, that’s helpful for abso-fucking-lutely nothing.

Good thing these girls were as replaceable as light bulbs.

Ryan opened Instagram. The first post on his feed was Andie’s, a chick he slept with two years ago. She gained at least ten pounds since then. Fortunately he smashed her during her prime. The next showed Rachel–a sorority girl his frat used to party with–sitting on the edge of a pool, the photo captioned “missing summer.” Ryan rolled his eyes. Some girls were so basic that it hurt. He kept scrolling, every bikini picture and selfie blending together, until he landed on Kaya. Ryan met her at a bar last year and had wanted to bang her since, but she was always in a relationship. He tapped her profile. She’d deleted every picture with her man. Her latest caption read, “I’m the best me when I’m doin’ me.” He opened the next photo, a shot of her cuddling a dog, captioned “the only boy I need,” and below, she sipped from a wine glass, the image captioned, “in a relationship with pinot grigio.” Ryan returned to his contact list and checked if he had her number. He only knew one Kaya.

Bingo.

Ryan hit call. She answered after the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Ryan. This is Kaya?”

“Oh, hey. It’s been a minute. What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Ryan said, plopping onto his living room couch. “You crossed my mind earlier. How’ve you been?”

She sighed. “I’ve been better. Found out my boyfriend had been cheating on me for the last three months, so I’ve been busy moving my stuff out of our apartment.”

“That’s horrible! I’m sorry to hear that.” Ryan sighed, audibly. “What a piece of shit. You don’t deserve that. No woman does.”

“Yeah. It is what it is. I’ll be okay. ”

“I have an idea. How about you come over? Let me take your mind off everything.”

“Tonight?” Kaya paused. “I don’t know…” Her voice trailed.

“You deserve to feel good. We’ll order pizza and watch something on Netflix.”

Ryan waited.

“I’ll let you choose the movie. And pizza toppings. Even if you’re a pineapple on pizza kind of girl. Judgment-free zone here.”

She laughed. “Okay, fine. Text me your address. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Ryan tossed his phone onto the sofa triumphantly. Typically, Ryan hesitated to approach freshly-single girls, because tonight could go one of two ways: Kaya uses Ryan as a rebound–the two mutually engage in casual sex, zero feelings afterwards–or, her broken heart will latch onto any sign of connection–conflating the physical intimacy with emotional intimacy–and she’ll become a stage-four clinger. Ryan had several experiences with the latter. One girl waited outside Ryan’s house for two weeks straight until he eventually called the police, and the other called him on a blocked number twenty times a day. But Kaya seemed cool. Didn’t seem like the stalker-type.

Ryan hoped, at least.

Ryan’s phone buzzed. Brittany replied. Hey you. Whatcha doing?

She’d have to wait until tomorrow.

He headed back to the bathroom and spritzed himself with cologne. Michelle bought him this bottle for his birthday. The gift caught him off guard–he and Michelle were hooking up, not dating–but it was a signal she’d become attached. Ryan felt a bit bad when he ended things. He didn’t expect her to cry.

Tears freaked Ryan out. His mother never cried; she told him that tears were a sign of weakness. In that case, every girl was like a fragile wildflower. Ryan braced himself for the waterworks when girls hit him with the “what are we.” Those damn three words.

Almost as tear-inducing as the other infamous three words, the expression Ryan’s mother never uttered to him, the one he couldn’t repeat to the countless girls who told him. That moment unearthed enough fluids to fill a well.

Ryan slipped into a pair of grey joggers and a t-shirt. His stomach grumbled again. As he brushed his teeth, the doorbell rang.

Ryan sauntered downstairs and peered through the peephole. Kaya wore ripped jeans and a flannel, her blonde hair in a messy bun, and a smudge of eyeliner atop her lids. Ryan opened the door and grinned.

“Hey there. I’ve been waiting for you.”