“Hey, you.” I smile at him as I slip into the booth.
“Hey,yourself, sweaty McGee. Been at the cross-fit gym?”
“I was at practice and don’t be mean.”
“Aw, I’m sorry,” he says, sticking his bottom lip out in a mock pout. “How’s the music biz?”
I shrug as the server comes over, putting our favorite drinks in front of us automatically and taking our food orders. As she walks away, I tell Stuart about my brother’s call. His eyebrows raise high on his head as I tell him we have a chance to make music for one of Kit’s films.
“That is huge. Holy shit, Billie. You’re going to do it, right?”
“Kit wasn’t even supposed to know.”
“Well, how did he find out?”
“Calum Lefleur,” I grind out, as if his name is a dirty word.
“A hockey player has what to do with this?” Stuart asks, picking at the label on his beer bottle.
“Cal, as you know, has been volunteering guitar lessons at the club.”
“And we became…friends.”
The word hangs there between us. Stuart won’t look at me when he repeats, flatly, “Friends.”
“For the most part, though we slept together a couple of times. It’s nothing serious.” I shrug for effect.
Stuart tips his bottle back, taking a long drink before setting the drink back down hard enough to give away his feelings.
“It’s nothing serious,” I repeat. “It started out kind of random. Scratching an itch. He’s awkward but cute, and I had him pretend to be my boyfriend for my dad’s party, just to get my mom off my back.”
I’m talking too much. Also, it’s a dead giveaway for the mixed bag of feelings I’m toting around now that I know Cal has (had?)—but who really knows—a long-time girlfriend. Is he that clueless about women? Can he not see how deceived I feel?Hurt even?I’ve tried not to overthink things and to put Cal back on the work-only shelf, but it’s not been easy. I really liked him too. Enjoyed his company. Gah!
Stuart continues to stare at his beer bottle. “Scratching an itch.” His tone is dead.
“I’m in love with you,” he blurts.
A heartbeat passes, and then I answer quietly, “I know.”
“You know? And you sit here telling me about your random hookup with a dumbass hockey player? You chose to take him to your parents’ instead of me?”
“First off, he’snota dumbass. And second, if I’d taken you, you’d have thought it was a big thing. I needed someone who knew it wasn’t real.”
His mouth opens, and he sits back as if he’s been slapped. “That was not fair.”
“I’m sorry,” I say quickly, realizing how much that must’ve hurt him. “I just mean—”
“I know what you mean, Billie. You mean that I’m the sad puppy dog following you around since high school, hoping you’ll pay attention to me. And picking me, even for something as stupid as a family gathering, means paying enough attention to get my hopes up.”
“That’s not true,” I insist. “I care about you, Stu, you’re my best friend.”
“Friend zone. Gotcha.”