Page 61

Regardless, we all stayed up late last night drinking and catching up. Well, actually, Oliver and I tied one on, sitting on my back deck in the cool November air pounding beers, while Avery and Vale sat in the living room curled up on the sofa and sipping at glasses of wine. Turns out, Vale had only that one glass of wine, which was fortuitous for me because I have a vague recollection of her helping my drunk ass into bed. I woke up this morning to find her gone but a handwritten note on the bedside table.

Hope you had fun last night. Take these and drink lots of water. Hope you’re not too hungover. : )

I was indeed hungover, but the Excedrin she left me and two bottles of water set me straight. I even kicked some ass in the team practice that was held midmorning, then I took Oliver golfing in the afternoon. It seemed a given we’d all go out tonight to continue the celebration of Oliver and Avery’s visit, and thus the reason we’re at The Fox and Hound in North Hills pounding more beers. Well, Oliver and I are pounding beers. Vale and Avery are again sipping at some wine.

While Avery was just as much a party girl as Vale, she seems to have either calmed down or isn’t drinking much in deference to Vale’s current lightweight status. They’re now sitting at the small round table that we had taken when we first arrived. We ate dinner with a few drinks, had dessert with another drink, and then decided to have more drinks on top of that. Well, Oliver sort of decided by proclaiming our waitress was too slow and pulling me from the table up to the bar to order some more beers. Turns out, Oliver is really in a drinking mood because he ordered shots too.

I wondered briefly if Vale would be bothered by this. While I’m not the party animal I was in my early twenties, I can drink with the best of them still, and Oliver visiting was the only reason I needed to jump full in to the celebration. And while Vale has made it clear on more than one occasion that she doesn’t party anymore, she seems content to sit there and have “girl time” with Avery. At least the few times I was staring at her and she looked over to me, she gave me a cheerful yet knowing smile that seemed to indicate she was okay with me blowing it out with Oliver tonight.

This is good, because no matter how drunk I get, I won’t ever forget it was a night of partying that led me to make the choice I did seven years ago not to leave with Vale when she wasn’t feeling well. It was a bad choice that led to a series of events that broke us apart. I don’t want to make that mistake again.

While I’m still not quite sure what exactly this is with Vale, I know enough to know I’m not ready to give it up. I know enough to know I care about her greatly and that I’m beyond happy that we’ve reconnected. I know enough to know that what we have is enough right now and I don’t want to fuck it up.

“Another shot?” Oliver asks, his voice now slightly slurred.

“Sure,” I say, risking another punch by glancing over at Vale. “I need to take a leak, though. Be right back.”

I really don’t need to piss, but it just so happens that if I head to the bathroom, I’ll pass right by Vale sitting at our table. She looks to be in need of something.

I swear I hear Oliver mutter, “Pussy whipped,” as I get up and walk toward Vale. She’s leaning forward, elbows resting on the table and hands clasped as she listens thoughtfully to whatever Avery is yammering about. When I’m no more than a few feet away, her gaze catches the motion and swivels my way. Her lips curl up in a welcoming smile, and yeah…that right there. That’s what she needs.

Leaning down, I give her a kiss. No tongue, but not a quick brush either. Her lips part slightly and she accepts what I give her with a soft sigh. Pulling back, I give her a charming smile and ask, “You need anything?”

Vale shakes her head, eyes staring at me with amusement. She then cuts a glance over to Avery. “You want another glass of wine?”

Avery declines so I lean back over Vale and press my lips to her head. I get another soft sigh from her before winking at Avery and heading to the bathroom, leaving behind I’m sure something snarky that Avery will say about me. Not worried though. Avery didn’t like me seven years ago and never came between me and Vale, so I’m pretty confident she won’t now. Except…well, maybe she could. I mean, Vale and I don’t have the same closeness we did back then. The same level of trust and commitment.

Shaking my head, I put that out of my mind and head into the bathroom, where I decide to go ahead and piss, because “when in Rome.” After washing and drying my hands, I give a quick swipe of my fingers through my long hair and swivel my head back and forth, eyeballing my beard. I wonder if I should shave it off? It’s kind of a pain in the ass to keep trimmed, but Vale seems to like it despite the fact it leaves red marks on her thighs.

Chuckling over the thought and high on life and alcohol, I exit the bathroom, only to come up short with Avery standing there. Her arms are crossed over her chest and she pins a baleful stare at me.

“What’s up?” I ask as my eyes cut over to our table. Vale is gone and Oliver is now sitting there. For a brief moment, my head spins as I consider that Vale has left the bar and a tiny flash of panic seizes me.

“Vale’s in the bathroom,” Avery says blandly.

Immediately, my heart rate settles and I chastise myself for even letting something like that bother me. “Well, okay then,” I say as I start to move past Avery.

“I’m glad you two broke up,” she says quietly, but it’s loud enough I hear it over the din of chattering voices in the pub area.

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