“Hey guys, having fun over here?” He reached for Alexa’s hand, but she switched her drink from her left to right. She’d looked in his direction but turned back to Carlos, the smile still on her face but no longer in her eyes.
Carlos grinned at him, but was that guilt in his face? What was Carlos whispering to his girlfriend about, anyway?
“Yeah, we were just talking . . . about the party,” Carlos said, flashing his eyes back toward Alexa. They shared a grin that made Drew feel like a third wheel.
“You two are looking kind of cozy. What are you, planning your escape so you can be alone together?” Drew joked. Except somehow it didn’t really come out like a joke.
Alexa looked straight at him for what felt like the first time that afternoon.
“Was that some kind of accusation? Because it felt like it.”
Carlos’s arm dropped from around Alexa’s shoulders. Drew felt a flash of anger that it had been there in the first place, especially when she hadn’t wanted him to touch her all day.
“Looks like I struck a nerve.” Why did he even say that? He didn’t really believe something was going on with Carlos and Alexa . . . did he?
“I don’t know, Drew,” Alexa shot back. “You planning your escape from me so you can figure out which of the women here will be your new ‘friend’? I can go home now so you don’t have an inconvenient sandwich at this buffet.”
Okay, something was definitely wrong.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Drew said.
Alexa’s lips curved into what some people might think was a smile.
“Pretty much exactly what I said.” She took the last sip of her drink and put it down. “Wait, you probably don’t remember—in this instance, the sandwich and the buffet are a metaphor for—”
“I know what it’s a fucking metaphor for, Alexa. I remember. What’s your problem today?”
“Good luck with this,” Carlos muttered from behind him as he backed away.
“What’s my problem today?” Alexa wasn’t even pretending to smile anymore. “My problem is that I’m tired of meeting all of your perfectly nice friends who are checking my forehead for my Drew Nichols expiration date. It was cute at the wedding, but it’s not fun or funny for me anymore, especially since I have a strong feeling that my expiration date is July 5th.”
He grabbed her hand hard enough that she couldn’t pull away and marched her into Heather’s house and up the stairs. He closed the door once they got inside Heather’s bedroom.
“Okay, now can we please talk about this without an audience?” The walk up the stairs had calmed him down. “What’s going on here? I was just kidding about the Carlos thing. I shouldn’t have said that.”
She laughed. Her laugh didn’t sound like Alexa’s laugh.
“What would it matter to you anyway if I was fucking Carlos? Like you would care.”
Whoa, where had that come from?
“What the fuck, Alexa? You know that’s not true. Come on, what happened? What changed between now and this morning?” He took a step toward her and she backed away.
“Nothing you need to worry about, Drew. Go back outside, hang out with your friend Kat. I can occupy myself.”
His shoulders relaxed. She was jealous! He could fix this; it was going to be okay.
“Is that what this is about? Monroe, nothing is going on between me and Kat—we’re just friends.” Something suddenly occurred to him. “I should have told you—I used to date Robin . . . and Emma. Did they tell you that? Were they weird to you? Is that why you’re mad?”
Alexa threw up her hands.
“No, Drew, everyone here is great. The women are nice and collegial, all welcoming me to the club of people who have had their month or so of sleeping with the great Drew Nichols, with that slight pity in their eyes when they look at me because they know what’s coming. The men all look me up and down like they’re ready to jump me as soon as you’re done with me, because they assume there must be something good in there if I’m worthy of you. Same as it’s ever been since the wedding, honestly.”
He still didn’t understand what was wrong. Maybe he was never going to understand women.
“Why do you keep bringing up the wedding? I thought everything was fine at the wedding. Better than fine.”
She took a step toward him. Finally, she wasn’t backing away anymore.
“Everything was fine at the wedding because the wedding wasn’t real! I’d met you two days before, I didn’t know you, I didn’t know anything about you, and I didn’t care about you then.”
He smiled and reached for her.
“Does that mean you care about me now?”
She dodged his hand and stepped around him toward the bedroom door.
“Fuck you, Drew.”
Apparently, that had been the wrong thing to say.
“No, wait, Alexa. I didn’t . . . I don’t understand. Please don’t leave.” He needed to fix this. He didn’t want her to be mad. He didn’t want this to be over.
Her hand dropped from the doorknob, but her back was still to him. He had to say something to get her to turn around. Maybe honesty would work.
“What do you mean the wedding wasn’t real? It felt real to me.” It had. From the moment he’d first touched her, it had felt like she’d belonged there by his side, smiling at him, joking with him, confiding in him, listening to him, being silent with him. Everything about this had felt real from the beginning, even when he barely knew her.
Now that he really knew her, and she knew him, it felt more than real. It felt like his life finally made sense.
He’d tried to pretend to himself all week that he would end things with her after this weekend, but he’d known as soon as he saw her at the airport that that wasn’t true. Not only that he wouldn’t, but he couldn’t.
She turned around, and for a minute he felt like he’d said the right thing. That was, until he saw the look on her face.
“Here’s how I know the wedding wasn’t real, Drew. Because at the wedding, you called me your girlfriend. In real life, I’m nothing to you.”
He shook his head. She was so far from nothing.
“It is true! Since the wedding, I’ve been just Alexa, or sometimes ‘my friend Alexa,’ or occasionally dramatic pause Alexa. But never your girlfriend, because in real life, Drew Nichols doesn’t do girlfriends. Which is fine—that’s fine, at least you’re honest—but don’t try to pretend that I’m making this up right now.”
Oh, thank God, she could finally legitimately be mad at Drew. She’d felt guilty being mad at him earlier; it hadn’t been his fault that she had feelings for him, or that she’d wanted him to return those feelings so much she’d almost convinced herself that he did.
But it was his fault that he was now trying to act like he’d wanted her with him at the wedding for anything more than a shield. And it sure as hell was his fault he sounded so smug she’d admitted she cared about him.
He rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. Even after all of this, she had to fight to not reach up and touch it.
“Alexa, can we talk about this, please?”
She shook her head. The patented Drew breakup talk was the last thing she wanted right now.
“No need for a conversation. I know the drill.”
He stepped closer to her. She was annoyed that even in the midst of this fight they were never going to come back from, she just wanted to step into his arms and have him tell her everything was going to be okay.
“Come on, can you calm down for a minute and let me say something?”
That solved that problem. Nothing pissed her off more than a man telling her to calm down.
“I get it, my feelings aren’t worth anything to you, but I can be as un-calm as I want about this.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. I just want to . . .” He paused and put his hand on her arm. “I just want to explain.”
At his touch, tears shot to her eyes. She shook his arm off and turned away from him.