Author: Teresa Mummert
"You two make an interesting couple. You don't seem like Jenn's type."
"What type is that? I don't seem like the kind of man who would betray her? Break her heart?" But my chest tightened as the realization that I was that man crept into the forefront of my thoughts. I was keeping a very big secret from Jenn and would be gone in only a few days.
"Whoa. I don't know what she told you." Thomas chuckled nervously as he grabbed a towel and dried his hands.
"She didn't tell me anything."
"Ahh," Thomas threw his paper towel in the trashcan by the door. "She still has feelings for me, is that it?"
My arms shot up and grabbed the collar of Thomas's blue polo shirt. I raised my arms until he was eye level with me.
"You can be a cocky asshole to me. I deal with little pricks like you all of the time. But you leave Jenn the hell alone or the next time you take a piss, it will be through a fucking tube. Do we understand each other?"
I let go of his shirt and shook my head in disgust as I pulled open the door and left the bathroom. As I rounded the corner to the dining room, I was smiling. I slipped back into my seat and took a drink from my champagne glass that had been refilled while I was gone. A few minutes later, Thomas emerged, his face pale and his shirt wrinkled.
Jenn's hand found mine and she gave it a small squeeze.
"What was that about?" she whispered as she took a sip from her glass. I shrugged and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.
She furrowed her brow but didn't respond. She hadn't confided in me about Thomas and had no reason to think there were any problems between the two of us, besides his ignorant remark. The wait staff was now placing plates of food in front of us to taste and everyone's attention was on the meal.
"First we will be sampling the appetizers. We have crab-stuffed mushrooms, oysters Rockefeller, and steamed mussels," the server announced. "Enjoy."
I smiled at Jenn when she made a face at the seafood. She dug her fork into the mushrooms and moaned at how delicious they were as she popped one into her mouth. I laughed and shook my head as I took a bite.
"That good, huh?" I shoved a large chunk of mushroom into my mouth and mocked her noises, causing her to choke on a sip of water.
"Here. Take these." She used her fork to push her oysters and muscles onto my plate as we both laughed.
Walter cleared his throat and both of our heads shot up immediately to meet his irritated gaze.
"Sorry," I laughed, as Jenn dabbed the tears of laughter from her eyes.
"So, Jenn, will your new boyfriend be joining you at the wedding?" Gail asked. Thomas's eyes snapped to mine.
"He's not…" She looked down at her plate nervously, embarrassed that her family was referring to me as her boyfriend.
"I won't be in town. I have to head back to North Carolina on the twenty-seventh," I answered for her before taking another bite of food.
"That's a shame. Her plus one will go unused," Gail replied with a smirk.
The wait staff made their rounds collecting our plates as someone followed with main course samples. Jenn held up her wine glass to signal she needed a refill.
"How long have you been together?" I asked Gail, but my eyes locked on Thomas.
"A few months." Thomas smirked.
Jenn's eyes watered for an entirely different reason now as she stared down at her plate with a sampling of miso-glazed salmon and filet mignon. She sniffled and picked up her knife, beginning to cut the steak into tiny pieces. I leaned in closely, my lips brushing against her earlobe.
"Don't cry, Jenn," I whispered. "I made you a promise and I intend to keep it."
She smiled as she glanced across the table at Thomas, and I knew she wanted me to shut him up just as badly as I wanted to.
"Not a fan of steak?" I asked, hoping to take our minds off her past. I didn't like the idea of her thinking about Thomas while I was with her. She shook her head as she chewed. "How 'bout I take you out for dinner after we leave here? Wherever you want."
"Wherever I want?" She cocked her eyebrow and grinned wickedly.
We continued the meal, lost in our own private conversation. It took every ounce of self-control not to leap across the table and strangle Thomas. I could tell from my brief encounters with him and Gail that they deserved each other. Jenn should consider herself lucky to not be stuck with someone like him. I know she didn't see it that way. Not yet. But hopefully she would. Hopefully, she would realize that she wasn't meant to be with Thomas.
"What are you thinking about?" Jenn asked, pulling me from my thoughts.
"You." I didn't have time to look her in the eye and lie to her any longer. Her eyes grew wide and a pink blush slowly spread across her cheeks.
"Oh." She looked down at her plate of food that she had pushed around to make it look like she had eaten.
"So, Shane. Have you had any deployments?" Jenn's father asked me from across the table.
"Yes, sir. Iraq," I replied and took a drink of my water.
"What brings you to Maine?"
"Family. My cousin and his wife moved up this way. I am from North Carolina."
"Is that where you are stationed?"
"I work with Shane's cousin. That's how we met." Jenn smiled at her father, joining in on the conversation.
"Really? Who is your cousin?" Thomas asked from the other end of the table.
"Jake Philips." I cleared my throat as I glanced over at Thomas.
