Semester of Thursdays: Chapters 5 and 6

2 Nov

Happy November 2nd to you all!

At this very moment I am getting ready for my wedding today at 4:00 PM CST.  Jimmy and I are so excited to be celebrating this special day in Nashville, TN with 65 of our closest friends and family.

To honor this joyous occasion, I’m giving you TWO chapters from Semester of Thursdays to enjoy.  It’s a huge chunk of prose, so grab a refreshing beverage and settle into a quiet, comfortable spot.

Happy reading, writing… and marrying!

-Jenny

New to the story?  Click HERE to start reading from the beginning!

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CHAPTER 5 

Lena’s excitement grew more palpable as the week wore on.  The broader her smile became the longer my grimace remained.  She crossed off every insignificant day on her calendar with an ominous red “X.”  When Thursday rolled around again she bounced into my room at eight in the morning and fell onto my bed.

“We have a date tonight, remember?”

“Like you’d let me forget,” I said, rolling away from her.  A thousand excuses begged to be deployed but a promise was a promise.

“You’re not going to back out on me.”  It was a statement of fact, not a question.  There was no way I would survive this night if I copped out on our plans.  I wouldn’t put it past her to forcibly remove me from the house and hold me hostage in a bar, even in my current state of undress.

I hummed a response.

“Do you want to go shopping with me today?”

“Why would I want to do that?”  Shopping with Lena was a marathon of carts, dressing rooms, and purchases.  I hadn’t been properly trained to keep pace with her.

“So you can get something to wear tonight.”

“I have plenty of clothes in my closet.”  It was her turn to hum.  “Besides, you know I have to work today.  Some of us have jobs that provide necessary funds so we can live with annoying roommates.  We can’t all be college students with parents who finance every whim.”

Thursdays were typically my days off but I had traded opening shifts with Charlie for this week.  My staff had been ecstatic that I was planning to do something outside of the salon, so they had covered willingly, excitedly even.  Each of them had wished me luck numerous times, knowing I would need every ounce if I was expected to survive the night.

“Maybe I’ll pick something up for you.”

“There’s a ton of stuff in my closet.  I’ll just choose something from there.”

“What is in ‘there’ is from 1993.  You need something smokin’ hot.”

I wouldn’t be smokin’ hot even if someone doused me in lighter fluid and tossed me a match.  “Who do I have to impress?  Holden is in Jacksonville.”

“If you are going to go out with me in public then you have a certain image to uphold.”

“I don’t have to go,” I said stubbornly.

She eyed me warily then repeated her statement with more force.  “Mer, I’ll pick something up for you.”

“Fine,” I relented.  “Just make sure it’s something I’d wear some place other than in my bedroom.”  If I was going to pay for an outfit I wanted to be able to get a lot of use out of it.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked blankly.

“Come on, Lena.  You know our tastes in fashion reside on two different planets.  Please shop in my galaxy.”

She crossed her arms against my request.  “You really need to learn to live on the edge,” she grumbled, resigned to my modest wardrobe constraints.

“And you need to stop trying to push me off the cliff.”

* * *

I no longer noticed the way people looked at us when Lena and I entered a room.  Now I use the term “us” because I was present.  What I really meant was Lena then me.  I was just “the one with the gorgeous blonde.”  Everyone was probably wondering what I had done to be allowed to stand next to perfection incarnate.  Of course if they knew the saint I was for enduring Lena for the duration of our friendship they’d agree I had earned my position at her right hand.

So far my evening was going passably well (and by passably well I meant I didn’t smell of spilled margaritas and no one had tried to hit on me) so I couldn’t complain… yet.

During my freshman year I had enjoyed going out to meet friends and converse about inconsequential developments in our carefree lives.  But, inevitably someone would drop a drink on my head, try to pick me up, or shove me into a door frame and ruin my night.  To date, I still couldn’t understand how the loss of basic motor skills and slurred speech could be considered attractive.

“Hello there, ladies.”

