I laugh. “I don’t know that it’s a predominantly female trait. Alec is like me in that way.”
“But he slept with Savvy, and that was just a one-night thing.”
“Sure, but—” I catch myself, shake my head, and laugh again. “Oh, no you don’t. I’m not going to analyze our friends’ relationship.”
“Party pooper,” she says, grinning into her wine.
“Is that the way it is for you, though? You prefer your casual sex to be unburdened by emotion?”
“Oh, hell.” She drains her glass, then sets it on the table and waits for me to refill it before speaking again. “Right after you left, obviously, yes. But that wasn’t about pleasure so much as . . .”
I wait, needing to hear her explanation without tainting it with my own interpretations.
“After you left . . .”
“After you asked me to leave,” I correct her, because it burns every time she refers to me leaving. I didn’t fucking want that. But then I regret my words, because she sinks into herself almost imperceptibly. “Sorry,” I whisper.
“It’s fine. You’re right.” She swallows and swirls her wine, watching the eddies splashing up on the side of the glass. “That summer I felt like I was drowning in the middle of a crowded pool. There were all these people around me, and no matter how much I flailed, it was as if no one could see how much I was struggling to keep my head above water. The partying, the booze and sex . . .” She doesn’t lift her eyes to mine, and I wish she would. I need to see the emotions she’s trapped inside. “It was the only way I knew how to make them hear me.”
“I’m sorry.” I reach across the table and cup my hand over hers. “I’m sorry I let you push me away when you needed me the most.”
Her eyes well with tears. “I’m not.”
I’ve pulled my hand back before I even realize it. She’s not sorry I left, and it’s one of my biggest regrets. That burns.
“I can’t regret Cami,” she says, meeting my eyes. “I won’t. Not ever.”
I let out a long, even breath. “Of course not. She’s a great kid, and you’re an amazing mom.”
She huffs softly. “I’m okay. Not the best, not the worst, but luckily it’s not a competition.” She forces a smile then sighs. “Obviously my pregnancy slowed down my hookups, and after Cami was born, there wasn’t anyone for a few years. Then, yeah, it was easier to do the random hookup thing than try for a relationship. I remembered you talking about your mom’s revolving door of boyfriends and—”
“It wouldn’t have been the same. You are not the same as her.”
She shrugs. “It made an impression, though, and I was fine. I have the best friends and I have Cami. I didn’t need anyone else. Cami came first, and while I know there are guys who would’ve respected that, I couldn’t do anything that might bring instability to her life, and I didn’t see anything they could offer that would be worth the risk.”
“Until Julian? Or was there a real relationship before him?”
“No. He was the first, but I don’t know if I’d call it real.”
I cough on my wine. I want to shout, “I knew it!” but I refrain. Barely. “Explain that to me?”
She wrinkles her nose like the subject smells bad. “You first. Tell me about these real relationships you had, and I’ll explain me and Julian.”
I brush some invisible crumbs off the tablecloth in front of me. I feel like I need to give her something good, but there’s not a whole lot to share. Nothing has ever been as real as me and her. “The first was Dierdre, and I met her in college. We were friends, but we started dating our senior year. It was . . .” I drag a hand through my hair and try to remember those days with Dierdre. The study sessions, the parties, the wasted Sunday afternoons snuggling on the couch. “It was nice. Before she convinced me to give her a chance, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in a committed relationship again.”
Brinley flinches. “That was my fault.”
“And mine.” I clear my throat. “I’d pinned so much on my first love that when I lost you, I felt like I’d lost everything. Dierdre showed me I could still have love and affection, that loving you didn’t preclude me from loving someone else.”
I shrug. “We graduated. Alec and I decided to start our own company, and Dierdre got an assistantship in a graduate program in Oklahoma. We were young and didn’t want to do the long-distance thing, so we decided to split.”
“Just like that?”
I laugh. “It happens every day.”
“But if things were so good—”
“I said they were nice. But it wasn’t the soul-shattering kind of love. It kind of sucked to say goodbye, but we were both okay.”