Sure enough, his smile when he spots me is a little dimmer than usual. He does get up, though, and even drops a kiss on my cheek before pulling away and waiting for me to sit.
“How are you?” he asks as we both get settled.
“A little frazzled, actually.” I give him a wary smile. “But nothing a cold drink won’t cure.”
“Right?” He laughs somewhat awkwardly even as he flags down the bartender. “What are you drinking?”
After last night, the last thing I want to do is pump more alcohol into my system. In fact, I’m good with not drinking again for a long while.
“Can I have a club soda with lime?”
The bartender nods and makes it up right on the spot.
Mikey raises a brow when I take my first sip, but I just roll my eyes.
“Yesterday I had enough alcohol to last me a year,” I say without breathing a word about drinking games and Banana Bombers.
“Oh.” He looks concerned. “Are you drinking because of the divorce? Because that’s understandable, but still something to worry about if—”
“What? No!” I start laughing. “I was drinking because my mother and my long-lost—and by long-lost, I mean secret—half sister have both moved in with me since the weekend started. And since my mom didn’t know about my sister until Saturday—which is why she left my dad to come live with me—it’s been exciting. That’s why we got drunk yesterday.” I pause for breath and take in his shell-shocked expression. “And I realize, saying it out loud makes it sound just as bad as it is.” I take a long sip of my club soda and wish that I’d gone for a wine spritzer instead. “Maybe even worse.”
“Not bad,” he says, taking a big pull from his beer. “Just a lot.”
I nod, the writing on the wall becoming a little clearer with every second that passes.
“That’s actually why I wanted to meet today.” He rubs away a nonexistent stain on the bar, looking at it instead of me. “You know, Mallory, I think you’re a really great girl. I just—”
“It’s okay, Mikey.” I smile at him. “I get it.”
“I don’t think you do.” He gives me his full attention, and he looks more serious than he has since he first gave me the never-ending renovation list. “Just let me finish, okay?”
Honestly, it’s not okay. I’m done with my club soda and more than ready to get out of here before my soulful contractor gives me a list of all the reasons he’s not interested in me. I mean, I’m not interested in him, either—the abject and total lack of chemistry is something that can’t be fixed.
But that doesn’t mean I need to sit here and listen as he gives me a list of all the things that are wrong with me according to him. I don’t know why guys do that—why they feel the need to list our faults like they’re doing us a favor—but most of them do. And frankly, I already spent way too much of the last few years feeling bad about myself. The last thing I need now that I’m finally getting my life and self-esteem back together is for someone to try to tear it all down again, no matter how well-meaning.
“We’re in different places right now,” he says with a soft smile.
I know it’s meant to take the sting from the words. It isn’t his fault they didn’t sting in the first place.
“That’s no one’s fault,” he continues. “It just is. Your plate is really full, and it seems like you don’t exactly have time to date. I don’t want you to have to feel like I’m one more ball for you to juggle.”
Wow. I can’t help but be grudgingly impressed. Maybe I misjudged him. He seems self-aware and kind and not very egotistical at all. I feel a little guilty, honestly, considering I was so certain that he was one of those guys who was basically decent but who also—
“Plus. I know what I want in life,” he says. “And frankly, the last week has shown me that you really don’t.”
And there it is. My grip tightens around my glass, and I try my best to keep the fuck-you off my face. Looks like he isn’t so different after all. Even worse, even knowing everything I do, his words sting—not because they aren’t true but because they are. I don’t know what I want out of life right now. Not just because of the divorce but because of everything else that has come at me so fast over the last few weeks.
My mom. My sister. Karl and Sasha’s baby. My dad. My new job. Nick— I cut off that last thought before it goes any further. Nick isn’t just my boss and my neighbor and the guy who is going to help me get a fair settlement from my divorce. I mean, maybe he’s gotten to be a friend, too, but he doesn’t really belong on the list of things in my life that are in flux. I mean, we’ve only known each other a short time. There’s nothing there to be in flux.
And now that that thought is up there in the front of my brain, there’s no time like the present to move this whole thing along.
“Well, thanks for dinner the other night, Mikey. And the club soda—” I hold up my empty glass. “It was really nice getting to talk with you.”
I start to get up, but he reaches out and snags my hand before I can do much more than grab my purse. “Hold on, Mallory. Please. I wasn’t trying to offend you.”
“I’m not offended.” And it’s true. I’m not offended. What I am is a little embarrassed that I let my life get to this point and a lot ready to figure out what comes next. “I do have a lot on my plate. And I am in the middle of a contentious divorce, so you’re right. I don’t have a lot of energy left for other things. Which I actually think is okay—just like I think it’s okay that I don’t know what I want from my life at the moment. For the last decade, I’ve thought—expected—my life to end up one way. And now I’m finding out it’s going to go in a whole different direction. I think it’s okay—no, I think it’s better than okay—for me to take a little time and figure out what that direction is.”
And whoa. That was a mouthful. Even more, it was a brain full—and something I had no intention of ever saying to Mikey or anyone else. But now that I’ve said it, now that it’s out there in the universe, I don’t feel bad about doing so. In fact, I’m proud of myself. Proud of myself for speaking my mind and even more proud of myself for taking ownership of my shit.
“I’m really not offended,” I reiterate when Mikey continues to look a little like a deer caught in the headlights. “And I’m not angry. I’m just telling you where I’m coming from—which I feel like I already did when we met for lunch.”
He inclines his head. “You did. I just…”
“Thought you could fix everything?” I tease with a grin.