Lena and I turned in unison to face the men who decided to interrupt our night.  I groaned; Lena elbowed me and smiled prettily.

“Hi,” she offered in friendly greeting.  Her reaction made the intruder stand straighter.  He was passably attractive but a bit bulky for my preference.  His friend was even bigger.

The second man looked like a former football player who had lost his gym pass yet continued to enjoy carbs, resulting in a soft mid-section.  After one longing glance at Lena as she chatted to his friend, the man eyed me appreciatively, accepting second prize.

“I’m Billy.”

“I don’t—oomph!”  Lena jabbed me again, halting my snarky remark.  I didn’t care who he was and I was just trying to be upfront with him.  “I’m Meredith.”

“Are you from around here, Meredith?”

“Yes.”

“Me and my buddies just came up for the weekend.  Is there any place to work out in this town?”

Was he actually flexing his flabby pecs?  It took all of my control to keep from going into a fit of laughter.  “Yeah, there is.”

“Oh, well we were looking all day and couldn’t find any place,” he continued, ignoring my stunned expression.  “I hate getting out of my routine.”
I wanted to point out that he hadn’t looked very hard, but Lena was leaning toward us, showing unnatural interest in our inconsequential conversation.

“It’s a college town.  There are like five gyms in a twenty-mile radius,” I said the second sentence slowly; Billy didn’t seem to be the type of person to pick up on subtle hints.

“Huh,” he responded, no longer paying attention to me.  He was eyeing up the DJ.  I couldn’t see anything interesting about the man.  He was too old to be here and his attire looked ten years out of date but beyond that—

“Oh, man!  I love this song!”

I listened to the bass crackling through the too-small speakers.  It wasn’t surprising that I had not heard this particular tune before; my taste in music tended to avoid mainstream chart-toppers and anything with a grinding beat.

“Come on, let’s dance.”  Billy grabbed my hand and tugged me toward the dance floor.  Lena whipped around to witness Billy’s fate.  The guy she had been talking to held a conversation with her back for thirty seconds before he realized she was no longer paying attention to him.

“No, that’s okay,” I deferred politely, attempting to pull my hand from his meaty grasp.  It was nearly impossible to get a grip on the slippery dance floor.

“Come on,” Billy whined.

“I have a boyfriend,” I confessed, exasperated with the charade.  Maybe when he realized I was a dead-end then he would give up on the lost cause.

“So?  It’s just a dance.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

My heels dug into the tile.  Holden may not have minded, but I certainly did.  “I don’t want to dance with you,” I said plainly.  To reinforce my wishes, I yanked away and ran back to Lena.

She had the gall to smile.

Billy followed me like a petulant child.  “What’s wrong with your friend?” he asked Lena, his voice loud enough to carry over his favorite song.

“She’s sober,” she said sadly, as if that should have explained everything.

“And I’m not interested,” I said equally as loud.

Billy turned to glare at me.  “I just want you to know that you’re the first girl to ever turn me down.”

I inspected him from his Brillo-pad hair to the too-tight t-shirt holding him in like a cheap cotton corset.  “I highly doubt that.”

Billy’s mouth gaped as he searched for words and found nothing but stale air.  He grabbed his friend—who was snickering—and retreated to the corner of the bar.

Lena pulled me in for a hug.  “Have I told you lately that I love sober you?  There’s never a dull moment.”

“There’s only sober me.”

“Which means I love you all of the time.”

A second droll suitor moved to stand beside my best friend, attempting to bore her ponytail with some story about fantasy football.  How long would it take for him to notice that she was not even pretending to pay attention?

“Hey, Mer?”

“Yeah, Lena?”

“Guess who’s single?”  Her voice dropped lower in case anyone was trying to listen to our conversation.

“Who?” I responded belatedly.

“Look over there.”   She inclined her head toward the door.  It was hard to determine which guys she had been referring to.  There were at least twenty young men milling around making polite conversation with one another as they scoped out the selection of women present.

