“Don’t you have to get back to school, Liz?” I asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
“I thought you had an assignment to do?” I communicated much with my eyes.
She ignored it all. “Nope.”
“Lizzy.” I forced her name out through gritted teeth.
“Ladies, ladies,” Mal said, sensing the rising hostilities. “We got a problem here?”
A woman who’d been hanging with the record company executives approached, her high-heeled boots tapping across the floor. Her smile was tentative. The woman was gorgeous, br**sts about a billion times the size of mine (granted, not hard to do) and blond hair in a cool pixie cut. “Mal?”
He turned and his entire face lit up at the sight of the girl. My insides knotted. Yes, fine. I might have been a bit jealous.
“Ainslie, when did you arrive? Looking good.” He sounded super happy. They hugged. Then they hugged some more. The girl giggled and sighed, pressing herself against him. Holy shit, was that bitch actually feeling up my fake boyfriend in front of me? She was practically humping his leg. Given the dynamic between the two, there could be no doubting what their relationship was about. I’d finally met one of Mal’s f**k buddies. It had to happen. Surprise was stupid and I had no real right to hurt feelings. Pity that didn’t make the pain disappear.
I could feel the other women’s eyes on me, boring holes into my skull. No way was I returning their stares. Mal had obviously found someone to scratch his itch. Meanwhile, my face was heating up. The entire scene was f**king horrible and embarrassing.
“Hey, Mal,” said Lizzy, interrupting the lovers’ reunion. “Should we invite Anne’s friend Reece along to eat? He often does stuff with us on Sundays.”
Oh the wonderful loyal little shit stirrer. I appreciated the thought, but her intentions were misplaced. I didn’t need protecting.
“I think Reece said he’d be busy,” I said.
My sister played the wide-eyed innocent so well. “No, really? Why don’t you give him a call and check, Anne?”
I shook my head. “Maybe another–”
“Fuck no, Lizzy. I mean, I don’t think there’ll be room.” Mal’s arms remained around the woman. Then he noticed the faces of his friends, the disapproving and the curious both. For a moment he looked confused, blinking, his forehead creased. Then he stepped back from her, shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. Talk about compromised. Our fake relationship had entirely slipped his mind. His Chucks shifted restlessly.
Also, apparently the thought of making Reece jealous no longer appealed to him. But I hadn’t wanted to call Reece either. I’d been perfectly happy as things were. Either way, right now, it didn’t much matter. This woman had changed everything.
Ainslie put a hand on his arm. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s cool,” I said, not on the verge of tears. The air was just really dusty in the old building. “Why don’t you go for a drink with your friend and catch up?”
“I thought we were gonna do something,” he said.
“Yeah, but …”
Eyes guarded, Mal looked at me. Then he looked right through me. I wasn’t even there. Whatever he was thinking, it didn’t show on his face. It couldn’t be easy for someone who was used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it to back down from an obvious offer of sex. Let’s be honest, his impulse control was limited at best.
“I’m sorry, you are?” Ainslie asked. Perfectly polite, I couldn’t fault the woman’s manners.
“Ainslie, this is Mal’s new girlfriend, Anne. Anne, this is Ainslie.” Fucking great, even Ev knew her. This one was a regular. What had happened to never seeing him with the same woman twice?
“Girlfriend?” Ainslie laughed uncertainly, eyes darting around the group. No one laughed with her. Christ on a crutch, this was awkward.
Mal stepped closer. “I was just saying hi to a friend. What’s the big deal?”
“There isn’t one. It’s fine.”
“Yeah, there obviously is or you wouldn’t be looking at me like that,” he said, his tone fierce and pissed off. Like I was inconveniencing him or something.
“You need to not talk to me in that tone of voice,” I said. “Especially not in front of other people. Go out with your friend, have a nice time. We can discuss this later.”
“We can, huh?”
Ainslie took a big step back. Poor woman.
But Mal looked around the group, pissed and confused. A vein looked about ready to pop in his neck. “Fuck it.”
He turned and strode back toward the stage, barking an order for sticks at one of the roadies. Soon the pounding of drums once again filled the warehouse. Everyone was looking somewhere else. What a clusterfuck.
Davie looked to Jimmy. His brother nodded, wandering off also in the direction of the stage. Ben followed while Ainslie just sort of drifted off back to the record company people.
“Crap, I forgot.” Ev grabbed at her head dramatically as if struck by a sudden thought. “We women all have to go meet Lauren. Girl’s night out.”
“You do?” asked David.
“Yep.” She gave him a piercing look. “We’re starting early.”
He got the drift. “Right. Yeah.”
I don’t remember much about us leaving. Between Ev and Lizzy, I was hustled out of there damn fast to a big black Escalade waiting outside. The beefy, bald man standing beside it was strangely familiar.
“Hi,” I said. “Didn’t you put the bolt on my door the other day?”
“That’s Sam. Sam, this is Anne. She’s one of us.” Ev slid into the backseat and buckled up, while Lizzy jumped in the front. She bounced her butt up and down on the plush leather. It was good to know someone was enjoying the lap of luxury. I could have given two shits if we were in some smelly old cab.
