End of Chapter 33
Mac’s is more crowded than I ever remember it being in the two years that I lived in Cambridge. It’s a little divy, but they have good music, a dancefloor, free pool tables, and a killer beer selection, which had Kate and I coming here every Thursday night back in the good old days. In fact, despite the crowds and the almost overbearing presence of Christian’s security team, tonight feels a lot like the good old days. Kate sits on the bar stool next to me, laughing at my jokes and beaming radiantly at me as I catch her up on everything going on in Seattle. She tells me everything she finds annoying about Christian living with them now, which mostly has to do with he and Ana fucking all over their house. There’s a glint in her eye as we talk that makes me hopeful, and when she gets up to sink a few more of the balls left on the table, I do everything I can to silence the voice in the back of my head telling me over and over again how dangerous that hope is.
She’s not mine anymore. I can’t give her what she wants. She has Carter Reed.
I take a drink of my beer, once again tasting the bitterness that name leaves in my mouth. I used to think Christian overreacted when it came to Reed, but now… I think he might have under-reacted. The guy’s a fuckface.
“Well, I may have missed but I blocked Christian’s best shot on the corner pocket,” Kate says as she takes a seat on the stool next to me again. “We’ve got this in the bag.”
I nod, then watch Christian lean over the table and glance at Anastasia before he hits the cue ball into the eight and it rolls smoothly into the side pocket.
“Ooh, bad luck, bro,” I say, shaking my head. The taunt beneath my fake pity is subtle, and clearly played far too well, because rather than throwing some biting response back at me, he simply shrugs and passes his stick back to Sawyer.
“That’s fine. Ana and I need to get home anyway, it’s getting late.” I nod, reluctantly accepting that Ana being so pregnant means we just can’t stay out like we used to, and tip the last swallow of beer into my mouth. But as Kate starts to gather her things, Christian holds up a hand to stop her. “Please, stay and enjoy the rest of the night. Your drinks are on me.”
I have to hide my smile. Free drinks and the rest of the night alone with Kate? And to think, I didn’t get him anything…
“Well, if you insist!” I reply merrily, turning to find his body guard in the crowd by the bar. “Taylor! The Russian Imperial Stout!”
Christian rolls his eyes but takes his jacket off the chair next to me and then hurries over to Ana, wraps her hand in his, and pulls her so purposefully after him that her very round, pregnant frame causes her to wobble slightly. Taylor hands me the beer I’ve asked for and nods to both Kate and I before hurrying after them, and when I catch Luke scanning the room with diligent eyes one last time as he leaves, I worry for a moment there’s something wrong. Christian is here because someone is stalking and actively trying to harm Ana. Are they here now? Is Kate safe?
“What do you think that was about?” I ask while Kate moves to the table to re-rack the balls for a game of one-on-one. She glances over her shoulder towards the door and then shakes her head.
“They’re going home to have sex. Christian can be impatient sometimes.”
“Oh… you’re sure?”
“Yeah, haven’t you been watching them for the past hour? Ten more minutes and I’m pretty sure he would have stripped her down right here and thrown her on this table.”
“No, I haven’t been,” I admit, and when she bends over the table to break, I glance down at her perfect rear end and sigh. “I’ve been a distracted, I guess.”
She laughs, then hits the cue ball into the grouping in the center of the table and watches as two striped balls roll into pockets on opposite sides of the table. After giving me a coy look, she begins circling the table until she finds her next best shot. I watch her bend over again and sink the ten in the corner pocket, but she misses her next shot on the fourteen. It doesn’t seem to shake her confidence though. When she stands upright again she gives me a challenging smile. “Stripes.”
I grin and move to the table with my cue, strategizing how best to tackle the solids still spread out across the table. I don’t have too many difficult angles so I’m fairly certain that, as long as I don’t fuck something up, I can probably run the table. My first shot is on the six, and it rolls into the dead center of the bottom right-corner pocket. While the sound of the ball swirling around the cup rings around us, I turn and smile back at Kate again. “You’re toast, Kavanagh.”
“Bring it, Grey.”
