“Eww, no way. I don’t like avocados.” I wrinkled my nose and sidestepped her before she shoved her finger into my mouth.
“Thomas, you try then.” Lifting her finger to Thomas’s mouth, she paused. Maybe because of the way Thomas was looking at her, or maybe because of the way she was looking at him, but it was clear they were both very conscious of each other.
Her other hand dropped to the bend of his elbow right before he opened his mouth. Holly slipped her finger inside and, just as Thomas’s lips closed around it, LJ came running into the room.
“I didn’t spill even a little bit,” he announced proudly as he set the pitcher on the counter.
This shook them both out of their stupor. Clearing her throat, Holly pulled her finger back. “What do you think? Too spicy?”
Thomas looked like he’d need a two-by-four to the head to clear his mind. I was about to go searching for one when he shook his head. “No.”
I supposed a lame one-word reply was better than no reply.
“Maybe not enough salt?” Holly suggested, looking everywhere but at Thomas. Her eyes had suddenly become allergic to him. “There’s definitely something missing.”
Thomas’s face got all deliberate. “From where I’m standing,” he said, “it’s pretty darn perfect.”
I was beginning to feel like a third wheel, so I started making my way to the table when a knock sounded at the door.
“Yay! He’s here,” India said, clapping as she rushed to the door. “Someone who will be on my side.”
I didn’t know India was going to invite her latest boy toy over for the night, not that she would have cared if I knew or approved or not. I was contemplating dodging behind my room dividers so I could change when she threw the door open.
“Anton!” she said, tossing her arms around his neck.
Anton. My exact same response, minus the enthusiasm. Actually, with the complete opposite of enthusiasm.
He was still in his checked tie and vest when India dragged him inside. He had the decency to make an apologetic face when he looked my way. That was, until he really saw me. Or saw what I was wearing. He was grinning by the time he got to the slippers, but that grin died as soon as he noticed the look I was leveling on him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, sounding as impolite as a person could. “I thought you had some sort of hot blind date tonight.”
“The bitch canceled on him last-minute,” India answered for him, “and when my big brother texted me that for the first time ever, he’d been stood up, I couldn’t not invite him over to our first Friday-night dinner to lick his wounds. Besides, we’ve got Corona on ice, and Mama made some Jell-O shooters for the after-little-man-goes-to-bed party,” she said, nodding over at LJ, who was too busy tossing his football up in the air to pay us any attention.
“You don’t mind, do you, Lucy?” India asked, finally taking a second to look at me.
Instead of smacking Anton square across the face like I wanted to, I plastered on a fake smile. “No, why would I mind?” I said, going to the kitchen to grab another place setting. “Why wouldn’t I want my boss and my friend’s brother to join us for dinner?”
I was laying it on thick. That was obvious from the way Holly and Thomas were studying me, like I’d tripped a wire in my brain or something.
“I’m sensing the sarcasm,” India said, when I marched back to the table and slapped a plate down.
“You mean I wasn’t subtle?”
“Not exactly,” she said, as I took out a little frustration on the napkin I was folding. “Bad day at work?” she guessed.
“Understatement,” I muttered before I looked up and caught Anton staring at my cl**vage. So much for Saint Anton who was impervious to what was south of a woman’s neck.
“I’m going to go,” Anton said, lifting his hands and retreating toward the door.
“Best idea you’ve had all day,” I said, crossing my arms.
“Hold up, you two,” India said, grabbing her brother’s arm and pulling him back. “What in the H-E-L-L is going on here?”
Thomas and Holly had drifted up to the table and were watching the whole thing like it was one big ol’ train wreck they couldn’t look away from.
“I can answer that with four words,” I said, crossing my arms tighter. “Anton is an A-S-S.” I glanced over at LJ, who was oblivious. Nothing but him and his football. I mourned that kind of simplicity.
India’s face scrunched up while Anton’s dropped. “You’re right. I was an”—he glanced over at LJ—“A-S-S. A huge, insensitive one. And I’m sorry.” He took a few steps my direction but stopped once I stiffened. “Will you forgive me?”
“Will you promise to stop acting like a huge, insensitive A-S-S?”
“I can’t guarantee that,” he said. “But I can promise that I’ll try.” A couple steps closer, until I could smell that damned cologne of his. “So? Forgiven?”
“Forgiven? I don’t know,” I answered truthfully. “But you can stay.” Wanting to put some space between us, I headed back into the kitchen. I was tempted to hack up the other half head of lettuce just to get some of my frustration out, but held myself back.
Instead, I cracked my neck, popped my knuckles, and grabbed a Corona. I didn’t bother with the lime.
“Lucy, my girl, I don’t know how you managed to get the first apology I’ve ever heard from my brother, but that ought to make you eligible for your own national holiday,” India said, taking a seat at the table. “Lucy Larson Puts Jack-A-S-S-E-S in Their Place Day.”
