Isn't She Lovely Page 16

Or when you need a reminder that perhaps somebody else’s life sucks worse than yours and you should stop feeling sorry for yourself.

“What’s up, Price?” the bartender says as we do one of those elaborate handshakes that I hope to God we’ll grow out of sooner rather than later. “Who’s your new girl?”

“Not my girl,” I say, pulling out my wallet and removing a few bills. “School partner.”

Steven’s eyes roam back to Stephanie and linger. “Not your type, but I’d hit it.”

My fingers tense briefly and I give him a stiff smile. I hate guys like this. “How about two Brooklyn lagers and some nachos?”

“You want chicken on the nachos?” he asks.

“Nah,” I say. I still haven’t figured out if Stephanie’s a vegetarian, and I don’t want to risk a lecture about animal cruelty along with another lecture about Clark Gable and those two Hepburn chicks.

“I’ll bring the food over,” Steven says, pushing two beers across the bar at me. His eyes are still locked on Stephanie.

“Yeah, I bet you will,” I mutter, heading back to Stephanie, who’s gone and brought out her godforsaken notebook again.

I try to listen as she explains something about the three-act structure of a screenplay, I really do. But while I had my back turned, she apparently put something shiny on her lips that makes them look suspiciously … appealing.

Knock it off, Price. She probably has Kill them all tattooed on her ass or something.

I’m actually half relieved when Steven comes over with the nachos, but the relief is short-lived, because the rock-star-wannabe bartender totally has his ass in my face as he gets all up in Stephanie’s business.

“Hey, darlin’, I haven’t seen you around here much,” he says.

“Really?” she asks, eyes wide. “That’s weird. You haven’t seen me in here with my sorority sisters? I normally love the frat-boy scene.”

“You’re in a sorority?” Steven asks, Stephanie’s brand of humor sailing right over his greasy head. “You know, there’s another place around the corner … a little less crowded. I’m off on Thursday night, if you and your girls wanna …”

She makes a little sound of dismay. “Ugh, this is totally awkward, but I’m actually kind of with someone.”

“You are?”

Steven and I ask it at the exact same time, except I didn’t mean to, so instead I stuff a huge wad of nachos in my face and hope Stephanie didn’t notice I chimed in.

“Yeah,” she’s saying, “it’s kind of a new thing, but I feel really good about it, so …”

Steven flexes his inked-up arms ever so not-subtly. “He doesn’t have to know.”

She takes a sip of beer, licking some of the foam off her lips, and now they’re shiny and beer-flavored and I’m inexplicably hot as hell.

“Actually, he would know,” Stephanie says, lowering her voice to a dramatic whisper. “Seeing as he’s sitting right here.”

I probably could have played it off if I wasn’t eating the nachos five chips at a time in an effort to keep from looking interested in this girl’s love life.

But as it is, I am stuffing my face, and her casual declaration catches me by surprise. A little chip breaks off awkwardly and lodges itself somewhere in the back of my throat. I down half the beer before the tickling sensation subsides.

They’re both staring at me, Steven in surprised irritation and Stephanie in serene innocence.

I narrow my eyes slightly at her. You. Will. Pay.

She shrugs.

It’s either play along or deal with Steven hitting on her. Since the second option sucks, I find myself giving him a tepid smile. “Sorry, man,” I say. “The lady’s taken.”

He hitches his thumb toward the bar. “But you said she wasn’t your girl.”

Stephanie’s palms slam down on the table as she half rises out of her chair, giving me a look of death.

“I knew it,” she hisses. “You’re ashamed of me, Ethan Price. Because I don’t wear pearls and can’t afford Chanel, and can’t ride dressage.…”

I involuntarily lean back in my chair trying to escape the scorned non-girlfriend on steroids.

And what the f**k is dressage?

“There’s someone else, isn’t there?” She’s still going. “I knew those lavender bath bubbles weren’t for your ‘special relaxation time.’ You’ve been screwing someone else!”

“Dude,” Steven says quietly. “Lavender bath bubbles?”

I look up at him in desperation, and we’re suddenly on the same side. “You want her?”

“Hell, no, dude. But you better talk her down before she scares off the other customers.”

Steven gets back behind the bar in double time, and Stephanie slowly lowers herself back into the chair.

I stare at her in wonder. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m starting to get why your ex is an ex. You’re a nightmare.”

She gives me a cheeky smile. “I know, right? Acting’s never been my passion, but it’s always been fun.”

I shake my head and shove the nachos in her direction. “Whatever. Just leave me out of your little charade next time. I thought you were going to cut my balls off.”

She’s gone perfectly still, her eyes fixed on me without really seeing me.

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