We play three solid games, trading off wins, but we only make a few shots each before the fourth game is completely abandoned in favor of sitting at the table, sharing a few drinks, and talking again. And this, this is what I’ve missed so much…
“Oh my god, do you remember that weekend we spent in Pacific Beach, in that tiny little cottage rental that leaked and didn’t have any hot water?”
I laugh. “Yeah. How did we end up there?”
“Because you told me you had already made reservations at the resort. But you lied, and when you tried to get a room once we got there, they were all booked up! It took us two and a half hours to find somewhere to stay and that tiny little shack cost us twice what we were going to pay on our suite.”
“Oh that’s right,” I reply, narrowing my eyes. “I told you I’d make the reservation, but you said you wanted to pick the room so you told me not to worry about it and that you’d take care of it. Then when we got there and didn’t have a room, you tried to blame it on me.”
“That doesn’t sound like me.” She giggles before taking another drink of her beer.
“Still, it turned out great, didn’t it? We were right on the beach so we had bonfires both nights and we built that giant sandcastle that took us hours, and hours, and hours.”
“A miraculous feet of engineering. I actually can’t believe we pulled it off.”
“Luckily, one of us has an engineering degree from MIT so…”
I smile and shake my head, reminiscing. “The sunsets were great from the front porch, weren’t they? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful.”
“And at night, it got so cold that you had to snuggle up close to me and I’d wrap you in my arms and we’d stay like that, the whole night.”
She shakes her head. “We always slept like that. It was like, even in my dreams I needed to be close to you.” She takes another drink and I bite back the words that are fighting to bubble through my lips. I still love you. I want you back.
“It took me a long time to learn how to sleep without you again,” she continues. “I think you get accustomed to having someone in the bed with you, so when I was alone I wasn’t sleeping very well.”
“Yeah… Until Carter.”
“How are you two doing?” God, I hope she can’t hear the desperation in my voice.
“Fine. Good. He’s really sweet, and very caring. Right after you and I broke up, he would come stay with me a lot while Ana was gone since I still really can’t be alone overnight. And when I had surgery last winter, he took really good care of me. My parents like him and he and Ana get along really well. Even Christian is coming around, I think. It’s good. He and I, we’re… good.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I mean, I wish… uh… I just…” I take a deep breath, foregoing my attempt to lie about how much it hurts to hear about her new relationship, and settle for what’s really important. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
She nods and gives me a strange kind of half-smile that’s hard to read, then takes an extra long pull from her beer.
“What about you? How’s life after Gia?”
I shrug. “Fine, I guess. I’ve been working a lot trying to get Christian’s building finished before the new fiscal year, and his house finished before Calliope comes, so that fills a lot of my free time. But Dad doesn’t need people around so much anymore, Christian and Ana are here, and Mia, well, she’s seventeen and would rather hang out with her friends at the mall than her clearly second favorite brother. Gia and I didn’t have a lot in common. She wasn’t interested in any of the things I like and all she ever really wanted to do was shop or work out. But, at the end of the day, she was someone to talk to. Someone to have dinner with and to tell how my day went. She was happy to see me when I got home. But now, there’s no one. It’s a little lonely, I guess.”
“Well, she’s not the only girl out there. You’re quite the catch, Elliot Grey. I should know…” She pauses, and bites her lip. When she speaks again, there’s a slight quiver in her voice. “I’m sure there are a million girls out there who would die to be the girl you came home to at night.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“So, you’re not dating anyone, then?”
“No. I think there are a few things I need to work out before I even think about having a relationship again.”
That I’m still madly in love with you and no woman is ever going to measure up to what we had together. “I don’t know. I think I just need some time.”
“Elliot…” She pauses, letting the awkward way she says my name hang between us. I don’t know what she’s going to say next, if I want to hear what she’s going to say next or even if I can bear it, but the silence redirects my attention to the music and I note that the song has changed to one of her favorites.
“Hey, listen,” I tell her, and as she looks up into the open space around us, the look of pained conflict on her face melts away into a pale echo of the smile I love so much.
“I love this song!”
I laugh at the familiar excited squeal in her voice. “Yeah, I know.”