Then I saw them.

Two men, taller than the others, turned from the pegs where they were hanging their jackets and started toward the bar.

One had light brown hair, carelessly messed up but still managing to look put-together.  Both wore unexceptional t-shirts, each in a varying shade of blue.

But I barely noticed the man with brown hair; his friend had stolen my full attention.

The second man’s hair was a darker brown, bordering on black; the shaggy style was out of place among the sea of short crops and baseball caps surrounding me.  Even from this distance I could see his eyes were a piercing cobalt blue.  He wore a fierce scowl as if everyone around had somehow offended him.  Shivers raced along my frame when the handsome stranger looked up and caught me staring.

“Which ones?” I choked.

“Come on, Mer!  Those two who just came in are the reason I begged you to come out last week!”

Both of them are single?”  I could have sworn she had said that one of them hadn’t been interested in her.  If they were unattached, how was it possible they could resist her… charms?  “I thought you said one of them wasn’t interested in you.”

“His friend said he’s just not interested in anyone right now.”

“Really?  I wonder why?” My interest stemmed purely from my inquisitive nature, nothing more.

“I heard it was really ugly,” Lena continued, her voice lower, more serious.

The man looked miserable to be here and as out of place as I felt.  Only he didn’t belong because he was impossibly beautiful; I was just too sober.  The pair ordered two Bud Lights then searched the room for a familiar face.  The other men in the vicinity kept their heads down; Billy and his friends could barely conceal their interest, wondering who the competition was.  Scantily clad women stared blatantly at the newcomers, offers in their mascara-framed eyes.

“Oh! They’re coming over!”  Lena squealed excitedly.

I could only hum a response, annoyed at how my heart began pounding in my throat.

“Do I look okay?” she asked unnecessarily.

“You look perfect.”  There had to be something more going on here than I had first thought.  Normally Lena was indifferent toward the guys who approached her this early in the evening.  It wasn’t until she had browsed the entire selection that she crowned the night’s victor.

The two men didn’t pay attention to the other women falling over themselves.  One poor girl ran into the darker one then smiled apologetically—or seductively; either way she was offering something to the man.  But instead of accepting the gift, he glared ferociously at her until she ran back to her group of friends.

He probably only had eyes for Lena.

“Alec, it’s so great to see you again,” my friend welcomed in her clear, high voice.

The lighter of the two grinned, turning his face even more handsome than before.

“And you too, Remington,” she offered, less enthusiastic.

Wait.  She was interested in the shorter one?  Alec was quite attractive but his friend Remington made my mouth go dry—a side effect I did not appreciate.  It wasn’t like Lena to settle for the second best, even if the first had claimed to be currently off the market.

And it wasn’t like Lena to under-exaggerate.  Last week when she had attempted to lure me to the bar she had said that Remington was hot; the word was a criticism.  No phrase in the English language could sufficiently describe the way he looked.

“Alec, Remington, this is my best friend, Meredith.  Mer, this is Remington and Alec.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Meredith,” Alec said good-naturedly.  “Lena couldn’t stop talking about you last Thursday.”

If that was the case I would surely die of embarrassment over what she had shared.  Lena had no filter when it came to relating certain private details.  I had previously explained to her that no one cared about my life but it had been a waste of oxygen.  “Same to you.  I’ve heard a lot about you both.”

Lena’s eyes tightened which made me grin wider; she hated to be the first one to show unequivocal interest.

Remington stood beside Alec, reminding me of one of the straight-faced Buckingham palace guards, uninterested in our trivial formalities.  He didn’t so much as nod in greeting.

“Can I get you a drink, Meredith?  Lena?”  Alec offered.

“No, thanks.  I don’t drink,” I explained, still watching Remington watch everyone else.

“Ever?” he asked, surprised.

“Nope.”

“Lena?  I know you can’t use that excuse.”

She smiled prettily and nodded, handing me her empty bottle.  They left Remington and me standing awkwardly in the corner of the bar.

