Chapter 20

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“I’m not going to apologize to you,” I said to the speck of red paint on the wall, a bloody smudge against the white plaster.

“Fair enough.”

Remington and I sat in companionable silence, which was dangerous.  It allowed me to think about things I didn’t want to face tonight.

We make concessions for the ones we love; some were more trivial than others.  When I was in middle school I swore I would never date someone with chest hair.  Now I prayed my boyfriend trimmed it.  As a rule, I was adamantly opposed to smoking; Holden smoked when he drank.  It was a fairly recently acquired habit, but still, he knew how I felt about it.  Even with my strong objections, it would have been stupid to break off a five-year relationship because of something that trivial, right?

But how many concessions was I willing to make before I no longer recognized the person I fell in love with—before I no longer recognize myself?

“Do you think it’s possible for people to change?”

“In what respect?” Remington asked carefully in a low voice.

“Like cheaters.”  His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed.  “Can they be faithful?”

“Hypothetically?”

“Of course.”

His answer was swift, harsh.  “No.”

“Why not?” I asked, brewing for a fight.

“If they’ve done it once and gotten away with it then they will do it again.”

“But you’re jaded,” I pointed out, attempting to keep his words from sinking in.  We believed what we wanted about the people we loved, even when we shouldn’t.  Some people called it naïveté; I called it self-preservation.

“Women are jaded,” he countered.

“And men are?”

“Cynical.”

“Okay, then you’re cynical,” I amended.

“Why are you asking about cheaters?”  He asked quietly.  Was it just me or did his voice hold a bit too much interest?  I bit my lip until I tasted blood.  “Meredith?”

This was not an appropriate conversation to be having with a virtual stranger.  I had more respect for my relationship with Holden than to share such personal information with another man.  Still, I couldn’t lie.  And I found that I didn’t want to.

“Because my boyfriend cheated on all of his other girlfriends,” I whispered reluctantly.  It was either give in and tell him or leave.  I was not read to go home to the emptiness that awaited me just yet.

His full mouth frowned.  “What makes you think he doesn’t cheat on you?”

“Trust.”  Blind, unwarranted trust.

“People typically don’t change.”  Remington must have seen my face fall slightly.  “But there are always exceptions.”

“I know.”

His fingers tapped idly against the table top, out of sync with the country music bumping through the jukebox speakers.  “You know, Meredith, I’m disappointed in you.”

“In me?” I scoffed.  “Why?”

“How can you date a person who treats you the way he does?”

“And what way is that?” I asked, my hackles rising.

“Like you’re lucky to have him.  Like you have to tread carefully and second-guess yourself otherwise you will lose the best thing that has ever happened to you.”

My eyes widened at his passionate display.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said in a small voice.  In reality, he couldn’t have been more accurate in his assumption.

“It’s backwards.”

“You see, this is exactly what I mean!”

He looked genuinely confused.  “What?”

“You’re rude!  You’re… you’re a horrible person!”

Remington didn’t attempt to deter me from my slanderous outburst; he agreed with me.  “I know.”

I ignored his admission.  “I’d love to know if you think you could do any better.”

Again, he didn’t hesitate.  “I could.”

“Is everything okay over here?” Lena asked, Alec tight to her side as back-up.

Remington glared at the newcomers and made a hasty exit.  Alec offered me an apologetic look and went after his friend.

“I take it the reunion didn’t go so well,” Lena teased.  My only answer was a murderous glare.  “You two sure do fight a lot for two people to aren’t dating.”

“We do not fight,” I growled, my tone contradicting the words.

“I think I’ve said this before but every time he leaves your side he looks like he could rip someone’s head off.”

“It’s not my fault he’s so easily annoyed,” I sniffed.

“What exactly do you say that annoys him?”

I searched my brief acquaintance with Remington for a correlation between our conversations and his running off but came up empty handed.  “I don’t think it’s anything specific; everything gets under his skin.  He’s just a bomb waiting to explode.”

“Why do you hang out so much if you don’t even like the guy?” she asked, perplexed.

“It’s not that, really.”  My friend gave me a skeptical look.  “I mean I like him…”

Did I like him?  Remington intrigued me.  But was that the same as liking him?  He wasn’t pleasant enough to like.  Maybe if he smiled more often or didn’t stalk away every two sentences then I could like him.

Wait a minute.  What had I been about to say?  I looked toward Lena for her to prompt me to finish my previous thought, but she was no longer paying me any attention.  She nodded once to someone behind me and left without a word.

I must have that effect on everyone tonight.

A quiet voice spoke from behind me.  “I’m not going to apologize,” Remington offered.

Somehow Alec had convinced him to come back to the bar.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could thank him for returning his friend.

“Fair enough,” I repeated his earlier acceptance of my non-apology.  “Are you angry when you wake up or does it get progressively worse as the day goes on?”  I was poking him with a verbal stick but I didn’t care.

“I’m rarely angry,” he said evenly.

I snickered at my empty bottle.  “You could have fooled me.”

“Maybe you’re not very perceptive.”

There was nothing wrong with my perception.  Most of the time I was too perceptive—a blessing and a burden.

“I try to avoid you,” he admitted.

His words stung my pride.  Hiding the pain behind sarcasm was easier than revealing it to him.  “That’s the sort of sentiment every girl wants to hear.”

“But I can’t,” he continued, more to the plaster than me.

“There are a few open stools at the bar.  That one in the corner is calling your name.”

Please don’t go, not yet.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Maybe there’s something wrong with your hearing.”  Why was I pushing him away when all I wanted was for him to stay?

“No, there isn’t.”

“I try to avoid you too,” I confessed quietly, concentrating on the empty seats.

He was surprised at first and then a deep frown marred his even features.  “Why?”

“I’m not sure.”  Maybe it was because he wasn’t as harmless as I had once thought.

“You don’t do a very good job of it.”

I shrugged.  “You always seem to find me.”  A fact that both thrilled and frightened me.

“I know,” he said, his voice lower than a whisper, barely audible above the buzz of conversations surrounding us.

“Why is that?” I wondered aloud.  There weren’t a lot of bars in Frostburg, but if he really wanted to steer clear of me then he could go somewhere else or stay home altogether.

“Understanding the problem would ultimately lead to a solution.”  His eyes were deadly serious, as if we were discussing Armageddon instead of avoiding one another.

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“Yes, it is.”

 

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