Jude is taking me on a make-up dinner. Basically, he’s trying to make it up to me that he ditched me the other night by wining and dining me. It’s what Jude’s best at, actually.
As we walk into the restaurant, a swanky French place lit by candles, I can see every woman in the room has her eyes on us. Jude seems to have that effect on a room. It’s sort of funny because when we were first going out, I loved the attention he got and the jealous looks. But now I’m the one who feels jealous. It’s not that I don’t trust Jude. I don’t think he’d cheat on me or anything, but I feel like eventually he might decide that he wants to move on.
That’s why I’m determined to have The Talk with Jude today. Not the break-up talk. The “where is this relationship going” talk. He’s not going to like it, obviously, but honestly, this isn’t something that women do just to torture men. Why should I be sitting around wondering where this relationship is going? That’s the real torture.
“You look beautiful,” Jude says to me as he takes my hand across the candlelit table. He starts kissing my fingers one by one. This is all a ploy. He’s try to make me forget that I… that I… fuck, what was I going to talk to him about?
No! Focus, Libby! We need to talk about where this relationship is going. We need to discuss if he sees a future for us together if he thinks we might end up living together, or even more. And also, he needs to stop sucking on my fingers right now!
“Jude,” I say, gently pulling my hand away from his.
“No, you mustn’t,” he says. “You’re too yummy, Libby. I need you in my mouth.”
Well, that’s not really true, is it? If it were, I’d be a lot more satisfied. “Jude,” I say again, more firmly this time. “We need to have a little talk.”
“You’re not chucking me, are you?” It bothers me that he smiles when he says this. How does he know I’m not dumping him? Maybe I am. Except, of course, I’m absolutely not.
“No,” I say, “but I do want to talk about us. About… our future.”
Jude lets out the longest sigh in the history of the world. “Must we?”
“Yes!” I say. “We must!”
“You women all need to know where the bloody relationship is going,” Jude mutters. “Isn’t it enough that we’re having fun together?”
No, it’s not. “Listen,” I say. “I’m almost…” I stop myself before letting it slip that my thirtieth birthday is right around the corner. “I’m not at a point in my life where all I want to do is have fun. I want to have a meaningful relationship. With you.”
At that moment, the waitress decides to pop over to take our orders. How can they predict the exact second when you need your privacy the most? Jude looks thrilled for a reprieve and he spends ages going over every one of the specials in great detail. I can tell that by the time she finishes taking our order, the waitress is completely smitten with Jude.
I wonder if I would see the world differently if I were Jude. If I were a man in my early thirties with blindingly handsome looks. Who could have any woman that I wanted. If I were that man, would I really want to be saddled with someone like me?
Or maybe I don’t want to think about the answer to these questions.
“Jude,” I say again.
“Can’t we discuss this rubbish some other time?” Jude whines. “I already had to fend off the third degree from Will, I’d rather not have to answer the same questions all over again.”
“From Will?” What is he talking about?
“I don’t know.” Jude shrugs. “Yesterday he was asking all these questions about us. Like how seriously I felt about you. Rather odd, to be perfectly honest.”
Jude’s right, that’s definitely a little strange. Why would Will be asking Jude questions about our relationship? Unless maybe he was trying to help me, maybe tell Jude I was a good bet and he should stick with me. That sounded like something Will might do.
“So what did you tell him?” I ask.
“Same thing I’m going to tell you,” he says irritably. “I don’t bloody know.”
I want to push him more, try to get an answer out of him. But then something occurs to me: this never works. In all the times I’ve had this conversation with men, I’ve never gotten one to agree to any sort of commitment. So really, it should be no surprise that it doesn’t work on Jude.
I feel depressed. What’s wrong with me? How come I fall head over heels for men who never love me back? Am I intrinsically unlovable? Maybe I am. Maybe once guys get to really know me, they decide that I’m not worth bothering with.
I can’t help but think about the things Will said about that girl from work. He truly loves that girl. Why can’t someone feel that way about me? I would give anything to have that.
I’m at some kind of unofficial “work thing” for Jude’s firm. It’s at a bar near the firm and apparently all the youngish lawyers are going to be there. I’m not that excited about going and attempting small talk with attorneys, but I’m also reluctant to leave Jude alone. I’ve discovered there are a lot of attractive women working at Jude’s firm, especially the lawyers.
When I arrive for my Jude-guarding duties, I realize I’m not a moment too early. He’s surrounding by three gorgeous women in smart business suits. He says something and the women all throw their heads back in laughter, practically in unison. God, I need to get rid of them.