Instead of turning to the beautiful man on my left, I studied the obvious chemistry between Lena and Alec.  He seemed to be hanging on her every word, which wasn’t unusual; the smart ones paid close attention to each syllable leaving Lena’s lips.  But it was odd the way Lena seemed to do the same to him while he spoke; she didn’t look the least bit placating.

Although my friend’s reaction to Alec was intriguing, it wasn’t enough to keep me from noticing the tall, dark, and handsome man warming the air to my left.

I chuckled to myself.  Hadn’t I said last week that TDH was boring?  There was nothing boring about the stunning model beside me.  How had someone like this ended up in a little hole-of-a-town like Frostburg, Maryland?  More importantly, why wasn’t he speaking to me?

Instead of standing for the night, I moved to take up residence at the most remote table in the bar.  The top of the high-boy had a few discarded bottle labels and some rings of moisture left by phantom glasses.  There were two empty stools beside me, a silent offer to the equally silent man.

I set my bottle down on the table, intending to give my palms an opportunity to dry from the condensation.  One of the bar staff collecting abandoned drinks tried to take mine.  When he picked it up to see if it was empty I snatched it out of his grasp.

It was impossible to ignore the questioning stare burning a hole in my left side.  I peeked out of the corner of my eye, and Remington raised his eyebrow.

His silent question irked me.  If Remington wanted to know why I held onto the bottle then he could ask politely—preferably with words like a normal human being.  When another five minutes passed and he still hadn’t spoken, I relented, annoyed with the painful silence between us.  And that annoyance annoyed me further; a person needed to care to be annoyed, and I didn’t care.

“I use it as a deterrent for men whose pick-up lines consist of, ‘What can I get you to drink?’”

It was easier to snub an overzealous admirer with a drink in your hand than to explain that you don’t drink and the reasons behind the choice.

I turned to stealthily gauge Remington’s reaction but there was none.  He sat beside me as silent as ever.  At first I wasn’t sure if he had heard my explanation.  Then he spoke.

“What is it you do?”  His voice was low, husky.  The timbre oozed sex appeal.

It took a minute for his question to register.  The fact that he had completely ignored my previous statement was appallingly rude.  But, in an effort to be courteous to my best friend’s current interest’s friend, I answered him.

“Lena didn’t tell you my entire life story last week?  She forgets to filter information and has a love for exaggeration.”

“She may have,” he said, refusing to commit either way.

I guess that meant he hadn’t listened.  “I’m a hair stylist.”

“Oh.”  He turned away, marking his desired end to the six-sentence conversation.

I clenched my jaw until my teeth hurt.  The condescending tone in that single syllable had been full of purpose.  “Oh, what?”

He raised one arrogant eyebrow; I wanted to rip it off.  “That wasn’t what I had been expecting you to say.”

There was no way he was going to get off the hook that easily with such a poor excuse.

“What were you expecting me to say?”  I asked, knowing his response ought to brighten my mood.

“Something more… more…”  He searched his vocabulary for the appropriate adjective.

“Just more, right?” I supplied meanly.

Remington paused, considered, and agreed.  “Yes, actually.”

“Why is it that you people think yourselves better than everyone else?  There are jobs in this town you’d never deign to get your soft hands dirty with, ones below your obvious lofty status.  But if it weren’t for those workers you wouldn’t have clean water, designer clothes, or salon-perfected hair.”

He didn’t register any emotion as he allowed my tirade.  When I had finished I was still seething, and he looked bored.

“And by ‘you people’ you mean…?”

“Basically just you.”

“Basically just me,” he repeated softly, nodding.

Something about his blue eyes looked regretful.  But I was too tired to really notice.  Besides, he had offered no apology so I owed him nothing in return.

Breathe, Meredith.  

Where had the snide attitude come from?  Just because he was rude and unpleasant didn’t mean I had to stoop to his level.

I wouldn’t stoop.

