“I knew you’d like it,” Linden says as he sits down across from me. “I thought these booths just screamed Stephanie.”
“The skulls are pretty cool,” James comments, looking around him. Actually of all the people here, he’s the one who fits in the most, balancing that line between edgy rock and roller and calculated hipster.
Owen doesn’t say anything for a moment then nods at the bar. “They have Perkele Vodka,” he says, spouting the name of his favorite obscure Finnish brand. That’s the most Owen will say about this place. It’s definitely not his scene and his subtle glares have now changed from James to Linden.
An hour later, after Linden bought me two birthday (filthy, dirty) martinis, Owen has gone to the bathroom and James has stepped outside for a cigarette. We are alone.
I’ve missed this.
“I don’t think your boyfriend likes me very much,” Linden tells me after he has a swig of his beer and rocks the bottle between his large hands.
“Owen?” I ask. It sounds weird to hear him referred to as my boyfriend, especially coming from Linden’s lips (which, after two filthy, dirty martinis, look far superior to Owen’s).
“Do you have other boyfriends I should know about?” he asks with a raise of his perfectly arched brow.
“No. Anyway, none of the guys I see like you very much.”
He smiles. It’s a cocky bastard smile. “Is it because they all know we’re getting married one day?”
I narrow my eyes as my heart kicks up a notch. “No. And don’t mention that to Owen, okay?”
He looks surprised. “Why not? It’s true.”
I rub my lips together and reach into my clutch for lipstick.
“It’s true, Steph,” Linden repeats. As I swipe the magenta lipstick on, he frowns at me. “Don’t tell me you actually expect to be with this chump in a few years.”
I give him a look. “Look, I know he doesn’t seem like a…well, a me kind of guy, but I’m in love with him, so yeah, I do expect to be with him in a few years. Don’t call him a chump.”
He blinks rapidly and the muscle along his chiseled jaw tremors. “You’re in love with him?”
“Don’t act like this is terrible,” I tell him even though the look on his face is making me feel something terrible inside. “It was bound to happen. It’s good. Really, it’s good. I’m happy.”
I tilt my head as I examine him. Before my eyes the pained look on his crinkled brow disappears, the tick on his jaw stops. He relaxes. He becomes my best friend Linden again. I’m not sure who that other guy was. But I think I wanted him to stay for a moment longer.
“Nevermind,” he says quickly. “You are happy, I can tell. Well, then fuck it, I’m happy for you baby blue, I really am. And he’s a lucky fuck.”
I’m still watching him. “Did you really want to marry me?” I ask. “Or did you just want to get married?”
A trace of a smile forms on his lips. “Now you’ll never know.”
Owen comes back from the bathroom and I sit back in my seat and give him a broad smile. I feel like I’ve been doing something wrong, even though I haven’t.
Linden smacks his palm against the table, excuses himself and gets up. I watch his tall, muscled frame as he leaves the room, presumably going after James. I notice most of the women’s heads turn as they also watch him go.
There is a jellyfish sting in my heart but I swallow it down and look at Owen.