Chapter 15

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I glared at the face of the man who was supposed to love me.  He offered me a sheepish smile that did little to staunch my anger.

“Mer, you always used to like hanging out with the guys,” Holden whined.

Once again I was being ditched for a bunch of smelly frat brothers who technically weren’t even brothers because my boyfriend was no longer in college.  Holden graduated almost a year ago yet he refused to let go of that part of his youth.  There was more to this world than pledges, socials, kegs, and Thursdays.

“I used to.  But I haven’t seen you in almost a month.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“No one’s.”  I had gone to spring break the same weekend Holden had come home.  He could have come a weekend I was going to be there or I could have stayed; either way, neither of us was at fault.  However, he had gotten to spend the entire time with his friends—and me with mine—so ditching me for them tonight was definitely his fault.

“Why don’t you want to stick around here tonight?”

“Because I’m your girlfriend.”  That should have been a sufficient explanation. Should have been. But Holden happened to be the proud owner of a Y-Chromosome.

“So?”

“Before, when we weren’t exclusive, I could hang out with you and your friends and they had considered me one of the guys.  Now that I’m your girlfriend I’m considered in another category altogether.”  I was basically the enemy.

Understanding lit his eyes.  “I get what you mean now.”

“Good.”  I had only needed to spell it out for him.  There were times when Holden needed diagrams in order for him to comprehend the most basic principles.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Are you going to come hang out tonight or not?”

I gritted my teeth together until my jaw ached.  A migraine was planting itself at the base of my skull, and Holden’s ignorance was watering the seed.  “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m going out with Lena.”

“But I’m only in for the weekend, Mer.”

“Exactly.”  Hadn’t that been my very point?

“What is that supposed to mean?”

I was finished trying to explain the obvious to my idiot boyfriend.  “You can figure it out on your own.  I’ll just give you a call later.”

If he didn’t hang up soon then I was going to end up saying something I would eventually regret.

“Okay…”

And the line went dead.

“You’re going out with me tonight!” Lena gushed from where she had been stealthily creeping behind me.

“No,” I groaned, kicking myself for using her as an excuse when she was within hearing distance.

“But you just said—”

“I know what I just said.”  And I regretted it already.

She pursed her lips then smiled broadly; the look in her eyes did not settle my nerves.  “So… that means you’re coming with me tonight.”  The confidence behind her words alarmed me.

“I’m not going to be any fun at all.  Besides, I’m really not in the mood.”  I was in the mood to lock my door, pull the blinds, and be swallowed by my own pitiful misery.

“That’s okay,” she said with excessive cheer.  “You can just sit in the corner with your hot, grumpy friend.”

I ignored the friend comment; she knew how it was between Remington and I. “Why does it matter to you anyway if you and I are not even going to hang out together?”

“It will be nice to know you’re there if I need you.”

“You won’t need me because you’ll have Alec.”

“I want you both.”

“Too bad.  Not everyone gets what they want.”  If I got what I wanted then I wouldn’t have to tolerate the conversation.  Instead, Holden and I would have been spending quality time over a candlelit dinner, growing closer to one another.

“I do,” she said truthfully.

“Not tonight.”

“Yes, tonight.  And tomorrow, and the next day…”

I took a steadying breath and prepared for my monologue.  “Look—”

Lena interrupted before I could start.  “Mer?”

“Yeah?”

“Arguing is pointless.”

There was that confidence again.  It wasn’t pointless to me.  I felt like arguing with the whole world right now.  Arguing, losing (inevitably), and then spinning into a pit of lonely despair.  Another great Thursday.

“Why?”

“Because you’re going to give in.”

Her words only strengthened my resolve.  Over my dead body would I go out tonight.  “No. I’m. Not.”

“Yes. You. Are.  You have to now.”

“No, I’m… Why do I have to?”

She grinned.  I had the overwhelming urge to strangle her.  “Because if your boyfriend makes it out tonight and doesn’t see you with me he’ll think you lied to him.”

***

“Hello,” Remington offered with the barest hint of a smile.

Wait a minute.  Why was he smiling?  He had just arrived.  Had something funny happened in the parking lot?  Did I have something on my face?

“Hey,” I said warily, resisting the urge to wipe at my mouth, just in case.

“Did you have a better week?”

“I… I guess so.”  Right now I couldn’t remember what day it was.  If he was here then it had to be Thursday but…  What was going on?  I waited, impatient for a sarcastic remark.  Last week had started out cordially but had ended the same as every other time.

Remington had left.  He would leave again.

“You don’t sound too sure.”
“Oh, I’m sure about my week.”  There had been a blessed lack of crisis this week, which was a relief.  Plus, the weather was finally starting to warm up which meant summer was quickly approaching.

“And what aren’t you sure about?”

I answered honestly. “You.”

“What about me?” he chuckled

Remington chuckled?

Had I been imagining all the impolite stares and dropped conversations?  No.  More than likely I was imagining this cordial exchange and his gruff laughter.

“I’m waiting for you to make some cryptic remark then walk away mysteriously.”  Like every other Thursday.