“What is it you do?”  I asked evenly, uncaring whether or not he decided to respond.  Talking would pass the time; I was ready for my first—and only—Thursday night out to come to a close.

“I’m in my second year of medical school at the university,” he answered without thinking.

I snorted.  “Oh.”

“Oh?”

“I did expect something like that.”

“Like what?”

I should hold my tongue, get up, walk away, and keep going out the exit.  Lena would eventually forgive me for ditching her.  I had showed up, that’s all I had promised.  I eyed him warily, warring with myself.  To tell the truth or be polite?

Remington challenged me with his blue eyes.

Screw it.

“Something pompous.”

His beautiful eyes widened, and the corner of his mouth barely lifted.

Lena and Alec chose that moment to return from whatever corner they had hidden in.  I realized the room was nearly empty.  Despite my initial promises to the contrary, I had closed down the bar.

Alec and Lena exchanged gooey-eyed goodbyes.  I nodded toward Alec but ignored his dark-haired friend.  Remington said something low to Alec on their way out the door, and Alec twisted to stare at me.  Then his face broke into a cheeky grin.

What had Remington said?

“What’s wrong with you, Mer?”

Intoxicated Lena was amazingly, irritatingly perceptive tonight.

“That guy, he just… he just gets under my skin.”

“Mmm… Remington can get under my skin any day.”  I glared at her.  “What?  You can’t tell me you don’t think he’s totally gorgeous.”  She made some offensive sound resembling Homer Simpson ogling a jelly-filled, frosting-coated doughnut.

“Sure,” I admitted reluctantly.  “But the pompous, high-and-mighty attitude is a major turn-off.”

“Speak for yourself.”

It was obvious that I was.

 CHAPTER 6

“Hey, Mer! Pizza’s here.”

Two seconds later there was a clinical knock at our front door.

“Grab the door and I’ll get my wallet,” I shouted from my bedroom.  If the delivery boy was left outside for too long our dinner was liable to need thawed.

“Hey, do you have a five?” Lena yelled up the steps.

“Coming!  I told you I had to find my—”

Lena stood at the bottom of our steps with her hand outstretched for the extra cash.  But her impatient request wasn’t what had caused me to freeze in my tracks.  My roommate stood there in her matching Victoria’s Secret bra and neon yellow boyshorts, exposing her model’s body and great fake tan to a stunned, pre-pubescent delivery boy.

“Five?” she repeated, clicking her fingers.

I silently pulled the bill from my wallet and handed it to her.  The situation did not shock me as much as it should have.  After all, this was Lena.

When the boy left, Lena turned back to me, holding up the large Hawaiian pie like it was Simba from The Lion King.

“What’s wrong, Mer?” she asked, offering me a blank look of innocence.

“Do you honestly enjoy everyone else’s discomfort that much?” I squeaked.

It took her a minute to realize that I was referring to her current state of undress.  When it clicked, she didn’t even have the decency to blush.  What chemical imbalance in her brain had made her so shameless?

“Trust me, Mer, he wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable,” she explained with a smirk.  Lena glided through the hallway into our eat-in kitchen.  The happy yellow walls and white cabinets reflected light from the late-afternoon sun.

“I wasn’t talking about him.”  My face felt like it was next to a large-barrel curling iron.

“Sorry.  I was bored.”

“Maybe you should have occupied yourself with putting something on,” I suggested.

“I already said I was sorry.”

She had spoken the words out of habit; Lena couldn’t be bothered with sincerity when food was present.

“No sweat.  Don’t worry about it.”  I wasn’t the one who should be embarrassed, and technically her actions had nothing to do with me.  Lena was supposed to be a grown woman.

“Okay.”  Just like that, my best friend had put the incident behind her.  She entertained herself with a healthy slice of pizza—still half-naked.

“There’s a sweatshirt of mine over there on the banister. Do you want me to get it for you?”
She answered between bites.  “No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.  You know how much of a slob I am.  I’d probably have it coated in sauce by the time I finish eating.”

