I shake my head. Right now, the only thing I’m allergic to is common sense.
For the next hour,we sit next to each other, and talk about places he’s visited. I devour the lobster pasta dish he put in front of me, and drink white wine. We fall into an easy conversation, and it’s like we’re two people who are catching up instead of a hot older man and a naïve but determined young woman who’s desperate for him to fuck her.
At this point, Alex and his betrayal is far at the back of my mind. With Alex, we’d chat and have a good time, but his father is completely different than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s in a league of his own. What I have to remind myself is that I don’t belong in that league.
“When did your birthday celebration idea start?” I ask, after sipping some wine.
He puts his plate to the side. “Ten years ago.”
“What inspired you to do that?” I insist. His birthday celebration rules just seem so specific. I wondered about what motivated those special rules, even as I worked with his assistant to organize his own upcoming party in Texas. But now I need to focus on what’s at hand.
I lean in, interested.
“I lost my best friend Will to cancer ten years ago. He died a week before his birthday,” he says, and there is an edgy, sad undertone in his voice. “I vowed to myself to enjoy my birthdays, at the very least. Going on a trip to a place I’ve never visited before, to recharge the batteries, then enjoy some company seems a like a good way to do it.”
I reach to his hand and squeeze it. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
He gives me a tap before he takes his hand away from mine. “Thanks. I work a lot, and tend to forget about everything else for the rest of the year. And travel for business a lot, too, as you know.”
“Yes. Though… why don’t you just invite someone you already know to your birthday celebrations? Why does it have to be a hired person?” I ask, then second guess my choice of words. I don’t want to imply he’s paying a sex worker. Nothing against sex workers, but Lily told me a bit about the rules about Sugar & Silk daddies and babies, and they seem to have a higher moral ground than I previously thought.
“It’s easier for everything to go without a hitch,” he says, then realizes the irony in his own answer, with me sitting next to him and not Sylvia. He chuckles, and I do the same. “That’s usually the case, anyway.”
I ignore his jab. “But you do date in Texas… right?” I say for the sake of saying. Of course he dates… I’ve seen pictures of him with hot women before.
“Yeah. But inviting anyone on a birthday trip seems more official and I don’t want to complicate things.”
A bit of disappointment squeezes my heart. Does he believe he doesn’t have enough to give to someone, emotionally? Or is it a fact he doesn’t have enough? The difference shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It’s like I want to reach out and give him a hug, which is crazy, because he doesn’t need my support. “So you’re a through and through bachelor.”
He frowns, maybe noticing the hint of accusation in my voice. “I’m open to meeting the right person.”
“What? That goes against everything else you just said. How can you make a meaningful connection with anyone when you don’t give it time or a real shot?” I ask, and the image of my mom crying in the kitchen flashes in my memory. Unlike Rhett, my mom always gave men way too many chances. But she also gave my stepdad a chance, and that relationship works. Where do I stand in all this? Did I give Alex a fair shot or did I hinder our relationship by not sleeping with him for six months? I bite my inner cheek, trying to focus on the present. Maybe a part of me always knew Alex wasn’t worth fully giving myself to. Maybe he wasn’t worth the chance.
“You’re quite the thinker, Riley,” he says, pulling from my thoughts.
“Me analyzing you is my way to repay you for this lovely dinner.”
“The way to repay me would be to go on your merry way tomorrow.”
I roll my eyes at him, but his words still sting. “You know what that’d mean, right?”
“Well, if you can’t help me out, I’d have to find someone who can?”
He narrows his eyes. “You’re not saying—”
“I kept my virginity long enough. I had this pragmatic idea that sex would get me confused, but it turns out, not having it is making me more confused. The only way for me to move forward and open myself to healthier relationships is letting go,” I say, and the idea makes sense. If Rhett doesn’t want me, does that mean I’m back to square one? I can’t date someone else for months without sex only to build that person up and be disappointed again.
Of course if Rhett helped me out, at least that part of the problem would be solved.
“Yes, but when you meet a nice guy—”
I swivel on the stool, my gaze wandering through the kitchen. “No. I thought I had, and that guy sucked. I don’t want to build expectations again. I want to be like most girls my age.”
“You aren’t like girls your age,” he says, cutting me off. I detect annoyance in his voice. “You’ll never be like the girls your age, Riley. Hell, you’re not like the girlsmyage,” he adds, his tone sounding almost… personal.
I suck in a breath, anxiety cooling my veins. What the hell does he mean, and why does he look so tense?