“Lovely to meet you, ma’am,” said Sam. “Good to see you as always, Mrs. Ferris.”
I climbed in and buckled up.
“I don’t understand,” said Lizzy.
“About?” I asked.
Lizzy twisted in her seat so she could see me. “This. He makes you happier than I’ve ever seen. It’s like you’re a different person. He looks at you like you invented whipped cream. Now this. I don’t understand.”
I shrugged trying my best to keep my face calm, neutral. “Whirlwind romance. Easy come, easy go.”
“I’m going to need a rusty shovel, Sam,” said Ev.
“I’ll get right on that, Mrs. Ferris.” He pulled out of the parking lot.
“Excellent. We better go pick up Lauren. She’ll want to be included in this.”
“And what is this?” I asked. “We’re not really doing girl’s night out are we?”
Her face let me know that hell yes we were.
“You know, I’m not really in the mood right now. But that’s very sweet of you.”
“Sam?” Ev sang out almost merrily.
“Yes, Mrs. Ferris?”
“If I needed your help kidnapping our Anne here and making her drink with me, would that be a problem?”
“Of course not, Mrs. Ferris. Anything for you.”
“You sweet dear man,” she cooed. “You know he used to be a navy seal. I wouldn’t mess with him, but you do whatever you feel you need to, Anne.”
“You’re kind of evil when you get going.” I stared out the window, letting the scenery slip by.
Ev held her peace. For all of a moment. “I don’t know what the hell Mal was thinking back there letting that skank climb all over him.”
Lizzy snorted. “I’m not sure he was thinking.”
Me, neither. But I didn’t say that.
The truth was, Mal and I might have broken up. Our fake relationship could be over. Who knew? What a truly god-awful horrible f**king notion. I blinked profusely. Must have had something in my eye. Honestly, I wasn’t the crying type. So my crush had been crushed. Life goes on. Whatever Lizzy knew, or thought she knew, she wouldn’t say a word. And me, I had no comment to make on the subject.
Though, this was exactly why getting overly attached to people wasn’t smart. If there was a chance their absence would make things heartrending, walk away. No one should have the power to make you want to throw some manic-depressive episode and swallow a truckload of gin (my mom’s favorite method for dealing with such disappointments). I guess you needed to learn these lessons over sometimes. Well, I had it now. All good.
Mal didn’t come home Sunday night. Not that my apartment was home, but you know what I mean.
Despite the drinks poured into me, I didn’t get much sleep.
By the time I fired off the fifth text for the day, lunchtime had come and gone.
Anne: I can drop your stuff at David & Ev’s if you want. Just let me know.
Like the previous ones, this text garnered no response. Zip. Nada. Nothing. I couldn’t help myself. I had to try again.
Anne: I hope we can still be friends.
The minute I sent it regret swamped me. It was such a dumb-ass standard boring thing to say. Why didn’t smartphones come with an “undo” button? Now that would be an app worth having. I should’ve tried to be more original. Maybe if I’d been funny about it, thrown in something witty about his drum kit or something, he’d respond. But again I got nothing.
“Still texting him?” asked Reece from where he was busy reshuffling books in the action/adventure section.
“No response yet?”
Worst Monday ever. I’d managed to talk Reece into letting me tidy up out back all morning, thus eliminating any need for conversation. With only two, maybe three, hours of sleep under my belt, I wasn’t human. Not really. I was a nasty, bitchy, ball of heartache. Had Ainslie soothed Mal’s man pain? Images of them entangled filled my head. I’d seen almost all of his body, so the details were vivid.
Yes, my delicate little feelings had been well and truly hurt. Thank God Mal left when he did. Any more time together and I’d have become completely devastated when he went on tour.
Still nothing from my cell. I checked it twice just to be sure.
He was right on with the Fatal Attraction. So far I’d only stalked him via text, though. Lucky he’d kept his dick in his pants. His mere presence had inspired me enough. The thought that I might lose him entirely made me want to both burst into tears and break shit (preferably over his head). Anger and sadness owned me.
How many days had it been since I met him? Not many.
“What did you say?” asked Reece, casting a nervous eye toward the hipster couple browsing in home renovation.
Crap. “Nothing. Nothing. Sorry.”
Reece approached the counter. I kept pounding on the computer keyboard regardless, pretending to process invoices. Maybe if I ignored him he’d go away. A couple of days, and I’d be fine again. Today, however, I kind of needed some space. I didn’t want to hear the details about whoever my boss banged over the weekend. Please understand, I wasn’t jealous, for once. Or was it twice, now? My crush on Reece had mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) disappeared. Mal Ericson fever was a potent thing.
“You’re really upset about this guy, aren’t you?” he asked, sounding like the concept defied logic.
“I don’t really want to talk about it, Reece.”
“Listen.” He sighed, bracing his hands on the counter. “How about I take you out tonight for a few drinks? There’s a new bar down in Chinatown. We can check it out.”