I grunted and studied the petals of the faux daisies in the center of our table, attempting to ignore her semi-nudity.

“Do you have any plans tonight?” she asked, her mouth full.

“No, not really.” I waited for the inevitable request.

“So that means you’re coming out with me, right?”

“I fail see a correlation between the two.”

“Really?  That’s funny because I see a direct connection.  You have no plans, and I’m your best friend with plans to spare and a willingness to share.”

“Lena, I don’t think I should.”  My weeks were long enough without trips to the bar.

“No need to thank me for my generosity.”

“I have to—” come up with some excuse that would get me out of this.

“Don’t say you have to work in the morning,” she interrupted.  “I spoke with Charlie and he said he was opening again tomorrow.”

“When did you talk to him?”

“I went tanning earlier.”

I groaned.  Leave it to Lena to do her research before asking me to go out with her.  She was conniving, I’d give her that much.

“Come on, Mer.  Didn’t you have fun last time?”

A week had passed and I still couldn’t see beyond Remington’s condescending attitude long enough to decide whether or not I had enjoyed myself.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.  The night had flown and everyone had always said that time flew when you were having fun.  Still, I wouldn’t have used that particular word to describe my night.  It had been… tolerable, interesting even.  But not something I’d willingly repeat every seventh day.

“I had a great time.”

“Of course you did.  Your company was pleasant.”  Alec had smiled and he’d been cordial.  And he had said more than two condescending words to her.

“If Remington was so bad then why did you talk to him?  I would have just contented myself with staring at his beautiful profile and drinking in every millisecond of sexiness.  I may have touched him once or twice too, just to make sure he was real.  But a conversation wouldn’t have been required.”

Why I had tried to talk to him?  My mother had drilled politeness into my head, I suppose.  Well, I wouldn’t make that mistake again—not that I was even remotely considering putting myself in a position where I would be close enough to Remington to have to be courteous.

“Maybe I talked to him because you ditched me.  Do you want to get into that argument?”

She had the gall to look sheepish.   “Do you know what I hate?”

“People who change the subject instead of answering the question?” I growled.

“Nope.  Guess again.”

“Heaven only knows, Lena,” I said, exasperated.  She glared at me.  “Fine.  What do you hate today?”

She nodded toward the TV.  I focused on the screen and the Entertainment Tonight anchors.  They were covering a story on some young starlet I didn’t recognize.  Flashbulbs from eager paparazzo stalked her every move, waiting for her to fall from grace.

“Celebrities who whine about their fame,” Lena explained.  “They work hard to move up the famous food chain then waste the money we gave them on buying privacy.”

“You donate money to celebrities?  Why don’t you put your cash to good use and help pay for cable?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

Was she referring to donating money or paying the bills?  “I’m serious.”

“We patronize their movies and buy magazines that pay for photos of them.  Technically it’s our hard-earned money buying their islands and jets.”  She had strategically ignored my dig about the cable.

“I guess.”

“All I want to know is why they don’t just remain nameless and faceless like the rest of us?”

“It’s a question that has been plaguing our nation for years.”  I rolled my eyes but could see her point—as irrelevant as it was.  “Ungrateful celebrities.”

She smiled at the TV then turned to face me.  “So, are you coming out tonight or what?”

“I really don’t want to.”  But I would if she pushed; somehow Lena knew that.  She had a sixth-sense for my weaker days.

“And I really don’t care what you want,” she snapped.  “I’m doing you a favor.”

“How do you figure?”

“Mer, it’s healthy to socialize,” she preached.  “I have only your best interests at heart.”

Socialize?  Was that the broad term for sitting in a corner with what appeared to be a perpetually angry, silent man?

“Do you know what else is healthy?”

She crossed her arms, disgusted by my valiant attempt to thwart her.  “What?”

“Sleep.”  Deep, even breathing, vivid dreams, and blessed oblivion.

“Overrated.”

“Underappreciated.”

“Nine o’clock,” she commanded sternly.

