Crushed Page 79



“So,” Stephanie says, pouring herself vodka on ice and then adding some club soda she found in my fridge. “You want to know how we all became friends?”

Paul puts a hand on the tiny brunette’s head as his other hand pours some scotch. “I don’t think he cares, Steph. He’s got bigger things on his mind.”

“Indeed,” Olivia says, watching me over a glass of white wine. “Ethan says you’ve got girl problems.”

“Actually, hold up,” I say. “I really do want to know how the hell this is happening.”

Ethan spoke up. “I told you. You sounded like shit when we talked. And then your texts became increasingly seldom and surly. And I realized … you’re still my best friend.” He shrugged. “So I came.”

I hold his gaze. You’re still my best friend. It’s incredible how good those words are to hear. And yet …

“Okay, I get how you might come,” I tell Ethan. “And how you’d bring your new girl.” I gesture at Stephanie, who winks. “But you two …”

I break off and raise my eyebrows at Olivia and Paul.

Olivia glances at her boyfriend. “Well, Paul is, um, atoning, for being a complete shit the past year. Ethan and I have been sort of trying to repair our friendship, and when he mentioned he was coming down here …”

“She made me come,” Paul said.

Olivia nodded. “Pretty much.”

I rub a hand over my neck. “Yeah. Look. I appreciate you guys coming, and I appreciate that the four of you inexplicably overcame a really fucked-up past, but you’re telling me that two exes and their new significant others are not only civil, but friendly to the point that you travel together? To Texas?”

Olivia touches my arm, just briefly. “We came for you, Michael.”

“Right,” I mutter. “Because the story wasn’t weird enough before, might as well throw in the fifth wheel who was the catalyst for the entire mess.”

Stephanie makes a tsking noise. “It’s true. You really should have kept your tongue out of your best friend’s girlfriend’s mouth.”

“Nah,” Paul says, helping himself to a handful of chips. “Then they’d still be together.”

“Right.” Stephanie says, clicking her glass against Paul’s. “So really we should be thanking Mikey here for being a home wrecker.”

Ethan glares. “Don’t push it.”

I glance at him, worried that his forgiveness has limits, but he’s smiling.

I scratch my forehead. “Okay, well, I’m glad you guys all worked out your shit, but I’m guessing you didn’t choose Dallas as a top vacation destination.”

“No, but I am planning to get some cowboy boots,” Stephanie muses. “And maybe a cowboy to ride.”

Ethan growls and Olivia stands up straight, setting her glass aside and clapping her hands like a kindergarten teacher. “Okay. Enough chatter. Let’s get down to business.”

Stephanie stands on her toes to stage-whisper in Paul’s ear. “What do you see in her?”

Paul’s ravaged face looks at Olivia and practically devours her. “Everything.”

Stephanie makes a gagging motion.

“Anyway,” Liv says. “Ethan filled us in on your colossal fuckup, Michael.”

“Whoa,” I say, my eyes going to Ethan, who looks barely guilty.

“Sorry, dude,” he says. “That night when you called, you sounded … well, like shit.

And then you started ignoring my calls—”

“And we decided we didn’t want you to start sliding backward,” Liv says. “We want you to be happy. All of us.”

“Oh, yes, me especially,” Paul mutters.

His girlfriend shoots him a look.

“Guys.” I pour more bourbon. “I appreciate it, I do, but I think you’ve misread the situation. It’s not what you think.”

The room is silent for a moment, and to my surprise, it’s Paul who speaks up first, his gaze direct, his voice leaving no room for bullshit. “It’s simpler than you’re imagining it to be,” he says.

“Really.” My voice is sarcastic.

“Do you love her?”

If the room was quiet before, it goes downright soundless now. At least until Stephanie steps on a chip. “Shit. Damn it.” She crouches down to pick up the pieces. “Mikey, you got a vacuum?”

Olivia tries to hide a smile, and Ethan looks to the floor in exasperation. “Such a lady, this one.”

“Yeah. She’s really lovely,” Paul says, stepping out of the way when Stephanie bats at his leg to get the rest of the crumbs.

Stephanie stands again. “Mikey? The vacuum? Or a broom?”

“I love her.” I don’t mean to say it. The truth spills out of my mouth like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “I love Chloe.”

It feels like the biggest moment of my life.

My friends—yes, friends—don’t seem fazed.

“Right,” Olivia says, like this is obvious. “That’s why we’re here.”

Stephanie rubs her hands together. “Yup. We’re here to devise your grand gesture.”

I look at them doubtfully. “I don’t really do gestures.”

Stephanie jerks a thumb at Ethan. “Talk to this guy. He wore leather pants to win me back.”

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