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Sometimes you have to stand alone, just to make sure you still can.
Two months. I haven’t seen or heard from him in two freaking months. I mean, who does that to a person? Who spends the most intense week of his life with another human being and shares his most intimate thoughts, his craziest, darkest secrets, has sex with a person—and we’re talking amazing, earth-shattering sex—leaves her a note that says I love you, and then bails? I’ll tell you who.
Drew I’m-going-to-kick-him-in-the-balls-next-time-I-see-him Callahan.
I’ve moved on. Well, I tell myself that. But time doesn’t stop just because my heart does, so I take care of my responsibilities. I’ve stretched the three thousand dollars I earned for my one week of pretending to be the jerkwad’s girlfriend pretty well. I still have some money left in my savings account. I bought my brother, Owen, some cool Christmas gifts. I got my mom something for Christmas, too.
She didn’t buy either of us anything. Not one thing. Owen made me a shallow bowl he created in his ceramics class at school. He was so proud to give it to me. A little embarrassed, too, especially when I gushed over it. The kid wrapped it in bright Christmas paper and everything. I was blown away that he took the time to actually create something for me. I keep that bowl on my dresser and leave my earrings in it.
At least someone gives a crap about me, you know?
He didn’t give Mom anything. Which—shallow witch that I am—pleased me to no end.
January is supposedly a time of healing. New year, new goals, resolutions, whatever you want to call them, when a person should be hopeful with all that unchartered territory spread out before her. I tried my best to be positive when the new year came, but I cried. That clock struck twelve and I was all by myself, tears running down my face as I watched the ball drop on TV. Pitiful, lonely girl sobbing into her sweatshirt, missing the boy she loves.
Most of the month is gone, and that’s fine. But the realization hit me last night. Instead of dreading every single day that comes my way, I need to savor it. I need to figure out what I’m going to do with my life and then actually do it. I’d leave if I could, but I can’t ditch Owen. Without me, I have no idea what would happen to him and I can’t risk it.
So I stay. I vow to make the best of this life I have. I’m tired of living in misery.
I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. I’m tired of wanting to shake my mom and make her see that she has children she should give two shits about. Oh, and that she also needs to find a job. Sleeping all day and partying all night with Larry the Loser isn’t the way to deal.
And I’m tired of mourning the loss of a beautiful, fucked-up man who haunts my thoughts everywhere I go.
Yeah, I’m most sick of that.
Pushing all mopey thoughts out of my head, I go to the booth where a customer’s waiting for me to take his order. He came in a few minutes ago, a blur of a tall man who moved quickly, dressed too nicely for a Thursday mid-afternoon jaunt to La Salle’s. The bar is hopping at night, full of college kids drinking themselves into oblivion. But during the day? Mostly bum losers who have nowhere else to go and the occasional person coming in for lunch. The burgers are decent, so they’re a draw.
“What can I get you?” I ask once I stop in front of the table, my head bent as I dig out my order pad.
“Your attention, maybe?”
His question—spoken in a velvety deep voice—makes me glance up from my notepad.
Into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Bluer than Drew’s, if that’s possible.
“Um, sorry.” I offer him a tentative smile. He instantly makes me nervous. He is waaaay too good-looking. Like beyond gorgeous, with dark blond hair that falls over his forehead and classic bone structure. Strong jaw, sharp cheekbones, straight nose—he could’ve walked right off a billboard. “Are you ready to order?”
He smiles, revealing even white teeth, and I clamp my lips shut to prevent them from falling open. I didn’t know men could be this attractive. I mean, Drew is gorgeous—I can admit that even though I’m furious at him. But this guy . . . he puts all other men to shame. His face is too damn perfect.
“I’ll take a Pale Ale.” He flicks his chin at the tattered menu lying on the table in front of him. “Anything from the appetizer menu you can recommend?”
He must be joking. Beyond the burgers, I wouldn’t recommend any food La Salle’s serves to this ideal male specimen. Heaven forbid it might taint him. “What are you in the mood for?” I ask, my voice weak.
