Chapter 14

2063802

Our inevitable conversation had started out the same as every other Thursday.  I had been given a reprieve last week; I wasn’t as lucky today.  Lena had invited me out, but not to a bar.  One of the fraternities was having a social and she was begging me to escort her.

“Who all is going to be at the party?”

“Everyone unless you decide to turn down the invitation.  Then it will be everyone but you.”

“Like who everyone, exactly?”  I tried to keep my question nonchalant.

“Does it matter?”

“No, not really.”

The dawning of a very dangerous realization sparked in her blue eyes.  “It does to you.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I argued feebly, knowing it did.

“The question is: why does it matter to you?”

“Like I said—”

“It never has before now,” she mused, working through the mystery.

“And it still doesn’t.”

“You could always come to the party and see for yourself,” she suggested.

“Why on earth would I want to do that?”

“Because I may forget someone vital when I give you my report on the guest list tomorrow.  And then you may get angry with me and decide to end our friendship.  I can’t allow that to happen.”

“Lena, I was simply being polite in asking, trying to show some interest in your social life.”

“Meredith, you’re never polite and you don’t care about my social life.”

“Thanks,” I stood from our couch too quickly, revealing my earnestness to escape.  I made it up four steps when something clicked in Lena’s scattered mind.

“It’s him isn’t it?  You want to know if he’s going to be there tonight.”

I grimaced at my hand on the banister, frozen in my tracks.  Of course she would figure it out.  “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” I lied, the statement weak to my own ears.

“You’ve got some sort of thing for Remington.”  Her voice was mystified—and perilous.

“I do not have a thing for anyone but my boyfriend.”

Like usual, she ignored me.  “I thought you two had been getting cozy in your last few private conversations.”

“We were not cozy,” I said sternly, immediately defensive.  I was a loyal girlfriend not the type of girl who got cozy with other men, no matter how sexy they were.  “He is rude and inconsiderate and… and… impolite.”

“That may be, but he is really, really, really hot,” she said, as if that factor excused his lack of manners and courtesy.

“I fail to see how that makes his behavior acceptable.”

“People can do whatever they want when they look like that.”

“Commit murder?” I shot back.

“Automatic pardon from the President himself.”

“If that’s the case then maybe I should contract him out to take care of a certain roommate problem I’ve been dealing with for five years.”

Lena grinned, unworried.  “He’d get away clean.”

“All because he’s sexy, right?” Very, very, very sexy.  She hummed the confirmation I didn’t need.  “You’re shallow.”

“And you’re too deep.”

I stuck my tongue out at my best friend; it was an immature but slightly better alternative to slapping her—although not nearly as gratifying.

“So are you coming to the party?  To answer the question you wanted to ask earlier but danced around, I highly doubt Remington will be there.”

Slapping her was looking better and better.

“I guess I can make an appearance.”  She was well aware that she had me in a catch twenty-two.  If I didn’t accept then she would immediately think the reason stemmed from the lack of Remington’s presence.  If I did accept then I would be expected to show up and play nice.

“Excellent!  Oh, Mer, I almost forgot.”

“What?”

“It’s a costume party.”

My stomach dropped.  She may have forgotten, but the lapse in memory had been deliberate.  “A… costume party?” I repeated, cringing against the memory of the last time Lena had gone out in costume.

“Yes!”

“You remember what happened on Halloween, right?”

The thought sent shivers down her spine.  “Come on, it’s not that kind of costume party!”

Thank God.  “What’s the theme?”

“80’s prom!” she squealed excitedly, believing I was going to play along.

Prom was an experience I never wanted to relive—much like Halloween.  “I don’t have a dress.”  Or a desire to wear one.

“Problem solved.  I picked one up for you at Goodwill earlier.  By the way, you owe me five bucks.”

“Lena?” I asked, rightfully suspicious.  “When did you buy the dress?”  Besides classes, my roommate had been at the apartment the entire day.

She gave me a sheepish smile.  “Honestly?”

“No, I want you to lie to me.  Of course honestly!”

“Last week,” she confessed.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, secretly hoping the budding migraine would get worse so I could cop out of the party plans.

“I’ll give you money for the dress but I’m not going to wear it.”

“Mer, you can’t go to a theme party without dressing up!”  Her indignation was hilarious.

“I either come or I dress up.  Which is going to be?”   At this point she was lucky I was giving her a choice.

“You make no sense.”

“I make perfect sense.  A or B?” I pushed.

“I should say B and let you get all dressed up in the taffeta and spandex creation I found for you just to see if you’d go through with it.”

“But you won’t.”  Sometimes I knew her better than I knew myself.

“I can’t promise they’ll let you in if you don’t come in costume.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

***

My best friend had been right about one thing; I was the only one at the party without a costume.  That is until Alec arrived.  Of course the focus of Lena’s interest had come in character—replete with powder blue tuxedo and matching top hat.  But his best friend, the one who wasn’t supposed to show up, looked unabashedly under-dressed.