“Indie, that’s an everyday holiday in my life,” I said, selecting the seat as far away from Anton as I could.
Holly lifted her beer and clanked it against mine. “Amen, sister.”
“Can I sit next to you, Aunt Luce?” LJ asked, squirming up beside me.
“It’s all right with me if it’s all right with your mom.”
“Mom? Is it all right?”
“Knock yourself out,” she said, cutting LJ’s enchilada into bite-size pieces.
Thomas dished everyone an enchilada before taking his seat across from Anton. “So what’s your story, Anton?” he asked. “Other than being an A-S-S?”
Anton chuckled. “I’ll save you the details, since it’s a pretty boring one.”
“I doubt that,” Thomas said around a bite of enchilada. “I mean, how can a guy named Anton, who is next in line to run a multimillion-dollar company, not to mention a guy who can seriously tick Lucy Larson off, have a boring story? It’s impossible.”
I dived into my dinner, hoping that if I had a mouthful of food I wouldn’t fire off anything that was better kept to myself.
“Trust me, it’s about as exciting as French vanilla ice cream.”
I choked on my food. Seriously choked.
LJ stood up in his chair and gave my back a few whacks while I sipped some apple juice. When I looked up from my choking incident, everyone was staring at me.
“What?” I said, expressing my thanks to LJ with a smile. “I’ve always found French vanilla to be rather exciting. That’s all.”
“Do you think the psych unit is closed for the night?” India mumbled.
I scowled at her as I contemplated if eating my dinner was going to be more dangerous than not eating it.
“Since my big brother’s having this rare moment of modesty, I’ll give you the four-one-one on Anton Shaft Xavier.”
“Wait.” Thomas waved his fork. “Your middle name is Shaft?”
Anton shrugged. “Our parents are huge Shaft fans.”
Thomas clapped his hands, clearly in awe. “There is no conceivable way your life story is boring with a middle name like Shaft.”
“The only person whose life story is more exciting is mine,” India said, taking a swig of her beer. “Okay. So ASX in a nutshell . . . which is strangely ironic, since it’s very close to A-S-S.” She grinned like this was a revelation. “He was the captain of his lacrosse team back in high school. Was student body president his senior year. Dated every cheerleader on the squad by the time he turned eighteen.” Anton sighed, and grabbed India’s beer before she could stop him. He took a long swig. “He got a scholarship to Dartmouth, graduated summa cum laude, went to the Olympic trials for the lacrosse team; he summited K2 three years ago, sailed across the Atlantic on his own two years ago, and one year ago he lost his fiancée.”
Anton choked on his beer. A lot of choking going on tonight. “Shit, India,” he said, before Holly leveled a look at him. “I mean, S-H-I-T, India.”
“What do you mean, he lost his fiancée?” Thomas asked, leaning forward. “Like, one day he woke up and couldn’t find her?”
Anton lifted his hand. “Let’s just drop—”
“No, like ‘one day he woke up and got the call she’d been killed in a car accident’ lost her,” India explained.
“S-H-I-T.” Anton sighed, shaking his head at India.
I felt a little sick. Sick to my stomach and sick in the head. Anton had been engaged and she’d died. Recently. I never would have guessed Mr. Too-smooth-for-his-own-good had such a tragic past. Anton seemed more like the friends-with-benefits kind of guy, not the put-a-ring-on-it kind of guy.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked India. She’d shared about every other personal detail of her life with me. I didn’t understand how she’d forget to mention this one.
“Anton didn’t want me telling the whole world about it,” she said.
“Which obviously worked out fantastically,” he said, keeping his glare aimed her way.
“What?” she said. “It’s been a year, Anton. I know it’s not something you forget, but I’d like to think it’s something you’ll eventually move on from.”
“As fun as this conversation is,” he said, smiling tightly, “think we could drop it and move on to topics that don’t involve death and fiancées?”
India huffed, apparently not ready to drop it just yet. Whether it was sympathy or empathy or some combination of the two, I spoke up.
“Anyone seen any good movies lately?” I asked, trying to sound casual. “I haven’t seen one in forever and I have no clue what’s playing. I’m thinking of taking Jude to one when he’s in town.”
“So much for not talking about fiancés . . .”
“So help me God, India,” I seethed. “I will put you in time-out and leave you there all night if you don’t take it down a notch. Or three.”
“I’ll let you borrow my spot if you want,” LJ piped up, pointing to the stool in the corner he’d spent some hard time sitting in.
“Give me some love,” India said, extending her fist at LJ. “You’re like my brother in crime.”
LJ bumped her fist with one of his own, and then India went back to her dinner, looking like she was planning on staying silent for a while.