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Chapter 20

"A true gentleman is one that apologizes anyways, even though he has not offended a lady intentionally. He is in a class all of his own because he knows the value of a woman's heart."
~Shannon L. Alder


Mark

I'd been in a foul mood most of the day. So much so that my parents ordered me to cook rather than serve dishes. They asked me what was wrong, but I didn't want to explain it, mostly because it sounded pathetic and wrong.

In a nutshell, I was upset that the girl I was madly in love with was now engaged to my best friend. That's shitty of me. Even worse, her fiance had been cheating on her practically since they'd started dating. I never told her, not thinking it was my place, nor did I have an idea of how to bring it up without sounding like I was trying to break them up.

But now that Everly and Eric were engaged, I regretted not telling her. I should've at least asked Annalise to inform her for me. Of course, while Anna and Everly were friends, they didn't hang out often. Annalise probably wanted to tell her as well but didn't think it was her place either.

Finally, thankfully, my shift ended. I exited the bar to find Eric sitting on a stool, flirting surreptitiously with a leggy brunette.

Maybe I was fed up with him and his flaky friendship.

Maybe I was fed up with his selfishness.

Maybe I was fed up with his dishonesty.

Maybe I gave in to my own selfish desires of wanting to be with Everly. Whatever the reason, I decided enough was enough. Everly deserved to know the truth. If that meant she hated me for it, then so be it. But at least she'd know the truth.

I walked out the door without saying goodbye to Eric. He didn't even notice. I made my way to Everly's luxury, high-rise apartment in one of the capital's most sought after buildings. I rang up to her penthouse, and Everly immediately buzzed me in. Between always coming to Donaldson's with Eric, going out to lunch with Eric and me, or stopping by Donaldson's with her friends, she and I had become close.

"Hey!" Everly greeted enthusiastically. Her face fell when she saw my expression. "Get in here. What's wrong?"

I stepped inside her apartment. Her Chihuahua, Eliza, trotted up to me. I stopped down to pet her.

"What's wrong?" Everly repeated.

"I should've told you this a long time ago, but I didn't know how or know if it was my place, and I didn't want it to seem like I was jealous of Eric, and if you get mad at me, I totally understand, and-"

"Mark!" Everly interrupted. "Just tell me what's going on."

"Eric's been cheating on you," I blurted.

Everly deflated, hanging her head. "I hoped it wasn't true…"

I blinked. "You knew?"

"I suspected," she corrected. "But I turned a blind eye to it because I thought he'd change for me. I thought... never mind." Everly stalked towards the kitchen. I hesitated, not knowing if she wanted space or if she wanted company until she shouted, "Well, come on!"

I scurried after her. Everly poured a glass of wine and handed it to me.

"What about you?" I asked. In response to my question, she took a swig from the bottle. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you sooner."

Everly shrugged. "My friends told me they thought he was unfaithful. I laughed it off and told them they were being overprotective. Now I feel like everyone knew he was cheating on me except me. Hell, Annalise and Will probably knew too."

"Anna knew Eric was a cheater, but since she avoided him like the plague, she probably just assumed he was. Since she's so close to Will, she probably told him about it."

"When are those two going to get together?" She grumbled. "I'm tired of seeing my cousin stare longingly at her, and I'm tired of her not realizing she's actually in love with him."

I nearly choked on the sip of wine I'd just taken. "Anna's in love with Will?"

"She doesn't know it, but she is." Everly got up, walking over to her iPod docking station. She turned on some classical music.

"How do you know she's in love with Will?" I asked. Everly danced back over to me. The wine seemed to already be going to her head.

"Because I can just tell. I'm good at that stuff. Like how I knew my friend was going to marry the Duke of Somerset before she'd even met him. Like how I know the sky is blue. Like how I know that Eliza likes you but not other guys with black hair for some unexplainable reason. Like how I know you're in love with me but refused to admit it because you're a good guy and wouldn't make a move on his best friend's girlfriend." Everly stared at me in horror. "I shouldn't have- Mark… I didn't-"

"Guess I didn't hide it as well as I thought I did," I chuckled humorlessly. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks from embarrassment. I raised the wine glass to my lips and chugged the rest of the nearly full glass. I prayed the alcohol numbed my mortification sooner rather than later.

