And more important—I know whom he’s playing it for.
There are no accidents. Body language and Freudian slips have meaning. They’re our subconscious’s way of showing how we really feel. What we really want. And somewhere, deep down in Warren’s puny brain and inadequate heart—I think he still wants Kate.
Look at her face now. It’s the same look she always gets when she watches him sing. Her head’s tilted slightly, a small smile sits on her lips, and her eyes swim with a mixture of pride and wonderment. Admiration. And possibly, remembered affection. Even though I know she doesn’t have those feelings for him anymore, even though I know she chose me—she loves me more—it pisses me off. Badly.
Because the only person I’ve ever looked at like that—in my entire life—is her.
As he plays the final note, I swallow my resentment down. Matthew, Steven, Erin, Dee-Dee, and Kate clap. Alexandra actually wipes a tear from her eye.
Jack says, “Damn you’re good. That music shit must make you a righteous pu**y hound. Tonight, Billy, you’re my wingman.”
Warren nods shyly. “Sure, man.”
Then I stand up. “Now that I’ve gotten my dose of estrogen for the day, how about we head to the pool and check out that barbecue? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m more than ready for the first of many rounds.”
I keep Kate close to me as we all head to our respective rooms for a quick clothing change. And prepare to go our separate ways.
The barbecue at the adults-only pool is in full swing. There’s music, sunshine, bikinis as far as the eye can see—and some I wish I didn’t have to. Remember, ladies, two-piece bathing suits are a privilege, not a right.
We rent an enclosed cabana near the bar and settle down at the circular, umbrella-covered table in front of it. Our round of beers arrives and we hang out waiting for our turn in the volleyball tournament. For men, team sports have the power to inspire a warlike, us-against-them mentality. It’s like spending the night in a foxhole—an instant bonding experience. Even if you don’t like each other—hell, even if you can’t stand each other—you close ranks, pick up the slack where you have to. Because you’re in the same platoon¸ and anyone who’s not with you is against you. They’re the enemy.
Why am I telling you this? You’ll understand shortly.
For now, I take a sip of my beer and focus on my sullen-faced brother-in-law. I get right to the point: “What’s going on with you and my sister?”
He’s not surprised by the question. But he’s reluctant. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You don’t want to talk about it? What? Did you grow a vagina on the walk over? I suppose next you’ll tell me you’re fine? Don’t be a bitch, Steven—talk. What’s up?”
He rubs his hand down his face and stares at the pool for a minute. Deliberating. Then he turns toward us and leans forward, elbows on the table. “All right. It started about two weeks ago. For a couple days, Alexandra had been in a rotten mood. But I wasn’t worried—she just gets like that sometimes. And then I found something in the bathroom trash can . . . a pregnancy test.”
Sympathetic groans roll across the table like the wave at a football game. “She’s never gonna let you out of the house again.”
“You gotta space the kids out, Steven. If you have them too close together, one is bound to fall through the cracks.”
“Now it’s gonna be three against two—you’re screwed.”
Steven holds up his hand. “It was negative. Alexandra’s not pregnant.” He takes a swig from his beer. “But when I asked her about it, she went ballistic. Yelling at me about how I don’t understand her—how I shouldn’t worry about kids because I can have them until I’m seventy. And how men pretty much suck in general. Ever since then, she’s been unbearable. It’s like she’s just looking for any excuse to be pissed off at me.”
Matthew advises, “Maybe she needs a break. You know—a night out to feel more like a woman and less like a mom?”
Steven shakes his head. “Already thought of that. I set up an overnight in the Hamptons—had my dad lined up to take the kids and everything. She shot me down—wanted no part of it. Then she bitched me out for making plans without consulting her.”
Jack snorts, “Can’t say I’m surprised. No offense, dude, but Alexandra’s always been a cold fish.”
I don’t take exception to his comment because I can see why he’d think like that.
Steven’s voice takes on a soft, sad tone. Wistful. “But she’s not, though. That’s just a front she puts up. The real Alexandra is warm . . . and funny . . . and she’d go to ends of the earth for the people she loves. Up until two weeks ago, that included me. But lately . . . it doesn’t. And I don’t know why.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh. “You gotta fix this, Steven. You can’t do this to me—not now.”
He doesn’t take it well. “You? What the hell does this have to do with you, Drew?”
I point my finger at him accusingly. “You and Alexandra are my gold standard. You’re the only reason I’m not shitting my pants about marrying Kate next week. Because you’re my proof that marriage can actually work.”
Steven’s brow wrinkles. “Your parents have been married for forty years.”
I wave my hand. “They don’t count. They’re old—no one else will have them.”
Matthew asks, “What about me and Dee?”
“I give you another year—tops.”
Matthew just shrugs. Because he doesn’t give a damn what other people think—even me.
Now, Alexandra may be my sister—but Steven is more than a brother-in-law. He’s a friend—one of my best. Which makes placing loyalties a sticky situation. So if I have to take sides? I’m going with Mackenzie and Thomas. “And there’s no frigging way I’m letting my niece and nephew grow up in a broken home. You gotta talk to her, Steven—work it out.”
He pushes his chair back—frustrated. “I’ve tried! Don’t you think I’ve tried? I’ve kissed her ass for the last two weeks. . . .”
I close my eyes and hold up my hand. “Please—easy on the mental pictures.”
“I’ve tried everything I can think of . . . but I’m not gonna try anymore. If she wants to work it out, when she wants to talk—she’s gonna have to come to me. I’m putting my foot down. I have some pride, you know.”