I sighed, willing the earthquake in my head to exponentially increase in magnitude so I could bow out of the plans to which I was about to reluctantly agree.

“Fine.”

***

“OMG, Mer!  Look at that girl over there.”

“Which one?” I searched the mass of sorority sisters for the specific female Lena was talking about.

“The one in red.”

Valentine’s Day was this weekend so almost every one of the lemmings wore some variation of red to celebrate the holiday.  I had decided to be non-conformist and wear blue.  Of course, the downside of that decision was that I now stood out against the crowd, an aqua bulls-eye.

“You have to give me more than that, Lena.”

“‘Girlfriend from Hell’ t-shirt.”

It only took a few seconds to zero in on the target of Lena’s interest.

“What about her?”  I studied the girl’s round face, trying to determine what Lena saw that had been worth mentioning.

“Do you think she realizes how incredibly single she’s going to be for the rest of her life?”

It wasn’t like my friend to be so malicious—at least not to a total stranger.  The girl was homely, but Lena didn’t need to spell it out in such crass terms.  “Why would you say that?”

“Most women tend to conceal the fact they are part of Satan’s army until after they have a ring on their fingers.  At least that’s what I do.”

“Maybe she’s using reverse psychology,” I offered.

She pondered that.  “Good point.  I wonder where she bought it?”

“Why don’t you ask her?” I suggested, knowing Lena wouldn’t hesitate to do just that.

“There would be no point.”

“Why not?”

“I would never wear it.”

I chuckled.  “Why not?”
“Because it would be considered false advertising.  I’m essentially an honest person.”
“Honest” wasn’t the most accurate term to describe my best friend, but I allowed the statement to slide.  “Let me guess, you’d be the girlfriend sent from heaven above to make some lucky man very, very happy?”
“No.  It’s because I’m not looking to be anyone’s girlfriend.”

As if on cue, Alec walked in.  When the door closed behind him I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had requested we go somewhere different this week, to The Hangar Bar, so we wouldn’t run into Remington.  Of course I had come up with a brilliant excuse that had nothing at all to do with the man himself.  I had made a solid argument for my love of the crab dip appetizer at this particular establishment.  Lena had been reluctant to agree at first, but since it had been my choice or my absence, she had been forced to give in.

As quickly as my lungs had filled with liberation they deflated wretchedly.  The door swung open and Remington walked through with confidence.  Lena smiled serenely at me—a little too serenely.

Like last week, I ended up stuck at a table with the miserable man.  He hadn’t said a word to me since Lena had gone to get another drink and that had been over an hour ago.  Where had she run off to?  The line at the bar hadn’t been that long.

From what I had gathered during our brief acquaintance, Alec seemed to be Remington’s polar opposite.  He was outgoing, quick to smile, and things seemed to roll off of him like—

Holy crap.

The epiphany nearly knocked me off my stool.  The reason Lena and Alec were so compatible was because Alec was the male version of Lena.  Did that make me the female Remington?  I sincerely hoped not; Remington was about as fun as a dead battery in a swimming pool.

I wasn’t that miserable, was I?  I certainly smiled more often.  As a matter of fact, I had smiled yesterday when Lena had told me that she had made plans to see a movie with Alec.

I had smiled yesterday.  Pathetic.

I was Remington!  Now that the malady had been brought to my attention I needed to stop being so depressing.  Maybe I would smile more tonight.  My mouth lifted briefly but the motion hurt my face.

“Is she always like that?” the man beside me asked.

His silence had made it easy to forget how rich his voice had been last week.  A thrill snaked its way through my chest as I anticipated the impending conversation.  At least he had been the one to break the silence I had been willing to tolerate.

“Is who always like what?”

“Lena.”  He only answered the first half of my question.  At least it was an improvement upon not speaking at all.

“Always what?  Energetic?” And beautiful.  And overwhelmingly perfect.

“I was going to say flaky.”

