The glorious days of no work had come to an end, much to my dismay. On my first day back, I’d refused the ride Ali offered, citing a desire for normalcy. I was going to ride the train and told him that I expected to see him on the train that evening, just like always. I spent the day at work checking things out. Oliver had done an outstanding job of running the place in my stead and Alyssa, an eager young lady who’d been there for just over a year had stepped up to assist. We’d known for quite some time that she harbored a major crush on him, but she was truly a hard worker and she was very dependable. He was happy to see me and told me I was glowing. We took a lunch and he caught me up on all things Lacey. They’d been keeping in touch and he’d seen her again—a little detail she’d obviously kept from her dear big brother, Lenny.
“How is she, Oliver?” I asked with a grimace, letting my curiosity get the best of me.
“She’s stuck up as hell, but really smart. And very rude.” he laughed. “She’s totally hiding me. But all the sneaking around is so hot, Cam. Soooo damned hot,” he said, almost to himself, with a cat who ate the canary, grin on his face.
“I don’t know, Ollie. It sounds like trouble,” I said, shaking my head.
“Please! You just don’t want us messing with your thing.”
He was right. The warning was a bit selfish. I didn’t want their relationship to tank and negatively affect how Ali felt about him. I didn’t need a rift between my boyfriend and my best friend. Ali’s feelings about Oliver were tenuous, at best. Oliver’s mood made an abrupt change and he took a sip from his drink.
“She asks a lot of questions about you,” he confessed. His mood change concerned me a bit. I knew she thought lowly of me, because of my work. I’d picked up on that the day she had dinner with us. Her side eye glances and sarcastic remarks didn’t escape me. She acted more like an ex-girlfriend than she did a sister. She was on her best behavior but her act wore thin as the night went on. Admittedly, there was great comfort in the fact that her brother was there with me and she was at my house, cashier or not.
“What kinds of questions.” I asked with a cavalier attitude.
“She asked about your house. Was it your mom’s. Was it left to you. Stuff like that.” He took another sip from his cup and nervously avoided eye contact. I could tell he was uncomfortable sharing this information with me, so I let him off the hook and asked no more questions.
“We’d better get back, Ollie Dollie,” I said standing. I laid a hand on top of his head, absolving him from his perceived betrayal.
I could hardly sit still waiting for the train to reach Ali’s stop and when it did, there he was just as golden as the first time I’d laid eyes on him. Just like always his eyes scanned the train for me, and when they fell on me, he broke into a grand smile, setting his beautiful dimples ablaze. He almost bounced to my seat and plopped down next to me.
“Hey Ms. Lady,” he said, but this time he kissed me.
“Hi, Sir.” I replied and glanced around to see if anyone had witnessed the new development between us. No one showed any interest. When the train reached my stop at the airport, Ali stood to let me pass, but followed me to the exit.
“Where are you going?” I asked coyly.
“Anywhere you’re going.” he answered, grabbing me by the waist.
“Seriously, where are you going?”
“Home, with you. I parked at the airport because I want to stay with you!”
I tilted my head with a smirk.
“Unless of course you need a break,” he said offering me an out.
He looked like a little boy as he awaited my response.
“Sounds good to me, Mr. Robinson.” I said giggling and kissed him. “Just let me call Camilla.”
He smiled brightly and took me by the hand.
Ali had practically moved in with us and everything was going on like a dream, until a seemingly normal Thursday night. We were out for dinner in Historic College Park, when Lacey and Oliver strolled by. Ali nearly jumped out of his seat and banged on the plate glass window, startling many of the other patrons in the restaurant. Anger flashed in his usually warm, brown eyes as he walked out, leaving me sitting alone at the table. He returned shortly with Oliver and a visibly agitated Lacey in tow. He said something to the maitre d’, who moved us from our table for two to a nearby four topper. Lacey looked stunning. She was wearing her trademark neutrals again, which seemed to enhance her golden complexion. She was wearing a beige cashmere cowl neck sweater underneath a winter white belted, wool coat with dark skinny jeans and camel colored over the knee boots. Her soft, thick bangs were framing her cateye glasses on both sides tonight. She’d worn them in a side swept style the last two times I’d seen her. Oliver gave me a warm hug.
“Uh Oh,” he whispered in my ear, which made me giggle out loud.
Ali shot an antagonistic glance in my direction and then turned back to Lacey.
“Hello.” I said dryly nodding to the Ice Princess.
She responded in kind and removed her coat. Oliver helped, of course. He hung her coat on the back of her chair and pushed it up to the table. Ali did the same for me, but he hadn’t the first time. And so, it begins, I thought to myself.
Dinner was awkward to put it lightly. Ali clenched his jaw through much of the evening and Lacey casted bristling glances at both me and Ali at several points throughout the night. Oliver seemed to be the only one of us who was really enjoying his meal. He gabbed on about the neighborhood and how it was making a comeback. He talked about the great restaurants in the area and dished trivial gossip about the owners and employees at the different shops and restaurants. As much as I hated to admit it, Lacey’s face lit up and soften when he was speaking; she hung on his every word and smiled incessantly at his every little joke and witty remark— Ali missed none of it and disdain registered on his face.
“What the hell’s going on here? So, you’re sneaking around again, Lacey!” Ali blurted out, no longer able to control his outrage.
