“Hey,” I said with my best smile, but for some reason it felt forced. Lacking. Definitely not warm and wide.
Rhys looked between us. “Sara, this is my friend Emma.”
Sara was obviously also happy about my title of “friend” because I saw even more of her perfectly straight teeth shine as her lips stretched, if possible, into a bigger smile.
“So nice to meet you,” she said.
“You too.” I looked at Rhys. He was obviously done offering up any more information and the silence stretching between all of us was getting awkward. “How do you two know each other?”
Rhys glared at me, but Sara beamed and answered with delight. “Rhys and I were high-school sweethearts.”
Of course they were. And wasn’t that just adorable. She looked like the perfectly sweet kind of woman who cooked and gardened and went to farmer’s markets on the weekends. The kind that dressed up for family photos and knew how to baste a turkey.
“Oh my gosh, speaking of that,” Sara said and tapped Rhys’s chest with the back of her fingers. “Did you hear Mr. Ferguson is retiring?”
“I hadn’t,” Rhys said.
Sara just gave a cutesy little laugh. “He must have caught us a dozen times behind the bleachers.”
I looked between her and Rhys, having no idea who they were talking about but gathering that Rhys and Sara got busy back in high school, which I was pretty sure was the main point she was trying to make.
Rhys looked at me. “Mr. Ferguson was the P.E. teacher at our high school,” he offered, and I nodded. Feeling more awkward than anything else, listening to Sara recount her teen years of happy moments in a gymnasium with a guy I was growing more and more increasingly aware that I wasn’t good enough for.
While she had been planning the theme for homecoming, I was sleeping under a bridge. Not much we could relate on. The contrast just delivered another shot of the reality that I was beyond out of place here and with Rhys.
Yet something in my veins simmered just enough to make me take notice. A weird emotion was coming in, some kind of feeling that bordered between anger and annoyance.
“Well, I’ll let you two get back to your dinner.” Sara glanced at my pancakes and frowned. “But we should catch up some more, Rhys.”
She brushed Rhys’s shoulder and I wondered if she’d ever clawed at them the way I did.
Whoa, where had that come from? The thought that these two had a history was not sitting well with me and frankly, that was silly. There was no reason to compare my relationship with Rhys to his with Sara, mostly because Rhys and I didn’t have a relationship.
Of course he had past girlfriends, not that I was currently one.
Ugh, this was terrible! I had no reason to be . . . what was this feeling crashing into me? Jealousy?
Whatever it was, it sucked and didn’t seem to come with much logic.
“You still have my number, right?” Sara asked and I recognized the hair flick anywhere. She was totally flirting. And I was sitting there in wrinkly clothes, no makeup and eating breakfast for dinner like an eight-year-old. I glanced at Sara. She probably ate salads regularly with a shot of wheatgrass on the side.
I rubbed a finger against my temple because my brain was about to implode. I’d never compared myself so much to another woman in my life. Emotions were taking me over and were starting to make me sick. I felt lacking on a whole new level.
“Yeah. Good to see you, Sara.”
“You too. And nice to meet you, Emma.”
I smiled and Rhys sat back down as Sarah pranced her perfect, pink Capri-wearing ass away.
“How are your pancakes?” Rhys asked, cutting into his steak again as if we weren’t just interrupted by carrot-top-Mc-Stepford-wife.
“Good,” I said. “Oh, hey, you know what we should talk about?”
He glanced up. “What?”
“Her.” I hiked a thumb in the direction Sara left in.
His concentration was instantly back on his dinner. “Not much to talk about.”
“You guys were high-school sweethearts, then what?”
He shrugged. “I proposed.”
My jaw hit the table. I was not expecting that. He was going to marry her?
Of course he was, I mean look at her. She was wholesome, and her hands looked all soft, like the most work she did was on crafting or scrapbooking. Plus, she was a nurse for God’s sake.
“Wow,” I breathed. “So what happened?”
“I enlisted, got shipped overseas and we broke up.”
“I’d really love for you to elaborate right now,” I said, balancing my chin on my fist, throwing his line from earlier back in his face.
“About a year in, she cheated on me.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from calling Sara a nasty name.
“How is that possible?” I asked, truly upset because Rhys was freaking amazing, and not just to look at.
“Well.” He set his fork down. “When a man and woman are attracted to each other, and they want to share their feelings in a physical way — ”
“Not what I meant.” I rolled my eyes and he just grinned and went back to eating. “I mean, how could she cheat on you? You’re like . . .”
Amazing. Hot. Sexy as sin. Funny.
His smiled widened, waiting to hear how I’d finish the statement. “Careful, Emma, it sounds like you’re about to give me a compliment.”
“I don’t rag on you. You make it sound like I’m some bitch that never has a nice thing to say.”
“I know you say nice things, you just choose not to very often,” he said, again with that teasing tone.
“Quit changing the subject.”
“There’s nothing more to say, really. It was hard on Sara when I left. I was gone for a long time. She needed someone, I wasn’t there and he was.”
“That’s no excuse,” I muttered. “You act like this isn’t a big deal.”
His eyes landed on me and I knew right away that he was waiting for the irony of what I had just said to hit me. And it did. Hard. He had just said the same thing to me. But what was more interesting was realizing that Rhys dealt with things the same way I did. He brushed things off. Pretended that it wasn’t a big deal.
Maybe that was part of the reason I connected to him the way I did? Because how we coped was similar, the crap we dealt with was the only thing different.
“Sara still wants you. You know that, right?” I said.