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.

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.”

 

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