“Sorry I’m late. You know your buddy’s over there. Shall we invite him and his friend to sit with us?” Alex said as he joined Richard at the table.
“Like I care.”
“Sure you do, he’s banging your ex-girlfriend.”
Richard glared at his friend. “Knock it off. I’m not in the mood for any shit tonight. Where the hell have you been?”
Alex merely smirked and picked up the menu, enjoying the discomfort that Paul’s presence created. “Supervising a job. The amazing thing is, I still don’t see what it is in her that you obsess over,” he remarked casually, studying the list of appetizers. “When she was a child, she was so bland she blended into the woodwork. An absolute mouse. Now, she’s just an older mouse.”
Richard’s black eyes narrowed into a glare, and he began to wonder just why he bothered. He had other friends. “What’s that on your sleeve?”
Alex glanced at his right wrist. “Don’t know. Dirt, I suppose. I’ll have to send this out before I wear it again. Here comes the waitress.”
“What can I get you two?”
“I’ll have the fried zucchini and the fish sandwich,” Richard told her. “Bring me a beer, too, please. Whatever you have on tap.”
“A lager and the shrimp platter,” Alex handed the menu to her without a glance. His eyes were trained on Richard. “Maybe Rory’s not what you’ve always claimed. Maybe she’s a figment of your imagination. Frankly, after her interview with me, I’m sure that she’s still a mouse.”
“You know she isn’t.”
“Looking good doesn’t mean anything.”
“She’s stronger than you know. Stronger than Paul knows, too. She’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”
Richard held his stare and said nothing.
“I deserve an answer, you know. How would you know anything? Seems to me she wants nothing to do with you.”
“She was always strong.”
“So strong she writes articles about you for revenge?. Looks more like she’s into public humiliation if you ask me.”
“I’m over that.” And he was. On most days. “She doesn’t hate me.”
Another smirk, then laughter. “Right. She doesn’t hate you. Did it ever occur to you that you’re defending a woman that not only doesn’t want you but has managed to tell the world you raped her?” He laughed, increasing Richard’s discomfort. “What’d she do? Ruin you for other women?”
Richard wanted to sink under the table. The way Alex was going on, everyone would be sure to hear. He glanced over at Paul just in time to see the man with him plant his hand on Paul’s shoulder, say something, and leave. By the look on Paul’s face, whatever was said disturbed him. He left a moment later, throwing a few bills at the waitress when she tried to stop him.
“What’s so interesting over there?”
“Let it go, Alex.”
“Let it go? That’s a laugh. You’ve got to let her go! She married that other loser, and he’s the one laying her. Not you.” After a pause, he laughed. “Then again, she just filed for divorce. She’ll be free shortly. And, frankly, she’s so hot – mouse or not – I’m thinking I might have a go at her myself. I’ll let you know if she’s any good.”
Richard imagined lunging across the table, sending everything on it to the floor, and grabbing Alex by the collar. Hauling him to his feet and slamming his head against the wall. “You keep your filthy hands off her, you hear me? She’s too good for you,” he’d snarl, enjoying the way Alex would grimace each time his head hit the wall. He could see in his mind how he would begin to strangle on his starched collar.
It was a nice fantasy.
He glared at Alex across the table, imagining how blue the self-righteous prick’s face would turn. “Just shut the fuck up.” He shoved his chair back and left.
Richard opted for the long way home, effortlessly guiding his BMW along the empty back roads. There was nothing better than tree-lined, winding roads to clear one’s head.
A siren jolted him, and a moment later a police car sped by, an ambulance close behind.
When he drove past the accident, he rubbernecked, wondering if he’d see something interesting, but the paramedics were out of sight, already working their way down the steep hill to his left. Richard only saw the partial undercarriage of a vehicle as he passed and nothing else.