“Do you want to dance?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
I get up, take her hand, and lead her to the middle of the dance floor. It’s one of those songs that makes girls want to get up and shake their asses around, so there aren’t very many couples around us and everyone in the bar has turned their attention to the dance floor to watch the pretty, young girls sway their hips and drop low to the floor. The attention might have been awkward for anyone else, but not Kate. She carries on as if she were alone in her room with a pair of headphones in. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired most about her. She has this undeniable passion for life that is unencumbered by embarrassment or fear of judgement. The complete opposite of Gia, or of any girl I’ve ever met. She does whatever she wants, how she wants, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Just taking her hand as she twirls and pulling her into my body so I can dip her makes me feel more alive than I have in months. When she pushes into me and I can hold her, her scent swirls through my head and leaves me dizzy.
She’s laughing when the song stops but as the slow drone of Toby Keith replaces the upbeat tempo, her smile slowly fades away. My shoulders fall in disappointment, but as I turn to make my way back to our table, she reaches out to grab onto my arm and stops me.
“I like this song too,” she says.
I don’t move at first, but she steps forward, presses her body into mine, places my right hand on her waist, and takes my left hand in hers. We stand there like that for half a second, and then I take the leap and push her backwards to lead her across the dancefloor. As we spin and sway, her eyes never leave mine and the words of the song drift around us like a commentary of everything I feel, but can’t say.
You shouldn’t kiss me like this, unless you mean it like that
‘Cause I’ll just close my eyes, and I won’t know where I’m at
And we’ll get lost on this dancefloor, spinning around
And around and around and around
They’re all watching us now, they think we’re falling in love
They’d never believe we’re just friends
You shouldn’t kiss me like this, unless you mean it like that
If you do, baby kiss me again
I feel my throat tighten as I stare deep into her eyes, and in that moment, I can’t hold back anymore. I lean forward, intent on taking her lips with mine and pouring into her everything I want her know about these last few months, but before I can touch her with my kiss, a voice next to us calls out her name and we both freeze.
It’s Carter Reed, and he’s flocked by group of guys that look as though they’ve just stepped out of an SNL skit making fun of rich, douchey Millennials.
“Carter!” Her hand falls from mine and she takes a quick step back, looking guilty, and anger flares behind her boyfriend’s eyes.
“What the fuck is going on here?”
“We’re just dancing,” she says. “Christian and Ana just left, we were playing pool and talking, and then that Trace Adkins song I like came on. I asked if he wanted to dance.”
“Yeah, this looks real innocent.” His jaw tenses, and when I glance down, I notice his hands are shaking.
“You need to calm down, dude,” I warn him, and his eyes snap over to me.
“Don’t tell me what I need to do, Grey. Fuck you.” He turns back to Kate. “Get your ass in the car, we’re leaving.”
“Don’t fucking argue with me right now, Kate. Move!”
“Hey! You don’t get to speak to her that way…”
He takes two steps so that he’s right in my face, and now his entire body is trembling. When he speaks, I can smell the alcohol on his breath. “Say another word. Please. Give me a reason…”
“Are you serious right now?”
“Oh, I’m dead serious. You think I don’t know what you’re doing? You think I’m just going to stand back while you paw my girlfriend? I know your game, your brother did the same fucking thing to me and I’m not going to let it happen again. You even so much as look at her again, I’ll knock your fucking lights out.”
The threat triggers a rush of adrenaline and my body stiffens automatically. “That’s real big talk when you’ve got four guys standing behind you.”
“I don’t anyone else to kick your ass, Grey.”
“Really? Then why don’t you and I step outside for a second…”
“Stop it!” Kate moves around me to stand between Reed and I and uses her hands to push us apart. “Just stop it, you’re both being idiots.”
“Were you going to fuck him tonight, Kate?”
“No! Jesus, Carter. We’re friends. We’re just friends. You need to calm down.”
“And you need to go get your ass in the car.”
“I don’t think so,” I say, reaching out to grab Kate’s wrist. “She’s not going anywhere with you.”