"No one knew but me," Everly whispered. "And you hid it better than most. It took me a while to catch on."

"What gave it away?" I stared at the bottle in her hands, desperately want to take it from her so I could drink some more. I was never one to drink away my problems, but I felt like I needed to tonight. As if sensing what I wanted, Everly slid the bottle over to me. There wasn't much left in there. She'd drunk more than I'd realized, and she was already grabbing more from the cabinet.

"It was the little things. Like whenever Eric would tell me he loved me, you'd look away. Whenever I was with my friends, you'd always talk to me and not to them even though you were single, and I know you know most of them flirted with you at some point."

"I think I prefer the time when I didn't know you know I like you."

"… That made no sense, but I think I understand what you're trying to say."

"Why did you stay with Eric if you suspected he was cheating on you?" I inquired. "You could do so much better than him."

Everly shrugged. " I don't know... I guess because I've never had a serious boyfriend before. All the guys I've dated took me on two or three dates, and then they dumped me without an explanation, or the guys I liked were interested in one of my friends. I faced so much rejection that when I finally met Eric, a guy who genuinely seemed to like me, I turned a blind eye to my gut instincts because I just wanted to be loved."

"Any guy who's not interested in you is a fool," I declared, causing her to let out a small, soft laugh. "So, what are you going to do now?"

"I'm certainly not letting him off the hook easily. I want to embarrass him, teach him a lesson."

"I'll help."

"Thank you. For now, though, I want to drown in my sorrows, watch some corny movies, and eat a whole cake."

"You have a cake?" I replied excitedly. Oh great, I was getting the munchies. Now I knew the wine was going to my head…

"I ordered one to celebrate my engagement with some friends tomorrow, but I'll just tell them I'm sick. Also, get some more bottles of wine. I want to get drunk. You're welcome to join me, by the way."

I shrugged. "I have nothing else to do, and I have the day off tomorrow."

"Yay!" Everly jumped up, grabbing the cake from the fridge. Meanwhile, I stared at all the wine in her cabinet, wondering which bottles to take. I went for the two labels I recognized. If we drank all of these, which I had a feeling we would, I'd let Everly choose the next ones.

I plopped down onto the floor next to her. Everly had already shoved a massive piece of cake into her mouth. So big, in fact, that she could barely chew it. For two very tipsy people, the sight was more amusing than it actually was. I couldn't stop laughing, which only made it harder for her to swallow because my laughing made her laugh, and it turned into a vicious cycle.

For two hours, we had a steady diet of cake and wine, and both of us moved past tipsy to drunk.

We finished the cake around two in the morning and the wine around two-thirty after we'd had three bottles each. I don't think I'd ever had that much to drink before and probably never would again, but I had to say, I was having a blast.

Even if I couldn't think straight...

Everly rested her head on her hand, staring at me. Our fits of laughter had finally subsided. The sugar high was crashing, and our drunkenness was wearing off.

"What?" I asked, leaning back against the couch, closing my eyes.

"Maybe it's liquid courage giving me the guts to say this, but it should've been you," she said softly.

"What should've been me?" I grunted, sleepiness quickly consuming me.

"My boyfriend. It should've been you."

At this, I swiveled my head to look at her. "What are you saying?"

"Are you really that thickheaded?" Everly leaned in close to me, causing my heart to race. I might be sobering up, but I wasn't wholly sober, and while I really wanted to kiss her, she was still my best friend's fiancée.

"It appears so," I told her.

"I like you, idiot."

"What are you going to do about it? It's not like we can date because you're engaged to Eric, and while I don't condone what he's doing to you, I don't-"

Everly shut me up with a kiss.

I should've stopped.

I should've pushed her off.

But I was tired of being the good guy, and for once, the girl I liked actually liked me back. I knew I'd regret this in the morning, but I didn't care. Besides, didn't Eric deserve to have a taste of his own medicine?

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