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I swallow thickly, wondering if sadness is a side effect of alcohol.

I run my hand over my hair, trying to tame it. I haven’t checked my makeup but since the woman facing me is so perfect, I wish I had.

The woman follows him to his feet, asking curiously, “Are we having a second, Tah?”

“She’s a friend. Her boyfriend asked me to bring her home when she passed out in the booth and he wanted to stay for another round.”

I search my memory to confirm his explanation, but it’s blank. But that same little feeling of rejection that I sometimes get from my parents, as if I’m not good enough to waste time on, drops like a dull little stone in my gut.

“I’m ready to go to my villa,” I whisper.

Tahoe briskly reaches out to the coffee table for his cell phone and watch. “I’ll take you.”

“I’ll go too,” the girl chirps.

The redhead walks with us down the sand, and although I try to hang back, Tahoe won’t let me. He wraps a gentle arm around my waist to keep me steady. I keep looking at his face as he stares down at me too. His blue eyes are clear, so I guess he’s not drunk, but he looks intensely thoughtful. His face is bronzed by the sun, and I can’t stop staring at how the scruff of his beard gives him an even manlier look.

The redhead puts her hand on his other shoulder. “So how did you two meet?” she asks, trying to get his attention.

“Long time ago,” Tahoe says.

“We met through the Saints,” I say.

I unwind myself from his comforting arms and point to my villa. “This is me.”

“I’ll walk you.” He holds my waist again and leads me up to the terrace doors. I check to see that they’re unlocked, and they are. I slide one open only an inch, then whirl around and hear myself slurredly beg him, “Stay. Stay and talk to me.”

He looks at me in the moonlight, studying my face as if I just punched him.

I laugh, then shake my head. “I’m sorry, I’m…drunk. I think.”

He leans me against the window firmly, raising his brows in warning. “Let me let her in the room. I’ll meet you out here, all right?”

I nod happily.

I watch him walk the redhead back down the beach, noticing the woman is annoyed.

It feels like forever until he comes back. Our eyes hold in silence. He hands me a bottle of water he seems to have fetched from his villa, and I appreciate him not saying anything about my drunkenness. I appreciate him knowing I’m not too proud of my current situation. I sit in a chaise, and he sits down next to me, and I take a sip, then stare at my feet and all the specks of sands that got into my sandals.

I’m so selfish, I realize. I’m so selfish to ask him to stay when he clearly had something better to do. Someone else to do. “I just sometimes want to be with you. I’m sorry,” I blurt out.

“Hey,” he laughs. “Don’t apologize. I like it best when I’m with you. Come here. Have some more water. It will help with tomorrow’s headache.” He unscrews the water bottle for me to drink, but I decline.

“No. No. I just…I thought you were mad at me.”

“I’m not mad.”

“Distant. I don’t like it. I couldn’t…” I wave my hands and shake my head. “I couldn’t breathe right when I felt you were being distant.”

“You couldn’t breathe right?” he asks roughly. “Woman, I thought I was hit by a bulldozer.”

“Why?”

“Why? Regina.” He laughs again gruffly, then glares out at the sea before he turns back to me. “I know every delineation of your curves by memory. I know your every smile, every tiny shade in your eyes. I know when you’re happy and when you’re sad and when you’re feeling sexy. I see you with that guy and you’re none of that, you’re none of that with him and it frustrates the shit out of me.”

“I’m trying, Tahoe!”

“You shouldn’t have to try. It’s either there or it isn’t.” He takes my hand and laces his fingers through mine, fire streaks through my whole body. “It’s there or it isn’t.” He eases his hand away, and I’m drunk enough that I’m not thinking right. But I still say, “Don’t sleep with her tonight. Are you going to sleep with her tonight, Tahoe?”

“Yes, Regina, I’m going to sleep with her tonight.”

I want to scream, Why? What does she have that I don’t? What do they all have that I don’t?

Instead I stand up and shove him. Hard. He doesn’t budge.

He slowly comes to his feet and watches me with a puzzled frown, and when I’m tired of lifting my arms and pushing the unmovable mass that is Tahoe, I sigh. Too weak, I let him carry me inside and tuck me into bed.

HUNG OVER

I wake up certain that I dreamed the night before, uncertain of what really happened and what didn’t. Whether Tahoe kissed my cheek or my chin or my nose before he finally went to his villa. And whether it was, in fact, sex noises I heard coming through the thin walls. Or if my mind is confusing the noises for the sounds of Trent stumbling back from the club about the same time the sun rose.

The hangover beats heavy in my brain as I shove all my things into my suitcase and hurry to make it to the airport. Trent needed to work, so last night was our last night hanging out with everybody. Our flight leaves early today. Everyone is still snoozing by the time Trent and I call a cab to take us to the airport.

We fly back to Chicago with the kind of silence that comes after a very intense weekend, and although he declares this weekend was his best trip ever, I can’t summon the enthusiasm to say the same.

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