Chapter 8: Pete
When I arrived at the restaurant, the thought that maybe I should tell Kate I was here crossed my mind. When Kate had called me and told me she was having dinner with Jennifer I cancelled the plans I’d had with the guys in order to make sure I gave Kate the support she needed. It couldn’t be easy to have to tell her sister-in-law to get her shit together, especially when Kate felt responsible for taking care of her after what happened to Blake.
But I didn’t. I didn’t even know why I didn’t. Maybe I thought I was surprising her. Maybe I thought changing plans on her last minute was going to throw everything off (although, showing up without even telling her didn’t make things better, either). But I felt I needed to be here for her.
I headed to the bar and ordered a beer. Liquid courage was going to be my friend tonight. I had no idea how I was supposed to help – if I should want to help in the first place. But beer made everything better – within reason – and I needed everything it could offer right now.
Kate said she was meeting with Jennifer at exactly six. If I knew Kate, I knew she would be right on time. Since I didn’t know anything about Jennifer, since I had never even met her, I had no idea if she was going to show up on time, early, or even late. As such, I decided the best thing for me to do was to nurse my beer until I saw Kate and then at least let her know I was here.
I glanced at my wristwatch and set my hand back down on my thigh. I glanced around. It was twenty minutes before Kate’s dinner with Jennifer and I didn’t see her anywhere yet.
I took another sip of my beer.
“That’s what I need,” a small voice said from beside me.
I turned and saw a pretty brunette with curly hair. She had sharp cheekbones, a sharp jawline. She looked gaunt. Tired. Her eyes were wide. Wide and sad. The clothes she wore pooled around her thin body. Somehow, though, she was still pretty. Pretty in a depressing, tragic sort of way. Pretty that drew men in who liked to fix things.
“Oh, yeah?” I asked, giving her a friendly smile. It didn’t seem as though she was trying to hit on me or get me to buy her a drink. Honestly, it looked like she was desperate for conversation. “Can I buy you one?”
“No, I don’t think I can drink just yet. Maybe not ever.”
Her eyes immediately got glassy and I froze. She looked like she was going to cry and I wasn’t sure how to stop it.
“But I will take a water with lemon, if it won’t break the bank.”
My lips curled up. She was funny, whether she intended to or not.
I raised my hand and waved the bartender over, asking for an ice water with lemon. She smiled but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. There was something about her, something lost. I could absolutely believe that that drew men to her, where they wanted to save her. She wasn’t terrible on the eyes. The thing was, it didn’t seem as though she was faking the sadness. She didn’t appear to be looking for help. I wasn’t sure why she was here unless maybe her girlfriends forced her to get out of the house. Maybe a boyfriend had just broken up with her.
But this really wasn’t the sort of place a recently single young woman went out with girlfriends. This wasn’t a club or a bar. It was a classy restaurant. This was where business meetings took place during lunch and dates hung out at night. Not the casual dates, either, but the dates where a proposal or something just as romantic happened. And important family meetings.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked, twisting my torso towards her and grabbing my half-full beer with one hand.
“Just a friend,” she said but then caught herself. “Family, really.”
I nodded my head, ready to ask her another question when she jumped in. It was hard to hear her with how crowded the bar was getting. Even the couples behind her were bumping into as if she wasn’t there.
“What was that?” I called.
She repeated her question but I still couldn’t hear her. Finally, with her glass of water in one hand, she said, “What about you? Are you meeting someone tonight?”
“Not really,” I replied. I didn’t even know what the hell that meant.
She didn’t either, judging by the curious look on her face.
At that moment, someone bumped into her arm, causing her to toss her water all over my pants. She squealed in surprise as my comfortable slacks were filled with ice and cold water. I heard a rush of apologies but it was only when she started grabbing cloth napkins and dabbing my thigh did I realize what was happening.
Things couldn’t get much worse, I thought.
“What the hell is going on here?”
I flinched. I was wrong. Things could get much, much worse.