“Oh, she loves me. Tell her I say hi,” she says, grinning.
I look down at Mateo. “Last chance to come along. Then Meg can have your food and we all win.”
He shakes his head. “I’m sure she’ll want to gossip and/or bitch about me. Can’t do that if I’m there.”
“Fine.” I lean in to give him a kiss, then with a little wave, I head for the car where Adrian waits for me.
I’m not completely sure what I’m walking into today. Francesca and Sal were originally supposed to come over for family dinner the night we had tacos, but Mateo decided (since he definitely didn’t warn her when Joey died) to give her a heads-up regarding Vince. Unsurprisingly, she did not take it well, and she hasn’t come to dinner since.
Even though I love Francesca, I’m dreading this lunch. My cruel, vengeful mind keeps dredging up the last time I saw Francesca, when I was at her wedding and Vince was right there at the table with me. It torments me with memories of him telling her we could go out to the diner again with her and Sal when they got back from their honeymoon. My asshole mind conjures images of that today. Of an alternate reality where I made different choices, where I told Adrian I wanted to go home with Vince the night he was so pissy at dinner, and somehow I realized I needed to stop being such an asshole.
Maybe Vince should’ve been meaner. Maybe he should’ve threatened me. I realized that night, mid-fight, I would’ve stayed with Vince. I wanted Mateo, but not at this cost. I could’ve been mostly satisfied with Vince; I just would’ve had to give up Mateo. At the time, after those three perfect nights with him, that seemed like the greatest sacrifice I could’ve possibly made. But that’s because I didn’t know Vince’s life was on the table. I knew I was pushing them both in different ways, but I didn’t think it would end up there. I didn’t think it would go that far.
There were worse fates than the one where I would’ve woken up in our duplex this morning and had breakfast with Vince, then gone with him to have lunch with Francesca and look through honeymoon pictures.
Like the one where I woke up in Mateo’s mansion next to him, and now I’m going alone to meet Francesca in a world where Vince is dead and it’s entirely my fault. That’s a worse fate.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure she’d even want to have lunch with me. I know she liked me before, but I carry so much guilt, it’s hard for me to imagine she won’t blame me. There’s no one else to blame. Well, Mateo, but it doesn’t do any good to blame him. Judgment rolls right off his back. He doesn’t care.
When we get to the restaurant, I just sit in the car. Adrian comes around and opens the door for me, but I remain seated.
“Will you go in for me?” I ask.
“Sure, give me your dress; I’m sure she won’t even notice the difference.”
“You think you can pull off a halter dress?” I question.
As if surprised, he glances from his left shoulder to his right. “What, you don’t think I have the shoulders for it?”
I look them over, not for the first time. “You have really good shoulders, actually. All those hours you and Mateo log at the gym are not in vain. You guys should establish a good shoulders club.”
His humor dries up and he gets all gruff and bashful on me. I want to poke at him a little more, but I’m still miffed at him for not helping Vince that night, so I refrain.
As he escorts me into the restaurant, I remember that Adrian grew up in Mateo’s house. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Not if it involves my shoulders,” he states.
I roll my eyes. “It’s about cookies.”
“I assumed you were asking about my favorite kind. There’s no story. I just like them.”
Biting back a smile, I shake my head. “No, I wondered if you ever made Christmas cookies. Like, as a kid.”
His eyebrows rise and he glances at me like I’m a weirdo. “Sure, I made Christmas cookies with my mom. I was an expert dough roller.”
“How come Mateo didn’t help? You guys were friends, right?”
“It wasn’t like it is now; we didn’t live at the mansion. I didn’t move in until after they died, I only visited before that. We made Christmas cookies at our own house.”
“Mateo didn’t visit you there?”
“None of the Morellis visited there until Matt came to burn the place down,” he states, casually.
My eyes widen in horror but he only pulls open the door of the café and gestures for me to head inside.
Chapter Twenty Eight