Isn't She Lovely Page 56

Olivia doesn’t startle me into unexpected smiles. She doesn’t make my heart pound.

Stephanie does.

“Stephanie seems to be adapting to our people,” my mother says, taking a sip of her pinot grigio.

Annnnd that’s about enough. “Mom,” I say simply, “you’re a snob.”

My mother takes a sharp intake of breath, but my eyes never leave the spot where Stephanie is talking animatedly with my father and one of his many accountants. My father, whom Stephanie accompanied fishing earlier today. My girlfriend went fishing with my father.

Or my fake girlfriend. I no longer know whether the distinction still applies. I’m not sure I even care.

“Ethan,” Mom says, her voice sounding exasperated rather than offended. “What’s happened to you?”

I glance around at the candlelit tent that marks the beach gala. Maybe it’s girly to think this, but it’s always been one of my favorite parts of my parents’ house parties. After a weekend of sunning and boating and sporting, it’s always seemed like the perfect cap to the weekend.

But tonight it feels a little stale, and I’m more preoccupied with whether it’s a fire hazard to have this many people surrounded by hundreds of tea lights in a fabric tent. Not to mention it’s the same thing they did last year. And the year before.

I’ve never really put much thought into the distinction between tradition and monotony, but now I find I can’t think of anything else.

“You know what happened to me,” I say, belatedly answering my mother’s question.

“Ethan, she’s a pretty girl, and nice enough, but are you sure she’s not …?”

“Not what?”

“Well, after your money. Our money.”

The thought is too incredible even to fathom, and suddenly I’m wishing I could show my mother a picture of Stephanie when I first met her, all flea-market boots and unstyled hair. I wish I could show her how I had to drag the girl shopping.

“Mom, I don’t think she wants anything to do with us.”

“I just worry you’re not thinking clearly. Have you given any thought to what it must be like for Olivia, watching you flirt with an outsider?”

An outsider?

And suddenly I can’t remember why I’ve done any of this. Why I’ve hidden the truth from my mother, or cared about what Olivia would think.

“Olivia cheated on me, Mom.”

She’s quiet, and I know that inside her, maternal concern is warring with societal image, to say nothing of how she must feel to hear me accusing Olivia of the very thing she herself is guilty of. “Are you sure?” she asks. “The lines aren’t always clear, Ethan, especially when you’re young.”

“There’s a line. She crossed it. With Michael.”


I don’t think it’s my imagination that her voice has gone up an octave, from soothing to nervous.

“Yup. My best friend was doing my girlfriend. I walked in on them.”

She’s silent for several seconds. “When?”

Here it is: my chance to walk away and put it behind me. Or my moment to come clean—not to judge her, but because we can’t keep going on like this, with her hiding it and me pretending to let her.

“Same day I saw you with Mike senior.”

It’s like a bomb went off, but the two of us are the only ones to notice. She doesn’t move, but I can feel her panic.

“Ethan, let me explain—”

“You don’t have to explain, Mom. Not to me. But to Dad?”

She lets out a shaky breath. “You haven’t told him?”

I take a sip of the too-sweet themed cocktail I grabbed from the bar and give a little shrug. “It’s not mine to tell. But it is his to know.”

“It’s so complicated, Ethan.”

She puts an imploring hand on my arm, but I shake it off. “I’m sure it is, but I don’t want or need the details. I just needed you to know that I know.”

Mom gives a little nod. “Thank you for not hating me.”

I exhale and stare at the ground for a second, still not able to look at her. “You’re my mother. I don’t hate you, and I’m dealing with it. But you have to drop the Olivia thing, okay? One affair in my personal life is enough. I can’t cope with two.”

“Ethan …” There’s an apology there, and I nod to show that I accept it. And then I walk away.

Eventually we’ll have to talk more, but now isn’t the time to get into it. Hell, now wasn’t the time to bring it up at all. But I’d been watching Stephanie, thinking that I felt the most at peace I’ve felt in a long time, and I just needed to let go.

There is, of course, the other, equally large elephant in the room in the form of my ex-girlfriend. And I’ll get to that.

But for now …

I move up behind Stephanie, not touching her, just close enough to breathe in the slightly spicy scent of her perfume. I’m thinking I can never get tired of the sight of her in dresses, but she’s outdone herself tonight. Because tonight … tonight there is cle**age. Not  p**n -star cle**age, not trashy cle**age, but just enough to let the world—okay, the male world—know that she has really, really awesome tits.

She catches me looking and gives a little wink, and then I know … she’s worn it for me.

“I knew from that first day that you’re a boob guy,” she says out of the corner of her mouth, just low enough so only I can hear.

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