“Hmmm . . .” Gabe sounded unconvinced, but he forced a smile. Bobbi wasn’t fooled by it and dropped her hand over his larger one on the table.
“You know what your problem is?” She asked with a slight grin, and he raised an eyebrow at her.
“Do tell?” he invited.
“You’re so bossy and arrogant that not being able to keep everybody you care about well and safe just chafes at your ego.” She kept her tone light and it worked, coaxing a smile from him.
“Yeah, well, if everybody just followed my advice, their lives would be so uncomplicated,” he teased.
“Because you always know best, right?”
He gave her a smug, condescending nod.
“Well, you’re going to have to let everybody lead their own lives and instead focus on your own because you’re surrounded by stubborn people who hate being dictated to,” she reminded him, glancing up when the waitress brought their drinks. Realizing that she was still holding his hand, she released her hold abruptly and grabbed her Coke—grateful when the cold condensation on the outside of the glass neutralized the annoying tingle in the palm of her hand. She drank thirstily, abruptly grateful for the fizzy, cold drink as it hit the back of her parched throat. She was more dehydrated than she knew. She hated that she was proving Gabe right once again and tried to disguise her thirst from him by reluctantly wrenching her lips away from the straw.
When she glanced up at him, he was grinning and she was happy to note that the deep-seated concern he had over his brother’s welfare seemed to have been pushed to the back of his mind for now. Proving him right in this instance was well worth it.
“Thirsty?” he asked casually, and she tossed a napkin at him.
“Okay, I’m thirsty, and once my lunch gets here I’ll probably realize that I’m famished too so you’re right once again. Try not to gloat too hard, you might break your ego bone or something!” He laughed outright at that and she was happy to have coaxed the sound from him when he had been so depressed just moments before. She tried not to think about how pathetic she was: living for the sound of his laughter and proud of her measly ability to tease him into a good mood. She really needed to stop living her every moment for this man—with her only solid accomplishments in life being how often she had made him smile or laugh.
She watched in exasperated affection as he neatly arranged the condiments on the table to his liking: salt, pepper, tomato sauce, chutney, mayonnaise, and mustard—always neatly lined up from left to right like good little soldiers. It was something he always did and they were all used to it.
“You want to come over tonight? For popcorn and movies?” he asked unexpectedly, moments after their food arrived. Bobbi, who had indeed discovered that she was ravenous, paused in the act of lifting her burger from its plate and watched as it messily dripped sauce and melted cheese over her hands. She put it back down without taking a bite and reached for a napkin to wipe the juice from her hands. Gabe had taken a huge bite out of his steak sandwich and was chewing slowly as he contemplated her from across the table.
“I’m rather tired,” Bobbi said after a long pause. She picked up a knife and sliced her burger into four neat sections, which was more in keeping with the way Gabe ate and quite uncharacteristic for her. Bobbi never minded getting her hands dirty, be it with food, soil, or grease. But for some reason right at that moment, with him watching her—she felt self-conscious about getting bacon grease, sauce, and cheese all over her face and hands.
“I didn’t mean as soon as we got home,” he clarified. “I thought you might want to get some sleep first, come around later.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” she said, and he pinned her with an accusatory glare.
“Gabe . . .”
“Bobbi, either we’re okay after what happened last night, or we’re not. Which is it?”
“Are we okay?” she asked in a small and uncertain voice, and he sighed softly, carefully putting his sandwich down.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I want us to be. But . . .”
“But?” she prompted, and he sighed again before gesturing toward her plate.
“We’re going to talk about this at some point, Bobbi . . . but right now I need you to finish that burger. You have to eat something, and if we get into this now, we’ll talk and you won’t eat.” Frustrated, Bobbi glared down at the quartered burger on her plate and lifted one of the portions to take a nibble. He went back to his own sandwich and an awkward silence reigned between them until the last morsel had been consumed.
He paid for their meal and escorted her back to the car, which still had its fair share of teen admirers taking showboating cell phone photos around it. The boys looked both disappointed and awed when Gabe and Bobbi climbed into the car. One of them asked how fast the car went, and Gabe wound down the window to answer him patiently. The questions came thick and fast after that, and after answering a couple more, Gabe excused himself and started up the car, gunning the engine impressively for his admiring audience before pulling away at a disappointingly respectable speed. Bobbi rolled her eyes when she noted a few crestfallen young faces in the rearview mirror and mustered up a bit of empathy for them despite her lack of energy.
They were back on the road in seconds and there was more silence until Gabe switched the radio back on. They didn’t speak again until the car slid to a stop in front of her front door. He switched off the engine and turned in his seat to face her, one arm curled over the steering wheel and the other across the top of his seat.