They found their way to us across the crowded, taffeta-cluttered room.

Remington scowled at me.  At this point his sour moods were comforting.  I wouldn’t know what to do with him if he was polite.

“Where were you last week?” His tone was accusing, immediately raising my hackles.

“I had a rough week at work and was too tired by the time I got home.”  I hadn’t made the conscious decision to answer him; it had just slipped out as a result of manners painstakingly instilled by my mother.

“Oh, okay.”  He seemed placated by my answer.  “That’s what Lena had said.”

“If you already knew then why did you ask me?”

He shrugged.  “I’m not sure.”

“Why does it matter to you anyway?’

“Because I missed you.”

He. Missed. Me?  My mind repeated the words slowly, attempting to register the odd sentence.  He missed me?

“You… you did?” I stuttered.

“Yes,” he admitted to the bottle in his hand.  “There were women crawling around everywhere.  No one seems to bother me when you’re around.”  Except for me, I wanted to point out.  “Eventually I had to leave.”

“But not before subjecting them to the evil eye.”

His brows shot up, and I realized my mistake.

“You checked up on me?”

“Lena volunteered the information,” after a bit of coercion.

“Would you have asked if she hadn’t?”
“No.” Yes.  “Is that why you hang out with me, because I’m harmless?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, turning toward me, giving me an odd look.

“When every woman in the room wants you it has to be intimidating.”

“It’s not,” he said carefully.

“No?”  If our roles were reversed I would be incredibly intimidated.  Thankfully, most men didn’t notice me, especially when I was with Lena.  “Well that’s a relief.  Why not?  Weren’t you even the least bit interested in them?”  I held my breath as I waited for him to answer.

“No.  I wasn’t interested in the women who were at the bar last week.”

“Oh.”  The relief that coursed through my veins terrified me.

“Meredith?”

The way he said my name made my heart race inside my chest.  My face flushed; I prayed that he wouldn’t notice.  “Yeah?” I answered breathlessly.

“I don’t find you harmless.”  He studied me carefully.

The “prom queen,” sporting a sequined mermaid dress and plastic tiara, walked between us.  She stuck her chest out as she offered Remington a look of blatant interest; he ignored her.

“You didn’t dress up,” he added after the interruption.

“Neither did you,” I snapped, breaking past the daze his words had created.

“Alec bought me a matching suit.”

“And you passed up the opportunity to wear that ensemble?  I can’t believe it.”

“What’s the point in getting dressed up for prom when I didn’t have a date?”  His mouth pulled into a half smile.  “Did Lena have something for you as well?”

“Of course.  She bought the thing last week.  I only found out about the party today.”

“Alec is wearing his Halloween costume from five years ago.”

Our best friends were dancing to White Snake, holding tightly to one another.  When the song ended they made their way to the rose-encrusted backdrop for a prom photo.  Alec wrapped his arms around Lena and they both grinned toward the flash.  All that was missing was a corsage and boutonniere.

“They look like they’re having a lot of fun.”

“Not just them.  Everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves.”
“I’m sure you would be having just as much fun if you had given in and worn the tux.”  The thought was hilarious.  Never in a million years could I envision Remington dressing up and letting loose at a frat party.

“I’m still glad I didn’t.”

“Me too.”

“How was spring break?”

“What?  A normal, polite conversation?”  The surprising observation popped out before I could stop it.  What had brought this on?  I thought he winced but the movement around his eyes was too slight to be sure.  “What brought this on?”
“I’m not sure.”  He looked as if I had asked him a harder question than I had.

“I’m impressed.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”  He shifted his weight from his left to right leg.

Since he was being temporarily polite I decided to play along.   “Spring Break.  Huh.  It was what I imagine being the lone chaperone on a trip to Disneyland with thirty kindergartners would be like.  How was yours?”

“Uneventful.”

Remington and I stood in companionable silence for some time before either of us spoke again.  It was nice, comfortable—different.  Typically there was a raw tension between us.  Perhaps it was the lack of tension that allowed him to stand beside me for such a long time.  None of our other conversations had lasted as long as tonight’s.  It was… nice.

A girl I recognized from the shop came through the hallway, two men serving as a bracelet on each arm.

“That makes me sick.”  My statement pierced the easy stillness between us.

“What?”

“That girl who just walked in; the one escorted by two pledges.”
“You have a thing against red-heads?”

“No, but I do have a problem with people who don’t take their relationship seriously.”

His brows furrowed as he accepted the heat behind my statement.

“Is she married?” He leaned around a gangly guy who had come to stand in front of us, checking for a ring.

“Does she have to be for it to matter?”  I winced at the condescending note in my voice.  To most people it didn’t matter, even if they were married.

“No, not really.”

