me. Surely my mind is playing games with me.

Dakota is staring back at me; her eyes immediately widen and her lips tighten into a bewildered frown.

“Landon?” she says, wide-eyed. Still, something about her tone of voice seems off, and I get the feeling that she noticed my presence much earlier than I noticed hers.

Her eyes are tight on me, draining out every ounce of excitement I was feeling when I walked through the door. This is when I would desperately love to have a portal to jump through, to take me anywhere but here. I would even take being zapped into the middle of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t found a way to portal into my favorite movie series.

When I was sixteen, my aunt got me a Lord of the Rings LEGO set and I attempted to put together that exact battle scene. It was too complicated, and I gave up. Dakota lasted longer than me, putting little bows and arrows on at least fifty elves. She was better at LEGOS as a kid than I was, and now, as an adult, she’s much better at coming up with words to say when words are needed. So, here I am, and here she is, staring at me and then at Nora, then back to me. I watch as she pieces it together, the fact that Nora brought me here.

Her almond eyes narrow into slits and she turns to Nora with a huff. “This is the hot guy you were talking about?”

Hot guy? What?I look toward the bar, wanting to crawl behind it. This gathering isn’t going to go well.

Nora rolls her eyes at Dakota with a quick laugh and sticks out her tongue. “Way to bust my balls, Dakota.”

Oh no. She doesn’t even understand what’s happening here. And there’s something odd about Nora’s tone with Dakota; something unpleasant is threaded through her words.

Tessa approaches us, and when she notices Dakota sitting at the end of the table from Nora and me, she freezes, and looks just as confused as Dakota. My problem-solving skills have suddenly evaporated and I’m sitting here like an idiot with nothing to say.

Dakota turns her attention back to Nora and I try to think of something to say to get all of this to make sense. I don’t want a scene. I want one thousand other horrible things to happen before I’d want to cause a scene here.

“So, how long have you been seeing each other?” she asks.

“We haven’t been,” I say just as Nora, her voice louder than mine, says, “Just a little while, it’s a new thing.”

Nora looks at me and my chest caves in. She’s confused by my answer.

A little while? What does she mean, a little while? Are we seeing each other? Is that what this is?

She’s only kissed me once, and outside of a few minutes while Tessa was in the shower or on her way home from work here and there, we haven’t spent any time alone together. We’ve really barely talked, I’d say.

Dakota’s eyes begin to water and I can see her loading her guns. She’s building up accusations, brewing some theory to make sense of the situation. I’ve rarely been on this side of her anger, and for some reason, a part of me feels satisfied. We hardly fought when we were together. She yelled often, but not at me. Never at me.

“We aren’t dating,” I feel the need to tell her again.

The other three ladies at the table begin to whisper, probably creating their own version of the live soap opera that’s unfolding in front of them.

I look at Nora and she’s beginning to catch on. “You two know each other?” she asks.

“Know each other?”Dakota’s voice is deep now, guarded, as she waves her hand back and forth between Nora and me.

Come on, portal. Pull me in and get me the hell out of here.

Dakota is eyeing me like I’m some kind of predator, something she has to escape from. I hate it. She’s several seats away, but I can still see how upset she is. Her fingers grip the edge of the table and she bulges her eyes at me, probing for my response.

“Yes, we know each other. We’ve known each other for a long time.”

Dakota’s putting on a show. She’s detached herself from this. She’s trying to remain cool and calm, trying not to let anyone know how much this bothers her. She grabs one of the glasses in front of her and doesn’t look to see what it is before she downs it in one quick motion.