Lifting a brow, he picks up the menu and glances it over, his gaze meeting mine. “Nachos?”
I shake my head. “The beef is rarely cooked all the way.” More like it comes out with a pink tinge. So gross.
“Potato skins?” He winces.
I wince back. “So nineties, don’t you think?”
“How about the buffalo wings?”
“If you want to set your mouth on permanent fire. Listen.” I glance around, making sure no one—as in my boss—is nearby. “If you want something to eat, I suggest the café down the street. They have great sandwiches.”
He laughs and shakes his head. The rich, vibrant sound washes over me, warming my skin, followed quickly by a huge dose of wariness. I don’t react like this to guys. The only other one who could earn this sort of reaction from me is Drew. And he’s not around . . . so why am I still so hung up on him?
Maybe because you’re still in love with him, like some sort of idiot?
I shove the nagging little voice that pops up at the most inopportune times into the back of my brain.
“I like your honesty,” the man says, his cool blue gaze raking over me. “I’ll just take the beer, then.”
“Smart decision.” I nod. “I’ll be right back.”
I head toward the back and slip behind the bar, grabbing a bottle of Pale Ale, glancing up to catch the guy staring at me. And he doesn’t look away, either, which makes me feel uncomfortable. He’s not watching me like a pervert; he’s just very . . . observant.
A trickle of anger flickers through me. Do I wear an invisible sign around my neck? One that says Hey, I’m Easy? Because I’m not. Yeah, I made a few mistakes, looking for attention in the wrong places, but it’s not like I dress with my tits or ass hanging out. I don’t put any sort of purposeful swing to my hips, nor do I thrust my chest out the way I see plenty of girls do.
So why does every guy I encounter seem to blatantly check me out like I’m a piece of meat?
Deciding I’ve had enough of his crap, I stride toward his table and set the beer in front of him with a loud clunk. I’m about to walk away without saying a word—screw the tip—when he asks, “So what’s your name?”
I glance over my shoulder. “What’s it matter to you?” Oh, I’m such a bitch! I could really piss this guy off and get myself fired. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
I’m almost as bad as my mom. She sabotaged her job with her drinking and awful attitude. At least I only have the bad attitude.
If I could kick my own ass, I would be doing so right now.
He smiles and shrugs, as if my smart-ass remark doesn’t faze him. “I’m curious.”
Turning fully, I face him, studying him as intently as he studies me. The long fingers of his right hand are wrapped around the neck of the beer bottle, his other arm resting on the scarred and scratched table. His entire manner is relaxed, easy, and my defenses slowly lower.
“It’s Fable,” I admit, bracing for the reaction. I’ve heard endless jokes and rude remarks about my name since I can remember.
But he doesn’t give me a hard time. His expression remains neutral. “Nice to meet you, Fable. I’m Colin.”
I nod, not knowing what else to say. He both puts me at ease and shakes me up, which leaves me confused. And he definitely doesn’t fit in at this bar. He’s dressed too nice and has an air of authority about him that borders on entitlement, as if he’s above it all—and he probably is. He reeks of class and money.
But he’s not acting like an ass and he should, I’ve been so rude to him. He brings the beer bottle to his lips, taking a drink, and I watch unabashedly. He’s handsome. He’s arrogant. And he’s trouble.
I don’t want anything to do with him.
“So, Fable,” he says once he’s downed half his beer. “Can I ask you a question?”
Shuffling my feet, I glance around the bar. No one’s paying us any attention. I could probably stand here and talk to Colin the mysterious customer for fifteen minutes and no one would protest. “Sure.”
“Why is a woman like you working in a shit bar like this?”
“Why is a guy like you ordering a beer in a shit bar like this?” I retort, momentarily insulted. But then I realize . . . he’s complimenting me. And he referred to me as a woman. No one ever does that. I don’t do that.
He tips his beer at me, as if offering a toast. “Touché. Would you be surprised if I said I came in here looking for you?”