“Those guys crawl all over her, trying to get her to cheat on her boyfriend—which she probably will end up doing.  But she doesn’t realize the ramifications.”

“How much it will hurt him?” he assumed aloud.

“That, and how demeaning it will be for her.  Say she really likes one of those two.  She cheats and eventually breaks it off with her current boyfriend to be with the new guy,” I said, setting up the scenario.

He played along.  “Okay.”

“Can the new guy ever really trust her?  If she was willing to cheat for him what’s to stop her from cheating on him?”
Remington was silent for a moment.  His next sentence stunned me completely.  “You really do love your boyfriend.”

It wasn’t a question, rather a statement of fact.

“What does that have to do with anything?”  My own mind hadn’t been going in that direction; I had simply been speaking solely of a hypothetical situation.

Remington ignored my question.  “He’s a very lucky man.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, very few people share your opinions on this particular subject.”

“Do you?”  I wasn’t sure why his answer mattered, but it did.  Men rarely shared the same opinions on relationships as women.  But I wanted him to agree with me on this—I needed him to.

My breath caught in my throat as he turned, subjecting me to the full force of his stare.  But he didn’t answer me.  He didn’t smile or show any emotion on his beautiful face.  He turned away wordlessly, leaving me annoyed.  We had been having our first semi-civil conversation, and he had gone and ruined it with his aggravating stares.

“You do realize how incredibly rude you are, right?”  I said more to the empty bottle in my hand than him.  After all, the brown glass was more likely to respond and was a thousand times more polite.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Okay.”

“It hasn’t stopped you from engaging me in conversation.”

He had me there.  I should have been avoiding him like an STD, but I wasn’t.  Why was that?

“Why do you suppose that is?” I asked.  Maybe he had an answer because it eluded me.

“I’m trying to figure that out.”

“Do you try to be profound or does it just slip out?” I asked angrily.  Remington hadn’t left yet, but I could feel that the end of my night with him drawing near.  It was almost as if a vortex was dragging him toward the doorway.  I stifled the realization that I wasn’t ready for tonight to be over.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said innocently.

“Never mind.  You know, I think you like being mysterious, it’s part of your charm.”  And it was really, really annoying.  For countless nights, I had stayed awake, trying to figure him out—an infuriatingly impossible task.

He raised his eyebrows and his mouth tilted at the corner.  “Meredith, you think I’m charming?”

“Definitely not what I meant.” He was the opposite of charming.

He shrugged and crossed his arms across his muscular chest.  “Your words, not mine.  Hmmm… Charming, mysterious, and profound.  Quite a combination don’t you think?”

“Deadly.”

He chuckled.  “No wonder you want to spend so much time around me.”

Wait a second.  Was he flirting with me?  No.  There had to be some other explanation. Remington did not flirt.  And for good reason; if he put his mind to it he could get what he wanted.

“Hey!  Aren’t you Holden’s girlfriend?”
The two boys who interrupted us didn’t look familiar.  They were young, freshman or sophomores—frat pledges most likely.  The fact that they were dressed according to theme wasn’t surprising; however, both of them wore spandex dresses complete with footballesque shoulder pads and enough makeup to make a drag queen cringe.

“Yeah.”

“Cory, I told you it was Holden’s girlfriend.”

“She has a name,” Remington growled from behind me, his bad humor returned.

I glared at my neighbor.  He smiled meanly at the boys and completely ignored me.

“Mary, right?” The blonde one snickered.

“It’s Meredith, actually,” I corrected through clenched teeth, hoping to avoid thatconversation again.

“Mary, we’ll see you later.  Tell your boyfriend Tommy and Corey said hi.”

Couldn’t anyone see that I was considerably more than just Holden’s girlfriend, Lena’s sidekick or the Virgin Mary?

The muscle in Remington’s ticked as he watched them stumble through the hallway.

“You’re going to run away now, aren’t you?” I whispered.

He didn’t look at me when he responded.  “Yes.”

He disappeared with along with his fading confirmation.

One of the questions Remington had asked me stuck in my mind.  Why did I continually engage him in conversation when, except for tonight, he was appallingly rude?  The answer was right in front of me like an epiphany.  Maybe I hung around with him because I was in no danger from him despite his movie-star good looks.  After all, he wasn’t a nice person so I didn’t have to worry about falling for him.

Remington was the one who was harmless.  Well, not exactly harmless; he could be a deadly threat if he had the inclination.  But I had known him for this long and he hadn’t even attempted to make a move on me.  Not that he would have even considered the idea.  Someone like him would never be interested in a girl like me.

He deserved someone like Lena.  Even though he had denied the fact, I knew I was harmless which, in turn, meant he was harmless.

Typically, intelligent human beings avoided unpleasant situation, but I planned on continuing our non-relationship of sharp silences, sharper glares, and angry exits.  He made me feel relaxed and friendly in comparison—an unfamiliar but pleasant feeling.

* * *

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