Bonus Scene: Dating and Decisions, a bonus scene for Rules and Roses
“Can I come over tomorrow?” I asked, the sight of Frankie in her underwear had been one thing, but the hurt in her eyes–that had gutted me. It had been a long time since I’d seen her really hurt.
And I don’t think I’d ever seen it because of me.
“I have to work,” she reminded me. “And I’m busy tomorrow evening.”
The words gouged into me like fish hooks dragging at my skin. She always had work. She worked harder than any other person I knew except maybe my mom. At the same time, the rejection in each syllable stung. Especially the last part.
Too busy for us.
“We’ll see you Monday,” Bubba said, clapping a hand on my shoulder and tugging me toward the door. Frankie didn’t say a word, just followed us to the back door and once we were out, she locked it.
The snick of the bolt sliding home had never sounded so final.
I blew out a breath as I shook off Bubba. No one said anything. Archie stared at the back door like he had x-ray fucking vision and Jake glared at me the same way.
“What the hell did you do?” he repeated his earlier question in a much lower voice that held a lot of aggravation and, if you knew him, worry.
I shook my head. “Nothing we haven’t done a hundred times before.” It wasn’t even the first time one of us ended up with torn clothes. Granted, it had been a while, but Frankie–what the hell had we fucked up? How had I done it? I was her best friend.
“So now what?” Bubba asked. “You guys planning on setting up camp out here?”
“Gonna grab something to eat and figure out how to fix this,” Archie announced. “I’m guessing none of us wants to do the escape room now.”
Yeah, that held zero appeal. “Sorry, man, I’ll…”
“Don’t worry about it, you might have stepped into the crap, but we all waded in after you.” Archie slapped me on the back once. “You two coming for food?”
Jake and I locked gazes for a moment and my phone buzzed in my pocket. The only reason I pulled it out was because I hoped it was Frankie. When Laura’s name flashed up at me, I scowled. “No. Actually, Jake can I borrow you?”
“Depends,” Jake said, almost drily. “You planning on giving me back?”
I rolled my eyes at the quip, but it was hardly the first time either of us uttered that old joke. We parted ways with Archie and Bubba leaving in Archie’s Ferrari while I climbed into the passenger seat of Jake’s SUV. While he started it up and turned up the air conditioning to dry the sweat from standing around outside, he didn’t pull out. We were both staring at Frankie’s apartment.
My phone buzzed in my hand.
“Is it her?” Jake asked and I shook my head before showing him the screen.
“What the fuck, man? Is that where you want to go?”
“Actually,” I told him. “Yes. I figure I need to break up with her in person.”
“I thought you weren’t really dating.”
I hadn’t intended to hook up with her again and I sure as shit hadn’t planned to make it anything serious. Laura had been kind of fun in the beginning, but she was a quiet thing. Sad. A little lonely. I liked the idea of supporting and encouraging her. But she’d long since come out of her shell. The last week…no, I let her tears and her neediness tug at me. She was open in a way Frankie had shut down and I wasn’t making excuses for myself because fuck that.
But Laura wasn’t the girl I wanted.
“We aren’t and we shouldn’t be.” Another text hit my phone. Laura again. What the actual fuck?
“Sounds like desperation, you sure you wanna see her in person?” The hostility bled out of his tone. “Cause the last thing you need is for her to go all nuts on you.”
“She won’t,” I said, then pinched the bridge of my nose. “Just, drive me…” I checked the phone. She was at the mall and wanted to know if I wanted to hook up for a movie or just to hook up.
“Let’s go to the mall.”
“Your funeral,” Jake commented. Then he fell silent until we pulled into the parking lot at the mall. I’d told Laura to meet me near the northeast exit by the Jenson’s. “It’s Frankie, right?”
I cut a look at him. “You’re not stupid. Don’t ask stupid questions.”
“Fuck off,” Jake retorted, but there was no heat. “Just answer the question.”
“It’s always been Frankie,” I told him. “Same for you.” I wasn’t kidding myself. It had been the same for all of us. I’d had the unenviable role of watching each of these guys secure themselves a spot in her life. It helped that they were all my friends, too. But I’d have to be blind to not know she was who we all wanted.
We talked about it without talking about it. We danced around the subject like experts navigating a minefield of possibilities. The closest we’d come to a direct conversation had happened in ninth grade when Archie said he planned to date her and wanted to make sure we were all okay with it.
Four months later, he’d admitted defeat. Frankie hung out. Frankie didn’t date.
It was a fact we’d all kind of learned to live with because being her friend was totally worth it. More than worth it…
“I’m not doing this past summer again,” I told Jake as he pulled up near the doors. Laura exited as soon as she saw us. The smile on her face made me feel like a jackass. “If Frankie wants to date…”
“Then we’re dating her,” Jake said flatly and I didn’t disagree with him. “I get that Archie and Bubba want her, too.”
“But she was ours long before they showed up.”
I chuckled. “Glad you included me.” The humor was fleeting. “I’ll be right back.”
“Guard your nuts.”
Blowing out a breath, I left the SUV and met Laura about halfway. The slant of the sun created these weird shadows and the spot where we stood was in one of the diagonal shadows.
“Hey,” she said with a smile and reached up to kiss me. Yeah, I dodged that because no more mixed signals. “I didn’t know you were bringing Jake–I know you guys like to…”
We were seriously not having that conversation.
She blinked those big ol’doe eyes at me. “What?”
“Look, Laur, you’re a great girl…” Was there an easy way to break up with someone? Most of the girls I’d dated had never been long term. They’d always seemed to understand and had been perfectly happy to go back to being friends. Most of them hadn’t had Laura’s neediness though. And I was the jerk who put her in this position. “I mean that, but…I made a mistake this week.”
Her whole expression crumbled and I made myself not reach out to comfort her which would be the automatic thing to do. Right now, I needed to communicate clearly that I wasn’t interested. And honestly, I wasn’t. She’d needed someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on. The kissing never should have happened.
“I led you on and I get that. But–we’re not a thing. We’re not going to be a thing.” Thank fuck she hadn’t brought her friends with her. “We’re friends, more acquaintances than anything else. I need you to understand that.”
Tears pooled in her eyes and I felt about two inches high.
Then her hand caught the side of my face and that sting burned.
She didn’t say a word before she marched back into the mall leaving me rubbing my face.
It could have gone worse, I suppose.
I turned to find Jake watching and the minute our gazes connected, he gave me a questioning thumbs up and I snorted.
Still, I checked my phone before I got back to the SUV and I sent Frankie a text.
If groveling was necessary, I’d do it.
But I was getting my best friend back and if that involved dating, too.
Well, then count me in.