“You knew this would be hard,” Ansel reminds Harlow.
“Of course I am losing it!” Harlow yells. “Everyone wants to bang my husband!”
A group of people nearby look over at us, but Harlow just scowls at them until they turn back toward the bar.
Finn raises his bottle to me.
Mia swallows a sip of her drink and nods. “Me either.”
“I like you, Finn,” Oliver says, “but I also don’t want to bang you.”
Slowly, slowly, the tension dissolves from our table and I nearly want to sing. The sound of Oliver’s voice, so deep, so perfectly curled, makes my skin hum.
“I’d bang him.” Not-Joe speaks this at his phone screen still playing cow videos.
We all stare for a beat before deciding in unison to move on.
“Harlow,” Ansel begins, “you’ve married one of the three most loyal men alive. I bang Mia. Finn bangs Harlow. Oliver bangs Lola. It is the way of things.”
My heart comes to a screeching halt, and beside me, Oliver goes completely still.
“Hey!” London says, feigning insult at this exclusion.
So far, we’re the only ones to notice the slip. Oliver begins slowly tearing his napkin apart.
London looks over at Not-Joe and then laughs, shaking her head. “Is it weird to say I’m not sure I could handle him in bed?”
Silence has spread like a slow, awkward game of Telephone around the table, first with Finn looking across at us, then Mia, then Harlow. Ansel’s own words finally seem to sink in and he wipes a hand across his mouth. “Merde. I didn’t mean—”
“It’s okay,” Oliver interrupts, voice tight. “This is my cue to hit the head.”
He apologizes under his breath, wincing because I have to get up to let him out of the booth, and then slips past me. His hand accidentally brushes mine and he jerks away, apologizing again.
We watch him leave and once he’s out of sight, I bend, resting my forehead in my hands. “Why am I here? I’m ruining his night.”
“No,” I tell him. “I shouldn’t have come. He would be having a good time if I wasn’t here.”
“That’s not true,” Finn says firmly. “You guys need to figure this out. This is dumb as fuck.”
“The way he looks at you,” Mia whispers. “It’s like he’s trying to light a fire under your skin.”
“He always did that,” Harlow says, and then takes a drink of her wine. “Looked at you like if he stared hard enough you could hear each other’s thoughts and wouldn’t have to say them out loud. Like he wanted to be in your mind, wanted you in his.”
“Didn’t what?” Not-Joe asks, looking up from his phone.
“I was telling Lola that Oliver always looked at her like he wanted to absorb her.”
“Not absorb her,” Not-Joe corrects gently. “He just wanted to get a piece of her no one else got. And he does, clearly.” He lifts his chin to me as proof. I catch it right when I turn back to look at him from where I’ve been staring, waiting for Oliver to return..
We all fall into contemplative silence, sort of stunned by this.
“I mean he’s not Rogue or anything,” Not-Joe mumbles, lifting a hand to touch Mia’s arm, and dramatically pretending to absorb her strength a la Rogue before absently turning back to his phone. “So tell him that he has a piece of you. Fix whatever broke.”
Ansel and Finn are staring at where they fidget with their coasters, but Mia, Harlow, and London are all staring right at me.
“I agree with Not-Joe, which is . . . new,” Mia says, offering an apologetic wince. “You need to do something. You’re both miserable. Go talk to him. Tell him how you feel, even if it’s messy.”
“It’s probably not the best time,” I say. I cannot imagine anything I’d like less than talking to Oliver at a bar about what I did, and about his dinner with Allison. Just the thought of having that conversation in public turns my stomach into a sour knot.
I look over to the bathrooms, wanting to see Oliver emerge and also dreading the way it will make me feel when he does. But something else snags my attention . . . a face I haven’t seen in forever.
It takes my brain several seconds before I realize who I’m seeing. I look over at Harlow: she’s smiling at something Finn said. I look more carefully at Mia: she’s reading something London has shown her on her phone. But Ansel’s attention is moving between my face and the person I’ve spotted over by the bar. Ansel knows something is up . . . he just doesn’t know why my eyes have gone wide. Because he wouldn’t necessarily recognize Luke Sutter.
From across the room, Luke sees me first, and his face falls. I can almost feel the way he doesn’t want to look at the rest of the table, doesn’t want to know. But he can’t help it: his eyes slide around the curved booth, tripping unseeing over Not-Joe, London, Harlow, Finn . . . eventually landing on Mia. For a second, the duration of a heartbeat, I see the life being punched out of him.
“Who is that?” Oliver asks as he returns to the table, jealousy making his voice sharp.