“Yeah, she is.  It’s exhausting to watch, isn’t it?  I wish I could be more like her,” I confessed.

He leaned away from me, gauging the meaning behind my comment.  “How so?”

“She’s so light and carefree.  Nothing really gets to her.”

“And you think that’s a good thing?”  The way he spoke made it sound like he thought just the opposite.

“It would be easier.”  If nothing bothered me then I wouldn’t worry about most of the concerns that plagued me on a daily basis.

“But not better, I don’t think,” he mused, studying Lena more closely than before.

The man beside me looked unhappy, like he wanted to be anywhere but sitting next to me.  If he wanted to escape that badly then why didn’t he use the back door?  Alec wouldn’t notice one way or the other.

“Why do you come out on Thursdays?”

Remington shrugged, still avoiding my eyes.  “I don’t know.  Boredom, I suppose.”  He waited a beat before asking me the same question.  “Why do you come?”

“Someone has to babysit the dancing queen.”

He turned to face me head-on.  “You’re a good friend.”

I shrugged, trying to be as indifferent as him; the attempt was unsuccessful.  “While I don’t condone her irresponsible behavior, she doesn’t realize the trouble she could get herself into.  Every once and a while she slips up, and I’m there to pick up the pieces.”

“Hey, Mary!”  Lena shouted at me across the bar.  She and Alec were having a great time, likely trying to one-up each other with sordid tales.

Remington frowned.  Delicate wrinkles formed just above the bridge of his nose.  “I thought your name was Meredith?”

I took a deep breath before answering.  Of course he would have to ask me this mortifying question.  Where was the silence when I needed it?

“It is.”  I glared shrewdly at the girl who was supposed to be my best friend.  She danced toward us with a wicked smile and took a seat across from me.  Coincidentally, she was too far away for me to kick her shins beneath the table.

“Why did she call you Mary?”

My ex-best friend decided at that moment to be overly helpful and join our non-conversation.  “Because she’s a—”

My hand shot out to cover her mouth with a loud smack.  At first I felt badly about the weight behind the movement; I had nearly knocked her out of her chair.  Then she smiled behind my palm and licked my fingers.

All of my remorse vanished.

Remington cleared his throat from beside me, reminding us of his presence—as if we could forget about the rude man.  It had been hard enough to keep him from haunting me all week.

My face heated as I slowly turned toward him.  He didn’t say anything, just waited, infuriatingly expectant.

“Mary is just a nickname Lena has come up with.  Mer, Mary, Meredith—you know.  They all stem from the same source.”  The excuse sounded feeble to my own ears but there was no way I would admit to him the real reasoning behind the nickname.  Besides, it was none of his business.

“Which do you prefer?”

Even if he didn’t believe me it was a relief that he had graciously dropped the issue.  I wouldn’t have pegged Remington as the gracious type.

“Meredith is fine.”

“But all of her friends call her, Mer,” Lena added.

Why did her words send bolts of lightning down my spine?

Remington’s blue eyes gauged my reaction.  Was he looking for permission to use my nickname?  We weren’t exactly friends or even real acquaintances.  We were just two strangers stuck in the same spot two weeks in a row.

Instead of commenting, Remington nodded once, rose from the stool, and walked away without another word.

I turned to subject my newest enemy to my most evil scowl.

Like always, she remained ignorant.

“You know what you are, don’t you?”  My voice had already softened by the time the sentence finished.  For some unknown curse-of-a-reason I couldn’t stay mad at Lena for very long.  Besides, even if I could give her the cold shoulder she wouldn’t notice since everything rolled off of her deceptively thick skin.

“Yes, but you still love me.”  I couldn’t fault her for her accuracy so I didn’t say anything at all.  “You know what you are, don’t you?”

“Me?  What did I do?”  I had joined her on a second Thursday-night excursion.  She had asked me to come with; nothing had been said about bringing along a pleasant attitude.
“You made the pretty boy run away.”

* * *

Remember to come back next Friday for Chapter 7!

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