Chapter 18

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I had decided to play nice, which was why I hadn’t tempted Lena… too viciously.  She hadn’t given in anyway, and I was proud of her—sort of.  I wasn’t sure how I found myself in the bar, alone at my corner table.

Inebriated patrons cast speculative stares in my direction.  Without Lena here to pass me her empties, I had been forced to buy a full beer.  The people around me probably assumed I was a budding alcoholic, wanting to be alone with the bottle.  However, the ruse became obvious when I couldn’t bring myself to take a sip; the liquid smelled stale and bitter.  The glass container sat forgotten on the table, my hands idly warming the amber liquid inside.

“Hello.”

I didn’t look up from my drink to greet him.  He took his seat as was customary, but I still didn’t acknowledge his presence.

The peace lasted for a conversationless hour.

“What is wrong with you, Meredith?” Remington shouted, drawing stares from those close enough to hear him over the blaring music.

Again with the same question!

My tone belied my answer.  “Nothing.”

“Yeah, I can tell.  The whole evil glare and cold shoulder told me that nothing is wrong with you.”

Evil glare?  In the past sixty minutes I hadn’t looked at him once, let alone subjected him to a glare.  It had been the longest, most arduous hour of my life.

“Did you ever think all of your rude comments and dropped conversations would work, and I wouldn’t want to talk to you anymore?” I challenged.

The air between us tightened.

“Is that what happened?”  Remington sounded regretful.

Part of me felt compelled to see if my assessment had been correct but I remained strong.

“Will you just leave me alone, please?” I begged.

“After you tell me what’s wrong,” he promised.

I closed my eyes as I turned to him.  This was what I had wanted, a confrontation.  But now that it was here I felt like hiding beneath the table or escaping as he so often had.

“I just can’t believe you,” I seethed.  All of the repressed emotions from the past week came to the surface.  The way my stomach twisted in revulsion was his fault.

“Me?  What did I do?  I got here over an hour ago and you haven’t said anything to me the entire time!”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So in that silent hour, what did I do to offend you?”

“It wasn’t tonight.”  It was the entirety of the past week.

“Then when?” Remington pushed.

“I’m just disappointed in you.”

His innocent expression opened the flood gates.  “Why?”

“Because you act so high-and-mighty, a cut above the rest, but you’re really just the same as every other guy in here!”

Remington’s reaction was too calm for the accusation I was making.  “How do you figure?”

“You left with Lena last Thursday.”

“So?”

“So, weren’t you the one preaching about how you weren’t interested in her?”  And I had been stupid enough to believe him.

“Yes,” he said carefully.  “I’m not interested in Lena.”

“And then you went home with her.”  The words tasted like poison on my tongue.

“No.”

“No?”  Now he was going to lie to me?  “I saw you two leave together and I watched you leave my apartment.”

“And?”

“And nothing.”

His mouth lifted at the corner but his smile was a sneer of derision.  “You sawnothing.”

“I saw enough.”

“I am a bit confused why this matters to you, Meredith.”  The way he said my name made it sound like an accusation.

Maybe it was because I needed to be accused.

“It doesn’t,” I contradicted too quickly.

“You could have fooled me.”

“She is seeing your best friend, Remington.”  Was that why Alec hadn’t been out lately? Because he was finished with Lena?

“So what?”

“You’re doing the same thing that guy did to you.”

Remington’s eyes went cold and flat.  His response was bleak.  “No, I’m not.”

“How can you claim that this is any different?  Did Alec come to you to let you know he was done with her or something?”

“I don’t need to justify myself to you.”

“No, you don’t.”  But I needed him to.  “But you will if you want to continue this conversation.”

Instead of giving me the explanation I craved, Remington shoved away from the table and left without a backward glance in my direction.

 

***

 

“Hold on,” Lena said, holding her hands in front of her for emphasis.  “You didwhat?”

“I just don’t know what came over me.  It was like I blew up and could no longer filter what came through my mouth.”

That sort of hysterical display went against the very core of my melancholy nature.  I was indifferent to everyone who didn’t matter to me.  When had that changed?  When had I cared what someone else did when it had no effect on my life?

The reason for the change was difficult to pinpoint.  It occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t asking the right question.  Maybe I should have been asking when Remington had begun to matter.

When I had gotten back to our apartment Lena had been waiting for me, coiled to strike.  Apparently she had been having an interesting conversation with Alec about yours truly only moments before I had arrived home.

“How did I let it go this far?  Mer, this is so unlike you.”

“You don’t think I know that already?”  Didn’t she know I hated myself for this?

“Last week…”

I plugged my ears.  It was childish, but I didn’t want to hear the explanation.  The scenario remaining pure speculation felt like a better alternative to it being reality.  Reality was too hard to disregard.

“You’re twenty years beyond the age you’re acting.”

“Fine.”  I closed my eyes so she wouldn’t see the betrayal behind them and waited for her to crush the unmentionable feelings inside of me.

“You were right.”

I didn’t want to be.

“I know,” I whispered.

“Last week I left the bar with Remington.”

I nodded, unable to move past the hurt to drum up a comment of acceptance.  I had known as much, had seen it with my own eyes.  But her confirmation stung infinitely worse than it had while witnessing the scene unfold; it removed the need for all assumptions.

“But, Mer, nothing happened.”

Impossible.  Even rude and broody Remington was irresistible, and I was the faithful one.  Lena would have had no chance against his uncharming charm.

“Mer, did you hear me?”

“Yes,” I croaked, still unable to face her.

“Last week Remington was saving me.”

One of my lids popped open involuntarily.  “He was saving you?  What does that mean?”

“He knew one of the guys hitting on me was particularly tenacious.  Joe wouldn’t take a blatant no for an answer.  Remington rescued me by making Joe think we were together.”

“Oh.”

“He took me home then went back to the bar to make sure you had made it home safely,” Lena explained.

“Oh.”

“I am really sorry for ditching you.  Remington had been reluctant to leave, but I practically begged him to bring me home.”

“Oh.”

“Are you going to say anything else?”

“Oh… crap?”  I had really messed up.

There went my Thursday-night exploits.  How could I ever show my face in public again?  The semester was drawing to an end so I wouldn’t miss out on many Thursdays.  Yet the idea of skipping even one night depressed me for some reason.  Perhaps Lena’s reminders about this being her last semester had finally filtered through my denial.

Lena laughed.  “You know you have to go out with me next week, right?”

“No, I don’t.”  I needed to move away, change my name, and dye my hair orange.

“Mer, I never thought you were a coward.”

She was right of course.  I would give in but it didn’t have to be tonight.

* * *

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