Page 107 of We Were Once

“I have Julie—”

“I love Julie. She has a killer sense of humor, but I have to side with your mom. It’s about companionship. And now let’s loop back.” Ruby asks, “What about your sex life?”

“Geez, give a girl some warning. The machinery works just fine. Can we move along?” But then it happens. Without my permission, an image of Joshua sneaks in. Training my eyes on anything to replace how he looked at me that day in the ice cream shop, like there is still a possibility for us, a future, still in love, so in love . . . I give in. “Fine. Say what’s on your mind.”

My mom taps my knee, bringing me back to her. “We thought it would be fun to go out and explore a new restaurant. We’re done with this conversation. We don’t have to talk about men at all. Are you up for some fun?”

“Not dressed like this, I’m not.”

Ruby hastily stands. “Don’t worry. I got you.” She rushes to her bedroom and then returns with a garment bag. “I brought you a gift from Dubai.”

* * *

I’m not exactly tugging at the pants that are glued to my hips or arguing about the low-cut top with the chiffon sleeves that tighten around my wrists, but it’s been a hot minute since I’ve worn heels this high . . . or heels at all. It’s a big jump from sneakers to four-inch stilettos. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” they both reply.

Ruby smacks my ass. “If I had your body, I’d dress like Britney Spears’ backup dancer and show off the goods for free.” I’m used to scrubs and a white lab coat these days, but I know I’m going to lose this argument, so I suck it up and hope I don’t fall flat on my face. Ruby says, “Stick out those tits, for God’s sake. You got ’em. Use them.”

“And what exactly am I using them for?”

“Your own benefit. Trust me on this.”

My mom pretends she doesn’t hear this conversation and opens the door to go inside the restaurant. “This place had rave reviews last week from The Daily,” she says over her shoulder.

“And we got reservations?”

“No, but the person who answered my call told us we might catch a cancellation, so Ruby and I figured it was worth a try.” She turns to the podium and starts talking to the hostess.

Ruby passes behind her, grabbing my hand, and pulling me toward the bar. We snag the two seats available and order a round of cocktails while waiting for my mom.

She arrives just as the drinks are set down, and I hop off the stool so she can sit down. “There are no reservations available.” Taking the drink we got for her, she sips before adding, “To a fun night anyway.”

“To a liquid dinner,” Ruby adds. Our glasses ring as they tap together, and we all drink to that.

The laughter is strong, medicine to my soul for the next few hours, the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

“We searched all the suitcases for the buzzing noise,” Ruby continues a story that has me laughing so hard my side hurts. “Go figure. It was in my carry-on all along.”

“Why’d you carry on your vibrator?” My mom giggle-snorts because she was two sheets to the wind two cocktails ago. Even though she’s seated, I’m surprised she’s not flat on her ass, considering I’ve had to practically prop her up for the last hour. I don’t mind because she’s having a great time.

Ruby shrugs. “A mile-high fantasy.” The tab is set down, and Ruby is quick to slap a card down. “On me, ladies.”

After paying, we stumble out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk. My mom looks up at the surrounding skyscrapers, and says, “I don’t even know where I am in the city.”

Wrapping my arm around hers, I pull her left. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you home.”

Ruby throws her arm up in the air as she leans forward, teetering on the curb. “We can share a cab. I don’t mind the detour.”

The valet flanks her side. “If you’d like to wait over there, I’ll get you a cab, ma’am.”

“Ma’am?” she replies, horrified. Finding us over her shoulder, she asks, “Oh God, when did I become a ma’am?”

My mom giggles and hiccups. “It’s not so bad, Ruby. It’s a sign of respect.”

Returning to where we’re standing, she stomps her foot. “Maybe I do want to be someone’s ma’am. Respect on the streets. Disrespect in the sheets. That’s the kind of guy I’m looking for.”

We move against the building, leaning against the brick wall for support. “I can’t take you two anywhere.” I laugh, but then a burning question from earlier returns, and ask, “Did the fantasy come true?”

Looking left and then right, Ruby then leans in. “Let’s just say that the co-pilot knows how to land his plane.”

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