Second Chance Boyfriend

By: Monica Murphy

Chapter Three

If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever. – Winnie the PoohDrewMy dad shows up Friday around noon and we go to lunch, at one of the popular cafés downtown that’s full of college students and people on their lunch break from the nearby businesses. It’s small and busy and the tables are tiny and round. Our knees bump against each other because we’re both tall, and it feels incredibly awkward. I’m not saying much beyond small talk because he’s the one with the major news.

Scratch that. I have major news, but I’m never going to drop that particular bomb on him now. It might scar him for life. Ruin our relationship forever.

I’m not taking that chance.

Finally, after the waitress brings us our lunch, he finally says something important.

“I filed divorce papers yesterday. Adele will be served sometime next week.”

I lift my head to meet his gaze and find him studying me pointedly. As if he’s got everything all figured out. For a moment, I’m afraid he does. But then he digs his fork into the salad he ordered along with his sandwich and eats. Like what he said really didn’t matter at all.

“Where is she?” I ask after I swallow. I can’t bring myself to say her name.

Fable would like that. If she had a chance, I know she’d scratch that bitch’s eyes out.

“She’s still at the house. I asked her to leave and she refused.” Dad wipes the corner of his mouth with his napkin. “Not quite sure what I’m going to do about that. I can’t kick her out—yet. She really has nowhere to go. But she was the mother of my child.”

Maybe. I swallow hard. “Where will you go?”

He shrugs. “I’m staying at a hotel for the moment. And she’ll trip herself up. I have a plan.”

My appetite leaves me. If this is going to be an ugly divorce and I’m somehow involved, I don’t think I can take it. “What’s your plan?”

His gaze is pointed again, directly aimed at me, and I want to squirm. “She’s having an affair. I know it, I can feel it, but I don’t have proof.”

My stomach churns. If this has anything to do with her and me, I don’t know what I’ll do. God, that was so long ago. No way could their current problems have anything to do with me. “Who do you think she’s messing around with?”

“That I’m not sure. It’s only been going on for a few months but I know she’s involved with someone. And I don’t think this is the first time she’s done this sort of thing.”

Shit. I haven’t been with her in years. And my dad’s right. This isn’t the first time. I’m sure I wasn’t her only. More like the first of a long string of guys. She thrives on attention. Needs it like we need oxygen to breathe.

“I’m sorry, Dad.” I am. I’m sorry that he has to go through this and deal with an evil, cheating, immoral bitch for a wife. He has no idea the damage she’s wrought to his family. My dad’s oblivious. He definitely has his faults. I know he’s not perfect, none of us are, but I wouldn’t wish this on him.

He chose her, though. Now he has to deal with the fallout of their dissolving marriage.

“Don’t be sorry.” My dad waves his hand, dismissing my worry with a flick of his fingers. “She’s a stupid bitch who finally ran out of options. Whoever she’s fucking, I think he works at the country club.”

She’s slumming. Great. Dad must love this.

“And I think he’s young,” he continues. “She’s dressing like she’s twenty and listening to music that would only appeal to a silly teenage girl. I caught her working out in a Justin Bieber T-shirt a few weeks ago while listening to some boy band. She’s too damn old to wear that sort of crap. What woman her age does that?”

I want to laugh but I don’t. I’m not laughing at my dad’s irritation. More like at her desperation and the fact that she seems to like them young. It’s either that or go into a complete rage. She’s disgusting. “How do you know she’s having an affair?”

“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I hired a private investigator. He’s tailing her now. Finding out all her juicy secrets. Bitch doesn’t stand a chance.”

Neither do I if he finds out the juicy secret I share with her. “I hope it doesn’t blow up in your face.”

“How could it? I’m not the one who’s done wrong here. She is. I’ve been faithful to her our entire marriage.”

My good friend guilt nestles in deep within me and I push my plate away. This is the last thing I want to hear. I’d almost prefer it if my dad admitted he’d done nothing but cheat on Adele. “Really, Dad? You can be honest with me, you know. Not like I’m going to tell.”

“Really.” His expression is hard; his eyes, as blue as mine, are cold. “I loved her. Deep down inside, I still do. I have to wonder if she ever loved me. How long has she been unfaithful? Who else is involved? How deep do her lies go?” He shakes his head, his disgust clear. “She’s wronged me. Made a fool of me in front of our friends. For all I know she’s been flaunting this boy toy of hers while I’m out of town working. I don’t know.”

“You talk like you want to get revenge on her.” I don’t know how to react. Don’t know what to say. His words…fill me with fear. He could push her to admit things I never want to her to confess. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my dad like this.

“Maybe I do.” He laughs but it’s an angry sound, as if torn from his throat. “Maybe I want to make her suffer. Make her look like a stupid slut. I gave her everything. When we first met, she was perfect. Beautiful, fun, thoughtful and amazing in bed.”

I grimace. Last thing I want to hear. “Didn’t need to know that.”

