“Respect should be given to his hosts,” he gripes.
My mom snaps, “Cool it, Norm. I asked him to call me Cat.”
Covering Joshua’s hand with mine, I hold it right where it’s pressed to my skin. The verbal tennis match between my parents is something I never want with my partner. I glance up at Joshua. His lips are tight until he sees me and then a small grin appears. His fingers caress with gentle pressure, and something tells me we’ll never be like them.
More grumblings from my dad are peppered in, and then he asks, “What’s this Cat business anyway?”
Mimicking my earlier eye roll, my mom says, “I need champagne. I can’t with you.”
“Can’t what with me?”
She turns to leave but turns back full of fire. “I swear you’re a dinosaur.” Not only is it funny, but I like her moxie. Standing up for herself is something she didn’t do when they were married. It’s a nice change.
I tug Joshua away, using their bickering as an escape. As we walk to the bar, the perfumed air reaches my nose—flowers and candles mingling through the room. Scanning the party, I see plenty of friendly faces, just not my friends.
Reading my mind, Joshua asks, “Is Ruby coming?”
“She’s stuck in Manhattan.”
Dad’s colleagues and the bluebloods of Newport aren’t my idea of a good time. “I think some of this crowd came over on the Titanic.”
I’m starting to realize this was an occasion for my dad, who insisted on the big event, to rub elbows with the rich of Rhode Island. I’ve always been the perfect daughter, an excellent student, and well-rehearsed in my role as Dr. Fox’s legacy.
Screw their expectations. It’s time for me to step out of the shadows of the famous neurosurgeon and be a woman of my own making. Today isn’t just a day to celebrate my birth, but my rebirth.
Sometimes drinking your troubles away is the best thing to do. Not the sagest advice for the liver long term, but a bottle of whatever I could get my hands on got me through a few hard times.
So judging Chloe for wanting to do the same isn’t something I can do. “Why won’t you drink with me?” she asks, her swan-like neck on full display as her head tilts back, her body loose from too many cosmopolitans.
This tie of mine that she cared so much about an hour ago is currently twisted around her wrist and wound through her fingers as she holds me close. “One shot, Joshy. For me. It’s my birthday.”
Joshy? How is she this drunk? I grin because she’s also adorable.
She takes a shot from the bar and hands it to me, and then gets the other. “To—”
“To you,” I say, toasting our glasses together. We both down the amber liquid without so much as a care, the cinnamon not my favorite but whiskey is whiskey and goes down smooth. Maybe not as smooth for her, judging by the face she’s making. Then the mystery unriddles. “Did you eat today?”
“No time.” And she wonders why I ask . . .
Returning the glasses to the bar, she twirls, taking hold of her skirt. Revealing her sexy legs is a happy side effect. “I had to look pretty for you.” A pouty bottom lip sticks out. “Do you think I’m pretty?”
“You’re always gorgeous to me, baby.” Kissing that lip, I add, “But you need food.”
“Chloe?” Her name is followed by a squeal of birthday proportions.
Throwing her hands in the air when she spots Ruby rushing through the crowd, Chloe screams in excitement. They embrace each other, spinning around in a circle. I take the opportunity to sneak behind her to tell the bartender, “Make her drinks a little weaker, or we’ll be cleaning her off the floor.”
“Will do,” he replies, catching my drift.
“What are you doing here?” Chloe asks Ruby.
“I wouldn’t miss your big day.” Stepping back to get a good look at her friend, Ruby exclaims, “Holy cow, woman. You’re a queen slaying this birthday. This dress better come back to New Haven with you. I’ll find a party just so I can wear it.” Ruby knocks into me. “Your girl cleans up well.”
Smiling with pride, I know Chloe doesn’t need fancy dresses. I love her no matter what she wears. It’s the girl inside the clothes that won me over. “She does.”
With a side embrace, Ruby and I hug. “Good to see you.”
She grins. “You too, stud.”
I’m happy to stand back and let the friends catch up. Just as I take a drink, my shoulder is bumped. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me. It’s a big party, after all.
But this time, it does.
Pushing past me, Trevor presses his whole hand to Chloe’s bare back as if he has that right. He’s lucky I don’t fucking punch him. Fortunately for him, I don’t have to. She’s quick to duck out from his touch and latch onto me. “I didn’t know you were here.”