He frowned; that was more like it.  “Last week you said I was rude.”

“You are rude.  And I have told you before that you are rude.”  Why was he bothering to change now?

“You have a horrible impression of me.”

“I came about that impression honestly.”

“I know.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“It also doesn’t mean that one conversation will change anything,” I said sadly.  He nodded silently but made no move to leave our table.  “Since you aren’t being rude anymore—”

“I never said that,” he interrupted.

I almost laughed at the contradiction.

“Since you’re not being rude right now,” I amended.  “Are you going to apologize to me?”

“Apologize?” he spat the word as though it were a curse.  “For what?  I just got here.”

“For the last time you ditched me without a second thought.”  And for every other Thursday before that.

His face turned red.  “You’re wrong.”

“No, you definitely ditched and left me to fend for myself with a pack of hungry boys around.”

“I know I ditched you,” he said angrily.

This was the Remington I was comfortable with.  “Then how am I wrong?”

His blue eyes met and held mine.  “Because I had more than a second thought about that decision,” he confessed as if the admission was a mortal sin.

“Why?” I asked breathlessly.

“I kept asking myself what would have happened if I had stayed.”

Nothing had happened and that’s what really mattered.  But he had been right to ditch me.  It would be too easy to like him if he hung around long enough and continued to play nice.  Liking Remington could only lead to disastrous consequences.

“Do you mind if I ask you why you act like this even though it is in no way my business?”

“You can ask,” he said to his hands as he toyed with his blunt nails.

“Will you answer?”

Remington eyed me warily, warring with himself.  “I had a girlfriend.”

“I’m surprised to hear someone would put up with you.  Although since you used the past tense I can only assume she had the brains to get rid of you.”

His jaw tightened.  I regretted the snarky remark before it had finished bursting from my lips.  But even as I mentally reprimanded myself I did not apologize or back down.  Instead, I steeled myself against the inevitable rude comment; I deserved whatever he came back with.

But Remington didn’t say anything.  His eyes registered a flash of pain but he whipped away before I could offer the apology I didn’t want to give.  He stalked toward the nearest exit, barreling past a posse of drunken coeds.

“Wait,” I called frailly, knowing he couldn’t hear me.

Stupid conscience.

I shoved past everyone in my way and caught up with him on the back deck of the pub.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said to his broad back.

He stiffened and turned on me.  The pain was no longer there; it had been replaced with barely contained anger.

I could handle angry.

“You will be pleased to know that she did have the brains to get rid of me,” he dripped, his tongue laced with cynicism.

“Not pleased…” Intrigued by his reaction.

He retreated again, but I stopped him.  It was the first time I had willingly touched him.  The warmth radiating through his shirt lit my fingertips on fire.  Taunt muscles rippled just behind his shoulder blade.

“Tell me,” I whispered.  Remington needed to talk, and I found myself wanting to listen.

“She cheated on me,” he told the clear night sky.

“Oh.”  The single syllable seemed insufficient.  But I was unable to find any words that would offer a semblance of comfort for pain that had long since taken root inside the man in front of me.

“Do you have any more questions?” he sneered.  “Perhaps you’d like to know the specifics?”

His sarcastic tone made me take a step back and raise my hand in defense.  I hadn’t done anything wrong.  Why was he directing his irritation at me?

“I’m not surprised she left you,” I said meanly.
“What?” he hissed.

“She probably found someone who would tell her what she needed to hear, someone with sweet words.  Someone who was nice to her.”

“Is that what does it for you?  Do you need sweet words?” He spat.

“What I need is irrelevant.  We’re not talking about me right now.”  And we were never going to talk about me.  I was none of his business.

“She cheated on me with a good friend,” he divulged.

“I’m—”

He held up his hand and touched my lips to stop the knee-jerk apology.  My eyes crossed when I tried to see where his fingers connected with the sensitive skin.  I nodded, blood pounding behind my ears.  He pulled his hand away reluctantly.

“He had been her friend first, then mine.  There had been something between them, a bond.  I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it from the beginning; now it seems so clear.  He kept working on her, slowly assaulting her with soft words of flattery and false promises.  He capitalized on a moment of weakness, and she gave in.”

“Then what?”

“Then all of his promises were broken; sweet words became sweet lies.  He had been proving he could take her from me, not the depths of his feelings.  It had been some primitive caveman fantasy.  She was left broken, and so was I.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, not knowing what else to say.

“I’m not,” he said harshly to the muffled darkness.

“Well, that’s a relief.”  It was a sad story but if he was so heartless then he didn’t deserve my sympathy.

“It changed me.”

“Not for the better,” I concluded aloud.

“Why do you say that?”
“Bitterness seeps through your words, Remington.”

He closed his eyes, and his jaw ticked away the seconds.  When he finally looked at me his blue gaze held a pool of regret.

Again, I felt the unfamiliar urge to comfort him.  “I am sorry.  You know I didn’t mean—”

“I know exactly what you meant.  And your words hit their mark.”

“You’re just not very nice sometimes.  No, I take that back.  You’re not very nicemost of the time.”