“Hey, Jude,” one of the women is saying in a flirtatious voice, “can you take a sad song and make it better?”
I see Jude’s lips set into a line. He once told me that he absolutely hates it when people quote lyrics of the Beatles song “Hey Jude” to him. I guess I don’t blame him. Anyway, it’s a perfect moment to make my entrance.
“Hello, Jude,” I say as I push my way into the little pow-wow. “I’m here.”
“So I see,” he says, kissing me on the cheek. I notice one of the women gives an irritated little huff. Ha ha. You have to arrive much earlier at a party in order to steal my boyfriend.
The other women disperse and Jude buys me a drink from the bar. I notice he’s having a daiquiri and I kind of remember Mia’s comment about Jude always having very fancy, fruity drinks. There’s nothing wrong with that though. I don’t think there is, at least.
“Where’s Will?” I ask Jude as I scan the bar.
“Saw him over by the pool tables,” Jude says idly. He takes a sip of his green frothy drink.
I didn’t realize Will played pool. I look down by the tables and see him aiming his pool cue seconds before hitting a solid purple ball into the corner pocket. He wheels away from the table, looking quite pleased with himself, then takes a swig of his beer. A very pretty brunette in a black business suit with a skirt that looks like it costs more than I make in a month (which, as we recall, is what Will and Jude make in an hour) lets out a little cheer.
“Who’s that woman?” I ask Jude.
“That’s Diane,” Jude says. “Striking, isn’t she? She’s one of the criminal attorneys. I think she fancies Will a bit.”
My eyes widen. This must be the woman. The one that Will is in love with. I’m finally seeing her. And… well, I have to admit, she’s attractive. I can see why he likes her, I guess. But there’s something very hard and severe about her, like she could grab you in her hand and just squish you. She sort of scares me. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to run into her in a courtroom.
“She just came on board at the firm last month,” Jude goes on. “Honestly, if I wasn’t with you, Libby…”
I ignore Jude’s remark. So if Diane was only hired a month ago, she couldn’t be the girl that Will is in love with. I feel a flash of relief, although I’m not sure why.
“Maybe I’ll go say hi,” I say, grabbing my purse and rising from the barstool.
“No, Libby,” Jude says. “I don’t want you to disturb Will.”
I stare at him. “What?”
“You heard me.” He frowns. “I’m sure you don’t mean to, but I think you’re putting a crimp in poor Will’s style. He hasn’t had a proper date in ages. He’s not usually a Casanova, but he does all right, and I’ve never seen him have such a lack of female company.”
“Oh,” I say.
“So let poor Will have a chance with Diane,” Jude says. “Why don’t you…” At first I’m hoping he’ll tell me to stay with him. “Mingle?”
Mingling with a bar full of lawyers. Wonderful.
“I mean it, Libby,” Jude says. “Don’t bother Will.”
Well, that’s just great. So my choice is to either 1) leave and allow Jude to get descended on by the pack of female wolves/lawyers, 2) try to join in some dull law-related conversation, or 3) fend off advances from Jude’s single male friends. These are all wonderful options, of course.
I end up with #3. I try to stick with Jude, of course, but he’s slippery as an eel at these parties, and somehow I’m stuck with some guy named Owen who ought to know better than to hit on me. I think when a couple names their child Owen, they are basically sentencing him to being a huge loser. Well, I guess there’s Owen Wilson, who’s very funny, but he’s an exception to the rule. This guy Owen is not an exception to the Owen rule. He’s physically not very appealing, with hair that seems plastered to his skull and a suit that is either too big or too small, but I honestly am not sure which. Maybe both.
“I only go to documentaries, really,” Owen is saying to me. “I just can’t watch a movie if it isn’t based on a true story. It just feels fake to me.”
I hate movies based on true stories. They’re always so hokey. I guess it’s because people only make movies based on true stories if they’re somehow inspirational. Inspirational = hokey bullshit. I consider saying this to Owen, but the last thing I want is to get into some kind of debate with him, so I just say, “Uh huh.”
“I recently saw a fantastic documentary,” Owen goes on. “It followed the lives of four babies born in four different parts of the world. One was from here, of course, then one from Japan, one from Mongolia, and then the last baby was from… hmm, it was someplace in Africa, I think. Was it Zimbabwe?”
“I have no idea,” I say. Get me out of here! “Hey, do you want to play pool?”