“Come on, Drew. You’re an adult. That sort of comment shouldn’t bother you.” He studies me. “Now that I think of it, you haven’t mentioned your little girlfriend. Are you two still together?”

My entire body stiffens at the reminder of Fable. “We broke up.” Not really, but technically we were never together so what else can I say?

“That’s a shame.” His words are completely insincere. “Not that I thought she was the sort of girl for you.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I growl, flexing my hands into fists.

“You know exactly what I mean. She’s the sort of girl you screw on the side, not the one you keep forever.”

I stand so fast I knock my chair into the person sitting behind me. My blood boiling, I glare at my father but all I can see is red. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Fable is one of the best people I’ve ever known. She’s loyal, kind, sweet…”

Dad’s gaze meets mine, his eyes full of contempt. I’m making a scene and he doesn’t like it. I really couldn’t give a shit. “If she’s so great, why aren’t you with her?”

The truth falls from my lips with ease. “Because I’m not good enough for her.”

I leave the restaurant without another word.Fable“You look different.”

I smooth my hand over my newly colored hair, my freshly painted nails catching my eye. They’re red, as bright as the color coating my lips, and I feel like a different person. But I want to show indifference. As if this sort of thing is common for me. That handsome men who just so happen to be my boss whisk me to a popular and expensive hair salon in the late afternoon without an appointment and pay for my complete makeover. All the while he’s standing by with a satisfied grin on his face, like he’s solely responsible for my transformation.

Which he sort of is.

I should be insulted. Colin taking me to the salon is basically saying I don’t look good enough to work for him. I need to change—at least physically.

But secretly, it’s also flattering, his attention. No one pays attention to me. They all just…count on me to get stuff done. My mom, my brother, my old boss at La Salle’s—yep, I gave notice this morning, finally. Drew paid attention for a little while but he’s too wrapped up in his problems to worry about mine.

I miss him. I hate that I miss him but I do. Funny how someone can come into your life for such a brief time but leave such a lasting impression. He permanently imprinted himself on my heart, and I permanently imprinted his name on my skin.

It’s silly, longing for a man who doesn’t long for me.

“Your hair—the blonde is darker.” Jennifer smiles at me, nodding with approval. “I like it. Suits you better.”

Colin is a great boss but he employs a bunch of bitches at his restaurant. And I’m starting to realize why they’re so bitchy—we’re all in direct competition with one another, not only for being the most wanted waitress at The District, thus getting the most in tip money at the end of the evening. But we also want to be the most wanted waitress in Colin’s eyes. Which is all sorts of fucked up if I think about it too long.

So I banish the realization from my brain, like I’m so good at.

Jennifer so far has been the nicest to me, but she was the new girl on the block until I showed up so she’s probably thankful there’s a fresh target here for them to hate. She’s pretty in an exotic, almost mysterious way, which I find amusing considering her standard, every-girl name. She has long straight-as-paper black hair, large dark brown eyes, olive-colored skin, and she’s so incredibly tall, I get a crick in my neck if I stare up at her for too long.

She’s everything I’m not. We’re complete opposites in every way.

“Did Colin take you to get your hair done?” she asks as we set the tables for the evening. I’m doling out the silverware, she’s setting out the freshly polished glasses and I’m so startled by her question, I stand there with my mouth hanging open for a second. Long enough that she speaks again.

“It’s okay to admit it. He took me for a haircut and mini makeover when I first started.” She smiles, her cheeks tinged red. “Colin likes to take in strays and fix them up. Bring us to our full potential, is how he phrased it to me.”

Her words make me feel the tiniest bit less special, and I want to smack myself. “Don’t you think that’s sort of…”

“Weird?” she finishes for me with a rueful smile.

“Yeah.” I finish setting the silverware on the table and watch her as she carefully adjusts the last water glass, making it sit just so. The table linens are a perfect, creaseless white, with an equally perfect silver bowl sitting in the middle, full of freshly cut flowers the colors of spring. All vibrant pinks and lavenders and whites, they add a touch of sophisticated glamour to an otherwise plain palette.

The entire restaurant is like this. Sexy yet restrained elegance. No wonder all the beautiful people love to come here.

“Colin likes to think of himself as a knight in shining armor to all of us. Like he swooped in and rescued us from our horrible lives and gave us new ones,” Jennifer explains.

I frown. I don’t need someone in my life with a hero complex. With Drew, I’m the one with the hero complex and that got me absolutely nowhere.

And why the hell does everything still have to come back to him? I need to let him go, once and for all. “That’s ridiculous,” I say.

Jennifer shrugs. “It’s the truth, isn’t it? Where were you working before? I was at some crappy bar on the outskirts of town, where the customers couldn’t keep their hands off me. I hated it. Colin came in there one night over a month ago, all clean and golden and shiny. He practically begged me to come work for him but I didn’t trust him.” Her eyes darken even more, shading secrets from me, I’m sure. “It was just before Christmas, I was pretty much broke and alone. He took me in and I haven’t looked back since.”

“Took you in, what do you mean?”

“I’m staying at his house.” Her gaze skitters away from mine. “I’m not the first. I won’t be the last.”