“Is that how you really feel?” he asked, his tone sad.

What else was I supposed to think?  There was no point in lying to him.  “Yes.”

We both waited for what would come next.  A shiver snaked its way down my spine, making my next step clear.  The cool April air still held the bite of winter, as it often did at this altitude.

“I’m going back inside,” I announced.  “Are you coming?”

I waited only ten seconds for a response I never really expected to hear.

Much to my astonishment, Remington joined me back at our table five minutes later.  When I had first walked in, Lena had eyed me from across the room.  She’d raised one perfectly waxed eyebrow before turning her attention back to the guy who had been chatting her up.  Tonight’s interrogation would be interesting.

There was a line of men behind my best friend, each one impatiently waiting for her to give them some attention.

“Everyone loves Lena.”  I chuckled.

“You’re not jealous,” Remington stated, staring in my best friend’s direction.  A hint of surprise brightened his voice.

“No, I’ve never been jealous,” I confessed.  Jealousy was a waste of emotional effort.

“For some reason, I believe you.”

“That’s because I’m honest.”  I always had been and always would be.

“Hmmm, maybe.  But you’re wrong.”

“About what?”

“Not everyone loves Lena.”

“Tell me one guy in here who doesn’t want her,” I challenged, confident he wouldn’t find one.

“That guy over there.”

“Which one?”  I asked, inexplicably disappointed in his response.  “The guy in the yellow polo?”

“Yes.”

“She just snubbed him in front of everyone.”  The man had offered her a drink and Lena had completely ignored him.  It would be interesting to find out what the stranger had done to deserve such a reaction; Lena was typically exceedingly patient and overly accommodating when it came to potential suitors.

“I know.”  So he had noticed the slight as well.  Maybe he was more aware of my roommate than I had thought.

“That doesn’t prove your point, though.”

“Why not?”

“If Lena were to go over to him and make him an offer, he would undoubtedly accept.”

“Hmmm… you’re probably right,” he conceded.  “What about me then?”

My stomach tightened.  His statement didn’t hold much weight when he was his own second choice for the hypothetical example.

“You don’t count.”

“Why not?”

“Because she’s hooking up with your best friend.”  Immediately I recognized the similarity between this situation and the one he had told me about outside.

“Sometimes that doesn’t matter.”

My confidence waivered.  “But it does to you.”

“And to you.  You’re unique, Meredith.”

“Why, that sounds like a thinly concealed insult, Remington.”

“It wasn’t meant to be,” he assured me.

“No?  Then why didn’t you say rare?”

“Because they’re not the same thing.”

“No?”  They were synonymous in my book.

“No.  Rare would imply that there are others like you in the world.  Unique means one of a kind.”

“So there’s no one else like me?”

He frowned.  “No.”

Definitely an insult.

“And that’s a bad thing?” I surmised from his facial expressions.

“I think so.”

“Why is that a bad thing?”

“It’s a matter of basic economic principle: supply and demand,” he lectured to the tabletop.

“What?”
Remington brought his eyes to mine, and I nearly choked.  I suddenly preferred it when he held conversations with inanimate objects.  “High demand and no supply.”

“No supply?” I scoffed.  “I’m right here aren’t I?”

“Yes, but you’re unavailable.”

As if to illustrate his point, my boyfriend kicked down the front door and the entire bar erupted with raucous laughter.  I groaned, and Remington stiffened.  He turned to give me a surprised look.  I was not as happy to see my boyfriend as I should have been.

“I don’t like your boyfriend,” Remington said, scowling at the subject of his sentence.

I laughed nervously at his fierce look.  “That’s too funny.”

“Why?”

“Because he feels the same way about you.”

Something about that idea must have pleased him because he almost smiled.  “Good.”

“How is that good?”  It was dangerous.

“Because that means I won’t have to make polite conversation with him.”
“You never make polite conversation.”
“What would you call this?”

He had a point.  Besides last week, this was the closest we had come to a courteous conversation since we had met in January.  But I still wouldn’t label it apolite conversation.

“A civil exchange?”

“Well, I won’t have to do that with him either.”

Holden eyed us from across the crowded space, unsure of whether or not to approach us.  I turned away from him, effectively conveying that I was not ready to forgive him for ditching me.

“He’s not good enough for you, you know.”

“How would you know?”

“I just know.”

Numbness settled over me as I turned on Remington.  “Since you apparently know me so well, who would be good enough for me?”

The sarcastic question didn’t faze him.  “No one,” he answered without a second thought.

“So I’m doomed to a lonely life?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“So, no one is worthy of me?”

“Yes,” he repeated.

“But I don’t need to end up alone?”

“Yes.”

Blood pulsed behind my eyes as anger lit my head on fire.  “So what you’re saying, Remington, is that I’m not settling for the right person.”

He shrugged, unaware of how close I was to exploding.  “Yes.  I guess so.”

“Tell me then, who should I settle for?”
He frowned, and I decided not to wait for his flippant response.  Like he had done so many times before, I fled.

* * *

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