The Not-Outcast

Page 36

What was I doing?

Confusing, right? This was what it was like in my head sometimes. Or most times. Or—I was on a runaway train once more. No tracks. No engine conductor. Just me. The train and I were free falling all over the place.

Then Maisie reached for me, and I was pulled out of my mind. Thank God.

Her face was set. Otis was right behind her. JJ dropped down the aisle, so she was standing behind Otis. All three were determined.

I sighed. “I can’t drink, but I’ll come.”

Otis harrumphed a nod. “Good. I’ll drink for the both of us.”

Maisie’s smile turned sweet, and she linked her elbows with mine. Bumping next to me, she whispered, “He really will. We took a cab here.”

When we got there, I made sure to ask if we could sit in a back booth. None of my companions knew about my struggles, so I wanted to contain it the best I could. When we were led to a back booth, I made sure to sit on the edge and with my back to the wall. This way, I could decipher what noise was coming from where, and it wouldn’t give me a migraine later on.

And Otis hadn’t been joking. He ordered two beers for himself.

I ordered a water.

JJ ordered a mojito.

Maisie ordered a Long Island Iced Tea.

Once the waitress left, all three turned to me.

“Now.” Maisie put her palms on the table, her shoulders forward and her head lowered a little. She was taking on a whole earnest tone, but it was gentle. “Sweetie.”

Oh, ho! We were going with the ‘sweetie’ talk. I was done for. I might as well roll over and bare my belly. I’d overheard Maisie use this voice at other times and start her talks with her kids over the phone when she wanted something. They always gave in, no matter how long they protested.

From the knowing looks on the faces of both Otis and JJ, they’d all talked about this.

“You’re the spokesperson?” I asked her.

That didn’t faze her. “Cheyenne, sweetheart. I know sometimes you think we don’t notice things about you, but we do. We’ve been seat companions for a long time—”

“A long time.” Otis’s head bobbed up and down.

“—and we care about you—”

JJ interrupted, “Cut the shit. Did you sleep with Cut Ryder?”

And apparently Maisie was taking too long for JJ.

“Sweetie. Cheyenne, dear.”

Why was I even fighting this?

I told them. I didn’t tell them everything, but they got the first night, my roll and run tactic, and the whole Not-Brother situation. I’d been vague about everything else.

Otis was squinting at me, he was two beers in by now, and had two more coming. “So, you ended things?”

Yeah. I hadn’t told them the reason. I was going with the whole brother aspect being the issue.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

Maisie stared at me.

JJ was frowning at me.

Maisie’s the one who burst out, “That’s total and complete bullshit! Who does your Nut-Brother think he is? He can’t demand shit. If he were my son, I’d have a good talk with him. I’d sit him down and educate him on how we’re lucky to have anyone considered family in our lives. Anyone. And you. Oh, my poor dear. I had no idea about your mother.”

I blinked at her a few times. Shit. I’d forgotten that I went that deep with my family tree.

Also, no way in hell was I correcting her ‘nut-brother.’ I loved it. I was going to share with everyone.

I reached for my water. My throat was parched. “I mean, it all worked out okay.”

“No, it did not.”

That was JJ, and she slammed her fist on the table. The force had her drink sloshing over the rim, as well as Maisie’s, who picked up her drink. If I were foretelling the future, I’d guess Otis and Maisie would be making some happy love tonight, either that or the snoring would wake the neighbors. Either way, fun.

“I had no idea. None.”

I was waiting, but that was it. JJ stopped talking, her head tilted down.

Maisie was watching her, too, grabbing her straw and taking a long drag from her drink.

Otis was staring hard at me. “You know what you should do? You should write a letter to your brother, tell him how he’s got no right to make an issue. And it’s Cut Ryder! Cut The Reaper Ryder. He is a Mustang personification.” He sat back, crossing his arms over his chest, and he was shaking his head.

I had a feeling Otis was just settling in.

“I just love the guy. He rose up out of nowhere. No one was watching for him, and bam, he’s on the new start-up team, and bam, he’s damn near doing figure eights like an ice skater. He’s just a joy to watch, a total joy. Yeah.” He burped. The waitress dropped off two more beers, and he reached for one, but settled back again. “A total joy. I’d love to shake his hand one day. But you know what I’d tell him? I’d tell him he shouldn’t let you get away. You, my dear, are a one in a million. One in a million, and so’s my daughter.” He remembered Maisie was sitting next to him. “Both of our daughters. Rosie and Callie are one in a million, too. Maybe we could set them up with Cut Ryder?”

Maisie patted his arm. “Callie’s engaged, honey.”

“That’s right. I don’t like that guy.”

“That’s why we don’t bring our kids with us to the games. You start speaking truthfully. It never ends well.”

The two were having their own conversation.

Otis grinned at her, the lines around his mouth soft and his eyes a little glazed. “I do, don’t I?”

“You do. That’s why I love you. One of the many.”

He leaned closer to his wife and whispered loudly, “You’re one in a million, too, sweetie.”

She patted his arm again, beaming back. “I know. You are, too.”

He burped again. “I am, aren’t I?” He finished his beer in one gulp. Putting it back on the table, he blinked a few times. “I gotta piss. Excuse me, ladies.”

Maisie giggled, her face almost beet red from the drinks by now. She slid out and gave her husband a pat on the ass as he bypassed her. He threw her a grin backwards, his hand grazing against hers as he went. They shared another look before Maisie sighed and slid back in the booth. “I’m so lucky that I got to marry that man.”

JJ and I shared a look.

It was sweet, but I knew that wasn’t something I would ever have.

JJ’s look was a little wry as she picked up her second mojito. “That’s not for me. I had a husband. It didn’t work out. I love my corporate world, thank you very much.”

“And you do that. You do what makes you happy.”

As if they were one person, both looked at me.

Maisie’s the one who spoke. “Cheyenne, sweetie. Does Cut make you happy?”

My tongue was heavy.

My stomach was all twisting on the insides.

I had made my decision. Sitting here with them, seeing the love between Maisie and Otis, seeing that JJ was happy being single—I wanted to do what would make me happy, but they didn’t know. They couldn’t understand. Sometimes staying away was simply for them, not yourself.

But it was too hard to explain that, especially in a bar when JJ and Maisie were both two drinks in.

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