“Pool?” Owen frowns at me, his brow furrowed. I guess nobody’s made any documentaries lately about pool.
“I love pool,” I say. Okay, I don’t really love pool. Actually, I don’t even know how to play. But Will and Diane are still over at the table and this would be a great excuse to join them. And I wouldn’t be butting in or anything. I’ve got Owen to entertain me. (Ugh.)
So yes, I’m dying to meet Diane. I’ve been glancing over at the pool table every few minutes (in-between glancing at my watch) and they seem to be getting along really well. She’s laughing at a lot. At least, she’s pretending to laugh a lot. When she laughs, she clutches her chest like he’s so funny, she’s going to have a heart attack or something. And with her other hand, she clutches his arm.
Owen dutifully follows me to the pool table, where Will is taking a shot. The second he sinks the ball, he looks up and I notice his face lights up when he sees me. “Libby!” he exclaims, wheeling back from the pool table. “I didn’t know you were coming tonight!”
“Yes, well,” I murmur. I look pointedly in Diane’s direction and hold out my hand. “Hi, I’m Libby.”
“I’m Diane,” she says, and she takes my hand. And FUCK, she has a strong grip. I’ve had my hand crushed a few times by a man who thought he had to prove a point by having a strong handshake, but this is the first time in my life I’ve had my hand crushed by a woman. Her fingers are thin but very powerful. And she’s got this intense gaze that makes me want to look away. I am absolutely terrified of this woman.
“Libby loves pool,” Owen says. “She dragged me over here.”
Will raises his eyebrows. “You love pool, Libby? Really?”
“Absolutely.” Why did I say that? Oh well, pool is pretty simple. You just sink the balls in the pockets. I can handle that.
“Great,” Will says. “Diane and I were just messing around, but we can start up a regular game if you’d like.”
“Yes,” Diane agrees. “How about me and Will against the two of you?”
“Sounds wonderful,” I hear myself saying.
Diane sets up the balls and as she bends over the pool table, I can see that she has a great ass, which is complimented by her fitted skirt. I look at Will to see if he’s noticing, but he’s not. Actually, he’s looking at me for some reason.
“Libby, would you like to break?” Will asks me.
“Why do we need a break?” I ask. “We haven’t even started yet.”
I notice Owen and Diane are both staring at me. Will is grinning. “I mean,” he says. “Would you like to break the balls up?” He adds, “In this game that you love so very much.”
I grab the pool cue from his hands. “Yes, thank you,” I huff.
I study the situation. Okay, I think I’m supposed to knock the white ball into the triangle of colored balls. That seems… doable. I take the cue in my hands and lean over the table. My hands are shaking only slightly.
“Libby,” Will says in a quiet voice. “You probably don’t want to hold the cue like that. You’re holding it kind of like… a broom. You can’t aim that way. Look, let me show you.”
He takes the cue from me and shows me the right way to hold it, then hands it back. I try to mimic what he did, but he has to adjust my hands for me. I feel his hands on top of mine and I know Diane is staring. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that nobody thinks I’m any kind of pool shark anymore.
I lean forward again and aim the cue at the white ball. At first, I’m just thrilled that I hit the white ball at all, but then it sails past the triangle of colored balls without even grazing them. It ricochets off the wall, bounces back, hits a second wall, hits a third, then a fourth. That white ball goes all over the goddamn table but the triangle of balls stays together like they’re glued that way.
I look up at Diane who has a baffled expression on her face. Owen is frowning. Will is cracking up.
“How about this?” he says. “Why don’t I break?”
As it turns out, I’m awful at pool. Spectacularly awful.
I’ve never been much of an athlete. Always picked last, etc., etc. But it’s like I have some kind of talent for being bad at pool. I’m so bad that I can’t even imagine anyone being worse than I am. Owen doesn’t seem particularly interested in the game, but he’s light years better than I am. Still, I’m kind of hoping nobody notices quite how bad I am.
“I think,” Will announces, “that you are the absolute worst pool player I’ve ever seen, Libby. In my entire life.”
Oh well, so much for nobody noticing.
What makes it worse is that Diane is really good. She and Will completely clobber me and Owen. She’s good at making shots, but moreover, she’s sexy when she plays pool. Even I think she’s sexy.
“Good game,” Diane says to me and Owen, smiling a bit patronizingly.
“Uh huh,” I say.
Will is looking at me and smiling. “Do you want to learn a few shots? I can set it up for you.”
I catch the annoyed look on Diane’s face, which is why I say, “That would be great.”