We all sat startled, looking at one another and at the other diners. His last statement landed heavily and obviously struck a chord with his sister. She sat frozen and looked down at the table before robotically running her hands over the tablecloth. She took a dramatic breath in and cast a blood curdling look at her brother, who did not shy away. I touched Ali’s thigh underneath the table.
“Ali,” I said softly. “This place had linen table covers and napkins. There’s a maître d’ here.”
He moved my hand and kept his eyes fixed on his sister.
“Are you seriously trying to date this guy? And sneaking into town to be with him, like some kind of hopeless teenage romantic.” He said between clenched teeth.
I didn’t like his tone, nor did I like him moving my hand. I felt the hairs on my arms and neck standing on their ends. I calmly touched him again.
“Babe, they’re adults and please remember where we are.”
He shoved my hand away more forcefully and leered at me. His warm brown eyes were unfamiliar to me. They were bitter. I stood up and took my coat from the back of my chair and Oliver stood up with me. Lacey moved to stand, too.
“Not you. You sit right there.” Ali said to his sister.
I watched, dumbfounded and enraged. Heat rose from the bottoms of my feet and shot out from my fingertips and hair follicles. I felt on fire! I turned on my heels and headed to the exit, when something came over me, I think it was confidence mixed with outrage and I marched right back to his side.
“Ali Robinson, if you let me walk out of this door without you tonight, this.” I pointed to him and myself for absolute clarity, “will be done. Do you understand me? Done.”
I waited for added drama. I guess it worked because he stood up and snatched his own coat and stomped past me heading to the door.
“Guys, I’m so truly sorry about all of this. Enjoy the rest of your night.” I said to the couple with my hand on my heart.
Lacey turned her face towards the window, completely ignoring me, but Oliver stood and gave me another quick hug.
“I’ll call you in the morning,” he said.
Ali stood at the door obstinately waiting for me and just as I walked past him to leave, he turned to his sister and Oliver.
“I don’t like this because you’re lying to me. We don’t do this Lacey. We don’t lie to each other. That doesn’t work or have you forgotten.” He said heavy heartedly.
Lacey looked genuinely hurt, but she had enough gumption left to deliver her own heavyhearted message.
“How dare you, Lenny,” her voice trembled. “You asked me for time about her.”
She hurled her words at her brother, but her finger at me.
“Give me time, Lenny! I’m not a little girl anymore,” she said in a shaky, small voice.
She sprang to her feet. Oliver helped her into her coat, and they walked out
“I’m not the guy you think I am.” he said to Ali before following Lacey onto the sidewalk. “Goodnight, Boss Lady.”
The ride home from the restaurant was among the worst times I’d ever spent in Ali’s company. We barely spoke and the tension in the small confines of his sports car was stifling. Did he think Oliver was beneath he and his saditty ass sister? Was I so inconsequential that he could simply dismiss me to find my own way home in the dead of the night? And the nerve of him to push my hand away from him. After everything we’d gone through together, all the growth. Even though he’d said he loved me, I was still just the poor little girl flipping in the ghetto on a dirty mattress.
When we reached my house, he didn’t even drive all the way to the back, where the carport was, he stopped midway up the driveway.
“Goodnight. I’m going home,” he said.
I sat there for a little while, looking at him, but he stared straight ahead, refusing to meet my gaze. He was seething with anger and so was I. I could feel the intense heat rising in my ears again. I put my hand on the door handle, but couldn’t make myself open it. Then I turned to him again.
“You were a total ass tonight. So, yes, you go home tonight, and don’t call me.”
I got out and heard him grind the gears into reverse. He screeched out of the driveway before I reached the front door. He didn’t even wait to make sure I’d gotten into the house safely and that made my gut wrench.
“Who was that guy?” I asked myself repeatedly that night.
The morning after the standoff at the restaurant, I called Oliver to check on him and to tell him all about the way Ali had peeled off, leaving me standing in the middle of my very long driveway in the dark of night, but he didn’t answer. I imagined Lacey lying there beside him in his bed with his sheets pulled up to her armpits, exposing only her creamy mocha colored shoulders. I wondered what she looked like without her glasses and if her eyelashes were wheat colored like the highlights in her bangs. I felt a tinge of jealousy flash across my heart. Here I was alone for standing up for them! I was just getting into my feelings when my phone vibrated in my hand. It was a text message from Ali.
---Here I go again. I’m sorry. May I call? ---
My heart skipped a beat, but then the anger flashed again. Who the hell does he think he is? I decided to make him sweat. I didn’t reply to his message. I sat the phone face down on the bed beside me and curled back up underneath the covers. I felt it buzz again.
---I can see that you read my message. iMessage, remember? Please. Forgive me. I love you. I’m a hothead, you had to learn that about me at some point. I’m not perfect. ---
Again, I didn’t reply. The phone buzzed again, this time I smiled a little and picked it up.
---Come home with me, to meet my parents. ---
---???? You can call. ---
Hearing his voice with all its sensual charm--I was smitten again. He told me that Lacey had been hurt before and it changed her. He explained that he hadn’t been around to vet the guy and he felt responsible for letting it get so far. He said that he did not think that Oliver wasn’t good enough for her, he just didn’t know Oliver. He told me that the mere fact that Lacey was coming to the city so often let him know that she was into Oliver and that concerned him, as it should any big brother. I bought it all--hook, line and sinker. I loved him and he loved me, he’d told me so.