Wow. He’s like the Pied Piper and we all follow after him like a bunch of hypnotized mice. I feel like a fool for thinking the attention he gave me was special. Unusual. I was just another long list of girls who work here he’s taken under his wing.

I’m such a skeptic I still can’t help but wonder if he has an ulterior motive.

“There’s a private party coming in at nine.” Tenerria walks into the dining area, her demeanor all business. She’s the shift manager, having worked with Colin at his previous restaurants. He brought her with him to help open The District and I’m not sure if she’s a permanent fixture or eventually moving on. I respect the hell out of T, what everyone calls her, but she also scares the crap out of me. “Fifteen confirmed college football players celebrating a twenty-first birthday so be prepared. That confirmed number will probably fly out the window.”

My heart drops to my toes. Football players. Could Drew be one of them coming tonight? He’s not one to be social and last I heard—because the rumor mill is rampant in this small town—Drew had left. Not that I ever pay too much attention to rumors. They’re usually all lies anyway.

“I’m throwing you to the wolves tonight, Fable,” T continues, a smile curling her bright red lips. We’re all wearing the new “uniform” Colin gave us earlier: black shorts, white lace tops with a black bra underneath. I added the black heels that I teeter precariously on. He even gave us the same lipstick, so that we’d all match. “You and Jen both are working the private party. We have an extra bartender on staff as well so you should be set.”

Nerves eat at my stomach. “Okay,” I say weakly. Being around football players will make me think of Drew. Plus, they’ll probably give me shit because yep, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve been with a few. Nothing major, mostly make-out/grope sessions but still. Back when my self-esteem was in tatters and I thought their attention was the only kind I deserved. So embarrassing. I hope they don’t say anything rude.

More than anything, I hope Drew’s not there.

Okay, I lie. A teeny-tiny part of me hopes Drew shows up. Not that I know what I’d say to him.

Fuck you for stomping all over my heart!

Hmm, yeah. That would go over real well.

“What do you think of the new duds?” T asks.

I glance down at myself. The shorts are extra short but at least I’m not in a dress, where I’m always afraid my ass is hanging out. And the lace tops and bra are most definitely see-through, but I don’t feel like my goods are on blatant display. I’m always afraid I’ll get cold, but there’s too much running around throughout the evening for that to happen. “I like them.”

“I do too.” Jen pipes up, moving so she stands beside me. “I prefer the shorts to the dresses. Feels like I can move better in them.”

“Same.” I nod in agreement. “Why did he pick out new clothes for us? And even gave us all matching lipstick?” Saying the question out loud made me realize just how odd the situation is.

I mean, who does this sort of thing?

“He likes all of us to look the same yet different. Bring some of our own personality to the outfit, you know?” T ran her gaze over Jen and me. “I know you were just given the outfits but the next time you work, make sure you add something to give yourself a little more pizazz. Individuality.”

“What if I can’t afford it?” I had to ask. I’m mostly a broke joke. The biggest extravagance I’ve given myself is the damn tattoo with the initials of a man who ditched me. The expensive shoes I wear? A gift from Drew. The same ones I wore the night of that crazy country club dinner, when he kissed me for the first time.

Just the memory of his lips grazing mine sent a shiver stealing over me.

“Fable, you can go to one of those cheap stores in the mall and pick up a three-dollar necklace. There’s Target and Walmart too.” Shaking her head, T starts to walk away. “Get those tables set up. Doors open in fifteen!”

Jen and I busily finish setting up the tables, polishing glass, lighting candles, sweeping the bare wood floors. Colin comes in, offering murmured words to Jen I couldn’t quite catch before he locks his gaze with mine and heads toward me.

“Much improved,” he says, stopping directly in front of me, crossing his arms in front of him. He’s wearing a black T-shirt that stretches across his wide shoulders and chest and black pants. The dark clothing only seems to emphasize the golden hair, the golden skin, the pale green eyes.

Ugh. And I hate how proprietary he seems. Yet that approving light in his gaze secretly pleases me. Makes me want to stand tall and preen like a good little girl who’s done right.

Sick and twisted, I know.

“You were there for the transformation yesterday.” It had taken hours. We finally left the salon after nine. Luckily enough, I wasn’t scheduled last night and considering he was the boss, he could show up at the restaurant whenever he felt like it. He’d even driven me home. Now he acted like he never saw the end results last night.

Weird.

“You’re right. I was. But it’s different, seeing you here tonight. In your element.” He flicks his chin in my direction. “Like the new uniforms?”

They were proving to be the hottest topic of conversation around here. “Kind of see-through but yeah, I like them.”

“I’m glad.” Reaching out, he squeezes my arm as he passes. “Nice shoes,” he tosses out over his shoulder.

A little smile curls my lips and I glance up, catching Jennifer watching me with a narrowed gaze. She turns and leaves before I can say anything and I watch her retreating back, wondering what that was all about.

Wondering what sort of weird little love triangle I might’ve let myself walk into.

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