“Let’s take a big step back.” She held up her palms as if to prove they were empty. “I was talking about your clients. If you and Easton did something back in the day, that’s your business. I’m not trying to judge you.”
My nails scraped against my linen-covered thighs.
“Okay?” she asked. “Are we okay?”
“We’re fine,” I said stiffly, regretting meeting her for lunch at all. It didn’t matter if I missed her or if I needed her advice on Nicole. With her newfound celibacy and judgmental opinions, it wasn’t a good time for our friendship. I needed to focus on Easton and me. I needed to focus on my new listing. I didn’t have time to stuff my face with food and listen to Chelsea bitch over whatever wrinkle was currently occurring in her diamond-studded life.
“Okay,” she said again, picking up her glass and taking a long sip of it. Over the rim of the glass, she studied me. “I must say,” she said carefully. “It surprises me. I just never thought you were open to being with Easton and another girl.”
How stereotypical. Was that always the assumption? That everything was about the man? That we pushed aside our own needs and took care of his fantasies first? The distaste must have shown on my face, because her thick eyebrows pinched together. “It was a girl, right? I mean, you didn’t…”
I didn’t say anything and her eyes widened, her cleavage squishing on the linoleum edge of the table as she leaned forward. “Nooooo,” she crowed in hushed disbelief. “A guy? No way. No fucking way.” She let out a giggle. “I have seriously underestimated you this entire time. Elle!”
Despite myself, I felt a bubble of pride forming at the admiration in her tone. In her astonished and gleeful reaction, I felt the swell of desire to tell her everything. How it had felt. How nervous I had been. The fear that, after these hits, I was addicted.
“Where did you find him? Was he one of E’s teammates? Oh my God.” She stiffened. “Do I know him?”
Every bubble of goodness stilled and congealed, all at once, like hot-glue batter hitting the air, seizing my ability to talk. Her eyes sharpened and she leaned even farther forward, the edge of the table cutting into her midsection. “I do. Wait, don’t tell me. I can figure this out.”
No. No. No. Nonononononono. “You don’t know him,” I said quickly.
“Shut up, I do. I can see it in your face.” She closed her eyes and put the forefingers of each hand on her temples, as if she was telepathically pulling it from my head. “Easton’s boss at work—Don? Is that his name? The hot redheaded one?”
I didn’t respond, looking over my shoulder for our waitress, desperate for our food to hurry up and get here.
“No.” She rejected the idea. “Too risky. Oh! That shortstop groomsman. The one who brought the girl with the back tattoo?” She opened one eye and sneaked a peek at me, then shook her head. “Never mind. This has to be someone closer. Someone you are as comfortable with as E is. Someone who won’t fuck up your jobs. The problem is that you guys don’t know like anyone. Other than me and Aaron, you’re basically loners. And he’s been with Becca up until—”
“Chelsea,” I said urgently. “Listen. I think—”
“Oh my God.” She stilled, the smile dropping from her face, her eyes snapping open and catching me flush-faced and panicked. “It was Aaron. That’s why he moved out. That’s why you’ve been acting so strange around him.”
“It wasn’t…” I paused, not fully able to complete the lie. “It’s not important who it was with.”
If she could have taken a step back from me, she would have. Instead, she leaned back against the black plastic booth, her hands pushing at the table, which was affixed to the floor. “Tell me it wasn’t Aaron.”
“It wasn’t Aaron,” I whispered, not trusting my voice at full volume. I had to lie. I had to. I looked in her face and saw the plummet of emotion and there was no other option.
“Alrighty, we’ve got an order of chicken fajitas with an extra side of cheese!” From somewhere to the right, a steaming platter waved through the air. I lifted my hand numbly, holding Chelsea’s eye contact as the giant frying pan was set before me. Steam curdled the air, dotting my face with perspiration as the loud crackle of sizzling meat sounded.
“And three steak tacos with extra sour cream!”
Chelsea didn’t move and the man set the plate down in front of her.
“Anything you guys are missing? Hot sauce?”
“We’re fine,” I said quietly.
“You’re LYING,” she said, louder this time, her eyes burning into me. “Don’t fucking lie to me.”
The man took that as his cue and left.