Thirty minutes later, Will has shown me how to break, and given me a bunch of tips on how to aim my shots. Something to do with geometry, who knows. It would be great if I had any intention of ever playing this game again. But still, I’m having fun for a change. Owen has wandered off, and so has Diane actually. I remember what Jude said about my keeping Will from getting girls and I feel a little guilty, but not guilty enough to leave.
“Nice shot,” Will tells me as I sink the 9-ball in the side pocket.
“Thanks,” I say. I straighten up and tuck my hair behind my ears. “Hey, I’m sorry I’m taking up all your time. You should be, like, mingling with other lawyers.”
“I hate other lawyers,” he says.
Will laughs and takes a swig of his beer. I don’t know why I feel such a strong desire for him to tell me he doesn’t like Diane. “Diane’s interesting,” he finally says.
“She’s very…” I struggle to come up with a nice way to say that she looks like a tough bitch. “Intense. Kind of intimidating.”
“Yeah, she’s very intimidating to some people,” Will admits.
Will shrugs. “I guess so.”
As much as I want to grill him about Diane, I can see he’s not willing to talk about her. Just as well.
I excuse myself to go to the ladies room, which has become urgent after all the beers I’ve had. I check my hair in the mirror and am about to put on a fresh coat of lipstick when the door to the restroom opens and I see Diane walk in.
She doesn’t use the toilet and instead goes straight for the sink next to mine. I smile at her and mumble a polite hello. “Hello, Libby,” she says.
In the light of the restroom, I can see Diane’s crow’s feet and I judge her to be about five years older than I am, maybe in her mid-thirties. Being entirely objective, I think she’s prettier than I am. She’s got very classic good looks, the kind where she could almost be a model. She’s also at least three or four inches taller than I am too, although I think her heels are higher than mine.
“I’m glad I ran into you, actually,” Diane says. “There’s something I wanted to ask you.”
There’s no warmth in her voice. My stomach clenches up. “Oh?”
Diane turns to face me. “You and Will. What’s going on there?”
“Nothing,” I say quickly. “Will and I are just friends. I’m dating Jude Sampson. You know that, right?”
“That’s what I heard,” Diane says. “But I just got a vibe like something was going on while we were playing pool.”
“No,” I say, “there isn’t.”
“You can tell me if there is,” Diane says, leaning forward slightly so that I can almost feel her hot breath. God, I’m scared of this woman. “I won’t tell Jude. I just don’t want to… waste my time. With Will, that is.”
I understand what she’s saying, of course. She likes him, although I’m not sure why. Not that Will isn’t a great guy and all, but… well, you know. “There’s nothing going on between me and Will,” I say. “But I think you should know that he’s really in love with some other woman from the firm. I think they’re very close.”
Diane shakes her head. “No.”
No? What does that mean?
“He told me about it,” I insist. “It’s someone from the firm. A paralegal, maybe? Anyway, who does he usually have lunch with? He probably—”
“Will has lunch at his desk every day,” Diane interrupts me. “We all do. There’s no woman from the firm he’s deeply in love with. I guarantee it.”
“Well, that’s what he told me.”
“Then he was lying.” Diane seems so sure of herself. It’s a little perplexing. “Anyway, if you’re not involved with Will, I hope you won’t mind stepping aside. Although I’m sure you’re dying for pool lessons.” Diane’s voice is dripping with sarcasm.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” I say defensively. “It was just a game of pool.”
“Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, Libby dear,” Diane says, “but when you’re around, Will seems to devote 100% of his attention to you. So if you’re so in love with Jude, perhaps you could spend your evening with him instead.”
My jaw drops open. She’s basically telling me to get the hell away from her man. And I guess, in a way, she’s absolutely right. “I think I’m leaving anyway,” I mumble.
“Perfect,” Diane says.
I practically trip over Will’s chair in my haste to get out of the bathroom. He catches me and I right myself somewhat shakily. “You okay, Libby?” he asks me. “You have too much to drink?”
“I’m fine,” I say quickly. “I just… I think I might head out now.”
“Yeah, me too,” he says. “I’m exhausted. Do you want to split a cab?”
“No, you should stay,” I tell him.
I nod. “Please stay.”
Will looks at me for a minute. “All right,” he finally says. “But are we still on for dinner next week?”
I smile despite my nervousness. “Yes, of course.”
I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen when I leave. Maybe Will and Diane will hook up. But somehow I get the feeling they won’t.
To be continued....