Josh watched her from across the bar. He wondered if her glossy lips sparkled for everyone in the room or if he was the only one who couldn’t take his eyes off her. He wondered if she’d notice him sitting in the darkened booth.
He wondered if it would matter.
She bent the straws that came in her drinks, folding them back and forth and dropping them on the scarred wood in front of her. He tried to remember if she’d always done that. He pictured her lips pursed around those thin tubes of plastic, sticky rings of color marking her cocktails the entire night.
“You knew she was going to be here,” Charlie said, tipping back the rest of his beer and catching the waitress’s eye for another round.
Josh didn’t answer his younger brother. Her hair was darker, streaks of something his fingers ached to touch.
“It’s a bad idea, man. Haven’t you messed with that girl’s head enough?” Charlie shook his head, but his fingers were already tapping on his phone, his eyes following the ball game on the oversized screens covering the walls.
“I don’t know if it ended as badly as you think,” Josh protested. “She’s forgiven me before.”
Charlie shrugged. He had a significant portion of next semester’s tuition tied up in various bets, and Josh’s girl problems paled in comparison to the ones he was going to have if his luck soured during the biggest basketball tournament of the year.
The waitress dropped two more beers and four shots of tequila onto the sticky table. Charlie pretended to fumble in his pockets for a minute before Josh handed over his credit card. He ignored the lemons and salt on the table and neatly drank two of the shots, closing his eyes against the burning in his chest, willing it to slow the thud of his heart against his ribs.
Even with his eyes closed, he could hear her laughter echoing off the mirror behind the rows of top shelf liquor.
Charlie looked up from his phone. “Let’s just get out of here, Josh. Leave her alone.”
Josh was already two steps away from the booth. Charlotte’s best friend saw him first, and he dropped his eyes before he had to acknowledge the venom in hers. With nowhere to look, he stared at the muddled cherries buried under the ice in Charlotte’s glass.
“You used to eat those before you took your first sip,” he said, stumbling over his words.
He’d only meant to say hello.
Her rosy lips inched into a smile that never reached her eyes. He tried to remember how she’d looked at him before everything fell apart. She’d never look at him like that again.