“Good,” I reply dreamily.
He’s staring at my mouth. “No regrets?”
Now I’m staring at his mouth too. “None.”
He wraps his hand around my neck and a little spark trails down my spine. I shiver and he pulls my face toward his. Then we make out like teenagers. We kiss until I’m fluent in the ways of the French. We kiss until my chest is constricting and my panties are wet, and then he releases me and I half hobble, half skip out of the room. I’m panting like one of those sled dogs that just finished lugging a lazy human across the Iditarod finish line. He tells me he’s excited to take me to dinner and I tell him, “I too, am, uh, dinner excited.”
My lips are swollen. Edith asks me about it when I make it back to the living room after a quick 38-minute cool-down on the stairs.
I tell her I got stung by a bee.
“On your lips?” she asks, dubious.
“Yeah, it was weird—flew right in the kitchen window.” My voice wobbles. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been meaning to read…”—I grab the first book within reach on the shelf beside me—“…this book…”—I look down at the cover—“Advanced Husbandry Techniques.”
She tosses her hands in the air and walks away. “Strange choice for light reading. You do know husbandry doesn’t mean what you think it does, right? No book is gonna teach you how to land a decent man.”
Later that evening, I doll myself up and hop into the back seat of Jack’s truck. Edith and Jack sit up front, and I’d just like to point out that of the two us, I’m a much easier date than Edith is. She insists she’s too hot, and then she’s too cold. She snaps at Jack to drive faster then tells him he’s taking the bends like a madman.
At the steakhouse, she demands to be seated in a booth and makes Jack and me sit on the same side because she “has baby-birthing hips.” Jack reminds her that she gave birth nearly fifty years ago and she stares right at him as she orders the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu in retaliation. I have no choice but to drink some of it too. Smirk.
I don’t think Edith picked a booth to intentionally make me sit closer to Jack, but if she did, she’s a miracle worker. We’re basically squashed together. His denim-clad thigh is pressed against mine. The booth isn’t tiny, but then, neither is he. I’m stuck between him and the wall, and I’m not sure which one is more unyielding.
We shift and get settled then he stretches his arm along the back of the booth, behind my shoulders. If we were fourteen and at the movies, I’d consider this, like, fifth base. His hand is near my shoulder, which is riiiight around the corner from my boob. His finger brushes the strap of my dress innocently. I try to focus on my menu, but my eyes are glazed over with visions of what I would be doing if we were alone right now. I want to climb into his lap and eat him for dinner.
“Jesus, don’t they have steakhouses back in California?” Edith asks, grabbing my attention. “You look overwhelmed by the five choices.”
I laugh like I’m trying it out for the first time.
Jack saves me. “Want to share something?”
“Yes,” I say like that’s the best idea I’ve ever heard.
We put our order in with the waitress who’s a friend of Edith’s. Edith takes it upon herself to invite her to our yoga session tomorrow, which, after a few weeks of Edith spreading the word, now includes more than 30 people on any given weekend. Last week, we had 48. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to find a stadium to host it.
“Oh, and it’s a five-dollar donation,” Edith adds quickly.
Up until then, I’ve never charged anyone for the class. I’d never even considered charging for it.
Our waitress doesn’t even bat an eyelash at the cost. When she walks away, I lean forward.
“Since when am I charging people?”
Edith sips her wine casually. “Since now. You’re a good teacher and five bucks is nothing. I spend that much on a damn cup of coffee down at Starbusk.”
“You mean Starbucks,” I correct.
“’S what I said, Starbusk.”
Jack is watching us with an amused smile.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“I think if people are willing to pay for your time, then clearly your time has value.”
I sit up straighter. Yes, right. My time is valuable.
“Okay, Edith, I’ll have you ask for the donations tomorrow and we’ll see how people respond. If everyone runs back to their trucks and peels out, I’ll just go back to doing it for free.”
Once that’s settled, I turn to the basket of warm rolls in the center of the table. I’m slathering whipped butter onto every crusty bit I can find when I hear my name from a few yards away.
I jerk my gaze up and see Tucker making his way toward us. I haven’t seen him since the wedding, but we’ve talked. He called the farmhouse the day after to see if I was doing okay since he wasn’t able to take me home. Jack was out working, so I happened to answer the phone first.
I smile. “Hi Tucker, good to see you.”
Edith barely greets him. I realize now that she never really wanted us together. She was using him as a pawn.
Jack scoots a tiny bit closer to me. At this rate, my face will end up squashed between the wall and his bicep. My lips will pucker out like a fish.
“How are you guys?” Tucker asks, looking at no one but me.
“We’re fine. Jack is treating us to a dinner date,” Edith answers.
She enunciates the final word extra hard.
Tucker notices Jack’s arm around my shoulder and frowns. “Meredith, I tried calling you the other day, but you know how fickle that Blue Stone phone can be.”
I glance at Jack, and he doesn’t even bother feigning remorse. In fact, his face is a mask of indifference. It’s like he doesn’t even know Tucker is standing there. I want to poke him in the ribs and tell him to play nice.
“Oh, um, yeah.” I glance back up at Tucker. “Sorry about that. What’d you need to tell me?”
He glances away from the table. “Well, we should probably talk about it in private. It’s about your divorce.”
He says the word divorce like it’s nasty and pus-filled.
I frown. “What about it?”
He rocks back on his heels, understanding that anything he needs to say, he’ll have to say in front of Edith and Jack. “I was just going to offer you my legal advice pro bono, if you need it.”
“Not necessary,” Jack cuts in. “We’ve already got it covered.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize.” His gaze cuts to me. “Well, regardless, if you need any help, Meredith, you know where to find me.”
When he walks away, the three of us sit in awkward silence. My roll is still buttered and untouched. It feels weird to stuff my face at a moment like this, though just to be clear, I could still easily put away four to five buttered rolls at this very second.
“Since when do I have my divorce covered?” I ask my roll.
Jack sighs and moves his arm from around my shoulders. “I called my lawyer the other day and asked him about our options.”
He clears his throat. “Your options.”
Edith excuses herself to use the bathroom then I look up and see her take a seat at the bar. Let it be known, I’ve never met a person smarter than Edith.
“It’s not that I’m not grateful, I am, I just…” I sigh and drop the roll. No one is sadder about that than me. “It feels wrong to have you help me with this, like I’m just running from one guy to another, looking to you to solve my problems.”
His dark brows crease. “Do you really think that or do you feel like you should think that?”
“I don’t know.”
A not insignificant part of me is worried what other people will think.
“We aren’t talking about a rebound here,” Jack continues. “I’m talking about your future, about you rebuilding your life and accepting help freely given.”
The edge of my mouth curls up. “Is it freely given though?”