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“Hey! C’mon! There are only three stalls!” someone shouts before banging hard on my door.
“Oh! Sorry! I’m having diarrhea.”
And then I pull up a YouTube video of Niagara Falls so I can finish researching my exit in peace.
Unfortunately, after a good deal of desperate searching, I’m left with no other option but to grin and bear it for a little longer until I can convince Cooper to take me home.
When I vacate my sanctuary (stall) and reenter the festivities, I expect him to be worried about my prolonged absence. No doubt word of my condition has spread through the ballroom, but I’m annoyed to find that I happen to be on a date with the Russell brother who loves attention. At this very moment he’s in the middle of the dance floor smoothly transitioning back and forth between twirling the flower girl like a ballerina and shimmying beside the mother of the bride. There’s a circle of people clapping around him and oh my god, he’s doing the worm. Three bridesmaids hover nearby, licking their chops.
I turn in the exact opposite direction. Some people were made to dance, and some people were made to be wallflowers. I fall solidly into the second category.
I round the edge of the room, happy to finally have a moment to myself, but then I spot Dr. Russell sitting outside in the cold. He couldn’t be farther away from the festivities unless he physically removed himself from the premises.
I watch as he brings a drink to his lips and takes a long drag. Then he lays his head on the back of the chair and stares up at the night sky. I press my hand to the glass and confirm it’s just as cold as I thought it would be.
He’s going to get frostbite. I should let him.
What do I care?
And yet, I turn and walk back to the dining table to get our coats. His is thick wool and undoubtedly expensive and I want to wrap it around myself so badly, but I stuff my arms into my own puffy pink sleeves and resist the temptation.
At the door to the patio, I take a deep breath, appreciating one last second of warmth before I step outside and arctic air blasts my face. My extremities turn to ice. I lose feeling in my bare legs.
“Jesus, are you insane?!” I shout, scurrying over to him quickly. “What are you doing out here?”
He doesn’t turn around, just holds up his tumbler as if in explanation.
“Yes, I get it: you’re trying to drink yourself to death. You’ve been doing it all night—surely you’re close by now.”
He chuckles. “One more ought to do it.”
His reply is lazier than usual. He’s definitely drunk, and I’m definitely about to die when another blast of wind hits me.
I round his chair, fling his jacket onto his lap, and run back inside as fast as my legs can take me. I feel no pity for him anymore. He has his jacket. I’m going to walk right over to that nice roaring fire, plop down in the cozy sitting area, and pull up the Kindle app on my phone.
When I get closer, I realize I’m not the only one with this idea. A young girl is reading a worn paperback and she’s so focused on it, she doesn’t even notice me.
“Is this seat available?” I ask, pointing to the chair across from her. She nods without looking up and wow, this girl is my kind of people.
I sit there, warming up and reading on my phone, glad no one cares to bother me, right up until a pair of keys appear in my line of sight. I follow them up to a large hand, and then an arm covered in thick wool. Up even farther, my gaze clashes with Dr. Russell’s.
“Drive me home?”
I scrunch my nose in distaste. “Can’t you drive yourself?”
“That possibility flew out the window about four drinks back. Lily, mind if I steal your friend?”
The little girl shrugs and turns a page. Such betrayal. Here I was thinking we were forming a little book club. Where’s her loyalty?
“Can’t you ask someone else?” Anyone else?
Maybe Lily has a motorized scooter she could tie him to.
He drops his keys and they plop onto my lap. “No. I know you want to leave too. This is called killing two birds with one stone. Now c’mon. I already told everyone we’re leaving so you don’t have to bother with saying goodbye.”
Fine. It’s just as well. My phone is about to die anyway.
Though he says I don’t have to, I want to say goodbye to everyone because I’m not a complete jerk. There’s no way Cooper will let me go this easily. No doubt he’ll turn into a raging scorned lover when he finds out I’m leaving with his brother.
“Okay, cool. Drive safe!” he calls from the center of the dance floor, sandwiched between two bridesmaids.
Oh, right. Well…he must be very good at hiding his territorial side.
At least Mrs. Russell is sad to see me go.
“I hope we get to see you again soon, Bailey,” she says, sounding as if she actually means it. Unfortunately for her, the chances of that ever happening are slim to none. One of her sons is doing the robot and has forgotten I exist, and the other is hovering near the door, anxious to get away from here and me.
Out in the parking lot, he walks a few paces behind me, drunk as a skunk.
I’ve never seen him like this. He’s always so buttoned-up and high-strung. I bet he watches TV in his suit in the evenings. When he’s watched exactly one episode of a documentary or snooze-worthy educational programming, he brushes each of his teeth for exactly 15 seconds and then he tucks himself into bed wearing a full pajama set, dressing robe, slippers, and little night cap.
I laugh at the image before realizing the real-life Dr. Russell is no longer following me. For no good reason, he’s changed course and is toddling toward the dumpsters at the far end of the parking lot.
“Where are you going?!” I cry, running after him.
He laughs. “I can’t remember the color of my car.”
Though I have the sober advantage, his legs are easily twice as long as mine. When I finally reach him, I’m breathing hard. Like a zookeeper trying to wrangle a wild bear, I’m careful not to get too close in case he decides to pass out and smother me in the process. Instead, I hover behind him, hands on his biceps as I half-shove, half-prod him in the right direction. It’s not easy. With him resisting, it’s like I’m trying to move a boulder.
We make it a few feet before he sees something on the ground that catches his interest and leans forward to grab it. It’s a flower growing in the concrete. He picks it and offers it to me. “Here, please, a token of my gratitude.”
I yank the tiny white thing out of his hand, shove it in my pocket, and roll my eyes. “All right, fine. Thank you. Now c’mon, we’re almost there.”
His Prius is just a few yards away, but he turns back to look over his shoulder and his bottom lip juts out like he’s disappointed. I should despise him for what he’s putting me through, but even inebriated, he’s ridiculously hot. His dark hair is a slightly tousled, his tie tugged loose.
“You don’t like it, do you? I’ll buy you roses instead. Stop at a florist on the way home.”
Oh Jesus. How did I get here?
I unlock his Prius and have a hell of a time getting him inside. It’s like he’s forgotten how his limbs work. His hand flies toward me and I have to duck.
“Do you have to be so big?”
I accidentally bonk his head as I force him down and he groans, but eventually I have him stuffed in there and buckled up. I have to shift the driver’s seat forward about twenty feet before I can reach the gas pedal, but a few minutes later, I’m on the highway with his address in the map app on my phone.
I’m so close to freedom I can taste it.
“Bailey, Bailey, Bailey,” he says, head rolling back and forth on his headrest. “Why do you hate me?”
Okay, maybe not that close.
I glance over and his boyish charm hits me in full force. His head is turned toward me. His eyes plead with me to give in, though I have no idea what I would be surrendering to. His mouth is turned down in a sad frown. His hand is outstretched, palm up, resting on the console as if he’s waiting for me to clasp it. I clutch the steering wheel extra hard.