Heather jumped in.
“It’s a testament to what a great guy Drew is that we all still like him. And one another. He obviously only dates great women.” She stood up and refilled everyone’s sangria cups.
“So what did you put in that sangria anyway?” she asked. The subject changed to cocktail recipes. Alexa did her best to chime in with her favorites as her mind was swirling.
Maybe she didn’t want to get those answers from Drew after all.
Drew almost went into the house to find Alexa at least three times and stopped himself each time. Finally, he saw her walking across the lawn with Lucy and Robin.
He and Kat wandered over to them. When he put his hand on the small of her back, she jumped.
“Hey, it’s just me.” She’d probably been on edge from Mike irritating her earlier. “You having fun?”
“Yeah.” She took a step away from him and looked at the group around them. “It’s great.”
She reached her hand out to Kat, that smile from the wedding on her face again.
“Hi, I’m Alexa.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Drew jumped in. “Kat, this is Alexa. She’s here visiting this weekend. Alexa, this is Kat. She’s also a doctor, and a sometime running buddy of mine.”
“Great. So nice to meet you, Kat!” Alexa took another sip of her drink and turned back to Lucy and Robin.
Was something wrong? It felt like something was wrong.
“What were you ladies up to inside for so long?” Brendan asked as he came up to the group.
Robin, Lucy, and Alexa all laughed. Alexa was looking at them, not at him. Why wasn’t she sharing this laughter with him?
“Oh, just chatting,” Lucy said. “Well, drinking and chatting, anyway.” She turned to Alexa. “Oh God, Alexa, I forgot to tell you that story about how two of my students got arrested—it tested every instinct I had when they told me about it, because I wanted to laugh so hard but I knew I shouldn’t.”
As Lucy went on to tell a long story about her students and a cemetery and getting chased by security guards into blackberry bushes, Drew watched Alexa. She was totally relaxed with the other women, smiling and laughing without that fake smile that he hated on her face. That smile had been his sign to come over when she was talking to Mike.
But she still had that tense look around her eyes. When he touched her arm, she turned toward him, but her body was stiff.
“Everything okay?” he said in a low voice.
She flashed a smile, but it didn’t reassure him. It didn’t have that glitter of joy hovering behind her eyes like her real smiles usually did.
“Fine,” she said. “Want to get me more sangria?”
When he came back with the sangria, he brought a plate of chips and guacamole for them to share. This time when he joined the group he slid an arm around her waist, but she stepped away from him.
“Oh look, Heather’s bringing out the cupcakes. Let me go see if she needs help.”
So she walked off to help Heather with the cupcakes, leaving him with one arm empty, and one hand weighed down with a full plate of chips.
“Those for me?” Carlos asked from behind him.
“Hey, man, when’d you get here?”
Carlos reached for a handful of his chips.
“Just now. Why are you looking so forlorn? Where’s Alexa?”
He gestured with his empty hand.
“She’s over there, asshole. Helping Heather do something with cupcakes . . .” He paused as he saw Alexa and Heather talking to three men he didn’t know. “I guess Heather introduced her to some more people.”
Carlos looked at him for a long moment but just nodded.
“Cool, I’ll go say hi. Where are the drinks?”
Drew pointed and went back to munching on chips and listening to Lucy and Brendan talk about surfing. Forlorn? He wasn’t forlorn. It was possible he would prefer Alexa to be standing next to him than over on the other side of the party talking to three strange men, but he wasn’t forlorn.
He watched Carlos approach her group and tap her on the shoulder. Alexa threw her arms around Carlos and beamed her hundred-watt smile at him and absorbed him in her cozy little group. Drew waited for her to look around for him. She was probably just waiting to catch his eye to signal to him to come join them. But she didn’t turn her head.
Alexa was glad she hadn’t tried to have the Talk with Drew before coming to the party. She would have made some humiliating speech about how she felt about him and how she wanted a relationship with him, and he would have looked at her with pity in his eyes.
She’d always known what the deal was. That was the worst part. She’d known from the beginning who and what he was—he’d told her so. What did she think, someone like her was going to change him?
She kept trying to snap out of it, to give herself a mental pep talk. But every time she caught a glimpse of Drew standing next to Kat, his hot blond “running buddy,” she needed more sangria to wash down the bitter taste of shame.
Thank God at least no one knew. She hadn’t told Drew how she felt, and she was almost certain she’d managed to keep her face relaxed and jokey in the kitchen with the other women. She wouldn’t be able to handle their sympathy on top of the sadness that she knew was hovering in the back of her eyes.
It would be so much easier if she could be mad at Drew. But Drew had done nothing wrong. He’d been perfectly honest with her the whole time. It was her own fault for making up stories in her head about what it meant that he looked at her this way or touched her that way or had that tone in his voice when he talked to her.
Twenty-four hours until her plane left LAX. She could keep pushing that sadness in its little box for twenty-four hours until she’d be able to let it out.
She kept unconsciously looking around the party for a friendly face. Someone familiar, who she could relax around, not be so on with, just be herself. Someone who she didn’t have to smile and fake it with. But the only person like that was Drew, and looking at him hurt now.
After another glass of sangria, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned.
“Carlos!” Finally, someone she’d known more than an hour. “I was hoping you were going to be here. How’ve you been?” She hugged him, not sure if the tears that shot to her eyes during the hug were because she was glad to see him, or because of the sangria. Probably a little of both. At least she’d get to say good-bye to Carlos. He’d been so nice to her.
“Great.” He toasted her plastic cup with his bottle of beer, his arm slung around her shoulder. “I knew you’d be here, Drew’s found ways to mention you all week.”
She looked down at her cup. Sure he had.
Drew came over to join their group, but this time she saw him coming, so she could dodge his touch without being obvious about it. She couldn’t handle that warm, firm touch on her back or around her waist right now. She’d taken such comfort in it, thought it meant so much.
But it had turned out to mean nothing at all. Instead of soothing her, now it made her angry. Mostly at herself.
She left Drew and Carlos behind and walked with Lucy to get more of the white sangria. Intellectually, she knew that she should probably stop drinking so much, but following Lucy was a good way to escape. As was the sangria itself.
Was it his imagination that Alexa was avoiding him? Probably. It was probably his imagination. But the thing was, for the past hour, she’d walked around with Heather and Emma, and Robin and Lucy, and chatted with a whole group of guys he’d never met. Every time he walked up to her, she’d moved when he’d touched her and had some reason to walk away after a minute or so.
He left her alone for a while and talked to other people, but he was always aware of where she was and who she was talking to. He told himself it was just so he could rescue her from Mike if necessary. Even in his head he knew that wasn’t true.
Finally, he saw her standing alone over by the drinks table and walked toward her, determined to figure out what was wrong. Before he could get there, Carlos came up to her, threw an arm around her, and said something in her ear that made her laugh so hard he could hear it from across the backyard. When he reached the two of them, they were both still giggling.