“Kate, he smells like the inside of a whiskey bottle. I’m not letting you get into a car with him.”
“I’m not an idiot, Elliot. You don’t have to babysit me. Carter, I’m going to call a cab to take us home. Go wait for me outside.”
Reed’s nostrils flair but his body seems to relax as he takes a step back and shoots a death glare at me. “You’re on my list, Grey. Watch yourself.”
I snort, but Kate pushes him away before I can say anything more. My eyes follow them through the crowd as they make their way outside, clearly arguing, and not going after them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every instinct I have tells me not to let her go with him, to get her as far away from him as possible, but I don’t get to make that decision for her. If she had said no and he tried to force her to leave with him, that would be a different story. But she didn’t say no. She’s leading him out as much as he’s leading her.
Kate’s never been the damsel in distress type.
I press my lips together in frustration, then pull out my phone and find Christian’s name in my contacts. He doesn’t answer when I call, so I have to settle for a text message.
Kate and Reed are on their way back. If Kate doesn’t come home in the next thirty minutes, call me.
A minute passes, but there’s no response. I sit at the table, order another beer, and wait, deciding if I don’t hear back from Christian at all, I’ll go to Kate’s house myself. But as the twenty-ninth minute of my allotted thirty minute time frame rolls past, my phone buzzes on the table. It’s Christian.
Sorry, I just saw this. They got home about twenty minutes ago. You okay?
I let out a long breath, but I’m not sure if it’s relief or disappointment I feel. Christian is prone to overreacting, so if there was anything at all for me to worry about, he’d tell me. But having nothing to worry about means nothing will change, and having tonight with Kate has shown me just how much I want it to.
I was fooling myself with Gia. As much as it makes me sick to admit, I was using her to replace Kate and the resentment that built up between us had nothing to do with that Gresham guy or even tension between her and my family. It was because she couldn’t fill the Kate sized void in my life. Does Reed fill the void I’ve left in hers?
I shake my head, disgusted.
How could someone who would act like that make her happy, anyway? What is he possibly giving her that I didn’t?
Maybe he’s promised her the things I didn’t. After all, she made it clear to me last fall, marriage is her deal breaker. If I won’t propose, she would never be mine anyway. But if I propose…
I take another drink from my bottle and once again force myself to imagine my life as a husband and a father, but any great fantasy I’m able to conjure is replaced instantly by memories of the stupid, petty arguments my parents used to have when they thought we were asleep. Or even the nights they stayed up wondering where Christian was, only to get a call from the juvenile detention center late in the night telling them he’d been picked up for fighting and was charged with a M.I.C. After they brought him home, my dad would get so angry he’d practically fly off the handle but my mother was so protective over Christian that the two of them would always end up in a blow out and end up sleeping in separate rooms and not talking for days. My dad sacrificed a lot for our family, never did a lot of the things he dreamed of doing, and my mom has made herself so much smaller than she was capable of being for the sake of myself, Christian, and Mia. I don’t want to do that to Kate. I don’t want to do that to myself.
And I have very clear memories of my mother’s face when she found out about Christian and Elena, and about Mia working in that club downtown. I can still picture the pain in her eyes so clearly that thinking of it now is just as devastating as it was then. I couldn’t handle that. Nor could I handle the battle my father went through in both of the resulting cases. I’ve never been so drained as I was after the whole trial ordeal when I had to fight tooth and nail every single day to keep my family from disintegrating, and always, always, coming up short. I can’t do that again. I don’t want more people to have to fight for. I’m so tired of fighting…
No, I don’t want marriage. I don’t want kids.
But it doesn’t make me want Kate any less. She’s my girl. She’s the one I’m supposed to be with. She’s the only girl who has ever made me feel like I’m doing something right, and I don’t want anyone else. I want her forever, and I would give her forever. So why does she need the stupid piece of paper? Why do we have to change what we had? She’s enough. Aren’t I?
With a sigh, I drain my bottle and pick up my phone again, ignoring the antagonizing looks I’m still getting from Carter’s friends from across the bar.
I’m fine. Just wanted to make sure she got home alright. See you tomorrow.