Chapter 8

“Hey, Mer!”

“Brian!” I greeted with a broad smile for the second time today.  Lena and Alec were barely visible from where they hid in the secluded corner, making out like fifteen-year-olds.  Alec probably hated his “friend” and was secretly hoping I would grow so annoyed that I would brutally murder Remington and take him off Alec’s hands.

“Fancy meeting you here, Mer!” he returned.

“What brings you out tonight?  I thought you said you had no plans and were free if I needed you.”

At the time I hadn’t had any plans either but with Lena that fact changed as quickly as a whim.  When she had received the call—from Alec, I’d stake my life on it—all of the sudden we’d had a strict itinerary and we’d been running behind schedule.  Lena had threatened to leave me behind if I wasn’t ready by nine thirty; the flimsy warning had sent me into a rare fit of giggles.

“I was bored sitting around looking at my biology homework and decided I deserved a night out in the big city.  Besides, no one called me with alternative plans to take advantage of my absolute freeness,” he said.

“Yeah, she tricked me again.”

“Too persuasive for her own good.”  He chuckled but it sounded forced.

Glancing to my left I noticed my neighbor staring insolently at Brian.  My friend looked between Remington and me with too much interest.  As much as I hated to do it, I introduced him—but not for Remington’s benefit.  I was simply making a lopsided attempt at cordiality to demonstrate courtesy to the man.  Perhaps he would learn a thing or two.

“Remington, this is my friend Brian.  We’ve known each other beyond forever.  Brian this is…” he wasn’t my friend, but the distinction created by the word acquaintance sounded snotty.  “…this is Remington.”

Brian smiled tightly.  “It’s nice to meet you, Remington,” he offered, although his tone belied what should have been friendly words.

Waiting for Remington’s reaction was excruciating.  After a few seconds, he turned the full force of his gaze on Brian and nodded once.

My face flushed with embarrassment.  Who did this guy think he was?  Was it seriously that hard to say “hello” even if he didn’t want to?

“I’ll see you later, Mer,” Brian said, making a hasty exit.

If only I could follow him out the door.  What was stopping me?  There were no manacles rooting me to the chair.  It would be easy to get up, snub Remington, and go home to my bed.  But then I would be no better than he was.

Instead of taking the coward’s route, I whipped around to glower at Remington.

“Has anyone told you how rude you are?”

“Not today.”

“Well, allow me.”

He gave me a mean smile, exposing his white teeth.  “I may be rude, but you’re evil.”

The venom in his tone made me flinch as if I’d been kicked.

“I’m ev… evil?” I stuttered.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re stringing that poor guy along.” He inclined his head toward Brian’s back.

“That poor guy who you were just rude to? That one?”

Remington shrugged.

“For your information, Remington, Brian is my friend.  F-R-I-E-N-D,” I spelled for his benefit.  “A concept you obviously know nothing about.”  I tried to infuse as much derision in my voice as possible.  Of all the judgmental, insolent things to say—

“He thinks of you as more than a friend, Meredith.”

I had to hold my head together to keep it from exploding.  “Not you, too!”
“What?”

I did not need to justify myself to this guy; he wasn’t even someone I cared to see again.  Why was my mind already formulating an explanation?  I did not care what he had to say or his erroneous opinions.

My voice held a low warning when I responded.  “You don’t know me; don’t presume to speculate over the state of my relationships.  Brian has never been anything but a friend to me.”  And that’s all he would ever be.

“That’s because he’s biding his time.”

“And you can tell that from the entire minute that you saw him?”

“I didn’t need that long,” he said confidently.  His self-assurance was infuriating.

“What would you have me do?  Never talk to him again until I was sure there were no feelings on his side?”  Perhaps I had turned a blind eye, but what was the sin in that?

It appeared as though my frustrated question had caught him off guard.  I waited for him to answer, to say anything while he sat there, staring at me.  At least he didn’t leave—but he didn’t respond either.

What was I going to say to Remington to make him run away tonight?  The object of my thoughts sat stoically besides me, working on his fourth Bud Light.  Before Brian had interrupted I had been scrolling through potentially neutral topics, trying to find something to talk about that would help pass the time until it was acceptable to go home.

Since Remington was still there I figured I might as well try to converse with him.  He didn’t deserve my attention, but I was the bigger person.

Music or the weather?

It had snowed… again.  End of conversation.

“Wow.”  Remington craned his neck to see what had caused my exclamation.  “I wonder if the DJ realizes this isn’t a middle school dance.”

Would he take the bait?

“Yeah, it is pretty terrible,” he agreed grudgingly.

“Terrible?” I scoffed.  “He just played Babyface and slow danced with one of those drunken girls.”

“It’s not all bad.”

“No, you’re right.  The chicken dance really got people off their stools.”  All five of them.

“I’m pretty sure you were doing the moves from your seat.”

“I was mocking.”  Lena would have understood and joined in.

“Mocking or not, you were dancing,” he pressed.

“Anyway, this DJ is just playing his favorites from the glory days and ignoring the devastating effect the Electric Slide has on any venue outside of weddings.”

Remington didn’t laugh.  I didn’t expect him to; laughing was probably outside the realm of his capabilities.  He barely smiled.  And what constituted a smile for him was a sad looking half-smirk, revealing a dimple in his right cheek.  The motion was depressing and pulled at my unwilling, unwelcome sympathy.  Had he ever really smiled as a result of some honest emotion instead of pure disdain?

“Do you ever smile?”

“What?”

Had I said that out loud?  My face felt like I was standing in front of a furnace as he scrutinized me too closely.  “Nothing,” I said quickly, hoping he would let the issue drop.

“Did you just ask me if I ever smiled?”

“No.”  As the lie jumped through my lips my breath caught in my throat.  The corner of his mouth crooked up into a smile.  And then his expression went beyond a smile to a grin.  My lungs stopped working altogether as his face changed from brooding and mysterious to open and friendly.  He had always been gorgeous but this borderline-jovial Remington was unfathomable.

“No, Meredith, I don’t smile.”  Humor made his tone buoyant.  He covered his face with his hands; I stifled the urge to pull his fingers away so I could look at him some more.

As if he heard the direction of my thoughts his hands fell to the table.  And with the movement his humor vanished.  I wanted to ask him what was wrong but didn’t have time.  In one blink he was halfway to the door.

“How come he always looks like he wants to kill someone when he leaves you?” Lena asked, startling me.

Hadn’t she seen his smile only moments before his escape?  Would it have affected her the way it had affected me?  I turned toward her, and she lifted her perfectly sculpted eyebrow in question.  In that moment I realized there was no way she had seen Remington smile.  If she had then she would be as speechless as me.

“Hello?  Meredith?” my best friend prompted.

What had she said?  “What did you say?”

“Why does Remington always look like he wants to kill someone when he leaves your table?” she repeated, slower this time.

“Probably because he does.”

“That’s pleasant,” she drolled, frowning at the bottle of Michelob Ultra in her hands.

“And you wonder why I don’t have fun on Thursdays.”

* * *

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