“Maybe it made logistical sense to him,” Chase said nonchalantly, taking a sip of his drink. He glanced at Katie uncertainly, like he and she were privy to something I wasn’t.
I shot him a polite smile. “Sorry, honey, is this your story or mine?”
His jaw worked. His eyes clouded with warning.
Don’t screw it up for me, they said. But I was past doing what was good for him—or for me. I was unhinged with vengeance. With bitterness that simmered in my body and rose up, spilling from my mouth after months of tears.
I turned back to Katie. “So I am dating this guy, and he gives me keys to his apartment. It’s his birthday. I’m thinking, I’m going to surprise him in the most romantic, sexy way . . .”
Katie laughed. “Snap, Chase, you may want to cover your ears for this next part.”
“Don’t worry. He knows this story well.” I speared him with a look, ready for my punchline. “I knew he went drinking with his friends. I waited for him in his bed, wearing nothing but the pair of Louboutin heels he bought for me earlier that month, a red thong, and a lacy black bra—you know, to match the heels—sprawled on his bed next to a white chocolate cake I made for him—”
“That made a mess all over his bed.” Chase cut into my speech, then quickly backpedaled when Katie turned her head to look at him. “I’m guessing. Who puts a cake on a fucking bed?”
“To make a long story short,” I bit out, drawing Katie’s attention back to me again, “it turned out he didn’t need my company after all, because he stumbled into the bedroom with a woman who wasn’t me. Oh, and had a lipstick stain on his dress shirt. How cliché, right?” I smiled bitterly, reaching for Chase’s whiskey—he was the only one who’d ordered a stiff drink—gulping it down in one go, and slamming it on the table. “How’s that for embarrassing?”
By the look on Katie’s face, horror mixed with pity and something else I struggled to read, I could tell that was not the kind of story she’d had in mind. Katie put her hand on mine, trying to catch her breath. I realized, albeit a little too late, that my eyes were glistening. I was holding back tears. But it made no sense at all. I was completely over Chase. I was.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, Maddie. There is just no excuse.”
“None,” I agreed cuttingly, gulping my breaths, one fat inhale after the other. “None whatsoever.”
“This is . . . heartbreaking,” Katie said quietly. “So my guess is you didn’t stick around beyond that.”
I snorted. “You’re guessing correctly. You know what they say—once a cheater, always a cheater.”
“That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard,” Chase interjected, signaling the waiter to refill his drink with a wave of his hand. “That’s like saying that anyone who is involved in accidental manslaughter is a serial killer.”
“Cheating is not accidental,” I pointed out. “It’s plain selfish.”
“There are two sides to every story,” Chase bit back, color staining his chiseled cheekbones. “Maybe if you bothered talking to the guy—”
“He seemed preoccupied with someone else at the time.” I ripped off a piece of bread and shoved it into my mouth. He still hadn’t answered my text message about the kiss. Katie looked between us, her jawline rigid, her posture surprisingly tight. I saw it in her face. The second she decided to let the subject drop and pretend like we hadn’t stepped into a huge mine of feelings and secrets.
“So . . .” She cleared her throat, looking around us. “Seeing as you’ve now moved on with Chase . . . when are you thinking of getting married? Is there a date?”
“No date. Nope,” I drawled, still holding Chase’s bluest-shade-of-blue gaze. “We’re thinking of taking a long time. You know, for planning and stuff.”
“Like, a year?” Katie asked.
“More like a decade,” I bit out.
I knew I was letting our charade slip and wished I could restrain myself. I genuinely wanted to make friends with Katie. Take her shopping and spend time with her, independently from how my fake engagement with Chase was going to pan out. I was just taken off guard by how Chase had shown up here, screwing this up for me, and then kissed me without permission, which had totally bent me out of shape.
I massaged my temples and closed my eyes, letting out a growl. “I think I’m coming down with something. How about I make it up to you later this week, Katie?”
“Sure.” She looked between us.
When I opened my eyes, I saw Chase was taking care of the bill. I tried to pay my part, slide my credit card his way, but he just put his hand on mine and smiled at me.
“Such a gentleman.”
“You have no idea.”
“That”—I sat back, fighting the urge to throttle him—“is true.”
That’s what happens when you muster some sympathy for the devil, I thought bitterly. He drags you to hell, and you get burned.
Mothers of brides all over America were going to buy fuzzy-looking dresses with angry, sharp lines that fall. My designs were not up to par with my usual clean, romantic style.
I was so furious after the meal with Chase and Katie that I ripped three papers while trying to sketch. I was sitting in front of a blurry shape of the female body—no stitch of clothing on it yet—when my phone pinged with a message.
Chase: I bet you’re still thinking about that kiss.
Maddie: I chugged bleach as soon as I got back to the office. It helped, a little.
Maddie: What the hell did you think you were doing?
Chase: Playing the loving fiancé.
Maddie: We’re done playing. We had an agreement, and I did my part.
Maddie: You ambushed me. You knew I’d be there. Why did you do it?
Chase: I decided our engagement story needed more reinforcement, since you went and hugged Tights Guy publicly.
Chase: Extra long.
Chase: Like couples in the movies.
Maddie: I said he was a friend!
Chase: It still happened.
Chase: (it did happen, didn’t it?)
Maddie: Yeah. I stress-baked extra cookies last week and decided to bring him some.
Chase: What kind of person makes out with her boyfriend at a pediatric clinic?