"Ahh… Yes, I remember Jenn complaining about him often
." He laughed as I ground my teeth.
"He's been having a tough time lately," I said, defending my cousin. I knew he was struggling to deal with things at home.
"Well, in this economy who isn't?" Thomas asked as he picked up his glass of champagne. Gail tapped him on the arm to let him know she thought he had had enough.
"You seem to be doing just fine." I looked over his ridiculously expensive outfit.
"I go after what I want. It's a dog-eat-dog world. Why settle for a hamburger when I can have filet mignon?" He laughed and I saw his eyes glance to Jenn for a brief second. That was all it took. I sat my glass down and closed my eyes, struggling not to leap across the table and make good on my threat. Her hand landed on my thigh, and she gave it a small squeeze. Suddenly, she was all I saw.
"Don't," she whispered. "He is trying to upset you."
"Nonsense. I'm just being honest," Thomas laughed.
"You don't have an honest or kind bone in your body," she shot back as she glared at him.
"I think it's time for some after-dinner drinks," Jenn's father called over the conversation as he flagged down a waiter. The guests collectively pushed back their chairs and made their way to the bar on the other side of the room as I turned to face Jenn.
"Don't let him get to you." She shook her head.
"He hurt you," I pointed out.
"I know. And now I'm here with you and it upsets him." She grinned. I took a lock of her hair and pulled the silky strands between my fingers. "Come on. I could use a drink." She stood and held out her hand for me. I took it, weaving my fingers in hers as we made our way to the bar.
"What would you like?" I asked as we slid between the other guests.
"I'll bring it to you." I winked as she pulled away, her fingertips slipping from mine. I watched as she made her way to the group of women who were talking off to the side.
"Mango mojito and a Bud Light," I called to the bartender as Thomas came up beside me.
"Mojito, huh? Lucky man."
"Don't." I didn't know how much longer I could listen to this asshole run his mouth before I made sure it would need to be wired shut.
"My Gail is the adventurous type," he shook his head and lowered his voice, "but you get a few mojitos in Jenn, and she will let you do things to her that you couldn't imagine."
I tried. I hope Jenn understands that I tried. But I couldn't listen to him talk that way about her. I spun around with my fist cocked back and connected with the left side of Thomas's face. He was out before his head hit the floor.
"Shane!" I heard Jenn scream as several hands grabbed my arms to keep me from hitting him again. He lay sprawled out on the floor in front of me like a dog as blood oozed from his lip.
"How could you?" Gail yelled as she sank down to the floor to look over Thomas. My eyes connected with Walter, Jenn's father. He gave me a small nod before calling out to the crowd to calm down. Perhaps he wasn't as big of a fan of Thomas as he led on. Jenn grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the front door of the restaurant. I knew I had made a mistake and I wanted to explain it to her, but I couldn't bring myself to repeat his words. She had been humiliated enough.
"I tried," I said as we got outside and I examined the knuckles of my right hand.
"You tried?" She laughed as her fingers tangled in her hair. I nodded, stretching my fingers to make sure I hadn't broken any.
Jenn stepped closer, taking my hand in hers and examining them for herself. Even in her anger, she was more worried about me.
"Why did you do that, Shane?" She glanced up at me through her long, dark lashes.
"I know I said if anyone made you cry that I would make them cry, but I couldn't wait for him to hurt you again."
"Oh… He's just a mean drunk."
"And a lousy boyfriend." I couldn't keep from her that I knew who he was. "Are you mad at me?" I asked, as she rubbed her thumb over my tender knuckle.
"No. How could I be mad at you? You're the only person who stands up for me." She smiled as she leaned in and pressed her lips against my cheek.
"If it makes you feel any better, your father looked happy to see Thomas get knocked on his ass."
Jenn laughed as she pulled back from me.
"You promised me dinner."
"What are you hungry for?"
She cocked her head as she thought over her choices. I was happy to take her anywhere as long as it was away from these people.
"Pizza. Greasy, cheesy pizza."
I laughed and motioned with my arm toward my car.
March 25, 2010
"Wait…Alpha, Bravo, cheese-its…" I giggled as Shane tossed a piece of popcorn at my face. "Ahh! I can't believe you just did that."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I'll secretly plot against you until I find the perfect moment to exact my revenge."
"Is that right?" He smirked as he grabbed another piece of popcorn and tossed it at me. "I could take you."
"You don't want any of this." I giggled as I flexed my arm to show him muscles.
"Maybe I do." He winked before pouncing on me, grabbing my wrists and pushing them into the back of the couch beside my head.
"Not fair! I can't move." I wiggled my hips beneath him and he swallowed hard. I forced myself not to lean in the fraction of an inch it would take to kiss him.
"That's the point." He released my arms and sat back in his seat next to me on the couch. "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo…"
"They probably held your toes to the fire and forced you to learn that stuff."